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The Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, has described attempts by a Welsh Government adviser to plant ministerial questions with backbench Labour AM’s an “abuse of the system designed to cover-up the incompetence of Labour Ministers”. He said the practice brought the National Assembly into disrepute and has called for disciplinary action to be taken by the First Minister and Presiding Officer.
The matter was uncovered in a data protection request sent by Mr Davies in which he sought details of any written correspondence to or from Welsh Ministers naming him, between January and July 2014.
One email sent to the Health Minister Mark Drakeford by his Special Adviser outlined backbench questions which could be placed with Labour AM Christine Chapman.
In the email, titled ‘Yet More Extras’, the Adviser says:
“I’ve asked Labour to pass on the supplementary about prescription charges in England – mindful of comments from Labour AMs today.
“I will see if Christine (Chapman) wouldn’t mind asking about DTOC (Delayed transfers of care) as she’s not happy about the suggested supplementary on patient complaints/negative perceptions of NHS following today’s exchange between the FM and Andrew RT Davies.”
Mr Davies called on the Welsh Government to publish the full exchange between the Minister and his special adviser and called for disciplinary action to be taken by the First Minister. He said:
“This is clearly an abuse of the system and casts Labour backbenchers in a very poor light indeed.
“It also raises very serious questions for the First Minister about the conduct of his government. For example, did the Health Minister authorise this practice to be undertaken in his name and just how widespread is it?
“At the very least, disciplinary action should now be taken against the Special Adviser who has been caught red handed undermining the democratic process for party political ends.”
Mr Davies also said urged the Presiding Officer to take a view:
“Backbench time is an opportunity to properly scrutinise Ministers, and this practice of planting friendly questions brings the National Assembly into disrepute and renders ministerial question sessions a sham.
“It is my view that the Presiding Officer should make her views clear on this. It cannot be acceptable for plenary time to be wasted in such a fashion and the Welsh Government’s arrogant response has only heightened my view that the institution’s reputation must be safeguarded.”