Y Pwyllgor Deisebau
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Buffy Williams AS|
|Jack Sargeant AS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Joel James AS|
|Luke Fletcher AS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Bleddyn Jones||Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub De Cymru|
|South Wales Fire and Rescue Service|
|Chris Cousens||Diogelwch Dŵr Cymru|
|Water Safety Wales|
|Dominic Robinson||Severn Trent & Hafren Dyfrdwy|
|Severn Trent & Hafren Dyfrdwy|
|Nikki Kemmery||Dŵr Cymru|
|Paula Steer||United Utilities|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Kayleigh Imperato||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Mared Llwyd||Ail Glerc|
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 14:00.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 14:00.
Croeso cynnes i chi i gyd i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Deisebau.
A warm welcome to you all to this meeting of the Petitions Committee.
This meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and all participants will be joining by video-conference. The meeting is bilingual, and translation is available. A Record of Proceedings will also be published. Aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting business remotely, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place.
I'd like to welcome members of the public and members of the committee to the first committee session of 2022. I feel it's appropriate now to confirm, as it is 2022, the changes to Standing Orders that were approved at the end of last year, which raised the threshold for consideration by this committee to 250 signatures. That's now in force for all new petitions. I think it just highlights the success of the Petitions Committee in previous years, so we should welcome that.
Item 1 on the agenda is apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. No apologies have been received this afternoon, and committee members should note any declarations of interest now, or at the relevant point during proceedings.
Item 2 on today's agenda. We're taking an evidence session, our first set of evidence gathering, in relation to the petition P-06-1212, 'Mark Allen's Law—we want throwline stations around all open water sites in Wales'. I'd like to welcome the witnesses—croeso—to the committee, and thank you for your time. I'll remind you again, this is a bilingual meeting and any questions can be asked or answered in the language of your choice. Perhaps I could ask Chris Cousens to introduce yourself for the record, and just give us a brief background about your role in water safety and drowning prevention in Wales.
Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you very much, Jack. My name is Chris Cousens. My day job is with the RNLI, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, as their water safety lead for Wales, west and the Isle of Man. I'm also the chair of the Water Safety Wales group, and it's in that capacity that I'm here, joining you today. Water Safety Wales is a collaboration of individuals, communities, charities and public and private sector organisations with an interest in water safety and drowning prevention, aiming to reduce water-related deaths and incidents in Wales. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr, Chris. Bleddyn Jones, can I ask you to do the same, please?
Good afternoon, all. Thank you, Chair. My name's Bleddyn Jones, I'm a group manager from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. I work within the risk reduction department and I'm responsible for drowning prevention across the service.
Diolch yn fawr, Bleddyn. Thank you both for joining us today for this important evidence session. I think we'll go straight into questions, and the first question is from Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Thanks for coming to this committee. I'm looking here for some background information—a bit of context, really. I was wondering if you could provide further information about Wales's drowning prevention strategy. I'm looking at, in particular, the need for a Wales-specific strategy, the aims of that strategy, the level of engagement with the Welsh Government in its development, and the impact of the strategy so far. I'll start with Bleddyn and then move on to Chris.
Thank you. As South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, we're a statutory partner on the Wales drowning prevention committee, and the aim of the strategy is to reduce drowning across Wales. We launched that last year, initially supported by Welsh Government. Moving forward, to ensure its success, we need to ensure that we are clear about responsibilities and who we report to within Welsh Government. Whilst we are a group of collective bodies that can drive this forward, we will need the support of Welsh Government moving forward. Perhaps we need to work on the clarity of which department and office that would sit under moving forward.
Thank you. Just a little bit to add to what Bleddyn said. Just for context, we know that around 50 people a year lose their lives to water-related fatalities in Wales every year. The rate of accidental drowning per head of population here in Wales is around double that of the UK as a whole. The number of accidental drowning deaths, sadly, is also higher than the number of deaths in fires, for example, motorcycle accidents and cycling—three other very high-profile causes of accidental deaths. We, as Water Safety Wales, feel that drowning generally is an underappreciated cause of accidental death and one that we have, sadly, an overrepresentation of here in Wales. That's why we felt it was important to have a drive towards a Wales-specific strategy. The other thing is that we know the really devastating impact drowning deaths have on families. We're really grateful to the Chair for taking the time to meet up with Leeanne, the petitioner here. So, I know that that's not lost on anybody here. Just for the record, I can't commend highly enough the work of Leeanne and what she has done to get the petition to this stage. With all those things in the mix, we felt compelled to galvanise our efforts around a strategy. That was, as Bleddyn said, launched around a year ago, and we just hope that that strategy is a call to action for everybody to play their part. And if everybody plays their part in Wales, we feel like we can make a difference to those drowning numbers, which are too high.
The strategy has an aspiration of zero water-related deaths. It runs until 2026; that's a very ambitious target that we know is going to be very, very difficult to achieve, but it's also an acknowledgement that every water-related fatality is preventable, regardless of its circumstances. So, we wanted to set that as our main overarching target. And then there are seven key aims, then, within that strategy, which we hope will provide different people, individuals and groups, with a framework to focus their efforts, should they have the capacity and inclination to work on drowning prevention. Bleddyn mentioned we had good collaboration on the development of the strategy with the Welsh Government. Lesley Griffiths then very kindly gave a foreword, which showed Welsh Government support for our strategy. And, as Bleddyn mentioned, the next step then is formalising that partnership with the Welsh Government, and there's an outstanding funding request for support for Water Safety Wales in with Welsh Government at the moment, which maybe we'll speak a little bit more about later. Hopefully, Luke, that provides a bit of background as well.
Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Luke, and thank you, both, for that. I think there's certainly something that Bleddyn mentioned on clarity that the committee can take forward, and getting that formalised. I think that's an important question, and we need to, certainly, look further into that. And I should take the opportunity—and thanks, Chris, for the opportunity for this—to pass our thanks to Leeanne and all those who have sadly been affected by these tragedies around Wales and across the UK for all they do to raise awareness, really, and help try to prevent any other families from going through that. I think we'd like to put that on the record on behalf of the committee as well. Joel James.
Thank you, Chair. Again, I'd just like to extend my thanks to Chris and Bleddyn for appearing today in front of the committee. My question is only quite a short one. It's just to get an idea of the resource requirements that you need in terms of responding to water-related incidents, be that financial, government resources or community resources, just so we have an idea what sort of—for want of a better word—stuff you need to do your job, if that makes sense.
Who would like to take that? Chris, would you like to start off?
Yes, I'm happy to, and then I'll hand over to Bleddyn, perhaps, because I know he's heavily involved in the response side of things as well. Just reading from our drowning prevention strategy, figures show that for the blue light and search and rescue services in Wales, on average, there are more than 1,750 water-related incidents that require an emergency response in Wales each year. So, that's approximately five a day. Obviously, there's a seasonal variance to that. That figure doesn't include the lifeguard incidents on the beaches of Wales that, in themselves, run to more than 1,000 each year as well. We tend, because it's the area that needs the most focus in water safety and drowning prevention, to focus on fatal incidents, quite rightly, but it's also crucial that we build a picture of that overall tally of incidents that are day in, day out for the types of organisations that Bleddyn and I work for.
COVID has exacerbated that problem. More people holidaying and taking recreation in the UK has led to a real explosion in some activities. It's very well documented that stand-up paddleboarding, open-water swimming—the numbers in those areas are really booming and are continuing to grow. Many people do these activities safely, but an increase on the levels that we've seen is bound to lead to an increase in the levels of people sadly getting into difficulty and needing rescue, coupled with the fact that many people are trying out new things and in new areas over the last couple of years. So, overall, there's a picture of higher demand on those of us that are part of search and rescue and response agencies for water. That's probably an overall picture, but maybe I'll hand over to Bleddyn at that point.
Thank you. Bleddyn.
Thanks, Chris. We hear a lot in the press about the scale of incidents, and we talk about the number of firefighters involved. As you know, within Wales, the fire and rescue service has a statutory duty for response to inland water incidents. So, on average, I would say that for a standard incident of rescuing somebody from inland water, a response would be around 20 firefighters. That's consisting of specialist rescue teams, as we deploy a tiered approach. Your standard fire engine would be your base response, and then we've got specialists then who can make your more swimming-based rescue or rescue using a boat, et cetera. So, around 20 personnel for an average incident, I would say. And then, for the incident Chris mentioned in west Wales recently, you could see a huge multilayered, multi-agency response, including lots of extra resources from lots of agencies. So, the larger the incident is, the larger amount of resources we would apply to that incident for our own safe systems of work, to make sure our personnel can safely operate.
Okay. Thank you both for that. Significant resource pressure is what I'm picking up from you both here when these types of incidents happen. Chris, you've mentioned already the significant number of incidents that happen in Wales, and you've touched on the increase in recreation over the last 18 months or so. Just on that point then, can you outline any concerns with the Welsh Government's current proposals to widen the access to inland waterways for recreation purposes, and, in particular, if any engagement has been had between Water Safety Wales and the national access forum Wales access-to-water sub-group? Have you had any engagement there, and do you have any actual concerns there? Because you've already mentioned that an increase in recreation will have an impact on those blue-light services and those who seek to help.
Shall I go first, Bleddyn? The answer to the first part of the question is 'no'. Thus far, there hasn't been any direct communication between the two groups. I think that that would be a good thing to pursue. There are a lot of cross-overs in terms of the membership organisations, though, between Water Safety Wales and the forums that you speak of. So, there is cross-over, but I think a more formal link would be definitely beneficial moving forward.
On whether there are any concerns, I think how I would probably approach that is, in principle, 'no'. I think the approach of the water safety community generally is positive, and it's about encouraging people to try and use the water in as safe a way as possible. I think the days of finger wagging and prohibition are passed, in terms of trying to actually help people undertake things safely. So, the principle of widening access is not something that we'd have concerns with, but I think it's just crucial that any additional access is granted in a controlled way that is not likely to put people undertaking that recreation at any undue risk. So, there are some really helpful guidance documents, both in terms of coastal beach locations and inland waters from Her Majesty's Coastguard and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, published over the last couple of years, that provide landowners and organisations managing open water sites with really good steps that they can take to make sure that the risks in their locations are properly understood and the people using those locations are kept as safe as possible. So, I suppose the first question is: is the area where increased access is planned to be granted safe at all? And if it is, what steps need to be taken to ensure that those people are kept as safe as possible and what control measures need to be put there? I suppose the other thing that we'd really encourage is an investigation and understanding of the sorts of people that are going to be using that increased access and making sure that the information that they have is tailored to the type of activity and the type of skill level that those people have, how old they are, et cetera. So, in principle, no concerns, but obviously with that big caveat of it needing to be done in that controlled way. So, that would be my take, but Bleddyn may have other thoughts as well.
Bleddyn, would you like to add anything to that?
Yes, I'd just echo what Chris said. I think there needs to be some work done to establish regular assessments of the sites that people are going to use—what types of users and what types of learning they have. We obviously have an appreciation of perhaps—and this is in the duty of care of visitors Act—. We need to be prepared for children to be less careful than adults. That is probably not always the case, as we have seen, but we need to be able to provide an educational strategy for these recreational users. We want to encourage health and well-being of the beautiful sites across Wales, but we need to really understand how we teach people the dangers of cold water shock, the danger of going in after your dog, for example, and, if you are a recreational user in the water, what are the safety measures required and how you save yourself if need be.
Okay, thanks for that. So, it seems there should be—. You're encouraged by the actual proposal but would like to see the confirmation that these sites will be risk assessed properly and on a routine basis as well. Chris, you mentioned RoSPA, and RoSPA have sent some correspondence to the committee whereby they say, similar to your overall picture, really, that drownings and rescue data should be used to inform risk assessments. Now, that would be the case in some sites, I suppose, where they have them in Wales. Would they have that data for these recreational—. Or, certainly, proposals. Do you think they would have that data already? How would that be?
The water incident database, WAID, is the most reliable set of information and data we have around fatalities, and that is quite an effective tool in providing what you're talking about there, Jack. It has quite detailed information. It's not absolutely perfect, and it's being improved, but it gives data with enough locality for that to be taken into account. The one limitation of WAID is that it's only fatalities in that particular data set. Sometimes, co-ordinating data around non-fatal incidents isn't quite as reliable, but that's another thing we're working on as part of the delivery of the strategy.
Okay, thank you. Just before I touch on the next set of questions, then, perhaps not those proposals, but if we look at reservoirs and places like that, would you know if they're regularly assessed in Wales? We spoke to the petitioner, and Leeanne has said quite strongly in her words that they'd like a proactive approach to drowning prevention and not a reactive approach. One of those proactive measures would be a routine risk assessment. Does that take place? Is it your understanding those do take place, or are there further things we can do to aid that? Bleddyn.
RoSPA recently released a document where they looked at the various approaches by local authorities and how they differ across the UK, and there was quite some evidence to show that there is quite a disparity between how these sites are managed across our unitary authorities. So, yes, I think some standardisation and some guidance on the what and the how would be very well called for in Wales, I think.
Thank you. Chris, would you like to add anything?
Yes. On the utility companies who are responsible for reservoirs, I think there's quite a variance in the approach to water safety, and I think, for a long time, and it's still the case for some, there's been, quite understandably, a kind of prohibitive approach about asking people not to use reservoirs, which in lots of cases is the right message. But I think we as Water Safety Wales would really commend the work that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water did in 2021, where they moved slightly away from that as a blanket approach, and acknowledged that, regardless of their repeated asks for people not to enter the water for things like open water swimming, people were continuing to do so, and they have now, in partnership with Swim Wales under the Safe Aquatic Facility Endorsement Cymru scheme, designated a small number of their reservoirs to be managed 'safe' open water swimming sites, although I know Welsh Water are coming later and will be able to describe it themselves. That gives people an option of a place that's been risk assessed and is managed and can keep people safe, much like we as the RNLI point people to a lifeguarded beach. For a very long time with reservoirs, that was never the case, and people were trespassing or going in without the benefit of that option.
So, I think the answer to your question is that the utility companies do regularly risk assess their locations, but the approach to water safety traditionally has been prohibitive, and quite understandably in a lot of cases, but I would commend the type of slight change to that that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water took, and some other utility companies around the UK as well, in acknowledging that it is happening and so what steps could they take to try and support people and educate people. So, that's probably how I'd answer that one, Chair.
Diolch yn fawr. And as you say, we have got Dŵr Cymru and a few other utility companies, so we'll try and pick that out a little bit more with them in the second session later. If I can just ask one more question, then I'll pass over to Luke Fletcher again. This petition itself calls for throw line stations around all open water sites in Wales. Could we just ask you, as the experts here, to provide some feedback on the use of throw lines to prevent drowning? Just your general feedback, really, and we'll take a steer from it. Perhaps, Bleddyn, you could start with that.
Yes, I would commend the use of throw lines. In dynamic water rescue scenarios, we use them, with good effect. They would be a welcome addition as personal rescue equipment in any water location, but there needs to be an educational piece as well for those recreational users to understand (a) what it is, (b) what it looks like, (c) how you'd use it, and how you use it effectively. So, I suppose it comes hand-in-hand with that education piece. The easiest piece of work would be to install them at various sites and get them off the ground, but the difficult thing then would be to educate people to maintain them and keep them in operational use and not be vandalised, stolen, et cetera, but also to really be able to effectively use them when the time comes.
So, I work in partnership with the RNLI, with Chris, to develop a waterside responder scheme, where we teach publicans in, say, Cardiff Bay, for example, how to use throw lines. But we'd need to think about how we did that for our recreational users of our reservoirs, lakes et cetera.
Okay. So, it seems—and, again, the petitioner has brought this to our attention, and I think she said it today in the press—that this is very similar to CPR and defibrillators being put around communities across the United Kingdom and certainly in Wales, and there is a real issue here of vandalism and we need to try and address that within society, but also the educational strategy alongside that. So, it seems, perhaps, that we could look at the work that some of the community organisations are doing and see if we can learn any lessons from them, as well. Would you like to add anything, Chris, to Bleddyn's points?
I think Bleddyn covered most of it. I think I would just add that there isn't—. Water Safety Scotland, our equivalent group up there, did a literature review of global publications about public use of public rescue equipment, like throw lines, and there is very little cast-iron evidence about how often or how effective they are in use. But, that said, there are also case studies where lives have been saved—so, four in the River Tyne over the last couple of years. Again, as Bleddyn mentioned, those ones in Newcastle were of people who had received an element of training, so they were confident in being able to use the public rescue equipment, similar to the scheme that Bleddyn mentioned. So, I think, to echo Bleddyn, they would be a welcome addition to many open water sites, and I totally agree with Leeanne's view on that, but I think it's important that throw lines aren't seen as the answer to keeping people safe in open water, and that organisations responsible for managing open water sites look at all the options, including throw lines, and the others that Bleddyn mentioned around education and stuff as well. So, yes, I agree with Bleddyn on that one.
Okay. Thank you, both. I'll bring Luke Fletcher back in.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. I think partly my question has been answered here, but I would be interested to know if you could think if there would be any other, further practical steps that could be taken, or measures, to increase water safety in Wales. You mentioned education and, of course, we have throw lines, but I was wondering if there was anything else you'd like to add.
Yes, there were a couple from my side. Just to say that, as Bleddyn mentioned, there was a real variance in response to the research that RoSPA undertook and published last month. In this particular instance, it was local authorities who were asked about their attitudes to water safety. Eighty-nine per cent of the local authorities said that it was an important issue for them, but then only 50 per cent had a person or persons responsible for water safety. And then only 22 per cent had a specific water safety policy or plan in that local authority area, and a further 19 were developing one. But also, only four of the Welsh councils responded to the RoSPA request, out of the 22. So, I think there's some work to be done on encouraging and supporting councils in prioritising water safety, and other landowners too—it's not just councils. We'd be really keen to support that, moving forward.
As Bleddyn mentioned, I'd just reiterate that I think a key step more widely would be to support Welsh Government in allocating responsibility for drowning prevention and water safety to a specific Minister or Government department to lead. The strands of the Welsh drowning prevention strategy mean that a lot of departments could in theory have an interest, but no-one has overall responsibility for the issue at present, and that can cause issues for policy formation and also funding solutions. And, as I mentioned earlier, the relatively small funding request that Water Safety Wales has in through RoSPA has been in since February and we're still hoping for a positive outcome on that to put us on a par with Scotland and the UK groups.
There was a really effective round-table discussion at UK Government, hosted by the Department for Transport last year, on drowning prevention that brought together the different sections of Government to move things forward, and we'd be really delighted to support a similar cross-departmental meeting in Wales, should that be something that might be possible. We feel, as a group, that the community safety portfolio held by the social justice Minister might be a really good fit for leading on water safety, but, obviously, that could be explored further at such a round-table meeting if that was something that might be a next step.
Just to add on the education side, a final point from me is that we know that more children die, sadly, in the water than on bikes and in fires, yet there are really established cycling proficiency and fire prevention campaigns in schools, and education has also halved the number of road fatalities. So, we just really stress the benefit of having a coherent education and water safety programme in schools and we'd be really keen, as Water Safety Wales, to help with that if that's something that could be taken forward.
Diolch, Chris. That's very useful. Bleddyn, would you like to add to that?
Yes, I'd just echo Chris's comments, really, that I think it needs a bit of clarity from the Welsh Local Government Association, so the guidance is absolutely clear. The extant guidance is there for our constituent councils to follow, and then some clarity on which department—. If we say there's a community safety issue for the safety of our citizens, to make sure that they can access our outside spaces healthily and properly, then we need that clarity. And I'd just echo Chris's comments about the educational piece: we'd like to see this as a key stage educational strategy throughout our schools and colleges in Wales.
Diolch yn fawr, Bleddyn. I think those last few points have been really useful for the committee and we'll most certainly take those forward.
We're coming up to some time now just to ask Members if they've got any other questions to ask. It doesn't look like they have. Can I just ask, then—? We are receiving evidence in the next session, just after you leave, from water companies, including United Utilities, Dŵr Cymru and Severn Trent as well; is there anyone else we should be seeking evidence from or speaking to at this point? Can you think of anyone we could, perhaps, speak to? Chris.
I think it would be a really good step to afford the opportunity to families who have lost loved ones to drowning as part of this process. They, more often than not, lead the way in drowning prevention and water safety and we follow their lead. So, people like Leeanne, and there are many others in Wales, who we're very grateful to for having supported Water Safety Wales, and have been linked with us over the last year to 18 months. I think that would be my suggestion. I know that that's been done in some ways already, but there are quite a number of families in Wales who are active in one way or another in water safety and have a lot to bring to the table here.
Okay. Thank you for that. I'm sure that we're all in agreement with that and we can certainly explore ways in which we can do that further, whether that be by an official scheduled meeting in our committee sessions or whether that be outside of the actual session, but we can certainly explore further. Bleddyn, are there any thoughts from you on who we should be speaking to more or are you just in agreement?
No, I'm in agreement with Chris; I would suggest the families. We held a recent families event as one of our core strategies within Water Safety Wales, and it's an honour to listen to the families speak about how positive they can be about making a change for other citizens and families and not just wallowing in their despair, and it's really encouraging to see the efforts that they're looking to bring about across Wales.
I think in the short conversations we've had as a committee, we could see the inspirational stories—the devastation and tragedy and the worst of people's lives, but trying to do some good. And certainly, we would like to try and support that. So, as we are coming to the end of the session, I'll give the opportunity to both of you, Bleddyn and Chris, just for any final comments, really. Perhaps, Chris, do you want to come in first and then Bleddyn?
I've got nothing further to add. Just thanks for having Bleddyn and me to speak to you; it's been really good to have that opportunity. And a big congratulations to Leeanne on getting this petition to a point of having this debate. I think a really crucial step forward would be strengthening the link between Water Safety Wales and the Welsh Government. That is how we would really make progress, I think, in the delivery of the drowning prevention strategy. So, I know we've spoken about that already, but that would be my final comment, to ask for support in making that happen, and like I mentioned, the request is in with the Welsh Government at the moment.
Okay. Thank you for that. Bleddyn, any final points?
Yes, I'd just echo Chris's comments there, and any work that we can do with the WLGA and the constituent authorities to make the processes as easy as possible, then within our group, we've got some good expertise and we'd be happy to help.
Well, thank you, both, for those final comments there. As I say, I think it's been a really interesting and eye-opening session that we will certainly take into consideration in how we—. We will be discussing this evidence session, as well as the next one, later on to see how we can take this petition further forward. But, on that note, I'll call this evidence session to a close. There will be a transcript sent through to you both. So, if you could check that for factual accuracy, and, please, if there do need to be amendments, please feel free to get in touch with the clerking team and we can make those changes to set the record straight. In the meantime, if there is something else that you feel that should have been said and hasn't been said today, then please feel free to write in to us as well, and we can certainly take that for consideration going forward. But thanks so much for your time. We understand that you're busy, so we do appreciate the time today, and we look forward to publishing our findings in due course. So, diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, all.
Thank you, both.
Thank you very much indeed. Bye bye.
Bye now. Goodbye. Okay, just before we move on to the second session, I will ask the broadcasting team if we can take a short technical break to bring in the witnesses for the second evidence session, and the committee will restart at 14:50. So, we've got about 13 minutes there if anyone would like to grab a quick cup of tea. So, for now, I will pause and ask the broadcasting team to stop live broadcasting.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:37 ac 14:50.
The meeting adjourned between 14:37 and 14:50.
Croeso, welcome back to the Senedd's Petitions Committee. We will take a second set of evidence on the petition P-06-1212, 'Mark Allen's Law—we want throwline stations around all open water sites in Wales'. Can I thank the witnesses before and also the team behind the scenes for facilitating the short technical break there? I welcome witnesses to our second session today. Thank you for your time. Perhaps if I can invite you to introduce yourself for the Record today, and on my screen I've got Nikki first, then Paula and then Dominic, please.
Hi. My name is Nikki Kemmery and I'm the health and safety director for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water.
Thank you, Nikki. Paula.
I'm Paula Steer. I'm the health and safety and well-being director at United Utilities.
Thank you for that, Paula. Dominic.
My name is Dominic Robinson and I'm head of visitor experience for Hafren Dyfrdwy.
Well, thank you all for coming. We will go straight into questions shortly. We can hear some feedback somewhere, but I think we're going to try and get through this session, unless it becomes ridiculously terrible and then we can take a break. But this is an important petition, and I'd like to try and get the evidence and information from you whilst we have you here as well. Just a note for Members and witnesses, again, this session will be bilingual and Members and witnesses can use Welsh or English, the language of their choice, to do so. So, if we can start with questions, I will start with Buffy Williams.
Thank you, Chair. This question is to Paula—and thank you for joining us this afternoon. Could you outline measures in place to increase water safety at your reservoirs, in particular throwlines or any information then on throwlines that you already have installed at a number of your sites?
So, we do a number of things for safety around our reservoirs, and the first one is to focus on prevention. So, ideally we don't want anybody swimming in our reservoirs, and that's our policy. So, there's a lot of signage that's in existence at all sites about the dangers of deep water, 'Keep out' signs, and a lot of information boards as well that exist across all our reservoir sites. And more recently, so in 2019, we put together a pilot working with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and some of the families that had lost loved ones in drownings, and we created an information board with throwlines and we installed 20 across eight of our sites. The board itself is quite big and very visual, so it's red in colour, so it's making people aware of the dangers. They have a locked box that contains a throwline and a whistle, and it has a keypad to enter to open it. We also have unique identifiers, so working with the fire and rescue service, one of the things we identified was actually that these sites are very vast and often can be in rural locations, and it's quite difficult for the emergency services to pinpoint the exact location when that 999 call is made, so they have a unique identifier on them as well. So, the intention is that a member of the public would dial the emergency services, they would give the code on the board, and that they would give them a code to release the box, so basically to take the throwline out.
Paula, can I just jump in there, please, if that's possible?
You have suggested that you've got these throwline stations in various places. One of the witnesses in the previous session has suggested that the education needs to go alongside using those particular safety and drowning prevention resources. Are there any training packages that you do in your locality? Is that something that United Utilities offer?
I think it's a really, really important point, because having them there, without the education—. When we launched the pilot, we did actually do some media, so, some work with the public. We also did a short video. I suppose the problem you’ve got is that reach of members of the public that visit these sites, and there are many thousands every year. Education is really important to know how to use them. They are relatively straight forward to use, but I think it’s just worth pointing out as well—. The boards themselves, I think, are useful. We haven't had—. In the three years that we‘ve had them installed, we haven’t had anyone use a throw line. We have had one of the—. On one occasion we’ve had a unique identifier used when the emergency services were contacted. But we haven’t had anybody use the actual throw line.
One of the main challenges we’ve had—. Well, part of the pilot was two things that we said we would look at. One is the ease of maintenance, and the second one would be use. So, we haven’t had anybody use them, but, arguably, that’s a good thing as well. But the maintenance of them has been a massive challenge. Every location that we’ve had them has been vandalised. So, we’ve had the boards, these metal boards—the boards have been damaged, the boxes have been broken, the throw lines have been stolen. And that’s happening quite regularly. So, it is a real challenge for us, in terms of keeping them maintained. What you don’t want is a situation when somebody does need them and the throw lines aren’t actually there. But, yes, education—I think there’s more that we need to do in that space definitely.
Okay. Thank you, Paula. Before we go back to Buffy Williams, I think we should put on record that this vandalism is really, really disappointing to hear. We see that in our communities, again, with things like defibrillators. These are life-saving pieces of equipment, and this should not be happening. So, if we can condemn that in the most serious of ways, I think the committee would like to do so. Buffy.
Thank you, Chair. My next question is to Dominic and Nikki, and thank you for joining us this afternoon. If we go to Dominic first, could you outline the measures that are in place to increase water safety at your reservoirs, particularly any consideration that’s being given to installing throw lines and the main barriers to preventing drowning at your reservoirs?
Thank you very much, Buffy, for the question, and thank you for inviting us to talk as well here. As a water company, safety of the public is our No. 1 priority—of the visitors, staff, colleagues and the communities around our reservoirs. So, fundamentally, this is very, very important to us, and I do appreciate the work that Mark Allen’s family have done to get this topic here today as well, because I think any conversation we’re having on water safety is a positive step forwards as well.
In terms of the actions that we take on our sites and throw lines, we have throw lines that our rangers are trained to use, and they have them on their vehicles, and, where we have reservoirs with public access, they regularly patrol those reservoirs. We don’t have throw lines around our reservoirs for public use. As has been touched on previously, and in the previous session, you need to know how to use them to use them effectively. In the wrong hands, they can be ineffective, and what we know from other experiences as well and the likes of you is, where we’ve got them, if they are installed, there is a reassurance that the public get, thinking that there is safe access to water, and that’s not part of our messaging that we promote. So, we have throw lines, but only for use by trained personnel.
Thank you, Dominic. Buffy, a further question?
And then the question to Nikki, please, if possible.
Thank you. I would say that we take a fairly similar approach. We’ve, historically, not allowed swimming in reservoirs because of the risks of drowning. We have done an awful lot of education work, though, and we are now piloting having some small number of managed sites where we can do managed swimming. But, generally, we’ve not relied on installing throw lines, but more training our rangers so that they can effect rescue, and also monitoring those sites. We do a lot of work actively looking at those sites in summer and warmer weather, when that tends to be more of a risk, to go out and educate people, and have people out on those sites as a visible presence. But we are actually doing a little bit more now, and have started with some managed trials where we can have proper managed sites with proper life-guarded, managed, organised sessions to allow some level of swimming. But that is a departure from where we've been in the past, I would say.
Thank you, Nikki. One more question from Buffy Williams.
This one is to all three of you, and I'll go to Paula first: could you provide information, please, on how the reservoirs are assessed for a risk of drowning?
We do carry out risk assessments on all our reservoirs. We look at—obviously, location is an important thing, because, as Nikki just said, in hot weather, if we've got a site that's in a more urban area, then we do tend to get more visitors. So, for us, it's very much about location, it's about accessibility for the public, and based on visitor numbers that we know about, and also we do look at previous incidents as well—so, where we've had previous incidents. On hot days, we all have staff that are responsible for sort of policing the areas and managing the countryside and the reservoirs. So, they do visit the sites on a regular basis, but on hot days as well we will provide additional security where we need to.
Thank you. Nikki.
Yes, we've taken a very similar approach. We've got 91 reservoirs. They're in a range of different locations, some more rural, some more urban. Some are very shallow, some are very steep, so you have to look at all of that and look at the history. We've got known what I call hotspots—so, we've got sites that we know, regularly, if there are several days of hot weather, we are likely to see people turn up. So, those are the ones that we would put rangers and security on, to give more advice and to monitor. So, very much it's about looking at where they are and what the challenges are. It's interesting to note that, when the Pontypridd lido was reopened, that took the pressure off some of our reservoirs, because there was a managed facility that people could go to. I think some people may not want a managed facility, but, for a lot of people, having an alternative option can be a better solution.
Thank you. Dominic.
So, similarly to the other water companies, we have a diversity of reservoirs across our sites. We've got 16 across Hafren Dyfrdwy; two where we actively promote access—Llyn Clywedog and Lake Vyrnwy. In terms of our assessment of risk and our strategy to contain that, we have a three-point plan that we work to. First is to prevent access to water in the first place, and we're very clear; we have a no-swimming policy. The only access to water that is encouraged is through organised groups—fishing, sailing, water sports that are organised activities through insured providers who have safety boats, lifejackets, et cetera. We encourage that and we support that, but we don't allow access outside of that. So, our first point is prevention of people getting into the water and getting into difficulty in the first place. To do that we have signage, very clear signage, in place, and, as I mentioned before, we have rangers who patrol as well, and in summer we have security provision as well when we get a hot weather period, like some of the others. When we know people will want to be trying to cool off in that hot weather, we do try and provide additional security to address hotspots.
Our second part of our strategy is around education, and that's something that we've done and we do do—we're on social media, for example, press releases, radio. We try and talk about the dangers of our reservoirs to highlight that to people. Finally, we collaborate, and that's our third area of work—working with tenants, water sports providers in particular, sailing clubs, those who are on our reservoirs, to make sure that they're our eyes and ears on the water, and to help us in delivering that message as well of preventing access and getting into difficulty in the first instance.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you all, thank you, Buffy, for those questions. Before we move on to Joel James, can I just ask—? The petitioner, Leeanne, has said within the conversations that we've had that she wants a proactive approach to drowning prevention and not a reactive one, and now the conversation and evidence we've just heard is that all utility companies are risk-assessing those reservoirs. Can I just ask, therefore, how often are those likely to be updated or checked? I don't know who would like to come in first on that. Perhaps Nikki.
We have an annual review, where we sit down, about this time of year, actually—. We sit down and have a look at what happened last year, what incidents we saw, what were the challenges we had, before we get into—. Easter is normally the trigger point for when we start to see people visiting sites. We go around our sites and have a look. The sites are regularly visited anyway by operations, because they are operational assets. So, we're always keeping an eye on them, but we do a bit of a formal annual review to say, 'Okay, what happened last year, what are we anticipating this year?', and then we have what we call hot-weather measures, when we keep an eye on the temperatures and say, 'Oh, actually, now we need to instigate additional controls.' So, it's one of those things that's monitored very much on a day-to-day basis as far as the sites go, but on an annual basis as far as the public risks go.
Thank you, Nikki. I could see nodding there, so I'll take it as an assumption that that happens in all places. Or is there anything different that we need to be aware of? Paula.
Ours is very similar to what Nikki has just said for Welsh Water, but I think the other thing that we do is a huge campaign around communications. For me, the most important thing in all of this—and we all want the same thing here; we want to prevent these deaths—is education and that communication piece. We've, over the years, actually developed our communication approach particularly using social media and reaching that right target group—so, young teenagers, often, and often, very sadly, it's boys as well—but targeting specific audiences around the dangers. And I think we need to keep going back to the point that these open waters, as they're referred to, these reservoirs, they're working assets for us, and, actually, they're more than just open water, they've got machinery that is hidden, deep, they've got steep embankments, and the water is very, very cold. So, that cold-water shock is a real thing, and I think we have real challenges, again, in communication and in the media, around open-water swimmers wanting access to all open water and suggesting that reservoirs are safe when, actually, we've got the evidence to say they're not safe to swim in. And that's why we have our policies around no swimming unless, as Nikki said, you can have it organised, where you have lifeguards and others to protect them. But, absolutely, those risk assessments are continuous throughout the year, really.
Thank you for that, Paula. Anything to add, Dominic, or—?
I think the only thing to reiterate is that we also go through that seasonal review. At the end of each summer period, we look at what's taken place and ensure we have the right resources and the right focus for the coming year, for the following year and following season. And I think I'd echo Paula's comments; we're very clear in our 'no swimming' policy. We have obviously seen in the last couple of summers an increase in demand in people holidaying in the UK and therefore being here, not being able to travel abroad and sit on the beaches abroad as they would like to, as well as a desire for open-water swimming. For us, we're very clear that our reservoirs—similar to Paula—are really factories for water; they are not natural water bodies. They are very different from natural water bodies. As Paula has highlighted we have, similarly, tens of miles of shoreline to manage, and the risk of cold-water shock with these deep-water bodies is high for somebody getting into the water. It's quite likely somebody will get into difficulty if they are in our water. So, our first priority is to keep people out, through prevention, education, which is our focus on making sure people are aware of those dangers, and collaboration, working with others to achieve more together.
Okay. Thank you, all, for that. I think that's a good time to bring in Joel James.
Thank you, Chair, and I'd just like to thank all the people for coming today for this evidence session. The first session was very fascinating and informative, and so is this one, really. But, as the Chair said, as Jack said, it's just to touch upon what you said then, especially you, Dominic, about the recreational use of the reservoirs and everything. Obviously, the Welsh Government is, not necessarily pushing, but there's a push, sorry, a push to sort of like—if I look at my notes now—to widen access to inland waterways. And I was just wondering what sort of concerns—obviously, you've expressed some throughout the meeting—but what sort of concerns there are from yourselves as companies that manage these in terms of meeting that obligation, but then also pushing back where it's dangerous for it to have been met, if that makes sense. And also then, with the national access forum Wales access-to-water sub-committee—sorry for the mouthful there, I definitely had to check my notes there—I'm just keen to know your thoughts on that really, and just get some feedback from yourselves and what the thoughts are from your companies about it. And that's basically to everyone there. So, that's to Dominic, Nikki and Paula then. I don't know who wants to go first.
Shall we bring in Dominic first?
Yes, I'm very happy to respond to that first. I think, for me, the most important distinction here is that difference between natural water body and reservoir. It's really important to understand. The public don't see it, and, understandably, wouldn't, but they are very, very different environments. We have inlets where water can be pumped in, which can generate strong currents. There are outlets of the reservoir, where there might be slipways, spillways. These aren't even obvious or can be hidden, and if people don't know that that infrastructure is there, it puts them at risk. I think there's a really important distinction here between natural water bodies, where people can calculate the risk around them and make a calculation of risk, and reservoirs, which, as I say, I call factories for water. So, they won't necessarily understand the risks of what's taking place. For us, therefore, access to water is really important. These are beautiful sites that we want people to visit and to access. That's my job—to encourage people to come out and to visit them. Fundamentally, that's what we want to achieve, but it has to be done in a safe manner. And therefore, any access to water has to be through organised groups who are insured, can carry out the right kind of safety provision, and can make sure that people engage in those activities in an organised and safe manner. For us, that's what's really important in any changes going forward—that there's still that ability to be able to control the access to keep people safe. That's why; that's the reason for it from our perspective.
Thank you for that. Nikki.
I would agree with the comments made. We've wrestled with the balance of this. Traditionally, we have previously said that we didn't want anybody swimming in any of our reservoirs ever, but we recognise there is a demand for that, and we do have a small number of managed visitor centres where we have a bit more premises there—we've got a cafe, we've got a car park, we've got facilities—and we can do that in a managed way. Therefore, we trialled it at Llandegfedd, and I know that we've had, I think, about 3,500 people who have been at a water swimming session at that site. So, it has proved very popular over the last year, but it has been managed. We've had to get the site accredited to SAFE Cymru accreditation, and we've had to get individuals trained and managed as lifeguards. We therefore do say to people on our other sites that it's not safe, because we haven't got those controls in place and we can't manage them, but we are looking at whether we can open this up to a small number of managed visitor centres. We've got four or five sites across Wales that we could, maybe, do this on a wider basis for, but we wouldn't want to encourage it anywhere else, and we would actively be saying to people, 'If you want to swim, these are the places to go to because we know that it's safe and managed'.
Thank you, Nikki. Paula, do you have anything to add to that?
We haven't got any reservoirs in Wales, but just to give you the context of what we've got in the north-west, we've probably got about 170 reservoir sites in all sorts of locations. Just to echo the comments that have been made, we want to encourage the public to come and enjoy our sites because they are often in the open countryside and they are beautiful, but we also want to keep them safe. And that public safety piece is absolutely at the forefront of everything we do. So, anything we do, any changes that are made, they've got to be properly risk assessed, and we've got to be able to do it safely.
Thank you, Paula. I'll bring Joel back in now, and then I've got a supplementary myself. Joel.
Thank you, Chair. It was just a quick thing just to touch upon what Nikki said. I must admit, I was quite impressed, because doing a bit of research I came across your website about the One Last Breath campaign, and what I thought was quite impressive there was you highlighted the dangers, but then you've also said, 'If it's something you still want to do, this is how you can do it in a safe environment', and you've linked directly to how you can book outdoor swimming sessions at the reservoirs you've mentioned there. I thought that was quite—. I just wanted to raise it, sorry, Chair—I thought it was just quite a good idea, that was, because there are some people out there, you can tell them everything about why you shouldn't do it, but they're still determined to do it, and then if you've signposted them to the safe options, I think that's quite brilliant as well.
Thank you for that, Joel. Just mainly to Nikki and Dominic, then: in your wider conversations with Welsh Government officials, is drowning prevention on the agenda, and do you have those conversations? Is that something that happens? I'll bring in Nikki first, and then Dominic, if that's okay. Nikki.
Drowning prevention is something that we as a business look at regularly, and we have a reservoir safety group where we get together all our different internal stakeholders. We've done a lot of work having conversations with the wider water industry. I don't think we've had that many particularly with Welsh Government and I think again there's an opportunity there to join up some of the thinking and all the groups that seem to be evolving over the last couple of years in this space.
Thanks, Nikki. Dominic, is it a similar experience for you?
Yes, a similar experience, I think, to Nikki. I think there is clearly opportunity there for more working together. As I said at the outset, I think the key action for us is around education, and the more people who can be talking about that—whether that's schools, charities, Government, us as water companies—the better.
Okay. That's really useful. Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Mae'r cwestiwn sydd gyda fi i'r tystion i gyd. Mae addysg a chyfathrebu wedi cael eu sôn amdanynt nawr fel dau fesur ymarferol yn y ddau sesiwn y prynhawn yma, felly mae'r cwestiwn hwn wedi ei ateb mewn rhan, ond a oes mesurau ymarferol pellach sydd eu hangen yng Nghymru i gynyddu diogelwch dŵr? Fe wnawn ni ddechrau gyda Nikki.
Thank you, Chair. The question I have is for all the witnesses. Education and communication have been mentioned as two practical measures in the two sessions this afternoon, so the question has been answered partly, but are there any further practical measures that are needed in Wales to increase water safety? We'll start with Nikki.
I think education is the biggest thing for me, and it would be good to get more of that into schools and on agendas. We have done quite a lot of work with that over the past few years. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic threw us for a year, but I know that the previous two years, we managed to see about 18,500 pupils with lessons on water safety and water education. We've had to go virtually online last year, and I know we did about 543 virtual sessions with classes, so obviously, a lot of pupils would have taken part in those. That's something we're pushing, but I'm not sure how much that's being pushed generally across all local authorities and whether that's a core part of the curriculum, which I think would be a really good thing.
Diolch. Paula, anything to add there?
We're also doing education with primary schools, which is really important. Last year—sorry, I forget with COVID, but it was the year prior—we actually did a production. We joined forces with some of the families that had lost loved ones and the North West Theatre Arts Company, and we created a production that basically replayed the sad death of a young boy. We took that into secondary schools, and I sat and watched that in a hall with 300 pupils. It was very, very impactful. So, education absolutely for me is the key.
The other thing that we learnt a lot last year was that collaboration is more important as well, because we saw lots of organisations—local authorities, the RNLI, other water companies, other landowners—putting out messages around water safety. We've all got the same problem, and actually, we all want the same thing, so we've got to collaborate more. Getting the Welsh Government involved in that, and hopefully the English Government [Correction: UK Government] as well, please, because it's really important—. If you lead the way in Wales, we need to be doing the same in England. It's really important to get it on the Government's agenda. We all want to prevent these deaths. Thank you.
Diolch, Luke, for the question. I think for me, education, as the others have highlighted, is absolutely paramount. I think what's really important is finding the ways of engaging as well. Paula touched on the powerful testimony that some of the families have brought to some of that engagement, and from our perspective, being able to innovate in that I think is really key; finding ways of getting to younger people some of the hard-hitting messages is going to be important. I think that education piece—as others have highlighted—is about collaboration, because it's across sectors. We are equally engaging with schools as a water company as well, regularly within our region, but there are others who also do that, and I think doing that in a co-ordinated fashion across sectors, and as an industry as well, I think, is really important for the future.
Great. Thank you.
Thank you, Luke, and thank you, all. We will be looking at the best way of speaking to the some of the families who have tragically lost loved ones through this sad circumstance. I just think it's important to raise two points as well. We've mentioned the education and families getting involved in that. I believe the petitioner, in memory of her son, Mark Allen, is in the process of putting together a book, Captain Sparky, I think, so we'll be certainly keeping an eye out for that. And also, Paula, you mentioned the United Kingdom Government; I think it's important to mention the petition that Leeanne has put into the UK Parliament, which secured over 100,000 signatures, if I'm correct there, so we'll be keeping a close eye on any of the outcomes from that process too.
With that in mind, then, I'd like to thank all witnesses for this very informative session. There will be a transcript sent to you following today's proceedings, so if you could check that for factual accuracy and make any amendments. Please feel free to get in touch with the clerking team, and we can make those amendments for you, for the record. If there is additional information that hasn't been said today but you feel could be useful to our inquiry into this petition, then please, again, feel free to get in touch. That would be fantastic for us. If I can thank you all for that.
I should also note, before we move on to the next item, we've also written to Natural Resources Wales on this matter, so if I can thank the clerking team for that. And, of course, the committee will consider that response when we receive one, and any actions we may wish to take. But diolch yn fawr, all; we appreciate you coming today. And, on that note, I'll call this evidence session to a close and we'll move to our next agenda item. Thank you.
Moving on to item 4 on today's agenda and new petitions. Before we go to the agenda item 4.1, I'd like to bring to the attention of committee members a petition that was launched last week that gained lots of attraction since it was launched and over the weekend. Members will have seen the news around cervical screening and all the social media posts and so on. We had received, in the middle of last week, a number of petitions on the same issue. Our process allows only one to be accepted, and that successful petition actually received over 30,000 signatures by Sunday, which is a quite remarkable feat, I believe. In consultation with the petitioner, the clerking team did have the conversation, and I suggested, perhaps, given the public interest in this important issue, that we close the petition early on Sunday so we consider it in committee today. I would like to bring it straight to committee and ask committee members that we write to Business Committee in the Senedd to seek an urgent debate in Plenary time to discuss this matter in further detail. The petition is titled 'Reinstate cervical screening to every 3 years', and that was closed, again, last night with 30,109 signatures. So, I'll ask Members for any comments on that. Buffy.
Thank you, Chair. I think the speed at which this petition gathered signatures just goes to show the strength of feeling out there. For me, I have two daughters, and the thought of the testing only being done every five years is a big worry. There are a lot of other reasons why I think it should remain every three years. When you go for your smear test, you don't just go for a smear, you go for that all-important well-being check. I know that when I've had a letter through my door inviting me to make an appointment for a smear, I do what every other woman does: they open the letter, they stick it to the fridge and then every single time that they open the fridge, they go, 'I've got to ring the GP in the morning and make an appointment for my smear test.' And I can do that for weeks. Every single day, I will open that fridge door to take the milk out or to make something to eat and I will say to myself, 'I need to make an appointment with my GP for my smear test.' Because it's not a pleasant experience—it's not—but it's a life-saving experience. That letter can stay on that fridge for up to seven months, so, it's gone from three years to three years and seven months to start with, because life just gets in the way. As a busy working mum, you know what it's like—if your child is ill, you'll be on that phone the first thing the next morning to make an appointment with the GP to make sure that your child is seen, but, for yourself, you always put yourself and your own well-being on the back burner. Every woman does it. Unfortunately, it's just the way we are. So, I really think this petition needs to be brought forward for debate. It is so vitally important that every woman who has signed that petition has a voice, because they're all speaking from the same sheet, basically—we all want the same thing and that is that all-important well-being check.
When you go to the GP, you're seen either by a GP or a nurse, and that chat always evolves. You could have a woman who's been suffering domestic abuse; that could be the one and only time when she's on her own with somebody she trusts and she can tell. That could be the only one time that her partner will ever allow her—or whoever is enforcing the abuse—the only one time that she may ever get a chance to speak. So, extending that from three years to five years, in my mind, the five years, then, won't be five years; it could be six years, because after I've stuck my letter to the fridge and I've put it off and put it off and put it off, it's more likely to be five years and seven or eight months than it is to be five years. I feel very strongly about this, Chair, and I really do think that this should be pushed for debate.
Diolch yn fawr, Buffy, for your very powerful contribution there. I can see Members nodding in agreement with that. So, if there's no further comment, I'd like to suggest, Clerk, that we get a letter off as soon as possible to the Business Committee to request a debate. As I said, this is a petition with serious public interest. With over 30,000 signatures on the Senedd petitions site, I would imagine that it's one of the fastest growing that we've ever had at the committee. But also, I should mention that there are over 1 million signatures on the change.org website as well, and I think we should make reference to that—a remarkable number of signatures, again in such a short space of time. So, the committee will go forward and request a debate as soon as possible in Plenary time.
Okay, moving on with the agenda, then, to item 4.1, P-06-1220, 'Increase funding available for Women's Health Services, Education and Awareness'. The petition reads:
'Increase funding available for primary and secondary care relating to women's health issues, as well as research, education and public awareness.
'Examples of issues include: Perinatal issues, birth injuries, prolapse, fibroids, endometrioses, menopause related, period related, and the impact on mental health that couples these issues.
'Areas which could benefit (examples, not limited to): Midwifery, GPs, Gynaecology, Women’s Health Physiotherapy, Mental health services (eg counselling).'
There is additional information in Members' packs and that is published online too for members of the public. It was submitted by Larissa Richardson, with 242 signatures. I'd like to ask Members what consideration they'd like to take forward and any actions they may wish to take forward on this petition, and I will bring Buffy Williams in first. Buffy.
Thank you, Chair. I would like to thank the petitioner to start with. I was recently at a British Heart Foundation meeting with the health Minister, who did state that the wheels are in motion for a women's health strategy. So, I know that this is something that is being seriously considered, and I know that she'd like to bring us in line with what Scotland is doing at the moment. So, I do think that this is already—. Like I said, the wheels are in motion, so I think that if we could leave this petition open and monitor what is going to happen over the next few weeks, because I think that things will start gathering momentum, that would be a really good way to deal with this petition.
Thank you, Buffy. Are Members content with the proposal from the Member? Yes. Okay, we have an agreement there.
Item 4.2, P-06-1222, 'Ban disposable barbecues from our National Parks, National Nature Reserves and Welsh beaches!' The petition reads as follows:
'Each year supermarkets and online stores promote the sale of thousands of cheap disposable barbeques which are then often used in a careless and irresponsible way leading to the destruction of important delicate wildlife habitats.
'Only a total ban on these products will protect our precious Welsh wildlife.
'We now realise the importance of our uplands and forests in storing carbon and protecting us from climate change. We also need to prevent marine pollution from damaging our Welsh seas.'
Again, there is additional information in Members' packs and available to members of the public online. This was submitted by Robert Curtis, with 223 signatures, and I invite Members to discuss this petition and any actions they would wish to take. Joel.
Thank you, Chair. I've got to admit, when I first came across this petition, I felt that one of life's little pleasures is having a barbecue on the beach, but I have seen at first hand how there are people out there—. But I don't necessarily blame the barbecues. That's just them; you know, they leave the barbecue there, they leave the rubbish there, they leave everything there. And I'm conscious, looking at the report that has been compiled, of how the fire authority and the fire brigade say, well, in the grand scheme of things, it's not the issue that they deal with. You know, when they talk about fires in moorlands, and not so much beaches, these have been deliberately set, and I'm conscious—. I'm wondering whether or not it's as big an issue as the petitioner is thinking, really, when you look at the statistics. And I know one of the recommendations is whether or not the committee could write to the fire service, and I probably recommend we do both, actually, to Natural Resources Wales too, just to seek their position on it, because then we can get straight from the horse's mouth, as they say, 'Well, actually, in the grand scheme of things, it's not'—for want of a better phrase—'that big an issue.' I'd be keen just to find that out, really, because I automatically always react against banning things; I always think there are steps in place before that could be taken, before coming to that decision. I just think that I'd miss having a barbecue on the beach, so I wouldn't necessarily want to get rid of them, and I suppose I'd have to declare an interest there, then, as well. So, I think that would be a good idea, if the rest of the committee's up for that, of just writing to the fire brigade and NRW just to seek their specific views on disposable barbecues.
Thank you for that proposal, Joel. Do Members agree? I'm in agreement. Are fellow Members? Any further comments? No. That's fine. So, we've had a proposal, which has been agreed and accepted, and we'll take that forward.
Item 4.3, P-06-1204, 'Protect the people of Wales—Take urgent action on the housing crisis now.'
'Local people are being priced out of their own communities. This is destroying our culture and language. Simply building more houses is not enough.
'We call for a fundamental rethink of policy to prioritise the social, cultural and economic needs of the people of Wales in line with Cymraeg 2050 and the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
'Give people a say on solving our housing crisis: implement the eight demands of the Housing Justice Charter and set up a Citizens Assembly to drive change.'
Again, with this petition, there is additional information available to Members in their packs and members of the public online. And it was submitted by Cara Wilson, with 6,469 signatures, and I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition. Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. I have complete sympathy with this petition, and I think it's important that we as a committee acknowledge the serious concerns raised by the petition regarding affordable housing and the negative impact on local communities across Wales. And 'across Wales', I think, being an important point to make here; it's not just an issue in Gwynedd and Ceredigion, as it's certainly an issue in my own home town. I'm currently going through the process now of trying to buy a house, and looking at the market in Pencoed, a working-class town, it's difficult to understand how anyone can really afford those prices locally. It's definitely an issue along the M4 corridor as well.
I share a lot of the concerns, as well, of the petitioner in terms of the length of time it potentially is going to take to actually solve this issue. I think this is an issue that needs to be solved now, sooner rather than later. Of course, I'm very glad as well that this is one of the central policies as part of the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Government, and it's important, I think, as well, to note that this is a very complex situation that we're dealing with here, and there are a lot of competing factors, a lot of legalities that need to be addressed. So, given the complex nature of these concerns, I think it's quite welcome, actually, that the Local Government and Housing Committee are undertaking their own detailed inquiry in this area. So, I would like to suggest, Chair, that we as a committee write to the Chair of the housing committee and ask them to include the issues raised in this petition as part of their inquiry. On that point, as well, I think this indicates that we're passing this to the housing committee, and so I think we should also thank the petitioner for raising these concerns and close the petition.
Thank you, Luke, for that. Joel.
Thank you, Chair. It's just for want of transparency, I'm on that committee that Luke mentioned, but, obviously, I support the recommendation there as well.
Thank you for that, for the record, and I too have spoken with the Chair of that committee about this petition, but I think we should formally write and we can then thank the petitioner and close this petition. We wish every success to the committee's inquiry there.
Item 4.4, P-06-1225, 'Make Natural Resources Wales undertake and publish annual wildlife surveys before felling woodland'.
'NRW manage state forests but fail to undertake population surveys of protected species before felling woodland. To avoid biodiversity loss they should assess the size of rare species populations present before felling operations are undertaken, so that they ensure habitat loss does not cause decline. The population data should be published before any trees are sold for cutting. Currently they only try and stop rare animals and birds being killed by harvesting machines but this is not enough.'
Again, this petition has additional information available online and in Members' packs, for members of the public as well. It was submitted by Martin Bailey, with 1,211 signatures. Before I invite Members to discuss this petition, I should say this petition was mentioned in the Senedd debate we held in Plenary on 8 December to discuss the protection of red squirrels—a fascinating debate, if I may say. But I invite Members to discuss any actions they may wish to take on this. Buffy Williams.
Thank you, Chair. Yes, this petition was mentioned in the red squirrel debate on 8 December, and, following that, there will now be legislation and guidance coming very soon in this area. So, I think we should write to the Minister and ask for an update on the timing of the guidance and legislation referred to in Plenary on 8 December, from NRW, and then we can close this petition.
I would agree with those proposals. Do Members agree? They do. Thank you for that proposal, Buffy, and I think we'll do that and we'll close the petition once we have received a letter and shared that with the petitioner.
Item 4.5, P-06-1228, 'Give secondary teachers a bonus for marking and standardizing summer 2021 official assessments'.
'As a result of the pandemic, teachers in Wales are responsible for marking, standardizing and moderating GCSE, AS and A2 assessments instead of examination boards. This is in addition to their usual teaching timetable and marking the work of other learners. Some teachers have only been released for one hour to carry out the work and, inevitably, it has had to be completed after working hours and on weekends. KS4 and 5 teachers in Wales deserve a bonus for their efforts, just like teachers in Scotland.'
This was submitted by Lisa M Williams with 1,252 signatures. I'd like to bring Members in to discuss this petition and any actions that they may wish to take. Joel.
Thank you, Chair. I was hoping I could just start really by just—and I think you probably agree with me here, Chair—putting on record our acknowledgement of the dedication and hard work that all the teachers have done throughout the COVID pandemic really. And though I wasn't a teacher, coming from a school previously, before being a Member of the Senedd, I've seen first-hand the work that all the teachers did just to try and make sure that students had a first-rate education in difficult circumstances. And I know that this is also reflected by the Welsh Government, but obviously with the budget coming up now, that's not necessarily been—. I think it's something to note that the Minister hasn't necessarily offered any additional financial recognition of that. But I do think there's scope to see what more we can do, and I know one of the recommendations is to write to Qualifications Wales to seek further information about the survey that they've done on the grade-setting periods and everything, and I was just thinking whether or not that might be something just to see what more can be done on this.
Thank you, Joel. Are Members in agreement with Joel's proposal there? They are, and I too agree and I think we should put on the record on behalf of the committee that we do acknowledge and thank all those in school settings who have helped us through this coronavirus pandemic and continue to do so. They are truly dedicated to their profession. So, thank you for that.
Item 4.6, P-06-1229, 'Increase funding for Gender Identity Clinics in Wales'.
'Currently, there is only 1 Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) in Wales. The waiting time for this GIC is between 24-30 months for a first appointment, nevermind the rest of the treatment. Trans people in Wales are struggling already and having a single GIC in Wales with an absurdly high waiting time is extremely damaging, especially to young trans people. We need increased funding.'
This was submitted by Rosie Williams with 52 signatures. I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition and any actions that they may wish to take. I'll bring Luke Fletcher in.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I can see that Rosie still continues to call for further increases in funding for gender identity services, but she's also very satisfied as well with the Minister's response—especially satisfied with the suggestion of the clinic in north Wales. So, on that basis, given that the petitioner is satisfied with the progress reported and, of course, that planned expansion of service by Welsh Government, I think the committee could thank the petitioner and close the petition. And, of course, I hope that Rosie knows that her petition's made a difference. I have no doubt that it has made a difference, and now I think it's incumbent on us as Members to keep asking the tough questions when they need to be asked.
I can see nodding in agreement with that, Luke, so thank you for that, and you're right, Rosie's petition has made a difference, and it just again shines a light on the petitions process and the importance of this committee being the voice of all people in Wales. So, thank you for submitting, Rosie, we do appreciate that.
Item 4.7, P-06-1230, 'Every Second Counts: Install a defibrillator at every school in Wales for the public to access'.
'A lot of people do not know where their closest defibrillator is.
'If a defibrillator is installed outside every school on a perimeter gate/fence/wall then everyone will know that if they need a defibrillator, they only need to look for their closest school to get access.
'Access should not be restricted to devices at locations only when the establishment is open. Public access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is essential.'
This was submitted by Rob Shill with 64 signatures. I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition. I'll come to Buffy Williams first. Buffy.
Thank you, Chair. I'm pleased to say that there has been an extra £500,000 made available from Welsh Government for community groups and organisations in Wales to install defibrillators. I note that the Minister had written previously and said that it’s not always practical to have these defibrillators put outside schools because school buildings are not always accessible. So, with the extra funding and the availability of these defibrillators being put outside community groups and other organisations, I think that we should thank the petitioner and close this petition.
Thank you for that, Buffy. I can see Joel.
Thank you, Chair, and I wanted to just say a few things. I agree with what Buffy was saying there, in terms of, sometimes with the schools, they’re not always in the most easy-to-reach locations, especially in an emergency situation, and I think there are probably better locations for—I always have trouble saying the word ‘defibrillator’—AEDs. But what I was thinking was whether or not there could be somebody we could write to, because I know there are a lot of charities, there are a lot of community groups out there, like the Rotary, the Masons, the Women’s Institute, and they do do a lot of fundraising, and I was just wondering whether or not there's scope to, if we could ask the education Minister if schools are interested in having one of these in their schools, whether or not they could be encouraged to make contact with their local organisations like that, because I well remember a couple of years back reading about a situation where, had it not been for the school having an AED at their premises, the child would have died. It might be a case where we could just, not necessarily push the schools, but just highlight to the schools that there are local organisations out there that could provide it if you approach them. They might not, but there’s an opportunity that they might.
Thank you for that suggestion. Buffy, would you like to come back in?
Thank you, Chair. I’d like to agree with Joel there, because we do have something in Rhondda Cynon Taf called RCT Heart Heroes, and they raise money and then donate defibrillators to different organisations. I know of three myself that I’ve had involvement in, being placed in Rhondda. So, I do agree with Joel. Maybe if we could write and get these other organisations to contact Women’s Aid and things like that. I think that that would be a really good idea, actually.
Okay. Thank you, Buffy and Joel, there. I think the proposal was to write to the education Minister on this matter and see what the best way of making this information available is to organisations and schools. So, we can certainly do that and then bring this petition back once we’ve got a response on that. Luke, do you agree with those comments? Yes, I can see agreement there. Thank you.
Next, moving on to the agenda then to updates to previous petitions, and item 5.1, P-05-937, 'STOP BOILING CRUSTACEANS ALIVE (lobsters, crabs, crayfish, prawns etc)—Update following new research.' This was submitted by Cardiff Animal Rights, with 2,008 signatures. Can I ask Members to discuss this petition? I look to Joel James first.
Thank you, Chair. I’ve got to admit, I think this is quite an important petition really, and it’s something I’m quite supportive of. I think the idea of boiling live animals alive is quite barbaric and from a different age. I know that the UK Government—. There was a lot of coverage a couple of months ago that the UK Government could be looking to ban this in, I think, its Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. But whether or not we could write to the Welsh Government, because the London School of Economics and Political Science have just done a report on sentience in decapods—I hope I’ve pronounced that right—and whether or not that could be something to be taken on board and what the Welsh Government’s view is on that, and also whether or not there’s scope to push for the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to include invertebrates. Even though it’s been amended to include—. Where are my notes? Oh, yes, it's been amended to include cephalopod molluscs—as you said, Chair, they are quite hard words to pronounce—but I think that's something we can do and be quite proactive as a committee there.
I must say, I feel sorry for the person who transcribes me and writes down what I have to say, because I've read it and it's full of 'ahs' and 'ers'. So, they need to be credited for that as well, I think.
You're not alone there, Joel. I wouldn't worry too much. We're being tested on this Monday afternoon here, the first Monday back.
But there's a proposal there from Joel to write to Welsh Government. Luke.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I agree with what Joel is suggesting, but I think there's an important point to make, if you'll humour me for a bit. When I was younger I wanted to be a marine biologist. There's a common misconception, I think, with the wider public, in thinking that sea life, or specifically fish and crustaceans, don't feel pain or fear, but it's widely accepted now amongst the scientific community, or the marine biology community, that they do. So, I think this is actually quite a very important petition when we talk about animal welfare, because the reality is we wouldn't boil any other animal alive, and so that should also be true for crustaceans and fish as well. But I just thought there was an important point to make here, just to ensure that it is known that, actually, crustaceans and fish as well do feel fear and pain.
Thank you for that, Luke—an informative contribution there. I'm in agreement, and I think all Members are in agreement, with those two points made. This has been a long-standing petition in the previous Senedd's Petitions Committee, but it's our first time considering this in this sixth Senedd. But I agree with those points taken forward, and we certainly will take those forward after this session.
Item 5.2, P-06-1200, 'Make horse tethering, with or without shelter, illegal and an act of cruelty in Wales'. This was submitted—. I haven't got the name of the petitioner who this has been submitted by, but they are from Cardiff North in South Wales Central, with 4,637 signatures there. I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition further. Luke.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I can see that RSPCA Cymru and the Blue Cross have raised several concerns, but also as well some suggestions. I think it would be prudent of us as a committee to write back to Welsh Government raising those concerns and suggestions, and seeking a bit of clarification regarding whether there are arrangements there to financially support enforcement, to implement legislation and regulations in this area. I know it might not necessarily be as straightforward—I think the RSPCA have suggested that. But I think it's worth getting that clarification from Welsh Government.
Thank you, Luke. Are Members in agreement? I can see nodding, they are.
Item 5.3, P-05-1045, 'To make shared-decision making and monthly mental health care-plan reviews a legal requirement'. This was submitted by Tesni Morgan with 1,462 signatures. Again, I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition and any actions they may wish to take. Buffy Williams.
Thank you, Chair. I can see that the Health and Social Care Committee is concerned and that access to mental health support services has been identified as a priority area for them, and that the petitioner has been informed of the upcoming inquiry and the call for evidence in the new year, and provided with opportunities to contribute. I think that this is another emotive and really serious petition that has come before us, so I think that we should give the petitioner an opportunity to contribute to the consultation that is going to be put forward, and then we can thank the petitioner now and close.
Thank you for that, Buffy. Are Members in agreement? They are. And I can confirm, as a member of the Health and Social Care Committee, that it is a priority of ours. It's a priority of mine personally, but it is a priority of the committee. And, as I've said in committee, I believe we should be listening more to members of the public across Wales, as well as organisations and charities. So I hope Tesni does contribute to that inquiry that we have coming up, and I do want to thank her for all she has done with the Petitions Committee process to date. So, thank you, Tesni.
Item 5.4, P-06-1178, 'Free school meals for all pupils in Wales'. This was submitted by Adam Johannes, with 980 signatures. I invite Members to discuss this petition further, and I look to Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I think, actually, what's happened in a very short space of time since the Senedd reconvened after the 2021 election is nothing short of remarkable, really. Free school meals for all primary school children is a massive way and a massive step, really, to getting universal free school meals across the board in Wales, not just for primary school children but for secondary school children and children or young adults who are in college. For me, for example, I was on free school meals in primary school, and poverty doesn't stop after you leave primary school, for children. And actually, on a selfish point as well, if I only have one term in the Senedd, to be able to say that I was part of one of the groups that helped deliver this in the Senedd is going to be probably one of the proudest moments of my political career. And I think there is a lot to say as well about the amount of work that groups outside of the Senedd, community groups—a lot of the work that they have done to push this agenda as well, that's to be commended. And I know Adam is part of that campaign. He's a fellow believer in the right to food.
I'm looking at some of the additional questions and clarifications he's asked for here. I'm pretty sure some of this is already in the public domain, because I know I've asked these questions in the past. So, I'm wondering if it's worth us as a committee trying to collate the answers, if they are in the public domain, to send on to Adam; any that aren't in the public domain that we do pass on to the Minister. I know that I'm looking to ask some of the questions he's raised hopefully tomorrow in the Chamber, but I think now, actually, on this issue, it's going to be incumbent on us as Members to really push forward to get it for secondary schools. I know I'm going to be continuing the fight. It's by no means over, but I think it's worth now considering closing this petition for the time being just so that we can free up some space for other petitions that are going to be coming through very soon.
Diolch yn fawr, Luke. I won't get drawn into guesstimating the outcome of the next election, but do Members agree with the proposal from Luke? I can see they do.
Chair, could you just allow me to get up and knock the lights on?
I'll be back now. Sorry.
That's no problem. I won't ask for a technical break. We will take just a moment while Joel returns.
No problem, Joel. Let there be light. [Laughter.]
Item 5.5, P-06-1205, 'Invest in flood defences on the Towy in Carmarthen including the Quayside area'. This was submitted by John Aitken, with 740 signatures. And, again, I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition, and I'll bring in Luke Fletcher again, please.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I can see that NRW have actually stated that they are not currently considering a flood scheme for the Towy in Carmarthen, and I can see as well we've had this petition for quite some time now, and we've done a lot of work on it as well. I'm struggling, really, to see what more the committee could do. I think, actually, this might fall on us again—it's one of my catchphrases now—as individual Members to continue banging the drum on this. I think we've done a large amount of work on this as a committee already. I can't see how far we can push this now. I think we're at the end of the road here, sadly. And, of course, it is quite sad, because flooding is only going to get worse as climate change gets worse. But, again, I think it's incumbent on us now as Members to really keep going at this in the Chamber. And so I would hope the committee would agree that we, of course, thank the petitioner, but close the petition.
Thank you, Luke, and I can see Members in agreement with that proposal. They are. I do, too. So, diolch yn fawr, Luke, for that.
Moving on to item 6 on today's agenda, a paper to note. We have a letter from the Senedd Business Committee regarding the petition P-05-949, 'SAVE COWBRIDGE OLD GIRLS' SCHOOL FROM DEMOLITION'. If we could note that. Are Members happy to note? Joel.
Thank you, Chair. It was just to highlight again that I've been in contact with the save the Cowbridge school group and everything, so for want of transparency, it was just to highlight that, really. I'm conscious of noting the paper, but I just want to add I think this is still very much a live issue. Obviously, I think there are higher priorities to debate, such as the cervical screening one, but I'm still keen for this to come at some point to debate. Thank you.
Okay, thank you for that, Joel, and for the record, we'll note the correspondence from the Business Committee, and there are ongoing conversations about the next steps of this petition, and, of course, we will keep Members updated and the petitioner updated with those conversations and where we take this next. But your comments are noted on the record, too.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 8 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from item 8 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Okay, item 7. That does conclude today's public business, a good session for our first session back of 2022, and we look forward to a year of constructive work with Members and members of the public. But we will now go into private session to consider the evidence we heard at the start of today's committee session on Mark Allen's law, and discuss how we'd like to take that work forward. So, I do now propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix), that the committee resolves to meet in private for the next item, item 8. Are Members content? I can see they are. Diolch yn fawr.
Just to note, the committee will now next meet on 24 January. So, can I thank all Members here today, the clerking team and those behind the screens there for all their assistance? Can I thank those who came in to give evidence and, of course, all the petitioners, those who signed petitions and submitted petitions and the work they do? Thank you. We will now call the meeting to a close. Diolch yn fawr.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:03.
The public part of the meeting ended at 16:03.