6. Welsh Conservatives Debate: The First Minister

– in the Senedd at 3:34 pm on 5 June 2024.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 3:34, 5 June 2024


Item 6 is the next item. It's the Welsh Conservatives' debate on confidence in the First Minister, and I call on Andrew R.T. Davies to move the motion.


Motion NDM8593 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Recognises the genuine public concern over the First Minister accepting a £200,000 donation for his Labour leadership campaign from a company owned by an individual who has two environmental criminal convictions, and regrets the poor judgement shown by the First Minister in accepting this donation, and his failure to repay it.

2. Regrets the publication of Welsh Government ministerial messages where the First Minister states his intention to delete messages that could have later been helpful to the COVID inquiry in its deliberations around decision making at the time of the COVID pandemic, despite the First Minister telling the UK COVID inquiry that he didn’t delete any messages.

3. Notes the dismissal by the First Minister of the Minister for Social Partnership from his Government, regrets that the First Minister is unwilling to publish his supporting evidence for the dismissal, and notes the former Minister for Social Partnership’s strong denial of the accusations levelled against her.

4. For the above reasons, has no confidence in the First Minister.


Motion moved.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 3:34, 5 June 2024

Thank you, Presiding Officer, and I move the motion on the order paper in the name of Darren Millar, addressing the vote of confidence in the First Minister. And I want to highlight that this debate is not about the Welsh Government in its entirety; it's not about the Labour group, it's not about the Labour Party; it's about what the First Minister has undertaken during his tenure as First Minister and in the campaign leading up to that nomination and vote to become the First Minister. It's about judgment, it's about transparency, and it's about honesty—those three key caveats that we have debated and discussed time and time again in this Chamber at First Minister's questions, and sought answers to the questions that constituents are putting to us.

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative 3:35, 5 June 2024

The first point about judgment is the judgment call that the First Minister took to accept a record-breaking donation of £200,000 to his leadership campaign from an individual and company that has two environmental convictions to its name, and is, as we learned on Monday, currently under criminal investigation. Is that a sensible judgment, to take such a donation from someone with such a track record? There are those on the Labour benches who have indicated that they wouldn't have taken that money. There are those outside of this Chamber, in the Labour movement, who have indicated that they wouldn't have taken that money. It is the judgment that the First Minister exercised in accepting that money that first caused people to have concerns over the way the First Minister has acted. And it is worth noting that, in the accounts of Dauson, the company that made the donation, they specify that, when it comes to future opportunities, the statement they make in those accounts says:

'Therefore, the external opportunities created for Dauson Group to succeed continue to be mainly legislative driven'.

The legislative arena that this company operates in is predominantly solely governed by the Welsh Government, because it is in the field of environmental waste management and environmental management more generally. That is a statement from the accounts that are lodged in Companies House by the company, that they see the growth opportunities governed by the legislative environment that they operate under.

The ministerial code also refers, in 1.3, that:

'Ministers should not accept any gift or hospitality which might, or might reasonably appear to, compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation'.

It goes on, in paragraph 5.1, within the ministerial code, to state:

'Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise. It is the personal responsibility of each minister to decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict taking account of advice received from the Permanent Secretary.'

That's what governs in the ministerial code.

Also, there is the perception again of this company that made the £200,000 donation of taking a £400,000 loan from the Development Bank of Wales. The Development Bank of Wales is a bank of last resort. You have to have exercised all the other commercial opportunities before you seek a loan from that bank. So, in a short period of time—several months—that company took a loan of £400,000 that the economy Minister was accountable for as the sponsoring Minister for the Development Bank of Wales. And yet, in the same year, made a £200,000 donation to his leadership campaign. Most reasonable people would question what was being secured by that £200,000 donation to the leadership campaign. Any reasonable person would form that judgment, and I put it to the Senedd today that the First Minister has not been able to give satisfactory answers on that particular account.

Then we move to transparency. We learned through the press that, in August 2020, iMessages that were in a ministerial chat group were considerable, there was considerable conversation going on in that ministerial chat group, and, at the end of that chat group, there was a message from the First Minister, who was then the Minister for health, saying that the messages could be captured by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and that, therefore, he would be deleting those messages. That shows the train of thought that was being undertaken at the time, about trying to circumnavigate the Freedom of Information Act. It also runs roughshod over the advice given by the chief ethics officer of the Welsh Government in 2019 that any electronic communication should be captured and retained for future reference, should any inquiries demand that information.

Now, we know for a fact that the COVID inquiry has sought many messages from Governments across the United Kingdom, not just the Welsh Government, but the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, and here we have an example, in the First Minister's own words, of deleting messages because they could be captured by the Freedom of Information Act. That's not my language; that's the First Minister's language. That's the transparency point. 

The final point is the honesty point—the honesty about who is telling the truth when it comes to the ministerial sacking that the First Minister made of his Minister for Social Justice some weeks ago. Now, you cannot have leaking within a Government; there is collective responsibility. You cannot have leaking out of a political party. I accept that if the evidence is strong enough, then someone has to leave that establishment or leave that Government. I have no doubt about that. I'm not making the case that you can stay within a Government if you are leaking information from it. But the Minister for Social Justice is adamant that she did not leak that information. That's her public comment, and she closes that public comment by saying that integrity is everything in public life and that she maintains her integrity.

So, what are we to assume here? We have one Minister saying that they did not leak and her integrity is in tact; we have the First Minister saying that he has the evidence to show that she did leak. Make that evidence available, First Minister. I heard the chair of the Labour group on Radio Wales this morning, who said that she had seen the evidence and she had been satisfied by seeing that evidence. I have to say I was surprised at that. I can understand why the First Minister would share the evidence with Cabinet colleagues, because of collective responsibility, but to hear that a Labour backbencher had had sight of that information, yet the people of Wales or other colleagues in this Senedd are not able to see that evidence, to corroborate the true picture, I really do think shows massive disrespect. 

This is not a gimmick. This is a motion put down in opposition time that might well not be binding, but will send a significant message on the transparency, the honesty and the judgment call of the First Minister since he assumed office.  

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative

That is not a gimmick. This was talked of prior to the general election, and I heard what the Member for Swansea East said. One thing we did see on those iMessages was the disparaging remarks that were made about the Member for Swansea East, and using the algorithm to elect the Member for Swansea East. I'm surprised that he is speaking in such tone here today. [Interruption.]

I have put the points down before the Senedd today. It will be for colleagues to determine how they wish to vote. But it is about judgment, transparency and honesty. Those are the three points before us. It is not general electioneering. It is not a vote of confidence in the Government. It is not a vote of confidence in the Labour group or the Labour Party. It is about what the First Minister has undertaken and the calls that he has made. And I hope that we can gain the confidence of the Senedd and a majority support in this motion, and that the motion of no confidence will succeed, and I urge Members to support it. 

Photo of Rhun ap Iorwerth Rhun ap Iorwerth Plaid Cymru 3:43, 5 June 2024


In 25 years of devolution, we have been relatively fortunate that we've had few financial scandals infecting the politics here in the Senedd. We're fortunate that opposition parties have been able to scrutinise, disagree, yes, and co-operate, of course, but also provide alternative answers and solutions to the Government of the day, without having to ask only once before whether the leaders of those Governments, our First Ministers, through their actions, were deserving of the trust of the Senedd.

Today, therefore, is a very grave day in the history of the Senedd, because we are of the view that the First Minister has lost not only our confidence, but, far more importantly, the confidence of the people he is accountable to: the citizens of Wales. 

Photo of Rhun ap Iorwerth Rhun ap Iorwerth Plaid Cymru 3:44, 5 June 2024

Nobody here is beyond reproach. I've given much thought to what the context is in which I am speaking before the Senedd today. What are the standards by which we measure our political leaders? We could consider the seven Nolan principles of public life. Let's look at the first one, selflessness. Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. Was it really the public interest that was being served by the First Minister's decision to accept a £200,000 campaign donation from a convicted polluter? 

Let's look at the second Nolan principle, integrity. And remember, on the first one, the First Minister denies doing anything wrong. That second principle is:

'Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work.'

Again, I repeat the First Minister's assertion that nothing inappropriate happened. But if the perception that accepting the money exists, that in itself undermines the integrity of the office of the First Minister. And of course, another guide to how we can hold our leaders to account, the ministerial code, makes clear that:

'It is the personal responsibility of each minister to decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict taking account of advice received from the Permanent Secretary.'

The First Minister's defence that no rules were broken is no defence if the charge is about perception. Next, we have accountability:

'Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.'

I need not remind this Senedd that the First Minister has repeatedly questioned the actions of opposition Members and parties and journalists in holding him to account. In the same vein, the principle of openness has been undermined by the First Minister in recent weeks. It states that:

'Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.'

In this case, we're left asking why did the First Minister delete his WhatsApp messages and neglect to inform the UK COVID inquiry and why is the First Minister so reluctant to publish details of the leak inquiry that led to the sacking of Hannah Blythyn. And critically, of course, we have the principle of leadership. Taken together, the First Minister's lack of judgment and contrition, along with a bunker mentality when faced by indignation from all sides of the Chamber and the Welsh public, I believe, do not demonstrate the required skill set for the office holder of First Minister.

As I have said, today is a solemn day here in the Senedd in many ways. This isn't tribal party politics, this is about the good name of Government and, more importantly, the person at the top of that Government who, rightly, is expected to set the tone for that Government. We must be different to Westminster, not only in words but in deeds too, and in that respect the vote today is in the hands of the Labour Party. Today, we on these benches are acting in what we firmly believe is the interests of the people of Wales. They, I have no doubt, have lost confidence in our First Minister, as have we.

Photo of Vikki Howells Vikki Howells Labour 3:48, 5 June 2024

In 29 days, the people of Wales and the UK will get to vote in a general election—arguably, the most important general election since 1997, a chance to rid this country of a disastrous Tory Government. It's a Government that has been responsible for a decline in living standards for the first time since world ward two, a Government that crashed the economy with Liz Truss's disastrous mini-budget, seeing the cost of mortgages and rents rise extortionately, a Government that, even before COVID, has been responsible for life expectancy falling for the first time since world war two, a Government that has cut the real-terms funding of successive Labour Governments here in Wales by hundreds of millions of pounds, placing a stranglehold on our ability to deliver the public services our nation depends upon. With the Tory Party tanking in the polls and quite possibly facing the prospect of being wiped off the electoral map in Wales on 4 July, as happened in 1997, it's no wonder that they will do anything, anything at all, to try and shift the spotlight from their own record of abject failure, a failure that directly affects the lives and life chances of every single person here in Wales.

And so we come to this motion before us today. Politics at its worst. A cynical Tory gimmick to deflect attention from the predicament of Rishi Sunak and his super-wealthy chums. Vaughan Gething is the democratically elected leader of Welsh Labour. Welsh Labour is the democratically elected party of Government, and in the 11 weeks since he was sworn in as First Minister, Vaughan Gething's progressive Government has been hard at work, listening to the people of Wales and delivering for them: listening to farmers about the sustainable farming scheme and taking time to pause to get the scheme right; listening to road users and pedestrians over the 20 mph default speed limit, working with them and with local authorities to ensure the guidance is fit for purpose and any difficulties can be worked through; listening to pupils, parents and teachers over the proposed changes to the school year, listening to the results of the consultation and pausing to allow our schools the breathing space they need to implement the raft of changes that we have already asked of them; listening to consultants and pulling out all the stops to try and come to an agreement to avert further strike action in the NHS.

Llywydd, I have always been proud to be a Member of this Senedd, I've always been proud to be a Member of this Labour group, and, for the past seven years, I've been proud to chair the Senedd Labour group. But I have never been more proud of the direction of travel of the Welsh Labour Government's policies than I am now. I believe it would be a travesty if this non-binding Tory gimmick of a motion was to be used to subvert democracy and prevent our leader, democratically elected by party members and trade union affiliates, and this Welsh Labour Government, democratically elected by the citizens of Wales, from fulfilling our manifesto pledges. When I'm out knocking doors in Cynon Valley and speaking to people there, as I am every weekend, and increasingly now on weeknights too, the issues that they want to talk about are clear: a cost-of-living crisis; a Tory Government that has starved our public services and brought the country to its knees; their hopes for a UK Labour Government, led by Keir Starmer, which can work together with this Welsh Labour Government to improve living standards and breathe life back into our public services. And so I, along with my Welsh Labour colleagues, will be voting against this cynical and transparent Tory motion today, which is, unfortunately, aided and abetted by Plaid Cymru, as we continue with our commitment to deliver a stronger, fairer, greener and more prosperous Wales.

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative 3:53, 5 June 2024

This is an unprecedented moment in the history of devolution in Wales. Let's not forget why this debate is being held here today: the First Minister accepted a £200,000 donation for his leadership campaign from a company owned by someone who has two environmental criminal convictions; the First Minister privately shared that he intended to delete messages from his time as health Minister during a pandemic, before telling the UK COVID inquiry that he didn't delete any; and the First Minister sacked a Minister from his Government but refuses to publish any supporting evidence for the sacking despite the protestations and denials of this Minister.

This debate today is not merely about a difference of political opinion. This, for me, is about three things that are fundamental to the role that we hold in this Chamber, especially that of the First Minister, namely integrity, responsibility and accountability. Integrity is adherence to moral and ethical principles, the high standard that we are all expected to abide by, and is further explained by the Nolan principles, which Rhun ap Iorwerth mentioned earlier, such as that holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try, inappropriately, to influence them in their work. And in public office we don't just stick to the rules and letter of what is expected—we are expected to hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard of perception and judgment. It's this pattern of perception and judgment exhibited by the First Minister that is deeply concerning and something that clearly concerns very many people across Wales.

It has been compounded, because since this motion was first tabled, a BBC Wales investigation has revealed that the company who made the donation was linked to a criminal investigation at the time. Despite that criminal investigation, it was judged acceptable to take significant amounts of money. Likewise, the deletion of WhatsApp messages and the possible accusation of the misleading of a public inquiry is very concerning, to say the least. Covid-19 Bereaved Families Cymru are a group who have been devastated by this. In a statement, they said:

'How can we now have any confidence in finding out what happened to our loved ones? It’s a heartbreaking blow for the Covid bereaved families in Wales'.

After all, people who are suffering and people who are victims are who we are here to represent, who we try to do our best for. To be perceived to be misleading them and the country on an issue of national significance is simply not acceptable.

This is where my second point around responsibility comes into consideration, because the fact that those messages were revealed allowed the public to see that the First Minister's words did not match his actions, and his response to that revelation was to sack a Minister who has denied any wrongdoing, yet there has been no evidence made public to support this decision. It could start to paint a picture of someone who isn't willing to take responsibility for their own political actions but rather blame others. And in this place, we often hear the refrain that, 'We do things differently here in Wales.' I, for one, hope that this is the case, because I want a type of leadership that is full of integrity, takes responsibility for its actions, and then is accountable for them.

I started with a definition of integrity in my contribution. I'll end with a definition of accountability, which is acknowledgement of and assumption of responsibility for actions and decisions. It is clear to me that there have been actions taken and decisions made that are nothing to be proud of, and the people of Wales deserve better. I hope Members today support higher standards than what we've heard here today in public office, and support this motion of no confidence.

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour 3:57, 5 June 2024

I think integrity, respect, judgment and timing are everything. And what have you done today? My father was involved in the D-day landing. Before that, he'd been a prisoner of war for four years. What you've done today is put a focus here. You have prevented people like me being represented by the First Minister down in Portsmouth. I spent this morning watching those veterans. If my father had survived and lived long enough, he would have been one of them. I can tell you now what he would have thought of your actions. He would have thought they were absolutely disrespectful to all veterans, to all armed service personnel that you profess, from those benches, time and time again, to have some care about. Well, you don't. You have picked this day. You could have picked any other day. You have no end of opportunities to pull this stunt you're doing today, but you chose this day.

What I say to you is this: I will never forgive you for doing what you have done on this day, today. You want to hang your head in shame that you have stopped Wales being represented by their First Minister in Portsmouth. That's what you need to—[Interruption.] I am not taking an intervention. You had plenty of time to think about what you were doing when you were doing it, why you were doing it, and who it might affect. It's been well known in this Chamber, because I've spoken many times, that my father was in the war. It's well known that other people in this Chamber's fathers also did fight in the war. They do command, at the very least, that the First Minister would have an opportunity. Why hasn't he got that opportunity? Because you denied it. You denied that opportunity, and you denied the best wishes of Wales, going forward, so that they could be spoken in Portsmouth today. My daughter lives not far from there, and I can tell you that if you think that this is only resonating here in Wales, you are sadly mistaken. The country is looking in today, and they know that your actions—your actions—knowing what this day was, prevented that from happening. You will not be forgiven.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 4:00, 5 June 2024

Heledd Fychan. [Interruption.] I've been very tolerant of members in the public gallery applauding some contributions. If we can allow the democratic discussion in this Chamber to continue without applause. You've had your two chances, that's great, and I'm grateful that you've come here this afternoon, but if we can allow the debate to continue now without any further applause, please. Heledd Fychan.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 4:01, 5 June 2024


Thank you, Llywydd. Some politicians like to attack people from other parties at any opportunity and see politics as a game. I'm not one of those. Since being elected to this Senedd, I have tried to be fair and constructive always, challenging when necessary and questioning robustly when necessary, but also supporting and collaborating with Members from other parties where there is agreement among us. That's why I prefer this Senedd to Westminster and the type of democracy that we have in Wales. It's not for nothing, therefore, that I stand up today to declare that I have no confidence in our First Minister, and that I believe, for the sake of the Senedd’s reputation, that Vaughan Gething can't continue in this important role—the most important role in our nation.

Regardless of how often the First Minister says that people don't care about where the £200,000 came from or how much was spent on his campaign, that's just not true. Ask people the question in my region—in Pontypridd market, on the streets of the Rhondda, Cynon valley, the Vale of Glamorgan and in our capital—and the answer is clear: the First Minister should not have accepted the money and he should not have spent so much of it either.

The First Minister says time and again that he did not break any rules. But, certainly, you breached the spirit of your own party's rules on leadership campaign spending by using a loophole in the rules, as spending on staff was not included in the maximum amount. You bent the rules, or found a way around them, and you did so thoughtlessly. And then, of course, there are questions regarding the potential conflict of interest relating to the donation in question and why the First Minister believes it is appropriate and right to accept money from a company that was run by someone who has been found guilty of breaking the law for environmental pollution, and that he knew that that was the case.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 4:03, 5 June 2024

Surely, First Minister, you must understand why, when you continue to defend the decision to accept the money, people question your judgment and your cavalier approach to donations. Either due diligence didn’t take place or you just didn’t care where the money came from. Winning was everything and nothing else mattered. And whilst we’re used to this being commonplace in Westminster, it’s not right and it’s not how we want politics to be done here in Wales. In fact, even your masters in London understand how tarnished the money is, as is evident from the fact that they don’t want the £31,600 left over. A political party not wanting money during a general election campaign—extraordinary.

We didn't need to get to this point of a vote of no confidence, and I'm saddened that it has come to this. When the donation from Dauson came to light during the leadership campaign and there was public outcry, including from Labour members, it could have been paid back before being spent. The First Minister could have acknowledged that he’d made a mistake. We’re all human, mistakes happen, and an apology then, as well as paying back the donation, would have meant that he could have spent his first weeks as First Minister delivering for the people of Wales. There’s also been ample opportunity since then for the First Minister to concede that he understands why people are angry and pay the money back, but, no, he has consistently doubled down, dismissed concerns, and allowed the narrative to run away from him.

So, First Minister, are you prepared now today to stop making excuses for accepting this donation and for spending so much to become First Minister? You must know that deep down this is wrong, and you must regret accepting the money. It is not too late to stop hiding behind the rules and loopholes in them; it is not too late to apologise. This, combined with the other serious lapses in duty represented by the deleting of key messages between Ministers during the COVID pandemic and the ongoing questions around the dismissal of the former Minister for Social Partnership, has led to this moment and this vote. I genuinely regret that it has come to this, and I hope today the First Minister understands why we have been left with no choice but to support this vote of no confidence in him.

Photo of Hefin David Hefin David Labour 4:06, 5 June 2024

I was proud to not support in this Chamber the vote of no confidence in Lee Waters when he was Deputy Minister for transport. I was proud to vote against a vote of no confidence in our health Minister, Eluned Morgan, who has done incredible work in the health service in Wales. And I’m proud today to support Vaughan Gething against this cynical motion that has been put forward.

I want to set out some of the questions I’ve been asking myself about the First Minister and the way he’s been treated these past few months. I hope Members will listen to my speech and think carefully about the implications of what we’re being asked to consider today. Long before the starting gun was fired on the Welsh leadership election, the very people who are out there condemning him today were attacking him on social media, which leads me to my first question. Is Vaughan Gething being judged, as social media suggests he is, as arrogant and angry, where his predecessors exhibiting the same emotions would be considered committed and passionate? I think he is. Is he being judged by standards that would be applied less rigorously to his contemporaries? I think he is. Is he being pursued relentlessly by a small section of the media with a very clear agenda? I think he is. I should add that in this age of the wild-west social media, the BBC, ITV and WalesOnline, among others, remain trusted sources of news offering right of reply, even where you disagree with their analysis of recent events. But there are others. And when we come to disagreement, we argue that leaders of other parties have values with which we disagree and policies we wish to challenge. We criticise them in the strongest terms, yet we accept they will eventually be judged by the electorate. Not so for our new First Minister. We’re being asked to consider our confidence in him in this Chamber despite the fact that he has broken no rules and before a public vote can be cast. Unlike his predecessors, he is denied the chance to prove his ability to meet our collective ambitions, to have his ideas tested and to have his arguments examined. Every other politician who stands to defend him is asked to make their own subjective judgments on his past choice. That’s completely understandable, but their answers should not decide his future as a leader at our next election. He has a duty to be challenged, but with that, a right to stand on his record as First Minister, and I think, by 2026, that will be record of tackling poverty and the cost of living, in tandem with a new UK Labour Government.

And I as an observer have the right to ask if his ethnicity has an influence on the motives of some of those outside of this Chamber who seek to break him on the wheel. We cannot ignore that question and we cannot dismiss the lived experience of those black, Asian, minority ethnic people who feel it to be the case.

There is a strength of feeling in this Senedd now that I’ve rarely seen before; such is the ferocity of the pack in pursuit that I think we’re losing all reason. And if reason is lost, so will be the Government, and possibly the Senedd itself. The vote today if won by the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru may not be the final act: that may come next with a vote of confidence in Welsh Ministers, a Government collectively led by the first black leader of any nation in Europe, and if that Government falls, then so might this Parliament. We may be heading towards an early Senedd election, all hope of reform lost, and for what? To bring down a leader to whom we never gave a chance. This motion may try and damage him today, but in supporting it, we damage ourselves and the democracy we claim to hold so dear.

Photo of Paul Davies Paul Davies Conservative 4:10, 5 June 2024

It is incredibly disappointing and, quite frankly, sad that we are in the position of having to bring forward this debate this afternoon. But the reality is that there is a huge lack of transparency over the decisions that have been made by the First Minister, and his judgment has rightly been called into question, not just by opposition politicians, but by our own constituents. There has been a catalogue of failings by the First Minister when it comes to transparency over his leadership donations, the intention to delete messages in relation to the COVID pandemic, and how he dismissed a Minister from his Government. If we'd seen a little bit more humility and a little bit more transparency from the First Minister, then he might not have found himself facing a vote of no confidence here today.

I'm standing up today on behalf of the people who are living with the impact of that lack of transparency and judgment every single day. You will already be aware of the Withyhedge landfill site scandal in my constituency, and the company responsible for that site, which has a direct link to the First Minister. That site is emitting potentially toxic emissions and a horrific stench that is deeply affecting the lives of many people in that community. This is a situation that has been ongoing since last year, and there appears to be no end in sight. My constituents are quite rightly very angry and very frustrated. The people living in that community are experiencing health problems as a result of this operator's behaviour, and despite chasing the relevant authorities to take action, little has been done to safeguard the people living in that area.

Llywydd, I just wanted to take a moment to read some of the public comments that have been made by local residents about how this operator is affecting their lives. One resident said, 'Anyone else finding their eyes so painful first thing that it's difficult to open them?' Another said, 'My eyelids swell and it takes days to go.' And another said that they woke up with a headache, a feeling of nausea and had a job to open their eyes, which felt sore and gritty.

Now, many of you'll be asking, 'What's all that got to do specifically with the First Minister?' Well, I say, 'Absolutely everything.' The First Minister has accepted a huge sum of money from this operator, an operator who has several past environmental convictions and is now facing another criminal investigation because of the actions at the Withyhedge landfill site. This, therefore, calls into question the First Minister's judgment in accepting a huge donation from this company in the first place. The lack of action in dealing with the operator is telling, and many of my constituents believe that the operator has been allowed to get away with his behaviour because of his relationship to the First Minister. There are people—[Interruption.] There are people who believe that the £200,000 donation has bought this company influence to do whatever it wants without being held accountable.

Now, the First Minister may not have broken any rules, but surely he can see that the optics here don't look good. If he had allowed an independent investigation into this donation in the first place, or, as Members across this Chamber have said, done the right thing and given the money back, then we wouldn't be having this debate. This matter is a question of transparency and a question of judgment, and as politicians, we all have to be held accountable for our decisions. I, more than most, know from personal experience what it's like to be held accountable for one's actions. When the standards commissioner investigated allegations against me during the pandemic, I'd like to think I did the right thing by my party and my country. I stepped down as leader of the Welsh Conservatives in this place, because it was the right thing to do, even though I hadn't broken any laws or rules—[Interruption.] It was still the right thing to do—

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 4:14, 5 June 2024

Allow the Member to carry on. He's saying something very important. Don't heckle him.

Photo of Paul Davies Paul Davies Conservative

Diolch, Llywydd. Even though I hadn't broken any laws or rules, it was still the right thing to do, because it's about judgment and it's about taking responsibility. No politician is above accountability, and we are elected to stand up for our constituents and ensure that our actions and decisions are open and transparent.

We now have a First Minister who is denying the public valuable information, who has accepted money from a business that has been allowed to make so many people's lives miserable and who provides no transparency over his decision making. It's not right and we cannot allow this to continue. Public confidence in politicians is already low and we have to change that. We must all strive to be the best possible leaders we can for the people of Wales, and that means taking tough calls and being held accountable for our actions. Llywydd, I did the right thing. Now, the First Minister must also do the right thing.

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat 4:15, 5 June 2024

I stand here, actually, in sadness and with reluctance. This has not been an easy decision for me. There are just two things that are different for me in relation to the opposition parties. I have never voted in a vote of no confidence here in the Senedd. I don't see this as a political stunt; I don't see this as a gimmick at all. Secondly, I voted to confirm you as the First Minister on 20 March. I felt it was very important that we support the democratic process. Indeed, I asked for congratulations to be passed on to you and I was delighted that, for the first time, the three nations of the UK at the time had a black or Asian minority First Minister or leader. Those text messages, if you want to read them, are now in the public domain—I have to say, without my permission—however, I'm proud to say that I passed on those messages, because they were important to me. So, I take this situation very seriously.

Why have we arrived here? Well, when anyone in politics accepts a donation of £200,000 from any individual, let alone this individual, voters from across the political spectrum have a right to ask whose side you're on, because it wasn't too long ago that Labour's general election slogan was, 'For the many and not for the few.' The average Welsh person's take-home pay is £24,000, but, with this kind of action, it's easy to see why the average Welsh worker is questioning why your leadership campaign took a donation that would take more than eight years for those people to earn. Your failure, sadly, to see why someone who's just bought a three-bedroomed house worth £180,000 in Builth Wells, or someone earning an average wage in Brecon, would think that you're out of touch by accepting this donation is clear. And this, for all of us, is a massive part of the problem, and that is why I am, sadly, standing here saying that you have lost my confidence. On 1 May, I asked you in this Siambr to repay the £200,000. I said it was simple; it would all be over, we could move on. Nothing has happened, and, for me, actions speak louder than words. When trust in politicians is, sadly, at an all-time low, it's more important than ever that we show that we are representing our people here in Wales. We want to make Wales a better place for everyone. Rules are rules and we've heard you say that often, that you haven't broken any rules. But doing the right thing is doing the right thing. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative 4:19, 5 June 2024

I will begin my contribution today by saying something that may shock a lot of you here in this Chamber today. First Minister, I can honestly say that, party politics aside, I was genuinely happy to see you take up this role and become the first black leader of any European country. It was a trailblazing move and you had a real opportunity here to make your mark as Wales's first ethnic minority First Minister. As a person of colour—and I can speak from experience here—sadly, even in 2024, people from an ethnic minority origin, especially politicians, are often held in a different light. We're held in a different regard, and, more than often, there is more pressure put on us than our peers to be honest, to be the best and to uphold our positions of integrity at all times and prove ourselves to be worthy of our jobs, each and every single day, not just polling day.

That said, I cannot stress how disappointed I am to say that the golden opportunity that you were given was completely wasted, and the suggestion that you are receiving this level of scrutiny because of your skin colour is, quite frankly, insulting. The continuous cycle of controversies has not only tarnished the office of the First Minister and the Welsh Parliament as a whole, but it has, sadly, eroded trust and confidence amongst the public towards politicians at large. 

Presiding Officer, the First Minister has bounced from scandal to scandal, which all started with him accepting a questionable, as many have mentioned today, £200,000 donation from convicted polluter David Neal to bankroll his leadership campaign. Not only did the First Minister show a terrible lapse in judgment when accepting this cash, but it is clear even now that he still has no regrets and has refused to return the donation. As if that wasn't bad enough, it was then revealed that another one of Mr Neal's companies had also received a £400,000 loan from the Development Bank of Wales, which is wholly owned by the Welsh Government and overseen by the economy Minister. It's worth remembering that, in February 2023, at the time of the loan, Vaughan Gething was, indeed, our economy Minister. 

We have since learnt that the company was linked to a criminal investigation at the same time it handed over the £200,000 donation that everyone is talking about today. This really does stink, and, whilst the First Minister previously said that the public are not concerned with the saga, I can safely say that, after an influx of e-mails, calls and messages from constituents all across south-east Wales, this is simply not true, and it's a topic being raised time and time again.

Fast forward a couple of weeks more and then another scandal hits, this time around the deletion of text messages during the pandemic. The First Minister had previously said that he did not delete messages relating to decisions made around the COVID pandemic. He argued that, in fact, messages had been removed from his phone by the Senedd's ICT department, yet evidence later emerged that proved that Vaughan Gething, who was health Minister at the time, had, in fact, deleted the messages himself. Just days following this revelation, Hannah Blythyn was sacked as social partnership Minister because the First Minister claimed that she was responsible for leaking the messages, something that she categorically denies; she insisted that she had never leaked anything. So, here we have two completely different stories, yet only one can be correct. First Minister, you were urged on countless occasions to publish all of the evidence supporting your decision to fire Hannah. You've had ample time and opportunity to set the record straight by releasing the evidence, and I think your reluctance to do so has left everybody here perplexed. The way that this has been handled has been atrocious and deeply unfair.

Frankly, I fear what will be the next scandal, and I worry that the longer the current First Minister remains in office, the more damage we will be doing to Welsh democracy. All of these stories have become a major distraction from the big issues that we should be focusing on right here in the Welsh Parliament. Our constituents, and I mean all of our constituents, want to see us tackling things like spiralling NHS waiting lists, our failing education system and rebuilding our economy. But, unfortunately, we've had no other option than calling this vote of no confidence today.

The First Minister has been dodging scrutiny at every available opportunity. We all saw with our own eyes when he disrespected the entire Senedd by failing to turn up for an important debate on this matter, and then arriving at the last minute for another. When challenged over this matter by an esteemed BBC broadcaster, he actually accused her of not being a serious journalist. First Minister, it is evident that the house of cards around you is falling apart. The people of Wales deserve better than this from their First Minister, and I hope you will do the right thing today, the honourable thing. Thank you.

Photo of Mike Hedges Mike Hedges Labour 4:23, 5 June 2024

I think it's fairly well known that I did not support Vaughan in the leadership election—read Nation.Cymru. It may be less well known that I did not support him in the previous leadership election. It's probably known only to a few of my friends that I have never voted for him in any internal Labour Party election. I am not a natural Vaughan Gething supporter. At the leadership election in Wales, I supported Jeremy Miles, but only after both Eluned Morgan and Hannah Blythyn refused my request to stand. He is on the list of people I don't even ask to support me if I'm standing for election to be a committee Chair.

The reality is that Vaughan won the Labour leadership election and the vote to be First Minister. We have the election system I wanted in the Labour Party: one member, one vote. I was on the losing side, but it would be perverse of me to oppose the winner. 'One member, one vote' is now entrenched in Welsh Labour elections, as opposed to the previous system of one member, several votes, including supervotes for Senedd Members and Members of Parliament, which stopped my friend Julie Morgan becoming deputy leader of the Labour Party despite winning the vast majority of the votes. When Carolyn Harris beat Julie Morgan, I voted several times—legally, within the rules. The ending of voting many times was a very positive move, and there's no going back to the old system. There's no allegation of vote rigging, no allegation of vote harvesting, no allegation of phantom members and no allegation of members being denied a vote. And, unlike Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, we had a leadership election for the Welsh Labour leader, not a coronation.

On a personal note, I was sad to see Adam Price, who is not a friend of mine, but somebody I have huge respect for, being removed as leader of Plaid Cymru and being replaced by probably the most right-wing leader that Plaid Cymru have had in the Senedd.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

Don't get distracted by Llyr Gruffydd at this point.

Photo of Mike Hedges Mike Hedges Labour

It is not ridiculous. Pro-nuclear weapons—. Do you need to keep on going?

What happens next? [Interruption.] What happens next? There is, as far as I can see, nothing in the rules to stop the debate happening every week until 2026. As the public are about to discover, Wednesday's debates are not binding on the Government. Just to remind Andrew Davies and Rhun—[Interruption.] Just to remind Andrew Davies and Rhun ap Iorwerth, you were both, just a few weeks ago, defeated by Vaughan Gething for the post of First Minister—remember that? A clear vote in favour of Vaughan Gething. If the Senedd votes to remove the First Minister, then my personal preference is a new Senedd election. Let the voters decide. Because a number of you over there may not be coming back, on the current boundaries. The only winner in debates such as this is the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party. They approved it, they elect a First Minister and then vote to remove him a few weeks later.

There have been concerns expressed about the financial support Vaughan Gething had—all legal, all declared, all reported to everyone it had to be reported to. That the opposition don't like the person donating is well known.

Can I go to the text messages, because I was a major person in that? It was about using teachers' assessed grades, rather than using the algorithm, which—. Fortunately, we went to the right decision, despite the Cabinet spending a long time getting there, which I am severely disappointed in. Vaughan was protecting me. Do you want the truth of the matter? Jeremy Miles wanted to use an algorithm and to remove me as a Member of the Senedd for Swansea East—that is what was removed. It has nothing to with the COVID inquiry, but it was to protect individuals, including me. I don't care. That's what happened, and I'm prepared to fight my case, but it was an attempt to defend me, which I very much respect and like.

Can I just quote about one Conservative donor, because this is quite enlightening? 

'I can get access via the Leaders Group. It is usually senior ministers and 15 or 20 people. Sometimes in person. Sometimes on Zoom. The last thing I attended was a lunch with Michael Gove in July. It was all donors who were there.'

'To become a member of the Leaders Group, you have to have donated £50,000 in the last year.

'Two to three lunches a week are arranged, to which around a dozen donors are invited.

'Groups don't tend to be bigger than this, to ensure all those who turn up get a chance to feel part of something that isn't impersonal.

'Some donors are very regular attendees, others don't come to any.

'Does this amount to buying access, and influence?'

I ask people to come to a conclusion on that. I think most of us actually think it is, and this idea of having a leaders group of people paying hundreds of thousands of pounds annually, not a one-off in an election, is fundamentally wrong. I think we really do need to clean up the donation system. And also we need to clean up our rivers. As somebody who's complained about the Wye and Usk being polluted, along with the Tawe, I'm sure the Conservatives will not accept any money from anybody who's polluting those.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru 4:28, 5 June 2024

To briefly respond to Mike, I'm sure the current leader of Plaid Cymru would welcome a head-to-head debate with the British leader of the Labour Party to see then who is the most left-wing leader.

Last week, while this Chamber was quiet, the theatre next door was echoing to the words of one of the Labour Party's most iconic figures in that epic morality play for modern times, Nye. The man in the title role, Michael Sheen, said of Aneurin Bevan that he had a cast-iron integrity and a raging passion. Sadly, I don't think you can say either of the leadership of this Government at the moment. As we heard yesterday, the Government is systemically removing all the more radical elements out of its own programme, from reform of the school year to reform of the council tax. So, if anyone for a moment thought that some of the First Minister's failings could somehow be justified in the spirit of the end justifying the means, then I challenge you to describe that end, because this is a Government that, in a matter of a few short months, has become shallow and rudderless, shorn of any sense of greater purpose other than the political survival of the First Minister himself.

And let us turn to those issues of integrity. The question of dirty money, which bedevils most western democracies, has thankfully not been much of an issue for us in Wales. Welsh millionaires have not been interested in politics and Welsh politics has not been interested in millionaires. That happy circumstance the First Minister has brought crashing to an end. To quote Bevan himself,

'Christ drove the money changers out of the temple, but you inscribe their title deed on the altar cloth.'

Indeed, we could say the First Minister has stitched it into the very fabric of the seat he occupies.

A public inquiry into the deaths of over 10,000 Welsh citizens is, it is reported, taking very seriously the First Minister's failure to inform them of deleted messages, and now that same lack of candour is extended to us. Ten days ago, I asked the First Minister whether a formal leak inquiry was held into the alleged disclosure of a chat group by the former Minister for Social Partnership. I’ve yet to receive a reply. I asked the Welsh Government's director of propriety and ethics whether he knew. His response: 'I'm not aware.' Now, the Government's silence clearly raises very serious questions as to whether such an inquiry was held, and raises the possibility that the case against the former Minister was neither forensic nor formal, and that she was sacked without a proper investigation and with little in the way of due process.

I've asked the First Minister whether there was a written report into any alleged breach of the ministerial code by the Minister. Again, I've received no reply. I've asked the Government's director of propriety and ethics if he was aware of any such report. He said he wasn't. He was walking in the hills of Spain at the time. He was also on holiday when the ministerial code investigation into the current First Minister was held, but on that occasion he was asked to give advice, which was reflected in a written report. No such courtesy was afforded to Hannah Blythyn.

Now, maybe this is a sign of the new ruthlessness of which Sir Keir Starmer spoke so glowingly recently in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. Rebels in the new model Labour Party must pay a heavy price. But let's remember that Bevan himself was expelled from the Labour Party and suspended from the PLP on multiple occasions, and in response to Joyce Watson, one of those was actually when he moved a vote of no confidence in Winston's Churchill's Government that the Labour Party was part of in July 1942, and when he was criticised for the timing of that no confidence motion, he said the very reason we were fighting the Nazis was so that you could hold leaders to account even in wartime.

It's Bevan we remember. It’s Bevan we remember, not the desiccated—[Interruption.] No. Not the desiccated calculating machines that condemned him. And it's Rhodri Morgan we remember most, not Alun Michael, because 24 years ago a vote of no confidence was moved—the only other time that has happened in the leader of the Government in the history of devolution—and it was passed. Alun Michael, to his credit, resigned immediately, and much of what we have achieved collectively over the last quarter of a century flowed from that singular moment. It's that precedent that has to be followed if the First Minister can no longer command a majority, because that is a foundational principle of parliamentary democracy everywhere. The Assembly back then adjourned, the Cabinet met and brought forward a nomination for Rhodri Morgan as acting First Minister precisely an hour and two minutes later. That was not ruthlessness, but it was decisiveness, and it's what this moment calls for now.

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour

Diolch, Llywydd. I regret that the Conservatives have brought forward this motion today. I do not regret it because I think I'm above criticism. I do not regret it because I think I have made and will continue to make mistakes. I am human, I am fallible. I do not even regret it because of the issues it raises, because I have nothing to hide. I regret the motion because it is designed to question my integrity.

Like so many of you in this Chamber, I have dedicated my adult life to public service and to Wales. Even in the midst of an election campaign, it does hurt deeply when my intentions are questioned. I have never, ever made a decision in more than a decade as a Minister for personal or financial gain—never. I do not doubt the sincerity behind some of the questions that the motion touches on today, even if the motion is transparently designed for another purpose. I hope the people in this Chamber and beyond will take a moment to reflect on the sincerity with which I have answered and continue to answer these questions. I will not shy away from scrutiny and challenge. I have reflected on donations and, as Members know, I've instigated a review into how that is handled in the future in my party, and I've asked the cross-party Standards of Conduct Committee to look at Senedd rules for all of us.

We cannot, of course, retrofit new rules to old campaigns where we don't like the result. That is not how democracy works, but I do take seriously what people have said to me outside the cut and thrust of this Chamber. The support that I've received in recent weeks from Labour Party colleagues across Wales and the UK has been overwhelming, and I'm grateful for their incredible generosity of spirit and solidarity. More than that, I want to thank the many members of the public for their support in person, online and in a variety of means. Diolch o galon i chi. I also want to recognise that, like me, so many people of colour have been traduced and vilified merely for raising concerns about how some of these debates have been handled. Our lived experience should matter and be respected. We still have a very long way to go.

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 4:36, 5 June 2024


We still have a long way to go. 

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 4:37, 5 June 2024

Pairs are a normal part of how this Parliament and many others work. It preserves the democratic balance determined by the electorate. Welsh Labour has always paired with other parties during ill health absence. We did so for three months with the leader of the Welsh Conservatives. The refusal to do so today when two of our Members are unwell reflects poorly on opposition parties. This is meant to be a motion about confidence, but we know that it is not. The timing tells you everything that you need to know.

If Andrew R.T. Davies and his colleagues were genuinely concerned about the issue of political donations, they would have spoken out at a different time. They would have stood up when it really counted. They would have rejected the millions of pounds given to their party by a man who boasted about wanting to shoot a black female MP, or the millions given to their party by a man who served as a Minister in a foreign dictatorship.

If that party had genuine concerns about how decisions were made and actions taken during the pandemic, they would have stood up when it counted. They would have walked away from the party that partied in Downing Street whilst the country was on its knees; walked away not defended a Prime Minister served with a criminal fixed-penalty notice.

If that party had genuine concern for the integrity of devolution and democracy in Wales, then they would do well to look to their own benches before casting the first stone—to demand of anyone else standards they have no intention of meeting themselves. They can talk about confidence until they are blue in the face to match their blue rosettes. If they want a real confidence motion, then table one properly in line with Standing Orders.

I will tell them what I have confidence in. I have confidence in Wales and in our younger generation. I have confidence in our campaign to change our country. I have confidence that we do have brighter days ahead of us, and the kind of populist politics that are being promoted day after day by the Tories, I hope, is about to be dealt a hammer blow at the ballot box.

I know that some will try to reframe this confidence as arrogance. It is absolutely not the same thing. And if that word did pop into your heads, I challenge you to ask why. I can make apologies for many things, but I will never shy away from a positive approach to politics, our country and our Government. I want us to to be a confident Cymru.

To Plaid Cymru I say this: we have worked together in the past. I have offered you the hand of friendship, practical action and co-operation. I continue to do so. You yourself recognise the hypocrisy of the Tories. You say you want to see an end of the Tories in Wales, yet you come here today to link arms with them. There is nothing progressive about joining the Tory lead in an anti-Labour alliance. It is the very opposite of the co-operation that we have worked through. It is of course for you to explain to your voters, members and potential supporters why now, of all times, you would side with a party that makes enemies of the vulnerable, that smashed our economy and treats Wales as an afterthought.

Gwlad dros blaid. I will continue to put Wales first; first in thought, deed and ambition, as I serve and lead my country. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative

Diolch, Llywydd. And I'm surprised with the First Minister's response. I didn't hear an apology. It implies that the First Minister would again accept a similar donation, if one was made in the future, in the same circumstances as he accepted the first one from Mr Neal.

As the leader of the opposition said in his opening speech, this debate today is not about anything other than you, First Minister: your judgment, the lack of transparency that we have seen, and a question about your integrity and honesty. It's our duty as an opposition party to reflect the mood of the country and the mood of people in this Chamber, on all sides, including your own, who have concerns about the judgment that you have shown.

To accept hundreds of thousands of pounds—a record-breaking donation, as Andrew R.T. Davies said—to an individual in a leadership campaign, in Wales, without doing appropriate due diligence is, frankly, astonishing. Absolutely astonishing. And when we consider that, even just earlier this week, we heard it implied that there were attempts for you to prevent the release of information about questions that were being raised, and questions that were being put to Natural Resources Wales, it seems that there's more emerging every single day about your judgment, and that is what this debate is about.

It's not about your Government, it's not about the Labour Party, and it's not about a general election. It is about your judgment, First Minister, and I'm afraid that without the apology—without the apology today—I find it astonishing that we're sat here, listening to you saying anything other than sorry, because, frankly, that's the first word that should have come from your lips. And it didn't. And you've let yourself down and you're letting your party down and you are letting this Senedd down, because I'm afraid that this reflects on the Senedd and it reflects on our democracy. Because when the First Minister of Wales, a nation that I am proud to live in, and a Senedd in which I am proud to serve, cannot apologise—cannot apologise—to the people of Wales for a lack of judgment, and reflect, I think there's a serious problem.

You've tried to deflect to others, talk about all sorts of other things rather than your own judgment. You've refused to accept accountability for the behaviour to accept that donation, you are scrambling, frankly, to survive, by dismissing this vote as though it means nothing. I tell you, First Minister, every vote in this Senedd should be respected, and that includes the vote that will be taken today, which, if we are correct by the media reports, you're set to lose. And I think it's extraordinary that you would dismiss that and say that it's inappropriate to listen to that, because, again, it shows a lack of judgment. A lack of judgment.

And then we talked about the transparency around the sacking of the Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn. You could simply put this to bed by publishing the evidence. You could put this to bed beyond doubt by publishing the evidence to demonstrate your integrity in the decision that you took. You've chosen not to. [Interruption.] I won't take an intervention, if that's okay. You could put this to bed by simply publishing that evidence. I ask you: why won't you publish that evidence? Why won't you put it into the public domain? You could easily put your integrity beyond doubt by publishing that information. You've chosen not to.

You've misled, it would appear, the COVID inquiry. You suggested that the Senedd ICT department deleted messages on your phone when the reality was that you deleted messages on your phone and encouraged others to do likewise—[Interruption.]

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative

I'm not taking an intervention; I've made that clear. 

There are questions to be asked about your judgment. There are questions to be asked about your integrity. And there are questions about whether you're being honest with your own party, with the people of Wales and this Senedd. And I'm afraid that, because of that, we will be voting in favour of this motion, which recognises the concerns of the people of Wales.

You say that this thing isn't being discussed on the doors across Wales. We're in the middle of a general election; there are thousands of conversations taking place each and every day with Labour supporters, Conservative Party supporters, Plaid Cymru supporters, Lib Dem supporters across the country, and I can tell you this is a frequent topic of conversation raised by people on the doorstep—not by politicians prodding them about these things, but by them asking questions about your judgment and your integrity. We have a duty, therefore, in this Senedd to make sure that those views are reflected. And I can say this: if the people of Wales don't have confidence in you, then neither do we.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 4:47, 5 June 2024


The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There are objections. The vote will take place after the next debate, during voting time. 


Voting deferred until voting time.