Operations of the Assembly

Part of Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 8th March 1999.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP 4:00 pm, 8th March 1999

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.