Parliaments

Just what the Llywydd ordered: upholding integrity of the Senedd

Elin Jones
Image caption Elin Jones has said there have been some exchanges in the Senedd which have been "unfitting and unpleasant"

"I would promote and safeguard the good reputation of this assembly, here in the chamber and beyond," promised Elin Jones in May 2016, before the vote in which she defeated Lord Elis-Thomas for the role of Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales.

The Llywydd, as she prefers to be known, wants to "encourage democratic debate that is vigorous and robust", but she and her deputy have had to rule several members out of order since her election.

UKIP group leader Neil Hamilton - one of a third of the 2016 intake of AMs completely new to the assembly - sparked a row in his maiden Senedd speech, describing two senior female AMs as "political concubines" in Carwyn Jones' "harem".

The former Tory MP made the reference to Liberal Democrat AM Kirsty Williams and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood after they backed Mr Jones to be reinstated as first minister.

"What a gruesome prospect that must be," he added, before asking what the two had had in reward for "the sacrifice of their political virtue".

Image caption Neil Hamilton courted controversy when he called two female AMs 'political concubines'

Elin Jones said she found the "insult of the integrity of other members through sexist language and sexual innuendo to be unacceptable".

But how unruly is the Assembly compared to other institutions - and has it got worse since the last election?

'Very respectful parliamentary institution'

Political commentator Gareth Hughes, who previously worked for ITV Wales, says: "UKIP has changed the dynamics in the chamber, but there have been examples of bad behaviour from the start of the assembly.

"The powers of the assembly have increased over the years, therefore the scope to attempt to frustrate government has also increased, as there is more at stake."

He adds: "The assembly is a very respectful parliamentary institution compared to some, especially when you consider the robustness of the Parliament of Australia or the cut and thrust of Westminster."

The assembly's Standing Orders state the presiding officer must call to order any member who "seeks to raise a matter outside the scope of the debate or motion, is guilty of discourteous or unbecoming conduct or is using disorderly, discriminatory or offensive language or language which detracts from the dignity of the assembly".

The Llywydd has also asked members not to eat, drink or take photographs in the Siambr (Senedd chamber).

She did not name any AMs, but Nathan Gill - then a UKIP AM but now independent - had been tweeting images from the floor of the chamber, while two of his then party colleagues had been spotted with soft drinks bottles.

Image copyright Nathan Gill
Image caption Mr Gill tweeted a photo of Kirsty Williams speaking for the first time in the Senedd as education secretary

In July last year, the Llywydd called Economy Secretary Ken Skates to order for accusing Plaid Cymru's Neil McEvoy of making an "untrue statement".

"I'll retract that statement," said Mr Skates.

Mr McEvoy has accused the Llywydd of failing to stop First Minister Carwyn Jones from "sneering and insulting him".

Ms Jones has also had to warn Mr McEvoy over several contributions he has made.

This included First Minister's Questions on 5 July, when the Plaid Cymru AM, rather than immediately asking his supplementary question, addressed the first minister "before I come to a question, I was heckled by you last week, and you audibly called me a coward".

"When you are called to ask a supplementary question, you must do so," the Llywydd said in a letter to Mr McEvoy.

Image caption Neil McEvoy has said having ministers shout at him demeaned the positions they occupy

She told Mr McEvoy that "this behaviour must not continue" and that she would "impose sanctions if you continue to disregard these rules and procedures".

'Joyless Watson'

In September, UKIP's Neil Hamilton was again ruled out of order - by Deputy Presiding Officer Ann Jones - for referring to Mid and West Wales Labour AM Joyce Watson as "Joyless Watson". So did Mr Hamilton regret the remark?

"I regret I gave way to Joyce Watson," he said.

Rhianon Passmore, Labour AM for Islwyn, indisputably used unparliamentary language in October, when she referred to "lies from the parties opposite".

Image caption Rhianon Passmore used unparliamentary language

When Jenny Rathbone, Labour AM for Cardiff Central, said that "the leader of Plaid Cymru has already stolen my question", the Llywydd pointed out that "questions are not stolen in this place. Somebody has asked your question before you got to it."

In January, Elin Jones forced the Health Secretary Vaughan Gething to apologise for arriving late for a debate to which he was responding on behalf of the government.

Image caption 'I do apologise to the proposer and to the chamber for being late', said Vaughan Gething

During a debate on Brexit in February, Dawn Bowden, Labour AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, said that "when whipped up by the lies and the Goebbels-like propaganda from the right-wing media, immigrants became demonised".

Following a written complaint by Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, the Llywydd wrote that "however passionately Members feel about a subject, I do not consider that comparisons with the Nazi regime in 1930s and 1940s Germany are appropriate and normalising the use of such references risks trivialising the horrors perpetrated by that regime".

Image caption Following Dawn Bowden's comment, the Llywydd has said she will "ensure that such rhetoric does not become a common feature of Members' contributions".

Finally, she has on several occasions reminded members the term 'honourable member' is unnecessary and unwelcome, following the precedent set by the assembly's first presiding officer, Lord Elis-Thomas.

Her mantra is that "none of us are honourable in this chamber. We are all equal."

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