The First Minister Carwyn Jones has escaped questioning from the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister. Emotions were running high at the Senedd at the Plenary on Wednesday (Nov 29). AM’s were debating the motion under Standing Order 17.2 to give instructions to the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister.
In laymen’s terms the motion put forward by Paul Davies the Conservative Assembly Member for Preseli called on the Welsh Assembly to consider allowing the Scrutiny Committee to ask questions of the First Minister over allegations that he may have misled the Welsh Assembly in matters relating to what has been described as a ‘toxic culture’ historically as far back as 20o9 within the First Minister’s offices on the 5th floor of Ty Hywel in Cardiff Bay. The serious allegations were made by former Minister Leighton Andrews and Special Adviser Steve Jones. That motion was defeated by 29 to 27 votes.
During the one hour long debate emotions ran high as some questioned the timing of such a debate given that the funeral of Carl Sargeant had not yet taken place.
The Assembly Member for Llanelli Lee Waters took issue with the timing and tone of the debate claiming that some politicians may be using Mr Sargeant’s death to “settle old scores”. He went on to say: “I find this afternoon’s debate incredibly difficult and uncomfortable.
“There’s much that I would like to say, but I think it would be wise not to say it at this time.
“In two days’ time, we’re going to be burying our colleague and friend and I think it’s unseemly to be having this nature of debate.
“I find it reprehensible the way that people have used this tragedy to settle scores from their time in Government.”
During the debate and following the statement by Lynne Neagle who said: “I’ve been an assembly member for 18 years and these are the darkest years we have known, I am deeply uncomfortable that the motion has been brought at this time and I want no part of it.” Mr Waters was then heard to shout out, ‘How dare you!’ And ‘You’re a disgrace!’ It was not clear who made the remarks nor to whom the remarks were made but they were clearly audible as ‘you’ve taken the shilling’.
Make of the comment what you will and attribute the comment to whosoever you believe may have said it. Traditionally the term refers to someone who has been bought or coerced into doing something.
The Presiding Officer Elin Jones AM said that she had not heard anything.
Leader of the Conservatives Andrew R T Davies took issue with Mr Waters towards the end of the debate claiming that he had not made any comments. He said: “If I may before I start my contribution I do want to take issue with the contribution that the member of Llanelli accusing me of making allegations from a sedentary position about Lynne Neagle the Member for Torfaen. I did not make that. I hold the member in the highest regard possible and I want the record to show that.”
During the voting the first motion was defeated by 29 votes to 27. An amended vote was carried with 29 to 27 in favour and a vote on the motion as amended was carried with 29 to 27 in favour.
On a day when Carwyn Jones the First Minister looked decidedly uncomfortable under the insistence of the opposition parties that he should be questioned by the scrutiny committee in what they perceived as an open and transparent fashion in order that the Welsh Assembly ‘looked’ to be doing the right thing in the gaze of the press and the public it was left to the Labour faithful to rally around the First Minister and give their impassioned pleas for the motion to be defeated safe in the knowledge that hey had the majority. It could well be regarded as the day the sheriff dodged the bullets of not one gun slinger but a whole posse. Those bullets came thick and fast from the Plaid Cymru sharp shooters and the wily old UKIP veteran Neil Hamilton.
It was left to Andrew RT Davies to sum up the mood when he said: “The debate today is quite clear. There is a role for this assembly to play in scrutinising what has come to public attention over the last three weeks. It is unthinkable that any other organisation that had had these accusations made by senior people who worked at the highest part of that organisation would not be called to account by this institution. And it is regrettable that the house will divide along party lines. And I am assuming the party lines are being whipped from the government side for the division to take place because there are three inquires that could take place is this motion was carried forward. The first is the independent inquiry that the permanent secretary is working to establish with the family and has no relevance to what we are debating here today. The second is the inquiry that the First Minister announced only on Thursday of last week of the independent person to be put in charge of a referral by him over issues that he believes have been raised over the last 14 days. But what is really important is that there is an inquiry of the Scrutiny of the First Minister Committee to look at the overall allegations, accusations, call them what you will that have been levelled by many people, some anonymously but two people in particular who have first hand experience stretching back to 2009, not just 2014, 2009 and for the entire period that they were in government. I will be the happiest person in this chamber if those allegations could be disproved.”
He was asked in his view what would be the most credible in the eyes of the public, a committee outcome where the people were clearly politically motivated or an independent advisor. He replied that the independent advisor would only be looking at the specific referral of the First Minister over the allegations that have come forward over the last 14 days not the historic allegations of bullying and intimidation dating back to 2009.
Plaid Cymru’s AM’s also gave the First Minister cause to wriggle in his chair. Leanne Wood said: “If there was no bullying, then a full and open process should not be feared.”
She went on to say: “It is “vital” that light is shed on events that have been raised as a concern.”
Simon Thomas AM commented on Twitter: “Disappointing not to see the need for public, parliamentary scrutiny recognised nor the need to examine what patterns of behaviour led to individuals feel bullying was taking place.”