Assembly: Committee on Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 6:30 pm on 1st July 1998.

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Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 6:30 pm, 1st July 1998

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.