Cheryl Gillan admits organ row 'mistake'

Anger turned to laughter and scorn as the Welsh Secretary was wrong-footed on Radio Wales

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Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan has admitted making an on-air mistake in an interview about an opt-out system for organ donation.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales, she denied introducing a bill in parliament on organ donation in 2002.

Mrs Gillan later said she made a mistake and recalled introducing the private members' bill as an opposition whip.

Opponents accused Mrs Gillan of not knowing her own record on the issue.

The assembly government has proposed a soft opt-out system for Wales so people's organs would be available for donation when they die, unless they say no.

In an interview with BBC Wales, Mrs Gillan was asked about a proposal for a presumed consent bill which she introduced in parliament eight years ago.

She said: "I think you had better check your facts on that."

In a statement issued a few hours later, the Welsh secretary said: "Unfortunately I made a mistake in the radio interview and now recall that I did introduce a private members' bill in name only alongside several others eight years ago in my role as an opposition whip.

"This bill was objected to by the then Labour government and was never debated."

organ bag The attorney general has questioned whether there can be separate donor systems operating in the UK

Mrs Gillan was defending her handling of a request from the assembly government for more law-making powers over organ donation.

On Wednesday Health Minister Edwina Hart was informed of objections to the request by the attorney general moments before she addressed AMs.

Mrs Hart said she had clear advice that the move was lawful.

Supporters say the proposed soft opt-out system would help make more organs available for patients who need transplants.

Currently, one person in Wales dies every 11 days waiting for an organ to become available.

But before a presumed consent system can be put in place, the UK parliament must transfer law-making powers to the assembly through a legislative competence order (LCO).

As Mrs Hart prepared to give a Senedd statement about the LCO on Wednesday, she was given details of concerns from attorney general Dominic Grieve.

'Timings of emails'

An assembly government source said an email containing the concerns was sent from the Wales Office just 14 minutes before Mrs Hart was due to address AMs.

Concerns included whether the LCO was outside the devolved areas, and the practicalities of having a different system in Wales for organ donation to that in England.

In her interview with BBC Radio Wales, Mrs Gillan said she had informed First Minister Carwyn Jones of her intentions on Monday and was not "privy to the timings of emails".

She said she had raised potential difficulties with the process then and pointed out she had only received the paperwork on the LCO from Mrs Hart on 5 August.

She said: "This is a very sensitive issue and we need to get it right so I am surprised at the tone of voice and the attitude coming from the Welsh Assembly Government.

"We have been working very hard to get this to pre-legislative scrutiny and it's right and proper that it is scrutinised."

'Proper grasp'

Labour and Plaid Cymru attacked Mrs Gillan for the error.

Plaid AM Dai Lloyd said: "The facts of the matter remain that one person in Wales dies every 11 days under the current system.

"That is something we should not tolerate when simple changes to the law could greatly increase thousands of people's life chances."

Labour's shadow Wales Office minister Owen Smith said: "It is difficult now to trust that the minister has a full grasp on this sensitive issue, given that she doesn't even appear to know her own record on the subject.

"The least we could expect is that she demonstrates a proper grasp of the issue, and a proper grasp of her own beliefs in this direction."

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