Parliaments

No-no for a ho-ho: Santa costume one of transgressions in Welsh Assembly

'Santa' enters the assembly chamber in 2002
Image caption 'Santa' makes his way into the assembly chamber in 2002

Dressing as Father Christmas, raising a middle finger and calling the Queen "Mrs Windsor" are among the actions that have been ruled out of order in the Welsh Assembly chamber.

Not using full names and proper titles, speaking without being called and naming officials who do not have the right to reply are the most common contretemps of 30 categories of behaviour highlighted.

The list, compiled by assembly officials, was acquired by BBC Wales using the Freedom of Information Act, and covers the period from the beginning of the assembly in 1999 to this year's election in May.

The presiding officer has warned current AMs to respect the assembly's dignity.

The list of more than 80 cases - which is not comprehensive - includes that of Mick Bates, a Liberal Democrat AM, who appeared in the chamber dressed as Father Christmas in 2002.

On another occasion, in 2006, he raised his middle finger arguing he was showing someone which finger to use to operate the assembly's push button voting system.

Image caption Leanne Wood refused to withdraw her description of the Queen as 'Mrs Windsor'

Cases of "disregarding the authority of the chair" include Plaid Cymru AM and now party leader Leanne Wood, who refused to withdraw her reference to the Queen as "Mrs Windsor" in 2004.

In 2013, former Conservative AM Antoinette Sandbach apologised "unreservedly" for statements on Twitter "which could have called into question" the presiding officer's role.

The Presiding Officer Elin Jones has warned AMs that she would "call to order anyone who detracts from the dignity of this assembly, or who insults the integrity of other members or the voters who elected them".

The list distinguishes between "chatter during question time", "standing and shouting", "interrupting replies to questions" and "barracking".

Other categories include:

  • raising a matter outside the scope of the debate or motion
  • discussing the UK general election
  • factually inaccurate/incorrect remark
  • leaving the chamber during an item they have contributed to
  • absent without notice for tabled question
  • inappropriate description of an answer to a question
  • sedentary contributions.

Less serious categories are "standing in the body of the chamber", "asking ushers to distribute leaflets or documents" and "entering in a disruptive manner".

Here are some of the other categories:

Appropriate dress code in the chamber

On 4 December 2002, Conservative AM Alun Cairns raised a point of order, an issue concerning the assembly's rules, after Liberal Democrat AM Mick Bates appeared in a Santa suit to raise money for charity.

Mr Cairns, then AM for South Wales West and now Welsh Secretary, accused Mr Bates of "making a mockery of the assembly by clowning around in a Santa suit".

Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas said there was an accepted dress code for the assembly chamber, which was that AMs should appear there "in normal dress".

The presiding officer said he would not call members to address the chamber if they were "abnormally dressed".

The reasons for this were very simple, he said. Members of some political parties might wish to appear in hunting pink to make a certain point, or in sporting gear, which might be seen as free advertising.

On 15 June 2004, Alun Cairns again sought "guidance on the appropriate dress code for gentlemen members in particular". The deputy presiding officer replied that "normal dress would include suits and ties for male members, but I am aware that those standards of dress have not always been upheld. It is important that all members should uphold the dignity of the assembly."

Image caption Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns repeatedly sought clarification about the appropriate dress code for assembly members when he was an AM.

On 22 June 2005 Mr Cairns once again sought "clarification about the appropriate dress code for assembly members, particularly male assembly members." The presiding officer replied: "I do not want to rule that it would be inappropriate for people to dress in a more relaxed manner in warm weather."

Making rude gestures

On 28 November 2006, while voting on the day's motions, Liberal Democrat Mick Bates raised his middle finger to the laughter of other AMs. The AM for Montgomeryshire denied that his gesture was aimed at the Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who had earlier reprimanded the assembly, or anyone else in the chamber.

Mr Bates said: "My gesture was not directed at the presiding officer, for whom I have enormous respect and affection.

"I was showing [Plaid Cymru AM] Rhodri Glyn Thomas which finger he should use to operate the assembly's modern push button voting system."

"If anyone has taken offence, then of course I apologise for that," Mr Bates added.

Accusing others of filibustering (talking at great length)

On 2 March 2004, Conservative Mark Isherwood said about Jane Davidson: "The Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning's use of filibustering tactics have now been extended beyond committee into minister's questions."

On 30 November 2005, Labour's Lorraine Barrett asked Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams, "Could you give us an idea, Kirsty, as to how much longer you are going to filibuster, so that we can go for a cup of tea?"

Image caption Was Kirsty Williams - now the education secretary - filibustering?

Unbecoming behaviour

On 21 May 2014, the Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding ruled: "I say to members on the Conservative benches, you should not shout when you make your arguments. Arguments are not strengthened by screaming them out, and it is a discourtesy to others in this chamber."

Condoning unlawful or even illegal activity

On 20 March 2012, following a statement on a programme for eradicating bovine tuberculosis in Wales, the Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding reminded members that "we are all obliged to ensure that any statement that we make in the chamber could not easily be misconstrued by members of the public as to somehow condone unlawful or even illegal activity."

Allegations against a non-member

On 1 April 2003, the presiding officer asked Labour AM Alison Halford to rephrase an expression containing the words "appears to be untrue".

Making allegations against another member

On 21 October 2008, after Conservative Angela Burns stated "categorically that I have never had a relationship with a hedge fund or with a hedge fund provider", she called on Labour's Alun Davies to withdraw a remark "because it is a slur on my integrity". Mr Davies did so.

Image caption Angela Burns complained about a 'slur' on her integrity

Discussing complaints against a minister

On 13 January 2004, when Leanne Wood sought the first minister's views on "allegations in the Western Mail regarding the minister for social justice", the presiding officer stated: "It is not appropriate to refer to allegations in the chamber. We have agreed protocols and conventions to deal with such matters."

Calling an assembly member a 'councillor'

On 18 November 2015, Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews said: "I'm sorry that the councillor is so lacking in confidence in local government in Wales." Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding ruled: "I do remind the minister that Peter Black is an esteemed member of the assembly when he's in this chamber, and it is improper to refer to him in the manner you did, if you were attempting to demean his status, anyway, and I'm not passing any judgment on that."

Image caption Was Leighton Andrews 'attempting to demean' the status of Peter Black?

'Borderline' comments

On 9 March 2016, Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler asked Conservative Janet Finch-Saunders "to consider some of the use of her language, because you were borderline on what is acceptable in the chamber". Janet Finch-Saunders responded: "OK. Only borderline."

Ungentlemanly comments

On 14 October 2015, after Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies asked Finance Minister Jane Hutt "why aren't you pulling your finger out and bringing money in via a city deal for Cardiff?", the presiding officer said the question "certainly wasn't gentlemanly".

Image caption Andrew RT Davies' question was ruled 'ungentlemanly'

Disregarding the authority of the chair and other transgressions

On 20 June 2002, Deputy Presiding Officer John Marek asked then Labour AM Peter Law to withdraw the phrase "Blackey the Lackey" he had used to describe Liberal Democrat Peter Black. Mr Law responded: "I will withdraw it if you think it appropriate to do so. I will just call him the lackey of Mike German, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrat group. He is a lackey, because he is also a deputy minister." The deputy presiding officer then ruled that lackey was "not a suitable word to use in the chamber. No member is a lackey."

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption The phrase 'Blackey the Lackey' used to describe Peter Black was ruled out of order

On 9 March 2004, Labour's Jeff Cuthbert questioned John Marek's "suitability to chair this particular session because of the strong views that you expressed during the Dragon's Eye [BBC television] programme last week". The deputy presiding officer responded: "I do not have a personal or financial interest, and, therefore we should move on."

Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood was expelled from the chamber after refusing to withdraw a reference to the Queen as "Mrs Windsor" on 1 December 2004.

On 23 May 2006 Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas said he heard Labour's Huw Lewis say that the funding of dental services in north Wales was not an urgent question and ordered him to withdraw the remark. Mr Lewis disputed this several times, stating his comment "was not on the record", but eventually withdrew the comment.

On 19 June 2013 Antoinette Sandbach, then a north Wales regional Conservative AM but now MP for Eddisbury in Cheshire, said that the presiding officer had not let her question a minister about Cardiff Airport. Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding said: "Sit down. I will not allow you to undermine a ruling by the presiding officer."

Image caption Presiding Officer Elin Jones says she will 'call to order anyone who detracts from the dignity of this assembly'

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