Wales politics

Probe into claims minister broke government rules

Artist impression of circuit Image copyright Heads of the Valleys Development Company
Image caption The Circuit of Wales pledges to bring high-performance motorsport racing to the Heads of the Valleys

First Minister Carwyn Jones has announced an investigation into whether Wales' environment minister Alun Davies broke government rules.

Mr Davies wrote to the environment watchdog over plans for a race track, near Ebbw Vale, in his constituency.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) expressed concerns over the £280m plans but later said it had been reassured.

Mr Jones said a top civil servant would consider if Mr Davies's actions "conflicted" with his ministerial role.

Welsh ministers are in favour of the Circuit of Wales scheme.

It emerged last week that Mr Davies - whose portfolio includes overseeing NRW's work - had written to the organisation in his capacity as AM for Blaenau Gwent, urging it to reconsider.

In the letter he said he was "very concerned with the processes at work within NRW in this matter", and asked whether it was acting in line with all its statutory duties.

Opposition parties have suggested this is a breach of the Ministerial Code, the rulebook which governs ministers' conduct.

Ahead of the weekly session of First Minister's Questions in the assembly, Mr Jones said there would be an investigation.

He said: "There has been concern expressed recently about the actions of one of my ministers and whether his role as a constituency member has conflicted with his position as a minister.

"In light of this, I have today asked the permanent secretary to look into the facts surrounding this matter.

"I have requested that the permanent secretary reports back to me within two weeks.

"I will update members in due course."

Image caption Alun Davies watching party leaders discuss his actions during First Minister's Questions

During the question session Mr Jones told AMs he believed he had become aware of Mr Davies's letter last week.

The first minister said he had not been consulted by Mr Davies in advance.

The code suggests that ministers unsure about whether their actions are in breach of the rules should consult the first minister.

Mr Jones said: "I have the ability to appoint or, indeed, to remove ministers.

"It is my responsibility to ensure the Ministerial Code is adhered to.

"Nevertheless, I take the view that in these circumstances it's important that there is an independent and objective presentation of the facts to me, in order for me to take that decision.

"And then, of course, it is for me to decide what happens next."

'Legal challenge'

Later, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said he hoped the inquiry could be concluded "promptly".

"A cynic would think the timing of the first minister's announcement of an inquiry was designed to avoid answering any questions in his weekly question session about a potential conflict of interest.

"I am disappointed that the first minister, whose job it is to oversee the Ministerial Code, has failed to show leadership on this issue and make his own decision based on the available evidence."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said there were "numerous issues".

She said: "There are question marks with regards to the minister potentially breaking the Ministerial Code, there are questions about whether the minister has opened up the project to a legal challenge, and finally, there are serious concerns that Natural Resources Wales, which is meant to be independent, was heavily leant on by the minister."

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