Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

17/02/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell AS
Huw Irranca-Davies AS
Janet Finch-Saunders AS
Jenny Rathbone AS
Joyce Watson AS
Llyr Gruffydd AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Bill MacDonald Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Julie James AS Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Olwen Spiller Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Chloe Corbyn Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Lucy Valsamidis Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk
Sara Moran Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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 10:45.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 10:45. 

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

Croeso, bawb, i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i bob un sy'n ymuno â ni. Gaf i esbonio fod y cyfarfod yma yn gyfarfod dwyieithog ac mae yna ddarpariaeth cyfieithu a gwasanaeth cyfieithu ar gael? Ni fydd angen i unrhyw un sy'n cymryd rhan yn y cyfarfod reoli eu meicroffonau eu hunain; mi fydd hynny'n cael ei wneud ar eich rhan chi. A gaf i ofyn ar y cychwyn a oes gan unrhyw Aelodau unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan? Nac oes. Iawn, diolch yn fawr. Ac fel rŷn ni'n arfer gwneud ar ddechrau cyfarfod fel hyn, wrth gwrs, jest i atgoffa pawb hefyd, os ydw i'n colli cyswllt â'r cyfarfod, rydyn ni wedi cytuno ymlaen llaw y bydd Delyth Jewell yn cymryd yr awenau fel Cadeirydd dros dro, tan i fi, gobeithio, fedru ailgysylltu â'r cyfarfod.

Welcome, all, to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. Welcome to all of you who are joining us. May I explain that this meeting is a bilingual one and there is simultaneous translation available from Welsh to English? There will be no need for anyone taking part in the meeting to control their own microphones; that will be done on your behalf. May I ask at the beginning whether Members have any declarations of interest to make? No. Thank you very much. And as we usually do at the beginning of meetings like this, may I also remind Members that, if I do lose contact with the meeting, we have agreed beforehand that Delyth Jewell will step in as temporary Chair, until I, hopefully, can rejoin the proceedings?

2. Fframweithiau Cyffredin Dros Dro: Ansawdd Aer, a Chemegion a Phlaladdwyr—sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda'r Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
2. Provisional Common Frameworks: Air Quality, and Chemicals and Pesticides—evidence session with the Minister for Climate Change

Iawn, ymlaen â ni felly at ffocws y cyfarfod y bore yma, sef i gymryd tystiolaeth gan y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd ar y gwaith o greu y fframweithiau cyffredin dros dro ar gyfer ansawdd aer a chemegion a phlaladdwyr. Ac at ddiben y rhai efallai sy'n gwylio'r sesiwn yma, mae'r fframweithiau cyffredin yn gytundebau rhwng pedair Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig ar sut y byddan nhw'n cydweithio i wneud penderfyniadau ynghylch cyfraith a pholisi yn y dyfodol mewn meysydd oedd wedi cael eu llywodraethu neu eu cydlynu yn flaenorol gan yr Undeb Ewropeaidd.

Felly, croeso i'r Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd, Julie James, a'i swyddogion. Yn ymuno â hi mae Olwen Spiller, sy'n bennaeth ansawdd yr amgylchedd, a Bill MacDonald, sy'n ddirprwy bennaeth tir, natur a choedwigaeth. Croeso i'r tri ohonoch chi. Mae gennym ni ryw awr a chwarter i graffu ar y fframweithiau yma. Felly, fe wnaf i gychwyn trwy ofyn i chi, Gweinidog, am eich argraffiadau chi o'r broses hyd yn hyn pan fydd hi'n dod i greu'r fframweithiau yma.

We move on, therefore, to the focus of this meeting, which is to take evidence from the Minister for Climate Change on the work of creating provisional common frameworks on air quality and chemicals and pesticides. And for those who are perhaps viewing this session, common frameworks are agreements between the four Governments of the UK on how they will work together to make decisions about future law and policy in areas previously governed or co-ordinated at an European Union level.

Therefore, I welcome the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, and her officials. Joining her is Olwen Spiller, who's head of environment quality, and Bill MacDonald, who is deputy director of land, nature and forestry. I welcome the three of you. We've got about an hour and a quarter to scrutinise these frameworks. So, I'll begin by asking you, Minister, for your impressions of the process so far regarding the creation of frameworks.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. So, very good, really. There's a consensus on the need for UK-wide frameworks for air quality and for chemicals and pesticides. All four Governments are engaged and involved in that. The officials have been doing the very large bulk of the work on this in pulling together the frameworks and so on. There's an inter-ministerial standing committee, which is there to set it up and monitor it, and, unless the officials want to tell me something different, it's all seeming to me to be going very much in consensus, and we've agreed without any real difficulty at all how to take it forward.

Ocê, diolch yn fawr. Mae hynny'n ddechrau positif i'r cyfarfod, ac fe gawn ni fynd, dwi'n siŵr, mewn i fanylder dros y cyfnod nesaf. Felly, mi ddown ni nesaf at Janet a'i chwestiwn.

Thank you. That's a positive start to the meeting, and I'm sure we'll go into detail during this session. So, we'll go to Janet next.

Janet—we're in a meeting, Janet. I would appreciate it if you actually listened to what the Minister has to tell us. It's your question next.

Right, sorry. Good morning, Minister. The frameworks provide for the Governments to engage with stakeholders and to deliver timely and consistent messages to them. For both the chemicals and air quality frameworks, will you outline which stakeholders you engaged and explain how any views submitted have been reflected in the final version?

Thanks, Janet. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consulted a wide range of stakeholders from each nation on behalf of us all. The stakeholders in Wales included the Welsh Local Government Association, local authorities separately, health boards, third sector organisations such as Healthy Air Cymru, for example, Natural Resources Wales, National Farmers Union, Public Health Wales. So, another stakeholder engagement exercise has been launched in February, and we haven't had any responses so far. So, DEFRA engaged for us on that. The officials may have had some meetings in-between that I'm not aware of. Let me just see if either of them wants to add anything—I can't see that they're desperate to. And, as far as I'm aware, Janet, those responses have been taken on board in the frameworks that have been negotiated. 

Okay, thank you. Can I ask, then, just in terms of this committee, and other Senedd committees as well, how you intend to keep us informed of the operation of the frameworks, in terms of looking forward, obviously, because they will be reviewed—they're going to be revised in future, I'd imagine—and it's important that we as a committee are very much aware of those changes?

10:50

Yes, absolutely, Chair. So, as I said, there's a commitment to consistent reporting once they're finalised on the frameworks. The details are being worked through at official level; I'm sure the officials can give you more detail on that. The inter-ministerial standing committee will monitor the progress of the frameworks to fulfil the role given to it by the joint review of inter-governmental relations, and then the review points that are scheduled into each framework will be reported there, and then we will be reporting them to the Senedd and external partners, adding additional opportunities to engage in the development and evolution of the frameworks as the review points come up. Officials will monitor the operation of them, and we will be seeking to report them to the committee as we go along, so that the committee is fully involved in both reviewing and scrutinising the frameworks as they progress. 

And, I'm sure, mindful of the fact that we would probably need a bit of time, sometime, to do that, because I know we're having to deal with so many at the moment, and I know it's because it's the start of this process, but it is very challenging for committees—[Inaudible.]

Indeed. Just on that, Chair, the chemicals and pesticides framework already has an internal governance review under way on it, just focusing on the effectiveness of the governance levels and the role of the secretariat. So, obviously, we'll keep you informed on that. I also should say that if there any disputes, we'll obviously report those through the committee to the Senedd as well. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, Minister. The frameworks introduce a system of working groups for officials, and then strategic oversight, senior officials, and then, above that, higher level decision making by Ministers. Do you feel confident and comfortable that the Welsh Government is being represented adequately in each of these groups, and in each of the different levels please?

Yes, indeed we do, Delyth. The frameworks, we think, have been very useful in bringing together policy officials from across the four Governments in areas where there's previously been very little dialogue, and, in some cases, it's really improved inter-governmental relations. Officials have got to know each other where they wouldn't necessarily have known before, and so on. A biocides delivery board—you'll have to ask the officials for more details on that, I'm afraid—has also been established as part of the process, and it didn't exist previously. So, I think our officials feel very strongly that they're more engaged than they were before in the process and have had their views taken on board. Again, I'm looking at my officials to see if they're gesturing at me to say something different; they seem happy with that. 

Can I just ask, then—? There's a bit of a plethora of groups and committees going on here. Can you tell us a bit about any sort of pressure that's putting on Welsh Government resource?

So, Llyr, we've got a sort of structure of these. There are a number of inter-ministerial groups that this will fit into. So, I think it will probably become part of the agenda of the various inter-ministerial groups. Lesley and I have very overlapping portfolios, as I know the committee is aware. So, we generally have a look at the agenda for each of the ministerial groups. There's an environment, food and rural affairs inter-ministerial group—IMGEFRA; they do like an acronym the same as we do. So, Lesley and I will have a look at the agenda and decide whether she will go or I will go, or, very occasionally, both of us go because it's something that's overlapping. And we'll have a very similar set-up for this, and then the programme board, supported by senior officials will also help us to decide what we want to put onto the agenda. So, they'll make suggestions to us, and we're always asked whether there's anything we'd like to have on the agenda for the meetings as well. 

So, I'm sure it will work in a very similar way to that—broadly consensual. And they tend to be pretty tight meetings where we're literally just discussing four points, and then everybody's out of there, so it hasn't really been—. I haven't found it particularly burdensome, shall we say. There is always a discussion about whether there's a need for another separate group, or whether we can add it to the agenda of one of the IMGs already, for obvious reasons. 

Obviously, both frameworks we're looking at today provide for additional agreements or other governance arrangements that, from time to time, may need to be put into place. And, clearly, this would have happened while we were a member of the EU as well; this is a constantly moving feast. So, I just wondered if you think that this has become any more complicated or simpler as a result of only having to deal with four nations rather than 27.

I think, Jenny, I might have to ask the officials whether they think it's more complicated or separate. From my part, it's made me aware of a number of things I wasn't particularly aware of in the European Union, because they were dealt with at UK Government level. So, I think we regret the fact that it's not done on a European level for some of this, because some of it doesn't make much sense, if you're trying to deal with internationally moving chemicals, in particular the REACH regulations, as they're called. But I think, if I was looking for a benefit, I'd say that we are more involved in this than we were before, though, again, I'll just ask Olwen or Bill if they want to comment on that, because they'd have had much more involvement on a day-to-day basis than me. I think Bill wants to come in there.

10:55

Thank you, Minister. Just to reflect that, really, I think it's about the same level of complexity as it has been with working with the EU. And it hasn't got noticeably simpler, although we are only working with four countries, and that could be an area to look at for the future. But, at the moment, the priority is probably to just get these new arrangements settled in and bedded in, working. As the Minister has reflected, there are quite a number of advantages to regularising the regular drum beat of engagement with UK Government. Thank you.

It's on a slightly different point, so I'm happy for Olwen to come in, if that's all right.

Thank you. I would mirror Bill's points, but I would also say that things, I think, have improved through the frameworks, in having a more joined-up understanding of the European requirements, and working together to take them forward, although in a different context now as well. So, I think that has much improved through this framework, and we get more timely engagement and more timely approaches on how we move forward with the policy included in the work that is required as well. So, it is still challenging, but it is much more positive in the way we're working.

Good. Okay. Delyth, do you want to come in, and then we'll come back to Jenny?

Yes, okay. And, Jenny, forgive me if this is something that cuts across what you were going to ask. Forgive my ignorance on this, Minister, and the officials, but is there—not a direct precedent, obviously—any kind of precedent anywhere else in the world that the Governments of the UK have been able to learn from in adopting these new ways of working, please?

I'm going to go with the European Union, I'm afraid. [Laughter.]

Good point, but what I meant was where Governments that previously had not had insight as much into the workings had then suddenly been thrown into this kind of situation.

I don't know, Delyth. Let me just see if either of the officials knows the answer to that. This is largely mirroring EU regulations at a UK level, just to be clear. But I'll see if either of them—. Neither of them is anxious to come in, so I suspect we don't know.

Thank you. Obviously, the great unresolved issue of Brexit is the relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain, and the relationship between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland and the wider EU. So, I just wondered if you can explain how the frameworks will manage the risk of divergence between Northern Ireland and Britain, as they may gravitate more towards the EU? Given that we have our historical boundaries, geographical boundaries, so close to Ireland, this is clearly a matter particularly relevant to Wales.

So, just on that, Jenny, obviously, the Northern Irish Government is part of the four Government framework for this, and it would be for them to highlight any issues that they thought were occurring on the direct land border between them and the European Union. So far, we are staying in lockstep—unless the officials are going to tell me something groundbreaking overnight. So far, we've stayed in lockstep with where the European Union is; we're largely duplicating European Union ways of doing this. The committee will have seen the various regulations coming through the Senedd, which are basically transposing European Union arrangements into Welsh law. All of these areas are covered by that. One of the issues for the frameworks, going forward, then, Jenny, will be that issue about divergence. So, this is an agreed framework between the four of us, and I'm sure that, in the future, there will be conversations about developing the framework in a different way to the European Union or not. So, the whole purpose of the governance arrangements is to allow those conversations to happen and the dispute resolution procedures and so on—that's the anticipated framework for being able to solve some of those. But, again, as we speak, and we're right at the beginning obviously, we're in lockstep with the European Union, so far.

11:00

I'd like some clarification on whether policies that are going to impact on other nations, and we might be one of those, can only be announced once they've been formally agreed by the Governments through that framework process.

Yes, so, in regard to air quality and chemical and pesticide control, that's right—the framework is agreed between us. We have to then adhere to its tenets obviously. There's a dispute resolution process. So, presumably, if one of us doesn't like it, we can trigger a dispute. There's an official working group where you'd expect anything of that sort to be ironed out well in advance—before it coming anywhere near any Ministers. That's the whole purpose of the framework—it's to set that up so that those mechanisms exist. So, for example, if the UK Government wants to authorise something that the rest of us don't like, there'll be a mechanism for being able to discuss that through this framework agreement. The whole point is to have common governance arrangements for those kinds of decisions.

Can I, with your permission, Chair, pursue that? There has already been a suggestion that the UK Government are rolling back on some of the use of pesticides—those particularly that are harmful to pollinators. So, in cases like that, where clearly there might be some disagreement about what should and shouldn't be allowed within the framework, how will we know, in the Senedd, that there was a dispute, I suppose, so that maybe, if we're in agreement with the Welsh Government, we could add our voice to that? Is there any role for us?

Yes, so, there are two different points there, Joyce. So, each of the four Governments can legislate in their respective nation, according to their devolution status. So, chemicals and pesticides, such as you mention, are fully devolved to Wales. So it's for us to decide what can be used here in Wales. Obviously, it's not for us to decide what can be used in England. There are issues about borders and so on. We can ask—. Scottish and Welsh Ministers can give consent to the Secretary of State to make regulations on behalf of all of us to cover the whole of Great Britain, if we want to do that, but we're very much allowed to make, under the framework—. It doesn't curtail in any way our sovereignty in terms of our devolved arrangements. If there's a dispute under the framework about how that exactly works, then, as I said in an earlier answer, we would be reporting that dispute and its evolution and outcome through the Senedd committee and to the Senedd as part of the arrangement.

So, the framework is a complex set of arrangements that allows each devolved Government—and I include the Government of England in that respect for some of this—to do its own thing, but then to have a framework under which that operates for things that cross borders and so on. I'm looking at my officials to make sure I'm not garbling it. It's incredibly complex, some of this stuff, and some of the REACH arrangements in particular are—. I don't know if it's appropriate for me to say this, Chair, but I have said to Olwen on a couple of occasions that I understand all the individual words in the advice she's giving me, I just don't understand them strung together in quite the way they have, because the chemical composition of some of these things and so on is immensely complicated. So, we're obviously relying on expertise to be able to advise us as to what chemicals should have what lifespan on the shelf and what travelling arrangements and all the rest of it. These are about the framework arrangements for intra-UK interactions, I guess.

If, for example, there was concern from the Welsh Government about the use of pesticides on the English side going into the River Wye, which, as we know, runs between the two countries, at what point would the Senedd—this committee—get to hear about them, unless we could rely on stakeholders—the fishing community and others—to let us know about it? At what point would the Welsh Government inform the Senedd committee about it?

11:05

Well, there is a complex set of things there, isn't there? So, first of all, obviously the English Government, as it would be acting in that capacity, is allowed to have a framework for its own use of pesticides and chemicals. We would know that, because they would start to legislate for it through their own parliamentary process. I don't know this for sure, but I guess it would then be discussed in the inter-governmental group, if there was divergence. And then eventually, if it affected border arrangements or travelling arrangements or for sale arrangements, it would come up through the framework. Let me just check with the officials I'm not garbling that. They look relatively happy at that as an explanation. Olwen, come on in.

Yes, I would mirror that. There's a robust process to do with the framework, starting from sub-groups and working all the way up to the top, to make sure that we're prioritising things on a four-nations basis. There's a huge amount of evidence that goes into this from, for example, the Health and Safety Executive on chemicals, which involves stakeholders from all the administrations. We all get to see the information at the same point as it comes through, so if there is divergence, we have the opportunity to try and work it through. We haven't had any real divergence until this point on these frameworks, so I think it's only if there's a critical issue where there's a real dispute against what our policy objectives are would we need to come up to this level. I think there are robust processes to protect the way we're going forward, and we would clearly make the Senedd aware if there was something fundamental.

Yes. It's on a similar theme. Let's say it was going the other way—we're always worried about what if something nasty was to be done to Wales, and so on, but what if, for example, the UK decided it was going to take a much more stringent approach on chemicals and pesticides by public sector bodies across England, or, alternatively, it was going to go harder and faster on air quality issues across big metropolitan conurbations in England? I guess, the work that Olwen and Bill would be doing in the background, alongside their colleagues within England, would mean that there would be no surprises. But, Minister, on that basis, would you agree that the common frameworks and the new inter-governmental machinery should mean that there are indeed no surprises going forward, and, in effect, if there was a surprise, that would be an absolute failure of the common frameworks and inter-governmental mechanisms that are now being put in place?

Yes, exactly, Huw. So, as Olwen has said, there are a range of working groups on both sides that we're completely enmeshed in. Part of that is to learn from each other as well. I think we'd all probably publicly say we were going in the same direction; we all want to have good air quality, good water quality, good conservation status and so on. We also want to use chemicals that are beneficial to us in the right way—you know, fertilisers and pesticides and so on. We tend to see those as the scary stuff that we talk about, but obviously they've been hugely instrumental in being able to feed the world for many years. It's all about the right balance, isn't it? It's obvious that at high policy levels, we can all say that. The devil is always in the detail: what does this exact chemical do? What's its longevity? And all that kind of stuff. And what Olwen has just described is how that comes up through from the scientists, through the officials' working group and so on, until the point where it's either a consensus, or there is a divergence, at which point it would get escalated. So, that's what we're talking about. But I just can't emphasise enough that this does not in any way stop us from being able to use our devolved competence to legislate for us. So, we actually do have divergence. The air quality rules in England are not the same as they are here in Wales. They're not the same in Scotland. So, there is divergence inside a common framework, basically.

So, this is a process question, Chair, a follow-up, rather than an actual example, although we could indeed apply it to air quality, or we could say, right, Wales is suddenly wanting to do something much more dramatic and interventionist on the use of chemicals and pesticides with our own public authorities, local authorities. If we were to do that, what would be the process, now, to actually advance that within the new common frameworks and machinery of government? How would we argue that case, and how confident would you be—? How confident would you be that nothing that we're talking about now rolls back anything that we have under our pre-Brexit ability to diverge from the UK?

11:10

So, very confident. Again, just to reiterate, the majority of the  air quality functions fall within the devolved competence of Welsh Ministers, so the framework as a whole acknowledges that, it acknowledges where Executive functions are exercisable by Welsh Ministers or Scottish Ministers, or the Northern Ireland Executive and so on. It completely respects the legislative competence of the Senedd and the other Governments. The framework delineates where the independent decision-making capabilities can be exercised in line with the statutory and Executive freedom of each Government. So, the framework refers to the Air Quality Standards (Wales) Regulations 2010 and the National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018 for air quality, for example, so it's for Welsh Ministers in future to reset, as and where necessary, the limit values and target values for air pollutants, and, again, this committee will be the one that I'm talking to about what we have planned for here in Wales about air quality and so on. Actually, it'll probably be Lee who's doing it, but it's in our portfolio to make those decisions. So, it's for us to set those limits.

In respect of the National Emission Ceilings Regulations, it's for Welsh Ministers to decide on emission reduction commitments insofar as they relate to Wales, so that is Wales's contributions to the overall UK emission reduction commitments in international terms. And the framework acknowledges where our consent is required, where regulations are made in respect of the national emission ceilings—'national' in this context meaning UK emission ceilings and so on. So, what it's doing is it's regulating the contribution of each nation to the overall UK international obligations, but it's for us to decide how we do that, if that's the right way to characterise it. Does that make more sense?

It does, very much so. Okay, thank you for that, Minister. Delyth.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Minister, could you please talk us through a little bit more about how you think each of the frameworks is going to be impacted by the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020?

No worries. Could you please talk us through a little bit more about how you think the frameworks are going to be impacted by the internal market Act?

Not at all, we hope, because, obviously, they're supposed to be drafted in harmony with the other Acts, and the whole point of this is to agree what the international frameworks look like and what our contribution is. So, it remains to be seen, because it's a new Act, but in theory, not at all. Let me just check with the officials in case they know of some interesting conversations to that effect and they're not saying anything.

Could I check, are there any contingency plans in place were there to be an issue that did arise?

So, that's the sort of thing I would very much anticipate would come up through the officials' working groups, so if we were trying to ban for sale something in Wales that was manufactured in England and there was some kind of issue, it would come up through the officials' working groups up to the IMG eventually, and that's the kind of thing that might end up being in dispute, I guess.

I just want to explore this a little bit further. You've already mentioned that there is already divergence on air quality, and air quality's not one of those things where you regulate today and tomorrow you implement, which you might insist on with chemicals. But how could the internal market Act or the decisions made by an adjacent Government derail the best-laid plans that the Welsh Government might have for improving our air quality? Because there are long lead-in times to doing this.

So, the whole point of the framework is to stop derailments, if you want to characterise it in that way. That's kind of the whole point of the framework. So, the whole point of the framework is to allow us all to have our legislative competence unfettered, but to come together to make sure that, between us, we're managing the UK's international obligations for these things, and that the interaction is understood, if you like, Jenny, and then that's where these—. And they're all new, remember, so we're all just waiting to see how this is going to work out, but the framework is being negotiated in order to have those kinds of discussions, to have the proper kind of scrutiny by the officials, and then come up through to the ministerial group and then to be scrutinised by each of the four nations' scrutiny arrangements as well, hence this session with yourselves. We've all very keen to make sure that we're not giving up any part of our sovereignty in terms of your ability to scrutinise what's going on under these frameworks, as well as the Ministers' ability to make the decisions that affect our own nations in the first place. So, this is about the intra—I suppose—national co-operation that leads to the international co-operative standards that we're talking about. It's very much, at the moment, a duplicate of what we used to do with the European Union in very similar circumstances.

11:15

Parts of the air quality framework have not been updated to reflect UK-EU arrangements agreed in December 2020. For example, the main framework makes reference to the risk of a 'no deal' Brexit to updates being required to reflect future arrangements, if any are agreed, and to the end of the transition period, 31 December 2020, as a future date. Why is the framework not up to date, and can you clarify whether there are any risks associated with the air quality framework having not been updated?

Sorry, Janet. The internal Welsh one you're talking about there, or the—?

So, obviously, that's a matter for us. We need to come back to the committee and talk about our air quality plans overall. That's not an impact for the intra-national framework, and, obviously, we've got a piece of work going on on air quality in Wales, which we've mentioned in the committee before and I'm sure the committee will be inviting us back to discuss in much more depth at a future point. 

Okay. Fine. Well, let's—. I think you're taking us on to the next question anyway, so—.

Okay. That's brilliant. Thank you. Can I do just a cheeky rejoiner to Delyth's question early on? It's been really reassuring so far, this session, and I suspect it's partly because, in the areas of air quality and chemicals et cetera, they are very, very technical areas of policy that have been worked extensively through the European Union previously, and now they're dropping down, as the Minister has explained. However, Delyth asked that question about the interplay of this with the UK Internal Market Act. I understand, at this moment, because it's dropping down, you can't foresee any difficulties. I just wonder whether, Minister, you, or Bill or Olwen, anticipate any challenging areas, let's say, in the next 12 months, 36 months, where there might indeed be some tests across that complex interplay with the UK Internal Market Act, because those issues of supply, distribution, sale, do have a clear potential impact on these areas, or are you saying to us, 'Well, actually, we don't see any problems coming up in the foreseeable future'?

I'm not aware of any problems, Huw. Let me just check with the officials. There are problems with the UK Internal Market Act in other areas, but not because—. The frameworks—. The interaction between the frameworks and the UK Internal Market Act has been taken into account in considering the frameworks, basically, so I don't foresee a problem myself. I can't see either of the officials particularly foreseeing a problem. Where there aren't frameworks—the committee will be very familiar with the dispute about plastics, for example, that's ongoing—where there are no frameworks then, obviously, there's a big issue about what can be for sale in one place if it's manufactured in another and so on, which is one of the things that, as you know, we've been litigating about and are still indeed in litigation about. But, as far I'm aware—I haven't got anything in my briefing to say differently and I can't see the officials rushing to say it—there hasn't been any kind of issue with this, and, indeed, the frameworks are designed to try and head that off at the pass, so to speak.

Okay. That's brilliant. Thanks for that. I just wanted to stress test that a little bit. So, we're taking your good, solid reassurances there that, in this area of policy, we don't foresee any real problems coming, because it's a drop down, in effect.

Well, I can't emphasise enough that they're new. So, you know, we may be coming back to the committee at some later date.

Okay. Okay. Can I take you on, then, to the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, the TCA, as it's abbreviated. Could you explain how this framework takes into account the duties placed on Welsh Government by the TCA, so, for example, that duty to maintain a level playing field between the UK and the EU?

11:20

So, so far, Huw, the direction of travel has been good in all the frameworks, so all four Governments are wanting to reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides and improve the air quality of the UK. So, so far, we haven't had any difficulty in any of those things. We're heading in the right direction; we seem to be in relative consensus. But, obviously, the test of the framework will be at the point in time in the next years that that starts to—you know, whether that holds or not, I guess. But, at the moment, it doesn't seem to be any kind of issue. 

Okay. I'm going to throw a little bit of a fly in the ointment here, because the test could come a lot sooner than that. UK Government has been outspoken in the last few days on the announcement that it first made back in last October/November about the follow-up piece of Brexit legislation to strip out areas of EU retained law to simplify, and, in the hyperbole that we often see in the public sphere, this sort of bonfire of regulations. Well, clearly, this is one of these areas that is replete with regulations. You could be hitting up against this much sooner than the next 12 months, 18 months, five years; it could be the next six months. Are you picking up any areas of concern here?

No. And, you know, I don't know quite how to frame this—. So, the whole point of these frameworks is to head off that kind of political announcement-type thing actually having effect in the way that perhaps it might be thought. So, these frameworks are put in place in order to regulate the kind of decision making at that level of the four nations. So, they absolutely allow the English Government to use pesticides that they think are useful in English countryside and we can still say that they're not useful here, for example. There will be border issues, as Jenny highlighted for the River Wye, but the whole point of the framework is to allow that to come up through the structure.

If there's a kind of bonfire of regulations in England—because that's where they'd have to be talking about for this—then, no doubt, there'll be discussions, through these frameworks, about how that affects the interaction of the four Governments and the ability to comply with the frameworks as we go forward. But I just—. At the moment, that wouldn't impact on our devolved functions and so the framework would still hold, effectively. What the UK Government can't do is have a bonfire of regulations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to that effect, and I think perhaps they're not quite as straightforward about that on the news as they might be.

That is reassuring, Minister. Chair, I'd just make the observation that this is a good session and this seems to be one of the areas where we're getting from the Minister and officials that it's working well in terms of the drop-down of the common framework and so on and so forth. My corollary to that would be that, if something were to come up in three months' time that seemed to upset the apple cart, then I come back to what I said before: that would be a failure of the frameworks and the inter-governmental machinery that has now been put in place. But I'm not anticipating that; I think this should work. But there's the test of it. Thank you, Minister.

Diolch eto. Minister, you've already touched on this; you've said that the intention very much is to mirror EU standards—well, certainly to keep pace with EU standards—both in relation to chemicals and air quality. You've also touched on the fact that there could be some impacts on the UK registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals system. Is there anything further that you'd like to talk us through with that, please?

The REACH system is one of the things that we've put in place in order to substitute for what used to be in place with the European Union. The point I was making, really, was that it's highly technical, so I get ministerial advice saying that a chemical I can't pronounce should be allowed for sale in Wales for 12 years and it should be transported in another chemical I can't pronounce in a way that I—you know, whatever. And so I'm very heavily reliant on our experts and our officials in interpreting that expertise to know whether that's correct or not.

One of the things that I am always advised is whether or not that complies with current European Union standards, and so far they always say that they do, which I find reassuring. If they didn't, then I would obviously be seeking a lot more information about why our experts were advising us to do something different to the European Union and so on. And that will be a process that happens in each of the nations of the UK. As I say, that's very much for us. And then, the way that that comes together as a global whole, if you like, across the UK is what the framework is looking at. And again, I'm just checking with my officials that I haven't garbled that in some fashion. No. Fine.

11:25

We've discussed at length, Minister, if Wales wanted to go further and in terms of the existing environmental standards and you've given a good account of how that happens. I'm going to ask the question in the opposite direction now: if we wanted somehow to exceed the existing environmental standards, have we got scope to do that under the frameworks?

So, yes—the short answer to that is 'yes'. So, again, it doesn't engage our devolved competence, so if we want to ban something or restrict its use or whatever, that's something we can do. I'm sure the committee is very well aware that there's an outstanding judgment on a judicial review on the phosphate issue, for example, in Wales, which is unique to Wales—it hasn't been done by the other nations. We still haven't had the judgment, rather disappointingly. So, it doesn't affect our devolved competence at all.

Absolutely, we may well want to go much further with our targets. In fact, Joyce, I imagine that we absolutely will want to do that, and certainly the Scots are very interested in some of that as well. That would be discussed at official level. I don't think—. The officials certainly haven't alerted me to anything that's coming through that we're aware of, but, as Huw just pointed out, UK Government Ministers have been making political announcements that may or may not bite, but they certainly don't cut across devolved responsibilities. And, you know, regrettably, we all know that, when these things are said in the news, they very rarely have the nuance of the devolved settlements in the front of the journalist's mind as they go through. I'm sure I'm not alone in this committee in shouting at the news constantly, 'Not in Wales it isn't.' So, just to assure you that the framework doesn't cut across our competence in that way. So, if we wanted to do things—. Well, I mean, to be fair, if we wanted to do it either way—if we wanted to get dirtier, or, indeed, if we want to get cleaner, which we certainly do as a Government, then the framework doesn't prevent us from doing that.

Thank you. Okay. Can you tell us what the latest position is on plans to update the international relations concordat? Because it wasn't something that was done as part of the inter-governmental relations review.

Yes. So, international relations are obviously not devolved, Chair, as you know, but the framework, it covers international commitments like the Stockholm convention and so on. So, it affirms that the devolved Governments are fully involved in the formulation of UK policy in those areas, and that we'll work collaboratively with the UK in order to reach an agreed position, in accordance with the inter-governmental devolution memorandum of understanding, as it's called, between the parties. So, it's reserved, but we have a voice in the formation of the policy up to the point of the international interaction, I guess.

So, you didn't feel there was any need to—. I mean, it's already sufficient, is it, to update.

Well, yes. So, yes, and we have asked for—separate to these frameworks, we have asked for a seat on some of the committees that negotiate some of the international co-operation agreements, but that's separate to the frameworks. But we certainly would like an actual seat there, because we want to make sure that, obviously, all of our devolved interests are fully reflected in the negotiation.

[Inaudible.]—a little bit further in light of the UK trade agreement with Australia, which explicitly excluded anything to do with carbon emissions. Clearly, this is not a devolved matter, but you can see how a future trade agreement that the UK Government might be contemplating might undermine other aspects of our ambitions to protect the environment and animal health and well-being, and all those sorts of areas. So, how does that enable us to have some control over our destiny? Because once products enter Britain, they can go anywhere.

Well, so they can't go anywhere, that's the point. So, if we're saying that a product can't be used or sold in Wales as part of our air quality or pesticide and chemical control, then it can't. In terms of the kind of conversation about how will that interact with the UK internal market Act and so on, well, my understanding is that the frameworks override that and the devolved competence is preserved.

The whole point of these frameworks—and I can't emphasise enough that they're new, we haven't had the disputes yet—is there'd be a dispute, I would imagine, at that point about whether that is or isn't in compliance with the framework, and the mechanism would be triggered and we will see how it goes. But in negotiating these frameworks, which is the stage we're at, let's be clear, it has been negotiated that such a dispute mechanism needs to be there and needs to trigger the various inter-ministerial groups and scrutiny of the various devolved Governments and so on. So, I think, to be fair, the officials have done a good job of negotiating all the right safeguards into the frameworks.

The proof of the pudding will be what the UK Government does, I guess, when the situation arises. But I am happy, the officials are happy in advising me, Jenny, that we've got all the right mechanisms in place to be able to raise that. To some extent, we're in the hands of a political entity in the UK Government that—. Well, let's see what they do, but they've agreed to these frameworks, they're in place, and presumably they're going to operate them.

11:30

Okay. Thank you very much. We'll focus a bit more on the chemicals framework now, I think. Janet.

Thank you, Chair. Diolch. The chemicals framework states that monitoring will be carried out to ensure that all parties are fulfilling their duties under its concordat. It states that existing monitoring and enforcement practices will be kept under review to ensure that existing environmental standards are maintained or even exceeded where possible. How, Minister, are you monitoring compliance with statutory responsibilities and international obligations for chemicals? And the supplementary to that is: have any new monitoring arrangements been put in place as a result of the chemicals framework?

Thanks, Janet. My understanding is that, because of the working relationships between ourselves and the UK Government, actually, the chemicals and pesticides policy area was first up in drafting the interim arrangements during the EU exit process. So, very early arrangements were put in place for the governance level working group and higher governance groups that are now commonplace across the other EFRA common frameworks. They've been running for two and a half years, and, as I said to you, there's already a review under way as a result of that.

We've got really good fora for discussing complexities and nuances of various policies, exchanging ideas and so on. Under the framework, officials have established something called a UK chemicals governance group, which provides strategic oversight across the various regimes under the framework. That includes registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—that's what the REACH acronym stands for—biocidal products, plant protection products, classification and labelling, and the very controversial at the moment persistent organic pollutants—POPs—issues.

Previous to the framework, there was no single group in the UK with an overview of all of those differing chemical regimes, so it's brought coherence, I think, and some ability to have oversight of it. Olwen has certainly informed me in the past that it's easier now than it was previously to have some input into all of those things, because they've got more of a coherent framework around them. So, I think it's been beneficial, in many ways, to have been able to bring those groups together, to be able to have this coherent framework and to have a place to discuss the various complex issues that come up. As I say, these are not straightforward things. I certainly had never heard of any of the chemicals that I've been asked to consider over the last nine months or so previously. They come with a comprehensive briefing about what they're for, what they're used for, why the shelf life is as it is and so on, and I imagine Olwen can nod or come in as she sees fit that that's been discussed all the way through the officials group and so on before it gets anywhere near me or any other UK Government Minister, I'm sure. Is that right, Olwen? You're nodding happily at me, yes.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Janet. I think we as a committee are particularly interested, obviously, in the air quality framework, given the Government's intention in that respect. So, Huw, I think you're going to lead on to this.

I think I'd better, at the start of doing this, declare an interest for all of us on this committee, because not only has the committee been very forthright on the need for legislation on air quality, but I think probably every Member on this committee is also a member of the cross-party group on air quality legislation. Can I just ask you first of all—I'm hoping that the answer is going to be very straightforward on this—does anything in this framework impact on the timetable for bringing forward a clean air Bill?

11:35

Marvellous. Thank you very much indeed. In that case, let me ask you: could you explain further the framework statement that says that, in the event of a dispute between Governments, the making of legislation may need to be postponed until they agree on how to proceed?

Very clearly, if there is a dispute about whether something should or shouldn't happen under any of the frameworks, then you would expect it to stop the action of the particular Government that's causing the dispute while we sort out the dispute. We'd want that as part of any dispute mechanism. There's not much point having a dispute if one of the parties just proceeds regardless, because by the time you've solved the dispute, the thing will have gone beyond being able to be resolved. So I think that's just a standard, very sensible way of dealing with disputes, because otherwise, what on earth would be the point of the mechanism, quite frankly? So, if we're disputing something England's doing—to do it the other way round—we would not expect the English Government, as they would be acting in this particular instance, to just carry on regardless while we all argued about whether that was inside or outside of the frameworks.

But I can't emphasise enough for you that this isn't about exercising devolved competence. This is about, the framework is about, the international components, or intranational components, of that. We need to bring forward our clean air Act here in Wales. We have a large amount of work to do in terms of making sure we have all the right policies in place. The cross-party group will be very aware of this as well as the committee. Llyr, I know the committee's already very interested in it. This framework isn't in any way impacting on our ability to do what we want to do with clean air arrangements in Wales, but clean air arrangements are very complicated, as the committee will be very well aware. We need to make sure that in Wales we can put in place what's right for Wales in terms of clean air and emissions control and all the rest of it, but we also need to make sure that we comply with the frameworks and we comply with all of the legally set industrial reporting requirements under the framework, and that we continue to maintain our obligations under the framework. For example, the framework has something in it about the sulphur content in liquid fuels, volatile organic compound emissions from petrol storage, petrol vapour recovery, for example—things like that. Well, we need to make sure that we are reporting on, collecting information on and complying with those frameworks. None of that is going to impact on our ability to clean up the air in our cities because of idling diesel cars, for example.

Okay. That's really helpful and reassuring once again, but just to be crystal clear, now that this framework is in place, alongside the other inter-governmental machinery that also underpins this, your bringing forward of legislation in Wales, which has been slightly delayed from what some people outside would have wanted to have seen, in year 1—it may be in year 2, it might be as soon as possible—but the technical details of that would now go through this process just to make sure that everybody is sighted, and so on, but the devolved competences are the devolved competences. Beyond the technical discussions that would indeed go through this process as necessary, there should be nothing within this that we should be fearful will add to any delay in bringing forward Welsh legislation.

Absolutely not, Huw. This isn't even a contemplation for us in terms of what we're doing on the clean air Act. Officials will keep other officials in the UK nations abreast of where we are in Wales on a no-surprises basis, and indeed, actually, feed back developments in other UK nations to us so that we can take into account in anything we want to do in the devolved competence any learning and so on. But it doesn't impact on our ability to do it or not. What's impacting on our ability to do it or not here in Wales, I'm afraid, is largely the legislative timetable and the amount of legislation we're trying to get through. The committee will be very well aware of the difficulties of trying to timetable it all, and so on. I cannot emphasise enough that this is not any kind of—. I'm not going to be able to come to the committee and say, 'As a result of this framework, woe is me, the Government can't come as fast as possible.' That's not a legitimate excuse, the committee will be pleased to hear, I'm sure.

11:40

Very pleased, yes. That's pretty unequivocal, I think. Thank you for that. Joyce, did you want to pick up on anything in this area? 

Okay. We have covered that comprehensively, I think. Thank you again. Janet, you want to come in now. 

Thank you, Chair. Can you clarify whether the air quality framework places any duties on Welsh public bodies such as Natural Resources Wales?

Only in reporting terms. Olwen, do you want to come in on the technicalities of any of that?

The Minister is right in what she said. The environmental regulators are involved in the framework. They're kept up to date on how we're proceeding with meeting our statutory duties. However, there's nothing additional that is going to them that is outside what we would already be doing through the regulatory process as things stand. 

Okay. Because my supp to that was: the NRW core grant in aid will remain unchanged from 2021-22, so are any new duties going to be placed on NRW? And, if they are, would there be extra—? But, there aren't. 

No, there are no new duties as a result of the framework. I'm sure the committee will be wanting to invite Lee or myself, or both of us, back to discuss air quality in Wales, at which point we can have a discussion about our conversations with NRW about the policy going forward. But they're not impacted by the framework. The reporting that we do is something that we would be doing anyway. 

Okay. That's pretty clear. Thank you again. And Huw, then, I think. We're nearing the end of our questioning, I think. 

Thanks, Chair. Minister, I just want to turn, finally, in my questions to the role of the Environment Agency as described in the framework. But, before I do, you almost stumbled into telling us where you were up to on the timetable for the air quality legislation. I don't suppose you want to share anything with us, do you?

It was worth a try. Okay. Could I just ask you—? Within the framework, it talks about the Environment Agency and its ability to potentially administer functions on behalf of devolved regulators. Can you explain what this is? I'm sure this isn't anything to scare the horses, but could you just explain what circumstances this might take place in and what it wouldn't allow the Environment Agency to do as well in terms of devolved competence?

Again, I'll see if the officials want to add to this, but basically we can agree, if we see fit, that the United Kingdom Government, as it would be acting in that capacity, can legislate for all of us and put various frameworks in place for all of us should that be something we all agree would be beneficial because of the particular attributes of something, or whatever—the need to have coherence for a particular chemical, or whatever it is. But, it requires the agreement of all of us, and it requires us to be very happy that none of that impacts on any continued devolved competence or anything else. So, it's in that context.

Could you, or Bill or Olwen, give us some idea of where that already happens, in order to give us some assurance of the type of situation where that happens?

One example is a historic function of the Environment Agency covering the monitoring of air quality across the UK. They do that on behalf of the whole of the UK. They make sure, those agreements, that we speak with the UK Government on a quarterly basis. That happened before, and that's just been enhanced now. We do have the opportunity to do that ourselves in Wales, but to date it's worked well to have that consistency across the four nations so we can see how we're meeting our statutory duties. So, that's something that exists. But, like with what we've said through this framework, we do have powers to go further or do things ourselves if we want to, but if we do have concerns, there is this framework process that we can go through to amend things or enhance it, if we need to do so. 

There we are. Okay. Well, thank you. I think we've covered a lot of ground there, actually, much of which has been more reassuring than maybe I expected. But, as has been said a few times, the proof is in the pudding, really, isn't it. There we are. Are there any other areas that Members wish to cover before we conclude, in case we've missed anything? No. There we are. Okay. Can I thank you, then, Minister, and your officials for your presence this morning? You will, as always, be sent a transcript, and we as a committee, as always, will chew the cud over this and clearly convey to you any thoughts or any suggestions or recommendations we may have in the appropriate way. So, thank you for being with us. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

11:45
3. Papurau i’w nodi
3. Papers to note

Okay, so the next item on our agenda is to note a number of papers. You will see them—agenda items 3.1 through to 3.9. I intend to take them collectively, unless any Members wish to draw my attention to any particular one. Janet. Oh, Janet has disappeared.

Yes, I'm here. Thanks. Just this digital connectivity in rural areas. A huge issue, isn't it? Oh, sorry, I flicked the—. I turned the camera off. Yes, so you've had the letter, haven't you, from the National Federation of Women's Institutes-Wales and about poor connectivity issues in our rural areas. And to be honest, I was absolutely flabbergasted when looking at some of the costs; you know, £200,000 for providing constituent—. It all follows on, really. And I just wondered what we as a committee can do. 

Yes. Thank you for flagging that up, Janet. It's something I have responded to in letter form, just explaining that these are issues that we will be looking at as part of our committee work around infrastructure. It's certainly something that concerns us all, I'm sure, and I've just given them that reassurance that it certainly is something that we will include in our deliberations as part of our forward work programme, which, of course, we've already scoped out, haven't we? So, we can reassure everyone that this is something that we will look into. But thank you for drawing our attention to that. Excellent.

So, are we happy then to note the rest of the papers as well, yes? There we are. Okay. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Okay, so that concludes the public part of our meeting. I now propose that we move into private session.  

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

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Felly, dwi'n cynnig yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix) bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu cynnal gweddill y cyfarfod yn breifat, os yw Aelodau'n fodlon ar hynny. Ydy Aelodau'n fodlon? Ie, pawb yn hapus. Dyna ni. Ocê, mi wnawn ni symud i sesiwn breifat ac aros am ychydig eiliadau tan bod y darllediad wedi dod i ben. 

So, I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content with that? Yes, everybody's content. So, we'll move into private session and wait a few seconds until the broadcast has come to an end. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:47.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:47.