Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd
Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd11/06/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Andrew R.T. Davies MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS|
|Mike Hedges MS|
|Neil Hamilton MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dean Medcraft||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Dr Christianne Glossop||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Gian Marco Currado||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|John Howells||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Keith Smyton||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Lesley Griffiths MS||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|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.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:29.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:29.
Bore da. Good morning, everybody. Can I welcome Members to the virtual meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? I'll introduce the Minister, Lesley Griffiths, and either she or her officials can introduce themselves.
Thank you, Chair. I'll let officials introduce themselves, perhaps starting with Dean, because he's the first one I can see.
Good morning, everybody. My name's Dean Medcraft, director of finance operations, economy, skills and natural resources group.
Good morning, everyone. Gian Marco Currado. I'm the environment and marine director at Welsh Government.
John Howells, director of climate change and energy.
Sorry. Christianne Glossop, the chief veterinary officer, is also on the line, and Keith Smyton, deputy director of the food division.
Thank you very much, Minister.
I think it was probably easier.
We've had no apologies. We've got no substitutions. Have we got any declarations of interest?
I'll just declare—it's in the Members' register of interest—that I'm a director in a farming business.
Thank you very much.
We've reached that stage now where we're moving on to questions. Can I ask the first question to the Minister? Can I say, first of all, that I welcome that, in response to changing demand, Hybu Cig Cymru has launched a consumer campaign to encourage people to purchase larger cuts of meat to bring the restaurant experience to the home?Can you provide any update on the success of this campaign, and how long is it likely to continue?
Thank you very much, Chair, and, yes, we gave £1.2 million through the ring-fenced fund to deliver a national consumer campaign, encouraging consumers to 'make it with beef'. You mentioned Hybu Cig Cymru—it's being done with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the Quality Meat Scotland organisations, as well. The aim is to reach about 85 per cent of UK households, and to deliver a 3:1 return on investment. So, I attended the HCC board meeting last week, and early indications were that it was going very well. They'd had an incredible number of hits and views for the campaign. HCC are also running campaigns with celebrity chefs cooking as well, and that's also going down very well. We're going to look to do it for a few weeks, and then the main one that I referred to, that goes to probably mid summer. So, I guess July, August—I'm not quite sure when mid summer is, but we certainly hope to run that for a little while.
Thank you. Andrew Davies wants to come in on this.
Two things if I may, Minister. One, the chief scientific officer, yesterday, of the UK Government, highlighted the dangers of a second spike. What preparations, if any, have you been doing in the department should a second spike of any magnitude come in that will affect markets? Obviously, this time around we've seen the closure of the service sector. If a second spike were to happen in the winter, that would put huge pressure on the livestock sector in particular. So, has any modelling or any work been undertaken by your department, especially animal health officials, into the aspect around a second spike?
And I questioned you in the last committee session around private storage aid. Thankfully, in the beef and sheep market, in the UK, anyway, we don't seem to have required that this time around. If there were to be a second spike, have you given any consideration to private storage aid, which other countries have made extensive use of, such as the Republic of Ireland, to support markets?
Thank you, Andrew. So, I suppose, the answer to both parts of the question, generally, is that we haven't done any specific modelling as yet. Obviously we will have a lot of lessons that we have been able to learn over the past three months. In relation to private storage aid, as you mentioned, that's been available since 7 May. So, again, we will look at what usage we've had of that, if, indeed, we do have a second spike, which, of course, we hope we don't have. But you can imagine that, having dealt with the last three months or so, there will be a lot of experience that we've had that will help if we do indeed have a second, or even a third spike.
Just for clarification, if I may, Chair, I'm right in saying that private storage aid has not been used in the UK, has it? Because I think you indicated there that you're going to make an assessment of what use had been made of it. I hadn't thought any use—[Interruption.]
No, it's there for use if we need it, obviously. So, if we do use it over the coming months, we would then have that experience, but, if we don't, then, no. But at least it's available.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask for an update, really, on—. Am I—? No, I'm not muted. Okay. Sorry. [Laughter.]
I can hear you.
Yes, good. Just an update, really, on where we are with the Glastir payments. As of 7 May, the figures that I have been provided with suggest that only just over half the payments for Glastir Entry and Advanced have been made.
So, I met with both the farming unions on Monday, and one of my officials attended to give us an update. I haven't got the exact percentage in relation to Glastir, and I'm not sure if any other officials have got it. But, certainly, there had been an increase in the number of payments that we had around the basic payment scheme. I know that the figure for BPS by the end of June—which, as you know, is the main date; 30 June—was going to be 95 per cent. But, I don't know if anybody has got any up-to-date figures on Glastir.
The figures that I was provided with for 7 May suggest—well, they didn't suggest; they told me—that 53 per cent of payments had been made, and that there was over £11 million in unpaid payments.
So, I know that there has been an increase since 7 May, but I haven't got the figure. I could write, Chair, if Members are happy with that.
That would be useful because, clearly, you understand the need to get that money out and, clearly, it's money that people have already spent, and they are not in the best place, really—
No, absolutely. The official who attended the farming unions meetings on Monday was very clear that this is obviously a priority. So, what I will do, Chair, is get the figure for today, up to—I can't remember if it's the tenth or the eleventh—11 June, and we will write to the committee so that Llyr has that up-to-date figure.
Thank you, Minister. Just more broadly on RDP funding, you answered a written question of mine recently, explaining that just 67 per cent of RDP pillar 1 transfer funds that have been spent to date have actually been paid direct to Welsh farm and forestry businesses. Now, of course, when the decision was made to transfer the level that was transferred, then the promise was made by the previous Minister, of course, that at least 80 per cent of that would find its way back to the front line, if you like, and those who were pillar 1 recipients.
Now, we also know that only 55 per cent of pillar transfer funds have actually been spent to date. So, of the £244 million that's in the pot, £136 million has been spent, with only £91 million of that figure actually going back to the front line. So, that leaves a balance of £108 million. So, how are you going to ensure that that money is going to be spent in time, but also be spent according to what was promised, in terms of directly supporting farm and forestry businesses?
So, obviously, this is a very complex area, but officials are working through this because we need to make sure that we spend as much of that funding as possible, and that we spend it correctly. So, this is a big piece of work that officials are doing at the current time. Again, probably, I suppose the best way to explain it at the moment is that we are looking at what activity can be delivered in the quickest time.
We also need to look at the pressures across Welsh Government that will impact on the payments and how we respond to that. So, again, perhaps when I give you the Glastir update, I will have to give you some specific figures around that. But, I think that I've got a meeting next week on RDP and rural payments, so I'll be able to provide a better update then.
Sorry, when you say 'pressures across Government', does that suggest that the money might be used elsewhere in Government?
No, I was just saying—. You can imagine, my budget—well, all of the budgets—has had to be reset and reprioritised. We're constantly looking at the budgets, so I wouldn't want to say something that then turned out not to be correct. So, I would rather wait until I have that meeting next week and then update you, if that's okay.
Okay, because time is of the essence as well, isn't it, really? We are aware of that and of the Treasury guarantee that has been provided, in that, obviously, products approved by the end of this year will be guaranteed. My understanding is that there is—or there was in the last figures that have been published—around £163 million in uncommitted RDP funds. I think it's £828 million that is the full pot: £665 million committed, and £163 million left. So, how confident are you that that money is going to be committed to projects in time to make sure that that money isn't lost?
We are absolutely committed to getting to 100 per cent by the end of the year, but, as I say, I will provide the committee with an update following the meetings next week.
Okay, thank you. Finally, Chair, if I may, on the milk support that you announced recently, of course, that had been tweaked slightly, hadn't it, from what was originally announced in terms of a 25 per cent drop in farm income moving to a 25 per cent fall in average milk price? Maybe you could explain the rationale behind that, but also maybe you could tell us about how you're publicising this, and, again, I don't know whether you've reassessed how many applications you expect to receive.
Straight after this meeting, actually, I'm having a further meeting with the NFU, and I'm really grateful to the unions and to the group for all the work they've put into this. As you know, the scheme hasn't been opened yet. We're opening it a week today, on 18 June. I think it is very well publicised. We have been able to get that out in all our literature that's gone out—e-mails that have gone out to farmers—and the farming unions have obviously been very helpful to us in making sure that farmers are aware of this scheme.
We've worked very closely, as you know, with the industry to make sure we have this scheme correct. It's open till 14 August and, as you say, eligible dairy farmers will need to demonstrate they've suffered a reduction of 25 per cent or more in the average price paid for their milk in April and then subsequently May when compared to February 2020. So, the scheme was worked on very closely with the dairy group and the farming unions, as I said, and that was the criteria that we decided on.
When I was in committee—I think it was 9 May I was last in committee—I had hoped to have it up and running a little bit quicker than we have, but I don't think there's been any criticism about the length of time. I think farmers and the farming unions, certainly, think it's been better to do it this way. It's enabled dairy farmers to gather the relevant information and data that they need to support their application. So, a week today, we'll be launching it and it's open till 14 August.
Thank you. Andrew. You're muted.
Sorry. In your letter you sent to the committee you highlighted that there'll be an uplift of £2.6 million due to the Bew review, and then another £2.6 million next year. Where will that money go? Will it go into pillar 1 payments, or hasn't it been identified as to where that money will go at the moment?
I've just committed it to BPS. So, again, and you will have heard me say this before, we have still not received that funding, but the £5.2 million that we were getting overall from the Bew review, as you say, we're splitting it into two years of £2.6 million. So, the commitment is it will go into BPS.
And on the dairy support scheme, I did press you in the last committee meeting about whether sheep and goat producers who have suffered financial loss would be eligible under the scheme. At that time, you weren't in a position to confirm whether they would be eligible or not. Are you in a position to confirm their eligibility today?
Yes. We've had a piece of work done around that to ensure that they are able to be included. It's a little bit more complex, as I'm sure you understand far better than I do, than we thought initially, but we are certainly looking to include them in it.
And finally, in your submission to us in the last committee meeting, you said that the department had estimated 100 producers would benefit from the scheme, but the unions indicated that they believed the figure was closer to 180 producers. As you're funding this from your own budget and your letter doesn't allude to this, to say that you've quantified the number of producers you think, have you got a better handle on how many producers are eligible for the scheme and the potential budget implications for your budget?
So, we still believe it is going to be 100 or in the early 100s. We didn't think it would be as many as the farming unions thought. But as you say, I'll be funding it from my own budget, so we'll have to see the number of applications that come through and, obviously, are processed when the scheme opens next Thursday.
Okay. Thank you.
Good morning, Minister.
When you were in front of us last time, you announced a temporary exclusion of bovine TB testing in calves that were under 180 days old if that testing couldn't be done safely within the current distancing guidelines, but that those exempted calves would still need a pre-movement test if they were to move off a holding where that test would normally have happened. Are those guidelines still in place? And moving forward, I don't know how many calves that would affect and what restrictions it would place, but how do you anticipate that we're going to resolve this issue?
Thank you. Yes, they are still in place. I think it'd just been introduced, the temporary exemption for calves under 180 days, when I came to committee last time. I think I'll pass over to—. As you said, it is a temporary amendment. We are keeping it under review while the social distancing requirements in relation to COVID-19, are in place. But I'll pass over to Christianne if there's any further—I'm sorry, I couldn't see you, Christianne—information you can give to Joyce, please.
Yes, thank you. Of course we're monitoring this very carefully and the arrangements are still in place. But just to make sure that everybody is completely clear: any calf that has not gone through that routine TB test—any calf over 42 days of age—is not able to move, as you say, until it has been pre-movement tested. Now, we took this decision reluctantly, but we recognise the challenge of completing the test in small bovines. Having said that, we're in very close contact with both veterinary delivery partners. We meet them at least once a fortnight, and they are telling us that quite a lot of calves are still being tested. So, where it's possible, they are being tested, and, overall, the impact is less than anticipated.
Now, we're in the planning phase of how to get back to requiring those animals to be tested, but at the moment, we don't have an intention to change that very quickly. But I would say, while we're thinking about TB, of course, we have ended up with some tests going overdue as a result of the difficulties on some farms, if a farmer, for example, is self-isolating and does not want a visit, and we've been monitoring it closely. So, towards the end of May, I can report that something like 11 per cent of the tests that should've been carried out during the last three months had gone overdue. So, it's 11 per cent of tests. But the difference between the number of tests that we require to be done on a weekly basis and the number that are being done, the difference is getting smaller. So, there is a catch-up happening, even now, and, of course, any test that does go overdue, then that whole herd is under restriction. So, we're really trying to keep a tight rein on it whilst respecting the fact that some tests can't happen at the moment.
If I can come back—. I mean, we're obviously in the nicer weather now. Conditions are probably better than they're going to be in the winter for these things to happen, so how do you see—? I know you said it's 11 per cent that hadn't been done, but it depends where that 11 per cent sits. Is it in the bigger herds or the smaller herds? I don't know the figures—it's just 11 per cent. So, I'm just concerned, on a welfare level, both for the farmer and also the animals. You know, if we've got animals stuck in situ that would normally move elsewhere, what sort of implication does that have for, as I say, both animal and farmer?
Sure. We recognise all of this and we're doing everything we can to make sure that we do catch up with that testing. It's interesting that although you might imagine that, with good weather conditions, that's when testing might well be happening, it's reasonably well distributed across the year because, obviously, we've had annual testing in place now for 10 years. And if you look at any kind of peak in testing, it tends to happen in the winter when the animals are in. So, it is a quieter time of year, and because we were completely on top of overdue tests before this started, the impact is less. But planning in those tests is a top priority right now, and we do recognise the potential implications.
But if a farmer is really concerned about the test, we're working with that farmer to make sure that if, perhaps, he or she can't be present at the test, can we provide support by enabling that test to be carried out without that person being present? So, each case is being dealt with individually.
Neil Hamilton. Unmute it, Neil. It's okay now.
Right, thanks. Good morning, Minister.
I'd just like to ask you about public access to farmland. The Welsh Government issued guidance to landowners on 7 April, and that followed a period at the end of March where there was a significant spike in the numbers of people rambling in the countryside, particularly in north Wales, in Snowdonia et cetera. That caused a certain amount of apprehensiveness about the possibility of coronavirus being transmitted, particularly, farmers were worried about what would happen in relation to paths that went through farmyards and so on. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, so I wonder whether you think this is still a potential problem.
Obviously, there are certain footpaths that are more likely to be congested than others; most footpaths won't be. So, to what extent do you still think that this is a potential problem now? As Joyce just pointed out, we're getting into a period of better weather and people want to get out of doors, lockdown is becoming more oppressive to lots of people, particularly people who are cooped up in terms. So, are you satisfied that the risk of transmissibility of the virus is now so low that we needn't be worried about this in the open air?
I haven't actually received many complaints from farmers. I remember Llyr, probably, I think, you're the only Member of the Senedd as well to raise this issue with me, and, certainly, I meet with the farming unions probably every 10 to 14 days at the current time, and it's not an issue that's been raised as a matter of concern. I think we have seen a significant increase in people over the past 11 weeks or so engaging in the countryside and in nature in a way that we haven't. We need to lock in that behaviour, going forward, when we come out of the pandemic, also. I think it's really important, as you say, for people's mental well-being that they do get out there and embrace the fresh air and the countryside. So, it certainly hasn't been raised with me by the farming unions, nor by—as I say, the only one I actually can remember is Llyr very early in the pandemic. So, I don't think it is a big issue at the moment.
We're moving into what should be the peak tourism period. Obviously, it's not going to be like other years, by any means, given travel restrictions, et cetera. But we can see from the public demonstrations last week that public fear of being kept together in close order with other people is much less now than it was a few weeks ago. Obviously, that problem is going to be much, much less of a threat to public health in the countryside than it could possibly be in towns. So, you're going to keep this under constant monitoring, I presume, so that if we get back to a stage where, in areas where normally there is a large number of tourists in the countryside in normal circumstances—nevertheless, we should be giving them clear guidance on how to behave responsibly in the countryside.
Neil Hamilton will be aware that next Thursday, the eighteenth, there will be an announcement from Welsh Government—well, on the Friday, it's the 21-day review again; they seem to come around very quickly, and, obviously, the First Minister will be making an announcement as to whether there will be able to be any further easing of the measures that we have in relation to the pandemic. Obviously, the 2m social distancing is really important, and that message, I think, has been—the majority of people are compliant with it. Unfortunately, we do see, of course—we've all seen, probably, in our constituencies, in our regions, people not complying. But, I think in general, and certainly looking at my own constituency, people have complied.
It's really important in relation to tourism. As you say, clearly, there is not going to be the level of tourism that we would expect, and we are, obviously, at that time of the year. It's very important that we continue to work very closely with our national parks, for instance. I know that they are considering opening car parks, for instance. But this is all under review by Welsh Government and there'll be a further announcement at the end of next week. If possible, depending on the R rate and the latest scientific and medical advice, the First Minister will announce if there are to be any adjustments. But I think we have to really reiterate that coronavirus is still here; people are still dying, unfortunately, and we are still seeing new cases every day.
We'll have to wait for the next guidance to be issued. I don't think we can take it any further today. Thank you.
Thank you. Apologies. I just wanted to ask you about food in relation to horticulture, because you wrote to the Landworkers Alliance in the middle of May saying that you were going to ask Ken Skates to see if farmers could be included in the economic resilience fund. But having seen him yesterday, we know that the latest eligibility criteria exclude agriculture and anybody who hasn't seen a 60 per cent drop in their business. What the Landworkers Alliance were saying to you was that here is an opportunity to make us less dependent on imports of horticulture, and to double our production. So I just wondered what your strategy now is to make us less vulnerable to imports of fruit and vegetables.
Thank you. As you know, the horticultural sector only makes up 1 per cent of the agricultural sector in Wales, so I think there is massive potential there to increase it. But we're not going to be able to, obviously, increase it that quickly, in relation to your concerns. Discussions around ERF: as you say, it's not for primary production, so the farmers that could access ERF in the first phase—and as you're aware, the second phase hasn't been opened yet—they could do it if they diversified. So, if they have a glamping business, for instance.
The new phase 2 of the economic resilience fund is due to open mid-June, and I know that officials have been continuing to have discussions with Ken Skates's officials around the possibility of that. But, of course, there are other schemes that people are able to access from Welsh Government. But you will know that horticulture is an area where I do think we have the potential to increase, but again, further discussions will be needed about that, and there's also the issue about seasonal workers as well. You'll be aware that, obviously, that was a matter of concern—that we wouldn't see the number of seasonal workers that we would have wanted to, to pick fruit and vegetables and harvest.
Indeed. Just coming back to the potential, we certainly have the potential to increase our horticulture, but without some capital loans it is very difficult for existing horticultural producers to expand, and they need to expand now, because now is the growing season. So I'm not at all clear how we are going to release that potential given the real threat, potentially, to our food security.
This is obviously something we were looking at in relation to a 'no deal' Brexit last year, for instance. So we are continuing to do that work, but as you can imagine, there's a significant amount of work being done in relation to COVID-19, meaning that we haven't been able to do other aspects of the work, and I suppose this would perhaps fall into that. But we're looking at food security, food supply, supply chains. I think what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, I think we've been incredibly fortunate that we haven't had food shortages, and that's been down to the hard work of many different aspects of the food supply chain. So I think it's something that we need to continue to make sure that it is as robust as possible. I do think that the food supply chain was robust; I think that showed. But this is all work that will be ongoing.
Okay, but this does relate to COVID-19, because we know that fruit and vegetables are the primary source of enabling people to build the resistance to COVID-19, and so it's essential, therefore, that the whole community has access to these foods.
Now, there was a report that came out by the University of York earlier this month, following on from many others, which is pointing out just how vulnerable we are to the imports, which mainly come from southern Spain, as well as Holland, and if there is further disruption, either because of a second outbreak of the disease, or because of a collapse of the Brexit negotiations, we simply could be without fruit and vegetables, given the amount that we are dependent on imports. And it's no use trying to do something about this in November, because things don't grow in November, unless they've already been well planted several months earlier. So, I absolutely am alarmed that we haven't, really, seized this moment to protect us from COVID and from other bumps in the road that may be coming along.
Well, officials are working on these issues. As I said, I haven't seen the report to which you refer, but certainly I haven't seen anything that tells us we won't be able to access the fruit and veg in the way that you are doing. We are very keen, as a Welsh Government, to make sure that our recovery is a green recovery, and I know that sounds—. We need to make that very meaningful, and right across Government we are looking at that and, clearly, this fits in as well. So, our officials are working on this. I might ask Keith if he's got anything that he can add.
Thanks, Minister. I hope everyone can hear me. Yes, my team is working closely on all these issues, analysing the evidence, working with our stakeholders. It is annoying, sometimes, that horticulture enterprises can't access all the funding that's available, equivalent to ERF et cetera, but we are working with them to see what we can do. We work with the processing sector, and we realise that we import more than 50 per cent of our horticulture, and we're trying to look at all these issues.
Okay, but you've set up a dairy-specific fund. Why have you not set up a horticulture-specific fund?
Well, as I said, it forms a very small part of the agricultural sector. And I have to say, and I don't know if Keith's got any figures around this, but we've certainly seen vegetable box schemes, for want of a better expression, really take off right across the country. I've spoken to many food producers who've said that their food boxes—. You'll be aware of the food boxes that we've been giving to the extremely vulnerable group, i.e. the shielded group. I think we've probably given—. I think it's about 14,000 people who have been receiving these boxes—this is the shielded group—and we've always made sure that there's been Welsh fruit—certainly, I think fruit—but certainly vegetables in every box.
Now, all that is admirable, Minister, and we must celebrate it. But the fact of the matter is we only produce enough fruit and vegetables to deliver a quarter of one of the five-a-day that people ought to be eating, and that is why it is such an existential threat to public health. I really would like to hear a little bit more urgency in what we are doing about this, given that now is the growing season.
So, in answer to your question about why we haven't had a horticulture scheme, I mentioned it's only 1 per cent, but also we can only intervene where we know there's been a severe impact, hence the dairy scheme and the fisheries scheme. I suppose that's the short answer to why we haven't had a specific scheme. But we have been working with people around this, but it is a much longer term issue than perhaps we're referring to now.
But it's precisely because it is only 1 per cent of our agriculture that it is such a a major issue. That is why we are so vulnerable to it, is it not?
So, Keith mentioned that his team have been working in relation to that. We started working around a 'no deal' Brexit last year, in relation to this issue. So, there's significant work going on, but you don't see the benefits in the short term, I think, to which you are referring. We are seeing more people growing fruit and veg, and I think that's to be encouraged as well. And you were one of the Members that was very keen to see garden centres opened, and it's because of the lobbying that you and others did that that obviously happened.
Okay, well, that's all admirable stuff. Can I just move on to the—? You mentioned seasonal workers in your earlier answer, and I just wondered how vulnerable the Government now thinks we are to a shortage of seasonal workers, given that there have been planeloads of people coming from eastern Europe—what is the impact of that on vegetable and fruit supplies going forward?
I think probably when I came to the last committee I mentioned that I was attending the ministerial implementation group that the UK Government had set up—this was a group chaired by Michael Gove—and seasonal workers were always an issue that was discussed every week because there were major concerns. The UK Government has stopped those meetings now, but, again, talking to the farming unions earlier this week, it doesn't appear to be an issue, because we have seen people arriving to support horticulture and the harvest.
We've still got a bit of a concern about sheep shearers, who are also, obviously, seasonal workers. But, again, I was speaking to somebody yesterday who had managed to access—. So, I don't think it is as big an issue as we thought it could be. You'll be aware also that, here, we also have our skills-matching service that Lantra are running for us. So, I think that's been very helpful to avoid shortages.
Is it possible to provide us with some figures on the numbers of people from Wales who've been encouraged by the skills-matching service to actually go into helping harvest our produce? Because it seems to me this is a golden opportunity to get more people interested in this key sector.
I think you make a very good point there—it is, perhaps, for people who hadn't considered agriculture or horticulture as a career, particularly if you're an university student—and those are the sort of people, obviously, who've been encouraged to come forward—then they could pursue it as a career. I haven't got the figures to hand. We may have to send them. I'm just looking at Gian Marco to see if he's got the figures and he's shaking his head. So, yes, Jenny, we will provide those figures for you.
We're going to have to move on, Jenny. Joyce Watson.
Right, agricultural pollution: I'm going to quote here from the farming unions where they say that the proposals are 'far-reaching' and 'draconian'. And I know that, for 30 years—I'm sorry, my phone is going—for 30 years, you've worked with farmers on a voluntary basis. Not you personally, obviously—
I was going to say—I'm not that old. [Laughter.]
But it has, at an official level, been the case. So, I suppose the facts are that there have been, and continue to be, incidents of pollution, and you've made many statements, and I've asked you many questions on this. Could you tell us what the latest status is, in terms of moving forward with agricultural pollution, and any requirements that you're going to bring to the table?
So, I suppose, there's no further update, really, since I appeared before committee on 9 May, because you will be aware, at that time, I'd recently published the draft regulations. I wanted it to be transparent, so everybody's aware now of those draft regulations, and we've said that we will not introduce the regulations whilst we're in this pandemic period. So, that's still the position. I'm still continuing, or officials are still continuing to work with the farming unions. I met with both the farming unions on Monday. Agricultural pollution regulations were not discussed. Everybody's very aware of the current position.
Okay. That's fine.
Minister, in the last meeting, further from what you've just said to Joyce Watson, you said that, obviously, you would not be introducing these regulations until the COVID epidemic has passed. The First Minister has put some more meat on the bone as to the way the Welsh Government works in the unlocking mechanism, with the traffic-lights system. Can I just take it, then, that these regulations would not—? Obviously, you and I have debated whether we need the regulations or not, and we're both on different sides of the fence on this, but as you're the Minister, you have the right to do it. So, can I just take it that you would not be introducing these regulations into the Assembly until the traffic-lights system that the First Minister has indicated about says that the epidemic has passed?
What I've said is I won't make a decision on introducing the regulations until we've got a clear understanding of the sector's ability to implement regulatory measures in light of the pandemic. So, the traffic-lights system to which you refer—that represents the broad phases to illustrate how we can begin lifting the lockdown measures. So, specific details are being developed in consultation with relevant sectors.
I mean, the reason I question you on this is obviously, as an Assembly, assuming that the elections are still to go ahead next year, in May 2021, as each day to each month ticks by, obviously the timeline for scrutiny and introduction of these regulations diminishes further, it does. So, I'm grateful for your nuanced response there in saying that you'll be minded as to the sector's ability to implement these regulations, rather than maybe what the climate was around the pandemic itself. I think I've understood you correctly there, have I?
So, you're right about scrutiny, scrutiny's really important and, of course, there will be time to scrutinise. So, nothing's going to happen before the autumn because, you know, where are we now? We're in the middle of June now, aren't we? So, it's really important also to remember that when the regulations are introduced, there'll be transitional periods; the regulations would be introduced over a period. But, clearly, at the moment, it's just not something that we will consider. We're still—. As I say, people are still dying, people are still contracting the virus. So, I hope I've explained that nothing will happen, certainly, before—when I say the autumn, late September. But we'll obviously have a look at it then, where we are with the pandemic and in light of the traffic-lights system to which you refer. But there are lots of discussions going on. Please don't think that those discussions aren't ongoing.
Any other questions on agriculture before we have a break? Llyr.
Thank you, Chair. Two very short ones, if I may, then. First of all, given that we're talking about water quality, I attended the meeting of the cross-party group on beer and pubs earlier this week, and, of course, the pubs and the brewers were telling us, of course, that they now have a lot of beer that needs to be destroyed sitting in their cellars and, of course, they're restricted in being able, obviously, to pour that away, because they physically can't get it back up from the cellars because the casks are full and they need to clear those out before they can get new deliveries in to reopen as and when that happens. Now, of course, they're working with Welsh Water best they can to try and manage that beer destruction—which is what they call it, and which sounds a bit violent, but there we are—but I'm just wondering whether Welsh Government have a role to play in that respect because I'm told that there are capacity issues for Welsh Water—they're not used to having to deal with this amount of beer that needs to be tipped away and if they get it wrong, then obviously there will be environmental consequences.
Absolutely. This hasn't been raised with me before. I've actually got a meeting with Welsh Water again—I did have one probably about five or six weeks ago and it wasn't raised with me then. I've got another meeting coming up in the next couple of weeks and I will certainly see if they have any concerns about it. I have to say, I hadn't thought about beer being destroyed, but it absolutely makes sense in the way that you've explained it and, clearly, there would be an issue about where it would go. But, as I say, nothing's been raised with me and I don't think there's anything that's been raised with officials as far as I know, but I will, Chair, certainly make sure that it's on the agenda for my meeting with Dŵr Cymru. And if there is anything further that I can let the committee know about, if I'm not due to come before you again, I'll certainly drop you a note.
Thank you, Minister. And Arla, of course, announced recently that they'd be selling or disposing of the site that they have in Llandyrnog. I'm just wondering whether the Government has been involved in any way in trying to encourage another company, potentially, to utilise the site for processing milk and not just letting it go for a housing development or something.
So, I know when Arla first mooted that this could be happening, we certainly did do some work to try and encourage. I don't know if there's been anything in the light of last week's announcement. I just received notification from Arla that that's what they were going to do, but I don't know if officials—if there's been anything further over the last month or so. No—Keith's shaking his head, so, no, there's been nothing further.
Well, given the need to increase our processing capacity, then, clearly, that site is mothballed but it's ready to go if there was an interested party. And I'd like to think that the Welsh Government would be proactive in that respect and not just leave it to the whims of open market.
Thank you very much. This has taken us to our break, so apologies to Joyce and Jenny who wanted to come in, but we did say we'd break at quarter past and start back in at half past. So, can we move into a quarter-of-an-hour break?
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:15 a 10:31.
The meeting adjourned between 10:15 and 10:31.
Okay. Jenny Rathbone's now got some questions on Government action regarding food.
Thank you. We've already discussed horticulture. Could you just tell us what other things have been considered to try and ensure that the food system is resilient, even in the possibility of a second pandemic?
You're muted, Lesley, for some reason.
Yes, I don't know; it just came up, saying, 'You're muted.' Sorry about that.
I mentioned in the first session of committee that I think there were certainly fears that we would have food shortages, because we saw panic buying in a way that perhaps we had never seen before, but I think the system was robust. I've certainly worked very closely with the retail sector, with the supermarkets; I have another meeting this afternoon with them. Originally, I was meeting along with DEFRA and Scotland, but I now meet just to represent Welsh Government. I think there's been a huge effort from the retail sector to ensure that we haven't had food shortages. Supply chains have been robust and we are continuing to monitor the situation closely.
As I mentioned, I've got a meeting this afternoon, so it's really good to hear directly from them if there are any issues. I think that COVID-19 tested the supply chain in a way that we hadn't anticipated, but it did really cope with those extreme pressures. We did see, of course, some food shortages on specific items, and supermarkets rationed the number of some items that you could buy, but we saw that removed, I think, very quickly. So, I know retailers have got very robust contingency measures in place. Again, they're ensuring that they've stocks that they require and there will be lessons learnt of course, if we should be unfortunate to have another spike. But, I think the message is to continue to say to people, 'Just buy what you need; there is no need to panic buy.'
The pandemic has probably consolidated even further the stranglehold of the supermarkets on supply chains. Nine companies now control 95 per cent of the food market and I just wondered what opportunities there are to try and break that stranglehold by making local food markets more resilient.
I think we have seen people using local food and drink producers, again in a way that we haven't before. And going back to what I was saying about people who've embraced the countryside in a way they haven't before, I think it's really important that we try and ensure that people continue to use those local food and drink producers. Sadly, I think we will see people going back from them in a way that we wouldn't want to. If you look at England: as some of you know, my eldest daughter lives in Leeds—she lives in a very small village just outside Leeds—and she was saying that the local butcher had told her that people were already starting to drift away. So, I think we need to look at that.
We've set up a taskforce to look at all issues around food and it's chaired by David Lloyd, who some of you might know from the Food Innovation Wales site. So, I think this is something that we can certainly look at. It would be great if we could continue to work with our food and drink producers to make sure that the innovation that they've brought forward in COVID-19 pandemic—. So, you know, lots of food and drink producers are using the internet now in a way they haven't before, but there were issues around packaging, for instance, so we've been helping to look at that. And, again, I've asked officials to see what more needs to be done to support food companies in that way.
But, you're quite right: supermarkets I think have—. Certainly my own behaviour in shopping, because I only want to shop once a week, and I only go to a supermarket once a week, you tend to buy things that you would buy from other shops. So, I think clearly that is an issue, and once people break that habit then it's sometimes very difficult to go back. And I think that we all have to accept that shopping is going to be very different after this pandemic.
Okay. Is it possible to circulate the membership of that taskforce and its terms of reference, so that we can have a better idea of exactly how you're going to be approaching this very important matter?
Yes, certainly, and you'll be aware, you will have heard me say in committee sessions prior to this, that we work on the cluster sort of method in relation to our food clusters. So, that's been a very—. It's incredibly prescient, I think, of officials to bring that forward, because I think that's really helped us as well during the pandemic. But, yes, sorry, we will circulate the membership.
Okay. But I think there remains a serious concern that small food producers are just going to be squeezed out of the market by the dominance of the supermarkets, who demand uniformity of produce year on year, throughout the 12 months of the year. That's fine for a large, very well organised organisation like Puffin Produce, but it's really difficult for any newcomers into the market to break in.
I think one of the things that we've managed to avoid—we did have one incident, but we managed to avoid it, and I was really pleased that supermarkets gave me the assurance they wouldn't do that—was to make sure that where supermarkets—. So, you know, you used Puffin, and Puffin's a very good example; I know Morrisons sell a great deal of Puffin Produce, as do other supermarkets. But there were lots of smaller Welsh food companies that were very concerned that their supermarket—you know, if they provided produce for a supermarket—because supermarkets were rationalising their lines, if you want, to make sure that the stock was on the shelves, that they would be pushed out, and apart from one incident that was very quickly rectified, that didn't happen. But, I think that is a message that I always take to the retailers, and I will reiterate it this afternoon.
Thank you very much. Andrew.
Oh, it's my go, is it? Right. I just wanted to ask you, Minister, you said in your response to Jenny just a minute ago that you were going to be meeting the retailers shortly—this week, I think, you indicated.
This afternoon. This afternoon.
This afternoon, sorry. In an earlier evidence session of the committee last month, I pressed the retailers over their use of imported foods into the UK to make up for shortfalls in UK product. I think many farmers would feel very aggrieved that Government money, tax payers' money, goes into support promotional work around UK produce, and then when consumers are looking at the shelves, they're seeing imported product on the shelves. Have you made any representation yet to date around that particular instance with Sainsbury's and Asda? But, importantly, if that public money goes into the promotion of Welsh and UK produce, it is vital that it gets the prominence it needs within the stores.
In relation to the issue that you're referring to with Sainsbury's and Asda, I guess you're referring to the Polish mince.
Yes, so that happened very early in the pandemic, and that was because people, clearly, were buying a great deal of mince, and they said that they couldn't cope and it was a one-off. Certainly it was raised with them, and both of them said it was a one-off and, as far I know, there haven't been any other issues and certainly the farming unions haven't raised—they did raise it with me, so I was able to do that with the retail sector. But it hasn't been raised with me any further, so unless you have any further information, I'm not aware that that is now an issue.
I think you're absolutely right about the funding that we give to promote Welsh food and drink and, you know, it's something for something really, I suppose. And I have to say, not long before the pandemic, I think it was in February, I went along to an Aldi store where now, I think, the majority, if not all of their beef is Welsh, and it's got a very prominent display. It's very clear that it is Welsh produce that you're buying. And certainly, in the four years that I've been in post, we are seeing far more Welsh produce in our supermarkets that we were before, so I think the retail sector absolutely get that. It's interesting that I was looking at some figures not so long ago, maybe a fortnight ago, of the number of supermarkets in England that also are displaying Welsh produce very prominently too.
Could I just touch on food chain supply? There is evidence from other countries that, in particular on food chain supply, processors are struggling with social distancing. At the moment in the news, certainly today and yesterday, there is quite a prominence given to maybe closing that social distancing down to the 1m—instead of the 2m—that the World Health Organization have said is applicable and certain countries have adopted. Have you had any evidence given to you that shows that there is pressure in the processing sector to adhere to 2m social distancing and, therefore, that's impacting on supply chains?
So, the short answer is 'no'. There was a lot of concern in the beginning. When the Welsh Government put the 2m distancing for employers into regulations there were quite a few representations by the processing sector that they were concerned about it, but having worked through those concerns—. And if you think about processing, they wear a lot of PPE anyway, so I think they just had additional PPE. But I haven't had any representations to me since that initial—so that's probably about seven or eight weeks ago—to say that.
I have asked whether—. I asked the chief medical officer last week whether we were considering moving to 1m, and he said that he wasn't in the position at that time to recommend that. So, I would imagine that the CMO and obviously the chief scientific advisor are keeping that under regular review, but I am aware of what the World Health Organization stated.
Joyce, do you want to come in here? You're still muted, Joyce.
Right, sorry. There is a question looming that hasn't been asked, and that's that we're coming to the end of the transition period. I just want to explore how the preparedness has been affected because we've had COVID-19 right in the middle of the looming exit and possible cliff-edge exit from the EU. That somehow isn't getting the attention, in my opinion, that it ought to be getting.
Yes, you're absolutely right: two perfect storms, I would say. I think it's incredibly concerning that the UK Government are remaining adamant that the transition period will end on 31 December. Clearly, the window of opportunity to secure a deal is getting very, very small. We're now nearly in the middle of June, and clearly by the end of June/July the trade negotiations et cetera should have been closing.
So, there are two aspects of it. There's the fact that the UK Government are absolutely adamant they're going to continue to do it. I personally don't think it's doable, and I don't think the Welsh Government believe it's doable, and representations have been made about extending the EU transition period, not just by Welsh Government, but I understand by the Scottish Government. Clearly, Northern Ireland have concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol.
So, when we have our DEFRA quadrilateral—and we were due to have one on Monday, but unfortunately it's been postponed for another fortnight—this is something that's raised. Also, with my very wide portfolio, I have quadrilaterals with BEIS as well. And I'm sure all my ministerial colleagues never miss an opportunity to stress how difficult it is going to be. You'll be aware from the press that there are a lot of trade negotiations going on, and I really don't know how you can do those trade negotiations virtually. It must be very, very difficult to do. So, the threat of a 'no deal' Brexit, I think, is increasing.
From a personal point of view, and with officials, you'll be aware that it's the same officials that are dealing with EU transition who've had to deal with COVID-19, just as we all have to deal with both of those aspects as well. So, I don't think 'nightmare' is too strong a word. I think it is incredibly difficult to do everything that we need to do. But, of course, we are trying to manage that.
Can I just quickly—? You said that the meeting on Monday had been postponed. Who's postponed it?
So, you'll be aware of our DEFRA quads, they go around the four countries, and we've still continued to go around the four countries virtually. So, it's the UK Government's turn to chair on Monday. So, the UK Government haven't been able to get a time for all of us to do the meeting, I've been told. So, unfortunately, it's been postponed for two weeks.
But that's pretty critical, isn't it, in terms of negotiating at this stage?
And they've cancelled it.
Well, they've postponed it. The difficulty with that meeting, of course, it was set up—and it was our instigation that we set it up; I hosted the first one, I think, back in November 2016 in Cardiff—and we have met every six weeks, more or less, since November 2016. We've now increased it to every four weeks, or we had increased it to every four weeks, because even though the group is for EU transition, as you can imagine, COVID-19 was also featuring very largely in it. And we did have other meetings. Unfortunately, a lot of the UK Government meetings now are not taking place—I mentioned the retail sector one—and that's why I've gone ahead and done my own.
But I think it is really important now that, whilst, of course, COVID-19 is still here, and we still need to have discussions in relation to many aspects of it and the effect on our portfolios, it's really important that those EU transition quads take place very regularly. I mean, there are lots of official groups that continue, but it is disappointing that the ministerial group's now going to be another fortnight.
Thank you. Neil and Jenny both want to come in, so I'll call Neil in first.
We can't get into a discussion in this committee about cliff-edge— whatever you'd like to call it—at the end of December and the desirability of giving any indication to the EU that we're prepared to renege on what the UK Government has said it would do all along, that is: leave without a deal, if one wasn't negotiated in the window that we've got. But we shouldn't really be in this position. Next month will be the fourth anniversary of the referendum result. We should, all along, have been making preparations for the possibility of a 'no deal' if only as a negotiating ploy.
There will be massive opportunities for import substitution if there is no deal, and what Welsh Government and the UK Government should've been working on for such a long time is making sure that British farmers and Welsh farmers can take advantage of the new market that will open up in our own country if the EU insists on making their own exports to us uneconomic.
So, Neil Hamilton and I will never see eye to eye on this subject, and a 'no deal' threat would be catastrophic, and certainly, the discussions I've had with the farming unions, they share my concerns. You only have to see the agricultural Bill going through the Lords at the current time to see where concerns are about a drop in environmental standards, animal health standards. The farming unions were saying to me on Monday night, and I absolutely agree, we were given assurance that those standards wouldn't drop. So, you know, I'm sorry, 'massive opportunities', I don't see any massive opportunities in a 'no deal'.
We import a third of our food—there's the opportunity.
I don't think we're going to get any further in this debate than we have for the last four years. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. I don't want to get into a fight about Brexit at all. I just want to focus, though, on the detail of the US trade negotiations that we now read about in the press, indicating that the UK is simply not going to stand up for its commitment to not compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards; and that we are going to be seeing our markets flooded by chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-fed beef, pork injected in some substance to make it leaner, and, literally, the arrival of cheaply produced food that does not comply with any of the standards that we in the UK have become used to.
Apparently, there are going to be 72 pesticides that are currently banned under the EU that are now going to be allowed, at the insistence of big farmer and big food in the United States. So, I think my question to the Government, because there's no point us wringing our hands about something we can't influence directly, is really: what role does the Government think it has in alerting the public about the threat to public health?
Eluned Morgan obviously leads on this aspect around trade negotiations for the Welsh Government, and we've made our views very clear that we certainly won't be reducing our standards and we absolutely hold them. We were told that we would not allow that to happen in trade negotiations.
I do think you're right about the public, and I think the public are doing it for themselves. I've seen a petition that's gathering a great number of names that the National Farmers Union have begun. When I spoke to them on Monday, I think they'd got about 80,000 names on that petition and that is absolutely the right thing to do, to raise that awareness with the public, and it's certainly out there in the media at the moment. I know that the NFU were proudly telling me that Jamie Oliver had joined that petition in support of that, and we've seen his previous campaigns really reach out to the public. So, hopefully, that will happen.
But, again at the next Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs quad, that will be something that we will be discussing. Trade negotiations are a huge amount of work; I know that officials are in Cathays Park working through all these trade negotiations at the moment, and it's really important that the Welsh Government's voice is heard.
Okay, but if there's no actual labelling—if that's going to be banned under these trade negotiations—if there's no useful labelling to enable people to make a decision about whether they want to eat this food or not, it's going to be very difficult for the public to simply not go on price and then that would lead to the absolute destruction of all our agriculture.
No, I agree how important labelling is, and I think labelling is something that has become even more important. I think people do actually look where their food comes from. People are much more interested in the provenance of their food than they were, so there are clearly some major concerns about the trade negotiations that are currently taking place, but I just wanted to assure Members that, as I say, Eluned Morgan is leading this piece of work, and she is making sure that Welsh Government's voice and concerns are heard.
Can I move on now to animal welfare? Can you give us an update on Lucy's law?
On Lucy's law. You'll be aware that I was very keen to get this legislation through in this term of Government. Officials have been working to draft the legislation, obviously, lots of legal advice. We will have to go out to consultation again. I've made lots of statements around this. We had a previous consultation where people were overwhelmingly in favour of this. Other countries have brought it forward. So, the current position is Christianne and her team are working very hard on this, because it is a priority for me.
Thank you very much. Andrew—
Sorry, Mike. Can I just say—? We're not using 'Lucy's law', we're using—so, you'll hear me talk about third-party sales in relation to puppies and kittens.
Minister, thank you for that clarification. I think you do touch on that in your letter to the committee about how you hope your piece of legislation will be a wider piece of legislation capturing more aspects around animal welfare, and in particular, animal sales.
But, obviously, the Government, and I think the First Minister yesterday alluded to the pressure on the legislative timetable ahead of the Assembly dissolution in March next year—can you confirm today that this piece of legislation will make it into the Government's legislative programme prior to the dissolution of the Assembly? Because, obviously, that commitment, and I know the Chair has alluded to, obviously, the committee's willingness to work and make this legislation happen—. So, can you confirm today that this will not be one piece of legislation that—whilst I generally take it that there's a commitment to deliver it—will not be lost to time pressures?
You're quite right, it is wider. So, the working title for the regulations will be animal welfare (licensing of activities involving animals) Wales regulations 2021. That's the working title we have for that piece of legislation. At the current time—and who would have prophesied the pandemic? At the current time, it is in the legislative programme, so I certainly am very hopeful that we will be able to deliver it, but it is a very, very tight time frame that we are working to. I really am grateful for the Chair's and all committee members' commitment to work with me in relation to this piece of legislation to ensure that we do get it through this Senedd term.
Neil Hamilton. You're still on mute, Neil.
Right, there we are. You announced at the beginning of the crisis the establishment of a focus group to consider the implications for animal health and welfare of the coronavirus control measures. Can you give us an update on any conclusions that they've arrived at as a result of the last couple of months of experience?
No, I'm not able to give you any update. I don't know if Christianne's got an interim one. Are you able to, Christianne?
Yes, gladly, Minister. The group has been meeting every two weeks. It's a group that consists of all the usual players when it comes to an interest in this. It's focusing particularly on farm animal health and welfare, and so we have the unions, the National Beef Association, the National Sheep Association, veterinary organisations, et cetera. We've found it a really good forum for a two-way flow—in fact, almost a three-way flow—of information, because concerns are raised, for example, the concerns about TB testing of calves—that was one area that we looked at in detail. Dog attacks is another area that we've been discussing. So we're getting readouts from those organisations; we're giving them information that we have, and then because of the nature of the meeting, we're connecting those people, too. So there's a real three-way conversation flow.
We are getting—. The last meeting, which was two days ago, the one-hour meeting took 45 minutes, and that was because the matters that were being raised are being dealt with, and I think if you speak with the members, you'll find that they're finding it very useful. In fact, we're now considering how we might continue that forum, not every two weeks, but going forward, because it is a truly representative group, and one that's very action focused rather than just a talking shop; we haven't got time for just talking. So, we're finding it very useful, and it obviously complements the work of our animal health and welfare framework group, which is a different type of group, publicly appointed, but there's obviously overlap. So, we plan to continue with fortnightly meetings for the foreseeable future, anyway.
Obviously, farmers are professionals at handling and controlling animals, and they obviously want to run their businesses as profitably as possible, so there's a financial incentive to look after the animals. But during the lockdown, clearly there was potential for domestically controlled animals to suffer as a result of maybe being kept indoors when they should be outside, et cetera. I wonder if you can give us an update on this. The RSPCA reported back in April a high level of animal welfare incidents taking place, but I don't know, I haven't got any further information on that; whether you have any information as to whether, in the last couple of months, we've seen some animal welfare issues in relation to pets, and so on, arising.
Okay. [Interruption.]—I don't know what that was, sorry. We haven't had updated figures from the RSPCA over the last few weeks, but we have got close communication with them. They come to our meetings, too. Obviously, there are concerns not just about the extreme circumstances that you're describing, but just the basic 'How do you look after your pet at this time?' concerns. I know there were some awful reports from the far east where dogs and cats were being discarded from homes because of the worry of potential infection. So, trying to provide guidance to people about making sure their animals are cared for properly, that they have access to vets—and we've been working closely with the veterinary profession, with the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, to make sure that the guidance for vets on the way that they conduct their business is very clear. We're now moving forward to try and make sure that people know that they can take their animals to the vets. It is important. So that connection I think has been really valuable.
The element about domestic animals and COVID-19 infection—I think since the last committee meeting, there is a commercially available test to test animals for infection. So, although we're not promoting that, we have provided, as four chief veterinary officers across the UK, a case definition for COVID-19 infection in domestic animals, and provided guidance on, if an animal is presenting symptoms and if a vet decides to test that animal, which is now possible, they have to report any positive results to us. We are then required to report that to the World Organisation for Animal Health. Now, to date, I've had no reports of positive animals in Wales, and we don't see that as a key element in the epidemiology of this infection, but we're keeping an eye on it, because, obviously, that's our responsibility too.
Well, in the guidance that was published by Welsh Government at the start of the crisis, there was a categoric statement that there's no evidence of coronavirus circulating in pets or other animals, and nothing to suggest that pets may transmit the disease to humans. That is still the position.
That's still—. So, that's still the position. If you look at the literature across the world, there are case studies now of individual animals that have tested positive, but it's very, very small numbers. And the key point in what you've just read is 'no evidence of infection circulating in domestic animals'—I think that's really important—and certainly no evidence that infection is being transmitted in any way from domestic animals to people. In fact, if anything, it might be the opposite.
Just to go back to what you just said about the RCVS and BVA advice to vets and to pet owners as well, obviously, the initial advice was that routine non-emergency work should be postponed. Obviously, the longer that the lockdown continues, the more likely it is that such postponed work actually does need to be done; work can't be postponed indefinitely: foot trimming, and so on, inevitably, things like that—there does come a time when a vet has to be involved. So, what's the current guidance, then, on this that pet owners and animal owners generally should know that they can take their animals to the vet? What are the circumstances now in which that's advisable?
Well, in fact, there are very—. Sorry. There are very few circumstances where we wouldn't be advising people to go to the vet. So, routine work such as vaccinations, cat spays, castrations, anal glands, all that kind of work—we're now advising people, 'Contact your vet first'. That's really important, because each vet practice has got its own arrangements in place. And, in fact, if you look at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' website, they've published a really helpful decision tree from the point of, 'I've got a situation with my animal', through to, 'How do I get that dealt with?' And we've worked with them on that. It's far better that they provide the guidance, and our job will be to make sure that they are up to date not just with legislation in England, but the situation in Wales as well.
So, the advice is: contact your vet first, but do not hold back on anything that you think your vet might be able to help you with with animals. When we sat with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the BVA a couple of weeks ago, we were struggling to come up with one single intervention that a vet might need to do that isn't regarded as essential. So, although it was quite feasible to postpone elements like vaccination for a couple of weeks, as you say, you can't possibly leave that for long—so, yes, really important that people know they should make contact with their vet if they need them.
I should say as well, as someone who's had to use a vet over the last two months on probably four occasions now, it has been working very well. Clearly, things take a little longer—social distancing has to be maintained, et cetera—but vets are very much—. You know, they have to provide 24/7 cover and they're very much key workers, and have been, I think, excellent during the pandemic.
I would add, of course, that vets do understand biosecurity. So, when they look at the requirements, it's something that should come quite naturally.
Thank you very much.
I just want to ask about fuel poverty. You were going to go out to consultation; of course, that had to be suspended, I suppose, because of COVID-19 and the need to attend to other things, and you do say that it's actually given you an opportunity to look at the recommendations that this committee's made to you, and also to rethink it in light of the current situation. So, could I ask when we can expect that consultation to restart and for the Government to move forward?
Thank you, Joyce. So, yes, I've asked officials to review the draft plan, in light of the recommendations that the committee have brought forward following their inquiry. So, at the current time, I'm expecting to publish the draft plan by no later than the end of September this year, for a 12-week public consultation then, and then the final plan would be published in February 2021.
Thank you. One thing that obviously interests me, and others that represent rural areas, is whether you have any evidence, in terms of Ofgas, so, buying bottled gas and the like—whether you have any evidence—about price increases? Because, clearly, those people in those areas have to access their fuel in that way. I know, counter to that, of course, the oil prices have gone right down. So, those people have gained. But I just want to understand whether—. Because there's no saying that this crisis that we're in won't re-erupt in the winter, when people need the fuel the most and are most dependent on it. So, I just want to ask, really, because we're in a different place, whether those considerations now—supply and demand, in other words—are being taken forward in that plan?
So, the short answer is 'yes', and that's part of the review of the plan. In relation to your question around bottled gas and rural areas, I haven't got any specific data or heard any issues around that. On Tuesday this week, the First Minister and I met with Ofgem. So, obviously, we were asking a range of questions around people. Obviously, we have vulnerable—financially vulnerable—people, who may not have been financially vulnerable before the pandemic, but you'll be aware of massive concerns around the economy. So, that's something that they are watching very closely, and how utility companies—I know your question was around bottled gas, but how utility companies—are behaving in relation to that. Because, of course, as you've said, we've just had two months of incredible weather, but if we were to unfortunately see a second spike in the winter, that would clearly have an impact: people are at home, they're cooking more, they would have to heat their homes more. So, this is all something that's being taken into consideration. That's just, I suppose, an aside. But, obviously, the draft fuel poverty plan will obviously take that into consideration also.
Okay, thank you.
Thank you, Chair. I noticed in the supplementary budget that was published recently that Natural Resources Wales is seeing £7.5 million taken away from it this year, clearly to the pool for other priorities that the Government now have, but clearly that is going to have an impact on the way that it functions, and I'm just wondering what do you expect them not to do as a result of that.
But more concerning, before, maybe, you reply to that, is the fact, of course, that there's been an increasing emphasis in recent times, on them generating income to supplement some of the funding that's being lost. But, of course, I hear, this year, that their timber operation is projected to be losing around £15 million. So, all of a sudden, the £7.5 million becomes something very different, in terms of moneys that won't be available for them this year.
So, as you say, we've had to, obviously, look at budget realignment, et cetera. We wouldn't want to be in this position, but clearly we've had to do that and, as you say, as a result of the work, the core grant in aid for NRW has been cut by approximately £7.5 million. We're working really closely with NRW. I meet regularly with the chair and chief exec, and officials do. So, we're working very closely to see what this will mean. They're doing an assessment for me, so that we can talk about the aspects of delivery that they may feel they can't do. At the moment, they're also going to give me an assessment about the non-GIA funding, because, clearly, as you say, that could be an issue. I think the main piece of work around the non-GIA funding—we're waiting for the June timber figures, because I think, that projected figure that you referred to, they think will be less.
So, at my next meeting with NRW later this month, we'll be looking at that too. But we just need to keep a very close watch on it—really make sure that our assessments are correct, because, as you say, we do expect a great deal of delivery from them, and they've certainly done that. Even during the pandemic, they've been working with the environmental non-governmental organisations, for instance, to assist them. So, they do a huge amount of work for us. But, as I say, we wouldn't want to be in this position, but I've had to look—well, everybody's having to look at their budgets and, unfortunately, we've had to repurpose and reset the budgets.
So, there's an implicit suggestion there that, if your assessments are off the mark, or if you revise them because of other pressures, then there's a possibility that some of that £7.5 million might go back.
Well, we just need to keep a close eye on it. For instance, I'll give you an example: I was given a pot of money for the food parcels. At the moment, we're nowhere near spending that amount of money now. It's central Government, I'm not saying—. Our central Government—you know, we're looking at it centrally. But there just might be more—. That initial reaction to the pandemic—money's been moved around, and it could be that we will be able to free it up, but it's very fluid.
Well, I was going to say, 'All budgets, probably, have to be flexible at this time, given the difficult circumstances.'
And I think we need to make sure that NRW have flexibility as well—I think that's really important—and those other discussions that are taking place.
Okay. I raised this issue yesterday as well. You'll be familiar with the fire that happened at the Hafod landfill tip a couple of weeks ago, and the long delay again in the mobile air-monitoring equipment coming up from Swansea to monitor the air there. It took over 50 hours, by which time, of course, probably the most dangerous and damaging emissions had already passed. But, even within a couple of hours of arriving, it was actually detecting particulates over acceptable levels, and we know with plastics and all kinds of wastes in these kinds of sites, that there are dioxins and furans and all sorts that can cause big risks to public health.
Will you support an independent inquiry into what happened there? Will you also support the closure of the site until at least the outcome of an inquiry? And will you, having had to wait as well for the mobile equipment to come up from Swansea when there was a recent fire at Kronospan in Chirk, now commit to ensuring that we have that kind of provision located in north Wales?
So, in relation to your last part of your question around the mobile equipment, I think that is something we are looking at. We started to look at that after the Kronospan fire, as you referred to. So, I'll be able to provide an update on that, as we go forward.
You'll be aware that the site has now reopened, and I understand that there was a site inspection yesterday and there were no issues. It's constantly being monitored, and Enovert have had a regulation 61 notice requiring detail on the different issues in the time leading up to the fire. So, I think, once we've got those details, we will need to see if there are any other enquiries required.
Okay. Thank you. We've got two minutes left, so, finally, Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you very much. I just wanted to go back to the issue of the disposal of stale beer, and I just wondered if your officials would be able to clarify whether it'd be possible to dispose of organic beer to nourish our depleted soil. Clearly, that wouldn't apply to industrial lager, which is full of chemicals, but I would have thought organic ale is something that would be useful for this purpose.
Probably what I will do is ask NRW to have a look at that for us, because I know NRW—I think it was Llyr that mentioned about Welsh Water looking at what can be done about disposing of it. And I know NRW have been in discussions with Welsh Water in relation to the disposal of it. So, I will ask NRW—unless officials can tell me something else has taken place already. No. I'll ask NRW to do that, Jenny.
Okay. Well, thank you very much. Can I thank the Minister and her officials for coming along this morning and answering our questions?
As we've got 30 seconds left, can the Minister—not now, but in writing—give us an update on what's happening regarding consultation regarding primates and rabbits? You've been consulting on that. Could you give us an update on where you've got to in those consultations and when further action is likely to take place?
Okay, I'll drop you a note on that, Chair.
Thank you. Well, thank you very much, and can I now move to tell you that there'll be a transcript sent to you, as you know? You just moved on my screen. A transcript will be sent to you to check, et cetera. So, again, thank you very much.
The next item is to note the papers listed under item 4: a letter to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs following up on the evidence session on 7 May, and correspondence from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on the legislative consent memorandum in relation to the UK Environment Bill.
Yes, happy to note those, Chair.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Can I now move the motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting? Yes? Is that agreed? Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:15.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:15.