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That in accordance with paragraph 15 of Initial Standing Orders the Assembly shall establish a Committee whose terms of reference, quorum and composition are set out below.
Terms of Reference:
To assist the Assembly in its consideration of Standing Orders and report to the Assembly by 14 September 1998.
— [The Initial Presiding Officer]
Can you, Sir, indicate how we could appropriately deal with the three people who might be described as Independents? It is somewhat unfair that both the Women’s Coalition and the Progressive Unionist Party, each of which has two Members, have a representative on this Committee while the three Independents, who have broadly similar views, have none. Is the Assembly willing to consider the matter and give some representation to this group?
Mr Robinson, we have interim Standing Orders, and, as you know, they are the only rules under which we can work. The suggestion you make can be considered by the Assembly. We can only make this decision for the present. There were meetings conducted by the Chief Whips, including the Chief Whip of your party. These matters cannot be considered further at this juncture, but they may be developed at a later stage.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. The Assembly has a right to honour everyone in it, and there is nothing in the Standing Orders against our putting anyone on this Committee — nothing whatsoever. As the then solitary member of my party in the House of Commons I was given my place. And I reminded Mr McGrady today of how some of his members in the same position were not passed over.
It would be scurrilous of this Assembly not to recognise three Members who need a voice on all Committees. I protest vigorously that they were not told about any of the arrangements. The reason they were so treated is that they were against the Agreement. It was a political decision. A nominee of their choice should be added to this Committee.
Some other Members would be up in arms if they were excluded in this way. Let us remember what happened in the Forum. Fair is fair. These three Members deserve to be represented.
As you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, said, the Democratic Unionist Party was at that meeting. But the composition of the Committees was not agreed. The Social Democratic and Labour Party was getting three Members but was not represented at the second meeting. So what we have in front of us was not agreed by the Whips’ today.
I endorse what Mr Morrow has said. In fact, I raised this matter with you, Sir, in the belief that it should be put to the Assembly today. I am sure that many Members, including Prof McWilliams and Mr Ervine, are keen to defend the rights of the smaller groups and parties, as they did in the Forum and in the negotiations.
I am glad. I was trying to provoke the Member into saying publicly what he had said privately. It would be easy to determine the view of the House by asking whether any Member has any objection to the three Independents’ having a representative. If not, is there any difficulty?
Yes, there is a difficulty. With regard to Committees of the kind that we are discussing, Standing Order 15(2) states
"each party with at least two members shall have at least one seat on each Committee."
If the three Independents wish to be represented, there is no reason why the matter cannot be dealt with at a subsequent meeting. The problem about dealing with it now is that, as Mr Morrow said, the Whips did not agree entirely on all the matters. Indeed, right up to three minutes before the start of this meeting they could not even resolve who should propose the motion.
If the motion were to be proposed as prescribed, the Initial Presiding Officer would have to take responsibility for moving it. Furthermore, if an amendment were to be proposed to any item, it would, under the Standing Orders, have to be notified in writing to the office of the Initial Presiding Officer at least one hour prior to the commencement of the day’s business. All the Whips were aware that the list did not contain a recommendation for the representation of these three Members, but I received nothing in writing one hour, or even half an hour, before. The matter has only now been raised.
We have no option but to proceed with the Standing Orders as they are. The Assembly would be entirely within its rights if it were to reject the motion as unsatisfactory, but at this juncture the only propositions are those that are before us. However much I might like to do so, I cannot receive amendments, for the time for acceptance has expired.
There will often be differences in the Assembly, but let us not try to create difficulties when there is no need. The rule to which you refer does not exclude the possibility of the Assembly’s nominating one of these three individuals to the Committee. It sets out a right for those parties that have two members or more to be represented, but it does not prevent the Assembly from exercising its powers for the purposes of its own business. We have had a lot of talk about how inclusive this process should be; now let us have some evidence.
What you say is absolutely correct, and if an amendment to that effect had been received in time, it could have been put to the Assembly. But none was received, and that is the dilemma in which I find myself. Indeed, the other matters too were not proceeded with. It would be desirable to achieve agreement on these questions, but under Standing Orders I have had to proceed with the agenda items as set out in the appendix.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, I understood your first comment in response to Dr Paisley to be that the three Members do not have a right. You did not say that they have a right which they failed to exercise. In fact, you stated quite clearly, and quoted Standing Order 15(2) as saying, that each party with at least two Members shall have at least one seat on each Committee. A party with two Members is not limited to one place on a Committee. It could have two, but it must have at least one. So there is nothing whatever to prevent an individual from being represented on a Committee.
Initially you said that the individuals were not entitled at all, but you have moved to the subsidiary ground that the motion was not tabled in time. I submit that the Assembly can agree at this stage to make an amendment that is in accordance with all the rules of natural justice and does not contravene any of the preliminary Standing Orders.
I said not that they could not be represented but that they did not have a right to be represented. That is what the provision says. In other words, as Mr Peter Robinson points out, if it were decided that one or two or all of them should be on a Committee, that would be entirely possible, but other representations would have to be reduced as the size of the Committee is also laid down. But the matter would have to be discussed. Parties of two or more have certain entitlements, which must be respected. This group of three could turn themselves into a party or make some other arrangement. The Committee on Standing Orders may have to pay particular attention to individuals who are not members of parties.
I know a place where there are Cross-Benchers who do not take any party Whip but have a convenor. They do not have all the privileges that parties enjoy, but neither do they have all the responsibilities. There are some things that the three individuals here do not have, but I understand that they have reasonably commodious accommodation — much more than individual party members.
We must try to ensure that all these matters are dealt with properly, but that could not be done without a Committee on Standing Orders, whose appointment will require a resolution, either today or at the next sitting — perhaps on 14 September — which will necessitate changes in the other membership.
It is not possible to move to an amendment now, because it was not put forward one hour ago. Members who are getting to their feet were aware of the situation.
In order to assist the work of the Assembly and allow it to proceed with its business, we could take cognisance of the representations made for the three Members. On behalf of my party’s Chief Whip, I will be very conscious of that factor.
Irrespective of the arguments that have been put forward in this debate, we are circumscribed by the Standing Orders before us, which state that the maximum number shall be 18. I understand that the allocation of positions to parties is also prescribed by the Standing Orders. Nevertheless, 18 is the maximum number. We will be sympathetic to representations, but some of the other parties — particularly those that are advocating the rights of the three individuals — may have to cede one of their seats in the meantime. This could, however, be addressed at the first meeting of the Standing Orders Committee.
I have taken a number of interventions as points of order although they have been more like substantive contributions. Mr Maskey is the only Member to have put his name forward to speak in the debate.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I would like to draw your attention to Standing Order 9(1), which is the one that, as you indicated, appears to be blocking any change to the proposal as it appears on the Order Paper. If there were a will on the part of the Assembly to have a Committee including one of the three representatives, could we not vote down the proposal that is on the Order Paper? A new proposal could then be put that was within the current Standing Orders.
I shall respond to that point of order and then call Mr Maskey.
Such a matter could perhaps be dealt with — I would have to take advice — by leave of the Assembly, which is usually taken as requiring unanimity. That will be the case when the Assembly has full power to decide its own business. At present, agenda items are prescribed by the Secretary of State.
At this juncture we are not entirely free in that respect. For example, even an Adjournment debate requires the approval of the Secretary of State. Indeed, such a letter was received just before this sitting. What you say would be correct if there were unanimity in the Assembly, but there would probably need to be a suspension to seek the Secretary of State’s approval.
Thank you, Sir, for your tolerance. You want to facilitate progress in the Assembly, and you can rule me out of order if you wish. However, it is proper to suggest that one of the three Independents should attend the Standing Orders Committee as an observer until the Standing Orders can be amended in accordance with the will of the Assembly.
I have no idea whether the Initial Presiding Officer has the power to indicate that someone may attend in that way until the matter has been resolved. I shall have to take advice. It is not a matter on which I sought a legal opinion in advance. I am certainly not antagonistic towards the proposition, but I will have to do two things in following it up: first, seek legal advice about whether I am in a position to take such action; secondly, consult the Whips of all the parties and, of course, the three Independents to see if what you suggest might be a way of resolving matters.
I certainly do not want to create difficulties, but it is crucial that we stick to the Initial Standing Orders, though we did not design them.
The original draft of the Order Paper listed four Ulster Unionist Party members, three Social Democratic and Labour Party members, three people from the Democratic Unionist Party, three from Sinn Fein and one each from the other parties. I do not understand how that can suddenly have changed today. I understand that the meeting was called for 11 o’clock. My Whip was there, but it did not begin until 11.30 am. Even though the Social Democratic and Labour Party’s Whip was not at the meeting, we have these changes. I understand that party members had business in Londonderry.
The Initial Presiding Officer told us, and we believe what he says until we have reason to do otherwise.
I want to know why the representation of the Social Democratic and Labour Party was changed. Also, the Democratic Unionist Party, with 20 Members, has the same representation as Sinn Fein, which has 18 Members. That is unfair, and it must be looked into. The way in which this motion has been handled is obstructing the Assembly’s business.
I regret the attitude of some people. The three Members in question need representation. They do not know what is going on. I would go along with Mr McGrady’s proposal. It is better than nothing, though the Independents should be there by right. I would understand it if this motion were defeated and another one proposed. That would be quite in order. The Secretary of State would be unlikely to quibble if that were the wish of the Assembly, which she says she wants to bolster.
It is a very short point. I received the Order Paper at 2.05 pm, as did most other Members, and it would have been very difficult to give the notice required for an amendment. I was debating in the Chamber along with everybody else.
You have your Standing Orders, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, but circumstances alter cases. There have been all sorts of alarms and diversions on this the Assembly’s first day, and documents have arrived late — in some cases, when Members were already in the Chamber. In those circumstances how could the hour’s notice which, apparently, these Standing Orders require have been given?
I am grateful to Members for pointing out the difficulty in which I and some others were put. Several meetings of Whips were called, but there was not a full attendance at all of them.
Several other issues were considered. One which has not been brought to the attention of Members is that there is no provision for the Initial Presiding Officer to be on the Standing Orders Committee. That may present a problem. It is one of the difficulties of moving so rapidly from the election into the Assembly itself. I am somewhat at the mercy of rules that have been set down. Having tried hard to work them over the last 36 hours, I realise that they are not very satisfactory. While the issue was raised in a general way, there was no specific proposal to deal with it.
I am not prepared to continue the debate by way of points of order. Arrangements that were put in place were accepted by the Whips, so I ask that any Member who wishes to speak make that known. If there is a way to resolve the problem, let us try to find it. I would be grateful for any proposals. If there is a suggestion that seems to have more support than Mr McGrady’s, the sitting could be suspended so that we might look into it. Otherwise Members will have to vote on the issue at the end of the debate.
Most Members who have spoken think that there are shortcomings in the interim Standing Orders. We raised some of these with you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, with Paul Murphy and, indeed, with the Secretary of State. We are not satisfied with some aspects of the interim rules, but they are what we have at the moment.
I am heartened by the intensity with which the Democratic Unionist Party is defending the rights of Members. I hope that that augurs well for us all. The DUP is one of the parties that do not have what I would call a very good record. You, Sir, have been witness to some of its antics. But the best way to proceed is to debate the motion that you have moved. It is not perfect, but it is imperative that the work of the Committee be completed as quickly as possible.
We could all raise a host of issues, but this business must be done.
Sinn Fein will try to make sure that the Standing Orders enable the Assembly to function properly and fairly. The rights of all Members must be respected. We are circumscribed by the interim Standing Orders, but we must get the Committee going immediately.
In view of the inadequacies of the interim Standing Orders, the Committee’s composition must be dealt with promptly and seriously. Without proper Standing Orders, the Assembly’s proceedings will become more and more difficult. Confusion will abound, and that will undoubtedly increase acrimony. This is an important Committee, and we must ensure that it is as representative as possible.
I realise, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, that there are Standing Orders by which you have to abide, but their nature allows for the impact that I am suggesting, without contravention if there is a willingness on the part of Members. There may be parties that some want to exclude for political reasons. Anyone who does not want an inclusive Committee should stand up and say so.
It is clear how to get the result that is necessary. When you, Sir, and the Whips were dealing with this matter the Social Democratic and Labour Party had three places on the Committee. According to the Order Paper they now have four. Somewhere along the line the persuasiveness of the SDLP led to an increase in its representation. The additional place could go to one of the three Unionist Members who will otherwise not be represented. That is what was accepted by everyone except the SDLP, whose Members were doing business elsewhere.
The suggestion that we should have put down an amendment is absurd. We could not have done so, for the paper was not circulated before the sitting started. According to the Standing Orders, an amendment must be put down one hour before commencement. It would have been impossible to meet that requirement.
Everyone who was at the previous meeting believed that the Social Democratic and Labour Party was to have three representatives. SDLP Members may have been led to believe something different, but that was the understanding of the rest of us.
Irrespective of the issue of the three Independents, if I had known what was being proposed I would have put forward an amendment limiting the number of SDLP members to three, which is more proportionate to the party’s numerical strength in the Assembly. But we were denied that right. Indeed, we were deceived at the earlier meeting into believing that the party would have three representatives.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you have said that the matter of the three Independents was not raised at the meeting that you conducted. Of course not, for you did not invite them. They are the best people to represent their point of view, but they were not to be in the special club that you called together. You can hardly be surprised that their interests were not represented.
We must have a means of involving every Member in consultation. Regardless of statistics, nobody should be excluded.
If we had taken that view we could not have planned anything, and neither your party nor anybody else would have been represented. That is the reality of our imperfect situation. It is always easier to sort out legal matters where there is a corpus of law of long standing.
Mr Presiding Officer, you have indicated that there could not have been meetings before this sitting. That is entirely wrong. The meetings that you held should have been more inclusive. There was nothing to prevent you or officials from consulting.
Mr Weir is entirely correct. How could you stick to the Rules so precisely? As no one could sign the Roll before the first sitting, technically there was no Member to put down amendments. I was going to raise the matter as a point of order, but you were refusing to take any more points of order.
Further, you did not deal with Mr McCartney’s point about requiring an amendment to be tabled one hour before the sitting. The Order Paper was distributed just a short time before — in some cases, during, as is being pointed out by a Colleague.
It is very clear from what you have said that changes were made at the last minute. By nodding your head you are indicating that you agree.
We must approach this matter from first principles. Today I have heard a great deal about inclusiveness. If that is the rationale, surely it should be applied to something as fundamental as the rights of Members. The standing orders of any elected body should protect members’ rights. It cannot be proper that in this case some Members are excluded.
Several Members have said that they will make sure that these rights are protected. Under natural justice, they are entitled to an input into the Standing Orders under which they will have to operate. So it is essential that a mechanism be found to ensure that individuals are represented on this very important Committee. That would certainly be in line with the principles that have been spoken about. The rules as drafted give rights to parties, but they do not prevent individual Members from being represented.
For all these reasons, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, I appeal to you and to the House to ensure that the Committee will get off on the right foot.
I want to take issue with those who argue that reducing the number of Social Democratic and Labour Party members to three would solve the problem. Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you referred to the fact that Standing Order 15(2) restricts the membership of any Committee to 18 and gives a commitment that a party with two or more Members shall have at least one seat on each Committee.
The election could have resulted in our having several parties with only one Member each. In that event we would not have been able to include every party and take care of the Independents. If Nationalist as well as Unionist Independents had been elected — Mr Robinson has said that the three individuals in question have broadly similar views — would all the Independents be grouped? We appreciate the difficulties to which you, Sir, have referred.
Standing Order 15(2) also states that, so far as is practicable, the composition of the Committees should reflect party strengths. It was suggested that reducing the Social Democratic and Labour Party’s allocation on this Committee to three would meet that requirement. Each party with more than two Assembly Members has one Committee place. The Alliance Party, which has six Assembly Members, has only one representative on the Committee. Under this proposal, every party will get an additional seat for each further six Members. If the Alliance Party gets one member for six, Sinn Fein should get three for 18, the Democratic Unionist Party three for 20, the Social Democratic and Labour Party four for 24, and the Ulster Unionist Party four for 28. It would take 30 to qualify for five. It seems to me that six is an appropriate and fair index.
If the SDLP’s representation were reduced to three, the appropriate index would be seven. The Ulster Democratic Unionist Party’s number would be reduced from three to two, and Sinn Fein’s from three to two. We could not seriously argue that that was a fair reflection. The Democratic Unionist Party, with 20 Members, would get only two seats, and the Independents, who are elected disparately and separately, one. There is a notion that the SDLP’s membership should be reduced to make way for three Independents, who, by the way, are not making this case themselves.
We reject the notion that the way to solve this problem is to reduce the SDLP’s membership. That would go against the principle of fair reflection. If there were such a reduction the proportionality threshold would have to be changed, and other parties would be affected.
We have spent some time demonstrating how much we need a Standing Orders Committee. Clearly, the Initial Standing Orders are totally unsatisfactory, and until something is done about them we shall continue to have debates like this.
I must take issue with Mr Durkan with regard to the extra seat for the Social Democratic and Labour Party. The first proposal was that there would be three seats for the SDLP, but Mr McGrady proposed that the number be four. Mathematically either is a bit low. Also, it is at least as unsatisfactory that the Initial Presiding Officer does not have a place on the Committee as it is that three individual Independents are not represented.
The Committee’s terms of reference require it to consider the matter of Standing Orders and to report to the Assembly. As it will not take final decisions, it is entirely appropriate that it be set up at the earliest opportunity. In a sense, numbers are irrelevant since the Committee’s proposals will have to be approved by the Assembly and, as we are in shadow mode, by the Secretary of State.
At the meeting of the Whips, which I attended on behalf of my party’s former Chief Whip, the interests of the Independents were argued adequately and almost continuously by two Members. I have no doubt that that would happen in the Standing Orders Committee too. Mr McGrady suggested that a mechanism be devised to give the Independents observer status, with the right to speak, if not to vote.
It is clear that this Committee is necessary and that it should get under way soon.
Mr McGrady believes that the Social Democratic and Labour Party needs an additional member on this Committee. The party Whips will be in a very difficult position if they are presented with a fait accompli — a situation completely different from that which they relayed to their members.
It is regrettable that we were not informed of this late change. As Mr Ford has said, Mr Morrow and I argued the case of the Independents. I thought that we would be returning to the matter.
Those who attended all the Whips’ meetings are being disadvantaged. The SDLP and Sinn Fein Members absented themselves, but they seem to have more clout.
Mr Durkan seems to think that Nationalists and Republicans are badly done by. It is not so. Nationalists as a whole have 42 Assembly Members and will have seven on the Committee, whereas 48 Unionists will have only seven.
I am talking about the two largest Unionist parties, which have more than one representative on the Committee.
Nationalists are always telling us that they are badly done by. Forty-two Nationalists have the same Committee representation as 48 Unionists, yet they are arguing.
How did this happen? My Whip gave me the interim report last night after the meeting. It indicated four people for the Ulster Unionist Party, three for the Social Democratic and Labour Party, three for Democratic Unionist Party, three for Sinn Fein, and then the rest. But today, without any contact with the Whips, the three has been changed to four. I want to know what secret weapon the Social Democratic and Labour Party has. How can it, without any consultation with the other parties, get an additional Committee member? This Assembly does itself no good by such activities. [Interruption]
Let Mr Maskey know that I believe in fair representation. I was picked by Members to chair the Committee that devised the Standing Orders of the first Assembly because they believed that I would be absolutely fair.
Let me tell Mr Ford that the Initial Presiding Officer does not need to be Chairman of this Committee. The Committee should elect its own Chairman. In any case, we do not yet have a permanent Presiding Officer.
The Secretary of State should realise that we shall not be able to operate properly if you, Sir, interpret the rules in such a way. Mr Weir made a very valid point, as did my Friend Mr Dodds. We should proceed on the basis of a motion. Let us do what the Assembly thinks is right.
The three parties that are represented entirely accurately are the Alliance Party (one representative for six Members), Sinn Fein (three for 18) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (four for 24).
Let us look at the Unionist parties’ representation. The United Kingdom Unionist Party is over-represented, as is the Progressive Unionist Party. Together, the Unionist parties are well represented. As their description implies, the three Independents did not stand together. It is right to give representation to the Progressive Unionist Party and the Women’s Coalition for they represent votes in constituencies other than their own. The Independents represent only themselves and the people in their constituencies who voted for them.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, did today’s letter from the Secretary of State indicate any alteration to the agenda, apart from the provision for the Adjournment debate? I think you suggested that it did. Are we not bound, apart from the addition, by the initial agenda, as set out in the Rules of Procedure detailed in Annex A, which refers to consideration of any motion? Surely that allows for another motion on this subject.
I have dealt with that matter. Another motion would require the leave of the Assembly, and that means unanimity. Perhaps I am not being entirely objective about the matter, but I did not get an impression of unanimity. Therefore I see no option but to proceed with the vote.
All today’s votes will be on a roll call. There will be an interval of three minutes. We do not have a Division bell, but perhaps the Standing Orders Committee can look at that matter. This vote does not involve the special formula; the proposal requires 50%-plus assent.
Yes, as in the case of the last vote.
Gerry Adams, Ian Adamson, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Eileen Bell, Tom Benson, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Seamus Close, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Hume, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Gerry Kelly, John Kelly, Danny Kennedy, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Martin McGuinness, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Jane Morrice, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Ken Robinson, Brid Rogers, George Savage, John Taylor, John Tierney, David Trimble, Peter Weir, Jim Wilson.
Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian R K Paisley, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That in accordance with paragraph 15 of Initial Standing Orders the Assembly shall establish a Committee whose terms of reference, quorum and composition are set out below.
To assist the Assembly in its consideration of Standing Orders and report to the Assembly by 14 September 1998.
I shall suspend the sitting for about five minutes to give me an opportunity to meet with the Whips or the business managers of the parties and with Mr Denis Watson to discuss briefly when we should break for dinner. We have two more substantive motions and a time-limited Adjournment debate, which will take about one and a half hours.
The sitting was suspended at 7.10 pm.
On resuming –