Politicians must set an example, says Welsh health minister amid Senedd wine row

Politicians have a responsibility to lead by example and ensure the public stick to Covid-19 rules, Wales’s health minister has said.

Vaughan Gething spoke out following reports a group of members drank wine on the Senedd estate, days after a pub alcohol ban was enforced in Wales.

Former Welsh Government minister Alun Davies allegedly consumed alcohol with Welsh Conservatives leader Paul Davies, chief whip Darren Millar and the party’s chief of staff Paul Smith in a Senedd tea room.

The incident happened on December 8, four days after a ban on the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol on licensed premises came into force, although off-licences were allowed to sell alcohol until 10pm.

Vaughan Gething
Vaughan Gething

All four deny breaking Covid-19 rules and say they observed social distancing while meeting to discuss working together on a proposed bill, and consumed alcohol not bought from parliamentary premises.

Mr Gething told the Welsh Government briefing he was not aware of the “all the facts” of the incident.

“There is a broader point here and that is that any challenge, any sense of people not all being in this together, isn’t helpful in terms of messages that we all need to follow,” he said.

“We all have a part to play in doing the right thing.”

Mr Gething said the rules were clear that there should not be any indoor mixing between households, apart from where unavoidable and as part of support bubbles.

“I’d hope that not just people who are the subject of the current interest in the story but all of us would reflect that the more consistent we are in the message that we give to the public, and in what we then do, the better off we’ll all be, the sooner we can get out of the current crisis that still affects all of us,” he added.

Paul Davies
Paul Davies

Asked whether catering staff were pressured into serving the politicians, Mr Gething replied: “The last thing we want to see happen is that an investigation comes out and it’s only staff who essentially get thrown under the bus.

“Everyone needs to look at what they’ve done. What I will say, though, is in my own interaction with Senedd Commission staff, I’ve always been polite and respectful and the people that I’m around have been polite and respectful as well.”

Earlier, Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told BBC Radio Wales: “I think it’s very serious, poor behaviour by a group of politicians.

“I think the public hate hypocrisy, they hate being told to abide by the rules by all of the politicians and then suddenly they find examples of where it looks like the rules may have been broken, or the behaviour has been inappropriate given the decision being taken to ban the sale of alcohol.”

Welsh Labour said Alun Davies had been suspended from its group in the Senedd pending an investigation.

Mr Davies said the aim of the meeting was to persuade the Welsh Conservatives to support his proposal for a Welsh Hearts Bill.

“I am very sorry if my actions have given the impression that I am in any way not committed to upholding the regulations which I have consistently supported throughout the last year,” he added.

Darren Millar
Darren Millar

A Welsh Conservatives source told the PA news agency that the group believed they had not broken Covid-19 rules as the alcohol was not bought from the Senedd site, or served by catering staff.

In a statement, Paul Davies, Mr Millar and Mr Smith said they were “profoundly sorry” for their actions.

“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through,” they said.

Fellow Conservative MS Nick Ramsay denied he was part of the group.

In a statement issued to the BBC, his lawyer said Mr Ramsay had attended the tea room on his own for a meal.

“He sat on his own and was socially distanced. He attended the tea room at approximately 6pm. He had a chicken curry. He left at about 8pm,” the statement said.

“Others came in whilst he was there, but it was not a ‘gathering’ Mr Ramsay was part of.”

A spokesman for the Senedd Commission, the corporate body for the Senedd, said it was aware of an incident on the estate which “may have been contrary to public health regulations in force at the time”.

Catering company CH&CO Group, which offers catering services at the Senedd estate, said it was aware of “an alleged breach of public health regulations” and was investigating.