Ruling

21074-23 Davies v Nation.Cymru

  • Complaint Summary

    Andrew RT Davies complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Nation.Cymru breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “£5bn rail funding loss for Wales ‘above my pay grade’, says Andrew RT Davies”, published on 2 October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      3rd April 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21074-23 Davies v Nation.Cymru


Summary of complaint

1. Andrew RT Davies complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Nation.Cymru breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “£5bn rail funding loss for Wales ‘above my pay grade’, says Andrew RT Davies”, published on 2 October 2023.

2. The article reported on the complainant’s comments during an interview with BBC Radio Wales, specifically his response to a question on the “HS2 rail project [and] whether this should be treated as an ‘England and Wales’ spend”. The article stated the complainant had “been ridiculed by the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru after saying the issue of Wales losing £5bn rail funding was ‘above [his] pay grade’”. It also included a post on X from Liz Saville Roberts: “’it’s above my pay grade’ says Tory leader in Wales @AndrewRTDavies in response to a question on @BBCRadioWales about #HS2 and his chronic failure to persuade his own party to give Wales our missing £5 billion. Sycophantic. The general election will be a reckoning”. Further to this, the article stated, “it appears that Mr Davies has retreated from the stance he adopted when delivering a speech at the Welsh Conservative conference in Newtown in May 2022, when he said his party was “making the case that Wales should receive its fair share of HS2 spending”.

3. The complainant said the article breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) as he considered it inaccurately reported that he had said that HS2 being classified as an England and Wales project, rather than just England, was “above [his] pay grade”. The complainant said the article was significantly different from what he said during the BBC Radio Wales interview, which was as follows:

Interviewer: Ok just to touch on briefly, lots of focus on what the Prime Minister might or might not announce on HS2. Expectation is that the leg from Birmingham to Manchester might well be scrapped. You as Conservatives in the Senedd are already calling for Wales to get what people say is a fair share of spending on HS2 because its England project in terms of the track being laid but classified as England and Wales by the Treasury. So, no extra cash for Wales because of that. If that leg doesn’t go ahead, it makes that argument even stronger doesn’t it that Wales should be getting some money from HS2.

Complainant: Well we have made the case time and time again that Wales should get the consequentials from HS2. It’s above my pay grade whether the second leg of HS2 should go to Manchester. That’s a live discussion. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have obviously committed to making that decision and making that announcement as soon as they can. Let’s not forget that only two weeks ago the UK Government stood shoulder to shoulder with the steel industry and delivered £500 million to support Tata Steel transition to green steel in Port Talbot securing tens of thousands of jobs in the locality of Port Talbot and securing a future for steel making in the United Kingdom and importantly in Wales.

4. The complainant added that a figure had not been put on the amount of funding Wales would receive if HS2 was completed as an England only project, and all phases were built, but that it had been regularly estimated at around £5 billion. Further to this, the complainant considered that the decision to go ahead, or scale back HS2, was the prerogative of the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and the wider UK Cabinet; and that it was this decision he described as being “above [his] pay grade”. Lastly, the complainant said that this decision would also not have changed the Welsh Conservative policy on consequentials: that Wales deserved Barnett consequentials and that HS2 should not have been an England and Wales project.

5. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate to report he had retreated from the stance he adopted when delivering a speech at the Welsh Conservative conference in Newtown in May 2022. The complainant said in the BBC Radio Wales interview, “we have made the case time and time again that Wales should get the consequentials from HS2”, and therefore he had not retreated from his previous stance.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. The publication said the article looked at the estimated £5 billion of funding that Wales could receive, if all phases were built, and if HS2 was reclassified as an “England-only” project. It noted Wales would not receive this as HS2 was classified as an England and Wales project and, at the time of publication, it appeared phases north of Birmingham were to be cancelled. The publication stated that the basis for the story was a post on X from Ms Saville-Roberts. Before the article was published, the publication contacted the complainant’s press officer, via email, to ascertain whether the complainant wanted to respond to the ‘X’ post. The publication received no response from the complainant. In addition to this, the publication said it had included further material to add context and balance to the article.

7. As to whether the complainant had retreated from his previous stance, the publication noted that, at the time of the interview, the Prime Minister had not yet announced the cancellation of the HS2 phases north of Birmingham. It said that the complainant stating the decision, on whether such further phases should be built – which in conjunction with the project being made an England only project could result in £5 billion funding to Wales – was “above [his] paygrade”, could be described as him retreating from his previous position: to support the call for the Barnett consequential funding for Wales.

8. Prior to IPSO’s investigation commencing, in its first response to the complainant, the publication offered to add the complainant’s comments to the article. The complainant declined this offer. At the start of IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to print the following correction as a standalone article:

“On October 2 2023 Nation.Cymru published an article which was headlined “£5bn rail funding loss for Wales ‘above my pay grade’ says Andrew RT Davies”. The article focussed on criticisms of the Welsh Conservative Senedd group leader made in a posting on the X social media channel by Liz Saville-Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader. Ms Saville-Roberts drew attention to a comment made by Mr Davies during an interview on BBC Radio Wales that morning in which he said that a decision on whether the phases of the HS2 rail project north of Birmingham should go ahead was “above my pay grade”. The Prime Minister subsequently announced that such phases would not be built after all. The UK Government insists that HS2 is an “England and Wales” scheme, even though it does not pass through Wales. As a result, Wales would not have been entitled to an estimated £5bn consequential payment had the entire original HST project gone ahead. By scrapping the phases of the project north of Birmingham, the size of a notional consequential payment to Wales would be significantly less than £5bn. Nation.Cymru maintains that by insisting that the decision on whether to proceed with the entire project was above his pay grade, Mr Davies had retreated from his previous position that Wales should get a consequential payment of an estimated £5bn to one where he was accepting of the outcome that a significantly smaller notional consequential payment would come to Wales. Mr Davies nevertheless maintains that his position has not changed, having stated during his interview on BBC Radio Wales: “We have made the case time and time again that Wales should get the consequentials from HS2”.

9. The publication offered to add a further clarification as a footnote to the original article:

“On October 2 2023, Nation.Cymru published an article about criticism of Welsh Conservative Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies by Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville-Roberts, following an interview he had given to BBC Radio Wales. In a posting on X she stated: “‘It’s above my pay grade’ says Tory leader in Wales @AndrewRTDavies in response to a question on @BBCRadioWales about #HS2 and his chronic failure to persuade his own party to give Wales our missing £5 billion. Sycophantic. The general election will be a reckoning.” Our article was headlined “£5bn rail funding loss for Wales ‘above my pay grade’ says Andrew RT Davies” and included a sentence which stated: “It appears that Mr Davies has retreated from the stance he adopted when delivering a speech at the Welsh Conservative conference in Newtown in May 2022, when he said his party was “making the case that Wales should receive its fair share of HS2 spending”. Mr Davies believes that his view on HS2 was misrepresented in the headline and the sentence quoted above. He points out that in the radio interview he stated: “Well we have made the case time and time again that Wales should get the consequentials from HS2. It’s above my pay grade whether the second leg of HS2 should go to Manchester. That’s a live discussion.” However, Nation.Cymru takes the view that by stating that a decision on whether a further phase of the HS2 project should go ahead was “above [his] pay grade”, Mr Davies had materially changed his position on whether Wales should receive a consequential payment estimated at £5bn from the UK Treasury. A payment of that value would only be available to Wales if the UK Government decided to 1) reclassify the HS2 project as an England-only project; and 2) proceeded with all the original phases of HS2. Even assuming that the UK Government was prepared to reclassify HS2 as an England-only project, the amount of consequential funding available to Wales would reduce significantly from £5bn - a matter on which Mr Davies says he has no opinion. We are happy to publish this clarification”.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

10. The Committee first considered whether it was misleading to report that the complainant had said that the issue of Wales losing £5 billion in rail funding was “above his pay grade”. The complainant did not dispute that he said that whether the second leg of HS2 should go to Manchester was “above his pay grade” during the BBC Radio Wales interview. The Committee considered the transcript of the interview and noted that the complainant had made the comment following a question from the interviewer in which the interviewer had made the point that the argument that Wales should be getting money from HS2 was made even stronger if the HS2 leg to Manchester did not go ahead. The complainant’s response did not directly address this point; he referenced the position which his party had adopted on the issue of funding to date- namely, that Wales should get ‘consequentials’ from HS2- before making the comment that whether the second leg should go ahead was above his pay grade. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider it was misleading for the publication to report that the complainant’s answer was also his response to the question about funding, which he had just been asked, and that he had said that the issue of Wales losing £5 billion in rail funding was above his paygrade. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

11. The article also reported that “it appears that Mr Davies has retreated from the stance he adopted when delivering a speech at the Welsh Conservative conference in Newtown in May 2022”. The Committee did not consider that it was inaccurate for the publication to characterise this as the complainant appearing to have “retreated from the stance he adopted”. This was presented as the publication’s view rather than as the factual position, by the phrase “it appears” and by the article contrasting the comments the complainant had made previously with the reaction to the comments he had made in the BBC Wales interview. The Committee did not consider the article was inaccurate in the manner suggested by the complainant. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

13. N/A


Date complaint received: 03/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/03/2024