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Politics

Senedd backs British sign language bill

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THE SENEDD backed plans to introduce a bill to encourage the use of British sign language and improve access to public services for deaf people.

Mark Isherwood said his proposed British sign language (BSL) legislation would give deaf people a real voice in the design and delivery of services.

He told the Senedd that if the bill fails to become law, Wales will be the only part of the UK that is not covered by a specific BSL law.

The North Wales MS welcomed the UK’s 2022 British Sign Language Act but pointed out that the reporting and guidance duties do not apply to Wales.

Mr Isherwood, who won a ballot among MSs to propose the bill, said: “Existing legislation does not meet the needs of the deaf community and BSL signers.”

The Conservative explained the bill would establish a BSL commissioner, with the same powers as the Welsh language commissioner.

“This would show a significant message of support to the BSL signing community,” he said.

Mr Isherwood told the chamber the bill would place a duty on the Welsh Government to publish an annual report on progress in promoting and facilitating the use of BSL.

He quoted the British Deaf Association: “BSL is not just a language – it is also a gateway to learning and the means whereby deaf people survive and flourish in a hearing world.”

Mr Isherwood estimated the annual cost of the bill at about £800,000 for the first five years, stressing that early intervention and prevention will reduce cost pressures on other services.

Lesley Griffiths suggested the Welsh Government will not support the opposition bill as Mr Isherwood attempts to navigate the Senedd’s legislative process.

Wales’ social justice secretary said: “While I fully appreciate the intention behind this bill, I do not think it is needed. We can – and have – made significant progress without a bill.”

Ms Grifiths pointed out that the Welsh Government did not need a bill to include BSL in Wales’ new curriculum or to ensure BSL/English interpreters at press conferences.

She said: “We can, and we will, use policy levers to create effective change and equality,” adding that Welsh ministers recognised BSL as a language of Wales in 2004.

Ms Griffiths raised the role of the disability rights taskforce which was set up following a report, entitled Locked out, about the impact of the pandemic on disabled people. 

Plaid Cymru’s Sioned Williams said Wales cannot rely on the goodwill of organisations alone, warning the lack of standards on BSL is a “clear gap in our legislative framework”.

She said: “More widely, this is an example of the wide-ranging social barriers that face the deaf community in Wales, which become clear, very often, very early on in their lives.”

The shadow social justice secretary raised alarm about the lack of any accredited auditory verbal therapists, who provide specialist early intervention for deaf children.

Ms Williams said deaf learners are 26% less likely to gain GCSE grades A* to C in English, Welsh and maths, compared with their hearing contemporaries.

She raised concerns about unequal access to health care, warning: “This puts their health at risk, undermines their human rights and dignity, and is a clear example of inequality.”

Sam Rowlands paid tribute to Mr Isherwood, who chairs cross-party groups on disability, deaf issues and autism, for his campaigning during two decades as a Senedd member.

The shadow health secretary argued his Conservative colleague’s bill has the potential to revolutionise the lives of deaf people in Wales.

Mr Rowlands told the chamber his mum has been learning British sign language in Wrexham but she has reached a point where more advanced courses are not available.

The North Wales MS said: “It’s struck me and my family that there’s a chance to consider how we include deaf people and how we can play our part in learning BSL….

“It’s simply not right or fair that deaf people are excluded from too many parts of life because of their disability.”

Peredur Owen Griffiths raised Welsh Women’s Aid’s concerns that a lack of BSL support prevents women at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse from seeking help.

The Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales East warned that around 22 deaf women are at risk every day but they continue to face significant barriers when accessing support.

He said: “These communication barriers cause additional obstacles for survivors wanting to access help and support, making it more difficult for them to leave perpetrators.”

He backed a reporting requirement, saying: “What gets measured gets done, so putting a duty on reporting is so important in creating a culture where use of BSL is embedded.”

In closing, Mr Owen Griffiths asked: “Parity between Welsh and English is enshrined in law, so why not add a third Welsh language, BSL?”

Natasha Asghar, who also represents South Wales East, said she attended a basic BSL course in Newport, “which was a hugely exciting as well as beneficial experience”.

She warned: “Many deaf BSL signers have a lower reading age than the general population as a result of linguistic exclusion. This in turn can lead to social exclusion.”

Replying to the debate, Mr Isherwood said it would be a matter of shame and a gross betrayal if Wales was the only part of the UK not covered by specific BSL legislation.

Members voted 24-16 to allow Mr Isherwood to introduce the bill, with three Labour backbenchers – Alun Davies, Rhianon Passmore and Buffy Williams – abstaining.

Politics

First Minister grilled over minister’s sacking

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VAUGHAN Gething denied there is any onus on him to prove Hannah Blythyn leaked to the press despite her denials and confirmation she was not the source.

Llyr Gruffydd said it is clear the former minister denies the claims that led to her sacking, so the onus is on Wales’ First Minister to prove the allegation.

But Mr Gething bit back: “I reject that completely: the onus is not on me to prove that.”

In a heated exchange, the First Minister raised his voice, shouting “let me finish” at the Plaid Cymru politician as he was being pressed about concerns.

Mr Gething told the meeting of a Senedd scrutiny committee that he had reached an inescapable conclusion about where the leak came from.

However, on Thursday, Nation.Cymru took the extraordinary step of confirming Ms Blythyn was not the source of leaked messages.

Mr Gruffydd asked whether the iMessage group was official or less formal.

Accusing his political opponents of “getting into the weeds”, the First Minister did not confirm if it was a formal ministerial group.

He said: “I did not create the group. The group was created and we were all added in.

“The point is: if ministers are prepared to share information about each other in a way that directly compromises each other and the trust that exists, that does go to collective responsibility and it goes to the [ministerial] code.

“The evidence is just very straightforward. You either choose to act or you choose to allow it to fester and that affects what the government can do.”

Nation.Cymru accused the First Minister of misleading the UK Covid inquiry by not admitting to deleting records, with screenshots showing he tried to swerve a transparency law.

Russell George, for the Conservatives, reiterated calls for the First Minister to publish evidence following Hannah Blythyn’s “brave” personal statement on Tuesday.

Mr Gething said he was surprised to face questions in the Senedd on Wednesday about his “painful” choice to sack the former social partnership minister.

He told the committee: “The statement that had been made on the Tuesday, we were all told this is a statement and there is no response to it.

“Then we essentially had a response to it the next day …in a contested environment.

“When Hannah made her statement … she made clear she didn’t want other people speaking for her. We then had an afternoon of men speaking for her. I find that difficult.”

Mr Gething denied any accusation of inconsistency, saying: “I have never tried to claim that Hannah Blythyn directly contacted Nation.Cymru.

“I’m very clear: the evidence I have is that a photograph of her phone was provided to Nation.Cymru. Ministers are responsible for their own data.”

The former lawyer added: “I can tell you it was a real issue between ministers.

“If you don’t feel you can trust people then it affects what you say and how you say it.

“So, I made a really difficult choice because I thought it was the right thing to do for the government and the country – and it really is as simple as that.”

Mr Gething told the committee there is potential a route back into government for Ms Blythyn “but it is about how people respond and how people behave”.

“It’s hard for me to have people constantly question my integrity,” he said.

“In all my life, as a trade union rep, as an employment lawyer, as a member and a minister – I always tried to do the right thing, including when it’s difficult for me personally.

“That is what I’m doing again and yet here we are, with more questions and more suggestions that go to the heart of integrity and decency.”

A fiery First Minister accused fellow Senedd members of questioning his integrity in the chamber “without facts to support it, without truth behind it”.

Mr Gething emphasised that the Welsh Government is “getting on with the job”, pointing to Tuesday’s statement on plans for new laws as an example.

He said: “I want to carry on and do the job I have been elected to do. It really is a privilege to lead my country and that’s what I’m committed to do.”

David Rees, the deputy speaker or Diprwy Lywydd, who chairs the scrutiny committee, intervened to curtail questioning of the First Minister on the matter.

At the meeting at Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets on July 12, Mr Rees said: “I think there’s opportunities ahead of us before the recess to have further discussions on this point.”

On July 17, Senedd members will debate a Conservative motion that aims to force the First Minister to publish all evidence he relied on with appropriate redactions.

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Politics

Culture secretary vows push to keep free-to-air Six Nations games

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WALES’ culture secretary vowed to make the case for keeping Wales’ Six Nations games on free-to-air TV to her Labour colleagues in the new UK Government.

Lesley Griffiths told the Senedd she will be seeking a meeting with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss the issue.

Ms Griffiths said: “Making the Six Nations free-to-air ensures that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can feel part of this shared experience.

“This inclusivity strengthens community bonds and fosters a sense of belonging.”

Responding to a debate on a Senedd culture committee report on broadcasting rights, the culture secretary said she would write to the UK Government by the end of this week.

Delyth Jewell chairs the culture committee, which held an inquiry on whether Wales’ matches should be added to Ofcom’s list of events that must be shown on terrestrial TV.

The Plaid Cymru politician said: “A perfect storm of market dynamics in broadcasting live sport has seen more and more events go behind a paywall.

“Public service broadcasters are facing significant budgetary constraints, be this from long-term cuts to the licence fee, or a downturn in the advertising market on broadcast television. Increasing production costs are compounding both these factors.

“The advent of global streaming services also means that the value of sports broadcasting rights has increased.”

The Welsh Rugby Union told the inquiry that moving matches to the protected list could have a devastating medium- and long-term impact on the whole game in Wales.

Media rights account for £20m of the WRU’s £90m total revenue, with the union calling for open competition to maximise income for the game.

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, recognised this tension but warned: “There is a real risk here that avoiding action will leave us dropping the ball. We must ensure future generations can connect with the game without having to shell out for the privilege.”

She added: “Let’s hope, with the new UK Labour Government, we will be in a safe pair of hands and we get protected, free-to-air Six Nations coverage over the line.”

Heledd Fychan called for matches to be broadcast on S4C, rather than having a Welsh viewing option on platforms such as Amazon Prime.

The Plaid Cymru MS, who represents South Wales Central, pointed out that Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has been appointed a junior DCMS minister as she urged Labour to act.

Samuel Kurtz raised concerns about the 8% interest rate the WRU is paying on an £18m coronavirus business interruption loan scheme from the Welsh Government.

Pointing out that the rate was fixed at 2% for English premiership sides, the Tory MS said: “I think that’s a financial constraint that’s hurting our professional clubs here in Wales.”

Caerphilly MS Hefin David joked that he has a lot in common with former PM Rishi Sunak – “as my dad wouldn’t let us have Sky either, and we had to listen to it on the radio”.

He called for a ‘Plan B’ for the hospitality industry if rugby goes behind a paywall, including a contractual clause to give small pubs and clubs a reduced pay-to-view subscription.

Dr David said he watches Wales matches at Gilfach workmen’s club, which pays £514 a month for Sky, as he raised concerns about venues having to buy multiple subscriptions..

“Well, Gilfach workies simply can’t afford that,” he said.

Alun Davies, a fellow Labour backbencher, said: “We need to address the real crisis in Welsh rugby and that is ensuring that the game exists for future generations, and I believe that exposure to the Six Nations championship is fundamental to that.”

The Blaenau Gwent MS raised the example of Glamorgan cricket.

He said: “It does raise fears within me that the more we take the game away from the screens, the more we take it away from our communities and from the people who enjoy watching the game, and the less it becomes our national sport.”

The culture committee’s inquiry was sparked after John Whittingdale, a Conservative former culture minister, left the door open last autumn while giving evidence.

Sir John told the meeting: “We’ve always said that if the Welsh Parliament argued very strongly that, for the good of sport in Wales, we needed to look again at the listed events, we would look at it, certainly. So, it’s not closed.’

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Politics

King Charles III addresses Senedd to mark 25th anniversary of Welsh devolution

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KING CHARLES III addressed the Welsh Parliament on a visit to celebrate 25 years since the then-National Assembly for Wales was established in 1999.

His Majesty said: “I’m so delighted to join you today as we mark this significant milestone in our history – the 25th anniversary of Welsh devolution.

“It is a milestone on a journey which it has been my privilege, all my life, to share with you during times that have seen great change, profound sorrow and tremendous achievement.

“Through it all my respect and affection for the people of this ancient land have deepened with every passing year.”

Speaking in Welsh, which he learned at Aberystwyth University ahead of his investiture as Prince of Wales, he said: “It is a privilege to share your love for this very special nation.”

King Charles III greeting Welsh children outside the Senedd

The King said it has given him great pleasure to see the bond continue, with the Prince returning to Ynys Mon this week – “a place which I know means so much to him”.

He told the debating chamber or Siambr: “It is with countless special memories and particular pride that I join you as we reflect on the past quarter century of the history we have shared, which you in your work in this Senedd have the great responsibility of making.

“In 1999, when the National Assembly was established, we could not know what lay ahead but we trusted that the common desire for the welfare of the people of Wales would be the surest guide for those who would create, shape and develop this new national institution.

“Looking back … I hope you can feel a real sense of pride in the respect that has been earned and in the contribution that has been made to the lives of so many.

“Welsh minds have indeed been directed to Welsh matters and the distinct voice of Wales is heard with clarity and purpose.

“We look back at the journey so far and we look forward to the journey yet to come.”

Looking to the Plaid Cymru benches in the Siambr, the Kind said: “Now, of course, a parliament would not be worthy of the name were there not differences of opinion.

“But it is a tribute to that spirit of community – so evident to all who love Wales, as we do – that this has been managed with an inclusivity the very shape of this chamber symbolises.”

His Majesty described Wales as a “unique mosaic of places, landscapes and cultures”.

Turning back to Welsh, he said: “It is wonderful to see that the Senedd uses the Welsh language so often – not just as a symbolic act but as its foundation.

“The greatest honour is its use.”

The 25th anniversary coincides with the passing of a law which will see the Senedd expanded from 60 to 96 members elected under a new voting system from 2026.

King Charles said the Senedd has become more than a symbol over the past 25 years: “It has become essential to the life of Wales.

“And as we look back … I offer you heartfelt congratulations on all you have achieved.

“We now look forward to the tasks that we face in the next quarter century – not least the challenge we all share as inhabitants of this threatened planet.

“A challenge which I know you are seeking to meet with energy and determination.

“A great milestone has been reached: there are many more ahead: but you do not travel alone. The strength, resilience and aspiration of the Welsh people will help to sustain you.

“You take with you the goodwill and support of all who have the interests of Wales at heart – they will be equal to any task.

“With those interests in mind, I pray that in the years to come you will achieve even more – overcome even more challenges and find even more causes for celebration.

King Charles III meeting First Minister Vaughan Gething

Elin Jones, the Senedd’s speaker or Llywydd, is one of a few remaining members of “class of ‘99” who have served for the full 25 years since the then-National Assembly was set up.

Ms Jones said: “We’d come to build Wales and change the world but, as with life, we were soon deflated by the mundane and sometimes bizarre – nothing more so than our annual scrutiny of the potatoes originating in Egypt regulations.

“Those early years demonstrated the inadequacy of our powers and the aspiration to do more. The people of Wales in 2011, by referendum, supported granting primary law-making powers to the Senedd.

“And we have been pioneering and ambitious in the use of those powers…. we’ve been innovative in how we do our politics, with coalitions, co-operation and joint working.”

The speaker quoted Steffan Lewis – her Plaid Cymru colleague who died in 2019 – who urged Senedd members to “always say what you believe and believe what you say”.

In closing, Ms Jones said. “The class of ’99 and the class of today will come and go.

“In our time of service we are merely custodians, as this Senedd is in the permanent and precious ownership of the people of Wales.”

Vaughan Gething told the Senedd 1999 feels like a lifetime ago and he was still a student about to graduate from Aberystwyth University.

Wales’ first minister said: “While I was sitting my final exams, another former student of that great Welsh university – another former resident of Pantycelyn hall of residence – was addressing the first National Assembly.

“Your majesty told members: in the Assembly the voice of Wales will have its authentic and vigorous expression, in ways not possible before Welsh minds will be directed to Welsh matters. Indeed, this was the very aim of devolution then as it is now.”

Mr Gething said devolution has evolved into an established part of the constitutional fabric of the UK over the past quarter of a century.

The first minister said Queen Elizabeth told the Senedd in 2003 that it is vital to the health – both of the UK and Wales – that democratic institutions flourish and adapt.

“And adapt we have,” said Mr Gething, pointing to the move to law-making powers and the introduction of the first Welsh taxes in 800 years as examples.

Looking to the future, he said: “Yma o hyd [still here] is not enough. Beth nesa and what is next must always be our mission.”

Europe’s first black leader told the Siambr part of the challenge is to ensure institutions reflect and represent all the communities of Wales.

He said: “As a black person and leader of my country, I know the responsibility I have to open doors for people who look like me to have the same opportunity to serve.”

In closing, the former lawyer said: “As we move to the next chapter in the history of devolution, I hope those of us here today will continue … to discharge our responsibility to improve the lives that it is our privilege to serve.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of Conservative opposition, said the Senedd has grown into a mature and developed parliament that the people of Wales are proud of.

Mr Davies told the chamber: “Ultimately, this institution over the past 25 years, has endeared itself to the fabric and make-up of Wales.”

He said: “It is a huge privilege for me to stand here as leader of the Conservative group.

“25 years ago I was milking cows – 27 years ago when the referendum took place, I did not vote for the establishment of this place because I was not interested in politics at that time.

“But I fully agree that this institution, this parliament is now where the beating heart of Welsh democracy lies … let’s develop a democracy here in Wales we can all be proud of.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth echoed the King’s words on the opening of the National Assembly in 1999: “This body is the modern expression of the spirit of Wales which has flourished through the centuries like a grand and sturdy tree.”

The Plaid Cymru leader, who was a political journalist at the time, described the the spirit of hope and sense of confidence in 1999 as electrifying

Mr ap Iorwerth said: “We must always sow new ideas and harvest change that makes a positive difference and genuine difference to the lives of our citizens.”

“In two years’ time this will become an even stronger, fairer parliament – more representative and more able to meet our citizens’ aspirations for the future.

“As we look ahead to the next 25 years and beyond, I hope we can all resolve to pursue those aspirations and continue to nurture our Senedd – our democracy – in a way that is truly worthy of the people of Wales.”

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