Assembly Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:30 am on 9th March 1999.

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Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance 11:30 am, 9th March 1999

I find myself in total agreement with the sentiments that have been expressed by the Member, Mr Peter Robinson, particularly on amendment No 59. There is a responsibility — indeed, a duty — on all Members to ensure that all areas are subject to proper scrutiny. I hope that there will be no dissent from that view. It should be a matter of principle on the parts of everyone that all Ministers, be they the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister, be subject to the utmost scrutiny by all elected representatives who operate on behalf of their constituents. I have no difficulty with amendment No 60 at all.

While agreeing with the sentiments, I do have a difficulty with the proposal that this special scrutiny committee should have the same powers and perform the same functions as a Statutory Committee. I question if that is not ultra vires in respect of Standing Orders.

I am not legally qualified, and I recognise that I speak in the presence of people who are qualified in law. However, it is my contention, and I am subject to the correction of those eminent lawyers in the Chamber, that to try to give the same powers to a scrutiny committee that have been given by the Act to another type of committee is really cutting across the point of the Act itself. Why have an Act at all, if, through Standing Orders, we can give the same powers to committees as those set up and empowered by the Act?

I have difficulty with that. I want the centre to be scrutinised, and it must be subject to exactly the same scrutiny as all other Statutory Committees. I share the concern of Members who question whether this was some sort of an accident or an oversight. I am on record as saying that I believe that it is probably deliberate.