Previously, a temporary Chair could only take the chair for short periods and only carry out limited functions. In cases where the Presiding Officer was absent for a whole meeting then it was necessary for the Assembly to elect a Temporary Presiding Officer who can then carry out the required functions.
As these functions include using a casting vote in the event of a tied vote, a Member elected as Temporary Presiding Officer for a meeting was unable to use their own vote that day. With the Assembly being evenly split between Government and Opposition, this could have had significant consequences.
The changes will allow a Temporary Chair to carry out more of the Presiding Officer’s functions, including chairing successive items and adjusting the agenda where required. The Temporary Chair will not however be able to exercise the casting vote, and so will retain their own ability to vote. The Assembly will still need to elect a Temporary Presiding Officer for meetings where neither the Presiding Officer nor Deputy is able to be present to oversee Voting Time.
Under Standing Orders, any Member may act as Temporary Chair at the request of the Presiding Officer or be elected as Temporary Presiding Officer by the Assembly. The custom that has developed however is that these roles are fulfilled in turn by the four Commissioners, of which there is one from each party.