Wales politics

Welsh Government bullying claims: Call for special inquiry

Andrew RT Davies
Image caption Andrew RT Davies said an inquiry should happen sooner rather than later

The Welsh Conservatives leader has called for a group of AMs to question Wales' first minister about allegations of bullying in the Welsh Government.

Andrew RT Davies said a "special inquiry" was needed following claims by a former minister and an ex-adviser about a "toxic culture".

Opposition parties are unhappy Carwyn Jones has not elaborated on what he knew and when about bullying claims.

Mr Jones has denied that he misled the assembly.

Following the death of Carl Sargeant, former minister Leighton Andrews and former senior adviser Steve Jones claimed the previous Welsh Government administration had been characterised by bullying and undermining.

Mr Davies told the BBC Wales Live programme: "Within the assembly there is the committee for scrutiny of the first minister which could convene a special inquiry into this particular area.

"It is entirely up to that committee and its chair as to how they take their inquiries forward.

"But given the level of public interest, given the stone-walling by the first minister and the seriousness of the allegations that are on the table, I would suggest that that would be an inquiry that should happen sooner rather than later."

Welsh Tories have asked the assembly for the matter to be brought to the floor of the Senedd for a vote - calling for the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister to investigate the bullying allegations.

The background

Image caption Leighton Andrews claimed Carl Sargeant was the target of some of the bullying

Last week former local government minister Leighton Andrews claimed there was a "toxic" atmosphere in the Welsh Government during the last assembly term.

He said ministers, deputy ministers and special advisers were undermined, and said Mr Sargeant was the target of some of the behaviour.

The former Rhondda AM said Mr Jones had been made aware of what was alleged to be going on but that "nothing was done".

Further claims of bullying were then made at the weekend by Steve Jones, a former special advisor to the first minister.

On Tuesday, under questioning from Welsh Conservative leader Mr Davies, the first minister said allegations made in 2014 were "dealt with" at the time.

Mr Davies claimed the first minister had misled AMs in November 2014 when, in response to a question asking if there had been any reports of bullying by advisers in the previous three years, he said no allegations of bullying had been made.

A day later Mr Jones angered opposition AMs by refusing to give more detail on the matter.

Image caption Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price said: "We cannot have a position where those who lead us mislead us"

Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price said the question of whether the first minister misled the assembly "goes to the core of our democracy".

He added: "We cannot have a position where those who lead us mislead us."

Mr Price later told the BBC's Good Morning Wales programme: "It's an intensely difficult situation and we need to be mindful of the stress and strain the first minister is under.

"I think he deserves a fair hearing - I don't want to harangue anyone but there are fair and legitimate questions to raise with him."

Meanwhile, another Plaid AM, Rhun ap Iorwerth, called for the appointment of an independent adjudicator to examine any alleged breaches of the ministerial code.

He said: "A system along these lines is already in operation in Scotland where the previous Scottish first minister faced robust and independent scrutiny."

Analysis by Daniel Davies, BBC Wales political correspondent

Of late, the Conservatives and Plaid don't have a great record of working together in Cardiff Bay.

In fact, that divided opposition has been a big advantage for Carwyn Jones.

Now the Tories are trying to unite the opposition behind their call for an inquiry.

Carried out by a committee of AMs, they could call witnesses, investigate how the first minister dealt with allegations, and interrogate his answers to the assembly.

A Senedd vote supporting the inquiry is required first - and procedural hurdles could stop that happening.

But it could result in the first minister being hauled over the coals.

Image caption The first minister stands by his 2014 response. a spokesman said

Mr Jones, who was leaving a Brexit conference in Cardiff's City Hall, was asked by BBC Wales if he had misled the assembly.

"Absolutely not," he replied. Asked if he thought he always acted within the ministerial code, Mr Jones added: "Absolutely, at all times."

A spokesman for the first minister said earlier: "The first minister has been very clear, both yesterday and today, that he stands by his 2014 response.

"He has also been very clear that any other issues raised directly with him at that time were dealt with appropriately."

The government has previously said it does not recognise the criticisms made by Mr Andrews and Steve Jones.

But two other individuals who used to work in government and did not want to be named told Wales Live the claims are right.

'Tragic circumstances'

One said: "You would wake up in the morning not knowing if you were supported.

"There was undermining. It's all subtle - things like who gets access to the FM? Who goes on foreign trips?

"It's 101 small things. It's exceptionally high pressure.

"The one person who could have changed the culture was the first minister, but he often left it to others to set the tone."

However, a senior Labour MP has told BBC Wales Mr Andrews was using "tragic circumstances for political gain".

The MP said it "almost seems as a vendetta against Carwyn Jones" and that many other MPs felt the same way.

The MP did not want to speak openly, saying: "What is needed is a period of calm and respect."

Mr Andrews responded: "It is deeply inappropriate for people who have had no contact with the family to attack those who have had regular contact and are speaking up for them.

"I have made my comments on the record and it is particularly cowardly for an MP to attack me anonymously."

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