'No bullying allegations' insists Carwyn Jones

Carwyn Jones gave more detailed answers but left opponents unhappy

The First Minister has rejected accusations that he's misled the Assembly in his previous answers to questions about Welsh Government bullying.

Carwyn Jones has been under pressure to give a more detailed explanation and in particular to explain an apparent discrepancy between answers he gave last week and a response to a similar question in November 2014.

He said he'd not been presented with any allegations of bullying but had been aware of 'issues' where ministers and others were 'unhappy with the way things happened' in Welsh Government.

You can read the background by clicking here, here and here.

Pressed again on the issue in First Minister's Questions, Carwyn Jones didn't apologise but said that he hoped AMs would understand that 'if I've seemed to choose my words carefully' it was 'not to be evasive' but because 'the last thing I want to do is to make matters worse.'

The discrepancy in his two answers arose, he said, because in the period referred to 'no specific allegation of bullying was ever presented to me either formally or informally, no evidence was given to me, nor was that word bullying ever used in that way.'

He was aware, he said, of 'issues' that were brought to his attention:

People were sometimes unhappy with the way things happened. Were there competing priorities and complaints of that nature? Of course there were. Did people sometimes feel that others were more favoured? Of course they did. That happens in any organisation and in politics where these matters are felt even more intensely than in other places and people are very passionate about what they believe in, that will be the situation.

– Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister

It's the first time that he's been explicit about his defence for making apparently contradictory statements.

According to this explanation he was right to say in 2014 that there were no allegations of bullying because that term hadn't been used and also correct to say that any allegations had been dealt with, because they were raised and dealt with informally as part of the cut and thrust of government.

The First Minister said he remained willing to be scrutinised further on these and related issues but he stopped short of giving Labour support to a vote next week which would set up an AM-led inquiry.

Carwyn Jones has clearly been concerned to try to head off accusations that followed last week's answers when he was accused of acting with disrespect and arrogance. This time he read from a prepared and detailed statement.

But although he went much further today and gave more details than in his answers last week, he still hasn't satisfied his opponents.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said 'you're not answering the question, First Minister' while Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said 'I'm still lacking in understanding as to how difficult it is to answer this question.' UKIP's Neil Hamilton said 'I hope that the First Minister will feel that he owes the Assembly a duty of candour on this issue but clearly we're going to get no further on it today.'

The questions may be over for today, but they haven't gone away.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has now gone further. In a statement she says that she doesn't believe that 'clear answers were given.'

Today the Assembly was again told that ‘issues’ were raised over tensions in the Welsh Government cabinet, and that this was somehow normal. This is an admission by the First Minister that serious problems existed and had to be addressed. The question remains as to the substance of what was raised, whether a report exists, and how the problems were dealt with. This will require further scrutiny as Plaid Cymru does not believe clear answers were given.

– Leanne Wood AM, Plaid Cymru leader

And the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies was also dissatisfied with the responses he received:

The First Minister has opted for defence by semantics.

It was clear from his scripted response that officials have spent a number of days trawling government records looking specifically for the word ‘bullying’.

But it won’t wash. In reality, there are any number of behaviour types which constitute bullying, and the serious allegations made by a senior former minister and special adviser remain unanswered.

Only proper scrutiny can determine where the truth lies, and hiding behind semantics and sticking fastidiously to the script will only go so far.

We would strongly urge AMs of all parties to join us in supporting the motion before them next week, so that the First Minister can be called upon to answer the questions which remain.

– Andrew RT Davies AM, Welsh Conservative leader