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Welsh Government refuses to publish handbook Gething relied on when sacking a minister

02 Jul 2024 6 minute read
First Minister Vaughan Gething – Inset Hannah Blythyn MS

Martin Shipton

The Welsh Government has refused to publish a secret “Cabinet Handbook” which Vaughan Gething claims he abided by when sacking a minister he accused of leaking information to Nation.Cymru.

The First Minister dismissed Social Partnership Minister Hannah Blythyn, claiming she leaked a screenshot of an iMessage he wrote to ministerial colleagues as Health Minister during the Covid-19 crisis in which he admitted deleting messages because they could be disclosed in line with freedom of information laws.

Ms Blythyn has strongly denied leaking the screenshot. NationCymru does not reveal its sources.

When he gave evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry, Mr Gething denied deleting messages himself, but claimed they had been deleted by the Senedd’s IT department when his mobile phone was being refitted.

Investigation

During a meeting of the Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee in May, former Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price questioned senior civil servants about whether there had been a formal investigation before Ms Blythyn was dismissed. David Richards, the director of propriety and ethics, said he was unaware of any such investigation having taken place.

Mr Price also asked about the Cabinet Handbook, whose provisions Mr Gething had claimed he acted in accordance with when sacking Ms Blythyn. Unlike the UK Government’s Cabinet Manual, the Welsh Government Cabinet Handbook has been regarded as a highly confidential document that cannot be viewed by the public.

As a result, we have no means of knowing what guidance the First Minister followed when dismissing the minister..

Mr Price told the committee there was less transparency in Wales about the inner workings of government because the details of the Cabinet Handbook are not published. Mr Richards 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 civil servant replied that he would need the permission of the First Minister.

Freedom of information request

Nation.Cymru submitted a freedom of information request seeking disclosure of the Cabinet Handbook. It has now been rejected for the reason that the Welsh Government intends to publish it at some unspecified time in the future.

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 Hal,l 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.

Mr Price asked what the established procedures were in terms of unauthorised disclosures. Mr Richards replied that he didn’t feel confident enough to answer, adding that it was “up to the First Minister how he wants to deal with things”.

After the meeting, Mr Price said it was surprising, to say the least, that none of the senior civil servants giving evidence to the committee knew whether or not a formal leak inquiry had taken place.

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

Response

In its response to our freedom of information request, the Welsh Government said: “I can confirm the Welsh Government holds information of this description, but it is considered exempt under section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act.”

Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 states that information does not have to be disclosed by a public body if it is intended for future publication.

Justifying its decision to withhold the document, a Welsh Government official stated: “The Welsh Government believes that it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld from disclosure until an external version [of the Handbook] is available.

Publishing the requested information now may not reflect the information that will be published on the website; it could be misleading and not present an accurate picture. For that reason, we believe it is reasonable for the publication to take place at a future date, as to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the information for the intended external audience.”

Openness

The response continued: “Whilst the Welsh Government acknowledges the general public interest in openness and transparency that release would engender, we believe the release of information at this stage would be confusing and may not present complete overall information compared to that which will be published.

“The Welsh Government believes that the Handbook should be exempt from disclosure on the basis that more accurate and complete information will be published in due course.

“The Cabinet Handbook has been drafted for an internal audience, and will need to be amended to reflect data protection issues and security issues prior to publication on the Welsh Government website.

“On the basis of the above, we conclude that on balance the public interest arguments are in favour of withholding the Handbook at this time. The public interest in this information will be met with publication of the Handbook in due course.”

Embarrassing

It is the second time recently that the Welsh Government has refused to release information that could be embarrassing to the First Minister. Last month it wouldn’t disclose the cost of a trip to India undertaken by Mr Gething and three officials in a failed bid to persuade Tata Steel to scrap its plan to make nearly 2,000 workers redundant at Port Talbot.

The First Minister was criticised for engaging in “performative politics” by travelling to Mumbai when Tata’s chief executive TV Narendran had been in London the previous week and made it clear that the group would not reverse its plans.

A freedom of information request seeking a breakdown of costs for the trip was turned down for the reason that it is intended to publish the costs next year in the Welsh Government’s annual accounts.


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A.Redman
A.Redman
12 days ago

Is this a prime example of accountability and transparency by the present Welsh Government in Wales?

Jones
Jones
12 days ago

Vaughan Gething’s defence;

“Trust me, bro.”

Err, actually I don’t think I do, Vaughan.

Old Curmudgeon
Old Curmudgeon
12 days ago

Our Honourable First Minister who I thought was a union solicitor before his noble career in politics should be very proud over the way he sacked a member of his government. It seems that everything this man is involved in makes the Welsh Government appear amateurs and an embarrassment. Previous First Ministers must be holding their heads in their hands in despair.

Adrian
Adrian
12 days ago

It’s funny, isn’t it? Labour were on Johnson’s back for every little wheeze & dodge he pulled; screaming ‘resign’ at every opportunity. Here in Wales we have a first minister who’s so bent he makes Johnson look positively scrupulous, yet there’s not a peep from his Labour colleagues.

Welsh Patriot
Welsh Patriot
12 days ago

This just sums up Vaughan Gething, just make it up as you go along.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
12 days ago

Typical Labour behaviour, everything decided and hidden behind closed doors. No accountability or transparency.
On the issue of the ‘rules’ clearly the Labour government and Gething have something to hide. Do these rules even exist?

Old Curmudgeon
Old Curmudgeon
12 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Perhaps they have to be written after something has happened so they can state that ‘no rules have been broken’

Mozart
Mozart
12 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

I’ve seen the ‘handbook’ in question. Just a few lines on the back. B&H on the front!

Why vote
Why vote
12 days ago

Vaughan Gething, is a solicitor the question is would you want him representing you in a court of law or even buying a house or writing a letter for any problem you may have ????? As for the secret cabinet handbook, how mad is the general public! IT’S A SECRET, it is not meant for the likes of us.

Honest welsh
Honest welsh
12 days ago
Reply to  Why vote

I would if I was a corrupt criminal
He seemed helpful with someone very successfully
Too the benefit of £ 200 thousand pounds

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
12 days ago

Now showing in the Senedd…The Secret Squirrel Show…@Solicitor Politicians.cymru

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
12 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

But it is the Muppet Show in Tory Land…

Rees-Mogg in Wonderland building brick walls down the Channel…

Churchill used to relax laying bricks but he built a ‘bridge’ called Mulberry 80 years ago that we have just celebrated…

These old Looney Toon Tories should be given a Sea Fort or two to spend their internment defending our shores from Napoleon’s Ghost…

Honest welsh
Honest welsh
12 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Well if you are happy with how things are in Wales continue voting for more
the NHS. Education Transport Care for the Elderly
, Mental Health
All at the bottom of the league
All becoming not fit for purpose
All public services in a desperate situation near on collapse .
But has Mr Starmer is telling everyone
If you want change you got to vote for it

Mozart
Mozart
12 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Go back to sleep Mab

Nia James
Nia James
12 days ago

One Party Statism par excellence! The prospect of Labour hegemony in London, to double down on what we witness in Cardiff, is sending shivers down many a spine.

Frank
Frank
12 days ago

It appears that almost everything this man is connected to is dodgy. How many more warnings do we need to oust him. The rest of his party must also be suspect otherwise they would have got rid of him when they had the opportunity during the vote of no confidence. An honest member would see and realise the damage he is doing to the party and ousted him.

Last edited 12 days ago by Frank
Crom
Crom
12 days ago
Reply to  Frank

The rest of the Labour cabal are as guilty as he is. They are all tarred with the same brush. It’s unacceptable and they know it is, but they just don’t care.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
12 days ago

Labour can do what they like in apathetic Wales. They’ve had a majority in every election since 1922 and think as a result that they are untouchable. As long as people vote them in that will continue. So do your duty. Vote them out!

Crom
Crom
12 days ago

Labour say “Publishing the requested information now may not reflect the information that will be published on the website; it could be misleading and not present an accurate picture.”

The current guidelines were what they were following when the woman was sacked, so that is the relevant version the public needs to see.

Gething and his Senedd cronies have totally given up on being open and honest.

Erisian
Erisian
12 days ago

Publish OR be damned (even more).
Closed lists.
Secret documents

Not very Welsh, any of it

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
12 days ago

How about an appeal to the Information Commissioner?

Honest welsh
Honest welsh
12 days ago

This corrupt dishonest Labour Welsh Government No wonder why they want to scupper a new law that’s proposed this week That any member found to have told a lie lose the job A law that should be in all politics That is what should be honesty decency they should not have to be told this Unfortunately this is not the case If you got a first minister who says another minister in his own government is lying And she says she is not she is calling him a lier And if he could prove it He would have cause nobody… Read more »

Old Curmudgeon
Old Curmudgeon
12 days ago
Reply to  Honest welsh

If he had even admitted to making a mistake by accepting that loan he might have been able to salvage something but this arrogant man has now damaged his own credibility so that anything with his name on is seen as ‘dodgy’. Surely others realise it but are too insecure to act on it. As for the
Lot that are going to be in Westminster on Friday, well they’re not bothered and will probably go back to ignoring Wales cos they will have got what they wanted.

Sian
Sian
11 days ago

Are Hannah and Lee ok? I’ve been so worried about them,
being too ill to vote from afar. Welsh Labour, stop insulting our intelligence.

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