Standards and Privilege

Part of Assembly Standing Orders – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:15 pm on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 7:15 pm, 9th March 1999

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.