Horrible few months for Welsh Assembly, Elin Jones says

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Image caption,
Assembly members observed a minute's silence to remember Carl Sargeant

The death of former Labour minister Carl Sargeant has "shaken us to our core", the assembly's presiding officer has said in an end-of-year interview.

Elin Jones said it had been a "horrible few months", but AMs were carrying on their work "in the memory of Carl".

"It has been important that we allowed ourselves time to grieve," she said.

Mr Sargeant was found dead four days after being sacked as communities secretary in November amid allegations of inappropriate conduct towards women.

"They have been a horrible few months - the assembly has lost one of its own," she told BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement programme.

Image caption,
Elin Jones said many AMs still "feel the pain of his loss every day in their work"

"Carl Sargeant's death has shaken us to our core - those of us who knew him for a long time and those who knew him only for a short time.

"It has been important that we allowed ourselves time to grieve, that we were able to pay tribute fittingly to Carl in our assembly.

"There are many assembly members who were very, very close friends to Carl who must feel the pain of his loss every day in their work.

"But as an assembly we have to carry on with our work, as everybody does in their everyday lives, but we do that still in the memory of Carl."

Image caption,
Carwyn Jones (R) faces an inquiry into his response to allegations against Carl Sargeant (L)

On the question of First Minister Carwyn Jones' responses to questions about allegations of bullying within the Welsh Government, Ms Jones said her job was to allow questions to be asked, but the content of the answers was a matter for the minister concerned.

She defended her decision to allow Conservative AM Darren Millar to make a personal statement revealing it was Mr Sargeant who asked him in 2014 to put questions to Mr Jones about such allegations.

"I took the view that the matter of those written questions in 2014 had become a matter of much discussion, and that Darren Millar had clarification that he wanted to put on the record," she said.

"The written questions are the property of the assembly - explanation of those written questions should also be the property of the assembly and therefore the chamber was a place, the place, to make that statement.

"Darren Millar was keen to put on record his evidence on Carl having asked him to table those questions, and that is now a matter of public record."

While the assembly itself was not holding an inquiry into whether it was misled by the first minister, Ms Jones noted the commitment of the independent inquiry led by Irish lawyer James Hamilton to report its findings to an assembly committee.

Image caption,
Gareth Bennett had described transgender people as a "deviation from the norm"

Asked about banning UKIP AM Gareth Bennett from speaking in the Senedd because of controversial comments about transgender rights, she denied stifling free speech.

Ms Jones said UKIP had "brought a different political viewpoint" on many issues to the assembly, but she felt such views "need to be heard, deserve to be heard".

"I'll support the right of UKIP to break the political consensus on all kinds of matters," she said, pointing to global warming and immigration as examples.

She added: "I have allowed all kinds of issues to be raised by UKIP members that are challenging to other members.

"But what they say has to be said in a way which doesn't demean citizens in Wales - which treats people, individuals, with respect and dignity.

"Transgender people and their families have contacted me to thank me for supporting them and to tell me how horrible it is to be thought of as 'deviating from the norm'.

"I want to make sure that everyone in Wales feels that the assembly members, our chamber and our Senedd is treating everybody with respect, and that did not in my mind in any way pass as respect for them."

Sunday Supplement was on BBC Radio Wales on Sunday 17 December and is available via the BBC iPlayer Radio

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