ON Tuesday (Sep 19) questions were put forward to the first Minister during the Senedd Plenary. There was heated debate and strong remarks from both the labour and conservative benches.
Tom Giffard MS asked the first question. He asked First Minister Mark Drakeford what steps the Welsh Government would take in terms of monitoring the impact of default 20mph speed limits on journey times.
The first Minister responded by saying that a monitoring framework for 20mph would be published by the end of September. Drakeford said that it would set out key performance indicators. One of which would be vehicle journey times and journey time variation on main through routes.
Tom Giffard MS then went on to make a statement on the 20mph default speed limit as well as the Senedd petition in opposition to the new default speed limit whish at that time had gathered over 160K signatures.
The MS said: “Llywydd, by far the largest ever Senedd petition in history is being signed this week, with over 162,000 people and counting registering their opposition to the Welsh Labour Government’s 20 mph scheme.
“One of the reasons people will be opposing this scheme is because of the cost to our economy. The Government’s own figures show that it could be hit by up to £9 billion, and people know we can’t afford it, because, after 25 years of Labour in Wales, we’re languishing at the bottom of league tables for economic prosperity.
“They used to want to aspire to bring us up to the UK average. Now their only aspiration is stuffing 96 politicians in this place.
“But if he doesn’t believe me when I say there’ll be an economic hit, perhaps he’ll want to listen to a constituent of mine who’s an audiologist making home visits across south Wales. He contacted me to tell me, and I quote part of his e-mail:
‘It takes way too long from one patient to another, uses more fuel, too risky for prosecution and licence points.
“We can no longer visit care home patients either for the same reason and we’ve cancelled them. Home care nurses are complaining as they’re not allocated travelling time between calls and makes it impossible to fit all patients allocated in.”
“First Minister, that’s just one business, but stories like this will be repeated across Wales. People across the country won’t be able to receive the services that they rely on thanks to your Government’s actions.
“So, will you commit, as the 160,000 plus-strong petition asks you to and rescind your disastrous 20 mph scheme?”
The First Minister responded simply with, “No, Llywydd.”
John Griffiths MS agreed with the First Minister that the 20mph roll out as a default speed limit will save lives and prevent many serious injuries. Griffiths asked the First Minister if he agreed that there was a distortion of the debate from the Welsh Tories – ‘For example; trotting out this line repeatedly that it’s a blanket ban – when we know that there will be exceptions.”
John Griffiths MS claimed it was part of a pattern from the top, from the leader Andrew R.T Davies to distort and debase democracy.
This statement was met with audible objections from the Conservative bench.
The First Minister Mark Drakeford responded by saying that he heard voices on the Conservative benches once again claiming that the new law is a blanket ban. The First Minister reiterated that it was a default speed limit which is not the same as a blanket ban.
The First Minister in referring to the leader of Welsh Conservatives said: “He is determined not to tell the truth and that it is an absolute disgrace.”
Andrew R.T Davies MS attempted to interject on the First Minister’s address. The chair Elin Jones refused saying that he would have his opportunity to ask the First Minister. The First Minister proceeded to conclude his remarks.
The First Minister reiterated that the new default speed limit is not a blanket ban and that local authorities have the ability to set other speed limits. The First Minister said that if it had been a blanket ban, they would not have been able to do so.
The First Minister said that no matter how many times the leader of the opposition knows that what he is saying is a distortion of the truth, the position is that it is a default speed limit with the ability of local authorities to amend that speed limit on roads where they know that that is the right answer for their local populations.
A row over the 20mph between Lee Waters MS and Andrew R.T Davies also spilt over onto social media with Lee Waters telling Andrew R.T Davies to ‘Play the ball, not the man.’
Mr Waters’ social media page is also full of comments criticising the Deputy Minister and the Senedd for the implementation of the new law.
Before the changes were made a petition gathered 21,920 signatures which led to a debate in the Senedd in June 2023.
Following the implementation of the changes a petition has now gathered over 273K signatures. The petitions committee will now consider this petition for a debate.
The petition states:
“We want the Welsh Government to rescind and remove the disastrous 20mph law.
“The new 20mph law is coming into force on the 17th September and it will mark the end of having socialism in power in Wales.
“Welsh Government claim to have supporting evidence stating that reducing to 20mph EVERYWHERE saves lives! Yet we get flyers merely claiming that it will, and opinions from doctors that see RTCs coming into A&E.
“This is NOT evidence. The only true evidence is from Belfast and it states it makes NO DIFFERENCE to RTCs!”
Deputy Minister Lee Waters MS appears to be taking the brunt of the blame with an avalanche of negative and sometimes abusive comments on his Facebook page.
Some are calling for organised blockades and slow drives on major roads. Some are advising to sell your car and buy mobility scooters.
Others claim that the Welsh Government has overstepped their position and the policy will cause more disruption and subsequently more deaths.
Some state that they will never vote labour again. Others mention the confusion caused by the slow speed of change in signage on Welsh roads.
The main objection appears to be about the amount of money the changes have cost in relation to the lack of investment in public services in Wales including health and education.
Mr Waters asserts that democracy works when two thirds of the Senedd support the change but appears to have underestimated the backlash which in itself is a symbol of free speech and democracy at work.
Many are critical of his approach to free speech from commentators on the 20mph limit which they allege includes deleting comments and blocking users.
Questions have been raised as to whether cyclists will have to obey the new law change and whether they would be fined if caught exceeding 20 miles per hour.
MrWaters said: “If there’s evidence people are facing danger from bicycles we’ll act. At the moment more than 99% of pedestrian collision deaths in this country involve a motorised vehicle.”
It is not clear whether this is a view which has been aired or shared at the Senedd.