Y Pwyllgor Safonau Ymddygiad

Standards of Conduct Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Mark Drakeford
Natasha Asghar
Peredur Owen Griffiths
Vikki Howells Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Douglas Bain Comisiynydd Safonau
Commissioner for Standards
Joe Rossiter Sefydliad Materion Cymreig
Institute of Welsh Affairs

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Bethan Garwood Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Meriel Singleton Clerc
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:32.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau a dirprwyon
1. Introductions, apologies and substitutions

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this meeting of the Standards of Conduct Committee. We have no apologies this morning. Just to remind Members that the meeting is bilingual and interpretation is available. Do Members have any declarations of registrable interest that they wish to declare? No. Okay. 

2. Ymchwiliad i Atebolrwydd Aelodau Unigol o'r Senedd: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
2. Inquiry into Individual Member Accountability: Evidence session 1

So, our first substantive item this morning is our first evidence session on our inquiry into individual Member accountability, and I'm really pleased to be able to welcome Joe Rossiter from the Institute of Welsh Affairs to our first evidence session this morning. So, Joe, if you would like to start by giving us some of your ideas around recall and disqualification. I'm sure that Members will have questions for you then. 

Yes, fine. So, I think that this came out of an understanding that this moment of Senedd reform is a real moment of opportunity that we felt, the IWA, would be a missed opportunity were we to not include recall mechanisms of a similar nature to the Westminster Parliament, and the fact that, if this is a moment to reinvigorate our democratic systems and the Parliament, then that should be built on making sure that we aren't falling behind other Parliaments across the UK, as a first port of call. So, we think that there should be more robust and transparent mechanisms for ensuring that the upholding of high standards of integrity from Senedd Members, and that this moment right now feels like a moment of opportunity to formalise those mechanisms. It's that kind of formalisation that, I think, is really important and speaks to, potentially, some of the instances during this Senedd where it's been shown that they could do with beefing up specifically. So, that's where we sit and where it's come from in terms of—. It's come from this inquiry around Senedd reform. But also, because the Senedd is growing, I think it's an important moment to futureproof systems so they're not only working now, but they're working for an enlarged Senedd of 96, a Senedd that has more responsibilities, more executive functions, and therefore the public have a right to expect high standards from elected officials that are having an increasing impact on everyday life in Wales, and also so that people can see, in the mechanisms of the Senedd, that they really match what people experience in workplaces across Wales as well—I think that's quite important—whilst also making sure that it works for the intricacies of what is, in our view at least, a slightly imperfect electoral system that we're moving to. But, parking that to one side, there are definitely ways in which it could be worked where, by balancing the risk and opportunity of the mechanism, you're recognising that you as Senedd Members are representatives, and it's not an opportunity for more direct democracy, but also that you are held to the highest possible standards that people recognise in their everyday lives.

So, that's where we come from as a broad statement. We're really glad that you, as the committee for standards, are the ones taking it forward, because, as we see it, you'd have a key role to play in terms of adjudicating on when a petition might happen, or when there might be instances that need to be explored. We think there's a really key role for this standards committee to play, as well as potentially beefing up this as a committee with the expansion of Members as well. So, that's an opening gambit, I guess.


Thanks very much, Joe. If I could turn to that issue of a recall petition that you mentioned there, there aren't many examples around the world for us to look at, but, obviously, our nearest neighbour is the UK Parliament, and looking at the way that recall petitions are triggered there, there are three factors, aren't there: less than a 12-month prison sentence, suspension of at least 10 sitting days, or if a Member is convicted of an expense offence. Would you be happy with the same sorts of circumstances to trigger a petition here in Wales, or have you got any different ideas there?

I think it's a good starting point in terms of it having been embedded over the last few years, and it has not led to a huge increase in the number of petitions, which I think was a bit of a concern ahead of it being implemented. But I think, looking at those three aspects, especially the third, it speaks to the political moment at which that recall Bill went through Parliament in terms of the expenses scandal being the lens through which this piece of legislation came forward. Therefore, that third element that you spoke to, which I think is a fair point in terms of use of parliamentary allowances and parliamentary funds, that is a real key linchpin for that piece of legislation and potentially what you would look at. But that third bit, that third element, speaks to some of the behaviours that the Parliament is looking to get rid of, to make sure that it's looked at specifically. So, I think the lens through which we should seek to look at this in Wales is, 'What are the things, the types of behaviour, that we are trying to stop?' It might well be the use of expenses, or it might well be other behaviours that we think are inappropriate from Senedd Members. So, I think that is an interesting moment, to look at what has been done in Westminster, but also I think that that is a good place to start, as we would see it—'Okay, well, here's a good basis that's working in a Westminster context'. It has not led to a huge influx of petitions, which I think is really relevant. We don't want to completely undermine Senedd Members' ability to act as representatives and therefore have undue pressure on you as Senedd Members from all sorts of different interests, but also that you can build on what Westminster have done. I think that's where some of the legislation that has come forward in Wales—. We're looking to make our democracy better than what's going on in Westminster, therefore that's a kind of baseline.

So, yes, that lens, I think, is really important for you to consider what else you might think. What kind of behaviours are you trying to stop? Therefore, what mechanisms can you try and put in place to stop that behaviour? In that case, it was expenses. In this case, it might be something completely different, but you have to think quite carefully around that kind of custodial sentence, prison sentence part of things, because I definitely would agree with the idea of having a definitive backstop of a 12-month prison sentence. That doesn't need a petition for everyone to recognise that that is inappropriate behaviour from a Senedd Member. So, it's that balancing of those two, really. But it's a good basis, I would say, and one that I guess you wouldn't look to go too far from, especially as this is a moment of huge democratic reform in Wales. There could be throwing the baby out with the bath water and going too far in the other direction of making sure that recalls are really a very prominent piece of public life, if you're a Senedd Member. I don't think anyone wants to go in that particular direction; it's to root out specific behaviours that we don't think are appropriate for Senedd Members.


Thank you. If I could just pick you up on that issue there around a prison sentence of 12 months or longer, currently that's a matter for disqualification. Do you think that the matters that disqualify Members need to be changed, or can those sit alongside any recall process?

Well, I think that 12 months is a good backstop, to just say, 'We don't need to look into this'. And there's a bit of murky water in regard to criminality, and you, as a committee, or whoever you deign to preside over the independent process of triggering a recall petition, don't want to get into the murky waters of what is criminal and what isn't. You want to make sure that you're putting in place, on paper, 'These are the behavious that we think, as an independent group of Senedd Members'—and it's really important the fact that it's an independent group of Senedd Members, so that it doesn't become politicised—'are behaviours that are inappropriate and here's a list of them'. The more you write them down, the better for independent adjudication ultimately. So, I think that that backstop of criminality is an important one, but that doesn't mean that you can't build in place a longer list than what Westminster have in regard to those specific instances when a recall petition can start. So, I think it's that balance, again, of making sure you're not doing too long a list and that you can be very explicit about what is and what isn't behaviour that would denote a recall petition, because you don't want this becoming politicised and you really want to make sure that it's an independent process, and that you can look your party colleagues in the eye and say, 'That behaviour was wrong, and I can see that was wrong, because we've all joined together and made this set of principles as to what we think are beyond or need reproach and what don't', and similar to the Nolan principles, I guess, would be a decent peg as well.

Thank you. If I could just ask you about one area that all parliaments would have an issue with, where Members, during a parliamentary term, might leave the party for which they've been elected. Now, in the Senedd, that has created extra difficulties because of the level of proportional representation within our current election system and, of course, after Senedd reform, post 2026, those issues will become even more stark. Do you have a view about whether a recall petition should be triggered if a Member leaves a political party that they were elected to represent, because this has certainly been an issue where voters have been quite vexed in the past? If they voted for a particular political party and a Member has then left that party, they feel as though they're lacking the representation that they voted for on the ballot paper. What's your view on that?

Yes, I think this is where real thought and consideration—. This is where I see a real difficulty in how you square that circle of moving away from voting for a particular representative and then moving to vote for a party, and then changing seats. As we've seen in recent Senedds, it has been more likely for those who have been elected to the regional seats to change party than those who've been directly voted for. I can see that being a considerable problem. You may well take two different approaches. I guess one approach could be, 'Okay, the votes are sacrosanct of people who vote for parties, therefore that person, if they choose to leave, can no longer represent that party—that's the end of that'. Or the other point could be, 'This is the Senedd at the start of the Senedd and these are the Senedd Members'. It's almost that you kind of kick off into a secondary phase where you say, 'Yes, these were the people who were elected, they were highly on that list'. And it's the way that you look at the voting system, really, I guess, in that the names of the representatives will be on the ballot, so you could say there is some validity to the idea that, because that person is high on a list—and you would probably have to be fairly high on a list—that person has a personal mandate, but, really, that is not what the electoral system is for.

So, I think this is one of the real problems that I think really needs quite a bit of thought from you as the committee. I'm not sure on which side of those two I would particularly fall, because there's a necessary ability for you, as Senedd Members, to act how you see fit. If you feel like another party or the party you belong to has failed you and the people who voted for you and your party, then you should have the freedom to be able to move to a different party without then being kicked out of the Senedd. But, equally, the electors voted for the party and not you specifically. But I think that the lists will be part of the ballot, so that you can see the individual Members, might—. You might well say that gives enough validity to the individual that then means, once they're elected in the Senedd, they have that freedom to move, but it is a reach, I would say, and it's a difficult one to overcome. I would see that as one of the key difficulties, really, within this new system, which I can speak to a bit more if you have any other questions on that.


Okay, thanks, Joe. I'll bring Mark Drakeford in now. Mark.

There is a series of different considerations around this point, isn't there? If you have a system in which once you leave a political party your political career is over, what that means is that people won't leave a political party and they will continue to sit as a cuckoo in that nest, being difficult, disruptive and creating a great deal more difficulty than any political party would wish to have to manage. So, a system that traps people inside a political party, whether they want to be there or not, doesn't seem to me to have very much merit. But, Joe, I wonder what you thought of the middle way suggestion, that what people would do would be they would be allowed to leave a political group, but, for the rest of that Senedd term, they would only be able to sit as an independent. In other words, they would not be able to just sort of hawk themselves around to different political groups. They would be able to leave a party if, as you say, they feel that that party has ceased to represent their views, or, in their view, the interests of their constituents. But, in a finely balanced, proportional system, they wouldn't be able to overturn the global result, the whole-Wales result, by moving from one party and putting themselves in another. Myself, I think there is merit in the idea that you don't trigger further disruption in terms of people leaving and joining the Senedd, but you do put a limit around the extent to which any individual is able to move from one political party and join another one for which they were not elected.

Yes, and I guess that is the middle option. I think, with each of these, it's an imperfect fix, isn't it, in that it's trying to balance two different mandates, really—your mandate as a party and your mandate as an individual because your name is on a list—and the degree to which people have a personal name as a politician in some regions will be minimal, won't it? That's the nature of it. I guess that is one of the options. I would be in favour, definitely under this list system—which I can kind of expand on, I guess—that you don't want to get into the business of by-elections, because that is not how—. To then go to a by-election—run by what voting system, first-past-the-post; I don't know—is an even more imperfect fix. So, I would say that sitting as an independent would seem to me to make some of the balances that you'd look to make. However, then, even if you're an independent, it's not that difficult to then, without becoming a member of a different party, just affiliate yourself quite publicly with what other parties are calling for. It could be seen as not really that clear a fix either—I could see that—and therefore could potentially erode people's ability to distinguish what different Members represent, as who they're standing for, which is a challenge. Like you say, it's trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, but that strikes me as one of the better options of squaring that circle, yes.

Great. Thanks, Joe. I'm conscious of time, so if I can just ask two quick-fire questions around this section before I move on to the questions that Pred has for you. Firstly, do you think that there should be an opportunity for a Member to appeal any decision to move to a recall petition?


Yes. I think this is part of what I think are—which I guess we'll come on to—some of the mechanisms that—. You know, the process through which you would get to a recall petition would probably be, as is the case in Westminster, that this committee would have an opportunity to look into the intricacies of any particular matter and then therefore make a suspension of, say, 10 days, which therefore triggers a process that then triggers a process in a region where you would then have a vote on whether you wanted to recall that person. And I guess that is the stage where you would have that deliberation. You'd have a deliberation between—. And there are two different ways you could do it: you could have a deliberation amongst your peers or you could have an independent adjudicator to have that opportunity to thoroughly investigate. I don't think anyone wants to have particularly rash judgments on people's behaviour. You want to make sure that that person has had the opportunity to put their perspective on things, and it should be an independent process. That's where, I think, at that point, you as Senedd Members need to have trust in an independent process on which to make your decision as a committee. And I think there's an opportunity also for you to scrutinise them as a committee. I think a beefed-up committee in order to undertake these functions is quite an important thing. And it's also—. A number of these matters will be quite delicate in nature, they have been in the last and the current Senedd, and therefore there's a degree of making sure that you're not going out and prosecuting someone before they've had their chance to have their moment heard, and that's quite a difficult balance when a committee might be looking at an individual Member.

But there's also that balance of making sure that you're spending time to have a process that is very thorough but also you're not sitting on these issues for over a year, and then people think, 'Why is this Member still sat in the Senedd?' when there has been impropriety that other Senedd Members see as well. So, I think there are two sides of that, but, again, a beefed-up committee would be key in all of this, because if you end up making a recommendation and seemingly nothing happens at the end of it, then it's a bit of a waste of time. So, you need to make sure that there's some degree of independent oversight that means that the Member in question has the opportunity to appeal during that process. And then you've got the more 'independent', but also politically derived, because of all of your individual mandates, process whereby you come to a decision as a committee. So, there's a balance between how much you want to outsource it to an independent person or body versus that it should be your peers, basically, making that decision on a cross-party basis. That semi answers the question, I think. Sorry.

Thank you, Chair. Joe, thank you so much for everything that you're answering so far. I do have one question. Obviously, politics changes on a daily basis. We sit as a standards committee; we also have a standards commissioner. Each and every single one of us, I think, can honestly say that we want to instil integrity within, obviously, our colleagues, and we want to make sure that the public trusts us, as you said earlier. You mentioned on a couple of occasions an independent body, an independent person, an independent adjudicator. Who in your view holds that authority to have that sort of position within the public, that they have that respect to be able to be trusted with a Member's future, potentially?

Well, I guess the commissioner, or you would look to establish a role that spoke to Senedd standards as well, which you could do. Importantly, it needs to be a depoliticised process, I would say, whereby you've not got what could be a political appointee, because I think that is really damaging to people's sense of fairness and justice, basically.

So, in Westminster, they have the equivalent of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Is that an organisation or group that you would say or consider to be trusted or trustworthy enough to be able to be implemented here, or would you consider just an individual who was hired independently to be able to do this role?

Well, I think, in this specific regard to Members, an individual could do it if they were tasked with the right resources. IPSA has a lot of problems, I would say, as someone who has previously worked in Westminster, but there is a call, especially given the nature of some of the issues and cultural issues around the Senedd as an institution, to say actually—which is a far broader set of reforms and means a lot more money and investment, but, to make sure that you’re raising standards of behaviour throughout the Senedd, not just in individual Members—how do you manage your staff, how are staff valued, have they got the opportunity to unionise to collectively bargain for better standards, better pay, all of those different issues. So, I think that’s a kind of separate point that I think is worthy of attention, but will require resource to do properly, because if they’re under-resourced, then you don't—. You know, you put junk in, you get junk out in regard to those processes. And I think there is, especially at this moment, where you’re drastically increasing the size of the Senedd, there is a moment to say, ‘Well, yes, this is a moment when we should be looking at how offices work, how the Senedd as an institution, beyond just the elected Members, works for members of staff and therefore the Member and then the public themselves in terms of better outcomes.’


Thank you, Joe. Chair, just one final sub-question, and I know you’re short of time. So, Joe, just a hypothetical. An ex-Member—i.e. a retired Member, a Member that’s left, a Member that’s stepped away from the Senedd—would not be a good choice for this position in your opinion, yes or no?

Well, it depends on how highly—. I would like it that there was cross-party support on who that individual would be, essentially, is the way that I see it. That could be a previous Member if Members of different parties are supportive of that individual as—. And I think there’s a value to saying someone who is an ex-Member would have a good handle on what it means to be a Senedd Member, therefore they understand the intricacies of things like how an office works or what your role as a Senedd Member is. So, in a word, 'yes', I think, in answer to the question. Yes.

Thanks, Natasha. One final question on this particular topic area, Joe: do you feel that there is a role for the whole Senedd within this process at all? For example, should triggering a petition be subject to a vote in the Senedd and, if so, would a simple majority suffice or should it be that supermajority, a two thirds majority?

If it were to go to a vote, I would be in favour of a simple majority. However, I think it’s not necessary that it goes to a whole-of-Senedd vote, because then I think you do get into that politicisation of—. You know, you’ll be voting in party blocks based on someone’s behaviour and you don’t really want that. You want it to be a cross-party process, of which the committee is, and also, as a committee, you will have had the time to look into the details of the particular case and therefore come to a consensus position, hopefully, whereby that might not be the case for a backbench Member who might not have a particular insight into either individual, which isn’t really relevant in a lot of cases, or what their party group thinks of. So, if it was a simple majority—. Not necessarily so, as I would see it.

Okay, thanks very much. I'll bring Pred in now, who I know has got a series of questions for you around running a petition.

Yes. Thank you, Joe. It’s been interesting to listen to your comments and thoughts this morning. Just before we go into some of the mechanics of a petition, is a petition the best way forward in your opinion, given the way that we’re going to be electing people to the Senedd in 2026 and beyond?

Well, I guess this is a difficult one. I guess a petition is good way of saying, ‘Yes, we want this person to be removed; we no longer want them to be the Member for our semi-region or constituency, paired constituency.’ But the way that works is going to be quite different in that it’s presumably not going to trigger a by-election. What it will trigger is, essentially, going down the party list to the next person, who may or may not want to—. It could be four years—three, four years—into a Senedd, and they might not want to stand, but, under this system, there’s still ability to go even further down until you reach someone who is on that party’s list. So, it’s a slightly different mechanism, but I still think a petition works in terms of saying, ‘Yes, this is a way for us to lodge our discontent with a Senedd Member.’ I think there are difficulties with any other way of doing it, really, whilst making sure that the petition is fully legitimate as well. You want to make sure that everyone who is signing that petition is from that particular Senedd seat, as well, so there's definitely a need to make sure that process is ironclad, so you don't end up getting entrants essentially flooding a constituency and making it more likely that someone is to be recalled than they would if it was just members of their constituency. So, I see a petition as the best way, really, of running that, but there are different ways of doing a petition.


You've touched there on some of the potential issues. Ten per cent is the current Westminster petition limit. Does that make sense in this situation, or does it need to vary? Is there a different mechanism that says, potentially, that it has to be higher than the average? Any thoughts that you might have on that sort of mechanism.

I guess 10 per cent is ultimately an arbitrary figure, isn't it, but I think there's some validity to saying 10 per cent. But also, with the Senedd side of things, you've got what is a gap in turnout, and we have yet to see what that would look like under the next Senedd elections. But you've got a gap in turnout in terms of the electorate to get you there is smaller than what would be the case for an MP, currently, if those historical trends are to continue. So, you could aim to tie it on the amount of votes cast as a basis, but, even then, I don't particularly like that as a solution. I think 10 per cent seems a fair basis, but it's all based on sticking your finger in the wind, ultimately, to come to a 10 per cent figure. But, also, having said that, I don't think it's a bad figure. There is validity to tying to what Westminster are doing in this particular area. I don't think there's any need to necessarily go higher. I certainly wouldn't go lower for that specific figure just for the sake of it. I think 10 per cent is a—

Ten per cent for an MP triggers a by-election. So, somebody could in theory win their seat with 40 per cent of the vote, and get removed with 10 per cent of the vote, potentially.

There is that, but 10 per cent of the constituency is still a meaningful amount. And then, if you were to say that, then you would say, 'Okay, well, we need to rerun the whole thing' to get to that number of people turning out. I think that's not necessarily a fair comparison. That is further down the line when a whole process has been in place under that specific Member, and you're not going to get turnout for a recall petition anywhere near the amount who were turning out for the actual elections. So, I can see why you would think that is a big divergence, but 10 per cent of a constituency is still a significant amount of people using their democratic voice directly to say, 'We don't think this person should stand any more.'

If we move on to just how that potentially could be run to get as many people to participate as possible, would you be in favour of opening it up to postal, to proxy, to all the ways that you could vote in the Senedd election? And maybe your thoughts on an online element.

I don't see why not. It's resource permitting. My only reservation with online—. In an ideal world, the electoral register would be online and everyone would be able to vote online or from multiple different places rather than going to a particular polling station, but that's a separate point. I think the risk with online is you need to be 100 per cent sure of the traceability of where that person is from. You need to make sure that it is someone who is an elector from that region or constituency. I would veer away from online as much as possible unless you can make those safeguards. You could do that simply by providing—. But, again, you don't want to also raise the bar of what people are willing to do. If you said you've got to have an ID or you've got to have a proof that you're from a certain place, and provide that online, I don't think that would be particularly attractive to a lot of people. So, it's a balance, but also, it's really important that it's only people who are from that person's constituency or region who have a say in it; it's not to do with—


And from what you're saying there, it would be open to everybody on the voter roll for that constituency, or paired constituency, at that time.

I would say so. Obviously, constituencies constantly flux, don't they, but that's really the only way of doing it, I would say, without it being so resource-heavy that it's unusable.

And then, on that ballot paper, would it just be for the petition, or would you want it to show that you're dissatisfied with the petition and therefore wanted to keep the person in their role?

Yes, I guess that would be the two: either for recall or supporting the maintaining of the Senedd Member. 

Say we put that arbitrary 10 per cent in, once it had hit 10 per cent, would you close that petition down, or would you have it open for six weeks, I think, or would you have it for longer, or shorter, or what—?

I think that petition is a direct democratic moment. I don't see why you shouldn't have it open for a set period of time for people. Just because it's got over the 10 per cent doesn't mean that someone shouldn't have the ability to add their voice. You might be coming round to doing it because you're really dissatisfied with that Member, but then it's the day after they've reached the 10 per cent that you want to lodge your discontent. I think it should be open for a period of time, so that the full feeling can be felt and people can have their opportunity to show their discontent.

Thank you, Pred. I'll bring in Mark Drakeford now, who I know has a series of questions around the result of a petition. 

Joe, we're just assuming now that the petition has been triggered and the threshold has been met. What happens now?

I think this is where, essentially, you would go down the party list to the next member within that party group, see if they are still available to do the job and then work your way down the list as and when they're able to. I think you want to try and make that process as quick as possible so that electors aren't left with a period where they don't have a Member for a large period of time. I think that's quite important. And if it was to be a large period of time, then you'd obviously have to try and make sure that there were counterbalances within any votes that took place within that period to make sure that the balance of the Senedd was still represented and that a party isn't necessarily punished for what could be an individual Member's behaviour, I guess, in that point. But you'd look to try and make it as quick as possible.

One of the pros of doing this recall within this new system is that the list is there; people are voting for a party, they're not voting for a particular representative. Therefore, it goes back to the party to push on to the next level. And obviously, there are issues around the entrenchment of political parties' role within the electoral system, but as the system is in place and has been voted for, it would make sense to just go down the list.

Then you've got an interesting challenge. That is a good point. I think you'd have to go quite substantially down a list, wouldn't you; you'd probably have to go through at least two recalls of members within a particular constituency or region. I'm not sure what you do. You might have to run a by-election at that stage if you were to exhaust a list.

The Bill makes provision for political parties to have up to 12 people on the list, so I guess that's not the most likely area of difficulty; you'd have to have a very, very substantial run of bad luck if you couldn't find somebody further down the list. But it's a more pressing issue in relation to independent candidates, isn't it? If an independent candidate, who is, effectively, a list of one, does manage to get elected, as you could do under this system, and then they get caught up in this process, there isn't anybody behind them on the list. You said in an earlier answer that you are very keen there shouldn't be by-elections, which I agreed with, but you've now just said that you thought maybe you would have to have a by-election. I believe the preferable outcome is that the seat just sits vacant, because I think that the unintended consequences of holding by-elections in a system of the sort we will have really outweigh the absolute obvious difficulties of having a seat vacant in the Senedd. But if I had to choose between the two, I'd rather have a vacant seat than trying to run a by-election in a system that simply doesn't operate in that way.


I wasn't really thinking about independents. You're right, it's a fair challenge. I think in this system one of the shortfalls is the role of independents, and we've been clear on that before. Yes, I think that is probably preferable—leaving a vacant seat.

Just one last question, Chair, if I could. The system we are describing is one where, at the point at which a petition reaches the threshold, that person has, effectively, lost their seat. What is the merit in keeping the petition open for another six weeks then? Because, in effect, you are denying the people in that constituency representation for that period. There is somebody else on the list ready to take their place. Shouldn't that happen straight away in order to prevent weeks going by when people in that constituency don't have the representation that they have voted for?

That is a balance and a trade-off, isn't it? As a voter, I would want the ability to show my discontent, regardless of whether you've reached a 10 per cent figure or not, because I just think it's an important democratic step as part of the petition process to make sure that everyone who has the ability to show their discontent can. I think if you capped it, you'd miss voices that are very angry, and that might lead to some degree of disengagement from people who felt that they were denied their ability to—. I acknowledge there is a trade-off between being denied that voice and having one less representative for your super-constituency, but I think it's quite important that people are able to show their discontent. And if you're barred from showing your discontent, then that can lead to anger and discontent with the Senedd as an institution as well. But it is a trade-off.

Obviously, you've not been barred, because you'd have had all the time that it took to get to the 10 per cent threshold in which to register your discontent. So, nobody's being barred here; it would take weeks. If you look at any Westminster petition, those signatures are not collected overnight, are they? They are collected over a number of weeks. You have plenty of time, I would argue, if you feel strongly about it in the way that you suggested, to get on and demonstrate that by making sure you sign the petition. I'm not sure myself that the trade-off is quite as—. I don't think I'm seeing it the same way as you. I think that once you've got to 10 per cent, every other signature is, at the very best, a sort of—. Well, it's an act without a consequence, because the consequence has already been reached, the person is going to leave the Senedd, and leaving it open for further weeks means other people, who are legitimately entitled to think that they've got representation, will be without it. So, it's a trade-off, I agree with you, but I think I probably just see the merits operating in a slightly different balance. 

Thank you, Mark. It's very interesting territory, isn't it? The clock is beating us, but if I can bring in Pred now for one final question.

Say somebody, in that situation that Mark was just talking about, had reached 10 per cent, they'd been removed from office, they have no way of restanding during that Senedd term. Obviously, in a by-election in Westminster, somebody could put their name forward and go to a public vote for that. Is there any merit in disqualification for any longer than the end of the Senedd term?


I would say that they have been barred from that Senedd, rather than that they are disqualified from ever standing in the Senedd. Because then, I guess, it's up to electors to make that decision at the next moment they get the opportunity at the ballot box. 

Thank you very much, Joe, for kicking off this really important line of work that we are undertaking. It has been a real pleasure to tussle through these issues with you, and I'm sure that as a committee we'll keep in touch as our work on this matter progresses. So, thank you, and you're free to leave.

I'll propose now that the committee takes a short break to allow our witness to leave and our next witness to arrive.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:16 a 10:18.

The meeting adjourned between 10:16 and 10:18.

3. Ymchwiliad i Atebolrwydd Aelodau Unigol o'r Senedd: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
3. Inquiry into Individual Member Accountability: Evidence session 2

Good morning and welcome back to this meeting of the Standards of Conduct Committee. We're moving on to our second evidence session now in our inquiry into individual Member accountability, and I'm very pleased to welcome this morning Douglas Bain, who is the commissioner for standards for our Senedd. So, Douglas, welcome. Are there any initial comments that you want to make to set out your views around the potential recall mechanism?

Just very briefly, Chair, I very much welcome anything that will strengthen the ability of the public to call to account Members of the Senedd. I think that should always be welcome. I think one of the major difficulties with this—with the election process that is in place now and is going to be in place in terms of the new legislation—is that effectively, if a Member was recalled, the electorate would not have a choice of who might be elected, but it would be the automatic election of the next person on the party list. Whether that's acceptable is not a matter on which I express a view, but I think it's a matter of concern that requires very careful consideration, and I think there may be other ways of achieving the same increase in accountability.


Thank you very much. If I may, I'll start off with some questions around the process of triggering any recall petition. There aren't many examples that we can look to around the world for recall in other parliaments, but, of course, our nearest neighbour Westminster is the best and nearest example for us to consider. We know there are three key criteria that can trigger a recall petition: if a Member has a prison sentence of less than 12 months; a suspension of at least 10 sitting days from Parliament; or if they're convicted of an expense offence. What are you views, commissioner, around whether those would be suitable areas for us to be looking at, or whether we would need to look more broadly than that?

I think these are a good starting point, except, of course, the third one wouldn't work for Wales, because we don't have the same mechanism for expenses, though something similar could be thought out, a breach of the accounting and resource rules, I suppose. The time limit of less than a year is because of the automatic disqualification if someone's sentenced to 12 months in prison, whether suspended or not. There could be an argument for seeking to reduce that period. Is it acceptable for someone who's been sentenced to six months' imprisonment, particularly if it's served immediately, to remain a Member of the Senedd? I think many would think the answer is 'no'. But fixing the time limits is a fairly arbitrary process, and there will always be hard cases that fall just one side or another.

Thank you. Looking at other examples in which we might wish to consider the use of a recall petition, you will be aware that here in the Senedd, as in other parliaments, we've had examples of Members leaving a political party to which they were elected during the course of that Senedd term. That creates additional difficulties for us here in the Senedd, because of the degree of proportional representation in our current election system. And, of course, that will be 100 per cent proportional following Senedd reform in 2026. Would you consider that, if a Member moved from one party to another, or if they became independent and moved out of a political party, that should be an issue where the electorate should be afforded the opportunity to consider a recall petition?

With respect, I don't think that's really a matter for me as commissioner; I think it's up to politicians to decide that. I suppose the purist's view, though—and what's proposed for the Senedd elections runs counter to this—is that the electorate elect a person not a party, so the fact that the person's changed political allegiance shouldn't actually matter. But I appreciate that's a rather theoretical view. I'm afraid I haven't researched this, but I imagine the new provisions for Wales provide that it's the next person on the list of the party for which the Member stood when elected, but that's something that no doubt you will check. But, as I say, I think this is primarily a matter for politicians to decide, not for me as an independent adviser.

Thank you; I appreciate that. Do you feel that there should be an opportunity for a Member to appeal any decision to begin a petition?

No. I think if there are procedural irregularities, of course, they could seek judicial review, but I think our experience of the complaints process is that introducing an appeals mechanism simply prolongs the agony for everyone.


Thank you. And then a final question on this from me, just around whether this should be a matter simply for the commissioner and the committee, or after that should we introduce perhaps the element of a whole-Senedd vote, as we currently do with standards committee reports. Should the whole Senedd be required to vote on any recall petition, and if so, do you have a view as to whether a simple majority or maybe a supermajority of two thirds would be sufficient for that?

I think in view of the very serious nature of the decision being taken, a full Senedd vote would be appropriate, and I think that some sort of weighted majority would also be appropriate. Otherwise, it could be used, potentially, by a party that had a greater number of seats in the Senedd simply to remove opposition, which would be wholly unacceptable. And of course, in relation to my own office, there's already a good example of the requirement for a weighted majority to remove the commissioner from office. I don't see much of an argument for having a lesser standard for removing a Member.

Thank you. I'll bring Natasha in now with a supplementary question.

Thank you so much, Chair. Commissioner, I just wanted to ask you a question. We've obviously spoken about triggering the petition. My question is about the process of it. Obviously, at the moment, many people are aware of the complaints procedure. If this was to go ahead, and we were to go forward, what do you think would be the best way, and what steps do you think one should follow when it comes to, obviously, from the triggering process to actually it happening to who should be involved particularly? Those are my questions for you, because we have previously taken evidence from another body, and they actually suggested it may be worthwhile having an independent individual or organisation oversee the process. Do you think something like that would be necessary as well?

I would recommend following the Westminster model as closely as possible, adapting it for Wales as necessary. Why try and reinvent a wheel that seems to work reasonably well at present?

Thank you so much, commissioner. Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you, Natasha. I'll bring in Peredur Owen Griffiths now, who has a series of questions for you on the running of a petition.

Hello, commissioner. Thanks for coming in this morning. Just to start off with, in your opinion, is a recall petition the best way of handing this sort of situation, or would there be another mechanism that potentially could be used?

Potentially there are other methods that could be used—for example, increasing the power of the standards committee, enabling it to recommend to the Senedd a sanction of disqualification. That would obviously have to be subject to the weighted majority we've talked about, but that could work as an alternative. I think it merits being looked at in some detail to see how it would work, and assessing the benefits and disadvantages of various systems.

Thank you for that. What would be the positives and the negatives of that?

Expense shouldn't really be a major consideration on something as serious as this, but I imagine keeping it in-house would be cheaper than putting it out to the electorate. One of the disadvantages is that it would be seen, I'm sure, by the public as Senedd Members marking their own homework, even though I don't think that would be the case, because it would be dealt with on an all-party basis, I would hope. Conceivably, keeping it in-house would be quicker, but, as I say, I haven't studied all of these. I've just put it forward as an option that may be worth considering and having some research done. 


Thank you for that. So, if we move on and assume that we have triggered a petition, just looking at the mechanics of it, in Westminster, when it's triggered, then that 10 per cent of the electorate in that constituency, or paired constituencies in our case, would need to be met to be able to recall that person. Do you think that's an adequate percentage of the electorate to be able to do that?

Well, given the difficulties of getting the electorate to even take interest in elections, 10 per cent, I think, is actually quite a reasonable target. Of course, all that does is start the petition; it doesn't have any direct consequence. But the figure is arbitrary. I haven't seen, in anything I've looked at, any real justification for 10 per cent, rather than 15 per cent or 20 per cent. If you look at turnout figures at local elections in particular, if you can get 10 per cent of people to turn up at all to sign a petition, that's fairly significant.

And with the process, if we were to adopt something similar to Westminster, then, where you leave that petition open for six weeks or a set amount of time, that would probably help to encourage people, if they wanted to express their view, that they'd be able to vote. Would those be able to be cast by proxy, by post, or would you be more inclined to have it as in-person only?

Well, based on my experience as chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland, as soon as you go into proxy and postal voting, you inevitably get involved in the verification of the proxies and the postal votes. Now, I appreciate that that was a particular Northern Ireland difficulty, and there were very extensive measures in place, but I think that that unduly complicates the process. What I would advocate, however, is, the places where you can sign the petition, having a greater number of these, particularly in rural constituencies, where people might have to travel a very considerable distance if there was a limited number of places.

And based on what you said earlier around the cost element and quickness and being able to do this fairly quickly if needed, and I'm assuming that you'll correct me if I'm wrong, once you hit the 10 per cent, you would then close the petition rather than leaving it open for the full amount of time.

Yes. I can't see any justification for leaving it open once you've reached the threshold. 

I think that's it from me, Chair, if that's okay. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Pred. I'll bring in Mark Drakeford now. I know Mark wants to ask you some questions around the result of a petition. Mark.

Good morning. So, we're making the assumption that the petition has been triggered, the threshold has been met, what happens next?

Well, again, I think that's largely a matter for the Senedd to decide, but I think there's merit in trying to follow a system that has worked up till now. I suppose the difficulty is in—. Sorry, just bear with me a moment. Well, I think that brings us to the nub of the problem with the proposed electoral system in Wales. In England, for the House of Commons, there is then a by-election and that just follows the normal course with the returning officer setting it up, or whoever. But, of course, under the new system, under the proposed Welsh system, presumably what happens is that there has to be some sort of mechanism to ensure that, actually, it’s the will of not just 10 per cent of the people that the Member should be replaced, but the majority of the people. So, I don’t know whether you have to have some sort poll on, 'Do you support this Member being removed?' I think that is a difficulty with the proposals. It would be quite wrong, in my view, simply to move from reaching a 10 per cent threshold to removing the Member and replacing him with the next one on the list, because only 10 per cent the electorate have said that’s what they want to happen.


[Inaudible.]—interruptions on the line, but I think I heard all of Mr Bain's views there. So, I just want to check I did understand him as saying that, in his view, it would not be satisfactory for a petition to be triggered and for 10 per cent of the eligible electorate to have voted to see that person removed—it wouldn't be satisfactory for them to be removed because only 10 per cent of the population had expressed their view in that way. So, you're proposing a further, intermediate step—[Inaudible.]—increase the threshold for the petition.

I’m sorry, you were breaking up very badly, but, as I understand it, you’re asking me whether I consider it acceptable for a Member to be removed simply if 10 per cent of the electorate signed the petition. My answer to that is—but it’s a personal view—no, I wouldn’t regard that as democratic or acceptable, but that is a personal view, and it’s a matter for politicians to decide.

Thank you, Douglas. I’ll bring Pred in now with a supplementary question here.

Just on that point—and it’s something that maybe we should have covered off earlier on—on that recall petition, should there be two questions, or two answers, effectively? So, one would say, 'I support this recall of removing this Member from the Senedd', or, 'No, I don't'. So, potentially, then, that would need a difference between the two—a set percentage or a straight majority. Would that get around some of that thought process, because if you then had a list system, which is what we will have, you would know that you're voting to remove X, but that person Y, which is the next person on the list, potentially would be who you’re voting for to become your next Member? I'm just wondering if that would possibly be a mechanism that would work.

Well, on the practical point I said to you earlier, in that there was no point keeping a petition open once you’d reached the threshold, if you were having the two-question option, you’d have to keep it open for the full period. But it seems to me rather moving away from the concept of a recall petition. What you’re actually doing is having a vote on whether or not the Member should be removed. I think combining the two questions on the one ballot paper—. First of all, my experience from Northern Ireland is people tend to be confused if there are two questions. But, there should surely be an opportunity, if the Member's career is on the line, for him or her to campaign in some way about why they should be retained, and that, of course, wouldn't be available on a two-questions-on-the-ballot-paper opportunity, because it would be unreasonable to expect them to conduct that campaign until he or she knew whether 10 per cent of the electorate wanted him or her removed.


Thank you. Can I just check if Members have any further questions for the commissioner? No. Commissioner, is there anything else that you would like to add to the evidence that you've provided for us already this morning?

No, I just wish you well in taking a very difficult decision.

Thank you very much. Thank you for your contributions, commissioner, and a copy of the transcript will be provided to you as soon as possible so that it can be checked for factual accuracy. I know that you will also be staying for our next, private item, as well.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Therefore, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content to agree the motion? Yes. In which case, we will now continue in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:41.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:41.