Assembly Affairs

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 14th December 1999.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

At the final sitting of the New Northern Ireland Assembly, on Monday 29 November 1999, Mr Peter Robinson asked whether it was appropriate to refer to another Member as a murderer where it was believed that a Member had been responsible for murder. He questioned whether this was unparliamentary language.

He is correct. Where a reference is clearly made in respect of either an individual Member or a group of Members, this would be unparliamentary language, except in the circumstance where the particular Member being referred to had been convicted of the offence by due process and through the courts. There has recently been a circumstance in respect of the analogous term to which the Member referred in another place.

I have studied references made during the last sitting, and, whilst I believe that some Members were sailing close to the wind, I do not believe that unparliamentary language was used.

I have received formal notice from the Minister of Finance and Personnel that he wishes to make a statement. The statement will be made at a convenient time after 10.30 am tomorrow.

Some Members may have received an incorrect Marshalled List of Amendments. Owing to an administrative error a line was omitted at the end of the second amendment on the Marshalled List. That was corrected, and copies of the revised Marshalled List were issued. Let me point out, in case any Member has received an incorrect copy, that under the heading "Amendment to the Motion to insert a new Standing Order after Standing Order 57" the final line should read

"The Committee shall consist of 17 members."

Members who have a Marshalled List which does not include that sentence should dispose of it and obtain a revised version from the Doorkeepers in the Lobby.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask for a suspension of the Assembly for one hour, particularly in the light of your last comment. We have been handed a list of amendments, some of which are complicated and have far-reaching implications, and we have not been given time to consider them. That is not satisfactory. It is also unsatisfactory that this practice is starting to take root in the Assembly. Sinn Féin is very unhappy about the way this has been done. The issues involved in some of these amendments are very serious, so I ask for a suspension to enable us to consider this matter thoroughly.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The request for a suspension has some merit. Some Members may be confused about which sheet of paper is being dealt with and about which amendment is pertinent. A shorter period — I believe that you can suspend proceedings for less than one hour — would be enough to enable us to clarify the position before starting the debate.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I can understand that there may be some element of uncertainty and confusion, and I apologise for that. It seems reasonable that we should suspend proceedings so that Members can consider the matter. May I have the leave of the House to suspend proceedings for 30 minutes?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I have a piece of additional business.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Is it relevant to this question?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Then it will have to be taken a little later.

May I have the leave of the House to suspend the sitting for 30 minutes to enable Members to consider these amendments? It is not because they came late — Members will know that amendments can be brought — but because there was an administrative error, and therefore an element was introduced about which Members may wish to be clear. When we return, Members may still be unclear, and we shall have to consider the matter again. I am somewhat hesitant to give a longer suspension at this point, because there is a good deal of business to be transacted today.

The Assembly was, by leave, suspended at 2.39 pm and resumed at 3.10 pm.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Members will have had an opportunity to look at the Marshalled List of amendments. Since we are all trying to find our way, perhaps I should explain what is meant by "Marshalled List of Amendments". When all the amendments are in, we marshall them for the ease of the House by putting them in the order of the items to which they relate. On this occasion it is fairly simple as there are only two amendments. However, in the case of a Bill with perhaps many amendments it would be more valuable to have a Marshalled List.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am reasonably content with the Marshalled List of amendments. The other problem we face relates to the Order Paper itself. On the first Order Paper that I received there was a motion, in the names of Mr Ford and myself, relating to the Committee of the Centre, seeking to bring under scrutiny other matters that were the responsibility of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I now have two Order Papers with different font sizes. The amendment sheet says

"At line 3, delete from ‘Committee of the’ to the end of line 8 and insert —".

The effect depends on which Order Paper is used.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

You are right. These are contentious issues. I recently discovered that the Act on which this Assembly is based has certain imperfections of a similar kind, so we are not alone in this regard. The Order Paper that was issued first reads

"delete from ‘Committee of the’ to end of line 10 and insert —".

With the reduced font size, "line 10" became "line 8". This is a technical problem that we will have to make sure does not arise again. My apologies for the confusion.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

A Chathaoirligh, on page 2 of the Order Paper, under the words "Proposed amendment to Standing Order 53", we read

"Proposed: After Standing Order 52(4) insert a new Standing Order".

Should that not be "53(4)"?

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 3:15 pm, 14th December 1999

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that the First Minister proposes to make a statement beginning with the words "With permission". Does that mean that he will be speaking with the permission of the House? Will any Member be able to withhold permission.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

It is intended to be with the permission of the Speaker.