Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd
Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd26/09/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Jenny Rathbone AC|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Llyr Gruffydd AC|
|Mike Hedges AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Neil Hamilton AC|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Chris Draper||Sefydliad Born Free|
|Born Free Foundation|
|Syr David Henshaw||Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Natural Resources Wales|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Katie Wyatt||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
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.
Bore da. Good morning.
Can I welcome to the committee Dr Carys Bennett, senior corporate liaison, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Dr Ros Clubb, senior scientific manager, the RSPCA, and Dr Chris Draper, head of animal welfare and captivity, Born Free Foundation? Thank you very much for coming along. If you're okay, can we start with some questions? I'll go first. Can you explain whether, and if so, why, you consider there's a case to introduce a ban on using wild animals in travelling circuses on animal welfare grounds? Who wants to go first?
I'm happy to go first. The RSPCA believes that the needs of wild animals can't be met in travelling circuses. Some wild animals have instinctive needs and the need to express those natural behaviours and be free of stressful environments. The travelling nature of circuses and the need to provide small portable enclosures that can be transported from place to place, and the need to set up in fields and car parks and not have the facilities available to them, as well as being subjected to known stressful circumstances like loading, unloading, transported from place to place, being exposed to crowds of noisy people—all of those aren't conducive to good animal welfare. And we think there's sufficient evidence to show that those needs can't be met in a travelling circus.
There's little I can add to what Ros has said already. It's inherent in the very nature of circuses the fact they move from place to place, animals living in what is often the primary accommodation 24/7, except for exhibition and performance. And the simple fact that you can't even replicate the conditions in a very basic zoo in a travelling circus, that inevitably compromises the welfare of what are non-domesticated wild animals that have needs in common with their wild counterparts.
I'd like to add to that that the training methods that animals undergo in order to do their performances do use abusive and violent methods. Animals can be whipped, they can be beaten, they can be chained up. We've got testimony from Sam Haddock, who used to be a trainer of elephants in the Ringling Brothers circus, which is one of the largest circuses in the US, and he says that violence is really integral to how the animals are trained. He says: 'Look, this is the only way I can do it. Being cruel is part of how I can train these animals. There is no other way they can learn'. I feel that the public often don't see the cruelty that is inherent in the circus. You might see an animal such as a zebra running around in the ring in the circus and the whip cracking. The animal isn't being whipped, but in the training, they may have been, and that sound of the whip is what is driving them to do that action.
Thank you. Some stakeholders opposing the ban have quoted the findings of Dr Kiley-Worthington—RSPCA commissioned—which did not support the view that circus performance undermines animal welfare. PETA's evidence talks about international examples. Are they transferrable to Wales?
I think we need to use international examples because there aren't travelling circuses in Wales, and there are only two in England, which have been visiting Wales in recent years. Investigations by another animal welfare group, Animal Defenders International, have looked into the conditions and the training methods of animals used by Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly's Circus, and they have found serious animal welfare issues. Really, if you're going to expect animals to be performing these tricks, like standing on their front paws, balancing on ropes, balancing on balls, there's cruelty inherent in the training methods and in the transport across countries year in, year out. It's a life of captivity no matter which country this happens in.
If I could address the question about the Kiley-Worthington report, that was a report commissioned by the RSPCA in the 1980s. The resultant report was carefully considered by the RSPCA. Our concerns were that her conclusions didn't match up with her actual findings reported in the report. She found extensive evidence of abnormal behaviours being performed, of restrictive environments and of animals having to be encouraged with a broom out to perform. Yet, her conclusions did not match those findings. An independent review of that confirmed that. The report was published anyway, but not in a peer-reviewed scientific journal; it was self-published. We took the decision not to publish it because of our concerns about the rigour of the methodology.
All I would add to that is that since the publication of the Kiley-Worthington report, there's been an increasing body of evidence relating to the welfare of wild animals in captivity in the broadest sense, which goes much, much, much further than the Kiley-Worthington report ever could. And that's really what we should be basing our decisions on, I think.
The next one: we have been told that scientific research carried out by Dr Ted Friend, an American animal behaviourist, used to inform the Harris review, was misinterpreted. Do you have any views on that?
The simplest thing I can say is that it falls into two parts. One is that the evidence base on which Professor Friend was an author forms only a tiny part of the Harris review, which looks at all the available literature on the issue. Whether or not it has been misinterpreted I feel is an answer for Professor Harris to give. But I think it's very difficult to pick apart, from Professor Friend's allegations, what exactly he feels is being misinterpreted.
On that point, I would agree: it's really up to the authors of that report to defend their interpretation. That report is based on a huge body of scientific evidence, of which Ted Friend's papers are a very small portion. And it does go to show that there is a dearth of rigorous scientific information gathered from circuses. But that review really does look across the board and at current thinking from scientific research on captive animals to draw conclusions from the report, which is only right.
Yes, I agree with that. You have to look at the scientific consensus. This report examined over 1,700 different sources and the consensus was that it is bad for animal welfare to keep them in a circus environment. Also, we have bodies like the British Veterinary Association and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe that say that keeping wild animals in circuses is not meeting their needs in terms of housing and behaviour and it should be banned.
Finally from me, DEFRA's post-implementation review of the relevant 2012 regulations in England suggests that the current licensing scheme to promote and monitor high welfare standards appears to be effective. Do you agree?
On the introduction of the licensing, the RSPCA didn't agree with the introduction of that licensing. It was just an interim measure until their ban was brought in. And, really, our disagreement was that it permitted lower standards than would be expected in modern zoos, for example, just because it would be more practical to meet in a circus setting. So, by lowering the threshold about what is acceptable with no scientific basis, then it changed the goalposts for circuses and ruled them different to other captive settings, and there is no difference between a tiger or a raccoon or a zebra being kept in a zoo, in a circus or in the wild.
I think the only point I'd add on that would be that there's no—. I think it's fairly clear across the board that there's no agreement that the temporary licensing system was satisfactory, nor met the needs and expectations of the general public, parliamentarians, non-governmental organisations, scientists and lawyers. So, saying it's effective is certainly open to debate on that point.
We've got over 40 countries around the world that have banned wild animal use in circuses. So, licensing is just, in my view, a temporary measure that was ineffective. Also, you've got to look at the number of wild animals in circuses in the UK. It's been declining over the last couple of decades, and there are hardly any left now—19—but we need to enact a ban to ensure that this number doesn't increase by circuses travelling in from other countries, which is a worry.
Thank you. Jenny Rathbone.
I just want to explore with you the option of tightening the licensing arrangements so that the welfare arrangements for travelling circus animals were equivalent to the ones in fixed circuses or in zoos.
I think, looking at what wild animals need in captivity, we just don't think it's feasible to allow that kind of setup in a temporary, transient facility. So, we think the only real way is to stop that activity happening in the first place.
Well, it depends on the wild animal, doesn't it? You put a zebra out to grass—. You know, nobody's—.
Well, it's still being kept in a—. It's very limited in what can be provided in a field for a week when they don't know where they're going to be travelling to and what kind of site or setup they're going to have. It might be a car park, it might be a field. There might be easy access to grazing and safe pasture, there might not.
I agree with all that, but you could put that into the licensing.
Well, I think it would be a ban by another name, effectively, because providing for a wild animal's needs is not going to be possible when we've looked at it in that setting. I think we have to look at, in terms of proportionality as well, setting up, administering and enforcing a licensing system when there aren't any circuses currently based in Wales with wild animals. That has to be investigated as well.
True, but you could have a UK-wide arrangement. DEFRA, effectively, are licensing at the moment, so they could continue to license.
They've brought their ban in, which will come into effect in January, so circuses are gearing up for winding up the use of wild animals travelling around in circuses. With Scotland's ban in place, at the moment, as well, I think it would be—you know, in terms of proportionality.
Okay. Thank you.
Thank you. Good morning. We've spoken about animal welfare, and we had a fascinating discussion last week in committee around ethical grounds for banning wild animals in circuses, and I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you think those ethical grounds are and how they differ, maybe, to the welfare of animals argument.
As a starting point, just before we go down that discussion much further, I think it's quite difficult to completely separate animal welfare from ethics. Animal welfare science is a mandated science device. It's not empirical, pure science like physics or something. It's designed to guide our decisions on thorny matters relating to how we treat animals. Within that, ethics obviously play an enormous part. In terms of how this issue is of deep concern from an ethical basis, I think it's evidenced by the strength of public feeling and the strength of parliamentary feeling on the matter. One of those things is that it's just not right to use wild animals in the way that they're used in the ring. Quite often, the ethical debate is lost in discussions of welfare, which is legitimately, in my view, focused on meeting the needs of animals in their living environment. The ethical argument seems to come to the fore in relation to training and performance, which is something that perhaps takes a back seat in the discussions of welfare science.
I think a main point for PETA is that we feel that animals are not ours to use for entertainment. They're not willing performers. They don't have a choice to do this. They do the performance because they've been intimidated into it, or force has been used in their training. In no way can they be compared to, say, human acrobats in the circus. These animals are held captive for prolonged periods of time, sometimes for their entire lives.
I think also there's been a huge change in the public view on this and in people's moral compass. For example, there haven't been cetacean shows in England since the 1990s. People do not want to see whales and dolphins performing circus-like tricks, and most people think that wild animals in circuses have already been banned, because it's just decreased. People don't want to see it. They're against this. They feel it is unjust for animals that are sentient beings. They have their own needs, their own desires, they are their own persons, and it's not right for us to expect them to perform for our gratification.
And just really building on what Chris was saying, I think the more we learn about animals, the more we understand about how they experience the world, how they think, how they might feel, then the more we question how we treat them and how we view them, and how they're portrayed. Really, that then informs the general public—their norms and values towards animals. And I think there's certainly been a big move towards appreciating that animals are sentient beings that have a value in their own right, and that we should treat them accordingly. So, we think it's right that legislation follows suit with that and reflects the norms and values of society.
But is the Government making a mistake in introducing this ban on ethical grounds as opposed to animal welfare grounds?
We think there's justification. The two are interlinked. The RSPCA obviously is looking very much at welfare, but we also appreciate that the way animals are portrayed does affect how people portray animals and what's acceptable.
Maybe I should ask whether it's strange that they're using ethical grounds to ban wild animals and then looking to animal welfare grounds for the travelling—what do they call it—the mobile animal exhibition stuff. Because ethics are ethics are ethics, and this is the debate we had last week in terms of you can't be a little bit ethical about anything. Ethics have to be universal or they cease to be ethics, I think is what one of our—.
The way I would look at this is, of course it's not a black and white issue; it's a grey issue, as we've said, on so many levels in terms of people's understanding of the issue but also the science, interlinked with the ethics. There has been in recent years, and actually going back well into, I would say, certainly the 1990s—but it's a debate that's been long running since the early part of the twentieth century about the use of animals in circuses. Travelling circuses have floated to the top as an identifiable subset of perhaps a bigger issue. While it would be very interesting and valuable to tackle all the issues of the exploitation of animals in performance and travelling shows et cetera et cetera, within the parameters of the proposed legislation that we're discussing in relation to wild animals and circuses, my feeling is that both an ethical and a welfare understanding of the issue would lead to dealing with that problem, and if we get ourselves mired in a broader ethical dimension, it's very, very hard to distinguish along a spectrum where you're going to draw a line. I would say that sticking to travelling circuses under the current circumstances brings most of those issues into a sort of coherent clump that can be dealt with, and then the others can be dealt with in the most effective manner later.
Neil wants to come in with a supplementary.
Can I ask a kind of devil's advocate, philosophical question prompted by what you just said? I've no interest in watching animals perform in the circus. I haven't been to the circus since I was a small child. But I have a bit of a problem with the anthropomorphising of animals. In the wild, of course, animals are terribly cruel to one another. A carnivorous animal will kill and eat other species, sometimes its own species, and if it's wrong in the circus environment, why is it right in the wild? Shouldn't we be trying to stop animals being cruel to one another? I realise there are formidable practical difficulties in the way of that, but if it's wrong in one instance, it's wrong in another, and it's not immediately obvious to me why life in a circus is more cruel than life in the wild.
I would say you are dealing—. When you're talking about animal welfare, we've assumed a responsibility for animals in our care, and within legislation they become protected animals. That clearly distinguishes them from the cruelty that occurs in a natural environment, in nature, in natural processes—predation, et cetera. What we do to animals in our care is entirely at the will and wit of humans. We have long-standing moral, ethical, scientific and legislative standards in place to ensure that we don't subject these animals to unnecessary suffering, and that's been standing for over 100 years. In recent times, there's an objective to meet the needs of these animals. It's a far bigger discussion, perhaps, than we can have right now, but I think the point I was getting to is that the use of animals in circuses is solely for entertainment. It's solely to perform tricks or just to be exhibited. It's a million miles removed from animals engaging in natural processes in the wild.
Jenny wants to come back in on this now.
So, animals are used for entertainment in circuses, animals are used for entertainment in dog shows and horse riding. So, where's the logic to just honing in on travelling circuses, as opposed to these other, much more widely used things, where there's lots more money involved? The gambling industry is huge.
I'd like to address that one. Wild animal circuses can be considered as the most egregious suffering in terms of the whole spectrum of different issues where animals are used for entertainment. Because of the violent training methods that are used, the prolonged captivity, the transport of the animals, none of the five freedoms are met. Animals' diet may not be the natural one, they are experiencing fear and distress, they're not able to exhibit natural behaviour, they're in discomfort, they may be in pain.
PETA are against the use of any animals for entertainment, as I mentioned before, but I think we have to focus on where there's greatest public opinion, greatest demand from the public for change in a particular area. You have to look at one issue at a time, and 97 per cent of the public surveyed would like to see this banned. As I said, many people think it already has been banned decades ago, so it's beyond time.
We're coming on to this later—
But the prevalence of public opinion doesn't equate to ethical standards, does it? I think the Minister said that her mailbag isn't as full of issues around mobile animal exhibitions. Well, surely that's not the measuring stick. I understand there's a practical implication to trying to do it all at the same time, but once you accept that it's on an ethical basis that you're banning wild animals from circuses, then that ethical standard should be levied against everything. I wouldn't expect you to disagree with that.
Well, like I say, it's a spectrum and the thorny task, perhaps, that you have is to decide how to reflect that in legislation. My strong opinion is that, while you are of course correct in saying that public opinion doesn't necessarily equate to an ethical decision on anything, I think the two are linked—public opinion is interlinked with general acceptance and ethical understanding of issues.
Well, not with ethics. With politics, maybe, because there's a political dynamic playing here as well, isn't there?
Yes, of course.
And I think somebody said last week that this approach is part political, part ethical and, of course, the retort came back saying, 'Well you can't be part ethical.' So, I know you're telling us it's not black and white, but the evidence we had last week from one particular person was telling us, 'Well, that's the nature of ethics: it's black and white.'
Well, there's a reduction ad absurdum issue here. You could extend ethics across everything and therefore you're reduced to a situation where you can't take any action.
And that's where we went last week—it was fascinating.
Right, well they've done a great job in confusing the issue. I would personally advocate the precautionary principle, a pragmatic approach, given that there's a desire to find a practical solution to what is, I firmly agree, a bigger ethical discussion.
And I think that's where the Minister will be, in fairness to the Minister, but it's a fascinating discussion. It's where do you draw the line, if there is a line at all?
Of course, Circus Mondao tell us that there is an appetite for this and you count the tickets that they've sold—20,000 visitors during a 10-week tour. So, what would you say to that? You tell us, overwhelmingly, public opinion is against wild animals in circuses, yet they're still buying the tickets and going along.
I think, on that basis—. We're basing it on various things: opinion polls that have got representative samples of the population—
Of around 1,000 people?
Yes, but 75 per cent in the latest poll, in 2015, of people in Wales polled wanted to see an end to the use of wild animals in circuses. As Carys has said, many people think it's already banned, because they can't believe that that's still going on in countries where the animal welfare standards are supposed to be leading the way. And I think it's one of those things that you're not going to get 100 per cent of the entire population who are minded in one direction or not, but very much, year after year after year, we hear that people want to see this ended. We're seeing across the rest of the UK, Europe and around the world that the tide has changed, and people just don't want to see this kind of thing any more.
And public opinion changes, doesn't it?
Just on that, I'd be curious to know how many were repeat visits, whether it's a situation where people take the kids once and are perhaps not happy with what they've seen, and don't go again. That's pure conjecture but—
Well, we can ask that when we speak to them.
Just to put it into context, it's less than 1.3 per cent of the Welsh population—around about one in 300.
I'd like to add to that, if I may.
Many people visit the circus because they want to show their children animals, they want to expose them, and it could be argued that the circus exploits children's natural love of animals. Also, parents may not realise the cruelty that's involved, because the most extreme suffering, where animals are beaten in training, or they're kept in very small cages for transport, happens behind the scenes, whereas in the ring there may not be any contact with the animals from the trainers. Also, we have to think about whether this is an example we want to set children. How do we want children in the future to relate to animals? We want them to be respectful of animals. We want them to see animals as sentient beings and respect their own rights. And I think if they see animals that are whipped or are forced into doing these cruel activities, it's totally the wrong message to send.
You make an interesting point, and I think the RSPCA made that point as well in terms of the negative impact this can have on people's attitudes to animals and the way that we perceive and understand animals. What evidence is there to prove that that's the case? Is there evidence out there?
There have been studies into zoos that show that there can be negative learning outcomes. There was a study of 1,400 [Correction: 2,800] children that visited London Zoo that showed that the majority didn't come away with any positive learning outcomes, and some of them had negative experiences as well. So, there's really little evidence that seeing animals in captivity can help children learn about them in a natural way.
If I may just to add to that—it's not a well-studied area, and certainly not specifically in circuses, but there is some evidence that if you show people pictures of wild animals in a very unnatural setting, so, for example, a chimpanzee next to a person in a room, then they actually are less concerned about the conservation of that species than if they're shown a picture of one in a natural jungle environment. So, there is some evidence, and just from a first principle perspective, that showing a wild animal in a very unnatural setting without its needs being met is potentially very negative.
And I certainly presume that that is the case; I was just wondering whether there was some evidence on that.
Before we move on, Joyce Watson—if you've finished.
I just want to throw another spanner into the works. Has there been any study—? We've got the figure of 20,000 visitors; as the Chair said, it's a very small percentage. But without knowing who's constituting those figures, who's making those up, and what the ages of those children were, if they were children, we can't deduce from that whether those children were of an age to have awareness and their own self-determination as to whether they go or whether they don't, because younger children will go because their parents have taken them. But once children get to around the age of about nine—and, in some cases, younger—they would choose not to go. So, I think there's a whole piece of work that would need to be done to know exactly what was behind those figures. Have any of you done any studies whatsoever on what age a child might determine for themselves what animal cruelty looked like?
That's a great question. PETA haven't got any evidence on that, I'm afraid.
I'm not aware of it, but that's not to say my colleagues don't have that information. So, we could certainly have a look at it and take it back, and then if we do, we could submit it separately to the committee, if that's okay.
I don't have any evidence on that, and if I could just make an observation in reference to this issue that, obviously, we've agreed that this, although it sounds, in isolation, like quite a high number, it's actually a tiny proportion of the population. We don't know how many are repeat visits, and, of course, as you said, we don't know the ages of the individuals going. We could suggest a lot of potential studies there, but I think it would be effort that doesn't actually change the issue at hand. And the other point—. Sorry, no, I'll move on, because I was going to make a completely unrelated point.
Thank you. Neil Hamilton.
I'd like to move on to the scope of the ban in the Bill. First of all, a question about the place of domesticated animals in circuses. The Minister has said that there are not the same fundamental ethical objections to using domesticated animals in travelling circuses as for using wild animals in travelling circuses. Do you accept that distinction or do you think that domesticated animals should be covered in the same way, going back to the point you were making earlier about performing animals and the dignity of animals and so on and so forth—being used for our entertainment?
Not to question the statement of the Minister, but I think the way I would phrase it is that there's not the same level of societal concern for domesticated animals in that environment. Whether or not the ethical considerations are the same deserves more discussion. The point I would make is that domesticated animals, and truly domesticated animals, have millennia of co-existence and selective breeding for life alongside humans, which has imbued them with an ability—a certain amount of ability—to cope with some of the things that we might subject them to in the purposes for which we've selected them. Whether that includes repeated travelling, performance training et cetera in circuses, I'm not 100 per cent sure. But I think it stands in enormous contrast to non-domesticated wild animals who have not undergone that level of selective breeding and co-existence alongside humans for millennia. Their inherent biology, their inherent behaviour, is completely unrelated to that environment. That's not to say that domesticated animals in circuses are well treated, or are given the environment they need, but it's abundantly clear for wild animals that they are not given the environment that they need.
My own view is that the case for a ban must be founded upon cruelty and welfare considerations, not on prevalence, or otherwise, of public opinion. The justification of the Bill is on the ethical side, if you like, and I don't know enough about the way domesticated animals are trained in a kind of circus environment to have any view on this myself, so I'm interested to know whether you think that there is a case at all for including domesticated animals in the scope of the Bill.
PETA don't see any distinction between how wild animals and domesticated animals are treated in circuses. I should say that there hasn't been as much research or long-term investigations done on domesticated animals, but I think for the purpose of this Bill we should just focus on wild animals because it's pragmatic to do so, and that's in line with legislation in Scotland, England, Ireland and other countries. But we would love to see this issue re-examined at a later time, once more evidence has been gathered, to look at the welfare needs of domesticated animals.
Thank you, that's a very honest answer. Can I move on now to static circuses? As you know, the Bill treats static circuses differently from travelling circuses. Do you think that there are sufficient ethical grounds on which to ban the use of wild animals in static circuses as well?
Well, in terms of the—. The RSPCA's concerns are very much around the inability to provide for the needs of wild animals, because a large part of that is the travelling nature of it and the need to decamp week after week after week. As far as I'm aware, there are no static circuses based in Wales, and even if there were, there would, I think, be grounds to look at capturing those under other legislation, such as the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. So, if they're opening their doors to the public for more than seven days a year, then they should be investigated in terms of whether they should be licensed under that piece of legislation. So, that's our view.
So, there is no need, given that there aren't any. That's a fair enough answer, I suppose, in the circumstances.
I feel there could be a need for it as a preventative measure. So, if static circuses weren't banned, what would stop a travelling circus then becoming permanent in a location and turning into a static circus? So, although there aren't any at the moment in Wales, and there's possibly only one example in England, where there's a sea lion show at a theme park, I think it's worth considering.
Fine. And related to that, what about a ban on using wild animals in other travelling animal shows, for example, mobile zoos? Are they affected by the same considerations? Is there the same need—ought the Bill to include provisions to cover situations like that? The Harris review suggested there could be a case to ban the use of wild animals in such circumstances. So, there are some people who think that this is the case.
I would certainly suggest that there are similar grounds for concern for wild animals being used in what we might term mobile zoos. That issue hasn't been looked at with the same degree of scrutiny as wild animals in travelling circuses. Professor Harris flagged the issue very logically and sensibly within the discussion. But I think what my personal feeling and my suggestion is is that it's—perhaps trying to tackle everything under one piece of legislation may be problematic, given the issues that already exist with definitions. That is not to say that there isn't an issue. I think there is—. There's a lot of commonality. They're not identical, but there's some commonality between travelling animal exhibits and travelling circuses with wild animals—the major thing being repeated travel. And that is very much a welfare issue for non-domesticated animals.
Can I say that another issue with them is the handling of animals? So, often, with mobile animal exhibits, they’re used at children’s parties or corporate events, where wild animals are handled by people, such as iguanas, pythons and snakes—those kind of animals—and some of these animals do carry zoonotic diseases, which could be transferred to humans, for example, salmonella.
There’s also a public safety concern in terms of animal attacks. And the animals are—they're not willing performers. Again, they don’t want to be handled by people. They really don’t have a choice; they’re transported around and their entire needs, really, are under human control. So, I think we really need a more extensive review on this, and further consultation. But I would agree with Chris in saying that now isn’t the time to include it in the Bill, for expediency.
Sorry, if I could just—. I think those points are extremely valid. They do need to be looked at, and it's good to see the Welsh Government have a consultation open on animal exhibits, because it is a very broad industry that needs to be investigated, but perhaps not within the scope of this.
Thank you. And my last question concerns the keeping of wild animals by travelling circuses, although not taken on tour. Travelling circuses that keep wild animals will be subject to various regulations and licensing schemes and/or wider animal welfare legislation. Anyway, given this, why do we need to consider a ban on travelling circuses keeping wild animals in a static environment? Is this not potentially discriminatory against others who are keeping animals in static conditions, but are not travelling circuses?
Could I just get a point of clarity on that? Is a ban proposed on the keeping of animals by circuses in static environments or is it being proposed on the keeping of wild animals in circuses, but not exhibited in circuses? I think there are two potentially important considerations here. I’m not 100 per cent on what is being proposed within the legislation. Ros, I don’t know if you can—.
Yes, I think, from the RSPCA’s perspective, we do have concerns that, as it currently stands, circuses could still travel with, around the country, those same animals—
But not exhibit them.
—so they would experience the same environment with the exception of the performance in front of the public. So, I think, on two points: (1) is that, obviously, from a welfare perspective, those animals would be experiencing the same conditions, in large part, as we are concerned about, and the public are concerned about, and that it might not satisfy the public, in that they wouldn’t expect to see circuses still being able to travel with those wild animals. And also, from an enforcement perspective, distinguishing when animals are used or not is obviously much easier if the circuses aren't going to be able to travel around the country with them. It also removes the possibility that they will then use those animals in other types of performance away from the big top, and the grey areas that that might cause. So, we would like to see it tightened up so they wouldn't be able to travel around with a wild animal.
Thank you very much.
Thank you. Jenny Rathbone.
Sticking with that point, at least those who are operating these travelling circuses obviously have a long history of managing and keeping wild animals, whereas some of the general public are keeping them in their front rooms. So, I think it's quite difficult to make the distinction here, in the sense that—you know, how far should this ban go? So, do you have a view on that? Because it seems to me the welfare of some of these wild animals being kept in people's houses, where I'm not aware of any regulation, as distinct to a circus, which is obviously subject to quite a lot of regulation of all sorts—.
All I would say—. I do agree that there is—. Well, let's just say I don't think we've got it right in relation to private ownership across the board. I think there are considerable discussions that could be had on that, a good example of which would be the private ownership of primates—primates as pets. That's come up as an identifiable issue, and that certainly hints at some of the issues you're describing. The major regulation that would deal with private ownership of some wild animals, but not all, of course, would be the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, but that's primarily a public safety piece of legislation; it has very little in the way of provision for animal welfare. It's sort of a case of two wrongs don't make a right. We've got a double whammy going on here—the use of wild animals in circuses, in my opinion, is problematic, but the keeping of wild animals privately is also problematic.
Okay, thank you. Well, let's leave that one there. I just wanted to go on now to the definition of 'travelling circus' in the Bill. One of our previous witnesses, Professor Radford, said: how far is the scope of the description of travelling circus captured in the Bill? For example, he raised a point about racing camels at an Inverness show recently. Would they be captured by this Bill, in your view, or should they be?
I think, from our perspective, the definitions could be tightened up and there could be further guidance in associated guidance documents about what activities are covered and what activities aren't covered to provide that clarity, because I think that is important from the public's perspective, but also for enforcement of this kind of legislation. I think a key aspect is, from our perspective, travelling from place to place—so, where the animals do not return to a home base, where there is the ability to provide a more appropriate environment. With a circus, they travel from one temporary site to another temporary site to another temporary site. So, that's quite distinctive from some of the other activities we are talking about. In terms of not trying to cover every activity that's going on at the moment with wild animals within the scope of this Bill, we are content that the focus should be on the wild animals in travelling circuses for this, but there are other opportunities elsewhere to tackle other activities, like the racing camels, which to my mind would fall under the animal exhibits licensing currently being considered by the Welsh Government.
Okay. I'm still struggling to understand how the Bill would make the distinction between the racing camels, which may well be returning to a static base, and where you could envisage wild animals used in circuses also returning to a static base, where they have these lush conditions.
Well, I think—. We proposed a definition where it focuses on any company, group or institution that travels from place to place for the purpose of giving performances, displays or exhibition, to take account of this transient nature of circuses and to try and clarify it. Also, as I say, additional guidance could be provided in documents associated with the Act to distinguish where the line is to be drawn, because there isn't an absolute line. There are variations in how wild animals are used across these, so I think the more clarity that can be provided in the Act itself and associated guidance, the better to help guide them.
I think Joyce wants to come in on this very point.
Just on what you've said, if we define an animal that's moving from place to place as needing protection, because normally they ought to live in the wild, should we not then also ban goldfish from fairs?
I think that's—. I do think that's a separate issue, but we would be totally in line with such a ban, which isn't in line with, I think, how we would hope people acquire a pet and be prepared to care for it.
I'm going to actually argue that it's not different—that they are moved from place to place, they are displaced and they are, very often, sold and die the next day. I'm going to tell you that I have two goldfish that my son had when he was 10 and 11, and he's 33—they're still alive. But the point here is that with most people they will die the next day—actually, before they even get home. So, just because they can't speak and they don't perform, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be captured under this.
From my perspective, I completely agree with the circumstances you've described—it's a very troubling practice. Depending on how the definition of wild animals is used here, we might be looking at a situation where goldfish would be considered domesticated and would possibly fall outside of this. That's not to say I don't agree with the enormous concerns over the use of animals in that way. Goldfish, for example, under zoo licensing would be considered not wild animals—i.e. a domesticated species.
Thank you. Back to you, Jenny.
Okay. So, is there anything that any of you wanted to add to the definition of a travelling circus?
From Born Free's perspective, we've been aware, along with other colleagues in other organisations, of long discussions over the semantics of how to capture everything in 'travelling circuses' that we want and nothing we don't. As Ros has very carefully put it, it's very difficult to do that on the face of the Act. But I would strongly support the use of explanatory guidance and examples in such guidance in order to make the interpretation clear, and, of course, in matters of real controversy, which we hope would be very few, it would be something for the courts.
I'd like to say that, in general, we are happy with the definition, but it would be good to see the use of animals by circuses taken into account as well as exhibition and performance. That's covered in the Scottish legislation; unfortunately not in the English legislation.
Okay, thank you for that. Just moving on to the meaning of 'wild animal', all of the animals—the 19 animals we're talking about in these two travelling circuses—have been born in captivity, so they're not wild in the sense that somebody's grabbed them from somewhere in Africa and brought them over, fortunately. So, could you just—? I'd like just to probe what we actually mean by a wild animal, as opposed to one that would have great difficulty surviving in the wild.
I think, on that basis, the—. It's important to get that right. The phrasing that's used in the Act as it stands is very much in line with the phrase that's used in the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 to distinguish whether an animal is commonly domesticated in Great Britain, and, if it is, it's considered domesticated, and, if it's not, it's considered wild. That has worked; it's well understood and it's been applied since the Zoo Licensing Act came in in the 1980s. So, we very much support that.
We do think it's important to make it clear in guidance that being born in captivity—even being captive born over several generations—doesn't equate to the evolutionary process that we would refer to with domestication, where, as Chris says, animals have been selectively bred; their physiology and life cycle have changed fundamentally so that they are different to the wild type, and that's occurred over millennia, not over a few generations born in captivity. So, I think that point's worth making in the guidance, to make it clear, but the definition as it stands is very much in line with the Zoo Licensing Act, which we would support.
Well, that brings us to the thorny issue of camels. Carys, you think that camels should be specifically included in this, as well as reindeer. I mean, camels have been domesticated for centuries—they're in the Bible. And in Wales there are huge numbers of llamas being reared, so you could envisage in the future maybe camels being reared in the same way as cows and llamas.
I'm just going to refer to my notes—one second.
In the meantime, could I just quickly come in on that?
These thorny issues have been discussed over the years by the Zoos Expert Committee who advise the Government on zoo licensing, and, actually, because llamas and alpacas had become more commonly kept outwith zoos in Great Britain, they actually made the decision some years ago to move them to a different category, so they were considered commonly domesticated in Great Britain. Camels are very much still in the category of not commonly domesticated. So, under the Zoo Licensing Act, they would be considered wild for those purposes. Those decisions have to be very carefully considered, depending on whether those animals have been selectively bred in this country and could be considered domesticated. So, it's not clear-cut, but there are discussions and processes and procedures to look at that very carefully.
Ros has captured what I wanted to say, that under the Zoo Licensing Act guidance, camels are referred to in Britain as a wild species, and it's about animals that are within the British isles, whether they've been domesticated historically or not, and, yes, it needs to be addressed on a species-specific basis. I don't think we need lists of which animals are wild or domesticated in the regulations, but it would be helpful just to keep it in line with the Zoo Licensing Act.
Okay. So, where do reindeer fit into this?
Okay, but they're used commonly—you know, Christmas fairs are full of reindeers.
They are—it is another form of mobile animal exhibit that it would be good to have a look at at another date.
It's fair to say that there are concerns over the private keeping and use of reindeers in such environments that are not without welfare problems for these animals. I think it's—. The term 'commonly' is, obviously, open to interpretation. I would echo Ros's comment that the definition in the Zoo Licensing Act is sound. It's withstood a lot of scrutiny since it came into force in 1984; it's echoed in the European zoos directive, which has been in place for nearly 20 years. There have been a few discussions over, as Ros mentioned, alpaca and llama, and whether or not they should shift from being domesticated animals that are not commonly kept as domesticated animals in the UK, and their increasing number led to them being shifted from the category of wild to domesticated. And I think, with reindeer, we're still, given the numbers, dealing with a situation where animals are not kept as—. Although there are domesticated forms of reindeer, they're not kept in enough numbers to justify them being considered anything other than wild in that definition.
Okay. I think I've covered the areas that I wanted to cover, so thank you.
Thank you very much. Joyce Watson.
I'm going to move on to enforcement and, RSPCA, I will ask you if you can expand on why you believe it's necessary to extend the enforcement powers set out in the Bill to police constables.
So, we believe it should mirror the Scotland Act that banned wild animals in circuses. They have extended those powers. We believe, in the hopefully rare circumstances where illegal use is reported, the police have the expertise and the investigatory powers to gather evidence, and they should be given powers on the face of the Act. So, whilst they could accompany an inspector, we think it's valuable to include that on the face of the Act as it stands. But, as I say, hopefully, breaches would be rare, so we don't expect those powers to be used very many times.
Could we not, then, just expand the powers to inspectors so that they could seize a wild animal?
We would like powers to seize a wild animal if, in that circumstance, it was deemed necessary, and it was also in the best welfare interests of that animal at the time. So, we would like to see those powers included.
I support that.
Nothing to add.
So, we've got a situation at the moment, with the Bill currently written, that you can still keep a wild animal, even if you're not exhibiting it. Is it the case that there could be some confusion about trying to seize a wild animal in a zoo, and if there is confusion at that point, could that not contravene people's human rights? Because we've given them the right to keep an animal, but not to exhibit it, but when we talk about implementing and enforcement, could there not be some situations where people say, 'Well, I had the right to do it'?
I would say that, on that specific issue, there is a bit of an issue, in relation to a hypothetical scenario, where a circus might no longer be allowed to use a zebra, but still travels with that zebra and still puts that zebra in a paddock next to the circus area, in the field that they're based. That animal is going to be—well, either it has to be a requirement on the circus to shield that animal from public view, or the animal is going to be on public view, and does that constitute exhibition? That is a potential pitfall in this situation. But, of course, the thing that I come back to is that permitting a circus to tour with wild animals, regardless of whether they're used in the ring, does not address the welfare issues relating to those wild animals. And I would personally suggest that the best solution would be that circuses are of course permitted to keep their animals, but only at a static site, i.e. winter quarters or some equivalent. And taking their animals on tour with them, albeit not to exhibit them, is going to be problematic on a number of levels, not least of which the welfare of the animals, but also in the example you've just given, where it could be a problem for enforcement interpretation.
And the other issue is that we see that inspectors are allowed to examine, measure or test an animal, take samples from an animal, mark an animal for identification, but it doesn't require that that is carried out by a veterinary professional. What is your opinion on that?
I think, certainly, in many circumstances, it would make sense for that person to be a veterinarian who was experienced in that species concerned, so not just the local dog and cat vet down the road. I can envisage—. Depending on what those samples were, and whether that animal had to be handled to be moved to another area, for example, it may not be necessary to use a vet, and it may be more appropriate to use, for example, a zoo professional who's experienced in handling and managing those species. So, I think it might depend on the circumstance involved.
One would hope there's, well, obviously, veterinary involvement if there's any intrusive or invasive sampling. But for non-invasive veterinary oversight, it would be beneficial, but not necessary—for faecal sampling or something like that.
Could I go back to something Ros said earlier, that they need a vet who has experience of that type of animal? Where would you find a vet in Wales experienced with zebras?
You're probably looking at zoo inspectors who go and inspect those kinds of premises in static—in zoos.
A proportion of those inspectors would be vets, but not all.
Thank you. Joyce.
And finally, I'm going to talk about repeat offenders. We have legislation, of course, to deal with offenders now, and you've heard me argue that it's not sufficient. Do you think that repeat offenders should be liable to prison sentences?
I think it would be good to see this brought into similar legislation as the Animal Welfare Act 2006, where anyone who causes unnecessary suffering to an animal can be subject to a prison sentence or a £20,000 fine. I think we're probably looking at a hypothetical situation here; I don't really think it's going to be that likely that there will be repeat offenders in this area, but it would be good to ensure we do have that deterrent there.
Okay, that's fine.
Thank you. Are you happy with the commencement date of 1 December 2020?
From the RSPCA, we think that it's probably too long. We understand that legislation takes time to work its way through, but given that there are only two travelling circuses and they're based in England and they've known that a ban in England is coming and will come into force in January 2020, we don't see a need to extend that further. So, we would welcome bringing that forward.
If at all possible, yes.
Yes, I agree.
One of the things I've learnt here is that legislation takes a very, very long time to make its way through all four stages, so I think that getting it earlier than December 2020 may be incredibly difficult. We're still at Stage 1 at the moment, and I don't think we'll get our report written much before Christmas, so it's going to be incredibly difficult to do that.
Can I ask you about the impact of the ban? What happens next? The ban goes through on 1 December 2020—'What happens to the animals?' That's the question. You've got a number of options that exist for the people who currently own them—some that you would like and some that you probably wouldn't. With some of them, they could just put them in a field—camels, for example—and just leave them, as we do quite often with horses, often with not very good consequences, because horses are put in a field and wished luck by their owners, and the RSPCA spend a lot of time dealing with horses that have been left in that form. Are there dangers of that sort of thing happening?
Well, we would very much like to see the animals rehomed, and we've actually offered our help in that regard, especially the kinds of species they've got now—we don't think it would be difficult to find homes that could provide for the needs of those animals. And we would definitely extend that again, because there are concerns that they could just be left to languish in winter quarters out of sight. So, we would like to make sure that those animals are cared for appropriately, and I think that that's what the public would expect as well, when it comes to that.
Born Free has made the same offer, and to work with RSPCA and others in the event of any circus owners wanting to hand over animals, retire their animals. Of course, we're not talking, as you've already identified, about legislation that requires confiscation of animals on the face of it. These animals remain the property of their owners, and, of course, there's a duty of care on those owners under other legislation in order to meet the welfare needs of those animals.
Before I call Jenny in, you do have the horses situation where—. I live in Swansea, and horses keep the RSPCA in Swansea busy, because people just have them and just leave them out, sometimes tethered, sometimes loose, and the concern I had was the same being done with things like zebras and camels.
And I think, as Chris said, we'd have to tackle that, if it did happen, under the Animal Welfare Act, in terms of whether the needs of those animals were being met.
I think we have to realise that this is only a small number of animals as well, so it's more about protecting animals that might be exploited in the future.
Okay, thank you. Jenny.
Circus Mondao argue that we're only talking about 19 circus animals, which, presumably, have formed a bond with their trainers in the same way as dogs do with their owners. So, they're arguing that it would be better to keep the regulations—allow these animals to live out their normal life with their current owners, with the understanding that the law would not allow anybody to acquire new ones.
I don't doubt that the owners might have formed a bond with the animals, or even have strong feelings of compassion towards them. But you've got to look at it from the needs of the animals, and the evidence is just overwhelming that their welfare needs are not being met. So, I think if circuses were willing to rehome animals that would be the best solution, because it would provide a better life for the animals.
There is evidence of circus animals having been rehomed successfully, and, despite claims that the animal might die because of losing that bond with their owner, that certainly hasn't come to the fore and they've gone on to lead more natural lives, where they've got the opportunities to behave as they should as wild animals.
You've used the term 'rehomed' a lot, and maybe it's just my ignorance, but when you're talking about rehoming camels, where are they going to end up? What sort of places would you see them in? The same with raccoons, zebras—where would you see them? Would it be in a zoo? Would it be somewhere different? Would it be in private ownership?
One location could be Hillside Animal Sanctuary, which is the largest farm animal rescue in the UK. They have over 3,000 animals, including horses, donkeys, pigs. They have the facilities there and the funding for long-term care of the animals.
And they would accept animals from circuses?
I can't comment on that. Do you have any relationship?
Well perhaps we ought to ask.
I believe they held a camel once, but—.
Perhaps we ought to ask them that, because, to me, at least, it is very important, what happens next.
Yes. From Born Free's perspective, we've got considerable experience of finding homes for wild animals, captive wild animals, and we've—. There isn't a magic formula in every case, but we would need to review all the options of sanctuaries, zoos—private ownership if necessary—both in the UK and perhaps overseas if that suits the welfare needs of the animals.
Can you be certain that what happened in Mexico wouldn't happen here, just because of the small number here?
You mean by virtue of the—
The ban led to a lot of animals dying.
—ban led to some concerns over welfare. I mean, obviously, the numbers of animals does indicate that that's unlikely to occur, and I think the key thing would be that there is follow-up if animals are no longer used. We know the current animals; we know the current circus operators. There is opportunity for them to be—if they're not willing to rehome those animals, for them to be at least kept in touch with to find out how the animals are faring, and, of course, the option to ensure and perhaps improve the welfare of those animals if they retain them in their ownership.
Okay, thank you.
Just coming back to the point about how swiftly we're able to legislate and a commencement date of the end of 2020, it was interesting, Chair, that you made the comparison with abandoned horses, because we did legislate on abandoned horses very, very swiftly in this Assembly, so I'd say that, if the will is there, then we can do it. It's not a question, it's just a statement.
It is. It's very much a statement, though—sorry, we're having our own private discussion here—the abandoned horses legislation has not dealt with the problem of abandoned horses.
Well, exactly, and that's the danger, isn't it? That's why we have the process we have.
That's why we need to get this legislation right. I think that's the one thing you probably would all agree with us on—that it's better to get it right than get it quick. Jenny Rathbone.
I wonder if you've just got time for me to go back to an earlier issue, which is around your assertion that, in order to train these animals to perform, they have to be using physical punishment. I just want to reflect on the fact that we're in the process of legislating the abolition of reasonable chastisement against children on the grounds that it isn't an effective way of disciplining children. So, could you not also argue the same case for animals—that, actually, a much better way of getting them to do certain things is to use treats and rewards, rather than the whip? Where's the evidence that that is what is happening, as opposed to using the treats method?
Well, in the circus ring, you can see the evidence right there. There are whips, there are bullhooks for elephants, there are chains. Undercover investigations—lengthy undercover investigations—by PETA and other animal groups have shown this abuse that happens in training. Positive methods of course are wonderful and the way forward, but I don't think you could legislate for that, because it's just very difficult to control what happens behind the scenes.
Thank you. Well, if there are no more questions, can I thank you, all three of you, very much for your evidence? I've found it very informative and I'm sure the rest of the committee have. We will be producing a report sometime—I hope by the end of the year. The other thing I would say is: you will get transcripts of this. Can I urge you to check through it? The people who do the transcripts are very good, but, if you're anything like me, and you move when you're talking, sometimes the odd word gets missed. So, just check; make sure all your words have been caught. Thank you all very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod heddiw ar gyfer eitem 4, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from item 4 of today's meeting, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Can I move a motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public for item 4? Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:26.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:26.
Can I welcome Sir David Henshaw to the pre-appointment hearing of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? As Members are aware, the decision on this is that of the Welsh Government Minister and Welsh Government Minister alone, but the committee is allowed to take a view on the preferred candidate, who is Sir David Henshaw. So, I welcome Sir David Henshaw and offer him the opportunity to make a few introductory remarks before we move to questions.
Well, good morning to everybody—good to be here. Thank you very much for the opportunity to make a statement as well.
I'm grateful to have the opportunity to be here before you today, having been nominated by the Minister Lesley Griffiths as her preferred candidate to take on the role of Natural Resources Wales's chair. I'm looking forward to our discussion and your scrutiny.
In November last year, I joined NRW as interim chair. At the time, my intention was to spend that year helping the organisation tackle some serious challenges, using the experience I've gained over many years and with many organisations to lead the board in sorting some difficult issues and supporting the chief executive and team in the recovery agenda. I would then hand over to a successor.
That plan has changed, and I find myself wanting to be put in the role for longer. The reasons for that are threefold. First, climate and environment are at the top of the agenda. We're not only in a climate emergency; we're also in an environmental emergency. NRW is in a pivotal position to help Wales tackle these crises, and I feel a determination to want to lead the board in supporting the organisation in this important and urgent work.
Second, I've got to know the organisation. I've met its staff and am incredibly impressed with their commitment, expertise and passion. They are, and will continue to be, our most important asset in our work. They require our full support. I've also seen many of our successes, rather than just our challenges, and have a deeper appreciation of how important the work is to Wales, present and future. I recognise that we need to rebuild trust in the organisation and we need to strengthen our relationships with stakeholders and partners. I've begun that work during the last 12 months, but there's still much to do and I do hope you'll recognise after today's session that I have the drive, ambition and leadership qualities needed to continue this important work. Thank you.
Thank you. If I can start with the questions, as you know, NRW was formed by joining together three organisations, which had their own cultures, their own way of doing things. What's your vision for NRW in actually getting those three cultures into one? Because we've seen in terms of forestry, for example, it didn't necessarily do that immediately.
Well, I think many of the problems that I certainly faced when I arrived, and the chief executive faced when she arrived previously, were, in large part, down to perhaps the early issue of not bringing those three organisations together. So, we were facing three separate parts of the organisation, which required unifying, and also bringing a culture into the organisation of one culture, one NRW.
As you know, we've recently gone live on a new operational structure for the organisation, which, fundamentally, is about devolving responsibility, authority and power to an area level, rather than it being held at the centre in Cardiff. And I'm personally very confident, and I know the team are very confident, that that will be the way forward. Certainly, we're seeing the signs of that already. We're still in the foothills of those changes, as well as some other operational and organisational changes that need to be made at the same time, but I think that's the way forward. So, we are attacking, at core, one of the deepest underlying issues that faced NRW right from the start.
Thank you. At the beginning, you said that when you first came you saw it as an interim post and then you've grown into it and got to enjoy it—that might be a slight exaggeration—
There have been moments. [Laughter.]
But your appointment, if the appointment is finally confirmed by the Minister, is for between two and four years. Would it be your intention to serve the full term?
I hope so.
Thank you. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. I wonder if you could just expand on the information you've already provided in the questionnaire, to further describe how your experience in other organisations equips you for the responsibilities of being chair of NRW.
I think there are probably three areas that I would refer to. The first is that, however it's happened, I seem to have got myself into a place where I've become someone to go to when organisations get themselves into difficulty, and I've been brought into interim roles in a variety of situations. I think that stems broadly from my government background in local and central government, particularly going into local authorities—particularly Liverpool, which had a reputation, as you may know, in the late 1990s of being probably the worst local authority in the country—being brought in by the new administration.
So, I think I am used to, and have significant experience in, I think, leading organisations that have found themselves in challenging circumstances. But not just leading them in challenging circumstances. Liverpool is a good example. We were very challenged, but we then made great progress from being the worst council, or second worst council on highest council tax, to winning council of the year awards, capital of culture and things like that. So, we normalised into an organisation with a clear strategic vision of what we were trying to do, and organising our delivery behind that. So, I think that would be my first reference.
That sort of experience spans the health service, the private sector and, indeed, the public sector. And then, going into central Government to look at the Child Support Agency which, again, was another organisation that perhaps didn't have the best reputation in the world.
And, indeed, the Government of the time accepted my recommendations in full, and a lot followed from that. In fact, I remember being told that 28 per cent of MPs' postbags was about the CSA at the time when I went in. So, that would be my first point.
Secondly, I think that I have significant experience in just leadership in executive and non-executive roles, more in a clear executive leadership role than in a non-executive leadership role, and I'm passionate about the separation between executive and non-executive. I'm not someone who gets into the executive space. Sometimes, you need to drill down, and the timber problem and timber sales would be an example where I've had to get very involved at a strategic level in the recovery plan. So, my experience of board chairing and, indeed, handling very difficult issues in those situations—. General licences would be a good one in recent times, where we've had to pick our way through a very difficult issue, full of very complicated parts to that, surrounded by a whole series of lobbying going on. We make sure we are evidence based in actually taking forward our decision making, without having recourse to the setting we find ourselves in.
And the third thing is that one of my great joys in leadership is to see people in organisations thrive and grow. I've always been proud of how many people who've worked with me have become chief executives in other organisations. And the thing that's impressed me most about NRW is the passion and commitment you find in the staff, and that has really excited me because it's rare you find that in organisations. They need our greatest support, and sometimes we perhaps haven't perhaps been as good as we could have been in giving them that support.
You say rather clearly in your statement that no change is not an option for NRW. I wondered if you could tell us how your previous experience will help you take people with you on that journey for change, because there's always a natural tendency to resist change.
When organisations get themselves into difficulty and find themselves with problems—I use the generic description there—what tends to happen is they turn in on themselves and put themselves behind walls, and stop talking to their stakeholders, their partners and the rest of it; they become very isolated. I call it 'pull the drawbridge up and just throw things over the wall'. Now, I think one of the things we have to do—and I've done it before—is you have to engage; you have to re-engage with your stakeholders and partners. I called it in my life in local government, and in Liverpool, particularly, 'building a new pluralism', where you can't make progress unless you take people with you. And actually, my phrase at the moment in NRW is, 'We need to get other people helping us to do the lifting'. We aren't an organisation of huge numbers. Relatively speaking, we are, in Wales terms, but in Liverpool, when I went in, we had 25,000 employees. We have 2,500-odd in NRW. But we need others to help us do the lifting around some of these very difficult issues. And by getting others to do the lifting and feeling they're owning the problem, we'll be more effective. So, you can't just deal with pollution in rivers, or pollution in agriculture, or whatever, by just dealing with it as a straight regulator. You have to have a convening power to bring people together who are affected by those issues, or contribute to those issues, and get them to be part of the solution. So, for me, that's one of the critical issues for NRW—re-engaging with stakeholders, and all its partners, and actually making sure we make progress.
This may sound very strange, but I've just been sitting in the waiting room, and I met a gentleman who was going before the culture committee. He runs a music venue in Swansea, and we got talking, and just talking about what he does. And he talked to me about Swansea and doing some events in the parks in Swansea, raising money for the parks department to actually keep the parks in better order. One of my themes of recent months has been: how do we re-engage with young people in urban areas, because we often find ourselves talking to people in rural areas rather than talking to people in urban areas? So, if we're serious about making people, if you like, environmentally aware or savvy, how do we connect with them? So, I had this mad idea about doing something in parks and urban areas, jointly with other players. So, why not have a music venue, with these headphones that keep all the sound out, and a disco in the park, and actually connect with the environmental agenda? That was just a mad idea, but it shows the sort of thinking I think we need to bring into NRW, about how we reconnect with a different set of constituents.
You say in response to the questionnaire that you're never going to please anyone. Who are the people to whom you're going to have to say, 'We're not going to be able to do this, given that these are going to be our priorities, which will mean not doing some other things'?
Well, I think it's more about—. Sometimes, the decisions we take will not be agreed with by some part of that setting, if you like. We've seen it recently in general licensing. We've seen it recently in the fishing bye-laws that have been adopted by the Minister. We are making decisions or recommendations that won't please every party. So, we have to use evidence as the thing that drives us, and we have to engage so that people understand what the evidence is and understand the arguments in a very open and transparent way.
Also, I think we have to change the way we engage. I'm conscious, on flooding, for example—and we've had a couple of big schemes and issues particularly in my time, with Roath being a good example—that we probably have needed to rewrite the playbook. Social media has arrived in a way that, when we had the consultation playbook written about 10 years ago, was not there. So, we need to be more out there, more engaging, in a way that perhaps we haven't been, and we are, at the moment, rewriting our consultation playbook in that sense.
On the Roath basin, which is in my constituency, NRW expended a huge amount of employee capital on trying to engage with stakeholders about the worth of doing this particular piece—the second phase of the flooding work. And, then, it sort of collapsed in a heap. So, how would you avoid doing a whole pile of work on something that, at the time, you appeared to think was necessary, and then really just folding because the weight of opposition from quite a vocal group of people was too much?
I may disagree with your term 'folding'. The point is that the—. It's back to my original proposition that you won't please all the people all the time. It's a balance between do you want to protect these number of houses from flooding or do you want to protect the public amenity value. In one sense, it's not our job to make that decision; it's the job of local government, who take the decision on planning approvals, and it's the job of Welsh Government, et cetera. Our job is to provide the best advice we can.
Okay. Also in your questionnaire you talk about putting an emphasis on having the confidence of others, including Assembly Members. Given that some Assembly Members would like to see NRW abolished, how do you think you're going to take some of the critics of the organisation—. How are you going to deal with that, and particularly, I suppose, these Assembly Members, of which I'm not one?
I think, quite clearly, I have to respect the political position of Members on the future of NRW as an organisation. That's the political position; I'm not going to argue with that. My job is to lead the board in making sure the organisation is effective and efficient and does its job properly. I would argue the proposition that I think it's the right thing to do to have an integrated organisation dealing with the integrated challenges you face in the environment. I will make that argument, and make it strongly as an independent chair. But I'm not going to question the right of any AM, or any other politician, to have a political view on the future of the organisation; I will simply hope to demonstrate, through its competence and effective operation, that we’re doing the job properly.
I suppose, lastly, my question would be: what is the role of the chair in ensuring that the chief executive is supported but also has the external challenge that the chair and other non-execs need to bring to the board?
Well, the relationship of the chair and chief executive is pivotal. It’s a relationship of confidence, it’s a relationship of challenge, and not too cosy and comfortable, and it’s a relationship of support—mutual support actually. And it’s also a relationship of making sure that the board stays in its role and the executive stay in theirs. It’s always tempting, often, for non-execs, for example, to find themselves wanting to move into executive space. I’m a fierce protector of that, but there are moments when the hairs on the back of your head don’t feel quite right as a non-executive or as a chair, and we have to deep dive or secure a deep dive into an issue. But that relationship is pivotal. I’m very comfortable with the relationship we have. It’s been challenging. We’ve had our views and disagreements. You won’t see those demonstrated outside our relationship, but it’s pivotal to the effective leadership of the organisation.
Okay, thank you. Llyr Gruffydd.
Good morning. You highlighted in your opening remarks the importance of building confidence and trust with stakeholders, and it’s another theme that’s running through your pre-appointment questionnaire. But, of course, we know that your time at Liverpool City Council was quite fractious—it ended abruptly, and it was blighted by your leaking of confidential documents. So, that hardly instils trust and confidence, does it?
So, I would challenge your description—
—completely. I am bound by a confidentiality agreement with the city council, so I have to be careful of what I say. But I can say an awful lot because so much is in the public arena. So, my time at Liverpool was highly successful, and you can see all the references to the changes we made and the differences we made in Liverpool. I think one of my bits of learning is: don’t get knighted in the middle of your tenure, because sometimes that can lead to unforeseen reactions by people who see it in a different way.
I found myself in a position where, unbeknownst to me, as a result of a disciplinary action by a senior colleague of mine, we discovered, as is evidenced in the press now—and I think the e-mails are actually in the public arena—that the then leader of the council had been conspiring to force me out of my job. And I had two choices. You can bring this right back to the Nolan principles—I live by integrity. My whole public life has been about integrity, and I could have just sat back and done nothing, and, in my view, that would have started to see Liverpool drift back to those very dreadful times that we had brought it back out of. So, I took a decision that I wasn't going to take this lying down, and so I stood up to it, with some consequences, because, as you will know, standing up to a politician is sometimes difficult for an official, and you have to take strength in your hands and say you’re going to do it. So, I did, and, as a result of that, the leader in question—it’s a matter of public record—was referred to the Local Government Standards Board, not by me, and was required to resign, and he did. But, clearly, that made my position untenable, from the point of view that I had taken on city hall, as it were—the political leadership—and I recognise that. But I thought that was more important than just succumbing to what I regarded as a harking back to the worst old days of Liverpool.
Now in terms of leaking confidential information, if you’re referring to—. Well, I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but there are number of—. One was about a tram issue—
That was not confidential information; it was publicly available information, which was shared with the Government department, and the city council was very clear about its views on that.
So, the press reports were incorrect, then?
I believe the press reports were incorrect.
And the leader of the Labour group on the council who called for you to be suspended and discredited for gross misconduct was wrong.
I believe so.
And I now, indeed, work with him closely as mayor of Liverpool.
Okay. So, could you explain to us, then, why would a Government Minister at the time, who's now Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, say that you were a man, and I quote,
'in whom I have no confidence and for whom I have no respect'?
She, in fact, was one of 22 MPs who wrote an open letter, saying that they were unable to work with you when you were appointed chief executive of the north-west England NHS trust.
Because, again—. And I stand by my record of what I did in Liverpool in local government. If you are intent on making change to actually improve an organisation's effectiveness, you will break some eggs, and—
There are quite a few eggs broken there, though, aren't there?
Well, the eggs in question were very simple. I still, to this day, do not know what her specific complaint was. We've never had a conversation about that. All I know was that we went through a major reform and transformation of social services, which was, frankly, living in the days of yore. It should have been transformed many years previously. In Liverpool, as you well know, when I went in there, we employed 25,000 people and were the second worst performing council in the country with the highest council tax. When I left, we'd reduced the workforce, we were one of the highest performing councils and we'd actually reduced the council tax. There were some awful, appalling practices in that workforce, not the result of the workforce but the way it had been led. So, I was challenging the orthodoxy of many years of Labour administration, frankly, in that time.
So, are you asserting that the 22 MPs who signed the letter—that that was politically motivated by them?
Was that politically motivated, then, the letter from the MPs?
The original complaint, as you put it, was indeed politically motivated. What went on with her and the other MPs, I don't know.
When you became CEO of Alder Hey hospital, there was a high-profile resignation at that time as well. The project director of the new hospital's health park development, Richard Glenn, said that your appointment was so controversial that it would impact on his ability to successfully deliver the new hospital. He was compelled to say that he
'had grave concerns about the final list of candidates, insofar as it contained the name of Sir David Henshaw. I felt obliged to inform the chief executive and the senior independent director that in the event of Sir David becoming the chair I would not be able to continue in my role as project director.'
This kind of trouble seems to follow you around, doesn't it?
No. I think if he was reacting to my determination to do things and get things done properly, that's a matter for him. I can't comment on his motives. I never met him, I never knew him. And, as you may know, we indeed built a wonderful new hospital, which has got an extraordinary reputation and is delivering a great service for children. So, I'm sorry—. And indeed, as you know, the governors and all those involved who confirmed my appointment were very happy with it and reappointed me again and again. So, I'm sorry, but I can't comment on some comment that's been made. I've never met him, never understood what his motives were. There may have been other things happening behind the scenes, as I was led to understand, which may have led to his position.
Clearly, Natural Resources Wales has been in quite a difficult position and continues to battle its way through a number of challenges—financial, staffing, issues with a number of stakeholders, or some stakeholders, at least. Clearly, it needs a strong hand on the tiller, it needs someone who builds bridges. There are concerns, surely, from some of the issues that I've listed, that your background tends to be littered slightly with controversy and acrimony when it comes to dealing with, in some instances, staff, in other instances public servants who oversee the work, and, in other instances, again, politicians who scrutinise some of that work.
I can only push back and say this: in my whole public service career, I've seen too many people walk away from challenges that need to be sorted out. I've anchored my public service career on integrity and doing the right thing. I will push back on taking people with you, because the whole purpose of my approach in Liverpool was to take a marooned city council, isolated in the city, separate from every other part of the city's stakeholder population—business, unions, you name it—and to build a new pluralism in Liverpool that actually enabled the city to win, and enabled the city to win European capital of culture, which I was one of the leaders of. Now, that is not about controversy. That's about building stakeholders, taking people with you. But I will not shirk away from facing difficult decisions and taking decisions that sometimes, frankly, don't find political favour, because often people don't want things sorted out because it suits people for things not to be sorted out. That's why I've built my career, and, indeed, I would say, built my reputation, because I believe I have a significant reputation, as my curriculum vitae demonstrates, for being recognised for that ability. So, I'm not making any apologies for occasionally getting into a ruck where I actually believe I'm in the right and actually taking people with me. So far in NRW—so far—there have been a few moments, as you well know, but I'm building very good relationships with stakeholders and we are making huge progress in repositioning this organisation as an effective arm's-length body that should be indispensable to Wales, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly.
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. Neil Hamilton—which leads neatly on to—
I'm no stranger to controversy either. I also have had to endure avalanches of false allegations too, so none of what I've just heard dissuades me from your capacity to do the job. I'd like to go back to the issues that have been most in the public domain about NRW, and that led to the qualification of their accounts for four years in succession, including the last set of audited accounts. The auditor general has, of course, said that the reasons for doing that are largely historical, and you've come in as a new broom, along with Clare Pillman, to sweep out the Augean stables. It is a significant black mark for NRW to have failed successively for so many years, so you've obviously got a huge internal problem of culture to sort out, which has led to the deplorable situation that we all know about. So, perhaps you could give us some concrete explanation of, having inherited this terrible mess, what you, as the chair, have decided is the way out of it and the bare bones of the new NRW culture that you think should succeed it and prevent all of this happening again.
There are two parts to the answer to that question. The first is, if you like, what we have done to sort it out, and that has been the subject of much discussion and much scrutiny by your partner committee. We are making significant progress—absolutely significant progress—in dealing with the specific issues that faced us in relation to the timber contracts and the way the timber business was organised. Indeed, on my arrival, I set up a timber oversight group with the board to actually drive that, because I was not convinced that we had the, if you like, proper oversight and proper involvement of the non-executive part of the board with the executive to actually make significant change.
So, if you like, the mechanics—the bits that need to be fixed—are being fixed. They relate to contracts and they relate to the way we do business. I know, from the Royal Welsh and other conversations, that the industry is finding some of this quite difficult, because my way of putting it is that we are turning some of our approaches into twenty-first century practices, frankly. We were doing business in a way that was out of date. So, we are doing that and that is being evidenced. I think the work that Grant Thornton have done, which has been in the public arena over recent months—. And, indeed, we have the Wales Audit Office in currently, and we are in front of the Public Accounts Committee in December, and we will evidence the fact that we have made massive progress.
But, it demonstrated an approach and culture in that part of the organisation, which is present elsewhere, to a degree, of a failure to produce a modernity in approach, to have the right people in the right place and to have the right systems and processes. We've had to do a pretty fundamental rebuild of the way we operate that part of the organisation. We've let our staff down, frankly. This should have been done, and we've let our people down, but we're doing it very quickly now. I'm feeling far more confident than I was even three months ago that we're seeing the results of that. We've appointed a new head of commercial, we've brought new people in and we have a whole new team operating around the whole forestry and timber sales side of the business.
Also, we're looking at the depth and capability, frankly, in the whole forestry operation. That isn't just about timber sales; it's about timber planting et cetera, et cetera. So, I would say back to you that I feel the mechanics are being sorted out. The culture side is more of a slower burn, and it's part of the reorganisation we've been undertaking, particularly going to an area level, where things are being dealt with at the area level with local partners. But we are making progress there as well. I feel confident that we are seeing ourselves getting there.
Our accounts this year were qualified because of what we discovered, frankly; we discovered it and then opened them up. And we are sorting those issues out. I suspect our accounts will be qualified next year because the issues that we're sorting out are still present in this financial year. It will be more of a—. If there are degrees of qualification, it will be this end—the very low end—with, I hope, from the auditor general and PAC, a recognition that massive progress has been made.
Well, I was on the PAC at the time that we inquired into the timber contracts initially, and I wonder to what extent the problems that were revealed as part of that investigation go back to what we started out by talking about—meshing together completely different organisations into one. This is a commercial arm of NRW. I appreciate that the issues of planting and so on go wider than just commercial activities, and, for myself, I do not want to see the hills of Wales repopulated with square miles of dead conifer, with all the wildlife implications of that—
Sorry to interrupt. We are replanting with a mixture of trees.
Exactly. So, I wonder to what extent you are able to temper the commercial side of the business with the other considerations that you're responsible for and vice versa. This is, to an extent, a cultural change, which is difficult to describe in concrete terms, but what internal changes are there within NRW to make it a more commercial organisation on the one hand but whilst protecting its other environmental and regulatory functions?
Just to assure you, that sort of challenge is at the centre of our decision making. It's not something we ever forget. But, clearly, if we're running a commercial timber business, and we have to provide timber for the businesses of Wales, we have to do it in a right way and a commercial way, and, frankly, a properly organised, good processes, good governance, transparent way at a standard, which—. You know, I've said to the timber industry, 'We need twenty-first century standards here in business practice'. And we're doing that in concert with them. So, I have no worries about us having that balance of challenge.
I do think that—. You're right to reflect back that some of this was about actually when the organisation was brought together. One of the issues—it's a bit of a detail, but it gives you a bit of an insight—would be the strength of corporate functions, like finance, legal et cetera, and how much they were connected with the forestry business when NRW was connected. So, you had the three organisations being brought together and a central function side of the organisation being put with it. I have a sense that the central functions didn't provide proper oversight, didn't provide direction around some of these issues that you've referred to. We have changed that. It's collaborative, but it's a very clear, strategic direction from the centre around some of these things. We're also specifically rebuilding business process, which means—. At the very prosaic level it means new terms and conditions for contractors—all these sorts of things that make a big difference, actually, to the way you do your business.
Lastly, in the course of the latest audit, it was found by the auditor general that NRW departed from its own procurement policies, requirements of its framework document, and procurement regulations, which led to a regularity qualification. So, that's not really to do with any commercial failings; that's, really, a structural failing simply to obey the rules that you set yourself, and some of them set externally. So—
It speaks to the point I've just made about the strength of the legal and finance central functions about making sure business is being done the right way.
Grant Thornton were appointed before the initial work was done on the latest set of accounts. So, they weren't appointed specifically to look at those points, but, no doubt, that also forms part of their review of the organisation going forward. Grant Thornton effectively said that you need wholesale reform inside NRW. So, you say that is going according to plan. Within what sort of time frame do you think these changes will be completed?
Well, we would hope by the PAC in December to be able to present a picture of a rapidly changed organisation, having put a lot of things in place. It won't be the finished job. Clare Pillman and I were talking about this last week: our expectation is that by the end of this financial year we'll be able to say, 'We've done a lot of the heavy lifting now, actually, and some of this is fine tuning'. Our sense at the moment is we've still got a bit of a job to do, but at the moment, it's going very well. You have your days when it goes a bit backwards because, inevitably, these things happen in organisations, but my sense will be by the end of this financial year, we'll be able to say, 'Yes, we're pretty much on top of this now.' And we've got the infrastructure, the processes, the culture's changing, and we feel like we're in a far better place than we were 18 months ago. But as I said, I suspect our accounts will be qualified again because, as you appreciate, some of the issues this year are things we're dealing with, so they're bound to be qualified by the auditors. But it will be the language of qualification, I suspect, that will be very different. That would be my intention.
And will this have been achieved—my last question—with significant changes of personnel and replacements, or is it a case of internal re-education? I don't want names, but—
I can't talk about individuals, but we've made some changes, yes.
I just wanted to probe a little bit on the—. You talk, in your initial statement, about the new approach including a different partnering approach where NRW gets others to do the lifting. How are you going to ensure the organisation doesn't fall into a different set of financial qualifications where there's a lack of clarity on what that actually means?
Well, the core of that is good governance. So, let me give you an example: you've got polluted rivers. Now, the pollution is caused by a variety of factors—some agricultural pollution, some other types of pollution. We have inspectors who go around farms, for example, giving advice and looking at assessing the situation with regard to agricultural pollution. We also have colleagues, fisheries colleagues, whom we trust; we have all sorts of people involved, and then we have people who are involved in cleaning up rivers and the rest of it. What I think we are suggesting and looking at, in some detail—and we are actively pursuing this at the moment—is actually creating almost like a stakeholder ownership of the challenge. So, instead of NRW trying to do it through different silos: through regulation, a convening power, or whatever, we bring people together in, if you like, a stakeholder relationship around the catchment area and say, 'Will you now share the responsibility for sorting some of this out?'
There is some evidence that farmers find it easier to talk to river trust colleagues, getting advice from them, rather than some of our inspectors who appear to be perceived as, if you like, the police arriving, which I understand; it's a perfectly understandable reaction. So, it may be that we would use other colleagues to do some more of our advisory function, for example, and build confidence with colleagues who are seeking to make progress in reducing pollution, or the risk of pollution.
Now, to do that properly, we need to have good, proper governance around the relationship we have with those bodies that we are working with, or creating. We have to have proper service-level agreements, I would call them, from my world, actually, so you know what you're being asked to do; you know what the cost of it is; you know what you're being paid for, and measure the outputs so we know what we're getting. So, rather different from what I may have seen in the timber sales world. That would be my simple answer.
I want to move on now to organisational design and staff sickness, of course, which is featured. No organisation, as you've already alluded to, is anything without the staff. So, I want to know whether you're confident that the vision that you're trying to project, moving forward, is shared by the confidence of the staff.
The staff have gone through a very difficult period of organisational design, as it's called. It's taken too long, it's been too bureaucratic in my judgment, but I arrived halfway through the play, as it were. And it was not even remotely feasible to think about challenging that; it had to be undertaken. I think all we had to do was try and speed it up as fast as we could, and we've done that. I think it is now nearing the end of its formulation—we went live on 1 July.
There is no doubt there are some colleagues still feeling a bit angsty about how it all went, but I get around a lot and visit places and meet staff, and I'm hearing more and more confidence being expressed, particularly in areas by colleagues who suddenly are seeing that they are being empowered to get on and just do the job and make the decisions at a local area level. Whether it's true or not, they have had a sense that everything was Cardiff dominated from the head office. I think in some cases it was, in other cases it wasn't; it's a mixed bag.
If you think about public services boards, my description has been that we've had a public services board with some people sitting around it and we've been about two rows back, as an organisation, because the people we've had representing us have not been able to put their hands up and commit to expenditure on particular initiatives, for example. Now, my line has been that we need to have our people right in the front row, around that table with other partners, sorting things out locally and agreeing the priorities and agreeing what we're going to do. Now, I've seen huge enthusiasm from teams who are in that space now and getting together and working together as teams across disciplines, recognising that they have that shared responsibility for an area. And it's certainly very, very encouraging to see that. They've been given permission to get on and do the job they want to really do, and we just need to support them doing that. And I'm passionate about that. The more power you give away, the more powerful you are, because you're letting people, if you like, take decisions themselves, in the context of a Wales policy for NRW, but it's about liberating people to do the work they need to do.
But it's a mixed picture because we still have areas where we haven't got to the end of that journey, and also, we've got areas where we've lost expertise and we're having to re-acquire it. At the moment, we're recruiting a great number of people from outside to fill some of the gaps we've now got in the new organisation, and that's going pretty well. We are in the foothills of this, but I am detecting—and, again, the chief executive and I were stocktaking this this week—and I am feeling pretty good about it, actually. When you go to an area, or go to an office, you're still getting some jangles around things that are still not going right, and we are a bit lumpy in some of our processes, but that's any organisation. You might even have them here in the south, I don't know, but you need to reform and transform your business process and get a lot more efficient, but we are making big progress.
You've talked about efficiency and bringing staff with you, because those two things are always tricky, and we've talked about structures as well. So, how are you going to ensure that those new structures and those new ways of working effectively are managed in terms of staff, but also taking care of the staff at the same time? Because the NRW sickness absences, particularly related to mental health, have increased in recent years.
Well, as I said earlier on, there are measures that we use to judge the health of the—not just the physical and mental health, but the state of our workforce's feelings about it, which we look very carefully at. And I am confident that we will see those improve. I can't underestimate—. It has been a very testing time for our people. And I'll be candid: I think it's taken too long and sometimes we haven't been as clear and as good at communicating things as we could've been, but we are where we are and we have to just get on and—. And also, frankly, I think a lot of our people have felt a bit punished because of what's gone on in timber, for example; they've felt a bit sort of besmirched by some of that and felt that NRW has had a bit of a bad rap. Whilst, at the same time, our people have been doing extraordinary work on storm Callum, flooding and all these sorts of things that go on day in, day out. You don't see any of this, it isn't in the headlines, but you see extraordinary work. I won't bore you with what I've been doing this last week or so, but what you see every day just being done as a matter of routine business is extraordinary, and I think we need to be a bit smarter about playing that back to the Welsh population and Wales, frankly.
So, having done all of that, and feeling confident that things are moving along quickly and staff are being valued more than they felt they were before, will we be seeing evidence of that in the next report?
I hope so. The board is very on top of this, looking at the measures we use to make decisions about where we are. And some of it's the softer stuff. At board meetings, we have presentations from staff. We've had presentations on Welsh language and on mental health issues, which we had at a recent board meeting. All of these things that, actually, are showing that the well-being agenda for staff in our organisation is at the top now, for us. And I can say no more. We've got a lot to do. This is not unusual in an organisation that's gone through difficult challenges and has faced a lot of criticism. A lot of colleagues, particularly in NRW actually, because of the nature of what we do, have felt it very personally. So, whilst it's been, maybe, just some failures in a particular part, they've taken it quite personally about the way that our reputation has been besmirched because of it. Some of the comment has been unfair, some of it has been very fair, but, day to day, there's extraordinary work going on. I was over in the Haven last week at St David's, seeing the work that our marine people are doing—extraordinary stuff going on. But it's just never there, visible, but it's benefiting Wales.
So, moving on, just one final question, you've said repeatedly that people don't know what it is that your staff are doing, what they're achieving. You've said that you want to build relationships with the locality, but should not one of those relationships be getting that information out there in those localities, and then the local people—and that's your workforce who are local, as well as the people who occupy the space—would have those relationships by having that out there and recognised by the people they're serving? So, if you agree with that, what have you done to effect that change?
So, at the moment, we're currently putting together a different approach on engagement with stakeholders, which I referred to earlier—when I say 'stakeholders', I don't just mean colleagues around this table, I mean stakeholders at a very local level, the community—and how we do that. I think we've got a bit to do to improve the way we communicate. We do put out an awful lot of very good stories. Unfortunately, sometimes, the press don't seem to pick them up in the way that we might like. But maybe we need to do things a bit differently, and that's my point about rewriting the playbook. The social media thing nowadays just obscures a lot of what goes on.
We have a current flooding issue, an area, which you probably know about, where—I won't get into the detail of it—we have made no decisions about any options that we will take forward. We are still in the process of assimilating the information, looking at the evidence and obviously taking views. We haven't even started the consultation yet, and yet, if you look at the social media, it's a slam dunk, we've made the decision, the bulldozers are arriving next week. That is completely and utterly untrue. Sometimes, your ability to refute that through a press release is pretty limited, so maybe we need to be a bit more aggressive on social media and just be clear, 'No, it's not true; it's a lie,' or whatever it's called now.
Okay, thank you.
Actually saying, 'It's a lie,' is one of the things I do when people say things that are untrue about me, and I find that very helpful. It takes out any confusion that might exist.
Can I talk you through NRW for a moment, and ask you if you agree with what I'm saying and what you intend to do to try and deal with it? NRW was formed by joining three very distinct organisations who had their own ICT systems, et cetera, which turned out to be far more expensive than the Welsh Government ever thought it was going to be to merge them. You've had lots of invest-to-save money to paper over that crack and try and get the system all working together, but all this has been done at a time when the amount of money for public sector expenditure has reduced, where the environment has not, in any way, been immune from that and NRW has been one of those organisations that have borne some of the brunt of these reductions at a time when the Welsh Government want you to do more. Do you agree with that, and if you do, how do we take it forward?
I suddenly feel I'm being held responsible from day one of NRW, but—
No, I'm not going to—. I was just looking at the organisation from day one.
I accept that. I'd push back a bit by saying I think we've moved it a bit beyond three organisations coming together now, I think we are in a very different space. We are operating in a different space and progressively we will get more confidence about operating there differently. It is true, our performance in some areas has been not as good as it could have been, and it's true that the agenda we're facing is growing all the time. So, as I've said in my questionnaire, if you look at the challenges, putting aside Brexit for the moment, clearly, the culture of the organisation is the core one, as I said, but also, frankly, how effective we are at delivering and the resource base we've got to do it.
We've talked about trees. We could make a big difference planting a wide range of different tree types, but the question is the resource base we've got to do it. Flooding issues—we've dealt with some schemes already. I suspect we're getting into the more difficult schemes now, as you know, where the balance of what is required is going to be very difficult to judge. It won't be for us to judge it, it'll be for us to make a judgment on what we would recommend, but it will be for others to make the call about what's more important—the historic forest or ancient woodland or protecting x number of houses. That is going to be a measure of judgment. If you look at coastal flooding, there will be some very difficult decisions about what communities will do in the future, which is not a matter for NRW but a matter for Wales as a whole—if you like, your world and the Government world. These are very difficult and are increasingly more difficult decisions that will have to be taken. My job, as I see it, with the chief executive, the board and the team is to get NRW operating in such a way that it's effective, efficient and manages to cope with this new, rising level of challenge.
One of the phrases that Clare Pillman came up with last week or the week before—. We're currently working on building a 2050 vision, of trying to get Wales to start thinking about what it wants to be; not our vision, but what Wales would like to be. But, from our point of view, we would like a population that's environmentally literate, that we all live our lives in a way that is environmentally sound. Now, that's a challenge for all of us, but we've got a big role in helping to make people environmentally literate. I think it's a cracking way of describing it, and I think we've got to push hard on that.
Can I just say one of the good things that's happened near where I am is a flood plain was created and, instead of flooding houses and buildings, it actually floods land, and then it 'unfloods' it, if such a word exists, and water retreats back into the river and it doesn't affect anybody? So, there are some very good things that are being done. But you talked in the pre-appointment questionnaire about playing a lead role in Wales's response to the Welsh Government's declaration of a climate emergency in Wales, whilst emphasising that this is also an environmental emergency, and I agree entirely with that. But the services reduced have included biodiversity monitoring and climate change policy resources. How do you square that? You could throw it back at us as an Assembly as well because, if we think that's important, why aren't we putting more money into it? But within your resources, is it an area you should be cutting back?
I deal with what resources we are given to do our role. We would argue for more resources, but I'm not going to get into a fight about saying it's the right amount or the wrong amount. We will do what we can within the resource base that we're given. We'll lobby for more resources, or argue with Ministers for more resources on the agenda that we're facing, but the most important thing is to make sure we deliver within existing resources what we're doing, and making sure ourselves that the organisation becomes a lot more effective and efficient in what it does. For me that's the first thing, and then we've got at the same time to think a bit differently about how we try and discharge our role.
Sorry, I didn't phrase the question particularly well. It's about prioritisation. You have lots of money. How you spend it falls within your remit and, if you're taking money out of biodiversity, that means you don't think it's as high a priority as something else.
The board has a responsibility to make these judgments, and I can do no more than say we will continue to make these judgments in the best way we can.
Thank you. Anybody else?
Can I follow up on that point about it being up to them? It isn't entirely, because there's a remit letter that comes out, and I just wanted to bring that to the table. So, in terms of delivering, you might be at arm's length, and you have some flexibility, but there is direction from the Government in where you travel.
So, in terms of the remit letter, going forward, do you have any opportunity to discuss that? From the observations that you make and the things that you see on the ground, do you have a discussion about what you see that might not have been in the previous remit letter, and I'm suspecting that the climate emergency wasn't in the previous remit letter? I know you can't influence because you're at arm's length, but can you bring those views to the table? I suppose I'll put it that way.
Yes, absolutely. The remit letter doesn't just come out of the blue. It's subject to a dialogue that goes on 12 months of the year, frankly, as we learn more, we understand more, we feed that into Welsh Government, and Welsh Government feeds back to us emerging policies. You look at all the policies that are emerging on agriculture, and we are intimately involved with discussions with officials and Ministers about those policies. So, the remit letter, when it arrives, is not a surprise. If there's something in there that's a surprise, we've failed, and that hasn't happened yet.
Okay. Thank you.
Thank you, Chair. We constantly express our concerns about this unsustainable trajectory of increased duties and reducing resources. But you mentioned, of course, Brexit as one of the key risks facing NRW, as if everything else wasn't enough. So, could you just elaborate a little bit about what risks NRW, and the aims that we're all trying to achieve, are exposed to by that?
Well, to try to give you as much comfort as I can, we are as well prepared as anybody else. [Laughter.]
Well, I'm not sure that's very comforting.
In the sense that, in terms of a possible hard Brexit at the end of October, we are working and are intimately involved with Welsh Government preparations. We're on all the working groups and our own resilience has been tested—thoroughly tested. All of our systems have been tested around the sort of issues that might come up, and they range, as you would imagine, quite a lot. They range from the supply of water to all sorts of issues. So, at the moment, I'm feeling like we're carrying on doing what we're doing and testing it all, and we are as well prepared as anybody can be, I think, at the moment. There are still some unknowns, as we all know, I think. I'm not sure I can say much more about it, except to say that the core bit for us is our resilience as an organisation in responding to events that may occur as a result of a hard Brexit on 31 October.
And would you say that all the legal and regulatory bases are covered in that respect, then, apart from resources?
I think we're getting there, but, as you will know from your world, it's a very difficult challenge.
Can I just ask what sort of events are you imagining might take place if there is a 'no deal' Brexit, for which you will have to prepare?
Well, they range, but these are scenarios that we still are working around. They range around animal markets, the price of the export of animals and what the effect might be of a big delay in that, what the effect will be of supplies of chemicals in terms of fresh water. These are issues that—. You would expect any good Government organisation, at arm's length or not, to start working on all these scenarios. So, I'm not suggesting that any of these are coming to pass; all I'm saying is we are planning for every eventuality we can within our remit.
I have some difficulty in understanding quite what threat there is to fresh water from Brexit.
Well, if you look at some of the evidence, actually, that's publicly available, there might well be supplies of chemicals that could be disrupted that the water companies use in relation to treating water for human consumption. I haven't got the exact detail in front of me, I'm afraid, Mr Hamilton, but I know that's an issue that has come up in our discussions.
Are we going to ban the imports of these chemicals, or are exports going to be banned?
No, no; it's a supply chain issue. It's a supply chain issue. Most of these come back to supply chain issues and, actually, the impact then on all the things that happen around those supply chains, like markets and all the rest of it.
Can I thank you very much for coming along this morning and answering our questions?
If I can abuse my position as Chair to say to Neil Hamilton that the question you should be asking is why we lost the capacity to make a large number of these things in our country during the 1980s. But I think I'm abusing my position in doing that.
Can I thank you again very much? We will deliberate later. Thank you.
Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.
Can we note correspondence from the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales in relation to the commissioner's first future generations report?
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 can I move the motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for item 8?
We're still in public and there are still public here.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:59.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:59.