Assembly Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:45 pm, 9th March 1999

I want to refer to amendment No 78 in the name of Mr P Robinson. On behalf of my party, I want to make it clear that we are entirely in sympathy with the spirit of the amendment. It is the practice in most legislatures for the Public Accounts Committee to be chaired by a member of a party that is not involved in the Administration. We agree with that. We also agree with the proposition that the Chair of the Standing Orders Committee be held by a member of a party other than the party of the Minister for Finance or that of any junior Minister in his Department.

However, we have a difficulty with that. I hope that we are in the process of constructing the most inclusive form of government that is practicable. I invite Mr Robinson to consider the consequence of excluding from the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee a member of any party who is in any way involved, either as a Minister or as a junior Minister, in the Administration. That could inhibit the freedom of movement of the First and Deputy First Ministers.

I do not pretend to know what is in their heads in relation to the appointment of junior Ministers, but I know that it is technically possible for them to consider the appointment of members of parties other than their own, perhaps members of smaller parties in the House. Mr Robinson may wish to reflect on that and decide whether he wishes to proceed with the amendment. I assure him that the SDLP wholly supports the spirit of the amendment, but see that small difficulty in terms of the future possibilities of creating the most inclusive form of Administration.

Standing Order 47 refers to the composition of certain non-Statutory Standing Committees. My party will support the First Minister’s amendment and other amendments which seek to delete paragraphs that determine the composition of those committees. I do not agree with the First Minister that such a process activates Standing Order 47(4) and necessarily means that those committees would simply consist of 11 members. Standing Order 47(4) states:

"Standing Committees unless otherwise specified in Standing Orders shall be constituted in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 45."

The Standing Orders Committee has much work to do subsequent to this sitting and will meet soon to consider a variety of matters arising from these debates. That should be one of them. There has been a breakdown of communications here, which I do not think is anyone’s fault but simply the result of a misunderstanding.

My recollection is that the Standing Orders Committee decided that it would be desirable to have all-party representation on certain Standing Committees and that that might be best accomplished by adopting a composition similar, if not identical, to that of the Standing Orders Committee. As Members know, that committee consists of four each from the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP, three each from the DUP and Sinn Féin, and one each from the smaller parties. My recollection is that that was what we agreed. However, the Clerks of the committee seem to have referred to an earlier formula for committee composition which was the practice in the Assembly’s earliest days. There has been a breakdown in communication.