Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd

Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd

17/07/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

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.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:07.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:07.

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

Bore da. Good morning. I welcome everyone to this virtual meeting of the Petitions Committee. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from attending this 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. And aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting business remotely, all other Standing Order requirements stay in place.

2. Deisebau COVID-19 newydd
2. New COVID-19 Petitions

So, we move now to the new COVID-19 petitions. Item 2.1, P-05-975, 'Reconsider second home council tax uplift while illegal to travel to second homes'. This petition was submitted by Ann Cooke, having collected 68 signatures. The text of the petition is as follows:

'Second home owners in Pembrokeshire are charged a 50% uplift on their council tax. During the Coronavirus outbreak it is illegal to travel to a second home, and therefore the homes cannot be used. This is an acceptable decision, as it reduces the potential of overwhelming rural health services. It seems only fair that, at the very least, the uplift of council tax is removed during the time that the police will fine anyone travelling to a second home.'

An initial response was received from the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd on 29 June. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comments. What action would you like to take forward on this issue?

Can I ask a question on this? Given that it's the decision of local authorities to determine these council tax premiums, isn't this a petition that should be sent to the local authorities, and is that something this committee can do? Can we forward on a petition to the 22 local authorities in Wales and ask them to consider the—? It's in retrospect now, isn't it, because I think most people are able to access those second homes now, but there is a period of time where they weren't able to, but it's not the Welsh Government's responsibility, is it? 

09:10

Yes, and this one is particular to Pembrokeshire, because it says that second homes are charged a 50 per cent uplift. Now, in Aberconwy, that's 25 per cent at the moment. So, whether it would go to Pembrokeshire or all authorities—.

Given it's specific to Pembrokeshire, it should probably just go to Pembrokeshire then, shouldn't it? 

Okay. Item 2.2, P-05-976, 'Permit weddings of 5 people (registrar/couple/2 witnesses) during COVID 19 in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Brionni Townsend, having collected 979 signatures. The text of the petition is:

'While wedding parties are understandably postponed for social distancing reasons, being able to get legally married is important to many, and is achievable without significant risk of spreading COVID-19.

'Marriage provides legal rights for inheritance, children, next of kin medical decisions and housing. In addition, due to spiritual and moral convictions regarding cohabiting before marriage, many engaged couples are being forced to live separately as their wedding date passes by.'

The background to this is that a response to the petition was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 14 July. As this was received shortly before the papers for this meeting were published, the petitioner has not had an opportunity to provide a response to this. She was offered the opportunity to provide further general comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so. How would you like to go forward? Neil.

I think the aim of the petition has been achieved, really, so I think we can close it.

Yes. Leanne, Jack—okay. So, that's closure of that petition, and we thank the petitioner for bringing this to our attention.

Item 2.3, P-05-977, 'Re-open full general dental services in Wales as has happened in England'. This petition was submitted by Andrew Bartley, having collected 7,583 signatures.

'On March 23rd general dental services were closed for all except advice, antibiotics, pain killers and simple extractions.

'On June 8th 2020 English practices were allowed to re open and the level of service was based on their ability to comply with safe operating protocols.

'Welsh patients and dentists are denied this opportunity, with estimated "normal" service in January 2021.

'Patients are being denied access to appropriate treatment in Wales. This is discrimination and must stop.'

A response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 7 July, and the petitioner has provided further comments. What actions would you like to take forward? Neil.

The same again, really. I think there's a phased reopening now, so we could either close it or maybe hold it until the autumn to see if things are back to normal by then.

I'd suggest that we hold it until the autumn and perhaps put it on the agenda for the first committee meeting back post recess and just see where we are. You know, there are a number of people—thousands of people—who have signed this petition. Neil's right that there is a phased reopening, so perhaps if we just keep a watching brief to see where we are in the autumn, we can make a further decision then as a committee.

Okay. Item 2.4, P-05-978, 'Allow Zoos and Wildlife attractions to reopen with social distancing in place throughout Wales'. This petition was submitted by Susan Stuart, having collected 248 signatures, and it reads:

'It is essential that zoos and wildlife attractions with their acres of land and wide open spaces are given immediate permission to reopen. With social distancing in place these facilities could be safer than other facilities, such as open air markets, already given permission to reopen.'

A response to the petition has not been received from the Welsh Government in the time available before this meeting. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide her own additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so.

09:15

Has the situation changed since any of this now? Are they allowed to open now?

I support the closure of the petition, then, and thank the petitioner for bringing it to our attention and apologise for the delay in not being able to respond to it while the issue was still alive.

Okay. Item 2.5, P-05-979, 'Adopt the policies of UK government with regard to easing of lockdown rules'. This petition was submitted by Georgina Stanger, having collected 96 signatures. She says:

'Many Welsh people feel that they are being unfairly kept in lockdown at a time when people living in England are being given more freedom. They are also worried about their jobs and small businesses and feel that the stance taken by the Welsh government will hinder central government's attempts to unlock the economy.'

A response to the petition has not been received from the Welsh Government in the time available before this meeting. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide her own additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so.

I'm not sure where we can take this or what we can do with it, really. It's a political stance, it's not one I agree with, but it's a position that quite a few people hold. I don't think we can do anything until we've had a response from the Government, can we? So, is it a case of just putting this one on hold until we have more of an idea of how the Government would respond?

Yes. Are Members agreed to put this on hold, and we'll chase for the ministerial response, Clerk?

I think we can all guess what it's going to be, but I don't think we can make any further progress until we've got that, can we?

Okay. Item 2.6, P-05-980, 'Extend grants immediately to small businesses outside of Small Business Rates Relief in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Paul Deverson, having collected 130 signatures. The text of the petition is:

'Give local authorities discretion to award small business rates relief grant to businesses who pay rates through their rent, giving them the same support as all other businesses.'

A response was received from the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd on 10 July. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting, but has had a short period of time in which to respond to the correspondence received from the Minister. How would you like to go forward?

Chair, my understanding is that that discretion does exist, because I've dealt with a case in my constituency that I think is quite similar to the point made in this petition, and it was resolved. So, I think that was resolved—this happened right at the beginning of the crisis, so forgive me that I can't remember the details, but I think it was resolved because of the discretion.

So, can we do some further work on this? Because it may be that the discretion is not being applied and maybe false information is being given, or misinformation or whatever. There seems to be, maybe, a misunderstanding. I don't understand why that point isn't made in the Minister's letter. Is there more we can do to look into this issue?

I'd like to support what Leanne has said there, because this is a big issue for me. I've got constituents, Rubylicious Dance Studio, where the landlord got the money and, to my knowledge, still has not passed it on, and is actually threatening to sue the poor teacher of the studio now because she went public with criticism. Well, we all know the thrust of the legislation, we all know what should have been happening, and I think something's got to be done about this. It's wrong that small businesses who are struggling, no income, have not been helped, in effect. It's outrageous.

As Leanne said, really, we need to do some more research on this and maybe fire off a couple of letters to officials to see exactly what our position is, because it does seem quite contradictory, depending on which council you're talking to.

09:20

I could suggest that we could seek some information from the Senedd Research Service on this as to whether this is an issue of local discretion or whether the Welsh Government has issued any guidance on that. And then, during the summer period where the committee will not be sitting, we could provide that information directly to the petitioner, in case that would help in this situation, if Members would support that.

Okay. Now, the next two petitions are going to be considered together—that's 2.7 and 2.8. This petition—2.7, P-05-981, 'Allow gyms and leisure centres to reopen'—this petition was submitted by Kirsty Stevenson, having collected 964 signatures.

The text of the petition reads as follows:

'The goal is to get the government to rethink their decision to close gyms and leisure centres, and to come to an agreement to reopen them. Many people utilise such facilities for mental health and wellbeing purposes and it would be beneficial to reopen in a controlled manner.'

A response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 25 June, and the petitioner has provided further comments.

And then the next petition is 2.8, P-05-986, 'Allow small gyms and personal training spaces to open sooner during COVID restrictions'. That petition was submitted by Andrew Starling, having collected 3,181 signatures. And the text of that petition reads:

'Small gyms or personal training spaces, such as Crossfit gyms, can control members distancing and cleaning better than larger commercial gyms. I propose a safe system of work with 16 square metres (4 by 4) per client, with no movement within the gym out of that space. Thorough cleaning of used equipment and floor space and sufficient downtime between sessions. Temperature checks on arrival. Alternatively, training sessions to be conducted outdoors (such as is already happening in England)'.

Now, a response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 8 July, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward with this one?

I'd like to hear the Welsh Government's logic behind keeping gyms et cetera closed when other venues are clearly open and, from casual observation, some places don't seem to be enforcing social distancing particularly well. So, it does seem a bit illogical. I'd like to know what the Welsh Government's reasoning is behind the different role for gyms.

Yes, I'd support writing to the Minister to seek the evidence on what this decision is based on. I'm sure there is evidence out there; I'm pretty certain they haven't just made this rule for making a rule up. But I think it would be useful to see the evidence that is there and see if we can share that with this petitioner, but also the general public. Obviously, there's a lot more—you know, it's not just one—

Can I say something on this as well? I've had a lot of correspondence from constituents on gyms, swimming pools. We've even got some outdoor gyms here in the Rhondda, which could open without much problem, I think.

But people have been expressing to me the impact on mental health by not being able to access these sorts of facilities. So, in our correspondence with the Government, I think it would be useful if we could express a view that, whilst we accept that medical evidence has to be taken and that safety is the top priority, that that has to be balanced with the mental health side of things and the potential, long term, of people not being able to access facilities that they are saying very clearly help them with their mental health. And if the Government could take an approach of helping gyms and working with gyms to be able to reopen—and the same for swimming facilities as well—rather than a blanket ban, then I think at least then some facilities may be able to open earlier, and I think that might make a big impact to some people.

09:25

Okay.

Item 2.9, P-05-982, 'Re-open outdoor tennis courts and training in line with the rest of the UK and Europe'. This petition was submitted by Georgina Hawkey, having collected 214 signatures.

'Tennis is one of very few sports where social distancing can be embraced and it is an exceptional form of exercise. Making it a pivotal outlet for people to exercise safely throughout coronavirus while, supporting the mental health and physical wellbeing of many young people and adults. Scotland, England and Western Europe have reopened outdoor tennis courts and training. The result indicates that the reopening of outdoor tennis courts in these countries has been successful'.

A response to the petition has not been received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism in the time available before this meeting. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide her own additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so. Jack.

Thanks, Chair. I think we're in a similar position to a couple of petitions we've got. The decision's been made now; they're allowed to open. I think we need to thank the petitioner and close the petition.

Item 2.10, P-05-983, 'Give grant aid to Bed and Breakfast businesses in Wales that pay council tax and not business rates'. This petition was submitted by Louise Grice, having collected 86 signatures. And the text of petition is:

'Some businesses in Wales are not getting any grant help whatsoever. I am in my second year of my business and my first year profits went back into my business. I'm not vat registered or a LTD company and don't employ anyone, no grants available to me. Council tax is classed as a second home. I pay a premium although this is 10m from my home. We haven't had guests since Oct 20. We don't have any indication when we can reopen but still have rent etc to pay. We need help now and the future.'

Just a bit of additional information for you:

'Business rates payers on second homes are getting a grant of either £10,000 or £25,000 and this may be on properties that are not necessarily used as self catering accommodation. My B&B is my only source of income like most people this income has gone down to nothing.'

A response was received from the Minister for finance on 8 July and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like—? Jack. 

Thanks, Chair. Can we write back to the Minister for finance just to see whether there is a support scheme out there, but doing it in general terms? Because I understand, as a committee, we can't take individual cases up, but perhaps we can also point the petitioner to the local Member as well, and ask them to take it up as well, if they feel that's appropriate. But if we write in general terms about a support scheme for bed and breakfasts across Wales, I think that'd be a way forward.

Just to add to that, really, I wondered whether or not we could also ask, if the additional money becomes available from the UK Government that the Minister has said they'll keep asking for, whether or not this kind of scheme would be something that they would consider in the future. It looks to me—. There are plenty of different businesses, for various reasons, that have fallen outside the various support schemes. We were dealing with a petition in the last meeting, if I recall rightly, around business rates on second home owners, and my understanding is that that might be the case in England, but it isn't quite as straightforward as the petitioner makes out in that second piece of correspondence here in Wales. But the only way, I think, from what I can see, that those gaps are going to be plugged is if additional funding comes from the Westminster Government, and that's what's said in this letter.

So, what we need to try to establish, I think, is what kinds of businesses would get that support if additional money did become available—not that we can rely on it definitely becoming available, but, if it did become available, what are the Government's priorities for what types of businesses that have missed out now would get support in future?

09:30

Okay. Everybody agree? Yes. Okay. 

The next petition is 2.11, P-05-984, 'Stop discriminatory remote consultations for incinerator applications during the Covid-19 Pandemic'. This petition was submitted by Councillor Amanda Jenner having collected 392 signatures. The text of the petition is as follows:

'It has been announced that due to COVID-19, an applicant for a large incinerator intends to hold a "remote" planning consultation. Under Developments of National Significance legislation, this is allowed. Due to Covid-19, the County Councillor & Community Council won't be able to hold public or face-to-face meetings with residents. This is a very technical & emotive application. It is unfair/discriminatory on the elderly, disabled & those who are shielding to remotely consult during this period.'

A response was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 23 June, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?

This is a difficult one, isn't it? Because we don't know when public meetings will be able to be held, and so, therefore, if you say that we can't take any further progress on certain issues until public meetings could be held, then you could be potentially waiting until a vaccine is found or—. It's an indeterminate amount of time, isn't it? I've got every sympathy with wanting to stop an incinerator. It's just a case of what we can practically do in terms of supporting the request. I just don't see the practicality in being able to say 'hold off to an unspecified date' for anything, really. 

I probably would say 'hold off to an unspecified date', to be honest. I think it's outrageous that people are being railroaded into having things put in their community that they clearly don't want, which there could be health issues with. There's a proposal for an incinerator in Trowbridge now, and I think we—well, it's the Welsh National Party's position that there should be referenda on such things. So, I think the petitioners really have a point, and the timescales should be extended indefinitely, I would say.

What can we do? Can we take—? Clerk, what can we do for this petitioner? I'm happy to write to the Minister, if she can exercise these powers and put it in her hands. But it's a—. As Leanne says, this is a difficult position. Perhaps we can share the petitioner's thoughts with the Minister and the right people to make the decision. 

Can I propose that we write to the Minister and ask her to exercise her powers to extend the timescales? If we're still in lockdown, if things have not progressed, then she can review it again in the future, but maybe she could put everything forward by six months. 

Would that set a precedent in terms of other planning issues then, though? That's my concern, really. It's what precedent it sets—[Inaudible.]

Hang on. I'm going to just bring the clerk in, who wants to speak.

Yes, thank you. So, there's a kind of multistage process for developments of national significance. One of the distinctions the Minister draws in her letter to the committee is that this particular application is at the pre-application stage, and the Minister states that, because public meetings are not prescribed as minimum requirements in the procedures for pre-application, there are no powers or grounds for the Welsh Government to delay it at that stage. However, the procedures for developments of national significance do allow Ministers to extend timescales around consultation at the full planning application stage, which would come next, if this application proceeded that far. So, I think there's a question the committee can ask the Minister around how and when it's appropriate for the Planning Inspectorate to consider any such application from this petitioner or any other people wanting to resist one of these developments of national significance. So, I think that's the obvious question for the committee to ask. It may not help in relation to the specific pre-application procedure that the petitioner is talking about here, but it may benefit and enable residents to attend these consultation meetings in public when this goes further into a full planning application. 

09:35

Can we advise the petitioner that, in terms of the process, it's the next stage, then, that they should be sending—? I mean, can this petition be turned into a petition for that stage now or do they have to start over again for that kind of thing, because this is related to the pre-application? 

I don't think the petition is overly specific about it concerning the pre-application stage; I think this petition, if the committee was minded to keep it running, could still be applied to that later stage. What I've just outlined is my understanding of this process, but it would probably be sensible to get that answer directly from the Minister herself, and that could be how we advise the petitioner, to make sure that we are providing the absolute right information. 

Can I propose we write as the clerk suggested, and keep the petition open until the autumn?

Okay.

Right, moving on: 2.12, P-05-985, 'Provide key-worker childcare equivalent to what was available prior to the Covid-19 pandemic'. This petition was submitted by Adam Calcutt having collected 719 signatures. 

'Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, has announced the planned re-opening of schools on 29th June. From Monday 22nd June, the opening hours of school hubs providing childcare for children of key-workers will be reduced, in some areas, from 0800 - 1800 to 0830 - 1600. This will penalise key-workers who are unable to access the levels of childcare available prior the Covid-19 pandemic; key-workers will be unable to fulfil their normal working hours resulting in a detrimental effect on essential services.'

A response was received from the Minister for Education on 30 June, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Leanne.

This is a massive issue for people who have relied upon the childcare hubs all the way through the lockdown and who have to continue working, but now through the summer those places are restricted to healthcare workers' children only. And that'll be fine, because under normal circumstances people would have to provide their own childcare through the summer, and childcare providers would often normally provide that childcare, or grandparents or elderly aunties or neighbours who now have to be shielding up until the middle of August. Okay, they've now been told that they can stop shielding after the middle of August, but that still provides a problem of four weeks for parents who have no childcare options at all. And what does that mean? That means usually the mother has to give up her job, because it's usually the mother who has to take over the childcare responsibilities. That's not exclusively the case, but it is another thing that impacts on women's wages, the gender pay gap and all those other things we know about child poverty, which is actually related to parental poverty. 

So, this is something that is not an option for the Government just to walk away from; it's an urgent matter because school finishes this week in most cases, and parents are going to be left stranded, economic divisions are going to grow, and we need to do something about that. Now, I've already written to the education Minister about this, but it's also an economic question. I've also asked questions about childcare provision, which have yet to be answered. And so, anything that this committee can do to try to put the case for these parents very, very quickly and urgently now is something that I think all of us as committee members should back. If there's anything in addition to what the petitioner has asked that we can do as a committee, then I'd be really keen for us to do that as well, because this is a really key economic question and it's going to exacerbate inequalities and poverty if we don't get this sorted out. 

09:40

Okay. So, Clerk, are we clear on the instructions for that one? We'll take this up with the Minister again.

Onto 2.13, P-05-988, 'Give key worker children equal access to their schools and teachers'. This petition was submitted by Catherine Evans having collected 508 signatures. The text of the petition:

'Key worker children in some parts of Wales have been excluded from 'check in, catch up, prepare' sessions in their schools. They are not allowed any face-to-face contact with their teachers or friends if their parents also need childcare to enable them to do critical work. They are to be looked after in leisure centres with inadequate information about provision for their health, emotional well-being or education. Schools should plan to include all learners this term and in September.'

A response was received from the Minister for Education on 9 July. The petitioner has provided further comments and a commentary on Welsh Government guidance in relation to the reopening of schools. How would you like to go forward on this one? Jack.

Thanks, Chair. Can we write to the Minister for Education with the petitioner's comments for further thoughts? Because she makes some really good comments in relation to if a second wave occurs, and I think we should just try and—. If that does happen, and hopefully it doesn't, but if it does happen, then hopefully we can try and find a solution that means these children do have education, or certainly a route to some sort of education, which, perhaps, they haven't had during the—

Okay. So, we have a proposal to write to the Minister. Yes? Everyone agree? Okay.

Onto 2.14, P-05-990, 'Open schools in September. Scrap blended learning'. This petition was submitted by Martha Ogunremi on behalf of the campaign group UsforThem Cymru, having collected 9,266 signatures. The text is:

'Schools in other parts of the UK will be opening fully in September. The Welsh Government has no solid plans for this and is increasingly talking about blended learning for the longer term. Our children need to be back at school in September to prevent children in Wales falling behind other parts of the UK, allow parents to work and give children their right to a proper education. Kirsty Williams has given no thought to how BL will work if parents need to work. Parents will be made unemployable.'

Now, a response to the petition has not been received from the Minister for Education in the time available prior to this meeting. However, the Welsh Government announced on 9 July that all pupils will be able to return to school in September. The petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward?

Can we say congratulations to the petitioner? The outcome is as they want now, so they've achieved what they set out to do. So, congratulations, well done, and we can close the petition.

3. Deisebau newydd eraill
3. Other new petitions

Item 3 on the agenda—other new petitions. Item 3.1, P-05-954, 'Petition for a public inquiry by the Welsh Government into the historic child abuse on Caldey Island'. This petition was submitted by Kevin O'Connell having collected 5,088 signatures on paper. The text of the petition:

'As a victim of child abuse by catholic priests and monks I wish to get the Welsh Government to hold a public inquiry into the historic child abuse on Caldey Island. Victims need the truth and answers as to why an ongoing investigation for 29 years has failed the victims. The inquiry will help to safeguard children in the future.'

The background: a response was received from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services on 6 April. The petitioner has provided further comments and background. Submissions have also been received from Ben Lake MP, two firms of solicitors representing the petitioner, and the co-ordinator of the Caldey Island Victims Campaign, who has also supplied a copy of correspondence from Dyfed-Powys Police. A research brief has been provided. 

09:45

Can I start on this, Chair, and say thank you, first of all, to the petitioner, and express my sympathy that there's been so little result on this after such a long time? It's the case for many, many people who've been through sexual abuse that justice isn't delivered, and so the call for a public inquiry is a valid call, it's a correct call, and I very much hope that there will be official justice on this through police investigations and that there will finally be a result that these survivors are able to have some sort of closure with.

Initially, though, I wonder if we can get some more information from the Government as to their position on an inquiry. I understand that if there are ongoing legal matters, there may be difficulties to starting that or instigating that now, but it's certainly something that I think we should be pressing the Government to look at when they're in a position to look at it. And it may be that the ongoing legal processes come to nothing, because often they do in cases like this, especially after such a long, long time. If that is the case, then it's only right that there is another avenue to look at what's happened here, because as the petitioner's rightly stated, if you don't learn the lessons from cases like this, then the chances are that they will keep repeating.

And when we're talking about institutional abuse as we're talking about in this case, then given that we are politicians representing people, then we may not be able to get every single individual's actions right, but we certainly should be able to get the actions of institutions right, and they should be policed and they should be monitored and regulated to ensure that this kind of power abuse is not allowed to happen. So, I would support writing to the Minister and trying to seek more reasoning, really, from them as to what their thinking is behind the request for a public inquiry.

I think we—. The bottom line is this does need to go to a public inquiry. The issue for the committee is how we do that, but I think Leanne's got a good point there, that we could write initially and see how the land lies. Ideally, we may get a positive response. If we don't, then we can come back to the petition, and I would certainly propose to push it forward to a debate.

Unfortunately, I've had a lot of interaction with victims of abuse since I've become a Member of the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament, and if I'm honest—I want to put this on the record, because I don't think anything has been learned at all anywhere. I really mean that, because the media fail to cover things, you've got bodies like the ombudsman—. There was a child recently alleging abuse in care, and the whole focus of the so-called complaints system was to punish me by denying me office as a councillor for four months rather than explore the allegations of the child. I do want to say this, Chair—please indulge me—the same child now is saying that adults are walking in on him whilst he is showering, okay? And the Children's Commissioner for Wales says that's okay because there are internal locks on the showers. I mean, it's—. I feel truly sickened by this. And I ask the other politicians around the table on this now—virtually, okay—it's time everybody started speaking up. And the case I'm talking about, Leanne, I wouldn't mind a bit of support on that, okay?

We're not here—. Can I just remind Members that we are here purely to—

Thanks, Chair. I'd support, initially, Leanne's comments in trying to do this through a way of correspondence. Hopefully, we'll get a positive response before the committee may decide to take it to a debate, but I think this is a truly sensitive subject. If we can get a positive response in a way of correspondence, yes; if not, then I suggest that the committee may want to relook at this and explore other avenues to try and make this inquiry happen. But, certainly, as sensitive as possible as committee can be, trying to protect those survivors, with their feelings at heart.

09:50

I agree with what's been said today. I think we should write to the Deputy Minister and ask her for her view on this and whether a public inquiry should be held. We can be very careful and considered in the correspondence because it's a very sensitive issue. We don't want to prejudice any other actions that might be taken, so, yes, I would support corresponding with the Minister.

Okay. So, we have a decision now to go back to the Minister in correspondence, Clerk. Okay.

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

So, we now move to item 4 on the agenda, updates to previous petitions. The first one is education, and it's 4.3, P-05-931, 'Sun cream in schools'. Just before I move on, if I can just thank the clerk. We now have Mared, our deputy clerk, with us. Welcome, Mared. 

P-05-931, 'Sun cream in schools'. This petition was submitted by Leigh O'Connor and was first considered in January 2020, having collected 120 signatures. As a committee, we last considered this on 21 January, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the response provided by the Minister for Education before deciding whether to take any further action on the petition. However, despite attempts to secure further comments from the petitioner in February and July, no response has been received.

How would you like to go forward with this one? Leanne.

There's nowhere further we can take it then, really, is there, if the petitioner hasn't responded and the Minister has? I think we have to close it, don't we? There's nothing else we can do, is there?

Okay, 4.2, P-05-958, 'Recent Decisions Regarding AS Grades 2020'. This petition was submitted by Sian Williams and was first considered in May 2020, having collected 219 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 12 May and agreed to share the petitioner's further comments with the Minister and to seek a response to the issues raised and further questions asked, including the concern over the well-being of students opting to sit two sets of exams. We also wrote to the National Association of Head Teachers to seek their views on the approach being taken in Wales. A response was received from the Minister for Education on 1 June. A response has not been received from NAHT Cymru ahead of this meeting, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Leanne.

I think this has come to the end of its course now. I have had, and still have, a tremendous amount of sympathy for these young learners; this is not the outcome that they would have wanted. But given that the petitioner has said that the education Minister has expressed and explained the position, and it's a difficult situation and the petitioner understands that position, she's not asking us to take any further action. So, I think we can close the petition now and thank the petitioner for raising it. I think that even if she may not have been successful in getting the outcome that she wanted, at least her actions have ensured that the Minister has to at least consider the views of that group of learners that often are unheard within the system. So, well done to the petitioner for this.

Okay. So, we're going to close this petition. Everyone agreed? Yes, and we thank the petitioner.

So, 4.3, 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 and was first considered in June 2020, having collected 537 signatures. The committee last considered this petition on 9 June, agreeing to write back to the Minister to share the detailed arguments about the sufficiency of Welsh Government guidance presented by the petitioner, and to ask specifically whether, in her view, applications to extend existing study placements for young people with learning difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic would be likely to meet the 'exceptional circumstances' test, and whether the Government intends to communicate with specialist education settings for young people with learning difficulties to prompt them to consider whether to make such an application for their students. A response was received from the Minister for Education on 30 June. How would you like to go forward?

09:55

Thanks, Chair. Thanks, Leanne. I think we have to wait, don't we? The Minister said that she wants to provide further details, and she's looked to officials to look into this. We can't really move forward until then, as a committee, but we should note that those who have requested this during the pandemic—I think there have been four requests in total—have been approved. So, I think that's a sign at the start, and I think that should be on the record for those who need to know. I don't think there's much more we can do. We need to wait for the Minister's full response, in terms of what she plans to do in the future.

I agree. I think the letter from the Minister sounds quite positive, to be honest. A decision hasn't been made yet, but, on those individual requests, a positive outcome has happened. So, I read that as—I don't know whether I'm just being overly optimistic here—as something that is, probably, going to be favourably looked at. Given that, I think we need to keep the petition open to make sure that that is the case when we do get a response back from the Minister. If we can, in the meantime, say 'thank you' to the petitioner for raising this, because it is, obviously, an important issue to deal with across the board, rather than as individual requests.

Great. Item 4.4 is P-05-906, 'Save Sam Davies Ward at Barry Hospital'. This petition was submitted by Unison and was first considered in November 2019, having collected 13,265 signatures. We last considered the petition on 5 November 2019, and agreed to write to Cardiff and Vale University Health Board to ask for further details in relation to their proposals around the Sam Davies ward and how they intend to mitigate the impact upon patients, and to South Glamorgan Community Health Council to seek their views on the current proposals being advanced by the health board.

Subsequently, at their board meeting on Thursday 28 November, the health board agreed to keep the Sam Davies ward open. A response was received from South Glamorgan CHC on 1 April. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting but have not provided further comments. How would you like to go forward on this one? 

Did you just say that the decision had been taken to keep the ward open?

Yes, the health board's decision is not to proceed with the closure of the Sam Davies ward.

Yes. Hurrah, congratulations—well done. I think we should just close the petition, then, and congratulate the petitioner on a successful campaign. 

Could we maybe write as well about the concerns raised by the community council? 

I thought there were concerns raised by the community council.

To the health board or to the Minister? Because the community health council say, 'Okay, the decision has been made now', but there could still be a closure in the future. So, is it a case that we could write to the health board to say, 'Okay, how long have you got before you review this decision?' or—?

Is this a permanent decision or a temporary decision? Is that the kind of question?

I think that would be useful, yes, as well as being pleased that the ward is staying open.

10:00

It's a similar situation in Cwm Taf, where they've just announced they're keeping the A&E open 24 hours, seven days a week. Everybody's celebrating that—it's a victory, it's brilliant—but we need to be assured that it's a long-term decision, don't we, and that it's not going to be revisited in a year's time? So, I think the principle is the same and we can ask the same sort of questions.

Okay, thank you.

Item 4.5, P-05-914, 'Equal Access to Health Care for the Disabled'. This petition was submitted by Tracy Locke and was first considered in November 2019, having collected 121 signatures. We last considered this on 10 March and agreed to seek information from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission about the issues raised in the petition, and to seek further advice about what action the Welsh Government or health boards would potentially be able to take in order to ensure the availability of appropriate equipment and facilities in GP practices. A response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 4 May. A response was received from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on 8 July, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Neil.

I think we write to health boards and GP practices to ask about treatment beds and hoists for use with disabled patients, and maybe write to Shine—spina bifida and hydrocephalus, information, networking, equality—to get their views, including those of the Spinal Injuries Association, so we can get a wider picture of where we are, really.

Thank you. Okay, so we'll do that.

We move to petition 4.6, P-05-926, 'To Provide a Chronic Fatigue Department in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Marjorie Lasebikan and was first considered in January 2020, having collected 155 signatures. We last considered this petition on 10 March, agreeing to seek the views of several charities on the sufficiency of current services in Wales and the approach outlined by the Welsh Government. A response was received from the Welsh Association for ME and CFS Support on 12 May, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward on this one? Jack.

Thanks, Chair. Can we write to the Minister for Health and Social Services and share the recommendations by the Welsh association for ME support? I think it would be good to get a response on whether these recommendations will be implemented, or to seek his views on the potential for that.

Yes, I agree with that. I think this is a group of patients that have been undertreated and under-listened-to for a long time. I think the association does a tremendous amount of work in terms of awareness raising, but they can't penetrate that deeply. They're a very small group of people working on a voluntary basis, and a lot of people involved have got chronic fatigue syndrome as well, or ME. So, it's not something that's like a huge charity, doing loads of work. So, if we can help them raise awareness and try to get this specific service for this group of people, who are largely neglected by all kinds of different organisations, then I think we'd be doing a good job as a committee.

The next one is petition 4.7, P-05-960, 'Fund the funeral costs of all NHS staff who die from or with Covid-19'. This petition was submitted by Professors Jane Henderson and Karin Wahl-Jorgensen and was first considered in May 2020, having collected 414 signatures. The background: the committee last considered the petition on 12 May and agreed to write back to the Minister for Health and Social Services to raise the points made by the petitioners about the entitlement of families of locum and agency staff, and non-British citizens working in the NHS, to ask whether workers in these categories would be covered by the COVID-19 death-in-service scheme for NHS and social care front-line workers, and to propose that the Welsh Government should consider whether the scheme can be extended to other essential workers. A response was received from the Minister on 29 June and the petitioners have provided further comments. What actions would you like to take forward?

10:05

The Minister hasn't addressed the actual point in the petition. I mean, the £60,000 payment to families after losing a relative to COVID on the front line is welcome, but it isn't going to go that far, really. And by the time you take out the costs of a funeral from that, it's leaving people with even less. And when you think about the kinds of costs people have after losing somebody, particularly if they're the main income into a household, it's huge. So, I think we need to go back to the Minister. This is something I've raised in Plenary. I think it would be a really good goodwill gesture to say that people who have had to have gone through that, working while everybody else was at home, keeping the health service and all other services running, should, at the very least, have the—[Inaudible.]—cost of their funeral, even if it's just the basic cost. We're not asking for the most expensive type of funeral here. If people want to have additional things, they can perhaps pay more, but there should be a very basic sum to cover the cost of a funeral to everybody who's died of COVID and contracted it through their work. And I just think to not accept that that's a good idea—I don't know, I just think that most people would see the sense in a policy like that.

Okay. Item 4.8, P-05-964, 'Extend covid-19 financial support and paid leave to vulnerable and pregnant NHS wales bank workers'. This petition was submitted by David Adam Clarke and was first considered in June 2020, having collected 174 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 23 June, and we agreed to await a formal response from the Minister for Health and Social Services to the petition, in the hope that this may contain further information in relation to the reconsideration that the Welsh Government has requested from health boards. A response was received from the Minister on 29 June. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting, but has not provided any further comments. How would you like to go forward?

I think the letter from the Minister is positive. It's clearly something that wasn't considered previously before the petitioner raised the petition, so we should give credit to the petitioner for raising awareness of this. But I don't think we can take this any further until we do get the additional response back from the Minister after officials have looked into it and considered it further.

Thank you. Item 4.9, P-05-934, 'Public Transport in Blaenau Gwent'. This petition was submitted by Ebbw Fawr business community and was first considered in February 2020, having collected 1,332 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 4 February, agreeing to write to Blaenau Gwent council to seek their views on the petition and public transport provision, the challenges faced and their plans for improving services, as well as any opportunities arising from the future buses (Wales) Bill, and to write to Transport for Wales to seek their views on the issues raised. A response was received from Transport for Wales on 19 March. No response has been received from Blaenau Gwent council, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? 

I'd like to propose we write to Blaenau Gwent council to seek a response, and the Welsh Government also regarding the progress of the work undertaken by the Valleys taskforce and the implementation of the delivery plan.

I think we also need to ask about buses. I know, in my own constituency—and I'm pretty sure that it'll be the case in Blaenau Gwent as well, and all Valleys' constituencies—social distancing now has meant that fewer passengers can get on buses. I'm hearing reports of buses passing pensioners with shopping at bus stops, because they can't fit any more people on the bus. There are obviously implications for key workers getting to work, and services have been reduced because the income to the bus operators has gone down, and we're looking at a downward spiral situation here. It's not just the case with buses, but that's also happening on the trains as well.

So, there's a real question about sustainability of public transport beyond this now. For example, Stagecoach, which is a bus company operating in my constituency, has said that the lack of income as a result of the policies around COVID threaten it with long-term insolvency problems, potentially. So, we could be looking at not having any bus companies running in the future. So, this is something that the Government really needs to look at urgently. There needs to be a public transport strategy in the light of COVID, and we need to have a clear understanding of how services are going to be affected both in the short, medium and longer term, because we can talk as much as we like about people getting back to work and back to school and all the rest of it, but if people don't have transport to actually do that, then all of that is an academic discussion, isn't it?

10:10

The next one is 4.10, P-05-955, 'Objection to proposal by Costain to implement Option B in the rerouting of the A465 at Brynmawr'. This petition was submitted by Heads of the Valley Petition Group and was first considered in May 2020, having collected 1,128 signatures.

The committee considered this petition for the first time on 12 May, agreeing to await receipt of the petitioners' response to the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales's letter before considering what further actions could be taken. No further views were received; however, it was subsequently announced on 29 June that the proposed detour and scheme would be going ahead. The petitioners have been in contact further to express their disappointment at the announcement. They were subsequently informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting, but have not provided further detailed comments. What action would you like us to take on this issue?

Can we do anything now the decision's been made? Sorry, Michelle.

I think Leanne was about to say the same thing that I'm about to say. I think, given the fact that they've confirmed that option B will be implemented, is there anything that we can actually do? I don't think there is, is there? So, I think we should note the petitioners' frustration and agree to close the petition and thank the petitioner.

Okay. Everyone agree? Okay.

Item 4.11, P-05-968, 'Pay Coronavirus grants to all businesses eligible for Small Business Rate Relief same as rest of UK'. This petition was submitted by Simon Hill and was first considered on 7 July, having collected 360 signatures.

We considered this for the first time on 7 July, agreeing to await further comment from the petitioner before deciding how to proceed. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed at this meeting, but has not provided further comments. What actions would you like us to take on this? Jack.

Thanks, Chair. There was an announcement on 11 July lifting restrictions so self-catering accommodation is now open, and I believe the committee clerking team has been in touch, but they've had no further response from the petitioner. So, I propose that we close this petition, given the restrictions are now lifted and they're back to work.

Okay. So, we're going to close the petition and thank the petitioner.

Item 4.12, P-05-973, 'Reopen barbers and hairdressers as long as they have strict social distancing measures in place'. This petition was submitted by Luke Fussell and was first considered on 7 July, having collected 118 signatures.

The committee considered the petition for the first time on 7 July, agreeing to await the outcomes of the Welsh Government's next review of the COVID-19 restrictions on 9 July and further comments from the petitioner. The petitioner has stated that he has no further comments to make.

Time has superseded the petition now, hasn't it, and we can just say 'thank you' to the petitioner and close the petition, I think.

10:15

Does everybody agree? Yes, so we close the petition and thank the petitioner. 

So, that brings us to the end of this meeting, and it also concludes the committee's final meeting before the Senedd's summer recess. During the recess, the clerking team will continue to write to the Welsh Government on the committee's behalf in relation to new time-sensitive petitions relating to COVID-19, and will share the responses received with the petitioners. Time-sensitive petitions will be prioritised for consideration by the committee at the first meeting in the autumn term.

So, it only leaves me now to thank the clerking team, our broadcasting team and IT teams, and the translator, and, obviously, our clerk and deputy clerk, and you as Members, and just to hope that you have an enjoyable and relaxing recess. So, I bring this meeting to a close. Thank you. 

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:16.

The meeting ended at 10:16.