I have received notification from members of the Business Committee of a motion to extend the plenary sitting past 7.00 pm under Standing Order 10(3A).
That, in accordance with Standing Order 10(3A), the sitting on Monday 16 January 2017 be extended to no later than 1.00 am on Tuesday 17 January 2017. — [Mr Dickson.]
Thank you. Through you, I ask the Minister for the Economy to reflect whether today is the right and appropriate day to take to a vote the regulations that he is about to introduce. My reasons are as follows: as I understand it, the Examiner of Statutory Rules has yet to take a definitive position on them; the Committee for the Economy, which the Minister briefed this morning, is yet to take a definitive position; and as yet there is no business case. The regulations will not take effect for 74 days, until the start of the next financial year, and I believe a delay of seven days would allow the Minister to address those weaknesses and uncertainties. I have no doubt that, if the Secretary of State is made aware that the Minister wishes to bring the regulations to the Chamber next Monday, dissolution will follow that and not precede it.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Since the Chair has the duty and responsibility to protect the processes of the House, will you explain how the provisions of Standing Order 43 have been complied with in the tabling of the business we intend to embark on?
I would prefer to deal with this point of order, Dr Farry.
I will deal with Mr Allister's point of order first. I have great sympathy with the view expressed, because this is a legislative Assembly. The scrutiny and passage of legislation — primary and secondary — is one of the most important aspects of our role.
You asked about Standing Order 43. Standing Order 43 provides, among other thing:
"(1) Every statutory rule or draft statutory rule which - (a) is laid before the Assembly; and (b) is subject to Assembly proceedings, shall stand referred to the appropriate committee for scrutiny."
The Committees may delegate technical scrutiny to the Examiner of Statutory Rules, who is, of course, an officer of the Assembly. The Standing Order also provides that the appropriate Committee and/or the Examiner of Statutory Rules:
"shall where practicable report on an instrument before any resolution or motion relating to that instrument is moved in the Assembly."
The key phrase here, Mr Allister and Members, is "where practicable". In this instance, such scrutiny and reporting by the Committees and the Examiner has not been practicable, and I agree with the Member that that is far from ideal.
As debates on legislation, including subordinate legislation, are not timed, any Member wishing to speak will have an opportunity to do so without a time limit. Members may, of course, reflect their opinion on the time allowed by the Minister for the Assembly and its Committees to scrutinise this legislation in deciding whether or not to affirm it. I encourage Members to take the opportunity that this debate presents to put all their concerns on the record and to seek explanations and, where appropriate, assurances from the Minister in relation to these regulations. However unsatisfactory the circumstances may be, today is the only opportunity for scrutiny, and I encourage Members to make the most of it.
On a further point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In the circumstances that we are in today, are the exhortation and expectations of Standing Order 43 not all the more acute? In paragraph 6, it specifically anticipates report to the House by the Committee where the statutory rule:
"purports to have retrospective effect where the parent legislation confers no express authority so to provide".
There could not be a more acute instance of why Standing Order 43 exists and why its defiance, which is what is happening here today, is so inappropriate.
I indeed confirm, Mr Allister, that that indeed is a role carried out by the Examiner. I have said that we are in less-than-ideal circumstances, and I have also said that there is an opportunity for Members to pose these questions to the Minister for explanation and answer. Ultimately, at the conclusion of the debate, there will be an opportunity for a vote to be taken.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Arising from your recent clarification to Mr Allister's point and, indeed, the content of Mr Allister's point of order itself, it is clear that debate on the Floor of the Assembly is not a substitute for the more detailed scrutiny that can lie in the Committee, in particular on receipt of any report from the Examiner of Statutory Rules. We are in this situation today because of the assumption that, in effect, we are right up against the clock with any potential passing of these regulations by the Assembly. However, it does seem likely, indeed probable, that there will be further sittings of the Assembly, whether this week or at the beginning of next week.
I want to ask clarification on two points from you, Mr Deputy Speaker. First, will you clarify that there will indeed be a meeting of the Business Committee tomorrow and that there is the potential for this business to be rescheduled for another point either this week or, indeed, next week if the Minister were to seek to take that opportunity? Secondly, will you provide clarification on, in the event that the Minister moves ahead to formally move the statutory rule in a few minutes' time and, upon reflection, hears the views from different corners of the House and decides that it would be better that the issue be deferred to another time, what mechanism exists for that to be done? Alternatively, is it the situation that, once the SR is formally moved, we are on track to having a vote on it this evening, which is a most unsatisfactory situation?
I thank the Member for the number of points of order that he has raised. The meeting of the Business Committee is, I think, still scheduled to take place tomorrow. The Member raised the issue of the speculation about a statement that may or may not be made later today by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on when the Assembly will be dissolved, if it fails to elect a First Minister and a deputy First Minister. The expiry of that is 5.00 pm, as the Member is aware. Clearly, Members will have to wait until after that time elapses to see what, if anything, the Secretary of State says on the matter. Another point that the Member raised was in part dealt with when Mr Nesbitt raised his point of order, while the points that he made to the Minister can be addressed only by the Minister when he is in a position to do so.