Draft Standing Orders for the Northern Ireland Assembly

Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:25 am on 20th March 2007.

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Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker 3:25 am, 20th March 2007

The Business Committee has agreed that each contribution will be limited to a maximum of five minutes. It has also been agreed that amendments appearing on the Marshalled List will be treated similarly to amendments to Bills. In other words, Members will be entitled to make one contribution on each question.

I shall say something about how I propose to conduct proceedings. I shall call the Chairman of the Subgroup on Standing Orders to move the motion, and I shall then propose to ask the Assembly to approve the draft Standing Orders in numerical sequence either individually or, where they are unchanged from the current Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders, and no amendment appears on the Marshalled List, in groups.

Where a draft Standing Order contains only a consequential change as a result of a substantive change to another, later draft Standing Order, I intend to conduct proceedings so that that consequential change will be provisional and can be made formally later only when that substantive change has been made.

Decisions on those Questions will be decided by simple majority, as provided for in draft Standing Order 17. At the end of the process, the Question on the approval of the draft Standing Orders will be put as it appears in the Order Paper. That decision will require cross-community support in accordance with schedule 1(5) to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006.

Members will appreciate the complexities of the procedure that is required, and, if matters are unclear, I urge them to seek guidance from the Table at any time during the debate. The process may become less confusing as we proceed so we shall make a start.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I beg to move

That this Assembly approves the draft Standing Orders for the Northern Ireland Assembly (dated 13 March 2007).

I can see the headlines of tomorrow’s papers: “Poots proposes Standing Orders report”.

The considerable work underlying the motion was carried out by the Transitional Assembly’s Subgroup on Standing Orders. That subgroup differed from the Assembly’s other subgroups in that it was a subset of the Business Committee and not of the Programme for Government Committee.

Following a decision of the Business Committee, the subgroup was formed on 11 December 2006 to take on the responsibility of meeting the requirements of schedule 1(5) to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. To that end, at its meeting of 5 December 2006 the Business Committee established the subgroup and agreed the following terms of reference:

“A subgroup of the Business Committee should consider draft Standing Orders for the Northern Ireland Assembly;

The subgroup’s membership should reflect the party strengths on the Business Committee (2 members each for DUP, Sinn Féin, UUP and SDLP and 1 member from Alliance);

Membership should be drawn from those who were members of, and alternate attendees at, the Business Committee;

The subgroup should seek representations on Standing Orders through written correspondence with those members not represented on the Business Committee;

The subgroup’s quorum would be 5 members;

The subgroup would agree its own chairing arrangements;” and that the subgroup should report to the Business Committee by Tuesday, 16 January 2007.

The subgroup comprised nine members, with a quorum of five, and its first meeting took place on 11 December 2006. It was agreed at the meeting that voting would be made on the basis of consensus, and where that could not be reached, voting would be carried out on the basis of party strengths in the Assembly. The Chairman would have a casting vote. It was also agreed that deputies could attend if members of the subgroup were unable to do so.

The subgroup met on eight occasions between 11 December 2006 and 15 January 2007 and operated under the following arrangements: meetings were chaired in rotation by parties with more than one member on the subgroup.

It is this arrangement that has dictated that I carry out my function today as Chair.

We wrote to the Independent Members seeking representations or contributions. We took the existing Standing Orders of the Northern Ireland Assembly as a base document. A programme based on an assessment of the essential burden of work on Standing Orders imposed by the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 was agreed. In addition, the Committee noted that some other amendments to existing Standing Orders would be desirable and undertook to consider those, where time permitted. We decided that the services of the Office of the Official Report would not be used, as the work of the subgroup was largely deliberative and discursive. Drafts of revised Standing Orders were prepared under its direction and subsequently formally agreed.

During the course of our work we were contacted by the Chairperson of the Programme for Government subgroup dealing with policing and justice, who asked that the Standing Orders subgroup take on board some of its concerns — those relating to potential conflicts of interest with the establishment of a new policing and justice Committee. That resulted in the drafting of a single Standing Order and advice note.

I should also say that we addressed the requirement of section 11 of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 to establish an institutional review mechanism. In considering that, we came to the view that in this area in particular the legislation did not appear to be fully consistent with the terms of the agreement on which it was based. We concluded that the matter would be best taken forward if and when the Standing Orders of the next Assembly were debated in a plenary sitting. It was the subgroup’s recommendation that the Standing Orders, as amended, be considered as the Standing Orders of the Northern Ireland Assembly in accordance with paragraph 5 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. There were some very minor amendments to drafts upon referral to the Business Committee.

I would like to express my appreciation to all those who worked hard and with enthusiasm and for the experience that they brought to bear, in particular the Committee Clerk and the staff for their diligence and expertise in bringing our task to a conclusion here today.

These Standing Orders will come into play only if the Assembly comes into play. Therefore the basic rules of democracy would need to be adhered to by all parties and accepted by all parties.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 3:30 am, 20th March 2007

On a point of order. Is it appropriate for a Chair of a Committee presenting a report on behalf of the Committee to make a political statement during that presentation?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Madam Speaker, in drawing my remarks to a conclusion, I can say that I received a threatening letter from the Secretary of State regarding the position that we are in.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

This may well be the last debate in the Assembly —

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I wish to move —

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Order. I must respond to Mr O’Dowd. That was not a point of order, but if you think that Mr Poots’s remarks were political, I will examine the Hansard report to see if that is the case. I do not think that his comments were political, but I will look into the matter and give my ruling at the next sitting of the Assembly.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Further to that point of order.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

As I said, Lord Morrow, that was not a point of order. [Interruption.]

Order. Please address remarks through the Chair.

Mr Poots, have you concluded your remarks?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Yes, thank you, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

We will now proceed to the consideration of the draft Standing Orders. We will deal, first of all, with draft Standing Orders 1 and 2, which are unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders. I propose to take these en bloc.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I welcome the opportunity, as does my party, to speak in what is the first day of debate after the recent election. All returning Members who have demonstrated their commitment to solely democratic means are to be congratulated on their electoral success. I hope that in the not-too-distant future those who have some work to do to catch up with the rest of us with regard to their democratic credentials will be able to deliver. We look forward with interest to see how that will be achieved.

This House must, of course, have adequate Standing Orders so that debates can be regulated in a way that is appropriate and the issues that are brought before it dealt with effectively.

My party’s position was very clear in the negotiations that took place at St Andrews and in the arrangements that followed. The DUP entered into those negotiations in order to help to bring about the changes that could rectify the problems that so fundamentally undermined the operation of devolution under the terms of the Belfast Agreement. That is why it is so important that those arrangements are reflected now, as it is to be hoped that they will make up yet another element of the foundation that is required for a stable and lasting devolved Administration to operate.

The DUP in particular pressed for the need for accountability arrangements to be built into the working of any new Administration, given the problems that dogged the previous Assembly. In the House today, we have heard ample examples of the problems that the previous Executive faced when proper rules and regulations were not in place. Therefore, proper rules and regulations are an imperative, given the fact that the SDLP has given us a glaring example of its desire not to have rules and regulations that benefit the good governance of the people of Northern Ireland.

The Subgroup on Standing Orders has been careful, and has worked extremely hard on the detail. I, along with the Chairman, Edwin Poots, wish to thank subgroup members and staff for the work that they undertook. They deserve credit for the hard work that has been carried out to date. The subgroup was able to settle on most of the areas that required attention and would be broadly content with the work that was done.

It is never possible to foresee everything that could happen; therefore it is necessary to retain the possibility of reviewing Standing Orders. They should be considered a work in progress. That would give the House flexibility to adapt Standing Orders to meet its needs and challenges in the coming months and years. I hope that we will move forward with the job of legislating for the people of Northern Ireland when the conditions have been met.

Although the initial Standing Orders will give us a platform from which to start that work, changes to them will need to be made over time, and it is important that the opportunity exists for those changes to occur.

In conclusion, this debate is unlikely to provide any controversy. However, given the happenings earlier, I may have to eat my words — I trust that that will not be the case. It is important that Standing Orders be agreed for the House. It is also important to ensure that all parties, even the party that still has considerable work to do in order to measure up to the democratic credentials, have rules and regulations placed on them. Rules, and the rule of law, have been glaringly missing from the party that sits opposite.

Draft Standing Orders 1 and 2 agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Draft Standing Order 3 reflects the requirements of section 13 of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 under which circumstances a Member may change his or her community designation. I call Mr David Ford.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

Good gracious. It is good to know that some people still have a sense of irony despite all that this society has been through over the past few years. It will come as no great surprise that I view draft Standing Order 3(8) with supreme indifference.

As one of only three Members who have gone through the process of changing his or her designation for the good of society and to enable other people to take opportunities, which, sadly, they did not take, to make this a better place some years ago, I have no intention — and nor does any of my Colleagues — of making any use whatsoever of Standing Order 3 (8).

However, I want to draw Standing Order 3(7) to your attention, Madam Speaker, and to the attention of those who will form the Committee on Standing Orders. The announcement that you made earlier about the designation of Members who have signed into the Assembly proves that that Standing Order is actually out of line with the 1998 agreement and the Act which is supposed to be based on it. The agreement refers specifically to Members choosing a designation of “nationalist, unionist or other” — with those words appearing entirely in lower case and without quotations marks. However, Standing Orders has given each of those designations a capital letter and has placed them inside quotation marks.

Last week, my seven Colleagues and I signed into the Chamber with the designation “United Community”. That is our designation — not “Other”. The rules may require you, Madam Speaker, to regard us as “Others”. However, they certainly do not — according to the 1998 agreement — require that we sign the Roll as such. Therefore, we did not. It is incorrect for Standing Orders to pretend that we should have. If Standing Orders were correct, you would have had to rule that we had not validly signed the Roll of Membership, because we had not used the term “Other”. That issue must be dealt with.

When those points were being discussed during the past couple of years, members of the four main parties said that it would be good if we could move away from those divisive designations and that we must do so sometime. However, the mood was always that the time was not quite right. Some day, the Assembly must become a normal legislature in a normal society. We must move away from the utterly bogus and fictional view that we are a society of two divided groups that do not relate to each other or have any crossovers. That is patently not the case, as anyone who looks at the breadth of backgrounds in my party can see clearly.

Let us accept that if, as Mr Storey says, we must regard Standing Orders as a work in progress, a key starting point is to recognise that Standing Order 3(7) is at variance with the 1998 agreement and actively discriminates against a small group of MLAs. Rather than delivering platitudes about how they wish we could move away from those designations, it is time that Members were prepared to do something about them.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

I have received no further indications from Members that they wish to speak on draft Standing Order 3.

Draft Standing Order 3 agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Draft Standing Orders 4 to 11 are unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I want to put on record my appreciation of the committee clerks and staff for their efforts during a concentrated period. We were all under a great deal of pressure at that time. Without the use of email to speed up communications, we would have been lost.

I rise to speak on the motion. I want to highlight one issue that came out of the work of the Subgroup on Standing Orders. After the St Andrews Agreement, one party claimed that it had won a great victory by increasing the reporting of North/South Ministerial Council meetings. Section 52C was added to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Subsection (3) states that:

“A report under subsection (2)(b) shall be made orally unless standing orders authorise it to be made in writing.”

However, when the subgroup examined the existing Standing Orders —

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Mr Beggs, I ask you to clarify what you are speaking to in this instance. The discussion is on Standing Orders 4 to 11. You have indicated to me that you wish to speak on Standing Orders 5, 6 and 8, which are included in that.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I apologise. I did not ask to be called to speak to draft Standing Order 4; I thought that we had moved on to draft Standing Order 5.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker 3:45 am, 20th March 2007

We are dealing with draft Standing Orders 4 to 11.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

These draft Standing Orders cover Standing Order 18(1) of the Standing Orders of the Northern Ireland Assembly, under which —

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

We are dealing with draft Standing Orders 4 to 11.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I want to clarify that I did not ask to speak to those draft Standing Orders; therefore, there must have been an oversight.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

I shall query that. We shall move on and let Mr Beggs speak later.

Draft Standing Orders 4 to 11 agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Draft Standing Order 12 contains a consequential change. We shall not consider that consequential change until we consider the substantive change that gives rise to it at draft Standing Order 45.

Draft Standing Order 12 agreed to (subject to any change which may be required to it as a consequence of any decision on draft Standing Order 45).

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Draft standing orders 13 to 25 are unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders.

Does Mr Beggs wish to make a statement?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I indicated in writing the debates on which I wanted to speak, rather than the Standing Order numbers. I wrote that I wanted to speak on debate number five, so there was a misunderstanding.

At St Andrews one party claimed a great victory in increasing the reporting of North/South Ministerial Council meetings. New section 52C was added to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and that took parliamentary time and the time of legislative draughtsmen to put together. New section 52C(3) states:

“A report under subsection (2)(b) shall be made orally unless standing orders authorise it to be made in writing.”

When the Standing Orders Committee examined this aspect of the legislation it referred to Standing Order 18(1) of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which states that the Minister:

“shall where possible make a written copy available to Members as early as possible before delivering the statement in the Assembly.”

In the previous Assembly that was the custom and practice. Legislation on this matter was unnecessary; therefore, there is no need to change existing procedures. Some people claim that there has been a wonderful change in the reporting mechanism, but in fact, none has occurred. I wish simply to put that on the record.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Earlier we saw some infighting in the nationalist family, and it is not my place to start infighting among the unionist family. However, the election results made it abundantly clear that our electorate understood what we achieved in negotiations with the Government where Mr Beggs’s party had failed abysmally.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

I have no indication that any other Members wish to speak.

Draft Standing Orders 13 to 25 agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

We move to a new draft Standing Order, draft Standing Order 25A, which reflects the provisions of section 17 of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 and provides for the exercise of a vote in the event of a vacancy in the membership of the Assembly.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The provision, in effect, allows dead Members to vote, which is regrettable. The draft Standing Order allows for a vote to be exercised in the case of a vacancy. I therefore oppose draft Standing Order 25A.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I concur with Mr Beggs’ comments, having supported him on the matter in Committee meetings. The provision may have been imposed upon us in the Standing Orders of the Transitional Assembly, but there is no reason whatsoever for us to continue that practice.

Draft Standing Order 25A negatived.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Draft Standing Orders 26 and 27 are unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders. I propose to take them en bloc.

Draft Standing Orders 26 and 27 agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

We now move to another new draft Standing Order, draft Standing Order 27A, which deals with the referral of ministerial decisions to the Executive Committee.

This new Standing Order arises from the require­ments of section 6 of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. It envisages a situation whereby a large number of Members consider that a ministerial decision either breaches the ministerial code or relates to a matter of public importance. In circumstances where at least 30 Members sign a petition to that effect, the Speaker will consult the parties in considering whether to refer the matter to the Executive Committee. The Standing Order lays out the procedure for such a circumstance.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I appreciate that this Standing Order reflects the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. Nevertheless, it is very bureaucratic. If 30 Members sign a petition of concern, it would be handed to the Speaker, who would consult the parties, and then decide whether the ministerial decision is a matter of public concern. However, if 30 Members have signed a petition and at least one party has indicated its concern during a consultation period, when would the Speaker ever say that a matter is not one of public concern? I wish to highlight the fact that the process is quite bureaucratic and has not been well thought out, but it reflects the legislation.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

This draft Standing Order allows the Speaker to act as a filter in circumstances where one party, or a group of parties, wants to act in a disruptive manner by repeatedly submitting frivolous petitions.

One hopes that that attitude will not be taken by any parties. However, there must be some degree of provision in the Standing Orders to ensure that one party or a group of parties does not try to gum up the machinery by consistently putting in petitions on frivolous issues. That is the reason for the inclusion of Standing Order 27A.

Draft Standing Order 27A agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Draft Standing Orders 28, 29 and 30 are unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders. I propose to take those en bloc.

Draft Standing Orders 28 to 30 agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

We will now consider draft Standing Order 31, which contains a consequential change. The consequential change appears in your draft. We will not consider the consequential change until we consider the substantive change that gives rise to it at draft Standing Order 45.

Draft Standing Order 31 agreed to (subject to any change which may be required to it as a consequence of any decision on draft Standing Order 45).

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Drafts Standing Orders 32 to 40 are unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders. I propose to take those en bloc.

Draft Standing Orders 32 to 40 agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

We will now consider draft Standing Order 41, which contains a consequential change. The consequential change appears in your draft. We shall not consider the consequential change until we consider the substantive change that gives rise to it at draft Standing Order 45.

Draft Standing Order 41 agreed to (subject to any change which may be required to it as a consequence of any decision on draft Standing Order 45).

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Standing Order 41A deals with the taking up of office by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I wish to speak on the motion, and, once again, I note that the Standing Order has been adjusted to reflect legislation. I appreciate that that limits what can be done, however, there are flaws in that legislation, and I was disappointed that the amendment that I tabled in that regard was not accepted. However, I respect the decision of the Speaker.

Standing Order 41A refers to sections 16A and 16B of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, but section 16C is more significant, because, on occasions, it overrides sections 16A and 16B.

That has created a destabilising effect. It has created a rat race to become the biggest political party in Northern Ireland. That, in turn, encourages voters to go to the extremes to stop the other political extreme from being top dog. There are flaws in draft Standing Order 41A and the associated legislation. It is bad for community relations and for Northern Ireland. It is also detrimental to the unionist community, because ultimately we will have no say in who is appointed to the position of Deputy First Minister. That is a gift that has been handed entirely to another party.

How did this happen? Interestingly, it is not in the St Andrews Agreement. However, when it came to passing the legislation in Westminster, that additional clause was somehow slipped in, and it appears that neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP decided to make a stand on the issue. I believe that they have an advantage from it. They have, therefore, taken a political advantage for themselves over the long-term interests of the entire community in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, moved amendments, but they were defeated by filibustering. Ulster Unionist peers also attempted to change the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 at Westminster but were unsuccessful. Essentially, the extreme political parties are looking after their narrow self-interest rather than the interests of the entire community in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 4:00 am, 20th March 2007

I must respond to the points made by the Member for East Antrim, because I am curious as to what it is that makes me extreme in comparison to him. Is it because I am a unionist? Maybe it is because, like him, I am a Presbyterian or a member of the Orange Institution. I would be interested in knowing what it is that makes my colleagues and me extreme. If we are, then the majority of the unionist population is extreme, because the majority of the unionist population voted for this Assembly.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Perhaps it is the fact that this party is extremely popular? [Laughter.]

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I thank the Member for North Down for that intervention — he stole my punch line. He is absolutely right.

This is not about extremes; if it were, rather than seeking to move Northern Ireland forward, the electorate would be dragging it backwards in the way that it has voted in these elections. The reality is that the electorate in Northern Ireland voted for progress.

The DUP will take no lectures from the Ulster Unionist Party on the structures in this Assembly. It was the Ulster Unionist Party leadership — and Mr Beggs supported that leadership — which introduced the voting systems that we have in this Assembly, the idea of designations and so on. The Ulster Unionist Party need not try to wash its hands of what it did in the past. The consequences of that are there, and every day of every week they rise up to bite that party because it made those mistakes. The changes that are being introduced are about putting right what was done wrong and fixing the mistakes made by the Ulster Unionist Party. That is why I am proud to be on these Benches and I am glad I am not on those Benches. [Interruption.]

Do not worry, I will be staying here. I hope that in time the Member for Newry and Armagh will catch himself on and come and join us. [Laughter.]

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Order. Please keep to the issue.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

These changes are for the good of the operation of this Assembly, and I believe that hon Members should support these amendments because they are about progress, not going back to the past that the Member for East Antrim would try to drag us back to.

Draft Standing Order 41A agreed to.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

We will now consider draft Standing Order 42, which contains several changes to the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. As has already been stated, there are three changes to Standing Order 42. Standing Order 42(2)(e) reflects the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) legislation that was introduced in the British Parliament in 2003, giving authority to the Secretary of State over the elected Members of this Chamber and also over the electorate, which a fortnight ago went to the polls and, in the words of Mr Donaldson, voted for progress.

At the stroke of a pen, Standing Order 42 and the legislation from which it derives gives the British Secretary of State the right to exclude any Minister from the Executive and to reinstate that Minister after a period of exclusion. Sinn Féin can endorse neither the IMC legislation nor Standing Order 42(2)(e) and will vote against this provision. If 42(2)(e) is included in Standing Orders, Sinn Féin will vote against all the Standing Orders at the cross-community vote. Sinn Féin cannot endorse the role of the IMC, which allows securocrats to override elected representatives of the Assembly and the wishes of the electorate.

I am joint Chairperson of the Standing Orders Subgroup. I was asked to present the report and refused because I wanted to make some political statements to the House and I did not wish to undermine the position of Cathaoirleach — the Chairperson — by doing so. It is unfortunate that that happened this morning. However, I am not about getting my name in the headlines of the local newspaper; I am about trying to ensure that we make progress in the Assembly and that next week we have a fully functioning, up-and-running Executive.

DUP Members must remember one important thing: they are not the gatekeepers to democracy; they do not have not the qualifications for that task. If we make progress together, we can make change in people’s daily lives and create the society that David Ford spoke about earlier. However, the DUP must not put itself on a pedestal or claim to be the gatekeepers to democracy.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Wells] in the Chair).

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I find it strange to come to the House and be lectured by a party whose sole mandate for 35 years was to undermine democracy, which was quite happy to endorse the murder of our constituents, and which was quite happy to tear the heart out of the economy of Northern Ireland. Although some would like us to forget what happened in the past, that will not happen. Sinn Féin has a long way to go to prove to my constituency that it can measure up to the credentials of democracy.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank Mr Storey for his intervention. Neither my party nor I ask anyone to forget the past; however, I will not engage in a debate that we have had many times in the Chamber and which, no doubt, we will have many times in future. Everyone has their own pain from the past. As one of Mr Storey’s colleagues said, the electorate voted a fortnight ago for progress. Let us all move forward towards that progress for the sake of the whole of society.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Sinn Féin will not support Standing Order 42(2)(e).

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

Mr O’Dowd and his colleagues have made their position on the IMC legislation clear; doubtless they will continue to do so. However, if they vote against Standing Order 42(2)(e), they run the risk of removing any opportunity for people to re-enter ministerial office after a period of exclusion has ended. They are in danger of cutting off their nose to spite their collective face. They might not like the primary legislation — many of us do not like aspects of primary legislation that affect Standing Orders — but Mr O’Dowd’s argument does his case no good.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Our stance is that we do not give anyone the right to exclude us in the first place, never mind include us. The only people who can exclude us, as far as we are concerned, are the electorate — and the electorate has spoken.

In relation to this Standing Order we do not have the power to change the primary legislation, because that is set in Westminster. Sinn Féin accepts that. But we do have the power to say to the British Government that the IMC legislation is wrong, and this is our only way to show opposition. If this is not included, Sinn Féin accepts the fact that primary legislation still governs us, and that the Secretary of State will still have the power to exclude and reinstate Ministers.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

This Standing Order refers to section 18(1)(d) of the 1998 Act, which actually pre-dates the IMC. Sinn Féin is obviously in a constant state of paranoia about so-called securocrats. One wonders why it is concerned about spies; it seems at times to be riven with them. The reality is that if Sinn Féin is doing nothing wrong it has nothing to fear from exclusion.

The Standing Order refers to the 1998 Act, which derives from the Belfast Agreement, of which Sinn Féin is supposedly an enthusiastic supporter. If it is going to reject Standing Orders, it should at least do it on the correct basis. If Sinn Féin wants to join us in the lobbies against the Belfast Agreement, we will all welcome its conversion. Sinn Féin is actually rejecting something that is 9 years old. It is an attempt at political point-scoring rather than any objection with a degree of substance.

Draft Standing Order 42 agreed to.

Draft Standing Orders 43 and 44 agreed to.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

We move to draft Standing Order 45, which contains a number of changes. For example, there is the need to change the status of the Committee of the Centre and restrictions on membership of the Committee of the Assembly responsible for policing and justice. I would also like to draw Members’ attention to draft Standing Order 45, which if approved will necessitate consequential amendments to draft Standing Orders 12(1), 31(1), 31(2) and 41(8).

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Section 10 of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 facilitates a necessary status change for the Committee of the Centre. As a former Chairman of that Committee, I particularly recognise the need to bring it into line with the other Statutory Committees. The minor changes to Standing Order 45 and the deletion of the existing Standing Order 54 satisfactorily facilitate this and create a Statutory Committee to scrutinise the important work of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The Committee is free standing and cannot be combined with any other scrutiny Committee, and therefore cannot be ignored as it was in the past by the First Minister.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I believe that the proposals are in line with the legislation. The DUP Chairman of the Subgroup on Policing and Justice wrote to the Standing Orders Committee on 12 December 2006, requesting that the potential conflict of interest between membership of the Policing Board and any Assembly policing and justice Committee should be avoided. This Standing Order will clearly achieve that. If policing and justice is not going to be devolved between Standing Orders —

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 4:15 am, 20th March 2007

Perhaps Mr Beggs’s comments relate to the next item on the Order Paper, as opposed to the one concerning the Committee of the Centre.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The proposal to add wording to Standing Order 45 will clearly bring about the avoidance of conflict between the two groups. The Ulster Unionist Party does not believe that the Assembly is ready for the devolution of policing and justice or that it should debate such divisive issues, as that could have a destabilising effect. The unionist community is not ready for the devolution of those powers.

Draft Standing Order 45, and the consequential amendments to draft Standing Orders 12(1), 31 (1) and (2) and 41(8), agreed to.

Draft Standing Order 46 agreed to.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Draft Standing Orders 47, 48 and 49 remain unchanged. However, I draw Members’ attention to a printing error in the draft version, which incorrectly indicates that there is an amendment to draft Standing Order 47. That is simply a duplication of the text already inserted in draft Standing Order 45. I propose to take draft Standing Orders 47, 48 and 49 en bloc.

Draft Standing Orders 47 to 49 agreed to.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Draft Standing Order 50 reflects a change from the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Standing Orders in paragraph 5 relating to substitutes and voting rights on the Business Committee and in paragraph 6 as a consequence of the new Standing Order 25A.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I thought that the motion to create a new Standing Order 25A was defeated.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Yes, that is correct. Consequently, that has been deleted.

Mr Beggs now wishes to speak.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I appreciate that Members previously chose not to give a dead person the ability to vote. My amendment intends to deal with a similar situation that arises under Standing Order 50(6).

I beg to move

In Standing Order 50 (6) leave out all after the second “party.”

I want to ensure that anything that allows dead people to vote does not end up in Standing Orders. If that can be resolved without my having to move an amendment, I am happy. However, I wish to get a ruling, because I would not like such a provision to appear in Standing Orders. Therefore, I leave Members to make a decision.

Question, that the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Draft Standing Order 50, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

As draft Standing Orders 51 to 53 remain unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders, I propose to take them en bloc.

Draft Standing Orders 51 to 53 agreed to.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

We moved to draft Standing Order 54.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Although the proposal reflects the legislation, I wish to comment on it. In light of the experience of the previous Assembly, Members could easily have agreed how they should be regulated without the need for legislation, and it is unfortunate that legislation has been used. Regulation could have been achieved under Assembly rules.

There could well be a need for cross-community support if there is to be an outcome as a result of the proposal. No one crowed about that aspect of the review when this powerful review mechanism was achieved. I wish to highlight the fact that it seems very powerful on paper, however, unless there is subsequent cross-community consensus, it might amount to nothing.

Draft Standing Order 54 agreed to.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Draft Standing Orders 55 to 75 are unchanged from the Northern Ireland Assembly Standing Orders. I propose to take them en bloc.

Draft Standing Orders 55 to 75 agreed to.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

That concludes the consideration of the draft Standing Orders. I call the Chairman of the Subgroup on Standing Orders to wind the debate.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I thank the Deputy Speaker for his assistance and my democratic colleagues for bringing the matter to a conclusion. I am disappointed that one party veered away from the issues during the discussion and introduced some that indicated that they still have problems with fulfilling the democratic requirement in Northern Ireland. Ultimately Mr Speaker, I trust that those rules will be in place in the new Northern Ireland Assembly and that Members will be in a position to carry out the work of the Assembly for the good of the public. The draft Standing Orders will give us a template to work from. I trust that everyone else will fulfil all other rules to ensure that happens.

(Madam Speaker in the Chair)

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

Do any other Members wish to speak?

As approval for the draft Standing Orders requires cross-community support in accordance with schedule 1(5) to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, I intend to divide the House.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 58; Noes 23.

Ayes

Nationalist:

Mary Bradley, P J Bradley, Thomas Burns, John Dallat, Mark Durkan, Tommy Gallagher, Carmel Hanna, Dolores Kelly, Alban Maginness, Alasdair McDonnell, Patsy McGlone, Declan O’Loan, Margaret Ritchie.

Unionist:

Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Allan Bresland, Lord Browne, Thomas Buchanan, Trevor Clarke, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Jonathan Craig, Leslie Cree, Jeffrey Donaldson, Alex Easton, Reg Empey, Arlene Foster, Samuel Gardiner, Simon Hamilton, William Hay, Danny Kennedy, John McCallister, Nelson McCausland, Basil McCrea, Ian McCrea, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Michelle McIlveen, David McNarry, Adrian McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Stephen Moutray, Robin Newton, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, George Robinson, Iris Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, David Simpson, Jimmy Spratt, Mervyn Storey, Peter Weir.

Other:

Stephen Farry, David Ford, Anna Lo, Kieran McCarthy, Brian Wilson.

Tellers for the Ayes: Robin Newton and Jim Shannon

Noes

Nationalist:

Martina Anderson, Cathal Boylan, Mickey Brady, Francis Brolly, Paul Butler, Willie Clarke, Pat Doherty, Michelle Gildernew, Alex Maskey, Paul Maskey, Fra McCann, Jennifer McCann, Raymond McCartney, Barry McElduff, Claire McGill, Gerry McHugh, Daithí McKay, Conor Murphy, Carál Ní Chuilín, John O’Dowd, Michelle O’Neill, Sue Ramsey, Caitríona Ruane.

Tellers for the Noes: Paul Maskey and Carál Ní Chuilín

Total Votes                        81                        Total Ayes                    58 (71.6%)

Nationalist Votes             36                        Nationalist Ayes           13 ( 36.1%)

Unionist Votes                 40                        Unionist Ayes                40 ( 100.0%)

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As the Secretary of State has the authority to impose Standing Orders on the Assembly, can you confirm that the amended Standing Orders will be referred to him? That being so, will the Speaker reflect to the Secretary of State the minor, yet important, changes to which the Assembly has agreed?

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

I cannot confirm that the amended Standing Orders will be referred to the Secretary of State. He will have access to Hansard, and it is up to him as to whether he imposes the Standing Orders. He will inform my office of his decision, and I will pass on that information to Members at the next plenary sitting.

I wish to remind members of the Business Committee that it will meet in Room 106 half an hour after the sitting is adjourned, which will be at approximately 5.00 pm.

Photo of P J Bradley P J Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Must the Business Committee meet 30 minutes after the House is adjourned? Can it not meet earlier than that?

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Speaker

The Committee is scheduled to meet at 5.00 pm. My officials and I have to do a few things before then, and I am sure that the Committee’s members will be glad of a short break.

Adjourned at 4.39 pm.