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

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Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP 5:00 pm, 8th March 1999

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.