Ministerial Code: Independent Investigation of Alleged Breaches

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP 4:45 pm, 24th January 2017

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. However, given the context in which we are speaking, the motion is, at best, little more than mischief-making.

We have been returned to this House by our constituents, who have put their belief in us to uphold our professional standards and to act in their best interests in the decisions that we make. I agree that, by entrusting us with that responsibility, the very least that our voters can expect is a system that is transparent, open and accountable. In signing the Roll of Membership, I committed to the principles of the Assembly's code of conduct and have been faithful to working selflessly, with integrity, objectivity and accountability, in an open and honest manner, while providing leadership in my constituency.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards provides an invaluable service to the House by providing regulation and monitoring of the conduct of all of us. The scope of the commissioner's remit is to ensure that serious breaches of the code are fully investigated and that the integrity of the House is upheld. I repeat my initial remarks: the motion is simply mischief-making.

I fully support the notion that there must be a system in place to investigate serious breaches, but the commissioner is not here to act as the schoolmaster presiding over disobedient pupils. To suggest that we require yet another layer of bureaucracy is completely at odds with the principles of streamlining and cutting red tape, which we have sought to achieve during this mandate and the previous one. During these times of austerity, when we need to ensure that we are getting the best possible value for money when using public funds, the idea that we should rush through legislation to add even more layers of bureaucracy is absurd. I am an advocate of transparency and openness in our government, as suggested in the motion, but the expansion of the commissioner's role and remit would place a barrier in the way of providing that.

This Assembly has deemed the Assembly's code of conduct to be fit for purpose, and it has been satisfied that the mechanisms are in place under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to deal correctly with any breaches. I have said this on several occasions on varying matters, and I find myself saying it again today: bad legislation is worse than no legislation. Even if we were not standing on the edge of another election, the call to bring forward urgent legislation lacks any consideration for the process involved or the implications that it may have. The commissioner's role is clear, defined and wholly adequate. Any attempts to widen that role not only undermine the office of the commissioner but undermine the personal standards and accountability with which Members must uphold their own office. If changes are to be sought, they must only be carried out following thorough scrutiny and process. They should not be sought as an attempt to create issues where none exist. We would need to give further consideration to changes such as those outlined in the motion before making them. We must ensure that persons are not found guilty on issues before we even have the matter investigated.