Voting

Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:00 pm on 8th March 1999.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 5:00 pm, 8th March 1999

We move to the third set of amendments. The first of these is No 83, which stands in the name of Mr Peter Robinson.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

This amendment, if moved, would have the purpose of inserting after paragraph (2) of Standing Order 25 the following new paragraph:

"the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister shall require parallel consent."

The amendment relates to a matter concerning the election system that is operating in the Assembly. At least three mechanisms are employed — parallel consent, the issue of cross-community support and the simple majority. I felt that it was important to have the definition of the two less-well-known voting procedures included in Standing Orders.

During the debate on the motion to take note of the report, one of the joint Chairmen said that the Committee would consider producing a consolidated document covering all the matters relating to the Assembly. Therefore it might be appropriate not to move amendment No 83, and leave it to the Committee to work on as part of its consolidation. It deals with one of the areas in which the parallel consent mechanism will operate, but as Mr McFarland has pointed out privately to me, that would take the issue of the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister out of its proper sequential position in the Standing Orders.

I am quite content not to move this amendment unless there is any strong feeling that I should.

I want to move the amendments which include definitions of cross-community support and parallel consent, as set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and, indeed, in the Belfast Agreement. There was a heading for amendment No 23, which deals with crosscommunity support, just as there is for amendment No 50, which deals with parallel consent. This simply reflects the way that it would be set out in the Standing Orders.

There is also an error in amendment No 25 as set out on the Marshalled List. The reference to Standing Order 26(b) should be to Standing Order 26(2)(b)". I consider Standing Order 26(2)(b) —

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

It may not be.

Sub-paragraph (b) is unnecessary because paragraph (2)(a) allows the Speaker to determine whether there is sufficient agreement in the Assembly for a Division to be called. If it is not possible for parties to provide two Tellers, clearly there will not be a Division.

We have seen from proceedings to date that there will not be a Division unless Members force one. Some Members said "No" in votes on amendments, but we did not get to the stage where the Initial Presiding Officer felt it necessary to call a Division. Likewise, when Members from one of the smaller parties feel that they would like to have their views on a particular matter recorded, it is quite likely that the Speaker, under the terms of paragraph (2)(b), would decide that there is no need for a Division, as the number of Members calling for it is so small.

However, if we remove sub-paragraph (b), smaller parties will be able to force Divisions, as long as they can nominate Tellers. That seems appropriate in instances where they feel strongly about a particular issue. The removal of this sub-paragraph would not reduce the effectiveness of the Assembly in that regard, and the Speaker would still have considerable discretion in cases where parties cannot nominate the necessary Tellers.

Those are the only issues I wish to raise on this group of amendments.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

The SDLP is prepared to support amendment No 83, even though it might be regarded as superfluous. Mr Robinson referred to the fact that I said that we would probably produce a consolidated compendium of Standing Orders, incorporating not only the Standing Orders agreed here, but also the relevant sections of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and of the agreement. If the Member who moved the amendment is happy to withdraw it, we would be content with that.

With regard to amendment No 25, we have some reservations about the withdrawal of Standing Order 26(2)(b). We would oppose that.

Photo of Alan McFarland Alan McFarland UUP

I am slightly concerned because there are three areas, and Mr Robinson has referred to them already — amendments 83, 23 and 50 — which repeat sections of the Act. As I understand it — and I am a late arrival to the Standing Orders Committee — the policy of the Standing Orders Committee is clear, and the whole set of Standing Orders is predicated on the understanding that areas of the Act are not repeated in the Standing Orders, except on very specific occasions.

If that policy were to be changed it could have a knock-on effect right through the Standing Orders. If the Member was willing to withdraw those three areas and allow the Standing Orders Committee to re-examine whether there are areas of the Act that need to go into the Standing Orders, that would be a slightly more satisfactory option than voting today.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

Members have seen today how the initial Standing Orders are operating given that we have to vote by recorded vote. Many Members who are on councils know that that is the way that voting operates, but it is not very satisfactory. It is a long, drawn-out process. The type of voting system set forth in Standing Orders 24 to 26 will mark a major improvement in terms of voting by Division and going through the Lobbies. It will be a much more efficient system, and it is modelled very closely on what happens in other places.

However, the Standing Orders Committee did say — I am sure that the Chairmen will back me up on this — that the question of voting systems would be looked at again, given the advances in technology. Again this is an issue which we will leave to see how it works in practice, but I am sure that it will be a major advance on the current system.

I raised the matter of 26(2)(b) with officials because I, like Mr Robinson, was concerned that it might be unnecessary and might be used against small parties — indeed, any party — which wanted to force a Division in order to have a vote recorded. The Speaker might use this power to deny that opportunity to parties. If parties want their vote to be recorded, that should be their right. For example, in councils if one member demands a recorded vote, the vote is recorded. Therefore in a legislative body a party should have the right to insist that its votes be recorded. That is essentially why the proposal is being made in relation to 26(2)(b).

Amendment No 24, in Mr Robinson’s name, relates to a petition of concern. The Standing Orders Committee had included this Standing Order, but it is in the wrong place. If Members look at Standing Order 53(5) as drafted in the compendium of Standing Orders, they will find that the Standing Order has been placed there. Members agreed that there should be a Standing Order in relation to a petition of concern.

I think it was Mr Farren of the SDLP who said that he wanted to come back to this issue. Members looked at this Standing Order and agreed the text of it, but it has somehow ended up in 53(5), which deals with equality. However, it is a much more general Standing Order. Therefore what Mr Robinson is proposing, quite rightly, is to take it out of the equality section and put it into the voting section where it belongs.

As far as the other matters are concerned, this is a repeat of what is in the Act. I heard what Mr McFarland has said, and this is clearly a matter which the Assembly can decide. It is something that might be more sensible to have complete, in that sense, when we are dealing with voting. But it is a matter for the Assembly to decide. These are important provisions, and the section on voting will mark a major improvement in the way that work is carried out in the Assembly.

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:15 pm, 8th March 1999

The point relating to the petition of concern is to some extent well-made. Does it not follow that there is no need for the petition of concern in the equality section, in which it now appears, because it is couched in the general terms which are required for its general application to our proceedings? If this amendment were adopted, would this Standing Order be repeated unnecessarily?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

When we come to those amendments we can look at that.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr Robinson has proposed an amendment which would remove the duplicated reference.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

I am grateful to the Member for that.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Mr Robinson referred to amendments 83, 25, 23 and 50, but I do not think that he referred to No 24. I am not sure whether he was to speak to that amendment at this point.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Amendment 24 is one where we do not have a choice. Section 42 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 says

(1) "If 30 members petition the Assembly expressing their concern about a matter which is to be voted on by the Assembly, the vote on that matter shall require cross-community support.

(2) Standing orders shall make provision with respect to the procedure to be followed in petitioning the Assembly under this section, including provision with respect to the period of notice required."

This is one of the instances where there was a requirement in the legislation which had not been met by the report from the Committee on Standing Orders. Mr Dodds indicated that we had taken from section 53(5). However, subsection (5) relates to paragraph 1 of the proposed new Standing Order under amendment No 24. We have had to add paragraph (2) to comply with the legislation. That fulfils the period-of-notice requirement.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

There are no further requests from Members to speak, so we come to the decisions on these Standing Orders and the group of amendments.

Standing Order 24 (Closure of Debate) agreed to.

Standing Order 25 (Voting — General)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Not moved.

Standing Order 25 agreed to.

Standing Order 26 (Voting where the Speaker’s Decision is Challenged)

Amendment (No 25) proposed:

"call for the nomination of tellers and divide the Assembly in the manner provided below."— [Mr P Robinson]

Question put

The Assembly divided: Ayes 31; Noes 53.

AYES

Unionist

Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, Rev William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mrs Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Other

Mrs Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Ms  Monica McWilliams.

NOES

Nationalist

Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, John Dallat, Ms Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Ms Michelle Gildernew, Ms Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Mrs Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Danny O’Connor, Ms Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Mrs Sue Ramsey, Ms Brid Rodgers, John Tierney.

Unionist

Dr Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, Mrs Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Rev Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Sir Reg Empey, Sam Foster, Sir John Gorman, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Dermot Nesbitt, Ken Robinson, George Savage.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 5:30 pm, 8th March 1999

There voted 84 Members. All 31 Nationalists voting voted No. Of the 48 Unionists voting, 54.2% voted Aye. The total number of Ayes being 36.9%, the amendment is lost.

Question accordingly negatived.

Standing Order 26 agreed to.

New Standing Order

Amendment (No 24) made:

"(1) A Petition of Concern in respect of any matter shall be in the form of a notice signed by at least 30 Members presented to the Speaker. No vote may be held on a matter which is the subject of a Petition of Concern until at least one day after the Petition of Concern has been presented.

(2) Other than in exceptional circumstances, a Petition of Concern shall be submitted at least one hour before the vote is due to occur. Where no notice of the vote was signalled or such other conditions apply that delay the presentation of a Petition of Concern the Speaker shall determine whether the Petition is time-barred or not." — [Mr P Robinson]

New Standing Order

Amendment (No 23) proposed:

"In relation to a vote on any matter ‘cross-community support’ means (a) the support of a majority of the Members voting, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting; or (b) the support of 60 per cent of the Members voting, 40 per cent of the designated Nationalists voting and 40 per cent of the designated Unionists voting." — [Mr P Robinson]

Question put

The Assembly divided: Ayes 27; Noes 55.

AYES

Nationalist

Nil.

Unionist

Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, Rev William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mrs Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Sammy Wilson.

Others

David Ford, Kieran McCarthy.

NOES

Nationalist

Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, John Dallat, Ms Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Ms Michelle Gildernew, Ms Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Mrs Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Danny O’Connor, Ms Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Mrs Sue Ramsey, Ms Brid Rodgers, John Tierney.

Unionist

Dr Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, Mrs Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Rev Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Sir Reg Empey, Sam Foster, Sir John Gorman, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Dermot Nesbitt, Ken Robinson, George Savage.

Other

Ms Monica McWilliams.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

There voted 82 Members: 32 Nationalists, none of whom voted for, and 47 Unionists, 53.2% of whom voted yes. The total percentage of Ayes being 32.9%, I declare the amendment lost.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

This amendment, whose purpose was to insert

"In relation to a vote on any matter ‘parallel consent’ means the support of a majority of the Members voting, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting." as a new Standing Order, is not moved.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

That being the case, we have come to the end of the consideration of this group of amendments and of this section of the compendium. I said at the start, which was about three hours ago although it seems longer, that we would try to get to Standing Order 41, which deals with ministerial appointments. However, with 15 minutes to go we have come to the end of a group.

We have dealt with 28 amendments. There are 65 to go, so we have dealt with just under a third of the amendments. We have dealt with 26 Standing Orders out of 71, which is just more than a third, in about three hours. I sense that at this rate we should be able to finish our business tomorrow. I hope that I have sensed the mood of the House. I suggest that, by leave of the House, the sitting be suspended now and resumed at 10.30 tomorrow morning, continuing if necessary until 10.00 tomorrow night.

The sitting was suspended at 5.48 pm.