This is one of those days where Welsh politics wasn’t dull. The UK Government is taking the Welsh Government to court. The Welsh Government looks set to take the Assembly to court. And then there was this….
FMQs, 17th April 2018
Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central): The legal threat to the Assembly
Andrew said that when devolution came, we were told things would be different. Today we saw the Welsh Government seek to take the legislature to court to prevent a debate taking place – the only comparable example being in Egypt. Did the First Minister believe the Government of Wales Act places the office above the law? Andrew never thought he would find himself in the chamber discussing a First Minister trying to silence the Assembly.
Carwyn told the chamber he has “no power” to stop a debate taking place and that wasn’t what the letter was about (despite him clearly requesting the debate be halted). He argued the Act’s clause didn’t apply to the First Minister singularly, but the cabinet as a whole. He then revealed the debate should be called off in order to protect a senior Welsh Government employee from possible prosecution.
The clause is also so broadly-defined and poorly drafted that potentially any document could be released, regardless of Freedom of Information, Data Protection laws and national security concerns. He called on the Assembly Commission and Welsh Government to work together to create a protocol for the release of data in this way.
Verdict: Hit – Carwyn was always going to find it difficult to explain this away and the reveal about a government employee raises even more questions.
Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda): Air Strikes on Syria
Does the First Minister support military action in Syria? Plaid Cymru is committed to opposing “tokenistic” air strikes, but the First Minister was quick to show support for them even though no votes had taken place at Westminster.
The First Minister made it clear to Theresa May his concerns there may be civilian casualties. It’s the Prime Minister’s job to explain why there wasn’t a vote on it. Anything that removes the capability to launch a chemical attack is welcome, but he didn’t want to see further escalation that could lead to more casualties and provide a propaganda boost for the Syrian government’s allies.
Verdict: Hit – Nothing wrong with his answer as such, but it betrays some of the contradictions within the Labour party on issues like this since Iraq.
Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales): The legal threat to the Assembly
The First Minister’s reply to Andrew Davies was “torturous and legalistic”. And his interpretation of the clause was “perverse”. Another international comparison is with the Watergate scandal. Was Carwyn happy to go down as “The Richard Nixon of Welsh politics”?
The First Minister wasn’t going to take that from “a man who defends Enoch Powell”. He asked the opposition to put themselves in the position of someone in government, where they’ve been given documents in confidence and now faced a vote on releasing those documents. If all documents are releasable, “government can’t continue”.
Verdict: Hit – Ditto the response to Andrew Davies.
Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central): Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of a bus station in Cardiff city centre?
Construction will start in June 2018, with completion scheduled for mid-2021. Ideally, it will include a coach station as well to provide seamless integration between all forms of public transport.
Verdict: Miss – One of the few easy questions for Carwyn this afternoon. It was about to get rougher.
Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales): Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of the school uniform grant?
The Welsh Government were looking at options, including an alternative and more flexible grant scheme that’s less restrictive than the previous one (which was recently-cut – more on this later this week from me). Their commitment to disadvantaged pupils despite this cut is clear through the pupil deprivation grant.
Verdict: Hit – No answer was given regarding the Welsh Government’s curious “uniforms have gotten cheaper” justification for the cut.
Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.): How is the First Minister ensuring the transparency and accountability of information held by the Welsh Government*?
Ministers are routinely briefed on member’s interests when they ask questions; “there’s nothing sinister about it”.
After Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) accused the Welsh Government of running a “smear machine….misused to silence and intimidate critics, including in their own party”, the First Minister said he chose to stay in Wales not “run off to America” (in reference to Adam’s stint at Harvard University) – effectively answering a question on personal attacks with a personal attack. It was, nevertheless, “nonsense” to suggest there was a smear machine. He also accused the Llywydd of “losing control”.
Verdict: Hit – Conduct unbecoming of a parish councillor, let alone a First Minister.
*This was a follow up to a previous row/scandal over the handing over of correspondence between AMs and Hywel Dda health board to the Welsh Government. Angela revealed that after many freedom of information requests, it took a journalist to find out that the Welsh Government sought information on AMs other than Adam Price.