Wales politics

Standing order knocks opposition leader off his feet

Andrew RT Davies and Carwyn Jones
Image caption Stand by your man: Andrew RT Davies (l) tried to stay on his feet in exchanges with Carwyn Jones (r)

Anyone interested in how the Welsh assembly operates can turn to the institution's standing orders.

This exhaustive document contains advice on everything from registering AMs' financial interests to the conduct of debates.

But one thing the standing orders are silent on is when members should get to their feet.

However, an attempt by the new leader of the opposition has left AMs in no doubt where they stand.

AMs have now been told when to sit and when to get up in the chamber after Conservative assembly group leader Andrew RT Davies remained standing during his debut at questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones.

He has been told by the presiding officer to sit down while Mr Jones answers him.

Mr Davies said he would respect the decision and hoped ministers would follow the protocol too.

He stayed on his feet throughout first minister's questions last week - his first as leader of the opposition.

In the past, AMs have stood to ask questions and sat to hear the answer. Only the first minister has remained standing throughout the weekly encounter.

Mr Davies, elected Tory leader in July, tried to use his new tactic at his second question time on Tuesday, until Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler told him otherwise.

He was trying to elicit an apology from the first minister for Labour's "damning failures".

None was forthcoming, and Mr Jones told him that he "needn't stand to attention when I speak".

Senedd etiquette

Mrs Butler added: "No, he's supposed to be sitting down."

She told him that after asking his next question she would "appreciate it if you sit down before you ask the next one".

Later, Mrs Butler provided similar advice for Labour AM Jenny Rathbone, telling her: "You should really sit down when you've finished."

It has raised questions about etiquette in the Senedd and whether ministers gain an advantage by standing throughout question time.

In Westminster, backbenchers, opposition spokespeople and ministers all stand to make contributions and sit to hear the response.

The assembly's standing orders do not stipulate rules on when members should sit or stand.

An Assembly Commission spokesman said the presiding officer had decided to stick with the convention that AMs sit down if they are not speaking, while ministers can remain standing.

He said: "She has decided she wants it that way and he (Mr Davies) will be expected to follow her guidance now."

Mr Davies said: "Having checked the standing orders, I was aware there was nothing in them on this issue.

"However, I respect the PO's decision on this and I hope it will be a universal decision that will be respected by ministers as well."

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