|Dai Lloyd AC|
|David Melding AC|
|Dawn Bowden AC|
|Gareth Bennett AC|
|Jayne Bryant AC|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Mike Hedges AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Simon Thomas AC|
|Dr Christianne Glossop||Y Prif Swyddog Milfeddygol|
|Chief Veterinary Officer|
|Lesley Griffiths AC||Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Ynni, Cynllunio a Materion Gwledig|
|Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs|
|Tim Render||Cyfarwyddwr, Yr Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director, Environment and Rural Affairs, Welsh Government|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
|Martha Da Gama Howells||Ail Glerc|
|2. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||2. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|3. Sesiwn graffu ar waith Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Ynni, Cynllunio a Materion Gwledig - Brexit a chraffu cyffredinol||3. Scrutiny of the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs - Brexit and general scrutiny|
|4. Papur(au) i'w nodi||4. Paper(s) to note|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for the remainder of the meeting|
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 09:30.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Bore da. Good morning. Can I welcome everybody to the meeting? We've got no substitutions, but Dai Lloyd has said he will arrive late. Can I remind Members to set their mobile phones to silent and turn off any other electronic equipment that may interfere with the broadcasting? Any interests to declare under Standing Orders? No.
We come to the scrutiny of the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, on Brexit and general scrutiny. We have an hour and a half. I'm sure we'll be tight at the end of it. Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for coming along? Can I ask the Cabinet Secretary to introduce herself and her colleagues?
I'm Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs. On my left is Professor Christianne Glossop, the chief veterinary officer, and on my right, is Tim Render, the director for the portfolio.
Great. Thank you very much. If I can perhaps start. What do you mean by your ambition to publish a Bill before the end of this Assembly term in 2021? Will legislation be enacted by the end of the Assembly term, and what will be the interim measures as CAP direct payments are an exception to transition arrangements and will no longer apply in 2020? So, really, what's going to happen over the next three years or so?
So, we have made it very clear that we would be publishing an agricultural Bill, so that we can obviously have a Welsh agricultural policy. Agriculture has been devolved for 20 years, so we've made it very clear that we would have that Bill. You will have heard the First Minister say yesterday, in his legislative programme, that there are gaps because we will obviously need Brexit legislation. So, my plan is to publish an agricultural Bill before the end of this Assembly term.
The UK Government are publishing their agricultural Bill in September. So, officials have seen several of the draft clauses, but we have not seen the Bill complete as yet. I'm not sure it is complete as yet. I know, at one point, the UK Government were intending to publish the Bill before the summer recess, i.e. this week, but I had a bilateral meeting with Michael Gove a week last Thursday, and we made it very clear that that wouldn't be acceptable because we have not had time to have a look at their Bill. As I say, it's not come forward.
So, our plan is that we will have a Welsh agricultural Bill before the end of term. Obviously, it's subject to space in the legislative timetable, but the First Minister did make it very clear, I think, yesterday, in his statement why there were gaps in the legislative programme.
So, we will be taking powers through the UK agricultural Bill to make sure that we have future payment delivery. So, I've mentioned before that the basic payment scheme will continue in 2018 and 2019. The new schemes, on which we're out to consultation at the moment, will begin in 2020. There will have to be a multi-year transition period. We can't just go from one scheme to the next. So, my plan is that everything will be complete by 2025.
So, by when we break up at the end of March/April 2021, a Bill will have come forward, you'll have gone through all the stages and we'll have voted on it and hopefully agreed it.
Just for clarity, you said you'll be seeking powers in the UK Bill as well. Can you explain why you think you might need to use the UK Bill to deliver powers when you're going to put a Bill through the Assembly anyway? And the second part of that is: how will we as an Assembly know or be able to scrutinise what powers you are seeking through the UK Bill?
Okay. Well, once we've had the Bill—as I say, we haven't had the Bill at the moment—we think we will need to take powers through that to enable future CAP delivery, for instance. How you will be able to do it, I will make sure that I keep the Assembly informed. It's very important that you're able to scrutinise us. But, as I say, until we see the Bill, we don't really know what we're going to do. Obviously, officials will have seen—. You've seen quite a few draft clauses now, haven't you?
We've seen almost all of it. I would expect to see the full text this week. I know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been getting it from parliamentary council in the last few days, so I would expect we see the full text very, very soon. We, I think, have seen most of the key clauses that we will need. They are for powers to make payments. They're for powers to do things like enforcement, to manage data. So, actually, some of the basic operational things that we need just to run even the current scheme in 2020, and to make changes.
Just for clarity on that, it's been said in the past that we don't need those because we've been running our own CAP payments, in effect, for the last—well, since devolution anyway—and that we didn't need—. There may be other aspects that we need, but we didn't actually need powers to make payments. Is that incorrect?
It's quite complicated, I'm afraid.
It always is, isn't it? Certainly, for the transition period, the rollover of current legislation under the withdrawal Act will let us continue doing what we are currently doing. But it would not let us make the payments in 2020 when they would come out of a transitional agreement with the EU, nor would it let us make any changes to what we do. So, all the things that we have set out in 'Brexit and our land' we wouldn't be able to do without those additional powers. The Bill, of course, would be subject to legislative consent from the Assembly, so there will be a very formal process, but we can look at explaining and talking to you about the full detail of the powers that we would be looking to take through it.
Will the powers that we need to take forward in the UK Bill then be consolidated in the Welsh Bill?
The powers through the UK Bill would be sort of temporary and transitional. And then, a Welsh Bill would let us establish that and all the principles going forward.
Still on agricultural funding, how will the two proposed funding schemes, the economic resilience scheme and the public goods scheme, differ from the current arrangements in the CAP pillar 1 and pillar 2, and how will it differ from the UK Government's proposals for public money for public good?
Colleagues will be aware that we're currently out to consultation. We launched the 'Brexit and our land' consultation on Tuesday of last week, and within that we've set out the two schemes that we will take forward—so, the economic resilience scheme and the public goods scheme. We do need new policies. I don't think that the common agricultural policy has enabled us to have the outcomes that we would want. It's very rigid; there isn't much flexibility. Life is going to change post Brexit for our farmers, so it's really important that we support them and we help them cope with the new environment coming. I think it's safe to say that the market could be very turbulent, for instance. We've got nothing settled at the moment, but I think it is about preparing them to be more efficient, more effective, and I think we have been doing that since the referendum campaign, but this gives us the opportunity to do it via support. The current system at the moment, I think, is too poorly targeted to make sure that our farmers do stay farming on the land. I think we need to make it more productive. We need to help them produce goods that are for the market. We are concerned about the market. Obviously, there's no point having wonderful Welsh produce if there's no market for it, but that's a different conversation. But I think what we want to do with these two schemes is make sure our farmers are much more sustainable and resilient.
Continuing from the money side, Michael Gove appeared to confirm to the Scottish Parliament in evidence that Scotland would continue to receive 16 per cent of the UK's funding for agriculture, and it would be ring-fenced and protected for agriculture. Have you had similar discussions with Michael Gove?
I've had lots of similar discussions with Michael Gove. It's up to us what we do with the funding when it comes to us, but both the First Minister and myself have said that it will be ring-fenced. However, we don't have any clarity around that funding. What we have insisted is that we get every penny, because we were promised that, and also that it's not Barnettised. At the moment, we receive about 10 per cent. So, it's really important that it's not Barnettised. At the last quadrilateral meeting with my agriculture counterparts in London a week last Thursday, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury telephoned in. We'd been trying to get her to come to a meeting, so she telephoned in, and she announced that there was going to be a review of agriculture funding for all four countries. That's all the detail I have at the moment. I don't know if Tim's got any further detail; I'll ask him now. So, there is obviously going to be a review of how funding is allocated, but it's up to us whether we ring-fence it or not. We've said we will. And also it's about making it clear that we expect all the funding that we would have expected from the EU to come to us.
The key thing is having the money. We can have the arguments over how to spend it here, but if we haven't got the money, we can't have the arguments over how to spend it here.
And that's really difficult, because after 2022 it's a big black hole and we couldn't be expected to find £340 million.
Yes, just to ask a couple of questions. You're obviously out to consultation, so to anything I'm saying to you now, whether I'm agreeing or disagreeing with the proposals, you'll just say, 'It's out to consultation.' I understand that; that's fair enough. But as I've said in the Chamber, I think there is an interesting piece of work or thinking around basic income, in terms of how that's—. Not basic farm payments, but a basic income, reframing it in a very different way, so that we don't have a system whereby people fall out economically, particularly from upland farming, and then you're sort of using other public money to stuff people back in to maintain the land. So, looking at that is one of the responses that, certainly, I hope will come to the consultation that you can consider. But in particular, can you just say what your thinking is in terms of—? When the consultation's over, you talked about that this could be a new system from 2020 onwards, but you did say 'transitional' as well. So, what sort of time frame, in broad terms, do you think should be transitional? Usually, the CAP changes like a glacier, really; it's over seven years and you get a mid-term review. Are you looking for that three, four or five years? Is that what we're looking at?
I think you'd have to, because it's a very long-term sector. So, I'm sure that that would be the intention. I mentioned that new schemes would start in 2020, and there would be a multi-year transitional period. I would hope everything would be in place by 2025. It does depend on what comes out of the consultation, and I don't want people to think it's not meaningful. I think it's really important that people don't think we've got all these ideas that are set in stone, because it's really not. And I hope the fact that—. There were a couple of things, really. The first is announcing it two weeks before the Royal Welsh, because that's such an opportunity to engage on a mass scale, and over the summer show period as well, but also that it's a 16-and-a-half-week consultation. It's certainly the longest consultation I've ever had as a Minister; it's probably one of the longest Welsh Government ones. So, I don't want people to think we've got anything set in stone, but I do recognise that it would have to be a several-year period because of the way that the sector plans.
The other thing I wanted to ask you, just at this stage—because as you say, it is a consultation, so there's no point trying to challenge you too much on the detail of it—is about the broad view of where you see Welsh farming as a result of the consultation and the proposals in there, and the emphasis on land management, which, in broad terms, I welcome. In the context of this, I've just been looking at a piece of work, and I'll use the committee just to give advance publicity to something I'm going to say tomorrow about organic farming in Wales and how we can use organics as part of a response to this. One of the things that became clear to me from that is that there has been quite a bit of work around upland farming in England that looks at profitability and viability actually kicking in at about 60 per cent of the current stocking rates, and that you don't need to have the mountain stuffed with sheep to make a similar amount of money. Because we know that upland farms are not single-person entities; people work off the farm—they're teachers or they work in an ysgol feithrin or are local contractors or whatever. So, it's this mix of farming. That was quite interesting to me, because it was talking about the quality rather than just the amount that comes off the hills, and making sure that profitability was kicking in at a lower stocking rate. I just wondered whether you had in mind that, actually, environmentally and ecologically, that would be better for Wales, and better for the farmers as well, ultimately, if we are producing less, particularly sheep meat, but of a higher quality and directed to the new markets?
We had a presentation at one of the stakeholder groups, where the point of it was saying that you don't need to increase the number; in fact, you could decrease the number and still be more productive and more competitive. So, I think that's certainly something we should look at, and I'd be very interested to see your piece of work around organic farming. The sheep sector is obviously of concern, and again, at the stakeholder group, one of the groups did some scenario planning, and it's obviously the sheep sector and the uplands that are most in danger. The committee will be aware that I went out to New Zealand in April, and one of the things I really learnt there was that, when they had that cliff edge in 1984, they lost a huge number of farms, particularly the small community farms. And if you think about Wales, you know, the agricultural sector is so much a part of our culture and our communities and the Welsh language. It's similar, and I would hate to see—. You know, people say to me, 'How many farms do you want to see go bust?' I don't want to see any farms go bust. It's about making sure that we don't lose that sense of community. Because, clearly, in New Zealand they did, and a lot of the small farms then became one big farm. You know, the local rugby club, which was just down the road, was an hour down the road. So, I think it's about making sure that, with the new schemes, every farmer can apply for those. It's only about 60 per cent of farmers that have CAP, so what we've made sure of is that both our schemes—and you'll see that in the consultation—that people will be able to apply for both the schemes and everybody will be able to apply for them, and to me that's really important.
Thank you, Chair. Just moving on to food and drink, perhaps you could give us an update or some detail around your discussions with the UK Government on the future trade relationship with the EU, and particularly on the Welsh lamb products. And how do you see the implications of the Chequers agreement for that? [Laughter.] I know; which one? And more recent developments, perhaps.
It's hard to keep up, isn't it? I think the Chequers agreement now is probably dead in the water. Perhaps I should be touching wood when I say that, I don't know. It's very hard to keep up with everything at the moment with the UK Government, but certainly you raise a very serious point. We have had some conversations with the Department for International Trade, but we are not part of their trade working groups. I think there has been initial engagement with officials, but certainly at a ministerial level I don't think we've been invited to be part of those groups. But, obviously, trade is something that we discuss at my quadrilaterals with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers. I know my officials are also working with DEFRA on cross-cutting issues. So, obviously, trade is a reserved matter, but it's really important that we are around that table when those discussions are going on.
Again, when I was out in New Zealand, I met with Vangelis Vitalis, who is their chief negotiator, who made it very clear to me that his top priority was a free trade agreement with New Zealand, which obviously we need to be very cautious about. I would like to have more detail about those discussions. I'd like to know more about the discussions the UK Government are having with America, for instance. We have been working very hard to try and get Welsh lamb back into America, and certainly when I came into post two years ago I thought we were nearly there. Then America had a change of Government and, unfortunately, we haven't been able to proceed with that. But I think it's really important that we, Wales, also work with these countries to make sure that we are able to maximise the opportunities for our farmers as well.
Great, thank you. I'm just wondering about an update on the discussions particularly with the UK Government on access to Labour from the EU, especially with vets and the meat hygiene service, because we know that 25 per cent of vets in Wales are non-UK EU nationals and that the situation is particularly acute in the meat hygiene sector, where there are estimates that 95 per cent of the vets responsible for verifying and auditing meat hygiene in slaughterhouses graduated overseas, with the majority of those being non-UK EU graduates. What preparations are being put in place so that access to all EU labour isn't restricted?
The food sector is highly dependent on EU vets. When we talk about labour, workforce and EU nationals within my portfolio, we tend to think about the meat processing plants and the seasonal labour on the farms, but vets are a real issue for us, and the potential risks that we think are there for us at a UK level are being addressed by the veterinary capability and capacity project. Christianne sits on that board, so I'll ask her to say a little more about it. I think we are making progress around veterinary education in Wales. However, you know how long it takes to train vets, so, obviously, this is a long-term piece of work, but I'll ask Christianne to say a bit more about the board.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. So, the British Veterinary Association, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and all four administrations are part of this project board, because we have that collective challenge to consider veterinary manpower. And you're absolutely right: a significant proportion, if not all, of the vets working in meat hygiene in Wales are actually EU qualified veterinary surgeons, mainly from Spain, but also from Poland. If you look at the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Wales, we have again a significant proportion of European trained vets. So, we recognise it as really important. We're working with the Home Office to try and demonstrate that this profession is as important, you might say, as some of the other professions that are on their priority list, but I think that we could be much more effective working together on this, and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, of course, have to consider recognition of qualifications from mainland Europe. They are involved in inspecting veterinary schools in different parts of Europe to make sure they're up to the same standard. So, they've got that in place; that's there already. It's a question of making sure that the vets not only are able to work here, but also that they feel welcome, because what we wouldn't want, over the next few months and years of uncertainty, is to lose some of the vets that are doing a really important job here already.
Yes. Thank you. Perhaps you can give us an update on negotiations around the repatriation of the red meat levy fund collected for Welsh livestock slaughtered in England and what's the likelihood of this being included in the UK Agriculture Bill.
I'd like it to be included. I do think it is quite likely. I certainly discussed it with Michael Gove at our bilateral a fortnight ago. I've also written to him asking if we can have that. It's been going on for too long; it must be a decade now, and I know, when I came into post, it was one of the first things that I was lobbied on. We have had a sort of interim arrangement, where there was a proposal that some funding would be ring-fenced specifically for that, and I know HCC—Hybu Cig Cymru—have been able to access some of this funding, but we really need it sorted out now. So, I think probably the best way is through the UK Agriculture Bill, and I am quite hopeful.
And have you been finding that your discussions with the UK Government on EU protected food names are highly productive and useful or not?
I think everybody—. I think the four administrations recognise the importance of it, and certainly—. I don't know if you've—I'm sure you have—spoken to companies who've got protected geographical indication or protected food names. They really value it. I understand—and I don't know if you've had any more discussions on this—that DEFRA are going to consult on outline proposals for a UK scheme post Brexit, but I think it is very important that we do retain the EU ones. If you look at the countries where the EU have protected food names, it's not necessarily just countries that are within the EU. So, I think there is the potential to continue that. But, certainly, I think companies value it very much, so I would hope that we'll be able to do it. I don't know if you've got an update.
Other than to say it's one where, as you say, we're quite close to having some UK-level propositions. There are elements of it that are at UK level, there are elements of this that are devolved, but, fundamentally, it is something that is derived from World Trade Organization powers. So, there is a sort of UK-level responsibility. We are having those detailed official-level discussions, and I think it's on the agenda for our next ministerial quadrilateral meeting in September to I think be clear on what is the four-nation proposition here. So, it's there, and it's clearly one of the really important things for the EU side in the trade negotiations that are about to start.
I think I'm right in saying that Mexican Tequila has a protected food name.
I wouldn't know. I'll bow to your superior knowledge, Simon. [Laughter.]
Not that I have any knowledge of it directly, of course. But it just shows that this is not—. This is, as you say, WTO derived. It's something else. We'll see the details, but a UK food naming system wouldn't, in itself, be problematic, but what is important, I think, is that we retain the ability to have that European description on food from Wales because that—. Some of it is shellfish, for example. So, that goes as an export. There are other aspects. Lamb is another obvious one. This is what gives a cachet and a value to food, above just slapping—well, certainly I wouldn't want a union jack on it, as you can imagine, but even slapping a Welsh dragon on it doesn't necessarily give it that. This is what gives it that extra level of economic value. So, are you going to fight to retain our ability to use European designations? If Mexico can do it, then surely Wales can.
Yes, absolutely, and I mentioned that the companies that I've spoken to would want that. I think we've got about 15 now. I have to say, the EU have been very good, and even the ones in the pipeline they've managed to get through. I think it's more or less doubled since I've been in portfolio over the last two years. So, those companies really value that and, obviously, you mention lamb, beef. It's really important that we do that, and I'm absolutely with you—I don't want to see a Union Jack slapped on it; I want to see a Welsh dragon. And I think people now are far more interested in where their food comes from and the provenance. So, to me, it's a win-win if we can do that but, yes, absolutely, I will be.
I thought I was doing fisheries. [Laughter.] No, please, if you've prepared, but I've got very detailed questions. There's obviously been a misunderstanding.
I'll kick off then, and David will come in. Can you give us an idea of the expected timescale for a Welsh fisheries Bill, and what aspects of fisheries management will be addressed in UK-level legislation and which will be addressed through specific Welsh Government legislation?
In relation to a Welsh fisheries Bill, I haven't got a timescale. We have been working more on the agricultural Bill although, obviously, we're doing preparatory work for the fisheries Bill. Again, we haven't seen the UK fisheries Bill. My understanding is they are hoping to publish a UK fisheries Bill in January of next year, but we have not had that shared with us at all. So, we need some clarity on the legislative framework, really, before we can then shape our Bill but, obviously, we can't just sit back and wait for the UK Government, so we are doing some preparatory work.
I would imagine the fisheries Bill I will be looking to go out to consultation on towards the end of this year, maybe early next year, in preparation. So, it's a bit hard to tell you what a future fisheries Bill will look like at the moment. As we shape our proposals—I'm sure I'll be in front of committee again—but I'll certainly be very happy to keep committee updated if I'm not.
So, do you have any views on the recent UK fisheries White Paper, and particularly do you have any concerns around the UK Government's intention not to change the method for allocation of existing quota?
I think I've been very clear right from the beginning that I don't support the current allocation process. It favours big business, and I think it's led to a commercialisation of fishing opportunities. Of course, that commercialisation has led to a form of acquired right over the sharing of fishing opportunities, and I think it's going to take some time to remove that right.
What I want to see—. And I've always said I have a certain sympathy with the fishing sector in relation to Brexit; I can see why the majority of them voted leave. I think we haven't had our fair share. So, I think now this is a big opportunity from Brexit. It is the opportunity to rebalance those fishing opportunities and those quotas, but it's going to take a long time. It's incredibly complex. Tim mentioned complexity; fisheries is, I think, the most complex area of my portfolio.
Yes, and those concerns were expressed at a round-table that we had last week in Milford Haven with people involved in the fishing industry, and particularly you mentioned the small vehicles; most of them are 10m—vessels, actually; we're on the water now—or less. So, that was one aspect that concerned them—that they wouldn't be able to compete. The other aspect that is fairly clear and obvious is that an awful lot of the fishery is shellfish, so it's relying on an export market, a tariff-free export market, and also the labelling that's just been described. So, I wonder what thoughts you have that you could share with us on particularly those two aspects.
You're absolutely right—they're very concerned about tariffs; the sector is very concerned. I was up in north Wales speaking to some people in the mussel industry, and they're concerned about exports, they're concerned about licensing, because, again, they don't want to be stuck on a dockside or a portside, because it's just so perishable that if they don't get it moving pretty quick—. I think 90 per cent of our shellfish is exported to the EU at the current time—obviously, tariff free. So, you can imagine their concerns around the tariff, and I'm sure they told you about that. Labelling, obviously, is something that I think—. We've been talking about labelling; I think it's very important that, again, we have that Welsh branding on it. I think people really value that. And part of the work we're doing—you will have heard about the EU transition fund that the First Minister announced, and I've managed to secure some funding from that in the first tranche, around brand Wales and values. So, I think, obviously, the shellfish industry will be part of that. But it is an area of concern, obviously.
There were also concerns about whether the Welsh Government is sufficiently resourced with regard to legal expertise, because it is very complicated, as we've said, and whether, if that isn't the case, the ability to deliver a successful and sustainable future for fisheries in Wales—.
There's no point pretending; we have concerns about legal capacity—you can't pick lawyers off trees. So, it's somewhere where we have had—certainly I've had discussions with Tim and with the Permanent Secretary around this. I think we've currently recruited several new lawyers, and my portfolio—because of the amount of Brexit legislation within it, I hope that I will get the majority of them. Fisheries is an area where, as soon as I came into portfolio, we increased the capacity of the team. I also put aside, I think it was about £6 million, £7 million over two years to get new enforcement vessels. So, we're having three large vessels, and three RIBs. I've launched one RIB; the other four will be in use, hopefully, by the end of the year. Because, clearly, enforcement is going to be much more of an issue. There's no point pretending the Government isn't facing significant capacity and resource issues. You only have to look at DEFRA—they've had 1,300 new civil servants. When I went to my quadrilateral a week last Thursday, I was going to the Home Office, because they've outgrown their building in DEFRA, so they've now taken over part of the Home Office. I think they were planning to move, but, because of the increase in the number of officials—. So, we have had, we're in the process of having, 15 new officials. But, you can see, if DEFRA have had 1,300, the amount of work that is obviously required. So, I am trying to prioritise, and, certainly, since Tim came to us at the beginning of the year, I think we've probably spent a significant amount of time making sure that each department is fully staffed, to the very best of our ability.
And funding—we haven't mentioned any money. Of course, there are concerns about the support to the sector post Brexit and the funding, and particularly the replacement of the European maritime and fisheries fund. So, what assurances, if any, can you give at this stage?
Well, you will have heard me saying in an answer before about agricultural funding that it's a black hole; it's no different with fisheries. We've had no clarity, really, around funding. So, we keep making it clear that we shouldn't be losing any funding—they promised we wouldn't lose any funding, and we're going to hold them to that promise. The European maritime fisheries fund offers a discretionary grant to fishers to adapt to policy changes, which are largely driven by the common fisheries policy. The fishing industry doesn't receive any financial support to undertake activity—that's the reason for the EMFF. And, as I said, I will be consulting on future fisheries policy later this year, early next year, and this will be part of the consultation.
Yes. I was surprised by what you said right at the start, that you felt that the fisheries policy was one of the biggest explanations for Brexit, because a lot of advice is that the EU systems at least align scientific advice with catches and that is the very basis of sustainable fishing. So, what in that principle are you objecting to?
It is the quotas, I think, that I was referring to more. So, I go to the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in December. Obviously, the UK lead on it, but we're there. Certainly, every December I meet with the sector prior to the council and I am lobbied around quotas. It doesn't matter what agreement you come to—and it can be deemed to be a very good agreement—the sector, or parts of the sector, are not happy with it. I couldn't go to the fisheries council last December because of the snow. I was having phone calls at 3 o' clock in the morning. It is literally the fisheries council that—
So, you accept that it will be disastrous, presumably, to our shellfishing if we've started to say, 'The UK must retain much more of the fisheries in our waters'.
Well, if we say that the historic agreements, going back to the 1950s—the London Fisheries Convention and then obviously the common fisheries policy—are no longer historically valid for a division of the common resource between EU and Britain, then it seems to me that we could expect all sorts of difficulties of tariff barriers or direct tariffs with our shellfish—which is by far the biggest part of our fishery industry—going to the EU.
Yes, and certainly that's what the sector are telling me. Again, we've got representatives of the sector on the stakeholder group, and, again, it's a sector that has very differing views as well—it can be quite polarised. Again, I'll probably have a long consultation period, because I think that'll be very important.
So, you would align public policy and financial incentives to massively increase the fleet, because we only have a sub-10m fleet at the moment, so that we could catch something close to our zonal attachment or whatever principle on quota? Is that Government policy now?
Well, if you're saying that you don't think the quotas are fair, the justified inference is that we need a much more expanded fishing industry.
Yes, certainly the sector are telling me that, but how we do it—. We have seen a lot of businesses go bust in the fishing sector, so we need to work very closely with them.
And then your stakeholder group—and we met some of the members at last week's event, which Joyce has already referred to—said they thought it was quite a weak link between that group and the influence it has on the development of policy. Do you accept that or is it work in progress, as you're looking at these—?
So, this is the fisheries sector saying there is a weak link between the Brexit stakeholder group and policy making.
I thought they were referring to a specific group on fishing, I have to say, but it may be the Brexit group, but, anyway, it's whatever they sit on.
Okay, it could be—. I mentioned there were polarised views. We have the Welsh Fishing Association, which I meet with probably twice a year, and then we have some representatives on the stakeholder group. I'm trying to think now—there are two. So, it could be that you were speaking to people who perhaps aren't part of that group, because I don't know who you were speaking to.
Certainly, the Brexit stakeholder group, I think, has been incredibly influential. The 'Brexit and our Land'—that consultation came out—
I thought there was a fisheries stakeholder group. Is there not one?
Is that the sector group—
Within the stakeholder group? No. I think it must be the Welsh Fishing Association you're talking to. I meet them twice a year.
No, I was actually talking to policy stakeholders mostly, in the environmental and academic fields.
Right. It probably is a sub-group then of the Brexit stakeholder group. I think we're very lucky and I certainly feel very fortunate that we've had that stakeholder group that has been engaged with us straight away.
They don't feel that they're influencing policy very much at the moment.
The Welsh Marine Fisheries Advisory Group, yes, okay. Well, I would disagree with that, because I think they are very influential.
Okay, I mean, that's a direct answer.
Finally, the UK White paper, obviously, says that it doesn't think that the 10m rule now for boats is viable because of the increased catch that they're capable of. This, obviously, is a big fat thing for us. So, what's your current view on that? Is it a negotiating point for you to try and retain it so that boats that are below 10m are not in the system, as it where, in terms of regulation? What's the Government policy likely to be on that?
Again, early thinking is that, obviously, this is a very important matter, and when we start to look at it in more detail we'll come forward with proposals. As I say, the fisheries policy we haven't worked up. I was very determined to bring out the agricultural consultation paper. Actually, I've got a meeting with the group that you've just referred to, so that's something that we'll discuss with them.
Just one last question on shellfish, following on from what David said earlier, surely the biggest thing is to ensure that we get free flow. They don't have to have any rules at all, they can tell us we can export as much shellfish as we like, as long as they stop for two or three days and check it, which they've got every right to do unless we have free flow. They take it in, they check it to make sure it's okay, and by the time they've had their three or four days checking, it's no longer fit for human consumption. Isn't it the key that we need to ensure the free flow, over and above a quantity? They can give us any per cent, 'You can send anything you like', but if they slow it down enough it won't be able to be used.
And that was the point I hope I was making on the licensing matter. Again, the advisory group is very concerned about—. If you haven't got enough staff on the port to get through, if you haven't got the licensing infrastructure in place, and they just end up on the dock for three or four days, then it's going to be a disaster. So, I've had one early discussion, at quadrilateral, around this, because I wasn't reassured, for instance, that—. I'd presumed that it was the Home Office that would have the officials who would be doing that. I don't think there's been the increase in numbers that we've seen, for instance, in DEFRA, that would support the thinking that I think is going to be needed by the UK Government in relation to this.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions around the UK common frameworks and the 24 areas that the Government have initially identified as requiring legislative frameworks. How confident are you that those are going to be appropriate for Wales's rural development?
I think, because we've been so involved with those discussions from the onset, where we've had something called deep dives, where officials have gone up—. I know Christianne went for her's—you were up there for two days. Tim has been very involved with all the deep dives. So, I think, where there are shared arrangements, which are in our best interests, we've been able to make that point very clear. So, of the 24 areas that have been identified, 19 are within my portfolio. So, you can see it's my portfolio that's got the most legislation and regulations from an EU point of view.
We've had that first stage of deep dives, which have been going on now probably since Christmas. We're about to start the second stage of those. Is that over August? I think it is over August, isn't it? Usually, Government slows down in August, but its not going to this year, for obvious reasons. So, we've got that second stage being proposed now. That will look at the precise scope and the form of any future frameworks. Only specific elements may require a legislative framework. It doesn't necessarily mean the entire area would require that.
There are some that are specifically excluded from legislation, aren't there?
Sorry to butt in, but, just to build on that, I think the experience in the deep dives was that you started with quite a broad theme, and, actually, as you went through the discussions, you worked out the issues that we really need to focus on are a much smaller sub-set of that big theme. So, what the deep dives have done is really narrow down to quite specific areas where you need frameworks within, say, agricultural support, which is a very big idea. It actually came to about three or four areas where you needed legislation. It's already reduced and reduced those areas and has also been identifying the areas where we all need to have the mechanisms for making joint decisions and resolving disputes between the four nations should that be necessary, but that doesn't necessarily need to be legislative. So, we've already gone from quite broad to narrow. The next phase really just nails all that down.
That follows on to my next question actually, because some of the stakeholders that we've been talking to have really expressed concern about that reducing of the numbers of legislative frameworks. They appear to be concerned that that might be weakening that framework in some way. So, what kind of assurances can you give that the current frameworks and the current conditions that apply are still going to be applicable, albeit that they may not be legislative or that there may be fewer of them, because that seems to be some of the concerns that have been raised?
I suppose frameworks mean different things in different contexts, so I suppose what we're talking about here is where UK-wide common frameworks would be required between the four administrations across the UK that are currently subject to EU administration. I suppose that's what we're looking at here. So, I hope that does reassure them that that's what we're looking at specifically.
It's an ongoing process. [Inaudible.]—levels of engagement, I guess. There's going to be—
So, there have been these deep dives. I mentioned that the second stage is starting now, next month. Presumably, that will probably go on well into the autumn. As I said, I know you were there for two complete days on your deep dive, with all the other CVOs.
Yes, it was quite intensive, but, as a result, what we were able to do was map out the framework that we have in place already. So, for example, there's something called the animal disease policy group, which is across the whole UK, and that's where we come together and try and reach a consensus to advise our respective Ministers. That's in place already and we practise using it, because, when we have a disease emergency, that's exactly where we go to discuss vaccination policy or movement restrictions. So, we've got that in place, and so, when it comes to animal health and welfare, that will be a piece of the new framework going forward. I think we're trying, across the board, to make sure that when we send officials to these deep dives and to the future work that, if we've learnt something that works in one subject area, we can see whether we can apply that elsewhere, because, as the Cabinet Secretary has said, it's a very intensive process and a lot to get through in a short space of time.
That's very helpful, thanks. My final question is about the Welsh Government's preferred Council of Ministers model to take things forward. What's the progress in relation to that?
I think we are seeing a bit of progress now. This was something our First Minister mentioned right at the start. It didn't gain much traction in the beginning, but I do think that, at the last JMC plenary that the First Minister attended, which was back in March, the officials were given a remit, if you like, to have a look at the existing arrangements and the mechanisms that are currently in place to have those effective inter-governmental relations. I understand the review is under way. I think, at the next meeting—but, again, they haven't got a date for the next EU plenary—they were going to consider whether they have had this going forward. I think it's taken a while to gain some traction but I do think all four administrations now are talking about this.
Thank you. That's generated an awful lot of questions around the room. David Melding first.
On non-legislative approaches, I know you say this is somewhat fluid and means different things to different people, but a non-legislative approach to an area that currently is under EU governance and therefore is legislative in essence and certainly can be enforced—does that raise alarm bells with you? What's the Government's approach? Do you need a lot of convincing that, if you need a framework, then a non-legislative one is okay?
No. You know, there could be a legislative agreement that's supported by non-legislative agreements. We can obviously bring forward our own independent agreements as well. So, no, it doesn't concern us.
You're not concerned that there'll be diminution of the rigour of an approach if it goes from current EU governance down to a non-legislative framework.
And, to spell it out, as I understand it, air and water quality are likely, if they're going to have frameworks, to be non-legislated. Now, members of the public and environmental groups would find that really peculiar, given that debates we've had in the Assembly focused so much on real, core principles that are legislated, generally.
This would not mean that there would not be legislation around air quality or water quality. It would mean that each of the four administrations have that legislation and are responsible for that, and are responsible for the decisions around what that would be. But there is also a piece that says, 'Actually, what you do collectively—.'
If they have their own legislation, why do you need the framework element?
Because, in some cases, say in air quality, there are some international obligations that are on the UK as a whole, but have to be delivered by the four parts of the UK collectively. So, how do the sum of the parts come together? That's one question that a framework might answer. Also, how do those policies affect across boundaries, across the borders, particularity on something like water quality, where you've got rivers going across the border? So, what we choose to do can affect what happens in England and vice versa. So, it's having a way of testing, where necessary agreeing a common approach, understating why there are differences, and if there are disputes or major concerns, a mechanism for resolving those to agree them, but, similarly, respecting the ability of devolved administrations to make their own policy choices.
I still find it curious that air and water quality won't have a legislative UK framework, because, from your description, it sounded like that was one of the areas that really needed it—or two of the areas that really needed it.
At the moment, those are things that we are responsible for delivering in Wales under the current devolution settlement within an EU framework. But the choices as to how we do that rest with the Welsh Government.
I'm sure it's something we can look at again. We've heard from a lot of stakeholders as well that—this is perhaps a criticism of the UK Government, but I think, in any common framework, it becomes a factor—that there's a subtle shift in tone towards economic justifications rather than managing common resources or environmental challenges, for instance. Do you think that's fair? Or is it over-anxious? Is it something in your approach that you are really trying to ensure doesn't creep into any common framework system?
I certainly wouldn't want it to creep in, so I would say they're, probably, being over-anxious. And I think I've made it very clear in all my meetings with that type of stakeholder, and again at the round-table, that that's not my intention, and environmental standards are something that I—. You know, there's no way I would allow the standards to slip. If you look at the legislation that we have, I think we've been incredibly prescient with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. I think we can teach the other administrations a lot and, certainly—. I've just written to Michael Gove, actually, around the environmental matters to say, 'If officials can help in any way—', because I think we're all so strapped. So, no, I think they're probably being over-anxious, to answer your question.
Thank you, Chair. Just coming back to your point you mentioned earlier that DEFRA have just recruited a load of staff—1,300 extra—and it dwarfs our contribution from here, and with regard to the common frameworks discussions, obviously—. As somebody who's not very good in the water—in fact, I can't swim—the whole concept of a deep dive fills with me with horror, but particularly a concept of a deep dive of our officials being heavily outnumbered by a deep dive of similar officials from DEFRA. So, in terms of when it comes to common frameworks, 19 fields of the 24 that are frozen, or privy to, as you said, a deep freeze and deep dives, are within your portfolio. So, say there's a policy that comes following a deep dive that is a policy for England, and it's undoubtedly a policy for England, however the policy thrust is such that it would be very difficult for other nations to find anything different, really, notwithstanding that we—not the bit about being outnumbered in deep dives, but just the whole policy thrust. What guarantee have we got that a policy that comes out in a devolved area that is frozen, which is one of these 19 fields, as a result of any number of deep dives, and remembering the inter-governmental agreement that we have got, which, as you know, is non-statutory, as opposed to anything else—? So, the point of the question is: if a new policy thrust comes for England, and it's very difficult for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to oppose it, just because it is such a huge policy area, what guarantees have we got that Wales, actually, and the other nations, just aren't going to lose powers, as some of us have freely predicted all along, which is why we voted the way we did on 15 May?
I'll ask Christianne to say a bit more about being outnumbered, because my understanding was that we weren't outnumbered in the deep dives, but I haven't been to one, so I'll ask Christianne, who has, to say a bit more about that.
There are two issues. We've made it very clear that nothing will be imposed. So, anything that comes forward that we're not happy with, we're very vocal about. Also, if that area is wholly devolved—so, for instance, agriculture is—then that's our decision. Again, it's been an issue that I think hasn't had to be pressed so much lately, but, certainly, with DEFRA, when they're speaking for the UK and when they're speaking for England—because I think in the beginning the two weren't very clear—.
The inter-governmental agreement—I'll give you an example of the agricultural Bill. So, if the UK Government had published their agricultural Bill this week, I think it would've been totally against the inter-governmental agreement, because we had not had access to it in a way that I would want beforehand. So, by doing it in September—you heard Tim say before that we hope to have seen the entire thing, or officials will have, hopefully, had the entire Bill this week, and then we will have, obviously, a period now of eight weeks or six weeks to look at it.
So, I think they take the inter-governmental agreement very seriously. Certainly, in my discussion with Michael Gove, he understood. So, I think that's the guarantee that we have. I'll ask Christianne to say a bit more about her deep dive.
I just want to reassure you, because the first thing I would say is that we're used to being outnumbered. We go to London and we've learned to represent our case as effectively as possible. For that particular deep dive, which happened in January, we prioritised it. We took a team of five—there were two vets and three policy officials who went to that meeting. So, you can see that that's 20 man days, quite apart from travelling.
We outnumbered the DEFRA team around that table. We outnumbered the Scottish team around the table, although Northern Ireland about balanced us. When we got into the detail, because in Wales we have to cover wider subject areas because there are fewer of us, actually I think we were at an advantage. When it came to the detail, DEFRA had to continually phone the office and bring in another person to advise. We insisted on that, because we'd prioritised going to London for two days.
So, I think we've learned how to do that, not just through this process but through many years of representing Wales effectively in that situation. So, don't worry about that bit—we can do that bit.
That's fine—it's just that I was wondering about the concept of a deep dive, really. Why is it any different to what has happened before—before we started calling these things deep dives?
It's the trendy expression.
I think the question I was going to ask has been asked by David, so I'm quite happy with the answer.
Can we look at the issue I raised yesterday, actually, with the First Minister on the legislative statement? You did say in the past that you'd look at the earliest opportunity to put in Welsh legislation environmental principles in law. That was missing from the legislative statement yesterday, which is why I raised it, but you know that this committee also recommended that, and we wanted you to report back on how you'd be achieving that. What's your intention now to make the necessary legislative arrangements in this area?
So, I think the First Minister obviously explained to you, and I mentioned it earlier on, that there is some space in the legislative programme. We've had to leave space—
It would be under the Brexit heading. We don't have the same governance gaps in Wales as they have in the UK, and I mentioned in an earlier answer—I think it was to David—that I think we've been very prescient in the legislation that we've got with the future generations Act and the environment Act, so I think we have really got that governance structure to be able to promote sustainable development, for instance. So, what we need to do is understand what governance gaps we do have that relate to Wales, how they need to be addressed, and we need to make sure there's no conflict or—. It's really important that we don't have a regressive impact, I think. So, officials are undertaking an analysis now of the gaps that we have, and what potential models we will require to address those gaps going forward. Again, it's not an easy task. It's taken a considerable amount of work to be able to understand all the complexities that we've got in relation to this issue.
So, I think there are two things that strike me, there. One is, although I'm prepared to accept your word that in governance terms we're slightly ahead of England in those terms, I'm not personally convinced by the use of the future generations Act as a governance tool. That's a policy tool, not a governance tool. The environment Act—yes, there are more governance things there. And to go back to David's earlier point, we're looking at—. We're not only, I think, as an Assembly, looking to protect what we have, we're looking to enhance. So, when it comes to air quality, we now even better understand the effect of poor air quality on our communities—particularly on children. I've even seen, this week, a proper scientific study on the link between diabetes and air quality, which is something I'd never even thought about before, and we have these real health issues in Wales that are now increasingly linked to air quality. So, there are governance gaps—so that's the first thing, and you're doing a piece of work to understand that.
The second element is that what the current arrangements give us, for better or worse, and I think for better, is a stronger citizen voice in challenging Government decisions around failures of environmental governance. So, there's a direct way through the European Commission. Now, we don't have that in Wales, and when we leave the European Union, there will be a gap there. So, how do you think that gap is best addressed? Is that best addressed through a UK body, which, if it were to happen, I would argue, must be a four-way ownership body, or through a specific Welsh agency or body—not the future generations commissioner, because, again, she does not have the tools to do this—that would be set up by you. In Scotland, for example, I know that Roseanna Cunningham has played with the idea that there could be a Scottish body, but there hasn't made any decision. So, what are your options, and how are you likely to pursue that?
I've had discussions with Roseanna about that, and I think it's probably a little bit too early to state whether we think a UK governance body is the most appropriate approach to address those gaps. I think we need to have a much better understanding of their proposals, which they've not shared with us to the extent that they would need to. I'm not saying they haven't shared them as a criticism; they may not have even processed those proposals yet. I'm not being critical, but I think we do need to understand exactly what they are proposing before we decide. I've had a bilateral with Roseanna around this, as to whether we go with that or we do our own thing, and certainly, together with Roseanna, I've made representations to DEFRA outside of our quadrilaterals around this issue.
In reply to my earlier question, you said you didn't want any regression in Wales, and I've also put it to you that, in fact, we want to improve in some aspects here. How can you ensure that—? Because you have this framework agreement on the 24 areas, how can you ensure that a big push from the UK end, or from the England-only end, really, for regression—? Because—I'll be political—Jacob Rees-Mogg is not interested in the environment, he's not interested in air quality; he's interested in making money when we come out of the EU. If those voices are uppermost, which they seem to be at the moment in Westminster, how can you push back and ensure that there is no regression and you retain ownership of the tools to ensure progression on these areas in Wales?
Certainly, at the quadrilaterals, I would say that the desire for progression is absolutely shared. I would say that Michael Gove is absolutely on the same page as us in relation to that. Now, okay, he might not be there in that role, he could be in a different role, I accept that, but certainly, in my discussions with the Secretary of State, I would say he's absolutely on the same page. We are very involved in these discussions and it's about making sure that we are. I just think we need to see their proposals in detail before we make any decisions. But I've made it very clear—. And I remember my very first discussion on my very first farm visit when I came to portfolio. I asked that farmer how he'd voted, and he'd voted 'leave' because Boris Johnson had said he could bury his dead sheep on his farm and not take it in the correct vehicle to dispose of it correctly. And I remember saying to him, 'That's not going to happen in Wales.' We have got fantastic environmental standards. But, you know, the agricultural sector absolutely appreciate that. I don't think they personally want to see any regression. They know people come here for the beautiful landscape. So, that's not the discussion I'm having. I don't see anybody wanting to regress, and, certainly, around the quadrilateral table, there isn't that view.
Well, Boris Johnson's doing his best to bury Theresa May at the moment, but that's a whole different argument.
Not on a Welsh farm, no. Not in Dolgellau either, hopefully. But just to go back, what concerns me in this is our lack of firm legislative underpinning at the moment. Because you'll know that there was an amendment to the EU withdrawal Bill—is that an Act now? It probably is an Act now. It is an Act, is it? Yes. So, the amendment passed in the House of Lords. The explanation given in the House of Lords was that this related to England only, but you have a Bill—an Act now, sorry—that does deal with England and Wales, but a bit of it is, according to the words of the House of Lords, only England. That leaves, in my view, a lacuna, a legislative gap, and I still don't sense from you the urgency to close that.
I'm not saying it's not urgent. What I'm saying is we need to make sure that we have sight of all the proposals. You know, I am having discussions about the environmental regulator at the quadrilaterals. We're discussing the UK governance body. I've offered my officials to work with the UK Government, because I do think we are ahead of the game. I don't think it's slightly ahead of the game; I think we're well ahead of the game. And certainly in terms of Scotland as well, I think we're ahead of the game. So, it's not that there's a lack of urgency. It's just about keeping on top of everything, making sure that we get the proposals at the appropriate time so that we can scrutinise those and decide on the best way forward for Wales.
Whilst I accept, Cabinet Secretary, that we're ahead of the game in terms of policy, I do share some concerns that have been expressed by Simon, and some that haven't, and one of the concerns that I have is the monitoring of the principles that we want delivered. We cannot discuss environmental concerns moving forward without also mentioning the concerns that are currently there, and that is the poisoning of the rivers in our area. So, we have all the principles that have informed people that they should not be carrying out these practices, but at the same time, we end up with a situation where we're in the European Court, I think, because they haven't been adhered to. So, I suppose my question is this: are you satisfied that we will have adequate people to enforce the regulations that we maintain, considering that we don't seem to have adequate control currently? And if that is the case—and it clearly isn't at the moment—what moves are you making to ensure that that happens?
It's very disappointing and extremely unfortunate that we have seen an increase in agricultural pollution of our rivers this year. We've had several incidents. Obviously, we had a very wet winter, a very snowy winter, and definitely—I looked at the numbers for this year compared with the same period last year and we definitely had an increase. It's only a very small part of the sector that unfortunately make it difficult for everybody. On your question around whether the enforcement is correct, it is. I want to see people prosecuted if they have polluted in the way that we've seen this year and certainly, I think, we do have adequate provision to do that. I want to work with the sector also. You'll be aware of the work that we're doing in relation to nitrate vulnerable zones at the moment. I really wanted to come to some sort of partnership agreement with the sector. It's a piece of work—. I went out to consultation, I've had other groups looking at it, and we're going to have to come forward with a policy in the very near future, because we have seen far too many incidents this year. In relation to the powers and the framework that we've got, I think that's correct, but I am concerned at the number of incidents that we've had this year.
Yes. First of all, can I just understand the picture on bovine TB now, from your perspective? A report was published a couple of days ago by the Animal and Plant Health Agency looking at three farms, I think, where the intensive work had been undertaken. I saw some headlines from that report that looked slightly misleading to me. So, could you just, for the record and for the committee, briefly tell us what that work has been doing and the scale and extent of that work?
I think you're right about it being misleading. I'm assuming you're talking about the financial aspect.
Yes, for five badgers. But we're talking a lot more than that, I assume.
We are talking about a lot more than that. I don't know if any of you heard Christianne this morning on Radio 4—
You weren't up that early. I will ask Christianne, obviously, to do the—. It's very technical. But you'll be aware that when I refreshed the TB eradication programme last year, we had a focus on those herds that were in chronic breakdown—so, those herds that have been in breakdown for over 18 months—and we would have a bespoke action plan, working with them. Now, that number fluctuates. It's between 60 and 70—because obviously some fall out and some come in—of those herds. Those are the herds that are costing us the most money in compensation, for instance. I think Christianne's got a copy of the report. The report focused on the three farms, as you said. The bespoke action plan is drawn up with the farmer, with their private vet and with us as Government, and the farmer has to agree to everything within that. So, part of that work is that we trap and test badgers if we believe that they are contributing to that chronic breakdown. I'm going to ask Christianne to say a bit more now.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. We published this report last Friday because we want to be completely transparent about what we're doing. Obviously, there is a lot of interest, particularly with people comparing what's happening in Wales and what's happening in England.
So, as part of the work on these prolonged herd breakdowns, persistent herd breakdowns—and the Cabinet Secretary is absolutely right; we have between 60 and 70 of those at any one time and that's about 10 per cent of the breakdowns that we have in Wales—we have, over the last 18 months, been working up a bespoke action plan. That looks at all risk factors. It doesn't just look at the question of wildlife, but it looks at management practices, purchasing practices, the health status of surrounding herds, what they do with the slurry—everything. As part of that, we've got to ask the question, 'Is there a reservoir of infection in the wildlife?' So, as part of this much bigger process, we focused on three farms last year, and that's what this report is about. There are other farms that technically would have qualified to have an examination of the wildlife, but either the initial sett survey work showed that there were no badgers on the farm or there was no particular evidence that we should be focusing on badgers at that point.
So, this is a start. We're also, obviously, trialling something that hasn't been done before. So, we see this as a pilot. These three farms were visited last year, there was an extensive amount of work, and I think the results are very interesting. The fact is that, on each of those farms, although we caught double figures in terms of numbers of badgers, the number that tested positive in the field was very small. It's really helpful to know that. We want to be proportionate with the work that we do. I know there are many people who look at the work that we do and are really concerned that we're doing some mass cull of badgers, so actually demonstrating the small number of animals that we have humanely killed, I think, really speaks for itself.
Whether this intervention, as part of a bigger programme, is going to deliver the benefit—and the benefit here would be clearing up these long-term herd breakdowns—we can't tell you that for some time. This is an initial phase of the programme. But I do think it's a bit simplistic to look at the total cost, divide it by five, and then saying that it's costing you however many thousand pounds per badger. We caught 37 badgers, so if you want to be really mathematical, you could divide that number by 37. But once again, I don't think that's helpful.
I'd also say that, in consultation with wildlife experts, we had to address the question of would this intervention result in perturbation and would it disturb the badger population. As a result of the advice that we received, we embarked, alongside this process, on a process called hair trapping. I think I've tried to explain that here before, but generally it's taking hair samples from the badgers that we've trapped, hair samples from the environment, set up badger traps, and then by DNA fingerprinting all those samples you can work out whether badgers have become more dispersed as a result of the intervention. So, we've been doing that work.
Now, more than half of the field costs that are presented in this report relate to that hair trapping work. If we can demonstrate through the pilot stages of this process that perturbation is indeed not a problem—and in fact, with the small number of badgers that we're finding that we're removing, it's likely that perturbation will not be a problem—then we can cut out that cost. We're also looking at how we can deliver this in a more efficient, effective way. Can the trap-side test do everything that we need it to do, or do we have to continue with the more extensive work in the lab? So, I do believe we'll drive the cost down, but we've got to look at that alongside the benefits.
Just one final thing: those three farms, in the last 10 years, have been paid, together, £3 million in compensation. And that's not the total cost of a breakdown. So, when you look at the cost and the potential benefit and the measured way in which we're trying to approach this, so that we don't do any more damage than is absolutely necessary to the badger population, then I think those headline figures are a little bit disappointing. I must admit I am a bit frustrated, and you can probably tell that from the way I'm answering your question.
I just want to ask a couple of specific questions on the report, and then a wider question. From my perspective, at least, humanely killing five infected badgers is not a cull. That's not what we're facing here. Whether it's the right policy or not needs to be tested out by precisely what you're doing. Just a couple of questions on the actual work, though. Reading the report, I couldn't see any mention, unless I missed it completely, of vaccination. I thought the idea was that those badgers that would be trapped and didn't show signs of TB would be immunised, but I couldn't see—. For example, there's no cost for immunisation there. So, are they being immunised? I did have another question, but if you could answer that one while I remember what the other question was.
The vaccine will be available from this year. As you know, the vaccine hasn't been available, but we are having it again from this year. So, that will happen from this year.
I just wanted to pick up on something, following on from Christianne. I think the thing is that this is really important research. Christianne is right; it was me who committed to having that published report, because a few people are questioning my wisdom, but I think it is really important to be transparent. And I also committed—
And if I may say so, this committee asked for this information to be published.
Yes, absolutely, and I think it's right. And it is disappointing that we had those headlines, and it's good that you—and I'm sure everybody—recognises that the headlines were a bit disingenuous. But I committed also, when we brought forward the refreshed TB eradication programme, that I would report annually. It became very clear quite quickly that I won't really be able to report until next spring because I need to do a calendar year. You know, the advice from Christianne is that I do that. And I didn't want a long gap between starting the new programme and the report next year—it would have been nearly two years, which I didn't want. So, that was the reasoning for publishing this report. But, as I say, from a vaccine point of view, the vaccine will be available from this year, and we will do that. I've met with them, but I know Christianne that you met with them either yesterday or this morning—I can't remember. The pilot project—
The Gower project—I'm meeting them straight after this.
Straight after this. So, I've met them about vaccination, because now it is available again I absolutely want to use it. So, Christianne will be doing a piece of work on that as well.
Okay. So, just for clarity, when do you expect to have that? Which is the calendar year—2018 would be the calendar year that you're going to use?
Yes. So, it's January to December this year, and I will report to the Assembly by April, certainly, at the latest.
So, as a committee, because we asked for a year to scrutinise you, that's what we would expect, even though some of us might have questions before then, of course.
The other aspect of this was, I think, the question of the actual field test. So, the field test identified TB, though the later postmortem tests were not so conclusive. I think one badger certainly came out with TB but not the others. Is there a better field test? Are we trialling something here that hasn't really been widely used? Is it the Northern Ireland model? Are there likely to be more effective tests going forward?
Well, we are always talking with groups that are developing different tests for the environment or for badgers or for cattle, indeed, but this test is the DPP laminar flow test, which I think some of you went to Ireland to have a look at. It's the same test. If there's a fault with it, it is its sensitivity. So, in other words, it may fail to identify every infected badger the first time we test them. That's why we wanted to learn more by taking samples back to the lab. So, it is exactly the same test. The actual details of its sensitivity and specificity are about to be published, so I can't share those with you, but it is the best test available to do quickly trap-side, because, obviously, you've got a wild animal anaesthetised; you can't leave it too long.
As you will have seen from the report, there were two other badgers where samples taken to the lab did then test positive. Those animals are microchipped. They're out there in the field. We are back out onto those farms this year; we've started that work already. So, should we catch one of those badgers, then we would humanely kill it because we've demonstrated that it's infected.
In terms of the postmortem examination results, again, I think we've had this discussion about cattle and postmortem examinations in the past, you don't always find a lesion that is pathognomonic of bovine TB, and you don't always manage to culture Mycobacterium bovis that causes TB. That doesn't mean the badger wasn't infected. This is just the same discussion we have with farmers and cattle. So, my bigger concern about the test that we're using is the two animals that tested negative in the field—
That's a bigger concern, but we have marked them. That's a bigger concern than the postmortem examination and culture results that didn't completely match with the test in the field.
Thank you for bringing this forward. You know my views on badger culls; I don't have to rehearse them. But I think for me there's an obvious question. You talked about farms that were continually struggling with TB infection on the farm. It seems to me from the evidence that you've presented that there is no conclusive evidence—there never has been anyway—that badgers are the cause of the infection. So, the question then has to be about the reservoir, and you did allude to the fact that some of your work in this area was much wider than just the badgers.
The other question I think—it's the elephant in the room, so I'll ask the question: if it is the case that farms are continually in breakdown, and if it is the case that three farms have cost £3 million—and I don't know if that's an even split—is it not time that those farms looked at doing something else?
Okay. Thank you. So, in terms of the reservoir of infection, I think what we're learning from these big complicated breakdowns is that there is no one factor that's driving the problem. It may be that there's a reservoir of infection, indeed, in some of the cattle that have had TB in the herd for a long time, and so they are not any longer reacting to the skin tests. So, the testing of the cattle is something that we're also scrutinising very carefully: are we using the best tests, are we using them in the most sensitive way? Then there's the question of the environment, and so these action plans are looking at the biosecurity on the farms, the cleansing and disinfection policy, cleaning out water troughs, what you do with the slurry—we're looking at all of that as well. Indeed, on some of the farms we've worked with, we've cleared up TB by doing exactly those things. However, we have some breakdowns where all of that work on its own is not delivering the TB-free status for that herd, and that's why we also have to consider the wildlife component. But we're looking at it in the round; we're really not just focusing in on one particular subject.
Now, you asked a second question—.
My second question was probably the most painful for anybody watching this that happens to be farming dairy at the moment in a specific area. If it is the case—and I don't know, but if it is the case—that we have a strip of land that is being used for dairy production that has been constantly struggling with TB, should they be dairy farming that land?
When Professor Bourne published the randomised badger culling trial report all those years ago, a farmer asked him exactly that question, and he suggested that there were some farms that shouldn't be farming. I took great issue with that. We have more work to do with these long-term breakdowns, so I don't think we can answer that yet, and I do think that we have to recognise the importance of tackling all sources of infection and working together to have an ambition to clear up those farms. I don't think we've got the evidence yet to support the notion that there is a farm in Wales where it is impossible to clear up infection. But this is a long-term process.
So, how long have we been doing it, and how long will it be before we end up in that position? Because I don't know if this 10-year framework—. We've had evidence where some land has been infected way beyond 10 years. So, how long are we going to keep investing public funds in destroying wildlife—and that's another issue in itself—because we won't face the reality that we can't actually clear it up because it keeps getting reinfected?
You'll be aware, Joyce, that I announced targets that I want to see Wales become officially TB free between 2036 and 2041. I just want to take the opportunity as well to say—obviously, I know your views, and I think you know my views as well around culls; and Simon Thomas referred to it—this is not a cull; absolutely not. I have always ruled out England-style culls, but the correspondence I'm getting around this, and particularly this report—. But, I still think it was the right thing to do: to publish this report. I think it's better for the badger population, the way that we are treating this now. If you've got a badger who is positive for TB, I think this is the best way for the badger population too. I think Christianne's explained the whole of the actions being taken. I think biosecurity is particularly an area that we've had focus on, and certainly, when I go to farms, I always ask to see the slurry pit, I always make sure that I'm asked to do the correct biosecurity—
But I think you're right: it's not one thing; it's several actions. The whole point of doing the refresh of the TB eradication programme was to do something differently. So, it is a pilot, but, to me, it's a very important piece of scientific research to help us go forward, because it does cost a huge amount of money. We've just heard Christianne say—and I don't know the split of that £3 million, but three farms, £3 million. Some of our herds have been in chronic breakdown for—I think there was one I looked at that was 15 years.
The year 2001 was the start of the longest breakdown.
So, 17 years; it was probably two years ago that I looked at it. So, 17 years is unacceptable, so we absolutely have to do something different, but it is a bit of a long-term process with these bespoke action plans.
Thank you, Chair. I think most of the queries that I had around the report have probably been answered. Forgive my ignorance on this, because obviously I've only recently come on to this committee. I wasn't here in the last Assembly when all of this would have been driven forward in the current action plan and what you're doing, and I'm absolutely behind the Welsh Government on this because I, too, don't favour badger culls. They've got as much right to be part of our wildlife as cattle have. But what I wanted to know, just for my benefit, really, was: this is obviously a pilot that you're running, as you've said, so how long do you intend to run this? And at what point will you be confident that you've received or gained from the pilot the evidence that you need to, once and for all, move away from saying that badgers are responsible for this, and so therefore badgers will be left alone?
So, the initial reaction was three years, but, as I say, I committed to reporting annually. So, I will report by April, the end of the calendar year. So, I suppose it depends on what results we see coming from that first year. That will, obviously, then influence what we do going forward, but we did say three years initially.
And this is just about the long-term herd breakdown; we're doing lots of other things as well.
I understand that. So, this testing that you're doing that's in this report, is this just badgers that have been tested or other wildlife as well?
In this pilot, just badgers. We do have evidence from other studies that other types of wildlife are less prone to becoming infected with TB, although deer would probably win second prize. And we're monitoring deer across all our problem areas as well, so we're not just focusing in on this one type of wildlife.
Can I just say to Dawn as well—obviously Dawn referred to the fact that she wasn't here previously—that there had been a vaccination programme, but then the vaccine became unavailable?
So, now, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, it's going to be available again this year. I would much prefer to be doing vaccination alongside that as well.
And is that your longer term objective, that that would be the way in which you would deal with the issue?
I would certainly prefer to do that. But equally, I recognise that we had to do something when the vaccination wasn't available.
Thank you, Chair. This is to the chief vet. You were pressed this morning on the radio about the accuracy of the field test. You didn't directly answer the question, but with us you've said that we will be getting some data published shortly. Is that a Welsh Government study or sponsored study, or is it an independent one?
It's an independent study.
I'm really sorry, I don't. I was shown the figures yesterday, but I can't answer that. But we can undertake to keep the committee up to date on that.
I realise that this is not under the Welsh Government's control, but it is unfortunate, given how important this part is, that we won't have the data. We'll have to, obviously, return to it.
Can I thank the Minister and her colleagues for coming along this morning? We ran out of time before we ran out of questions, so if you don't mind, we'll write to you with the three questions we haven't got to.
Thank you very much for coming in this morning. I found it very informative. I'm sure the committee have, and I hope you have found it non-stressful. [Laughter.] Thank you.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
And then we move on to—. Can I move a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for item 6? And can I suggest a break until quarter past?
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:04.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:04.