Bentley Jennison Report 22 May 2001

Alison Halford:

Further to Richard Edwards’s point, do you agree that we are going down the road of trial by Assembly? Whatever our political persuasion, that is something that I abhor. I was a police officer for 30 years, and it was my job to root out wrongdoing. However, that is not the Assembly’s task. I plead for everybody to give this individual, whatever he has done, the right of being called innocent until he has been found properly guilty. This is not the medium by which it should be done. I gave up my remaining useful years of service and joined the Labour Party to help people and to be fair and just. We are not behaving fairly and justly by continuing with this harassment and witch-hunt. Do you agree that this must stop so that we do not demean ourselves as an Assembly?



The First Minister:

Due to your considerable experience in the police, I cannot improve on your words. Trial by Assembly or trial by media does not serve any useful purpose.



The Presiding Officer:

We have spent half an hour on this statement. I will allow two brief questions from the Government and opposition parties.



Gareth Jones:

I declare an interest as someone who also marked exam papers for the WJEC. I endorse your comments, Rhodri, about that organisation’s valuable and important work.

In these troubled times that, rightly or wrongly, are undermining the good work and reputation of the WJEC—neither you nor I can control that—do you not feel that the National Assembly should ensure constructive discussion with its local government partners responsible for running the WJEC, in order to have a thorough explanation of what is happening, with the overall objective of safeguarding the status, reputation and prosperous future of a body of key importance to education in Wales?



The First Minister:

I accept that. Jane Davidson will make a statement on the future of the Welsh Joint Education Committee. I am not sure of the exact date, but the statement will be made before the summer recess.



Brian Gibbons:

As someone who has not seen the document—to which Ieuan Wyn Jones believes that the dogs in the street have access—I do not think that it would be possible for us to have an informed debate on this subject until the WJEC puts the document in the public domain or confirms that the documents already in circulation are accurate. Do you have any concerns that, were such a debate to take place, it could prejudice a possible legal hearing? If anyone is guilty of criminal fraud in this instance, they should be brought to book before a court of law without any prejudice from the Assembly.



The First Minister:

I agree. I do not see how a debate on the content of the draft, private and confidential Bentley Jennison report—or whatever it is that I and many others have not seen or read—could be held. If anyone has read the report, it is a breach of the terms by which it was drawn up. That makes it difficult for Members of the administration to get involved in this issue. I entirely agree with Brian; you could not hold a debate without risk of prejudice.



Alun Cairns:

If my reading of the First Minister’s statement is accurate, he claims that he cannot take action against the Deputy First Minister because it would prejudice the investigation into his previous actions. Does the First Minister agree that suspension does not imply guilt? If the First Minister continues to bury his head in the sand on this issue, as he has done in the past, he is abdicating the responsibilities placed upon him.



The First Minister:

Perhaps the virtues of consistency have not occurred to Alun. As I have said before, when a Minister chooses people for a Cabinet and then, occasionally, has to terminate or, in this case, consider suspending their service, several factors must be considered. One factor is identifying the interplay between terminating or suspending service and the legal process. That is not my choice. It is the WJEC that has chosen the forensic, or the police route. In doing so, it has placed the matter in the hands of the police. The police must read and digest the documents, and decide what to do next. If they decide to start an investigation into Mike German, as a Minister in the Government, he has said that he would stand down. I have already stated that he would have to do so, regardless of his wishes. We both agree on that. It is at that stage that that would occur. There is no presumption of guilt, even at that stage—



Alun Cairns:

Suspension does not imply guilt.



The Presiding Officer:

Order. You have asked your question, Alun, and the First Minister is answering it.



The First Minister:

However, as I have always said, the important issue is that you cannot contemplate asking someone to step down as a Minister when the documents have only just been supplied to the police, who have not even digested them, let alone decided whether there is merit in the allegations being made and whether to take action on them.

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