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 David Ford David Ford Alliance 6:30 pm, 1st July 1998

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.