/Committee inquiry into the First Minister rejected

Committee inquiry into the First Minister rejected



(Title Image: Channel 4 News)

The Issue

 

Did the First Minister mislead (“lie to”) the Assembly on bullying allegations within the Welsh Government?

That’s the question at the heart of this and in addition to his handling of the Carl Sargeant affair has put his future in some jeopardy.

Written questions often get overlooked, but it was his answer to one in 2014 – where he denied knowledge of any allegations of bullying, around the same time Leighton Andrews and others are said to have made complaints – that’s prompted this extraordinary debate.

Carwyn Jones has already referred himself to a private investigation by an independent adviser on whether or not he broke the Ministerial Code in the two weeks around Carl Sargeant’s death, but the Conservatives are leading calls for a more in-depth, Assembly-led inquiry which would be held in public, involve witnesses and deal with bullying issues going back several years.

 

The Motion

 

The Senedd, under Standing Order 17.2, instructs the Scrutiny of the First Minister Committee to:

  • Establish an inquiry into allegations made by former members and advisers to the Welsh Government in relation to bullying, intimidation and the undermining of Ministers.
  • The inquiry should use the following terms of reference: the timing of the allegations, how those allegations were investigated, what actions were taken, the role of the First Minister and his office in dealing with those issues and answers given to AMs by the First Minister in relation to the allegations.
  • The Committee should take evidence from witnesses as part of its work.
  • The Committee should report its findings to the Senedd by February half-term 2018. 

Key Points

 

Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.)
For (the motion): A parliamentary process is appropriate.

  • It’s crucial the bullying allegations are investigated in an open and transparent manner.
  • The Welsh Government rejected the idea of appointing an independent adjudicator for Ministerial Code breaches in 2014; now they think it’s the right thing to do.
  • We need a parliamentary process to investigate the inconsistencies in the First Minister’s comments.
  • The Leader of the House made it clear in a Business Committee meeting that she was happy with holding a committee inquiry “as soon as possible”.
  • An inquiry would be within the Scrutiny of the First Minister Committee’s remit.
  • The Welsh Government’s amendment is an attempt by the First Minister to set out his own scrutiny on his own terms.
  • The First Minister shouldn’t vote on the motion because it would be a conflict of interest as the motion deals with himself. 

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)
For: One form of scrutiny shouldn’t cancel out other forms of scrutiny.

  • The First Minister is yet to answer basic questions on the allegations and how they were dealt with.
  • It isn’t right for the First Minister to be police, judge and jury on Ministers’ behaviour.
  • Can’t support the government amendment (which would delete all and acknowledge the independent adviser) as one form of scrutiny can’t be allowed to delete another form of scrutiny. 

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales)
For: We need to know the truth about bullying allegations.

  • We need to know which account of the bullying allegations – Leighton Andrews or Carwyn Jones – is the correct version of events.
  • The consequences of inaction over several years has had an unforeseen outcome.
  • It’s not good enough for Labour AMs to be Carwyn’s “Terracotta Army”; mute, immobile, silent. 

Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen)
Against: Not the right place to do it.

  • A Committee used to scrutinise policy decisions isn’t the best place for this kind of work.
  • Some witnesses may be uncomfortable giving evidence in public.
  • Doesn’t accept that voting it down would be seen as an attempt by Labour to duck public scrutiny. 

Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd)
Against: Not the right place to do it.

  • James Hamilton is well-qualified to be an independent adjudicator.
  • The composition of the Committee (Labour majority) wouldn’t satisfy rules of “natural justice”.
  • It would transform a policy scrutiny committee into a standards of conduct committee. 

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli)
Against: Not the right time; poor tone to the debate.

  • It’s “difficult and uncomfortable” to have this debate before Carl Sargeant’s funeral.
  • “I find it reprehensible the way that people have used this tragedy to settle scores from their time in Government.”
  • Has no objection to the Committee meeting on this after the independent report is published. 

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central)
For: The investigations and inquiries that have already been launched don’t cover the bullying allegations.

  • There are currently two investigations or inquiries underway: the Permanent Secretary’s discussions with the Sargeant family and the James Hamilton investigation into the First Minister’s actions over the last 2/3 weeks. The motion proposes a third investigation into the historic bullying allegations which could lead to recommendations in order to prevent a repeat.

Welsh Government Response

 

Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)

  • Denied Paul Davies’ claim she agreed with an inquiry. She abstained from the vote in the Business Committee on whether there should be a Committee inquiry motion; she neither agreed nor disagreed with it.
  • Rejected the idea that there were “no-go areas” for scrutiny.
  • Accepts the Welsh Government should’ve started this process sooner. 

Vote


The Government-amended motion – which deleted the original one and acknowledged/welcomed the appointment of an independent advisor – was passed by 29 to 27.

Carwyn Jones didn’t abstain (so this isn’t going to be the end of it). Even if he had the motion would still have been voted down, so ultimately he’s been saved from the investigation by Kirsty Williams and Dafydd Elis-Thomas.