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Welsh Government did not have power to shut schools in pandemic, inquiry hears

12 Mar 2024 2 minute read
Jeremy Miles speaking in the Senedd

The Welsh Government did not have the power to close schools during the pandemic, an inquiry has heard.

Jeremy Miles, the education minister and former counsel general – the chief legal officer for Wales – has admitted the government in Cardiff could not legally shut schools when it did.

Schools were closed in the country on March 18 2020, more than a week before the first lockdown on March 26.

Mr Miles, who is running to be the next first minister of Wales, told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that at the time the actual power rested with school governing bodies.

He argued the Welsh Government had been giving “a clear statement of policy” for what it would like to see schools do, and many had already started to close.

‘Sense of purpose’

He said: “I think from recollection that was welcomed because schools were taking their own decisions to close, so giving it a sense of purpose and a sense that this was happening on a national basis.”

Asked whether he was “surprised” that a decision on closing schools in March was taken without seeking legal advice, Mr Miles said he would have “preferred” for some to have been taken.

He said: “I certainly think it would have been preferable for there to have been legal advice even though there wasn’t a formal exercise of a legal power.”

Tom Poole KC, the lead counsel for the inquiry, also questioned if the Welsh Government had the power to impose a lockdown at all, which the minister insisted it did.


Mr Miles, like many other Welsh ministers, was forced to defend his use of the WhatsApp messaging service during the pandemic, calling his decision to delete messages the “wrong assumption”.

He insisted that he only used his personal phone and thought of it at the time as a “chat between work colleagues” and not “relevant to decision-making”.

He said he deleted messages because a previous phone had been stolen “a few years before” and he did not want anything “sensitive” to be lost.

“I wish I had kept them,” he added.

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