Senedd backs Welsh Government pandemic exit plan but calls for clarity over virus suppression strategy

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

Yesterday, MSs held the first proper debate since March – a sign perhaps that things are starting to get back to the usual routine in “Cardiff Bay/bedroom/office/living room” albeit under social distancing and via Zoom.

I haven’t been posting as regularly on Senedd Home simply because there’s only so many ways you can tell the same story. I’ve also stopped doing video clips unless they’re to make a serious point because the sound and video quality on Zoom is variable.

Following next week’s half-term recess, once MSs start to regularly discuss topics other than the pandemic – and it does look like they’re inching towards that – I can switch Senedd Home back to a more familiar output. Until then, the reduced service remains in place.

The subject of the debate was the Welsh Government’s recently-published lockdown exit plan.

The Motion (Final/Amended Version)

The Senedd:

  • Notes the publication of Unlocking Our Society and Economy: Continuing the Conversation which sets out how Wales can progressively move out of lockdown and thanks the people of Wales for their ongoing support and commitment to reducing the spread of coronavirus.
  • Believes robust testing and contact tracing system is a necessary prerequisite for the lifting of restrictions.
  • Believes the Welsh Government must work in collaboration with other UK governments as part of a four-nation approach but agrees that public health should be at the forefront of the decisions about when and how stay-at-home regulations will be eased.
  • Recognises those who have lost their lives during the pandemic and extends its deepest sympathies to the bereaved and also commends the hard work and dedication of critical workers during the pandemic.
  • Supports the call by the police for the First Minister to ensure the lockdown fines are increased (which happened).
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to press the UK Government to introduce a universal basic income and to explore all other avenues available to the Welsh Government to ensure financial support is available to the people of Wales.

Response from the people of Wales “outstanding” but opposition say the exit plan is a missed opportunity to provide hope

The First Minister praised how the people of Wales responded to life under lockdown conditions, which he described as “outstanding”. The exit plan states what measures will be taken in different areas of public life as the restrictions are eased – though that will only happen if and when the scientific and medical evidence suggests it’s safe to do so.

Talks are taking place between the UK’s governments and the English mayors. While a united four nations approach is preferable, the Welsh Government’s decisions will be based on Welsh interests.

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), said the exit strategy was a missed opportunity to provide some hope – with clear dates and milestones. The machinery of government should now be geared towards lifting restrictions, particularly for businesses.

Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) said the language in the exit strategy was ambiguous as it wasn’t clear whether the Welsh Government were going to try and eliminate coronavirus (as in New Zealand) or simply maintain a manageable number of cases over a longer period (“flatten the curve”). He also believed the track and trace system had to be working properly before restrictions can be lifted.

A question of finance

Several MSs made contributions based around finances. While a supplementary budget is due soon, both Lynne Neagle MS (Lab, Torfaen) and Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay MS (Con, Monmouth), stressed the need to support the hardest-hit areas. There was also support for a universal basic income.

“I turn to an area where I hope that we can agree, and that is the idea of moving in the post-Covid era to a universal basic income. Now, this is an idea that I’ve been advocating for a very long time, and it has seen sometimes as a romantic idea…. but we’ve seen the Spanish Government introduce this. In response to the crisis, we must commend the efforts of the Welsh Government and UK Government in terms of supporting people’s livelihoods, but….that’s left us with a very complex picture.”
– Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)

Darren Millar MS (Con, Clwyd West) warned that different measures taken by the different governments – despite being based on the same scientific advice – was confusing people.

However, Sian Gwenllian MS (Plaid, Arfon) pointed to the phased and careful reopening of schools in Wales – when it’s safe to do so – as an example of Wales making better decisions given the mess in England on school re-opening.

Vote

The votes were cast using the bloc voting system introduced for virtual meetings. There were 30 votes cast on behalf of Labour (29) and the other members of the Welsh Government (1) – the last vote I assigned to Kirsty Williams because she’s the senior cabinet member of the two non-Labour ministers.

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