FM must return shocking donation, says ex-minister

Vaughan Gething should hand back £200,000 taken from a company owned by a man prosecuted for illegally dumping waste, a former Welsh government minister has told the Senedd.

Lee Waters questioned the judgement of the first minister for accepting the donation, during the Welsh Labour leadership campaign, from Dauson Environment Group.

He said he was “deeply uncomfortable” with the situation and that it was "shocking" to find where the money had come from.

A Welsh government minister, Jane Hutt, said “all relevant rules have been complied with”.

He made the comments in one of two debates forced by the opposition on the issue.

Labour MSs successfully voted down Tory calls for an independent investigation into the donations, as well as a Plaid Cymru motion for the Senedd to look at a cap on numbers.

Welsh Conservative and Plaid Cymru Senedd members criticised Mr Gething for failing to take part in the discussions.

Mr Gething was absent for most of the proceedings, arriving midway through the second debate called by Plaid Cymru.

Earlier the Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had called for an independent investigation.

Meanwhile Vaughan Gething's former leadership rival Jeremy Miles has asked a Welsh government-owned bank to reflect on its due diligence, amid controversy over a £400,000 loan to a Dauson subsidiary.

Mr Waters had supported Mr Miles and was one of the few Labour politicians who spoke on the record about the donations during the campaign.

Lee Waters
Lee Waters was transport minister until March [Getty Images]

'Unjustifiable'

Mr Waters said he had been "struggling to process my feelings" about the issue and he would have rather avoided making the speech.

He said he had not changed his initial view that the donation was "unjustifiable and wrong".

It really "shocked" him that it came from a firm with a conviction for damaging the Gwent Levels, a site of special scientific interest, "at a time that some of us were fighting hard to protect this area".

Mr Gething has said that he has followed the rules over political donations.

"But the issue is not whether the paperwork was correct, it’s whether the judgement was correct," said Mr Waters.

He said 25 years ago "we talked of devolution as the beginning of a new politics; but the reputation of politics, and politicians, seems to be lower than ever".

"The first minister told a Senedd committee last week that his approval ratings haven’t been affected by the controversy. I must say that surprised me, and troubled me."

"Whether the polls bear that out or not, it really isn’t the point. Surely the question isn’t what any of us can get away with, it’s what is right?"

"I’m deeply uncomfortable with the way I am now, in effect, being expected to endorse something I think is just wrong.

"I haven’t spoken out since the donation came to light ten weeks ago. I wanted to give time for the issue to be addressed. But it hasn’t been."

Mr Gething has faced claims that he had broken the code of conduct for ministers, which requires ministers not to accept any gift which might, or might reasonably appear to, compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation.

Mr Waters said that ministerial code is not a "legal contract" or a "test to find a loophole"

"It's a code of ethics," he said.

"It would not be a sign of weakness to say it was a mistake to take the donation and now all the facts are known to give it back."

'Perception'

In the Conservative debate calling for an independent probe, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: “There is no rule breaking, but the perception of such substantial monies coming into a campaign to lead the country of Wales as first minister has caused considerable public disquiet, as well as considerable political disquiet amongst the Labour Party and other political parties.”

He said the £200,000 could "reasonably be seen as securing influence".

Plaid Cymru focused on introducing a cap on the size of donations.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru leader, said: “This episode reflects terribly, I’m afraid, on the first minister himself and his judgement.

“But we can take a stand here today to defend the integrity of our democracy as a whole.”

Hefin David, Labour MS for Caerphilly who supported Mr Gething in the leadership campaign, played the issue down.

“All of the evidence that we've talked about has been addressed. What are we now trying to investigate," he said.

“I don't think we're trying to investigate anything. What the Conservatives are trying to do is keep the story running.

“Andrew RT Davies says in the Western Mail article that he wants to move on.

“If he wants to move on, he can start asking questions about the things we care about: the cost of living, children in care; these are the kind of things he could start asking about at first minister's questions instead of just going on about this non-issue.”

Mr Gething did not respond to either debates, and was not present for the first Conservative session.

With the first minister sat beside her Jane Hutt, Welsh government chief whip and business minister, said: "The first minister has repeatedly set out all the relevant rules have been complied with and it's been that's been acknowledged again, this afternoon."

"The Welsh government's propriety and ethics team has considered and responded to questions raised by members and a clear that no wrongdoing has taken place.

"The first minister will recuse himself from any involvement that presents any conflict of interest in the normal way."

She was asked by Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor if she would have taken the money herself but she did not answer the question.