Wales

Rosemary Butler denies drinking culture among AMs

The Welsh assembly's presiding officer has denied there is a drinking culture among its members.

Rosemary Butler spoke after the conduct of AMs was put under the spotlight following a report into the behaviour of Llanelli Labour AM Keith Davies after a night out.

In denying there was a drinking culture in Cardiff Bay, she said what people did after work was a matter for them.

Ms Butler also said she would like to a rise in AM numbers to ease workload.

Speaking on the first anniversary of being in post, Ms Butler said chastisement from the standards committee should be the limit of Mr Davies's punishment after he was said to have brought the institution into disrepute following a night out in Cardiff.

Mr Davies, 71, apologised after the incident in the early hours of the morning at the city's St David's Hotel last month.

He was staying at the hotel where some AMs who live outside Cardiff stay when the assembly is sitting.

After a night out he returned to the hotel where staff were subjected to "abuse and threats" from Mr Davies's female companion.

Noise complaints were also made by fellow customers at the hotel.

Ms Butler, the Labour AM for Newport West, said: "Public ignominy is enough of a chastisement for anyone.

"Members' individual behaviour is a matter for them, but if they do bring the assembly into disrespect at any time in future then obviously the standards committee will look at that issue."

In 2010, the then AM Mick Bates was fined by Cardiff magistrates after being found guilty of assaulting paramedics who came to his aid when he drunkenly fell down stairs at a city restaurant.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats suspended him after his arrest.

The incident involving Mr Davies on 24 April did not involve police.

He has written to the hotel apologising, and also said he regretted the "pain and discomfort" brought to his family.

'Appropriate sanctions'

When asked if there was a drinking culture among AMs, Ms Butler added: "Certainly not. We don't have a bar here.

"If we have receptions here at lunchtime we don't encourage people to have alcohol. What people do after work is entirely a matter for them, but I'm certainly not prepared to say there is a drinking culture."

Ms Butler also spoke about increasing the assembly's size from 60 to 80 elected members which she said would ease the workload, but admitted there was little appetite for it.

"If you take out the government you reduce the number of members available to do the work quite considerably," she added.

"Many of the councils in Wales have far more members than we do and far less responsibility."

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas said Mr Davies should give details about the events at the hotel.

"The people of Wales should be able to expect high standards of conduct that do not bring the assembly into disrepute," said Mr Thomas.

"It is now for the assembly to debate the standard commissioner's report and impose appropriate sanctions.

"At the very least, I would expect Keith Davies to give a clear oral statement and apologise in person to the assembly and the people of Llanelli."

Labour MP Alun Michael said there was not so much of a drinking culture as there used to be.

"I think the level of drinking and the culture of drinking has changed quite considerably over the years, certainly in the time I've been in parliament," the Cardiff South and Penarth MP told BBC Radio Wales.

"At one time heavy drinking was the norm, there would be a lot of drinking at lunchtime. Those things have changed."

Mr Michael, a former first minister, added that in any group in society there will be some members who drink too much and some who have a drink problem.

"I don't think that's any different in relation to members of parliament or assembly members," he said.

"I would say the culture is very much against excessive drinking and it's much less a part of the culture in either body than was the case even if you go back 10 years."

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