By Aliraza Manji
Gareth Bennett, the UKIP Welsh Assembly leader and AM for South Wales Central, has been suspended from the Senedd on April 3rd following an inquiry into a video published in September 2018. In this video, he superimposed Joyce Watson’s head onto a barmaid’s body while stating that “Ms Watson used to run a pub, but you would not guess that from looking at her”.
A report published by the Standards of the Conduct Committee recommended that Bennett receive a suspension from the Chamber. Following this, there was an investigation by Douglas Bain, former Standards Commissioner for the Northern Ireland Assembly, who described his actions as “gratuitous personal abuse” whilst also noting that while this video had satirical intentions, it proved to be targeted and the Committee stated that the lack of apology confirms the nature of this video.
During this hearing, former minister Huw Irranca-Davies stated his dismay at Bennett who had not appeared at the hearing, saying “there is disrespect not only to the member but also to the chamber’” and he called for a revision in the rules to state that an AM must be present so they cannot hide from their suspension. He goes onto say that the empty chair of Mr Bennett “speaks volumes”, and recommended that the Committee “revisits the option of actually bringing forward a further suspension”.
Neil Hamilton the UKIP Wales Leader, however, claimed that mockery, was “part and parcel” and that ‘in a free society, members of a democratic assembly should be prepared to put up with criticism, and sometimes being belittled and offended’.
The Committee ultimately recommended that Bennett be excluded from the Senedd for a week and his pay docked for this period. The AMs voted on the exclusion; 48 voted for, one abstained, and one voted against. They also agreed to Bennett being removed from the Standards of Conduct Committee and not re-nominated for further committees during the fifth Assembly sitting.
Bennett is the second UKIP AM to be suspended from the Chamber, the first being Michelle Brown last year, and this is also the second time that Bennett has been docked pay. His exclusion will occur following the Senedd’s recess, beginning on the 29th April 2019.