Complaints about Ministers “should be investigated independently”

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Standards Committee
Creating the Right Culture (pdf)
Published: 13th September 2018

“Evidence received by the Committee and reports in the media suggest that there have been a number of incidents of sexual harassment at the Assembly and that these had not been formally reported. We must ensure that we create a culture where people feel able and supported to report any incidents.”

 

– Committee Chair, Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West)

1. People are reluctant to make complaints about AMs’ behaviour

There haven’t been any complaints about inappropriate behaviour by AMs since the Assembly was established, but the Committee believes this was “symptomatic” of problems relating to the process of making complaints and a “power disconnect” between an AM and staff.

In May 2018, AMs agreed on a clearer definition of inappropriate behaviour (mainly referring to bullying, harassment and unwanted attention – sexual or otherwise), but just a few weeks later it was revealed via a survey that up to a third of Assembly staff have experienced some sort of inappropriate behaviour.

The Committee would like to run another survey to delve down deeper and determine what types of harassment are occurring.

The Committee recommended small office management training for all AMs and that training on disclosure and harassment be offered periodically. They also recommended that an online anonymous reporting tool is in place by summer 2019 and that both parties in a complaint have a right to appeal a Standards Committee decision.

2. Information on how to make a complaint “could be clearer”

Improvements have been made to how the Assembly Commission records complaints, but the Committee believes information should focus less on the complaints process and more on how to make a complaint in the first place. They suggest a “mystery shopping” exercise to test the system.

A confidential hotline is being promoted on posters within the Assembly estate, but the Committee would like to see some form of “standard of expected behaviour” displayed in different formats and at every AM office. This should also include information on how to make a complaint.

Each party’s disciplinary policy should also be published on the Assembly website’s complaints page.

The Committee also wants to remind people they can informally approach the Standards Commissioner to discuss an issue before considering whether to make a formal complaint.

3. Complaints against Ministers should be investigated by the Standards Commissioner

In a radical step, the Committee believes the Welsh Government should break with UK parliamentary tradition and hand initial investigatory powers regarding Ministerial complaints to the independently-appointed Standards Commissioner.

At present, breaches of the Ministerial Code are dealt with by the First Minister. The Committee suggests that instead, the Standards Commission investigates complaints and reports to the First Minister in the same way as they report to themselves.

They would like this new arrangement in place by summer 2019.

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