Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd
Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd09/06/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Jack Sargeant MS|
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood MS|
|Neil McEvoy MS|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Mared Llwyd||Ail Glerc|
|Ross Davies||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Samiwel Davies||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
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.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:00.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:00.
Bore da. Croeso. Welcome. I welcome everyone to this virtual meeting of the Petitions Committee. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public should be excluded from attending this committee meeting in order to protect public health. The meeting is, however, broadcast live on Senedd.tv and all participants will be joining by video-conference. The meeting is bilingual, and translation is available. A Record of Proceedings will also be published. Aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting business remotely, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place.
We have apologies from Michelle Brown.
We move to item 2, COVID-19 petitions: 2.1, P-05-962, 'An emergency amendment to extend age of entitlement to additional educational support from 25 to 26, and to define within Government guidance the Covid 19 pandemic as an exceptional circumstance'. This petition was submitted by Mike Charles, having collected 537 signatures. It reads that they call upon the Senedd
'to direct our Government to urgently amend the Learning and Skills Act to allow for funding within specialist colleges to he extended from the age of 25 to 26 for those affected by the Covid19 pandemic and to urgently scrap or amend it's guidance document no: 221/2017 November 2017 so that the Covid19 crisis is defined as an exceptional circumstance.'
An initial response was received from the Minister for Education on 21 May, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further detailed comments on the current guidance in this area. How would you like to take this forward? Leanne.
I think we should go back to the Minister. It's clear that, while provision might have been extended to 20 July, there's not going to be much provision provided in terms of any services between now and then, and around three months of provision has already been lost. So I think it's a perfectly reasonable request.
Expecting people to apply on a case-by-case basis is probably unrealistic, and if that is the system going forward, then it's likely that very few people will apply, I would have thought. So I think there does need to be one change across the board. So, I think that we should write back to the Minister and make the further points.
Okay. Any other Members? You need your microphone.
Sorry. I definitely think that we should do that. I'd like the committee to, maybe, do a press release as well, just stating that we're doing that to let people know that we're acting on the issue, because I just think it's a poor show, really, and I think the more publicity this gets, the better.
Okay. Any comment, Jack?
I certainly agree that this is certainly something that should, in my view, meet an exceptional circumstance test—perhaps something that shouldn't have to go through those means. So, anything that we can do to lend support to this, moving forward, I would agree with.
Okay, so are you clear, now, Clerk, of the actions that we're taking forward?
Yes. We can write to the Minister to ask the questions about exceptional circumstances, certainly. It would be unusual for the committee to issue a press release, I think, about a specific petition arising from a meeting, but I'll take your guidance on that.
It is unusual, but I think the circumstances are unusual, and I think it's quite disgusting that these people have been told to apply individually. So, again, I think we should publicise our work, really.
If it's a case of setting a precedent, then the committee's got a Twitter account, hasn't it? So, there could be a little thread in the Petition Committee's Twitter account explaining what this petition's all about. We don't have to go into every petition, because this is a specific COVID-related one, but it would give the issue more publicity, because we could all share that, but then it would avoid setting a precedent for all campaigns to have press releases written by the Petitions Committee.
Okay. So, we'll go with the Twitter feed, Neil? I can't hear you.
Sorry, I had to unmute. I'd like to formally put that we do a press release, really, I put that as a motion to the committee.
Any other comments on that? Jack.
I think I'd be—. I can understand the reason why Neil wants to go down the route of a press release for this, but that really does set a precedent if we are going forwards. I would welcome more information on the Twitter feed channel, whether it is something we can upload to the website as well, which we could all share individually. I think I'd move forward on that basis rather than a separate press release, because unfortunately, I understand the reasons why, but we just don't want to be in a position where we're making people feel left out if we don't decide to do one, and we do decide to do one for something else. I understand that the cause is extremely concerning, but a lot of causes are concerning for a lot of people.
Okay. A final point on this, Neil. I can't hear you.
Sorry, Chair. I keep having to remember to press the button.
Sorry, can I just interrupt you there, Neil? I thought the mics were being controlled centrally.
I'll check that as to what's happening.
Thanks, Chair. It wouldn't be a bad thing, maybe, to change the way we operate and send press releases routinely when requested on matters. So, I'll leave the suggestion there and if the committee doesn't agree then that's fine, but I'd like to leave the motion there to the side.
Okay. Well, I have got the majority of Members suggesting that, at the moment, it's really awkward to set a precedent. I think using the social media aspect is quite a good prospect going forward, and then maybe we can review it later on.
Okay. So, I think we can certainly use the committee's Twitter account just to express some of the views of the committee, and to say that we are writing back to the Government for clarification on the process.
Okay. Are Members happy with that? Okay, we'll move on.
P-05-947, 'Make GP letters for Students gratis'. This petition was submitted by William Bremner, having collected 144 signatures. The text of the petition:
'Currently when requiring a letter from the GP to back up an extenuating circumstances claim or for evidence for a DSA application the GP will charge the student around £35 (surgery dependent). This means that on top of the difficulty that a student may be having with their health, learning difficulties, and/or disabilities, they will then have to pay to have a document that shows this. This means that many students (especially those from poorer backgrounds) will have trouble with receiving the support that they need to not only complete their degree, but in some cases survive.'
An initial response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 16 March. A research brief has been provided. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting, but has not sent any further comments at this time. How would you like to take this forward? Neil, then Leanne.
Can we write to the petitioner, please, to get their views?
I think we do need to pursue this issue, but it is difficult to do that when the petitioner hasn't responded. I think we need to wait for the petitioner's views. It's interesting that the Minister says that the doctors are not obliged to charge this fee; it's discretionary and they don't have to charge the full amount. Maybe that's something that we want to pursue, because maybe it shouldn't be discretionary; maybe the doctors should be told that in these circumstances they should not charge. But then I guess there needs to be some sort of recompense to the doctor if there's any loss of income from that process.
So, it's something that I think we should as a committee pursue, but it is difficult to take the next steps without the petitioner's views. So, if we can wait for the petitioner's views, and I don't know if there's anything that we can start progressing on in the interim, while we wait for those views. I don't know whether events have overtaken since the petition was sent in in the middle of March. Maybe the petitioner thinks that the Government's got other things to be focusing on at the moment, but nonetheless, it is an issue that is going to be still there after the COVID crisis has gone away, which will hopefully be quite soon.
Okay. Jack, did you want to come in on that?
Yes, I agree with both Leanne and Neil, really. We do have to wait to be guided by the petitioner on this, but I think it's certainly something that we should be taking forward as a committee. The additional cost for these types of letters is a stressful situation for anyone, not just students, really, but certainly students—I think we should be supporting them as and where we can. That's a stressful time for a lot of people, going through your degree, and you just don't need this added stress. And it also may put some people off. So, we should be letting people in Wales reach their full potential, and this could only be a hindrance in that. So, if the committee can take it forward, obviously once we've received the guidance from the petitioner, I very much join calls for that.
Okay. So, that's fairly clear, really: we really need the petitioner's comments back.
Item 3.2, P-05-950, 'Agriculture and Countryside Education for 4-16-year olds in our schools'. This petition was submitted by Osian Hedd Harries, having collected 93 signatures. The petition is to
'call on the Welsh Government to provide Agriculture and Countryside Studies in our schools.'
'It is important that young people learn how the process of producing food works and learn about the relationship between Food and Agriculture. It is also important that they learn about the basic skills involved in producing our food products. This will also promote respect and understanding of the work of farmers.'
An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Education on 18 March. A research brief has been provided. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting, but has not sent further comments at this time. How would you like to take this forward? Jack.
Thanks, Chair. I thank the petitioner, really, for bringing this forward. However, we've dealt with a lot of these in the past in terms of set subjects in the curriculum, as a committee, and the Minister hasn't changed her view at all on the new curriculum. A detailed list of set subjects and issues are not going to be present in that and I don't think she's going to change her mind now. So, for me, I welcome that the petitioner is using this committee as a way to try and bring issues forward, but I just don't think that this one is something that the committee can move on, certainly with any success, really.
Okay. Do any other Members have comments? Leanne.
Jack is right. I mean, we've had a number of different requests now to change the curriculum to include something. Something that's very close to my heart is the teaching of Welsh history, and that's something that we've not managed to make much progress on in terms of embedding it into the new curriculum, but I understand the Minister's argument about flexibility as well. And I think, if you speak to teachers, a lot of them will say they'd love to teach these issues, and especially this one in relation to climate change as well; it's really important that children understand where their food comes from; there's no question about that. But you can't fit everything into the curriculum, but what teachers want are the resources to be able to have that flexibility. So, they're not going to be able to develop a whole syllabus from scratch. They need to have that information available. They need to have books and videos and all the other resources that teachers need to be able to teach a subject. And that goes for agricultural studies, to history, to any other subject that you can think of. And we've been talking a lot about Black Lives Matter recently. There's a whole issue around black history that's not being taught in schools, which I think needs to be there.
So, we've all got our different views, I'm sure, about what needs to be in the curriculum, but the key issue, for me anyway, is the question of resources, and so that's where I think we should put the pressure on the Government, to make sure that those resources are available, so that teachers can almost go to a shelf, pick off the box of resources in relation to agricultural studies, or that particular module of study, and then they'll have the confidence to be able to teach it. But to expect people to develop a curriculum from scratch is just not going to happen.
Okay. So, how do you want to take this petition forward? Or is there any merit in being able to take it forward?
Well, can we write and ask what resources are being made available to teachers to be able to have this flexibility that the Minister talks about? I go back to the same point as I made in a previous petition—we do need to have the petitioner's further comments, I think; that's always useful, but, at the same time, we're less than a year away before the end of this Senedd now, so if we don't start progressing some of these things, and we just keep waiting for responses, then they might not progress. So, I think we could potentially write to the Minister and ask what work is being done to develop resources in all of these subjects that we've received petitions about, to enable teachers to have the proper flexibility that she says she wants them to have.
Okay. Can I have support from the other Members for that go to forward? Okay. Yes. Thank you.
The next one: 3.3, P-05-951 Impose a legal limit on the maximum number of breeding bitches in licensed dog breeding establishments in Wales. This petition was submitted by Dinah Mulholland, having collected 229 signatures. And the text of the petition is as follows:
'The Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales) Regulations 2014 has imposed the requirement for a breeder with 3 or more breeding bitches to be licensed as a breeding establishment. However, no maximum limit has been placed on the number of breeding bitches that can be kept in a licensed dog breeding establishment. There are therefore licensed dog breeding establishments in Wales that are breeding dogs on an industrial scale, with some establishments licensed to breed from 90 or 100 bitches on a single premises. Even if licensing conditions are met in these mass breeding establishments, the breeding of dogs on such an industrial scale is a highly questionable practice and needs to be reviewed.'
An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 17 March. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Neil.
Can we write back to the Minister for environment, because I think, certainly, some people—? If we close this petition, I think people are going to misunderstand, because I think everybody on the committee takes this extremely seriously? But in closing a petition, I think we're sending a message out that we don't actually care, and we don't actually want to put a stop to this. That's the feedback that I've had. So, I'd like to write back to the Minister for the environment to ask whether or not the Government intends to take forward recommendation 9 of the animal welfare regulations 2014.
Can you hear me?
We can hear you now, yes.
Can we also ask for the Government's intentions with regard to the legislation that they said previously they'd support, but maybe coronavirus priorities have overtaken, and is this possible to be incorporated into that legislation, or is it a different piece of work?
Okay, we can certainly clarify that, can't we, with the Minister?
Okay, 3.4, P-05-953, 'Ban Single Use Plastic Milk Bottles in schools'. This petition was submitted by St Aidan's Church in Wales VA School, having collected 369 signatures:
'We, children of St Aidan's Church in Wales VA School call on the National Assembly of Wales to change the way we use plastic milk bottles in schools. Each day in Wales we use approximately 300kg of plastic milk bottles which are used as part of the free milk scheme in schools. We think it is portraying a negative view towards sustainability, because more people are buying more plastic. The amount of plastic bottles we use is outrageous.'
An initial response to the petition was received from the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government on 1 April. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comments for you to read. What actions would you like to take? Leanne.
I think that if we can support these pupils—. Can I first of all say, isn't it brilliant that a group of young children have felt compelled to put together a petition and bring it forward in this way? So, well done to all of the children involved in this. It's great, and they're rightly proud that the petition has reached this stage.
I think their idea of having a central distribution point of milk is a really good idea and it's a shame that their plans are put off by cost, really. So, if we could write back to the Deputy Minister to share the feedback from the pupils, and ask if there is any way that Government funding can be made available to schools to purchase these distribution units, then that would be a really good way of getting these children to see the fruits of the work that they've put in. Yes, very well done to all of them for the work that they've done on it.
Thanks, Leanne. Any other comments? Okay. So, I'm sure that Members support that going forward—that we write back.
Okay, 3.5: P-05-957, ' "Next Stop St Clears" - Support the bid for a railway station in St Clears'. This petition was submitted by St Clears Town Council, having collected 562 signatures online. A similar number have also been collected on paper but have not been able to be verified because of the coronavirus restrictions. So, they, the undersigned,
'call on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to recommend St Clears to Network Rail as a location for a new railway station in Wales. St Clears and the surrounding communities will benefit greatly from reopening the railway station, closing the gap in the West Wales line and enabling more people to use the train. We believe a station in St Clears would bring many benefits including social inclusion, reducing carbon footprint and increased tourism in the area.'
An initial response to the petition was received from the Welsh Government department for economy and transport on 6 May. A research brief has been provided and the petitioners have provided further comment. How would you like to go forward on this one? Leanne. Leanne, then Jack, then Neil.
Well, we've already seen some progress on this now, haven't we, because the Government has said that they support a new station there? So, that's great, but it's going to be a UK Government decision. So, I wonder if we could send this petition to the UK Government as part of the pressure to get them to support a new station for Sanclêr.
Thanks, Chair. I'd happily support sending the petition to the UK Government regarding the new stations fund. But then, after that, I'm not sure, really, what more the committee could do. So, perhaps we send this forward to the UK Government in a letter of support from the committee, if that's agreed by all Members, and, as part of that, close the petition down and thank the petitioner for what they've done. And I think that's probably as far as we can go, as the Senedd's Petitions Committee.
Right, I agree with that—what both have said—but I'd like to write to the petitioner as well and thank them, but also maybe point out that it's unfortunate—. Maybe Members will agree that we do say it's unfortunate that the ultimate decision is for the UK Government, so therefore not a matter for the Senedd, therefore we have to close the petition. We should let the person know that in case they think that we're closing it again out of a lack of interest or not taking the decision that they want. Because people are under the wrong impression sometimes that we take the decisions on things like this, when we don't—'we' as in collectively in Wales.
Okay. I'm sure we can make that fairly clear in our correspondence to the petitioner and we will make representations to the UK Government. Okay?
Moving on, 4.1, P-05-798, 'Male domestic violence victim support services to be independently run & funded'. This petition was submitted by FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru and was first considered by the committee in February 2018, having collected 138 signatures. We last considered this on 15 January and agreed to write to Safer Wales to seek their response to the concerns raised over their approach to screening male victims and also to await the publication of the regional commissioning guidance before considering the petition again. A response was received from Safer Wales on 10 March, and the Welsh Government statutory guidance for the commissioning of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services in Wales has been published. The petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to go forward with this? Neil.
I probably should declare an interest—well, a couple of interests, actually. First of all, the petitioner used to work for me on a temporary basis, mainly because of his expertise in dealing with different categories of abuse, both male and female.
The second interest, actually, since Safer Wales has been mentioned, is that I should probably mention that they tried to sue me some years ago. Well, I made probably very polemical comments about the fact they didn't have policies in place to recognise parental alienation, which, as we've heard in other committees, is now classified as a form of child abuse and a form of domestic abuse. They pulled out in the end, at the same time the courts were getting them to sue me. They withdrew the application. So, there we go—that's declared. Some people never forgave me for that.
I think, in terms of moving the petition forward, we could write to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to share the concerns expressed by petitioners, to enquire whether or not the commissioning of support services for male victims of domestic abuse will be—. When will it be next reviewed, and whether or not a commitment can be given to offering the opportunity for other providers to submit tenders to provide civic services?
One thing that I want to add about the whole issue of violence against women here is that, some years ago, I went through, I would say, domestic abuse, essentially. So, I reported that at the time, and so on, and it was dealt with up to a point, but, in terms of figures, my assault would have been classified as violence against women even though I'm male. According to the figures, the assault on me would have been categorised as assault against a woman publicly. But I don't think many people know that. So, I just wanted to make that point.
Okay. Any other comments on this? Leanne.
I think it's a bit dangerous for the committee to take any evidence that is just one side of a story without being able to hear the other side. So, I wouldn't support taking any further action on this. It's been made clear by the Government that there are services already in existence for men and those services are good services, and, yes, they do come from a particularly informed place, and that informed place is an understanding of how domestic abuse works and the power relationships within society that keep it going. So, having services informed by that perspective is really important. So, if the committee does choose to take any further action on this, I want to personally stand aside and have nothing to do with it.
Okay. Any other comments? Jack.
I 100 per cent agree with Leanne that, when we're making decisions like this, the sources of information need to come from both sides of the picture. I fully agree with that.
I do think we can ask the simple question of when the next review will be. I'd support that as a simple question. But, before the committee looks into this further at a later stage, perhaps I'd wait. But, certainly, a question on the review I can support. I 100 per cent agree with Leanne that, when decisions are made by committee and Government, we do need both sides of the story, absolutely.
I wouldn't have any objection to a neutral review, but that's not what this is now, is it? Because it's been informed by this petition, and what I wouldn't want to do is give either the public or the Government the impression that I was in any way supportive of comments that give the impression that the existing services to male victims and survivors of domestic abuse are not good enough, or they're informed by some sort of dodgy practice. As I understand it, the services are good, and they're informed from the right theoretical base, and I think that trying to set up alternative services that are not informed by that base is potentially quite dangerous, and I don't want my name associated with anything to do with that.
Okay. Neil, a quick point, and it will have to be how we proceed this petition.
My suggestion is, as I said, that we write the letter. I think Jack agreed with that, which is great. I agree that we do need both sides of any issue, but the reality is—and I know this as a former person who suffered domestic abuse—while I was going through that, there were no services that were non-judgemental for me, and there are still no services which are non-judgemental for men. So, Leanne is just completely, as usual, wrong on this issue, and, I would say, very prejudiced, as well—[Inaudible.]
Okay. I am very keen to keep this meeting very balanced. So, in order to do that, I've had a proposal—we can write to the Deputy Minister. Are you happy with that, Leanne?
No. Can you please make sure, when you write to the Deputy Minister, that the letter is from you three and it makes clear on that letter that it's not from me, please?
Well, I would prefer for the letter compiled to be then sent round to Members for agreement.
I'm not going to put my name to this cause, or anything that suggests that I back this cause, Chair. Okay?
Okay. Clerk, how do you wish to proceed with this?
Well, obviously, in most cases, the committee can reach a consensus position on what to do in proceeding with a petition, but, where that's not the case, then you as a Chair can endorse a majority view if you feel that there is one. But, in terms of if the committee was to write, then, of course, we can make clear in that letter that the action agreed by the committee was not supported by all Members.
Okay. Is everybody clear? So, just to be sure now, can I have a show of hands for writing to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip?
Yes, Chair, and also, before we send the letter, we'd like to review it, I think.
The content of the letter?
Okay. Those against sending the letter.
This is a difficult one to—. Leanne, would there be any possibility, if a letter was compiled with agreement, as opposed to perhaps—. I can see your point, because I am now aware of services within my own authority here for male victims, so what about if a letter was compiled just to inquire when the supportive services—whether they will be reviewing them or not? Or would you rather have no letter go at all?
If you want to find out when the services are due to be reviewed, perhaps the Members' Research Service could provide that answer for us. I don't think we need to write to a Minister and give the impression that we're backing a cause that's before us in a petition that I've got some serious problems with. If you write a letter—and I understand that that's the view of the committee—that's fine, but you need to make it clear this is from the Petitions Committee, it's a majority letter and it does not include the name of Leanne Wood.
Okay. Okay, Clerk. We'll take it forward that a letter will be written, just asking about the view. That's my, sort of, intentions to take this forward.
Okay, that's fine.
Okay, 4.2, P-05-882, 'Transforming the response for older people experiencing domestic abuse—a call for action'. This petition was submitted by Sarah Wydall and the Dewis Choice project, and was first considered in July 2019, having collected 125 signatures.
'We call on the National Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to:
- raise awareness among the public, third sector organisations and statutory agencies of the number of older women & men in Wales who experience domestic abuse by family members, and
- ensure that essential levels of support and protection are available to older people experiencing such abuse.
Domestic abuse in later life: 'Ignored, invisible & overlooked'.'
The committee last considered this on 21 January and agreed to write to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to request that her officials engage directly with the petitioners on the points they raise in relation to the detail of professional training and guidance, and how services can better reflect the needs of older people experiencing domestic abuse, and ask what proportion of funding is allocated for outreach services that can be accessed by older people and whether these services are available in all parts of Wales. A response was received from the Deputy Minister on 26 February, and the petitioners have provided further comment. Leanne.
Can I just, first of all, say that the argument that because the Government provides funding, and 50 per cent of that goes to dedicated outreach services, doesn't mean that it's going to reach older people? And we know that older people, for whatever reason—shame and stigma and the assumption that older people are not in this situation—tend not to come forward. So, there does need to be specific marketing of services. I mean, the services are there. The refuge spaces exist, and they shouldn't in any way be discriminatory, but, for some reason, older people are not coming forward.
So, I'd like to see whether we can get any more information from the Older People's Commissioner for Wales. Tackling and stamping out abuse is something that the older person's commissioner has said is a priority, so what does that office say should be done by Government in terms of increasing support? It may be that older people just don't know that those services exist. And, yes, there is going to be more reticence on the part of older people to leave their own home and go into refuge space, and that is why the outreach support is really important, but it's got to be outreach that reaches the right target groups, as well. So, if we can go back to the older person's commissioner and to the Minister on those points, then I think we can make some progress without having to close the petition.
Okay. Other Members? Neil.
I support that.
Sorry, Chair, I'm not sure if it's me, but I can't seem to hear you. Is it just me or—?
I can hear you now. Thanks.
'Pembrokeshire says NO!! To the closure of Withybush A&E!' This petition was submitted by Myles Bamford-Lewis and was first considered in July 2018, having collected 40,045 signatures. We last considered this on 17 September and agreed to write to Hywel Dda University Health Board to request an update on the work undertaken since its previous correspondence in January 2019, particularly with regards to engaging and consulting with local people, and to request that they commit to providing the committee with a quarterly update in relation to this issue. An update was received from the health board on 6 March. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting, but has not provided further comments, and has not offered comments since the start of the committee's consideration. Leanne.
We dealt with covering my area last time in the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, which has got the A&E department under threat. I think the situation now, though, given where we are with the pandemic, I would have thought that changes everything in terms of the plans for the provision of health services. So, I think what we should do with this is keep a watching brief on it, see if there are further updates, keep an eye to see whether or not the COVID pandemic has changed any of the decision making.
It's great that, at the beginning of March, they were telling us that they're developing digital technology. Well, if that reduces demand on other services then it may be that they can keep an A&E going in Withybush. And of course, the staffing issue is a major one that hasn't gone away as well. But there do seem to have been some solutions in some places to some of these questions in the last few weeks, so it may be that there's some potential solution for Withybush down the line. So, I would say, let's not close this petition, let's keep it open and keep a watching brief on it, but I can't see what we can do to progress it given where we are in the pandemic.
Thanks, Chair. I would support keeping a watching brief on this for the time being. It is slightly disappointing, however, because this would not be the norm for two years on, but I understand this is a huge petition that means a lot to a lot of people, not just in that area, as Leanne has just mentioned. But I would like it if we could go back to the petitioner once again to say: we are keeping a watching brief, we're in a difficult position because of the pandemic, but in future we do welcome being guided by any comments from the petitioner, and it is extremely helpful in future decision making for the committee to have those thoughts in front of us when we're making decisions. So, next time perhaps when this comes up in committee as business, we may have some comments and thoughts from the petitioner himself.
Okay. Neil, you didn't wish to speak, did you? Right, okay.
The next one is 4.4, P-05-893, 'Save Our Parks In Wales'. This petition was submitted by Crispian Huggill and was first considered in September 2019, having collected 244 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 17 September, agreeing to write to the Welsh Local Government Association to seek their views and to seek any information they can provide on the number of playing fields and open spaces lost or developed around Wales in recent years, and also to await the views of the petitioner on the responses received before considering whether to take further action on the petition. A response was received from the WLGA on 10 March, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward? Leanne.
It's difficult to know how we can take this forward now, isn't it, given what the Welsh Government is saying—that there's planning protection and that there's funding protection, that there's ring-fenced funding. But we all know of examples, I'm sure, in all of our local communities where parks could be invested in and better maintained, and I think the situation has got even worse as a result of the crisis, because the council's work has been reprioritised into other areas. I imagine most parks would have become overgrown in recent weeks.
I think that we do need to protect our parks in a much more robust way, and I don't mean just in terms of protecting the land because that exists, that protection is there, but in terms of protecting investment, because it's the easiest thing to cut. If you're a local authority and you've got a budget to balance, then maintaining parks and things like that can seem a bit of a luxury expenditure item. But we know, from the mental health and well-being questions that have arisen from the COVID crisis, how important these outdoor spaces and green spaces really are for our communities.
Having said all that, I've got no proposal in terms of where we can take this, because it seems that we've asked all the questions and they've all been answered. Although, you know, on paper it looks great, but in reality we all know that it's not quite as good as it might sound. So, I don't know if anybody's got any other further ideas, but I really can't think of where we can take this now as a committee.
Yes, I'm of the same view, actually, again. I think it shows the weakness, as well, of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015; it's not worth the paper that it's written on, basically. So, again, this whole area is a huge concern to me. I was at a protest yesterday—a properly socially distanced one—and I think—. I'm at a loss as to what more we can do here as a committee, though.
Jack, do you have any comment?
Okay. So, do you wish to take further action, then, or not? Jack.
Chair, I agree, really: I don't think there's anything more we can do as a committee with this petition. I understand the comments being made. Obviously, I'm a big supporter of the future generations Act; I do believe it's a great Act that we've got. But for this particular petition, I don't think this committee can take it any further. So, I will propose to close this petition.
Okay. Is everybody in support of that? Yes. Okay.
Next one: 4.5, 'Guarantee fully plant-based options on every public sector menu 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.
The committee last considered the petition on 21 January, agreeing to request a legal brief on the question as to whether primary legislation is required to achieve the changes sought by the petitioners, and also to write again to the Welsh Government to make relevant proposals for how to address this issue. A legal brief has been provided. A response was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 5 March, and the petitioner has provided further comments. Some possible actions there for you to take forward. Leanne.
It's clear that the Minister is not going to move on this. I think the arguments for doing this on climate grounds are really strong, and those arguments haven't been addressed at all. I wonder if there is anything going on in terms of the environment committee, looking at food and the link between food sourcing and climate change, and food processing and meat, and all of those other questions that are really key in terms of the climate change agenda, whether or not we can pass this petition to them to give it further consideration, if they are looking at this. And if they're not looking at this, then where in the Senedd is the work being done to ensure that the Government keeps to its promise and commitment to recognise the climate emergency and take appropriate actions? Because a policy like this, I mean, they're not asking for every meal to be vegan; they're asking for one vegan choice to be made available wherever there's a public sector menu. That's in schools, care homes and hospitals and so on—prisons. It's not an unreasonable demand, yet it's being looked at completely from a food perspective, as opposed to the wider climate change imperative. So, I think it needs further action, but I don't know what we can do as a committee further on it, unless somebody else is doing some work on this area.
Okay. Any other comments? Oh, Clerk.
So, just in terms of the last point made about other committee scrutiny, I'm aware that the climate change committee has previously undertaken an inquiry on food, and that part of that, I think, back in 2018, was to look at the public procurement of food. So, the committee has looked at that. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with what the conclusions or recommendations were, although we can provide a note on that to the committee.
Well, if we know that they've done that work in the past, then there's every chance that they'll at some point review the committee's work. Most committees go through a process of reviewing recommendations that they maybe put out a year ago or something. So, can we write proactively to the environment committee, recognising that they've done this work in the past, and ask that when they review the recommendations to see how progress has gone on them that they consider this question of making one vegan choice available on public sector menus? Could we do that?
Everybody happy with that? Okay.
Just to check, Chair, then, in the time that we do that, would you want a response to come back to the committee for that, or are you satisfied that that would be as far as this petition could go?
I think the review could be a year down the line, couldn't it? There's not much point, I don't think, in it coming back here now. Let them get on with it if they can, I think.
Item 4.6, P-05-929, 'Encouraging the use of "Cymru" and "Cymry" when referring to ourselves in Welsh and English'. This petition was submitted by Mair Edwards and was first considered in January 2020, having collected 127 signatures.
The committee last considered the petition on 21 January and agreed to share the further information provided by the petitioner with the Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language and seek her response to the additional points raised. A response was received from the Minister on 2 March, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?
Right, I think Neil's hand went up first there, and then Jack.
I'm not sure what further can be done with this. It's clear the Minister doesn't share the view of the petitioner, so we've probably got to close it, I think.
Yes, Chair, I was going to say a very similar line, so I'd agree with Neil on that.
Okay, so we're closing this petition, Clerk.
Chair, we can't hear you at the moment.
Oh, sorry. All right. You heard the first part?
No, not from the start of this petition.
Right. Sorry. There's something wrong with my mike.
This petition was submitted by Vanessa Dye, and was first considered in October 2017, having collected 459 signatures.
The committee last considered the petition on 21 January and agreed to share the further information provided by the petitioner with the Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language and seek her response to the additional points raised. A response was received from the Minister on 2 March, and the petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward? Neil.
Yes. I think it's another one we've got to close. Research is being carried out on behalf of the Welsh Government, there's the Minister's commitment to consider daily quotas and so on, so I think we're at the end of the line now on this petition, unless colleagues disagree.
Okay. I'd omitted to read this background out, sorry.
The committee last considered the petition on 4 February, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to welcome the progress being made and ask her to give consideration to introducing new legislation or regulations for governing razor clam harvesting, along the lines proposed by the petitioner, following the completion of the current studies. A response was received from the Minister on 4 March, and the petitioner has provided further comment.
Any other comments? Jack. Your microphone.
Sorry, Chair. Again, agree with Neil on this—the Minister's made a commitment that she will consider the options after the Welsh Government's research. That's actually taking place, so I don't think we can do much more as a committee, so I propose to close this.
Okay. Is that the opinion of the committee? Okay.
Item 4.8, P-05-803, '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. The committee last considered the petition on 21 January, agreeing to write to the Minister for Finance to request an update on the input of the Welsh Government into UK Government work to implement taxation on plastic packaging and specific taxation options currently being considered for Wales. A response was received from the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd on 2 March. Plans to ban a wide range of single-use plastics have been confirmed by the Welsh Government, and the petitioner has provided further comment.
How would you like to go forward on this? Leanne.
Just a question, first of all. So, there are plans to ban a wide range of single-use plastics, and that's been confirmed by the Welsh Government. So, presumably the tax relates to all those single-use plastics that won't be banned. Because otherwise—. There's no point taxing something that doesn't exist. Am I right?
Okay. So, are we clear from the petitioners, then, that they want to continue with a tax after the ban? Or are they saying that they want a tax because the Government is too slow instituting a ban? They've said they're frustrated at the length of time things have taken. So, there's UK Government and Welsh Government planned action on this. Do they still want to progress with a tax, or are they satisfied that events have overtaken them? I'm not clear on that point.
No, it's a valid point.
I think—. If I may, Chair—so, the proposal to ban some items of single-use plastic is about a limited number of things. I think there are about eight items; I can't remember all of them, I'm afraid. Certainly cotton buds, plastic cotton buds, were one of them. So, there are plans afoot, as you mentioned, on several aspects here. So, some small and what are regarded as unnecessary plastic items may end up being banned, but the petitioners were particularly calling for charges on things like single-use plastic cups and polystyrene cup and food containers, which are not proposed for a ban, so I think—. There's also a consideration here for a deposit-return scheme on some of those types of items as well, so there are certainly a number of proposals targeting different types of material.
Okay. So, just to be clear, then, the ban that's planned is probably not going to tackle the vast majority of single-use plastic that we see on beaches and things, then, because the bulk of it would be made up by those polystyrene containers, wouldn't it? Okay. We do need to do something about that, then, don't we? We can't just ignore it as an issue.
Thanks, Chair. Can I suggest we go back to the petitioner again, highlighting those comments from Leanne and raising those questions directly? Because, obviously, the Welsh Government wants a ban to take place, and I'm sure one will take place, and I imagine one will take place with the UK Government as well. This isn't really—. This issue is going to stay—okay, it's been slowed down slightly by the pandemic, and understandably, but it's not going to go away, and I think it's on the Government's agenda as well. But, just in terms of what the committee can do, can we try to gauge some views from the petitioner as to whether or not they want to continue—is it a tax afterwards, after the ban, or is it not, really?
Can we—? I'd support that, but can we also go back to the Government and ask about the specifics around polystyrene cups and chip packaging and all of that kind of stuff as well, because, if the Government are taking a course of action that's not going to include the plastic that's causing the biggest problem on Barry beach, where these petitioners are most concerned about, then you're giving the impression the Government is doing something about it and actually the problem is still not being solved. So, we need to know what the Government intend to do. If they're not going to ban single-use plastics in those forms, what are they going to do to reduce the plastic pollution going on the beaches and in the seas from that source of plastic and polystyrene?
Okay. I think those actions are pretty clear, Clerk.
Yes, that's fine. We'll take that forward.
Item 4.9, P-05-868, 'Water Safety/Drowning Prevention and the effects of Cold Water Shock to be taught in all Schools in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Carmarthenshire Water Safety Partnership and was first considered in April 2019, having collected 896 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 21 May 2019, agreeing to write to the Royal Life Saving Society to seek further information about the work being undertaken to develop a water safety plan for Wales and how this could support the development of safe outdoor swimming opportunities. Following a number of communications, a response was received from the Royal Life Saving Society on 5 March 2020. The petitioners have provided further comments. Leanne.
Okay. This is an issue that comes up time and time again in this committee, isn't it, the length of time Government takes to carry out a particular course of action. So, there's this water safety group, they're doing the work, and the frustration is, from the petitioners, that the work is taking a long time and they want to see it driven by Government. So, I think we could write to the Government and ask them what the timescale for the development of the strategy is and urge them to move faster on it and to take some leadership in terms of driving that safety plan as well, because the length of time it takes between not having that strategy in place could mean the difference between lives being lost, and that is what this petition is all about and designed to try to stop. So, I can see their point in terms of frustration and the lack of urgency. So, if we can do anything in terms of pushing Government on that, I think then that would be helpful to the petitioners.
Okay. Everybody support that? Yes. Is that—? Okay.
Item 4.10, P-05-911, 'Protect Wales' Ancient Yew Trees'. This petition was submitted by Janis Fry and was first considered in November 2019, having collected 77 paper signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 21 January, and agreed to write to Cadw to ask for details about any protections afforded to ancient trees, such as yews, in Wales, or any schemes that could be used for this purpose. A response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 5 March, and the petitioner has provided further comment.
What actions would you like to take?
I feel for the petitioner here. I really understand why there's a demand to do this, but given, from the committee's position, we've exhausted all the avenues now, really, I can't see where else we can take this.
Okay. Any other observations? Okay. So, is that a proposal to close the petition? Yes. Okay, everybody in agreement with that? Okay. So, that's the closure of that petition, and thank the petitioners—we'll write and thank the petitioners, as always, for this.
So, that brings today's proceedings to a close. The next meeting for this Petitions Committee is scheduled for Tuesday 23 June. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr.
Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:06.
The meeting ended at 10:06.