Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

03/12/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dai Lloyd AC Yn dirprwyo ar ran Leanne Wood
Substitute for Leanne Wood
Jack Sargeant AC
Janet Finch-Saunders AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Michelle Brown AC

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Ross Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:15.

The meeting began at 09:15.

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

Bore da. Welcome, everyone, to the meeting. Headsets are available for translation of Welsh to English. There is no need to turn off mobile phones, but please ensure that they are in silent mode. We do have apologies from Leanne Wood, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome Dai Lloyd AM to the meeting. And Neil McEvoy has tendered his apologies. 

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

We move to the first item, which is new petitions. And this is P-05-918, on page 46 in your pack, 'Improve disabled access to Treforest train station as a priority'. This petition was submitted by Katie Phillips, having collected 156 signatures. And they're calling on the National Assembly for Wales

'to urge the Welsh Government to prioritise upgrades to Treforest Railway Station to enable disabled students to access the University of South Wales sustainably and with dignity.'

An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Economy and Transport on 13 November, and is in your pack. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comments. 

Treforest railway station is on the Merthyr line and Rhondda line. It is, of course, owned by Network Rail, however transfer of ownership to the Welsh Government is currently being negotiated. The Minister’s letter states that Transport for Wales is currently developing plans for improving Treforest station, including an accessible foot bridge and level boarding for step-free access to trains, and the construction of that is expected to begin in September 2020.

The petitioner is happy to hear that improvements will be made, but she asks how long the construction will take and what steps will be taken in the short term to ensure that the existing station is compliant with the Equality Act 2010. So, how would you like to go forward with this?

A letter to the Minister confirming what the improvements are, the timescale and what's going to happen in the interim—along the lines of what the petitioner is asking for, I would have thought. 

Okay. So, a letter to the Minister. Thank you. 

The next one is P-05-919, on page 56 in your pack, 'Do not implement licensing for show dogs, cats and shown horses'. This petition was submitted by Our Dogs, a newspaper for exhibitors and breeders, having collected a total of 4,241 signatures.

Welcome, Jack Sargeant, to the meeting. 

'The Welsh Government is currently consulting on new Regulations regarding Animal Exhibits which includes a proposal that anyone exhibiting (showing) a dog or cat (or other pet species) in Wales will need to be licensed and inspected. Thousands of dogs and cats and horses come to Wales every year to be shown so such a licensing scheme is not only impractical and unnecessary it will actually have an impact upon Wales' economy. Dogs (registered with the Kennel Club) cats (registered with the governing Council of the Cat Fancy) or horses shown in hand and under saddle should be exempt from registration. We ask that the Welsh Government to "add the keeping of dogs, cats and horses engaged in competitive events" to Regulation 3(4) which lists a number of exempted activities that are proposed should not be subject to the proposed licensing scheme.'

So, the background to this is that an initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 23 October. A research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments. The Welsh Government has consulted on draft regulations to provide a licensing scheme for all animal exhibits based in and visiting Wales that meet a given criteria. The purpose of these is described as helping to ensure welfare standards are met at their home base, in transport and during exhibition. Licences would last for three years and a local authority must appoint suitably qualified inspectors to ensure licence conditions are being met.

The Minister is aware of the campaign generated by the Kennel Club and publicised by Our Dogs, which has given the impression that people who show their dogs in Wales or further afield will need to be licensed under the proposed licensing scheme. That is not the case. The Minister states that the wording of the regulations and guidance on these points will be reviewed following the consultation, which closed on 21 November. And the petitioners argue that this is not what the regulations currently state.

09:20

It's good news that the Government doesn't intend this licensing to apply to dog shows and cat and horse shows. It's an issue that a lot of people have raised with me, but there's obviously some misunderstanding. So, I would prefer to keep this petition open and wait for the draft legislation and the licensing scheme to be actually finalised by the Government, and then we can go back to the petitioner and ask them for their comments on the final proposed licensing scheme. 

Yes. I think there needs to be some clarity on what the regulations actually say, doesn't there? If the Minister is saying one thing but people out there believe another, we at least need some clarity on the matter. So, I would support—. 

Okay. 

P-05-920, page 65 in your pack: School Budgeting for ALN. This petition was submitted by Iwan Williams having collected 106 signatures, calling

'on the National Assembly for Wales to urge Welsh Government to allocate an additional budget for schools across Wales, to be able to provide the additional learning needed for pupils with additional learning needs (ALN) and achieve the objectives of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018.

Schools lack resources for supporting pupils with additional learning needs to ensure they achieve their potential.'

An initial response to this petition from the Minister for Education was received on 25 October. A research brief has been provided. And the petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?

The points, really, highlight that funding to support pupils with ALN is not ring fenced and is contained within general funding for schools. Within the ALN definition, the needs of individual pupils vary considerably from relatively minor additional support in the classroom, to specialist provision in a special school or a residential setting. The Minister’s response emphasises that the approach to funding is a key part of the Welsh Government’s policy position that local authorities are the ones best placed to deliver these services, and to decide how to allocate their resources. 

Is it worth writing to the petitioner again, reinforcing the Minister's response, and possibly getting a response from the petitioner for further consideration? 

Could we ask the Welsh Local Government Association to see if they know what the approach is of local authorities to allocating funding? There's an obvious danger in not being ring fenced that it would fall into the general pot and be spent on other things. I'm not criticising local authorities for doing that, but they have some very, very difficult decisions to make. I think it might be worth going back to local authorities and actually getting a feel for how they're allocating funding relating to ALN. 

P-05-923: 'Are you listening to us? Home Education Rights and Respect!' We have two on home education rights. There's this one and the next one: 'Are you listening to us? Home Education Rights and Respect!', page 75 for this one. This petition was submitted by Mountain Movers Education Charity having collected 512 signatures. And the text of the petition reads: 

'The draft statutory guidance on home education is not fit for purpose. It sets to continue the hostilities between local authorities & home educators both through the language used in the document & the aims it sets to empower LAs to achieve. There is a failure to provide any credible support to home educators. There is a failure to protect, respect & value home educators. This document does not recognise or support them in any credible or effective means.'

So, we received a response to the petition from the Minister for Education on 29 October. The usual research brief has been provided. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed, but have not provided further comments. Now, as there is the same subject matter in the next petition, you may want to consider whether it's worth grouping these. It's entirely up to you, as Members. 

09:25

Yes. Okay. And, then, the next—. Shall I move straight forward to the next petition, or do you want—?

Yes. I think, in that circumstance, if the committee wants to group them for consideration in the future, then the committee can move on to agree an action on both petitions together. 

Okay. And the next one then, on page 79 in your packs, P-05-922, 'Withdraw the proposed home education guidance' This petition was submitted by Wendy Charles-Warner, having collected 5,447 signatures. And they're calling

'upon the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to withdraw the proposed guidance for home education. 

The Welsh Assembly Government has issued prospective guidance for home education. This mandates that home educating parents must meet with their local authority and allow their children to be interviewed by the local authority. We have received specialist legal advice which claims that the guidance is unlawful, and petitioners ask that the guidance be withdrawn to be reconsidered in light of that advice.'

I think I will declare an interest as sitting on the Children, Young People and Education Committee as well, because that issue is raised there. 

So, background. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Education on 28 October. A research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comment. The petitioner has provided a legal opinion, which they say states that the guidance could be illegal in its current form, or lead to illegal actions being taken by local authorities. This argues that the guidance oversteps the proper scope of statutory guidance, in moving beyond being a guide to the law, and that it creates new duties and obligations; that it is ambiguous in some respects, and that it gets the law wrong in some places. They argue that requiring home-educating families and their children to submit to interviews with local authority officers would be illegal and unnecessarily stigmatising. They also believe that failure to attend a meeting could lead to families being issued with a school attendance order, and, ultimately, prosecution if they do not comply. They also argue that the guidance should be withdrawn or completely redrafted in light of the legal concerns. 

So, how would you—?

It's a serious issue when we're getting legal opinions about guidance that is highlighting that it may lead to unlawful action on the part of local authorities. I think we need to reassure ourselves that the Welsh Government are giving this opinion sufficient weight. So, perhaps a letter back to the Minister to ask for her assurances that they will be obtaining their own legal advice on this, and giving that opinion proper weight. 

I'd agree with that. It is a serious issue. We've got 5,000 signatures, but I wouldn't want to be locked up in a debate in Plenary time just on legal opinions. I think it's worth more than that. So, I think a letter back to understand where we are before we go into a full debate, if that's the necessary step. So, I think that a letter back is definitely the right way forward. 

Yes, and making the case, as in the brief here, as regards the concerns, the legal concerns. There must be a rebuttal somewhere from the education department here. If there is one, well, we'd like to know what it is. So, that's a letter to the Minister for Education.  

09:30

Okay. Yes, that's fine, and I think the Government's consultation closed towards the end of October, from memory. So, there should have been some time that has lapsed since then for the Government to have considered the responses that they've received.  

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

Okay. So, we now move on to updates to previous petitions. Now, this one, P-04-522, 'Asbestos in Schools', page 94, was actually submitted by Cenric Clement-Evans and was first
considered in December 2013, having collected 448 signatures and, at the time, they called on the National Assembly for Wales, 

'to urge the Welsh Government to put measures in place to ensure that parents and guardians of children across Wales can easily access information about the presence and management of asbestos in all school buildings.'

Now, we last considered considered this petition on 11 June and, as you're aware now, this petition has been with us for six years. We agreed to await the publication of information arising from the school condition survey and new asbestos management in schools guidance, and also to offer the petitioner an opportunity to respond in more detail before considering whether we wish to take any further action on the petition.

The Welsh Government published its revised asbestos management in schools guidance in August 2019 and the petitioner has actually provided further comment. The petitioner has responded positively to the new Welsh Government guidance. However, he still highlights a concern over the absence of a review date and the lack of an asbestos in schools steering group in Wales in relation to information arising from the school condition survey, particularly publication of a list of schools with asbestos present—the primary purpose of the petition.

The petitioner asks for an update on decisions taken by the Minister. In May, the Minister agreed to publish high-level information about asbestos management in schools as soon as possible. The petitioner also refers to a number of other actions and issues that had been taken forward by the cross-party group on asbestos in relation to asbestos management plans for public buildings in Wales more generally.

How would you like to go forward with this one? 

Let's get an update. It's been there for a long, long time. A serious issue and it's good to see that the petitioner in general is engaged all the way through. I think that's a very positive step from their side of things. So, let's go back, let's get an update and see where we are following that. 

And do we know—? Can we maybe obtain more information from the cross-party group on what they're doing? 

Yes, I think the petitioner has provided us with some further documentation that talks about—. The cross-party group very recently wrote to a series of Ministers and the Government, making some points that were similar to those raised by the petition, but some wider points about asbestos management and the status of this guidance. So, it may be the case that the cross-party group doing work on that issue means that the Petitions Committee would be duplicating at this point to be opening up the wider issue.

But the petition specifically concerns the issue of publication of details of schools with asbestos on their premises, and we know from previous correspondence that the Welsh Government has been reluctant to do that—that there was this commitment made by the Minister in May that some high-level information would be published, and it's not clear, I think, to the petitioner at this stage as to where the Welsh Government is with that. 

Okay, thank you. 

So, moving forward, we're going to group this one with the next one, 'Allow Children in Wales to Have a Family Holiday During Term Time'. It's on page 101 in your pack. This was submitted by Bethany Walpole and was first considered in July 2014, having collected 1,008 signatures. They're calling on the National Assembly for Wales, 

'to urge the Welsh Government to review the guidance to Local Authorities on head teachers being able to authorise absence for family holidays during term time. Many families from poor backgrounds can only afford to go on holiday during term time, as holidays are about 60% more expensive during the holiday period. Also, many families where parents work are unable to take time off during the school holidays. Holidays can be extremely educational, giving the children awareness of the world in which we live.'

And the next one is, 'Ensure schools exercise their statutory powers under regulation 7 of The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010 without interference or bias.' This petition was first submitted by Pembrokeshire Parents Want a Say and was first considered in December 2014, having collected 812 signatures. And they're asking the National Assembly for Wales,

'to ensure that schools are free to exercise their statutory powers under regulation 7 of The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010 without interference from bodies such as regional educational consortia and local authorities and without threat of penalisation through school inspection, performance judgement and banding processes.'

So, we last considered both petitions on 15 January this year and agreed to request information from the evaluation of fixed-penalty notices for non-attendance, including about the number of fines issued and the sums of money involved. Also, it was agreed at that time to keep a watching brief on the issue and to consider the petition again when the revised school attendance framework was published for consultation later in 2019. The Welsh Government had previously indicated an intention to consult on the revised school attendance framework in autumn 2019. However, this has not yet been produced. The petitioner for the P-04-576 petition—that's the first one—has provided further comment.

How would you like to go forward?

09:35

I think by writing to the Minister for Education for an update on the school attendance policy, because, obviously, it can vary and it's a perpetual source of discontent. I was previously a chair of governors of a primary school, and school attendance seemed to be one of those things that were counted in the league table. So, we need to be clear about that, and if that's official policy, fine. If it's not, fine. But we need to know, don't we? So, it's an update on authorised or unauthorised attendances—what constitutes that? And to have a clear definition across the board, because the point is well made that holidays can be educational, but there needs to be consistent application across the board, otherwise you find your school will have been downgraded in the school league tables because of the non-attendance rates.

I'd fully agree with Dai there, and also, if there is to be a public consultation, I would like to wait until that, including headteachers and the likes to be involved in that, before taking this any further forward. I'd agree with Da, fully, but, if there is to be a public consultation, I think we need to hear the views of the public before taking any further steps as a committee.

I'd like to hear from the Minister how much, if any, discretion headteachers have over whether an absence from school is reported as an unauthorised absence, whether they have discretion to waive any penalty or any action being taken. I appreciate there's a threshold for absence, but I'd like clarity on whether headteachers do actually have any discretion or whether it is up to a local authority.

As the Chair has noted, these petitions have quite a long-standing history, and that issue about discretion of headteachers is very much at the heart of the back-and-forth this committee has had with the various Ministers over the time period. So, my understanding is that the Government's position on this issue, which might be clarified by the school attendance review, which is why the committee has been awaiting it, is that headteachers are meant to have discretion, but the petitioners have argued over the years and provided documentation to the committee indicating that, in some areas, either local authorities or regional consortia of local authorities have not given the full discretion to headteachers. For example, they refer to forms where the code for authorised absence for school holidays is removed, so headteachers can't select that option. The Government previously—this is going back several years now—had written, after this committee's investigation, to local authorities to stress that headteachers should be provided with that discretion. We had indications that that had moved the situation towards the direction the petitioners wanted, but clearly their case is that it's not universal. But I think that's all tied up with what the Government does in relation to the school attendance policy moving forward and how strong it is on whether the discretion lies at the school level or the local authority level or is a national policy. 

09:40

I think we could include that point in the main letter. I think it goes back to Dai's point of saying if this is going to be the way forward, then it needs to be across Wales, for the likes of this group, but in simple terms for families and all headteachers at schools as well. It's got to be a rule. At the moment it's one rule for one and another for another. That's not the way forward. It needs to be across the board, I think, so perhaps we could do that in the reply back to the Minister. 

And then the next one, P-05-807, on page 106 in your pack, 'Review and change the guidance for attendance awards in Welsh schools'. This was submitted by Laura Charles-Price and was first considered in April 2018, having collected 123 signatures. They're calling

'on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to review any guidance it issues on school attendance awards in Wales.'

We last considered this petition on 11 December 2018, agreeing to keep a watching brief on the petition pending the publication of the revised school attendance framework next year, before deciding whether to take any further actions on the petition. As discussed in relation to the previous petitions, the Government had previously indicated its intention to issue a consultation on a revised school attendance framework in autumn 2019, but this has not yet been published. The petitioner has provided further comment. 

Well, I've got sympathy, I've got to say, with children who've got chronic illness and have to miss school for hospital appointments and the like, and obviously they are also ill more often. So, I think, being as we're writing to the Minister anyway as regards school attendance policy, as an addendum, the definition of attending school could in some way be ameliorated to incorporate the issues that children with chronic illness have—they have to go to hospital out-patient appointments so don't mark them as being absent then, type of thing. There's probably a more subtle way of wording it than that, but that should be the underlying point. Either that or do away with the awards completely. 

I think we can definitely include that in the initial letter. Again, I think we all agree. 

Yes. Okay, thank you. So, 3.5 is P-05-754, 'Lack of support for children with disabilities at crisis'. This petition was submitted by Rebecca Weale and was first considered in June 2017, having collected 200 signatures. She's trying to highlight the need for the Cwm Taf children's crisis team to recognise there is a vital need for children with disabilities to be supported through crisis and have the right to be treated as any other child would. We last considered this on 9 July, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the response received from the Minister for Health and Social Services before considering whether to take further action on the petition. The committee also agreed to ask the petitioner whether her planned meeting with Cwm Taf University Health Board has taken place. And the petitioner has also provided further comment.

09:45

Well, that meeting needs to take place, doesn't it, really? So, if we write to Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, kindly asking them what's going on—.

Yes. Because, again, this was sent to us in 2017, so it's surprising, really, that that hasn't taken place.

I'd agree with that. If the health board have agreed to having a meeting, it doesn't take over a year to hold a meeting.

Okay.

P-05-846 'Save our hospital at Prince Philip Llanelli'. This petition was submitted by Sosppan, and was first considered in November 2018, having collected 12,745 signatures. And, of course, the background is, following an evidence session with the petitioners in February, the committee last considered the petition on 7 May, agreeing to ask the petitioners (1) whether they would prefer the committee to keep a watching brief on any changes affecting Prince Philip Hospital and review the petition towards the end of the year, or close the petition at this point to enable a future petition should the situation change. The petitioners requested that the petition be kept open and reviewed in six months' time. As this time has now elapsed, the petitioners have provided further comment. There are some options that you might want to take, going forward.

I'd better say at the start that my daughter-in-law is a doctor in Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli at this moment.

In my view—I mean, this is nearly 13,000 people who have signed this. You know, Chair, I'm one for making sure we get petitions closed and do the right thing with them, but, for this type of thing, I think this is—perhaps we should keep this open, just to see where we go.

And what actions—what do you want to take forward, as part of keeping the petition open?

I would follow the request of the petition itself. I'd hold the petition, and, going forward, see what developments are being made. I don't think it's the appropriate time to close this; there are 13,000 people, we've got a request from the petition itself to keep it open for a further—

Sorry, that—. It should say 'six months', Chair, sorry.

Six months is—. We've had some petitions since 2014—I think we can hold this for another six months.

On the back of that, it would be worth knowing from Hywel Dda University Health Board what their plans are, really, vis-à-vis Prince Philip Hospital, so that we can remove doubt, or whatever.

Okay.

P-05-849 'All men in Wales should have access through the NHS to the best possible diagnostic tests for prostate cancer'. This was submitted by Stuart Davies, and was first considered in December 2018, having collected 6,345 signatures. Now, we had a Plenary debate on this, in February 2019. We last considered this on 17 September, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Health and Social Services, to ask for an update on the implementation of the new National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline for prostate cancer, to outline the concerns raised by Prostate Cancer UK and the petitioner, and ask for further consideration to be given to how men living in areas of Wales where mpMRI scanning is not yet available can be then given access to these scans as an interim measure, for example, through other health boards or the private sector, and to write to other cancer charities in Wales to seek their views to the issues raised, including the plans for implementation of mpMRI scanning. Responses have been received from the Minister, Cancer Research Wales, Macmillan Cancer Support, prostate cancer Wales and Orchid cancer appeal. The petitioner has provided further comment. You'll see all the feedback that we've had in your pack. How do you want to go forward with this one?

09:50

Well, things are changing for the better. We're not there yet, though. Do we know if the petitioner is happy with the rate of change of events? Because, if he is, then we could consider closing the petition.

I think the petitioner and Prostate Cancer UK, who have been supporting him, I understand, were very pleased to see NICE change the guidelines. The issue they're pushing for is this issue of interim access. Some health boards have this process in place already, some are developing it; the Minister says he expects all to come in line before the end of the financial year, which is now four months away, or three months away. I think the petitioner's issue is men who need access to this scan in the meantime in health boards where that's not yet available, and the committee had a discussion last time out about whether that should be other NHS hospitals or at private hospitals. The Government has not moved on the issue of interim access and it's saying that health boards are focusing their efforts on bringing enough staff and equipment in. So, I think the petitioner is happy with the direction of travel—

Is happy with the direction of travel, but believes that all men should have access immediately, because the guideline has changed. But, from the committee's investigations, that doesn't appear likely in the time period.

It might be worth then writing to the Minister of health to say, 'We welcome, obviously, the expectation that by March 2020 everybody has access, but can you confirm what interim arrangements are in place in the meantime?', and to keep the petition open until we have a reply to that letter. Does that seem like a way forward?

Okay.

Moving on, P-05-854, 'Make Learning Disability training mandatory for hospital staff'. This petition was submitted by the Paul Ridd Foundation and was first considered in January 2019, having collected 5,654. Now, we last considered this on 9 July this year, agreeing to request time for the petition to be debated in Plenary, given that it received more than 5,000 signatures. We had that debate—it was a good debate, I felt, with Members from all parties participating. That was on 6 November. Responding to the debate, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services announced plans for all staff to receive basic training, with more specific training for those that have more intensive contact. The petitioners have provided further comment.

How would you like to take this forward? We did have some very positive comments by the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services.

I think there's a commitment made by the Deputy Minister, who clearly supports this. I don't think we need—. As a committee, I don't think we need to take this any further. I think the petition has run its course and done a very good job itself. I think there's commitment on the floor of the Chamber from the Deputy Minister—I think we can close this and let the Government take their role in this and implement it and take the necessary steps to implement this. I think the petition has done a fantastic job in getting this done.

Yes. It highlights the strength of the petitions system here, in that individuals have an issue—

They have an issue, they get the signatures, it's debated on the floor, and things change as a result. So, that's why we have this system. So, congratulate the petitioners for their work and close the petition, I would say.

09:55

Okay, thank you.

P-05-905, 'Call for an Independent judicial Inquiry into the reorganisation of services within Cwm Taf Health Board'. This petition was submitted by Mark Adams and Robert Bevan and first considered on 5 November, having collected 387 signatures. When the committee considered the petition for the first time, it agreed to await the views of the petitioners on the response received from the Minister for Health and Social Services. The petitioners have now provided us with further comment.

I think that we could do both possible actions. I suppose I should say, as Chair of the health committee, that the health committee is scrutinising the various reviews going on into performance at Cwm Taf Morgannwg health authority as well. But these are—. And I have been known previously, as has Helen Mary Jones, to call for an independent inquiry into Cwm Taf as well. But I think the two possible actions here, about the Minister not responding to the earlier point—. I think that we could write to the Minister again, asking for some clarity on that point. Also, we could also do with writing to Cwm Taf directly, asking for their response to this petition, and what they are doing about it. 

Okay.

So, our next petition is on local government: P-05-723, 'Establish Proportional Representation Voting System for Welsh Local Council Elections'. This petition was submitted by Mohammed Sarul Islam, and was first considered in January 2017, having collected 202 signatures. We last considered this in 2017 and, at the request of the petitioner, agreed to defer consideration of the petition until after the passage of the Wales Bill and the receipt of detailed views from the petitioner. No further views have since been received. On 18 November, the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill was introduced by the Welsh Government, including relevant provision. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward?

Well, the Bill is going through. It's going on the floor of the Chamber. I think that the scrutiny of the Chamber can do a lot more than the committee at this time. I think that it's got a lot more voice and opinion from various sides of the Chamber. I think that our job here at the present time is probably done and that we should probably close this petition.

Okay. 

P-05-800, 'Urgent Appeal for a Welsh Veterans Commissioner for the Health & Wellbeing of Wounded, Injured, Sick and Homeless veterans'. This petition was submitted by Nicola Hester and was first considered in February 2018, having collected 50 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 19 June 2018, and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services to ask whether there is a way to facilitate a meeting between the petitioner and the armed forces expert group. Subsequently, Welsh Government officials responded to offer to facilitate a meeting with the petitioner in relation to the work of the armed forces expert group. The petitioner was asked to provide an update to the committee following this. The clerking team has sought to contact the petitioner on a number of occasions but no further update or information has been received back.

It's difficult if the petitioner isn't responding. It was a nice offer of the Welsh Government officials to facilitate a meeting, but it takes two to tango. So, I'm not sure how far we can really go with it now. 

Just out of interest, when was the last time we contacted the petitioner?

So, we have tried a number of times, including in the build-up to this meeting, to receive an update on that. I should say that we don't know for certain that that meeting with Government officials didn't take place. We know—. It's slightly different to the Cwm Taf example we were considering earlier in the meeting. We know that officials were in touch with the petitioner to try and facilitate that, but we have tried on a number of occasions but not been able to receive an update post meeting, and in these circumstances the committee has traditionally considered there's little else it can do.

10:00

I think, with all of the foregoing, then, I would agree that we close the petition.

Okay. P-05-843, 'More Third party rights in planning appeals', on page 128 in your pack. This was submitted by Emma Eynon and was first considered in October 2018, having collected 59 signatures. So, the committee last considered the petition on 25 June as part of an evidence session with the Minister for Housing and Local Government. The committee agreed to write to the Minister to request further information in relation to the potential for appeals where a planning application has been approved contrary to the contents of a local development plan, how decisions of planning inspectors can be challenged, and processes for monitoring the performance of planning inspectors. Now, a response was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 11 July. The petitioner subsequently requested that further consideration of the petition be postponed to enable her to provide a more detailed response. A joint response has now been received in relation to this and the following petition. 

Can I say at the start that I know Emma Eynon, so I cannot take part in this discussion, really?

It's difficult, really. The Government has rejected this petition. As a committee, where do we take this forward? Perhaps this is one for individual Members on the floor of the Chamber who have an interest in this and constituents who have an interest in this. I'm not sure how the committee can take this forward given the fact we've put it through the process of the committee and the Government's rejected it. Perhaps this is a campaign for individual Members to take forward in a separate way. I think this has run its course, if you like.

I don't think there's much we can do in the face of point-blank refusal by the Welsh Government. It's a political issue now. 

Okay. P-05-845, 'End Conflict of Interest in Local Authority Constitution'. Again, this petition was—. Have I done this? No. It's a separate one, isn't it? This was submitted by, again, Emma Eynon, and was first considered in October 2018, having collected 56 signatures. We last considered this on 25 June as part of an evidence session with the Minister for Housing and Local Government. The committee agreeing to write back to the petitioner to seek their response to the evidence heard and to indicate the committee's view that there does not appear to be much else that could be achieved at this time, unless the petitioner has any additional information to share. The petitioner subsequently requested that further consideration of the petition be postponed to enable her to provide a detailed response. A joint response has now been received in relation to this and the previous petition.

How would you like to take this one forward?

Again, the same restrictions apply because I've had this conversation with Emma Eynon and alleged local authority planning officials doing consultancy work in their own time on planning matters. So, I'll leave it there. 

Again, really, the evidence seems to not really support—. At the moment, it doesn't seem to support the petition in full. So, I'm not sure what we can do as a committee. In such time as where evidence comes to light, perhaps this could be raised again, but at the present time I think we should close the petition because we can't really take it further forward.

It does say here that, between 2015 and 2017, they received eight complaints about a possible conflict of interest, and three investigations identified breaches of the code. For context, though, the Royal Town Planning Institute has 25,000 members in the UK.

Michelle, is there a proposal going forward?

10:05

The only thing I can think of to do with this petition, apart from agree with earlier comments, is to investigate how many—. We've got a Welsh Government who don't think that there's a conflict of interest there. They don't admit to any possibility of any conflict of interest. They point to restrictive covenants in the employment contracts, but to what extent are those being enforced? I don't think there's a great deal we can do with it, except maybe to go back and ask for information about the enforcement of restrictive covenants, on which I'm guessing the local authority would just come back and say, 'Well, it's confidential information.'

The committee had a session on planning with the planning Minister earlier this year, raising a number of different petition issues, including this one. The Minister, at that session, was fairly definitive, I think, in the Government's position that this is an issue covered by local authority codes and that there are already sufficient safeguards in place—for example, that planning officers would not be able to do that, or it would be a conflict if they were to do private work within their own local authority area, but that the codes do allow them to do that in neighbouring authorities or authorities further afield. But I think, similarly to the previous petition, again, successive Government Ministers on this have not given much cause for hope, I think, from the petitioner's perspective. 

Okay. P-05-901, 'Ban the Sale of Real Fur in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Cardiff Animal Rights and was first considered in October 2019, having collected 3,098 signatures:

'Animals endure extreme pain and suffering, whether they are bred on fur farms or trapped in the wild. The fur industry is totally unethical',

and they want to call on the National Assembly for Wales

'to urge the Welsh Government to ban the sale and import of real animal fur.'

We first considered this on 1 October, agreeing to await the views of the petitioners on the response received from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs before considering further action on the petition. The petitioners have now provided further comments. Previously, the committee has also received evidence from the British Fur Trade Association. 

I think that we should put this on the back burner until the post-Brexit situation is resolved. As has been pointed out by the Minister, it's a very complicated issue. Some things are devolved and she can do it right now, but on the other hand there are other things that aren't devolved and are very much subject to future negotiations with the EU and other parties. I have absolute sympathy with the petition. I totally agree—. I have to agree with the petition that real fur should never be used. It's a cruel and inhumane practice, but, from a practical point of view, I think we need to put this on the back burner until Brexit is resolved and then we can take it from there. 

Okay. I suppose the only point that might be worth raising in relation to that is the timescale that might be therefore involved before the committee would come back to the petition. This is as much, I guess, about a future relationship with the European Union in terms of trade as it is about about the terms of an exit. So, we're looking at a period of 18 months or so remaining in this Assembly. So, I think, whilst the committee could certainly hold the petition, it would need to do so in the knowledge that it could be difficult to bring this petition back to the committee within the fifth Assembly. 

10:10

To be fair, it's not been open that long. It was only first considered in October this year, a month ago. I think it's a little bit early to be closing a petition when we've got other petitions on our books that have been hanging around for years.  

Sure. Okay. So, we need to set a timescale, if you like. 

Okay. The next one, P-05-903, 'Filming and Recording of Council Meetings'. This petition was submitted by councillor Russell Spencer-Downe and was first considered in October 2019, having collected 58 signatures. So, they're calling upon

'the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to follow the law in England that enshrines in law the right of residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings to ensure openness and transparency.'

The committee considered the petition for the first time on 1 October and agreed to write back to the Minister for Housing and Local Government to seek her response to the proposal that there should be a right for members of the public and the press to record and report on council meetings, including those held by town and community councils. A response was received from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 11 November. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided further comment.

How would you like to take this forward? 


 

Well, it depends on the definition of 'openness' as to council meetings, doesn't it? Does that automatically include video recording and blogging, and live, or does it just mean being in attendance in the public gallery, or whatever? I don't have a problem with filming; everything here is filmed and stuff, so—. Presumably, the Government Minister is against this or is just leaving it up to local authorities. Is that what it is saying here? 

The suggestion appears to be leaving it to the discretion of—. Local authorities have slightly different obligations, I think, or at least different Standing Orders that they run. The petitioner seems to be particularly concerned with town and community councils, which have not been provided with funding in the same way as local authorities have by Welsh Government to film things, and so the argument being that members of the public should be able to film themselves. The two responses the committee has had from the Minister to date indicate that the Government sees it as a local issue, but with the general proviso that meetings should be open unless there's a reason for them not to be. 

I agree with Dai, really. I fully agree with openness and transparency. But, again, we've just spoken about funding. In general, perhaps town and community councils should focus their funding more on locally based services than on expenditure on actual filming equipment, et cetera. My local community council is open to the public, and I know various journalists go there and report the issues raised. So, I think there are ways and means of this information getting out. I don't necessarily think at this time we should pursue this more. I think more can be done locally to support people than filming those meetings.  

It concerns me, the inconsistency. Everything in this place is recorded, minutes are taken, there's a written Record of Proceedings. Proceedings are all videoed; this meeting's being videoed. People are completely free to tweet and blog, and it's called 'transparency'. That's what we're here for. If the public can't see how we're actually operating in the Assembly, then it takes something away from them. I don't see that the principle is any different with a town and community council. I'd like to ask the Minister whether she intends to give any guidance to town and community councils as to what, actually, 'open and transparent' means. And I'd like to ask her whether she would consider giving guidance on town and community councils actually allowing the recording of proceedings, and if they're not up for that, why. 

10:15

Yes. Okay. P-05-775—'Put an end to the Cross Border and Sub-contracting Taxi Licensing loophole.' This petition was submitted by Taxi Drivers of Cardiff, and was first considered in November 2017, having collected 390 signatures. And, then, it's grouped together with this one: P-05-835—'Allow Free Movement of Taxi Drivers to Carry Out Private Hire Work Anywhere in Wales'; page 152 in your packs. This petition was submitted by Taxi Without Borders and was first considered in October 2018, having collected 136 signatures. The committee last considered both petitions on 25 June, when it agreed to await the Welsh Government's report following the White Paper on improving public transport, before considering whether to take further action on the petitions. The Minister for Economy and Transport published a statement on 24 July to provide an update on the Public Transport (Wales) Bill. The petitioners were informed that the petition would be discussed, but have not provided further comment.

And the next one—P-05-836 'Gender Pay Gap Reporting'. This petition was submitted by Estelle Hart, and was first considered in October 2019, having collected 56 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 11 June. Hang on, this doesn't make sense—sorry. So, if it came in in—

Sorry, it's October 2018. 

Just keeping us on our toes. [Laughter.]

So, the petition was last considered on 11 June, and it was agreed to await further views from the petitioner on the information provided by the Welsh Government before considering whether to take further action on the petition. The clerking team sought a further response from the petitioner on several occasions, but no response has been received.

I would agree that we've gone as far as we can and we close the petition.

Okay. P-05-873—'Free Welsh Lessons for the People of Wales'. This petition was submitted by Sheryl Callard. It was first considered in May 2019, having collected 95 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 15 October, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the response from the Minister for the Welsh language before considering whether to take further action on the petition. A response was received from the petitioner on 22 November. What would you like to do with this one?

Well, I suppose we could write to the Minister again, reiterating the view of the petitioner, although I'm relaxed—.

I'm happy to support. I'm relaxed with it as well. I'm happy to support that. The Government have a commitment to do this before—

10:20

I don't see any harm in writing back to the Minister to ask for the Minister's views on the petitioner's request that people born in Wales be provided with free lessons. I'd also be interested to understand why the petitioner has limited their suggestion to just people born in Wales. It would be nice for everyone to have the opportunity to, at least, try to learn Welsh. Some of us are very, very terribly bad at learning languages, but it would be nice. So, I'd like to know what the petitioner's logic is behind that suggestion, but I'd also like to know what the Minister's opinion is of it.

Okay. And then, P-05-883—'National Welsh History Week'. This petition was submitted by Phil Rowe, and was first considered in June 2019, having collected 86 signatures. We considered this on 11 June, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the response provided by the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism before considering any further action on the petition. A response from the petitioner has now been received.

I rather like the idea of a national Welsh history week—a letter to the Minister along those sort of lines. 

I'd support that. History is very important and I'd urge Members to go over to the Pierhead at 12 o'clock this afternoon to see the history of Tiger bay.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod ac eitem 1 o'r cyfarfod ar 7 Ionawr yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and for item 1 of the meeting on 7 January 2020 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4 on the agenda: motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for the following business. So, I propose that we meet in private for item 5 of today's meeting and for item 1 of the meeting on Tuesday, 7 January 2020. Are Members content?

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:22. 

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:22. 

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru