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Welsh Secretary accuses Labour of being ‘silent’ on Vaughan Gething donation

Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething (Ben Birchall/PA)
Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Welsh Secretary has accused Labour of being “silent” on a controversial donation taken by Wales’ First Minister.

Vaughan Gething has come under increasing scrutiny since being appointed in March, for having taken a £200,000 donation from a man convicted of environmental offences.

Opposition groups have raised concerns that it could be a possible conflict of interest and breach of the ministerial code, while members of his own benches have questioned his decision-making.

Conservative Party Conference 2023
Welsh Secretary David TC Davies (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In the Commons on Wednesday, David TC Davies said questions should be answered by the Labour frontbench, but shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens said it was “rich” of Tory MPs to be “chuntering” about donations.

During Wales questions, Conservative MP (Wrexham) Sarah Atherton said: “The Development Bank of Wales was supposed to be aiding businesses through cost-of-living pressures.

“Does (Mr Davies) agree that it is unacceptable that one company received £400,000 from the bank, was then able to give the First Minister of Wales £200,000?”

Mr Davies replied: “The Development Bank of Wales, which is owned ultimately by the Welsh taxpayers, should be there to support businesses through cost of living pressures.

“It was able to make a £400,000 loan to a company which was then able to turn round and add £200,000 back into political donation to enable the First Minister to win the (Welsh Labour leadership) election campaign.

“It is a very good question, but it is not a question for me; it’s one that should be answered by the shadow frontbench. But on this matter, they have been very silent indeed.”

Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said both the Welsh Government and the UK Government “need to recommit to integrity and transparency”.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP said: “More than one in four children in Wales lives in poverty. Devolution has the capacity to transform people’s lives, but the current First Minister is distracted by questions about his integrity, deleting messages and taking dodgy donations.

“Twenty-five years since the start of devolution, does the Secretary of State agree with me that Governments at both ends of the M4 need to recommit to integrity and transparency?”

Mr Davies said: “I can absolutely assure (Ms Roberts) that this Government and this political party are completely committed to integrity.”

This was met with laughter from Labour members, as Mr Davies continued: “Their own First Minister took £200,000 from a convicted criminal who had received £400,000 from a bank for which he was responsible, went in front of the Covid committee and said that all the messages on his phone had been accidentally deleted by the IT department.

“But now we see a screenshot where he urges people to delete their messages so that they can’t be FOId (freedom of information request), and they have the audacity to sit there laughing when people ask questions about standards.

“I say (Ms Roberts) makes a very good point: let’s collapse the coalition and stop supporting the Welsh Labour Government, and then we can get a decent Government with decent values running Wales.”

UK Parliament portraits
Shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens (Richard Townshend/PA)

Ms Roberts said: “When it comes to the Secretary of State’s judgment in relation to the First Minister, yes we are for once in agreement.

“But this screams hypocrisy, the Tories in the Senedd voted against a Plaid Cymru motion to set a cap on political donations, his party has still not returned a £10 million donation from a man who made racist and misogynistic remarks.

“In that spirit of open democracy, will the Secretary of State support a cap on donations to political parties?”

Mr Davies said: “I’m not going to sit here and start making policy on the hoof, but what I would say to (Ms Roberts), and I think she would agree with this, that I would not have taken hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from somebody who had been convicted twice of environmental offences.

“And if the Labour party are happy with that, it is a matter for them.”

Earlier in the session, shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens said: “I’d like to acknowledge the 25th anniversary this week of Welsh devolution delivered by a Labour government.

“It’s helped nurture a confident modern and outward-looking Wales and we on this side of the House are proud of it.”

She added: “A mother whose 11-year-old son was hit by a car near his school in Flintshire has said that the 20mph speed limit likely saved his life.

“So, does he agree that this intervention represents an important endorsement of the Welsh Labour government’s policy to protect lives, especially children’s lives?”

Mr Davies said: “I also acknowledge the 25th anniversary of devolution, we were promised that it was going to deliver better schools and hospitals and public standards, and what we actually have are the longest waiting lists in the United Kingdom, the worst educational standards in the United Kingdom, and a First Minister who’s willing to take £200,000 in a donation from a twice convicted criminal.

“That is the record of 25 years of Labour running a government in Wales.

“And as far as 20mph limits are concerned, I said straightaway, I’m in favour of them outside schools, hospitals and other places where there are vulnerable pedestrians. I don’t like the blanket ban which has been imposed as part of the anti-motorist agenda of the Welsh Labour government.”

Ms Stevens said that it was “literally rich” for Tories MPs to be “chuntering” about donations, as she referred to Tory donor Frank Hester.

She said: “The Welsh public don’t like divisive politics, they don’t like Wales being constantly talked down by his party, and is that why the Tories hadn’t won a domestic election in Wales for over a century?”

Mr Davies replied: “The fact of the matter is what people in Wales want is public services that match what has been delivered by this Conservative government in England.”