Programme will be introduced after parliament approved motion by 28 votes to 27
After a close and controversial parliamentary vote in which a member claimed to be unable to register their opposition remotely, the Welsh Government will proceed with plans to introduce a Covid pass as a requirement for entry to nightclubs and large events.
Members of the Senedd this week voted – by a margin of 28 to 27 – to approve the introduction of vaccine certification for domestic settings. From Monday 11 October, attendees of events such as concerts and live sport across Wales will need to provide evidence either of having been fully vaccinated, or having recorded a recent negative lateral flow test.
The vote would have been tied but for the failure of Conservative member Gareth Davies to cast his vote in opposition to the plans.
The representative of the Vale of Clwyd was attending the Conservative Party Conference as the vote took place on Tuesday, and was reportedly trying to access the remote voting procedure via Zoom videoconferencing.
The following morning, he put out a statement to say he was “deeply upset, frustrated and angry” after “IT challenges meant that I was unable to access the voting system”.
“Throughout the voting period, I was speaking with the chief whip and Welsh Conservative staff members in an attempt to solve the IT issues,” he added. “Concerns have been raised with the Senedd’s ICT department.”
Later that day it was claimed by the parliament’s presiding officer – or llywydd – Elin Jones that Davies had been given “every opportunity” to vote, including having received her personal phone number and instructed he could cast his vote over the telephone. But he had been “unable to be contacted”.
A second statement from Davies responded to this additional information.
“I’d like to thank you llywydd for offering to speak to me over the phone at voting time, but I was already on a call at that time frantically speaking with Welsh Conservative staff members in an attempt to solve the ICT problems and wasn’t able to call you directly in the short space of time that was given,” he said. “In future, I will not rely on technology and would ask the llywydd and the Business Committee to enable a full return to the Chamber to minimise the risks of these things happening to [members] in the future.”
A statement from Jones added: “For members to vote in the Senedd, they must be present, either in the chamber or on Zoom. It is a member’s responsibility to give themselves sufficient time to secure their Zoom connection in time for voting, just as it is for any member travelling to the Senedd to vote.”
The Welsh parliament has 60 seats, with Labour holding 30 of these and the remainder split between the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru – with 16 and 13 members, respectively – and the Liberal Democrats, with a single representative.
Jones of Plaid Cymru and her deputy David Rees from Labour are both ineligible to vote. When Plaid Cymru indicated that it planned to oppose the Labour administration’s vaccine plans, it had been expected that this might spell the end for certification scheme; in the event of a tied vote, it is customary for the presiding officer to cast a determining vote in favour of maintaining the status quo.
The tech issues suffered by Davies have enabled Labour to proceed with the scheme, which applies to nightclubs, unseated indoor and outdoor events of 500 and 4,000 people respectively, and any gathering of more than 10,000 people.
‘Smooth introduction and operation’
Speaking last month to announce the plan to introduce Covid passes, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said: “My message to you today is a simple but serious one – the pandemic is not over and we all need to take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We have high levels of the virus in our communities and while our fantastic vaccination programme has helped stop thousands more people from becoming seriously ill or dying, the pressure on the NHS is increasing.
“We hope introducing the requirement to show a Covid pass will help keep venues and events – many of which have only recently started trading again – open. Showing a Covid pass is already part of our collective effort to keep businesses open with some major events, such as the successful Green Man Festival, using it. We will continue to work closely with all businesses affected to ensure a smooth introduction and operation of this system.”
Covid passes can be obtained via the NHS website. After a user has created a login by uploading a photo of their identification, such as a passport or driving licence, they can then download a digital pass that can be displayed on their phone or printed out. It cannot be accessed via the NHS app, which provides the passes for English citizens only, and those without photo ID must request a paper copy.
Unlike a similar programme introduced in Scotland, the Welsh scheme includes a certification option for those who have not been fully vaccinated, but have posted a negative lateral flow test result in the preceding 48 hours.