Welsh FM narrowly wins vote to reject investigation into controversial donation

A Senedd vote for a probe into a donation received by Vaughan Gething during the Welsh leadership race was rejected by two votes.

Vaughan Gething has been criticised
Vaughan Gething has been criticised (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Welsh Parliament has rejected calls for an independent investigation into a controversial donation taken by the First Minister, with opponents saying it has “cast a dark shadow” over democracy.

Vaughan Gething, who became the Welsh government leader in March, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks for having taken a £200,000 donation from a man convicted of environmental offences.

Opposition groups have raised concerns that it could be a possible conflict of interest and breach of the ministerial code while members of his own benches have questioned his decision-making.

There were fiery exchanges in the Senedd on Wednesday as opposition groups tried to force an investigation.

Jane Dodds, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Senedd, said the “entire episode has cast a dark shadow over Welsh democracy” and called for the First Minister to return the donation to “stop this now in its tracks”.

Jane Dodds is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Senedd
Jane Dodds is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Senedd (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Conservatives and Plaid Cymru tabled motions calling for the First Minister to appoint an independent adviser to the ministerial code to investigate any possible conflict of interests and for a cap on the maximum annual donations an individual Member of the Senedd can receive.

The motions were rejected by the Senedd, which has a Labour majority, with the Conservatives’ call for an investigation losing by two votes.

There was frustration in the chamber when Mr Gething failed to turn up for a significant proportion of the debate on the motions, with no explanation given.

Despite being offered an opportunity to speak, he declined to do so.

The opposition groups are critical of the First Minister for having taken the money from the Dauson Environmental Group, which is owned by David Neal, who has previously been convicted of environmental offences.

They have also raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest in the money coming from a company which was loaned £400,000 by the Welsh government-owned Development Bank of Wales (DBW).

The loan from the DBW was given to Neal Soil Suppliers – a subsidiary of Dauson – in 2023 to help purchase a solar farm.

Mr Gething has always insisted that he cannot take any decision relating to Dauson – which is based in his constituency – and the DBW is entirely independent of ministers.

While Mr Gething has previously rejected calls for an independent investigation into the donation, he appointed Carwyn Jones, a former Welsh first minister, to carry out a review of the party’s electoral processes, including examining campaign financing.

Addressing the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, acknowledged that the donation had been correctly declared and there was no rule-breaking.

However, he argued that it was a considerable sum which has caused “considerable public disquiet”.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies called for an investigation
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies called for an investigation (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He said: “I think a reasonable person would say that £200,000 could reasonably be seen as securing influence.

“That reasonable person deserves an answer, and the way to get that answer would be to appoint an independent person to look into this matter.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth, leader of Plaid Cymru, said the donation echoed “scandals that have been characteristic of Westminster politics in recent years” and it has “discredited Welsh democracy and disillusioned voters”.

He said: “The First Minister’s ‘nothing to see here’ attitude is at best complacent — at worst, contemptuous — towards the people we’re here to serve.”

Mr Gething even faced concern on the Labour benches, with Lee Waters questioning his leader’s judgment.

“The issue is not whether the paperwork was correct, the issue is whether the judgment was correct,” he said.

“The First Minister has said that he does not believe his approval ratings have been affected by the controversy, and I must say that surprised me and it troubled me.

“Whether the polls bear that out or not, it really isn’t the point. Surely the question isn’t what any of us can get away with, it’s what is right.”

While the First Minister did not speak, Hefin David, Labour MS for Caerphilly, defended him, calling it a “non-issue”, adding “the more you dig, the less you find”.

Mr David argued there was nothing left to investigate, with everything properly declared and Mr Gething having no influence on the DBW.

He went on to accuse the opposition groups of being hypocritical given donations they have received.

“Sanctimony is a close cousin of hypocrisy, and if you engage with sanctimony, sooner or later you’re going to bump into hypocrisy,” he said.

Referencing a £10 million donation to the UK Conservative Party by Frank Hester, who said MP Diane Abbott “should be shot”, Mr David added: “What I find difficult about some of this is the hypocrisy.

“Your party took £10 million from someone who said they were going to shoot black people.”

Mr RT Davies, the Senedd Conservative leader, said that anyone making those comments “should never be near a political party” but reiterated that accepting the donation brought the First Minister’s judgment into question.

Labour’s Jane Hutt, the Trefnydd – leader of the house, said: “We take very seriously the ministerial code and the responsibilities that it places upon Welsh ministers.

“There is simply no link between the donation made to the First Minister’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party and any loan decision made by the Development Bank of Wales.

“The First Minister, in his previous Cabinet role, had absolutely no involvement in this loan and it really isn’t right to make or imply such a connection when the facts do not bear it out.”