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 Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP 6:30 pm, 1st July 1998

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.