I advise the House that I have received a valid petition of concern in respect of this Bill, in accordance with Standing Order 27. No vote can therefore be held on its Second Stage until at least one day has passed.
The following motion stood in the Order Paper:
Motion not moved.
I can confirm that the fact that the Member has raised the point of order and has tabled a reasoned amendment will clearly be in Hansard for forwarding to whichever Minister addresses the matter. Whether that amendment would have had the support of the majority of Members is, of course, one of the great unknowns of life.
For the second week in a row, this business has not proceeded. Last week we were told that the two junior Ministers were not in a position to move the business because the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister were not in the Chamber. The junior Ministers have obviously been trusted with the onerous job of not moving the motion, so they have been trusted with something.
It is outrageous that, for two weeks in a row, this item has been listed on the Order Paper and, for two weeks in a row, it has gone absolutely nowhere. We have the two junior Ministers from OFMDFM telling us that the motion is not moved. The important point I want to make is that, as Mr Billy Hutchinson has said, and as many Members will agree, the motion is not being moved today because the Ministers know that it would not be approved. It would not pass through the House. The clear message that should be given to any Minister who may take over this responsibility is that there is a groundswell of opinion in the House against the contents of the Bill.
Order. Let me remain with the point of order. Of course it is regrettable if matters are tabled on an Order Paper two weeks in a row and it is not possible to proceed with them. I suspect that, in the greater scheme of things, it is one of the less regrettable things about today, but that is another matter. With regard to the question of support, I cannot rule on that matter as a point of order.
Mr Speaker, the Order Paper states that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister would move the Second Stage of the Bill, although I understand that the Bill is in the name of Mr Haughey, but he did not withdraw it. Is it one of the more cowardly acts of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to send its deputies here to do this work?
It is quite clearly in order for any Minister representing the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to proceed with such a Bill and to handle it as has been agreed in that Office.
Order. I understand entirely why the Member has a specific concern about the Bill, as he is the Chairperson of the Committee of the Centre. However, I think that he is aware that there is no facility for the Assembly to do that in the short time that appears to be available to us for the rest of today other than through the points of order that the Member and others have already raised.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that you will confirm that the record of today’s proceedings and the views expressed by Members through points of order will be one method by which the Northern Ireland Office will be made aware of the Assembly’s view on this matter. However, is it not the case that this business was on the Order Paper last week and that it was announced that it could not be dealt with, although the two junior Ministers were present in the House on that occasion and could have moved it? We were told that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister wished to be present to hear the Assembly’s views. Is it not the case that the two junior Ministers came today intent on moving the Bill and decided not to move it only when they saw that there was a petition of concern signed by over 30 Members?
I am not quite sure that I see the connection that appears to be in the Member’s mind. As I understand it, such suspensions can take place only at midnight; there might be a question of whether it was midnight tonight, midnight last night, or midnight on another night, but they must take place at midnight. As I understand it, that is the proper procedure for them.
There are several points of order, and I will come to Minister Haughey’s if possible.
The Member must know that if matters are withdrawn in advance of the sitting, as was the case last week, I make that clear. However, the Ministers have taken the decision not to move the Second Stage of the Bill. That is clear parliamentary procedure.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The decision not to move the Second Stage of the Bill was taken long before Mr Leslie or I knew that there was a petition of concern. That is a matter of fact.
On a second point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for Members to request you to convey the feelings of the House to the Northern Ireland Office when the opinion of the House has not been recorded by means of a vote?
Will you confirm that it has been indicated to you that it is the DUP, in alliance with Sinn Féin, that opposes the Bill, and that those two parties do not constitute a majority of the Members of the House? [Interruption].
Order. I am sure that the House is grateful to the Member for confirming when the decision was taken. As for the question of how much support or otherwise there is for the Bill, the reasoned amendment or whatever, I can say only what I have said already — there cannot be an assumption of any particular support or lack of support, save for one particular fact, which is that the petition of concern contained 32 signatures. Other than that, no assumption can be made about support for any matter that has not come before the House and been voted on in the usual way.
I can confirm both those matters. Once a petition of concern has been certified as valid and has been received in due time, it postpones the vote and requires it to have cross-community support. The Member is correct that the same applies to an exclusion motion.
Are you concerned, Mr Speaker, to learn from the junior Minister that the decision not to move the motion was taken a long time ago, yet you were not informed of it? Is that not a grave discourtesy to the Assembly, and should the Minister not be asked to get to his feet and apologise? [Interruption].
I can confirm that if the matter had proceeded, the amendment standing in the name of Mr Billy Hutchinson would have been taken. However, given the petition of concern, which was headed up by Dr Paisley, had the reasoned amendment not been made, the view of the House would not have been able to be ascertained until at least one day hence.
Further to the point of order that Mr Peter Robinson raised, when the motion that the Second Stage be agreed was not moved last week, Mr Speaker, you said that you were notified in time and were therefore able to make an announcement at the beginning of proceedings. That being the case, why was the same procedure not followed on this occasion? If it was not followed, does that not amount to a grave discourtesy to the Speaker?
Not necessarily. A different procedure has been followed: in one case the motion has been withdrawn, and in another it has not been moved. Other procedures might also have been used. Members have a range of possibilities from which to choose. However, the Member has given his view and interpretation of proceedings.
It would not be appropriate for Ministers to take action of that kind in respect of the Speaker. It is not a procedural matter and, insofar as there might be any procedures involved, they would not be procedures in this place, but in another place. That is not a matter which has been referred to, nor would I expect it to be.
I know that Members have a sense that there is a time within which they must raise all their points of order for the rest of the session, but we must try to move on.
We can take this up this afternoon, if you want to draw it to a close now.
Can you confirm that no Sinn Féin Members signed the petition of concern that was tabled? The comments from across the House show widespread party opposition to the Bill. Never have so many dispatch boxes been employed to achieve, and to say, so little. Can you also confirm that enough Members signed the petition of concern — including enough Unionists for the purposes of the cross-community vote — to ensure that the Bill would not have got anywhere?
I can confirm what the Member said about there being a valid number of signatures. However, as I have previously indicated, it is not appropriate for me to go through whose name is or is not on the petition of concern, save that it is a matter of record which is in the Business Office and which Members can follow up as they wish.