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PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE TO ADVISE THE PRESIDING OFFICER
TUESDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 1998 AT 2.30 PM
IN ROOM 152, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS
Lord Alderdice (Initial Presiding Officer)
Mr M Durkan
Mr R Empey
Mr D Ford
Mr B Hutchinson
Mr R Hutchinson (representing Mr C Wilson)
Mr E McGrady MP
Prof M McWilliams
Mr F Molloy
Mr M Morrow
Mr P Robinson MP
Mr J Wilson
Mr N Carson
Miss A Moore
Mr Robinson was unhappy that Mr Ford had suggested to a member of the press that the position taken by the DUP regarding seating arrangements was childish behaviour. He said that discussions within the Committee should be treated as confidential or else everything should be out in the open. Mr Ford replied that a member of the DUP had spoken to a journalist who then approached Mr Ford for comment which he gave and that if he had breached confidentiality he apologised. Mr McGrady remarked that while decisions are taken back to parties that confidentiality is assumed. The Initial Presiding Officer asked that all members in future regard meetings as confidential and that they can make no comment.
2. PARTY SEATING ARRANGEMENTS IN THE CHAMBER
The Initial Presiding Officer informed the Committee that he had received a letter from Mr Maskey saying that Sinn Fein are unhappy with the seating arrangements in the Chamber; they would prefer a modification of Option 2 and that the formation of the United Unionist Assembly Party by the Independents will have implications for seating arrangements. Mr Molloy explained that Mr Maskey's suggestion would include a reduction in the smaller parties first row allocation while still allowing all parties at least one seat in the first row. Mr Robinson suggested closing the gaps in the first row which would create 2 extra seats and may help to resolve some of the difficulties. It was agreed the Initial Presiding Officer would check the feasibility of this suggestion. The matter will be returned to.
Mr Robinson asked what principles had been applied to seating arrangements. The Initial Presiding Officer said the First Minister and Deputy First Minister wanted to be close to the advisors boxes and Presiding Officer. It may have been possible to produce an option based on the European Parliament model but that would have required him to make judgements on whether a party was left or right wing.
Mr Robinson enquired about the use of boxes. The Initial Presiding Officer reported that as a rule of thumb the outer 3 seats on either side are for use by relevant Ministers while the 2 closest to the Presiding Officer are at the Presiding Officer's discretion. For the last plenary meeting one had been given to a Clerk from the House of Commons and another to the Head of the Civil Service. Mr Robinson wanted to make sure there were no party representatives in the boxes. The Initial Presiding Officer said he understood the boxes had been used by Executive staff and special advisers only but that they were out of his line of sight.
3. SPECIAL ADVISERS
Mr Robinson raised the issue of special advisers being paid for out of the public purse. The Initial Presiding Officer indicated that all Ministerial positions plus the Presiding Officer would have special advisers on contract to the Civil Service and that it was his understanding the matter arose during negotiations and was approved by the Secretary of State through her Ministers. The Initial Presiding Officer said he could if members wished, check on the numbers of special advisers and see if he could acquire a copy of the contract of employment, however Mr Durkan suggested this was a matter for the Shadow Assembly Commission to look at. The Initial Presiding Officer suggested that members might write directly to the Secretary of State for information.
Samples of letter headed paper, compliments slips and business cards were circulated for comment. Mr Molloy asked if it would be possible for parties to have their own designs printed including bilingual options. The Initial Presiding Officer said he would look into the matter but that he would prefer one design for all. After discussion two designs were preferred. No agreement was reached. The Committee agreed to take the matter back to their parties and to return to the next meeting with some suggestions.
5. REVIEW OF THE CONDUCT OF BUSINESS (14/15 SEPTEMBER)
Sound: there was general agreement that there were some initial problems with the acoustics. The Initial Presiding Officer pointed out that as the sound system is new to the staff it will take a little time for them to get used to it. He also noted that members who kept their heads lowered when speaking would be less well picked up by the microphones.
Photographers: Mr J Wilson enquired about the use of photographers in the Chamber. The Initial Presiding Officer reported that 2 pool photographers had been given permission for the meeting on 14 September only. Mr McGrady enquired if there was a member of a party taking photographs from the gallery without permission. To be looked into.
Speakers: the Initial Presiding Officer noted that parties did not all take the same approach in terms of providing names of members who wished to speak and some members were not in the Chamber just before they were due to be called to speak. There was not enough time during the debates to allow all members to speak. Professor McWilliams mentioned that there was a difficulty in attracting the Presiding Officer's attention in order to respond to points made by other members. Mr Robinson said that in the House of Commons a member can write to the Speaker in advance to advise her they are hoping to catch her eye during a debate. The Initial Presiding Officer pointed out that in the House of Lords members give in their names and the time allotted for debate is divided equally among those wishing to speak, but that this flexibility is not available under the current Standing Orders. In order to facilitate members who wish to make their maiden speech the Initial Presiding Officer suggested regular adjournment debates lasting 30 minutes to one hour whereby members could be chosen by ballot for 10 minute speeches. Another option would be to hold longer debates on a topic such as the Economy or Health which would allow more members an opportunity to speak. To be discussed further.
6. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Child Care Facilities: the Initial Presiding Officer said the provision of child care facilities would more appropriately fall to the Shadow Assembly Commission and suggested asking it to set up a working group to consist of representatives of both members and staff. Agreed. Mr Robinson pointed out that there might be wider implications to consider as the Civil Service does not provide child care facilities on behalf of staff.
Car Parking: the Initial Presiding Officer reported that he has had requests for parking spaces close to the building to be given to some additional Civil Servants. Mr Robinson suggested creating a pass for use by some staff on days when the Assembly will not be sitting and when there will be more free spaces in the car park. After a brief discussion it was agreed that this be made available for one senior staff member from the First Minister's office and one from the Deputy First Minister's office.
It was also agreed that abuse of the "non-sitting days pass" would result in it being withdrawn.
Third Floor: Mr Empey enquired if there was any indication when the third floor might be available. The Initial Presiding Officer reported that he had raised the matter with the Minister. Some problems have arisen with the building DFP intended to move into and it has not been possible to establish a suitable alternative. Members were displeased to learn of the delay and urged the Initial Presiding Officer to keep up the pressure on DFP. The Initial Presiding Officer will raise the matter again at his next meeting with the Minister later in the week.
Telephones: Professor McWilliams pointed out that there is not an up-to-date telephone list, some telephone lines are not working properly and there is no voice mail facility. The matters will be attended to.
Television Monitors: Mr Carson reported 220 monitors have been ordered and the first batch should be in place soon which will take care of immediate needs.
Training for Whips: it is hoped Mr Cosgrave will be available to attend the next Committee meeting.
Tour of the Grounds and Building: a note will be put in members' pigeonholes to indicate times when tours will be available.
Christmas Cards: the Initial Presiding Officer reported that there has been some difficulty finding something suitable and suggested commissioning a photograph of the building. He also indicated that he hoped it would be possible to produce 2 different cards, at approximately £2.50 - £3.00 for 5 cards.
Cash Dispenser: Mr Carson reported that the banks are not interested in providing a cash point facility. Approaches will now be made to building societies.
Whips Meeting: Mr J Wilson requested a Whips meeting. To be arranged.
Passes: the Initial Presiding Officer reminded Whips that names of those who are to get Whips passes are due back with Mr Waddell as soon as possible.
Security - Visitors: Mr Morrow mentioned that groups of visitors were unaccompanied in the building on 14 September. The Initial Presiding Officer said he would look into the matter.
Security - Firearms: Mr Robinson asked the Initial Presiding Officer to find out if any members have carried firearms into the building on behalf of anyone else. The Initial Presiding Officer agreed to look into the matter and noted that as members are not required to pass through the magnetometer they are on their honour and it would be disappointing if members were not abiding by the rules. The Committee were asked to remind their members that firearms being brought into the building by members should be deposited in the armoury.
Next Plenary Meeting: Mr Robinson asked if there is any indication of when the next plenary meeting might be. The Initial Presiding Officer said he understood it is the intention to hold a North-South Ministerial Council soon and that a meeting of the Assembly might take place beforehand, possibly on 28 September. It is also probable there will be a meeting on 6 October to debate the Report from the Committee on Procedural Consequences of Devolution and on 26 October for the Report from the Committee on Standing Orders.
United Unionist Assembly Party: Mr Robinson pointed out that with effect from 21 September the Independent members will be recognised as a party and so be entitled to places on committees. The Initial Presiding Officer agreed that this needed to be addressed. To be discussed at the next meeting.
Gym Facilities: Mr B Hutchinson asked when the gym will be available. The Initial Presiding Officer said he would make enquiries but that an interim arrangement may be possible for shower and changing facilities.
7. DATE, TIME AND VENUE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday 23 September at 9.30 am in Room 152.
Deputy Clerk8 September 1998 / Menu / 23 September 1998
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