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First Minister (Designate) and Deputy:  Proposals

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 8:32 pm on 1st July 1998.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 8:32 pm, 1st July 1998

In the absence of agreement by the Whips on someone to move the next motion, it will be moved in my name.

Motion made:

That the Assembly invites the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to consider and, after consultation, make proposals regarding the matters referred to the Assembly under section 1(2) of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 and any other matter connected with the future business of the Assembly and report to the Assembly by 14 September 1998. — [The Initial Presiding Officer]

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Does this mean that the First and Deputy First Ministers are to consider these matters and make proposals to the Assembly, or does it mean that they can take decisions that would bind the Assembly while it is in recess until 14 September?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I hesitate to give the impression that such an explanation is the function of the Initial Presiding Officer, but the question that you raise is perfectly legitimate. My understanding is that this is a mechanism to enable the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to consider the various matters and bring them to the Assembly for decision. The deadline is 14 September, on which day, we have already agreed, another report will be put before the Assembly. I expect that the report of the First and Deputy First Minister will then be transmitted to the Secretary of State.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Section 1(2) of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 allows for the referral of any other matter connected with the future business of the Assembly. That is a very broad sweep, and I would be worried about handing power to these two gentlemen at the first meeting.

I would like to know what the other matters include.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

The invitation is to consider and make proposals. The two gentlemen are not empowered to make decisions about anything. They may make proposals about any other matter and bring them to the Assembly. The phrase "any other matter" is fairly wide, but these are only proposals, which will be brought to the Assembly for debate.

There were two reasons for proposing 14 September. First, it is important, for the purposes of leave arrangements, that people should know exactly when they must be here. Secondly, some of the parties were keen to move as quickly as possible. Indeed, the week beginning 7 September was favoured by many. I had to take a decision in the absence of agreement. Also, I thought it important to have the sitting at the beginning of a week lest the debates on these reports take more than one day.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Does "matters referred" mean matters referred in the past, or are the words used in a continuing sense? If it is the former, may we know what the matters are? And will the Secretary of State continue to refer them?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

It means the wide range of matters to be referred to the Assembly under Section 1(2). There are some matters which, under the terms of the Agreement, will not be referred to the Assembly at this time — for example, policing and justice, prisons and taxation — though they could be referred later.

Any other matters connected with the future business of the Assembly are, I believe, those that concern the Assembly’s relationships with other institutions. Obviously these will have to be agreed by the Assembly. This is a technical device to enable the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to address such matters and report back to the Assembly.

The important point from the Assembly’s perspective is that the instrument makes it clear that authority comes from the Secretary of State through the Assembly to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), rather than from the Secretary of State to the First Minister and then to the Assembly. I believe that to be the situation.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

This is obviously a very important issue, and we all want to deal with it quickly. The motion refers to consultation. I assume that that means consultation with all the parties throughout the process.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

So do I, though I am willing to hear whether that is a correct interpretation of how the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) would act if this motion were passed.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Perhaps Mr Trimble would like to answer that question before he goes.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

My apologies, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I have been busy thinking of something else for the past few minutes. What was the question?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I appreciate that, and I am sorry to bounce this on you.

The motion asks the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to consider and, after consultation, make proposals. Mr Maskey has asked if the consultation will include all parties.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

The matters referred to include questions that relate to the future shape of the Administration of Northern Ireland. All Members have views on such things. Without undertaking to consult every individual, one can say that one would want to ensure that all points of view were taken into consideration. The consultation will probably extend beyond this body. Indeed, we have to consult with the existing Administration about how things are done. I imagine that the consultation will be fairly wide. However, as I said earlier, we will merely be bringing back proposals for debate here. I imagine that there will be debate when we return in September.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Would the Deputy First Minister (Designate) like to comment?

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

It was proposed that there should be consultation with the parties, but several Assembly Members are not party members. In view of the substantial pressure for those people to be involved, the consultation should be all-inclusive. A wide range of elements will be involved. We are in uncharted waters, and before the end of the summer holidays there may be more consultation than many people would want.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP 8:45 pm, 1st July 1998

On the face of it the motion is tolerably clear as to what the First Minister (Designate) and his deputy have to consider. The next words are "and after consultation". It seems to me that, although consultation could be as wide as possible within the Assembly, the Ministers are not given carte blanche to consult Tom, Dick and Harry throughout the province. I take it that wide consultation is the widest possible consultation with all parties, including the independent Members of the Assembly. After the consultation, the Ministers will presumably make their proposals regarding the matters that are specifically referred to the Assembly under section 1(2) of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998

"and any other matter connected with the future business of the Assembly."

But it must be consultation within the Assembly about matters that have actually been referred under section 1(2) and such other matters as are within the confines of the Assembly’s business.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I want to remind Members of the practice concerning mobile telephones, tape recorders, pagers and the like.

We are beginning to stray a little from proper procedure because I do not have a list of Members for the debate. We have slid from points of order. I am quite happy for us to move into a debate if that is necessary.

Photo of Gerry Adams Gerry Adams Sinn Féin

Bhuel, níl mé ach ag cur ceiste, an bhfuil cead agam an cheist a chur nó rún a chur? I am just asking whether it is in order to propose that the Question be put? I am not formally proposing but asking if it is in order to do so?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

It probably is in order, and I get a sense that such a course might be very acceptable. I will therefore now put the Question. I indicated that today, to avoid confusion or uncertainty, I would arrange for all votes to be by roll-call.

Photo of Reg Empey Reg Empey UUP

I have no difficulty with the motion, but I do not think that you can put the Question when, as you yourself said, we have not had a debate.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

The problem is that there is not a single name on my list, although I asked the Whips for names. That is why I thought it reasonable to go to the vote.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

There seems to be consensus that this can be dealt with.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

The vote will be taken in three minutes.

Photo of Alasdair McDonnell Alasdair McDonnell Social Democratic and Labour Party

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Is it necessary for the vote to be recorded?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

At the beginning I gave an undertaking that today all votes would be recorded. I accept that it is a little tedious, but an undertaking is an undertaking.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 72; Noes 27.

AYES

Gerry Adams, Ian Adamson, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy 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, John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Hume, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Gerry Kelly, John Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Martin McGuinness, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Jane Morrice, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, John Taylor, John Tierney, David Trimble, Peter Weir, Jim Wilson.

NOES

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.

Resolved:

That the Assembly invites the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to consider and, after consultation, make proposals regarding the matters referred to the Assembly under section 1(2) of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 and any other matter connected with the future business of the Assembly and report to the Assembly by 14 September 1998.