The First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford MS has told members of the Senedd that he has received ‘vile messages’ from people opposed to the 20mph changes in Wales.
During questions to the First Minister at the Plenary today, Tuesday (Sep 26) Andrew RT Davies MS pointed out that he did not disparage anyone disparage anyone who signs up to a petition, whether it has several hundred thousand or a few thousand. The Leader of the Welsh Conservatives said that the deputy transport Minister had said on Friday night in a tweet that the 440,000-odd signatories to that petition were anti road safety. He asked the First Minister if he agreed with him?
The First Minister said: “All petitions should be taken seriously, and that is exactly how the different petitions in relation to the 20 mph zones will be viewed by this Government. The process is the one set out by the Llywydd. The petitions are to the Senedd, not to the Welsh Government, and it is for the Senedd, through the Petitions Committee, to respond to them. But I can assure the Member that we on this side take all petitions seriously and will view these petitions in that light.
The First Minister continued: “At the heart of the case for moving to 20 mph speed limits as a default in built-up residential areas is road safety. This is a measure that will save lives. That is the basis on which it has been brought forward and that is the basis on which we will continue to defend a measure that only last week the leading academic journal in this field said was the most significant public health measure to have been attempted in the United Kingdom for nearly 20 years.”
Andrew R.T. Davies MS responded by saying it was critical that people aren’t disparaged because they engage in a protest when they have observations or concerns about a Government measure. He said: “I take it from the points that you’ve made that you don’t regard this petition as being anti road safety and you look at it as a genuine means for people to express themselves and express the concerns they’ve had.
“One thing that is highlighted again by interacting with people who have concerns over the proposals that the Government has implemented is whether this will affect other national speed limits in this country. So, can you confirm today, First Minister, that there are no plans from the Welsh Government to adjust any of the other national speed limits here in Wales before the next Senedd elections in 2026?”
The First Minister said that he wanted to make clear to people who may have been misled by information that purports to inform them about plans in Wales but does no such thing. He said: “We’re very used in Wales, on a single journey, to moving from a speed limit that might be 40 mph to 50 mph, 60 mph or 70 mph—none of those are changed by this policy and there are no plans to do so. This is a policy designed to make a default position of 20 mph on roads that serve built-up residential areas, with scope for local authorities to retain 30 mph where they believe that that is the right thing to do.”
Mr Drakeford said that he wanted to make another point to Andrew RT Davies and said: “I think it is very important to take seriously the views that people express within our democratic process using the petitions system that we have here. I also think that that cuts both ways, and that those people who support the policy and those people who have brought forward the policy are entitled to be treated with respect as well. I’m quite happy to send the Member some of the vile messages that I’ve received from people who are opposed to this policy, and for him to say to them, as I agree with him about people who have a different view to mine—. I don’t wish to disparage them. I think it would be good to hear from him that those people who are prepared to say things that are not simply disparaging but are directly threatening of people’s physical safety—that those things are absolutely unacceptable as well.
Andrew RT Davies said he was more than happy to join the First Minister in those comments. He said: “There is no space in our society for that whatsoever. I, myself, can send many, many examples—and it’s open on my public social media feeds—of the remarks that I get thrown at me. I also get Government-funded purported news sites writing articles that say that I think that this type of language—that you, the Minister and others are collateral damage—. I have never said that, but by a journalist implying that I believe that, it puts a target on my back and my family’s back as well, First Minister. I don’t enjoy the protection that Government Ministers have, and when I see such posts put on a website that is funded by the Government, I think the Government has to think long and hard about the funding of that website.
“What I would say to you, and to all politicians in this Chamber, is that this type of language is completely unacceptable, deplorable, and should be called out at every opportunity. I hear the Deputy Minister saying it’s a bit rich. The article I just referred to on the Nation.Cymru website was reposted by many Members in this Chamber, and it hasn’t a shred—a shred—of truth in it. So, it can, as you said, First Minister, play both ways. We must stand out against it, and I stand with you against that.”