Assembly Business

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 26th April 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 12:00 pm, 26th April 2021

Members, before we start the plenary sitting, I want to make a few remarks. I regret that, today, I again have to start our business by addressing some outstanding issues of order. Last week, as you are aware, I wrote to all Members to point out that the standards of courtesy, good temper, moderation and respect do not prohibit robust debate. The majority of the debate on conversion therapy was a very good example of that. Given the differences in opinion in the House, there were inevitably some difficult and uncomfortable things said. There was also a recognition of the sensitivity of the subject, and it is my view that it was clear that most Members were mindful of the need to respond to that accordingly.

One Member, unfortunately, was the exception, and that is Jim Wells. I have given Mr Wells notice that I would be making reference to him this morning. During that debate, Deputy Speaker Beggs intervened and managed individual issues entirely appropriately at the time. Mr Wells, however, did not take the many prompts to adjust his approach that were clear in the Deputy Speaker's interventions. Mr Wells had the chance to make his own remarks last week, unfettered. Following his contribution, however, Mr Wells's behaviour was quite disruptive to the opportunity for other Members to be heard. In particular, Mr Wells persistently sought to make interventions when it was clear that they would not be accepted. That has always been viewed as being discourteous and disorderly. He interrupted a number of Members from a sedentary position, and he made spurious points of order on a number of occasions. I also note Mr McCrossan's point of order from last week that Mr Wells moved seat on a number of occasions and failed to sanitise the location that he was leaving. In my view, that was another example of a lack of courtesy to other Members. Having reviewed the Official Report, I feel that it is obvious that Mr Wells's behaviour in the final section of the discussion was detrimental to the ability of the Assembly to have a constructive debate.

I was very reluctant to come back to issues of order so soon. I have done so for a couple of reasons, however. First, I have written to Mr Wells privately twice about his behaviour, and, although I appreciate that he has always replied very promptly and courteously, it has not prevented a reoccurrence of unacceptable behaviour.

Secondly, I wrote to all Members last Monday, setting out in comprehensive terms what the standards of courtesy, good temper, moderation and respect mean. Finally, it was clear at the time, and from the feedback that I have had from all sides of the House since, that there was a sense, almost, of exasperation among some Members at being interrupted by Mr Wells as they tried to have a serious, orderly and constructive debate.

I am particularly disappointed to have to make these remarks because, on a number of occasions on which he assisted the Assembly by presiding over debates in this Chair, Mr Wells did so fairly and professionally. I acknowledge that. In doing so, he demonstrated that he well understood the rules and conventions of the Assembly and the need to keep order.

I do not intend to take any action on this occasion, but I decided to address the matter in the Chamber today in the sincere hope that Mr Wells seriously reflects on how he will conduct himself and interact with Members in future. The number of Members who declined interventions from Mr Wells should, in itself, be enough cause for Mr Wells to reflect.

I consider the matter closed, and we will leave it there for today.