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Politics

Senedd tributes to Carl Sargeant

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Andrew RT Davies: Carl Sargeant 'one of the most genuine men'

​​THE NATIONAL Assembly for Wales held a minute silence at the Senedd on Tuesday (Nov 14) in memory of former Assembly Member Carl Sargeant, who died last week.

The Llywydd, Elin Jones AM, opened Plenary by saying: “His death has shaken us to our core, and his absence from our midst pains us today. But our loss pales in comparison to that felt by his community, his friends, his staff, and especially his family.”

After a minute’s silence, Elin Jones invited party leaders and Assembly Members to speak.

A MAN OF MANY TALENTS

First up was an ashen-looking Carwyn Jones, who expressed the wish to speak of his deceased former Cabinet colleague as ‘a politician, as a colleague, and as a friend’.

The First Minister highlighted Mr Sargeant’s contribution to the Assembly: “He took more legislation through here than any other Minister. And he had a knack of turning difficult pieces of legislation into something worthwhile.

Mr Jones continued to observe that Mr Sargeant was: “A man of many talents. In all the years I knew him, we never had a cross word.

“He was ever-present in the Cabinet, and with good reason. I appointed him because he was good at legislation, he was good with people.

“Well-liked and committed, jovial but determined, firm but fun, and he will be missed by his family, by those in this Chamber, and by the nation.”

Andrew RT Davies was notably warm in his tribute: “Very often, politicians are lucky if they get one piece of legislation through in their lifetime; Carl put four pieces of legislation through. For a man to come from the factory floor and wake up each morning to put a collar and tie on and put the cufflinks in, and have that as a legacy—each piece of legislation will have a massive impact on the outcomes here in Wales about improving people’s lives.

“You speak as you find, but I have to say he is one of the most genuine men that I’ve had the privilege to meet.”

BETHAN JENKINS ‘DEVASTATED’

That warmth was noticeably absent from Leanne Wood’s brief speech. The Plaid leader described Mr Sargeant’s loss as a blow, but who left the warmth to her absent colleague Bethan Jenkins, whose words she read out.

Ms Jenkins, absent through injury, said: “’Carl Sargeant was a friend of mine from across the political divide. Despite many people telling me that I should not have friends from different parties, I’ve always been of the belief that we are human first.

“All I know was that whenever I needed support or someone to speak to about anything, Carl was at the other end of the phone. We joked after I would raise questions in Plenary with him that even though we clashed politically he still respected me, and vice versa.

“I can say for the record that I am devastated. My support rock in that place has gone. Gorwedd mewn hedd, Carl.”

After pointedly remarking on the way with which Carl Sargeant was dealt, Neil Hamilton said: “Carl and I were diametrically opposed politically, and we cheerfully hurled verbal bricks at each other across the Chamber, but he was a civilised and decent man, and big enough to recognise an opponent’s sincerity, and he didn’t allow political differences to preclude cordial relations outside the Chamber.

“I didn’t know him very well, but I liked him for his avuncular geniality, his friendliness and his authenticity—above all for his authenticity. He was a genuine man of the people, never lost touch with his roots.”

HUMOUR AND ACHIEVEMENT

Following the party leaders’ tributes, there was a succession of earnest, heartfelt, and occasionally emotional contributions from Mr Sargeant’s fellow AMs.

Many of their reminiscences were tinged with humour, describing a man who never failed to see the funny side of things but who was a committed and dedicated public servant.

Lesley Griffiths’ deeply personal tribute mentioned Mr Sargeant’s sense of mischief: “One of Carl’s most important jobs was to ensure our shared drawer always had a good supply of sweets. One day, he brought some new ones in and told me just to try one, but I in my usual style grabbed a handful, only to find on eating them they were hot chilli sweets. He could barely contain his gleefulness at my discomfort.”

That humour was made more poignant by her recollection that: “Carl was one of the most generous people I have ever met, particularly with his time, and he loved socialising with his family and friends. Behind his burly and jovial exterior was a beautiful, sensitive and vulnerable soul. He always told people how special and unique they were, because he cared how people felt. He was kind to people, and being kind to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”

Her North Walian Cabinet colleague Ken Skates observed: “I think if there is to be a legacy, a lasting legacy, to Carl, it should be that we should all show a little more love and care for one another, that we should be kinder and more respectful to one another, not just in here but across our society, to change our culture for the better.”

ASSURANCE OF FAIR PLAY

Alun Davies, the newly-appointed Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, appeared on the verge of tears throughout an emotional address.

Describing Mr Sargeant as ‘a very, very decent and honourable, authentic friend and a mate of mine’, he continued: “You’d never have guessed that he had the achievements behind him that he had. But he cared deeply and all of us who worked alongside him know how deeply held his convictions were, and how deeply he cared about what he was doing and how deeply he believed in fair play and social justice.”

Mr Davies concluded his remarks by addressing them directly to Mr Sargeant’s family, present in the public gallery: “We’ll always make sure that Carl has fair play.”

Paul Davies said: “Every time I was with him, we would laugh. But he was a serious and committed politician who cared about his constituents, and he got people. He understood people. After all, politics is about people and Carl definitely got that.”

Joyce Watson remembered his contribution to clamping down on domestic violence and said: “In all the coverage of the loss of our friend Carl, one word and one word alone keeps getting repeated, and that is the word ‘authentic’. Everything about Carl rang true. It was obvious to everyone who met him that Carl was in politics for the right reasons. Intellectually, instinctively, head and heart, he understood and he cared deeply about the people and places he represented.”

GREATLY ADMIRED, GREATLY MISSED

Rebecca Evans, who worked in Mr Sargeant’s office when he was first elected to the Assembly, remembered a working atmosphere filled with humour and music, but recounted that: “ Behind the jokes and behind the laughter was a deep seriousness about making life better for his constituents and a driving passion for social justice.”

Former Finance Minister Jane Hutt said that Carl Sargeant was: “Loved and respected by us all here today, a man and a Minister who served Wales so well, greatly admired and greatly missed.”

Simon Thomas recalled Mr Sargeant’s generosity with his time and the pains he took to attend to small details. After covering Carl Sargeant’s frequently remarked upon talents at karaoke and on the dancefloor, the Mid and West AM observed that although humour was part of his success as a legislator: “He was very serious about what he was achieving, and his ability to have passed the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is, I think, one of the crowning achievements of any legislature, and he took it through here and did that work for and on behalf of all of us.”

Nick Ramsay remarked: “We know that politics can be a cold business, but, in contrast, friendships go to the heart of what it is to be human, and Carl was one of the most human souls I’ve ever met. He was unique—a one-off. He was friendly, warm, engaging, and supportive. He was always supportive when you needed help. He was a sensitive man, and he had turned his hands to most things in his full life.”

Dafydd Elis Thomas, former Presiding Officer and recently appointed to the culture portfolio, told AMs: “I want to celebrate and thank him for what he did for the environment of Wales, and in particular for the designated landscapes, because he understood, as someone who was a proper north Walian, who loved both the industrial areas, and the rural areas and the national parks, and the areas of outstanding natural beauty, that it was important that these areas should learn to live together and share their delight.”

‘A CHAMPION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS’

Darren Millar said: “Remembrance Sunday has just passed, and it reminded me not just of the sacrifice of the fallen, but also of what a fantastic champion the armed forces community and veterans across Wales had in Carl Sargeant, holding that portfolio, representing their views around the Cabinet table, and across the country.

“And, of course, he wasn’t just a friend to the armed forces, he was a tremendous friend of faith communities as well, across Wales. I know how greatly faith communities, faith groups—of all religions—appreciated his work and engagement through the faith communities’ forum.”

Mr Sargeant’s achievements and legacy were summed up by Rhianon Passmore, past chair of the Welsh Labour’s Women’s Committee & Policy Forum, who said: “There are many Members of this National Assembly for Wales who loved and respected Carl.

“As a proud feminist, I want it stated on the record that no other Assembly Member, in the two decades of Welsh devolution, has been as passionate to champion the progress of women’s and children’s rights and causes through legislation than Carl Sargeant. As Minister for social justice, he became known as champion of equality and women’s rights.”

A book of condolence has been opened for visitors to the Senedd.

Politics

First Minister grilled over minister’s sacking

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VAUGHAN Gething denied there is any onus on him to prove Hannah Blythyn leaked to the press despite her denials and confirmation she was not the source.

Llyr Gruffydd said it is clear the former minister denies the claims that led to her sacking, so the onus is on Wales’ First Minister to prove the allegation.

But Mr Gething bit back: “I reject that completely: the onus is not on me to prove that.”

In a heated exchange, the First Minister raised his voice, shouting “let me finish” at the Plaid Cymru politician as he was being pressed about concerns.

Mr Gething told the meeting of a Senedd scrutiny committee that he had reached an inescapable conclusion about where the leak came from.

However, on Thursday, Nation.Cymru took the extraordinary step of confirming Ms Blythyn was not the source of leaked messages.

Mr Gruffydd asked whether the iMessage group was official or less formal.

Accusing his political opponents of “getting into the weeds”, the First Minister did not confirm if it was a formal ministerial group.

He said: “I did not create the group. The group was created and we were all added in.

“The point is: if ministers are prepared to share information about each other in a way that directly compromises each other and the trust that exists, that does go to collective responsibility and it goes to the [ministerial] code.

“The evidence is just very straightforward. You either choose to act or you choose to allow it to fester and that affects what the government can do.”

Nation.Cymru accused the First Minister of misleading the UK Covid inquiry by not admitting to deleting records, with screenshots showing he tried to swerve a transparency law.

Russell George, for the Conservatives, reiterated calls for the First Minister to publish evidence following Hannah Blythyn’s “brave” personal statement on Tuesday.

Mr Gething said he was surprised to face questions in the Senedd on Wednesday about his “painful” choice to sack the former social partnership minister.

He told the committee: “The statement that had been made on the Tuesday, we were all told this is a statement and there is no response to it.

“Then we essentially had a response to it the next day …in a contested environment.

“When Hannah made her statement … she made clear she didn’t want other people speaking for her. We then had an afternoon of men speaking for her. I find that difficult.”

Mr Gething denied any accusation of inconsistency, saying: “I have never tried to claim that Hannah Blythyn directly contacted Nation.Cymru.

“I’m very clear: the evidence I have is that a photograph of her phone was provided to Nation.Cymru. Ministers are responsible for their own data.”

The former lawyer added: “I can tell you it was a real issue between ministers.

“If you don’t feel you can trust people then it affects what you say and how you say it.

“So, I made a really difficult choice because I thought it was the right thing to do for the government and the country – and it really is as simple as that.”

Mr Gething told the committee there is potential a route back into government for Ms Blythyn “but it is about how people respond and how people behave”.

“It’s hard for me to have people constantly question my integrity,” he said.

“In all my life, as a trade union rep, as an employment lawyer, as a member and a minister – I always tried to do the right thing, including when it’s difficult for me personally.

“That is what I’m doing again and yet here we are, with more questions and more suggestions that go to the heart of integrity and decency.”

A fiery First Minister accused fellow Senedd members of questioning his integrity in the chamber “without facts to support it, without truth behind it”.

Mr Gething emphasised that the Welsh Government is “getting on with the job”, pointing to Tuesday’s statement on plans for new laws as an example.

He said: “I want to carry on and do the job I have been elected to do. It really is a privilege to lead my country and that’s what I’m committed to do.”

David Rees, the deputy speaker or Diprwy Lywydd, who chairs the scrutiny committee, intervened to curtail questioning of the First Minister on the matter.

At the meeting at Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets on July 12, Mr Rees said: “I think there’s opportunities ahead of us before the recess to have further discussions on this point.”

On July 17, Senedd members will debate a Conservative motion that aims to force the First Minister to publish all evidence he relied on with appropriate redactions.

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Politics

Culture secretary vows push to keep free-to-air Six Nations games

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WALES’ culture secretary vowed to make the case for keeping Wales’ Six Nations games on free-to-air TV to her Labour colleagues in the new UK Government.

Lesley Griffiths told the Senedd she will be seeking a meeting with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss the issue.

Ms Griffiths said: “Making the Six Nations free-to-air ensures that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can feel part of this shared experience.

“This inclusivity strengthens community bonds and fosters a sense of belonging.”

Responding to a debate on a Senedd culture committee report on broadcasting rights, the culture secretary said she would write to the UK Government by the end of this week.

Delyth Jewell chairs the culture committee, which held an inquiry on whether Wales’ matches should be added to Ofcom’s list of events that must be shown on terrestrial TV.

The Plaid Cymru politician said: “A perfect storm of market dynamics in broadcasting live sport has seen more and more events go behind a paywall.

“Public service broadcasters are facing significant budgetary constraints, be this from long-term cuts to the licence fee, or a downturn in the advertising market on broadcast television. Increasing production costs are compounding both these factors.

“The advent of global streaming services also means that the value of sports broadcasting rights has increased.”

The Welsh Rugby Union told the inquiry that moving matches to the protected list could have a devastating medium- and long-term impact on the whole game in Wales.

Media rights account for £20m of the WRU’s £90m total revenue, with the union calling for open competition to maximise income for the game.

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, recognised this tension but warned: “There is a real risk here that avoiding action will leave us dropping the ball. We must ensure future generations can connect with the game without having to shell out for the privilege.”

She added: “Let’s hope, with the new UK Labour Government, we will be in a safe pair of hands and we get protected, free-to-air Six Nations coverage over the line.”

Heledd Fychan called for matches to be broadcast on S4C, rather than having a Welsh viewing option on platforms such as Amazon Prime.

The Plaid Cymru MS, who represents South Wales Central, pointed out that Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has been appointed a junior DCMS minister as she urged Labour to act.

Samuel Kurtz raised concerns about the 8% interest rate the WRU is paying on an £18m coronavirus business interruption loan scheme from the Welsh Government.

Pointing out that the rate was fixed at 2% for English premiership sides, the Tory MS said: “I think that’s a financial constraint that’s hurting our professional clubs here in Wales.”

Caerphilly MS Hefin David joked that he has a lot in common with former PM Rishi Sunak – “as my dad wouldn’t let us have Sky either, and we had to listen to it on the radio”.

He called for a ‘Plan B’ for the hospitality industry if rugby goes behind a paywall, including a contractual clause to give small pubs and clubs a reduced pay-to-view subscription.

Dr David said he watches Wales matches at Gilfach workmen’s club, which pays £514 a month for Sky, as he raised concerns about venues having to buy multiple subscriptions..

“Well, Gilfach workies simply can’t afford that,” he said.

Alun Davies, a fellow Labour backbencher, said: “We need to address the real crisis in Welsh rugby and that is ensuring that the game exists for future generations, and I believe that exposure to the Six Nations championship is fundamental to that.”

The Blaenau Gwent MS raised the example of Glamorgan cricket.

He said: “It does raise fears within me that the more we take the game away from the screens, the more we take it away from our communities and from the people who enjoy watching the game, and the less it becomes our national sport.”

The culture committee’s inquiry was sparked after John Whittingdale, a Conservative former culture minister, left the door open last autumn while giving evidence.

Sir John told the meeting: “We’ve always said that if the Welsh Parliament argued very strongly that, for the good of sport in Wales, we needed to look again at the listed events, we would look at it, certainly. So, it’s not closed.’

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King Charles III addresses Senedd to mark 25th anniversary of Welsh devolution

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KING CHARLES III addressed the Welsh Parliament on a visit to celebrate 25 years since the then-National Assembly for Wales was established in 1999.

His Majesty said: “I’m so delighted to join you today as we mark this significant milestone in our history – the 25th anniversary of Welsh devolution.

“It is a milestone on a journey which it has been my privilege, all my life, to share with you during times that have seen great change, profound sorrow and tremendous achievement.

“Through it all my respect and affection for the people of this ancient land have deepened with every passing year.”

Speaking in Welsh, which he learned at Aberystwyth University ahead of his investiture as Prince of Wales, he said: “It is a privilege to share your love for this very special nation.”

King Charles III greeting Welsh children outside the Senedd

The King said it has given him great pleasure to see the bond continue, with the Prince returning to Ynys Mon this week – “a place which I know means so much to him”.

He told the debating chamber or Siambr: “It is with countless special memories and particular pride that I join you as we reflect on the past quarter century of the history we have shared, which you in your work in this Senedd have the great responsibility of making.

“In 1999, when the National Assembly was established, we could not know what lay ahead but we trusted that the common desire for the welfare of the people of Wales would be the surest guide for those who would create, shape and develop this new national institution.

“Looking back … I hope you can feel a real sense of pride in the respect that has been earned and in the contribution that has been made to the lives of so many.

“Welsh minds have indeed been directed to Welsh matters and the distinct voice of Wales is heard with clarity and purpose.

“We look back at the journey so far and we look forward to the journey yet to come.”

Looking to the Plaid Cymru benches in the Siambr, the Kind said: “Now, of course, a parliament would not be worthy of the name were there not differences of opinion.

“But it is a tribute to that spirit of community – so evident to all who love Wales, as we do – that this has been managed with an inclusivity the very shape of this chamber symbolises.”

His Majesty described Wales as a “unique mosaic of places, landscapes and cultures”.

Turning back to Welsh, he said: “It is wonderful to see that the Senedd uses the Welsh language so often – not just as a symbolic act but as its foundation.

“The greatest honour is its use.”

The 25th anniversary coincides with the passing of a law which will see the Senedd expanded from 60 to 96 members elected under a new voting system from 2026.

King Charles said the Senedd has become more than a symbol over the past 25 years: “It has become essential to the life of Wales.

“And as we look back … I offer you heartfelt congratulations on all you have achieved.

“We now look forward to the tasks that we face in the next quarter century – not least the challenge we all share as inhabitants of this threatened planet.

“A challenge which I know you are seeking to meet with energy and determination.

“A great milestone has been reached: there are many more ahead: but you do not travel alone. The strength, resilience and aspiration of the Welsh people will help to sustain you.

“You take with you the goodwill and support of all who have the interests of Wales at heart – they will be equal to any task.

“With those interests in mind, I pray that in the years to come you will achieve even more – overcome even more challenges and find even more causes for celebration.

King Charles III meeting First Minister Vaughan Gething

Elin Jones, the Senedd’s speaker or Llywydd, is one of a few remaining members of “class of ‘99” who have served for the full 25 years since the then-National Assembly was set up.

Ms Jones said: “We’d come to build Wales and change the world but, as with life, we were soon deflated by the mundane and sometimes bizarre – nothing more so than our annual scrutiny of the potatoes originating in Egypt regulations.

“Those early years demonstrated the inadequacy of our powers and the aspiration to do more. The people of Wales in 2011, by referendum, supported granting primary law-making powers to the Senedd.

“And we have been pioneering and ambitious in the use of those powers…. we’ve been innovative in how we do our politics, with coalitions, co-operation and joint working.”

The speaker quoted Steffan Lewis – her Plaid Cymru colleague who died in 2019 – who urged Senedd members to “always say what you believe and believe what you say”.

In closing, Ms Jones said. “The class of ’99 and the class of today will come and go.

“In our time of service we are merely custodians, as this Senedd is in the permanent and precious ownership of the people of Wales.”

Vaughan Gething told the Senedd 1999 feels like a lifetime ago and he was still a student about to graduate from Aberystwyth University.

Wales’ first minister said: “While I was sitting my final exams, another former student of that great Welsh university – another former resident of Pantycelyn hall of residence – was addressing the first National Assembly.

“Your majesty told members: in the Assembly the voice of Wales will have its authentic and vigorous expression, in ways not possible before Welsh minds will be directed to Welsh matters. Indeed, this was the very aim of devolution then as it is now.”

Mr Gething said devolution has evolved into an established part of the constitutional fabric of the UK over the past quarter of a century.

The first minister said Queen Elizabeth told the Senedd in 2003 that it is vital to the health – both of the UK and Wales – that democratic institutions flourish and adapt.

“And adapt we have,” said Mr Gething, pointing to the move to law-making powers and the introduction of the first Welsh taxes in 800 years as examples.

Looking to the future, he said: “Yma o hyd [still here] is not enough. Beth nesa and what is next must always be our mission.”

Europe’s first black leader told the Siambr part of the challenge is to ensure institutions reflect and represent all the communities of Wales.

He said: “As a black person and leader of my country, I know the responsibility I have to open doors for people who look like me to have the same opportunity to serve.”

In closing, the former lawyer said: “As we move to the next chapter in the history of devolution, I hope those of us here today will continue … to discharge our responsibility to improve the lives that it is our privilege to serve.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of Conservative opposition, said the Senedd has grown into a mature and developed parliament that the people of Wales are proud of.

Mr Davies told the chamber: “Ultimately, this institution over the past 25 years, has endeared itself to the fabric and make-up of Wales.”

He said: “It is a huge privilege for me to stand here as leader of the Conservative group.

“25 years ago I was milking cows – 27 years ago when the referendum took place, I did not vote for the establishment of this place because I was not interested in politics at that time.

“But I fully agree that this institution, this parliament is now where the beating heart of Welsh democracy lies … let’s develop a democracy here in Wales we can all be proud of.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth echoed the King’s words on the opening of the National Assembly in 1999: “This body is the modern expression of the spirit of Wales which has flourished through the centuries like a grand and sturdy tree.”

The Plaid Cymru leader, who was a political journalist at the time, described the the spirit of hope and sense of confidence in 1999 as electrifying

Mr ap Iorwerth said: “We must always sow new ideas and harvest change that makes a positive difference and genuine difference to the lives of our citizens.”

“In two years’ time this will become an even stronger, fairer parliament – more representative and more able to meet our citizens’ aspirations for the future.

“As we look ahead to the next 25 years and beyond, I hope we can all resolve to pursue those aspirations and continue to nurture our Senedd – our democracy – in a way that is truly worthy of the people of Wales.”

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