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Wednesday 27 July 2022

Changes to Senedd complaints time limits must not be used to "wipe the slate clean"

English | Cymraeg

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FDA National Officer for Wales, Gareth Hills, spoke to BBC Wales and appeared on BBC Wales Today to respond to the announcement of changes to the time limit for making complaints about Members of the Senedd. "We understand the merits of setting a timescale for making complaints but this can't be used to wipe the slate clean for bullies and repeat offenders”, Hills told David Deans. 

Earlier this month the Welsh Parliament’s Standards of Conduct Committee released their Review of the Procedure for Dealing with Complaints against Members of the Senedd. The most significant conclusion to come from this review was the decision to reduce the time limit to submit a complaint about the behaviour of a Senedd member from twelve months to six months, with Committee Chair Vikki Howells MS stating:  

“In order to ensure that recollection of events is still fresh and evidence readily available, the Committee has set the timescale for admissibility of complaints at six months. However, I would like to provide reassurance that the Commissioner will consider complaints relating to incidents outside of this timescale where there is good cause for delay”.

However, Hills argued that "when the procedure is introduced, there must be a window of opportunity for staff to bring forward historic complaints to be investigated". Whether complaints made after the six month timescale are investigated "should not be at the discretion of the commissioner - there should be a clearly defined process under which exceptional cases can be considered". 

A codified process would stop abuse of process and avoid the time limit incentivising MSs to "run down the clock". "There may be circumstances in which staff do not feel comfortable raising a complaint until an MS has left the Senedd, and this is more likely to be the case with very serious allegations such as sexual harassment” argued Hills.  

Hills said this change would see the Welsh Parliament’s process fall short of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme established in Westminster, which is now used to investigate complaints of bullying and harassment against MPs. He continued: “Under current procedures MSs are still marking their own homework, as final decisions on sanctions against MSs found to have breached the standards of conduct must be endorsed by the whole Senedd". 

On Twitter, FDA Wales repeated its call for “the introduction of an Independent Expert Panel to determine outcomes and appropriate sanctions in cases referred by the Independent Commissioner, and to hear and determine appeals against decisions and sanctions.”

Hills' comments confirming the FDA’s position were reported in hourly news bulletins on BBC Wales radio and the lunchtime TV news.
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