Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

10/12/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Janet Finch-Saunders MS
Jenny Rathbone MS
Joyce Watson MS
Llyr Gruffydd MS
Mike Hedges MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Neil Hamilton MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

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

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Katy Orford Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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

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

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:44.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:44.

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

Can I first of all welcome Members to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee meeting? The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. I'll just remind participants, on the translation, that there is a slight delay between the translation ending and the next speaker coming back up to full volume. You do not need to operate the microphones. If I drop out for any reason, Jenny Rathbone will temporarily chair. Are there any declarations of interest? I take that to be none.

13:45
2. Covid-19 a Threfniadau pontio'r Undeb Ewropeaidd: Sesiwn graffu gyda Llywodraeth Cymru
2. Covid-19 and Transition from the European Union: Scrutiny session with the Welsh Government

Can I welcome the Minister, Lesley Griffiths, Gian Marco Currado, Christianne Glossop and Tim Render? If you're okay, can we move straight to questions?

I'll do the first one. We were told, following the UK spending review, the Welsh Government was £137 million short for farmers and rural communities than what was expected post Brexit. Is that still the case? Is it still that number or has it gone up or down?

Thank you, Chair. Clearly there are implications, as a result of that cut in funding, and I suppose you could elaborate maybe a little bit about what impact that's going to have on your spending, or your intentions, in relation to what you were hoping was going to be your budget for next year. But, of course, the key question on many people's minds, particularly in the farming community, is around the basic payment scheme and what potential impact that might have on the level of BPS, and I'm wondering whether you could put minds at rest today and reassure farmers that the BPS will be maintained at its current level for next year.

I think I probably should start by saying that I think we are still fighting to get the money that we were promised. You remember the UK Government said that if we left Europe we wouldn't lose a penny, so we are still fighting to get that money, and I hope every Member on this committee will join me in that fight. We all need to stand up for Wales in relation to this, and I think we still expect full replacement. I'm not going to apologise to my farmers or the rural areas of Wales on behalf of the UK Government or the Treasury.

In relation to your question specifically around BPS, I'm currently considering the level of BPS that's going to be available in 2021. I absolutely appreciate the urgency of this, and I will obviously do that by the end of this month. But I don't want people to think that we're sitting back and accepting that we are just going to take this reduction, which, I have to say, was a completely flawed approach by the UK Government. We are so disproportionately affected here in Wales—at least twice as much as any other country in the UK.

Well, yes, you're right, it's flawed and it's cynical, and it's been suggested to me that this is an attempt to undermine devolution and to force the Welsh Government onto a similar trajectory of that being experienced in England when it comes to running down the BPS. I'm wondering whether you see that maybe this is the UK Government trying to strong-arm Wales into following suit in relation to their plans in relation to BPS.

I certainly haven't gleaned that from the conversations I've had. I was very concerned. So, I met with the Secretary of State for Wales and his junior Minister the night before the comprehensive spending review to try—they always tell me if they can help in any way, so I thought, right, well I'll ask them to go to the Treasury and make these points. And I was very concerned that they didn't seem to grasp the difficulties we were having. And then I was in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inter-ministerial group on Monday, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Wales Office was there, and wanted to see—. Because, obviously, for us, it's—you know, around the rural development plan there is significant funding missing, and I was trying to explain that I've publicly committed those funds, and those decisions were taken several years ago. So, he was questioning me about what particular schemes we have, and I was saying, 'Well, that's immaterial; that's for us to decide. My point to you is that this funding has been publicly committed. If I have to go out and say that I can't do it because of the UK Government, then that's what I would say.' I'm not going to try and, as I say, be an apologist for them. So, that's the only thing that I've had a bit of an uncomfortable feeling around, really. But, no, I've not gleaned that.

So, just to be clearer, really, as you say, you're hoping to—. Well, you will be announcing something at the end of the year, which means in the next couple of weeks, I'd imagine—before Christmas, I would hope. The elements that you're considering and balancing, is this—? Clearly—. Are you still hoping to extract the full amount of money from the UK Government, first of all? But, secondly, are your considerations around looking at rebalancing money across pillar 1, pillar 2, or are you looking to bring in money from other sources within your department, or outside of your department, even, within Government, to try and make up the difference?

13:50

So, absolutely. Your first point around—. We are still trying to get that full replacement funding, as we were promised at the beginning of this whole debacle—we were promised we wouldn't lose a penny. So, if we would have stayed in the European Union we would have the full funding. So, that's the first thing. My colleague Rebecca Evans, the Minister for Finance, has written to the Treasury around that. I'm resisting any suggestion of any reductions to BPS or RDP, and we are, obviously, having to make some considerations, look at the funding that we have available, and, as I say, I will make an announcement by the end of the month.

Before I ask my question, I would say that I think you're absolutely right to press for the £137 million; I can see no good reason why we should be denied it, because I always thought it was just and right that nobody should lose a penny arising out of changed arrangements from Brexit, and there's no good reason why we should change that position now.

But, moving on to common frameworks, when you appeared before us on 12 November, you said there wouldn't be a common framework for regulation of genetically modified organisms, as that fell under DEFRA's remit, and you were part of those ongoing discussions. This has caused a certain amount of consternation amongst the farming unions; they're very keen to know, obviously, what the system of regulation is going to look like in the future, because they don't want to fracture the United Kingdom, to have different forms of regulation in different parts of the country. But, on the other hand, they need the certainty to plan ahead. So, can you give us an update on where you've got to in your discussions with DEFRA, and what you would say to—and perhaps have already said to—the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales, amongst others, about there not being a common framework?

Absolutely. We have several common frameworks, as you know, and we didn't feel there was one needed in relation to GMOs, because we've got a very good, functioning concordant, so that would just be a duplicate really. So, it works very well, it's reviewed regularly, it's monitored regularly. So, as you say, that's—. The responsibility for regulating the deliberate release and transboundary movements of GMOs is devolved, but DEFRA and all the devolved administrations—Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland—are each responsible for implementing the relevant legislation. So, we do have the concordat, it's working well, so we don't feel we need one.

As far as you know, does Scotland and Northern Ireland take the same view as you do in Wales, or—?

Yes, absolutely. I had a DEFRA IMG—you will have heard me just refer to it in the previous answer to Llyr—and common frameworks is, obviously, a standard item on the DEFRA IMG. We have asked for some more work to be done around GMOs, and that will be done, obviously, by the end of this month.

Sorry, when I said 'we', I meant the three devolved administrations.

Thank you. Thank you for clarifying that, Minister. Janet.

According to George Eustice, the UK Government has designed various schemes, such a ewe special premium scheme, a ewe headage payment and a slaughterhouse premium, depending on which time of year such effects would take place. Now, the end of transition action plan notes that the Welsh Government has been co-operating with the UK Government to develop a UK-wide contingency plan in response to the potential impacts on the sheep sector. Can you clarify, Minister, whether the operational design has been completed, and, if so, maybe just provide the committee with more information about that?

So, we've continued to work very closely on this. We did this last year, when we thought we were going to have a 'no deal' exit. So, we've picked that piece of work up again this year. The Treasury would prefer a joint case for funding in relation to the sheep sector, so we have agreed to do that. I certainly agreed for DEFRA to submit the business case. That's currently still being worked on between all four administrations, and my understanding is the business case will be submitted very shortly.

13:55

Thank you. And I'm aware that you have been pushing the UK Government to make funding available to support farmers and meet the cost of the sheep contingency plan. Has there been agreement on funding, how will it be distributed to our farmers, and will money also be made available to support other sectors that may be impacted by 'no deal', such as beef and dairy?

This is just for the sheep sector, and as I said, the business case is still being worked up, probably as we're speaking. Certainly, that was the update we had on Monday, that it was still being worked on, and, as I said, my officials are working very closely on that. We have got no specifics that I can give you now, but I don't know if Tim has got anything he could add.

Thanks, Minister. We are working very closely to put something in place, a common approach across the UK. Those discussions are—the business case, I think, probably has now been submitted to Treasury, and I think there are conversations with Treasury to work through that this week. The sheep sector is one that is very disproportionately impacted, compared to almost all, including all other agricultural sectors. So, that's why we've focused very much on sheep rather than the others. The others will be impacted, but to a much, much smaller extent than sheep. And, clearly, we're just going into prime season very early in the new year, so the impacts could be really stark, which is why we want to get something in place and operating very soon in the new year.

Okay. On that, then, the peak export months, of course, are usually September and October, so is there a possibility that the problem might not reach a serious stage until June or autumn next year? And have you undertaken any assessment to establish when the sheep sector might be pushed to its absolute maximum without any such intervention?

So, because this has taken so long to—. I mean, here we are, how many days before the end of the year, and we still don't know if we've got a deal. So, because this has been so protracted, the sheep sector will have been preparing for this. Certainly, we've encouraged them to do that; we did this last year. So, I think these are all big parts of the jigsaw, if you like, we need to work on. But, clearly, the figures that have been used will have been based on the scheme that we had last year, but I do hope that there's been the planning that's required ahead of this. But, you know, like all businesses, what are they preparing for? They don't know. It's very, very concerning.

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to pick up—Tim mentioned that there's going to be a common approach across the UK. I think some people are concerned that there may be an element of variance from one country to another. So, the common approach, there'll be one scheme for the whole of the UK, is that the plan? Or how much flexibility is there for some elements of flexibility within each devolved administration? Is it going to be the one system for everyone or is there an element of localisation?

The plan is to have one UK-wide scheme. I think that would be consistent and it'll avoid any cross-border issues as well. So, that is absolutely the plan.

So there's no risk of any devolved administration or the UK Government transgressing the internal market Bill, if it becomes law, for example?

Well, as I say, we think that, from a supply chain—we've got such an integrated supply chain, we think that is the best way forward.

Thank you very much. Minister, you won't be surprised I'm going to focus on our food security. The end of transition action plan talks about a commitment to maintain stocks in shops across Wales on an equitable basis. That's a laudable aspiration, but in the context of what the Road Haulage Association is saying about the disruption we're already seeing at our ports as being something between shocking and a catastrophe, I just wondered how you plan to deliver on that commitment.

14:00

As part of our planning for the end of the transition period, we've been having regular conversations—in fact, I think straight after committee I'm meeting the retailers again, and I'm meeting them again next Monday because, obviously, food security is a very important part of the end of transition. And, as I say, we still don't know what, if any, deal we're going to have but, clearly, food supply is a very important part of that. So, we've been having regular dialogue with the retailers and also with my counterparts, officials with their counterparts, across the four administrations because, obviously, food security is very integrated across the UK.

Just yesterday, I and Tim attended a meeting that George Eustice had called with the chief executives of the retail forum. So, I have received, constantly and consistently, reassurance from the retail forum that their supply chains operate on a national basis, and stores in Wales and remote communities in Wales won't be disadvantaged in any way. There are agreed mechanisms in place to monitor the situation should events cause localised disruption—the weather, for instance. Clearly, logistics are very important and we are, obviously, concerned about our ports. But, at the moment, I am receiving reassurance that there will be no disruption in the way that, obviously, you're referring to. The Road Haulage Association I haven't met with personally; I would imagine my colleague, Ken Skates, will have done, and his officials, but clearly we need to listen to what they're saying and we need to be monitoring the borders—sorry, the ports, very closely. Again, I don't know if Tim wants to say anything because he's been working on ports in the EU transition period.

Okay, because most of our food does arrive at the moment by road, and that's why the road hauliers have rather an important story to tell.

Well, but what has he—? What have they told—? What has he told you that they're saying? Given that we're talking about 'shocking' and 'a catastrophe'.

Well, I haven't heard that. As I say, my part of the portfolio is to discuss it with the supermarkets and, again, they have central warehouses where they have the food that then, obviously, gets transported by road to the different supermarkets, and they assure me that everything is working well. As I say, I met them just yesterday and I'm meeting them again this afternoon, and then again on Monday. If there are issues that are coming up, I'm in a place to hear them.

Okay. Well, the supermarkets are being very shy; they're claiming commercial confidentiality. What exactly are they saying to reassure us, because there's nothing on the table at the moment that does reassure me?

Well, just what I told you, really: logistically, they are happy with what they've got planned. You will have heard some of them them saying—this is an issue I'm going to be talking about with them later today—. You will have heard certain supermarkets saying they have started to increase the supply that they have in their warehouses in order to ensure supermarkets are well stocked. I have to say, we've had—COVID-19 has given us a bit of a practice run, if you like, into the disruption of supplies, which we did see at the beginning when we saw panic buying et cetera. So, I am reassured by the supermarkets from what they're telling me, and the fact that I'm meeting them so regularly, and officials are meeting them regularly as well, I do think means I'm in a position to hear if there are concerns.

Okay. So, are they going to be using the roads and the sea traffic, or are they going to be flying things in by air?

Well, at the moment, we can't even get screws into this country, never mind fresh food, and we haven't even reached the tipping point of a 'no deal'. But the fact is, even without 'no deal', we've got the docks clogging up and boats not calling at Felixstowe. It's all in the trade press, it's just people are rarely talking about it. I haven't heard anything about how we're going to deal with this, and simply because we're talking to the UK Government—. We're all going to be subsumed into this problem, and we're furthest away from Dover. 

I am not picking up any concerns that you're referring to, or I'm not being told there's any shortage of supplies. Obviously, if there's a 'no deal', I would say that fresh produce could be in short supply, certainly in January—I would say that will definitely happen if we have a 'no deal'. We still believe that there is a deal to be had and I hope the UK Government are doing that, but I quite agree that there are concerns around that. I'm going to bring Tim in because, as I say, he's been doing some work in relation to this.

14:05

Thanks, Minister. I think there are a number of elements to this. First of all, at this time of the year, a substantial portion of the food in the UK is fully produced in the UK, so isn't impacted. Clearly, things coming in, particularly through Dover and Calais, are likely to be impacted, probably especially fresh fruit and vegetables, salad stuff coming from southern Europe. Food coming in from the rest of the world tends to come in, obviously, through other ports. Yes, there are substantial problems at Felixstowe at the moment and, indeed, if you look at the global press, there are substantial problems at ports in a great number of countries from a combination of increased trade flow and complications of managing the workforce in a COVID situation, but Felixstowe is the port that's most immediately impacted in the UK. That's not a route for that much foodstuff that's coming in.

Going back to the question about delivery to Welsh consumers, which is the thing that we are most concerned about, there are potential disruptions coming into the UK, particularly for fresh produce as the Minister said, but for the supermarkets, those then come to their central distribution centres, and from those centres will be sent out to local shops. The issue will be what comes into those centres, which will be reduced in some categories, probably, as I say, particularly fresh produce, but what then goes out, which is run by the supermarkets' own internal logistics fleet, so not affected by what's going on at the ports, will—the assurances they've given to us—. And what we saw during the disruption at the beginning of the COVID crisis was that those deliveries from their distribution hubs to the actual shops will be maintained fairly and equally, with each shop getting its fair share of the produce. Now, in some cases, there may be less of that produce available, but that shortage would be distributed fairly. Their commitment is that, in a sense, no matter how remote, shops will be treated equally.

I think you asked might they switch to air freight; that, I'm sure, is an option the supermarkets will be looking at. I was closely involved the last time we had very substantial disruption to the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables coming in from southern Europe, I think, probably four or five years ago, mainly as a result of adverse weather in southern Europe, and the supermarkets, within probably a week or so, were sourcing from elsewhere in the world. They were flying lettuce in from California, for instance. Obviously, that is much more expensive, but I think, logistically, supermarkets will be able to adjust pretty quickly should there be prolonged disruption to the supply. There's an impact on price, because, obviously, air-freighting goods in is substantially more expensive than trucking them in from southern Europe, but the supply chain can probably be managed, and certainly once it's in the distribution centre, the distribution to shops throughout the country will be fair and effective.

Okay, I appreciate that anybody who has got the money will still be able to get things at a price, so I just want to come back to the equity issue. I represent a constituency in Cardiff where there are hundreds of shops, but there are many communities across Wales, particularly in our Valleys, who only have a few shops, and if those shops do not have things there aren't many alternatives, because many people don't have a car. They can't just pop down to Cardiff to go and fetch things. I wonder if you particularly could say something about all those shops that aren't part of the big six supermarkets, who obviously are multinational organisations and have huge logistical arrangements. What about the wholesalers, the convenience stores, some of whom are providing an essential service for people who, as I say, have to walk or get the bus to get their food?

14:10

When I refer to the retail forum, I don't just mean the supermarkets. So, for instance, the Association of Convenience Stores also sits on that forum and I'll be meeting them. So, again, this issue around equitable distribution, to make sure rural communities, for instance, and the communities to which you refer receive their fair share is part of that discussion and, again, I've had reassurance that that will be the case; it will be equitable.

You mentioned food prices and, clearly, what Tim was talking about was if you have to fly in food, it would be much more expensive. Unfortunately, I do see that as a consequence of Brexit, and particularly a 'no deal' Brexit, and it was raised at IMG, DEFRA on Monday—not just by me, but by Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are very concerned about price increases for food. And yesterday, the meeting that the Secretary of State from DEFRA held with the chief executive officers—Edwin Poots from Northern Ireland was on that call, and raised the same concerns. But unfortunately, I do see that as a very sad consequence of leaving the European Union.

Thank you, Chair. The Welsh Fishermens Association suggested to this committee that Welsh Government preparatory work should be targeted towards preparing exporters for the worst-case scenario, as proper planning always should. However, the WFA also told this committee that there was no real direct engagement on these issues, and I've got to be honest, local fishermen have been wanting to meet with me, and I've met with them recently, and there's huge concern about this, Minister. So, what steps are you taking to increase engagement with the sector on this preparatory work, and do you recognise the concerns of the fishing sector, who say that quarterly meetings of the Welsh fisheries advisory group often do not truly reflect the state of local industry and the struggles they face? The concerns coming back to me are that they keep asking lots of questions, they're told that people will get back to them, and they feel that they don't achieve out of these meetings what they should, and that it's more of a one-sided dialogue. They want proper engagement.

I have to say, that's disappointing to hear, because I attended the Wales marine fisheries advisory group meeting last Thursday myself. It's held, as you say, every three months with officials. I attended that last Thursday, and certainly I was well scrutinised by the organisations that were represented at that meeting. And, again, I don't recognise what you're saying about preparatory work, because we've certainly communicated with exporters throughout this year, and that includes having direct contact with them as well, to make sure that they are prepared for the changes after the end of the transition period.

We've given guidance, we've signposted to new requirements and registrations; that information was provided, I would say, at least about six weeks ago on the Preparing Wales website. And, in fact, the Welsh Fishermens Association helped us to prepare that guidance. We've also written to exporters to remind them that their suppliers also need to make preparations. We are writing directly to fishers—sorry, fishing and aquaculture vessel owners, reminding them of their various statutory requirements as well. They might also need to comply with different requirements, obviously, as we leave the European Union, and in order to facilitate international trade. So I really don't recognise what you're saying, I'm afraid.

14:15

Okay. I think the tensions might be heightened by the fact—. You're aware I've written to you on behalf of Colwyn Mussels, and there are Menai Mussels, about the several orders that they're trying to get in place, because clearly, if they're going to put seed mussels down that will cost millions of pounds, they need to be sure that they can harvest those mussels before the end of the several orders. They just want some stability and they want some assurances, really, and let's be honest, you only get those when all the documents are signed. I've got to be honest, I was really shocked when I heard how long this has been going on, so I promised I would raise it with you.

No, I absolutely understand their concerns around the orders, and we discussed that last week, and we're doing all we can to do that. But I don't think they've run out yet, so they've got, I think, over a year—18 months, maybe.

Yes, 2022. Sorry to interrupt you. But what they're saying is they need that run-in of putting the seed down. They don't want to spend all that money putting seed down if, for whatever reason, they didn't get the new leases going forward.

Okay, and then another question I have: in the recent evidence, the WFA said that whilst they understood that it would be wasteful to replicate guidance, it was felt that contact details for the lead officials and Welsh language provision should remain available to Welsh fishers. Minister, what steps have your engagement teams taken to provide for Welsh first-language fishermen, and when will the changes made to your communications approach provide for this? Have these contact details for lead officials been provided, and how are you working to improve digital communications so that our coastal communities can feel fully informed? Thanks.

So, certainly on the Welsh language, I would hope that those details have been provided, but I will have to ask Gian Marco to come in on that to confirm that. On the digital side, we have done a huge amount to make sure that as many people as possible are receiving our guidance and all the preparedness work. We've encouraged the food sector particularly, and I'm sure fishers will come into that as well, to attend webinars, for instance. So there's been a great deal of work dealt with digitally, and again, I haven't had any—. Certainly nobody raised it at meetings last week with me, that they felt left out or anything like that. But I'll ask Gian Marco to come in in relation to the Welsh language.

Thank you Minister, and good afternoon, everyone. Absolutely, obviously we communicate both in Welsh and in English, and we're very conscious that many fishers' first language is Welsh, so absolutely that's something, as I said, that we've done, and we're providing those contact details so that those are available to the fishers.

One of the key questions, Minister is: if we need crisis intervention, how prepared are you and your officials for that? We know that we're only three weeks away, and the Tory Government have dithered and we haven't got a deal. So, these are the real things that all fishermen—not just the ones that Janet has particularly represented, but right across Wales—want to know about.

You'll be aware that we brought in a Welsh fisheries grant in response to COVID earlier this year. We did that very quickly. I manged to ensure that we had the funding to do that, and we brought that scheme in very quickly. So, if we had to bring another scheme in quickly, I'm sure we would be able to do so, but I will say—and again we made this point very clearly to the DEFRA Secretary of State on Monday—that anything to do with Brexit impacts should be funded by the UK Government. So whilst we're prepared to put a scheme in place quickly, because we did it with COVID-19, I would expect the funding to come from the UK Government.

If you were in a situation whereby they weren't playing in England—to help us—are you in a position to still help? And the other sector, of course, that will be looking for engagement and support will be the exporters.

I don't have a pot of money that's just sitting there just in case, obviously. I have to say I do think they will play because they'll have to. I go back to what we were saying about funding. I'm guessing if we're severely impacted and we have to bring this scheme forward, England's fishers will, Scotland's fishers certainly will. There would be Barnett consequentials, et cetera. So, I don't think the funding would be my—. Well, it wouldn't be my major concern—of course, it would be a major concern because funding always is, but I just think the most important thing is we would be able to bring forward a scheme very quickly. I've seen officials have done that already this year for COVID-19, and then we would have to ensure that the UK Government did come up with the money. 

The impact of a 'no deal' Brexit, it's the same with the sheep sector. We've made it very clear that, if that's the case, they have to find the funding, and the Treasury, obviously, want a business case and that's absolutely to be expected, I think. But I'm expecting the money to come forward. I don't think funding for such a scheme would be a massive issue; I'm touching wood here. 

14:20

Again, as I say, we have been preparing with the export sector and, again, it wouldn't just be Wales that would be impacted. So, I would think you could look to do something across the UK if that were required. As I say, I don't underestimate how difficult these schemes are to bring forward, but I have every confidence that because we've done it already once this year, we'd be able to do a similar thing in relation to—. Not that we did it for the exporters, but do you know what I mean? Clearly, the capability to bring forward that scheme is there. There are clearly concerns about capacity, because it's the same officials working on COVID who are working on EU transition as well. 

Thank you. I'm going on to environmental governance now and interim arrangements, and the Chair did write to you on 24 November; I'm not sure that we've had a response yet. 

You have. Well, I hope you have, Chair. I've certainly signed it. 

Then I've missed it, so I apologise. Anyway, in terms of those interim arrangements, some of those arrangements will be monitoring and reporting on environmental law implementation, receiving citizens' complaints, taking enforcement action, for example. To what extent will the proposed interim complaints system and the interim environmental protection assessor replace these functions because, obviously, we've got something in place and we've got to replace it? 

Yes, absolutely, and we've always said the interim measures we put in place will be designed just to provide a stopgap between the end of transition and then the introduction of statutory measures. They're a stepping stone towards having a permanent body on environmental governance and, obviously, it would have been great to have put legislation in place this term of the Senedd. That hasn't been possible but, certainly, I would hope the next Government—and if it's us, then we are committed to bringing forward legislation—. Obviously, the future legislative programme will be a matter for the next Government, but I certainly remain committed to a permanent body being in place as soon as possible. 

What's really important for me is public confidence that that scheme is in place. We need to ensure decisions made for the interim don't limit our decision making for the permanent measures. I think because we've already got the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, we've got a little bit of a head start, if you like. So, we've already got that to build on. In developing our approach, I think we've got to ensure that we complement our existing internationally recognised legislation and the processes that we already have in place. 

In terms of immediate need and escalation, some environmental protections need immediate action when things have gone wrong, and there have been very many cases we don't need to repeat. So, are you content that, in that case, those very serious complaints can be escalated and the immediate action that would be needed to prevent any further serious harm can happen, particularly if it's against the Welsh Government, for example?

14:25

Yes. I'll come to that in a second. So, yes, I am. Obviously, the enforcement powers are there at the moment, and they will continue to be there, and we can use them. In relation to the Welsh Government, this has been raised with me—what would happen if the complaint was against the Welsh Government. I know my colleague Rebecca Evans has asked for a meeting with the Llywydd to look at how that would then be handled by the Senedd. So, I'm very happy, Chair, to send a note once that meeting has been held, because I don't think it's been held yet. I'm very happy to send a note around that. But, yes, at the moment, because those enforcement powers—. They will remain there. So, yes, I am content.

I want to move on now to EU LIFE funding, and nature conservation, because—

Llyr wants to come in on the environmental governance.

The environmental governance. Yes. Well, I was asking on environmental governance—

You said you were moving on from environmental governance, didn't you?

Yes, I did, because I'd asked the questions I thought—. I thought all the questions that were here had been answered.

I understand that, but Llyr wants to ask a supplementary.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Joyce. You referenced the letter. We have received the letter, although I have to say it doesn't add much to what we already know, to be honest. We asked for a detailed explanation, and there's effectively a paragraph that tells us that there's going to be a website, a mechanism to raise concerns, an interim assessor who will then be able to ask for further advice or expert advice if required. I mean, that's hardly detailed, is it?

Well, we are currently working on that. We've interviewed for the interim assessor. I'm considering the panel's report that came following the interviews, so I hope to make an announcement very, very soon on that. It literally is on my—. When I say 'on my desk', on my dining room table, at the moment, for me to do.

I'm aware that you're advertising for the interim assessor, but you say there's a mechanism to raise concerns, so what is that mechanism? Can you just explain what the criteria might be? Is it time limited in any way in terms of when or how you can register a concern? It's those kinds of detailed elements that we were looking for, really. 

So, we are still working on that. I mean, there will be something in place on the 1 January. I appreciate the time scale—it is really very, very tight—but there will be some mechanism where people can send their complaints. I think it's really important that we have an assessor in place as quickly as possible, but I'm not able to provide a detailed—.

Well, I think it's important. Wales Environment Link say that it is regrettable that Wales will have the weakest environmental governance arrangements of any western European country. Do you agree with them that that is regrettable?

No. As I say, we were very prescient, I think, in bringing forward the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, and there are powers there that we can use. I want to see something in place by 1 January. I think that's absolutely vital. I want it to be as simplified a system as possible. I'd prefer to see legislation in place. Unfortunately, that hasn't been possible, but these are only interim steps. I am aware of environmental non-governmental organisations' concerns around this, but I want to make sure that we have something in place on 1 January. It will not be a permanent solution—I absolutely accept that—but there will be something in place on 1 January, and as soon as I've signed off all the details, I would be very happy to provide that to the committee.

Sorry about the misunderstanding, Chair. I've turned the speaker up now. I want to know, Minister, what will happen to the EU LIFE funding from 2021, and will there be a replacement domestic programme for nature conservation and climate action projects if that funding is discontinued?

The EU have agreed to continue funding current projects to the end of their lifetimes, so that, for us, is four existing projects and an additional two projects that have passed the concept stage, provided they are successful, obviously. But no new funding will be available through the LIFE programme for any new projects from 2021. You asked me 'Will there be a replacement fund?' Well, those discussions are ongoing with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the other devolved administrations about having a replacement scheme. Very early stages in those discussions to a possible replacement scheme. We're still discussing options, really, and that ranges from a replacement at a UK level to one being administered by each country, so we haven't really got to a conclusion yet. But obviously, following the comprehensive spending review, we have concerns about future funding. Again, I go back to what I was saying to Llyr at the beginning, we expect full EU replacement funding; that's what we were told we would get for all our programmes, and that obviously includes LIFE. I think we've had, on average, about £3 million a year of EU LIFE funding for the last five or six years. So, we would expect a full replacement for that.

14:30

Well, it's now 2.30 p.m. Can we have a 10-minute break and then we'll move on to COVID-19 recovery? And if we've got time, we might come back to some earlier items, but if we can have a break, then. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:31 ac 14:41.

The meeting adjourned between 14:31 and 14:41.

14:40
3. Covid-19 a Threfniadau pontio'r Undeb Ewropeaidd: Parhau â'r sesiwn graffu gyda Llywodraeth Cymru
3. Covid-19 and Transition from the European Union: Continuation of scrutiny session with the Welsh Government

Okay, Minister, how do you respond to stakeholders' comments that the Welsh Government 'COVID-19 reconstruction: challenges and priorities' document doesn't have enough emphasis on nature recovery and nature based solutions?

Obviously, nature recovery and nature based solutions are key components of a green recovery. Certainly, stakeholders were telling me that they needed to be part of the whole approach that we took. That's why I asked Sir David Henshaw, who, as you know, is the chair of Natural Resources Wales, to lead a panel of experts so that we could develop some ideas for our green recovery. His report was published—I think it was last Thursday, and I hope Members have had the opportunity to read it.

I think what the report does is it shows that nature based solutions do have an important part—an important contribution—to play. We look at actions, obviously, around decarbonisation and the circular economy, and biodiversity, to support improvements in our environment, but also our economic resilience as well and supporting our communities.

I did meet with David to discuss some of the projects, because what I really want—I didn't want that report even to wait a couple of months before we started with some delivery. So, I've asked him and his panel, and, obviously, our wider partners, to have a look at what we can do quickly, particularly things that don't cost much money and, also, that perhaps we could repurpose that money, if you like, so that we can really hit the ground running with this. Certainly, David's very keen to do that and we are hopeful we'll be able to get some actions going in January.

Thank you. You've already started on the next question, which is: obviously, some of the money needs repurposing because of the situation we've been in all year, but has there been some additional money as well?

There has been some additional money. As you know, for instance, the circular economy has just come back into my portfolio, so one of the first things I did was announce additional funding for the circular economy fund. There was an additional—I think it was £5.5 million revenue and £7.7 million capital focusing on town centres and communities, and particularly to look at some reuse and repair hubs and cafes. We've seen quite a few be formed over the pandemic period particularly, so we're really keen to build on that. That's what I mean by things that we can get going straight away. So, whilst there has been some new funding, it is about repurposing as well.

We also had some additional circular economy funding for local authorities and publicly funded bodies, so that was £12.5 million. That's going to fund a range of projects rights across Wales. Closer to home—Llyr will probably know this one—there's a mobile repair shed in Llangollen, but there's also an education centre in Blaenau Gwent, and I know that's come from that funding as well. So, a little bit of a mixture—some new funding and some repurposed funding.

Can I just ask, in terms of linking it up, obviously, with new forms of transport—cycling, for example—there are some really good projects in Cardiff. I've seen Cardiff's project, Pedal Power, where they rent out bikes and also repair bikes; in fact, I've used them for my grandchildren, the summer before last. So, are those the sorts of things we're talking about?

14:45

Yes. So, it's—when I say 'simple', you know what I mean by 'simple'; I'm not deriding it at all. But there are lots of simple ideas that have come forward, and that's why it's so important to reach out to as many people as you can. So, there's lots of schemes that we're currently considering that I really do hope we can get up and running, as I say, as early as January, some of them. Certainly, everybody seems really enthusiastic to do that at the moment, which is good. 

I want to talk about the food and drink industry in relation to COVID. Obviously, the First Minister has announced a boost in the economic resilience fund of £340 million on 30 November, which includes a dedicated £160 million for what's called the restrictions business fund, which is obviously for those businesses that are impacted by the 6 o'clock closure and no alcohol sales. What do you think the impact of these restrictions are on the Welsh food businesses that rely on supplying the hospitality sector?

My officials have a very close relationship with the food businesses to which you refer, and, obviously, it will have had some impact, and that was why the First Minister was very keen to have the package of support, via the economic resilience fund to which you referred, that they are able to access. We're fortunate that some businesses and companies have got contracts with the public sector as well to help them, but, clearly, it will have had an impact, and we are making sure that the ones that have been the worst impacted, and the ones that have lost, obviously, significant funding, are having support from the economic resilience fund. So, those discussions are ongoing. I know my officials met with some organisations such as Castell Howell for instance, who do have some public sector—but officials meet regularly and monitor the situation with them. 

Okay. So, what conversations have been going on with the processing sector? Because, obviously, we had some horror stories during the first lockdown, where milk wasn't collected and food had to be put down the drain in some cases. How much of an impact is all this likely to have on the financial viability of sectors that are able to earn a good living from the hospitality sector whilst it's able to operate?

My colleagues Eluned Morgan and Dafydd Elis-Thomas have set up a hospitality working group. They've established that, they attend that, and they hear from stakeholders. So, that will include, from my portfolio, the drinks cluster we've set up, which is in our food and drink—

The drinks cluster. So, the drinks cluster are part of those stakeholders, and the independent restaurant collective, Hospitality Cymru, the British Beer and Pub Association—those are just a few. So, Eluned and Dafydd meet regularly with them to have those discussions. The processing issue that you raised with the dairy, that was truly awful at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. We have managed not to repeat that, fortunately. But, as I say, my officials have a very close relationship with those organisations, alongside, obviously, other parts of Government that are having that conversation. But that's the current position. 

Okay. So, fish is an obvious example. Some people do well out of supplying fish to restaurants. Are you able to—? There's clearly going to be some fallout in the hospitality sector. The weaker ones will not survive the restrictions, unfortunately—obviously very unfortunately. But what discussions has your department had with those who are currently supplying areas that are likely to shrink, in order to find new markets for them within the home food consumption market?

I think shellfish is a really good example to use. We've worked very closely with that part of the food and drink sector, to make sure they were aware of what support was available. I think we wrote individually to them all; I don't think we even just did a blanket correspondence, we did a bespoke letter to each individual business so that they knew what support was open. We've been looking for new—what's the word I'm thinking of—businesses for our fisheries particularly, because I've always been very concerned about a 'no deal' Brexit in relation to our fishers and fishing businesses. So, we've carried on that really with COVID-19 and, clearly, the impact on hospitality. As you say, you can't—unfortunately, a public health crisis, such as we're currently in the middle of, is going to have an impact on not just public health, but the economy and all parts of life. So, that's the sort of ongoing work that we're doing, but we did particularly focus on aquaculture and, as I say, we did a bespoke correspondence with them.

14:50

Okay. Is there a role for public procurement here? Because, obviously, one of the things that Public Health Wales promotes is for people to eat more oily fish.

Yes, I think so, and you will have heard ministerial colleagues from different parts of Government talking about the role of public sector procurement going forward. It's certainly an area I want to see far more—I want to see Welsh lamb in our hospitals. So, I think there are big opportunities going forward.

Okay. So, you do you think public procurement is ready for this? Because, obviously, the hospitality sector is likely to shrink imminently, and therefore there needs to be new markets for these products.

Yes, it's an area that colleagues have been working on. I did see something about the National Procurement Service and the work that it was doing the other day; I didn't read it in detail, but there is clearly a piece of work ongoing in relation to that.

Okay. Well, perhaps we can have a note on that. I wondered if you could just say, going back to the drinks sector and the drinks cluster that has been sorted out—. Obviously, the chief executive of Brains said that the financial supported offered by the Welsh Government 'wouldn't touch the sides'. So, they may be in a particularly fragile position, but, overall, what's your assessment of the drinks sector, particularly the Welsh-produced drinks sector?

Well, I think that's pretty disappointing to hear from the chief executive of Brains. You made reference to the £340 million package. We've only got the money we've got; we're doing our very best to support all businesses. These are just unprecedented times, and we've, I think, as a Government, really stepped up to the plate to support our businesses. Again, my officials have been speaking with the drinks clusters. I think a lot of them—I accept that Brains isn't in this particular position—but you will have heard me say when I came to committee before that so many of the smaller food and drink producers have really taken to internet deliveries, for instance. Some of the food producers now are saying they probably wouldn't go back to what they were doing, going to small farmers' markets two or three times a week, because they're able now—perhaps they weren't and we supported them to make sure they understood all the paperwork around how you set up an online delivery service. I remember we helped some companies at the beginning of the pandemic in relation to packaging, for instance, and labelling. So, I think some of the smaller ones themselves have done the work themselves; we've supported them, but they've just got on and done it, and perhaps won't go back to the way it was before. As I say, clearly, that's not where Brains are. I think we've done our very best to support as many companies as possible. But, as you say, maybe Brains is in a different position anyway.

Thank you, Chair. Minister, when you say you've done your very best to support those drinks companies, why is it then that the Welsh Government has unilaterally decided to pull a tv advertising campaign to promote Welsh drinks produce in the run-up to Christmas?

Well, we didn't think that perhaps was the best time with the current restrictions. Obviously, the public health crisis and the restrictions we bring forward has to be the priority. So, we're looking at other ways of supporting them, and I think the package that I referred to is the most appropriate way.

But you said yourself that many of these drinks producers actually sell directly to the public, which is something they want to promote at this time of year particularly. Many, if not most of them, sell through supermarkets, and, of course, given that pubs are now not selling, then supermarkets, all of a sudden, are the most important outlet for drinks manufacturers in Wales. Frankly, it makes no sense whatsoever to pull a tv campaign, but in the same letter they're told that the Government will concentrate all efforts on social media campaigns. Well, are they not one and the same?

14:55

No, I don't think they're one and the same, and, obviously, the cost is not one and the same. We are continuing to do that on social media. Certainly, in the conversations I have with the supermarkets, I make it very clear, because some of the representatives who do attend the retail meeting that I have are based outside Wales, so I have to make sure that they continue to support—. Certainly, when COVID first started, I was very keen to make sure that it wasn't Welsh producers, particularly small Welsh producers—that they took those—or that they weren't continuing to support them in the way that they were. So, I think there are other things you can do, apart from a tv campaign.

But this advert had already been produced. I've seen a copy of the advert; there was nothing in it, really. There was a shot—maybe three or four seconds—of people drinking in a pub, which could easily have been edited away. It's an hour's worth of work in an editing studio. Do you not accept, or do you not understand the frustration from the sector? This is a key time of year, this is when people buy the most amount of alcohol at home—I'm not talking about pubs; at home—plus it's the most critical time of year in relation to direct sales to the public, which you referenced earlier. Now is the time that all other companies are ramping up advertising to maximise that market, particularly to try and make up some lost ground over the last eight or nine months, and you decide that you don't want to help them by advertising on television, despite that advert already being paid for and produced and the slots booked.

It's not a matter of not wanting to help them. I think we are helping them in a variety of ways, which I just outlined. But the public health crisis has to—we have to make these awful decisions. As a Government, you don't want to be putting these restrictions, and, as you say, I absolutely understand the frustration that it is the busiest time of the year for our pubs and restaurants. You have to understand that what we are doing as a Welsh Government is trying to save as many lives as possible. But I do think we are supporting them in other ways, and it was decided that social media was the best way to do that.

But the point I'm making is that it isn't just in pubs that they sell, and, of course, you've closed the pubs in relation to selling alcohol, so it has to double up in terms of supermarket sales and do more of that. But there we are, okay, people have heard what you've got to say.

In relation to some of those pubs, then, you mentioned support being available. Of course, I'm being told by publicans that they still don't know what support will be available and how they can apply for it. We're a week into the restrictions on sales, costs are going out of the door, but the replacement funds and the support aren't coming in, so that isn't very sustainable for them, is it?

Well, again, I haven't been told of any concerns around that funding. It's there, it will be very clear how that funding can be applied for. This is the second time—no, it's not, it's the third time, isn't it—that we've had ERF, so it's a very slick operation, I would have thought by now, so I'm sure the funding is getting out as quickly as possible. Clearly, it's public money, I understand you have to go through routes to get that money, but it needs to be as unbureaucratic as possible. If anybody has any specific concerns, please raise them with me or with Ken Skates directly.

On the communications around forward planning, clearly, the pubs are hoping that these restrictions will be eased in some way or other on 17 December; they don't know at the moment whether things will change or not. I'm told that 17 December is the last date for deliveries from some breweries in the run-up to Christmas, so pubs are asking me, 'Do we deliver? Do we not deliver? Do we deliver enough for Christmas? Should we take enough in for the new year as well?' When are pubs going to get a semblance of clarity around what the situation is going to be over the next two or three weeks? Because, of course, if they do order and they can't sell it, then, clearly, not only does that have a financial impact, but—we've touched on this previously in committee—there'll be thousands and thousands of gallons of beer being poured down the drains, which in itself will bring an environmental impact.

We have said, obviously, that that's the review of the regulations, on 17 December. We have seen how quickly the situation with the virus can change. As a Cabinet, we meet most days and, obviously, the numbers are reviewed, and sometimes even I, and I'm seeing those numbers every day, and you are shocked at how quickly those numbers can go up, particularly in certain areas. So, it is a very fluid, and when I say 'fluid', you have to react quickly to the rising number of cases. Whether we see—. Obviously, the impact on the hospitality sector, we probably won't know for a few more days, I would say, whether it's had any effect on the virus, and the way the virus is spreading and transmitting in the communities at the current time. So, as you say, it's a week until we will obviously come forward. 

I think the point you make around deliveries—and yes, of course, we don't want to see beer thrown away—is very pertinent, and as soon as we are able to make that decision, we will do that as a Cabinet. I think, and I'm sure you would agree with me, we need to keep pressing the issue that it's people that move the virus around, and everybody has to take responsibility for their own actions, whether they travel, who they mix with et cetera, and we ask people to remember this, because nobody wants to close pubs, nobody wants to close sectors at all. And, unfortunately, because of the increase in the virus that we've seen, we had to make these decisions.

15:00

You started to talk about the aquaculture business and the support scheme, but they've actually claimed that it was poorly signposted. They thought it was just a simple afterthought. How do you respond to that?

Not at all. I said we had a bespoke service to them. We wrote to them all individually, so no, not at all, it wasn't an afterthought at all. And the funding from the scheme came from the European maritime and fisheries fund. So, that required a notification, so we had to do certain things to access that funding, but no, not an afterthought at all. 

Could you update us on the monitoring being undertaken by the sea fish and the UK joint fisheries marketing monitoring group?

Yes, we're members of that group that you referred to, and what that group does is monitor market price on landings and vice versa. That's been meeting for quite a while now, since the various 'no deal' scenarios of last year, and also during COVID-19. So, there's a lot of data that comes forward to us that we can then use to make evidence based decisions for policies. We keep a very close eye on the market, and if, obviously, there was a case for intervention, we would then obviously consider that. 

You've already talked and Jennifer—Jenny, sorry—asked you about support for the fisheries sector in the public sector scheme. Is there anything else that's being considered beyond that to help the fisheries sector, especially with the hospitality sector somewhat restricted to them at the moment?

Yes. So, I mentioned that we have been providing business support. We've also got Menter a Busnes. They've been working on, I think it's called the 'Port to Plate' project, to encourage domestic consumption of Welsh fisheries, because we know we don't eat as much fish as perhaps we should do. And we've also been working with Seafish to produce Welsh-specific themes and resources for their 'Love Seafood' campaign. I remember a little fish and chip van outside the Senedd; I don't know if Members [Inaudible.] So, we've been doing projects like that as well. 

The 'Port to Plate' advertising sounds excellent. Is that something you have been doing in the run-up to Christmas, when people are obviously thinking about how to provide special meals for their family?

Yes, as I say, Menter a Busnes have been delivering that for us, but I think they've been doing it for a little while, not just specifically in the run-up to Christmas. 

Okay, but, specifically, is it something we've been targeting in the run-up to the holidays?

No, I think we've been just doing it for a little while. I don't think it's something that has been stepped up, no. 

Okay. Perhaps a missed opportunity there. Anyway, there we are. 

Minister, I'd just like to ask you about the Welsh fisheries grant. You've said there's no plans to extend that. The Welsh Fishermen's Association, in their evidence to us, have said that other sources of finance are not really any use to them, the economic resilience fund, for example, and self-employed income support schemes—apparently, they say, as soon as the self-employed income support scheme was announced, it was clear that many Welsh fishers didn't qualify, so the fisheries grant was a welcome lifeline to them. So, is that something that you might be able to reconsider?

15:05

On a case-by-case basis, if that's something we think we need to have a look at again—. We made it clear it was a one-off payment at the start, about June time, of the pandemic. I think they make a very valid point around the economic resilience fund, because the majority of them don't have a rateable property, and then it is really difficult for them to get that. I'm in the process of writing to my colleague Ken Skates about that, because obviously they've missed out every time in relation to that, to see if there is something that we can specifically look at in relation to that. But, of course, if we thought we needed to make a further intervention, then we would consider it.

And from Neil's point, I think it's the fact that on 5 November, Minister, you made reference to fishers submitting an application to the European maritime and fisheries fund, and I think they do feel that it was a little bit misleading, because they saw that as an immediate support option for Welsh fishers during the pandemic. So, just to endorse what Neil has said, whether you would look again at that, and if it is available on an individual basis, can that be cascaded to our fishers so they're aware of that?

One way of supporting fisheries, of course, is to offer an additional grant. Another way of supporting the sector is to maybe look at the current pressures and the current support or otherwise, maybe reducing their costs in some way. Of course, you'll be aware that Natural Resources Wales is proposing a considerable fee increase to coracle fishermen through the net licence duties for 2021-23. Now, that's going to impact livelihoods, but also, it's a big part of our heritage, isn't it, really? And the Welsh Government is making a big play of that when it comes to tourism, but then, on the other hand, we're seeing NRW undermining the sector by increasing their fee significantly. Is that something that you'd be willing to consider maybe asking NRW to look at again?

So, this is actually something I have been lobbied on, and I will take the opportunity to discuss this with NRW. I haven't had that opportunity yet, but I think I did have a letter at the beginning of the month around that, so I will certainly have a conversation, and find out why, and what's behind that increase.

Well, I'd certainly support anything that you can do in that respect, because it's an important sector for us here in Wales, both on an economic scale, of course, but more significantly, I think, as part of our fisheries heritage.

Thank you. A survey of members of the Animal Welfare Network Wales showed 71 per cent of organisations calling for grants to be made available to animal rescue centres following the pandemic. Likewise, the Dogs Trust estimates that its income will be reduced by £60 million over the next five years. What steps has your department taken to push for targeted financial support for the animal welfare sector beyond that offered generally through the third sector fund?

The only other funding is through the economic resilience fund. We're not doing any bespoke support to animal welfare organisations, but as I say, there is that cross-sector support you referred to, and obviously the economic resilience fund as well.

Thanks. Also, there are widespread concerns about a greater risk of animal abandonment amid the anticipated economic downturn, particularly after a recent surge in interest for acquiring pets. I think it's fair to say we saw the demand go up during COVID, the lockdown and everything. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have been raising this concern, and Battersea, in their COVID-19 impact report, projected that the UK in general is likely to see up to 27 per cent more stray dogs across the next five years. What impact assessment has your department made on the likelihood of an increase in abandoned animals, and given that this would no doubt be a long-term issue, how do you feel that you as a Government can address this? 

15:10

I think there has definitely been a significant increase in the demand for puppies and also kittens during the COVID-19 pandemic. I think some possibly will have been impulse purchases. I think some people—I can think of members of my own family—who, because they're working from home, took it as an opportunity to have that much-longed-for puppy that they'd wanted to be able to spend time with and train it. So, I think it is a balance. Obviously, it's the impulse purchases that we're more concerned about from a possible rise in abandonment. We're working with groups such as the Pet Advertising Advisory Group around ensuring people understand the responsibilities, to try and avoid, as you say, that abandonment.

We haven't seen, as far as I know—Christianne is on the committee with me—I don't think we've seen an increase in abandonment as yet, but I suppose it could take a little while, obviously, to play out. I don't know if Christianne has anything to say, but we do message throughout the year in relation to that and, obviously, as we approach Christmas, we've done our social media campaign again about, 'A dog is life, not just for Christmas', that sort of work that we did, I think it was this time last year, and we're doing it again this year. But I don't know if Christianne has got anything further to add. 

Thank you, Minister. Yes, exactly that—we're carrying on with close collaborative working with the vets in Wales, with the charities that deal with animal welfare situations. We have no indication at the moment of increased abandonment and, perversely, we've seen through the RSPCA a reduction in the number of cruelty cases that have been reported. Now, there could be all sorts of factors at play here where there are fewer people out there looking, there is perhaps less communication in that respect, and so there are concerns that there may be some of this going unseen. And we need to continue to work closely with the veterinary profession, in particular, to understand what's happening. 

But in terms of the number of abandoned pets, we haven't seen figures to suggest that's increased yet, but you're absolutely right—Christmas is coming, and it's after Christmas, in the cold light of day and into the new year that we do have to be on the lookout. Obviously, all the third sector organisations are under pressure. Their fundraising has been affected, so this is a very difficult equation to square off, but all we can do is keep in close contact with those organisations right now. 

Thank you. My final point on animal welfare is I am becoming increasingly concerned, and I know it's something that is raised with me very often through my e-mail and postbag, and that is—. We've got Lucy's law coming eventually. I think all of us on the committee can't wait for that to happen. However, that doesn't cover all eventualities in terms of the breeding of puppies, and now, with social media, I'm seeing more and more domestic breeding of dogs, in particular, on a regular basis. It's fair to say that bitches are being—. You know, straight after, one after another after another litter, and they're all ending up on Facebook. There's a good marketplace on Facebook now for getting rid of these puppies. What can you do, Minister, as a Government? It's really difficult because these are in people's homes now; we're not talking farms with dozens of cages. It's become very profitable now with the value of dogs having gone up, sky rocketed. What can you do as a Government? 

Firstly, just to say our legislation is not Lucy's law—it's third-party sales; we've gone beyond Lucy's law, so it's third-party sales and, as you say, we're progressing that and it's on the target that I set, that we would bring it forward by the end of this Senedd term. I think you make a very important point around the internet and people searching for animals on there. It's very easy to do, a very popular way of doing it. So, we support the work—I mentioned before—of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group. We work with other animal welfare organisations and veterinary bodies around that, because I think you're more likely to see the impulse buying that I was referring to if you sit in front of Facebook in the evening and you see that cute puppy. Unfortunately, I think that could be a difficulty, and particularly now, this time of year, in the run-up to Christmas, where that impulse purchasing, we know, is more frequent. So, it's just really important that we continue to work with all the organisations that Christianne referred to. I think the social media campaign is really important as well, and just to get those important messages out about responsible purchasing.

15:15
Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(iii) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
Motion under Standing Order 17.42(iii) to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(iii).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(iii).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

We've got 10 minutes left, Minister. I am told by the Clerk that the Standing Orders provide for committees to go into private sessions to discuss matters that might impact economic interests. Would the committee be happy to move into private session, because there are some economic interests that Jenny Rathbone, amongst others, want to ask questions on? Are we happy to go into private session? Yes.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:16.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:16.

15:25

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 15:28.

The committee reconvened in public at 15:28.

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Paper(s) to note

Can I ask that we note the following items: correspondence from the Minister for Housing and Local Government in relation to 'Future Wales: the national plan 2040'; a written submission from National Farmers Union Cymru in relation to biodiversity and rewilding; correspondence from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs regarding a statement of objection to proposed net licence duties, and correspondence from Natural Resources Wales in relation to the Tan Lan embankment? Are we happy to note those? Yes.

Can I now move a motion—

Sorry, Chair, I was going to ask whether we as a committee, in relation to 4.3, the net licence duties—whether we as a committee would be minded to write to Natural Resources Wales, asking them to reconsider.

Can we discuss that when we go into private session?

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

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I move the motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting? Everybody happy with that? Yes.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:29.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:29.