Plain text version of Commissioner’s letter

10 January 2024

Dear Ms Green

Thank you for your letter dated 28th November 2023. You raise an important issue and one which was rightly raised by a number of States’ Members during the recent Motion of No Confidence debate.

As the Commissioner for Standards, I can initiate an “own investigation” where I feel it appropriate. I have given careful consideration to this; I have listened to the debate in full and have recently spoken with a few of the Members who spoke during the debate who had highlighted the unacceptable behaviours in question. While these issues are very serious, and I share your view that what was expressed could be detrimental to the well-being of Members and civil servants, the fact that I have received no complaints related to alleged unacceptable behaviour creates a problem when it comes to launching an own investigation into unacceptable behaviours. That problem, in the main, is that neither civil servants nor Members can be compelled to provide evidence of this nature. It appears to me that, understandably, there may be a hesitancy by both Members and civil servants to do so; this could be due to fear of the consequences to them professionally and/or personally of speaking up, among other reasons. I do not believe it would be appropriate, given the serious and sensitive nature of these sorts of allegations, that the Commissioner should embark on a quest to find those willing to come forward. Therefore, it is my considered view that an own investigation is not an option that would work best to try to tackle this issue.

Notwithstanding, addressing unacceptable behaviours must be a priority and can be achieved in a number of other ways, some already underway. Firstly, proposed changes to the Code of Conduct are to be debated soon which include provisions relating to unacceptable behaviours with helpful definitions to further remind members of the importance of their behaviour towards other Members and colleagues including civil servants. Secondly, the explicit inclusion of unacceptable behaviours within the Code may provide Members and civil servants with assurance that these matters are taken seriously by the independent Commissioner for Standards which could provide increased confidence in making a complaint. Thirdly, introducing training for Members specifically on inappropriate behaviours would be useful in promoting an environment with zero tolerance for such behaviours and could help in creating a culture where Members undertake to speak up in the moment and as a matter of course where such behaviour occurs. I will be copying this letter to the Chair of SACC and recommend that they seek to provide robust training with these aims. Finally, I believe it is important to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem of unacceptable behaviours and it is my hope that a survey, similar to the “Bullying, Harassment and Misconduct Survey” published by the Cabinet Office in June 20181, might be conducted which would provide valuable information relating to this issue.

I want to thank Women in Public Life, along with the Members who raised these issues in the debate and the Members who took the time to speak with me, for showing great leadership. The States Assembly should be a place where people feel secure, valued and included and where unacceptable behaviours are not tolerated. I would encourage anyone who feels they have experienced these sorts of behaviours by Members including bullying, intimidation, harassment etc, to consider making a formal complaint which will be treated in the strictest confidence. Likewise, should they wish to speak with me in the first instance, I can be contacted in confidence at commissioner@pi-cfs.org.

Yours sincerely

Dr Melissa McCullough

Commissioner for Standards

Plain text version of our letter to Commissioner for Standards

 

28 November 2023

 

BY EMAIL

 

Dr Melissa McCullough

Commissioner for Standards

c/o The States Greffier

Royal Court

St Peter Port

Guernsey GY1 2NZ

 

 

Dear Dr McCullough

 

We write to draw to your attention to accusations of bullying made during the Friday sessions of the 22 November 2023 meeting of the States of Deliberation. This alleged bullying was by States members towards other States members and towards civil servants.

Our group specifically inspires and supports the women of Guernsey to stand for public office but our concerns apply equally to male candidates and States members, and all civil servants. It appears that, by inspiring people to stand for the States, we may be encouraging them to take up employment in a workplace that could be detrimental to their wellbeing.

We feel strongly that we have a duty of care to those we support and therefore it is important for us, for potential candidates and for the voting public to know whether these allegations are true and, if so, what is being done to rectify the situation.

While bullying clearly contravenes point 9 of the Code of Conduct (reproduced below), we cannot make a complaint as we have not witnessed the behaviour and are responding to the evidence in the speeches in the States meeting.

This also appears to be a widespread issue, rather than a specific incident, involving a number of deputies who may be exhibiting bullying behaviour, or failing to call out the behaviour they witness, or downplaying it.

However, we note from section 5 (1)(b) of the Reform (Guernsey) Law, 1948, as amended, that you have the power to initiate an investigation yourself.

Hence our drawing your attention to the two States sessions in question. To assist you in reviewing them, we attach a selection of timestamps and quotes, although, of course, you will want to review the speeches in full to put those quotes in context.

Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.

Yours sincerely

Shelaine Green – Chair

On behalf of the Women in Public Life committee

 

Point 9 of the Code of Conduct for Members of The States of Deliberation:

 

Members shall at all times treat other Members, civil servants and members of the public with respect and courtesy and without malice, notwithstanding the disagreements on issues and policy which are a normal part of the political process.

 

 

Appendix

Meeting of the States of Deliberation on Friday 24 November 2023

 

Morning session

https://bit.ly/47Ltzf9

 

Deputy Queripel

26.00 Now I’ve heard reports of P&R bullying some of my colleagues. But I’ve never witnessed it.

 

Deputy Gabriel

1:23:54 Some of the behaviours I’ve witnessed while deputising for Deputy St Pier [later corrected to Deputy de Sausmarez] in meetings have been nothing short of deplorable. I’m at pains to discuss them publicly but we are where we are. And the behaviours I’ve witnessed have no place in our society and certainly do not show the leadership that I was expecting. Table thumping, aggression and machismo that all seem to play right out of a late 1980s TV boardroom drama.

 

Deputy Inder

1:41:40 This is a tough job. We do have choices. And my choice and, I think, Deputy Mahoney’s choice, is to try and do what we can in the time we’ve got. And sometimes it is a bit brutal. It’s as simple as that. This job is not for the thin-skinned.

 

Deputy de Sausmarez – full speech begins at 2:23:50

2:27:11 Meetings where there is no presiding officer or public gallery or live audio broadcast can be quite different to the meetings that we have in this chamber. In my experience what marks this P&R apart from their predecessors, and the other committees that I’ve been involved with, is their tone and manner which can be viscerally aggressive, sometimes to the point of abusiveness, and are often characterised by incivility.

2:28:58 Now I’ve been raising the issue of overtly aggressive and abusive behaviour through every appropriate channel I could have thought of since early in this term. I’m by no means the only person subjected to it and I know others, including officers, over the years have also raised it as an issue with the President of P&R, especially in his committee’s regular meetings with presidents of senior committees. But it was brought home to me a couple of months ago just how normalised it has become when Deputy Leadbeater, who doesn’t normally attend these meetings, commented to me afterwards that he was shocked by the aggression directed my way.

2:30:29 Quoting from an email that Deputy de Sausmarez wrote to Deputy Ferbrache in 2021 “The President to Presidents meetings are a great concept and should be a really useful forum but their usefulness is undermined in my experience by the way a colleague whose name I’ve redacted [later clarified as not a member of P&R] often behaves in them. That degree of rudeness and aggression and the attacks on other people’s integrity would not be acceptable in any other forum and, to be completely open with you, I have too much on my plate to willingly devote time to the meetings if it continues. Today’s was not an isolated incident. It is part of a clear pattern of targeted hostility towards certain individuals and it needs to stop. Disagreeing with someone’s political views is no reason to abandon basic standards of respect and civility. If that happened in a boardroom it wouldn’t be tolerated and in my view politics should be no different”.

2:32:34 Quoting from an email to the SACC principal officer in 2022: “I’m talking about the kind of behaviour which, if taken to the Code of Conduct Panel in the form of a complaint, would probably seem low-level and therefore petty and any individual incident would likely be dismissed as not a significant enough breach, in and of itself. I know it could be possible to prove a pattern of behaviour. I have plenty of written evidence to do so, in fact, but I’m not prepared to take it to the Code of Conduct Panel. But the Code of Conduct Panel is the wrong tool for the job as it would be perceived as disproportionate. Plus, in my personal opinion, member-on-member complaints are distasteful and an inappropriate use of the panel in the first instance as it really should be for members of the public to hold us to account.”

2:34:01 Further quoting from the SACC email: “I and others have submitted written and verbal complaints to chairs of such meetings and nothing can be done. The abuse was once so bad that I had to leave that meeting in tears. I was really shaken – and as you know, that is not like me. I’m particularly concerned about officers who are poorly treated, as in reality they have even less recourse to solutions than we do. There are other deputies who I know have been the victim of this behaviour. I’ve also witnessed officers being bullied or harassed and there are plenty of officers who have witnessed this behaviour in, I imagine, multiple settings, at least one of whom I know has also complained, about the treatment meted out to me rather than them, but again nothing can be done, it seems.”

2:42:13 I was sorting through some paperwork the other day when I found a note that I had passed to an external expert who had been presenting to a group of deputies. In this note I had apologised to the presenter for the behaviour of some of our senior committee and one or two others and advised them not to take the rudeness personally as it was sadly common.

 

Deputy Dyke:

2:52:03 There’s been a lot of talk about rudeness and that sort of thing. I guess a few of the members can be a bit sharp but I’ve always found them perfectly reasonable to deal with.

 

Deputy Vermeulen

3:30:15 And you don’t do it by being brash, being rude. And we’ve witnessed civil servants being spoken to in unprofessional ways and other members in this institute leading in not a good way.

3:08:30 Behaviour, I do cringe, sir. There are people I’ve had to ring up and check on after incidents have happened.

 

Afternoon session

https://bit.ly/47F8GSI

 

Deputy Dudley-Owen:

14:58 It’s not our job to have cosy relationships. Sometimes we need to have pointed, sharp conversations. And sometimes it does feel that, possibly, an approach that has been mentioned, you know, could be too robust in terms and I can’t comment on that.

 

Deputy Mahoney

27:25 …the inference was that it was a member of P&R that she [Deputy de Sausmarez] had been fighting with. And it wasn’t a member of P&R so I’m not really sure what the point was. The evidence provided was that someone had been mean, there’d been a nasty incident and that she had made a complaint of sorts, whatever you want to call it, to Deputy Ferbrache…

27:59 Now I’m big enough and ugly enough to face – I was expecting a hear, hear from Deputy Trott there – any challenge and disagreement without crying for bullying. Now some clearly aren’t and that’s, that’s…we’re all made differently.

28:43 All of these people complaining but nobody, apparently, to the people that are supposed to be the subjects of those complaints. A statement, and I said it just a second ago, a statement from Deputy de Sausmarez that someone said to her that they were bullied is no evidence. It’s no evidence at all.

 

Alderney Representative Roberts

59:30 People losing their temper at a meeting, whoever they are, well, if I had a tenner for every time I’ve seen this in Alderney, the losing the temper, I’d have been able to stomp up the money and the cash for our runway long ago. This happens in the UK Parliament I can guarantee. Every day. It’s not a crime. Is that evidence? In politics passions do run high and display care for the job.

 

Deputy Burford

1:15:32 The speech by Deputy De Sausmarez alone on behaviour, side-lining and disregarding of committee mandates should be reason to dismiss this committee. Other members and presidents saying they have not experienced the behaviour that has been directed at her are spectacularly missing the point. Are those members truly saying we all have to experience such behaviour for it to be deemed unacceptable?

1:17:44 The behaviours Deputy de Sausmarez has clearly outlined cannot be diminished as, quote, ‘being ratty’, and it is very dismissive to suggest that.

 

Deputy Ferbrache

1:30:10 Occasionally you say heated words to people. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you a bully, it doesn’t make you unfit for office.

1:30:45 And the person whose name was blocked out was not a member of P&R. People might have thought it’s Mahoney or Helyar, they can be a bit aggressive. It wasn’t either of those gentlemen.

1:39:00 So if occasionally, and I’m not saying he has, but if occasionally Deputy Mahoney has had a little outburst and offended somebody, well, I’m sorry that he has done that but he’s done far, far, far more good work than otherwise.

 

Deputy Le Tocq

2:32:40 I’m not saying that I support every view and every methodology. Some of my colleagues are more confrontational than I would be. I prefer a more negotiating stance.

2:36:10 We are living in an age, sir, where the culture is such that people do lose their temper very quickly. Similarly, on the other side, people seem to me to get offended at the drop of a hat. I don’t like either of those. But that’s why sometimes I would seek to try and be a mediator, a peacemaker.

 

Deputv Sasha Kazantseva-Miller
2:46:55 And I felt sorry that Deputy De Sausmarez felt that she had no choice but to share how she felt and saw the things her way today. And I share with her that, at times, I perhaps felt quite similar. I have shared these concerns with colleagues. And what did I receive? I didn’t really receive much support.

2:48:00 We are all complicit in the behaviours because if you have witnessed bad behaviours and you didn’t stand up to it, you are complicit in those behaviours.

 

Interview with Deputy Ferbrache on BBC Guernsey on 27 November 2023.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0gr7smk.

2:13:14 But if Deputy A shouts at Deputy B that’s not a matter for Policy and Resources unless that deputy is a member of Policy and Resources and I have never witnessed and I have never shouted at any other deputy and I have never seen that and I have never seen that in relation to civil servants in my presence, to the best of my knowledge.