22 October 1999

Welsh minister stays put

By Robert Davies

CHRISTINE Gwyther, the Welsh Assemblys beleaguered farm minister, will not resign after being censured by fellow members.

A special meeting of the minority Labour administrations cabinet, which was held immediately after the censure motion, was passed by 30 votes to 27 on Tuesday, decided to cock-a-snook at opposition parties and reaffirm its confidence in Ms Gwyther.

First secretary Alun Michael wrote to Lord Elis Thomas, the assemblys presiding officer, saying he saw no reason why she should resign despite the censure vote against her.

Labours decision to ignore the vote and to tough out a threat by the Conservatives to table a motion of no confidence in Mr Michael, seemed to be working when Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems made it clear they would not support such action.

Ms Gwyther did not speak during the short censure motion debate during which she was described as a "naive apprentice" and "damaged goods". All three opposition leaders attacked the way she had dealt with the crisis in farming and rural Wales and, in particular, with the failed £750,000 Wales-only calf processing scheme. They claimed she should have investigated the possible legal obstacles to the scheme more fully before the assembly voted in favour of it.

"What we are really doing is expressing our lack of confidence in Christine Gwyther, not as a person nor as a hard working assembly member, nor even as a dedicated assembly secretary, but as someone sufficiently competent for the high office she holds," said Lib Dem leader Mike German.

But Mr Michael sprang to her defence claiming she had done absolutely nothing wrong and had worked tirelessly on behalf of Welsh farmers. He then rounded on opposition members for indulging in "inappropriate action" against her.

"If anyone should be censured here it is those individuals who have put small-minded petty politicking above the interests of the assembly itself and the interests of the people of Wales."

Ms Gwyther described the whole exercise as a "complete farce". She insisted she had no reason to quit her job and would stay in the post with the backing of all her Labour colleagues.

Welsh farming leaders, who must continue to work with the vegetarian agriculture secretary, distanced themselves from the censure debate.

Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, said the way Ms Gwyther reacted to the vote was a matter for her conscience. Both he and Hugh Richards, his opposite number in the NFU Wales-Cymru, said they hoped assembly members would now get on with tackling the massive problems faced by Welsh farmers.