Wales politics

Welsh assembly presiding officer accused of bias

Mark Reckless
Image caption Mark Reckless became leader of the Brexit Party group in May

The leader of the recently-formed Brexit Party assembly group has accused the Senedd's presiding officer of being biased against his AMs.

Mark Reckless said Elin Jones had "tilted the playing field", and said it was "wrong" that she was a member of a political party, Plaid Cymru.

He says his group is given fewer opportunities to question ministers.

But his AMs have been criticised for not submitting questions. The assembly said Ms Jones was always impartial.

Labour assembly members defended the presiding officer on Saturday. Caerphlly's Hefin David said Ms Jones was "scrupulously fair".

Rebecca Evans, Welsh Government minister responsible for assembly business, was one of several Labour AMs who defended Elin Jones on Twitter.

"This is typical of the snivelling 'poor us' narrative that Reckless tries to develop week after week," she said.

"The reality is that the Llywydd is more than generous to him, and Reckless can't blame her for the fact that his AMs are some of the least engaged."

"Dangerous times when we start questioning [the Llywydd]," said Hefin David, Labour AM for Caerphilly.

"My view is that [Elin Jones] is a scrupulously fair and impartial presiding officer, and a very kind and supportive Senedd colleague."

'No mandate'

Nigel Farage announced the formation of the group of four AMs during the European Parliament election campaign last month.

AMs in Plaid Cymru, and some in Labour, complained that the group had no democratic mandate having not fought an election under a Brexit Party banner.

The presiding officer - or Llywydd - gave permission for it to go ahead, and an attempt to stop the group from forming went nowhere.

The assembly's presiding officer is equivalent to the speaker of the House of Commons - overseeing the conduct of debates and the business of the Senedd chamber.

But unlike the Commons, presiding officers in the assembly have remained members of their political parties.

Opposition party groups are able to nominate AMs to be spokespeople, who have rights to ask ministers questions during assembly proceedings.

Last Wednesday, in a tense exchange in the Senedd, Mr Reckless attacked presiding officer Elin Jones for cutting the number of questions party spokespeople could ask.

Mr Reckless said his group was able to ask ministers a "quarter" of what other parties could.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Elin Jones acts with impartiality at all times, the assembly said

"Presiding Officer, won't people conclude that you are biased as part of the Remain establishment," Mr Reckless told Ms Jones.

The presiding officer replied saying the Brexit Party had been given the same allocation as UKIP - a party group until May - had recently.

But she added: "I need to point out to you that I can only call your members if they make requests to ask questions, and, for the record, for members, I received no such requests from the Brexit Party today."

"You told us we couldn't," he responded.

He told the BBC's Sunday Politics Wales programme that his group was "not being treated fairly".

'Tilted the playing field'

He said the Welsh Liberal Democrats were treated "completely the same" as others when it was a group of five.

"UKIP were only cut down in their spokespeople questions when they went down to a group of three. We're larger than that."

"I think that it's wrong that the presiding officer is a member of Plaid Cymru - stays part of the Plaid Cymru group, has been able to employ people who are Plaid Cymru to come in and advise her," he said.

"A lot of things in the assembly are better than in Westminster, but one thing I thought was better in Westminster is the idea that the speaker is neutral and leaves their party."

"I don't think it's right that she's tilted the playing field against the Brexit group," he added.

A Welsh assembly spokesperson said: "The allocation of leaders and spokespeople's questions is at the discretion of the Llywydd who acts with impartiality at all times, in line with standing orders.

"The Llywydd can only call members to ask questions in the Siambr (chamber) if a request is received."

Sunday Politics Wales, BBC One Wales, 9 July, 1200 BST. Watch later on iPlayer.

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