80 speeches by……and 10 more speakers
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs. Under Standing Order 12.58, I have received notification that the leader of the house, Jane Hutt, will answer questions today on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary. Question 1, Simon Thomas.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the well-being of exotic animals in Wales? OAQ(5)0128(ERA)[W]
The welfare of all kept animals is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which has been in place for 10 years. The codes of practice on companion animals and livestock are under review, and the introduction of any new codes, including for exotic animals, will be considered in 2017-18.
Thank you for that response, Minister, but the problem with the current situation is that it allows people, for example, to keep monkeys in ordinary houses, and it also allows circuses with live exotic animals, and which perform with those animals, to visit Wales. We have been waiting for some months, if not a year or two, for the Government to take action in this area. So, can you give us an assurance that steps will now be taken by Government to deal with the health and welfare problems of exotic animals in Wales?
I thank Simon Thomas for that question. Officials have met with representatives from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Cymru to discuss the briefing document calling for a ban on exotic pets, and further meetings are going to take place on that. We’re talking about mobile animal exhibits as well, and a scoping exercise under the partnership delivery project is also being undertaken to gather information from local authorities on MAEs currently active in the area. And the results of that exercise are due to be presented very shortly, this month in fact. And, also, there’s going to be a consultation that officials are working on, on establishing a licensing or registration scheme in Wales, and this is due to be launched before the summer recess.
I remain unconvinced of the merits of people keeping exotic animals as pets, especially primates, or those animals who have to eat other live animals in order to feed. Many people are unable to effectively look after these animals, and either let them loose into the wild, which causes problems, or end up banned from keeping pets. Will the Minister consider setting up a task and finish group to look into the creation of a register of people banned from keeping pets?
It’s interesting and important to record as well that the keeping of certain species of wild animals is controlled by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, and the owners of these species are required to be licensed by their local authority under the Act. The creation of an animal abuse register is being considered, but the effectiveness of its existence as a deterrent in either future, further abusive actions taking place, or in terms of prevention of animals being owned by a former abuser, will require mechanisms, and a clear, cross-sector agency approach. So, officials are exploring what engagement with others would be required and have noted the RSPCA’s call for the establishment of a task and finish group.
Well, as you indicated, leader of the house, it isn’t just exotic animals, but wildlife that comes into this, including our domestic wildlife that find themselves sometimes being cared for by people whose interventions come with the best interests, but perhaps not the best welfare information. I know that Welsh Government has started to look at this, but I’m wondering whether there is any progress on the regulation of wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife hospitals, and whether there’s any indication of whether you might be looking at the courses that are run for vets, or continuing professional development for vets actually, to upskill them to have a wider range of knowledge, not just in exotic species, but in our own domestic wildlife species as well?
That is another extension of the concerns that are raised, particularly in relation to animal welfare. I will certainly ask the Cabinet Secretary to respond to you, particularly in relation to those wildlife hospitals and other settings that you describe.
2. What is the Welsh Government doing to help promote the production of healthier food? OAQ(5)0122(ERA)
The Welsh Government’s small business research initiative, supporting health and nutrition projects, is further seeking to develop innovative projects that will significantly improve the nutritional composition of food and drink available to children. Projects can compete for a share of up to £1 million for these developments.
I thank you for that answer, and this is really, really good news, because we all know that, by the age of 11, 40 per cent of children are obese in Wales, or they’re overweight, and that is a very, very unhealthy state for children to arrive at in such an early age. You did mention the £1 million funding from Welsh Government and Innovate UK, and that it will be open to companies and research organisations, to help them find that innovation in producing this food. But, I will ask, leader of the house, how do food innovators in Wales apply for that funding, and what is the criteria that will be needed to meet and qualify for that funding?
Well, tackling obesity, as Joyce Watson says, is a key priority—a key priority for the Welsh Government—and supporting people to access a healthy, balanced diet is crucial to this. And, last month, I spoke on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary at the Blas Cymru/Taste Wales event. That was the first ever national and international trade event and conference for the food and drink industry. And it was at that event that we invited businesses and organisations across the industry to submit proposals for this £1 million development. And, of course, this was encouraging them to develop innovative solutions to improve the nutritional composition, for example, of school meals, whilst driving down costs. So, just a couple more words on the criteria. We’re suggesting innovative solutions could improve nutritional composition of food and drink available to children, drive down the cost of nutritious food and drink for families, schools and local authorities across Wales, increase the variety of healthy and nutritious food and drink available to children in all settings, reduce the prevalence of obese children and adults in Wales, and improve the health and well-being of children through to adult. And this small business research initiative is there to support and enable the responses from the food and drink industry to meet this challenge.
Is the leader of the house aware of the report of the Mental Health Foundation, ‘Food for thought’, which looks at the link between nutrition and mental health? Now, I believe that the kind of strategy on obesity that we’re calling for through the public health Bill—. Am I okay to continue? I will start again.
Thank you. No, please move on.
I believe that the kind of obesity strategy that we’re calling for through the public health Bill could promote mental health, as well as physical health. But, does the leader of the house believe that that should be a consideration as part of the Government’s food strategy, in addition to being part of strategies in the sphere of health?
Diolch yn fawr, Rhun ap Iorwerth. As you’re aware, and you’ve drawn attention to these links, in terms of the evidence, in terms of mental health needs and impacts. As you know, at the Stage 2 scrutiny of the Public Health (Wales) Bill, amendments were tabled to place a duty on the Welsh Ministers to prepare and publish a national obesity strategy. And, although those amendments fell, the Minister for Social Services and Public Health gave a commitment to consider a national obesity strategy further, with a view to bringing forward amendments at Stage 3 on this issue. It’s also important to recognise that the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 places a well-being duty on public bodies, and the importance of health impact assessments, to consider how, systematically, we can ensure decisions and plans can contribute to reducing obesity and increasing physical activity levels.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Welsh Conservatives spokesperson, David Melding.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, yesterday, the Institute of Welsh Affairs published its report on funding renewable energy projects in Wales—here in the Neuadd, I’m pleased to say—and it identified the difficulty in raising capital, or particular difficulty in Wales. And I’d like to ask you will the Welsh Government be taking note of the recommendations of this report and responding to them positively.
We certainly welcome the IWA’s contribution to what is the transformation of Wales’s energy system. We’re already delivering on many of the areas that were highlighted in the report, and we look forward to working with the IWA to further develop their ideas to benefit Wales.
Cabinet Secretary, the report urges the Welsh Government to use its levers ambitiously right across the scope of its activity to develop a sustainable energy strategy and, although the UK Government has a role to play as well, to focus on what the Welsh Government can do in terms of business rates, but also the public sector, which is a big purchaser of energy, and that we need to use our levers very, very effectively. Will you be urging your Cabinet colleagues to look at this in a holistic way?
We will, of course, and this is a cross-Government issue. We have begun to explore options providing further access, for example, to low-cost finance and equity solutions, using Welsh Government funds to leverage any further financial investment in order to remove barriers to capital, which you mentioned earlier on. I will say though, of course, that the greatest barrier to further deployment of renewable energy is the lack of a suitable funding support mechanism at the UK level.
I’ve been nice to you so far, but I note that barb. [Laughter.] In an attempt to move us back on to consensus, or a consensus, the report says that, to encourage more community-owned schemes, we need to look at greater use of co-operatives to attract funding. The Welsh Government talks big in this area and has a lot of support across the Assembly in doing that, but I hope that you will pick up that part of the report most enthusiastically because there is a great degree of empowerment that could go on, and using that model in terms of its general ability for regeneration and not just for renewable energy is a key way of perhaps addressing some of the shortfall in attracting funding that we’ve traditionally suffered from.
Yes, and, David Melding, of course, you are acknowledging that that’s within the grain of the direction in which the Welsh Government would want to take us, and we’ll look with interest at those recommendations around the co-operative model. We invested £35 million by the end of the last financial year on energy projects and, indeed, £5 million in the local energy fund, separately providing direct loans to some of the community projects most at risk. So, it’s clearly important to look at that recommendation in terms of the way forward.
UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.
Thank you, Llywydd. I’m sure the leader of the house is aware that the biggest headache for many farmers in Wales at the minute is the vexed issue of bovine TB. This is a vitally important issue in the context of the Brexit negotiations because it’s possible that the EU might use the TB situation in Wales as some kind of justification for banning exports of beef and other meats. I wonder if, therefore, she can give us any idea of when the current consideration of the result of the consultation on the refreshed TB eradication consultation will be published.
The consultation on the TB eradication programme—the refreshed programme—closed on 10 January. The Cabinet Secretary is currently considering the responses, and I’m sure that Neil Hamilton will be as pleased as the Cabinet Secretary to hear that there were a significant number of representations—993—a large number of which were from farmers.
Indeed. I was wondering though whether we could have any idea of how long the Cabinet Secretary is likely to take before she’s able to announce what proposals the Government might have. There are a number of relatively uncontroversial things that it would be helpful to have some advance indication on. For example, many farmers are worried that, whatever testing regime emerges from this, it is practical and takes account of the facts of life of being a livestock farmer. Tests that fall at inconvenient times, such as when the harvests are occurring or when cattle are calving, would be very, very difficult. Also, there’s another issue that ought to be borne in mind, namely that there is currently a county parish holding rationalisation programme going on, and many farmers are concerned that this would add further complications to what’s already a very complicated situation, if that’s not taken account of in the Cabinet Secretary’s decisions.
A statement on the refreshed TB eradication programme will be made in early May, but I think it’s also important and relevant to note that new incidences of bovine TB in Wales are at a 10-year low. Progress has been made, with over 95 per cent of Wales’s herds now being TB free.
Perhaps unrelated to the consultation that is going on at the moment, can I draw attention to a problem with the testing regime as it is at the minute? A strict liability regime is applied to the testing of cattle. If you fail to test within the 60-day window, then you automatically are fined, in effect. But very often we find cases—it’s possible that the leader of the house may have had constituency cases in her postbag along these lines—where a test has had to be abandoned because cattle become agitated, or even violent, and it’s unsafe in health and safety terms for the testing to continue. In those circumstances it’s possible, indeed highly likely, that the retesting can’t take place within the window and the farmer will automatically therefore attract penalties, even though it will be for something that is actually beyond his control. So, what I’m asking is: can there be some flexibility introduced into the testing regime, so that where events beyond the farmer’s control prevent compliance, he will not then attract penalties or there will be some mitigation?
Well, the controls and testing regimes are a crucial part of the TB eradication programme in preventing onward transmission of disease, but of course now, as part of the project to examine the TB situation at a more local level, we have a dedicated TB epidemiologist and a team of vets looking at the disease across the country and working through that in terms of the issues that are raised, of course, in terms of those affected.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Leader of the house, yesterday the National Assembly agreed that one of the responses to the decision to leave the European Union should be the introduction of a continuation Wales Bill in order to uphold Wales’s constitution and convert into Welsh law all European legislation related to devolved policy areas. It’s true we voted 9-6, which is more like a rugby score than a vote of the Assembly, but nevertheless it was a majority. What is the Government’s view now on this proposal, and does the Government recognise the importance in particular of enshrining EU environmental law into Welsh law in order to protect public health and the economy as well as the environment?
Well, I’m glad to have the opportunity to follow up from that debate, Simon Thomas, to say we’ve been absolutely clear that we will not tolerate a power grab from Whitehall, and it’s unacceptable for the UK Government to take powers currently exercised by the EU over devolved areas. Of course, this is crucial to the point you raise in terms of agriculture and the environment.
I thank the Minister for that statement and I look forward to seeing very firm proposals from the Welsh Government to ensure that that does indeed take place. In particular, I want us not to rely on the UK Government to represent our interests here in Wales, and looking at air pollution in particular as an area, we are already hearing of some extreme measures—some would say ‘extreme measures’, some would say ‘necessary measures’—for dealing with air pollution. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is introducing a higher rate of congestion charge for very polluting vehicles; the Prime Minister has hinted at a scrappage scheme to ensure that diesel car owners are not blamed for the previous Labour Government’s mistake over promoting diesel cars, to declare an interest. So, what input now is the Welsh Government having into ensuring that the interests of the people of Wales are represented in terms of public health and social justice in UK Government proposals around a UK-wide pollution plan, bearing in mind there are 6,000 premature deaths from air pollution in Wales a year?
We are firmly committed as a Welsh Government to improving air quality across Wales. We support and provide guidance to help local authorities fulfil their responsibilities, particularly in terms of reviewing local air quality, with regular assessments and monitoring. But you will be aware, of course, that the Cabinet Secretary undertook a public consultation in Wales on how local air quality and noise management can be improved, and, in fact, in response to that the Cabinet Secretary published a written statement on 30 March. Our next steps have to be taken forward in terms of issuing new statutory guidance to local authorities, new guidance to local health boards, and launching by 24 April—and this is important to your question—a joint consultation with the other UK administrations on a new air quality plan to achieve the EU nitrogen dioxide limit values for Wales and the rest of the UK within the shortest possible time.
I thank her for referring to that consultation, due to begin on 24 April. I look forward to seeing how that works out between the different devolved administrations. There is, however, as we are talking about nitrogen oxide emissions, one very big polluter here in Wales—Aberthaw power station—which has already been found to be in breach of EU law and putting out double the amount of toxic nitrogen oxides from 2008 to 2011. We are still awaiting a programme to set out how emissions will be reduced at Aberthaw, and this is the responsibility of the licensing authority, Natural Resources Wales. On 8 March, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs responded to me on questions around Aberthaw, saying that she expected to meet with Natural Resources Wales on 15 March to discuss whether there had been a proper proposal from the owners of Aberthaw setting out how they will reduce the emissions from that power station. She also said she’d be happy to provide an update after that meeting. I appreciate, of course, she can’t be here, but are you, standing in for the Cabinet Secretary, in a position to inform us and the public of Wales now whether there is a programme in place for Aberthaw power station to reduce these harmful emissions?
I’m pleased to report an update on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary that, on 1 April, Natural Resources Wales concluded the Aberthaw environmental permit modification exercise, with the issue of a new environmental permit for Aberthaw. This new permit contains a lower nitrogen oxide emissions limit, in line with the judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU. Aberthaw must now comply with the new nitrogen oxide emissions limit. Officials will continue to monitor the situation. Any changes to Aberthaw’s coal supplies and operational regime, of course, are commercial matters for RWE.
3. How is the Welsh Government helping people in fuel poverty in North Wales? OAQ(5)0124(ERA)
Our key programme for tackling fuel poverty, Welsh Government Warm Homes, includes the Nest and Arbed schemes. Since 2011, we have invested over £217 million to improve the energy efficiency of over 39,000 homes across Wales. Over 9,000 of these homes were in north Wales.
Thank you for that. It takes me back to a decade when we were convincing your previous colleagues in Welsh Government that a fuel poverty strategy includes energy efficiency but is a social justice issue. Age Cymru have said that many of the mechanisms and measures combined within the Welsh Government’s 2010 fuel poverty strategy are out of date and no longer applicable, saying that the time is right for the Welsh Government to refresh its fuel poverty strategy. At both the Fuel Poverty Awareness Day cross-border north Wales conference in February and the Wales annual fuel poverty conference, we heard that, whilst the Welsh Government’s investment in energy efficiency schemes through its Warm Homes programme is commendable, we need a step change in ambition and the scale of resources earmarked. How, therefore, will the Welsh Government engage with the Wales Fuel Poverty Coalition, most of whose members you already work with in different contexts, over their statement that we drastically need a new fuel poverty strategy in Wales?
Since 2011, we’ve invested over £217 million in Welsh Government Warm Homes to improve over 39,000 homes. The important point about this, Mark Isherwood, is that, in households on low incomes or living in the most deprived areas of Wales, improving the energy efficiency of low-income homes delivers multiple benefits. It helps to tackle and prevent ill health, reduces carbon emissions, creates jobs and energy and improves educational attainment. A recent report by Public Health Wales estimated that investing in insulation and heating also, to address cold and damp housing, can have a huge impact. We know that the most effective way in which we can tackle fuel poverty in the long term is to improve the energy efficiency of homes, and we’re doing this effectively through Welsh Government Warm Homes.
Welsh households in fuel poverty are currently being asked to pay from their own pocket to subsidise windfarms and solar parks so that landowners can profit—£300 on an annual bill may not sound much to you on a Cabinet Secretary’s salary, but it’s a great deal of money for a low-income family. When are you going to give poor households a break and abandon subsidising these white elephants?
In terms of our Warm Homes programme, the most important scheme that you should draw your constituents on low incomes’ attention to is the Nest scheme, which actually delivered estimated average energy bill savings of over £400 per household. Let me go back to the issue of how we tackle fuel poverty. The most recent data indicate that fuel poverty in all households has reduced from 29 per cent in 2012 to 23 per cent in 2016—a reduction of 6 per cent in just four years—and we’re levering in up to £24 million of EU funding. Now, I wonder if you're going to be supporting us in trying to ensure that we get that funding replaced when we Brexit, because it is quite clear that EU funding has also helped tackle fuel poverty in Wales.
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the Welsh Government's priorities for developing the agricultural sector in Wales? OAQ(5)0127(ERA)
Agriculture is a vital industry to Wales and a crucial backbone of the Welsh rural economy and environment. We’re working in partnership with stakeholders to secure a prosperous and resilient agricultural sector.
Thank you, leader of the house. In answer to Neil Hamilton’s question earlier, you said that a large percentage of herds are currently TB free. This is little consolation for farmers I met with recently in Dingestow, a TB hotspot in my constituency. They’re concerned that whilst the statistics point to a decline in the number of herds affected by the disease over time, this can be attributed to a falling number of herds and, consequently, larger herds, thus masking the true extent of the TB problem in Wales. Will the Welsh Government look again at the way these data are collected so we can gain a true picture of the number of animals affected by TB in Wales, and then we can get on with the job of tackling the dreadful disease that is afflicting wildlife and livestock across Wales?
Yes, well, I'm sure Nick Ramsay would also have been pleased to hear the significant number of representations to the consultation, particularly from farmers, and I'm sure from the farmers in your constituency as well. If I can just, perhaps, say a bit more about the project that is being undertaken, including the TB epidemiologist and team of vets looking at disease across the country, because you may be aware that we’ve identified areas in Wales that fall into three categories based on the level of disease in each area—high, intermediate and low—so that we can have a more targeted approach to tackling disease in different areas. With that more regional approach it does enable us to apply different controls in different areas, depending on the disease situation and the risk in those areas, which, of course, does start to address some of those issues. And you know, we have to look at—. When the measures that we’re consulting on are put in place, the low TB area could be the first TB-free area of Wales, and then one of the immediate benefits, of course, to the families in the low TB areas would be that pre-movement testing would no longer be required. So, there is, you know—. I think, wait until the response from the Cabinet Secretary comes out, because many of those points might be answered.
Mae Bil diddymu arfaethedig Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig yn bygwth datgymalu setliad cyfansoddiadol Cymru yn llwyr, gan gynnwys pwerau Llywodraeth Cymru dros faterion sydd wedi eu datganoli, fel amaethyddiaeth. Yn dilyn y bleidlais ddoe, yma, ar y ddadl ar danio erthygl 50, mae’r ffordd yn glir ar gyfer Bil parhad yr Undeb Ewropeaidd i Gymru. A ydych yn cytuno bod Bil parhad yn angenrheidiol er mwyn sicrhau mai Llywodraeth Cymru fydd efo’r pwerau i ddatblygu’r sector amaethyddiaeth yng Nghymru, fel sy’n gallu digwydd ar hyn o bryd o dan ein setliad datganoledig? A ydych chi hefyd yn cytuno y byddai Bil parhad yn rhwystro’r Torïaid yn San Steffan rhag dwyn pwerau oddi wrth ein Senedd cenedlaethol ni?
Well, I'm glad I had the opportunity to respond earlier on to Simon Thomas that we’re absolutely clear: we won’t tolerate that power grab from Whitehall. Also, I feel we have, between us, with our ‘Securing Wales’ Future’, put forward a very clear and workable approach to developing any, for example, UK- wide frameworks that might be needed in terms of devolved areas. We have said, and I think the First Minister said yesterday, that our preferred option remains a UK repeal Bill that properly recognises and protects the devolution settlement. We will forcefully argue this in bilateral discussions with the UK Government and in the Joint Ministerial Committee, but we have also been considering the issue: we abstained yesterday on your amendment and we continue to give it consideration in terms of the continuation Bill proposal.
5. What discussions has the Cabinet Secretary held with Severn Trent regarding water services in Wales? OAQ(5)0125(ERA)[W]
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs has met with Severn Trent Water, following the acquisition of Dee Valley Water, to discuss the Welsh Government’s expectations regarding the new licence, job security, customer bills, and how the process will move forward now that the acquisition is complete.
Thank you for that response, because previously, of course, the Cabinet Secretary refused to respond, perhaps because she was concerned that she would be involved with some future decision on the future of the water industry. You referred to jobs—can I ask you what assurances she’s received in her negotiations that the level of jobs that were once in Dee Valley Water will be maintained in the new arrangements?
The Cabinet Secretary has met, and did meet, with Severn Trent Water twice, and I recall that she reported on this to press the need for a transition that runs smoothly and benefits Wales, because we recognise the uncertainty for those affected by the acquisition of Dee Valley Water. She’s met with them to discuss how to align the Welsh Government’s policy in relation to the water industry, but also to look at implications in terms of how to protect the local workforce, local jobs, the community and customers.
Leader of the house, a constituent has raised an issue with me in regard to damage to properties in the Llandinam area of my constituency, which they believe is caused by Severn Trent’s abstraction operations in the area. Can I ask you what role Natural Resources Wales has in ensuring that Severn Trent take responsibility for their actions in regard to ensuring that the activities they undertake aren’t affecting the environment? Can I also ask, taking into account the reports that a number of properties have raised with me in regard to significant sinkage to fields and cracking and subsidence of properties, if I supplied either you or the Cabinet Secretary with that relevant information, would you commit to raising this matter with Natural Resources Wales?
I think that example—. The Cabinet Secretary, her officials and Natural Resources Wales need all examples, as, indeed, the one that you cite this afternoon. It is important to note that Severn Trent have been active members of the Wales water forum since its establishment, and do engage regularly, through that forum, with Welsh Government and, indeed, the regulators.
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's position regarding the export of live animals for slaughter? OAQ(5)0130(ERA)
The Welsh Government recognises live animal exports for slaughter are of concern. We have legislation to protect animal welfare during transport and would prefer animals to be slaughtered close to their point of production, and consider a trade in meat to be preferable to the long-distance transport of animals.
It’s a pity that I didn’t hear a clear proposal or support to ban live exports there, leader of the house. Thousands of live animals are being exported to the European Union and beyond, sometimes to countries where animal welfare standards are very low or non-existent. I also note that your Government has chosen not to make it mandatory for slaughterhouses to install closed-circuit television to ensure compliance with welfare standards. How can you claim that animal welfare in Wales is safe in Labour’s hands if profit means more to you than welfare, which I presume is what lies at the basis of your answer?
The Welsh Government is—. If you want Government to actually listen to you, I think you listen to the answers that are given you, and also look at the law as well. The Welsh Government would prefer for animals, as I said, to be slaughtered as close as practicable to their point of production, and, as I said, consider a trade in meat and meat products to be preferable to the long-distance transport of animals to slaughter, but the live export trade is, however, a lawful trade. Now, how do we address that? The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs has agreed a new partnership structure between the Welsh Government and heads of trading standards, with more effective enforcement actions on key animal health and welfare matters, which will include welfare during transport.
Leader of the house, obviously, as you just pointed out, the export of live animals under very specific conditions and stringent animal health protections is a lawful practice, but one thing that would help add value to livestock here in Wales would be to have a very strong processing sector. The cattle sector, for example, has very limited capacity and is concentrated in very few hands. In particular, we’ve already seen redundancies at the large site in Merthyr. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the strength of the processing sector here in Wales and how potentially it could support the agricultural community in adding value to livestock here in Wales, rather than having to export the primary product for others to add value to it?
That is a helpful question, because I think it follows up my point about what the Cabinet Secretary is doing in terms of establishing that new partnership structure with those who are responsible for effective enforcement actions, the heads of trading standards. And also to recognise that the Animal and Plant Health Agency undertakes risk-based inspections of livestock destined for export at their point of departure, and local authorities conduct inspections under the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Wales) Order 2007, and they’re responsible, as I said, for enforcement and prosecution where breaches are identified—but, clearly, strengthening the process is vital in terms of addressing this issue.
7. What contingencies are in place to deal with the potential of there being no replacement of EU farming subsidies from the UK government after Brexit? OAQ(5)0126(ERA)
There’s a clear need for the UK Government to provide the long-term commitment to replace the vital EU funding that currently comes to Wales. However, we are working with stakeholders on possible post-Brexit scenarios, and our engagement with the round table is a critical part of this work.
I’m sure the leader of the house will be aware that this is a major food security issue, that any Government needs to be able to guarantee everybody access to fresh, unadulterated food. There are many issues involved here, not just the food miles that might be required to deliver food if we saw the collapse of our agricultural industry—the well-being of citizens, which would have a huge impact on NHS budgets. So, I just wondered what specifically is being done to ensure the resilience of rural communities in light of the fact that most farmers rely on up to 80 per cent of their income from the current basic payments.
I thank Jenny Rathbone for that question, because it is important, food security is important to us in Wales, and I think I’ve mentioned that round table discussions are a key engagement—key stakeholders working together to submit a proposal to the rural development plan as part of the co-operation and supply chain development scheme, which will build on, for example, the work of Horticulture Wales, which is very important. I think the recognition that diversification opportunities can allow additional family members to engage in the farming business, providing greater security for the future of family businesses, which, of course, is going to come as a result of that approach—. But it is important, I think, to recognise that the Cabinet Secretary has given a boost to rural communities with the £223 million boost in terms of the opportunities for the rural development programme, which will help to address those issues.
Plaid Cymru’s entire approach to the exiting of the European Union is to make sure that no-one in Wales is worse off than they were before. Now, the agricultural industry could be one of the big losers in any post-Brexit settlement. In 2014-15, direct payments from EU funding accounted for an average of 81 per cent of net farm profit for all farm types in Wales. The UK Government has confirmed that funding for agriculture will continue at its current level until 2020 and, following that, farmers in Wales will have no certainty that there will be a replacement of EU farming subsidies. Plaid Cymru believes that the UK Government owes the agricultural sector the same level of funding, post leaving the EU, as is currently delivered under the common agricultural policy, as was promised by those people who campaigned to leave the European Union. Future funding must be delivered through the block grant, and the Welsh Government must also commit to using this funding to support agriculture and the rural economy. Can the Cabinet Secretary give assurances that, as well as representing the interests of Wales’s farmers as strongly as possible in negotiations with her Westminster counterparts, the department has begun working on a comprehensive plan covering the various eventualities regarding funding to ensure that we have a secure future for farming in Wales?
I thank Leanne Wood for that question, because it also brings us back to important points of discussion in recent days and weeks. The First Minister, indeed, has also expressed his significant concern that we still have no long-term commitment from the UK Government to replace the vital funding that currently comes to Wales from the EU. Can I also say that it was good to see Paul Davies, the Conservative shadow agriculture secretary, fighting to get the best Brexit deal for farming? So, we can work together on this. But it is very important, in terms of the leader of Plaid Cymru’s points, and very much expressed in our White Paper, that we not only fight for assurance about the funding that will follow 2020, but also that we are working, as I said, to ensure that we have future prospects for our agriculture sector in Wales. That is where we are getting a great deal of support, and I think that’s been very clearly recognised from farming unions and other stakeholders.
I’m grateful to the leader of the house for those very kind comments. Now, farming subsidies are, of course, essential to support farmers, and are crucial for the sustainability of the agricultural industry. And, Llywydd, I should declare an interest, given that my parents-in-law run a dairy farm. Now, given the importance of these payments, can you therefore tell us what specific research the Welsh Government has carried out since the referendum result regarding the current levels of subsidies received by farmers across Wales?
Well, clarity on future funding arrangements is a key issue that’s been raised at the Brexit round table meetings and workshops, which started straight after the outcome of the referendum. I think, in terms of resilience for the post-EU transition period, this is crucial for farmers, food producers, landowners and all those who live in our communities. The schemes that we’re looking at, of course, are farm business grants, Glastir Advanced, the food business investment scheme, co-operation and supply chain development, Glastir Woodland Creation, and the rural community development fund. That’s why, also, in terms of resilience and this period of transition, the Cabinet Secretary has fully committed the remaining EU element of the rural development fund. But what we need is more than the guarantee, and that’s where I now challenge you, the Welsh Conservatives and the shadow agriculture Secretary, to ensure that your voice, as well as our voice, is heard very clearly, and that that voice is clearly heard in the UK Government and we get those commitments for our farmers in Wales.
8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement about the environmental impact of illegal off-road motorcycling in Wales? OAQ(5)0129(ERA)
Illegal and irresponsible vehicular use off-road can have a detrimental impact on the natural environment, as well as on the enjoyment and safety of other users, land managers, and local communities in Wales.
Yes. Thank you for the answer and your acknowledgement of the problem. Is there anything—? Given that the problem seems to be getting worse in some areas, are there any measures that the Welsh Government could take to assist in tackling it?
A joint operation between Natural Resources Wales and South Wales Police in November resulted in 22 motorcyclists being pulled up in the operation across known hotspots across Wales. The police, in partnership with Natural Resources Wales, are working closely to target people illegally riding scrambler bikes on publicly accessible land.
And, finally, question 9, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
9. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to reduce carbon emissions? OAQ(5)0123(ERA)[W]
The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 sets a legal target of reducing emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. We’re currently developing regulations to establish interim targets and initial carbon budgets, which will to help to drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Thank you. I believe that there’s real scope to create an international image for Wales as a nation that is truly promoting electric cars and vehicles, and one area where I believe the Welsh Government can encourage this is through a strategy to exchange the current fleet of public vehicles to one that is zero emissions—from council vans to health board vans to public transport, even. The British navy has just announced an investment in a fleet of electric vans and the charging infrastructure required to support that. It’s only 48 vehicles initially, but it is a start. I intend to resubmit a legislative proposal to this end, and I hope we’ll have an opportunity to discuss this. But does the leader of the house agree with me that there is scope for the Welsh Government to be innovative here in terms of driving this change towards zero-emissions vehicles?
Well, I think this is a very interesting legislative proposal that we may see exhumed in a debate in due course. I would want to make a very positive response at this stage to what you are proposing, and particularly look at how others have achieved this—others in the public sector, particularly—not just across UK, but further afield.
Thank you, leader of the house.