Wales politics

UKIP AM Gareth Bennett absent for debate to suspend him

Gareth Bennett
Image caption Gareth Bennett is the leader of UKIP in the Welsh Assembly

AMs should be compelled to be in the chamber when they are sanctioned for poor behaviour, a Labour AM has said.

Huw Irranca-Davies attacked UKIP's Gareth Bennett for not being present at a debate on whether he should be suspended.

The UKIP assembly group leader faces a week without pay over a video where he put Joyce Watson's head onto the image of a barmaid.

UKIP AM Neil Hamilton said AMs should be prepared to be belittled.

AMs agreed on Wednesday to suspend Mr Bennett for seven days without pay, after the standards committee found he broke the rules that govern members conduct.

Ms Watson had called the video "sexist and blatantly misogynistic".

In the YouTube video, which has been deleted, Mr Bennett, who represents South Wales Central, said Ms Watson used to run a pub but "you wouldn't guess that from looking at her".

He added: "She doesn't look like the life and soul of the party. I'm not sure I would fancy popping in for a quick one at the local if I saw her pulling pints at the bar."

He declined to apologise for the video when BBC Wales asked Mr Bennett if he regretted his actions.

"I don't have anything else to add to what's been discussed today," he said.

Image copyright Youtube/Gareth Bennett
Image caption Gareth Bennett has refused to apologise for the YouTube clip

Huw Irranca-Davies, AM for Ogmore, accused Mr Bennett of showing disrespect to the chamber as well as Joyce Watson.

He said the empty chair where Mr Bennett would normally be "speaks volumes".

"I think we need to revisit our standing orders to insist that the member is present. I've seen it too many times in this place, that the member scuttles off somewhere to hide from this," he said.

"Should that member not see it fit, who is absent today, to apologise, to show some contrition for what is done, I would thoroughly recommend that the committee revisits the option of actually bringing forward a further suspension," he added.

The recommendation that Mr Bennett is suspended for a week came after Sir Roderick Evans ordered a review of his own decision that the video was not sexist.

Douglas Bain, a former standards commissioner for Northern Ireland, was asked to look into the matter, and found the video to be demeaning of Ms Watson.

The standards committee - which for the purposes of the inquiry included UKIP AM David Rowlands - unanimously recommended that Mr Bennett be excluded from the assembly.

AMs also voted for Mr Bennett to be stripped of his role on the committee.

Image caption Neil Hamilton said AMs should be prepared to be belittled.

Mr Hamilton told the chamber: "We are allowing double jeopardy in this place for complaints to be made ad nauseam, possibly, against individual members.

"I believe that, in principle, is wrong."

Mr Hamilton angered other AMs when he read out the text of the comments Mr Bennett made about Ms Watson.

AMs were angered by the contribution. "Sexist," heckled Leanne Wood, former leader of Plaid Cymru.

Deputy presiding officer Ann Jones asked Mr Hamilton to wind-up and demanded a concluding sentence, saying he had taken far too long to speak.

After protesting that he was being silenced, he said: "In a free society, members of a democratic assembly should be prepared to put up with criticism, and sometimes being belittled and offended. That is part and parcel of it."

Mr Hamilton's microphone was cut and Ms Jones demanded he sit down.

'Not a court of law'

Committee chairwoman Jayne Bryant told Mr Hamilton there was nothing in the legislation to stop a complaint being dealt with when a similar one had been dismissed.

He said the committee had received legal advice that double jeopardy provisions would not apply in such instances.

"This is not a court of law," she said

Mr Bennett's suspension was passed with 48 AMs for, one against and one abstention. The exclusion will come into force on 29 April.

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