20mph, coal tips and Calendar Girls: Highlights from Mark Drakeford's final FMQs

Mark Drakeford on his final day as first minister of Wales
The first minister is stepping down from the top job in the Senedd after five years in charge. Credit: Welsh Government

Mark Drakeford has faced his final First Minister's Questions before standing down from the role after five years.

He delivered an emotional resignation speech in the Senedd chamber and is set to be replaced by economy minister Vaughan Gething, who was selected as the new leader of Welsh Labour on Saturday.

Mr Drakeford took to the chamber which was in a more jovial mood than usual at 1.30pm on a Tuesday, although serious topics including the conflict in the Middle East, childcare and Wales' role in the wider world were on the agenda.

A few moments stood out:

Mark Drakeford preparing for his final FMQs. Credit: Welsh Government
  • Last-ditch effort to scrap default 20mph speed limits

Conservative MS Tom Giffard made one final plea with Mr Drakeford to scrap the controversial 20mph speed limits in built-up areas.

The question came following the closing of the record-breaking petition, which saw nearly 470,000 people call for the policy to be reversed.

GoSafe, which operates speed cameras across the country, has confirmed it will increase monitoring of the speed limit from this week.

Stronger enforcement will come in on any roads where there is evidence of safety risks.

Following the introduction of the controversial measure in September 2023, there had been a pause on enforcing speed limits on roads which had recently become 20mph roads.

Mr Giffard asked Mr Drakeford: "In the last few hours your have in the job as first minister, will you make your last decision your best one and scrap these 20mph speed limits?"

Mr Drakeford responded: "I am proud that here in Wales, we are at the leading edge of a policy change that will happen far beyond Wales.

"We know it's going to happen in Scotland. We know it happens in Ireland. We know that there are thousands and thousands of roads in England which are 20mph.

The 20mph default speed limit has been controversial. Credit: ITV Wales

"And the reason for that, and the reason that his predecessor David Melding initiated the debate on this here on the floor of the Senedd is because reducing, just by a small amount, the speed at which we drive in built-up areas will save lives.

"It will save thousands and thousands of people from the trauma of being seriously injured on our roads.

"It gives back those roads to the people that live on them."

  • Coal tip safety and Aberfan

Labour MS Buffy Williams asked about coal tip safety in her constituency of Rhondda, to which Mr Drakeford drew on his experience of watching the Aberfan disaster unfold as a child.

Mr Drakeford said: "Anyone brought up in the Labour movement and anyone brought up in the Rhondda will be shaped by the legacy of coal mining in Wales.

"I vividly remember, I had just gone to secondary school in Carmarthen and I returned home on an October afternoon. As I came into the house I knew something was wrong because the television was on.

"The television was never on at that time of the day on my house. The reason the television was one was because the scenes from Aberfan were already being shown on it."

"When that tip moved in Tylerstown in 2020, for anyone who saw it and certainly for anyone lived nearby, all those hundreds of thousands of tonnes of spoil as it moved down the mountain brought to the surface again all those memories.

"We have a programme of inspection, 350 inspections of the most at-risk tips in Wales this winter alone.

"We have a programme of investment...but despite Rebecca Evans' [Welsh finance minister] best efforts with successive chief secretaries to the treasury we have been unable to persuade the UK Government to provide its contribution to the remediation efforts to an issue that pre-dates devolution by many decades."

Conservative Samuel Kurtz MS offered up some insight into what Mr Drakeford gets up to when he isn't busy being first minister.

In a question about supporting live music venues, Mr Kurtz revealed Mr Drakeford had enjoyed one performance in particular while in the audience of a theatre in his constituency.

Mr Kurtz said: "Live music and entertainment venues are important to cultural establishments in our towns and cities, with none more important than the Queen's Hall in Narberth.

"It's no secret you will soon have some more time on your hands, first minister. What the colleagues in the chamber may not know is you've actually been in the audience at the Queen's Hall watching, and correct me if I'm wrong, Calendar Girls.

"Narberth's Queen's Hall has welcomed a number of big names in its 65-year history from Elton John to Wales' finest, Goldie Lookin' Chain."

Mr Kurtz went on to say: "Along with enjoying performances from the audience, what further support is the Welsh Government providing to venues such as the Queen's Hall to guarantee their survival?"

Mr Drakeford responded as laughing was building up from the back benches of the chamber, saying: "I need to be clear that it was a live performance of Calendar Girls featuring some very brave artists. It's not my only visit to the [Queen's] Hall and and I hope to be there again."

Mr Drakeford went on to say: "It's really important we have live music venues here in Wales. The industry is under pressure. We know that."

The outgoing first minister also threw this support behind the Music Venue Trust's proposal to put a small levy on the ticket price of successful live music businesses which will then be distributed to smaller ones.

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