Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus a Gweinyddiaeth Gyhoeddus

Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Adam Price
Mark Isherwood Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mike Hedges
Peter Fox Yn dirprwyo ar ran Natasha Asghar
Substitute for Natasha Asghar

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adrian Crompton Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Archwilio Cymru
Auditor General for Wales, Audit Wales
David Richards Cyfarwyddwr Priodoldeb a Moeseg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Propriety and Ethics, Welsh Government
Dr Rachel Garside-Jones Cyfarwyddwr Dros Dro Swyddfa’r Prif Weinidog, Llywodraeth Cymru
Interim Director of the Office of the First Minister, Welsh Government
Matthew Hall Pennaeth Is-adran y Cabinet, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Cabinet Division, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Fay Bowen Clerc
Lucien Wise Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Owain Davies Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:18.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:18.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datganiadau o fuddiant
1. Introduction, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Croeso. Good morning and welcome to this morning's meeting of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee in the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament. This meeting is bilingual, and headsets provide simultaneous translation on channel 1 and sound amplification on channel 2. Participants joining online can access translation by clicking on the globe icon on Zoom. Apologies for absence have been received from Natasha Asghar, and Peter Fox is substituting. So, welcome, Peter, to the committee. We've also receive apologies from Rhianon Passmore. Do Members have any declarations of registrable interests that they wish to declare? No. Okay. 

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to Note

In which case we will move on to papers to note, and initially referring to responses to our report on the scrutiny of the accounts of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales 2022-23. The committee published this report on 5 March this year, making 13 recommendations. Twelve of these were made to the office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and one to the Welsh Government. 

The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and the Welsh Government have responded to our report. I note the following, which is taken from the commissioner's response. He provides further information about their key performance indicators, crafted with reference to his long-term vision for his office, entitled, 'Cymru Can'. These are split into two categories, including outcome indicators, which relate to changes expected as public bodies, as well as activity indicators, which measure the activities of his office. The latter—the activity indicators—are split over 13 key performance indicators and five separate categories. We may wish, therefore, committee, to revisit these when we next hear from the commissioner for account scrutiny.

Following our scrutiny session with the commissioner, a formal consultation on the proposed changes to the organisation's structure was commissioned, concluding last November, on the twenty-seventh. This led to four out of six voluntary redundancy applications being approved, whilst one fixed-term post was not extended and two members of staff reduced their hours. These measures are estimated to have cost £72,000 to the end of March 2024, funded by the Welsh Government. They're estimated to save £279,000 annually in consequence.

He outlines the challenges arising from the budgetary pressures, noting that there will now be less capacity for one-to-one support for organisations or for bespoke sessions. No additional funding has been received for the eight additional bodies coming under the remit of the legislation. I believe that this was confirmed in a statement to Members in writing this week. Again, the committee will, no doubt, wish to review these challenges with the commissioner when we scrutinise him further in the future.

Finally, the response sets out further information about the organisation's pilot of a 30-hour working week. Could I invite the auditor general to comment?


Nothing further from me, Mark, to the comments you've already made.

Okay, Members, do you have any responses or comments, and could you indicate whether you're content to further explore the matters referred to now or in the future? Any thoughts, ideas, comments, or are you all content just to note and include in our future scrutiny? Thank you. 

3. Sesiwn ar Lawlyfr y Cabinet a Thrafodaethau Mynediad
3. Session on the Cabinet Manual and Access Talks

Well, that's the only paper to note this morning, taking us straight to our primary agenda item today, which is an evidence session on access talks and the Cabinet manual, which will work around a technical briefing with the Welsh Government and I welcome three Welsh Government officials who are with us this morning.

On 25 April, we considered a background paper on the UK Government Cabinet manual and access talks. Committee members felt there was a lack of information available about these matters in a Welsh context, and we agreed to seek a technical briefing session from Welsh Government officials. So, again, croeso, welcome to this meeting. Could you please state your names and roles for the Record?

Bore da, Chair, my name is David Richards. I'm the director of propriety and ethics for the Welsh Government.

I'm Rachel Garside-Jones. I'm director in the office of the First Minister.

Matthew Hall, head of Cabinet division.

Thank you very much indeed. Well, can I start by inviting you to brief the committee before we open up with some questions to you around this?

Thank you, Chair. We're very pleased to be here. This is something that we live and breathe and some of us are anoraks about it, Chair, frankly, so, I'm pleased to be part of that. As it's a technical briefing, we want to be as helpful as we can to help the committee to understand the way that this works and the issues. I would expect it to be a very wide-ranging discussion and that means that we might just not know all the answers to the questions that committee wants to ask us, but we will go away and find them out, if we don't know them, and we'll come back to the committee very quickly.

If you'll allow me to say, Chair, yesterday's announcement about the general election puts us rapidly into a pre-election period, and while the Welsh Government hasn't issued its pre-election guidance to staff yet, it will do very shortly, and that will say, among other things, basically, that the business of the Welsh Government should go on as normal as much as it can, but we all need to be particularly careful not to do or say anything that might be interpreted as seeking to influence the outcome of the election. And this is a public hearing, so I hope the committee will understand if we are particularly careful about the matters involved, or to put it another way, Chair, if I’m even more boring than usual, I hope the committee will understand. [Laughter.]


I’m very grateful for that. There are just a few points that we thought might be helpful to make at the start, and the first thing is that almost all of the way that Cabinet works is at the discretion of the First Minister, whoever the First Minister is at the time. He has the ministerial code, he has the civil service code and he has the responsibilities of the accounting officer to take account of, and, of course, any sort of statutory regulations. But apart from that, it’s very much up to the individual First Minister how he wants to conduct the Cabinet business, and different First Ministers over the years have adopted slightly different styles according to the needs that they want to do and we can go through that. And it’s a balance between how much the First Minister wants done collectively with the Cabinet when clearly there are a lot of issues that are for collective decision, and the extent to which he would expect his Cabinet colleagues to deal with things in their own portfolios. So, there are very few constraints on how the First Minister actually wants to run this.

And the second point I want to make is that it’s hard to convey what it’s actually like, because we can talk about the systems and the processes and the arrangements, but it doesn’t really get a sense of what it’s like working in Government. And for people coming into the organisation, they’re usually struck by two things: one is the sheer volume and complexity and speed of the way that business is conducted, and the variety. In any one day, Ministers are dealing with big issues of policy and dealing with correspondence, meeting stakeholders, taking advice, having internal meetings, meeting with civil service about a huge variety of things, and just the speed and volume of stuff is something that you just have to take into account when you’re doing these arrangements, because business has got to get done.

And the second thing is the complexity of the different roles, because it’s quite a complicated ecosystem in the Government. So, there is the First Minister, there are the Cabinet Secretaries with their particular roles, and the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary, each of them will have a private office behind them, and that’s kind of key to making the system—Matt is very experienced in these things and he could go into more detail—and the private offices are there to help the Minister and the Cabinet Secretary to organise their work, get the business done, act as the link between officials, and also to help look after the well-being of the Cabinet Secretary, to make sure that the work is manageable, that they get some down time and so on. And then there are special advisers acting as the bridge between the Minister and the civil service and it’s a very helpful and very important role. There’s the Permanent Secretary with his role of accounting officer and oversight responsibility for staff, and as principal policy adviser to the First Minister. There would be the director generals who would be the people who would have most contact on an everyday basis with Ministers; various policy advisers, officials, who would come and go, less often but certainly they’re the experts; and then people, sort of quasi professionals like me, who have particular roles, and we’ll come on to that.

So, it’s quite a complicated ecosystem and it works, and it’s conducted with a remarkable amount of good humour and energy and buzz, and it’s a real pleasure and privilege to be a part of that. But you don’t get a sense of that when you just look at the kind of mechanics, and I thought it would be helpful to put that background.

And we’ll get on to talk about the UK Cabinet manual in more depth, but if I can just offer a few preliminary thoughts on that, and I think this is only the start of the conversation, so we’ve got an open mind on that. And the Cabinet manual seemed to work very well in New Zealand, I think; New Zealand were very proud of what they did and then the UK Government, about 11 or 12 years ago, decided they wanted to do something equivalent. We refer to it sometimes; I look at it, I know some of my colleagues on the constitutional side will look at it, and it’s for information and comparison purposes, because the UK Cabinet manual itself doesn’t bring anything new to the party; it’s a compendium of guidance and practice and stuff. It covers quite a lot of areas that aren't really relevant to us, like the role of the established church and the role of the sovereign, and it doesn't of itself have any statutes or binding power. It's a reflection of what's there, but useful in what it does, nonetheless.

The other thing that I thought about when I was thinking about this is that the Cabinet Office are very proud that it took them less than two years to produce it, but it was only just less than two years, and they've got a lot more resources than we would have to put in. So, for anything coming out of this, we would be looking at the amount of time and resource. And in terms of where we go from that, ultimately on our side it will be a decision for the First Minister. But, as I say, we take the point about more transparency about the way Government works being helpful and better, so, please, I wouldn't want the committee to think that we have come here with any kind of fixed mind.

And then on the access talks, we do follow, actually, the process that is in the UK Cabinet manual. We don't have to, but from the beginning of devolution, those access talks have been a feature where there is an election and have been offered. The degree to which they've been taken up by parties has varied over the history of devolution. Sometimes every party approached us, wanted to come in and have a conversation. Sometimes, there's just been very little interest. But they're there, and it's helpful. Certainly, it's helpful to the civil service to give us some advance warning. Whether it's helpful to the parties involved, we haven't really tried to ask them or collect any information.


Thank you very much indeed. I'll ask the first question, actually leading on from that point. Given your indication that the door is open but there's no formal process for those access talks, is there any established convention or guidance in terms of the offer? Obviously, it's up to the recipient of the offer to decide how they wish to proceed with the offer.

We follow the guidance that is in the UK Cabinet manual, and there's just a paragraph on it. But, basically, what happens is that in the run-up to an election, the Permanent Secretary will approach the First Minister for permission to open access talks with the parties, and then, usually, the First Minister or the Permanent Secretary would write to all those parties who look as if they might be able to form a Government or be part of a Government after the election, offering access talks. They are done on a completely confidential basis, so once the First Minister has given his or her approval to those talks taking place, then there is no further communication with the First Minister, not even about who's accepted them and who hasn't, let alone what the content is. That's conducted by the Permanent Secretary, sometimes by themselves, sometimes with their principal private secretary and perhaps one other official, and on that confidential basis.

It's an opportunity for a party to give the Permanent Secretary a heads up on what they would be looking for from the civil service, particularly on any organisational changes that they might want to see if they came into Government. That just gives an opportunity for the Permanent Secretary to start thinking about how we would make that work, so that if that then happened and the party did come in, we were on the front foot and we knew where to go. It can also sometimes be an opportunity for the party concerned to ask some factual questions—about the role of special advisers, for example. We would respond to factual questions. We wouldn't give advice about manifesto issues or anything like that, but we would seek to deal with factual issues. It's kept very tight within the Welsh Government, as well.

Am I right, having spoken with people who've been involved with these in the past, that you would also advise on how realistic the costings indicated by the manifestos are?

Up to a point, Chair. We wouldn't take any ad-hoc requests. It's not our job as civil servants to help any of the parties to actually write their manifestos. But, on the other hand, it's not in the public interest for a party to come into to Government with something that is simply unaffordable. So, it's a bit of a grey area with these things, but if we were asked the direct question, 'We think we want to do this, is that affordable?', then we might. If it was way off the park, we might want to say, 'You'll want to think carefully about this'. Another question is, 'Would we need primary legislation to do this?' That's a factual question, and if that was put to us, we would respond to it like that, but we wouldn't volunteer advice.


As you paint the picture, this has become a convention for this process to be followed, or at least offered. Is there any formal guidance in relation to this?

Only the guidance that is in the UK Cabinet manual, which is pretty succinct, and the letter that would go to the parties concerned would set out the parameters for it.

Thank you. We note that, when negotiating the coalition agreement in 2000, the Liberal Democrats were granted informal access to officials to obtain advice on their policy proposals. In the absence of guidance, how does the convention you describe, the guidance of the UK Cabinet Office and the letter differentiate between formal and informal access in practice?

It's a slightly different situation, I think, where there are coalition talks going on, which, I believe, took place after the election result on those terms. So, I think there's a different thing once the—

Yes. So, it's a different thing once there's been an election. What happened on that occasion is that I believe we had a single senior official who was, with the agreement of the First Minister—and that bit's important—offered to sit in on those conversations, not to take part in them and certainly not to offer any active advice, but to be there to help deal with any factual issues about what might be feasible, like costings, and to help the coalition reach an agreement. So, that was very much that individual. It was quite strange, because he would be in these talks and then he would sometimes pop out and say, 'They're thinking of doing this, is this going to work?' and that stuff, and we'd give him a view on a confidential basis and he'd go back in. I know that, certainly, the Scottish Government have had similar involvement in coalition discussions and I believe that the UK Government have done the same thing in the past, as well. And the UK Cabinet manual does set out those procedures in some detail.

Thank you. You've indicated that a letter goes to the party leaders as part of the now-established convention. We note that, in the run-up to the 2007 elections in Wales, the then Permanent Secretary wrote to all the party leaders offering meetings on matters of emerging policy. What frames those types of access talks?

I was around at that time, Chair, but I can't immediately recall that letter, so I don't think I can comment on that one. I would be surprised if it was intended to be anything other than the normal access talks in the way that it was written. We do have to be very careful, of course, as civil servants, to scrupulously abide by the civil service code about impartiality and not getting drawn into political issues. So, we would be very, very careful about not looking as if we were advising parties on putting their proposals together.

Similar letters were sent. Whether they contained that phrase, I would have to go back and check.

And a final question from me at this point: how does the Welsh Government ensure that civil servants themselves understand what is permitted, particularly around information sharing? And what, if any, benefit does the Welsh Government see in establishing guidance around pre-election contact with the opposition parties?

The pre-election talks themselves, as you would expect, are kept very tight. It would be the Permanent Secretary and a very small number of officials around them. Most of the Welsh Government civil service would have no involvement and need to have no involvement. We would tell staff when the First Minister has authorised the Permanent Secretary to open those pre-election talks. A note would go to staff, which would include saying that that has been done. But we wouldn't give any more information to staff about pre-election contacts. In terms of more general pre-election contacts, we will deal with that in the pre-election guidance, which will go out to all staff, and that will set out in detail how contacts with Members of other parties should be dealt with during the election period. Even for a general election, we will issue the guidance I spoke about earlier, and that will cover that as well.


Thank you. You have made a number of references to the UK Government Cabinet manual. I believe Adam Price has some questions for you on this. 

Thank you very much, Chair. Bore da. If I understand you correctly, then, there isn't a Welsh Cabinet manual.

No, there's not, although, if I may, one of the things I was going to say in my introduction and left out is that we do have what we call a 'Cabinet handbook', which is an internal document, which is produced mostly for new Ministers, and which is a kind of guide to the way that the Cabinet office runs, the sort of support that new Ministers can expect and part of their responsibilities, and the kind of mechanics of being a Minister. As I say, that's an internal document for us, but it does cover some of the area that the UK Cabinet manual covers as well. 

Some of the information is sensitive, because it includes stuff about security arrangements for Ministers and the arrangements put in place to help around them. Most of the rest of it is either stuff that is already in the public domain or information that is important if you're a Minister but not—. I'm trying not to say 'not hugely exciting'—I don't mean that at all. But some nuts and bolts of being a Minister. And we have just simply always treated it as one of our internal documents. So, if it were to go into the public domain, it's essentially—. In the end, it's a document owned by the First Minister, since it's his handbook for advice for his Cabinet. So, we would need his agreement if it were to be released into the public domain.

Would it be possible for this committee, given the usual assurances in our dealing with confidential information, as we often do, to see a copy of that Cabinet handbook? 

I would need to go back and check with the First Minister, if I may, please, if he's content with that. And we would probably need to redact the security arrangements. Much as I have respect for this committee, I am even more scared of our head of security, Chair, and she will have views on what can go into it. The rest of it I suspect the committee would not even find surprising, but I would need to go back and seek the agreement of the First Minister, if I may. 

One of the purposes of the UK Government's Cabinet manual was to increase transparency by, and I quote, 'shedding light on the inner workings of Government'. Would you accept, given what you have just said in terms of the Cabinet handbook, that we have less transparency in terms of the inner workings of Government in Wales as a result of the handbook not being published?

I don't think I'd accept such a broad statement as that, if I may, because I think while we don't have the equivalent of the UK Cabinet manual, there are a number of other documents, some of which aren't produced by the Welsh Government. Because a lot of what's in the UK Cabinet manual isn't about what the UK Government does at all; it's about Parliament and the Privy Council and the church and stuff. But people like the Commission publish documents. So, the information is there in other places. And I also think that, in other ways, there is a lot of transparency about the way that the Welsh Government and business in Wales is conducted. So, I don't think that I could accept the suggestion that there is less transparency in Wales than in England.


You said that you—and, presumably, the other senior civil servants—use the UK Cabinet manual, you refer to it a lot. Would it be correct to say that the Welsh Cabinet handbook reflects many of the provisions of the UK Cabinet manual? Or, if not, are there significant areas where it substantively departs from them? 

It's more limited in scope. I mean, 'no' is the basic answer, but not because we have lifted stuff from the UK Cabinet manual. In many ways, Governments just operate in the same way. So, what we have done with the UK Cabinet manual—. If I may, Chair, I'm looking at the body language of my colleague Matt here to make sure that I'm not saying anything wrong, and I hope that Matt will correct me if I do. Governments, usually, across the UK operate in the same way, in many ways.

So, we haven't lifted what's in the UK Cabinet manual and cut and pasted it into our guidance, but it covers similar areas: 'This is the way that Cabinet committees work. This is the way that the Cabinet works. These are the requirements on freedom of information. This is the requirement on collective responsibility. This is what the ministerial code is. This is what the accounting officer is. This is what your private office is there to do for you.' So, it's the same sort of nuts and bolts issues, but not because we have cut and pasted it. Can I just turn to Matt, if I may? 

Absolutely. I agree with you, David. Yes, there are areas of commonality between the two. David said at the start, in terms of when he's reflected on the UK Government version, that there are elements that are simply not in the Welsh Government version, but they tend to be around the broader things like the role of the sovereign, general elections, Government formation, the role of—. Well, they have the role of the Prime Minister, clearly.

What I would say in relation to the Welsh Government Cabinet handbook is that it is very much seen as a 'how to' guide, I guess, including for new Ministers or Cabinet Secretaries. It does, therefore, set out a lot of the things that would be in the UK Government manual—I'm being careful to use the right terms for each—as David has suggested, around things like the role of the Cabinet, collective decision making, the policy-making cycle.

It's quite common, particularly for new Cabinet Secretaries or Ministers, to benefit from an explanation of how the Welsh Government works, the key roles in the Welsh Government. So, that's in there as well; that's a similarity with the UK Government manual. So, I would say that there are differences, but at its core, we would cover the same technical or 'how to do the job' information in our handbook that is covered in the UK Government Cabinet manual.

Thank you for that. So, we have a more limited document, which is not published but internal. Then, there are other sets of guidance documents or policies in relation to specific areas outside of the handbook, presumably because you don't have the compendium that the wider UK Cabinet manual represents, in your words.

Anything that's directly relevant to a Minister going about their business we have tried to put in the Cabinet handbook, because that's what it's for. In terms of guidance, there is the ministerial code and the civil service code, and we reference those, of course, in the Cabinet handbook, as you would expect.

In terms of the way that the Cabinet operates itself, there is not much else in the way of guidance. Matt will correct me if I'm wrong. The UK Cabinet manual is often descriptive. It's not actually giving guidance. It's saying, 'This is the way that the system works. This is the way that Parliament raises taxes. This is the way that Parliament votes money and gives it to the Government'. That kind of description of the way the system works is available. I think much of it is on the Commission website, rather than ours.

I think what the UK Cabinet manual does is pull together all of that stuff in a way that, I think, Gus O'Donnell, when he was presenting the Cabinet manual, the former Permanent Secretary, said was a snapshot from the point of view of the UK Government. I'm not aware of a document in Wales that actually pulls all of that material together in the same way, but some of those areas aren't really the responsibility of the Welsh Government.


Let's delve a little bit deeper into the similarities and differences between the Cabinet manual and the Cabinet handbook, and also the relationship of the handbook to other processes, procedures and policies, and look at one particular area, which is covered in section 11.22 of the UK manual. I know you'll know exactly what I'm referring to—maybe not. It's the area that covers leaks of information. It says:

'In the event of an unauthorised disclosure or leak of information, there are established procedures on how to investigate the incident or incidents and appropriate action to take.'

Then it goes on to reference a further document with greater detail in this area. Presumably, this is covered also in the Cabinet handbook, because the First Minister, in answering a question this week at First Minister's questions in relation to the sacking of the former Deputy Minister Hannah Blythyn, said that he acted in accordance with the ministerial code, and also with the Government Cabinet handbook. So, the issue of unauthorised disclosure or leaks is covered in the Cabinet handbook.

I'll check with Matt for confirmation here. I know there's a section in the Cabinet handbook that talks about the management of information more generally, and I think it covers that as well, Matt.

There is a section that covers the management of information more generally, around information security. In terms of whether or not the handbook covers the specific subject you've mentioned in terms of leaks, I would need to check it again, to be quite honest with you.

There is guidance, and I think the ministerial code has reference to it. 

The established procedures are set out in some greater detail in the documents referenced in the UK Cabinet manual. What are the established procedures in the case of the Welsh Government in terms of unauthorised disclosures or leaks of information, and where are they set out? Where could I find them?

I don't feel confident enough to be able to answer the last bit of that question—where they would be set out and where we'd find them—so I'd need to take that one away, Chair, if I may, please. It's up to the First Minister how he wants to deal with things if there is a leak. We have procedures for establishing and conducting a formal leak inquiry, which will be led by the head of security. In terms of the recent issues, I don't think that I can make any comments on that, for two reasons, please. One is that it's a sensitive current issue, and the other thing is that I was on holiday while it was all happening, so I really wasn't very close to it at all.

I don't think that the issue of sensitivity—. I don't understand the issue of sensitivity. It's certainly within the remit of this committee to ask questions in relation to leak inquiries—we've already established that. A predecessor committee had extensive engagement with the Welsh Government on this very point, and it was established that we have the capacity to ask questions in relation to leak inquiries, and in a much more sensitive context, I hasten to add, than the one we're discussing now. But can I put the same question, then, to the—? Well, let's look at the specifics—so, the formal commissioning of a leak inquiry. To your knowledge—and this is a question to all three of you—was a formal leak inquiry commissioned in the case of the former Deputy Minister, Hannah Blythyn? If you don't know, it's okay for the three of you to say that you have no knowledge as to whether a formal leak inquiry was commissioned.


And the same answer from me. 

So, Mr Richards, you are the director of propriety and ethics of the Welsh Government. Forgive me in my simplicity here, but I would have expected the director of propriety and ethics at least to have knowledge of this matter. Are you saying that the only reason you don't have knowledge is that you were on holiday at the time? Would you normally be involved, or at least aware of a formal inquiry being commissioned?

I would normally expect to be aware of a leak inquiry, but I would not expect to have any active involvement in it. Where a leak inquiry is initiated, that's conducted by the head of security, as I was saying, and there is a set process for doing those leak inquiries. I would normally pick up that it was going on, but that would be just in my role as part of the Permanent Secretary's senior team. I was walking in the hills of Spain at the time.

Can I go back a few years to a problem we did have when we had a leak inquiry? There's a difference, isn't there, between a briefing and a leak. Senior advisers and senior special advisers are able to brief the media, which doesn't count as a leak, even though they're providing exactly the same information.

I think I'm getting outside the level of my competence on this subject, Chair. 

Can I just ask you to clarify? I think I heard correctly that you're not aware of a set process for leak inquiries. Is there a formal process?

There is a set process for leak inquiries. The question, as I understood it, was whether a formal leak inquiry was commissioned in the recent circumstances, and I think what we—

It's nothing to do with the recent circumstances for me. I'm going back several years to the very sad events relating to Carl Sargeant, Jack Sargeant's father. Going back to those events, which are definitely history, unfortunately, the point I was trying to make was that information is provided to the media at briefings by senior civil servants and/or special advisers. How do you distinguish between a briefing and a leak?

I think the answer to that—and again, we are talking in generic terms here—is that a leak is generally an unauthorised disclosure of confidential information, which either the First Minister or other officials haven't authorised to be released, and which is confidential information. A briefing, which is actually authorised by Ministers, I think is a different matter.

So it isn't a leak if the First Minister releases it. I'm again going back to a previous event, which was a very sad event for many of us, but if it's authorised by the First Minister, it is not a leak. 

I too was around in those sad events, and was very involved throughout, and they were very distressing. But I don't think I can comment on particular interests. If you'll allow me, Chair, I don't think I can sign up to generic statements about what is and what isn't a leak in this area, not without doing some research and talking to my colleagues and coming back to the committee with a more authoritative view. 

Please could you come back to us? Because it's a matter that still interests many of us, whether it's a leak or an authorised disclosure.

The other point I was going to make was around the dangers we now have with using ICT and the ability to manipulate ICT. You could leak something from here today, even though it's in public, and that could then be used in pictures, used in altered text, to show me in a very poor light. And that's the problem we have. Just think of Horizon, where people relied totally on ICT providing correct information and it didn't. Do you have any concerns about that?

Loads, if I might say so, Chair. Yes, I think these latest developments in AI technology have lots of opportunities, but lots of challenges in this field, and I know that the Permanent Secretary and my colleagues in ICT and security staff are particularly active in thinking and talking within Government about what these developments might mean for the safe management of information, and what safeguards we can put in place to minimise the risk as much as we can. 


Finally from me, we are well aware, because an American actress highlighted it, it's very easy to use AI to copy somebody's tone and method of speaking. That itself could be used against somebody when they had nothing to do with the event in question, but AI is now being used to make it appear as if it was them. I know that it's used for advertising and used in the voice of an actress, but exactly the same thing can happen in politics, can't it? 

Yes, and I suspect we're only seeing the beginning of the possibilities of what might happen. So, it's really important, I think, for everybody involved in Government that the cleverest minds we've got in this technology area are diverted to actually what we're going to do minimise the risks of this as it develops. 

If I build on Mike Hedges's set of questions, really, which I think is about understanding the nature of information and whether confidentiality applies to it—. Government documents—and I had some experience of this during the co-operation agreement—are generally marked, aren't they, with different levels of confidentiality. So, you have official, sensitive—or maybe you could just walk me through that—so you're clear that you're dealing with different categories of information. Could you just describe that for us?

A few years ago, we used to have three categories for documents. We've pretty much taken that down to a single category, mostly which would be official sensitive for something. 

Right, okay. So, an unauthorised disclosure would consist of either the disclosure of the actual document itself, and then it's fairly clear, isn't it, or disclosing the information that's contained within the document, presumably in another format. I know that you don't want to stray into the detail of this particular case, but I'm using it as an example to ask a general question. So, we know the Cabinet Secretary for Education, in response to a question by Tom Giffard on 8 May, said that the material in question at the heart of this particular case was a group chat following a—. It was a Labour group chat. Am I right in thinking that wouldn't constitute official information? It's not marked as official information; it doesn't come from within Government. I'm asking you a general question. A group chat within a political group, not a Government group chat but a party group, that wouldn't constitute official information for the purposes of the policies and procedures of the Welsh Government. 

It's not an area I'm an expert on. My understanding, though, is that it would depend on what the nature of the chat is. So, the issue is the content of the conversation, rather than the media through which it is carried out. So, if Rachel and I were to have private e-mail exchanges on our personal private e-mail that was talking about the responses we might make to this committee, that would actually count as official information because we were dealing with official business, even though it was actually using our private e-mails. So, it depends on the content.

So, it would be legitimate under some circumstances for public resources, the use of a civil servant in most cases, the head of security, to investigate the sharing of information that was not in a Government context, so a minute of the Labour Party group meeting, for example, to take it away from this particular case. If that was shared by a Minister, you could have a civil servant investigating that, even though it didn't actually directly relate to Government information.

I think I'd need to go and get some advice on the answer to that, if I may. I'm sorry to be unhelpful to the committee, but I wouldn't like to commit myself to a statement like that without actually getting some careful advice, because it's a bit of a minefield in the way this works.


It's a complex area, I think we can agree on that, but we'd be very grateful to receive that further advice from you, and some clarity, in this decidedly grey area. Could I just ask, you chair the whistleblowing panel?

Yes. So, the UK Government manual has some extensive information on whistleblowing. Well, it refers, actually—I apologise. The section on leak inquiries does reference the section of the civil service directory that covers whistleblowing, which, among other things, says that civil servants who leak information, where there is a failure to comply with a legal duty at the heart of their reason for leaking it, are covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Are Ministers covered by whistleblowing, if they believe that a legal duty hasn't been complied with, and that's their rationale for sharing information Would they be able to rely on whistleblowing provisions?

My understanding of the way that the legislation works is that it applies to employees of the organisation, and Ministers are not classed as employees as such, so I don't think that the whistleblowing legislation would apply to them. But one should also bear in mind that, basically, what the whistleblowing legislation does is protect an employee from being discriminated against as a result of whistleblowing. It doesn't mean that people can't raise concerns, whatever the issues are, but for it to be classed legally as a whistleblower, you have to be an employee of the organisation.

Just in terms of the ministerial code, you generally are directly involved, I think, in investigations and, indeed, in the case of Dawn Bowden, your report was published. Did you provide any advice to the First Minister in relation to a breach of the code by Hannah Blythyn?

I don't really think that I can—. I'm so sorry to be unhelpful, Chair and Mr Price, but I don't think I can get drawn into talking about, you know, even whether advice was given in particular instances, much less what the content of that advice was. As for me personally, I wasn't even in the country at the time, so I'm unaware of what advice might have gone to the First Minister, but I couldn't really talk about it here.

Let's ask a very focused factual question, then: was a report provided on any breach of the ministerial code by Hannah Blythyn?

I'm not aware of any report that was provided, but I have not seen all the papers on instances, and I haven't been privy to all the discussions.

One would expect, though, as director of propriety and ethics, it would be fairly extraordinary if you were not aware whether a report had been produced on the ministerial code.

Not necessarily, if this was being done at a ministerial level and if it was felt there wasn't a need for me to be involved, then I wouldn't be involved.

Could I ask you, then, about your advice to the former First Minister that Vaughan Gething had not broken the ministerial code? That's in the public domain that such advice was provided. Was that advice provided by you in writing?

I'm smiling, Chair, because I was on holiday then, at the time—but I'm not always on holiday, can I assure the committee—and, actually, I did deal with that one, even though I was on holiday, and dealt with that by telephone. So, the advice was provided in writing on my behalf by my colleague, but it reflected my view.

The decision to publish, is that a decision now—? It would've been a decision by the former First Minister, but it now falls to the First Minister himself to decide whether to publish that.

It would be a matter for the current First Minister. We have had a freedom of information request for the reporting, which we have—. I'm not quite sure where it's got to, but I think we have already declined the request to publish that information.


In providing the advice that you gave that was subsequently written up by a colleague, did you have all the information relevant to this case that is now in the public domain, for example the extent of the donations and the loan by the Development Bank of Wales? 

I was certainly aware of the loan by the Development Bank of Wales. I gave the advice on the basis of the information that was available to me. The information appeared to me to be sufficient on the basis I gave the advice.

Finally, there is a reference in the UK Cabinet manual to political Cabinet meetings, which I'll sort of paraphrase or summarise here, but essentially meetings that are without officials, and the conclusions—the discussions are not necessarily minuted, and it is permissible in those meetings to discuss party-political matters, and that's the reason, then, for the exclusion of civil service officials. Does an equivalent exist in the case of the Welsh Government? Are there political Cabinet meetings that also exclude officials, in the way that I've described, to discuss party-political matters?

Rachel and Matt are much closer to it than I am, but 'yes' I think is the answer.

Yes, there are, and as you've, kind of, set out, they are two distinct entities, so there is a Cabinet and there is a political Cabinet, and as you've described, a civil servant would not be in the political Cabinet; they are held very clearly as separate meetings.

Well, we're in a new period with a new First Minister now, so, generally, as and when required. So, you'd have a normal Cabinet, and if that required a political discussion, as you said, civil servants leave for that discussion. So, it's as and when required.

Physically, are they held always in Cathays Park? Are they sometimes held here, in this building?

They have all been held at Cathays Park in recent years, but they could be held anywhere. That's at the discretion of the First Minister.

Given the decision by the remuneration board in its determination that no Senedd resources, including the buildings themselves, can be used for party-political purposes, and that has been underlined on several occasions to party groups, how are political Cabinets discussing party-political issues in, ultimately—? I know that there's an arrangement between the Senedd Commission and the Government in relation to the offices here, but how is it consistent with the ruling or the determination on the use of Senedd resources for party-political purposes?

I'm not familiar with that resolution, so unless my colleagues do, I don't know the answer on how that fits with the Commission, but we can certainly discuss with the Commission. I do know that the ministerial code says that whilst Ministers must keep their constituent and political roles separate from the ministerial roles, in practice there's bound to be a bit of overlap in just using facilities, so just for practical terms for Ministers, so that it's okay for a Minister to hold a constituency meeting in the middle of a busy day in his office if that's the only space. That's right, isn't it, Matt? Yes. Thank you. Good.

So, it would kind of be—. My understanding is that political Cabinets will often follow on from formal Cabinets, since Ministers are there, and at that point officials would leave and it would be kind of unrealistic for the whole Cabinet to troop out of the fifth floor to get a mini bus up to Cathays Park for the purposes of then carrying on with their meeting. But I don't know the answer to how that might work with the Commission, so we'll have to take that one away as well, please, Chair.

For clarity, I think it's a remuneration board policy, which I think the accounting officer of the Senedd is responsible for carrying out. It's not a Senedd Commission role. I speak as a Senedd Commissioner, so I should get that bit right, anyway.


We speak to the clerk regularly, so we can pursue it.

Thank you very much indeed, Adam. Mike Hedges, I believe you have some questions.

Yes, I do. I'm now unmuted. Has the Welsh Government considered developing a Cabinet manual for Wales?

As we were saying to Mr Price a little earlier, I think there is stuff in the Cabinet manual that is quite useful, but some of it appears in other areas, in other guidance that we publish, or appears in our internal Cabinet handbook. Some of what's in the UK Cabinet manual isn't within our responsibility as the Welsh Government. The other factor is that clearly it was a lot of work for the UK Government, and I'm not sure we have the space and the time at the moment to take on that role and to draft it. Having said that, as we've said in our earlier discussions, we always have an open mind to look at how we can be more transparent about the way Government runs and works, so we can take that away and think about it.

I've listened carefully to what you've had to say. Couldn't you just delete the parts that don't apply to Wales and add those parts that you already mentioned that do apply to Wales in other documents, to actually produce a comprehensive Welsh document?

I think there's very little in the UK Cabinet manual that we could just lift and cut and paste. It's similar, but there's pretty much nothing, apart from the access talks, where we have just lifted what's in the UK Cabinet manual. Setting that aside, I don't think there is anything in there that we could just cut and paste and say, 'This is ours.' And if we tried to do it, it wouldn't be a very good product. If we were going to do this, then I think you have to start from what's the point of producing an equivalent of the UK Cabinet manual. Who is going to be helped by this? Will it help the Ministers? Will it help the Welsh Government? Form follows function and all that. And then you'd start to write it.

I think you've just convinced me that you need a Welsh Government Cabinet manual. I'm convinced of it that you can't copy. Parts of the Westminster one don't fully apply to Wales—I think you said that earlier; if I've got it wrong, please correct me—which is then followed by that you can't just lift and copy it because there are variations. Surely that's a really good argument you're making for having a Welsh Government Cabinet manual.

If I may, not having a Cabinet manual doesn't mean that there is a vacuum of guidance in the Welsh Government for these issues. It's simply not brought together in the same form. As Matt was saying earlier, we have the Cabinet handbook available for Ministers, which gives them the information that they need about what happens in Wales and in the Cabinet, which is the equivalent of much of the stuff that is in the UK Cabinet manual, but it's tailored for the Welsh services for Ministers. I wouldn't want the committee to feel that there is a kind of information gap here, although I appreciate the committee might feel that there is a kind of transparency gap here in terms of making this information available. But it's not as if we're flying by the seat of our pants.

I may have got this wrong, but the information does exist, you can't use what the Westminster Government have got, it exists in lots of different places, but you don't think putting it all together in one place is a good idea.

Most of the relevant stuff—in fact, all of the relevant stuff, I think—for helping Ministers to operate as effective Ministers is there in our internal Cabinet manual. The stuff in the Cabinet manual about things like the way that Parliament works, and the committees of Parliament, and the way that revenue is collected, and the way that Parliament interacts with the sovereign, the work of the Privy Council, the work of the established church, isn't relevant here. So, I would need to be sure what the added advantage is of seeking to produce a document like that. The UK Cabinet Office also had all this material to hand beforehand, but it took them nearly two years to produce their Cabinet manual.


To be relevant, wherever the Cabinet manual sits, to what extent would this need to be a living document? I believe that the current UK document was published in 2010 and hasn't had material changes since, although we have an evolving constitution and all the indications are that that process will continue, which impacts on the way Governments work, both internally and in the context of external bodies. In the context of the UK, but also in the context of the procedures and conventions established already within the Welsh Government, what provision is there for that necessity to change and evolve to be incorporated?

May I pass that one to my colleagues?

The Cabinet handbook that we have in Wales has been more recently updated than the UK Cabinet manual that you've just made reference to. You've made reference to a living document, and that would certainly be my view of the Cabinet handbook as well. It does need to be kept up to date and it is regularly reviewed and refreshed. So, it is more of a living document in the way you described than certainly the published version of the UK manual is, because I agree with you, it does date back a number of years, doesn't it?

One other thought before I bring Peter Fox in. Given the earlier discussion with Adam Price around leaks, information and whistleblowing—and you may not be able to comment, but this is in very general terms, with no specific party or Government in mind—to what extent do you think the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility would impact on or override the processes in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, the role of the Information Commissioner or otherwise?

The legislation always has priority. So, whatever is in legislation about the provision of information, that is the law and Ministers must abide by the law, and we must abide by the law. So, nothing would override that. But, subject to that, I think the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility is very clear in the ministerial codes of all the Governments. So, I think that would be a practice that would be accepted. 

Thank you, Chairman. I just wondered if you could help us understand the roles and responsibilities of the civil servants within the Cabinet office.

I have experts on either side of me, Chair. I'll defer to them, if I may. 

An official who works in the Cabinet office would be an equivalent of a civil servant who works in any other part of the Welsh Government civil service and so is bound by the civil service code in exactly the same way. There is a difference between the Cabinet office and the cabinet division. I'm head of the cabinet division, I'm not head of the Cabinet office, but essentially what the Cabinet office would be responsible for—. There are a number of key functions that they perform, one of which would of course be to make sure that the running of the Cabinet business and Senedd business et cetera is co-ordinated. They also take forward a role of strategic oversight of Cabinet delivery. So, in our context in Wales, it would be the programme for government. The aligning of Cabinet papers, making sure there's a forward look of Cabinet papers, is something that the Cabinet office would do. So, they work very closely with other parts of the organisation, including senior officials within departments, to get that forward look of Cabinet business that the Cabinet itself then needs to consider. So, it's very much a strategic role that tries to help co-ordinate delivery on behalf of the Cabinet, and it does that on the collective basis of Cabinet, which we've touched upon briefly. 

The only thing I'd add to that is that they also have the role of oversight and monitoring the delivery of national milestones. So, in addition to the programme for government, the forward look for Plenary and Cabinet, they'd have that role of monitoring and reporting back against milestones. 


You have to convert the Government's manifesto into the programme of work, I suppose, so you've got to get quite close to the manifesto to know how to interpret what the Government are wanting, to be able to then advise or co-ordinate what work goes forward.

Yes, indeed. Our job is to serve the Government of the day, whoever they are, as civil servants. So, as soon as the Government is in power, then our job is to help them to deliver their manifesto, and that means helping to advise them on how you translate what's in the manifesto into a meaningful programme for action and then setting the targets and the milestones and the allocations of budget. That work is perfectly legitimate work of the civil service to help the Government of the day, once they're the Government of the day, to deliver what they want to do.

And then there are very clear lines, I suppose, of where you can go from advice, because I suppose it's very easy when it's—. As a past leader of a council, I know that my relationship with officers was very close—it's a very fine line that you can't cross in giving advice, but being supportive. I suppose there's a dilemma or a very clear line that civil servants have to operate to within that regime, I suppose.

There's a clear line. We are bound by the civil service code and those four values of honesty, objectivity, integrity and impartiality. So, there is a political line that we wouldn't cross. Ministers know where that line is and they respect it. The thing that works really well in this sphere is special advisers, because special advisers are civil servants, but they are a special kind of civil servant, and they can do some things that the rest of us as civil servants can't do, which is to be involved in those party-political issues and discussions. And they can't do things that some of the rest of us as civil servants can do: they can't manage budgets, they can't manage staff. So, they're the kind of bridge between the political angles of Ministers and the world of the officials. And it's a really good system—it works very well to make this thing work.

Yes, they're the glue, really, the conduit that links it all together. I see it. Thank you for that. I wonder if you could perhaps give us a view on why the First Minister decided to establish a new Cabinet office role within the ministerial team. How will that actually support the First Minister and the Cabinet to deliver their strategic priorities?

Yes, I can begin. That was in the list of ministerial responsibilities, as you say. So, we have a Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Cabinet Office. I think, to be honest, we're still in the middle of discussions on how that will happen in practice, but the Cab Sec, obviously, is meeting regularly with the Cabinet office and will have a key role in looking at that forward work programme that we discussed of Cabinet business and agreeing how that fits with the programme for government. So, we're in the middle of those discussions—in early stages of ministerial responsibilities.

So, over the history of the Senedd and the Assembly, there was never that role before—it's evolving, is it?

Yes, and it's quite a new one to have that specifically mentioned in ministerial responsibilities. 

I wonder what mechanisms there may be available to the Senedd to scrutinise the effectiveness of the Cabinet office in supporting the First Minister and the Cabinet to deliver those strategic priorities. In light of it being a new role, has some thought been given to how scrutiny should take place?

There are already, I think, regular questions to the Cabinet Secretary. There have already been some questions and written questions about that—so, I think, normal scrutiny of that role and how the programme for government is delivered. 

It's going to be a challenge though, knowing what questions to ask, until we understand the role of that position, really. I suppose that's what we're trying to understand more about. But I'm conscious that—. I take the position—it's evolving and perhaps it'll become clearer over time and we'll need to probe the Cabinet Secretary directly, perhaps, on how she understands the role. But thank you, Chair; I think I've covered my points.


I'd like to return, actually, to some of the matters that I've raised. I've had some time to consider some of the responses, and I'd like to save time, really, by not having to write to you all with a whole host of follow-up questions, so if we're able to take matters a little bit further now, that would be very, very useful.

So, in relation to the alleged leaking that we've talked about in the case of the former Deputy Minister, I understand the three of you have said now on the record that you have no knowledge as to whether a formal leak inquiry has been commissioned by the Welsh Government. Yes? That's my understanding of your evidence.

I think the wording we use is that we weren't aware of a leak inquiry. 

The three of you now—you're not aware at this point as to whether a formal leak inquiry was commissioned.

The answer—. I would just like to use the phrase I used earlier, please. I think we were not aware of a formal leak inquiry being commissioned.

I think we can come back to committee in writing on this sensitive issue that's live at the moment. We will come back to—

It's a factual question. The answer is either you are aware that a formal leak inquiry was commissioned, or you are not aware. That is the question that I'm putting to you.

It's a factual question, but, if I may, Chair, it's on a kind of very sensitive and live issue and we're in a pre-election period, and I would rather give my answer in writing, please.

I'm afraid—I've checked the pre-election guidance; the pre-election guidance is about impartiality, and it actually places a duty upon you to provide factual answers to factual questions, so it goes in a different direction, I would contend. Is your evidence to the committee that you are refusing to tell this committee whether a formal leak inquiry has been commissioned?

My evidence to the committee is that I feel I could serve the committee best by writing to the committee with a considered response, rather than trying to deal with it in this session.

Can I ask you a further set of questions, then, given that you're not prepared to tell us whether a formal leak inquiry—? I take it, and I have to say that my assumption now is that you do have knowledge as to whether a formal leak inquiry has been commissioned. My question that I would like to put to you now is a different question, though, so let's leave that ambiguous for the time being. Are you aware as to whether an analysis using Government resources—put aside the question of whether a formal leak inquiry has been commissioned—whether Government resources have been used to conduct a forensic analysis of ministerial phones, personal phones, Senedd-supplied phones, server traffic and any other form of telecommunications equipment? Are you able to tell the committee whether you know if Government resources have been used to conduct that type of analysis?

I think I'd like to cover that in my letter as well. I'm sorry to be unhelpful, Chair. For a technical briefing on the UK Cabinet manual, I don't think we came prepared to deal with such detailed questions about recent matters to which I would feel far more comfortable being able to give a considered response in writing.

It would appear to be a request for just factual information, but in your written response, will you be able to give factual answers to those specific questions without commenting on the subject matter of the inquiry?

Can you in that factual information also tell the committee whether the results of that forensic analysis revealed IP addresses as part of the outcome of the inquiry?

Can I just, then, return to the other matter that we've touched upon, which is the ministerial code report that you were involved in in relation to the current First Minister. My understanding of what you said, Mr Richards, was that you knew much of what is in the public domain in relation to the donations and the Development Bank of Wales loan. What I'm not clear on yet, and I'd be very grateful if you could clarify this, is whether there's anything that is now in the public domain that you weren't aware of when you provided that advice that was summarised in the report.


I'm not aware of anything in the public domain that I would consider to be relevant to the advice that I gave at the time, or to put that in another way, if I was asked today to give my advice on it in the light of whatever was in the public domain, I think that I would give the same advice.

Right. So, there are pieces of information that are now in the public domain that you weren't aware of, but they would have no bearing on your advice.

I have not seen anything that would cause me to change my advice.

Thank you very much. Perhaps, again, in your written response, in terms of the question asked in relation to whether an inquiry would incorporate looking at Members' private communications, even if you can't specify in this case whether such an inquiry could or would be expected to include such investigations within them—.

Peter Fox alluded or referred specifically to his experience as a county council leader and the relationship he had with his senior officers. Of course, in a local authority setting, as you know, the officers are serving both the executive and the whole council, which was the case when I first arrived here in the Assembly, when we were a single corporate body, and Ministers and civil servants used to attend as members of the committee, scrutinising, effectively, themselves. Here, now, we have formal separation of power and have had for 17 years. How beneficial operationally has that, that change of working, been to the effective governance of Wales?

I can only give you a personal view on that one, if I may, Chair. If there's a Welsh Government position on this, I'm not sure, but my perception, having been around before devolution, and it was a genuine privilege, being part of the team helping to advise and set up the devolution arrangements and then seeing them through, it was getting unmanageable, in the original model, which was a local authority model for devolution. I think we had underestimated the extent to which the Executive had a policy agenda to pursue that was much more strategic, rather than the service-orientated approach that you get with a local authority. The business of a Government is different from the business of a local authority. I'm not saying it's more important—services are important—but it is different. I think it was felt—the legislation went through, so Parliament must have felt it as well—that the model actually wasn't working, given the nature of what a Government is.

That's a very long-winded way of saying that I think the only way to work as a Government, wherever you do it in the UK, is to actually have a Government advised by the civil servants of the day and who are accountable to a Senedd that scrutinises them and asks questions. That gives you greater openness and transparency, and, again, and this really isn't party political, but having worked for at the Welsh Office before devolution, and now working for the Welsh Government, and as it was before, the Welsh Assembly, you get a better quality of decision making. Whichever party is in power, the extra transparency, scrutiny and locality to the issues that are going on in Wales mean that the quality of debates and decisions is much more open, is much clearer, and it's just a much better quality than was the case pre devolution. 


Okay, thank you. And the last question I've got, unless any Members have any further thoughts, is following on from a comment, I think, from Rachel Garside-Jones about monitoring and milestones and the roles you take in that. Because this is an issue that comes up frequently in the work of this committee, where concerns are raised, possibly via Audit Wales, over the lack of or failure of monitoring and evaluation to have fulfilled their role in a given matter. As Members know, when we write to Ministers or often raise in the Chamber questions focused on outcomes, we get an answer about outputs, and if it's in writing, the standard answer, which we're all familiar with, is, 'Welsh Government does not collate this information centrally.' So, it would then come to us to have to write to every single health board, every local authority, or whatever, to try and get an overall picture of what's happening across Wales.

And I suspect from your answer that you were confirming the importance of Welsh Government decision making, irrespective of which party is in Government, being based on the facts, not monitoring the outcomes to see whether the goals of Government, the policies and legislation of Government, are being borne out in practice, being implemented, and how effectively that's operating and whether the desired outcomes are being achieved. So, this is a frustration, or certainly it has been a recurrent theme in the work of this committee in its previous roles and currently. How can Government effectively operate without real-time data on the outcomes in order to either say, 'Yes, it's working', 'No, it isn't working', or 'We need to intervene to ensure that it works better'?

I recognise some of those issues and I take those comments on board. It is a key challenge in terms of Government of having the data available and being able to monitor. So, we will continue working with the committee on that and ensure that we get the data we need to be able to monitor and evaluate effectively. So, thank you. 

Well, I would state on a personal basis, for example, I get a huge amount of constituent casework relating to failures to understand or implement the requirements of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014, which is something that this committee has also looked at previously and other committees have also, and all reaching similar conclusions, since the implementation of the Act almost a decade ago. Thank you. Members, do you have any further questions? 

I'll jump in again. In relation to access talks, I remember them well in the run-up to the 2007—indirectly—but is a sitting Government allowed, for example, to commission an analysis by the civil service of the policies of an opposition party? The costings, for example, in a pre-election—not in a pre-election period, but generally.

It's a good question, and I do remember that the issue has come up in the past and I think the answer is that we would not be involved in trying to cost for the Government manifesto proposals, or to comment. That would be for special advisers, rather than ourselves. Is that right? [Interruption.] Yes.

So, if an opposition party, or whatever, decides, 'We want to do X on childcare', and the Government says, 'There's this policy, can you go away and analyse it?', there are no rules around protecting, abuse. So, actually, those costings, then, could be used in evidence against the opposition party, saying it's unaffordable or it's unworkable, or whatever else.

It's a while since I came across this, although it might come up soon, mightn't it? I think, we are bound by the civil service code of impartiality, so if it were the case that a Minister was basically on the hunt for material to use against their political opponents, then that is not something that the civil service would be involved in. That would be something for a special adviser to do. We will give Ministers factual briefings. You know, a Minister is entitled to have a factual note from the civil service, if they ask for a factual note. But something that would, clearly, be for party-political purposes is something that is not for the civil service to do. That would be a special adviser job. 


Okay, thank you for that. I should, actually, re-correct myself, again. The rules, the Senedd rules, I was referring to—it is actually a Commission document. It's the 'Rules and Guidance on the Use of Senedd Resources', which actually bars party-political activity using Senedd resources. I think your approach, which is flexible and reflects the reality of public and political life, is sensible. I'm not arguing against it. What I'm saying is that, if it applies to the Government, then it should apply to party groups, who should also have a degree of latitude, within reasonable limitations, in terms of the ability to have party-political discussions. So, I just want to put that on the record. Thank you. 

I just want to raise something that is a near certainty, that we're going to talk about expanding free school meals to 11 to 16-year-olds, that Plaid Cymru are going to campaign on it at the next election—that's another near certainty—and the Welsh Government will consider it. If they ask for a costing for expanding free school meals to 11 to 16-year-olds now, which is for after the general election, which is a good 18 months before the next Senedd election, what would happen?

I would want to go away and check that I would get this answer right, because, actually, for that sort of question, the first thing I'd want to go away and do is to just re-read the codes, I suppose. I think, if we're asked a factual question from a Minister, then they're entitled to factual information that we'd do. And I think that would apply whether or not we were in the pre-election period or not. If we were asked for information, which was clearly for the purposes of Ministers using it in an election campaign, then I think we would be more careful. But we would certainly stick to facts of information that we're asked to do. As I recall the guidance, and I'll have to check this, I think we would respond to factual requests from other parties during a pre-election period in much the same way, so that all the parties are being treated equally. I think I've got that right, Chair, but I'd better go and check. 

Okay. Mike Hedges, are you content with—? Thank you very much indeed.

If Members have no further questions, that brings our questions to a conclusion. As you'd expect, a draft transcript of this meeting will be sent to you for you to check for accuracy before the final version is published. So, it just falls to me to thank all three of you for being with us this morning, and for addressing our questions. We look forward to receiving the several items you agreed to cover in further correspondence. 

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

So, committee as a whole, at this point, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix), that we resolve to meet in private for the remainder of today's meeting. Are all Members content? I see that Members are content. Therefore, I'd be grateful if we could move into private session. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:49. 

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:49.