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Questions raised over controversial ministerial sacking

02 Jun 2024 6 minute read
First Minister Vaughan Gething / Inset: Former Deputy Minister Hannah Blythyn

Emily Price

Questions have been asked of the Welsh Government’s director of ethics about the controversial sacking of a junior minister who was accused of leaking information to the media.

First Minister Vaughan Gething axed Minister for Social Partnership Hannah Blythyn in an unprecedented move earlier this month.

He alleged that Ms Blythyn had disclosed messages to Nation.Cymru from a group chat used by ministers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One previously unseen iMessages appeared to show the then Health Minister’s intention to delete a discussion because it could be subject to freedom of information legislation.

Ms Blythyn staunchly denied the claims saying, “integrity is all in politics and I retain mine.”

Nation.Cymru has never revealed how we obtained the messages.

Handbook

The First Minister told the Senedd he had acted in accordance with the ministerial code and the government Cabinet Handbook.

Unlike the UK Government’s Cabinet Manual, the Welsh Government handbook is a highly confidential document that cannot be viewed by the public.

This means we cannot know what guidance the First Minister followed.

During a Public Accounts Committee meeting last week, the Welsh Government’s Director of Propriety and Ethics, David Richards was grilled on the sacking of Ms Blythyn.

Plaid Cymru MS Adam Price said there was less transparency in Wales about the inner workings of government because the details of the Cabinet Handbook are not published.

The Director of Propriety said the reason for this was because the internal document contains highly confidential security information for Cabinet Secretaries.

Probing further, Mr Price asked Mr Richards if the Committee could have access to some of the details of the handbook.

The Director of Propriety replied saying he would need the permission of the First Minister.

Conduct

The UK Government version of the Cabinet Manual sets out the main laws, rules and conventions affecting the conduct and operation of government.

It is publicly accessible and can be found online here.

It covers everything from Freedom of Information requests and policies to ministerial conduct and the structure of government.

The manual also includes a section on the leaking of confidential government information.

The Welsh Government Cabinet Handbook – which is not publicly accessible – is somewhat slimmed down because it does not include information on subjects such as the Sovereign.

During the Committee meeting Mr Richards was asked to confirm whether the Welsh Cabinet Handbook contained guidance on leaks.

Intervening, the Welsh Government’s Head of Cabinet Division, Matthew Hall said there is a section that covers the management of information more generally – but he added that he would need to “check again” on whether there was guidance on leaks.

Procedures

Mr Price asked what the established procedures were in terms on unauthorised disclosures.

The Director of Propriety replied saying he didn’t feel confident enough to answer adding that it was “up to the First Minister how he wants to deal with things”.

He went on to confirm that there are procedures in place for establishing a “formal leak inquiry” which would usually be led by the head of security.

On the dismissal of Hannah Blythyn, he said he had been on holiday “when it was all happening”.

Mr Richards, Mr Hall and the Interim Director of the Office of the First Minister, Dr Rachel Garside-Jones, were asked if they were aware of a formal leak inquiry into Ms Blythyn.

All three said they were not aware of whether such an inquiry had been initiated.

Mr Price said: “Mr Richards, you are the director of propriety and ethics of the Welsh Government. Forgive me in my simplicity here, but I would have expected the director of propriety and ethics at least to have knowledge of this matter.”

Mr Richards said he was “walking in the hills of Spain at the time” but that normally he would expect to be made aware of a formal leak inquiry.

Briefing

Labour Committee Member Mike Hedges asked what the difference was between a leak and a briefing to the media.

Mr Richards said: “A leak is generally an unauthorised disclosure of confidential information, which either the First Minister or other officials haven’t authorised to be released, and which is confidential information. A briefing, which is actually authorised by Ministers, I think is a different matter.”

The Public Accounts Committee has now formally requested a copy of the Cabinet Handbook and clarification on what constitutes sensitive information – framed in the context of a party political What’s App group discussing ministerial business.

The First Minister faces a vote of no confidence in the Senedd next week over donations to his campaign and for refusing to show any evidence to explain why he sacked Ms Blythyn.

Mr Gething says that some of the evidence “is sensitive to other ministers”

‘Stonewalling’

Speaking to Nation.Cymru, Adam Price said: “It was surprising, to say the least,  to hear the Welsh Government’s Director of Propriety and Ethics, say in answer to the question as to whether he was aware if a formal leak inquiry had been commissioned in the case of Hannah Blythyn.

“More curious still to hear other senior colleagues give the same response.  But what was most perplexing of all was hearing this answer subsequently changed to ‘we were not aware’, in the past tense.

“Asked whether they could say if they knew now, senior officials declined to answer, preferring to write to the committee, citing election sensitivities.

“Some will see this as stonewalling, which will do nothing for the reputation of a Government whose propriety and ethics is decidedly in doubt.

“The First Minister’s actions have already tarnished the Labour Party. Holding this information back until after July 4th will raise real questions not just about the Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability, but also to civil service impartiality.

“If the First Minister cannot be persuaded to do the right thing, then surely the Permanent Secretary must.”


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 day ago

Ethics! The Senedd is closer to Essex…

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
1 day ago

More abuse of confidentiality to cover things up.

John Ellis
John Ellis
1 day ago

‘Unlike the UK Government’s Cabinet Manual, the Welsh Government handbook is a highly confidential document that cannot be viewed by the public.

This means we cannot know what guidance the First Minister followed.’

Not a good look, especially in the light of the fact that the Westminster equivalent is publicly available.

Mawkernewek
1 day ago

Jim Hacker: “But you told me that you were telling me on a personal level?”

Major Saunders: “Yes, but now you know personally, even if you do not know officially you can use your personal knowledge to start official investigations to get official confirmation of personal suspicions, so that what your now know personally, but not officially, you will than know officially as well as personally.”

Jim Hacker: “You’re not related to Sir Humphrey Appleby by any chance?”

https://yes-minister.com/ymseas3b.htm

Last edited 1 day ago by Mawkernewek
Elaine
Elaine
1 day ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

Strangely enough, I read earlier that Gething’s first name is Humphrey lol.

I keep hoping that Jenny Rathbone decides that Wednesday is the day to take revenge for his swearing about her on zoom when he forgot his microphone was still live.

Adrian
Adrian
1 day ago

Transparency is something this lot avoid like the plague. Try emailing your MS and asking an awkward question. You’ll (eventually) get a reply from a ‘department’, citing boilerplate statements. You’ll never be allowed to know the name of the person you’re dealing with. It’s as murky as it gets.

Jeff
Jeff
1 day ago

I understand the lady that was sacked is denying it.
But! Whoever did it, you would have thought that someone “unearthing” “lost” messages would get a pat on the back.

Beau Brummie
Beau Brummie
1 day ago

Awgrym bach i Miss Blythyn …

Resign the whip, and then abstain next week. Or even – cast a vote!

Psephos Y Brain …

Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
1 day ago

Taking a leaf out of Starmers ‘copybook’? not a good move Sir!

Ian
Ian
1 day ago

As interesting as this is surely the fundamental point is that Ministers are appointed by the head of government and serve at their ‘pleasure’. If a First Minister loses confidence in a Minister (for whatever reason) they stop being a Minister.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 day ago

More bad news about Gething. Wales deserves better. Better than Gething and his merry band of inadequates.

Why vote
Why vote
1 day ago

What is so secret about the welsh handbook that only the first minister can look at it ???? Is it the next chapter for indiana Jones or proves that aliens exist. This is the kind of political BS we can do without, to debate and agree the content and put together this document someone has been paid using taxpayers money then it is made secret from taxpayers who do the MSs think they are standing tall above the lowlife population of wales with their little secrets. Vote them all out and let’s elect real people. This has to be a… Read more »

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