Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

11/12/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David J. Rowlands AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Janet Finch-Saunders AC
Leanne Wood AC
Mike Hedges AC

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Kath Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Kayleigh Imperato Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.

The meeting began at 09:31.

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

Good morning, bore da, everyone. Welcome to the Petitions Committee. We do have one apology this morning; Neil McEvoy is unable to attend due to illness.

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

If we can move on to item 2 on the agenda, which is new petitions, and the first of these is 'All men in Wales should have access through the NHS to the best possible diagnostic tests for prostate cancer'. This petition was submitted by Stuart Davies, having collected 6,345 signatures. An initial response to the petition was received from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on 7 November. It appears that there are only two health boards in Wales that actually use multi-parametric MRI scanning techniques to the standards that are referred to by the petitioners, and those are Cwm Taf and Aneurin Bevan. 

The Cabinet Secretary said that, if NICE recommends pre-biopsy mpMRI, then he will expect all health boards to implement this. One point that I think we ought to make is that, obviously, Betsi Cadwaladr are actually in the hands of the Welsh Government and they should be implementing this if they are—

[Inaudible.]—people are having to buy their own scans and things now, just to get some reassurance in some cases. It's really bad in north Wales, so I have every sympathy with this petition.

I just think that it's got 5,000 signatures, it's a matter of public interest, and I think we ought to ask for a debate on it.

Could we do the second course of action as well as the debate? It doesn't have to be either/or, does it?

Yes, absolutely. Okay, so we're looking for the opportunity to have a debate on this in Plenary, so can we consult with the Business Committee to see when that might be available?

I'm not sure whether we would like that after we've had the questions answered in the second part of possible actions. The committee could write back to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to ask a number of questions.

I think it makes sense to have the debate after we've had the information, because then the debate can be more well informed.

Okay. So, yes, we'll write to Business Committee to request a time for the debate. Because the Business Committee also meets on a Tuesday morning, that means the earliest they will consider that letter will be the first meeting back after Christmas. If we write to the Cabinet Secretary for health to ask the questions that are in the brief, then I would anticipate that that means we should have that response prior to any debate taking place.

Okay, we're content with that. The next petition is 'Remove time restrictions on the layby to the east of Crickhowell'. The petition was submitted by Crickhowell Town Council, having collected 209 signatures. There was an initial response from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport on 12 November. The Cabinet Secretary has indicated that he believes that this should be down to the local authority, although, of course, trunk roads are under the auspices of the Welsh Government.

Do we have any comments on that?

09:35

My first response is surprise. Most of the people I've ever heard complaining have been complaining that there wasn't a time restriction on lay-bys, and those lay-bys were being taken up by people who stay overnight, by people who were parking and trading. People generally complain, with the lay-bys in and around my constituency, where we haven't got a time restriction, that there needs to be one, rather than complain about it. I think what we really need to get is for the Minister to start talking to the local authority about this. I read the comments, that people would park at the lay-by and walk into Crickhowell. That does seem very enthusiastic in terms of exercise, but not necessarily something that people who are under time constraints would actually do. I know what happens when people start trading in those lay-bys. It stops people who need to use lay-bys as lay-bys using them. Can we ask the Cabinet Secretary to talk further to Powys council?

Yes, it tends to need to go back to the local authority for their intervention.

It just seems like we're talking about two extremes here: either having no restrictions whatsoever or the one hour that's currently in place. Is there a medium for flexibility, for two or three-hour waiting or something like that? 

It appears that the local authority thought there should be a restriction on there, because people were way overstaying their time, in that sense.

They know best, really, don't they, from the representations made to them at that level as to what's needed. So, I think it needs to go back to them.

So, we will write to the Cabinet Secretary asking for details of discussions.

—and, following on from what Leanne said, whether they'd consider having a two-hour or three-hour limit rather than just the one-hour limit. 

A variation of times. Yes. 

Okay. The next new petition is 'Introduce a Licence to manage land for game bird shooting in an attempt to end raptor persecution'. This has been submitted by Anthony Britner and has collected 119 signatures. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment on 23 November. 

Do you have any comments with regard to this? I think that what the Cabinet Minister is saying is that there already measures in place to make sure that there is no abuse of the existing law with regard to the death of birds of prey. However, the research brief also indicates that there have been 15 overall reported incidents of raptor persecution in 2018 to date. So, possible actions are that the committee could await the views of the petitioner on the response received from the Minister for Environment before considering whether to take further action on the petition. Is that what we feel?

Yes, and if we're not happy we can add to the list of things we will discuss when we ask the Cabinet Secretary to come and talk to us. 

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

So, we move on to item 3, which is updates to previous petitions, the first of these being 'Reconsider the closure of the Welsh Independent Living Grant and support disabled people to live independently'. The petition was submitted by Nathan Lee Davies and was first considered by the committee in October 2017, having collected a total of 631 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 23 October and agreed to write to the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care. 

We have had extensive discussions with regard to this. This has been going on for quite some time. I think the situation that we have now is that the idea has been implemented to such an extent that 54 per cent have agreed a new package of support with their local authority. The idea is that they've moved the living grant to the local authority for administration. 

09:40

The point of the petitioner is that people won't voice their concerns or opposition to the scheme because they'll be afraid that they'll have their funding cut. So, you can't take the 54 per cent— 

And the other side he was making, of course, was that the money was not hypothecated, so there could be a possibility of local authorities siphoning off some of that money. Although the Welsh Government said that it's transferred the whole of the £27 million that it's received from the UK Government, there's no actual situation in place that has stopped local authorities from siphoning some of that money off, although the petitioner has referred to the situation in England where it hasn't been implemented in the fashion that he would have hoped for. It's very difficult to see where we are now with regard to this, but I'm open to your suggestions.

I think we could produce a summary of the evidence, with a view to presenting a letter to the Minister. And I think it's worth us requesting details of the outcomes of the review as well—the deep-dive review. 

We need to act quickly, because this is actually coming in in March, though, isn't it? 

I think the Minister talks about the two-tier arrangement. Two-tier arrangements are not abnormal right the way across the public sector; people have preserved rights. Why couldn't they have kept preserved rights for those who are currently getting them, and new people, then, they could treat differently? But preserved rights are well known and in existence, but actually taking things off people when they've got used to it is bound to be unpopular. I know that you put the 54 per cent that have signed. That means almost half haven't. I think that does show that there's some concern about it, and we don't know how many of that 54 per cent signed under duress.   

What do you think we ought to do? We could request details of the outcomes or a copy of the deep-dive review of all cases. 

Yes, but we also want to follow what Leanne said about producing a report. 

Yes, okay. Fine, thank you. 

We move on to the next petition, which is 'We call for the Welsh Government to encourage trusts to implement the NICE guidelines for Borderline Personality Disorder or justify why they do not do so'. This was submitted by Keir Harding and was first considered in May 2018, having collected 137 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 9 October and agreed to seek an outstanding response from one health board and ask the Assembly’s Research Service for an analysis of the responses received and a comparison with the contents of NICE guidelines. A response was received from the one outstanding health board, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board, on 18 October. The Assembly’s Research Service has provided a summary of the responses received from the health boards. Do we have any comments? 

The possible action is that the committee could write to the petitioner to seek his views on the full suite of responses provided by health boards in Wales and, in light of these, to ask him to outline any specific ways in which he considers that the services or support provided for borderline personality disorder need to be improved. Are you happy with that? 

Okay. We now move on the next petition, which is 'Specialist prosthetics for child amputees'. This was submitted by Rebecca Roberts and was first considered in June 2018, having collected 116 signatures. 

I have to be honest, I sympathise with this. I know, in north Wales, we've got some pretty bad issues going on there, because one of the things is the length of time they wait. When they're remeasured and things, by the time they actually get the prosthetic joint, sometimes the child has outgrown it again already. And I've dealt with some cases myself, and I do think that there needs to be that support for children in particular.

09:45

Can I start by declaring an interest? I've got a firm in my constituency that makes 3D prosthetics, using 3D printers. So, I declare that; they're based in my constituency. But what I cannot understand is why they just can't use 3D printing for producing these. This is how technology has moved on, and I think perhaps, if we're going to write to the Cabinet Secretary, we could ask why they're not using 3D printing to produce these prosthetics, because, then, they could keep on changing them. And my understanding is that these things are not exceptionally expensive when you have them made through 3D printers. They're much more expensive when you have somebody moulding them, and measuring and moulding, but if you're printing them, you can then upgrade them as and when required. 

It can take sometimes a year, and a child's body develops over that 12 months, and quite often, it—. And there's so much waste in the system, it's been pointed out to me. So, they need to do something. 

It's very strange that they make a distinction between leg prosthetics and arm prosthetics as well. There is the point, obviously, with children, if we're talking about funding, that as children grow they would need to have these prosthetics changed on a regular basis. So, there is that expense that's involved in it. But, of course, considering the very few numbers, I think right across England, there's only 220 children—that's in the whole of England—so I would have thought the small numbers that we have in Wales would mean that it would not be that expensive. And, as Mike's pointed out, if they used different technology to produce these, then the cost could be cut considerably. So, Leanne, did you have anything you wanted to say?

No, I support the amount of quality of life that can be given by children being able to access this, and for sport as well. So, you need different devices depending on what you want use them for. 

That's right, and given the fact that the Welsh Government are committed to getting as many people involved in sport and exercise as they are, these people shouldn't be left out of that, should they? 

So, the committee could write back to the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee to ask for further details of the review of the prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation services specification, including the process, timescales and a list of the stakeholders it intends to consult. And if the committee wishes to challenge the current policy for the provision of recreational lower limbs, it could seek a full reasoning behind the limitations within the current prosthetic and amputee rehabilitation services specification for recreational lower limbs. And, in addition/or, the committee could write to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to ask for consideration to be given by the Welsh Government to making specific funding available for children to be able to access specialised sports prostheses. The other possibility, of course, is that we could ask for an evidence session. 

Personally, I'm not keen on having a specialist fund. Holding lots of specialist funds centrally is not going to be particularly beneficial. On the numbers you talked about in England, Wales will have, on a pro rata basis, about a dozen. So, I will ask if we can ask about what use is being made of 3D printing. 

Okay. We could add that question to it. Shall we wait for the responses if we do this? 

Wait for the responses before we decide on whether we have an evidence session. Are we quite happy with that? Yes. 

The next petition to be considered is 'Give young people a voice when commissioning local services in Wales'. The petition was submitted by the Changing Minds campaign group, and was first considered in October 2018, having collected 4,252 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 23 October, and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to share the petitioners' comments and to ask him for a detailed response. A response was received from the Cabinet Secretary on 21 November. Does the committee have any comments to make on his responses?

09:50

May I ask a question about how all of this fits together with the Measure on children's rights that was passed—I think it was in the beginning of the last Assembly, or it may have been even the one before—where Ministers, as I understand it, were meant to consider and take on board the views of young people and children in all decisions, including legislation, financial decisions? And I'm just not convinced that that legislation is working as well as it should be working, if we're being asked to do this. So, how do the two—how does this fit with that Measure, basically?

That's right, and these are people who may have problems in actually articulating their difficulties or their input to the Welsh Government. So, I think—

But surely, then, they should have advocacy, because there is separate provision for advocacy for those people who find it difficult to articulate their voices, isn't there?

That's right. Well, there should be that in place, shouldn't there? Well our actions, or possible actions, are: the committee could write back to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to ask for his views on the petitioners' suggestion that the participation of young people should be a mandatory aspect of the process for commissioning services for young people, which I think is what you've referred to, as such—

But, it's already in place. Yes, that's right. So, could we have a review, or ask for his comments—given what Leanne has said—as to why these are not implemented in the way that they were supposed to be implemented?

I think it's an interesting question. There are different ways, I suppose, that we could seek to test that. We could ask for some information internally from the Research Service, say, about their assessment of how the Measure would apply in relation to the commissioning of local service—which is what the petition is talking about. Alternatively, we could ask that question of the Welsh Government or perhaps the Children's Commissioner for Wales, to get a perception about whether this is an area not covered by the Measure, or an indication that, perhaps, the Measure isn't working—

So, I don't know if you have a preference about who we ask that question to.

I think, let's do our own internal research first, to find out what the problem is. My hunch is that the legislation isn't doing what it's meant to do. And if this helps us highlight that, then maybe we can do something about the legislation, to improve it, or amend it, possibly, or even take a completely different course of action. But unless we know what the picture is, it's difficult to know what that course of action could be.

I'd like to hear the children's commissioner's views on how it's being implemented as well.

So, I think we should write and ask her for her views on it. Are you happy with that?

So, we're doing the two things: we'll ask for the Research Service here to produce that analysis, and we'll write to the children's commissioner, to include that question.

Okay. The next petition is 'Review and change the guidance for attendance awards in Welsh schools'. This was submitted by Laura Charles-Price, and was first considered in April 2018, having collected 123 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 5 June and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Education, to ask for her response to the petitioner’s suggestion that attendance registers should include scope for absences to be recorded as being due to a chronic health condition, and seek an update on progress with the review of attendance guidance. A response was received from the Cabinet Secretary on 21 November.

I think the letter from the Cabinet Secretary is quite clear, isn't it, that the petitioner's suggestion that attendance registers should include scope for absences to be recorded as being related to a chronic health condition is one of the points being considered as part of the review. So, it is in hand. We can't really do anything until—

Until the review is done, I think there is very little we could do.

Can I ask a question? Is this being driven by the Estyn inspection regime? My understanding is that school attendance is a big part of how schools are graded as part of their inspection, so these prize-giving sessions for pupils attending with good attendance records are all being driven from that perspective. So, it's the Estyn inspection framework that we need to be looking at, isn't it?

09:55

I think, yes, earlier on in the committee's consideration of this, when we had initial responses and I think some further information from the petitioner, there was an indication that there was a link, yes, between the inspection framework and schools targeting high attendance. The petition itself is actually seeking for schools not to give awards for high attendance, or at least for any awards to take account of chronic health conditions, which would otherwise mean they were not entitled to be considered for those awards, so—

The question I have is: does the school inspection, through Estyn, take account of children with chronic illness when they are looking at a school's overall attendance record? If they don't, then schools with a high number of children with chronic illnesses are going to be disadvantaged compared to others.

That's right, yes. I'm not sure whether that's within the scope of the current review that the Cabinet Secretary has talked about, but it's a question that we could ask.

I think the answer to Leanne is 'yes' and 'yes': yes, they don't take it into account, and, yes, they look at bald numbers and if you're less than 97.3 or 95.4—some number around there—then you are failing in terms of attendance. So, schools are trying everything they possibly can to try to enthuse pupils to attend. It's an unexpected consequence of an action.

It is indeed, but, obviously, if the suggestion by the Cabinet Secretary is that they will include scope for absences to be recorded on that basis, then those figures would be taken out of anything the Estyn inspectors would be looking at, so it wouldn't flag the school up then, if you want, because of high numbers of absences. I think the problem we have, Leanne, is that we really have to try to stick to the remit of the petition itself with regard to that.

I think if we look at the possible actions, the committee could await the views of the petitioner on the update received from the Cabinet Secretary for Education and/or the publication of the revised school attendance framework next year before deciding whether to take any further action on the petition. I think we're in a situation where until we actually know the contents of that review, there's very little we can do. So I think we should keep a watching brief on matters until we see that review. Are we happy with that? 

Okay. The next item is the 'Newtown Brimmon Oak Bypass'. The petition was submitted by Mervyn Lloyd Jones and Rob McBride, and was first considered by the committee in July 2018, having collected 402 signatures. The committee last discussed the petition on 23 October and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to ask him to update the committee once he'd responded to Powys County Council. A response was received from the Cabinet Secretary on 20 November.

His response says that he wrote to the executive leader of Powys County Council on 25 August regarding it, and he has enclosed a copy for our information:

'To date I have not received any preferred options'.

I don't know about you, but if I wrote to anyone in August and we were now in December, I would have followed it up at least, or chased it.

It's a lackadaisical response, I'm afraid, from a Cabinet Secretary. I think we need to go back to him.

Yes, I think it is, but I think overall the Cabinet Secretary's saying that they're not in favour of naming bypasses, roundabouts or any other items on the trunk roads.

Yes. I shall make no comment on that, Mike. Right, given that the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport rejected the proposal to name the bypass in the way proposed by the petition, and because any names for junctions or other signage are a matter for agreement locally, the committee could close the petition at this point. Are you happy to do that, or would you prefer to—?

10:00

I'd still like a response from the council. I just find it odd that a council wouldn't respond to a Cab Sec and a Cab Sec wouldn't chase it up.

Well, in all fairness, the petitioner's asking for a particular situation and a very particular role, so we haven't had an answer on that or the council's view on it. So, I think it's fair that we write to the Cabinet Secretary and ask that we get a response from him. 

If I could suggest that maybe we write directly to Powys council ourselves.

We could do that, but again, though, I still—. Do you know what I mean? Because this could be about something else completely. It could be about something of, you know—. It might not seem important to some people, i.e. to the Cabinet Secretary—it's not important enough for him to have chased it, but I do think, in terms of due process, he might have followed it up, if only to have given us a better update than—. Giving us something from August just seems bizarre.

I think the Cabinet Secretary's previous letter is where they more clearly rejected the idea of naming the bypass or giving the bypass a particular name, but it indicated that they were willing to think about names for junctions, or perhaps signage in lay-bys, in terms of promoting the tree and other history around Newton, and that's what they were waiting for a response from the county council about, I think. Whether that's a priority for Government, as you say—. So, I don't know whether we may be better off going directly to the council and asking what consideration they're giving.

Yes, let's see—they may respond. Because we'll chase them if they don't.

Okay, fine.

The next item is: 'Include the alternative 3rd Menai Crossing proposal "Pont Bendigeidfran" in the formal assessment process'. I think that we seem to have some positive responses with regard to this and the Cabinet Secretary confirms that the pont Bendigeidfran proposal is being considered and assessed as part of the analysis of the options for the bridge. The petitioner has asked the Cabinet Secretary—he's welcomed the confirmation, but he's asked for his details to be passed on to the teams working on the next stage, so that he can remain engaged in the project and future work with stakeholders. So, I think the committee could provide the petitioner’s contact details to the project team, and in light of the commitment made by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport that the pont Bendigeidfran proposal will be assessed as part of the design work for the bridge, the committee could close the petition.

Well, yes, we've succeeded in our goals there, really, and within the remit of our committee. 

I just find it bizarre that you can give a name to bridge, but not to a bypass.

I think it's the concept, actually, here as well, Mike, about actually having the alternative—

I know. I'm quite happy with the recommendation we've got here, it's just that you can name a bridge, but not a bypass. It does seem strange.

Right, no consistency, Mike says with regard to that. Okay. Are you happy with that, Leanne, that we close it?

Fine.

Here's an interesting one that has come up now: 'Protect the Razor Clams on Llanfairfechan Beach'. This petition was submitted by Vanessa Dye and was first considered by the committee in October 2017, having collected 459 signatures. 

And this is testament, really, to the work of this Petitions Committee and members of the public actually using this to engage and bring a community issue of huge concern to the National Assembly for Wales. I've been very heartened by the way the Cabinet Secretary has taken these concerns on board. We've kept battling for them, but we got increased signage. But nonetheless, they have been doing some assessments, so we did say we'd keep this open until certainly the end of the year—towards April we'd look. But we need the results of those assessments that have been taken, because we know that they were landing razor clams that were not full size, we know that the numbers of people coming in and taking these and whether they were then inevitably finding their way—

It's a lot better. Seriously, it's a lot better. The signage has helped, but nonetheless, there are still individuals whom we believe, because they've been closed—it has helped. So, the longer the closure is on—. But alongside that is the work that the Welsh Government are doing. They're paying for these assessments to be done, so we as a committee need to see, because it could be that we've got proof there that them being allowed to just carry on collecting them—. Because we don't want those beds opening again.

10:05

Okay. So, the committee could write to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs—

—to request an update on the stock assessment exercise and the ongoing status of the fishery.

Okay. Leanne? No comments. Okay.

'Protect children's lungs from harmful pollution whilst at school'—the petition was submitted by British Lung Foundation Cymru and was first considered in July 2018, having collected 159 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 23 October and a response was received from the Minister on 20 November.

The points are that the Welsh Government established a clean air programme in summer 2018, and this aims to develop and co-ordinate actions across all Government departments and sectors to reduce emissions and deliver improvements in air quality.

I think, if we look at this, it does appear that the Welsh Government are addressing this matter in very specific terms.

Okay. So, the committee could await a response from the petitioners to the information provided by the Minister for Environment before considering whether to take any further action on the petition. Are we happy to do that? Yes, fine.

Okay. We move on to the next petition, which is: 'Immediate review of the Neath Port Talbot LDP'. This petition was submitted by Emma Eynon and was considered by the committee for the first time in October 2018, having collected 56 signatures. This was one of three, actually, Leanne, that we had grouped together, because there were three petitions, all of them from Emma Eynon, with regard to, more or less, the same matters. We've had responses on the first two, but the other one is still outstanding. Do you want to just—?

That's right. We actually didn't group them together for consideration, because they're on three distinct issues related to the planning process—

We discussed them together the first time around, yes. They are all prompted by local concern over the same development, I believe, and, yes, the committee has received further responses from the Government on the first two petitions, but not on the third, so far, hence there are two this week.

Okay. So, we just have to deal with these two matters. On the first petition, then, which is 'Immediate review of the Neath Port Talbot LDP', the committee could write back to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs to ask her to give consideration to the merits of introducing a mechanism for local residents or councillors to raise concerns over omissions or errors within a local development plan and, potentially, for an LDP to be amended without requiring a full review.

Yes, and there's no mechanism to make minor adjustments to it, although there is a review after two years—

There is an ongoing review now, as we speak, so they could make those representations directly.

I think the Cabinet Secretary responds to say that any person can contact their local planning authority and ask for a review to take place. There's no indication in the response that there's an element of the process whereby a planning authority could make minor changes, say, between four-year reviews. So, it's unclear whether there needs to be—. If omissions or errors are identified, whether that would have to lead to a full review of the process—

Well, there's been this stepping back of technical advice note 1, hasn't there, which is addressing some of the issues there? We've got a big one at the moment that's under Planning Inspectorate Wales and we're waiting for the decision on that, because if that goes through, it just completely undermines local democracy, because it was voted out at the planning authority stage and it's just been to an expensive hearing and everything. So, in a way, the current review and the current stepping back of TAN 1 goes some way, but it's whether these people are informed of that. It's quite clear, really, the letter from them.

10:10

I think I would reflect that perhaps the Cabinet Secretary's response here refers mainly to the title and text of the petition, which was calling on the Welsh Government to intervene and tell Neath Port Talbot to review their LDP. I think the petitioner is now asking a slightly different question, which is the one about how maybe more minor aspects of the LDP could be reviewed midyear, and that might be a different question to ask the Cabinet Secretary to respond on. 

I have difficulty with this petition because I actually believe in local democracy and I believe that local authorities should decide their own LDPs. I actually object to inspectors coming in and altering them. I think that local authorities should be in a position to meet local need, and if they don't, they will face the wrath of the electorate at the next election. 

So, do you want to go back to the Cabinet Secretary or, on that basis, do you think that that resolves the petition?

I find it a good response, actually, from the Cabinet Secretary, but it doesn't satisfy, obviously, the queries raised by this petitioner. We've got some big issues around LDPs going on in Wales. 

Right, let's consider that. If the committee agrees with the Cabinet Secretary that consideration of a review of an LDP is a responsibility for the local planning authority, we could close the petition. Are we in agreement to do that?

I mean, we're right in the middle of them having the ability to be able to make those representations.

I mean, perhaps we could write back to the petitioner and say, 'We're closing it at the moment because there are developments. If at the end of the process you're still not happy—', then perhaps we could resubmit the petition or something like that.

Yes, that's fine. Okay. You're happy with that? Right, okay.

We'll move on to the next one, which is: 'End Conflict of Interest in Local Authority Constitution'. This was submitted by Emma Eynon again and was considered by the committee for the first time in October 2018, having collected 56 signatures. Ms Eynon's difficulty is that she sees that, currently, planning authority officers are able to run private planning consultancy companies at the same time as maintaining their public roles. But there have been quite robust answers to this, or responses to this, from both the Cabinet Secretary and the Royal Town Planning Institute, where the Cabinet Secretary says that the code of conduct is a generic code and they are required, obviously, to stick to the points in that code, and the RTPI say they have their own code of conduct, and they point out that there doesn't seem to have been any conflict of interest, or they've not heard of any conflict of interest, coming about. They are very strict codes of conduct that they have to adhere to. 

So, does that mean that they deny that anybody holds the two roles, i.e. work for the authority and a consultant, or that they do have people doing that, but there isn't a conflict of interest? Because that's not clear in the way that that's worded, is it?

No, that's very true, Leanne. The only thing is that they're both very robustly saying that there are codes of conduct there and—.

I just think the RTPI, which at first sounds reasonable, says:

'undertake any private planning work in the area where you are in the position to recommend the making of any decision'.

So, take Swansea, for example: it's got three area committees. If you were a planning officer in area 1, you could do work under this code in area 2 and in the Swansea bay area because you wouldn't be making decisions or making recommendations, even though the man or woman sat next to you would be. 

10:15

I don't like this idea of people doing work within the authority in which they're currently employed, if only because if you've got two people—. People are working together, there'll be pressure to look favourably on something that one of your colleagues is involved in. I think at the very least people shouldn't do work in the local authority area in which they work. 

Rather than—. Where they can make recommendations, because I assume RCT has got three areas—.

And so somebody who was a planning officer in Cynon Valley could do work in Rhondda and in Taff Ely. That meets their requirements, but it's not what you would expect of a public servant. So, I think I would at least like to write to somebody, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Minister—

Shall we write to the public services ombudsman to seek his reflections on the issue raised by the petition and to ask for an indication of the volume of correspondence and complaints received in relation to conflict of interest in the planning process? And we can also back that up by writing to RTPI in similar terms.

I'd like to write to RTPI specifically about the fact that councils tend to run area committees and so consequently you work in one area—. I don't think you should be—. I think their rules should say you can't work in the same authority in which you're employed. If somebody working in RCT wanted to work in Swansea, that would not be a conflict of interest. If somebody working on the Cynon Valley plans put something in for Rhondda, I think some people would think there was a conflict of interest.

Can I just ask if there are any rules about, if there are people working at high officer level in local authorities full time, how they can ethically then have a business on the side, doing work, when they should be working 40 hours a week for the local authority? Is there any guidance or rules on that, or is it just fine to have your own business on the side?

It's a really valid point, this. I know, as a town councillor, if you've got any conflicts of interest you have to go out when decisions are made. You can have—

You can have officers serving in local authorities where their partner may run their own independent planning company and where they can actually be involved in schemes within your own authority. We had a similar one recently and I know there was a lot of anger. 

I know about Swansea and nowhere else, but there is an exclusivity for senior officers but not for more junior officers. So, if you happen to be a planning officer for an area—one of six or eight planning officers within an area—you would not be picked up; if you're the chief planner, you would. 

It may be that we could look at legislation on this at some point. 

There's a lack of transparency in some local authority proceedings, and, if this is one way of opening that door and having a look at what exactly is going on, I'm all for it.

Can we find out if there's a standard rule or if each local authority has its own set of rules?

Okay. So, that's the end of the petitions for today. Thank you very, very much for your attendance. I think the next meeting is on 15 January. So, as far as this committee is concerned, please enjoy recess, as such. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, all.

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:18.

The meeting ended at 10:18.

Archwilio Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru