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Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

21/01/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jack Sargeant AM
Janet Finch-Saunders AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Leanne Wood AM
Michelle Brown AM
Neil McEvoy AM

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Mared Llwyd Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Ross Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:03.

The meeting began at 09:03.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datganiadau o fuddiant
1. Introduction, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Good morning. Bore da. Welcome, everyone, to the meeting. Headsets are available for translation of Welsh to English. There is no need to turn off mobile phones or other electronic devices, but please ensure that they're in silent mode. No apologies have been received.

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

Two: new petitions, '2.1 Ensure that every school in Wales has Wellbeing Ambassadors'. This was submitted by Dŵr Y Felin School well-being ambassadors, having collected 297 signatures on paper. They're calling on the National Assembly for Wales,

'to ensure that every school in Wales introduces trained Wellbeing Ambassadors, so that every child has an
opportunity to receive peer support from role model students who have been trained to be a buddy to pupils who are vulnerable at break and lunchtimes,'

and for people to report issues of bullying and just be there as a friend to pupils who may feel lonely at specific times throughout the day.

Obviously, they hope the well-being ambassadors' roles will evolve to run initiatives in schools, and they hope that this initiative will go to further support reducing the amount of bullying witnessed in schools across Wales to ensure that every child feels safe and happy in schools throughout Wales. So, we received an initial response from the Minister on 1 November, and a research brief has been provided for you. The petitioner has provided further comments, and correspondence has also been received from the children's commissioner on 15 January.

09:05

I'd quite like to see a little bit more of this. I think this is a brilliant idea. It's something that I've talked about with the university—[Inaudible.]—but I think it reads right across the way. Obviously, you heard the Minister last week when we had evidence, bullying is a key priority of the curriculum, but I just think something like this could go a long way, really. We say a lot about going to your teachers or mental health first aid and so on, but that sometimes takes a lot of courage. But if you've got someone who's there, a friend or colleague who's got a bit of training around that, just a simple support network, I think it's a fantastic idea. Perhaps they could just share a bit more evidence. I think the petitioners said that, if we really want them to, they'd offer to do us a film or something like that. I think it's just to enhance the package, really, before we take it any further. 

Yes, I'd like to see a film. That would be really good, and maybe pass it on to the children's commissioner and see what they make of it, and the Minister. But I agree.  

Okay. So, we'll have a chat with the school about providing some further evidence like that. The Chair and I met with a group of the pupils last week when they came to hand in the petition, and they were keen to provide some more information to the committee however they could. So, yes, we can talk to them about whether that's a film that they prepare in the school themselves, or whether a group come here and talk to the committee.

Okay. Item 2.2: 'Encouraging the use of "Cymru" and "Cymry" when referring to ourselves in Welsh and English'. This petition was submitted by Mair Edwards, having collected 127 signatures. They're calling on the National Assembly for Wales: 

'to urge the Welsh Government to refer to our country as Cymru, and the nation as Cymry, in Welsh and English in all official statements. The origins of the terms "Wales" and "Welsh" refer to us as foreigners and vassals in our own country. It is time for us to define ourselves rather than being defined by another nation—and a symbol of this would be to refer to ourselves as Cymry and our country as Cymru.'

An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language on 11 December, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments.
 

Maybe pass on the further comments to the Minister for further comment from the Minister. 

Yes. Okay. So, that will go forward now to the Minister for their comments.

2.3: 'Sun cream in schools'. This petition was submitted by Leigh O'Connor, having collected 120 signatures. The text of the petition reads that:

​'All children are at risk when in school or on school trips of sun burn. This not only has short term health issues but also long term such as skin cancer. This could easily be avoidable by allowing schools to apply sun cream with parents' consent. There are many options for this that do not involve the teachers having to touch the children if this is an issue.'

So, we received an initial response from the Minister for Education on 27 November, a research brief has been provided, the petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comment.

Do we know if it's the pupils themselves? Is it their parents? Do we know, just out of interest, really? 

I don't think we do know that, actually, to be honest. 

I agree with Neil. Let's wait and see what they come back with.

Okay, if we could chase them up for their response. Thank you. 

2.4: 'Education On Food Allergies In Schools & Mandatory EPI PEN Training'. This petition was submitted by Archie's Allergies, having collected 172 signatures. 

'There is currently no law in place anywhere in the UK that offers education on food allergies in schools from primary age and up.'

This petition is seeking to change that.

'Offering educational sessions in schools will benefit children at risk of anaphylaxis. It will help others to understand food allergies, a medical condition that unless you know someone with this disease you wouldn't be aware of the side effects it carries.' 

So, they believe that:

'Introducing mandatory epi pen training will also eliminate the worry for families living with food allergies. Teachers and school staff will know the vital signs of an allergic reaction meaning anaphylaxis can be spotted sooner.'

So, we received an initial response to the petition on 4 December from the Minister, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comment. 

09:10

I think the petitioner clearly has some experience with this. She states that her own child suffers from some sort of food allergy. So, in going forward, maybe the education Minister and the education department in the Welsh Government could seek clarification and guidance as to where we should steer the curriculum or anything else we do in the future. So, maybe we could go back to the Minister and just put that to her in writing, really, to hope that she can go and get some real-life experience to try and guide her in her decision making, going forward. 

Okay. So, we can write back to the Minister to suggest that. 

Yes, to encourage conversation and dialogue with the petitioner, and anyone else who's got similar views and experiences. 

3. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol
3. Updates to previous petitions

So, item 3 on the agenda, we now move to updates to previous petitions. 3.1: 'Rights to Primary Health Care in Welsh', and that's page 103 in your pack. This petition was submitted by Cymdeithas yr Iaith and was first considered in December 2016, having collected 766 paper signatures. We last considered this on 15 October and we agreed to write to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask whether he can provide a guarantee that the Welsh language in primary care services regulations 2019 will not be weakened following the planned review, and an assurance that one of the purposes of the review will be to identify areas in which the regulations can be strengthened. A response was received from the Minister on 10 December. The petitioners have resubmitted their previous comments on this subject from October 2019. So, basically, how would you like to take this case forward? 

If the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee have reviewed the regulations and made their recommendations to the Government for review, I think they're the best place to take this forward. I don't see what more, as a Petitions Committee, we could do, really. So, I suggest that we close the petition and thank the petitioners.

Okay. So, again, it's a successful result, because it is actually going forward to—

I think the petitioners would say that the regulations as they stand are not as strong as they would like them to be. But, as Jack has said, scrutiny has been applied through another committee here, and the Government's most recent letter back does stress that they would be looking through any review to strengthen these regulations, rather than weaken them, which was the concern the committee had last time. 

Okay. 3.2: 'Recognition of Parental Alienation'. This petition was submitted by Both Parents Matter Cymru and was first considered in May 2017, having collected 2,058 signatures. So, we last considered this on 15 October. We agreed to write back to CAFCASS Cymru to ask how they intend to monitor the impact and effect of their new guidance, and whether they will be providing training to practitioners. A response was received from CAFCASS Cymru on 5 December. The petitioners have provided further comments. CAFCASS Cymru intend to monitor the impact and effect of their new guidance in this area through supervision arrangements with practitioners.

09:15

I think there's a lot more we could do on this petition. Looking at the letter from Both Parents Matter—I may need to declare an interest, because the person used to work for me on a temporary basis, Paul Apreda; I've also been a service user and volunteer for Both Parents Matter—there's some scepticism in the letter from Both Parents Matter about CAFCASS Cymru's attitude. For example, they don't even use the term 'parental alienation' in the documentation. There are some pretty important questions to ask, really, about what they're actually doing, in terms of how many staff have been trained, and what they're doing to monitor it. So, I think there is a bit more to do.

I'd like a report on this at some point, to debate it in Plenary. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse. It is a form of domestic abuse. And it's the only form of child abuse and the only form of domestic abuse that is tolerated. It's not only tolerated, it's actually facilitated by publicly funded organisations in Wales. I think we should be debating this at some point, but I'd like to go back to CAFCASS Cymru with the questions from Both Parents Matter, with a view to producing a report at some point.

I could support going back with the questions from Both Parents Matter. I could support that, going back to CAFCASS and seeing what they come back with. And go from there, really.

I just want to add, when good parents are not allowed to see their children—. And the way that it's going now in this arena is that whichever parent behaves the worst first usually does the best, whether that be a father, whether that be a mother. But there are a hell of a lot more mothers walking through the door now. Huge damage is done to children, and parental alienation is a big cause of suicide as well in Wales and the UK, and I think we need to debate this at some point.

So, as you state, the petitioners raise several issues in their response. Although, overall, I think they make the point that the work of the Petitions Committee has potentially led to the production of this guidance. Although, as you say, they're disappointed that the guidance doesn't reference parental alienation specifically. I think, in terms of the points raised in that letter, they feel like more proposals are needed for how the Government could monitor. So, there are suggestions for indicators that the Government and CAFCASS could use to monitor the implementation or effectiveness of the guidance in the future. That feels to me like a long way off in terms of how that response would come back.

I think it's worth producing a report, then. I know the children's commissioner gave us evidence in writing, but it's a real pity that she didn't actually come to be questioned, because what she wrote was bordering on outrageous, really, in terms of completely ignoring the issue. You've got this vested interest in Wales that refuses to acknowledge parental alienation; they just simply refuse. It's economically driven, I would say. So, I'd like us to have a report on it.

I think in the first stage, if I were to support the actions going forward, if we get those questions responded to.

Okay. So, write back to the Minister and propose—

Yes, I think we should highlight the questions to see if CAFCASS can look into them, and see what they come back with and make a decision from there. But I'd be happy to liaise over questions—

If we could. At least they're discussing it now, but they're paying lip service to it, really. So, I wouldn't want to close the petition yet, because I think there's some more work that the petition can do.

Okay. 3.3, 'Lack of support for children with disabilities at crisis'. This petition was submitted by Rebecca Weale and was first considered in June 2017, having collected 200 signatures. We last considered this on 3 December and agreed to contact Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board to ask for them to take forward a meeting with the petitioner, as previously agreed, and to also ask them to provide an update once this had taken place. A response from the health board was received on 20 December. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed and has provided some further comments. You'll find it there in your pack—apologising for the last-minute delay; there's been a crisis over the last eight weeks, and still going on; but she does apologise for the misunderstanding with regard to the meeting. A meeting did take place.

09:20

I think this has been—again, really, the committee itself has done its cause here and put it to the, gone to the, appropriate health board, where matters are raised and monitored locally. So, I think it's done its job for maybe this petition, and it's now for the health board to take up. They've said they'll—. The chief executive has given his assurances that this will be progressed. And I think—. As a committee, I think we're—

It's succeeded in opening up that dialogue, hasn't it? Neil.

Okay. I think we'll thank the petitioner for coming forward with the petition, and I think it certainly seems to have helped to have opened that dialogue up.

I think, if the committee is supportive, we could suggest that any further issues that the petitioner experiences could be a matter for constituency casework by the local Member, perhaps.

I'd welcome that, if we could just share the details with the Members.

Okay. Item 3.4: 'Let’s Get Every Young Heart Screened (Age 10-35)'. This petition was submitted by Sharon Owen and was first considered in April last year, having collected 3,444 signatures. Committee last considered this on 15 October, agreeing to await the outcome of a review by the UK National Screening Committee of its recommendation in relation to a screening programme for sudden cardiac death syndrome. The UKNSC published their updated recommendations on screening for cardiac conditions associated with sudden cardiac death in the young in December 2019, and the petitioners have provided further comment.

It's up to you as members of the committee now to decide how you want to progress, or whether you feel that this committee has done its work.

I agree with the petitioner, actually. I think there should be screening, but it's not been recommended, so we can either close the petition or maybe debate this in the Plenary, just to give it a wider airing.

I'm very sympathetic to this petition, really. You've seen—. And, certainly, if most of the testing is done on athletes, just look how many times we've seen this over the last couple of years, where, out of nowhere—and that's from the Premier League to a grass-roots football team in my constituency. So, it could happen to anyone; we don't understand why, really.

Yes. So, I am sympathetic to this. We could raise it as a debate, if that's a way forward. Whether that would need the backing of other Members, I'm not sure, but I'd happily—. I think I'd—. Yes, I'd support a debate on this. Because it is a big issue, and I think we just need to iron out exactly—. If the testing's been done on athletes, well maybe we need to look at why that is, and why it isn't the general public. It just seems a little too early to close, really, for me.

The process by which this committee typically proposes a debate is either in relation to petitions that have gathered more than 5,000 signatures or where the committee has done its own inquiry into the subject matter. Obviously, there are other mechanisms through which Members or political groups here can request time for issues to be debated, or to table questions for Ministers. I think so far the committee has not done its own investigations on this because of the work of the UK National Screening Committee, which reviewed its recommendation. Given that that recommendation is very recent—December 2019—there may be little additional value in this committee investigating the subject.

09:25

Maybe, given that Jack and I would like to take this forward as an idea, as a topic, really, as an issue, perhaps we can do it in other ways, then, rather than through the committee, in that case. I'd agree to close it if that's the view.

It would be open to the committee to seek further evidence. We've had—. The committee has previously written to the British Heart Foundation on this, and to—the name escapes me, but the organisation of cardiologists, the professional body, and sought their views. If there were other suggestions for where the committee could get further views, then that would be an option too.

Let's seek to get a little bit more evidence, see what that is and then come back, and, if we're no further forward, I think we could then close the petition and take it up on a separate avenue.

Okay. So, if we can look at—. We'll maybe ask the research service to suggest some areas where the committee could seek further evidence. If there are none, then, as you say, we can bring it back.

Okay. Item 3.5, which is page 123 in your pack: 'Appoint a Learning Disability Commissioner for Wales'. This petition was submitted by Cardiff People First and was first considered in July 2019, having collected 568 signatures. We last considered this on 15 October. We wrote to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask several questions about the monitoring of duties under the Social Service and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 proposed by the petitioners. A response was received from the Minister on 11 December. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed but have not provided further comment.

They've rejected it, so—. It says here the information is being evaluated in terms of the Social-Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, so maybe we could close the petition.

Okay. So, that's a proposal to close the petition. We'll, again, thank the petitioners, because at least there is some dialogue that's taken place, and, you know—.

Item 3.6: 'For single-use items: introduce a Deposit Return System for drink containers and make fast food containers and utensils compostable'. This petition was submitted by the Marine Conservation Society and was first considered in May 2017, having collected 1,993 signatures. Now, we last considered this in April 2019, alongside P-05-803, 'Our natural world is being poisoned by single use plastics...it’s time to introduce a tax!', so we joined those and agreed to await the outcome of joint consultations being held by the UK and Welsh Governments before considering whether we should take further action on the petitions. The Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government issued a written statement on plastic waste in summer 2019. The UK Government has published the outcome of the joint consultation on introducing a deposit-return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the petitioners have provided us with further comment.

I understand the UK Government is leading the way on this, to introduce one deposit-return scheme in England and Wales. However I do think this could be driven by the Welsh Government as well—obviously a major issue that we face. So, I think, although it's being led by the UK Government, we can write to the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government in the Welsh Government for an update and also just keep the pressure on, really, because I think the Welsh Government should be keeping the pressure on the UK Government for this, and so should the Assembly. So, I think we should write back for an update, and also seek further—if there's anything we can do as a devolved Government alongside this to assist. 

09:30

Okay. Thank you. 

P-05-803, that's 3.7: 'Our natural world is being poisoned by single use plastics...it's time to introduce a tax!' This petition was submitted by Friends of Barry Beaches and was first considered in March 2018, having collected 102 signatures. Goodness, we considered this in April 2019 alongside P-05-750, 'For single use items: introduce a Deposit Return System for drink containers and make fast food containers and utensils compostable', agreeing to await the outcome of joint consultations being held by the UK and Welsh Governments before considering whether we should take further actions on the petitions. The Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government issued a written statement on plastic waste in summer 2019. The UK Government has published the outcome of the joint consultation on introducing a deposit-return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the petitioners have provided further comment.  

Again, I'd suggest, with what we've said on the last petition, whether we write to the Minister for finance—. Hopefully, taxation wouldn't become a thing, but it may well be that to drive single-use plastic down—. So, we could ask the finance Minister for an update on where she is in relation to working with the UK Government in preventing a taxation on this. 

Okay. We'll move on to another similar one: 3.8, 'Ban Single Use Plastic Items in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Ban Plastic Straws Wales. It was first considered in September 2018, having collected 161 signatures. The committee last considered this on 5 November, agreeing to write to the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government to seek further information on the commitments she made during Plenary on 16 October in relation to bringing forward a ban or restriction on certain single-use plastic items in Wales. A response was received on 11 December. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed but have not provided further comment.

How would you like to take this forward, or—? 

I'd be happy to close this petition. I think the Minister has stated this in Plenary. We could write back for a more precise timescale, but we could also do that as individual Assembly Members scrutinising the Government within the Senedd. So, I would suggest maybe closing this petition. She's committed to doing so. Perhaps this is a job for the wider Assembly to look at. 

Okay. Neil? 

Yes. I agree. 

Okay. Close this one. 

And then—. I have to say, I'm really pleased by the number of people who have actually used the Petitions Committee. It is fantastic and I think this committee has worked well in terms of liaising with the Government. 

So, the next one is 'Ban plastic straws (when drinking milk) in our schools'. This petition was submitted by Ysgol y Wern and was first considered in July 2018, having collected 1,034 signatures. So, we last considered this in May 2019, agreeing to write to WRAP Cymru to seek its views on the petition and also to await the publication of the evaluation report on the recent pilot exercise in Pembrokeshire. A response was received from WRAP Cymru on 22 November and an evaluation report on the pilot exercise in Pembrokeshire does not appear to have been published. The petitioners have provided further comment. So, how would you like to go forward on this one? 

09:35

Again, really, I think this petition is a great petition to come in from a school, which is very promising. But, I think, again, we can potentially close this petition. The Minister's committed to banning single-use plastics and straws as a whole, but I would like to go back to the school and congratulate them. This should really be made a good-news story for the Petitions Committee and the individual school as well. 

Yes. So, congratulations to Ysgol y Wern for their petition and the work of this committee. And I welcome Michelle Brown. 

Okay. So, close that petition—

Item 3.10, 'Save the trees and ground in Roath Mill and Roath Brook Gardens before it's too late'. This petition was submitted by Tamsin Davies and was first considered in February 2018, having collected 8,700 signatures. The committee last considered the petition in April 2019 and agreed to keep a watching brief on the issue and also to request an update in six months' time. This, of course, followed a commitment by NRW to review the evidence for the third phase of flood prevention work. An update was received from Natural Resources Wales on 5 December. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed but have not provided further comment. 

I'd like to keep a watching brief on this, really, because I think the final news awaited is early this year. So, I think if we could just hold it for a while and see what happens with it—. 

Yes. And can we actually chase them again for their comment? 

Yes. We can seek an update from the petitioners on their side of this. As Neil has said, NRW has said that there'll be further consideration of options for the next phase of the scheme considered by their board early this year. 

Item 3.11, 'Control Rapidly Expanding Intensive Poultry Industry in Wales', page 165 in your packs. This was submitted by the Brecon and Radnor branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and was first considered in June 2018, having collected 4,567 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 19 November, agreeing to write again to the Minister for environment to seek a response to the previous points raised in relation to the polluter-pays principle, and to ask further questions proposed by the petitioners in relation to ammonia and phosphate pollution and the permitting regime. Also, we agreed to write to the Minister for Housing and Local Government to ask for an updated timeline on the work of the town and country planning intensive agriculture working group, including an indication of when they will report their findings. Responses were received on 19 November and 20 December respectively, and the petitioners have provided further comment. 

I think we should write back to the Minister and ask her to respond to the questions. 

Okay. We'll write back to the Minister.  

Item 3.12, 'Protect children's lungs from harmful pollution whilst at school', page 174 in your pack. This was submitted by British Lung Foundation Cymru and was first considered in July 2018, having collected 159 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 11 June, agreeing to await the publication of the draft clean air plan for Wales later in 2019 before considering further action on the petition. The Welsh Government published its clean air plan for Wales for public consultation on 10 December and the petitioners have provided us with further comment. How would you like to go forward? 

09:40

I think we should await the outcome of the consultation, really. I wouldn't want to close it. I'd keep it open and await the outcome to see what other bodies and people are saying, really. I think we keep it open and consider it later down the line when we've got some more information from the outside. 

Yes. I think the consultation on the clean air plan is due to close in early spring. 

The petitioners for this petition, actually, and a different petition that the committee has open that isn't on today's agenda are essentially calling for the Government to bring forward a clean air Act in this Assembly, but the legislative programme has been published for the remainder of the Assembly and it's not within there. But, certainly in terms of the consultation, the committee could, as you say, see what arises out of that. 

Yes, I think if we do that and then take it forward after that. 

Thank you.

Item 3.13, 'Protect Wales’ Ancient Yew Trees'. This petition was submitted by Janis Fry and was first considered in November 2019, having collected 77 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 19 November and agreed to seek further information from the petitioner about the specific steps that she would like to see the Welsh Government take to provide additional protection to ancient yew trees and also to write back to the Minister for environment to ask how the recommendations previously made by the task and finish group on ancient, veteran and heritage trees have been take forward. A response with supporting information was received from the petitioner on 8 December. We also received a response from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 18 December.

I'd suggest we write back to the petitioner and see what the petitioner thinks of the Minister's letter. 

The petitioner, in previous comments, had also talked about—we'd asked specifically about what action she would like to see taken in Wales and she'd referred to things being taken forward by English Heritage in England. The equivalent body here would be Cadw. So, it's an option for the committee as well to potentially seek some details about any work Cadw has been doing in relation to ancient trees. 

Okay—write to Cadw as well. Okay. Is everyone happy with that? 

So, now, item 3.14, 'Ensuring Equality of Curriculum for Welsh Medium Schools e.g. GCSE Psychology'. This was submitted by Chris Evans and was first considered in November 2017, having collected 652 signatures. So, we last considered the petition on 9 July, agreeing to write to Qualifications Wales to set out the committee's view that everybody should be able to study all available qualifications in both official languages in Wales. We also agreed to write to the petitioner to encourage them to directly engage with Qualifications Wales's consultation on the future shape of 14 to 16-year-olds' qualifications and also to await the proposals resulting from the Qualifications Wales consultation before considering this petition again. Qualifications Wales's consultation, 'Qualified for the future', was launched on 29 November and will close on 7 February. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comment.  

I think we can wait for the outcome of the consultation. 

Item 3.15, 'Fair Deal For Supply Teachers'. This petition was submitted by Sheila Jones and was first considered in May 2018, having collected 1,425 signatures.

We last considered this on 9 November. We agreed to write to the Minister for Education, prior to producing a report on this issue, to ask for an update on the implementation of the new managed service framework specification for agency workers; for a response to the points raised by supply agencies and the petitioner about the national minimum pay rate not being followed in some cases or upheld by legislation; and also about the next steps following the recent evaluation of the school-based cluster supply model project. A response was received from the Minister on 9 December and the petitioner has also provided further comments.

09:45

I would be interested to hear what measures Welsh Government have put in place in the new framework agreement with the supply agencies, relating to the terms and conditions of the supply staff, training, and things like sick pay and other things as well. I'd be interested to hear what Welsh Government has to say about how they've covered those issues off in the framework agreement, because otherwise, if they haven't, I'm not sure a great deal of change is going to be achieved by the national framework in terms of improving supply teachers' conditions.

If we could get answers to that, yes, then maybe produce a report. 

Yes, I'm happy to support that. It's been 18 months; it's a long time, isn't it? We need to get some answers, and if need be, produce a report on this to take to the Government.

Did the answers to my questions come out in that evidence?

Yes, I think so. I think it may have been before you joined the committee. 

So, yes, that was after or just around the time, I believe, of the introduction of the framework. I'm not au fait with all the aspects of it—

Indeed. It includes things like minimum pay rates for supply teachers. Since then, the committee's had some back and forth with agencies and with the Minister over some suggestions that not all of the agencies were, indeed, paying that minimum rate. So, that's where the latest correspondence from the Minister comes in in terms of the monitoring of that and how the Welsh Government is cracking down on situations where that's not the case. Ultimately, that's up to individual schools.

But, in terms of other terms and conditions, there's a lot of detail that the committee has received around the training that should be made available to supply teachers and things like that. So, I think the committee has probably got the depth of evidence to produce a draft report at this point. And then, I think, once you have that draft in front of you, if there are gaps in the evidence, then we need to go back and then we can do that at that point.

Item 3.16: 'Presumption in favour of rural schools'. This petition was submitted by the parent teacher association of Ysgol Gymunedol Bodffordd and was first considered in September 2018, having collected 5,125 signatures.

The committee last considered the petition on 11 June and agreed to write to seek the views of a range of organisations on the case for, and possible implications of, introducing an appeals mechanism in relation to school closure proposals, including: the Welsh Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Education in Wales, and campaign groups. A joint response was received from the WLGA and the Association of Directors of Education in Wales in September 2019. Additional comments have also now been received from the petitioners. How would you like to take this forward?

The Minister has said that she's not convinced that change is necessary and decisions should be taken locally. So, essentially, the petition has done it's job, really. We could close the petition and then thank the petitioners. I don't see what more we could do as a committee ourselves.

09:50

Okay. There's a feeling here, then, that the committee has done the work it was asked to do and there's a proposal to close this petition.

You can't keep banging your head against a brick wall, can you?

We perhaps could note that the origins of this petition were around a proposal to close a specific school on Anglesey. And, following a very vibrant local campaign, and also the investigations of this committee into the school reorganisation code, those proposals were actually withdrawn last year. However, I should say that Anglesey council have since restarted the proposals under the new code, which seeks to give further protection to rural schools, so that process is now under way again. But, in practice, the petition calls for the Welsh Government to ensure that local authorities follow the school organisation code in the case of these proposals. And, in practice, that is what happened with the withdrawal of the previous proposal. So, although it has since restarted, it may be difficult to see how the committee could take this any further.

Yes, it seems like there's not a great deal we can do, because they've just—. Well, they're not minded to listen to the petitioner, so maybe, reluctantly, we do have to close it.

Item 3.17: 'Amendment to Education (Student Support) (Wales) Regulations 2018 to include UK institutions with operations overseas'. This petition was submitted by Alanna Jones and was first considered in June 2019, having collected 299 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 19 November and agreed to provide the information received from the University of London Institute in Paris to the Minister for Education and ask for her to provide a further view in relation to the appropriateness of designating courses at the institution, in light of the clarifications. A response was received from the Minister on 11 December, and the petitioner has provided further comment.

How would you like to go forward?

I think the Government's response was only in terms of the broader issues of amending the regulations themselves. So, I think we should write back to the Minister.

Yes. Does everybody agree with us writing back to the Minister?

And ask specifically—

Yes, we need to ask specifically the question whether to seek a further response on the issue of designating the specific courses at the University of London Institute in Paris as eligible for funding, rather than more about widespread changes to the regulations.

Yes, I'd support that, if that's what—. The petitioner says that in her petition, doesn't she? So, we should try and get some answers.

Okay. Item 3.18, 'Make GCSE Welsh Language compulsory in all schools in Wales', page 210 in your packs. This petition was submitted by Gwion Rhisiart and was first considered in June 2019, having collected 175 signatures. We last considered this on 17 September and we all agreed to write back to the Welsh Independent Schools Council, WISC, to ask what percentage of independent schools do offer their pupils the opportunity to learn Welsh GCSE. A response was received from WISC on 29 October. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comments.

I think, given the response provided by Welsh Government and the clarifications that have been provided by the Welsh Independent Schools Council—I don't think there's anything further we can do, and I'd suggest closing the petition.

09:55

Yes, I'd agree. It would be nice to see all schools take the language, but, as Michelle said, the Minister's said that the Government doesn't have the powers to do that, so, therefore, what can we achieve as a committee? No more than that, really. So, I'd agree and support closing the petition.

We're going to have to close it, I think. But maybe, before we do, write to the petitioner, just to get their views and then close it off.

Yes. Okay.

Item 3.19, 'National Reading and Numeracy Tests for children from as young as age 6 need to be discontinued with immediate effect', page 214 in your packs. This petition was submitted by Tanya Beer and was first considered in July 2019, having collected 256 signatures. We last considered the petition on 5 November, and agreed to write back to the Minister for Education to ask for the specific justification for using personal online assessments with children from the age of six and how it is compatible with the spirit of the foundation phase. A response was received from the Minister on 12 December, and the petitioner has provided further comment.

I think the petitioner's acknowledged the Minister's direction on this. She might not agree with it, but I think that's the way it's travelling, isn't it? So, we could write back to the petitioner and thank her for her comments and the petition, but I think we're going to have to close the petition. The Minister's said what way they're travelling and there's not much really we can do to stop it or change that.

Okay. So, there's a proposal there to close the petition, and again thank the petitioner for coming forward with it.

Item 3.20: 'Promoting the use of Makaton sign language in all Welsh schools'. And I have to confess, it was at the handing over of this petition that I actually then realised what Makaton was. So, it's already succeeded in making me aware.

Oh, that was the British Sign Language that I did, but, again, one thing that I love about the Petitions Committee is how people can raise awareness of their particular issues. And I've seen Makaton used on tv on children's programmes, and now I know what it is. So, already, I think there's been a positive response to this particular one.

So, this was submitted by Isabella Evans and was considered for the first time in November—this most recent November—having collected 5,024 signatures. So, we considered this on 19 November. We agreed to write back to the Minister for Education to ask specifically what opportunities there are for the Welsh Government to promote the benefits of providing opportunities for pupils to learn Makaton, or other forms of sign language, to schools in Wales, either through the new curriculum or other means, and what other opportunities to learn Makaton, such as adult education classes, are supported by the Government. A response was received from the Minister on 10 December and the petitioner has provided further comment.

I think we could go back to the Minister. We should be encouraging more languages to be learnt, especially those like Makaton, et cetera. So, I think we go back to the Minister and ask her, under the new curriculum, what opportunities there would be.

And, of course, this, the numbers qualify it, don't they, should Members wish—if you wanted it to go forward for debate.

Yes. I think we can get the comments off the Minister first, because that gives us a bit more of a basis, then, to—. But if it comes back with, 'We think it's right to have a debate', I'd fully support that.

Okay. Are Members in agreement with writing back to the Minister? 

Fab.

Item 3.21: 'Introducing a Register of Lobbyists in Wales'. This petition was submitted by the Centre for Welsh Studies think tank and was first considered in July 2018, having collected 55 signatures. We last considered this on 11 June, agreeing to await further views from the petitioners on the information provided before considering whether to take further action on the petition. Despite a number of attempts at contact, no further response has been received from the petitioners. 

10:00

Can I put a plea in that we just give it one more go? I declare an interest, because I do have an interest in lobbying and asking questions about lobbying firms. My questions got me thrown out of the Plaid Cymru group. So, I think it's a really serious issue, and Wales has got to be the only country in the world where you can pay an organisation thousands of pounds and they will sit you in front of a decision maker and nobody will know anything about it—nobody. So, I think really I'd like to contact the petitioner one more time. If they don't come back with anything, then we'll have to close it. 

If I can just take advice from the clerk, do we have a standard set of guidelines as to how many times you would contact the petitioner and say, 'We really need your response to this'?  

Yes. So, the committee has closed a number of petitions in this situation in the past, although not for some time, I have to say. And, typically, we would contact the petitioners on at least three occasions to ask for their comments. The final, or more recent time, that we do that we would say to the petitioners that, based on previous decisions made by the committee, the committee may wish to close the petition at this point. So, these petitioners have had those kind of comments. So, it would be at least three occasions.   

Can we wait a month then? Just wait until the next meeting. Maybe not write, then, just wait until the next meeting. I propose that. 

Wait for one more meeting is Neil's proposal?

And they'll have quite a robust chase-up for a response? 

And a warm welcome to Leanne Wood. Economy and transport—we're on page 53—3.22, 'No to any Closure of Junction 41'. This petition was submitted by Carol Clement-Williams and was first considered in January 2019, having collected 473 signatures. We last considered this on 21 May, and agreed to keep a watching brief on the issue and to seek a further update in six months’ time, or sooner if the situation changed. An update was received from the Minister on 11 December, and the petitioner has provided further comment. 

We could wait for the publication of the results from further monitoring. 

Okay, so we're going to await the publication of results from further monitoring of the 50 mph speed limit between junctions 41 and 42 and the development of a precautionary retained measure and stakeholder engagement in March 2020. 

Item 3.23: 'Call on the Welsh Government to provide free sanitary products to all women in low income households'. This was submitted by Malpas Women's Institute and was first considered in February 2019, having collected 141 signatures. We last considered this on 15 October, and agreed to write to the Deputy Minister to ask for more detail on how the £1 million funding allocated up to 2020 is being spent and how it is contributing to the reduction of period poverty, and also to write to the Scottish Government to request information about how their commitments to provide free sanitary products in education settings, and targeted support for low income households, is being delivered and also for any information that they can provide about the impact it is having. Responses have been received from the Welsh and Scottish Governments. A Welsh Government press release was published on 3 January, providing case studies of how the funding has been used. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed, but have not provided further comment. 

I think it's positive news with the announcement from the Welsh Government, but I would like to hear some on-the-ground feedback, really, to—whether that's the right way. So, I would suggest that we could leave it open just to hear the views, given the fact that the press release was at the start of January, and I think a lot of people will still be catching up with things.

10:05

Can I say that I agree with the points that you've just made? I know that when my colleague, Elyn Stephens—councillor in Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council—first put forward this as an idea, and it was taken up by Welsh Government, one of the concerns that she put forward was that there wasn't enough money provided for the whole infrastructure behind the policy. So, it would be good for us to be able to keep a watching brief. I'm not sure who else would be keeping an eye on this if we are not. It's good that we've got a petition and that enables us to keep an eye on things. So, if we can do something to follow this up, I'd be very grateful.

Okay. So, in the first instance, we'll give the petitioner some more time to respond and provide their feedback on what the Government has said it's doing. 

Yes. If they're satisfied, we need to take it no further, but—. 

Item 3.24, 'Transforming the response for older people experiencing domestic abuse—a call for action'. This petition was submitted by Sarah Wydall and was first considered in July 2019, having collected 125 signatures.

So, we last considered this on 5 November. We agreed to write back to the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to (1) seek a response to issues raised by the petitioners and the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, including around training for professionals and the call for a national action plan; (2) to ask how the Welsh Government intends to support the work being taken forward by the older people’s commissioner. So, (2) was to ask how the Welsh Government intends to support the work being taken forward by the older people’s commissioner; and (3) to ask for guidance to be issued to relevant organisations in relation to the use of inclusive imagery in materials promoting domestic abuse services. A response was received from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip on 3 December and the petitioner has provided further comments.

How would you like to take this forward? 

I think it might be an idea to encourage the petitioners to engage with Welsh Government about the issue, because they're talking about training and professional qualifications and raising awareness of older people abuse in the training process. So, could we possibly facilitate meetings between the petitioners and Welsh Government officials so that they can pursue their objective more directly and possibly more effectively?

Yes, I'd support that. I wouldn't want it to get lost in translation here, being in the middle. I think the petition's done its job in raising the awareness and bringing it to the attention of the Government, but perhaps it's a conversation for the petitioner to have directly with the Government and, as Members, to support it outside of the committee.

What we could also do is encourage the conversations between the petitioners and Welsh Government, and as well maybe keep a watching brief and then maybe check back in a period of time to see how those conversations are going and whether those meetings have taken place. 

I think the key question—or one of the key questions—in this whole agenda relates to the funding of outreach services, because I used to work for Women's Aid, providing domestic abuse services, and one of the problems that many older people face is that they own their own homes often, and that then makes it very difficult for them to access funded refuge space. So, there are services where support can be provided in people's own homes or in a neutral space, but that requires full funding of outreach services through the existing domestic abuse third sector organisations. So, maybe we could ask—.

The point of the petitioner's concern is around training and guidance, and it's all very well having professional training, but if there aren't any outreach workers to provide that support or there aren't any other services that people can be signposted to, other than refuge space, then that training is going to be pretty useless, really. So, we need to be satisfied that the domestic abuse services that currently exist are fully funded to provide services for outreach, and if they're not, that would suggest that there's a discrimination in the system against older people, who are more likely to be home owners.

10:10

Okay, so there's a suggestion that we seek to engage the petitioners and the Welsh Government, or suggest that the petitioners and the Welsh Government engage directly, and then there are some concerns raised about funding. How would you wish to speak to the rest of those? 

Can we write to the Minister to ask what extent or what proportion of funding goes towards direct refuge space and outreach services? 

Yes. Some of the things written in the detail here are quite shocking—that it wasn't until 2017 that anybody over 57 was included in figures. It's an awareness-raising petition. So, I'd be loathe to close it at the minute. I know I've said that several times this morning, and we do get a big backlog of petitions then, but I think with this I would like to maybe explore it further, rather than just close it, because it is an important issue.

I think we could—. The two options are the same really. So, we could write with Leanne's comments and keep a watching brief on where we're going, but also try and facilitate that conversation directly so they're not waiting for us. I think that can happen simultaneously, can't it?

We can maybe ask them what they want us to do as well, because I'd like to hear what they want us to do with this petition.

It is quite interesting though, isn't it, that when you do see posters of domestic abuse it's very rarely older people? 

It's just very stereotypical, isn't it, as well? It's usually female and it's not very inclusive at all. It's across the board. 

Yes. So, we'll write back to the Minister to suggest that they engage in some direct dialogue with the petitioners and we'll try and facilitate that, and we'll ask the questions that have been raised about funding for outreach services versus refuge services and how the Government seeks to make the provision inclusive. 

Okay. Item 3.25, 'Make baby and toddler changing available in both male/female toilets'. This petition was submitted by Antony Esposti and was first considered in April 2019, having collected 125 signatures.

So, we considered this most recently on 15 October. We agreed to write back to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to ask how the Government intends to ensure that local authorities are complying with the statutory guidance on the provision of baby changing facilities if it does not intend to scrutinise local toilet strategies. A response was received on 3 December and the petitioner has provided further comment. 

I think really this has been more passed to the local government side of things. 

We've raised it. We've considered a petition similar to this a couple of months ago, haven't we? 

There are two petitions about toilets. So, this one about baby and toddler changing facilities and one about Changing Places facilities for adult disabled people. 

They are slightly different issues though, aren't they? The Changing Places petition is around investing in large spaces—wet rooms, that kind of thing—with hoists, whereas baby changing facilities are a lot more simple to provide and they should be provided as a matter of course in all public toilets, really. That's what the petitioner wants to achieve, isn't it, so that both mothers and fathers can change their children without having to lose their dignity or the child's dignity? 

Yes, or actually, for men to go into female toilets sometimes. 

Or maybe a joint changing facility, separate from the main toilets, because they're not very—.  

The suggestion from the Government guidance and building regulations appears to be a separate facility for baby changing that is not provided in the gender neutral/disabled toilet. A lot of facilities would provide it that way. The gold standard here being suggested by the Government is a completely separate facility, but I think the petitioner has some concerns over how workable that is when you're adapting previous facilities.

10:15

It's a serious issue, public toilets. I know from personal experience, driving between north Wales and Cardiff after working hours, the facilities are somewhat limited, shall we say. It's a public facility. I would have thought that it's fairly basic. I think it's worthy of investigation, but I'm open to suggestions as to how those investigations should be carried forward.

Some of the questions the committee asked last time of the Minister were around how the Welsh Government seeks to scrutinise provision and make sure that there is sufficient provision. The answer from the Government appears to suggest that it's a local authority issue. They talk about that they don't intend to scrutinise local toilet strategies, which local authorities are having to produce following the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 that was passed here. And they also say that compliance in relation to building regulations is monitored by local authorities and inspectors and not by the Welsh Government.

But I think the link here to the Changing Places facilities petition, whilst recognising that the issues being raised are different, appears to be around how Government makes that change happen in terms of the production of a strategy or guidance when that doesn't appear to be monitored at any kind of national level once it's in place.

So, the committee, on the Changing Places petition, has written to the Government on a similar issue and it may be sensible to await the response to that letter and consider both these petitions at the same time. That may give the committee a clearer indication as to whether it can combine the issues being raised or whether they need to stay separate.

Okay. Can I just ask a question? If the Government are not scrutinising local authorities' toilet strategies, who is? And where are they going if nobody's scrutinising them?

The governance is subject to local authorities' existing scrutiny structures.

So, they expect committees within local authorities to be looking at it.

I'll just raise one thing. I'm not sure if it's within the scope of the committee, but we've got the changing facility here in the Assembly for 'parent and baby' and there's a sign of a person with a skirt on, indicating that it's for females. I think that's really sexist and maybe we could write to the Commission to ask them to alter the sign because, as we see with this petition, men do need changing facilities for babies also. There's the assumption that it's mothers only, it's not fathers.

The committee could write to the Assembly Commission on that point.

Item 3.26, 'Guarantee fully plant-based options on every public sector menu every day, to protect the rights of vegans and for our health, the environment and animals'. This petition was submitted by Louise Davies, on behalf of the Vegan Society, and was first considered in March 2019, having collected 1,109 signatures.

We last considered this on 15 October and we agreed to write back to the Minister for finance to ask how the current national procurement service food and drink framework agreements enable and promote the provision of daily vegan options on public sector menus. We also agreed to write to the Minister for Education to ask whether the Government has any plans to review the healthy eating in maintained schools statutory guidance, in regard to the requirements to provide menu choices appropriate for those following a vegan diet. Responses from both Ministers were received on 3 December and 26 November respectively. The petitioner has provided further comment.

I have so much sympathy with this petition. It's very difficult to get—. If you don't eat meat and only eat fish, it's very, very difficult in most places, including those in the public sector. If you're vegetarian, it's even harder. If you're vegan, it's even harder, and so on. However, I think the Minister's indicated that she's not going to mandate anything. Her response seems to indicate that she thinks it's up to the public bodies themselves to make the decision. I just wonder is there anything further we can do on this.

10:20

Can I ask a question on the legal side of things? The Minister of finance has ruled out the prospect of legislating to mandate a vegan option. Does it require legislation, or do Ministers have the right to say, 'Right, in hospitals, this will be provided. In schools, this will be available', without having to legislate? It seems like a cop-out answer if it doesn't need legislation.

We can definitely get back to you with a note on that. The first thing I'd say is it would probably be required to mandate, some kind of legislation, because guidance wouldn't be binding. It would obviously be, 'We recommend that all public bodies have a vegan option', but how binding that would be would be the question.

Okay. I can understand the argument that there may not be time to legislate now, with just over a year left of this final Assembly. But perhaps we could write back and say, 'Okay, you're not prepared to legislate to mandate, but you could issue guidance, you could suggest to local education authorities, health boards and other public bodies that it's good practice to include everyone.'

Because this petition spans multiple ministerial portfolios, I think we've probably now written to four different Ministers in relation to this petition—certainly three. The situation is slightly different in each area that is being raised by the petitioners.

So, the Minister for Education has stated that the healthy eating in schools regulations are being reviewed, and that's being done in light of changes to nutritional recommendations, and it would include consideration as to whether additional guidance should be provided for pupils with vegan diets.

And it's not in this pack, but previously the Minister for health has said something similar about hospital food provision, which is subject to another set of regulations that are being equally reviewed, and there is a series of sample menus that are available to hospitals.

The Minister for finance has also written a couple of times to the committee about the agreements that are available for public bodies to use through the national procurement service.

So, the Government's advice to the committee to date has been that there is plenty of guidance and information made available, but that ultimately it's decision making for the bodies that are providing those services, whether it's a school governing body or a local authority or a health board.

Okay, well, if that's the case, is there any further we can take it then, or is sensible to close the petition?

I think it's always open to the committee to push back on some of those elements and state its view to the Ministers who are conducting those reviews or, as you suggested earlier, to write back to the Government and ask, short of legislating, what else could they do. It may be that we receive similar information to what we've received before, but—

We could also ask for the Government to share the message of this guidance that is already out there with those health boards and public sector organisations that you've described, to make sure they know that the guidance is there, and if they need to access it they can.

Okay. So, we can write back to the Government stating that, and at the same time produce a legal note on the options that could be available through the Assembly to strengthen that. Okay.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

We now move to item 4, motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for the following business. Therefore, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for item 5 of today's meeting. Are Members content? Okay.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:24.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:24.

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