Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig
Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee09/11/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Luke Fletcher AS|
|Paul Davies AS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Samuel Kurtz AS|
|Sarah Murphy AS|
|Vikki Howells AS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Billie-Jade Thomas||Y Gynghrair yn erbyn Chwaraeon Creulon|
|League Against Cruel Sports|
|Collin Willson||Cymdeithas Milfeddygol Prydain|
|British Veterinary Association|
|David Bowles||RSPCA Cymru|
|Dr Ludivine Petetin||Prifysgol Caerdydd|
|Dr Mary Dobbs||Prifysgol Maynooth|
|Glynn Evans||Cymdeithas Saethu a Chadwraeth Prydain|
|British Association for Shooting and Conservation|
|Ian Andrew||Cymdeithas Rheoli Plâu Prydain|
|British Pest Control Association|
|John Hope||Cymdeithas Technegwyr Plâu Genedlaethol|
|National Pest Technicians Association|
|Rachel Evans||Y Gynghrair Cefn Gwlad|
|Simon Wild||Yr Ymgyrch Genedlaethol yn erbyn Maglau|
|National Anti Snaring Campaign|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Gruffydd Owen||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Katie Wyatt||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Lara Date||Ail Glerc|
|Masudah Ali||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy 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 yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:32.
Croeso i bawb i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Dwi ddim wedi derbyn unrhyw ymddiheuriadau y bore yma, ond dwi yn deall fod Sarah Murphy yn mynd i fod gyda ni yn ddiweddarach heddiw. A oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Sam Kurtz.
Welcome everyone to this meeting of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. I haven't received any apologies this morning, but I do know that Sarah Murphy is going to be joining us a little later today. Are there any declarations of interest that Members would like to make? Sam Kurtz.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. I declare an interest as a director of Wales YFC and chair of the cross-party group on shooting and conservation.
Diolch yn fawr. Unrhyw un arall? Nac oes.
Thank you very much. Anyone else? No.
Symudwn ni ymlaen felly i eitem 2, sef papurau i'w nodi. Mae yna nifer o bapurau i'w nodi, ond os caf i dynnu eich sylw chi at bapur 2.6, sef memorandwm cydsyniad deddfwriaethol ar y Bil Ffyniant Bro ac Adfywio, a ydy Aelodau yn fodlon craffu ar hwn yn y modd arferol drwy ohebiaeth oherwydd yr amserlen a'r pwysau gwaith sydd gyda ni fel pwyllgor? Ydy Aelodau’n fodlon â hynny? Ydyn, dwi'n gweld bod Aelodau yn fodlon â hynny. Oes yna unrhyw faterion eraill yn codi o'r papurau yma o gwbl? Nac oes.
We'll move on therefore to item 2, which is papers to note. There are a number of papers to note, but if I can draw your attention to paper 2.6, which is the legislative consent memorandum on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, are Members happy to note this in correspondence due to the work pressures we have as a committee? Are Members happy to note that paper? I see that Members are happy. Are there any other issues arising from these papers at all? No.
Symudwn ni ymlaen felly at eitem 3 ar ein hagenda, sef sgrwtineiddio'r Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Dyma seithfed sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor yn ystyried egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Rydyn ni yn y sesiwn yma yn clywed tystiolaeth gan sefydliadau iechyd a lles anifeiliaid. A gaf i groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn ein bod ni'n symud yn syth i gwestiynau, efallai gallaf i ofyn i'r tystion gyflwyno eu hunain ar gyfer y record, ac efallai gallaf i ddechrau gyda David Bowles.
We will move on therefore to item 3 on our agenda, which is scrutiny of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. This is the seventh evidence session that this committee has held considering the general principles of the Bill. In this session we'll hear evidence from animal health and welfare organisations. Can I welcome the witnesses to this session? Before we move to questions, can I ask the witnesses, please, to introduce themselves for the record, and can I can start with David Bowles?
Thank you very much, Chairman. My name's David Bowles, I'm the head of public affairs at RSPCA Cymru.
Hello, I'm Billie-Jade Thomas, I'm the senior public affairs officer for the League Against Cruel Sports.
I'm Simon Wild of the National Anti Snaring Campaign.
And I'm Collin Willson, I'm the British Veterinary Association Welsh branch president.
Thank you very much indeed for those introductions. Thank you for being with us this morning. Perhaps I can just kick off this session and just ask you on your views on the breadth of the Bill's prohibitions on snares and glue traps. Do you believe that they should extend beyond the use, for example to manufacture, possession and/or sale? Who'd like to start with that? David.
I can kick off. Obviously, we warmly welcome the proposal to ban glue traps and snares. Obviously, England has already gone ahead with glue traps, but Wales will be the first country in the UK to ban snares, and would join a number of other countries to do that, including Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Poland. So, it would be great for Wales to join those countries, and I think that is testament to its animal welfare credentials. The RSPCA would like to see a ban also on the sale of these items, as well as the use. When the leghold trap legislation went through in 1954, the sale of leghold traps wasn't banned, just the use of leghold traps. We still see leghold traps for sale in certain antique shops and, indeed, we sometimes still come across leghold traps being used. So, we believe that's a loophole that should be closed.
Thanks. Anyone else on this?
Likewise, we also welcome a ban on the use of snares in Wales, and think that it's a very important step that the Welsh Government have made to become the first of the UK nations to take such decisive action. We would like the ban to go further to also include the sale, possession and manufacture of these devices. Banning the sale and manufacture of these devices would obviously help make them less readily available, and then potentially stop the crime from being committed.
We also feel that it shouldn't be possible to deal or profit from the cruelty that the snares cause to animals. Obviously, it's been established the injuries and even deaths that snares cause to animals in Wales every year, if not every day. We think that this would help with the enforcement side of things, as would prohibiting the possession of them. Snares are usually used on private land where there aren't many people about; being able to attribute a snare to a person, if it's found on them, would, obviously, help aid with the enforcement of the ban.
For us, as the League Against Cruel Sports, we believe that only an outright ban on the sale, possession, manufacturing and use of these devices will fully protect animals from snares. Therefore we urge the Welsh Government to consider addressing these in the Agriculture (Wales) Bill.
Thank you. Simon Wild.
The issue of sale and manufacture is one that I agree with. I think the difficulty would be with possession. I think it's completely right for the gin traps that are still being used 60 years afterwards, but what is a snare? People use snares that are made up of garden wire. Is a cable tie a snare? I would have thought there was some difficulty legislation-wise with possession. But, otherwise, obviously, I completely support including sale and manufacture. You wouldn't want to see snares being sold in garden centres here, you wouldn't want to see a manufacturing unit making them, so it's quite appropriate that that's included.
Certainly, the BVA's view is that snares and glue traps should be banned. There should be no circumstances in which they can reasonably be used without severe welfare disbenefits to the animal.
Do you think that the Bill goes far enough from your perspective? Because the Bill prohibits the use of a snare or any cable restraint. In your view, is this wording sufficient to prevent rebranding of devices to avoid the ban? You touched on this, I think, Simon Wild.
I have discussed this at some length with Professor Harris. We commissioned Professor Harris to do an 85-page review of snares in the UK. He exercised his mind quite a lot on this, and he came up with the feeling that a snare should be described as 'any noose designed to catch an animal by its neck, body or foot'. The reason for 'foot', of course, is that, 10 years ago, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust came up with the idea of a rose cuff. It failed, but it was an intention to try and catch an animal humanely. It failed because there were degloving injuries to the foxes and badgers caught, and 41 per cent escaped. So, 'any noose designed to catch an animal by its neck, body or foot' seems to tighten things up, and it should be considered.
Anyone else on this? Billie-Jade Thomas.
We consider the wording that has been used to be sufficient, and I'm glad to see that efforts have been made to stop them from being rebranded. While the word 'snare' may need defining in the legislation, we are concerned that this in itself could potentially create loopholes, if the definition was too narrow, for example. Therefore, we'd urge the Welsh Government to proceed with caution in this respect.
Thanks. I'll now bring in Vikki Howells.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning, panel. My first question is on whether the panel feel that the Bill could be an opportunity to ban other traps. I've been reading about the Larsen trap, for example. So, I'm looking for views on the Larsen traps, or anything else that the panel feels it would have been a good opportunity to include in the Bill.
I've run for 20 years an organisation called Against Corvid Traps, the only dedicated website exposing Larsen traps and ladder traps. Ladder traps are notorious for catching raptors. You'll find that the gamekeeper catches 20, kills 16 and keeps 4, and he often kills them in front of the others. Larsen traps are notorious for neglect, because you don't always get the water topped up, they sometimes do not have any shelter, they might not have an appropriate perch. They keep the birds over winter, and in notorious conditions, often. But, at the same time, I wouldn't want to muddy the waters. It's a great triumph to get the potential for snares and glue traps banned. I wouldn't want to see any delay in the legislation, but I would have thought it was one for consultation in the future, and to be taken seriously.
Anyone else on that? David Bowles.
We'd agree that this piece of legislation is quite revolutionary in what it's doing. As I said, Wales would be the first country to ban snares. I think let's get that in place and then have a consultation and get evidence on how that is working. Because obviously this is going to be down to enforcement. It's all very well putting legislation in place, but enforcement is going to be crucial. We've seen that before with the code of practice on snares, which, let's face it, hasn't really worked in actually improving animal welfare or, indeed, enforcement of that particular piece of legislation. So let's get this in place and then look at how to build on that in the future.
We also agree with that sentiment, because if the ban on snares is enacted, it will be in place by this time next year. So, we do question whether banning any other traps under this legislation at the moment could lead to a delay, and obviously leave animals vulnerable, for example if more stakeholder engagement or a public consultation would be needed. We are seeking clarity on whether the Bill can be enacted [Correction: 'amended'] at a later date, because section 46(2) of the Bill states that Ministers could make regulations to 'modify any enactment', therefore banning other traps [Correction: 'therefore this could be used to ban other traps']. This suggests to us, at least, that banning other traps is something that could, perhaps, be looked at in the future, and that having the ban on snares to compare to would provide a tried-and-tested approach.
Thank you very much. I'll move on to my next question now. Some people that we've taken evidence from say that legislation on snares is sufficient and that more emphasis should be placed on improving enforcement of the existing regulations. So, I'm interested in the panel's views on that stance.
Clearly, the code of practice hasn't worked. The RSPCA sees numerous examples being reported to us of non-target animals being caught in snares. There have been surveys done of the code of practice, how much people know about the code of practice, and how much it's been implemented. We believe that it hasn't been implemented. There is a lack of training and a lack of understanding of the code of practice amongst people that are putting down these snares, which is why you see this large bycatch issue, with animals being caught in snares that are non-target animals. And obviously, you also have to understand that snares themselves are a cruel means of trapping animals. In Wales, you only have this proviso that they are seen every day, whereas in Scotland you have to see them once every 24 hours. So, in Wales, the person could be looking at the snare at 6 o'clock in the morning, and then the next day they could be looking at the snare at 6 o'clock in the evening, which would obviously give an additional 12 hours for that animal to suffer. So, we don't believe that the present use of snares has been a success, and that's why we welcome the prohibition as the only way to actually stop the suffering, and also, importantly, the non-target capture of animals in these snares, such as cats, birds, badgers and other not just protected animals but domesticated animals.
I would like to add that, in the study here, which only came out in April this year, from Professor Harris, throughout it, he's analysed all the data from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and the major DEFRA study that came out 10 years ago. On the code-compliant snares, no one can police it; it's all on private land. And when they were carried out by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust's top team of gamekeepers, or technicians as they call them, there was 70 per cent non-target capture, a lot of instances where hares were killed in snares, deep muscle trauma to those others, including foxes, and badgers were caught as often as foxes. Now, we've also carried out a study on the breaking point of the breakaway snare, which the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has come up with as a way of bypassing the problems that exist with snares in terms of catching badgers. When you examine the snare using a model of a badger's neck, the actual strain to break the snare is 70 kg—that's 11 stone. A badger weighs 2 stone. It has a cheesewire effect, and there's no data on the badgers that do escape. Thirty per cent escape the breakaway snare, but there's no data on what happens to those who've used this extreme force. But there is data on the ones that don't escape, and they were suffering deep, traumatic injuries. In some cases they actually had to be shot on welfare grounds. I have also sent you four examples of a badger, a cat, and more than 100 foxes killed in south-west Wales. They're contemporary examples where the code of practice isn't working, so there's no case where the code of practice can be said to be the way forward.
And for us, with regard to existing legislation, obviously self-locking snares have been illegal in the UK for over 40 years, but serious welfare problems remain with legal snares, often known as free-running snares. These obviously can cause serious suffering, with death by strangulation being just one thing that can happen. Animals caught in these legal snares can suffer from prolonged and agonising deaths as well as serious injuries as they try to escape. There have even been cases of animals trying to chew off their own limbs to escape—something that I imagine the committee would agree is horrific.
Current legislation, as one of the panel members mentioned, also requires the snares to be checked at least once a day, but the Welsh Government's own code of practice actually recommends that they're checked twice a day, so with those snares that are only needing to be checked once a day by law, this could potentially leave animals caught up in snares, as David said, for up to around 48 hours, and during this time they could die from dehydration, exposure to the elements, or at the hands of predators. Obviously, with snares commonly being used during breeding seasons, their offspring can often be left to fend for themselves once their parents are caught—something that is obviously a serious welfare concern.
I think the BVA's perspective on this would be that the ban should go ahead. Whether you check them or not, there are still going to be serious welfare issues for those animals that are caught in snares. For example, in the extreme heat we had this summer, animals will very, very quickly become overheated and dehydrated and often die from that, even if they haven't died from strangulation. So, I think there's just no reason why you would support this.
Thank you. And my final question, then, is on enforcement. If a person's found guilty of an offence, they are liable to a maximum of six months' imprisonment or an unlimited fine. So, I'd like to ask the panel whether they feel that that is proportionate.
Six months' imprisonment or an unlimited fine would be in line with other wildlife offences convicted under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, although it's important to note that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes the user of any snare or trap responsible to avoid any unnecessary suffering of any captured animal. So, the League Against Cruel Sports was among the many organisations that campaigned to see the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty to be raised from six months to five years via the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which has been applied to Wales by a legislative consent memorandum. Therefore, we'd question whether offences involving snares, especially where severe suffering has taken place, should also be tried under this legislation.
There is a case for increasing the penalties for repeat offenders. In the report here, there was a Scottish gamekeeper—and it's all quite recent—who was convicted on four occasions, and so the penalties were not sufficient to prevent recurrence. So, for repeat offences, it may want to be considered to increase the penalty.
It's ironic, isn't it, that we do have this difference between penalties on domestic animals and wildlife, and the RSPCA, like the league, were one of the main organisations campaigning to get the sentences rightly increased, as they were in September last year. But if you're convicted of kicking a cat downstairs you could get up to five years, but if you're convicted of setting a snare and a cat gets caught in that and dies horribly over a long period of time, your sentence is much, much lower. So, I think that is something that perhaps the Senedd should be looking at in the future to try and get parity between these two very different sentencing regimes, depending on whether it's a wild animal offence or a domestic animal offence.
Thank you. A very useful answer. Thank you, Chair.
Yes. Collin Willson, you just want to come in finally on that.
I was just going to say, I'm not going to comment on the actual penalties because I think other colleagues here have already spoken adequately on this, but I think once concern—. In another job I do, I deal with other pieces of legislation, and I think sometimes you have to look at it and say not always is it the individual solely responsible. So, for example, if you have a gamekeeper, then surely the landowner will be aware of and have some responsibility for the gamekeeper's actions, and should there be consideration in the legislation for action to be taken also against the landowner, as well as the employee. Because I think I've heard anecdotally that some of these gamekeepers are supported by their employers when they get caught for these things. And I think perhaps consideration could be given to widening the ability to prosecute.
Thank you, Vikki. I'll now bring in Sam Kurtz. Sam.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, panel. Just moving on to the calls from pest control bodies for an exemption for professional pest controllers, allowing them to continue to use glue traps specifically, not snares, under a licence—David, I'll start with you.
Yes. So, this is obviously what's happened in England, and it means that we now have—although that piece of legislation was passed in April of this year—a period of trying to work out what the guidelines are going to be, and how you separate out an official pest controller from a non-official pest controller. And I think you need to be very exact in your definitions of that. The RSPCA believes that if you're going to give an exemption for pest controllers, your definition of what that is—maybe they should be just solely a member of the professional organisation—needs to be very tight.
And also, the methods of how they use that and where they use that need to be very tightly controlled. The RSPCA is concerned that, for instance, hospitals have been asking in Wales for an exemption for them. We don't believe that that is necessary. We believe that the glue traps are very, very cruel and have huge bycatch problems, probably even greater than snares. So, whilst you may be looking at an exemption, look at what's been happening in England, where the glue trap legislation hasn't yet been enforced because of this delay in working out who's a pest controller and who isn't.
Okay, thank you. Billie-Jade.
Our work really focuses on snares, as I'm sure you know, but we'd always encourage the use of non-lethal methods of wildlife control where possible, and are averse to any traps that cause animal suffering, be that for sport or otherwise. Obviously, we would normally rely on the expertise of the RSPCA and BVA on this one, although we'd just like to say that we have been part of coalitions, such as the RSPCA's Act Now for Animals, where one of the recommendations was to ban glue traps as well as snares. So, we would be generally supportive of this, although it's not something we have specifically campaigned on.
Okay, thank you. Simon.
The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare have done a major study on the control of the wild Norway rat, which is a common rat, and the two examples of the most extreme suffering were glue traps and the baiting traps using anticoagulant, which causes haemorrhage, and the non-toxic cellulose, which causes dehydration. The baiting was severe to extreme, but glue traps were universally extreme. Now, snap traps had variable effects. Sometimes, they were instantaneous, sometimes they were extreme, but, in general, glue traps were the only ones universally extreme. The Pest Management Alliance themselves say that they can cause acute physical suffering, fear and stress to trapped animals. So, before giving any exemption, it needs to be very carefully thought out, if you were ever going to consider exemption, because of the extreme suffering here.
Okay. Thank you, Simon. Collin.
I concur with what's been said there, and in fact at the Animal Welfare Foundation this year, there was a presentation on these traps, and more or less those findings. The question I would ask is: so what is a professional pest controller? Do we have any definition of that? I don't think we have. I think if you were going to have that, you'd have to have some sort of formal training recognition. You'd also have to have some form of disciplinary process, such as that if individuals failed to comply with their requirements, they could be struck off, or whatever.
I work in the Food Standards Agency. So, for example, with slaughterhouse workers, there is a scheme where they have to have what's called a certificate of competence. They have to go through an approved training process, and then there's a facility then that, if they're found not to be compliant, they can either have their licence suspended or revoked. If they're suspended, they retrain. And I think you've got to put in mind, if you're going to have a so-called professional pest control, you're going to have to have some sort of system like that.
Noted. Thank you very much. Just coming back to, Simon, what you mentioned previously on a snare definition, if I may—you mentioned any wire or other loop designed to catch an animal by its neck, foot, or any other part of its body. Doesn't that put RSPCA handlers at risk of jeopardising or being in contravention of that with their animal handling poles? I look at David or Simon here.
Well, I've done wildlife rescue and I use a noose, but—
So, wouldn't that contravene this definition?
Well, that's a fair point, yes, it's a fair point. Obviously, if you're using it for the purposes of animal welfare, it's a completely different matter than if you were intending to set one around a gamekeeper's release pen. So, I think that you could perhaps draw a distinction there, couldn't you? And the Wildlife and Countryside Act draws a lot of distinctions, doesn't it, in that legislation. But if it's for the purposes of humanely treating an animal that's injured, that's a different matter. But you've got to be very careful there that gamekeepers don't, somehow, use that to get around the law and circumvent things.
David, anything to add?
You have to look at unforeseen consequences. So, as Billie said in her evidence, you have to make sure that the definition is tight enough not to allow loopholes, but broad enough not to be caught by the issue that you just raised.
Excellent. Thank you. Moving on—. Oh, sorry, Collin, I beg your pardon.
I've personally used a noose to handle dogs that are attacking somebody, and things like that. And I think, if you use it correctly, then it has a short-term effect, in the sense that it obviously restrains the animal, but I've never, ever felt that I've used one and it's caused the animal any long-term distress. I think, if they're used correctly, there's nothing wrong with them.
Excellent. Thank you. Moving on to evidence submitted by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust that the banning of snares could put priority species—those under section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016—at risk, and given the fact that Welsh Government, through NRW, have the use of snares in curlew projects, for example, at present, does the panel believe that the ban on snares could potentially put the restoration of species at risk, especially those section 7 species?
Well, the snares have the potential to catch and kill animals such as otters, the brown hare and pine marten, all of which are obviously included under section 7 of the environment Act. We'd actually question whether failing to ban snares could actually threaten priority species. And we've previously mentioned badgers as well—they are a protected species that do get caught in snares. Because of this, the likes of the Badger Trust are among the many organisations, without a vested interest in the commercial shooting industry, who are also calling for a ban on snares.
Yes, I'd flip it over the other way. We know, because snares are non-target-specific, that other species are caught in it, including those on that particular schedule. And then look at what other countries are doing: how is it that Ireland, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic are all able to have the ban on the use of the snares, but also have a thriving conservation programme for those specific animals?
Lapwings is one that's promoted by shoots quite often. Now, in this report, it mentions that, since 1995, there's been a 46 per cent decline in foxes and, at the same time, just over a 40 per cent decline in lapwings. So, foxes cannot be blamed. Where you get a small increase in lapwings on shooting estates that are doing predator control, you'll find hundreds of spring traps in every hedge line and culvert, and they're targeting stoats and weasels. And it's that that is causing the increase in lapwings, because of course they want to increase ground-nesting birds. But you get there biodiversity severely affected because you will get snares on those estates; you won't find many stoats or weasels, and you won't find many badgers either, because there are so many snares.
One thing I would point out is that as many foxes as badgers are caught in snares. Now, when a gamekeeper comes along, they can't easily release a badger; I would use a restraining pole—you couldn't do it by hand because you can't scruff a badger. So, they've got every motivation to shoot the badger, and that's what happens in most cases. They also don't want the badgers anyway, because they might predate on the ground-nesting birds. A hunt investigation team, only a year ago, caught on camera a gamekeeper shooting a badger that had been snared, and his argument to the police was, 'Well, how can I release it on its own?' And that's one of the key factors for wanting to see snares banned.
In that instance there, though, a badger is a protected species, so that individual is breaking the law anyway, and what law was there already didn't prevent that individual breaking the law. So, coming on to snares, or continuing the discussion around snares, in terms of a licensing scheme, where there are specific uses or targeted uses for it, where they could be used selectively in terms of wildlife conservation projects, which we've touched on, I just want to delve into the panel's thoughts on that a bit more in detail.
I can answer it, because I've discussed this at length with Professor Harris. He, when he was at Bristol University, used to catch foxes for the purpose of radio tagging. He said he would never have used a snare. I use cage traps to catch foxes, and I've caught foxes only quite recently that have actually had snares that were wire nooses that people have made up with garden wire. Your reputation would be completely ruined if you used a snare to try and catch a fox. It actually causes a fair bit of distress when they're in a cage trap, so you would never do it for radio tagging; you would use a cage trap if you had to do it for research.
We would not support the licensing of snares. We very much welcome the approaches that have been taken to outrightly ban them and feel that this is proportionate, given the aforementioned suffering it causes to animals. Because, regardless of whether a snare is code compliant, it can still cause serious suffering and catch non-target animals, as we've established. It would be difficult to guarantee that this wouldn't happen too during a wildlife conservation project. Interestingly, the RSPB, as we know, as one of the UK's leading conservation charities, do not use snares on their own sites, and neither do other landowners such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust or the Woodland Trust. That suggests that there are other ways to protect wildlife without reverting to the use of snares. As far as we are concerned, there's no such thing as a humane snare, regardless of whether it is code compliant or being used for a wildlife conservation project. To simplify the application and enforcement of the snaring ban in Wales, and eliminate any and all of the suffering that they cause, we believe that the ban should apply to all snares without exemption, as it does in its current format. It's important to remember that a licensing system would require some sort of public funding and resources, for example if it needed to be administered through the police, as they do in Scotland. We feel that these funds and resources actually would be better used to protect animals and address rural crime.
We wouldn't support the licensing provision, not just because of the issues that Billie has just mentioned. The RSPCA has many situations where it has to trap foxes. We use live traps, if that's necessary. But also, there's a worry that this is a loophole. We've seen that the code of practice hasn't worked. If you're introducing licensing, then that is another loophole, and I think that will impact on the enforcement of this. As I said right at the beginning, many countries have already banned the use of the snare; I don't believe that that has affected their conservation issues, but it has improved their welfare, and that's why we have supported the Welsh Government's proposals in this.
Collin, anything to add?
No, not really.
Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Sam. I'll now bring in Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. I'm wondering if I could kick off by asking if any of you think there could be any unintended consequences from the Bill's prohibitions, for example where people might revert to less humane methods of capturing animals. Does anyone want to kick off with this one?
It goes without saying that enforcement of the snaring ban and other legislation such as the Hunting Act 2004 will prove key in ensuring that unintended consequences do not arise, such as former snare users reverting to illegal, less humane methods. Just to touch on other unintended possible consequences, in our written paper that we submitted ahead of this session we questioned whether the wording used in the proposed legislation was sufficient with regard to ensuring that these unintended consequences do not arise. Section 43 of the Bill makes it an offence to set in position
'any snare, or other cable restraint, which is of such a nature and so placed as to be likely to cause bodily injury to any wild animal coming into contact with it'.
That section also makes it an offence to use a snare
'for the purpose of killing or taking a wild animal'
and so forth—I'm sure you're aware of the wording of the Bill. But, with this, we're concerned that 'sets in position' may not cover all instances of a use of a snare, potentially posing a challenge for enforcement. Because there have been cases where defendants who have illegally used snares have claimed that they set them in situ rather than in position, for example. Therefore, we feel that it would be preferable to amend the relevant sections to read, 'sets in position or otherwise uses', just to stop that loophole and unintended consequence from arising.
You're probably thinking of gamekeepers or other people using spring traps. They are still used. On our website, the National Anti Snaring Campaign website, we're regularly reporting the use of gin traps still and spring traps. But it's a black-and-white issue for police. I don't see it happening on shooting estates, which are using the vast majority of snares, and I don't see an unintended consequence. What will happen is that gamekeepers will increase shooting. Using night sights, they can't miss, a gamekeeper tells me. They can target an animal. What there should perhaps be with shooting is a competency test, though, because that doesn't exist at the moment—it would be nice to see that. And they will up their game when the pheasants are in the release pens, because that's the greatest danger for gamekeepers—when the pheasants or partridge are in the release pens. They will up their game and put electric fencing round. Some gamekeepers don't bother doing electric fences, they just put snares down, because the snares cost them a couple of pounds each and an electric fence might cost £200. They will increase that provision. So, there won't be any unintended consequences, I don't believe.
Any views from you, David?
We don't think there will be any unintended consequences because there is a ban proposed on glue traps and on snares. Obviously, enforcement is going to be crucial, but also prevention. You have to prevent the problem occurring in the first place. To take on Simon's point, I think snares are, obviously, quite cheap and quite easy to use, and I think that gamekeepers have tended to revert to those. Yes, you will have to ensure that there is good training if you're going to use alternative methods, but I think that this will improve welfare rather than reverse welfare.
Anything additional to add there, Collin?
Not really, other than the inevitable difficulties of identifying where snares are and who put them down. Inevitably, it will rely on the public reporting. I feel there should be some culpability on the part of the landowner as well as the individual that's laid the snare.
Thank you. I find it somewhat paradoxical in some ways, asking around less humane methods being used, as glue traps and snares themselves are not humane. But thinking about alternatives here, I was wondering if there were any recommendations around what sort of alternative humane methods could be used as opposed to snares and glue traps. I don't know if, Simon, you wanted to pick up on that.
It would just be that—they will up their game. Twenty years ago, in West Sussex, the Cowdray estate—a very big estate—and the Goodwood estate banned snares after a series of badger incidents. They're all shooting estates, but they've never used snares again. So, it didn't cause them a problem. They will just up their game. They will just put double-strand electric wire around their release pens and, if they need to, they will increase shooting. So, there will be no unintended consequences; they will just work their way around it very simply.
Just to be clear on that last question, it wasn't about unintended consequences, it was more around are there alternative humane methods that could be used.
Well, they will be the alternative methods. They will just increase—
So, essentially, it would just be the fencing—
The greatest danger for a gamekeeper is when the birds are in the release pens. That differs somewhat in wild partridge or on a grouse moor. Not so much in Wales—you don't get so many wild bird shoots in Wales. On those shoots, they will just increase their night-time shooting with night sights.
Right. Any additional comments?
Again, as I've mentioned, we’d always advocate for non-lethal methods of wildlife control, and there are efficient and humane alternatives to snaring foxes and rabbits now in widespread use. These range from good husbandry practices to habitat management and exclusionary fencing. I believe that a live trap is now being developed for rabbits as well. And there is, obviously, the potential for the use of night-vision equipment.
I'd just like to raise a point from DEFRA’s 2012 report, which suggested that more than 95 per cent of land holdings do not use snares, which suggests that few actually find themselves needing to revert to this as a means of wildlife control in the first place.
Prevention is better than cure, particularly with glue traps. Obviously, if you've got a rodent problem, the best thing is to stop the rodents coming in in the first place by preventing it from happening, so you don't need to put down your traps.
Can I just touch on rabbit snares?
Yes, of course.
Ninety-seven per cent of snares are fox snares, 3 per cent are rabbit snares. Of those landholdings doing rabbit control, only 3 per cent are using snares. But of the snares that are set, in the DEFRA study, their survey was finding that professional trappers were finding 30 per cent were dead. There are also, we find, a disproportionate amount of cats caught in them because they're often set around the periphery of urban areas. So, those are facts it might be worth the panel knowing.
Great. Thank you. If I can move on to animal health and welfare considerations in the wider Bill. My next three questions are for RSPCA Cymru and the BVA. Of course, if anyone has anything they wish to add, please indicate. If I can kick off by asking how far, in your opinion, does the Bill promote high standards for animal health and welfare. Shall I start with David?
The RSPCA was encouraged that at least there is the potential to do payments for animal health and welfare. However, if you're measuring it against the English Bill, the agriculture Act and what England is doing, which is having a specific veterinary pathway scheme to actually give payments to farmers to get the vet on site, but also to give payments to do capital costs to convert systems into higher welfare systems, such as getting rid of the cage for hens and having free range hens, then we were disappointed. We think that Welsh Government should be much more progressive in this aspect, and, now that we are free of the common agricultural policy system, actually push those payments not just to farmers to be farmers, but to push those payments to farmers to do environmental and animal welfare benefits. So, it's a start, but I think they could be more progressive.
I think the issue is that there is very little role for the veterinary profession in the Bill. We believe the veterinary profession have a key role. It has been shown recently when the veterinary profession worked with farming to reduce antibiotic usage, which was extremely successful, to the extent that England then copied the scheme used in Wales, it worked so well. We believe that the vet is key to animal health and welfare on the farm.
Also, if you get good standards of animal health and welfare, then it actually has a huge environmental impact because the animals have a better quality of life, but also are able to stay on the farm without the associated costs. After all, every animal that dies on the farm has to be incinerated; that has a huge environmental impact, for example. So, we believe that there should be a much bigger veterinary role.
David mentions the England scheme. It would be really nice to see something along those lines. We already have very, very good relationships between Welsh Government, the office of the chief veterinary officer and vets in Wales, because there are two delivery partners, one for north and one for south with the TB work, and it would be very simple to just piggyback on that. You've got all the contacts there. I believe it should be an essential part of the Bill.
You have to realise that, in many aspects, Wales is a leader. For instance, 85 per cent of the laying hen population in Wales is free range, which is far higher than any other country in Great Britain, indeed far higher than any other country in Europe. So, in certain areas, Wales is already doing some fantastic things, but I think it needs a boost in other areas, such as cattle and sheep farming, to actually encourage those farmers to go for higher veterinary and animal welfare systems.
Something else to say is that, inevitably, whenever you introduce a new Bill, you're looking to encourage people to go above and beyond the standards, but we have to remember that there are legal standards that everybody has to comply with. But, sadly, there is always a small minority who don't even to comply with the legal standards, and there has to be some sort of robust action against that small minority, as well as the ones that are going above the standard and rewarding them.
Thank you. In terms of the four sustainable land management objectives underpinning the Bill, in your view, are they appropriate? Would you, for example, want to see an additional objective?
We would like to specific objectives, such as in the Agriculture Act 2020, on animal welfare. That could be, as just discussed, on the veterinary pathway, it could be on the capital costs, or it could be on income forgone. If you go to a higher welfare system, and you've paid the money to do that higher welfare system but you can't recoup that through the market, then there should be some sort of subsidy to allow you to do that. Let's not forget that this agriculture Bill is the biggest change for agriculture in Wales since 1947. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and let's hope that the Government grasps this and pushes Welsh agriculture forward, because it's something to be really proud of—Welsh food—and also the high welfare standards in Wales, I think, need to be improved to actually grasp that opportunity.
I have a similar view. I think there should be provisions to lay down standards for animal health and welfare. We should encourage good standards, we should encourage compliance with good animal health and welfare, and I'd say that overall, it has a benefit to both the environment and to Wales as a whole. We have, as David says, a very good reputation for food, and I think that should be encouraged.
Okay. Finally, Chair, I'd be interested in your views on the list of purposes for which support can be provided within the Bill. Shall I start with Collin and then head over to David to finish?
I'm going to have to refresh my memory on what the list of purposes is.
David, do you want to pick up on that, then?
It's the same point that I said just now. I think that the list of purposes should include specifically animal welfare. If you look at the Agriculture Act 2020 in England, it has animal welfare in there as a specific purpose, and we would like to see that replicated in the agriculture Bill in Wales.
[Inaudible.]—the first one is suggesting that the first objective is to produce food and other goods in a sustainable manner, and I do believe that, if you also have good standards of animal health and welfare, then actually you get a more sustainable agriculture in the long term. Animals that are not performing properly are using more food. If they're ruminants they're excreting more methane. There are lots and lots of factors in there that would support high levels of animal health and welfare being conducive both to sustainable farming and the environment in the long term.
The crux of this issue is: should the agriculture Bill, or the agriculture Act as it will become, be there to promote food production, or should it be there to promote environmental and animal welfare benefits? Obviously, it can do both, but there are instances where you would have a conflict between those two things. What we saw in the discussions in England was that it should be about improving animal welfare and environment, and I think perhaps the balance in this Bill in Wales is slightly more towards the food production, and that worries me, because that could lead to intensification, which obviously has animal welfare negative issues. So, I think it needs to be redressed by having more of a balance in terms of promotion of farmers to go higher than the baseline and look at improving their welfare and their health and their environment in their production systems.
I think, just something that occurred to me there from what you were saying, of course, it must be remembered that there are large areas of Wales that are not suitable for intensive forms of agriculture and are very, very reliant on the more traditional, what many refer to as dog-and-stick farming—so sheep, beef cattle, suckler cattle and so on. Again, we should be looking to support those kinds of—. They are very much part of the local communities; they provide, very often, the background to the local community's survival.
Great. Simon, yes.
Just on the welfare issue, we touched on potentially including, say, Larsen and ladder traps, and agreed that that might be one for consultation for the future. Now, 18 months ago, the most popular spring trap in the British countryside, the Fenn trap—the UK banned that for catching stoats, because under the agreement on international humane trapping standards, it didn't meet the required time frame for killing, and it's notorious for catching by an extremity. But what I find happens—and the police don't like things that are muddy, and I've even found these traps on the Sandringham estate, the royal estate at Sandringham, this summer—is that they're still out there in the countryside and the gamekeeper, when questioned by the police, says, 'Oh, they're there to catch rats and squirrels'. So, there is a kind of loophole that the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust managed to push in. That is something that could be very simply done, because it's already banned for stoats, to include all wildlife, for the Fenn trap. It wouldn't necessarily need to go to consultation. So, that might be one to be considered.
Great. Thank you.
Yn ôl i chi, Gadeirydd.
Back to you, Chair.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Luke. I'm afraid that time has beaten us, and therefore our session has come to an end. Can I take this opportunity to thank you for being with us this morning? Your evidence will be very useful to us as a committee in scrutinising this Bill going forward. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course, so if there are any issues with that then please let us know, but thank you once again for being with us. We'll now take a short break to prepare for the next session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:20 a 10:27.
The meeting adjourned between 10:20 and 10:27.
Wel, croeso nôl i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Symudwn ni yn nawr at eitem 4 ar ein hagenda, sef parhau i sgrwtineiddio'r Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Dyma wythfed sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor i ystyried egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Rŷn ni yn y sesiwn yma yn clywed tystiolaeth gan sefydliadau hela a chefn gwlad a sefydliadau rheoli plâu. Gaf i groesawu’r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn ein bod ni'n symud yn syth i gwestiynau, gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno eu hunain ar gyfer y record? Efallai gallaf i ddechrau gyda Glynn Evans.
Welcome back to this meeting of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. We'll move on now to item 4 on our agenda, which is a continuation of scrutiny of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. This is the eighth committee evidence session to consider the general principles of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. We, in this session, will be hearing evidence from field sports and countryside and pest control organisations. May I welcome witnesses to this session? Before we go straight to questions, may I ask witnesses to introduce themselves for the record? Perhaps I can start with Glynn Evans.
Yes. Good morning, my name's Glynn Evans. I'm from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.
Bore da, bawb. Good morning. Rachel Evans, director for Wales for the Countryside Alliance.
Good morning. Ian Andrew, chief executive of the British Pest Control Association.
And John Hope?
Yes, sorry. John Hope, technical manager for the National Pest Technicians Association.
Well, thank you for those introductions. Perhaps I can just kick off this session and just ask you really, in your view, how could the banning of the use of snares impact rural communities, the environment and, indeed, the businesses that you actually represent? Perhaps I can start with Rachel.
Okay, thank you, Chair. The value really in monetary value, we're looking at shooting being worth £75 million to the rural economy in Wales and shooting provides a 365-day-a-year tourism opportunity for Wales. The sheep sector's worth some £270 million to the Welsh economy and the poultry sector is worth some £95 million.
Looking at it from a different view, and not just the monetary value—you can't measure everything through money—we are deeply concerned about the impact that this will have on the environment, particularly the impact that this will have on biodiversity. We are facing a biodiversity challenge. I believe that Welsh Government's policy is that everything is underpinned by improving our biodiversity, but by removing this vital tool in the box for predator management, we are looking at a significant challenge, for example, to the curlew, which is likely to be extinct by 2033. If we take away this vital tool in the box, then we are looking at a catastrophe, Chair, and we are deeply concerned about that.
So, there is a monetary value; there is more so an environmental value, and if we're looking at Wales from a green tourism aspect—for example, people come to Wales to see our wildlife and to see our birds, and the threat of the curlew extinction should not be taken lightly.
Anyone else on this?
No, I would agree absolutely with Rachel on this. There are a number of iconic species that are at serious threat, and being able to catch and hold them in humane cable restraints is essential.
[Inaudible.] strong opinion. Snares are used by a small number of our members, and again, it's a useful tool that we wouldn't want to see disappear.
I think it's the same thing from an NPTA perspective, although I couldn't add anything more than has already been put very eloquently by both Rachel and Glynn.
Okay, thank you. And how effective do you think are alternatives to snares, legal alternatives, in your view?
So, could I pick that up, please, Chair?
There are a number of methods to control foxes, and at certain times, certain methods—shooting foxes with a high-powered rifle with thermal, with a lamp—will be the best method, absolutely. There are other times when those methods simply won't work. So, the prime example: Rachel has mentioned curlews. So when curlews are nesting, they're at their most vulnerable; they're on the ground, that is when foxes will take them. That also coincides with the time of year when cover is at its highest, so when the cover is at the height of your knee, you physically cannot use a rifle, even with thermal, because you cannot see through that cover. So, the only method that you have that will work at that time of year for catching foxes are humane cable restraints. You catch the fox in the area where the risk is, where the damage is likely to be done, and then you can humanely dispatch it afterwards.
Anyone else? Rachel?
No. Just to echo what Glynn says, there is no one size that fits all for predator control; it means a suite of measures. And again, I reiterate my point about how important it is to have that suite available to conservationists and to gamekeepers and to farmers.
Again, I defer to my colleagues' expertise in this area.
Fine. Anything to add, John Hope?
No, exactly that. Yes, can't argue with what's been said.
Okay, thank you very much. I'll now bring in Sarah Murphy. Sarah.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you all for being here this morning. Just to follow on the line of questioning, how far do you think is the code of best practice on the use of snares in fox control being used and adhered to?
Do you want to start?
Well, we believe as a sector, having engaged with our membership, that the code of practice is being adhered to, and that there has been a change.
I think it's really important to point out, though, that the development of the modern cable restraint is now far removed from the sort of crude and indiscriminate snares of the past. I heard your evidence session before this morning, and I'm afraid that those giving evidence are still in the past; we have moved on as a sector. We have created the code of practice with Welsh Government and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, and I want to return to their research later on, if I may. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust have invested hundreds if not thousands of man hours and scientific research into the production of a humane cable restraint. We believe that the code hasn't had—due to COVID, really—enough time to be bedded in. I, for one, was part of a promise of a training team for the young farmers' clubs. That had to be put on hold. When we went to the YFC, it had to go through their rural affairs committee, so that took about two or three months. That was then cleared unanimously—that they were willing to work with us to provide training for young farmers for the use of code-compliant snares. Then, of course, we had COVID; everything was shut down.
So, we believe that the code is being adhered to. There is obviously room for improvement, but there's one vital point missing here, that, in a meeting in February 2018, our sector called for a ban on non-code-compliant snares. It was Charles Nodder from the National Gamekeepers Organisation who called on Welsh Government Ministers or the officials during the time, to find a quick legislative path to ban non-code-compliant snares. We would agree with Welsh Government on that, but we want them replaced with a humane cable restraint, which ties in with the code. It's not just about laying the snare, it's about how you do it, which is where the code comes in, and I think Glynn's probably better placed to take you through more of the technical stuff.
Thank you very much.
Yes. So, to pick up on evidence that the code is working, we have offered, with Welsh Government, to try and help gather this evidence, and it's difficult; it's difficult to prove a double negative, as it were. On one hand, I could say the evidence of limited reports of issues with humane cable restraints. I've seen other evidence that people have submitted, and they're talking about incidents with old-fashioned fox snares, but when the evidence is put forward referring to humane cable restraints, those animals have actually been able to be released unharmed. So, in a way, the evidence that there is no issue is evidence in itself. But I would fully agree that we haven't been able to produce the evidence of compliance. I think the level of compliance is really, really high, but it's one of the reasons, as a sector, why we think there should be support for moving to the next level, which was recommended by the climate change and rural affairs committee, to making compliance with the Welsh Government's own code a legal requirement.
Chair, I am mindful that it has been noted here in Plenary sessions by the First Minister and by the Minister for rural affairs that there has been no evidence, therefore, there is no choice. Well, we were champing at the bit to help them provide evidence, in the meeting of 26 February 2018. My colleague Glynn Evans on 14 May 2019 made that same offer again for Welsh Government to put together the survey and for us as organisations to disseminate it. So, we've been more than willing to work with Welsh Government, but we seem to have hit a stumbling block, and all of a sudden now we are presented with legislation with an outright ban, which I'll come to later on, again, if I may.
Of course. Thank you. Did anybody else want to come in on this question before I move on? No, okay. Thank you. So, my next question is how do you respond to arguments that snare use under the code of practice still causes welfare issues and catches non-target species. There's been a lot of evidence from the RSPCA on this. Would you like to go first?
I listened to the RSPCA evidence earlier, and I also have been looking back through notes for this particular session. We can see from their evidence paper that 106 calls over five years were made in relation to snares, but in the May 2019 meeting—and I'm happy to provide the committee with all the minute notes that I've managed to dig out over the last two or three days—the RSPCA said that, out of those 106 calls over five years, it was heavily caveated with the possibility of misreporting or repeat calling about the same incident.
We do recognise that there are issues, but I want to draw your attention again to some minutes from the police, from the meeting of 2018 in February, where Dyfed-Powys Police reported one incident investigated at a carp fishery. That was obviously an illegal practice—somebody was out to catch otters, nothing to do with foxes or anything else. That was obviously an illegal practice from the word 'go'. North Wales Police cited one incident out of four where a badger was caught in a code-compliant snare, released unharmed, and the RSPCA at that meeting said that there were very few incidents in Wales, where, over the last six years, there have been 160 incidents reported to the RSPCA overall. So, I think we need to be very careful when we're talking about the figures. The important point here is that, with most of these incidents, they are not code-compliant snares, they are not a humane cable restraint, and the people who set these types of capture items then—snares, whatever you want to call them—they're not really from our sector. Most of them are found in semi-urban environments, and I think you can also go cross-policy here, where there is perhaps social deprivation, et cetera.
Going from my experience of attending these meetings pre 2019, where animals have been found in code-compliant snares, they seem to be released unharmed, whereas those taking matters into their own hands and operating illegally from the start, this is where the problems arise, and I don't feel like an outright ban on snares is going to solve any of those problems.
Okay. Thank you. Does anybody else want to come in? Glynn.
Yes. If I could come in, from a practical point of view, there are two elements to the Welsh Government's code. One is, let me call it, the hardware, the humane cable restraint, and one of the reasons why we're referring to it as a humane cable restraint is so that people clearly understand there is a huge difference between this device and an old-fashioned fox snare. So, for instance, it has design features that are built in so it has stops and swivels. It's made out of wire. It's made out of wire for two reasons: one is so that the fox doesn't see it, because, to work, the fox mustn't know that it's present, so it's made out of thin wire, and the other thing is so that the wire is strong enough to hold the fox. One of the things that's happened in the development of this device is the wire is of a certain strength, and then there is a breakaway link built in that will break at a certain pressure, and that means it will open up. So, basically, it will never break other than an its weakest point. It's got swivels that allow it to rotate. So, the hardware aspect, lots and lots of research has gone into it. I believe the equivalent of 200 years' research have gone into this device. So, a massive amount of research. But, the device is only one part; it's how you actually then use the device that is essential, which is referenced in the code. So, when we talk about species such as badgers, you wouldn't set the snare if you knew they were there. So it's about using the snare in the right way in accordance with the Welsh Government's code.
Okay. Thank you.
Can I just quickly mention that I know you've heard evidence this morning about the breakaway failing and the comparison made to the weight of a badger, but what isn't taken into consideration in that description is momentum? So, I'm told—you wouldn't believe it, but I'm not a runner—that, when you run, eight times your body weight is carried through your knees, but you do not lift eight times your body weight, as you wouldn't even consider it or be able to manage it. So, the velocity part of this is missing out of the equation that was described to you this morning. In fact, the snare that was described to you is actually not a code-compliant snare. It has developed since then. I just wanted to make that point.
Could I just come in and mention one last thing on that? The DEFRA research from 2012 is widely referenced by various people. I'll paraphrase it: field trials of snare type D, which has become the humane cable restraint, showed that it met the requirements of the agreement on international humane trapping standards, which is this international humane trapping agreement, through restraining devices for target species, indicators of poor welfare were not found in any of the non-target species captured, and there was no indication that those animals that escaped would have experienced poor welfare. So, this was research done as part of the humane cable restraint development.
Excellent. Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.
Okay. Thank you, Sarah. I'll now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.
Thank you, Chair, and good morning, panel. All my questions on snares have been covered already, so I'm going to move straight on to glue traps. Firstly, I'd like to ask the panel how could the banning of the use of glue traps impact on pest control and public health as well as the businesses that you also represent?
Who'd like to start on that? Ian Andrew, yes, by all means, yes.
I'll go first. I haven't said much so far, and I do have a point of view on this one. The use of glue traps is to protect public health. When rats and mice are out there, they're doing their own thing. The problems arise when they come in here. Whether that's specifically in here—. Whenever they're inside and in contact with humans, that's when the issues start. The glue board is the only tool we have in our tool kit to catch a rat or a mouse quickly. There's nothing else. We have other tools. They will control rats and mice eventually, but it's whether you're willing to wait a week or two weeks for that to happen. So, it is an issue of speed. But, let's not forget, from a public health perspective, rats and mice carry lots of nasty diseases on their fur, on their feet, and in contact with humans that's not a good thing. Most of the diseases are reportable, notifiable diseases to the UK Health Security Agency. They have to be reported. Thankfully, they don't happen often because pest controllers do a good job at keeping rats and mice out of buildings. Prevention is always our starting point. Let's keep them out. However, if they are in restaurants, supermarkets or hospital operating theatres, the glue boards are the only way of catching them quickly. Otherwise, you have to wait for the rat or mouse to go near a break-back trap, or for the poison to work, which can take, as I say, anything up to a week to two weeks for that to happen. So, the ban will impact on public health, it will impact on business, particularly small businesses, and the very fragile tourism, food and hospitality sector.
Can I add to that, please?
Yes, of course.
Brilliant. Just to say, I completely concur with everything that Ian has said. I think one of the things that glue boards gives—to really underline what Ian's saying—one of the things that glue boards gives that no other control measure gives is speed of control. They are, obviously, a physical catching method, and they don't have to rely on anything eating or going into something, and I think that's critical, because the idea behind a glue trap is that you can just put that down in an area where a rodent is running, and the rodent will then come into contact with that. So, you're not relying on any other method.
What I can say is that I've been in this industry over 30 years now—and I've put this in my written evidence to you—and just to say that rodent control is becoming more and more difficult, particularly when it comes to house mice, and certainly within towns and cities. Over that time, we have lost a large amount of the tools that were available to the professional pest control industry over that time. So, for something else to go, I think that we run the risk of exactly what Ian says about public health suffering. And if you just look at, really, what's happening in the wider world of rodent control, we've also got an issue now where anticoagulants are also under pressure in terms of their potential damage to the environment, and we've got a stewardship scheme in place to deal with that. But, on top of that, with anticoagulants, we've also got a growing genetic resistance issue. So, although there are other methods available for control, I think, from my perspective, to protect public health, we wouldn't like to see an option going that we have got no direct replacement for. Thank you.
Okay. Thank you. My next question, then, again, is on glue traps. The explanatory memorandum says that some pest control services have a self-imposed ban on the use of glue traps, and they say they're able to capture the pest in all circumstances, still. So, can I ask, in light of this, why the panel are still calling for an exception to the ban for professional pest control bodies?
The quote from the large pest control company was a little paraphrased in the memorandum. They were clear they have no place for glue traps in their business as usual, and I don't believe any of our professional pest controllers have got a use of glue traps in their day-to-day, business-as-usual business. But that particular large pest control company was also very clear that it wouldn't want to see a blanket ban on the use of glue traps. So, the paraphrasing was not fully paraphrased. Absolutely, we can capture and deal with rats and mice without glue traps, if you're willing to have hospital wards closed, school canteens closed, small businesses closed, for up to two weeks. If that's the level of acceptability, then absolutely we can deal with rodent infestations through rodenticides, while we still have them, and through break-back traps. What we cannot do, however, is deal with an infestation quickly without the glue trap. It's the only means of rapid capture. And so, the longer submission that that pest control company made did go on to explain that, rather than the very short paraphrasing that was quoted here.
John, anything to add to that?
No, that's so well put. What I will say is that any member of the BPCA, or any member of the NPTA, has to sign up to the Pest Management Alliance code of practice, and that sets out really strict guidelines under which the glue boards can be used. So, from that perspective, obviously, there are always going to be issues around amateur use and non-professional use, but, for a member of any trade association, we can almost guarantee that they use them, because they have to sign up to do so.
Okay. Thank you. So, my final question, and I'd just like to ask the panel what they think a licensing regime for professionals to actually use glue traps might look like.
Again, if I may, Chair, a licensing system—. Let's be clear, amateurs should not get their hands on glue boards. We absolutely support a ban on the use of glue boards for amateur use, and a lot of the horror stories that you see in the press about their use is glue boards outside. Well, we just wouldn't use them outside; a professional wouldn't. The issue with licensing is that we need speed. So, we can't wait for a licence to be granted; we need to be licensed and there needs to be a level of trust that the professional pest controller will deploy these tools professionally.
As I say, we just never know when there's going to be an infestation, so we can't wait for a licence, then, to be granted. But, equally, that licensing system needs, absolutely, to define what a professional pest controller looks like. We have an European definition of it that covers the training, the qualifications, the continued professional development and the competence levels of professionals, which, certainly, the BPCA members would adhere to. I think that that level of trust—it depends how bureaucratic, and I'm sure that the last thing you want is a bureaucratic licensing system, but if it was Natural Resources Wales, for example, they are accustomed to licensing professional pest controllers for the bird licensing and for the gull licensing. So, there are models in place.
Equally, there are models where you could license ourselves and NPTA to actually do the licensing scheme for you; that would reduce your bureaucracy. As I say, it is, absolutely, about ensuring that those who are using them are trained, qualified and competent in their use.
I couldn't agree more. I think it's clear that we, as both trade associations, have very similar views on the use of glue traps and any potential licensing agreement that might be considered. To completely echo what Ian has just said, we would completely support a ban on amateur use because that is where the vast, vast majority of misuse comes in.
Could I just quickly ask, John and Ian, on that, looking at the Glue Traps (Offences) Act 2022, which has received Royal Assent in England this spring and will come into force in 2024—that bans the use of glue traps in England apart from on an exceptional basis, and there would be licences to use glue traps only issued to professional pest controllers where there's deemed to be no suitable alternative. What are your views on that measure and is that what you think we should be looking at here in Wales?
Absolutely—John, I'll let you go first this time.
Okay. I think, again, it comes down to: if licensing is the only option to be able to keep glue traps, then we would just accept that. But, it really comes down to speed of control, and what we don't want to see is people being put in a position where we're failing to actually deal with something that's really important. Ian pointed out earlier about hospitals, potentially even aircraft as well—those sorts of things, where public health really would suffer if speed of control was an issue. So, certainly from an NPTA perspective, I would rather avoid licensing for professional pest controllers but see a complete ban for amateur, unprofessional use. As I say, all of our members have to adhere to a very strict code of practice anyway.
Again, all of our members—they are trained, they are qualified, they do do continued professional development every year. We assess our members, we go out to visit them every year. They are all assessed to the European standard, EN 16636, so we know that they're doing a good job anyway. However, if the Welsh Government wants that additional assurance that they are only going to be used in exceptional circumstances and under a licensing regime, then we will work with you to build a workable licensing scheme.
Okay. Thank you, Vikki.
Thank you, Chair.
Before I bring in Luke Fletcher, I just want to come back, Ian, on the point you made about the definition of a pest controller, because it was suggested, perhaps, earlier on today in another panel, that there is no such thing as a definition of a pest controller, but you did mention earlier that there is an European definition, is that right?
That's right. The Confederation of European Pest Management Associations, which is all the trade bodies across Europe, created a definition for a professional pest controller that covers the content and the amount of training that they ought to do, the level on the European qualification framework of qualification that they should hold, the amount of continued professional development that they should undertake, and if they don’t have a CPD requirement, then there should be a relicensing process in place, and also, a level of assessment of competence. So they were the four elements of professionalism that CEPA, the European association, defined. And I think both the trade associations would absolutely work towards that being achieved. BPCA members, we tick all the boxes as far as training, qualifications and CPD is concerned. One of the things we’re working on currently is that proof of competence.
Okay. Thank you very much indeed for that clarification. Can I now bring in Luke Fletcher? Luke.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. I’m not sure if you’re looking at my notes—I was going to be asking about that definition. A lot of the things that I was going to cover have already been covered in previous answers, but there were some elements that I just wanted to come back on. I’ll stick with Ian and John, if that’s okay. Of course, if Rachel or Glynn have anything they want to add, just indicate—I’m more than happy to bring you in. John, if I could start with you, you referred to a code of practice in the use of glue traps. From my understanding, that code of practice is a voluntary code of practice, so I was just wondering if you could provide some clarity on that and perhaps, if I am right in my understanding of it being a voluntary code of practice, if there’s any evidence that it’s being adhered to. As I’m sure you’re aware, in every sector, there are some bad faith actors, and when we talk about voluntary, sometimes that doesn’t go quite far enough.
Absolutely. Nobody can guarantee that people are using these things the way they should be used. But although you mention it being voluntary, you would consider that to be voluntary outside of pest control organisations that don’t operate within trade associations. But if a pest control company is working or affiliated to either ourselves or the BPCA, it’s not voluntary. They absolutely have to guarantee and sign to say that they will work to that code of best practice.
Thank you for that. I think that does provide some clarity, but, of course, there’s still that issue that, if they’re not associated with a trade organisation, it is voluntary.
There is—absolutely. It’s one of our membership criteria, so if they want to stay in membership of a trade association, then they absolutely have to abide by the code of practice. If they didn’t, there’d be no place for them in this trade association. That particular code of practice developed by ourselves, NPTA and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health is a very robust code of practice. We have shared with DEFRA and Natural England our guidance, a much broader guidance document that will sit beneath that. We haven’t published it because we know that these things are being looked at, so we’ve held back, but again, I’m happy to share the guidance that will sit beneath that code of practice. But BPCA members are assessed annually, and while we wouldn’t look specifically at every code, then it is a random selection of codes that we would look at in those annual assessments.
Perhaps you might not be able to answer this now, but, of course, if you’re able to send something after the session, it would be appreciated. But do you have an idea of how many pest control companies are operating outside of the trade associations, so they aren’t members of trade associations?
Not really, because you could set up Luke Fletcher Pest Control tomorrow, and with a very quick online assessment, buy rodenticides, go to B&Q and get a lot of kit and you could be operational, because it’s not a licensed profession. We would absolutely support greater control and potential licensing of pest control professionals. We are a profession, and therefore we’ve nothing to hide under a much broader licensing arrangement, and indeed some of the bureaucracy could actually be got rid of if pest controllers were licensed generally as opposed to being licensed specifically for birds, for gulls, for glis glis, and now, potentially, for glue boards. So, that's four different licensing schemes as opposed to one much more robust scheme, where the company and the individual technicians are licensed.
Thank you for that, Ian. John, did you want to add anything on that before I move to my next question?
No, I think that I cannot add to that, other than to echo it.
Brilliant. Thank you. We've touched on England and the licensing scheme there, but, of course, there are other countries that have banned the use of glue traps—for example, Ireland and New Zealand. Is there anything that we can learn from their experiences?
Shall I go first, if I may, on that?
Yes, by all means, yes.
Okay. Several countries have banned them, but we have to compare apples with apples. Ireland, for example, has got none of the resistance issues that John mentioned earlier—the resistance to our biocidal products. So, no chemical resistance in Ireland, whereas for rats, we've got five different streams of chemical resistance in rats, and two in mice. France has got one, Germany's got one. Why we've got five in rats and two in mice, I've no idea, but we do, and one of them started here in Wales, as it happens. So, the rodent population has got a resistance to that tool. We're also seeing much greater trap shyness. These are intelligent creatures; they recognise, 'Oh, that thing, I'm not going near that, my Aunty Mary went near that and I never saw her again'. They're very intelligent creatures; they understand that that trap's not a good thing to go near.
So, while the trapping and the biocidal solutions absolutely can work, we have to be careful that we are comparing apples with apples. New Zealand didn't ban them. There's still a licensing scheme available in New Zealand. Again, Ireland, I was speaking to a colleague in Ireland just the other day—there was a rat in a supermarket, and they were literally chasing it around with broomsticks to try and get the rat out of the supermarket, because otherwise, the supermarket would have to close down. He described it as 'farcical'—chasing around a supermarket a rat with a broomstick, because there's just nothing else to get that rapid capture. So, we do need to make sure that we are doing a fair and robust comparison. Absolutely, there are several countries that have banned them and they've been banned for a long time, but equally, other countries have got other tools that we don't have. The drowning trap, for example, is quite effective, but it's illegal to drown rodents here in the UK, so we don't have that tool. So, the comparison needs to be a fair comparison.
John, any additional comments?
Yes, just really, again, it's interesting that Ian has brought up that point about a rat being chased out of a supermarket. I would potentially argue that that would put a rodent under far more stress in a situation like that, than actually a pest controller having the ability to be able to disturb a rat from its place of rest onto a glue board, where it could be very quickly dispatched. As I started off by saying, I've been around in this industry now for 30 years or so. Rodents are adaptable. As Ian has pointed out, they're mammals so therefore they are intelligent and they will adapt. Rodents have been around for a long, long time, and in all of that time, because they're commensal rodents—and that means that they eat from our table, they live with us—we will have been trying to get rid of them. So, it's hardly any surprise that they adapt, and in all of the situations that I've been in—and it's becoming more apparent now—you cannot rely, as a professional pest controller, on one specific control measure, which is why it's really important that we don't, in my view, remove any of the options that we've got available to us now, because so many have disappeared over recent years.
I would just add that we will see fewer and fewer rodenticidal products. Some of the manufacturers are already saying that, post Brexit, because the cost of registration is the same for the UK market as it was for the European market, it just doesn't make sense for them. So, we will see fewer and fewer rodenticides available in the UK—it's an inevitable consequence.
Thank you, both.
Nôl i chi, Gadeirydd.
Back to you, Chair.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Luke. I'll now bring in Sam Kurtz. Sam.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, panel. I always want to try and find consensus, and, having listened to both panels so far, I think there is consensus to be found in what Rachel, I think, you mentioned, as the old type of snare and what the previous panel want to see banned as well, and what you are saying in terms of wanting to ban that old type of snare as well. Is that a fair assumption?
Yes. I think our sector, as I said, back in that meeting in 2018, we called for a ban on non-code-compliant snares. We had devised a great code of practice between all organisations, including the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA; we sat down in Treforest and went through that code word for word, for three and a half hours. So, it was absolutely signed and sealed; I don't think we could have improved it that much more, to be honest. So, coming back to that, we have a great code of practice. The code-compliant—. Well, the humane cable restraint used in conjunction with that code will improve and has improved animal welfare. And we would echo the calls to ban non-code-compliant snares. So, ban the old-type snares, make sure that it is a code-compliant—. Well, replace it with a humane cable restraint.
And Glynn, just on the point that you mentioned earlier in terms of curlew restoration projects—this is something I mentioned to the previous panel—Welsh Government, NRW, are involved in these restoration projects. They're currently using humane cable restraints or the old-style snares—what would be the standard used in those sorts of restoration projects?
So, as far as I'm aware, they would be using humane cable restraints. But, if we made the code a legal requirement, we'd know they were using humane cable restraints.
So, that's my—. That's the point that I want to clarify, is that Welsh Government are currently—Welsh Government with its arm's-length bodies are currently—using humane cable restraints in species restoration projects, so it would feel natural that that should be the code-compliant way forward. Rachel.
I think it's only—. With the curlew restoration projects, we don't know who is using what at the moment. It's not for us to answer whether NRW use humane cable restraints; it's more than likely any practitioners working on private land would use humane cable restraints to conserve curlew. That's my honest opinion on that. I don't think NRW actively use humane cable restraints, or the RSPB and so on. It's really for them to answer, but it would be wrong for anybody not to be using a humane cable restraint in compliance with the code, in our eyes.
Excellent. That's really helpful. So, in terms of if a prohibition of all types of snares, humane cable restraints and glue traps came in, what we would see as—and we've touched on it individually—what would be the unintended consequences of that ban? We'll start with Glynn, and then we'll work along.
I don't think it's too far to say that you will lose some iconic species in Wales; it's not over-egging it to say that. And when you look at percentages of foxes caught, killed, and you see evidence of people saying, '10 per cent to 80 per cent caught in humane cable restraints', that's only part of the story. It's the seasonality. So, as I said earlier, those foxes caught and then dispatched when those vulnerable birds are nesting has an immense benefit beyond the number taken. And it's not to say that people should reach for snares as the first option, and it's clearly referenced in the code—you consider other options, and the option that's most appropriate at the time is the one you should use.
Okay. Excellent. Rachel.
The one sector we haven't really touched upon is, really, the farming sector here. We all want to eat free-range eggs—then how do you control the fox population around 20,000 free-range hens, for example? I think we need to have some serious thought into the future of food security here as well. And I don't know if you're questioning the farming unions on the use of snares particularly, but I know that, during the March period, there is an increase—there has been in previous years—in the purchase of snares, and that's referenced in some Welsh Government minutes.
But, coming back to your question of unintended consequences, I cannot emphasise enough how it really does make me nervous about the future of biodiversity in Wales, and particularly the section 7 protected species, such as the curlew. And by conserving the curlew, if you look at the GWCT paper, you're actually conserving and benefiting 82 other separate species, okay. And may I recommend that you take note of the GWCT's paper, with the hundreds and hundreds of hours of scientific work that's gone into that. I believe that they've written to the committee, and it's a shame that there isn't space for them here today for you to scrutinise their work. But the unintended consequence, Mr Kurtz, is that we are going to lose species like the curlew, because if they're not predated from by the air, they are predated from by the ground. And we really need to think outside the box of wanting to ban something simply because you just don't like it or you haven't been brought up to speed on the changes in technology and modernisations of restraints.
Okay. Thank you. And then, in terms of glue traps, unintended consequences. Ian.
Unintended consequences: if they're banned, we've already said there's going to be an impact on business, it's inevitable—restaurants, hotels, small businesses, small supermarkets, corner shops. And they're not going to want to close down for two weeks and wait for a trap or a biocidal product to work, and so I fear that the business owners will take things into their own hands. That would just make this proposed legislation achieve something far worse than what's being proposed at the moment. The health issues—again, we've touched on these. Rodents are a public health risk; there is an unintended consequence that more people will get more ill, more disease and time off work. So, there are lots of unintended consequences there. But, as I said, the bigger worry is that you will see people committing an offence by taking lethal action through other means other than a glue board. So, while the professional pest control companies won't, I fear that some of the small business owners will, because it's their livelihood that it's going to impact on.
Okay, thank you. John, anything to add?
Completely from the public health angle, rodents are well documented to carry various pathogenic organisms, such as leptospirosis, salmonella, potentially even hantavirus, to name but a few. You've got a global trade movement now at the moment, climate change involved in that, so various other aspects are coming within our shores. So, I think that's a real issue for me, to protect public health. And I think it would be fair to say that that's what every professional pest controller sets out to do. So, when they're dealing with pests, they don't take any pleasure in the killing of these things; it's actually to protect public health. And the fact that environmental health officers will close down or issue a prohibition notice on a food business should, I believe, emphasise just how significant rodent problems are in terms of the disease risk to public health. So, as an unintended consequence, the potential of removing more control measures may have a negative impact on public health.
Excellent. And just to stick with you, John, I note that the ban on glue traps wasn't in the proposal in the Bill's White Paper, so just looking for your views on the stakeholder engagement process behind the agricultural Bill's development.
Sorry, could you just repeat that? I didn't catch that.
Yes, of course. So, the ban on glue traps wasn't in the initial proposals of the Bill's White Paper, so I'm looking for your views on the stakeholder engagement that's been conducted by Welsh Government in the development of the Bill.
To be honest, I haven't had that much involvement with it. The more involvement regarding our association and the general aspect the better, really.
Thank you. Ian.
Yes. As you say, it wasn't in the original Bill; it has been squeezed into this agriculture Bill, and that's not unusual in politics. But, equally, it's a public health matter. Where's Public Health Wales's opinion on this? I did try to get an opinion from them, but, sadly, I'm still waiting. And it is a fine balance that you have to tread between animal welfare and public health, but, at times, public health surely has got to prevail. In consultations, local authorities seldom use them—yes, absolutely, because local authorities are mainly looking after housing stock of local authorities; they're not looking after corner shops, supermarkets, restaurants, takeaways. I did meet with the senior civil servant leading the consultation, and did then manage to feed in the pest controller's point of view, but that would have been completely absent in the consultation process had I not taken the initiative to go and meet with them.
Okay. Thank you. I'm conscious of time, so, Chair, I'm going to hand back to you. Diolch.
Yes, thank you very much. I'm afraid that time has beaten us, so our session has come to an end. But can I take this opportunity to thank you for being with us today, giving your evidence? It'll be very useful for us as a committee in scrutinising this Bill going forward. So, thank you for being with us. There will be a copy of today's transcript sent to you in due course. So, if there are any issues with that, then please let us know. But, once again, thank you very much indeed.
We'll now take a short break to prepare for the next session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:15 a 11:19.
The meeting adjourned between 11:15 and 11:19.
Croeso nôl i gyfarfod Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach, a Materion Gwledig. Symudwn ni ymlaen nawr i eitem 5 ar ein hagenda, sef parhau i graffu ar Fil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Dyma nawfed sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor yn trafod egwyddorion cyffredinol Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Rŷn ni yn y sesiwn yma'n clywed tystiolaeth gan academyddion ar ystyriaethau ar ôl gadael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd mewn perthynas â'r Bil. A gaf i, felly, groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn inni symud yn syth i gwestiynau, gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record?
Welcome back to this meeting of the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee. We'll move on now to item 5 on our agenda, which is our continuation of scrutiny of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. This is the ninth evidence session that the committee has held discussing the general principles of the Bill. We're hearing evidence in this session from academics on post-EU considerations related to the Bill. Can I welcome the witnesses to this session? Before we move straight to questions, can I ask them, please, to introduce themselves for the record?
Good morning. Do I need to press the mike, or is it automatic?
No, no, it's fine.
Sorry. Good morning. Ludivine Petetin, a reader in law at Cardiff School of Law and Politics and the Wales Governance Centre.
Thank you. And Mary Dobbs.
I'm Mary Dobbs. I'm a senior lecturer in law in Maynooth University in Ireland, and before that worked for eight years in Queen's as well, so lots on Brexit.
Well, thank you very much, indeed, for those introductions and perhaps I'll just kick off this session with a few general questions. I just want to ask you your opinion on the definition of sustainable land management in the Bill. You'll note that the definition has been taken from the United Nations, and we've had evidence from farming unions that they belive that it should be taken from the World Bank definition. I'm just wondering what your views are on that. And do you also think that the definition should be on the face of the Bill as well? Shall I start with Mary?
Okay, thank you very much. So, I'll start with the 'on the face of it'. I think that, generally, having definitions in the Bill itself can be very advantageous, especially if people have debates about what the definition should be and what it could possibly mean. So, that would, in itself, go and give good cause to go and include it.
Regarding the choice of definition, the UN one is not a bad definition. It's a good starting point. I would prefer it to the World Bank one, but I would probably do a mix-and-match and build upon it—so, include, for instance, aspects regarding farming communities, the viability of farms and farming communities or rural communities. But also I would go beyond it, because I don't think that's actually ambitious enough or holistic enough, and so I would use 'social ecological resilience', and that links into your well-being and future generations Act as well, so it gets that nice, Welsh flavour, if you like, at the same time. But, social ecological resilience is focusing on resilience across all components relevant to agriculture and farming systems and to the land, and so, therefore, basically every component is protected along the way, and if you don't have all of those components protected, the entire system risks breaking down at some point. So, I'd actually go beyond, I'm afraid.
Okay. Thanks. Dr Petetin.
Before looking specifically at the definition itself, one thing that really struck me when I opened the document was that it starts with sustainable land management, and it doesn't explain the context or where it's coming from. When you're expecting an agriculture Bill, it doesn't sit very well between an agriculture Bill and why we need this concept or why there is this concept, and I think there is a bit of an explanation needed in the actual Bill to do so. I completely agree also with Mary that this definition is not ambitious enough and perhaps agriculture and, in particular, rural communities are forgotten in it. So, the side of rural development, I feel, is missing from this.
But, I'm going to say, most importantly, it's relying on an international concept rather than tailoring it to Wales and the specific needs of Wales. Mary already mentioned the well-being of future generations Act. It's missing the local, the national approach that usually comes from Welsh Government, I'm going to say. So, this is why I think, like Mary, that it's not sufficient enough. And, as to whether it should be included on the face of the Bill, I think either a definition of the concept should be included in the Bill, or at least a statement should be made a requirement that then would include a definition. Then it means that the concept, whether it's sustainable land management or another one, could then evolve with time as the statement is revised.
Okay. Now, you'll be aware that there are four sustainable land management objectives. Do you believe that the four sustainable land management objectives underpinning this Bill are actually appropriate, or would you advocate any others? Mary, would you like to come in on that?
I think you're going to get a flavour of us saying generally we'd like them more holistic and more ambitious across the board, again reflecting SLM as well. So, 'yes' is the answer. I would go on to say these should be both amended and developed further, and other ones should be added. So, I'm just scrolling through the four that you have here. The first one: producing food. Why isn't this 'high-quality food'? So, to amend some of them. You've got ones to do with climate change, but it doesn't aim for net zero within this, and yet, we see, (1), that's essential, and, (2), we see it later on developed through schemes and so forth, but that should be an objective in itself.
There are elements such as agro-ecology and its related principles that could be included. Soil is missing, even though it talks about ecosystem resilience at this stage. There's nothing on public health through nutrition. You could have things on food security and sovereignty. Essentially, we've got four objectives. They can themselves be improved, but also there's scope for more that could be included, and again, drawing back to social ecological resilience and the reflection that, if we're going to go and create something, we have a chance now to be ambitious, to be holistic, and that is essential to agricultural policy.
But, on top of that, one of your other witnesses—because I went through the evidence sessions—mentioned the role of these objectives, and to learn from things like, again, the well-being of future generations Act, about maximising these and taking a holistic manner as much as possible. So, how they are encompassed in the Bill is also a question, rather than just the content of the objectives. Thank you.
I would also agree with Mary that it needs more of a holistic approach, and it needs an approach that takes the whole of the agri-food supply chain within this. And the reason why I'm saying this is that the first objective is about the production of food, but it doesn't deal with the consumption of food, and production and consumption are two sides of the same coin. So, you can't just address production and think, 'Okay, it needs to be environmentally sustainable, environmentally friendly' without looking at the consumption side of things and whether the food that is being produced is nutritious, is healthy, is good quality. I think this is missing here. One shouldn't be looked at without the other. The reason why I'm saying this is that, across the UK, two thirds of adults are either obese or overweight, and this is something—consumption—that needs tackling. I know that there is also a food Bill, but it needs mentioning here as well. Within that, we need to look at, of course, nutritious food, but also alcohol and alcohol production, and whether it's morally justifiable as well as on public health grounds. I think it is important to think about that.
In terms of the objectives, the climate change ones—the second one—aims to kind of deal with international agreements, but, again, there is nothing on net zero.
The third one, dealing with resilience of ecosystems, I think that's a good approach to look not only at the climate change crisis, but also the biodiversity crisis that we have. And, again, going back to something that is close to my heart, which is rural development, if the fourth objective is about rural development, I don't think it's quite there yet. Again, we don't have enough support for rural communities. Sorry if I'm repeating myself there, but I think this is missing throughout, so I do apologise for the repetition.
That's fine. Thank you very much. I'll now bring in Sarah Murphy. Sarah.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, both, for being here today. So, my question is following on. Are the Welsh Ministers' duties in relation to monitoring and reporting in Part 1 sufficient to give an overall picture of progress on the sustainable land management objectives, do you think?
I think it is important to have these in the Bill. But it's important to think about what we want to achieve, or what wants to be achieved with the reporting, the monitoring. In particular, one thing that I found quite interesting is the use, potentially, of one indicator for each objective, if I remember well. That doesn't seem very much to me.
Another aspect that I find would not reflect well on the data that would be gathered specifically is that it says that some of the data would be gathered for the whole of Wales, and it would be better for the use of that data to actually be more localised, whether that's by county or something like that. I think getting national data is positive, but getting more localised data is very important as well, because we need that kind of data to know whether those objectives are being achieved, whether we are getting closer to sustainable management, closer to sustainability, and improving biodiversity and fighting climate change.
Thank you very much. Mary, did you want to come in?
Yes, please. So, firstly, just drawing on what Ludivine was saying about the indicators and also the targets, yes, it provides for building upon these, but initially it is one indicator per objective, one target per indicator. Even if one just thinks about the four objectives as they currently stand, and the third one of ecosystems, is that going to be, for instance, one indicator in relation to water, and then we ignore air, we ignore the soil, we ignore the plants, and then one target in relation to it? So, maybe it's nitrates in relation to the water. There is the potential to build upon these, and again I listened to the evidence by the Minister in relation to this, and not wanting to be buried in too much work, initially, or to be put—. Basically, everything requires resources, but the objectives cannot be fulfilled if there is only one indicator per one objective, even if they relate into each other. That just will not facilitate achieving the purposes of the Bill, and it will therefore make very minimal—. It will minimise the potential to scrutinise the progress of it as well.
The process generally with the Bill has been excellent on co-design and engagement with stakeholders, but here the Minister has the potential to consult the future generations commissioner, but then it's up to them—it's who they deem to be appropriate. One would expect to see stakeholders more generally consulted. And two other minor but important things: one is clearly that it will involve significant monitoring, and that will be essential. But the timeline is the first year, and then every five years, and arguably that's both too long and too short. It would be useful to have interim reports and also to acknowledge that some outcomes will take a very long time to be demonstrated. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Thank you, both. Thank you, Chair.
Thanks, Sarah. I'll now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.
Thank you, Chair. I've got some questions around support for agriculture. Firstly, I'd like to ask our witnesses whether they believe that the proposed approach to providing support maintains resilience in the agri-food sector to ensure that it can absorb and respond to shocks, including from climate change, war, poverty and financial instability.
Mary, would you like to go first on that?
Certainly. You've mentioned my favourite word of 'resilience' in that question, and it kind of harkens back to why I think it's very important within the definitions and also within the objectives. I'm going to be, unfortunately, a little bit negative for the starting point, which is that your question asked about 'maintaining resilience'. I don't think the system is resilient currently, and I think that we need to improve everything in order to develop resilience, so I think the starting point has to be to recognise that in the first place.
Regarding the purposes here, a lot will depend on how the main scheme is developed and implemented, and I think Ludivine will probably speak a little bit more about that. But, regarding the actual list of purposes here, guess what, my answer is going to be the same as usual: I think they could be more holistic, more ambitious. So, for instance, again, there are questions about public health, soil, rural communities: where are these elements included within the purposes? I know the list is indicative rather than exhaustive, but if you've got a long list on a Bill, it says something when those are included and other ones are not. So, I think getting a more multifaceted approach within this, reflecting the broad idea of resilience, would be very useful, and ensuring adaptive capacity.
The other question that I have is: national minimum standards have basically disappeared, but we were expecting them to be included in the Bill and they're meant to underpin environmental protection across them. But, if you have purposes and we don't have the national minimum standards developed alongside those, then we risk basically it not working effectively and those aspects being then undermined. But I'll pass over to Ludivine at that point. Thank you.
One positive aspect of what is being proposed—well, depending on how you look at it—is that the support is for actions towards objectives. This means that, rather than being paid for outcomes or being paid for public goods, like it was originally planned, the farmers will get paid if they deliver on those actions, even if the objective is not fulfilled. So, that creates a certain certainty and stability for the farmer in terms of getting some financial support. Of course, this means that, from an environmental perspective, if the objective is not achieved then there is a problem in terms of climate change, in terms of biodiversity as well. So, it is important to bear that in mind.
One thing I wanted to highlight when it comes to support and going back to resilience is that there is no obligation for the support to be provided, and that's a big difference from the common agricultural policy. Under the CAP, it was an obligation for farmers to receive support; here, it's not the case. So, this is also an important aspect to bear in mind. So, this kind of uncertainty is possible, of course, and one way to think about that would be to have in place a multi-annual framework, which is not mentioned in the Bill, either.
In terms of the list, some aspects were already mentioned by Mary, but there is nothing on soil quality or soil health, so how do you build resilience into a business, whether that's economic, environmental, et cetera, without thinking about soil? It's quite interesting. There is also nothing on regenerative agriculture, whether you think it's organic, agro-forestry, agro-ecology. And I think again it's not ambitious enough, or not forward-looking enough, and I think a bit more needs to be done in order to achieve or work towards resilience, especially with the instability that we have today. And of course another aspect with this is to think again about the whole of the supply chain, which is not really mentioned in the different types of purposes mentioned here, although as Mary mentioned and as is mentioned, it is not exhaustive.
Thank you, both. Ludivine, you touched on the common agricultural policy there, which leads me into my next question quite nicely, because I wanted to ask you both how the approach to agricultural support differs from what is being proposed in other UK countries and in the EU, and what you feel are the implications of any divergence as well.
I don't mind starting. I'm not going to deal with Northern Ireland, because Mary is the expert on Northern Ireland. So, I will start with Scotland. In Scotland at the moment, they have a proposal for an agriculture Bill, which is under consultation. This proposal for a Bill aims to deliver sustainable and regenerative agriculture. So, that's under consultation. And what is really interesting is that what is proposed at the moment is that 50 per cent of all payments will be for conditionality. And this is really an important point because it means that farmers will be supported to fulfil minimum legal requirements. Whilst in Wales, to basically deliver the minimum legal requirements, farmers will not get any support. They will only get support if they sign up to the scheme and deliver on top of those conditions. So, this is important to bear in mind because the situation is relatively similar in England and similar in the EU.
So, in England, there are two key prongs to support farmers: public money for public goods and productivity. But the basic starting point for support is the sustainable farming incentive. And despite claiming that it goes above the regulatory baseline, when reading more about the details of the actions required, it's actually pretty much the legal baseline. This means that in order to get support, Welsh farmers will have to do more than what's happening in England and Scotland. So, that's really important to bear in mind, in particular when you think of a level playing field within the UK, where you will have discrepancies of support between Wales and other nations. Of course, don't get me wrong, this is potentially great for the environment because you're asking more from farmers. So, that's really positive, but it's also important to bear in mind the impact that this will have on the prices of the products from farmers.
In terms of the CAP reform, this will start next year—2023—and what they are doing is they are keeping direct payments. The direct payments are attached to conditionality and that conditionality is cross-compliance and some greening requirements that we currently have. What is interesting, and that could be something that is explored a bit more in Wales, is how, next year, 10 per cent of direct payments will be redistributive payments, so there will be redistributed income support to address smaller and medium-sized farms. And this is also something that is missing from what we have in front of us here in the Bill: whether you are a big farmer or a smaller farmer, you are treated the same. I think this is important to bear in mind. It seems to use a one-size-fits-all approach and this is a bit problematic. There is also the potential issue, from looking at what is proposed, that we are looking at a 3 hectare minimum acreage in order to get support. And that, of course, leaves some smaller producers out of that support. So, that’s also important to bear in mind.
Another aspect that I wanted to mention in relation to the CAP reform is how there is a bigger emphasis on generational renewal, where 3 per cent of direct payments are going to young farmers and, again, this is not addressed in the Bill—there is no focus on who is farming. Do we want new entrants, do we want young farmers and how do we encourage them? And I think this is also important to bear in mind.
I do apologise for my long answer, but I think it was needed and I tried to bring it back to what is proposed here. Sorry about that.
I'll keep mine just to Northern Ireland in the circumstances and you've already had the general consideration of the issues for Wales, where there's divergence. So, the Northern Irish approach has obviously been delayed for good reason due to political issues within the country. The focus points within the agriculture policy as they have been developed are on increased productivity and resilience—but it's economic resilience, once you dig into it; it's very much economic resilience—there's environmental sustainability, and then they have one on supply chains. So, one of their core focus points is meant to be on supply chains—and for the sake of opening the document, so I can get the proper thing—which is:
'an integrated, efficient, sustainable, competitive and responsive supply chain',
which is why I needed the document open. However, the main packages really focus on the first three.
There are four schemes that are being developed. The first one is a version of direct payments; it'll be less money, so they'll be pulling money from it gradually to put into the environmental schemes. There are two environmental schemes. However, a key point from the version of direct payments, which is known as a farm sustainability payment, is essentially that they are increasing the eligibility from 3 hectares to 5 hectares, so very small farms will no longer be able to go and avail themselves of this funding. So, you have to have a minimum of 5 hectares, and then they have progressive capping once it gets above a £60,000 payment. So, they're using this to essentially take money from the bottom, take money from the top, and use it to fund the other schemes.
There are a couple of small conditions with it, but essentially, it is a version of cross-compliance, but they're getting rid of seven of the statutory management requirements and good agricultural and environmental conditions, including things like pollution to do with groundwater. So, they're reducing the level of compliance that's required, if you like. And also, last month, they announced that the penalties for breaches of this will be limited to 15 per cent, so where it is negligent breaches, multiple negligent breaches, you'll be limited to 15 per cent for the penalties.
They also have a beef sustainability package, and then the two environmental packages, farming for nature and farming for carbon; they are being developed currently. The beef sustainability is essentially reducing the calving age and reducing the slaughter age, and the idea was that that would lead to reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.
The very small farmers in Northern Ireland will be the worst affected, big farmers will also be detrimentally affected, and the middle farmers will retain support, but they'll see a shift in the behaviours. So, those are the relevant components for considering differences.
Thank you, both. Moving on to newly established trade deals, I'm wondering whether you could discuss with us the proposals for agricultural support and the sustainable land management framework in that context, and particularly whether you think Welsh farmers could be disadvantaged there.
So, in terms of looking at the trade deals, those that exist and future ones in particular, at the moment it's relatively difficult to evaluate and assess what will happen to Welsh farmers, because this Bill is about enabling; it gives enabling powers, and therefore it's difficult to know what actually will happen with the powers that would be given. So, further down the line, as we see what comes in front of us, it will be more detailed, and we will know better.
But what I can say now is that apart from the marketing standards approach, there is nothing in the Bill—I will go back to marketing standards in a second—at the moment, there is nothing really in the Bill that would be against any of the trade deals that have been signed, or that are currently being discussed, as I said, because it doesn't really include new standards. The issue, of course, is that we would bring in agricultural products with different levels of standards, usually lower, because Welsh agriculture, British agriculture, has very high standards when it comes to animal welfare, food safety, and so on, so this is important to bear in mind.
Another aspect again, which goes back to what I was just discussing, is the fact that at the heart of the Bill, we have the application of the polluter-pays principle, where farmers are only financially supported to deliver something beyond the regulatory baseline. This means that other nations support their farmers to a greater extent to meet minimal legal requirements, and, as I said, this will have an impact on the costs of the products and also will have an impact in terms of competitive advantage and potentially not favouring Welsh farmers in terms of pricing. Of course, in terms of quality, it will be very, very different. But, again, some work would then need to be done in order to advertise what extra farmers are doing for the environment, for biodiversity et cetera, in order to show that to consumers, which I think they would not be aware of, if this is going ahead.
Now, the last point is in relation to marketing standards. So, here what is proposed deals with technical barriers to trade, and what exists at the moment in the existing trade deals is pretty much what exists under World Trade Organization law, so there aren't really any more concerns for now, because you are allowed to have some leeway when it comes to labelling and so on, when it comes to technical barriers to trade, and, in particular here, marketing standards.
So, obviously, I agree with what Ludivine is saying there, but I'd add two things. One is going back again to the national minimum standards and the significance of having those actually put into, basically, a solid form before we end up with more trade deals where we may be incentivised to reduce our own standards and cut corners a little bit. So, I think having them solidified, if you like, would be very useful, and I know they exist currently, but to put them within the general scheme of agriculture.
The other thing relates to the internal market Act and its relationship with these trade deals, and I think the concern is a combination of the trade deals in conjunction with the market-access principles in the internal market Act, because the problem is more that, as the UK as a whole signs up to trade deals, food comes in that's produced to lower standards. And rather than doing the chlorine-washed chicken for once, I was thinking of beef coated in Lucozade or something equally revolting and also very unhealthy. So, this comes in, England permits it, or Scotland permits it, and Wales doesn't want to allow it. Well, you can't introduce—. Sorry, you can introduce these rules, but you can't prevent the food coming and being imported in from Scotland or England if they've been done so unless an exclusion is sought. So, there needs to be thinking about the development of trade deals, the approaches wanted in Wales and the relationship with that internal market Act. I'll happily develop further if you want, later on.
Thank you. I'm very conscious of time, but if I could ask you both, just briefly, RSPB Cymru suggested to us that the Bill commits Ministers to undertake impact assessments of future trade deals as well. What's your view on that? Do you think that that's a good proposal?
Yes, I think it would be a good proposal, yes. I'm going to keep my answer short.
Thank you, Vikki.
Yes, I am conscious of time, so if I can just ask you to be as succinct as possible; we've got a bit of ground to cover again. So, I'll now bring in Sam Kurtz. Sam.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning, both. To start with you, Ludivine, can I ask where do the proposals within the Bill and the sustainable farming scheme fit within the requirements of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, the TCA?
At the moment, it will be the same as I just answered for existing trade deals. There isn't, really, anything that seems to go against the TCA, because nothing is proposed in terms of lowering the standards that we have, which would be a problem under the TCA. But if it's about just different standards—for instance, when we're thinking about labelling and marketing standards, that's completely fine under the TCA. It's allowed to slightly diverge, because it's about regulatory alignment rather than having the exact same standards. So, Wales still has regulatory autonomy when it comes to setting the standards. The only issue would be if those standards are lowered and this impacts on trade. If those standards are lowered and then they impact on trade then, yes, there would be an issue under the TCA.
Okay, thank you. Mary, I could see you nodding along at points there. Anything to add? No. Nothing to add. Fab. In terms of the reporting requirements for Welsh Ministers relating to support, are these deemed appropriate—for example, the annual report on support and impact report—and do they usefully integrate with the sustainable land management report? Ludivine.
Can I let Mary answer that one, if that's okay?
Yes, of course. Mary.
We'll take turns, to save time for you. So, yes, generally, these are fine. The impact report, the one that's one year and then five years, basically replicates to a certain extent what the SLM report will do—not entirely, but it will feed directly into it, obviously. The one same issue arises, which is the timing of that and considering is every five years appropriate—do you need to have interim reports and do you need to recognise that some outcomes will not manifest within five years? It's useful; the question is what happens with it.
Okay. That's helpful, thank you. Moving on to common frameworks, do common frameworks provide enough of a mechanism for UK co-ordination on matters relevant to the Bill? Who wants to come in here?
I can start. So, there are different frameworks, various different frameworks, and the main one would be the agricultural support framework. It deals with agricultural support, but also marketing standards. But there are so many others: plant health, organics, fertilisers and so on. Thinking in particular about the agricultural support framework, what it does is that it is only about having minimum divergence in terms of policies across the UK. So, it's not about raising standards like it is for the plant varieties framework, which is a possibility for the UK nations. Of course, because of the intrinsic nature of the framework, it's about creating some kind of support that is, to the same extent, discussed across the UK and that everyone agrees upon. So, it's quite important to have it here.
One of the issues, I would say, with the common frameworks is, of course, that we know very little about them. There's very little transparency, very little stakeholder engagement. So, how stakeholders, or even Parliaments, feed into those frameworks is quite problematic, because then you don't know exactly what's going on. Another issue with the common frameworks is the numerous working groups they have and how then do you keep on top of what happens in all those common frameworks. I think the agricultural support one only has two, but I think the animal and welfare one has eight working groups. So, then you have so many different working groups involving different persons, we don't necessarily know who, and that is problematic in terms of having co-ordination.
Okay, interesting. I'm conscious of time, Chair, so, in terms of the final questions, is there opportunity for the witnesses to provide written evidence on the following questions that I've not had time to ask?
Yes, there is, but we've got another few minutes. If you just want to carry on with another few questions, that'll be fine.
Fab. Thank you, Chair, I'm very grateful. In terms of consulting with fellow UK Ministers, is there a role for the Bill to support further UK co-ordination in terms of Welsh Ministers consulting with UK counterparts, or indeed—? I know it's necessarily not vice versa, because it's only Welsh specific, but is there a role for the Bill in that? And that could be for—. Mary, I can see you're putting your hand up.
Okay. I'll just keep it quick. Yes, you could include it, but beware of making unilateral commitments that aren't necessarily reciprocated. So, you might want to, for instance, include a reference to the commitments under common frameworks to engage and consult, or something like that.
Okay. That's really helpful. Ludivine, anything to add?
No. And then finally from me, marketing standards and carcass classifications, which fall under Part 3, Chapters 2 and 3. In your view, could the UK Internal Market Act 2020 impact the effect of the provisions on marketing standards or carcass classifications? Mary.
Okay. This could be a really long one; I'll keep it very short. They are devolved powers, you have the right to them, you should be able to use them. The internal market Act will go and impact on future use, yes, where you go and want to amend or introduce new standards. This is, obviously, really important for devolved nations, and the importance is to go and seek exclusions. And we've seen that with single-use plastics so far, but it will be very useful. There are mechanisms, in particular through the common frameworks, to go and do this—that would be a useful tool. But, yes, you absolutely need to look at this, and also potentially have a flex-above clause in common frameworks—so, that was done in the plant varieties and seeds framework, I think. But, yes, absolutely it will impact; you need to think about it.
The explanatory memorandum says that these powers are to help avoid heavy bureaucratic burdens for those in industry, and to avoid regulatory divergence by having these powers. But what happens when other parts of the UK go in different directions? It's not just England going in one direction; it's all parts of the UK. So, there will be regulatory divergence at some point.
Okay, helpful. Thank you. Anything to add, Ludivine?
Just one point, in terms of regulatory divergence. What businesses want is similar standards across the UK, so that they can trade more easily. If we have different labelling standards across the four nations, it's going to be, again, more costly for small businesses to trade. So, that's also important to bear in mind. An example of that is what is happening in terms of gene editing in England and the proposed precision breeding Bill, and the differences in terms of that approach between England and Wales, for instance, here. I'll just leave it at that.
Thank you. Thank you very much, both. Chair.
Yes, thank you, Sam. And I'm afraid time has now beaten us. Our session has come to an end. So, can I thank you both for being with us today? It's been very, very useful. The evidence that you've provided will be very helpful for us in going forward in scrutinising this Bill. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course, so, if there are any issues with that, then please let us know. But, once again, thank you for being with us today.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 6, a dwi'n cynnig, o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42, i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod. A yw Aelodau'n fodlon ar hynny? Ydyn, dwi'n gweld bod Aelodau yn fodlon ar hynny. Felly, derbyniwyd y cynnig ac fe symudwn ni ymlaen i'n sesiwn breifat ni.
We will move on, therefore, to item 6, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content with that? Yes, I see that they are. Therefore, that motion is agreed and we will move on to our private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:03.
The public part of the meeting ended at 12:03.