6 May 2016
Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The urgent first piece of business for the new Assembly is the election of a Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer. Standing Orders state that “The election of a Presiding Officer takes precedence over all other business”.
The role of the Presiding Officer
The Presiding Officer’s main role is to chair Plenary, maintaining order and protecting the rights of Assembly Members. He or she is responsible for ensuring that business is handled on the basis of equality and impartiality and is responsible for Standing Orders and is the final authority on their interpretation.
The Deputy Presiding Officer deputises as necessary for the Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer’s functions may be exercised by the Deputy Presiding Officer if the Presiding Officer’s office is vacant, or if the Presiding Officer is for any reason unable to act.
The Presiding Officer in the Fourth Assembly, Dame Rosemary Butler has not sought re-election to the Assembly, although she remained in post throughout dissolution in accordance with the Government of Wales Act 2006. The Deputy Presiding Officer post must be vacated at dissolution.
The first meeting is initially chaired by the outgoing Presiding Officer who invites nominations. A nomination, in the first instance, needs to be seconded by a Member from a different political group from the one to which the nominating Member belongs.
If it appears that no Member is likely to be nominated and seconded by members of different political groups, the chair adjourns proceedings and may, on their resumption, accept nominations which are seconded by members of the same political group as the nominating Member.
If there is only one nomination, the chair proposes that the Member nominated be elected as Presiding Officer (or Deputy). If that is opposed, or if there are two or more nominations, the chair must make arrangements for the election to take place by secret ballot.
If more than two Members have been nominated and no Member receives more than half of the votes cast in a ballot, the candidate who has received the smallest number of votes is excluded and further secret ballots held until one candidate obtains more than half of the votes cast.
The Member elected as Presiding Officer must immediately take the oath or make an affirmation if he or she has not already done so, and then take the chair.
The Assembly must not elect a Presiding Officer and a Deputy who belong to:
- the same political group;
- different political groups both of which are government;
- or different political groups both in opposition.
This can be disapplied by a resolution of the Assembly if the status of party groups changes. The resolution must be approved by a two-thirds majority of Members. In 2007 Lord Elis Thomas (Plaid Cymru) and Rosemary Butler (Labour) were elected Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer respectively at the first meeting of the Assembly. However, some months later Plaid Cymru and Labour formed a coalition government and the Assembly passed a resolution that allowed them to remain in office.