The Talking Point #10: Can parties and ministers police themselves?

(Title Image: SBC News)

Political parties never like to give the impression they’re undermanned or anything less than professional. The truth, at a Welsh level particularly, is that most of the backroom administration is done by volunteers and various committees made up of the membership.

It’s a necessary but often thankless and dreary task. Since harassment and bullying have been front and centre issues for a couple of weeks now, the question has arisen as to whether political parties – and even the Welsh Government – are properly equipped to carry out sensitive investigations into personal conduct allegations.

It’s not the First Minister’s recent actions or the harassment scandal that brings this issue into closer light in my opinion, but Plaid Cymru’s ongoing disciplinary action against Neil McEvoy AM. He was suspended from the party’s Assembly group in September for “disruptive behaviour” but as of yet there’s still no conclusion to that particular case or to a separate internal inquiry dating back to March.

Like Labour’s actions with Carl Sargeant it’s another case of a party being quick to suspend, but not very quick to exonerate or bring a measure of closure, leaving the accused in a state of limbo. These things should really be done and dusted within a month.

After initially denying there was any harassment or bullying at either the Welsh Government or Senedd, it’s now agreed by all parties there’s a need for a new system to deal with inappropriate behaviour by elected members (but not, as Y Cneifiwr pointed out recently, AM staff. Why?).

The diminutive Standards Committee – which rarely meets and is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things – has been handed a leading role in both addressing the Senedd’s response to the harassment scandal as well as any reforms to the Standards Commissioner in light of the Carl Sargeant affair.

The Committee and its Chair, Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West), will be looking to improve how complaints are made and dealt with, as well as the Members Code of Conduct.

It’s been suggested by Plaid Cymru and others that the Ministerial Code should be policed independently too as that responsibility currently falls within the First Minister’s remit; but what happens if, as now, there’s a chance the First Minister has themselves broken the Code?

Why not extend the independent standards watchdog’s remit to cover internal party disciplinary matters which involve elected or executive members?

Although private members clubs – essentially what political parties are – can determine their own rules, their application is often scatter gun and investigations poorly resourced, while Public Services Ombudsman investigations into councillors have themselves been criticised.

The case for expanding the remit of and reforming the existing Standards Commissioner into some sort of “Independent Political Conduct Commission” is getting stronger.

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