Standards and Privilege

Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 6:00 pm on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 6:00 pm, 9th March 1999

We move to the section on Standards and Privileges. The first of these amendments is No 70, which stands in the name of Mr P Robinson.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

The amendment to Standing Order 61, amendment No 70, deals with pecuniary interest or benefit of whatever nature. In the way it is framed it relates directly to a Member’s personal pecuniary interest or benefit. The amendment seeks to widen that to the direct family circle of the Member. This is in line with the provision for district councillors in the Local Government Act 1972.

The standard required of Assembly Members should not be lower than that required of district council members. I hope this is satisfactory. In terms of the relationship, I understand it to be mother/father, daughter/son, brother/sister and husband/wife. There may be some other relationship that I am not aware of — perhaps, I am better not knowing what that might be.

The amendment to Standing Order 62 addresses the issue of how a breach of privilege may be dealt with. There are particular difficulties in the type of structures that exist in the Assembly. If this Standing Order were to remain in its present form, there could be vetoes exercised against a Committee on Standards and Privileges looking at an issue relating to a Member. A petition of concern, which requires a cross-community vote, could be applied to Standing Order 62, giving rise to vetoes.

If an issue is deemed by the Speaker to amount to a prima facie case of breach of privilege, it should automatically go to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Speaker may make a judgement that the prima facie case is there. If it is, it is considered, a report comes back and the Assembly can decide if it will accept the recommendations of the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

The only other issue is the three days’ notice. I think that it is inevitable —

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

May I ask the Member to clarify the meaning of the word "immediate" in amendment No 70. Can he clarify what is meant by "immediate relative"? Does this term have a legal meaning? I have taken legal advice on this, and I am told that the term "immediate relative" does not have a clear legal meaning. I am entirely in sympathy with the amendment that the Member is proposing. However, it is necessary that we clarify this from a legal point of view.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

In my amendment No 70, I defined an "immediate relative" as a father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, husband or wife. I have no other suggestions. I believe that that is what the term is understood to mean in local government. If anybody wants to confess to any other immediate relative —

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

While I accept that the term "immediate relative" is commonly understood in the way that Mr Robinson describes it, is it legally sufficient to define the issue that is before the House? Another term might be more suitable for that purpose.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

There is an opportunity for consistent language to be put in at a later stage by the legal draftsmen. However, we are not debating a legal document in the sense of a Bill. If Members clearly understand what is meant, they will know whether they are breaching the rule. The term is commonly understood, and I think that it is understood by Members. If the Committee wants to add an interpretative section at some later stage, that would not need to be passed by the Assembly now. An interpretation added to the Standing Orders might be useful.

I spoke about the Committee on Standards and Privileges and the three days’ notice. It is likely that if some substantial issue is raised, Members will not wait three days before giving voice to it in the Assembly. In a ragged situation one Member may play ball and take the matter to the Speaker. The Speaker will consider it for three days before the matter is dealt with by the Assembly, and somebody else may raise the issue here. There is a contradiction in the Standing Order. Clearly, 62(1) requires three days’ notice, but the final sentence of 62(3) talks about

"a matter of privilege is raised of which the Speaker had not received due notice".

If there is a requirement for three days’ notice, he would have received due notice. I am not sure which element of the Standing Order I should be addressing. That is why I have tabbed two amendments, one of which seeks to change the wording to "sufficient notice", which would allow the Speaker to make a judgement. If he has not had sufficient time to consider the matter, he can say so when it is raised in the Assembly. At a later date he can rule as to whether there is a prima facie case.

This is precisely what happens in the House of Commons, and I have some experience of it. I went to the Speaker one morning; and the matter was raised in the House that afternoon. She asked for time to consider it, and three or four days later she responded. That seems perfectly satisfactory. The Member gets the matter off his chest and places it with the Speaker. That results in all the legal advice that is required.

The key element of this set of amendments is the proposal to move away from having a vote in the Assembly to determine whether the matter goes to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The worst possible scenario is where it is alleged that a Member has done something he should not have done. When the matter is brought to the Assembly the Speaker determines that there is a prima facie case, but it can be voted down in the Assembly by a party of sufficient size applying the petition of concern, thus preventing the matter from going forward. That would be a most unsatisfactory situation. It would be better by far for every prima facie case to go to a committee in which each Member can argue his case. That consequentially requires the deletion of sub-paragraph (4) by my amendment No 66.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 7:15 pm, 9th March 1999

I have received no requests to speak in regard to this group of amendments, and therefore I will proceed to decisions on them and on the Standing Orders in the group.

Standing Order 61 (Members’ Interests)

Amendment (No 70) made:

"whether such pecuniary interest or benefit is held by the Member or an immediate relative." — [Mr P Robinson]

Standing Order 61, as amended, agreed to.

Standing Order 62 (Privilege)

Amendment (No 69) made:

Amendment (No 67) made:

"refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges." — [Mr P Robinson]

Amendment (No 68) made:

Amendment (No 66) made:

Standing Order 62, as amended, agreed to.

Other Orders

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

We now move on to the last section in the compendium of Standing Orders — 63 to 71 — and amendments Nos 65, 64, 87 and 63.

Amendment No 65 stands in the name of Mr Peter Robinson. Before calling Mr Robinson may I remind Members that he advised us earlier of a typographical error in this amendment. It should read

"Standing Order 66(6), on line 4, after ‘to’ insert ‘the news media for ’ ’’ .

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Amendment 65 is just a grammatical change; it should not create any controversy. I suspect that in this band of Standing Orders, the controversy might come elsewhere.

In relation to Amendment No 64, I ask Members to think very carefully about putting in Standing Order 69. We have seen the amount of time and effort that Members have put in to providing themselves with Standing Orders over the last couple of days.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

Before the Member moves on to Amendment 64, may I clarify Amendment 65? If paragraph (6) of Standing Order 66 were to be amended as Mr Robinson suggests, it seems to me that it would not read particularly well. It would read "that are from time to time assigned to the news media for their use for the purposes of committee business". Is that how the Member wishes it to read?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

At the present time I am not sure what the Standing Order is supposed to read. It says — I had better read it from the very beginning to get it in context —

"Chairpersons of Committees and those acting in their stead under these Standing Orders shall, in relation to the news media, exercise the same powers as the Speaker within those places and precincts of the Assembly that are from time to time assigned for their use for the purposes of Committee business."

In terms of the Amendment, it therefore reads "assigned to the news media for their use". This is a section dealing with the news media — Standing Order 66. I assumed that is what the Committee was saying, is it not?

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

It seems that the media do not have any function in terms of committee business. That is a small point but —

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I am at a total loss as to why this paragraph is in the section headed ‘News Media’. I am happy to give way if someone can tell me why, if the news media do not have any function, we have a Standing Order giving them a function. There will be Committees that will allow the media to be present. I would have thought that they, therefore, have a purpose, if not a function, in relation to Committees.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

I hate to appear niggling, but if it were to read "for the purposes of covering Committee business", that might be better.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

If there were a mechanism for allowing that to be the outcome, I would be perfectly content to accept it. However, it could, with a generous interpretation, fall under the original amendment. If that is the general wish of the House I am sure such flexibility might be accorded.

With regard to the suspension of Standing Orders, it seems absurd that we put all the time and effort into preparing and deciding Standing Orders, and then at a whim allow all of the rights and protections that are built into them simply to be swept to the side because a group gets together and decides that it does not like what they say and are going to do whatever Standing Orders would not otherwise allow it to do.

That does not seem to be the proper way to conduct business. It would not be acceptable anywhere else other than a district council — I have often used it. Take it from somebody who has used it on many occasions to great benefit, while in a majority, that if the provision is left in the Standing Orders it can be used in the future. As Mr Weir said earlier, no one knows who might be in the majority in the future. So while it may satisfy some people today, it may not satisfy them four years down the road.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

With regard to the suggested Standing Order, does Mr Robinson not recognise that there is a requirement for cross-community support?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Yes, I do. I also recognise how cross-community support could be gained by a stitch-up in the Assembly, particularly in circumstances where parties with a common aim are in government and decide that they want to overcome some local difficulty. It is not out of the range of possibilities that a couple of parties could decide that they want to do business in a different way than they are supposed to be conducting it under the Standing Orders. It would be wrong for us to spend all this time deciding what the appropriate Standing Orders are to be and then to put in a provision that allows them to be thrown out of the window. I hope that the Assembly will think twice before it goes down that road.

In relation to the Assembly Commission, amendment No 63, which is in my name, is simply a correction to get the plurality in line. There is also a comma that needs to be removed, but that will come into the general tidy-up.

Some concern has again been expressed about the size of the Commission. If someone were to ask me if it would function better with a smaller number rather than with a larger number, I would say that it would operate better with a smaller number. And if someone were to ask me if this Assembly would operate better with 78 Members rather than with 108 Members, I would say that the smaller number would be better. But people say that it is important to have the larger number for the sake of making it more inclusive. I thought that the Executive should have had seven members but it had to be ten in order to make it more inclusive — I am not even sure if it does that.

The idea behind increasing the number was to bring more people in to share responsibility, and the Standing Orders Committee has responded by trying to increase that number. I do not know how it decided on the number or the thought processes that were at work. Given the minute of the meeting, it seems to have been a sudden decision on the part of the Committee to make the membership 11.

There is a real difficulty in this respect because even though some of us may think that 11 is not the right number, I do not think that we can change it because there is no amendment down to change it. The only option open to us is not to pass the Standing Order even though the Act requires us to pass it. The Act clearly says, in Section 40, that we have to prescribe the number of members for the Commission in the Standing Orders.

It could be argued that we might prescribe the number at some time in the future. It could also be argued that we could make a change if it were thought that the number was not working very well. But it will constitute a gaping hole in our Standing Orders if we do not do what we are required to do by law, namely, to have a Standing Order that contains the number of members for the Commission.

I hope that all of the amendments that I have proposed will be supported by the Assembly. We have to accept the number on the Commission, at least until such times as an alternative is offered, because no amendment is down that would let us make a change.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Mr Robinson and to some extent the joint Chairman, Mr Haughey, have suggested that I give a ruling on the question of an amendment to sub-paragraph 6 of Standing Order 66, on whether some slight modification to the wording would accommodate an agreement.

There are two major problems about this. The first problem is procedural. We do not have a mechanism, as I indicated earlier, for taking amendments of any substantial sort that move outside the parameters agreed in the amendment to item 3 yesterday. But there is a more substantial problem and that is that the amendment completely changes the grammatical sense and reference within the sub-paragraph.

The subject of the sentence is "Chairpersons of Committees", and the verb is "exercising". When it comes to "their use" the possessive pronoun is used. Does "their use" refer to use by Committees and the Chairpersons of Committees? Or does it refer to use by the news media?

It seems to me that if this sub-clause is left as it is, the possessive pronoun "their" refers to chairpersons of committees and the word "use" — of the rooms or whatever — refers to use for the purposes of committee business by the chairpersons and their committees as distinct from use by the news media. However, if the Assembly were to accept the amendment by Mr Robinson, the use of whatever facilities would be available to the news media for the purposes of Committee business.

It seems not an unreasonable interpretation of the grammar — albeit a rather opaque grammar — to say that the amendment would actually change the sense of the Standing Order. Whether it would change the meaning of it, in terms of how it was acted out, is another matter. But I have to make it clear that it would not be possible for me to accept the change as it has been suggested. First of all, to do so would be procedurally incorrect and, secondly, it would effect a change of meaning in the amendment. To keep the amendment as it is means that it refers to the use of a room by the committee; to accept the amendment means that it refers to the use of a room for the purposes of news-media coverage by the news media, which is something different.

It is not for me to rule on which makes sense or on which is the best decision to take. I am simply trying to clarify it as best I can, and that is my ruling.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 7:30 pm, 9th March 1999

I look for clarification from either the joint Chairmen or the Committee members. Standing Order 66 (News Media) starts with references to the Speaker and his powers and role. It then deals with committees and states that Chairmen would have the same authority as the Speaker.

The Standing Order specifies the Speaker’s role in relation to the news media, and where its representatives would be placed. There is no doubt that the Standing Orders Committee intended that the Chairmen of committees would be able to instruct the media on the facilities that were available for their use in covering the proceedings. That is the end result and if anyone can tell us how to get there I would be quite content.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the proposer of the amendment consider not moving it? I sense that the House is entirely in sympathy with his proposal, but there is a question in relation to the wording. If the amendment is not moved, the House could later consider a more exact form of words that would make the intention clear.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

If I do not move the amendment, are we satisfied with a Standing Order that is different from what is intended?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I can give only the ruling that I have already given as to my understanding of what the grammar, inelegant though it may be, purports to represent. Clarification may be required, but at present that must be done elsewhere rather than in the Chamber. If the amendment is moved, Members will have to decide whether to support it. Of course, the proposer may choose not to move it when the time comes.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have not had a chance to discuss this matter with Mr Cobain, but insofar as I am able to interpret his view, I think that the Committee would look at it entirely in sympathy with the spirit of Mr Robinson’s proposal, and would seek a more exact form of words that will accomplish the intended purpose.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

As the debate continues it may be possible for Members to clarify this issue in the Chamber or perhaps behind the Speaker’s Chair. After that, Mr Robinson can decide whether he wishes to move the amendment.

I call Mr Cedric Wilson on amendment No 87, which stands in his name.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

Amendment No 87 relates to Standing Order 70. That Standing Order states

"Members may speak in the language of their choice".

My amendment is that we should leave out Standing Order 70 and insert the following new Standing Order:

"The language of this Assembly shall be English."

I want to make it clear and well understood that the amendment is not an attempt to cause mischief or to prohibit the use of the Irish language in the Chamber. It is not the use of Irish that concerns me but rather its abuse, and that concerns many Members. I refer to the Irish language because this is what we are considering. [Interruption]

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

We are debating whether it is desirable for large sections of our proceedings to be in Irish. A few Members, including Mr Shannon, the Member for Strangford, have voted using the Ulster-Scots word "Nah". With that exception, I do not think that any Member on this side has used a language other than English.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

A dead language was used by Mr Close yesterday.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

I bow to Mr Robinson’s greater knowledge. For serious debate in this Chamber, it is true to say that the language used and understood by all Members and, indeed, those in the Public Gallery has been, to a large extent, English. My amendment is not meant to try to prohibit the use of any other language in this Chamber. I have no desire to do that, nor do I believe it would be possible under international law to do so. The only language that I want to see prohibited is bad language, and, fortunately, we have had little of that here.

I want to stress why I put forward this amendment. If such an amendment is not made, there will be implications in respect of time and costs that this House may be asked to underwrite in the future.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Order. Whatever language is being spoken, it is only proper that one Member is speaking it at any one time.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

The treaty that was signed in Dublin this week by the Secretary of State and the Dublin authorities makes it clear, in the section on language, that the British Government will facilitate and encourage Irish in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand.

My contention is that there is not an appropriate demand for the use of an alternative language — particularly the Irish language — in this Chamber. There will be a cost implication if Members endorse Standing Order 70 which states

"Members may speak in the language of their choice."

As sure as day follows night, I am certain that if the proposal that allows Members to speak in any language is adopted, it will be only a short time until the Assembly is faced with having to provide simultaneous translations. It will have to employ additional people, and there has already been a public outcry at the prospect of spending a large sum of money employing four people to translate the comments of those Nationalists who have been using the Irish language into the transcripts of the proceedings.

There is a possibility that there will be a greater cost. We could be writing a blank cheque by endorsing proposals that allow Members to speak in the language of their choice. In future, there may be a demand on the Assembly — and it may not be possible to resist such a demand — to use languages other than English on all documents and official forms. I am certain that Sinn Féin will stick to their guns — [Laughter] and insist on that. The European Courts may even decide that the language they chose to use in the Chamber is legitimate, and, therefore, all the Assembly’s business would have to be translated, as is the case in Wales.

I flag this up as a genuine concern. Members should exercise caution on this matter.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Does the Member agree that the Standing Order, as it is currently framed, does not make provision for additional resources for the Irish language? Does the Member see any imbalance in the treaties which were signed in the Irish Republic this week by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Mr Andrews in respect of how the development of the Ulster-Scots language is to be treated?

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

I thank Mr Paisley Jnr for that intervention. Indeed, it is glaringly obvious, in this document and in many other documents, that prime importance is given to the promotion of the Irish language, and those who support the use of Ulster-Scots are right to say that there is no parity of esteem and no equality agenda in this regard. It concerns me that promotion of the Ulster-Scots language is being used as a red herring by those who wish to promote the Irish language.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

I would like to ask the Member how he thinks he will secure parity of esteem for the Ulster-Scots language by means of an amendment which states

"The language of this Assembly shall be English."

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

I have made no attempt to prevent Members from speaking in whatever language they choose. Mr Shannon may, at some stage, confound us all by making a speech in Ulster-Scots. However, what I am saying is that this is not essential in the context of the Standing Orders which we are considering. If I could be certain that there would be no cost, in terms of finance or of time, I would not object to the wording as it stands. Nonetheless, I feel that this is a very serious issue, and one that will have major implications for the Assembly in the months to come. I urge Members, therefore, to support this amendment.

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

I would like to thank Mr C Wilson for giving me the opportunity to speak on this matter. Ulster sits at the north-eastern corner of Ireland, facing Scotland across a narrow sea. The characteristics of her language, since the dawn of human history, have been moulded by population movements, large and small, between the two islands. Therefore, we have had a wide range of dialects in the northern part of the island, including dialects of Gaelic and of the older Scottish tongue. When I read the part of the Belfast Agreement which deals with rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, I was delighted with these words:

"All participants recognise the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and" — equally important, of course —

"the languages of the various ethnic communities."

Ulster-Scots has been particularly important to me because of my love for the literature of Scotland, from the times of the old makars, who created the older Scottish tongue in its literary form, to modern poets, such as Burns, and the weaver poets of Ulster, including James Orr of Ballycarry, whom I consider to be the equal to Burns himself.

But, besides this interest in cultural, and especially linguistic, diversity, I have always had a love for an older tongue — the oldest tongue used in the British Isles, and from which the British Isles get their name. They are the Britannic isles — the islands of the British. This tongue receded dramatically in the face of successive invasions. It is the original tongue of Ireland — the name "Ireland" is in this tongue. It is the original tongue of Ulster, the original Lagan. It was also the language of the old Scots of the Lowlands. It is still present today in the British Isles in a much-reduced form. It is still used as a living language. I will read some of it:

"Mae pawb sy’n cymryd rhan yn cydnabod ei bod hi’n bwysig parchu, dirnad a goddef amrywiaeth o ieithoedd. Yng Ngogledd Iwerddon mae hyn yn cynnwys Gwyddelig, Scoteg Wlster, ac lieithoedd y gwahanol gymunedau ethnig sydd I gyd yn rhan o gyfoeth diwylliant Iwerddon."

This language is known in its native land as Cymric. It is the oldest British tongue; it is the language of the Welsh.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 7:45 pm, 9th March 1999

Order. I had hoped that when Ulster-Scots was used, with my background in Ballymena and the accompaniment of the Scots-English dictionary, I might be able to translate. However, that not being possible, I must resort to my previous request to Members that when they speak in a language other than English they translate for the benefit of those who are unable to understand it. I would be grateful if Dr Adamson could give us some guidance on what he has said.

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

I would be delighted.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. You will note that the clock did not stop during your intervention. I am sure that the additional 40 seconds would be of advantage to the Member.

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

The translation is

"All participants recognise the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity including, in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland."

This language was, of course, the language of St Patrick, and as we are approaching St Patrick’s Day, I felt that I must mention the language of Patrick. I hope that this amendment will fall because I would like to use this language in future in the Assembly. I would also like to use other languages —

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

I thought that I made it clear, and I would not like Dr Adamson to misinterpret what I said or to misunderstand me, that I do not wish to see any language prohibited from use in the Chamber. I am delighted that he has used Ulster-Scots and the other language that he has used today. I do not want to prohibit any language, but I do want it to be recognised that the official language of the House is English.

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

I thank the Member for that intervention. I was, of course, using Cymric, or Welsh, rather than Ulster-Scots [Laughter]. If he would like me to use Ulster- Scots it would be

"Aaboadie takin pairt kens weel tha muckle thïng it maun be fur tae hae careful mind o an be gart thole wi owre ocht respeck anent oor throughither heirskip o leids, takin in fur Ulster tha Gaelick an Scotch leids, an tha leids o tha wheen ootlanner resydenters, ilka yin o quhilk bis pairt o tha fowk poustie o tha islann o Airlann."

It is my belief that true linguistic diversity will not reduce the significance of standard English. Using linguistic diversity in all its forms will show the absolute need for standard English , particularly in the Chamber.

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

Sono capace di parlare italiano oppure francese. Derò vorrei più di tutto parlare Gaelico perchè è la mia prima lingua.

I am, of course, speaking Italian. I have just said that I am able to speak Italian or even French. However I would prefer to speak Gaelic in the Chamber because it is my first language, but I appreciate that that might make it difficult for Members to understand me. The reason I support the use of the Irish language in the Chamber and facilities for those Members who wish to use Irish is that Irish is my native language. It is the language that I first spoke; it is the language of the community in which I was reared; it is the language with which I totally identify; and it is the language in which I speak most comfortably.

I would appreciate it if Members, in particular Mr Cedric Wilson, would recognise that I find it difficult to understand why some Members find my speaking my own language so offensive.

I very much respect the words of Mr Adamson and his respect for all languages, including Welsh, Ullans, Irish and English. It is unfortunate that there are those who favour simply having the English language and downgrade the Irish language. As my Colleague pointed out, they complain about parity of esteem for Ullans whilst trying to deny parity of esteem in respect of the Irish language. To me that is contradictory. That, in a sense, is looking on language as a political tool rather than looking on it as something which enriches us all. The Irish language in particular enriches us all.

Most of the place names around us come from the Irish language, and it would be very unfortunate if we were to lose the meaning of those place names. I ask Members to recognise that when we speak in favour of parity of esteem for the Irish language and Ullans — and I have learned a lot about Ullans since I came to the Assembly. I did not realise how much Ullans I spoke when I was growing up in Donegal. I know what words such as "sheugh" and "oxter" mean. These words were frequently used, and which I did not know then —

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

Would the Member agree that the problem has been that there are many in this Chamber who use the Irish language as a political tool? Those who use Ulster-Scots — and we heard an demonstration of it a few minutes ago — do so to show the culture and beauty of that language. Ulster-Scots is used as a language; it is not used for any other purpose.

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have already complimented the Member on the way in which he presented the importance of recognising the diversity of culture and language, and I also share that view. I would be disappointed if people looked on language as a political tool; that is certainly not the way I look at it. But I am afraid that there are people in Northern Ireland, on both sides, who tend to use it as a political tool.

Mr Wilson, in his contradictory approach to Ullans and Irish, has made that very clear. However, the use of the Irish language or Ullans in this Chamber — and it has already been mentioned by Mr Cedric Wilson — would be totally in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement, which states

"facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand".

Mr Wilson asks if there is appropriate demand. To me, appropriate demand means a demand which is appropriate to the needs, identity and feelings of Members and the importance they attribute to a language. Therefore it is appropriate that I and some of my Colleagues who wish to do so are able to speak Irish comfortably and without feeling that we are putting other Members at a disadvantage.

Either we disadvantage those who want to know what we are saying but do not because there is no facility for translation, or we disadvantage ourselves by having to repeat what we have just said and therefore lose half of our time. There is an appropriate demand as long as there are people who want to use the language to express themselves in a manner more appropriate for them. It is not for others to decide what is appropriate for me, and I would not, for one moment, decide what language is more appropriate for Mr Wilson to speak. If he wishes to speak Ullans, then, I think, that is for him to decide.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

It is rather sad that in order to put forward a case, the Member has to misrepresent what I have said. I want to make it very clear — and I thought I did make it clear at the beginning — that I have no objection to the use of the Irish language or any other language in this Chamber. I said that I had a grave concern that the right to use the language was being abused.

Mr Shannon pointed out that on the occasions when Irish has been used in this Chamber, it has been used as a political tool. It has been used in an attempt to embarrass or to cause some feeling of resentment among the Unionist Members of the House.

I have no difficulty with someone reciting a poem in Irish, or using the language if there is a purpose to it. When Irish is spoken there are bemused faces in the Gallery. The European Commissioner summed it all up.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Order. I think that it is generally recognised that the purpose of an intervention is to make a brief comment, not to return to a previous speech.

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member has had a second bite at the cherry. The Good Friday Agreement seeks

"to remove, where possible, restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language".

The one thing that will work against the maintenance or development of a language is the inability of those who speak it fluently to be able to do so. The death knell of a language is the absence of the capacity for people to use it. The agreement also aims to

"encourage the parties to secure agreement that this commitment will be sustained by a new Assembly in a way which takes account of the desires and sensitivities of the community."

There is a large Irish-speaking community in Northern Ireland, and many people in Northern Ireland have learned to speak Irish. There are Irish language schools in Northern Ireland, both secondary and — [Interruption] I am not giving way again. I have given way twice and it has resulted in two speeches. I have less than two minutes left. Members can speak afterwards if they wish.

Before I was rudely interrupted I was speaking about desires and sensitivities. There are second level, first level and nursery level Irish language schools in Northern Ireland, and they are all well attended and achieve excellent results. People are interested enough in the language to send their children to learn it. There are many places in Northern Ireland where that can be done.

Today at the lunch table I spoke Irish. On my way to another table I was greeted in Irish. I finally sat down and had a chat in Irish with one of the journalists. There is much Irish here and a great deal of interest in it. If there is the same interest in Ullans, and I think that there is some interest in it, I would support anything that could be done to promote and facilitate it as well.

I should like to see Irish being facilitated in the Chamber, and should like to speak it here. As a rule, I do not speak Irish in the Chamber, although I broke the rule a few days ago, because it is a courtesy to speak in a language that everybody understands. I and my party intend to ask for translation facilities, so that we will know that those who want to hear Irish will be able to do so. Sometimes English is not heard. Those who do not want to switch on their earphones need not do so. It is a matter of giving parity of esteem to the Irish language and to Ullans. Those languages are important to all traditions in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Before calling the next Member may I make a brief plea on behalf of the staff? Members normally expect Hansard to be produced the following day by about half past eight in the morning. That requires us usually to finish our debates about six o’clock, and it is clear that we shall go well beyond that.

An extraordinary richness of language will have to be attended to. We had esprit de corps from the First Minister, Latin from Mr Close, and Welsh and Ullans. I am not sure whether it was Mr Clarke or Mr O’Prey of our staff who gave me the translation from Italian into English as well as from Irish into English. That shows the range of skills at our disposal among the staff. [Interruption] From my recollection of recent Hansards, they seem to be particularly good on that. If the staff are to provide all that, it will take a little time.

Several Members wish to speak, and I call Mr Barry McElduff.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin 8:00 pm, 9th March 1999

Go raibh maith agat, Jim. A Chathaoirligh, I wish to speak against amendment No 87 and to comment on Standing Order No 70.

Sílim féin gur chóir go luafaí an Ghaeilge, ach go háirithe, go soiléir so-thuigthe sna hOrduithe Seasta.

Tá mise ag labhairt i gcomhthéacs an ChomhAontaithe agus ag cloí le spiorad agus le litir an ChomhAontaithe. De réir Alt 4 (sa rannóg um Shaincheisteanna Eacnamaíochta, Sóisialta agus Cultúir: i gcomhthéacs an bhreithnithe ghníomhaigh atá á dhéanamh faoi láthair maidir leis an Ríocht Aontaithe — mar a deirtear — do shíniú Chairt Chomhairle na hEorpa do Theangacha Réigiúnacha nó Mionlaigh, déanfaidh Rialtas na Breataine go háirithe i ndáil leis an Ghaeilge, más cuí agus más mian le daoine amhlaidh:

The Committee on Standing Orders has not yet arrived at an appropriate form of words in its report that gives proper recognition to Irish in a manner which is in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement. I refer specifically to the section on cultural matters. The report should have been bilingual — Irish as well as English.

If we are to establish this new era, where better than in the Assembly can we demonstrate the resolute action in favour of the Irish language, which is specified most notably in paragraphs 3 and 4 of the section on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity in the Good Friday Agreement? There are a number of points.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

If this report is of such concern to Mr McElduff, why did he not take the same time as Mr Robinson and others to put proper amendments to it?

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I will answer that in due course.

I want to refer to the Good Friday Agreement, which talks about resolute action to promote the Irish language and to facilitate its use in both speech and writing. And, very importantly, the latter half of paragraph 4 of the section on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity says

"encourage the parties to secure agreement that this commitment will be sustained by a new Assembly in a way which takes account of the desires and sensitivities of the community."

Standing Orders should reflect equal status for Irish and English in practical ways. The written record, for example, is required for the benefit of the burgeoning Irish language media which are ever present in this Building, particularly during plenary sittings. Teilifís na Gaeilge, Radio na Gaeltachta agus rudaí eile. They will no longer be disadvantaged by having to translate as well as report.

There is an added difficulty. I am disappointed that some Members fear to refer to the Irish language by name. Why do some Members remain in denial of the Gaelic language, afraid to speak its name, with a kind of begrudging tolerance, at best, and outright hostility, at worst?

Members may speak in the language of their choice. In my opinion, this is inadequate. We should be looking at Welsh as a closer model. I have a document here headed ‘Agenda for the National Assembly of Wales, All for Welsh, Welsh for All’, and I think that that is a better bilingual example to follow than that which is being proposed here.

Mr C Wilson said earlier that he is afraid that we may want to go the whole way and push for a simultaneous translation system, and he is absolutely right. We will be pushing for a simultaneous translation system for all 108 Members, and not just for the Clerks and the Initial Presiding Officer.

Go raibh maith agat – mar dhea-ar an ábhar sin.

Nigel Dodds asserted yesterday that Irish is a foreign language. The use of the word foreign is a calculated insult to the Nationalist people, and to all those in the Nationalist and Unionist communities who are interested in Irish. Such references may register highly on the clapometer at junior DUP rallies in Portadown or Blossom Hill, or in parts of north Belfast to which Nigel Dodds feels close, but they are patently untrue. Irish is not a foreign language, although it may be good for Nigel Dodds’s popularity ratings in the DUP to say that. I remind people who make such statements that Gaelic Irish is the ancient language of Ireland. It is the birthright and the heritage of everyone who lives on the island of Ireland, and we are not sectional about that at all.

Since the late 1800s, consistent efforts have been made to revive Irish in everyday use throughout the country following its almost fatal decline in the wake of An Gorta Mór, and a history of outlawing and repressing it. Some people doubt the demand for the language. We do not all speak Irish today because in addition to being repressed and outlawed, it was made a language to be ashamed of to those who were willing to bend the knee. This part of Ireland has a state history of neglect and hostility to the Irish language.

The 1991 census is out of date because there has been considerable growth in Irish since then. It stated that in the six north-eastern counties, 79,012 people had a command of spoken and written Irish. More than 142,000 have some ability in either the written or spoken word. The numbers continue to grow. Brid Rodgers rightly drew attention to the success, the growth, the momentum and the dynamic in the Irish education movement and, in particular, in the Gaelscoileanna.

It is a mistake for Standing Orders not to make specific reference to the Irish language. Gaelgóirí expect and deserve better in a spirit of inclusivity. So, Le críochnú, ba mhaith linn go gcuirfí an Ghaeilge chun cinn ar dhóigh oscailte, dhearfach neamhbhagrach. Is linn uilig an Ghaeilge; is cuma cén dearcadh polaitúil, cén cúlra nó cén creideamh atá againn. Cé h-é nó cé h-í a bhfuil imní air/uirthi roimh an Ghaeilge?

Photo of Mr John Fee Mr John Fee Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am conscious of the fact that staff have had a difficult job reporting our proceedings over the past couple of days. All I can say is "C’est la vie". Perhaps I shall say "C’est la guerre" before the end of the night.

Amendment No 63 refers to Standing Order 71. Peter Robinson spoke about it earlier, and one of his comments was uncharacteristically incorrect. He said that statute requires us to make this Standing Order and to nominate the number of members on it. Section 40(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 states

"The members of the Commission shall be —

(a) the Presiding Officer; and

(b) the prescribed number of members of the Assembly appointed in accordance with standing orders.

However, subsection (3) states

" ‘the prescribed number’ means 5 or such other number as may be prescribed by standing orders."

That means that it is perfectly in order for us to reject Standing Order 71. We do not intend to do that destructively, or because we oppose the principle of inclusivity, nor have we taken umbrage at the way in which the Standing Orders Committee has arrived at its decision because, under the legislation, it has that right.

What we are concerned about are the thought processes that went into making this decision. The Standing Orders Committee may not have been as well informed as it could have been. This may have been a failing on the part of the Shadow Commission to explain precisely what it is was doing.

One peripheral point I would make is that the Shadow Commission, as it stands, has six members. The precedent that has been adopted, primarily from Westminster, is that the Chairman does not vote. This means that for major decisions, when members tend to turn out, there is a membership of five, and that is when divisions are most likely within the Commission. With an uneven number of voting members gridlock is very unlikely. It can happen but is unlikely to occur.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Could the Member confirm that on the two occasions that there have been votes, they have gone against Unionists because Unionists are effectively in the minority on the Commission, even though they are in the majority in the House? The Commission does not reflect the balance of the House. On each occasion the Alliance Party has voted with Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

Photo of Mr John Fee Mr John Fee Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will deal specifically with that later in my address. I am surprised that Mr Robinson has framed his intervention in those terms. Throughout the report of the Shadow Commission it was made abundantly clear that the role and function of the Commission is to act on behalf of each Member of the House and the House as a whole. None of its members are there as party political representatives. No other similar body, as far as I am aware, has people there as party political representatives. The Shadow Commission has largely set aside party political demands in favour of getting the best services for the House and for individual Members as well as the best support services to allow them to represent their constituencies.

That goes to the very core of one of the problems we have with Standing Order 71. First, it steps outside the existing legislation and, without any real rationale, proposes to more than double the size of the Commission. We need to bear in mind that the Commission has to deal with much of the detailed administration of the House: staff complements; terms and conditions; grading and pay rates; management structures; and performance.

A small, tight team is infinitely preferable to a large number of people. The potential for running into legal, fair employment and staff problems is enormous. The House of Commons Commission has only six members and it has to deal with a staff of over 2,500, and a budget of approximately £370m. It is all about efficiency.

If we decide on certain pay or staffing which the staff do not like and so decide to strike, is it possible that we will get better agreement with 11 members representing party political interests or with six members representing the body of the whole House? We should be looking at these areas in more detail.

Inclusiveness is important, but the Standing Orders Committee has only looked at one method of achieving it. I do not believe that this is the best method. This proposal would add four or five people to the Commission but six people or 11 people could not do all the work required. The Shadow Commission has been looking at an alternative and that is the system that pertains at Westminster where most of the work of the Commission is devolved to House Committees.

Westminster has House committees for virtually every area of work. It has a finance and services committee; administration, finance, computer and communications committees; information committees; a range of domestic committees; a printing and publishing management group; a Whitley committee, which deals with trade unions and staff disputes; and committees for the refreshments department, the Serjeant-at-Arm’s department, the Library, the Official Report and the like. The work of the Commission at Westminster has places for hundreds of Members of Parliament.

The proposal by the Standing Orders Committee to expand the number of members of the Commission to eleven underestimates both the amount of work to be done and the possibility of devolving powers to committees of Members who could take on the administration of services in the House. The proposal vests too great a responsibility in too small a group, without taking account of what could be done to bring in other Members.

We have already established a committee to look after the gift shop. That may not sound like an important function but I understand that the gift shop in the House of Lords has a turnover of approximately £500,000 and a lucrative mail-order business. There is an entire management function in that area. We have proposals to establish a catering committee, one of the biggest and most important functions in the House of Commons.

For that reason, we will be voting against this Standing Order. I was remiss in not putting down an amendment. I suppose my party was remiss. We are not throwing this Standing Order out. We are merely using the only device available to buy time in order to consider a system of House committees which would involve all the Members of the House. The House of Commons Commission, which has an enormous budget and an enormous staff, only met five times in the financial year 1997-98, because the vast majority of its work was done in committees.

I recognise that I am rapidly running out of time. Perhaps we could ask the Standing Orders Committee to look at this again — I know we cannot refer it to them. We suggest that the Committee meets the shadow Commission, the board of management here, the Clerk of the House of Commons Commission and the officials in Scotland and Wales.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 8:15 pm, 9th March 1999

Go raibh agat a Chathaoirligh. I would like to speak against amendment 87 and in favour of retaining Standing Order 70, which states

"Members may speak in the language of their choice."

Drafting this particular Standing Order was a long-drawn-out process. We put forward various different wordings, but they were not acceptable to the Committee. We would prefer to have had the Irish language mentioned. One of our proposals was that English, Irish and Ulster-Scots be listed. Instead we have Members being able to speak in whichever language they choose. Tonight we have been treated to several different languages. It adds to the character of the Assembly.

If we were to adopt the amendment proposed by Mr C Wilson, we would not have that choice. It is not a matter of his being able to say that he does not want to stop anybody from speaking the Irish, or that he does not want to stop anyone from speaking in whatever other language. By not having that choice we would be stopping people from speaking in the language of their choice. There was a lot of debate about this over the months in the Standing Orders Committee, and we did reach a compromise which recognises the diversity of the Committee itself and of the languages.

In the other devolved Administrations that we have talked about, Scotland and Wales, provision has been made for their languages, and I think that Westminster makes provision for English. We have variations in all these establishments, and it would be sad in this part of the country if we were to make exclusions, and that is the problem with this amendment, by leaving out Standing Order 70 and inserting a new Standing Order making the language of this Assembly English. That would exclude people from speaking in a language of their choice.

I hope that we can move to a new situation. The logic of the argument is in keeping with the agreement, and we do have in the Agreement, and several people have referred to this, including Mr Wilson, provision for the use of other languages. I ask people not to be hostile to the language. The language itself cannot do us any harm. It will not endanger any of us. People should not get too uptight about it and hostile to it.

Referring to Standing Order 71, I agree with Mr Fee that we should vote against increasing the membership of the Commission to 11. The Commission has worked very well over the last months. It has taken many decisions. The two votes referred to by Mr Robinson resulted in decisions being made, but many decisions have been taken with no vote at all.

The very fact that those two votes were taken is an indication of the amount of work that went on. We did have two days in London at Westminster, but we were working on the budgets as well, and we had quite a good working relationship while doing that with the staff of all the different agencies. The Assembly Commission has worked well in its short time in shadow form. It would be unfortunate now if we were to throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to keep in line on this matter.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Will the Member give way? Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Does the Member agree that Standing Order 70, which is in front of us at the moment was one that our party had some reservations about in the Standing Orders Committee? We felt that it did not go far enough in granting recognition to the Irish language. Would he also agree that those members who supported it when it was voted for included members from both Unionist parties? In fact, all Unionist parties which were represented on the Standing Orders Committee voted for it, all those with voting rights.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

I think that that is correct, a Chathaoirligh. We did have agreement on that line.

Photo of Mr Norman Boyd Mr Norman Boyd NIUP

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Not all Unionist parties are represented on the Committee.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I think that the Member referred to all the Unionist parties —

A Member:

With voting rights.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

— with voting rights, but it is quite correct to say that your party is not on that body.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his intervention. It does clarify the fact that the matter did go to a vote, and there was consensus across the different parties on it. We abstained on that occasion because we did not feel that the Standing Order recognized the position of the Irish language as fully as it might have done, but we are quite happy to go along with the present line that people may choose to speak in whatever language they wish. I ask Members for their support.

Photo of Alan McFarland Alan McFarland UUP

I am slightly concerned as a result of Mr Fee’s speech. When we left the Standing Orders Committee I understood that we had agreement among all the parties on the Commission. I am concerned on a number of fronts. First, we have heard an enormous amount today about proportionality, about cross-party support and about the ethos of how we do our Committee business and everything else, yet here we have a small committee of five, which cannot be representative of the House, of our strengths or of anything else.

Under normal circumstances, and indeed at Westminster, a committee such as this is a non-party organisation in that it does the daily business of the House. That is fine at Westminster, because there is not the problem there that we have here. But the Commission is about to have referred to it small matters —

Photo of David Ervine David Ervine PUP

It is important to point out that the Commission was not treated by the Committee in the same way as other Committees. In other words, it was not a contentious issue or one of great difficulty. Does the Member agree?

Photo of Alan McFarland Alan McFarland UUP

It did not seem to be difficult at the time, but it has obviously become a difficulty since. Two parties have indicated that they are going to vote against the Commission’s being proportionate in the same way as the other committees are.

The problem with this — and we are into political reality here in the Assembly — is that the Commission will be making decisions on minor matters such as flags and emblems. It is going to have to decide on whether or not we have simultaneous translation into Irish or Ulster-Scots, or whatever.

A number of things that are extremely political are about to arrive at the Commission’s door, and it may be difficult for Members to believe that these very contentious issues will get a totally impartial hearing. For that reason it was felt that we might boost the Commission up to reflect the party strengths and give a proper political view on how these things should function. The reality is that in Northern Ireland it is not possible to take a Westminster-style and completely neutral view on such matters.

Photo of Robert Coulter Robert Coulter UUP

I support amendment No 63 in the name of Mr Peter Robinson.

I listened to Mr Fee with great interest. There is one thing which we must take into account and that is the matter of inclusiveness on the Commission. In the House everyone is represented, but we do not have this inclusiveness on the Commission. The argument that the Commission is going to set up a number of House committees is very good, up to a point, but those smaller committees can only bring reports back to the Commission. It is in the Commission that the real decisions are to be made. If we are to support the concept of proportionality or inclusiveness, the smaller groupings in the House must be represented on the Commission. They will not have their rights to full expression and inclusive treatment if they are left out at the decision-making point.

I am not questioning at all the working of the Commission, and I do not think that anybody in the House is questioning that. What we are asking for is that the Commission reflect fully all the groupings in the Assembly. That groupings have a right to be there where decisions are being made. If they have that right at the Committee stage, they should also have that right on the Commission. I support amendment No 63.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I wish to address my remarks to amendment No 87, standing in the name of Mr C Wilson, to Standing Order 7. Whenever we address the issue of language, we consider whether or not the language is intelligible, comprehensive and comprehensible. That is always important, and at times we see glimmers of hope in the Assembly that it is all of those things.

At times language is used defensively, and sometimes it is used to perpetuate untruths — often outside the Chamber. Sometimes people allege that untruthful language has been used in the Chamber, and most Members are deeply offended by such accusations. Of course, there can be punishments and penalties for people who make such accusations.

Mr Wilson’s amendment draws attention not to where language is used offensively, but to where it is used as an offensive and political weapon. Some Members undoubtedly have a mother tongue other than English. Three Members at most could genuinely claim that position. It would be grossly unfair to the rest of Members to create an imbalance so that a significant minority were advantaged or privileged in relation to the vast majority of Members of all shades of political opinion whose mother tongue is English. It is their working tongue, and they use it in every aspect of their lives.

The Assembly should understand why Members felt it necessary to table this amendment. Irish has been used in Northern Ireland as an offensive political weapon. Not long ago, when I was at university, the Irish language was deliberately used to offend the majority population in Northern Ireland. At times it was frivolous and time-wasting. At one time it was suggested that the menu in the Students’ Union should be changed to Irish. When that failed, there was an attempt to subvert the menu by calling the Ulster fry the occupied Six-Counties fry and, of course, that led to a frivolous debate in the union.

Irish has clearly been used as a political weapon. Irish language street names have been imposed in Belfast and in other parts of the Province, and that is an example of its use as an offensive political language. I think that Members will agree that the Assembly is possibly at its most divided when it deals with the issue of language. There is division not only here but when Members go to other countries and raise the issue of the Irish language. That has embarrassed not only individuals, the people who were involved, but the entire electoral process. People take cognisance of that reality.

It would be a frivolous waste of time and money for the Assembly to plough resources, time and energy into special privileges for a small minority of Members who wish to use different languages.

It is important that those who wish to speak in a language other than English are not given those special privileges. Standing Order 70 states

"Members may speak in a language of their choice."

That does not seem to offer special privileges, but there is an opportunity for some Members to turn the Standing Order on its head by trying to create for themselves special privileges that they ought not to have.

Photo of Mr John Fee Mr John Fee Social Democratic and Labour Party 8:30 pm, 9th March 1999

I challenge the Member on his use of the term "special privileges". I come from a house in which the Irish language was used as often, if not more often, than the English language. That was common in many of the houses in the area. What does the Member mean by special privileges? In the RUC station in Newry I could pick up leaflets on every topic from the Highway Code to criminal law, and they are written in Japanese, Chinese and so on. But in that RUC station, the Ardmore police station, nothing is written in Irish.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

One of the reasons for dialects of the Chinese language being readily available and printed in Northern Ireland is that there is a genuine demand for them, and that demand has to be met. One of the largest non-English speaking populations in this city is people who speak Chinese or a derivative of the Chinese langauge.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

No. It is well known in the House that members of the Democratic Unionist Party do not give way to members of the IRA/Sinn Féin Party.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I will give way when I finish making my point. Our party has consistently taken the view that to give way to members of IRA/Sinn Féin is in some way to accord them recognition as a normal political party. They are apologists for murder and for things which never ought to have happened and have never been justified in our country.

I will certainly give way to the Member from North Down.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

With reference to the development of this argument about using English because it is the majority langauge and so on, would the Member, therefore, support the use of German in the European Parliament since it is the majority language of the European Union? Would the Member and the MEP for North Antrim be prepared to speak German — if they can follow that logic?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

The Member knows that that is not the tenor of my argument. I am not saying that Members should be restricted in any way over speaking any other language. What we must have is a safeguard to ensure that this Standing Order, as it currently stands drafted, is not able to be turned round and used as an opportunity, quite deliberately, to create a situation in which special privileges and opportunities are afforded and more public money, energy and resources are wasted. That would be quite wrong. That is why the language of the Assembly should be English and our proceedings conducted at all times in English.

One of the most genuine arguments comes from a Member whose mother tongue is a language other than English. She readily conducts her business in the House in English. She clearly finds it appropriate to do so because it is convenient to the vast majority

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Let me finish the point.

It is convenient to the vast majority of Members, not only on this side of the House but also on her own side of the House.

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask the Member please not to misrepresent what I said. I said that I speak English out of courtesy, but that I would rather speak Irish, because I feel more comfortable speaking that language. I also think that if I am not allowed to speak Irish — I reared six children in this country, all speaking Irish in an English-speaking area — Irish will die, and I do not want that to happen. That is why my children speak Irish, my grandchildren speak Irish, my husband speaks Irish and I speak Irish. I want to do the same thing here, but I want to do it comfortably.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

The courtesy, as the Member put it, is appreciated. However, most Members here realise that if she were to conduct her political life and her political business solely in what she describes as her mother tongue, she would probably not get very far. That is a political reality and something that we have to accept.

That is why it is important that we make sure that there is no attempt by those Members who may want to use the Irish language as a political weapon to take this Standing Order and build into the Assembly special privileges and opportunities which ought not to be there.

We should be equal in that sense, and I do not believe that the Standing Order as it is currently framed affords us that safeguard, and we should support amendment No 87 in the name of Mr C Wilson on that basis.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

We have come to the end of the debate on this matter, and we now have to consider and approve the Standing Orders and amendments.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Section 40 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 says that the number of persons on the Commission should be five. May I ask the Chair to indicate if the Standing Orders are silent on this matter?

Section 40 also says that the prescribed number of Members of the Assembly should be appointed in accordance with Standing Orders. Can you, Sir, indicate how the Assembly will appoint the Commission in the event of the motion to appoint the Commission, as it currently stands, being negatived?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

It is clear that the appointment of members of the Commission by the Assembly would be by election. That is not the matter at issue. The question that seems to be being asked is whether the Assembly would be in default of the legislation if the Standing Orders were not to include the clause that Standing Order 71 does, giving the number of Members. This is not a straightforward matter. It seems, on initial reading, that the default position is that if there is not a specific clause, the prescribed number is five, but that is not clear. It is necessary to seek legal advice on the matter, and I shall be doing that.

However, this vote tonight will not be a determination of the Standing Orders because they will not become operative immediately. To be operative in advance of the appointed day they would have to be determined by the Secretary of State. Therefore it is possible for the Assembly, in advance of the appointed day, to consider changes and amendments to some of the Standing Orders. The joint Chairmen have indicated that they wish to do that in the case of some of the other Standing Orders or, indeed, to put new Standing Orders.

There is nothing to preclude the Assembly legally from not taking or, indeed, from taking the Standing Order 71 that is here in draft form. The Assembly can take one line or the other without breaching the law.

Photo of Mr John Fee Mr John Fee Social Democratic and Labour Party

On a further point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Oficer. The minutes of the Standing Orders Committee of 23 February say

"it was pointed out that, unless the Committee wished to recommend a change to the membership numbers on the Commission, there was no requirement for a Standing Order and in any event a Standing Order could be produced, as required, at any point in the Assembly’s life."

That was the Standing Orders Committee’s understanding of things on 23 February. Part of our reason for not voting for this Standing Order tonight is to work out what has changed over the weeks since then.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I am grateful to the Member for mentioning that, but the statement in the minutes is the Standing Orders Committee’s view on the Standing Orders. That is all very fine, but it does not constitute legal advice, opinion, or, indeed, a ruling. I must continue with my current ruling which is that I will be seeking legal advice on the matter. For the present, Members can vote in whichever way they choose and they will not be breaching the law.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Is it correct to say that the Assembly will not be able to change the Standing Orders before the determination because we will not be meeting before then?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

That is not correct. There has been no indication of the date of the appointed day. The advice that I gave the House earlier from the Secretary of State was in respect of the running of d’Hondt. That is not necessarily the same thing as the appointed day. I cannot accept your point of order.

We move to the last grouping of Standing Orders and amendments. We may have to ask the Secretary of State for an extension beyond 10.00 pm if we are to cover this and have the Adjournment debate.

Standing Order 63 (Oath) agreed to.

Standing Order 64 (Administration of Oath) agreed to.

Standing Order 65 (Sub Judice) agreed to.

Standing Order 66 (News Media)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

On the basis of the undertakings given by the Chairmen, not moved.

Standing Order 66 agreed to.

Standing Order 67 (Office of Clerk and Records of the Assembly) agreed to.

Standing Order 68 (Remuneration and Pensions) agreed to.

Standing Order 69 (Suspension of Standing Orders)

Amendment (No 64) proposed:

Question put

The Assembly divided: Ayes 21; Noes 64.

AYES

Unionist

Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mrs Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

NOES

Nationalist

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

Unionist

Dr Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, Mrs Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Rev Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Sir John Gorman, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Dermot Nesbitt, Ken Robinson, George Savage, Rt Hon John Taylor, Rt Hon David Trimble.

Other

Mrs Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Ms Monica McWilliams, Ms Jane Morrice, Sean Neeson.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 8:45 pm, 9th March 1999

There voted 85 Members. Of Nationalists, there voted none for and 32 against, which is 0% for. Of Unionists, there voted 21 for and 25 against, which is 45.65% for. The total vote for is 24.7%. I declare that the amendment is lost.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

The effect of the negativing of the amendment is that Standing Order 69 is agreed to.

Standing Order 69 agreed to.

Standing Order 70 (Language)

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

In moving the amendment, may I thank my Colleague Dr Paisley and his party for their support —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Members must understand that it is not possible to make a winding-up speech. That is completely contrary to Standing Orders. The only words that I can accept are "Moved" or "Not moved", regardless of eloquence.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

On a point of order, Mr Chairman. Several times Mr Robinson, in moving motions, has made a few comments. I am certain of that.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

On one or two occasions typographical errors and other things of that kind have been raised, but no significant comments have been made.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

The amendment is moved.

Amendment (No 87) proposed:

"The language of this Assembly shall be English." — [Mr C Wilson]

Question put

The voices having been collected —

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP 9:00 pm, 9th March 1999

May I ask for a recorded vote? I would like the Ulster public to be aware that the Ulster Unionists are opposed to English being the official language of the House.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

The question has been raised. It is clear that when there is a challenge to the Speaker’s view on whether or not the Ayes or the Noes have it, there is no alternative but to have a recorded vote.

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

It was quite clear that no challenge was made to the outcome. That was not challenged. A request was made for a recorded vote for a purely ulterior purpose.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

I do challenge, Mr Chairman.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

In ruling that we will have a recorded vote in three minutes, I do not necessarily dissent from the comments made by the First Minister (Designate).

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

May I have some clarification please on a point of order? Mr Wilson said that a vote against this would be a vote against English being the official language of this House. I do not see in this amendment any reference to English being the official language or not. I think he is incorrect.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

What any Member or any member of the public takes from any vote in the Assembly is not a matter that I can rule on, and that was not a point of order. Members must vote as they see fit, and they will be able to do so after Mr Ervine has made his point of order.

Photo of David Ervine David Ervine PUP

I do not wish to challenge your ruling, but I fear that, given Mr Wilson’s reason for asking for a recorded vote, a dangerous precedent will be set — dangerous from the point of view of the populace outside.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

The position is simply this: a challenge is made in a parliamentary sense if, when the voices are collected, Ayes or Noes are called more loudly on the second time of asking. That is the usual and proper form of challenge. When that happens there is no alternative but to go to a recorded vote or, indeed, to a Division if the Standing Orders become extant. The reason behind the challenge is another matter entirely. We have no alternative but to proceed to a recorded vote.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 23; Noes 62 .

AYES

Nationalist

Nil.

Unionist

Frazer Agnew, Roy Beggs, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mrs Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

NOES

Nationalist

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

Unionist

Dr Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, Mrs Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Rev Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Sir John Gorman, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Dermot Nesbitt, Ken Robinson, Rt Hon John Taylor, Rt Hon David Trimble.

Other

Mrs Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Ms  Monica McWilliams, Sean Neeson.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

There voted 85 Members. Thirty-two Nationalists voted, all of them Noes. The number of Unionist votes was 46 — 23 Ayes, and 23 Noes. The total number of Ayes represents 27.05%. The amendment is lost.

Question accordingly negatived.

Standing Order 70 agreed to.

Standing Order 71 (Assembly Commission)

Amendment (No 63) made: 

Question put

The Assembly proceeded to a Division.

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

This may be a unique occasion, but is it in order for the Chairman of the Committee, who presented the report on behalf of his Committee, to vote against a part of his own report?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

That was the question. Whether or not it was the intent, it is in order.

The Assembly having divided: Ayes 53; Noes 31.

AYES

Nationalist

Nil.

Unionist

Dr Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mrs Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Rev Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, Sir John Gorman, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mrs Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Rt Hon John Taylor, Rt Hon David Trimble, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Other

Mrs Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Ms Monica McWilliams, Ms Jane Morrice, Sean Neeson.

NOES

Nationalist

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

Unionist

Nil.

Other

Nil.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 9:30 pm, 9th March 1999

There voted 84 Members, including 31 Nationalists and all 46 Unionists, all of whom voted Aye. The Ayes represent 63.1%, but as there is no cross-community support the Standing Order is not agreed to.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

The Clerks at the Table try to accommodate Members who come to them with messages and so on. That practice causes difficulty during a Division, and I must rule that we cannot take material or answer questions during the count. Clerks have to record the responses of Members calling out their votes in different languages and dialects, and the task is sometimes made more difficult by the fact of Members not sitting in their usual places. It is unfair to expect the Clerks to take messages at that time.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. You said this morning that if you had definitive legal advice on our challenge to Standing Order 37 you would give it before this point in the proceedings. Have you received that legal advice?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I have sought it but have received no clear legal advice on the matter. I can only reiterate what I said earlier, that the Standing Orders will be scrutinised by the Secretary of State who has a responsibility to ensure that the Assembly’s actions do not contravene any of the Government’s international obligations. That is clearly in the legislation.

The Secretary of State has a responsibility to ensure that Assembly legislation and the actions of Ministers do not contravene international obligations, and she will guide the Assembly on such matters. I will continue to seek legal advice but I have nothing further to add to what I said earlier on.

We shall now proceed to a formal cross-community vote on the final Question. As I said at the start, to facilitate as smooth a passage as possible I was prepared to take no dissent as indicating cross-community support, but only on the condition that at the end there would be a formal cross-community vote. [Interruption]

Order. I must ask Members to take their seats. We have been trying to contact the Secretary of State to get permission for an extension beyond 10.00 pm, but have so far been unsuccessful. Unless we proceed quickly those who wish to speak in the Adjournment debate will have very little time.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, if Members are agreed by voice, are you going to go through the rigmarole of calling out names?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I am, because that is the one way to be clear that all the Standing Orders enjoy cross-community support. I said at the very start that we would do that, and it would be quite improper if I did not. The Standing Orders are a substantial matter.

We have different languages, without a Mexican wave as well.

Motion made:

That Standing Orders 1 to 70, as amended, be the Standing Orders of the Assembly. — [The Initial Presiding Officer]

The Assembly divided: Ayes 77; Noes 0.

AYES

Nationalist

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

Unionist

Dr Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mrs Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Rev Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, Sir John Gorman, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mrs Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Rt Hon John Taylor, Rt Hon David Trimble, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Other

Ms Monica McWilliams, Ms Jane Morrice.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

There voted 77 Members — 30 Nationalist Ayes and 45 Unionist Ayes. Indeed, all 77 Members voted for. The Standing Orders clearly and conclusively have cross-community support.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved:

That Standing Orders 1 to 70, as amended, be the Standing Orders of the Assembly.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

I take it that the absence of the entire Alliance Party for that vote did not destroy the cross-community element.

On a more serious point, and speaking as a member of the Committee, may I say that we owe a debt of gratitude to all those Members who tabled amendments. In particular, my Colleague Mr P Robinson put a lot of work into this.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Chief Whip wishes it to be known that he is now buying.