My membership of the Labour Party lapsed in March. I’d decided months before that I wasn’t going to be caught out by an automatic renewal and cancelled my direct debit.
I might still have voted Labour, and the choice not to would have been harder in Wales if Derek Vaughan had stood for re-election or one or two of the other Labour candidates like Mary Wimbury, whom I’ve known for years, had been top of the Labour list.
But ultimately I decided not to vote for the pro-Brexit anti-Semitic shambles that the Labour leadership has allowed the party to become. In 2017 I voted Labour, and my vote has been waved around with that of millions of others as an endorsement of the leadership’s plans for a better Brexit. Well, stuff that. We won’t get fooled again.
When my postal ballot arrived two weeks ago, I returned it immediately with a cross against the Greens. Caroline Lucas has been the outstanding Parliamentary leader for a People’s Vote that I’ve now marched for several times in London. Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has done great work on the regulation of Facebook in the European Parliament, and I’ve just finished writing a book on this subject.*
There’s a bigger reason for voting Green of course, and that’s to do with the ceaseless drive of capitalist consumption that threatens our planet and human and other life on it. I’m voting for my grand-daughters and their future.
I know others will have made different choices, and there are good people standing for a number of the other anti-Brexit parties. I’m not saying the Greens are perfect, but strategically I’d like to see them to do well in these elections and in 2021 see them sitting in our National Assembly.
I’d like to come home, Labour friends, but hey, have you got work to do. If Labour enables Brexit I won’t be back. If Brexit happens, and we end up in Ukania, then I’m not sure what future the unionist parties have in any case. The Leavers don’t care for the Union, after all. If we have to face life after Brexit, then other political choices may have to be made.
There’s no joy in this, by the way. Only sadness.
Ukania beckons, and the far-right is on the march. Labour leadership could have pointed the way to a progressive alternative. Instead, it ducks the key decision of our time.*For Labour, both Jo Stevens and Ian Lucas have also done brilliant work on this subject in the U.K. Parliament, let me say, in the most exceptional Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry I have ever seen. But that’s another story.
We lost Carl a year ago today. My Radio Wales tribute that day can be found here.
Once again, I want to thank Felicity Evans for her sensitivity in interviewing.
I won’t be posting more on this as I expect to be giving evidence at the Inquest in a couple of weeks time.
I said yesterday I would publish my evidence to the leak inquiry. It’s quite short. I gave verbal evidence in December then followed up with the following email, from which I have redacted the name of a Labour MP:
I just wanted to place on record the key issues that I raised with you when we met last week:
– I was told directly on 10 November by a BBC journalist that they had received a text on November 3 from a Deryn employee well before the reshuffle announcement stating that Carl Sergeant was losing his job;
– that a Labour AM told the Assembly Labour Group on 9 November that he had received a text on 3 November in advance of the reshuffle stating the same but without specifying who sent this: you have other sources on this who can give direct evidence of what was said
– that NAME REDACTED MP would be willing to speak to you about what [they were] told on 3 November in advance of the reshuffle being announced about Carl losing his job.
Obviously since then, Lee Waters has confirmed that he was the AM who told the Labour Assembly Group about the text he received. He has said that he doesn’t want to reveal who sent him the text because he doesn’t ‘wish to contribute to a trail of breadcrumbs which can lead to the identification of any of the people who came forward’.
That in itself is a perfectly reasonable justification for not revealing who sent him the text – as long as it isn’t simply covering up another leak by another consultant from the public affairs company Deryn, on top of the previously confirmed leak by that company to the BBC.
Last week I had a letter from the Welsh Government saying they had received an FoI request related to any complaints about me in my time as Minister for Education and Minister for Public Services. The FoI requests were detailed and precise in terms of my time in those roles, so they clearly came from a political insider. I reproduce the letter below.
Those of us who have spoken up for the family of Carl Sargeant over the last six months – and yes, it is six months yesterday since we lost Carl – have grown accustomed to being on the receiving end of these bullying tactics designed to undermine us. Letters and FoI requests sent to employers have become the norm. In other cases, these have affected public sector employees unable to speak out to defend themselves.
Most people in the small circle of Welsh Labour politics know who the likely source of the letter is. I won’t stoke his ego by naming him.
Let’s be clear. Since Carl’s death there has been an active cover-up. There has been a deliberate attempt to intimidate witnesses. Lawyers’ letters have been sent to independent media outlets to silence them. One of the sources of the leak of Carl Sargeant’s sacking was only named by the media after the Leader of the Opposition went on the record in the Assembly Chamber.
The personal attacks are getting boring now. No doubt they will get worse once the QC-led inquiry commences.
Tomorrow I think I will publish my evidence to the leak inquiry.
I was interviewed a couple of weeks back by the Belgian newspaper De Standaard as to how Facebook might be regulated. You can find the article here. I tried out a couple of ideas I am thinking about for the book for Routledge that I am currently working on.
Alternatively, if you don’t speak Dutch (nor do I!), the translation is below:
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the last few days there have been calls to regulate Facebook. But how do you do that?
Europe already has a lot of rules and regulations that restrict Facebook. And of course Facebook will also be subject to the GDPR, the new privacy legislation that will come into force at the end of May. Europe also wants internet companies to act more quickly against hate messages. And there is the controversial proposal to impose a special tax on the turnover of large internet companies.
“It’s patchwork,” says Leighton Andrews, a professor at Cardiff University and a senior manager at the BBC and minister in the Wales Regional Government. He is one of the academics who have made proposals in recent years for a real legal framework for the internet giants Facebook and Google. ‘This is a new kind of business, so we also have to regulate it in a new way.’
Medium or utility?
Many in the media sector see Facebook and Google as competitors, and would like to see that they are considered media companies. That would impose clearer obligations on them when passing on news reports. But Andrews and others think that you should compare Facebook with a public utility such as electricity, water, or telephone. “Because of the enormous scale and power of Facebook and Google, no one will ever build a new Facebook or a new Google,” says Andrews. ‘De facto they are a utility company. A piece of essential social infrastructure. And most countries regulate their essential infrastructure.’
Andrews calls Facebook a utility company of a new order: an information utility. This must be supervised by a specialized regulator. He compares the situation with the moment that the British telecom giant BT was privatized. In order to avoid BT becoming too powerful, it was stipulated, among other things, that it was not allowed to venture onto the TV market.
In the same way, Facebook could be forbidden to develop certain activities. Or could thresholds be defined – such as: how many percent of the advertising market can the company get?
According to Andrews, Facebook should also report on a regular basis to a special regulator, as the telecom in our country is regulated by the BIPT and the media in Flanders by the VRM.
Two American authors, David Gunton and Justin Hendrix, presented a somewhat less far-reaching model last week, with an emphasis on transparency. “We propose that Facebook should register as a social media platform and report publicly every quarter,” Gunton, a lecturer at the University of Georgia, summarizes via e-mail. ‘Among other things about their privacy practices. The public can then decide informed, and perhaps Facebook will behave better ‘. Gunton and Hendrix propose that the existing market regulator FTC exert control.
In the report that Facebook should submit, a signed statement from CEO Mark Zuckerberg should also state that his company complies with legal obligations. The social networks should also open up their computer systems to external researchers, so that they can check whether all rules are being respected. Gunton and Hendrix believe that the US also need its own privacy legislation ‘based on the European’.
The big internet companies have always maintained that they can keep themselves under control – self-regulation, no laws was the motto. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg suddenly said he was not against regulation. He knows from where the wind blows. ‘The question is rather what the right regulation is’, he added in a recent interview. He explicitly referred to the Honest Ads Act, the bill that states that Facebook must disclose who paid for a political advertisement. Now that Zuckerberg has been called on the floor at the American Congress, chances are that there will be far more far-reaching proposals.
But can we allow companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to exist in their current form? The American professor Scott Galloway, author of the book The Four, thinks that because of their enormous power, they stifle the functioning of the free market, and that they have to be split up. According to Galloway, Facebook has to be divided into three companies: Instagram, Whatsapp and the social network Facebook. He has for the time being few supporters, but it is not out of the blue: telecom giant AT & T was once divided, and Microsoft barely escaped it in 1999.
The American antitrust think tank The Open Markets Institute goes one step further in an opinion piece in The Guardian: Facebook’s advertising department also has to become a separate company. And on top of that, the US must enforce strict privacy rules. Remarkable: The Open Markets Institute is also pushing the GDPR, the new European privacy legislation, forward as an example for the US.
Carwyn Jones’s announcement on Saturday that he was standing down has taken time to sink in, and only now are people beginning to weigh up the immense contribution he made as First Minister. I believe that he will be regarded as a historically significant First Minister and I am glad that he had the opportunity to announce his departure amongst friends and family at Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno.
Where Rhodri Morgan consolidated a devolution project that was very fragile when he became Welsh Labour leader, as I said on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Carwyn’s role has been to develop the role of the National Assembly and the Welsh Government. We now have a law-making Assembly with tax-raising powers. It was Carwyn’s bold decision to take forward the referendum in 2011, with the support of coalition partners Plaid Cymru, despite the foot-dragging of the Conservative-led coalition government at Westminster, and it was he who articulated the new name of Welsh Government for the executive body after the 2011 election.
Carwyn pioneered the tax-raising role of the institution with his personal support for a levy on plastic bags that was a pioneering policy now adopted by other parts of the UK. He did that despite scepticism, and some hostility, in the business community.
It is also often forgotten that Carwyn was the first First Minister who was home-grown: in other words, he had grown into political life within the National Assembly, not having served at Westminster like his predecessors. That gave him a healthy distance from what can be a stultifying obsession with Westminster parliamentary sovereignty and an openness to new constitutional developments.
His personal commitment to education, firmly articulated in his 2009 leadership campaign, paved the way for further investment and a substantial programme of school improvement, as well as underpinning the decision to protect Welsh students against £9000 tuition fees.
He has been capable of bold decisions with clear vision, such as the purchase of Cardiff Airport, now expanding with new routes across the world, and new and innovative legislation in areas such as organ donation, introduced despite controversy and articulated clearly by Carwyn himself.
He gave space for a new approach for public service reform, which Carl Sargeant developed and carried through in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, that means public service bodies in Wales have to come to the table to work through their public service delivery on a cross-boundary basis. The Violence against Women legislation, which Carl championed, Lesley Griffiths introduced, and I took through the National Assembly, will be seen as another significant achievement.
In the first decade of devolution the taps of public sector investment were turned on: but five months after Carwyn’s election as First Minister a Conservative-led coalition was in office implementing austerity policies which forced difficult choices on all of us in government. Carwyn provided leadership, not least on the economic front, where programmes like Jobs Growth Wales delivered more successfully than Westminster-based work programmes. Where the Conservative-led coalition scrapped the Remploy factories, the Welsh Government introduced a scheme to support employers who took on Remploy workers.
When the steel crisis hit in 2016, and the UK government proved dilatory and unable to act, Carwyn ensured a strong Welsh response which protected Welsh jobs at Tata. That response in 2016 helped turn around Welsh Labour fortunes in seats in Wales which had seemed in the early months of 2016 to be under threat from the Tories.
In electoral terms, Carwyn’s successes in 2011 and 2016 outdid, albeit in very different circumstances, those of his predecessors: and he made a significant personal contribution to the 2017 UK Labour campaign which led to the recapturing of Cardiff North, Gower and Vale of Clwyd.
In respect of Brexit, he identified earlier than most the pivotal importance of the Irish border issue, based on his family connections through Lisa and his own study of the subject.
In his conference speech, he expressed the view that the last few months have been the darkest of times. Bluntly, the last five and a half months have been miserable, indeed hateful. They have of course been darkest of all for the family and close friends of Carl Sargeant, but there has never been any question that they have taken a huge toll on Carwyn and his family. He will know above all the need in Welsh Labour for the healing to commence, and that his decision to stand down will now enable people to come together, as Jack Sargeant has passionately and bravely articulated, in pursuit of a kinder politics.
The Hamilton report is the expected whitewash. It is partial, inconsistent, contradictory and ignores evidence from a number of witnesses.
This should be no surprise, because the Hamilton inquiry was flawed from the beginning.
First, it was misrepresented by some as an inquiry into bullying. It wasn’t an inquiry into bullying, as Mr Hamilton himself states in paragraph 7. It was a narrowly-drawn inquiry into whether or not the First Minister misled the Assembly on two named dates.
I have tapes and transcripts of my interviews with Mr Hamilton. When I met him on 8 February Mr Hamilton told me that he couldn’t ‘make a finding about a substantive complaint of bullying’ and that his concern was ‘simply to record whether there were allegations or not on the relevant dates.’
Second, at the outset Mr Hamilton was unable to give witnesses any assurances about confidentiality. I wrote to him on 17 December asking whether he could give assurances to witnesses who feared repercussions. In his reply to me on 22 December, he made it clear that he was not able to give such assurances.
As a result of that, several witnesses felt uncomfortable about giving evidence, as the BBC reported in January.
Some of these people were never even contacted by Mr Hamilton. Separately, according to paragraph 46 of Mr Hamilton’s report, one Minister who could have given evidence did not do so. I am aware of at least four people who could have given relevant evidence but did not wish to do so because of the framing of the Inquiry or the failure to give assurances about protection of witnesses’ identities or their evidence. I am also aware of people who were told that their evidence was unnecessary or not likely to be relevant.
At least one potential witness declined to give evidence to Mr. Hamilton as a direct result of clear failures by the inquiry to uphold a public guarantee made by the Permanent Secretary, to provide “safeguards to ensure due separation”.
I made it clear to the BBC last December that my complaint about the conduct of the chief special adviser to the First Minister was not about bullying – Mr Hamilton was aware of this.
There is no question that several Ministers raised concerns about the conduct of a special adviser prior to 11 November 2014. Matt Greenough, one of the First Minister’s special advisers, was aware that we wished to discuss these issues with the First Minister. Matt texted me on 14 October 2014 making it clear that he had told the First Minister that we wished to raise these issues with him.
My contemporaneous diary notes, supplied to Mr Hamilton, explicitly challenge the version of events given by Mr Greenough and the First Minister in paragraph 35 and this text from Mr Greenough confirms my version:
I have contemporaneous diary notes documenting my conversations with Matt Greenough and with the First Minister. Mr Hamilton told me that I was the only witness with contemporaneous notes, and told me ’I suppose it shows the wisdom of you keeping your diary’.
I asked the First Minister on 19 November 2014 for a formal inquiry into whether or not his chief special adviser had breached the code of conduct for special advisers. My complaint was specific and limited to the issue set out in paragraph 37 of Mr Hamilton’s report, as I have always said. It was not about bullying and I did not suggest that it was. I did not raise any other issues at that time.
Reluctantly, the First Minister agreed to a formal investigation and told me that the head of the Delivery Unit, Marion Stapleton, would carry out this inquiry. I had taken a letter setting out my complaint with me. I asked the First Minister if he wanted anything in writing from me, and he said he did not. At the time I took that in good faith.
When I asked the First Minister on 4 February 2015 what had happened to the Inquiry, he told me ‘Marion found nothing.’ He sent me the following text later that day:
All of these matters are recorded in my diary.
I heard no more.
I now know, from Written Answers and from a Freedom of Information request I submitted in 2017, that the First Minister never asked Ms Stapleton to carry out any such inquiry, despite what he told me on 19 November 2014 and 4 February 2015 in meetings, and on 4 February 2015 by text. I had sincerely believed at the time that the First Minister had commissioned her to do this, and I was shocked when I discovered in December 2017 that he had not.
I supplied Mr Hamilton with the text above from the First Minister to me. I am surprised that no reference is made to this in his report. I have therefore set out the evidence here and leave it to others to judge whether the First Minister deliberately misled me in 2014 and 2015 when I was a serving member of his Cabinet.
I need to comment explicitly on some points of detail made in Mr Hamilton’s report. In paragraph 39, Mr Hamilton says my ‘failure to hand over’ on 19 November the letter of complaint I had drafted ‘is difficult to understand.’ This wholly contradicts what Mr Hamilton said to me on 8 February. When I met Mr Hamilton on 8 February, he told me ‘I can understand why you didn’t’.
In paragraph 40 Mr Hamilton fails to mention that I have documentary evidence that I put the chief special adviser’s statement to me that Carl Sargeant had ignored legal advice on the Gender-based Violence Bill on 12 September 2014 directly to Carl on that very day in the form of a text message to him. Carl responded robustly making it clear that the statement was untrue. In respect of paragraph 41 I did not claim that these remarks were bullying. My complaint was limited and precise.
In paragraph 45 Mr Hamilton refers to a witness who asserted that he had raised concerns about bullying with the First Minister, but these claims were disputed by the First Minister. The witness is known to me. That witness gave written evidence, with dates of conversations with the First Minister, and also supplied Mr Hamilton with an email he had sent to the First Minister. Mr Hamilton makes no reference to this email.
In paragraph 47 Mr Hamilton refers to a ‘small number of friends or associates of the late Mr Sargeant.’ Elsewhere in paragraph 21 Mr Hamilton says that he interviewed 23 people. I am personally aware of at least 10 witnesses who gave verbal evidence to Mr Hamilton who could be referred to as friends of Carl Sargeant. I am aware of two others who had written communication with Mr Hamilton but did not give verbal evidence. 10 out of 23 – or 12 out of 25 – is not ‘a small number’. A leading Welsh journalist made it clear in November 2017 that he had been made aware in 2014 of complaints of bullying within Welsh Government. His evidence is ignored by Mr Hamilton. Evidence from a former civil servant that Mr Sargeant had been ‘constantly monitored and micro-managed’ is ignored by Mr Hamilton.
In paragraph 61 Mr Hamilton takes at face value the claim by the First Minister that when he said in the Chamber on 14 November 2017 issues brought to his attention had been ‘dealt with’ he meant issues ‘which arose from time to time involving disagreements between Ministers’. I do not agree that these issues were disagreements which from time to time happen between ministers. They were not issues between ministers. They were issues about the treatment of advisers and ministers. As I told Mr Hamilton, I did not regard those issues as having been dealt with. I am aware that evidence was given that Carl Sargeant did not believe that they had been dealt with either. I pointed out to Mr Hamilton that in a series of answers to Opposition Assembly Members arising from this the First Minister said that such issues were matters for the Independent Adviser’s Inquiry. Mr Hamilton told me, in respect of the First Minister’s answers, ‘to some extent, what he did was kick into touch I suppose, in a number of those sessions’. I do not believe that these issues have been adequately addressed by Mr Hamilton.
Mr Hamilton appears to have nothing to say about the documentary evidence I provided to him about my conversation and text exchange with the First Minister on 4 February 2015 to which I refer above.
I stand by my previous statements – confirmed by others – that at times in the 2011-16 Assembly there was a toxic atmosphere on the Fifth Floor and that Mr Sargeant and certain other Ministers were subject to persistent personal undermining: indeed, during 2018 I have subsequently learned that the undermining of certain Ministers, including myself, was more extensive than I thought at the time.
It is odd that, having stated that he was not tasked with testing whether there was a substantive case about bullying, Mr Hamilton then goes on to state that there was no substantive evidence of bullying or persistent personal undermining given to him. As he said, this was not an inquiry into bullying. Had it been, then more substantive examples could have been given, including by people who declined to give evidence. I have been told that some people had given evidence about being bullied but this does not appear in Mr Hamilton’s report. In my evidence, I told Mr Hamilton that I had been made aware of a series of complaints that any inquiry into bullying would have to look into, including breaches of employment practices and equal pay laws.
The Hamilton Inquiry was a narrowly-drawn investigation into whether or not the First Minister had misled the Assembly by his statements on two specific dates. I am not surprised at the conclusion. The Terms of Reference given to Mr Hamilton were designed and framed with one objective – to allow the First Minister to gain time for himself, or in Mr Hamilton’s vernacular, to ‘kick into touch’.
All of this makes it clear how important are the Terms of Reference for the QC-led Independent Inquiry which has yet to commence.
BBC Wales is recycling an old attack on me as though it’s news. I may be on the picket-line when it goes up and I don’t know if they will use my full quote, so here it is:
There is a deliberate campaign to undermine me and others who have spoken up in support of Carl Sargeant. It is deeply malicious and yet more evidence of the bullying culture practised by certain people within the Welsh Government and their friends outside the Welsh Government over recent years. Carl was a target of this, and so were other Ministers, including some still serving in government. I warned two weeks ago that further attacks on me were being prepared. There has been a desperate trawl to find ways to undermine my reputation. People have told me that the individual coordinating the attacks on me and others has close links to Welsh Labour and the Welsh Government.The re-cycling of Councillor Lewis’s complaints from five years ago is laughable. I responded to Councillor Lewis’s complaints in a BBC television interview in August 2013 which is still available on the BBC website. I’m sorry if Councillor Lewis is still bitter that the governance of the WJEC was re-structured by Council Leaders in Wales, resulting in the appointment of a new Chair. I set out the full background to all this in my book, Ministering to Education, on pages 182-184. I reject Councillor Lewis’s account and I stand by my actions at the time which led to the creation of Qualifications Wales.As far as the FoI is concerned, I have nothing further to add to what has been said by the Welsh Government.
The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, was really the legacy of our friend, Carl Sargeant, although it fell to me to take the Bill through the Assembly. As the Assembly’s official note of the Bill’s passage makes clear, I took over the Bill on coming back into government on the 12th September 2014.
I had served on the Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee which had started its examination of the Bill. I knew from the evidence coming in that there was a lot of unhappiness at the content of the Bill at that stage. I also knew that Lesley Griffiths and Carl Sargeant, whose work had led up to it, also wanted to see it strengthened, as did a variety of organisations in Wales. The Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, Alun Michael, got in touch with me about it at an early stage. Carl and Lesley and I had informal chats about it. Leading Labour party figures like former Minister Sue Essex texted me to say that we could achieve something much more ambitious for Wales. Julie Morgan AM told me that Labour women in her constituency wanted to see it strengthened.
There was a coalition of women’s organisations campaigning to strengthen the Bill. Cathy Owens of the consultancy Deryn was acting as their spokesperson. She described the Bill to me in an email on my first day back in Cabinet as ‘ an absolute dog’s dinner.’ Cathy then sent me a three-page memo on the deficiencies of the Bill as she saw them. She was immensely complimentary about the work done by Carl and his special adviser, Sophie Howe, over several years, but very concerned that the Bill had been watered down. She was worried that the bulk of matters which women’s organisations in Wales had campaigned for had not been addressed in the Bill. These issues included the independence of an Adviser or Commissioner on violence against women and girls; the need to strengthen the educational proposals, and the need to improve what was said about the commissioning of services.
Amongst her many concerns, but only one of them, was the title of the Bill. Cathy explained why this was important:
‘Also, the name. Why are we banging on about the name? It’s important.
‘The officials think that they have to include everyone, and have become so all inclusive that they think by even mentioning women in the Bill, it will be against equality principles. Rubbish. With VAW being so prevalent, we have to start tackling VAW specifically, or we won’t make any progress.
‘Everyone else has VAW or VAWG policies. Even Theresa May and Boris Johnson have VAW policies.
‘As the strategies and the adviser will be called after the weird gender-neutral name, it means we are actually enshrining a position so that a future Welsh Government can never have a VAW strategy, never have an External Adviser on VAW, let alone a Commissioner.’
Cathy specifically asked me to see if I could challenge the advice from lawyers and others. She said:
‘Can you press back on the lawyers and officials about the gender-neutrality? Are they really saying you cannot legislate for women in this country, in the same way as you can for other groups like children, carers, older people, disabled people?’
I decided to see what I could do to strengthen the Bill, with the help of my special adviser, Alex Rawlin. I had meetings with officials and with lawyers. Some of these were rather tense and strained as I tried to get the lawyers to follow through ministerial intentions. I had a meeting with the First Minister on the issue on 25 September in which I outlined my plans. Following that meeting, the Head of the First Minister’s Office sent round a summary of our discussion, recently released to me under FoI, noting that I had told the FM that I was developing an amendment to the Bill specifically referring to violence against women and girls.
At my first appearance as Minister before the CELG Committee a week later on 1 October, I was able to announce:
The Welsh Government recognises that gender-based violence has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. I have spoken to the First Minister about this issue and I can confirm today that we intend to introduce a Government amendment at Stage 2 to add a new section to the Bill, which will probably be entitled ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’. This section would require those exercising the functions of the Bill across the bulk of its provisions, along with all other relevant matters, to have regard to violence against women and girls. The new section would apply to local authorities, local health boards, Welsh Ministers and the ministerial adviser.
Jocelyn Davies AM asked me about the title of the Bill at that meeting. I responded as follows:
You ask about the title of the Bill. I have not reached any final conclusions on that yet, but I am open to suggestions, and we will look at that. You will understand that the Presiding Officer has a clear view about titles of Bills, particularly once introduced. Therefore, there may be a conversation that we would all need to have with the Presiding Officer about that, were we to seek to make any changes to the title. The title, obviously, has to reflect the content of the Bill. However, we are only at Stage 1 at the moment, so there is plenty of time, it seems to me, to consider these matters further.
I had further discussions with the First Minister about the title of the Bll and its contents, and I was able to announce at the Bill proceedings in the Assembly on 25 November that we would be bringing forward an amendment to change the title of the Bill:
In view of the new section on violence against women and girls, I will also be considering a possible change to the short title of the Bill. This will need to adhere to the Presiding Officer’s determination on proper forms of Assembly Bills. I will update the committee on this in due course.
Despite this, I found a note from the FM’s Private Secretary in my ministerial box in early December saying that the FM wasn’t clear why a change in the title was being proposed – ‘he thought this was ruled out months ago’. I texted Carl Sargeant that evening. Like me, he thought the question had really been posed by someone in the FM’s office, not the FM himself. My entire private office helped me put together a reply to the FM’s question, going through past documents and pointing out that we had involved him in our thinking on this all the way through. Indeed, my speech for the 25 November debate had been contained in a Legislative Folder that he had seen. It was an example of the irritating and unnecessary internal obstructions we endured throughout this Bill. I have asked for the correspondence with the First Minister’s office to be released under FoI, but it is currently being withheld on the grounds that it refers to legal advice. The actual exchange between my office and the FM’s office was a political exchange, not a legal exchange, and does not in my view need to be withheld, so I have appealed that.
Subsequent proceedings saw us strengthening other sections of the Bill, including commissioning and the educational elements. Further discussions with Opposition Members, notably Plaid Cymru’s Jocelyn Davies, in the latter stages of the Bill, led to us strengthening it even more.
I am glad that in his recent New Statesman article, the First Minister praised the Violence against Women Bill as ‘ground-breaking’, even though, as he told the BBC in December last year, he had disagreed with the change of title when I proposed it:
The first minister said there had been “a dispute over the title of a bill, the Violence Against Women Bill, where he took one view and I took a different view”.
We should regard the passage of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 as one of the many legacies of Carl Sargeant, and I was pleased to see his son Jack referring to this legacy in the Assembly on Tuesday:
Jack Sergeant AM:
Thank you to the Government for bringing forward this statement today. With permission, I’d just like to put on the record that, four months ago today, we lost a true advocate for women’s rights and someone who stood up for women’s suffering, domestic abuse and sexual violence. I don’t think there’s any one of my dad’s suits that doesn’t have a white ribbon pin badge on, and I’m very proud to be standing here today in the Chamber wearing mine.
Getting the eventual Act right required a lot of negotiation, and it was a shame how much wasteful internal energy at times had to be spent on this. This was not ‘a petty dispute about the title of a Bill’, as the First Minister told Adrian Masters on ITV Wales on 5 December. The issue of the title itself was meaningful, not petty, and was regarded as significant by women’s organisations across the length and breadth of Wales. But we got there in the end, and my predecessors the late Carl Sargeant and Lesley Griffiths deserve great credit for their hard work and support.