Minister ‘made a misleading statement but did not break the Ministerial Code’
Deputy Sport Minister Dawn Bowden was wrong to say that an MP hadn’t given her the names of women prepared to provide testimony about sexual harassment and misogyny at the Welsh Rugby Union, according to an investigation report.
But the official who conducted the inquiry concluded that she hadn’t intended to deliberately mislead in a TV interview and therefore had not breached the Ministerial Code.
Gower Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi was angry when Ms Bowden denied in a BBC interview that the MP had given her names of individuals to speak to. She urged Ms Bowden to “consider her position” following the Minister’s appearance on a BBC programme in which she offered an explanation as to why she had not contacted victims of the WRU scandal when alerted to its gravity by the MP.
Ms Antoniazzi accused Ms Bowden of a “cynical attempt to rewrite history”.
The WRU apologised last year after a report found sexism and racism was not properly challenged. The report followed a BBC Wales documentary in which a former boss at Welsh women’s rugby said she considered suicide because of the organisation’s culture.
David Richards, the Welsh Government’s director of propriety and ethics was asked by First Minister Mark Drakeford to investigate whether Ms Bowden had broken the Ministerial Code.
In his report, Mr Richards states: “The Deputy Minister said in her interview that what she had received from the Member for the Gower was in general terms and that she had asked for names and details of the concerns. She felt that she needed evidence supported by a statement. It was not totally correct for her to say that that ‘never materialised’ because she had, in fact, been given three names by the Member for Gower. But the Minister was correct in saying that she had not been given any details of the nature of their concerns, nor any statements from them.
“I think that a lot of what this is about is two different understandings of the same set of facts. I am confident that the Deputy Minister is sincere in her belief, which she expressed in her interview, that there was not sufficient detailed information provided to her by the MP for Gower for her to be able to pursue matters with the individuals concerned, and that it would have been inappropriate for her as a government minister to seek to follow that up unilaterally. I am equally confident that the MP for Gower is sincere in believing that there was, and that the Deputy Minister should have followed up the detail.
“I do not doubt the sincerity of either party and the commitment of each of them to combatting inappropriate behaviour in Wales came through clearly in the interviews which I had with them.
“I think that the Deputy Minister should not have said in her interview that she had not been given names by the Member for Gower, since that was not correct. But I also note that this matter was only one of a number of matters dealt with in a fast-paced and wide-ranging interview. She had made clear in her exchanges that she did not believe that the information provided by the Member for Gower was sufficient for her to take action, given her position as a Minister. This view was endorsed by the official advice which she received once a formal approach was made by the MP for Gower.
“In my view the misstatement from the Deputy Minister about names does not amount to untruthfulness or constitutes a breach of the Ministerial Code. I do not think that the Deputy Minister was deliberately trying to mislead and I think that the thrust of what the Deputy Minister said in her interview was an honest representation of the exchanges which she had with the Member for the Gower.
“I think that it might also have been helpful for the Deputy Minister to acknowledge a bit more that the Member for the Gower, like herself, was motivated by trying to protect the women involved and to bring about cultural change in the WRU. Given more time in the interview it may well have been the case that the Deputy Minister would have made both points. But I do not believe that the Deputy Minister was seeking deliberately to mislead or be untruthful in her comments and therefore that the Ministerial Code has not been breached.”
The First Minister issued a statement which said: “On December 12 2023 I announced that the Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism had written to me asking that the allegations raised by the Member of Parliament for Gower should be investigated under the Ministerial Code.
The Director of Propriety and Ethics has completed his investigation and produced his report. I have accepted his report and his findings.”
Responding to the review, a Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “The findings of the in-house investigation reflect badly on the actions of the Deputy Minister – and calls into question her judgement on several occasions.
As the report makes clear, the Deputy Minister was provided with the names and contact details of three women who Tonia Antoniazzi MP claimed had first-hand experience of inappropriate behaviour in the WRU.
Furthermore, the report is critical of the Deputy Ministers denial of this fact.
It is clear that Dawn Bowden could and should have done more to interrogate the issue and intervene sooner when alarm bells were ringing.”
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