Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd

18/03/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jack Sargeant AS Dirprwyo ar ran Joyce Watson
Substitute for Joyce Watson
Janet Finch-Saunders AS
Jenny Rathbone AS
Llyr Gruffydd AS
Mike Hedges AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Neil Hamilton AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Christine Wheeler Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dean Medcraft Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dr Christianne Glossop Y Prif Swyddog Milfeddygol
Chief Veterinary Officer
Gian Marco Currado Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Lesley Griffiths AS Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs
Tim Render Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elfyn Henderson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katy Orford Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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 13:46.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:46. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee. We've got an apology from Joyce Watson, and Jack Sargeant is substituting for her. Are there any declarations of interest? There are none.

2. Gwaith gwaddol: sesiwn graffu gyda Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
2. Legacy work: scrutiny session with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

If we can move straight to questions, but, before I do that, can I welcome the Minister, Lesley Griffiths, and her officials, who are Tim Render, Gian Marco Currado, Christine Wheeler, Dean Medcraft and Christianne Glossop? I think that's correct. And I move now to the first question: the Climate Change Committee progress report said Wales is on track to meet its 2020 emissions reduction, but, for that, Aberthaw has closed, and we've had a huge reduction in travel due to the pandemic. Are you expecting us to beat it by a large amount because of those changes, and are you, like me, expecting travel not to return to the pre-COVID levels?

So, we do agree with the Climate Change Committee's analysis, suggesting we are on target to meet the 2020 target. Unfortunately, there's a two-year lag, so we won't get the data for 2019 until June this year. So, we won't know until two years hence whether we hit the 2020 targets until, obviously, June of 2022.

You're quite right around, obviously, a reduction in emissions in relation to travel due to the pandemic, but, of course, more people are working at home, and I think it's been a pretty cold winter—it certainly was up north, anyway—and so we'll probably see a bit of an increase in emissions in relation to that. Certainly, the early modelling that's been done suggests that the overall emissions are likely to fall as a result of the pandemic. Do I think travel will go back? I have to say I've been quite surprised at how much traffic is around at the moment, but I guess things have changed, probably, certainly for the much longer term, and we won't see people returning to the offices in the way that they were ahead of the pandemic. So, as I mentioned, there is a two-year lag, so we won't have the updated emissions data until June of this year for two years previously.

Obviously, we revised the targets for carbon reduction yesterday, and I'm just thinking, really, what Wales will have to do differently, for example, to get to 63 per cent reduction by 2030. As a Government, and as a Minister, where do you see the biggest focus or the biggest emphasis in terms of actions that we need to undertake, without listing a long list? Where will you really focus on in terms of making the biggest difference?

I think we've set a really good foundation with our first carbon budget, and, obviously, future Governments will have to set the next budget and then the third budget. We have aligned them, obviously, with the electoral cycle, so it will be for future Governments to do that. What we need to see is a really strong contribution from the UK Government, because, obviously, they hold a lot of the levers that we don't. But, certainly for us, we really want to deliver social justice. You will have heard me talk many times—and I know colleagues share this view—around a just transition and the importance of that social justice. So, the CCC set out for us in December how they think we can achieve those new targets, and I'm sure everyone's had a look at that. I suppose the big role is for technology but, of course, also, for individuals, for people. Government can't do this on their own; it's about all working together. And, as you know, we've had a massive piece of work around engagement and how we've engaged the population. We've got the assembly in Blaenau Gwent, and you'll be aware of the Welsh Government climate conferences that we've held. So, I think, you know, we've tried to really take the public with us—businesses obviously have a role, communities obviously have a role. We do need a social change, and I think, in some ways, the pandemic has helped us in that respect. On that new pathway, I was really pleased—if I can just say, Chair—all parties agreed with the regulations that we took through on Tuesday. I heard comments from many of you here today, but I thought it was very good that we took it all through. And, if I'd have taken the advice back in 2019 from the CCC and if we'd have put that in regulation then in the way that Scotland have, for instance, we wouldn't have such a stringent target.

13:50

You were right to mention that the UK Government hold a lot of the key levers here. Where do we stand? If the UK Government doesn't deliver or step up to the plate, where does that leave us in terms of our ambitions in Wales?

Well, I think they will step up to the plate, because, obviously, they're part of it, aren't they. They're part of—. We're all part of the Paris agreement, we're all part of that UK carbon emissions target. So, those are obviously discussions that will be ongoing, as they've been through these five years whilst I've been in this portfolio. They'll continue with the new Government. And, as I say, I think everybody's in it together, but it is about making sure we all hold each other to account.

You're right to say that it isn't just Government or Governments that will deliver this ambition, really. And I'm interested in terms of cost. I'm reticent always to focus on the cost of acting, because the cost of not acting makes the initial cost pale into insignificance sometimes, but it is a reality, really, that we need to stump up and invest in a lot of infrastructure improvements and other significant changes. Where are we in terms of your planning around some of that investment? Particularly, you mentioned it isn't just Government that needs to step up; the private sector. We've been talking for a long, long time about the private sector stepping in to support some of this, and other more innovative finance products, shall we say—green bonds, for example—have been mentioned, and there have been ideas from the sector as well, from the environmental non-governmental organisations. Where are we on costing and delivering investment on that front? 

So, we've done some estimations around cost, and I think the last figure I saw about achieving net zero was something like £14 billion, and, as you say, the cost of inaction is more than the cost of action. But if you look at the CCC's recommended pathway, I think the last figure I saw was around £14 billion. So, obviously, those investment costs just don't fall to Welsh Government, as you've referred to, or Welsh businesses or even Welsh consumers, for that matter. Many of the actions to reduce emissions will be paid for at a UK Government level, or they'll be socialised across the whole of the UK. If you think about low-carbon power, for instance, that would obviously be across the UK.

It's about enabling and incentivising that low-carbon economy, I think, and that's where we certainly have had a focus as a Government. The public sector costs will be shared between us and the UK Government. I think the CCC anticipates only a very small overall economic impact and assumes that the private sector will finance most of the transition. I think the CCC expects the overall impact on public finances by 2050 to be quite limited, but obviously it's how you get there, isn't it—how you get that pathway. So, I suppose, fuel costs will be the big saving for us. That will largely offset the cost of transition, but, as you say, it's hard to focus on finance when you know what will happen if we don't do it now. And, I have to say, the five years I've been in this portfolio, it's got scarier and scarier, I think, and the time was obviously shortened for the ability to change things. The pandemic, I think, has given us some opportunities that perhaps people hadn't realised before. I think we had, as elected representatives, but I think other people have really woken up to it now. 

13:55

And what about more innovative financing ideas? Is the Government working on any of those and developing some of those ideas?

Yes. I'd go back to energy, I suppose. Certainly, there, we're looking at how we can support—. I met with some developers this week, and they are asking to have conversations around that. I think they're quite early, but certainly we'll have to look at those, yes. 

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon, Minister. You mentioned earlier that this is a partnership, and the UK Government have to be involved with the Welsh Government, too. We all agree, as you've just said, that the time for action is now. Do you agree with me, looking at industry, for example, that the time is now for the UK Government to get around the table and actually start providing some action on this cause—for example, with the steel industry and helping decarbonise Shotton steel, with a relationship with the Welsh Government as well, to really deliver the first carbon-neutral steel plant in the UK? The time for that is now. Would you agree with that, Minister, and would you encourage future governments to make sure that happens?

Yes, I would agree with it. I have to say I haven't done anything specifically with Shotton, but certainly with Tata in Port Talbot, I've visited there at least on one occasion, and officials have carried on with conversations about how we can help them to decarbonise. So, you're quite right, the UK Government obviously do have a role in that, and I would certainly encourage you to lobby for it, as well as, obviously, as a Welsh Government—we can continue to do that now. But I think you're right, the time is now, but it's been that time for a little while now, and I do think, as I said, it's scary when you see predictions around temperatures and working to that Paris agreement that we had. You see the severe weather events that we have that make you realise that this isn't something coming down the track, this is something we're living in now. But yes, I would encourage all those discussions to continue. 

Steel is a strategic issue, and we hope we can get some collaboration there. I just wanted to pick up on your optimism in relation to how we decarbonise our transport system, specifically to do with how we optimise the use of our railway network when a lot of the infrastructure is still the responsibility of the UK Government. How optimistic are you that we're going to be able to get that move away from the private motor car into investing in public transport? Without that, we're just not going to meet our emissions reduction targets on transport.

You're absolutely right. I think in Ken Skates we have somebody who really gets decarbonisation. I remember having early discussions with him about the economic contract, and he was really keen to see decarbonisation being at the fore with those companies that we're supporting. So, with the metros that we have in place, the plans for the metros in south Wales and north Wales, obviously hydrogen will have a big impact. But you're quite right, we haven't seen the investment in our rail infrastructure from the UK Government that we should have seen, and it is really important that we continue to push for that.

I should have said in my earlier answer to Jack as well that he may have picked up yesterday that the UK Government published their decarbonisation strategy. I have asked to have a meeting with the business, energy and industrial strategy Minister, so I will certainly raise Shotton steelworks with him there. 

Okay. Secondly, what Lord Deben said was that, after we've decarbonised our transport system, the next highest one on the list is agriculture, and that's obviously something where we control most of the levers. How would you want yourself or your successor Minister to drive forward the decarbonisation of agriculture?

You're quite right. I think the agriculture sector themselves recognise that they are absolutely at the fore of the climate emergency and the nature emergency, and I have to say they come forward with solutions very often and not just with problems. You'll be aware of the agricultural policy that we are progressing. We're just coming to the end, I think, next week, of the third consultation around 'Sustainable Farming and Our Land' and environmental goods to be rewarded—public goods for public money and how we show the taxpayer what they're getting for the their money—and it is obviously around environmental outcomes. The NFU have they got their plans to be carbon neutral by 2040—very ambitious. I haven't seen the detail of that. I've asked for probably the last 12 months or so, but I haven't seen the detail of that. But I do think they are part of the solution. They recognise they're part of the solution, and with our agricultural policy that will be taken forward in the next term of Government, I think we will see that.

14:00

Thank you. I'm just wondering if you could give us an update on where we are with the UK emissions trading scheme, given that it's obviously something that we've dealt with recently. It would be interesting to know where we're at now.

Thank you. I know officials have had a couple of meetings. Obviously, it came into play on 1 January. It felt like I was having meetings every week up until then, but officials have carried on meeting regularly with the other three nations. We're assessing how the scheme is going, what progress has been made, and plans for the next step. I was very pleased to get the scheme. I was very concerned, as you know, as I've raised here before, that they were going to go after a carbon tax from the UK Government's position, but I have to say the BEIS Ministers were—we did work very well together on it and they clearly wanted that. It's very important we have that global carbon price. It's a global issue, and linking was really, really essential. I recently agreed to a joint call for evidence regarding the allocation of free allowances within the scheme. That was published last month. And we're also committed, as you know, to review the cap and the trajectory in line with our statutory climate change targets this year. Chris Wheeler might have more to add. I don't know if there's been anything over the past month, Chris, that you can add.

Thank you, Minister. Nothing significant to add. To clarify, the call for evidence actually went live this month after a short delay. We're hoping that that will inform the consultation in the summer, which will look at both the cap and aligning that with the net-zero trajectory, as well as starting to look at the scope of the scheme and expanding it to other sectors, which is a really interesting and exciting prospect for managing carbon across the wider economy and linking that across, hopefully, into further international markets.

I was interested in where we are in terms of linking it up with other markets. Obviously, that was a key feature that many were eager to pursue. But also, maybe you could tell us whether you had any further discussions about a carbon tax, either in parallel or—well, not in place, I suppose, but certainly, that was very much on the agenda at one point. Is it still there in the background somewhere?

No. That's certainly not my understanding. I think there was a push from certain parts of Whitehall for a carbon tax, but as I say, I think BEIS were very firm in their view that they wanted to have the scheme as well. And I have to say, in the end, it did work out very well, and I think the four countries worked well together on it. But no, my understanding—and again, Chris can tell me if I'm wrong—is that the carbon tax isn't being pursued.

In relation to decarbonising our buildings, which is obviously linked to the other important matter of fuel poverty, you announced in the Senedd a few weeks ago that all social housing will need to be upgraded to band A on the energy rating. You said 'next year'; do we mean the next financial year, or the next calendar year? And how quickly do you envisage local authorities and housing associations really mobilising to do that?

I think, from recollection, it was the next calendar year. I'm looking, and I don't know who I'm looking at; Gian Marco, maybe. I think it was the calendar year.

Okay. Could you explain, then, why the delay? I appreciate we can only take budgets by year, but why are you delaying that until next calendar year? Because it's something that we need to get on with now in order to both decarbonise and also tackle fuel poverty. Is there a particular reason for that delay?

14:05

No, I don't think there was a particular reason. I think, Chair, I might have to send a note on that. 

Okay. Fine. Clearly, not all our buildings are in the social housing sector. What expectations would you have for—? How is your fuel poverty plan going to tackle the very large numbers of people in rented accommodation?

As you know, we've just recently published our new fuel poverty strategy, and that's certainly looking at taking a significant number of people out of fuel poverty in the shortest time possible. I think what the new plan does is it sets realistic targets. As you say, for people in rented homes, it's not always as easy as for people who own their own homes, and that's something that we're working on with stakeholders as part of the strategy and part of the new fuel poverty plan coming forward. We're looking, certainly, at what went well last time, in the previous 10-year plan. We're learning on what principles worked well over that decade. But I think one of the things that is more of a focus with this new strategy, and will help people who are in houses that are very difficult to heat, particularly in the rented sector, is having a much more person-focused approach. So, the support service and the advice services are far more—they've been designed with much more energy efficiency advice that is bespoke for people, whatever property they're living in. 

Given the urgency to deal with this matter, how are the successors to Nest and Arbed going to increase the pace of change required, both from the climate change point of view and fuel poverty?

Both of those schemes obviously will and do have a significant impact on our fuel poverty targets. The only thing is, I have to say, with the pandemic we haven't done as much work as I would have wanted over this past year. I met with the business that was running Arbed for us, and they were having people literally not allowing people to go into the home on the day, because of the fear around the pandemic. So, unfortunately, I think the pandemic will have had a significant influence on the number of homes that we've been able to help.

Okay. So, what's the recovery plan, in a sense? I appreciate that we can't do anything about that.

So, the recovery plan—certainly with Arbed, they were projecting to me how many houses they thought they could deliver, and they're now doing that on a monthly basis rather than an annual basis, because we just can't work that far ahead at the moment. I think that is part of how we are going to deal with it, and if we've got more capacity, then we can do that. But inevitably, you're not going to recover fully, I don't think, in the short term.

Okay. But the point I'm trying to make—I'm just trying to elicit how we're going to really ramp up the pace of change, which is obviously required if we're going to meet our 2030 targets. Who's on this advisory board on fuel poverty who may be able to give the Government ideas about how we can really increase that pace?

There are a few things. For instance, I've put extra budget into Warm Homes, and we've got a Warm Homes consultation this summer. You asked about the advisory board—that's in the process of being set up. It's going to be chaired by a senior official—I think it's actually Christine. I think it's Chris, who's with us at the moment. I would expect the first meeting to be held pretty soon into the new term of Government, and we're working very much with our stakeholders, as we have around the fuel poverty plan. So, we'll be working with the third sector, voluntary organisations, local authorities, et cetera, who will help us there. I think one of the complaints I've had was that stakeholders told me that they didn't feel there'd been enough ongoing engagement. You set up the statutory, but then you don't have the ongoing engagement. So, I think one of the reasons for setting up the advisory panel on fuel poverty was to address that complaint. I don't know if Chris can say any more about the panel.

Yes, I'd be really happy to. In response to the criticisms both from the landscape review of fuel poverty and I think also from this committee about stakeholder engagement, we have listened really carefully to those comments, and we are hoping to meet, I think, in June for the first time with this new panel. As part of that panel, we've reached out to organisations, or will shortly be reaching out, to invite them to join—everything from advice services; those thinking about attitudes and behaviours to energy efficiency; the energy and utility companies; some equality organisations; folk working towards financial inclusion, on fuel poverty and health; some governance folk, including the Institute of Welsh Affairs; of course the housing organisations, third sector and otherwise; and some representative organisations from vulnerable groups, for example Age Cymru, the future generations commissioner, the older people's commissioner, those sorts of groups. So, it's quite a large stakeholder network we're hoping to pull into this fuel poverty panel, in an attempt to help us make even more robust the approach to fuel poverty in future.

14:10

So, how do you expect this advisory board—very large advisory board—to really help you ramp up the pace of change in really delivering this programme on a much faster scale?

Well, you just heard Chris outlining who's going to be on that. What we're seeking is obviously their expert advice. As I say, it's only just started to be put together, so I think—. It did sound very large, didn't it? We need to look at absolutely who sits on that and not make it too large. I should have said, as well—I probably was a bit pessimistic around the pandemic—we did actually manage to do 6,000 homes during the year of the pandemic, and we expanded the optimised retrofit programme as well. So, it wasn't all doom and gloom, but I do think, when we look at the final figures, we will see a reduction, unfortunately, to what we had anticipated and to what we thought could be delivered.

If I can clarify, as well—apologies—the long list is the full list of the panel; there will of course, as needed, be sub-groups to focus on particular issues to accelerate and really bring progress to those. I should also add that in the Warm Homes consultation, which is part of the fuel poverty plan we're bringing forward in the summer, we'll look for ways to accelerate progress. And of course, the Minister has been in close consultation with her BEIS colleagues. They're looking to do a consultation on how lenders can better support energy efficiency work for people who own their own houses and whether there are different lending arrangements that can be made to help incentivise people to make those energy efficiency modifications to their houses, both lowering their bills but also making the finance available, which I think refers back to the earlier point made in the committee about innovative financing models for decarbonisation.

Okay. So, finance is one thing. How far is the capacity to really ramp up the number of houses that we're treating determined by the availability of the skills required to retrofit people's homes?

So, I think the skills are there, and, certainly in the discussion I had with Arbed am Byth, I don't think capacity was an issue at all, nor the skills. Certainly, over the last year, as I say, it's been the pandemic, but I don't think that's an issue. Obviously, as we go through the green recovery, this will be part of that. We'll need different green skills. That's the thing with skills; you don't know what skills are going to be around, what jobs are going to be around, do you, in just a few years' time, so it's something that we're constantly looking at.

Thank you. Thank you, chairman. Minister, after years of campaigning on this issue, I was glad to see that your 'Beyond Recycling' strategy has recognised the benefits that a deposit-return scheme can bring, as international experience suggests that an industry-run, not-for-profit operating company is the best way to ensure that a DRS system maximises collection rates and ensures good financial management. Can you confirm whether this is the approach that you are considering by the Welsh Government, and, if not, how are you suggesting this would be run in Wales?

Yes, it is something that we're looking at, but I think we're already getting on with that. If you look at our recycling rates, we're the best in—well, we're third best in the world, so we're certainly the best in the UK. And many of the proposals that, for instance, the UK Government are bringing forward, we're already doing them. As you know, waste has recently come back into my portfolio, and I was always very concerned, certainly in the discussions I had at the time—so, I'm talking probably about four years ago now—that you didn't get any perverse outcomes by bringing forward a DRS that then would impact on the recycling that we're already doing. We've already reached the 65 per cent target for recycling a year ahead, but of course now we want to go further, and that was the reasoning behind the circular economy strategy that I recently launched, 'Beyond Recycling'. And again, with extended producer responsibility, we're seeing a change in behaviour from companies and a change in their thinking, because they know it's coming. So, I think we're already getting on with it, really, but, yes, I think it is something—

14:15

I've got to be honest, I take part in lots of litter pick-ups and beach cleans, and whilst I understand about—. And, to be fair, you deserve a pat on the back in terms of recycling, but we're still—it's horrendous, the amount of bottles that we find and things that could actually be returned. So, I'm pretty keen, whoever goes forward in the next Senedd term, that this is seen as an immediate priority. And I just wondered what timescales you would put on legislation that would see this. I do a lot with the Marine Conservation Society and I remember—. I've seen petitions come forward. And we've done a lot of talking about this, and I'm really wanting to see this taken forward, Minister. What timescales do you think we're talking?

So, I haven't got—. I can't give you a timescale; obviously, that will be for the next Government to take forward. I absolutely agree with you about littering, and what infuriates me—and I've been in meetings when people go on about this, and I feel like saying, 'You know, it's not Government that litters; it's people who litter'. And that's why we've, obviously, launched our littering action plan recently. And I'm really pleased to have this back in my portfolio; it's a really fascinating, I think, part of the portfolio. I think we've done lots of communications about how you influence behaviour. And in my own constituency, along the A483, as you come from England into Wales, the littering along there is just an embarrassment. So, I think it is really important that we do everything we can, and, as I say, I think we're doing it already, because so many items are now recycled. Recycling is so much in people's normal daily lives, but it's that next step, and I think that's where the circular economy comes in. I'm really pleased to see how the circular economy fund take-up has gone, and it's not down to me; I picked up that back in October. I think Hannah Blythyn really drove that through well.

So, both the DRS and the EPR are about the polluter paying, aren't they? And that means that they will bear the cost, and, as I say, the take-up of the circular economy fund in relation to that, working with businesses, working with companies, about how we can do that, has already started to change the thinking and the behaviour of that.

If I may, thank you, Chair. Just very, very briefly, just a quick one, really. We can all be very proud—and we are—of the fact that we are third best in the world in terms of recycling. But, of course, there is a subtle difference between how much recycling we collect and what we do with it. And I'm just wondering, as well as being a world leader, if you like, in terms of what we collect and how much we collect, how confident are you that we are amongst the best in the world in terms of what we do with it after collecting it?

I think that's a really good point, and I have had several discussions with local authorities around this since it's been back in my portfolio to ensure that it's not being sent off somewhere that we wouldn't approve of. So, I think that's an important point: how are we—? I am reassured that we are dealing with the items that we collect in recycling and in our waste in the way that we should, but there's always room for improvement, obviously. But, again, I think that's part of the circular economy and 'Beyond Recycling'. And in discussions I've had with some local authorities—I haven't met with all local authorities since I've had this in the portfolio—about how they're going to get that next step change to 70 per cent, it is reassuring that the way they're setting it out is within the standards that we would agree with and not offshoring it somewhere else.

Thank you. In a conversation with the British Soft Drinks Association trade body, they've underlined the need for any DRS legislation to be flexible enough to work in different retail outlets, with specific exemption criteria for some small stores and those that would find it difficult as regards the hygiene requirements. Can you confirm what steps the Welsh Government has taken to address what exemptions you would be putting in place? Also, what steps does the Welsh Government need to take to review what caveats over hygiene should be addressed?

So, those discussions are ongoing. I've met with a few organisations and businesses who—I have to say, quite a few of them have different views around how we take this forward. And that's what I suppose I'm getting at about not having perverse outcomes—it's really important that we don't damage the recycling. And I think Llyr's right, we should give ourselves a pat on the back, and it's down to everybody—every one of us, every member of the—. Every person who lives in Wales is responsible for that. But I can see why they would want flexibility. So, some people tell me they want more flexibility than others, but those are—[Inaudible.]—discussions that are ongoing, and obviously we've been having discussions with the UK Government, as I say, because some tell me that they think the DRS has to be UK-wide in order to work. And for somebody like me, who represents a border constituency, I absolutely understand that. So, I think lots of people have lots of different views, and obviously we are committed to taking action here. We've had a consultation, we'll be publishing the responses to the consultation—obviously, now, that will be in the next Senedd term. So, I'm unable to say, really, what the detailed plans are, because that will be for the next Government.

14:20

Oh, okay. Yes. A recent consultation document rightly identifies the middle east as an area of export growth for Welsh lamb. Looking ahead, what immediate and long-term steps would you like the incoming Welsh Government to implement to improve lamb shelf life, specifically around the teaching of hygienic practices within the supply chain? Also, in this Senedd, what work have you undertaken to review if statutory targets are required to assist in achieving this?

So, work has been done, obviously, with Welsh Government and with Hybu Cig Cymru around lamb shelf life. And that was certainly something, when I went out to New Zealand three years ago—you know, their shelf life was more than ours. So, I think it is something that we need to look at. And obviously, as new trade agreements come into play, those are obviously things that need to be considered. I remember when I went to Gulfood in Dubai—there's a big lamb market there, and it didn't seem to be having an impact there in the way—. I remember having a discussion—again, it's a few years ago now—around that, but I know HCC have been doing some work in relation to that. Obviously, there are going to be a lot of new trade deals, and it's really important that our lamb is competitive. I was pleased that, obviously, even the very skinny deal that we had with the European Union did mean that there wouldn't be tariffs on lamb, and I know that was certainly a major concern. These are all things that we need to continue to look at as the new trade deals come into play. I'm concerned about things—. Obviously, trade is reserved, but with lots of overlaps with devolved issues, and there are concerns now about how we ensure climate, for instance—climate is something that's now being discussed as part of trade deals. And it's really, really important that we look at that in the medium term and the long term, rather than just in these short-term trade deals that the UK Government—[Inaudible.]

Thank you. And my next question: looking very briefly at seafood and aquaculture, last week, I asked Jim Evans about the desire among Welsh fishermen to focus solely on fishing and not on the commercial aspects of their business. This will need to change, obviously, to build the domestic market. What initiatives and funding programmes have the industry suggested to help fishers themselves to develop the commercial side? And concerns were also raised about putting all the funding eggs into one basket with the port-to-plate project. Should such marketing assistance branch out?

I think our fishing industry, and particularly our shellfish, has been the most severely impacted from leaving the European Union. The shellfish and the live bivalve mollusc, obviously, was a cliff edge, in a way that we had warned, but we were reassured, apparently, from the UK Government that they'd been reassured from the European Union that it wouldn't happen. I haven't had a specific discussion with Jim or with the stakeholders about those schemes. What I have done is obviously stepped in with some funding for now, because I literally was meeting with fishers who didn't know how they were going to feed their children, how they were going to pay their mortgage, because their business was on that cliff edge. I have been really urging the UK Government to encourage the EU to change their mind.

Do I think the EU's going to change their mind? Probably not, in relation to the molluscs. So, it was really important that we came forward with a scheme, and obviously UK Government has got a scheme as well. But, I think, unfortunately, particularly for shellfish, if this is going to continue, with the EU not accepting our shellfish, they're going to have to look at their business models; there's going to have to be a complete reconstruction of the sector. So, I think there's going to be a huge amount of work to be done with our fishers, and now certainly with our aquaculture and shellfish producers, over the next, well, few weeks, months, going forward.

And I know you've asked me before about purifying equipment. Again, I've been encouraging the UK Government to expand the—. They had that one £23 million pot of money, which we were going to have a wider scheme, they then put that into the scheme for the exporters and they have now expanded it to include the fishers and the processors a little bit more. But, again—[Inaudible.]—reason for stepping in. But I am meeting—[Interruption.] Sorry, just to finish, I am meeting again on Monday—we've got the DEFRA inter-ministerial group, and, of course, that will absolutely be top of the agenda. 

14:25

I'll come back to fishing in a moment, but, first of all, I just want to look at the wider impact of the TCA and the impacts of all these non-tariff barriers, both on our ability to export as well as the disruption to food that we import. So, I just wondered whether you think these are teething troubles or something that is likely to have really quite long-term implications.  

In relation to the teething troubles—I'll deal with that first—as you know, I've got the stakeholder round-table group that I've had the whole of this term, and I met them a week last Monday and I asked them if they did think it was teething troubles. Now, quite a lot of our exporters decided to export right up until the end of December and then not export in January, and even some of them now, into February, had decided not to export, because they thought there'd be teething troubles. I think the answer to the question when I asked them: 'Right, you tell me, do you think these are teething troubles, or is it too early to assess it?'—. There have definitely been teething troubles and they've been very slow to resolve, I think, it's fair to say. But if you look at the extra costs that so many of them are incurring, if you look at the extra process requirements, if you look at the extra paperwork, that's going to stay, that's not a teething problem; that's absolutely permanent. And it's going to affect, obviously, the cost base and it's going to affect the way that businesses deal with the issue. So, I think, one of the things that we were promised, weren't we, if we left the EU, was that there would be less bureaucracy. Well, I would say, that's absolutely not a teething problem and it's absolutely more bureaucracy.

There are obviously significant changes to trade flows with Ireland. And I know that Tim met with the Irish customs authority. So, I might ask Tim to say a bit more about that.

We're hearing that it's easier to produce food now than, obviously, import it. I know that there are some businesses that are thinking of setting up distribution centres in Calais so they're over the border in France. You will have heard me say in other places around the difficulties with export health certification and trying to get more environmental health officers, who, of course, many of them are on different issues with the pandemic. You can't just —. Again, they take several years to train, as do vets, and we agreed for all our Government vets to be trained in relation to this, but if you take them off animal surveillance—we've had an avian flu outbreak on Anglesey, so you would be taking them off important work there. So, I think it's safe to say that there are teething problems, but I think some of them, unfortunately, will be more permanent. I'll just ask Tim to come in on the Irish customs authority meeting he had.  

Thank you, Minister. I think this is a good example of both the sorts of teething troubles that have been seen, but also some of the things that we have done to help businesses tackle them. Early on, we were seeing, at Welsh ports, a fairly high percentage of lorries coming up without the right details to meet Irish customs requirements. There was a bit of confusion over what was needed and, clearly, firms were adapting. So, we worked with HM Revenue and Customs and with the Irish authorities, both to clarify the guidance so that people had a better idea of what was needed, but also to run some detailed webinars, which had many hundreds of companies joining them, just to talk them through what it is they needed to do and how they did it, and put in place additional helplines on the Irish side. The net result was that, within a couple of weeks, essentially, that problem disappeared.

So, it clearly was a teething problem. We identified it, focused on it and helped people find a way through. But as the Minister said, that is an additional bureaucratic requirement that wasn't there on 31 December—it remains. Companies can manage it, but it's still additional work that they have to do, and when you add all the export health certificate work, that starts to add a really quite significant additional cost per consignment. And that is there in perpetuity. 

14:30

Thank you very much. That's a very good point for us to stop. Can we have a break until 2.40 p.m.?

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:32 ac 14:41.

The meeting adjourned between 14:32 and 14:41.

14:40
3. Gwaith gwaddol: parhau â'r sesiwn graffu gyda Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig
3. Legacy work: continuation of scrutiny session with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

So, Minister, one of our earlier witnesses, on this reflection on the fifth Senedd, was arguing—Terry Marsden, Professor Marsden, who, I'm sure, you know—was arguing that this isn't just a temporary teething problem; this is a major disruption to the way that our food networks work and that, therefore, there's an opportunity to use it as a way of resetting the way we rely on imports for supply chains, and to be, if you like, more self-sufficient, which requires us, obviously, to do a great deal more in terms of processing. So, I just wondered if you'd like to comment on that.

Well, I think I answered around teething problems before the break, and I certainly think a lot of the problems are here and are a major disruption and weren't there; they are an absolute consequence of leaving the European Union. The opportunity to be self-sufficient—and I know you're really, really keen on horticulture; I don't think I've ever come to this committee and you haven't questioned me on horticulture—that's something that I've worked on with the sector to try—. You know, we've got various schemes to try and improve that and about being more self-sufficient with our fruit and veg, et cetera. But, I think, realistically, we can never produce everything that we need. And, certainly, I mentioned before about food producers telling us that it's easier to produce rather than import, and looking at how they can get more value from their businesses. And again, I think the pandemic, in some respects, has helped them. If you see the number of online food and drink businesses now in Wales, they've significantly increased and they've found new trade. A couple of them have said to me that they're not going to go back to their shops; they're going to carry on trading online. And, obviously, that's going to have an impact on the high street, but that's a different issue. So, we need to keep talking to our stakeholders, we need to keep that dialogue going.

I do hope, if I'm not in this position, that the round-table will carry on, because I think it's been incredibly beneficial, certainly for me as Minister, and I hope for officials as well, and for the stakeholders, to hear about their concerns. And, unfortunately, a lot of the issues that were raised as concerns, and we raised with the UK Government, have come true. And, as we see those new trade agreements—. There's a combination of trade agreements that could cause problems for us, particularly for red meat, and I think there are lots of difficult days ahead.

Okay. So, what do you think Government should do to tackle the vulnerability of our farming community and our shortage of processing capacity? I mean, we're all aware of milk left uncollected by the processor, which was based somewhere near London, but there's a longer term issue, isn't there that, if farmers can't sell their food immediately, then, they quickly lose value. So, how is that going to be reflected in the food and drink strategy, which, at the moment, is very focused on our export market?

14:45

So, we've already—. We've worked with businesses around this, I think, certainly for the whole of this term. And you're right about lack of processing capacity, and certainly we saw it with milk. As you say, we had it in north Wales where we had a lot of farmers who, unfortunately, the milk had to be poured away, which is tragic, and it was horrific. We've managed to work with the sector and with the processors. Meat processing, you know, a few times I've had concerns that we were going to lose capacity, and we've worked very closely to make sure that hasn't happened, and that is obviously part of the vision—the new food and drink strategy vision—about looking at where we have growth, where we can raise productivity, around the environmental impact, around the raising of standards. These are all discussions that we have. Again, Government can't do everything on its own, it's about all working together in relation to that. We have really got a sustainable—particularly red meat—sustainable red meat. We're known for our high standards, and we want that to continue. I was having a discussion yesterday with some of my ministerial colleagues about ensuring that in those trade deals those standards don't slip. I mentioned climate, climate's never been part of trade deal discussions before, and it needs to be, and we've got a good story to tell there. So, I think it's about supporting the sector in the way that we have done, and making the sector, particularly the agriculture sector, more competitive, more productive, and we've worked really hard to do that over the past five years.

So, what will be the priorities of the new food and drink strategy, and when do you expect it to be published?

So, I announced the new future strategic vision for the industry, which set out our ambitions for the next few years, last month. And, as I say, it focuses on growth, it focuses on productivity, fair work—that's another area that I think is really important to us as a Welsh Government. We've got to work together. The Government's got to work with the industry to create that environmentally and socially responsibly supply chain. Sustainable development, obviously, is really important, and we've got legislation, haven't we, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, in relation to that. So, I think what our role really is to ensure that sustainability is seen as a crucial element of the whole food and drink supply chain going forward. Again, the actions need to be measurable. It's about knowing the measured goals we can have to support the sector in future years. What we're looking at now is putting some key performance indicators in. So, that's the plan, to get those in later this year, and just working very closely with the sector. So, I would say, on your timescale, it will be later this year.

Thank you, Chair. My supplementary's on the food and drink strategy in a second, then.

Okay. Well, just quickly, do those KPIs include the amount of food we're sourcing from Wales in our public procurement policies?

I'll have to ask Tim to come in at that point, please. I don't know if he knows the answer.

Clearly, we have, within our procurement policy, a number of those measures to look at that. Actually, this has been one of those areas, I think, where the fact that we agreed a food procurement framework a few years ago has really made a major difference, so that when we look at the fresh and frozen meat for public procurement across Wales, it's something like 90 per cent of that spend is now with Welsh suppliers, and other ambient goods, which obviously are not all things that we produce in Wales, would be 50 per cent with Welsh suppliers or distributors. And about 66 per cent of the overall public sector spend on food and drink was with Welsh-based firms—so, not all produced in Wales, but through Welsh-based firms. So, I think there's already a lot of good progress in that area to ensure that we've got that best practice already established.

Okay. Welsh suppliers aren't necessarily supplying Welsh goods; it's rather a different issue. So, will the KPIs of the future be focusing on how much of what we're buying is produced in Wales?

14:50

It can reflect that, but there are a lot of things that Wales doesn't produce that the public sector will purchase, so it's getting that balance right, and equally that we also want to be selling it outside of Wales as well.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Jenny. I just wanted to pick up on the drinks side of things, Minister. You will know that I'm the cross-party group chair of the beer and pubs industry, and we have a great selection of beers to offer, right from your constituency in north-east Wales with Wrexham Lager and the Bootlegger, which I've actually just ordered previous to this meeting—a restock—and right the way to the Chair's constituency in Swansea and Boss brewery. These businesses have been through a really tough time, as you know, over the year. What conversations have you had with those businesses and the Welsh beer cluster to make sure they can grow as we lead out of the pandemic and export right across the world?

You're absolutely right. Chair, I had a discussion with Wrexham Lager in my role as MS, not as Minister, a week last Friday, and they were exporting that day to Japan. That was a completely new market, but, in fairness, he said it was due to the links he's got with Welsh Government and the work that we've done with that drinks cluster, so, that work is ongoing. I think you mentioned Sarah from Boss. Again, the online sales have been incredible during the pandemic, and they are now seeing some new markets.

So, I'm a big fan of cluster policies, and it's been brilliant working within the food and drink part of the portfolio around clusters. We've had a few new clusters come forward. But what I really like about the cluster policy—and I don't seem to be able to get my ministerial colleagues to see the benefits of it, perhaps it's just something that I'm really passionate about—is how they support each other. So, you'll see the mentoring of one drinks firm by another one, and I'm sure you've seen this within the group that you chair. They don't see it as competition, they see it as mentoring and supporting. So, we will continue to work very closely with that sector and with that cluster, going forward, and, again, I hope the new Government continue with those clusters. I've personally seen great benefits, and if you talk to the companies, they see them too.

But it was great to see Wrexham Lager because, you know, they exported during the world cup to Japan, and it's just increased. I forget how many pallets were going, but it was phenomenal.

Thank you. I just want to move on now to go back to fisheries, because we were astonished, in the evidence that we heard last week, when we spoke to James Wilson, Jon Parker and the representative of the Welsh Fishermen's Association, to hear that the Food Standards Agency told them on 19 December that they had reclassified the waters around the Menai straits. I wondered what discussions the Food Standards Agency had with you about this matter, given the very serious implications it had for selling shellfish to Europe.

Massive implications. As I said in an earlier answer to you, we've seen, unfortunately, the shellfish sector on that cliff edge that we had warned, warned and warned the UK Government about. So, officials are in discussion with the Food Standards Agency. I have been in many, many discussions with the Secretary of State, because he had assured us this wouldn't happen. He firmly believes—I don't think I'm not understanding him—that the EU have changed their position, but I've seen correspondence from the EU to him and vice versa that shows that that's not the case. So, I mentioned earlier that I'm doing all I can to keep putting pressure on the UK Government to try and persuade the EU to change their mind. He did ask for a meeting with the EU Commissioner, and I offered to go with him to that meeting. I think the door was firmly closed in his face—I don't think that's too strong an expression—by the EU. So, unfortunately, those wranglings are still going on.

I mentioned that I've got a DEFRA IMG on Monday, where we will see if there's any progress. I'm absolutely on the same page as Scotland on this. I tried to tell him that they needed funding straight away, as I said to you. There were fishers telling me they've got no money to pay their mortgage, they've got no money to feed their children. That's how desperate it was, because they had not envisaged that this would happen. So, I know officials are in ongoing dialogue with the Food Standards Agency regarding the classification, or the reclassification—

14:55

Okay. But we aren't on the same page as Scotland, because they don't have this reclassification problem.

No, no, but you know what I mean—[Inaudible.] No, they're class A, but what I'm trying to say is that we are putting some pressure, some significant pressure, on the UK Government, and it's always better if you can do that in tandem with other countries. But no, they haven't. But they have seen disruption to the sector that has affected their fishers in a similar way. I mentioned the winter support scheme, which we'd all worked on, all four, similar to the sheep scheme that we'd worked on if there was no deal. It was to be called the winter support scheme. The business case, as far as I know, was absolutely ready to go to the Treasury for this £23 million and then, suddenly, the UK Government unilaterally announced £23 million—well, there's no such thing as coincidence in politics—exactly the same sum of money, for the exporters. So, we are having to work very closely with the sectors and that's why I said I'd stepped in with the scheme, the £2.3 million I announced a couple of weeks ago, or maybe last week. 

What I don't understand is there should have been something in the TCA, if what the Secretary of State is saying is correct. We've had the withdrawal agreement, and now we've had a deal; why was there nothing in it in relation to that? So, it did really come out of the blue.  

Okay. So, there are two ways you can approach this, either we try to renegotiate the TCA in order to continue to allow these mussels to reach Europe—good luck on that one—or alternatively how do we get the waters reclassified to be of the same high quality as in Scotland, because otherwise the fishing industry exporting market is dead, isn't it?

Yes, absolutely. I referred earlier that there is going to have to be some major reconstruction of the sector, which I don't think the UK Government accepts at the moment, if that reclassification isn't done. So, we need to know why they did it. My understanding is that pollution is obviously an important feature of this, so we need to look at that. We—

Well, I've heard a couple of types of pollution. I've heard agricultural pollution, I've heard mines pollution, so I think we need to understand what is the cause so that we can obviously work with the sector in relation to that.

[Inaudible.]—I talked about. We need to help the sector to go through that process. So, I'll be interested to see what comes out of the meeting on Monday, and if there is anything of significance, Chair, I'd be happy to send a note next week if there is something—

I think a note on exactly what caused the FSA to reclassify these waters and what they thought were the causes of the pollution, because I think we really do need to know this in order to see whether there's anything we can do, or whether we're just simply having to throw up our hands in horror. 

Yes, thank you. Minister, in reply to my question earlier this month, the Marine Conservation Society highlighted the recent NRW indicative site condition assessment showing that nearly 50 per cent of features within marine protected areas are in unfavourable conservation status. Given the proliferation of plastic waste—and I think I mentioned earlier the fact that I've done a number of beach cleans—the evidence is that 95 per cent still isn't getting collected. Is it a regret that no legislative changes have been made to reduce microplastics in this Senedd, and what immediate steps should the next Welsh Government take to minimise this?

Well, is it a matter of regret? Obviously, the legislative programme has been pretty full. I think we've brought forward some significant legislation, but there isn't room for everything. So, unfortunately, I've only actually brought through one significant piece of primary legislation myself this term, and that's the first piece of animal welfare legislation in the Senedd—Christianne's smiling—around banning the use of wild animals. But I appreciate that my portfolio is completely bathed in everything Brexit, and I've brought through a huge amount of secondary legislation, which is a testament to the team that have supported me to do that. So, you're right about the marine litter, it is unacceptable. And I go back to what I was saying before about littering, who causes littering, and it's people. So, legislation is only one of the parts, isn't it, and we've brought forward lots of plans and schemes and funding in relation to that, and obviously, I'm really committed to completing our marine protected areas network, for instance. I think there is a significant amount of work that we still need to do in relation to the marine ecosystems, biodiversity, and the marine environment.

15:00

Thank you. And on that note, we hear a lot, don't we, about the green economy, the green recovery and things like that, but I would like to see more attention paid to our blue economy, and our blue recovery, because it is a fact—let's be honest—we're surrounded with more sea than landmass. I don't feel—. And I've got to be honest, I think this is a UK-wide thing, this is no criticism of the Welsh Government: I don't think that we're doing enough to realise what contribution our marine environment can make in terms of there being valuable sort of sea kelp and grasses and things that grow that absorb carbon, and too often, we see schemes that come along and big pushes now for more windfarms and things, but I'm not convinced that there's enough done to actually see how that damages our carbon collecting that's going on in our marine environment. Can we start paying more attention, and maybe referencing our blue economy, and jobs in the marine sector? How can we do that, Minister?

Joyce Watson, who isn't with us today, but I think she was the first person who started to really push me on the blue recovery, and not just to stop me talking just about the green recovery, so I absolutely agree with you there that we need to do that and we are having lots of conversations with marine stakeholders as part of that green recovery, but you're right, perhaps we should start referring to it as a green and blue recovery, rather than just a green recovery. We also support our protected areas at sea as well as on land, so I don't think we've done nothing; I think there is a significant body of work that's been done.

I nearly called Mike 'Minister' then. With all due respect, we're asked to put in what questions we want to ask on what subject; I had done well in advance.

And I've got one more, honestly. I'll make it snappy. The calls to implement a marine development plan: given the concerns about the oversaturation of our waters through wind turbine projects and their potential impact on the sea bed and fish stocks, should the next Welsh Government implement a new marine spatial plan, and what investigations is your department undertaking to collect data to investigate what impact a spatial plan would have? Thanks, Chair.

As you know, Janet, I launched the Welsh national marine plan. I don't think you were on this committee. I think it was one of the very first things I was questioned on when I came into portfolio in 2016, 'Would we have one?', and I suggested we definitely would and it took a little longer than I'd anticipated. It was a huge amount of work, but we did launch our Welsh national marine plan. Obviously, that sets the policy for the sustainable development of the marine area, and that talks about areas that are reserved for specific technology. So, one of the things I was going to say in the previous answer is that I've been really keen to work with both developers who want to come and set up particularly floating wind, so when I first came into post five years ago, floating wind was something that was very novel, and don't get me wrong, it's still a very new technology, but it's talked about far more as normal than it was five years ago. But of course, I've also got 'environment' in my title, and I keep saying this to people, it's about balancing. Whilst I've got 'energy', I've got 'environment' as well; it's about that balance. So, I think the plan and the policies within the national marine plan are very similar to spatial planning, so renewable energy is a classic example, because it recognises that it needs to be very carefully managed to ensure that we don't get that environmental damage that was feared when they were first talking about floating wind. So, I think the plan can be supplemented with further spatial considerations, and obviously strategic resource areas are basically a spatial and holistic approach.

15:05

Good afternoon, Minister. This may be the last time in this incarnation that we encounter each other. I just hope that I've grown on you as much in the last few years as you've grown on me.

But I'd like to ask you about agricultural policy in the future. Your vision for agriculture and food in Wales is focused very much on high standards environmentally and in food standards terms, and also high animal welfare standards. I'd like to explore with you the potential tension between those aspirations on the one hand, and some of the other policy areas that Welsh Government has to cope with. For example, I'll name three. International trade deals obviously pose a potential conflict for you in raising animal welfare standards and food standards generally. Secondly, there's the question of the internal market Act and the UK's level playing field, and the extent to which Wales would be able to diverge from that. Lastly, then, the question of diversification of farms—this is something that is inevitably going to be a prime focus of yours, or your successor, in the years ahead. I wonder if you can expand a little upon the warnings that have been given by academics and others that Welsh farms face difficulties because of the nature of the terrain—poor upland farmland on the one hand, and also remoteness from other centres of population. So, those three issues illustrate potential conflicts for you—on the one hand, increasing the rigour of regulation for example, and therefore producing economic problems for those who have to cope with the laws and regulations that we produce.

I think those three things are all very important factors, and you need to look at it holistically. For me, the focus on—. I came into post in the May, and then obviously we had the referendum in the June, so for the whole, really, of this five years the future agricultural policy has been a focus. We're just coming to the end, as I say, of the third consultation now around that, and the focus, for me, has been on how we can best spend public money. I remember the very first conversation I had—I think it was probably at the Royal Welsh Show, back in July 2016—around how the funding for the basic payment scheme arrives in my budget and goes straight out. No scrutiny, it just goes straight out, and that wasn't going to happen. I anticipated at that time we would have left the European Union a lot earlier than we have, and I remember having a conversation with them that myself or my successors would have to fish around the Cabinet table and show what we were doing for that money. Because of course it was public money coming from Brussels, and you probably wouldn't have had that conversation with constituents at the level that we will now have those conversations with constituents. So, it was about how that public money could best be spent, and public money for public goods was the phrase that came out of that.

But there are lots of areas of public goods where there isn't a market, so continuous subsidy payments need to be focused on those, and that's why environmental things don't have a market. So, the environmental outcomes that we value so much don't have a market, whereas we can support the sector in relation to trade opportunities, and we can support the sector around diversification—there are markets for those. So, it's about supporting, not rewarding. But I was very keen, and certainly the sector wanted it, for food to be part of that consultation in a way that it wasn't in the UK Government's first consultation. So, I think it's about complementing interventions that support the industry to support the market in the way that I've just said, but for me, we need to ensure that we support and protect those environmental standards. This isn't a race to the bottom. I don't take part in the trade negotiations. Obviously, that's another Minister. But we've been very keen to protect, obviously, those very high standards, and these are very, very live issues.

15:10

Thank you, Chair. Minister, you've told the committee previously that you agree with the principle of setting biodiversity targets. Is this something you intend to do in the next Welsh Government if you retain the position, or is this something that you would now, as Minister, encourage the next Minister to do? And just on that point, then, how would biodiversity targets be developed and what evidence should be used and which parties should be consulted when developing?

So, for me, I think this is what I said in the previous committee; I'm a Minister who quite likes targets, because I like to be able to measure. I think what is really important is that the targets deliver what we want them to deliver. So, if you're looking for transformational change, for instance, you need to make sure that those targets do that. But it is a way of entrenching policy direction, I think. But of course, you can sometimes get perverse outcomes and perverse outcomes to those targets. It's about balance. So, it will be down—. If it's not me, it will be down to the new Minister to have a look, if he or she is keen on targets. I know that some of my ministerial colleagues aren't keen on targets as much as I am. So, I think, for me, as our longer term approach to addressing the nature emergency and the biodiversity and climate emergencies, I think targets would, for me, certainly be part of that. I think the net-zero target is a really good example of how we put them into that policy direction.

We've obviously got the well-being of future generations Act and the environment Act, and they do place a responsibility on us to have that sustainable management of our natural resources in a manner that leaves them in a better state for future generations. So, I do think, if you set future targets that reflect where we are from the ecosystem-based, holistic approach that we have, then they are helpful. I think you asked me how they'd be developed, and it's about—. Obviously, we've got COP15 in, I think it's now October, this year. That's the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. And looking at the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. That would be the starting point, I think, for having those future developments of having domestic targets. I think that would be a good starting point. We've got a four-countries biodiversity group, and obviously we're a sub-national Government in the Edinburgh process ahead of the COP15, so that would be another place where we would seek advice. We're doing work to look at indicators and monitoring as a basis for possible targets now as well, so that's all work that, obviously, the next Government can take forward.

Thank you. Yes, legacy and the Minister. Right, Minister, despite project results on water standards being shared in letters with you in March 2020, including recommendations for next steps, NFU Cymru have received no further reply. Now, despite the Wales land management forum sub-group on agricultural pollution submitting a report with 45 recommendations in April 2018, as of last month the Welsh Government have not responded or met the expert group. Do you regret not giving the voluntary approach an appropriate chance, and would you, even at this late stage, consider that? Why was greater engagement on this issue not forthcoming? This is something that you will be remembered for, and there is nobody who will convince me otherwise that farmers across Wales feel genuinely betrayed.

Well, I hope I am remembered, but I hope it's in a positive way when we see the number of agricultural pollution incidents decrease. You know, I have to say—. We're not going to agree on this, Janet, and I absolutely—. And I know there are other Members who feel the same, but—. I'll say something about that report, because that keeps getting thrown back at me. I have to say, every recommendation in that report was for Government. Nothing was for the sector. Well, you know, nobody can do this on their own, but to have a report—. It's incredibly disappointing as Minister to get a report where every single recommendation is for you, because that's just not acceptable. 

I think I gave plenty of time, and you will have heard me say this, and I'm just going to repeat it. It was the very first thing on my desk back in May 2016. I could have done it then; I could have absolutely done it then. I think I had all the information and evidence, but I wanted to work with the sector, because I absolutely believe that nobody likes being told what to do. It would have been much better to have that voluntary approach. But I really do think that once the guidance is published, and once farmers—. And, I have to say, I have had many farmers contact me to say that the NFU and the FUW aren't speaking for them; they think it's the right thing to do because they do think it's an embarrassment to the sector. 

I know there are lots of people who feel—and you used this word—betrayed, and I really hope when everybody sits back and looks at this, that that won't be the case. But, for me, as I say, I've got 'environment' in my title as well as rural affairs, and it is about ensuring—. I would hate to leave an environment that was worse off, and, unfortunately—. And I mentioned—I can't remember if it was in your opposition debate, or if it was in a Plaid Cymru annulment motion—that even with all the media coverage, and there's been a huge amount of noise around this, we saw a significant number of agricultural pollution incidents, I think, at the end of January, when I announced the regulations, until we had that motion debated, and NRW had substantiated, I think, nearly half of them.

So, I'm sure you agree with me that the number of incidents is unacceptable, and I do hope I'm remembered for it, but in a good way. If I didn't think that, then I wouldn't have done it. But it's something that I didn't do quickly; it took me nearly five years to do this. And—

15:15

As you will be aware, the NFU have set the ambitious goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of agriculture in Wales and England by 2040. They say that this aspiration should be underpinned with a focus on productivity and measures to address volatility beyond the control of individual farm businesses. What steps have you taken to assess the impact of the White Paper on productivity, and how do you think the paper can be further developed to tie in with this 2040 aspiration?

I mentioned in an earlier answer that the NFU have done that. And I absolutely think the sector thinks they're part of the solution in relation to the climate emergency and the nature emergency. They're right at the forefront of it, aren't they, so it's really good. On the White Paper, obviously, we haven't finished the consultation yet, and there'll be lots of analysis and assessment, and that will be done. I haven't seen a huge amount of evidence coming from the NFU around that, but they're probably working to it, and I share their ambition. Their ambition is excellent. It's great to see that they are part of that solution, but that will be ongoing work for the new Government. 

Thank you, Chair. We've heard calls as a committee for an improvement in the public guidance that's available on tree planting—how and where to plant them—because, obviously, there's a big emphasis on the right tree in the right place, which is the mantra that most of us are familiar with now. I'm just wondering if you could update us on where we might be in terms of some of the work that the Government might be doing in that respect.

Thank you. I think it was really important, because I remember, certainly before I was probably even elected, we'd heard that, in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s, the wrong trees were planted in the wrong places, and we've been really keen to avoid that. So, we've got our woodland opportunities map, and that sets out areas where woodland creation will be most beneficial, together with sensitivities that people should be aware of when they're considering woodland creation. We're currently updating and improving the map, and a new version will be published later this year. NRW are also publishing, or have published, actually, a range of guidance for people who are interested in woodland creation, because I think this is something that members of public—. I was contacted by a friend who—I had no idea—had recently bought a little area of woodland and was asking me about where they could go to for advice. I think it is an area perhaps where we could do more, so we are looking at what more we can do. But, as I say, there will be a new map later this year, and new guidance. 

And, of course, the national forest, which I think has really captured people's imagination—I think that's part of why people are looking for more guidance. So, we will continue to engage as part of the community engagement into the national forest. And, if I can just say, Chair, I think one of the best meetings I've had, certainly this year, was last Thursday, when the First Minister and I met with some young people—I think they were aged from about 12 to 21—about what they wanted from a national forest. It was such a tonic. I was in a meeting later on with the First Minister, I think it was the Cabinet, and he was saying that it was just so nice, amongst all the angst that we're currently living through, to have such a great conversation with young people about it. So, I think it is something that we need to increase, that community engagement—and we are.

15:20

Are your ambitions in terms of forestry and all the benefits that come with it—to what extent is that limited to being on land? Because, obviously, we've heard as well, as a committee, the huge contribution that kelp forests and seagrass meadows can make. Are you hoping to extend the national forest into the sea?

I wouldn't say that that's been a discussion as such, but we are certainly looking at what we can do in relation to seagrass and kelp. They're important blue carbon habitats. They've got a key part to play in the nature-based solutions that we're looking for for climate change. So, I think, it wasn't something that the First Minister thought of—obviously, the national forest was his idea as part of his leadership bid, and that has evolved a lot. In the first discussion I had with him, it was a few areas; now, we want it to continue a bit like the coastal path—that you'll be able to walk around Wales through the national forest. Certainly the blue forest is something that we are considering, but it hasn't been progressed in the way that the national forest has. But this is going to take decades to do. Let's not think that it's something that you can get quickly. I personally would very much like to see that, yes.

Okay. A lot of the environmental non-governmental organisations, of course, have been campaigning as well to make Wales a deforestation-free nation, and there have been calls to eliminate important deforestation products from our economy here in Wales. I'm just wondering to what extent you're familiar with that and to what extent, more importantly, maybe, the Government is actively considering that proposal. 

We've had the report, 'Making Wales a Deforestation Free Nation'—I think that's what it's called—and we are considering the recommendations of that at the current time.

Okay. The election is going to cut across that process, I suppose, but as far as you're concerned, it is something the Government is interested, at least, in pursuing.

Absolutely, because it's vital. If we're going to respond to the climate emergency, we have to absolutely respond to that, yes.

Thank you very much. We've finished earlier than I expected—probably earlier than the Minister expected. Can I thank the Minister and her officials for coming along? I was going to say 'yet again', because we do see an awful lot of you—

—in these meetings. I think it's been very helpful to us and I hope it's been slightly helpful to you. But we really are grateful to you for coming along, giving thoughtful answers and engaging with us. Many of us have sat on committees where we've almost been two people having a series of monologues rather than a dialogue. I thank you for engaging with us. We don't know what's going to happen in the election—how many of us will survive, how many won't; who'll be in Government and who won't. But on behalf of the committee, can I just thank you for the time you've given to us and your willingness to engage? Thank you.

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Papers to note
5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

And now can I move, under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix), to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting? Yes.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:24.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:24.