Assembly Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 9th March 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 3:15 pm, 9th March 1999

I will get into fifth gear very quickly.

Amendment No 62 simply seeks to replace an upper case A with a lower case a — I do not think we will fall out about that one. It will be a small allocation rather than a big one.

Amendment No 53 to Standing Order 46(2) seeks to reflect what is more likely to be the working practice of committees. If a committee that is responsible for taking the lead on a piece of legislation that also covers a topic falling more properly into the remit of another committee, rather than taking the views and establishing the interests of the other committee, it ought to be able to ask the other committee to investigate and take evidence on that element which falls into its remit. The other committee would then provide the lead committee with a draft report, and it would have the final say as to whether to adopt the draft report in its entirety. In terms of working practice it would allow the experts in a particular subject to deal directly with that subject rather than delegating it to another committee. The amendment simply takes into account good working practice.

Amendment No 52 to Standing Order 49 seeks to remove the ability of a committee to continue to sit while a vote was taking place in the Assembly. That is entirely necessary, particularly in circumstances where, for example, a Member from a small party had not arrived when a vote was being taken, or came in or had left a meeting when a vote was being taken.

Without the amendment, two Divisions could take place at the same time; one in the committee and one in the Assembly. A vote in this Assembly should always have precedence over any business that is being carried out in the precincts of the House. A committee should automatically, without any alternatives being offered, be suspended to allow everyone to vote.

Amendment No 51 relates to Standing Order 50. It was the committee’s intention to ensure that any sub-committee would have a balanced membership, that there would be proportionality. My amendment does not specify the nature of the proportionality or balance, but requires it. Without that, a committee could consist of members from one or two parties, and I do not think that anyone would regard that as fair, given the nature of the structures that are being set up.

Amendment No 82 to Standing Order 53 seeks to tidy up a very awkward heading. I am sure that no one particularly likes a heading such as "Conformity with Equality Requirements – Special Committee On". I note that the facing page shows the headings "Public Accounts Committee" and "Committee on Standards and Privileges". I see nothing wrong with "Special Committee on Conformity with Equality Requirements".

Amendment No 81 seeks to bring consistency elsewhere. In referring to the European Convention on Human Rights, we have talked about "including rights under". That is to conform with other parts of the Standing Orders.

I come to amendment No 80. Rather than giving the Assembly a choice in dealing with reports, the amendment requires it to deal with all reports. I hope that that was the intention of the draftsman.

With regard to the petition of concern, amendment No 79 simply points out that we had actually transferred that sub-section of the Standing Order to the voting section. It is incorporated elsewhere and is, therefore, being deleted at this point. Incidentally, in the renumbering paragraph (6) will become paragraph (5).

The Public Accounts Committee is one of the most important committees of the House or any other elected body. It is where all spending and the processes which give rise to spending are scrutinised. The intention on the part of the draftsmen, as I read it, was based on a misunderstanding of what a Public Accounts Committee does. A Public Accounts Committee does not simply take account of finance in the context of the Department of Finance and Personnel, it takes account of finance in every Department. All Ministers dread being called before the Public Accounts Committee to give account of the expenditure in their Departments.

Rather than excluding only those who are in the same party as the Minister or a junior Minister of the Department of Finance and Personnel from the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson posts, I am suggesting that those in the same party as any Minister or junior Minister should be excluded. That would ensure that there was proper scrutiny and that party colleagues would not be in the position of questioning the Minister and taking the lead in determining issues.

Amendment No 77 deals with the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and the term in paragraph 1(a) should be "privilege" rather than "privileges".

There is a fairly innocuous change in the section on the Audit Committee. Under the Standing Orders as it stands, it does not outline how the committee is to be established, only that it shall. The purpose of Standing Orders is to advise us on how this will be done. Therefore it has been changed to say that the Assembly shall, by resolution, establish a committee to exercise the functions. That simply is a tidying-up amendment. I am not sure whether that is the end of that series of amendments. If so, I beg to move.