Operations of the Assembly

Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 8th March 1999.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 3:15 pm, 8th March 1999

We now come to the second group of Standing Orders and amendments. I want to draw attention to two matters in this regard. First — and I am indebted to one Member who pointed this out to me earlier — the list includes two amendments numbered 26. The first should be numbered 36.

With regard to amendments 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B, if these are all moved, then we will come first, of course, to the vote on amendment 1A. If amendments 1A and 2A are passed, we need not move to amendments 1B and 2B as they are alternative proposals. However, if amendments. 1A and 2A are not passed, amendments 1B and 2B may be moved.

The first amendment is in the name of Mr Peter Robinson.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

The purpose of amendment No 37 is to add at the end of paragraph (2) of Standing Order 9 the following words:

"The business adjourned shall be the first business when the Assembly next sits".

It would be difficult to cover all these issues in 10 minutes. I hope at some stage to speak to the other amendments. There is the further difficulty that there are many issues of more substance in this group, and we might be juggling too many balls at one time. That concerns me.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

What the Member says is perfectly reasonable, not only in respect of this group but in respect of the group further down the list, and particularly the group of amendments on committees. I ask Members to speak to the number of amendments that they can reasonably deal with in 10 minutes. We must try to be reasonable on these matters.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Thank you for that ruling, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

The first amendment in my name in this group relates to the issue of the quorum, and refers to the loss of a quorum during a debate and the possible adjournment of the Assembly. I leave myself open to advice from the joint Chairmen or any members of the Committee, but as I understand it, a Member could wait for some time to bring a matter that is important at least to him, to the Assembly only to find that it is not of the same importance to others who leave the Member almost alone in the Chamber. The quorum is lost, and Members are not interested in returning to the Chamber. Is the business lost or can the Member have his day when the Assembly resumes?

I suspect that a quorum will not be a problem for the four major parties as each of them is capable of providing a quorum, and can do so when they have an interest in the business. It will be more difficult for smaller parties that could not provide a quorum and could be denied the opportunity to deal with an issue. A similar principle is dealt with in a later amendment to Standing Order 16, which is a delaying motion when a motion is made for the adjournment of a debate. In that case the adjournment is caused not by the loss of a quorum, but through the Question being put. That would be a mechanism that a party or parties could use to avoid a vote during the life of the Assembly.

People who bring a motion or subject to the Assembly have the right to have it decided, irrespective of whether it is decided in their favour. They have a right to a determination, and it is necessary for us to ensure that the Standing Orders clearly provide the right of Members to have a vote and to have the time to make their case. The aim of those two amendments is to ensure that if the House is adjourned for one reason or another, its first business at its next sitting is the business that was adjourned. That might make less likely the use of procedure as a device to curtail debate.

The next amendment deals with public business, and I am again open to advice from the members of the Committee. I assume that we attach some importance to the role of statutory committees. We would consider their reports to be of such significance that they would be included in public business along with stages of Bills and notices of motion. That is a simple, tidying amendment to include statutory committee reports.

Members may consider that the reports from other Committees should also be included. I have not considered that, but the Standing Orders Committee may wish to consider it at a later stage.

The next amendment affects Standing Order 15(4). I suggest simply taking out the last two words, which indicate that one can only withdraw an amendment during debate. An amendment is usually withdrawn at the end of a debate, and my proposed amendment would simply have the effect of allowing a Member to withdraw an amendment before a Division was called.

My amendment to Standing Order 16(2) takes away the right of the Speaker to make proposals. The Speaker simply puts a Question; he does not propose it. I was pleased to hear that you, Sir, when explaining the various amendments, encouraged everyone to support Standing Order 26. I think his exact remarks were "you can only approve of 26 once", and I hope that Members follow his advice. So my amendment to 16(2) would have the effect of replacing "propose" with "put", and that part of the Standing Order would then read "decline to put the Question". There is a similar drafting amendment to be found later on.

The next amendment deals with statements. The Committee spent some time considering the amount of time to be allowed for questions on statements. As it stands, the Speaker must allow questions on a statement for up to one hour if there are Members still wanting to ask questions.

The Speaker must be given some discretion in this matter. My amendments would introduce two changes. The first amendment would have the effect of allowing questions to last for no more than one hour, and the second would allow the Speaker discretion to curtail the amount of time subject to the content of the statement. If it were a statement of substance, the Speaker would determine that it was a matter on which questions should last for as much of an hour as Members needed for the matters to be elucidated. The Speaker might determine that a statement was not a matter of such importance as to warrant the full hour.

At the moment there are proposals for 10 Departments as well as the central Department. Each of the Ministers could decide, over his cornflakes, to make a statement that day, and we could therefore have ten statements being made in any one day. Do Members really want to have ten hours of questions? No is the answer to that. There must be some discretion on the part of the Speaker to deal with that matter in a way that would reflect the wishes of the House and the importance of the statements being made. I expect that the Executive Committee will organise its business so that we do not have ten statements on one day, but if the Assembly is only going to have two sitting days in the one week, we could still have, on a very frequent basis, a number of statements on any one day.

The next amendment relates to Standing Order 18(5). I have decided, in Churchillian fashion, that this is something up with which I shall not put. As the Standing Order ends with a preposition, I am suggesting a change to correct the grammar.

There are only two amendments that I have not touched on. The Standing Orders do not put any requirement upon a Minister to respond to an Adjournment debate. There is a general view in the Assembly that if a Member takes the trouble to bring forward an issue of importance to him, and perhaps to others, the relevant Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive should have an allocated time slot in which to respond. I suggest 10 minutes, but I am not hard and fast on that. That amendment is put forward on the basis that a Minister should have the right to respond to issues concerning his or her departmental responsibilities.

Finally, and very briefly, I will touch on the matter of questions being placed. As the Standing Orders stand, questions will be taken in the order in which they are put down. This practice did not serve us well in another place because Government Ministers ensured that all their Back-Benchers placed questions down immediately, leaving them with a friendly set of questions. Were questions to be decided by ballot, held by the Clerk or the Speaker, that would be fair to every Member.

The following amendments stood on the Order Paper in the name of the First Minister (Designate):

No 1A: In Standing Order 10(2), line 3, leave out "10.30 am to 6.00 pm" and insert "2.00 pm to 8.00 pm".

No 1B:

No 2A:

No 2B:

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party 3:45 pm, 8th March 1999

While we have not completely settled our mind, and consultations are continuing, we are favourably disposed to most of the amendments that Mr Peter Robinson has dealt with.

By way of contrast, the amendments in my name were put down to enable me to make some points about the times at which we should be sitting. I do not intend to press any of them to a Division. They were tabled in the spirit, as is often the case on these occasions, of running a flag up the pole to see who salutes it. Very few people saluted these four amendments and that was the case even among my friends around me.

I do, however, have an important couple of points to make which I wish to press on Members. With regard to the sitting times in the House, I believe that a serious mistake is being made, and I expect that in a few months’ time we will have to come back to this issue and look at it again.

It may be thought superficially attractive to have sitting hours that correspond to working hours, but that does not work. It is not practical. Members need to consider that if the Chamber is sitting from 10.30 am to 6.00 pm and that if there is serious business in the Chamber between those times, the likelihood is that they will be engaged for some or most of that time in the Chamber. If they are so engaged, when are they going to do their work? And there is work to be done outside the Chamber.

That work involves constituency work, research, reading and thinking. Some of it can be done in the evenings, but how much? Research work and preparation requires access to materials and that material may not always be available in the evening at home. It may be that Members will need time for that other than in the evening.

Then there are those who will have other responsibilities, whether as Committee chairman, vice-chairman or Ministers — when are they going to work if the Chamber is sitting from 10.30 am to 6.00 pm? They cannot administer their offices during the evening unless Civil Service hours are changed radically, and that might involve a fair amount of overtime.

So there is a serious point here because while the affairs of the Chamber are extremely important, they are only a part of the work that a Member has to do. It is for this reason that almost all deliberative and legislative bodies sit in the afternoon and evening, not the morning. Mornings are required for work, and if Members do not have the mornings for work, there is a problem.

Even the larger parties have problems, particularly in relation to group meetings: if they had to begin before 10.30 am, that would obviously limit the numbers able to attend. This is not a problem for small parties; nor is it a problem for those parties that run on the Führerprinzip, where everybody does what the Leader says, irrespective of circumstances. But not all parties are like that. There is a serious point there too.

There is a not-so-serious point but, equally, it is not an insubstantial one. One of the consequences of an Assembly, legislative body or parliament’s sitting in the evening is the growth of a degree of esprit de corps among its members that would not happen were the sittings to be limited to daytime.

I know the objection that will be made to the argument I am putting forward, and I have been told that it was made in the Standing Orders Committee. Members have said that they want family-friendly sitting hours. That argument is also wrong. It is the mornings and afternoons that are needed for those with young children, not the evenings. When Members use the expression "family friendly" they really mean that they want their evenings free for their own social lives, not for families and children. People who enter public life must realise that they do so at the sacrifice of their social life.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

I am interested to know what exactly the First Minister’s children do in the evenings that they do not require parental supervision?

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

I am in the very fortunate position of having complete confidence in the good sense of my wife and of all my children.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

The First Minister (Designate) has said that he needed to see his children in the mornings and the afternoons, but what happens to their schooling?

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

I was making a very simple point which I thought Mrs Bell would understand. Young children need parental care in the mornings and afternoons rather than the evenings. With older children, of course, parental care is demonstrated in other ways.

I return to the primary point that I made earlier. Work has to be done outside this Chamber, and the sittings of this Chamber have to be organised with that in mind. That is why similar bodies have tended towards sitting in the afternoons and evenings. The pattern of sitting from 10.30am to 6.00pm has not been a problem with the Assembly only sitting intermittently, but it will be a problem in the future when the Assembly will be sitting on a regular basis. In time those who do not see substance of my present argument will come to appreciate that this is a matter that we will have to return to.

I wanted to make that argument and to share with Members some of the reasons why experience has led other bodies to sit at the times they do. Experience will also have an impact on what we do in the future. However, I shall not be pressing these amendments to a Division. From my soundings, I have already gathered that the House would be against them.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance 4:00 pm, 8th March 1999

There are a few people who would like to comment on the First Minister’s proposals.

First, I take on board what has been said about the pressure of business and, as time goes on, about the extension of that. However, we should establish the principle of having hours that will help us both in our professional life and in our family life.

With all due respect, I do not feel that Westminster is necessarily an example which we should follow. Many of the Members at Westminster have flats or town houses. We do not, and most Members here travel to and from their homes. I understand that at one of the earliest meetings of the Committee on Standing Orders there was very little dissent — apart from Ulster Unionist Members — when it was proposed that we should operate according to the current timetable, with, perhaps, a slightly different starting time. The plan was to see how these hours suited the House and to review them in due course, if necessary.

I can be as friendly with people during the day as I can during the evening, so I do not think that that represents an argument in favour of a change. Also, if the House sits from 10.30 am, I have time to do a considerable amount of work, including housework, before I come in, so I do not think that that is a serious argument either.

I appreciate what the First Minister (Designate) is saying about the workload that we will have, but I feel that we should try to operate a system that is both family-friendly and profession-friendly. I will not support this change.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

I endorse what Mrs Bell has said, and I thank the First Minister (Designate) for deciding not to push this point. The fact that we have agreed to suspend sittings at 6.00 pm is of great importance to a number of us. This is not just of benefit to people with families — men as well as women — but also more suitable for Members who have to travel considerable distances. Those with journeys of one-and-a-half to two hours will not get home until after midnight if we do not stop until 10.30 pm.

As Mrs Bell said, we can be friendly with our colleagues during daylight hours, not just in the evening. It is important that we move into the modern world. I said earlier that the Scottish Parliament would be following our lead. These old-fashioned times are for the dinosaurs.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

I do not wish to play the role of referee between feminist obsession and the remnants of male chauvinist piggery.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

The First Minister (Designate) asks where that is. I got the impression that he had consigned responsibility for the care of his children to the lady of the house. Many people, in the modern world, would consider that to be sexist and to have overtones of male chauvinism.

However, I have some sympathy for what the First Minister (Designate) has said. Anyone who is involved in public life, in Government, or in the work of the Assembly, is involved in a public duty. Such public duty, from time to time, calls for sacrifices in our domestic lives. Members of the Assembly who are also Members of the House of Commons will know that. Members, such as Mr Hume and Mr Paisley, who are also Members of the European Parliament have sacrificed a great deal of their domestic lives to public service.

The First Minister (Designate) has a point when he says that there is much business to be conducted in addition to attendance in the Chamber. I think that we should have a trial period for the times given in the proposed Standing Orders, whether they be family-friendly or not, to see if they are suitable. The First Minister (Designate) has agreed not to pursue this issue at this stage. Many Members may well have grave reservations as to whether these times will be suitable in practice.

Those who have spoken about the long distances travelled by some Members should bear in mind that many Members of Parliament have to be away from their families from Monday to Friday.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

Ms Morrice shouts "Shame!", but, if you happen to be the Member for the Outer Hebrides, you may not see your family for three or four days a week — this might even apply to the Member for South Down. We must accept that, if we are involved in public service and have decided to put other things to one side, there will be a certain degree of domestic inconvenience.

Domestic arrangements should be met to a degree, but it would be entirely foolish to make the work of the Assembly subservient to whether a Member could get home by 6.30 pm to make her husband’s tea or, in the case of a male Member, to do his share of the ironing. [Interruption]

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

I make no secret of engaging in quite a few household chores, but ironing is not one of them.

But let me return to a serious note. Being engaged in public service makes demands upon all of us in our private, social and domestic lives. It is impossible to organise public business entirely around the hours that would be convenient and suitable.

As the First Minister (Designate) has suggested — and he is not pushing this — Members should give this a run but keep it under very careful observation to see whether it works. If it does not work, Members will have to revisit the issue.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

The First Minister (Designate) has decided not to push this issue to a vote having taken some soundings. I suspect that these were taken among his party as well as other parties. My Colleagues and I have noted that this has become a bit of a habit — his finding difficulty in getting support from his party for some of the things that he has been proposing. I suppose he did not want to embark on another round of letter-writing to give assurances.

I want to comment on the argument put forward that if Members wish to stop the sittings of the House at 6.00 pm it is to allow Members to enjoy an extended social life, get away from work and have a jolly old time. I do not know about the First Minister (Designate), but most Members who represent inner-city constituencies — and I suspect other areas are no different — will find that when they leave here at 6.00 pm on a Monday or Tuesday, they are not going home immediately or to enjoy social life.

In areas of extensive redevelopment there are housing and community groups, and other activities as well, which can only be accommodated in the evening. That is the only time when constituents who are working during the day are available. I wish to dispel the idea that by adjourning the House at 6.00 pm, Members are then free. That is not the case, and if Members were to continue until 8 pm, some very important constituency duties could not be carried out.

Members must be careful not to regard this place as a kind of ivory tower where they are increasingly cut off from their constituents. The time here must be arranged to allow Members to do the things which are important to their constituents.

The First Minister (Designate) asked when the work was going to be done if Members started at 10.30 am. He wondered how time could be found for reading, thinking and constituency work — especially if holding ministerial office. There are three other days in the week when the Assembly will not be sitting full-time. Committees may be meeting, but there are three days to fit this work in. If Members have research or other work to do, or constituents to see, this is more easily fitted into an evening. So I am not sure that his argument about needing time in the morning for this sort of work is valid. We discussed this in the Committee, and I do not think that there was any great division in the Committee at that stage.

Photo of David Ervine David Ervine PUP

Would the Member agree that when this was raised initially it was considered by some people on the Committee essentially to be of benefit to those who had other business and other potential means of remuneration outside the House?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

That was a point which was made at that time.

I would make one last point about flexibility. What happens if Government business runs on? The Committee has already allowed for this in the Standing Orders. Standing Orders 10(2) and 10(3) provide for an extension of time into Tuesday evening, Wednesday, or both if business cannot be completed in the allocated time. The flexibility is there. We are mindful that there may well be occasions when the pressure of business will require the House to sit that bit longer, and that is a much more sensible way of facilitating that need.

It was also felt that the sitting hours should be as flexible as possible to allow people with families to have some time in the evening with their families. All in all, the kind of compromise we have reached on timing is a reasonable way to order the business of the House and to give Members the flexibility they need to do their duties to their constituents inside and outside the Assembly.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

Loth as I am to speak against the wishes of the First Minister (Designate), I am minded to agree with the remarks made by the hon Member for East Belfast and also by my Colleagues from North Down. It may well be that in reviewing these arrangements in the future we may find that there is a better way forward and that there are hours which would suit us better. For the moment I am very much persuaded by the views which have been put forward already with regard to timing.

There is a degree of flexibility in the hours we have agreed. Ministers will have full days at work during the days, two of which will be Committee days, when plenary sessions are not taking place. I assume, and Members may correct me, that Ministers will not sit on Committees. Not only will they not chair Committees, or be Deputy Chairmen, they will not be sitting on them either. Thus Government Ministers’ time will be freed up during that period.

With regard to the timings of plenary sittings, it has been suggested that one of the days might run from 2.00 pm to 8.00 pm. As has been indicated by Members, there is a great deal of pressure on them to attend meetings in their constituencies in the evenings if they are to service their constituents in a proper fashion.

Groups of constituents are not usually available during the day. Some people are able to meet Members during the day, but quite often the most convenient time for a group to meet you in connection with a planning issue or an education or housing matter is in the evening. If we are in the Assembly until 8.00 pm it will be very difficult for Members to attend such meetings, and particularly difficult for those whose constituencies are a long way from Belfast. Members who face a one-and-a-half-hour drive, or in some cases a two-hour drive to the most far-flung parts of the Province, will not reach their constituencies until 9.30 pm or 10.00 pm. It would be almost impossible for them to attend any meetings during the evenings of those days.

A six o’clock close would allow people, including those who live a long way from Stormont, to get home and attend those meetings. The proposal for the times to be 11.30 am to 7.30 pm would afford some opportunity for group meetings, but there is a danger that whenever a group was not in session, and things were only starting at 11.30 am that that would be, to some extent, a waste of the morning. It would be difficult for ordinary Members to get much work done. There is clearly a point in the suggestion that it would enable Ministers to perform their functions, but there is enough flexibility in that.

When the Assembly goes ‘live’, about 90% of its Members will not be Ministers. We have to think of the work to be done by the Back-Benchers, not just the Ministers — and I speak as someone who is likely to remain a Back-Bencher for the foreseeable future. [Laughter]

The hours that have been put forward are sensible; they are, at least, worth trying, although I note the concerns of the First Minister (Designate) who obviously has a lot more parliamentary experience than the majority of us. [Laughter]

Obviously some have not been persuaded by my argument.

I am glad to see that the matter is not being pressed to the vote. As someone who was on the Standing Orders Committee and agreed these hours, I think they represent a sensible and flexible way forward. This is probably true of a number of rules, but if we find, six months down the line, that this system is not working, that it would be better to have more evening meetings, the procedures can be reviewed.

Unlike some of the other Standing Orders, where there would, arguably, be some contention between individual parties, this is something which, I think, is non-political in that sense. If we find that the system is not working for the benefit of constituents and in the best interests of the Assembly, it can be reviewed very easily and adjustments made. But as it is, the proposals contained in the current Standing Orders are adequate and flexible enough, and I am glad that the amendment will not be —

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP 4:15 pm, 8th March 1999

I thought the Member was drawing to a close. Another factor that has to be taken on board and one that no one has mentioned is Members’ safety. Following a long journey here and a day’s work, a Member can be tired when returning to his or her constituency. Those of us who live in the west find that travelling home can be quite dangerous. That should be taken into account; when we are returning home, we should be doing so in a reasonably fresh condition.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

I live in the east of the Province and have the good fortune to live relatively close to Stormont — about half an hour’s drive away — so I have not encountered this problem directly. However, Members who represent the Greater Belfast area ought to behave in an altruistic fashion and realise that Members who come from the west and, indeed, the north and south of the Province, will have lengthy drives. They should try to avoid situations in which, late at night, their safety is endangered.

I agree with Mr Hussey’s point. There is a wide range of issues which would persuade me and the vast majority of others in this Chamber that the proposals, as currently outlined in the report represent the best way forward. They can be reviewed later, but at the moment, I am glad that these amendments are not being put to the vote.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

I want to deal first with amendment No 27. This is a sensible amendment, in keeping with the thoughts of the members of the Standing Orders Committee. It was the Committee’s view that if Adjournment debates were to be worthwhile, a response from a Minister was essential.

One of the difficulties we currently have is that while we have provision for an Adjournment debate, it is very much a case of speaking into the ether. No one takes any notice of what the Member is saying, because there is nobody of any authority to answer the points being made, although as Mr Wells pointed out earlier the relevant local newspaper will, no doubt, get a copy of his speech within a very short time. It is sensible, and it certainly accords with the view of the Standing Orders Committee that a Ministerial response should be required at the end of the Adjournment debate. I do not know why the Standing Orders did not reflect that.

This is a very sensible amendment, and it should not be left to a Minister’s discretion to decide if he wishes to reply to such a debate — the relevant Minister should be required to do so. I also want to deal with amendments 31 and 32, which relate to ministerial statements, as raised by Mr P Robinson, about the time that could be used up if a large number of Ministerial statements were to be put forward for the same sitting.

This was also the subject of debate in the Standing Orders Committee. Indeed, one of the initial drafts suggested that a Ministerial statement would be followed by a debate, but it was, quite rightly, thought that would be improper because many Members would only have received notice of the statement when the Minister stood up or a short time before that. The Committee debated the question of how much time should be devoted to follow-up from the ministerial statement.

In the case of some statements, you would certainly want to use up a full hour, but for others you might not wish to do so. It may be that, out of courtesy, the Minister will wish to draw something to Members’ attention, but it would not be sensible to use up a full hour’s business. The Member should be given discretion, and it should be made clear that he has no more than one hour. As it stands at the moment, it is normally one hour.

In relation to amendment 34, we have provision dealing with the adjournment of the Assembly in the Standing Orders, and it is clear under draft Standing Order 10 that an adjournment of the Assembly shall mean an adjournment until the next sitting day unless the Assembly, on a motion made by a Member of the Executive, after notice, has ordered an adjournment to some other definite date.

The point we are dealing with is to do with the adjournment of a debate. It would be wrong and an infringement of Members’ rights if that debate could be adjourned and adjourned for some time. We have built-in provisions which deal with the adjournment of the Assembly. Clearly, if it is adjourned then it will resume at the point at which it left off when it next sits. But if a motion has been tabled, and there is a debate on it, the Standing Orders should make it clear that that simply cannot be done away with by some tactic.

Regarding the amendment standing in the name of the First Minister (Designate) — and I welcome the fact, like the Member who spoke earlier that these are not going to be pressed to a vote — the Standing Orders Committee considered this issue a number of times. When it first came up, most parties agreed that we should at least aim for this sort of timescale, starting in the morning and ending early in the evening. It was brought to the attention of the Standing Orders Committee that the Chief Whip of the Ulster Unionist Party wanted to have the sort of hours that have been shown in these amendments in the name of the First Minister (Designate). There was no support for that from any quarter in the Standing Orders Committee.

I am somewhat surprised that they even appear on the Order Paper. I have some sympathy with some of the initial arguments advanced by the First Minister (Designate) with regard to how we manage our business and how the work might progress. If we see that there is a need to change because of the requirements of the Assembly then certainly the matter can be placed before the Committee on Procedures which will continue to consider and review the procedures and Standing Orders.

The First Minister (Designate) was on altogether more dicey ground when he started into the whole question of family time. He seemed to be suggesting that after 6.30 pm Members go off to socialise or advocating that we spend more time at home in the mornings and afternoons, which was either an argument for people not going out to work at all or an argument for keeping your kids off school. His arguments did not seem to stack up. We should, in the interests of this House and the management of the work of this House, keep that subject matter under review.

We should try, if at all possible, to make the suggested hours work. It is in the interests of most Members with families to try to stick to them. Mr Wilson’s points in relation to the workload of Members was a case in point. Bearing in mind these points, most of the amendments that are going to be moved on the Floor are ones that many of us who are members of the Standing Orders Committee would have no difficulty with.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

I want to take the opportunity to salute the flag that has been run up by the First Minister. The Assembly should consider that, outside of this place, there are a number of people who work hours that are not social. They do not get to work from 9 to 5 or from 10 to 6. I spent many years working —

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I notice that the clock was not at zero at the start of Mr Shipley Dalton’s speech.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

I have got extra time now. I thank Mr Weir.

As I was saying, for a number of years I worked both in a daytime job, and served as a part-time member of the Royal Irish Regiment. That meant that I was going home at 6 o’clock to grab something to eat before reporting for duty at 6.30 pm, and then working from 6.30 pm to 3 o’clock in the morning. Then I was going home to get up at 7 o’clock the next day to go to work again. There were many men working with me who were doing the same thing. There were men who worked 12-hour shifts in Shorts, and then put in eight hours duty in the evenings as well. There are a lot of people who —

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance 4:30 pm, 8th March 1999

As I was listening to the Member I was thinking, as many other Members must have, that we are doing much the same thing. As Mr McCartney said when one takes on a position one takes it on as a matter of duty. That applies to a job or to a Member’s commitment to the Assembly, and we did take that into account. The Member may not have meant to but he did sound quite patronising.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

My apologies if the Member felt that I was being patronising. I was simply making the point that outside of this place there are a number of people who, for reasons of their work or family commitments, have to work unsociable hours. It is a bit rich for the Assembly to decide that we would rather work more social hours so that we can have the evenings available. If we choose to use them for constituency business, that is fine. Many people do.

However, it does not seem unreasonable for us to consider that we leave the mornings available for work in this House in order that Ministers and those who hold positions can carry out those functions. We work through the day and into the evening on two days of the week and leave ourselves three evenings for constituency business. That seems a perfectly reasonable proposal to me.

A Member:

What about family?

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

Fortunately, it is not something I have to overly concern myself with because I do not have a family. Apart from feeding the cat, I do not have a heavy domestic burden. The points made by Mr McCartney were relevant. Taking on a public position, taking on a position in the Assembly, is a responsibility that Members choose to accept, and if they choose to accept that responsibility, there is going to be a burden upon their domestic lives. Clearly, in this community, that has been a burden that has gone beyond merely domestic life for many years. We have accepted that burden; we chose to come here, to put ourselves up for election. If Members would prefer more social hours, let them take another job.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

Having children is also taking on a responsibility. I take the point that the Member has no family as yet, and I warn him that with this type of attitude, he may have difficulties in the future in that domain. Children are as much a responsibility, if not more so, than duties.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

I agree that children are indeed a responsibility and one that every person should think carefully about before taking on. But that does not detract from the point I am making that, in taking up a position in public life, a person is accepting additional responsibilities that will have an impact upon his family and domestic circumstances.

I welcome amendment 27. It is quite clear from the comments of Mr Dodds that this was raised in the Committee. Clearly Adjournment debates in this place have been relatively ineffective — one speaks into thin air or gets one’s press release into the local papers. For an Adjournment debate to be worthwhile, the appropriate Minister must be present in the Chamber.

Members, especially Back-Bench Members who will not always get the chance to address their concerns to the appropriate Minister, can direct those concerns to the Minister responsible and ask for a reply. That is extremely important for those Members who have vital, pressing constituency concerns or other concerns that they have specialist knowledge in. I do welcome that particular amendment from Mr P Robinson.

Most of the other amendments seem to be corrections of various mistakes or grammatical errors that the Committee has made. It is unfortunate that Mr P Robinson was not on the Committee and could have pointed those out as we went along. We live and learn.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

For the record, the SDLP supports the draft Standing Orders that deal with the present hours. We believe that these hours are family-friendly. We also believe that in relation to travelling, for many of our Members, we are putting an extra burden on them if they have to leave the Assembly at a late hour. Members have many duties in their constituencies at night-time.

It is not appropriate to compare what happens here with what happens at Westminster. Many Members of the Westminster Parliament go to London and stay for three or four days. It is impossible for them to leave Westminster and go back to their constituencies on a daily basis unless they live in the greater London area. The circumstances that prevail at Westminster are quite different from those that prevail here. As a new institution we should strive to set standards that have not been set by Westminster or by other parliamentary institutions in Europe or throughout the world. We should try to set a new standard by which we can afford family-friendly hours to our Members.

Another important point is that, although the Chamber is predominantly male, one hopes that in the future we will have an increase in the number of female Members.

While I emphasise that the hours we have are family-friendly, favourable not only to female Members but also to fathers like myself, it makes it easier for people with young families to come into politics and to be Members of this institution. There is flexibility within our Standing Orders, certainly on Tuesdays, and also on Wednesdays if necessary, to extend the period for debates and plenary sessions. There is a safeguard within the draft Standing Orders to assist us.

Photo of Mr James Leslie Mr James Leslie UUP

Does the Member agree that if the hours were extended into Wednesday, it would obviate the argument that has been made that as long as the business is conducted in two days, there are three days left for other business? Extending into Wednesday would be an unsatisfactory trade-off, and Tuesday evening is to be preferred.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am grateful to the Member for his intervention. The context in which I said that we could go into Wednesday was as a safeguard, increasing the flexibility of sittings. It would not be taken lightly, and it would not automatically follow. It is a safeguard which gives the Assembly extra flexibility to cope with situations that may arise from time to time.

The important thing is for the Assembly to be innovative. The Scottish Parliament will also be addressing the issue of family-friendly hours. We should set an example for other institutions. We should support the present situation and the draft produced by the Standing Orders Committee. If in the future we find that the hours are not working out, we can revisit this, as we can revisit any of the other Standing Orders. For the time being, my party and I believe that we should support this.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. We are engaged in important work here today on the Standing Orders, but I wonder if Members are aware, and whether it would affect their enthusiasm for the matters before us if they were, that the Secretary of State has decreed in Dublin today that she intends to operate d’Hondt on the 29th of this month and thereby push this process to destruction if necessary —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

That is not a point of order. It may be very interesting to Members, but it is not a point of order.

I believe that Mr Robinson, when he spoke earlier, referred to all his amendments in this group save one — No 26. I will call him now in case he wishes to speak to that, but before doing so, I wish to make two references to the draft before us. One concerns a typographical error: "a petition shall related" should be "a petition shall relate".

The second concerns a matter on which I am seeking advice. It might be better if the amendment were to say

"within the legal competence of the Assembly as defined by exception in section 6(2)" rather than simply "as defined", because section 6(2) of the Act defines by listing the exceptions — that is to say, those things that are not within the competence. That does not create any problems for our considering it or for our voting upon it, because we already have something of a catch-all rewrite clause in the first amendment to the report. In order to ensure that we are legally correct, I am taking advice on the matter.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I am quite content with that. As I have already mentioned to some Members, most of these were drafted either on a flight to or from London at the weekend. Section 6(2) deals with excepted matters but does not include reserved matters which should not be the subject of petitions either. Your advice is sound.

It is a fairly matter-of-fact amendment simply to take account of the fact that nobody should be entitled to petition the Assembly on a matter over which the Assembly does not have any power. That may be our working practice, but it will make matters much easier for Members who will undoubtedly be asked to present petitions on all sorts of issues, some of which may be security related. I was asked today to sign one which I suspect may be outside the Assembly’s competence. There will be a series of issues, and it is better to be able to give the clear answer that it is not within the competence of a Member to bring a petition of that nature to the Assembly.

I trust that the amendment, as redirected, can be approved. I have one comment on the amendments in the name of the First Minister (Designate). I hope that the Committee is right in its judgement. I fear that he is right, and I rather suspect that he will be able to smile broadly at some later stage when we shall undoubtedly have to revisit the issue. We will not get it right first time, but if it is possible to work on what seems to me to be the most appropriate basis, we should do that. Let us see if it works while recognising that we may have to revisit this issue.

We must also appreciate that constituency Members have other duties. I have no doubt that it is not because Ulster Unionist Members want to lie in bed on a Monday morning that the amendment was tabled. I think that there are genuine reasons for it and that in the fullness of time many of us will have to accept them.

Standing Order 7 (Proccedings to be held in public) agreed to.

Standing Order 8 (Prayers) agreed to.

Standing Order 9 (Quorum)

Amendment (No 37) proposed:

"The business adjourned shall be the first business when the Assembly next sits"

Question put

The Assembly divided: Ayes 62; Noes 25.



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


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, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.


Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Ms Monica McWilliams, Ms Jane Morrice.



Dr Ian Adamson, Ms Pauline Armitage, 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, Rt Hon David Trimble, Peter Weir.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 4:45 pm, 8th March 1999

There voted 87 Members. Of Nationalists, there voted 34 for and none against, which is 100%. Of Unionists, there voted 27 for and 25 against, which is 51.9% for. The total vote for is 71.26%. I declare the amendment carried.

Amendment accordingly agreed to.

Standing Order 9, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 10 (Sittings and Adjournments of the Assembly)

Amendments Nos 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B not moved.

Standing Order 10 agreed to.

Standing Order 11 (Earlier Meetings of the Assembly) agreed to.

Standing Order 12 (Public Business)

Amendment (No 36) made:

Standing Order 12, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 13 (Private Business) agreed to.

Standing Order 14 (Seconders) agreed to.

Standing Order 15 (Amendments)

Amendment (No 35) made:

Standing Order 15, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 16 (Delaying Motions)

Amendment (No 34) made:

"Where a motion is made for the adjournment of a debate the motion shall specify the length of adjournment and in any case it shall not be for a period greater than 7 days. The Speaker shall not permit more than one adjournment on the same debate except by leave of the Assembly." — [Mr P Robinson]

Amendment (No 33) made:

Standing Order 16, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 17 (Speeches in the Assembly) agreed to.

Standing Order 18 (Statements)

Amendment (No 31) made:

"The Speaker shall determine the time period taking into consideration the content of the statement, the number of Members wishing to ask questions and the pressure of other business." — [Mr P Robinson]

Amendment (No 32) made:

Amendment (No 30) made:

"unless, by leave, the Assembly determines to dispense with this requirement." — [Mr P Robinson ]

Standing Order 18, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 19 (Questions)

Amendment (No 29) made:

"The sequence that questions are taken shall be determined by ballot carried out by the Speaker." — [Mr P Robinson]

Standing Order 19, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 20 (Private Notice Questions) agreed to.

Standing Order 21 (Adjournment Debates)

Amendment (No 28) made:

Amendment (No 27) made:

"Where the subject matter of an adjournment debate is the responsibility of a member of the Executive Committee 10 minutes shall be allotted for a Ministerial response at the end of the debate." — [Mr P Robinson]

Standing Order 21, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 22 (Public Petition)

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

In the proposed new paragraph the word "related" on the Marshalled List should be "relate", and the words "as defined in section 6(2)" on the Marshalled List should be "as defined by exception in section 6".

Amendment (No 26) made:

"A petition shall relate to matters that are within the legal competence of the Assembly as defined by exception in section 6 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998." — [Mr P Robinson ]

Standing Order 22, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 23 (Presentation of Papers and Accounts) agreed to.