The Fifth Assembly: Appointing the First Minister and Ministers

6 May 2016

Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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The Government of Wales Act 2006 (“the 2006 Act”), as amended by the Wales Act 2014, establishes the Welsh Government as the executive branch of the devolved political system in Wales. The Welsh Government comprises the First Minister, other Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers and the Counsel General to the Welsh Government.

Appointment of the First Minister

Following a vote in the Assembly, the First Minister is appointed by the Monarch on the recommendation of the Presiding Officer.

The Assembly must nominate a First Minister within 28 days. If the Assembly fails to make a nomination within this period, then the Secretary of State for Wales is required to propose a day for the holding of an extraordinary general election.

In 2011 because Labour declared that it would govern alone straight away, Carwyn Jones was nominated as First Minister on the same day as the Presiding Officer in the first meeting of Plenary. In 2007, however, due to protracted discussions between the parties following the election, Rhodri Morgan was not nominated until 25 May, 22 days after the election. In the first instance he formed a minority Labour Government but a coalition was later agreed with Plaid Cymru.

Welsh Ministers and Deputy Ministers

Once appointed by the Monarch, the First Minister may, with the approval of the Monarch, appoint Welsh Ministers and Deputy Ministers from among Assembly Members. The 2006 Act places a limit of 12 on the number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers, excluding the First Minister and Counsel General.

The First Minister can remove Ministers and Deputy Ministers from office at any time and they cease to be Ministers if they resign as Assembly Members. If the Assembly resolves that the Welsh Ministers no longer enjoy the confidence of the Assembly, the Act provides that all Welsh Ministers and Deputy Welsh Ministers resign with immediate effect.

The appointment of the Counsel General

The 2006 Act provides for the appointment of a Counsel General to the Welsh Government who acts as its legal adviser and its representative in the courts. This role is analogous with the role of the Attorney-General and Solicitor General in the UK Government.

The Counsel General is appointed by the Monarch on the recommendation of the First Minister but the recommendation for the appointment must be approved by the National Assembly. The person appointed need not be an Assembly Member, although an Assembly Member could serve as Counsel General. The National Assembly’s Standing Orders make it clear that the Counsel General will be treated the same as Welsh Ministers in Assembly Proceedings. The one exception is that a Counsel General who is not an AM will not be able to vote.

In the Third Assembly Assembly Members served as Counsel General. However, in the Fourth Assembly there was an external appointee, Theodore Huckle QC.

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