86 speeches by……and 12 more speakers
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is the questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, and the first question comes from Joyce Watson.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's priorities for the farming industry in Wales? (OAQ51203)
Thank you. I want to see a more resilient, profitable and sustainable agriculture sector in Wales. I am supporting our farmers to achieve this through innovative use of funding available, including the sustainable production grant, the farm business grant, the strategic initiative for agriculture, as well as through Farming Connect.
Thank you very much for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. I was very pleased over the summer to hear of the £4.2 million investment, £3 million of which was from the European regional development fund for a cutting-edge veterinary hub at Aberystwyth University. It’s a much welcome investment for mid Wales, and it will, I’m sure, help to put that on the map. The important research carried out in that new development will be beneficial not just for the farmers, but for other industries too. Cabinet Secretary, do you have any indication of when the new veterinary hub is likely to be fully functional?
I thank Joyce Watson for that supplementary question. There’s no doubt that EU funds have been an absolutely crucial source of investment for research and development, not just in west Wales, but, obviously, right across Wales. Three million pounds of European social fund funding, through the Welsh Government, will be used to develop the new vet hub facility at Aberystwyth, and it will provide modern, fully equipped, state-of-the-art laboratories and office spaces. It will be used also not just for promoting animal health and welfare, but also human health. And I was really pleased to be able to launch the vet hub in the summer at the Royal Welsh Show. As to the timeline for it, my understanding is that it will be next year, in 2018, but I don’t have a specific month, for instance, but I certainly can let the Member know.
Cabinet Secretary, there are still issues that exist for cross-border farmers, owing to the lack of sometimes constructive engagement between the English and Welsh payment agencies. At a meeting of the cross-party group on cross-border issues, which I chaired earlier this year, the chief executives of the Rural Payments Agency and Rural Payments Wales committed to holding joint meetings with the farming unions on a regular basis to discuss any outstanding issues and promote better working together. Are you aware if this has occurred, and what preparations can be made to ensure that there is no delay in making payments to cross-border farmers this year?
You raise a very important point, because I think the majority of late payments last year were due to this issue around cross-border and the lack of engagement, shall we say, from RP England. I’m not aware if specific meetings have been held with RPW and RP England and the farming unions—that’s a matter for the farming unions—but, certainly, I know my officials have been having meetings to ensure that, this year, we’re able to pay as many payments as quickly as possible in relation to those cross-border payments.
What plans is the Cabinet Secretary putting in place to make sure that the right to fish off the west coastline is prioritised for Welsh fishermen and not just boats registered in Wales post Brexit?
The Member will be aware of the extensive engagement that’s currently being undertaken. You’ll be aware of my ministerial round table, which, obviously, the fishing industry sits on. This clearly is going to be a matter as we bring forward a fisheries Bill. I’ve made very clear we will have a Welsh fisheries Bill, so those conversations are taking place at the current time, and that engagement. But that level of detail hasn’t been worked up as yet.
2. What role does the Cabinet Secretary envisage for local authorities in generating and distributing energy in Wales? (OAQ51212)
Thank you. I have set ambitious renewable energy targets and called for the public sector to be carbon neutral by 2030. Local authorities have an important leadership role in supporting the decarbonisation of energy in their communities through area planning and delivering projects that retain income and wider benefits locally.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response. There’s been a growth in recent years in the role of local councils in supplying energy as well, ranging from energy service companies, or ESCOs, to those with fuller supply arrangements, like Robin Hood Energy, of course, in Nottingham, which claims reduced bills, increased energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions. There have also been developments in Bristol, in Leicester and the Liverpool Energy Community Company in Liverpool. Most of the growth in this seems to have been over the border. What is her analysis of why this has not taken off in Wales and, in light of her recent statement about increasing local involvement in renewable projects, does she feel that this is something she’d like to see growing in Wales?
I think you’re right. We do need to see more work and progress being taken in those areas. I’m aware that a number of public organisations in both England and Scotland have announced energy companies. My officials have met with these organisations as part of the work that we did when we looked at whether we should have an energy supply company in Wales, and you’ll be aware of the statement I made as to why we’re not pursuing that at the moment. I’m aware that Scotland have just recently announced, but they’re not doing it until 2021. But I will be having discussions with my counterparts to see how they’re going to develop their proposals. It’s not something I’ve shut the door on completely. I think we also need to work with local authorities. We need to help them look at the opportunities that could be available and how then they would plan to take those forward.
Cabinet Secretary, one of the challenges faced by the Ynni’r Fro community energy scheme was the difficulty in obtaining planning permission and consents when wishing to create such community energy projects. How have you addressed this after the report on the Ynni’r Fro community scheme, and would that not be one of the key reasons why, in fact, so many of these community energy projects are not able to go ahead, because of the involvement and engagement with local councils?
I think it’s certainly a barrier and I’ve asked my officials to work to have a look at—. I’ve made a statement about how I want to see local ownership, for instance, in relation to our energy targets, and there’s going to have to be a great deal of movement if we are going to achieve those targets by 2030. So, I have asked officials to start looking at the barriers and why there are these difficulties with planning.
We now turn to questions from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, can you tell us why you consulted on 56 different proposals on the management of natural resources over the summer?
I brought forward the consultation on the sustainable management of our natural resources because I think it’s particularly important, in light of Brexit, that we have the views of stakeholders as to what legislation and regulations we will need to look at particularly over the next year ahead of our EU transition.
But it wasn’t quite the Heinz variety but you almost got there. [Laughter.] One other and you would have made it. Many people suggested this looked like clearing the desks before Brexit. Can I suggest to you that surely it would be better to deliver on previous consultations before opening up new ones? For example, last autumn, you consulted on nitrate vulnerable zones; ten months later, you still haven’t made a decision. How can we take it seriously when it takes a year for a consultation to come to any conclusion?
In relation to the NVZs, I’ve said many times we had a significant number of responses and I think many of the ideas that were brought forward in relation to NVZs are worthy of very detailed consideration. I have committed to bringing forward a decision on NVZs by the end of this year. I’ve actually got a meeting with officials later today regarding NVZs. As to why we had another consultation, I think I set that out in my original answer to you, and I know there was a lot of noise around this consultation. I’ve listened to what stakeholders were saying. I did extend the consultation to the end of September. We’ve had 15,000 responses, of which, I would say, about 1,000 are independent and 14,000 are probably campaigners et cetera. Again, those responses will be have to be looked at very carefully. We need to be in a position to announce legislation very quickly maybe. That’s the problem, and I think it was really important to hear stakeholders’ views. I have to say, the stakeholders have engaged in the consultation very well.
I think they have engaged because they were concerned, to be honest, that you were suggesting so many changes in such a short time frame. This is not to criticise some of the individual ideas in some of these consultations; it’s the way that your Government is now approaching consultation—a constant stream of new initiatives and no sign of actually delivering on previous ones. So, let’s look at one that you have now just published last week. You finally published the new technical advice note 20, which is planning and the Welsh language. That took a year and a half. So, I do wonder how long 56 consultations with 15,000 responses is going to take. But we did get the TAN 20 last week. In the TAN 20, you say that you want a local-development-plan-led system, and TAN 20 in turn says that the best way of assessing the potential cumulative effects of development on the Welsh language across the local development plan area is to consider the use of the Welsh language during the preparation of the LDP itself. So, you want an LDP-led system and you say that the best way to consider the Welsh language and the effect on the Welsh language is during the preparation of the LDP. In which case, why is it that consideration of the Welsh language is not a mandatory part of preparing and reviewing the whole LDP and simply just one of the different assessments?
I think it’s disappointing that we’re criticised for consulting. Certainly that’s not what stakeholders say. I appreciate that it was a great deal of work for them over the summer and that’s why I did extend the consultation period, but I think it really is important that we consult. I think we’d be criticised if we didn’t, so I’m afraid that, on the basis that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, I’m very happy to consult. I’m also a Cabinet Secretary who insists as much as possible that we have the full time for consultation; I think 12 weeks is really important. In relation to TAN 20, you are correct. I published the updated TAN 20 last week to provide local planning authorities, developers and communities with clarity on how the Welsh language can be supported and protected by the planning system. It is a legal duty to consider the language as part of the sustainability appraisal of LDPs, and I think that TAN 20 will help them with that task.
Conservatives’ spokesperson, David Melding.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, yesterday, you spoke about, and indeed your party voted in favour of, a tax on non-reusable and non-recyclable plastics in Wales. I wonder if you can now provide us with some clarification on the details and practicalities of this intention and how you might take it forward, or was it just a vague reassurance to Plaid Cymru that they have some continuing relevance in Welsh Government decision making?
I would never take that stance with Plaid Cymru, David Melding. In relation to the plastic tax, we had a very good debate yesterday on the circular economy. There are several points that I mentioned about the extended producer responsibility feasibility study that I’m undertaking. Several Members spoke in relation to a deposit-return scheme, and, obviously, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government announced, I think on 3 October, the possibility, from four of the taxes, of a plastic tax being one of them. I will be having those detailed discussions both with officials and with the Cabinet Secretary.
I am reassured that you will have a full assessment, because in the past you’ve said that a deposit-return scheme needs to assess the implications that that would have on everyday household bills, and can you assure us that, in any new tax that you might be considering, again, the effect that that would have on household bills would be fully considered?
Yes, absolutely. I mentioned yesterday that I was a child of the 1960s and I remember DRSs, but I think that things have moved a great deal since then, and, in Wales, we recycle 75 per cent of our plastic bottles. We have excellent kerbside recycling, so you must make sure that there are no unintended consequences or outcomes in relation to having a DRS. But absolutely, the cost to the household has to be part of the analysis as to whether we take this forward.
I echo that, and it’s very, very important, but as is how any tax would be applied. As I’ve already stated, polystyrene food containers are technically reusable. I think we need to be very precise in the actions that we are trying to take to achieve the outcome in reducing pollution from plastics. I just wonder whether you might be open to a more radical proposal, and one that these Tory benches would be pleased to support, if you can find a feasible way of advancing it, and that’s just banning some of these materials. That’s what they’re doing in the United States now. So, if they can do it and some find that it’s a horrifying attack on the free market, then perhaps we should be doing it too. It’s much simpler for the public to understand as well.
I’m all for radical policies, so I’m very happy to look at anything that will help us reduce, particularly, plastic litter. There’s been a campaign recently about plastic litter in our oceans, and I think it’s absolutely appalling, so anything that we can do to help—. So, I’m very happy to look at any radical policy, and if the Member would like to meet with me to discuss it further, I’d certainly be happy to do that.
UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.
The Cabinet Secretary will be attending NFU Cymru’s conference in two weeks’ time, and I’m sure she’ll have seen the advance press release from John Mercer, the director of NFU Cymru, in which he says that ‘The Union firmly believes that we can make a success of Brexit if our collective focus is centred on supporting our industry to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population with safe, quality, affordable food’. I’m sure the Cabinet Secretary will agree with me that it’s vitally important that farmers in Wales should have a firm idea of what the legislative framework for agriculture will be after we leave the European Union and, therefore, it’s vitally important that the Welsh Government should make its framework decisions, at any rate, as soon as possible and make them public. This is a great opportunity for Welsh farmers, as John Mercer says. Could the Cabinet Secretary give us some firm idea of the time it will take her to develop at least a framework agricultural policy that she can make public?
I thank Neil Hamilton for his question. Yes, I certainly am attending the NFU conference. I think it’s early November or late November—
It’s 2 November.
That’s right. So, I’m looking forward to that very much. I’m not sure I’ve actually seen the press release that you refer to, but, certainly, I engage frequently with the NFU and I’m very aware of their views around opportunities as well as the challenges that we’re facing. There is a huge amount of work going on by my officials in relation to frameworks, possible legislation and also discussions with their counterparts. So, I know all the senior officials met last Wednesday here in Cardiff from the four nations. You’ll be aware of the ministerial engagement that I have. We now have another date for our monthly meetings—unfortunately, in October, we haven’t had one—with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary of State, but we are meeting again, unfortunately again in London, on 6 November. But it’s really important those discussions are ongoing. In relation to a timescale, I would imagine that we’ll be starting to be able to make that public maybe early next year, but, again, there’s a huge amount of detailed work being undertaken for a time.
I fully understand that. No-one underestimates the vast scale of this project, but it is vitally important to us and the UK Government in the context of the current negotiations going on in Brussels also, because, if we are to get the best possible deal that is available out of the EU, they need to know that we are fully prepared for no deal. And the more, therefore, that we can make public in advance will help us, I think, to get a reasonable deal out of the EU if they are rational about it. The fundamental basis of the current regime is the basic payment scheme, and UKIP’s policy is to continue a variation of that but to cap payments at £120,000, so that we end the discrimination in favour of larger farmers and agribusinesses and give more support to smaller enterprises. We also believe there should be a 25 per cent uplift for organic farms. Given the nature of agriculture in Wales being very different from England—we don’t have the vast prairie lands of Lincolnshire and so on—it should not be difficult for the Welsh Government to come to broadly similar conclusions. So, I wonder if she can give us any indication on at least the basis of a future agricultural policy.
I think you raised a very important point at the beginning of your contribution then about having that best possible information. I think it’s really important that we share information also and, certainly, I’m very happy to share information with my ministerial counterparts. I think we are starting to see more of that. In relation to being fully prepared for a ‘no deal’, well, I don’t know how you can be fully prepared for a ‘no deal’. I don’t actually understand how you can have a ‘no deal’, because leaving the EU, to me, is like a divorce. Now, you can’t have a ‘no deal’ with a divorce. You have to have a deal of whatever description; you have to have a deal. So, all this talk about no deal—I just am completely perplexed as to how you can have ‘no deal’. I think it should be absolutely the UK Government’s top priority that they get the best deal possible, and that’s what we are pushing for for the people of Wales. In relation to your proposals, again, I’d be very happy to look at what UKIP’s proposals are for future farming post Brexit.
Well, obviously, we all want a deal if one is available, but it takes two to tango and, if the EU is not prepared to do a deal, and is not prepared to carry on talking, until we pay the ransom demand, then that’s what a ‘no deal’ looks like. That wasn’t the purpose behind my question today. It’s to look at the future of Welsh farming and fishing. Further to Michelle Brown’s question earlier on, what UKIP would like to see to restore life to our fishing and coastal communities is an exclusive economic zone all around the United Kingdom and, obviously, in our Welsh waters, under the control of the Welsh Government, halting equal access to these waters by European fishermen, to have no-take zones to aid spawning and replenishing fish stocks—yes, we might have foreign trawlers able to access our waters, but with permits—and to ensure that all fish caught within UK waters, including those taken by foreign vessels operating under licence, are landed and sold in the UK to help finance and attract investment in the newly developing fishing industry. So, I hope the Cabinet Secretary sees that we can make a positive contribution towards this debate in a non-partisan way. I think that there is scope for doing that with all parties in this Assembly.
Yes, absolutely. I’ve just mentioned to David Melding that I’m very happy to look at anybody’s ideas, of course, and certainly, I want to have a very positive fishing and fisheries policy. I think, talking to the fishing industry—and we are just starting, now, to get our negotiations ready ahead of the fisheries council in December—they do feel very badly done down by the EU. There are no two ways about it, certainly from talking to the Welsh fishing industry. So, it’s absolutely right that we get that Welsh fisheries policy correct. So, yes, I’m very happy to look at any ideas you want to bring forward.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide further detail on how stakeholders beyond management authorities can contribute to the development of the marine protected area management priority action plan? (OAQ51185)
The Wales marine advisory and action group has been engaged in the development of a national marine plan for Wales. There is a statutory function that we must perform, and we will engage stakeholders taking this forward. We will seek the views of this group regarding the MPA management plan.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response. Back in August, as she will know, the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee published its catchily entitled report ‘Turning the tide?’, which stressed the pride we should have in our Welsh marine and coastal environment, and the potential for marine protected areas to help support healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and much more. Recommendation 1 spoke of the urgency of developing that MPA strategy. Recommendation 3 spoke of the need for Welsh Government to operate in a transparent and efficient way, ensuring that stakeholders are fully engaged in the development of that MPA strategy. The Cabinet Secretary responded positively to the recommendations, though, rather than committing to the development of an MPA strategy, as recommended by the committee, she committed instead to finalising the MPA management priority action plan and thereby agreeing a strategic direction by working with the marine protected area management steering group. But unfortunately, marine stakeholders working in the private sector and also non-governmental organisations are not part of the MPA steering group, which is limited to MPA management authorities such as Natural Resources Wales and local authorities. So, could I, in a very constructive way, ask the Cabinet Secretary to look at this again—I know she’ll want to draw on the fullest expertise of the marine sector in the development of that action plan and marine strategy—and, with the help of her officials, examine ways to have a platform of full engagement with all stakeholders before April next year?
Yes, I’m very happy to do that. My department is working with NRW and the MPA management steering group to finalise the marine protected area management priority action plan. Once that’s established, we will, of course, engage with a diverse range of marine stakeholders through the marine advisory action group.
Cabinet Secretary, shouldn’t that engagement, though, come before the plan is finalised? You have limited resources in your department; you face having to make more savings. There are extraordinary challenges about these marine protected areas; we know very little about what goes on at the bottom of the sea, and it’s very expensive to find information. Why do you not bring the stakeholders in at an earlier stage so that you can use both their resources and their expertise to help develop this plan?
When we began marine planning, we did publish a statement of public participation and that set out how stakeholders could input into the plan right from the beginning, and then as it developed. So, there is that consultation and that agreement with stakeholders; it’s not a matter that they were excluded—we did have that. We’ve also got the marine planning stakeholder reference group. That has a huge range of NGOs, industry and coastal fora on it. The Crown Estate is on it, NRW is obviously on it, and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. They’ve been inputting throughout the whole process. So, I think it’s wrong to say they were excluded; they were there from the beginning.
4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the benefits that access to waterways brings to Wales? (OAQ51188)
In addition to considering activity tourism and recreation participation reports and strategies, the Welsh Government has undertaken significant public engagement. The recent consultation on sustainable management of our natural resources received around 15,000 responses. All show the value and potential of water recreation activities such as angling and boating and why a resolution to current disagreements is necessary.
Thank you. The September 2017 update on the report ‘The value to the Welsh economy of angling on inland fisheries in Wales’, collated by the Sustainable Access Campaign Cymru, found that under the current arrangement for access to Welsh rivers, around 1,500 Welsh jobs and £45 million in household income is supported by angling on inland fisheries each year. There are 1.7 million days fished on inland fisheries in Wales by licence holders, generating £104 million annually, and that the contribution to the Welsh economy of angling on inland fisheries in Wales must exceed over £125 million annually in Wales. In that context, how do you respond to the concern expressed by Salmon and Trout Conservation Cymru that it would not be in the interest of the ecological integrity of such habitats to move to unfettered access under the proposed extensions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and that environmental protection is paramount when consideration is given to increased access to the natural resources of Wales, and especially the fragile ecosystems in and around rivers and lakes?
I think your question lends me to say that it’s really important that you get the balance right, and that’s absolutely why we’ve consulted on such an important issue. You’re quite right, fishing tourism, in both domestic and day-trip visits to Wales, is very important. I think it was about £38 million in 2015. You referred to a report in 2017, but I know in 2015 it was about £38 million per year. I think it also highlights the importance of developing a framework so that we can facilitate responsible access opportunities, going forward.
Cabinet Secretary, I have received many representations from constituents regarding this matter in particular, and I think, as you’ve pointed out, there is resolution that needs to come together between the two groups. Now, you’ve just mentioned fishing tourism, but many of our citizens actually enjoy fishing as a pastime, and therefore enjoy the activities they undertake, not as tourist activities, but as part of their spare time. Do you agree with me that, actually, a way of resolving these by coming together and getting an agreement that is voluntary between the organisations is the best solution, not having something imposed upon them?
Yes, I do, but I think—. You know, when I was a backbencher, this was a very hot topic, and I think the consultation showed it can be incredibly divisive and incredibly polarised, so it is about getting that resolution. We want to see that because it is vital for our tourism. So, I’m hoping that, following the analysis of the consultations and when we come forward with resolutions, we’re able to engage with all the stakeholders to make sure we have the absolute best way forward.
Cabinet Secretary, following on from the comments earlier, I’m sure you’re aware of the potential for conflict that free access to Wales’s waterways may bring between those who use them in differing ways, in particular anglers and canoeists. I would say that David Rees is quite right in that if we can get some consultation between these two groups, that’s the best way forward. Unfortunately, the feedback to me from the angling societies is that there doesn’t seem to be that desire for talking coming from the canoeists. I’ve been contacted by a number of angling societies, and have had meetings with Isca and Hay-on-Wye, one situated on the river Usk and the other on the river Wye. Both showed considerable concern with regard to canoe activity on the rivers, which, at this moment, is not regulated. One important factor pointed out is that canoes do not carry any form of identification, so any canoeist committing offences or simple nuisance cannot be identified. Does the Cabinet Secretary intend to bring in regulations to make registration and, hence, identification a mandatory requirement? Are there any plans to get canoeists to pay a fee for access to our waterways, as, of course, anglers have to, by way of fishing licences and/or society fees?
I mentioned in my answer to David Rees that it’s an incredibly divisive issue, and it’s a divisive issue that’s been around for a long time. However, I think this is our opportunity now to get it right. I would certainly want to bring all the groups together. I don’t want to take sides with any group, but if we can facilitate groups coming together, then I’d be very happy to do that. In relation to your specific policy questions around identification and fees, again, that is something that we would have to look at, coming out of the consultation.
5. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the review of designated landscapes in Wales? (OAQ51197)
Thank you. The recent review has provided an opportunity to reaffirm the importance to Wales of our designated landscapes. I will make a statement on the way forward when I have considered the wide range of comments in response to the recent consultation on ‘Taking forward Wales’ sustainable management of natural resources’.
Cabinet Secretary, I’m really interested in your thoughts on the Alliance for Welsh Designated Landscapes’s response to the review. The alliance has called for the report to be rewritten to provide traceability from the Marsden report, from the recommendations of which, of course—I’m looking at Dafydd; sorry, Dafydd—it was commissioned.
He didn’t say anything, you can carry on. [Laughter.] Not yet, not yet. [Laughter.]
They have also—this is what they said now. They have also called for a clear reaffirmation of the Sandford principle. Will you commit to both of these proposals today?
I certainly won’t be having any report rewritten. It was a group that took a decision, brought a report forward that I’ve accepted. I was very grateful to Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas—who only has to look, clearly—for doing the work that he did with the group. In relation to the Sandford principle, I’m very happy to say, once again: I will not bring forward any proposals for reform that would put the natural beauty and special qualities of areas of national beauty and national parks at risk. I think there was a lot of mischief making that went on, and I’m very happy to confirm that again in the Chamber.
John Griffiths—question 6, Mike Hedges.
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the problem of non-native invasive species in Wales? (OAQ51178)
Thank you. Invasive non-native species continue to have a significant environmental, social and economic impact in Wales. We are working to reduce these through implementation of the EU invasive alien species regulation and collaboration with our partners to promote awareness, share best practice and data, and act to control or eradicate these species.
Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. Of all the non-native species that we have in Swansea, the one that’s causing us our biggest problem is Japanese knotweed, which is highly invasive, very difficult to get rid of and causes houses not to be able to be sold, causes drains to be damaged and can cause houses to have their foundations undermined. Can the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on both the use of the natural predator tests and on improved chemical treatment in getting rid of this highly dangerous, invasive species?
Thank you. We had an improved delivery method, and that has resulted in better survival in the insect psyllids, which is a key development in tackling Japanese knotweed. We had further releases earlier this year. Swansea University are currently analysing the results from the separate chemical control trials, which you’ll be aware we supported—a two-year trial by Swansea University. I very much look forward to reading their report.
Actually, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about the chemical control of Japanese knotweed myself, but I hear your answer there. Have there been any preliminary findings that Swansea University might be able to release, or any additional trials that might have taken place on interim findings? As you know, our local development plan means that there’s going to be quite a lot of land disturbed as a result of new buildings, and I think it would be quite useful if developers could have an early sight of anything that might help them, or not help them, maybe—it depends what it’s going to be—to decide whether they’re going to develop a particular piece of land.
I’m not aware of any interim findings. I know the data is currently being analysed. So, I’m not aware of any interim findings, or any small report that they’ve done, but I’ll certainly find out. If that is the case, I’ll be very happy to write to the Member. But you’ll know that the trial examined various combinations of herbicide treatments and mechanical actions. It was a very thorough trial, and I’m hoping that we will be able to find the most effective control method.
Yes, Japanese knotweed is a real headache for householders. We also have invasive species from the animal kingdom, which can be a real menace, such as the killer shrimp. This was discovered in waters off Cardiff Bay and in Eglwys Nunydd reservoir in Port Talbot in 2010. Now, the biosecurity sector has been monitoring the situation since then. I wondered if you had any updates on the current level of menace posed by the killer shrimps.
I’m afraid I don’t, and I will have to write to the Member.
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline what support is available to protect the most vulnerable households in Wales from fuel poverty this winter? (OAQ51209)
Thank you. Support is available through Welsh Government Warm Homes, which includes our Nest and Arbed schemes. Nest offers free impartial advice and support to help people reduce household energy bills and provides eligible households with free home energy efficiency measures to help them keep warm at a more affordable cost.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, and I was pleased to see in the Nest annual report that the installation of a Government-funded home energy efficiency improvement package will see, on average, an energy bill saving of £410 per household each year. These figures demonstrate clearly that the scheme is performing above expectations and is making a real difference to fuel-poor households. I just wanted to ask, though, about residential retrofit, because ensuring that existing homes in Wales are energy efficient has a key part to play in tackling fuel poverty. So, could I ask what plans you have to increase the Welsh Government’s activity in terms of residential retrofit??
Thank you. I am working very closely with my colleague Carl Sargeant, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, in relation to retrofitting. I’ve also established a ministerial decarbonisation task and finish group with two others of my Cabinet Secretary colleagues, so that will really drive cross-Government action. I wanted to help bring forward proposals to meet our challenging carbon commitments also. So, whilst we will continue to look at the scale of our own energy efficiency programmes, we do need to look at our decarbonisation ambitions. They can’t be achieved through Government funding alone, so we are going to have to have a much more joined-up approach across Government and across all sectors, really, to help us deliver on this agenda.
Cabinet Secretary, I’m sure you’ll welcome the energy price cap announced last week, and also the continuing roll-out of smart meters. I think smart meters have a huge role to play in giving home owners more control over how much energy they use, and encouraging them also to switch between providers. However, there has been some reluctance amongst some home owners to have smart meters installed and I wonder what role the Welsh Government is playing to encourage the roll-out of smart meters to all households in Wales.
I think you’re right, there have been a few issues around smart meters, I think. Talking to a group of consumers as to why they wouldn’t want a smart meter, they put it down to, you know, their neighbours had had issues with it et cetera. So, I think we need to make sure that we work across all sectors to encourage people to have smart meters installed, and it is something that we work with the utility companies, for instance, to do.
When settling on a replacement for the Nest scheme, can you tell us whether you’d be prepared to look at eligibility rules around applying for some home energy efficiency improvements? I’m thinking Scotland’s corresponding energy assistance package has less stringent criteria, being available for those who are on a low income and pregnant, for example, or to some homes with children. In Wales, current rules exclude a lot of people in fuel poverty, particularly young people, so I’m wondering if, with the new scheme that will potentially, I hope, come into place after this current one comes to an end, you would consider changing that criteria.
Yes, certainly, that’s something we can look at. I think we are just about to go out to procurement, so clearly this is something we can look at as we do bring in the new scheme next year.
8. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the Welsh Government's priorities for the agricultural industry in west Wales? (OAQ51180)
Thank you. The Welsh Government is supporting the farming industry in Pembrokeshire and west Wales, as in all parts of Wales, to become more profitable, sustainable, resilient and business-focused. Over 1,400 people in Pembrokeshire are signed up to Farming Connect, to learn more about improving the profitability, competitiveness, and environmental performance of their businesses.
Cabinet Secretary, one of the major issues facing the agricultural industry in west Wales is the Welsh Government’s proposed designations for nitrate vulnerable zones. Now, earlier on in this session, in an answer to Simon Thomas, you committed to making a decision on NVZs by the end of the year and that, later on today, you will be discussing this matter with your officials. Given the huge impact that the introduction of NVZs could have on farmers in my constituency, will you commit to consider looking at voluntary measures before imposing NVZs, and can you confirm whether you’re prepared to discuss voluntary measures with your officials later on this afternoon?
I have been having ongoing discussions with officials over the past few months—well, probably over the past year—in relation to this, and, as I say, I have another meeting this afternoon. I am not ruling out anything; we had a significant number of responses, and I did say in my answer to Simon Thomas earlier that there are some very good proposals and suggestions in those responses. That’s why it’s taking longer than expected, I think, to analyse them and look at the level of detail contained within the returns. But I do commit, and I have committed all along, to coming forward with an announcement at the end of the year. I’m also very keen to work with farmers and with their stakeholders and the farming unions, so that we can develop solutions.
9. What steps is the Cabinet Secretary taking to encourage young people into the farming industry? (OAQ51191)[W]
Diolch. This Government supports young entrants to agriculture through several important measures. Six million pounds has been made available over the next two years in the recent budget settlement for a young entrants scheme, which we are in the process of developing and which complements our wider package of support. And, of course, we are meeting this afternoon to discuss it further.
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary, and I look forward to discussing the details of the agreement between us to establish a young entrants scheme of about £6 million. The last time the Welsh Government had a similar scheme, there was £7 million in that scheme and it supported 520 young people into the agriculture industry. Perhaps somebody present would actually remember that scheme, Llywydd. In taking this scheme forward, I think that it’s important that we send a strong message to young farmers that we want them to be part of steering the scheme and that they can learn from each other as well. So, will the Cabinet Secretary consider how young farmers’ clubs can play a role in advertising and marketing such a scheme, in sharing and learning, and, of course, in giving direct support and mentoring to young farmers?
Yes, absolutely; I’m sure the Llywydd does remember the scheme very well. I think, looking back at previous games, I really want to ensure that we get new entrants from this; not people who are in succession, for instance. It is really important that we engage with—you mentioned young farmers’ clubs. I’m certainly happy to do that, because we want to get these young people before they go into farming as a business. Certainly, my early thinking is around FE colleges and HE. I think it’s really important that we talk to the students and get their views. But, as I say, I’m sure that when we meet, we can discuss this further.
I was delighted just then to hear you say ‘new entrants’ to the farming schemes, because I think that the young entrants scheme is a very welcome step and we are very supportive of it. However, I find in my constituency I have a number of people who don’t fit into those criteria. Families have changed, people are working longer, and family dynamics are very different. You have people who have gone away and then they come back and take over a family farm—maybe a small one, but nonetheless they are still there, still trying to add vibrancy to our rural heritage. They find it very difficult to get support, because they are supposed to know it all, because they just fit outside the ‘young’ bracket. I wondered whether you might consider, when you’re looking at this, making it more of a ‘new entrants’, or keeping an eye on the ‘new entrants’, that you might consider putting in place some kind of mentoring scheme. You know, I have pointed people to organisations such as Farming Connect, but it’s just not the same as having somebody who really can help you and walk you through those first vital couple of years while you really get to grips with, not just how you are running the business, but, actually, it’s the paperwork, the various schemes that you can belong to—those are the things that people are finding very difficult to navigate.
Yes, I think you raise a very relevant point, and I’ve been looking, over the past few months, prior to the budget agreement with Plaid Cymru I’ve been looking at how we can encourage more people, and particularly young people and particularly new entrants, because I think, looking back at the YES scheme, only about 10 per cent were new entrants. I think the rest were part of that succession into existing businesses. So, I think it is important that we look at how we can bring new entrants in. I mentioned that I was thinking about FE colleges and working with students and HE colleges. I think mentoring is really important, so if you think about another scheme that we have, the Venture scheme, where we’re looking at young people again with people who are maybe wanting to retire, I think that’s been very successful on a different level, but it’s about picking all these best pieces out and bringing it all together to form a new scheme.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary.