Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at 1:40 pm on 4 June 2024.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 1:40, 4 June 2024


Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, yesterday, the BBC broadcast a programme called A Big Stink. You had to feel sympathy and empathy for the poor people of Withyhedge who are suffering the smells and odours that are coming from that tip. You took £200,000 as a leadership donation from that company. We learned from the programme yesterday that that company was under criminal investigation. Can you confirm when you knew that that company was under a criminal investigation?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour

Well, of course I feel sympathy for anyone directly affected by the issues raised in the programme around the operating of the site. The Member will know, and I draw attention again to my register of interests, but, actually, this is an area where it would be wholly improper or inappropriate for me to know about the investigation that the BBC reported on. That's when I was first aware of it—when it was reported on. Either in my role as the constituency Member for Cardiff South and Penarth or, indeed, in my role as a Minister within the Government, it would simply not be appropriate for me to be informed of any type of investigation going on into the operation of the site in Pembrokeshire. How could I know about the investigation taking place? And I should not know. That's the point. Whoever is undertaking the investigation needs to be able to undertake the investigation without fear or favour and come to whatever the right outcome is to see the improvement that could and should be made.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 1:41, 4 June 2024

So, I take it from your answer that you did not know until the point was put to you by the BBC last week. I think I infer that from your answer. So, that leads on to the point where you've said that due diligence was undertaken on all donors to your campaign. What due diligence was actually undertaken, given that you were in receipt of the largest political donation in Welsh political history? Leave alone the other donations, but, on this specific £200,000 donation—given that you said you didn't know the criminal investigation was being undertaken until, I'm assuming, last week, because that's when the BBC put it to you—what due diligence were you and your team undertaking, as any reasonable person would expect to have been undertaken on a donation of that size?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:42, 4 June 2024

Well, of course we undertook all the due diligence we were required to. That's exactly what happened. Again, even the BBC programme could not find an instance where any of the rules had been broken. So, we undertook due diligence. Again, I come back to the point that is being made: it would be improper and inappropriate for me to know about an investigation, whether it's undertaken by a regulator or any other authority with the ability to bring criminal proceedings. There would be no basis for me to be informed, and I should not be informed of that. That is the point. I just don't think there is much reasonable ground for a reasonable person to go over. I've answered these questions repeatedly, and I'll carry on repeatedly responding honestly and truthfully. I should also just correct the Member, as the largest political donation in Welsh political history was actually made to Plaid Cymru.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 1:43, 4 June 2024

Not on an individual basis, First Minister. The largest individual donation was to your leadership campaign as an individual. You have received £200,000. Now, it's not unreasonable to assume that due diligence was undertaken given such a major donation was undertaken by this businessman. You knew that this businessman had two criminal convictions against him—the owner of this company—yet you were not prepared to ask the searching questions; you were just prepared to bank the money and run. That's the long and the short of it. There's a vote of confidence in you tomorrow here, First Minister. Are you going to win?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:44, 4 June 2024

Again, I go back to reminding the Member that, on all occasions, I've answered truthfully and honestly about what happened, about the due diligence that was necessary and, indeed, the fact that no rules have been broken, the ministerial code has not been broken. And we come back to—. And I understand why the Conservatives have put forward a motion tomorrow—a non-binding vote, but a vote, nevertheless, in this Parliament. There is a formal method available. I understand why the Member puts the vote forward. I understand, at this time, when people are making choices, why he does not want to talk about his party's record. I understand the points being made about judgment. I understand what that means and looks like. Look at the judgments that I have made and compare them. Look at the judgments I have made on test and trace. Look at the judgements that I have made on PPE during the pandemic, with no corrupt VIP lane in Wales on my watch. Look at the judgments he has made: defending Boris Johnson to the hilt, backing Liz Truss to the hilt. When she made her speech to the Conservative conference, his response was, 'That's a cracking speech'. Ask mortgage holders what they think of her, ask people with business investment what they think of her. If you want to go into what's going to take place with people's judgment, I am very comfortable having any comparison between the two of us.

I am confident about tomorrow. I look forward to the debate, which I will attend. I could and should, in my view, have been elsewhere, but I will be in this Parliament to respond to the debate. And I say again, with the Conservative record of what you have done to Wales, who on earth would be prepared to stand with you? I do not believe the people of Wales will stand with you when it comes to 4 July.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 1:46, 4 June 2024


Leader of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth. 

Photo of Rhun ap Iorwerth Rhun ap Iorwerth Plaid Cymru

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. The First Minister has perhaps signalled his attitude towards the vote of no confidence in saying that it is non-binding, but I think we should take it seriously. It's a rare thing for the Senedd to hold votes of no confidence, especially in the First Minister, and so it should be. Whilst we in opposition may not agree with Ministers on policy, we do respect the outcome of democratic elections. But, in this instance, the office of the First Minister has been undermined to such an extent that I have no doubt that the people of Wales have lost confidence in him. There is genuine anger. His acceptance of a £200,000 donation from a convicted polluter has eroded trust in politics, and we see it on the Labour benches themselves, even. Such is the level of concern that it was reported yesterday that a senior figure within the Labour Party offered to loan the First Minister £200,000 so he could pay the donation back. Given that some contrition might have actually shown he understood public anger, why on earth did the First Minister reject that offer? 

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:47, 4 June 2024

As I have made clear before, I don't have £200,000 to pay anybody back. I'm not sure if the Member has access to that ready cash; I certainly don't. Having followed the rules for donations and having followed the ministerial code as well—. And I understand the Member wants to make an alternative case that, regardless of not breaking rules, I should nevertheless suffer the ultimate price in political terms. And I say to the Member, the idea that votes of no confidence are not commonplace is just not borne out by any cursory examination of the record. There have been three votes of no confidence within this Senedd term. Every health Minister has faced a vote of no confidence at some point in time. So, this is part and parcel of what happens. I look forward to responding to the debate tomorrow and setting out what this Government has done, what we continue to do: the ceaseless, never-ending commitment to improve our country, the reason why the vote on 4 July matters to this place and the people that we serve. I look forward to carrying on doing my duty as the First Minister of Wales. I look forward to leading a Government that wants to, and will, transform lives of communities in every part of our country. That is what we are here for. 

Photo of Rhun ap Iorwerth Rhun ap Iorwerth Plaid Cymru 1:48, 4 June 2024

Perhaps the First Minister can clarify whether that means he plans to continue regardless of the result of the vote of no confidence in the Senedd tomorrow. But, once again, no contrition, no remorse, not the slightest acknowledgement by the First Minister that his actions were severely ill-judged. This is even more staggering given that we learnt yesterday that a firm that donated to the First Minister's campaign was subject to a criminal investigation at the time a donation was made. We come back, don't we, to this issue of due diligence and why on earth the First Minister could have put himself in such a compromised position. Let me ask this: if he were given the opportunity again, would he take a different attitude towards due diligence, or would he again prioritise the size of his leadership war chest over what was right and proper?  

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:49, 4 June 2024

Again, the Member has asked me a hypothetical question about the past. I'll go back to what I've said before. It would be improper and inappropriate for me to have known that there was any investigation at the time that investigation started. Can you imagine if I was informed of those investigations, whether it's by the regulator, by the police or any other authority who could undertake an investigation that could lead to a criminal sanction? I can't respond to questions about an investigation I'm not aware of. You can't undertake due diligence on matters that you're not aware of. What I am focused on is being able to turn a new page for Wales on 4 July and the partnership I believe should happen. If you look at our communities and the challenges we face, on the doorstep the cost-of-living crisis is the No. 1 issue, and, more than that, all of the issues it drives: the reality of our budget, the fact that we've lost £700 million in real terms, what that does to being able to properly fund the NHS and public services, to support the economy. Those are the things that drive me in public life. Those are the things that underpin our campaign over the next few weeks and, more than that, how the Government I lead wants to change Wales for the better.

Photo of Rhun ap Iorwerth Rhun ap Iorwerth Plaid Cymru 1:51, 4 June 2024

Of course, the First Minister did know about the convictions that had already been passed on the person that had given the £200,000. It's nearly a fortnight now since Rishi Sunak looked to the heavens in Downing Street and wished he had an umbrella, but here in Wales, look up and what we see is the parachutes of Labour candidates imposed by Labour's headquarters in London. With the number of MPs slashed in Wales from 40 to 32 in this election, we can't afford, the Senedd can't afford, the Welsh Government can't afford to have our voice further diluted by having candidates or MPs who've shown no past interest whatsoever in pursuing what's right for Wales—issues of fair funding, for example. Landing parachutes in places like Cardiff West and Swansea West is damaging to Welsh democracy, it shows complete disregard for Wales, and for the views and voices, frankly, of local Labour Members, who are, understandably, livid with the UK party leadership. Perhaps the First Minister can tell us if he endorsed the choice of those candidates over local alternatives. And given that Keir Starmer clearly isn't willing to apologise to local Labour members, or to the people of Wales as a whole, will the First Minister do so on his behalf?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:52, 4 June 2024

I see yet again the leader of Plaid Cymru is obsessed with the internal democracy of the Labour Party. In terms of candidates who are approved to stand, in the two recent instances, there was a joint panel of local members and the elected members of the Welsh executive. Those candidates now need to go out and work alongside local members and, more than that, on your point about Welsh democracy, need to persuade Welsh voters that they are the right person to stand up for their local communities within the UK Parliament. It's a UK Parliament that will have a huge amount of work ahead of it after 14 years of Tory chaos, 14 years where I do not believe families are better off, and the last four and a half chaotic years, with what that has meant to and for Wales. I believe we do need a new start, and that is the case that we will make. If you look not just at the cost-of-living crisis, not just the way that money and powers have been stolen from us in this Parliament, the fear and the division of culture wars, the failure on the economy, the fact that deliberate choices made in the UK Parliament now mean that more children grow up poor in Wales than when this party across the UK first entered Government, those are the things that I believe will drive people to the ballot box to make their choices on every Labour candidate that we put forward. I'm proud to stand on the side of Welsh Labour and the Labour offer in a UK election. I believe that none of us who believe in progressive politics should stand with the Tories. I make that division very clear about what I'm not in favour of and what I believe should happen with and for the people of the country I am proud to lead.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 1:54, 4 June 2024

Question 3 [OQ61184] by Jack Sargeant has been withdrawn, for the best possible reason for withdrawing a question. I'm sure we all welcome little Noa Sargeant to this world. Croeso, Noa.