Assembly Business

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 12:00 pm, 7th December 2020

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are conventions and practices, sir, on the answering of questions tabled by Members. On 2 November, I tabled a question to the Minister of Health, asking him which procedures, other than cancer and heart operations, have been postponed for patients as a consequence of the pandemic. It is now 7 December. Can you guide me as to how I can get a timely answer from a Minister to a very important question?

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Thank you, Mr Stalford. You are aware that I have limited authority to address those matters. Standing Orders state that Ministers should respond to queries and letters from all Members and that all Ministers are accountable to Members. You have made your point on the record. There are other opportunities for you to follow that up through other forms of questions and so on. The Member has made his point. I always encourage Ministers to respond in a timely manner to all Members' questions at all times.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am looking for your advice to Members as to how we can seek responses and what the protocol is in light of the Justice Minister's decision not only to register an interest on a policy issue but to recuse herself from that policy responsibility, which has been delegated to the permanent secretary to take key policy decisions. That is unprecedented in Northern Ireland's devolved history; it has never happened before. What are the protocols for Members when seeking responses on that issue, particularly in light of the fact that the permanent secretary does not have speaking rights in the Assembly to deal with a very serious issue?

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member is aware that I have not had an opportunity to look at that. I do not know much about the background, but I know that all Ministers are responsible and accountable to the House for matters that are within the remit of their Department. Whether or not they have delegated authority to a particular civil servant or official to take certain matters forward, the Minister is still accountable to the House and will always remain so. I hope that that satisfies the Member.