Wales politics

Row over 'unacceptable' Senedd committee chair party split

Paul Davies
Image caption Paul Davies said the situation was "frankly worrying"

A row has broken out in the assembly over the number of committee chairperson posts held by the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru.

Tory AM Paul Davies told the chamber of his "extreme disappointment" that a shake-up in the posts did not address Plaid having one more than the Tories.

That is despite the Conservative group now being larger than Plaid Cymru's.

But Rhun ap Iorwerth of Plaid said chairs were allocated on the basis of how voters chose AMs last year.

UKIP has lost its right to have a member lead the climate change committee to Labour but has been given a chairpersons position on petitions committee instead.

The change was passed after a Senedd vote of 41 members in favour to 12 against.

But the decision, which was proposed at business committee and supported by Labour, UKIP and Plaid but not the Tories, do not address the fact that Plaid has three committee chairs and the Conservatives two.

'Unacceptable'

Ahead of the vote Mr Davies told AMs on Tuesday: "The presiding officer made it quite clear that Mark Reckless is a member of the Conservative group.

"It's my view that the assembly should honour and respect the presiding officer's determination."

He claimed the decision to allow Plaid to continue to have more committee chairs than the Tories broke the rules of the assembly.

He pointed to a clause in the rules of the assembly which said that when the position of a chair becomes vacant business committee "must consider the effects of that vacancy on the balance of committee chairs between political groups".

He said that standing order had been broken by allowing Plaid to have more chairs than Tories.

"This send the message that it doesn't matter how many members your group has in this place, all that matters is your ability to make deals regardless of any political balance," he said.

The Preseli Pembrokeshire AM said the Welsh Tories should be allocated three committee chairs and Plaid Cymru two - "not the other way round".

Image caption Mark Reckless (R) joined Andrew RT Davies' Tory group as an independent AM earlier in the year

The climate change committee post was left vacant after Mark Reckless left UKIP and joined the Conservative group as an independent AM in April.

UKIP, Labour and Plaid all supported the shake-up.

Mr Reckless's resignation from UKIP measn that the Tories now have 12 AMs in their group - despite Mr Reckless being an independent and not a member of the Conservative Party.

Plaid, which had 12 AMs elected in May 2016, now has 11 after Lord Elis-Thomas left the party in October.

Mr Reckless said the business committee meeting where this was agreed had been suspended so that its Plaid Cymru and Labour members "could go outside the room and agree among themselves what the motion should be".

'Chopping and changing'

Committee chairs are allocated to parties and under assembly rules, when they are first established business committee is meant to ensure the balance of chairs across committees reflects the political groups to which AMs belong.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid's representative on business committee, told BBC Wales that Plaid respects the decision of the presiding officer on the formation of the Conservative group.

But he said: "I don't think we should be inviting the chopping and changing of the numbers of directly elected chairs on the whim of AMs deciding to change their allegiance."

He added: "This has come about because the restless UKIP-elected Mark Reckless fancied a change of scene again and went to sit with the Tories."

"I understand why the 'Reckless Conservatives' group would want to grab some more jobs for themselves, but the people of Wales chose their representatives a year ago, and committee chairs were allocated on that basis."

A Labour group spokesman said: "The decision regarding the allocation of committee chairs was taken after significant discussion in the assembly's business committee.

"The election of committee chairs is a matter for the assembly as a whole."

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