Assembly Business

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 12th November 2001.

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Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 12:00 pm, 12th November 2001

I have two concerns, Mr Speaker. First, on Friday 2 November, when a vote was being taken, you had to leave the Chair; no one was in the Chair. Can the House have an assurance that when such circumstances arise in the future, a Deputy Speaker will be appointed, even if a vote is to be taken? That will allow those wishing to make points of order to do so.

Secondly, I understand that you have asked your officials to report to you on the incident in the Great Hall last Tuesday. When will that report be made available to the leaders of the parties in the House? It is only right, given the accusations that have been made about certain Members, that we should know what the officials of the House saw in the Great Hall.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

With regard to the first matter, I remind the Member, as I did at the time, that the reason for my having to vacate the Chair was to give advice that had been requested. Because there was some noise and commotion, it was impossible to hear what I was being asked or for the Member to hear my response. I happily assure the House and the Member concerned that a Deputy Speaker will, in future, take the Chair even more promptly than happened on that occasion.

On the day of the untoward events last week I met with the Head of Security of the Assembly and asked for a full report. That report was provided to me at the end of the week, and I was able to read it over the weekend. A further report, including recommendations, was provided to me today. I wish to ensure that the inquiries are complete, and I wish to consider the reports and the recommendations. They will come as a full report to the Assembly Commission which, as the House knows, is the body charged with responsibility for Assembly affairs.

The principal burden of that report will be to ensure that Assembly staff managed the incident appropriately and to consider how any such incidents could best be handled in the future. If Members have complaints about the conduct of other Members — or about the conduct of anyone who is the responsibility of a Member — that complaint should be taken to the Standards and Privileges Committee, where it can be considered in the context of the House. Members also have the option of legal recourse, and I understand that some may wish to take that option.

The report will go to the Assembly Commission, not to party leaders, and it is the appropriate body. If Members have complaints, the proper recourse within the Assembly is to the Standards and Privileges Committee. I trust that that is of assistance to the House.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I understand that. However, I would like an assurance that we will see the report. Members who have loudly accused other Members now say that they will not go to the police, because they do not accept them. That is not the way in which business should be conducted. Members of the House should be prepared to stand over the statements that they have made. There seems to be a way of getting out of that.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

As I have explained to the House, the report will go to the Assembly Commission. It is the responsibility of the Commission to decide how the situation will be handled. It is one matter for Members to get caught in an altercation with one another and another matter for Assembly staff to find themselves caught up in those circumstances. I am protective of our staff. They should not fall victim to any dispute between Members of the House. How Members choose to handle the situation is a matter for themselves. I have outlined the proper procedures.

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

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will Members see the report after the Commission? Mr Paisley was speaking, I think, about party leaders, but it is right that all Members should see it and any recommendations that it contains.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

That is a matter for the Commission to decide. All Members are represented on the Commission. The minutes of the Commission’s meetings are published and made available on the Internet as soon as they are approved. Some material will therefore be widely available.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Has our gratitude to staff for their outstanding handling of the situation been conveyed to them?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I have already conveyed my gratitude to the staff for the way in which they handled a difficult situation. If the Commission is satisfied that the situation was handled appropriately, suitable approbation should be forthcoming. I should not prejudge whether the Commission will make the same positive assessment as the Member has made.

Photo of Jim Wilson Jim Wilson UUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I shall not ask you to go into detail about what you have already read and about the contributions that have been made to the report by staff, but I would like to know whether the report takes into consideration what was happening off camera? There was some preparation to disrupt events in the Great Hall.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

The inquiry has not concentrated on what was, or was not, filmed by the television cameras, but on the observations of staff and others. If Members wish to make representations to that inquiry, they are at liberty to do so. I advise them to contact the Head of Security. I have already received a preliminary report, which I read at the weekend, and a further instalment, including some recommendations, which I will be studying. However, I would not be surprised if the Head of Security were to bring me further instalments of the report as responses are received. I trust that that clarifies the matter.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the point of order raised by the Chief Whip of the Official Unionist Party, surely it is dangerous to propose that something that was not seen, and which had nothing to do with what happened in the Great Hall, be included in the report. Who can judge what happened? I have heard judgements that certain individuals orchestrated the incident. I have already made a statement on who orchestrated it, which I am not withdrawing. The videotapes prove that what I said was right. People who could make up stories should not have access to the inquiry.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Let me be clear on this matter: Mr Jim Wilson’s question, as I understood it, was whether the material that was caught on camera would be the sole evidence on which the inquiry would be based. I replied to the Member, and to the House, that the material that is being gathered concerns what staff members and others saw. Whether or not the incident was recorded by camera is another matter. The inquiry is not dependent on viewing videotapes of what happened, but on the experience of staff and others who were present.

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

The Minister has informed me that the incident is still being shown on Eurosport.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I am tempted to become involved, but I was brought up to resist temptation, and I will do so now.