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Politics

Welsh Government promises ban on lying politicians

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THE WELSH Government promised to introduce a law banning lying politicians before the next Senedd election after striking a last-minute deal to avert defeat.

Mick Antoniw, who is counsel general, the Welsh Government’s chief legal adviser, reached an agreement with Adam Price just before a key vote on creating an offence of deception.

Under the elections bill, Mr Price proposed a four-year disqualification for Senedd members, ministers or candidates found guilty of deliberate lying.

Mr Antoniw stopped short of supporting criminalisation as he invited the Senedd’s standards committee, which is holding an inquiry on accountability, to make proposals.

He said: “The Welsh Government will bring forward legislation before 2026 for the disqualification of members and candidates found guilty of deception through an independent judicial process.”

In return, Plaid Cymru’s 12 members and Rhys ab Owen, who sits as an independent, abstained – with Labour winning the vote to remove clause 64 from the bill, 26-13.

Without the deal, Welsh ministers would likely have suffered defeat because the Senedd’s speaker is required to use her casting vote against amendments in the event of a tie.

Mr Antoniw, who attended his first Tory group meeting that day to try to sway its members, joked that the 11th-hour deal spared the Senedd from a 30-page speech he had prepared.

Mr Price, who represents Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said: “What has just been announced by the counsel general is truly historic, in fact it is globally pioneering.

“We now have a commitment from the government that our democracy will be the first – the first in the world to introduce a general prohibition on deliberate deception by politicians.”

He added: “For it to have public trust, it has to sit outside the political process – you can’t have politicians pointing the finger at each other and being judge and jury.”

Mr Price, who served as Plaid Cymru leader from 2018 to 2023, said a collapse in trust in politics poses an existential threat to democracies worldwide.

He said: “Democracy starts to break down if the electors can’t trust what the elected say.”

The former MP warned existing measures – such as standards committees, commissioners and Westminster’s recall system – have all failed to solve the credibility problem.

Mr Price said a small minority of politicians deliberately distort the truth for their own gain but they poison the well for everyone else.

Labour’s Lee Waters said there is consensus across the chamber that deliberate lying undermines public trust in politics and needs to be rooted out.

He said: “I was elected in 2016 – before the Brexit referendum, before Donald Trump … before Boris Johnson lied his way to Downing Street then lied his way out again. There’s no doubt politics in this country has become darker … and I worry we’re adjusting to it.”

The former minister said he has witnessed lying, manipulation, racist abuse, arson and mobs whipped up by the far-right descending on his Llanelli constituency over the past year.

“It’s been an awful, upsetting experience seeing this ugliness becoming quietly normalised,” said Mr Waters, who abstained in an earlier vote to allow further debate on the issue.

He reiterated support for a criminal offence of deception because it would set a high bar and the courts are independent. “People don’t trust politicians to regulate themselves,” he said.

Peter Fox gave the Conservatives’ backing for Mr Price’s plan, pressing ahead in voting against the Welsh Government’s amendment despite the announcement.

He said: “I’m anxious .. that the way forward that may be proposed may not give the parliamentary time to enable things to go forward whereas the current course would.”

Alun Davies, a Labour backbencher, denounced a tweet by Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Conservative group, posted on the morning of the debate on July 2.

The Blaenau Gwent MS said: “A single message ‘Labour wants to pay illegal immigrants £1,600 a month’ – something we know which is completely untrue … no basis of truth at all.”

He argued against bringing the criminal justice system into politics, saying: “A parliament shouldn’t be subject to judicial oversight … [it] should be able to govern its own affairs.”

James Evans sympathised with Mr Price’s proposal, saying he thought it would go some way to rebuilding public confidence in politicians.

But he cautioned the plan could do “real democratic damage” as he raised risks to parliamentary privilege – legal immunities which allow politicians to speak freely.

Mr Evans suggested Senedd members could face a flurry of defamation lawsuits. “I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder every time I say something,” he said.

The Tory MS for Brecon and Radnorshire told the Senedd: “I don’t think it is right that someone’s personal views could be challenged in court.”

Caerphilly’s Labour MS Hefin David agreed on privilege, adding that the far-right or hard-left politicians might use “criminalisation of their views” as a “badge of honour”. 

Jane Dodds said political dishonesty is corroding public trust, warning that protections in Cardiff Bay and Westminster are woefully inadequate.

Warning that lying flourishes because politicians can get away with it, Ms Dodds told the chamber: “We have to do more – there is no excuse.” 

The Lib Dems’ leader in Wales raised a “shocking” survey which revealed 45% of people rarely, if ever, trust governments to prioritise national interests over party politics.

Ms Dodds, who represents Mid and West Wales, said: “Truth in our society is fragile and vulnerable. Our goal is straightforward: it is to stop politicians … from calculated lying.

“That is an act that can have a deep, often traumatic consequence to people’s lives. And let’s be clear here: freedom of speech is not freedom to lie.”

Politics

Complaints against Senedd members leap by 167%

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THE STANDARDS commissioner received 190 complaints against Senedd members in 2023/24 – an annual increase of more than 167% and 331% over two years.

Douglas Bain, who investigates complaints against misbehaving members, said the number of complaints received is the highest since 2020/21.

In his 2023/24 report, which was published this week, Mr Bain put the avalanche partly down to two unnamed Senedd members – who were subject to 58 complaints between them.

He added that one member of the public made a further 26 complaints.

“Nonetheless, it is clear that even without these individual contributions there was a very significant increase,” he warned.

“I do not believe that this increase in the number of complaints received indicates any reduction in the generally high standard of conduct of Members of the Senedd.”

Mr Bain, who was appointed in 2021 after a stint as acting commissioner, pointed out that the number of inadmissible complaints was the highest in the past four years at 84.

He wrote: “On one view, the increase in the number of complaints is to be welcomed as demonstrating a greater public interest in and closer scrutiny of the work and conduct of MSs. That public scrutiny plays an important part in our democratic process.”

Mr Bain received 53 complaints relating to conduct on social media, three on misuse of resources, 17 on the standard of services and 24 on the register of interests.

The commissioner also dealt with 29 complaints on ministerial conduct or behaviour in plenary with 64 complaints classified as “other”.

Mr Bain, who is based in Northern Ireland, said: “Comments made by Members on social media were … by far the most common subject for complaints.”

The commissioner said many were inadmissible but he urged Senedd members to take great care when posting, sharing or liking anything on social media.

He told the Senedd a high proportion of his time was taken up by a complaint against Rhys ab Owen and grievances surrounding the change to a 20mph default speed limit.

Mr ab Owen, who sits as an independent, was given a 42-day suspension in March for breaching the code of conduct by bringing the Senedd into disrepute.

The commissioner said he received a complaint that a “very drunk” Mr ab Owen twice called a woman a bitch after leaving the Wetherspoons in Cardiff Bay on June 30, 2021.

Mr Bain said the complainant said the former Plaid Cymru MS placed his hand on her thigh near her groin in the back of a taxi – an allegation Mr ab Owen denied.

He wrote that Mr ab Owen raised concerns about the fairness of the complaints process, claiming the investigation contravened his human rights.

Mr Bain said he received 30 complaints relating to the 20mph default speed limit, evenly split between people opposed to the new limit and those in favour.

The standards commissioner cleared Andrew RT Davies – leader of the Tory group in the Senedd – of breaching the code of conduct for describing 20mph as a “blanket” policy.

He was satisfied that the “blanket” description was “imprecise and inaccurate” but he concluded that that is not synonymous with being untruthful.

Calling for more powers, Mr Bain raised concern about the rules governing the standards commissioner which have not been updated in 15 years.

“During that period a number of deficiencies have been identified,” he wrote. “Amongst the most important of these is the absence of a provision empowering the commissioner to initiate an investigation without the need for a complaint.”

He warned this renders rules around lobbying the commissioner and making frivolous, vexatious or manifestly unfounded complaints of little value.

Mr Bain said: “Whilst I appreciate the pressures on Senedd time, I do not consider that reform of the measure should remain on the ‘back burner’.”

In the annual report, the total cost of the standard’s commissioner’s office was £133,992 in 2023/24 – a near-25% increase on 2021/22.

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Community

Petitions against Pembrokeshire day care centre closures to be discussed

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TWO PETITIONS calling on Pembrokeshire County Council to reverse its decision to close day care centres in Pembroke Dock, Crymych and Narberth are to be heard at County Hall later this week.

The two petitions, on the council’s own e-petitions webpage, drew nearly 3,400 signatures between them.

Earlier this year, senior councillors backed plans to close two of the county’s centres for older adults and those with learning disabilities, Portfield SAC, Haverfordwest, and Avenue SAC, Tenby; service users moving to other centres in the county.

The county council is currently changing care provision for older adults and those with learning disabilities, and fears have been raised recently that Pembroke Dock’s Anchorage day care centre is to close.

A series of engagement events have taken place at The Anchorage recently, outlining the reasons and the options in continued service.

One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “One young woman who attends ran out of the first meeting sobbing when she was told it was going to close.

“Another, at the second meeting, tried to address the meeting, but was so choked up at the thought of not seeing her friends any more she could hardly speak.”

It now is feared Narberth’s Lee Davies Day Care Centre and Crymych’s Bro Preseli Day Centre could also close, with concerns it is due solely to budgetary reasons.

An e-petition on the council’s own website, by John Llewellyn of Living Memory Group, entitled against the closure of the Lee Davies and Bro Preseli day care centres.

The two petitions, which have now both closed, attracted 1,701 and 1,675 signatures respectively.

As they have both met the threshold for debate at council, they will both be heard at the July 18 meeting of full council.

Peter Welsh, in his petition for Pembroke Dock’s The Anchorage, says: “We call on Pembrokeshire County Council to reverse its decision to close the Anchorage Social Activity Centre based in Pembroke Dock as part of the council’s reduction in services being imposed following the recent budget approval.”

Mr Llewellyn’s petition for the Lee Davies and Bro Preseli day care centres reads: “We call on Pembrokeshire County Council to Review the closure of the Lee Davies Day Care Centre at Bloomfield’s and the Bro Preseli Day Centre at Crymych.

“Staff at both Day Care Centres were informed in Mid-March that both facilities would be closing due to PCC budget cuts. Both centres are an essential outlet for the well-being of the attendees and their families.”

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Politics

Council slammed for pension funds invested in companies connected with Israel

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A CALL is to be made for Pembrokeshire County Council to end its involvement in a pension fund that has invested millions with companies connected with Israel, which objectors say makes the authority “complicit in the genocide in Gaza”.

At the July 18 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, two related, submitted, questions will be asked by members of the public.

Both are asking for the council to divest its involvement in the local government pension scheme the Dyfed pension fund, which they say has more than £60m invested in companies connected with Israel.

In a question which includes a statement written by Palestine Solidarity Campaign with full details, Suzanne Radford-Smith will ask: “I am writing to draw attention to the fact that Dyfed pension fund has £64m invested in companies that are connected with Israel and to ask that Dyfed pension fund divests from these companies.

“Many of these companies are making arms and weapons being used by the Israeli army in the war on Palestine which makes them complicit in the genocide in Gaza.

“I believe this makes PCC also complicit in that genocide.

“Will Pembrokeshire County Council divest the pension fund from these companies?”

A similar question by Marjorie Hawkins will ask: “I receive a pension from Dyfed Pension Fund and have recently found out that Dyfed pension fund has £64m invested in companies that are connected with Israel.

“Many of these companies are making arms and weapons being used by the Israeli army in the war on Palestine which makes them complicit in the genocide in Gaza.

“I am very dismayed to find out this information and feel that this makes PCC (as one of the county councils in Dyfed Pension Fund) also complicit in that genocide.

“I spent over 10 years working as a social worker in Pembrokeshire. 10 years before this I was a social worker in Swansea and also worked for the NHS previously. I chose to work in jobs that were not involved in making profits or exploiting other people. I am very upset and outraged to find that the pension I receive is complicit in a genocide that is ongoing and we witness daily.

“Will Pembrokeshire County Council divest the pension fund from such companies that are complicit in this genocide?”

Both questions, and their call, will be heard at the full meeting of Pembrokeshire County council today (July 18).

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