Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd

Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd

29/09/2020

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
Neil McEvoy MS

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Kayleigh Imperato Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Mared Llwyd Ail Glerc
Second 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 09:00.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:00. 

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

Good morning. Bore da. I welcome everyone to this virtual meeting of the Petitions Committee. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I determine that the public are 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. Item 1 is apologies and substitutions. We have apologies from Michelle Brown MS.

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

Item 2 is new COVID-19 petitions. So, we move to 2.1: P-05-1006, 'Release the £59 million to the arts to prevent local grassroots music venues from closure'. This petition was submitted by Neil Bates, having collected 100 signatures. 

'Many of the arts and entertainment venues face closure shortly. Unless the Welsh Government start organising support with immediate effect by distributing the £59 million pounds it has for the industry then many venues will close.'

Now, the background to this one: a response to the petition was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 2 September and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward, Members? Leanne. 

I've recently had some correspondence about this in relation specifically to music venues and live music venues—nightclubs and those kinds of venues—which are often in prime locations in city or towns centres and in large buildings, which are obviously prime locations for public gatherings, which are impossible to do under the current regulations. But if they're left unfunded, unsupported and empty for a long period of time, my concern is that they'll be sold; they'll have to be sold because they won't be going business concerns. Property developers will snap them up because of their location in those prime locations and we'll be left without venues for musical and cultural activities. So, there does need to be support for this specific sector.

I know I was speaking about a niche issue within that there, but the whole issue of the arts and culture, given that so many aspects of that industry rely on large crowds and gatherings of people—they are going to need additional support in order to survive. Now, I understand that the £59 million that's being made available for the arts is being passed on in part; £53 million is going directly to arts bodies and £6 million is being held back by the Government. I don't understand what that additional £6 million is being used for, but we could make the case for the full £59 million to be spent supporting the arts and I think we should put forward this petition for some sort of further action with the Government. So, I'd like to see us write to the Government. They have said that further support has been made available, but I would like to see a specific point made about the £6 million and also the point made about venues in our town centres as well, specifically music venues and music businesses.

09:05

Thanks, Chair. I agree with Leanne. I'm happy to support Leanne's comments with regard to the £6 million. I just wanted to bring up, Chair, with regard to the £53 million, that is available now for online eligibility checking, and organisations—for those who may be watching today—can still apply, and I think it runs out tomorrow. So, I just wanted to put that on the record today for those who are watching, but I'm happy to support the £6 million, but, for the £53 million already made available, it's an opportunity to apply, and I believe I'm right that initial period ends tomorrow. So, the committee should urge organisations to look at that as a matter of urgency.

Absolutely, and thank you for making that point. Neil, are you happy to support that?

Yes. I'd like to specifically know what they're doing with the rest of the money, so I'd like that in the letter, please. So, yes, I support this.

Chair, I think if we can get the information about the £6 million and additional information about the venues, then I would be happy for the petition to be closed, because the £53 million has been made available now, but it is on that condition that we get information about that £6 million, and specifically about these venues. Because it's all very well supporting organisations, but if they've got nowhere to perform at the end of all of this, then that's a bit of a false economy. So, we need the venues and the people to be invested in.

Thank you. I think the clerk's clear where we're going. We're going to write to the Minister.

Okay. Item 2.2, P-05-1013, 'Provide financial support for self-employed individuals within the Welsh live music industry'. This petition was submitted by Peter Phillips, having collected a total of 189 signatures.

'The Welsh Government have given no indication as to when live music will be allowed to commence post lockdown. Accordingly, anybody working in the live music industry in Wales is unable to earn a living. The national Self Employment Income Scheme ends on 17 August. After that date, should the Welsh Government continue to prohibit live music, they should be compelled to provide direct financial support to self-employed individuals in Wales who make their living in that industry.'

Now, the background to this: a response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 2 September, and the petitioner has provided further comments. What actions would you like to take forward on this petition, please?

Chair, there's a specific fund for freelancers opening on 5 October, and that is to be welcomed. My concern, again, relates to the people who won't be eligible for that fund. As we know, with the other various schemes that have been available, especially for self-employed people, while many people are eligible and many people are helped, there are always groups of people who fall outside of that. So, again, we should thank the petitioner, and this issue has been addressed now to a certain extent because of the public pressure, but I think we should ask the Government to provide some sort of fund for those people who work in the arts who won't be eligible for the various streams of funding that might become available as part of this £53 million. I know that some of it's available now, some of it's going to come on-stream in the future, but we know that there will be people who will fall through the gaps, because that's happened with every other scheme, hasn't it?

Yes, again, I'd support. I think it's the same position as we were in with the first petition. Again, I'd urge people to check online and apply if possible, but those who do slip through the cracks—this is a difficult thing that we're going through, and people are going to slip through cracks, unfortunately—we need them to come forward as soon as possible as well so that we can try and address that as individual Members, if not as a committee.

Yes. Real concerns; I'm not sure if this covers DJs, because DJs are not allowed to play, either, and there's a creative art in being a good DJ as well as somebody that plays music with an instrument or sings. And it just seems, again, one of the almost illogical decisions where the public are just not being treated like adults.

09:10

Thank you. Moving on, 2.3, P-05-1011, 'Virtual On-line teacher-led lessons to be provided for all school children'. This petition was submitted by Elfed Williams, having collected 2,772 signatures, and the text of the petition reads:

'There is a strong possibility that social distancing will remain in place beyond September when the new school year starts. Schools will struggle to accommodate all children returning to school. We are calling on the Welsh Government to work with Local Authorities and Teachers Unions to find a National solution for all children to receive the education they need to progress their education. This will require a combination of school and home-based learning through virtual classrooms.'

Now, the background: a response was received from the Minister for Education on 21 August, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments. What actions would you like to take on this issue? Leanne.

I think we should write back to the Minister on this. I accept the point that schools are open. It's a Government priority to keep schools open, but there has to be a plan in place in case they have to close again or if whole school years have to be out for two weeks for isolation reasons, or for any other thing—any other eventuality that could happen. I'm not satisfied that this blended learning is as good as it can be. I've seen examples in other countries where online teaching has been much more advanced than what we've managed to achieve here, notwithstanding the fantastic efforts that teachers made in the early stages of lockdown to recalibrate all their efforts and put them online. It's impossible for them now to continue with the online work to the same extent because they've got to be in front of the classroom and dealing with all the other school issues as well. So, there is an issue here. It's not completely covered by the Minister's answer, and I think, given that we're going into potentially a second wave where there are more restrictions on more people, and this has happened at the same time as the opening of schools, we can't ignore the fact that schools may need to close again in the future.

So, I think if we could write a strongly worded letter from this committee to the Minister outlining the points that are made very well here by the petitioner, and asking for her to outline in full what that plan B is to ensure that, if children are not able to remain in school for whatever reason, there is a really good—as advanced as we can possibly get—set of resources that they can use online. And don't forget there are still going to be many children—children of shielded people, children who have parents with compromised auto-immune systems, and so on—who've not been able to return back to school, They are being home educated, and so having a body of resources to help parents do that work as well is vitally important. I know some work has gone into this, and some very good work, but I think we can do a lot better. And I think, as a committee, we can let the Minister know that.

I'd like to know how many children, it's estimated, have no access to the internet, and what the Government is going to do to provide access, because a lot of kids just have no lessons if they have no internet.

Also, in terms of the actual—. Just to follow on from what Leanne was saying, I'd like to, in the letter, to include what is the Government doing in terms of putting together a taskforce that could actually do the job for teachers and enable things to go online—for example, former teachers who may not be working now. There's a pool of resource out there we should be using to help schools put these things together.

Okay. So, you're happy to support, everyone? Jack—you're happy to support a robust letter going? Thank you. 

Item 2.4, P-05-1015, 'Categorise schools as critical infrastructure'. This petition was submitted by Christopher Hughes, having collected 484 signatures, and the text reads:

'With test, track and trace in place and community transmission across Wales extremely low nationwide, school closures should not happen again in Wales.

'This is essential for children's mental wellbeing, their education, and any safeguarding issues.'

A response was received from the Minister for Education on 21 August, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments, all in your packs. What action would you like to take forward on this issue? Neil.

09:15

Yes, I'm sure that we can be creative enough to cover both angles. Okay. 

Moving on, 2.5, P-05-1017, 'Allow pupils to wear masks in all areas of the school premises'. This petition was submitted by John Zhao, having collected 97 signatures. The text reads:

'I am starting this petition to call on the Senedd to make schools let pupils wear face masks at all times (even in classroom settings). Face masks/coverings can substantially reduce the transmission rate as shown in other countries around the world. If wearing a face mask is compulsory on public transports in England, then why shouldn’t pupils wear masks in a enclosed environment like a classroom where there are more people and spend a long period of time in there??'

So, a response was received from the Minister for Education on 25 August, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Jack.

Thanks, Chair. As we know, the Welsh Government have recommended the use of face coverings in communal areas in schools, and I note the petitioner has come back with some further comments, and also that the Welsh Government will be reviewing policy on a regular basis. Perhaps we should propose to close this petition and thank the petitioner for what he's done and just provide the further comments to the Welsh Government for when that review takes place. I don't see there's much more we can do as a committee.

Okay. Any other Member views? Is that supported? Leanne? Neil?

Yes. Thank you.

Item 2.6, P-05-1020, 'Introduce an Appeals process in Wales for all Centre Assessed Grades for 2020 public exam programme'. This petition was submitted by Parents in Wales, having collected a total of 87 signatures. The text reads:

'We were relieved that the Welsh Assembly Government decided that CAGs should form the basis for 2020 exam results. However, what learners need now is a transparent process for appeals against CAGs which may have been lowered due to assessment criteria set by WJEC, disallowing compensatory measures ie variable learner circumstances affecting data.'

A response was received from the Minister for Education on 8 September, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to this meeting but has not done so. How would you like to take this forward? Neil.

3. Deisebau newydd
3. Other New petitions

Other new petitions: 3.1, P-05-995, 'Freedom to Donate Blood'. This petition was submitted by Arron Glyn Bevan-John, having collected 2,726 signatures. The text of the petition:

'In Wales gay and bisexual men are not allowed to give blood—unless they abstain from sex for three months. We would like to campaign for ‘Blood Without Bias’ giving people ‘Freedom to Donate’. This petition asks the Welsh Government to scrap the three-month deferral period, and to introduce an individualised, risk-based approach to assess sexual behaviour, rather than a simplistic process where people are grouped together based on their sexual orientation and are banned from donating blood. This is the best way to ensure that those who want to donate, and can do so safely, are able to.'

A response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 3 August, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward? Leanne.

I'm not sure how much we can influence this process that's going on. As the Minister has said, you know, it's clearly a UK Government issue but that this particular issue is being looked at and considered with regard to individualised risk assessments. I think what could happen, though, is that the Minister could write as part of that process to the UK Government and express a Government position, with the support of this committee, that this does deserve to be changed. Because it is discriminatory, and it doesn't make sense because we need the blood, as the petitioner has very, very well argued, I think, in this. So, can we write back to the Minister and request that the Government officially writes to the UK Government on this and has the backing and support of the Petitions Committee in doing so? And then we can keep an eye on the situation, but thank the petitioner for raising this really important discriminatory issue.

09:20

Okay. Do all Members support that? Thank you.

Item 3.2: P-05-1007, 'Merge Hope and Caergwrle into a two-member ward in the County of Flintshire'. This petition was submitted by David John Healey, having collected a total of 282 signatures. The text reads:

'The Final Report of the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales (LDBC) recommends that Higher Kinnerton and Hope are merged into a two-member ward and that Caergwrle, Llanfynydd and Treuddyn are also merged into a two member ward. The latter proposal is entirely new and was never submitted for consultation.'

A response was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 14 September. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Jack.

Thanks, Chair. I think, at the outset, if I may, for the record—I actually know the petitioner and the councillors involved as they're from my area. I have supported in the past the Hope and Caergwrle merger, but then not the Llanfynydd and Treuddyn—you have to understand the areas there. However, for now, I think, just where we are—I note that the petitioner has made a comment of postponing any decision and I would like to propose that the committee supports that, given the fact that we're in a pandemic and people are looking to local councillors, so I think we need to cause as little confusion as possible when they're looking to elected representatives. So, I would propose that, but I'm happy to take and hear committee's views.

Thank you. So, we move to item 3.3: P-05-1008, 'Teach mental health first aid in schools in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Jonny Alcock, having collected 222 signatures.

'For too long now Wales has been plagued by a silent killer, countless people have lost loved ones as a result of fighting an unknown battle. This petition is to push for Mental Health first aid training in schools to build a society where people will always have support and the tools to fight the awful battle so many face on a daily basis, hopefully saving many lives.'

A response was received from the Minister for Education on 21 August. A research brief has been provided. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so. The clerking team has also written to the originators of petitions about subjects taught in schools to highlight a recent opportunity to submit views to the Children, Young People and Education Committee as part of their scrutiny of the curriculum Bill. How would you like to go forward? Neil.

Have we heard from the petitioner? If not, I think we should wait until we know what their view is again. 

Yes, thanks, Chair. I'm supportive of Neil; I think we need to understand again the further position of the petitioner. This is a really serious issue and it's one that I've discussed from primary schools to universities in north Wales, about the need for mental health first aid in schools. So, I think, for this particular petition, we need to wait for the petitioner and take a view on it at a later stage.

09:25

Okay, thank you. We move on to item 3.4: P-05-1009, 'Mandate Welsh Councils to apply a minimum 100% Council Tax surcharge on second homes'. The petition was submitted by Michael Murphy, having collected 1,026 signatures. The text reads:

'Second homes and seasonal homes are destroying our rural communities, while pricing locals out of the housing market. Meanwhile many second home owners avoid paying any Council Tax by claiming small business relief. The Welsh Government should be actively discouraging this and applying penalties of 10% of value of second home for wilful avoidance.'

A response was received from the Minister for Finance on 3 September, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to go forward? Leanne.

I've got a great deal of sympathy for this petition, and in particular the argument that the petitioner has come back with, recognising that, yes, the power is there, but often the local authority is reluctant to use those powers. More and more local authorities are using them, and that's really good, but it makes no sense for homes to be sat empty for large chunks of the year and for there to be no or little penalty. So, I would like to get more information on how many councils in Wales are using that discretionary power that they have to charge council tax premiums for second homes. And then, once we've got that information, I'd like us to look at this petition again, because this is an issue that is growing as a problem and not diminishing.

Okay. Moving on to item 3.5: P-05-1010: 'An independent inquiry into the 2020 flooding in Rhondda Cynon Taf so that lessons are learned'. The petition was submitted by Heledd Fychan, having collected 6,017 signatures—5,743 online and 274 on paper.

'We, the undersigned, urge the Welsh Government to initiate a full, independent, open and public inquiry into the 2020 flooding of homes and businesses across Rhondda Cynon Taf, and that appropriate steps are taken to rectify any issues so that similar damage can be prevented from reoccurring.'

A response was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 24 August. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward? Leanne.

Thank you, Chair. Can I first of all declare an interest in this? I know the petitioner, and I've been involved in sharing this really important petition for my constituency. Can I first of all say, as well, that the list of communities in the petition isn't an exhaustive list? It hasn't mentioned all the communities that were affected—so Blaenllechau, Ynyshir, Ystrad and other communities were also affected by one of the three flooding incidents in 2020. And, of course, everyone who's been affected, not just in Rhondda Cynon Taf, but throughout Wales—it's been really, really difficult for people to get their lives back on track. The testimonies provided here by Heledd are very, very strong and powerful, and, in some cases, heartbreaking. I'm sure other members of the committee will agree.

Now, the Minister refers to the various inquiries and reports that are being pulled together already, and they are obviously welcome, and we're waiting for those, but as the petitioner points out, those reports and that process is not independent. The council may or may not have done things that contributed to the flood. And also, in the very early days, when the flooding first happened, there was a public meeting where the leader of council and representatives from Natural Resources Wales were on a panel, and it was quite frustrating for residents that neither were able to or seemed to take responsibility and provide answers, and there was an element of blaming the other. So, there are questions about the process and how independent it'll be.

Now, we obviously need confidence in the process, and independence is a key element of that, so while we wait for the section 19 process to unfold, which is a technical process, we also need to ensure that the voices of people are heard in this as well. I'm not convinced that the processes that are going on at the moment are sufficiently taking into account the views of the people who were affected. As the petitioners say, in this instance, the council is investigating itself, and the people are not inputting the human cost, which risks, therefore, that not being counted within all of this.

The other major issue, of course, is climate change. Everything we understood before needs to be re-evaluated and relooked at again. I think we need an independent process and an expert-led process in order to give us recommendations in order to futureproof people, because even the problems that we face now may be small compared to the problems that we face in the future as climate change gathers pace. So, this inquiry that we must have needs to think very much about what the future—[Inaudible.]—really take—[Inaudible.]—debate. Is that something the committee—[Inaudible.] Chair—

09:30

Nid oes recordiad ar gael o'r cyfarfod rhwng 09:32 a 09:42.

No recording is available of the meeting between 09:32 and 09:42.

09:40

Thank you. So, we've moved to the background on this issue. We had some technical issues earlier, so I'm just going to go back over the background. A response was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 24 August. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comments. What action would you like to take forward?

Chair, I apologise first of all if any of this is repeated, but I want to make my contribution again in full, just in case points were missed. So, can I first of all declare an interest? I know the petitioner, Heledd Fychan, and I was involved with my team in Rhondda Plaid Cymru in collecting signatures for this petition. 

I'd just like to mention that there are other communities that were affected by flooding in the Rhondda that aren't listed within the petition's additional notes, and they are Blaenllechau, Ynyshir and Ystrad. I'm sure that there are other communities within Rhondda Cynon Taf who were affected as well and, of course, there are communities right throughout Wales that will benefit from seeing an inquiry into what happened in our locality, because there will be lessons to be learnt elsewhere. 

The testimonies—I'm sure Members will agree—are very strong and, in some cases, heartbreaking. And anyone who has spoken to anyone who was involved in the floods will see patterns of similar issues. The concern is that the current process, the section 19 inquiries that are taking place, is not sufficiently independent. It's the council, effectively, looking at itself—okay, with partners, but all of those partners have various interests in the issue as well. So, there's an issue of public confidence in terms of the independence of the section 19 process. And part of that is related to a public meeting that was held fairly early on, where the leader of the council and a representative from Natural Resources Wales addressed a public meeting, and neither could agree as to what the causes were or which organisation should take responsibility, and so people were very frustrated as a result of that meeting and believe that the process now will be affected by that. 

It's also essential that people are listened to. The section 19 process will be a technical process, and there won't be much opportunity, or any opportunity, for the people who were affected to have an input into that process, and it's really important those voices are listened to, because there is incredible local expertise within these communities. 

The final point I'd like to make is in relation to climate change. Everything we understood before has to be reviewed and relooked at again in the light of the changes we are being told by scientists are going to happen. So, it may well be that this flooding incident was relatively minor compared to what we can expect to see in the future, and so futureproofing our communities and ensuring that people are protected and safe is absolutely vital. It's unacceptable that people, every time it rains heavily, struggle to go to sleep at night because they're worried about water coming into their homes. That is going to happen more and more unless there is an independent look at the causes of this, providing recommendations as to future mitigation for people. 

So, I would propose, given that this petition has reached the 5,000 target, and exceeded it, for signatures, that we seek to get this issue debated in a full Plenary debate as quickly as possible. 

09:45

Thanks, Chair. Very quickly, I support Leanne's proposal for a debate in Plenary time. I know other—well, lots of local Members have certainly been doing lots of hard work; Mick Antoniw, for one, in Pontypridd. So, I would support that. I know he's been hosting a load of events to gather information and working at putting those across to the Government, but I do think this warrants debate time, and this committee has an opportunity to do so. 

Okay. Okay, Clerk? Thank you.

Item 3.6, P-05-1012, 'Oxygen chamber therapy for fibromyalgia patients on the NHS'. This petition was submitted by Katie Nicole Jones, having collected 64 signatures, and the text reads: 

'We the undersigned call on the Welsh government to provide oxygen chamber therapy to Fibromyalgia sufferers funded through the NHS.'

A response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 3 September. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so. What actions would you like to take forward? Neil. 

Can I just say, Chair, I agree with that, but I think I might know the petitioner, so I just wanted to make that note?

Okay. Jack, agree? Great.

Item 3.7, P-05-1016, 'Extend the new Green Homes Grant to Wales'. This petition was submitted by Cheryl Griffiths, having collected 1,413 signatures. The text reads: 

'The Chancellor has announced a new Green Homes Grant to give up to £5000 in vouchers for energy efficient improvements to homes in England. The Welsh Government should implement the same in order to improve the housing stock, safeguard Welsh jobs and contribute to Welsh environmental concerns.'

A response was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 24 August. A research brief has been provided. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so. 

Chair, I'd like to wait for the further comments from the petitioner, because I just think—you know, we've just been talking about the floods in Rhondda Cynon Taf; climate change is an emergency and we need to make it as easy as possible to enable people to make their homes and every other aspect of their lives as green and energy efficient and environmentally friendly as we possibly can. So, if we can just give it one more meeting to enable the petitioner to respond, because I just think this is an important issue that deserves to be progressed. 

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

So, now we move to item 4, updates to previous petitions. COVID-19, item 4.1, 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. So, the text reads: 

'They gave their lives to save ours. We call on the Welsh Government to fund the funeral costs of all NHS staff who die from or with Covid-19.

'The average simple funeral costs £4000. We ask the Welsh Government to ensure that bereaved families immediately have access to the funds to pay for funeral costs.'

Now, the background is that the committee last considered the petition on 17 July, and agreed to write back to the Minister for Health and Social Services to express its support for the petitioners' view that the basic funeral costs of NHS staff who die as a result of contracting COVID-19 through their work should be paid for, in addition to the death-in-service benefit scheme. A response was received from the Minister on 28 July and the petitioners have provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Leanne.

09:50

I think this is progress and it's good news that it's being further considered. We need to keep an eye on what that further consideration results in. But I think we should definitely thank the petitioners involved in this.

I'd, personally, like to see this go further, and any front-line worker who has died as a result of COVID because of their front-line work—it's difficult to prove that it was because of that, but, obviously, people are much more exposed when they're doing front-line work, facing the public—should have their funeral costs covered.

I'd like to see the Government, say, approach the transport companies and the supermarket companies and ask them to create a specific fund for any of their workers that are affected by this as well, although I accept that that's not within the scope of this petition. But I do think that there does need to be a wider debate about how we as a society support those families who have lost their loved ones through the most tragic of circumstances, keeping things going for all the rest of us.

Okay. All right. Okay. You're clear on that one, Clerk?

Item 4.2, 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 9 June, agreeing to write back to the Minister for environment to ask for further information about the development of the all-Wales water safety strategy, the timelines from the all-Wales water safety group, and to urge the Welsh Government to move with pace, as this is an issue of public safety. A response was received from the Minister on 8 July. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so. How would you like to take this forward? Jack.

Thanks, Chair. I'm very sympathetic to this petition—there is a major issue here, and we should do what we can. However, I'm not sure there's much more we can do as a committee. There is going to be a launch soon of the Wales water safety strategy. I think we should welcome that when it comes out and, hopefully, that addresses a lot of the issues, and, if not, perhaps the petitioner can get in touch again. But, given the fact the Government have been quite clear with regard to the curriculum on a lot of issues, not just this, I'm not too sure there's too much we can do further as a committee. So, I'd propose to thank the petitioner for raising this important issue and perhaps close.

I'd like to keep a watching brief on it and maybe wait a little for the petitioner to come back, if she or he wants to.

I'm very sympathetic to this. I'm still not sure as to where we could go forward, but I'm happy to, certainly, wait, yes.

I would just mention, whilst we are publicly broadcasting, that it really does help us as a committee, if anybody signing a petition, when the petition is coming forward for discussion by our committee, that when the clerks have written out to them, where possible they really do get those replies back to us. Because we do have a number of petitions going forward, and I would just urge any petitioner who actually does have a petition with us to ensure that we receive those comments back—it really does help the processes of our committee to work much easier.

Okay, moving on, 4.3: P-05-933, 'Ban Goldfish from being given away at funfairs #OperationGoldfish'. The petition was submitted by Holly Homer, and was first considered in February 2020, having collected 2,416 signatures. We last considered this on 23 June, and agreed to write back to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask for an update as to whether the meeting of the Wales animal health and welfare group has taken place, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ask again for clarification over the potential to address this issue through the forthcoming regs to introduce a licensing scheme for animal exhibits, and share the information provided by the petitioner and the RSPCA in response to the assertions made by the Showmen's Guild. A response was received from the Minister on 3 August. The petitioner has indicated that she has nothing further to add to her previous comments at this time. How would you like to go forward? Anyone?

09:55

I don't know if there's anywhere further we can take this now, Chair, is there, given what the Minister has said?

I have a tendency to agree with that view. Any other views? Okay. So I think I'd like to, at this point, thank the petitioner and thank them for bringing this to our attention, and we'll close. Okay.

Item 4.4: P-05-941, 'Biodiversity Remit for NRW'. The petition was submitted by the Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru and was first considered in February 2020, having collected 1,195 signatures. The committee last considered this petition on 23 June, and we agreed to write again to Natural Resources Wales to seek a response to the concerns raised by the petitioners, including in their most recent letter to the committee. A response from NRW was received on 30 July. The petitioner has provided further comments. What action would you like to take forward? Leanne.

I can see that the Minister has included this in the remit letter for NRW. But given NRW are such a wide-ranging organisation, which has had its budget cut recently, and has to focus on and prioritise issues like flooding in the Rhondda, then, being realistic, how much of its effort and resource can go in to the huge job of protecting biodiversity in Wales? We've got to question the ability of NRW to do that work. I'm not saying—. You know, they've got some great conservation officers with brilliant expertise there, but I'm just not convinced that the funding is enough and the resources are enough to do the job that needs doing. So I'm not sure where we can take this any further, really, in terms of this petition.

Is it possible to write back to the Minister and make the point that the ability of NRW to prioritise this important work is compromised, and the committee has some sympathy with the petitioner on that, and we'd like the Minister to give that some further consideration? Because, ultimately, what we probably need is a separate body just charged with protecting Wales's biodiversity, and then they would have the sufficient resources, hopefully, and focus, to do the job that needs doing. Because it's huge—where do you even start? We've got differences in—. In my area, coal spoil is a very interesting place for interesting biodiversity, but then you've got the sea, you've got forestry, you've got such a range of different landscapes, I can't see how it's possible really to properly ensure that we're looking after everything as well as we should be.

So your proposal is, what—to write again to the Minister?

I think we can close the petition, because I can't see where further we're going to go in this Assembly term with this, but I'd like to put on record those points that I've just made about NRW being insufficiently resourced to do the job that needs doing with the climate change imperatives and the changes to biodiversity that we're being warned about.

10:00

Yes, I'm really concerned. I wouldn't close this. I'm really concerned that the letter from the chief executive of Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru—let me just check the name—Robert Jones Parry—. Because he says that Natural Resources Wales—. Let me just get the quote. Give me a sec, sorry; I'm trying to get the page back. He accuses them of misleading. He says that, 

'Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is misleading the committee, the Welsh Parliament and the people of Wales'.

That's a huge statement to make from an organisation's chief executive. And, given the way that the organisation has misled everybody over the nuclear mud. Misled everyone—.  

Yes, we're not going to get into nuclear mud on this petition. We owe it to the petitioners to discuss this petition only.

The point I'm making is there's previous for misleading this committee in my view. So, I'd like to not dispense with this petition. I'd like to have the organisation in to explain to us why he thinks NRW are misleading people and I'd like NRW in as well to answer to the accusations made. It's extraordinary that he's saying that they're misleading the Welsh public. That's a huge statement to make, and I don't think we can close that petition on that basis.

I'm more than happy to keep it open for further information, Chair. 

Can we get them in? That was the proposal. I'd like to get them in to answer, really. 

Any support for the proposals to take this further in terms of—? We'd have to agree to a debate.  

I'll withdraw that, because if we're seeking further information that's a decision. 

Yes, okay, all right. So we're going to write to the Minister.

Item 4.5: P-05-951, 'Impose a legal limit on the maximum number of breeding bitches in licensed dog breeding establishments in Wales'. The petition was submitted by Dinah Mulholland and was first considered in June 2020, having collected 229 signatures. We last considered this on 9 June, agreeing to write back to the Minister for environment to ask whether the Welsh Government intends to take forward recommendation 9 of the Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales)—sorry—Regulations 2014 review for further research to determine whether there would be an animal welfare benefit to this at the current time, and in what timescale, and to ask for an update on the planned legislation and whether this issue could be included within the legislation. A response was received from the Minister on 13 July. The petitioner's been offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to this meeting, but has not done so. How would you like to take this forward? Leanne.

Well, given that there is work ongoing on this and there's a plan to introduce legislation in the area, and that, in the past, the petitioner seems to have indicated broad satisfaction with the work that is being carried out, then I'm not sure if there's any point in keeping this petition going, unless any of the other Members think that there is.

Thanks, Chair. Until we see the legislation, I'd like to keep a watching brief on it really.

Thank you, Chair. Yes, just if I could fill the committee in on the broader situation, I suppose. The committee has several petitions that directly relate to the call for a ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens, which is more commonly known as Lucy's law. This petition is slightly different in that it calls for changes to a different set of regulations, which the Minister has said are not going to be made during the remainder of this Senedd term. So, whilst the Government is taking forward work around improving enforcement at a local level, and is thinking around the issue of third-party sales and is expecting to introduce legislation before the next election, this issue in terms of regulations has really been ruled out by the Government at this point. So, the committee could take a watching brief and group this with the other petitions around Lucy's law, for example, but it is addressing a slightly different point.

10:05

Okay. Given that this petition is unlikely to make any change in terms of further legislative change going forward, do Members want to rethink? Jack.

Thanks, Chair. When was the petitioner last—? When did they last send correspondence in? Because we could either group it, but if we have got a clear commitment that it's not going to change anything, then there's not much more we can do, really.

We've had a response from the Minister on 13 July and, am I right, that the petitioner hasn't contacted us since then?

Perhaps, Chair, we can put a deadline on this. Perhaps we can go back to the petitioner one more time and say we could schedule this for the next meeting, and if we haven't had further comments, then the appropriate thing would be to close the petition.

Yes, okay. 

Item 4.6, P-05-953, 'Ban Single Use Plastic Milk Bottles in schools'. This petition was submitted by St Aidan's Church in Wales VA School and was first considered in June 2020, having collected 369 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 9 June, and agreed to write back to the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government to share the feedback received from the pupils, and request a response to their call for the Welsh Government to fund the purchase of a pergal unit for all schools throughout Wales. A response was received from the Minister on 8 July. The petitioners were offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting, but have not done so. Members, what action would you like to take forward? Neil.

I think, because of the crisis and schools only just being back, we should wait. 

Okay. And again, we'll put a time limit on the responses coming back, shall we?

Do all Members agree on that? Okay.

Health and social services, P-05-965, 'Push the government into introducing a separate ward other than maternity ward, for families going through a miscarriage'. The petition was submitted by Peter Leigh-Robinson and was first considered in July 2020, having collected 52 signatures. The committee last considered this petition on 7 July, and we agreed to write back to the Minister for Health and Social Services to ask what the bereavement steering group is doing specifically on the issue of ensuring that people experiencing miscarriage have access to spaces and facilities that are appropriate to their situation, and whether the recommendations of the Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales report can be considered as part of this. A response was received from the Minister on 19 August and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward?

Chair, I think this is really important and it's something that requires acute sensitivity, and in many situations, that sensitivity isn't being applied. As a parent who's just lost a child in pregnancy, to have to be there and see and witness other parents enjoying having just had their healthy child born into the world is something I can't—. I can't imagine the pain of that and I can't understand how our health service is even allowing that situation to continue.

So, the Minister has said that there is a national bereavement steering group, but it's unlikely that this issue will be considered by that, and there seems to be a move from the Minister not to want to get involved. Well, I don't think that we should accept that. We should ask for political intervention to ensure that all health boards are supported and enabled to provide separate facilities for people who are going through miscarriage and people who are going through maternity services because they're very different needs, they're very different services. The sensitivity needs to be applied very, very carefully, and the fact that it isn't at the moment isn't just a matter for Cardiff, it's a matter for every parent throughout Wales and every potential parent as well.

10:10

I think we should write to the Minister and all the health boards as well, because it's a horrendous situation for anyone to be in and completely unacceptable. 

Okay. Everyone agree? We'll write to all the health boards as well.

Can we, if doing that, then, also ask about ongoing support services for families that have been bereaved through miscarriage, because I'm not convinced that the support systems are in place that people need either, and then you're potentially storing up mental health problems for the longer term?

Thanks, Chair. I fully welcome and fully support both comments from Neil and Leanne in terms of what they've just said. I know this petition is specifically focused on miscarriage, but there is a wider issue of bereavement services in general, and I wonder if it would be okay—please focus the letter on the majority of this petition, but it might just be worth a paragraph on bereavement services in general, because they need improving in Wales and I absolutely—. It isn't just—. Let's not just write to Cardiff health board; let's write to all of them and to the Minister too.

Thanks, Jack. Okay, Clerk?

Item 4.8: P-05-940, 'Reduce cancelled operations'. The petition was submitted by Claire-Louise Walker and was first considered in March 2020, having collected 100 signatures. The committee last considered this petition on 10 March, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the information provided by the Minister for Health and Social Services and contained within the research brief before considering further action on the petition. The petitioner provided further comments on 12 August. How would you like to go forward on this? Neil.

I'd like to write to the health Minister for a breakdown of figures relating to cancelled operations for the five years prior to 2020. How many were cancelled by health boards, how many were cancelled by patients' requests and how many were children also?

Okay. Everyone support that? Okay.

Item 4.9: P-05-798, 'Male domestic violence victim support services to be independently run & funded'. The petition was submitted by FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru and was first considered in February 2018, having collected 138 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 9 June and agreed to write to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to share the concerns expressed by the petitioners and to enquire when the commissioning of support services for male victims of domestic violence will next be reviewed, and to ask whether a commitment can be given to offering the opportunity for other providers to submit tenders to provide specific services. A response was received from the Deputy Minister on 20 July. The petitioners were offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting but have not done so. How would you like to take this forward? Clerk—I can't hear.

Thank you, Chair. Sorry. Just to note for the committee that due to an administrative error, the petitioners were not given a full opportunity to comment on the Minister's letter ahead of this meeting and have requested that the committee could defer the petition until the following meeting to enable them more time to respond. 

Okay. Moving on, item 4.10: P-05-898, 'Ban the use of A boards in Wales'. This was submitted by Angharad Paget-Jones and was first considered in October 2019, having collected 80 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 23 June, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Housing and Local Government to ask what consideration is being given to accessibility issues in relation to plans to configure public spaces to enable social distancing due to COVID-19. A response was received from the Minister on 20 July. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting but has not done so. How would you like to take this forward? Anyone? Neil.

10:15

Again, if we can just remind the petitioners that we need the response in time if we're going to put it forward to another meeting. Okay. All Members agree?

Item 4.11: P-05-913: 'Creation of Lôn Las Môn Multi-Use Path'. This petition was submitted by Gethyn Mon Hughes and was first considered in November 2019, having collected 2,216 signatures. The committee considered this petition on 23 June and we agreed to write back to the Minister for Economy and Transport to ask whether the Welsh Government's desire to maintain the potential for rail service to be reinstated had been impacted by the effects of COVID-19 on public transport, and also to write to Network Rail to ask that they promote the importance of an ongoing dialogue between all parties, and to look for solutions that could potentially incorporate multiple uses of the line. Responses have been received from the Minister and Network Rail. The petitioners have provided further comments. Correspondence has also been received from Anglesey Central Railway Ltd, and Rhun ap Iorwerth MS has provided a copy of the letter he has received from the Welsh Government. How would you like to take this issue forward?

Chair, I'm not sure how we can take this any further forward now. It's going to be a little while before the full impacts of COVID are going to be felt on public transport, and rail investment in particular, I think. And so decisions that are made now on these matters, although this issue in particular is progressing—I can't see how there are going to be circumstances where these decisions are not going to have to be revisited in the future, depending on how things pan out. We have no idea how rail companies are going to operate in the future, how rail track will be able to be put down, how expensive that will be in terms of the outlay, and then not being able to make business plans add up because you haven't got the numbers of people using rail and so on.

So, everything like this is going to have to be put on hold, and to me it makes sense that while we're putting things on hold, people can have use of the land to exercise on, whether that be for walking, cycling, horse riding, or whatever. But that said, we've gone around the houses a number of times with this petition now, and I can't see where else we can take this as a committee. We've got all the information we've asked for, so I'm really at a loss now in terms of any further progress on it. 

Chair, again, I agree. I'm not really sure where we can take this as a committee, so I think our only option, really, forward is to propose to close this petition.

Okay. Are all Members agreed? Okay. So, we'll thank the petitioner and we'll close the petition.

Moving forward to item 4.12: P-05-932, 'Education On Food Allergies In Schools & Mandatory EPI PEN Training'. This petition was submitted by Archie's Allergies and was first considered in January 2020, having collected 172 signatures. The committee considered this petition on 10 March, and we agreed to write to charities, Public Health Wales and the Association of Directors of Education in Wales. We've had all the responses and we've received responses from Allergy UK and the other organisations and the petitioners have provided further comments. What action would you like to take on this issue?

10:20

Chair, I'd like to know where this review is now? So, there's a review being carried out by a dietician for the Welsh Local Government Association. We don't know, do we, whether that work has been affected by COVID or not? So, if we can seek further information on that by writing back to the Minister for Education, then I think we can look at this petition again in the light of that further information.

Okay. Do Members support that? Okay. Right, so we're going to write back, Clerk.

Item 4.13: P-05-950, 'Agriculture and Countryside Education for 4-16-year olds in our schools'. This petition was submitted by Osian Hedd Harries and was first considered in June 2020, having collected 93 signatures. We last considered this petition on 23 June, and agreed to write back to the Minister for Education to ask what work is being done to develop teaching resources on subjects brought to the attention of the committee, and when these resources will be made available for teachers, and also to await a response from the petitioner to the information provided by the Minister. A response was received from the Minister on 6 July. The petitioner was contacted in May, June and September with the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting, but has not done so. The clerking team has also written to petitioners with petitions concerning subjects taught in schools to highlight a recent opportunity to submit views to the Children, Young People and Education Committee as part of their scrutiny of the curriculum Bill. How would you like to go forward on this one? Bearing in mind we have contacted the petitioner in May, June and September with the opportunity to provide additional comments prior to the meeting, but as yet they have not done so. Anyone? Am I correct to assume that, as we have not received additional comments prior to the meeting, there's very little that we can do as a committee?

Yes. Okay. Well, I propose closing this petition, and thanking the petitioner for bringing this to us in the first instance. 

So, that brings us to the end of this meeting. Can I thank the Members for taking part, the clerking team and all our technicians and IT people working behind the scenes? The committee's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, 13 October. The meeting will include an oral evidence session with the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales in relation to petition P-05-886, 'Stop the Red Route (A55/A494 corridor)'. Thank you. Thank you, again. And that brings us to the end of this meeting. Diolch.

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:23.

The meeting ended at 10:23.