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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP 4:45 pm, 24th January 2017

I apologise to Mr Agnew for stepping out when he proposed the motion. I had a bit of a cough.

I support the motion. I support not just the words of the motion but the words of its proposer. We need transparency in government at all levels. I will keep my remarks reasonably brief, because I support the motion, but, as a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I have continually said that I believe in more standards and less privilege. All that we require is enough privilege to ensure that we can do our job effectively.

We must be held to account. Every one of us must be held to account, so we need more standards. It is clear that Ministers are bound by the Nolan principles. Do not worry, I am not going to ask anybody what the Nolan principles are. I had to write them down just to remind myself. Sometimes, those principles have to be tested.

If the Assembly commissioner can investigate Members of the Assembly, it seems only reasonable that a similar investigation process should be in place to hold Ministers to account. There are certainly concerns about existing mechanisms to enforce the ministerial code, and we have seen Freedom of Information Act requests ignored; late ministerial statements so that they cannot be scrutinised before they are delivered on the Floor; Members' questions for written answer not answered or not answered on time; and, of course, the issue in regard to RHI and other scandals prior to my coming to the Assembly.

Given the state of politics in Northern Ireland today, given how people view us at the minute, and in light of scandal after scandal, surely we should all be supporting measures to improve the credibility of our Ministers. What harm would it do to permit the Assembly Commissioner for Standards to investigate alleged breaches of the ministerial code of conduct? It cannot but help. It must help.