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  1. ITV Report

Assembly crackdown on sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviour

AMs will be asked to vote to approve a new Respect and Dignity policy Credit: Senedd TV

The party leaders in the Assembly, together with the Presiding Officer, have announced a crackdown on any sexual harassment or other inappropriate behaviour by Assembly Members. There will be a presumption that all complaints will be referred to the Assembly's Standards Commissioner, rather than left to political parties, as when complaints against the late Carl Sargeant were referred to the Labour Party by the First Minister.

As those who have overall responsibility for the conduct of Members and our political parties in the National Assembly for Wales, we very much regret that individuals may have been affected by inappropriate behaviour on the part of Members of this institution.

The Code of Conduct for Assembly Members already prohibits the kind of inappropriate behaviour which has recently attracted public attention and our aim is to ensure that everyone – Assembly Members, staff and the public - are crystal clear about that.

We are however, going to work together to clarify and strengthen our procedures to ensure that individuals feel more empowered to report allegations of inappropriate behaviour, and that such allegations are investigated thoroughly and fairly - for all involved.

– Statement by party leaders and the Presiding Officer

The leaders and Presiding Officer agreed that as a first practical step, a Respect and Dignity Policy will spell out that inappropriate behaviour has no place in the Assembly. AMs will be asked to vote to make the policy part of their code of conduct. There will also be a review of the penalties for breaking the code.

The Code of Conduct for Assembly Members covers Members’ behaviour towards everyone, whomever they may be, and the Commissioner for Standards will apply the policy when looking at all complaints. Whether you work on the Assembly estate or not, all complaints against an Assembly Member will be investigated by the Commissioner.

Complaints can be discussed on a strictly private and confidential basis, and your name will not be made public. We urge anyone who wishes to complain about the inappropriate behaviour of an Assembly Member to approach the Assembly’s Standards Commissioner.

In addition, any allegation received by the Clerk of the National Assembly that a Member has breached the Code will be referred immediately to the Commissioner. As leaders of our groups, we accept a presumption that we will refer any allegations of breaches of the Code in future to the Commissioner. In all cases, this will be subject to the complainant’s consent.

– Statement by party leaders and the Presiding Officer

Assembly employees and AMs' support staff can already call a 24 hour confidential telephone support line but the party leaders say they accept that more should be done to make reporting a complaint easier. The Presiding Officer will also ask the Standards Commissioner to review how the political parties’ policies and procedures can be brought into line with the Assembly’s new Respect and Dignity Policy.

Steps will also be taken to extend the crackdown so that it doesn't only cover Assembly Members but also the conduct of Welsh Government employees, Assembly employees and AMs' support staff.

The leaders and the Presiding Officer have accepted that it is their responsibility to make sure that the Assembly is a safe environment for everyone who works there, as well as visitors and anyone else who has dealings with AMs or employees.

UKIP Wales leader Neil Hamilton has also issued his own statement, setting out the basis on which he agreed to a joint statement with Carwyn Jones, Andrew RT Davies, Leanne Wood and Elin Jones.

Whilst any human institution is likely to harbour cases of sexual impropriety or worse, we should not allow the idea to gain traction that Cardiff Bay is a hotbed of sexual abuse unless firm evidence of actual cases is produced.

The furore at Westminster largely concerns historic allegations, which have either been denied or blown out of proportion, such as the case of Julia Hartley-Brewer and Michael Fallon, which she herself has discounted.

The current Assembly complaints structure is complex, confusing and in some key respects inadequate. Whilst of course it is sensible for the Assembly to review current arrangements for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment by Assembly Members, I am not aware of evidence of actual cases.

No UKIP AMs have ever been the subject of sexual impropriety complaints but, obviously, I cannot speak for other parties.

– UKIP Wales leader Neil Hamilton