Standards Watchdog Finds Little to Criticise over Conduct of AMs; QC'S REMINDER OF RESPONSIBILITY

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM HENRY Senedd Correspondent graham.henry@walesonline.co.uk

THE man charged with policing standards in the National Assembly has claimed the first three years has produced "little justifiable criticism" over the standard of conduct of AMs.

Independent Commissioner for Standards Gerard Elias QC said that despite two "well-publicised personal conduct failings" the Assembly had largely avoided scandals that had "bedevilled" other institutions.

But he warned Assembly Members had a "responsibility" to uphold the reputation of the National Assembly at all times.

It comes after censures for Llanelli Labour AM Keith Davies for a drunken incident in a five-star hotel in Cardiff, and Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins, who was rapped by the Assembly after a conviction for drink-driving in December last year.

Both were formally censured by Assembly Members following reports from the Standards Committee on their conduct, though Ms Jenkins did not attend her censure motion as she was at a protest event in London, instead delivering a tearful apology to AMs the following week.

Speaking as he prepared to publish a report marking the midway point of his term as Commissioner on Tuesday, he said: "I can report that over the last two and a half years, across the board, the standard of conduct of Assembly Members has brought little justifiable criticism.

"True, we have had two well-publicised personal conduct failings, but none of the scandals of 'cash for questions', lobbying issues and fraudulent expenses claims which have bedevilled other institutions."

He said the message that standards were part of the "everyday obligation" of a Member and not an optional extra "appears to have gained a real foothold". But he warned that increasing the powers of the National Assembly - on the eve of the UK Government's response to the first part of the Silk Commission process - could bring greater pressure on Assembly Members from lobbyists.

"In this area, as with all our rules of conduct, we need to remain vigilant," he said. …