Labour MS tells First Minister Vaughan Gething to admit mistake and return £200,000 donation

Labour MS Lee Waters has told First Minister Vaughan Gething he should return his controversial £200,000 donation and admit mistakes have been made.

More than six weeks after Mr Gething won the Welsh Labour leadership, questions about his receipt of the money have not gone away.

During that campaign it emerged that he accepted donations totalling £200,000 from Dauson Environmental Group Ltd, whose director, David Neal, was convicted twice for environmental offences.

There has been criticism too because the group is repaying a loan to the Development Bank for Wales (DBW), which is wholly owned by the Welsh Government.

The first minister has insisted that there are no conflicts of interest: he has had nothing to do with any planning decisions involving Dauson and no ministers have any involvement in DBW decisions.

That hasn't stopped the pressure on him over the donations. Today in the Senedd, two debates held by Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru kept the focus on the issue while in Westminster, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backed calls for an independent investigation into it.

In the Senedd, Labour MS Lee Waters, who until Mr Gething became leader was the deputy Transport Minister who oversaw the introduction of the Welsh Government's controversial 20mph policy, delivered the most public criticism of the first minister.

He criticised the opposition parties and said he would not support their motions.

But he set out his concerns in a speech that he said he would rather have avoided.

He said: "Immediately on news of the donation coming out I said I thought it was unjustifiable and wrong. That’s a matter of record, and I have not changed my view.

"£200,000 is a staggering amount of money, unprecedented in Welsh politics; and over four times larger than the £45,000 spending cap the Labour Party set to ensure a fair contest."

He said the fact it came from a company whose director was twice convicted over environmental offences "really shocked" him.

Welsh Labour MS Alun Davies tweeted saying many other members agree with Lee Waters.

Mr Waters continued: "The first minister has said the donations to his campaign were checked and filed properly with the Electoral Commission and declared to the Senedd. And that there is no case to answer. But the issue is not whether the paperwork was correct, it’s whether the judgement was correct.

"The point about devolution, this place, a Parliament we have created from scratch, is that we set higher standards.

"25 years ago we talked of devolution as the beginning of a new politics; but the reputation of politics, and politicians, seems to be lower than ever.

"The first minister told a Senedd committee last week that his approval ratings haven’t been affected by the controversy. I must say that surprised me, and 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?

"The fact that some voters just shrug their shoulders is what should worry us. Far from being an endorsement, I fear it’s a reflection that we are all tarred with the same brush.

"Not only is it really demoralising for many of us who see politics as a genuine public service, a sacrifice; but it’s also dangerous to the fabric of our democracy at a time when it’s already under huge strain.

"They say that when accepted standards of behaviour, norms, are undermined, it lowers expectations. And that lays the ground for a new set of weaker standards to take hold. That is why we need to confront this situation."

Mr Waters claimed the situation has not been addressed, and for him it was an issue of conscience rather than confidence.

"This situation can be put right. But the first step to solving any problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

"It would not be a sign of weakness to say it was a mistake to take the donation and now all the facts are known to give it back.

"It can still be done, and in my view should be done.

"Sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing, but you rarely regret it in the end."

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