Vaughan Gething tried to stop release of lobbying details

Date:

Gwyn Loader,Chief correspondent, Newyddion S4C

Reuters Vaughan Gething Reuters

Welsh Labour denied Mr Gething did not want the information released

First Minister Vaughan Gething attempted to prevent the release of details that he lobbied on behalf of a company which had broken the law and whose holding company later donated to his leadership campaigns.

Emails, obtained by Newyddion S4C, show Mr Gething twice attempting to persuade Natural Resources Wales (NRW) not to release information requested under environmental information regulations.

Mr Gething, who faces a vote of no confidence on Wednesday, has been criticised over a donation by Dauson Environmental Group, controlled by David Neal.

A Welsh Labour spokesperson said “there is absolutely no suggestion that Vaughan Gething didn’t want the information released”.

BBC Wales revealed in March that Mr Gething had lobbied environmental regulator NRW to ease restrictions on another of David Neal’s companies, Atlantic Recycling Ltd, in 2016.

Atlantic Recycling and its director David Neal were prosecuted in 2013 for illegally dumping waste on the Gwent Levels, and in 2017 for failing to clean the waste up.

Mr Neal was fined £10,000 and given a three-month suspended sentence in 2013, and was handed an 18-week suspended sentence in 2017, together with fines and costs of £230,000.

Companies controlled by Mr Neal have donated tens of thousands of pounds to Mr Gething’s campaigns to become Welsh Labour leader, including two donations totalling £200,000 in the campaign which ended with him victorious earlier this year.

BBC Wales Investigates revealed this week that another of Mr Neal’s companies was under criminal investigation at the time the donations were made.

In a statement Mr Neal said: “All donations made have come from a separate account to those used for the development of our business; we have never requested or expected anything in return.”

Acting on a tip-off, Newyddion S4C requested correspondence between Mr Gething and NRW after BBC Wales’s original request for information relating to Mr Gething lobbying on behalf of Mr Neal’s companies.

The emails released by NRW show it contacted Mr Gething on 4 March, asking whether there was any reason the information it gathered should not be released under environmental information regulations.

Vaughan Gething first responded the next day, claiming the request was a “fishing expedition” and that his constituents would expect correspondence on their behalf by an elected representative to remain confidential.

He also queried whether releasing the information would breach data protection laws.

An NRW representative replied saying the disclosure was legal and required under the environmental information regulations.

Mr Gething then responded once more saying he did “not understand how my correspondence, whether in full or in part, amounts to environmental information”.

He cited releasing the information would “have a material impact” on the way he did his job for his constituents.

The information requested was released by NRW on 8 March. Mr Gething was announced as leader of Welsh Labour on 16 March.

NRW Email from Vaughan Gething NRW

Vaughan Gething claimed the request was a “fishing expedition”

Opposition parties have criticised the responses by the first minister revealed in the email exchange.

Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor said: “This latest revelation is further proof of Vaughan Gething’s aversion to scrutiny and transparency.”

“If the first minister has nothing to hide and is unconcerned about any perception of acting on behalf of a significant donor – he surely would have been more than happy to co-operate with a reasonable request for information.”

The Welsh Conservatives said: “Vaughan Gething’s perceived conflict of interest is one of the key reasons why he is fighting for his political life.”

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Jane Dodds MS, described the emails as a “disturbing revelation” which “raises further questions about the First Minister’s ability to perform his role”.

“The scandals that have surrounded Vaughan Gething during his short time in charge have muddied the waters of Cardiff Bay. For the sake of our devolved institutions he must go,” she added.

Welsh Labour denied Mr Gething did not want the information released, stating he was “merely clarifying the principle of what information was being released and how it impacts on the work of MSs for their constituents”.

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