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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Melissa McCullough
Commissioner for Standards