Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 23 April 2001 (continued)



Mr Ford

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to confirm that current policy on procurement operates on the lowest common denominator of value for money; and to make a statement.

(AQO 1277/00)


Mr Dallat

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to detail what progress has been made on the procurement review.

(AQO 1288/00)

Mr Durkan:

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will take questions 5 and 6 together as they both deal with public procurement policy.

As I stated to the Assembly on 12 March 2001, current policy is that all public procurement is to be based on value for money, having due regard to propriety and regularity. Value for money is defined as the optimum combination of whole-life cost and quality or fitness for purpose to meet the users' requirements.

The implementation team that has been established to make progress on the findings and recommendations of the initial procurement review has met on four occasions and is planning to engage in public consultation during May. This will assist in bringing forward proposals that take account of the equality dimension for consideration by the Executive Committee in June.

Mr Ford:

I thank the Minister for his reply, which I think was "Yes", although I had some difficulty in interpreting it. On the assumption that it was a "Yes", and that all we currently have is a lowest common denominator, let me quote to the Minister, from a 1999 report, the second half of the sentence from which I took my question:

".there is insufficient management information to measure achievement against such a policy."

Will the Minister tell the House whether in the last two years any management information has come to hand and what his estimates might be of the potential benefits of properly implementing a value-for-money policy?

Mr Durkan:

As I have indicated previously on the procurement issue, one reason that we are now involved in the implementation exercise is precisely to make good the sort of gaps and deficiencies that the report identified - gaps and deficiencies that probably surprised many of us, and that included management and information. The implementation exercise will look at that important issue among others. It is important for value for money and also for other relevant public procurement considerations.

Mr Dallat:

The Minister will be aware that a number of recent reports produced by the Comptroller and Auditor General are highly damaging to public confidence. Can the Minister confirm that the findings of the review team will take account of the equality issues involved in procurement and will ensure that all proper procurement procedures suggested by the review will be followed? We do not want a repeat of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's printing contract shambles, and we want to ensure that the opportunity to operate cosy cartels or golden circles is gone from the procurement process for ever.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that the Assembly has a major task to perform in that regard.

Mr Durkan:

A number of concerns have been raised for Members by Audit Office reports that, among other things, have looked at some procurement issues, and they are not confined to the one mentioned by Mr Dallat. There are others. The implementation exercise in which the Department of Finance and Personnel is engaged should try to ensure that the new arrangements that operate should also serve to help prevent any repeat of those difficulties.

The Department of Finance and Personnel wants all Departments to use the Government Purchasing Agency (GPA). The Department wants to make sure that the practices, procedures and opportunities available to the GPA in respect of value for money, probity, fairness and equality are used to serve the public that the Assembly represents. Equality considerations are a significant dimension to the work of the implementation exercise. The Department of Finance and Personnel wants to make sure that public procurement is conducted in the public interest and that the Executive are paying as little as they need to for good services and goods. The Department also wants to ensure that everybody is able to compete on a fair and equitable basis to provide services or goods under public procurement.

Peace II Partnership Models


Mr Gallagher

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to give details of the consultation involved in the process of drawing up the arrangements for the new partnership models in Peace II.

(AQO 1286/00)

Mr Durkan:

Last October, I set up a working group that consisted of representatives of district councils, district partnerships and intermediary funding bodies. The purpose of that working group was to draw up proposals for best developing the role and functions of partnerships in each district council area in the new Peace programme and more widely. The working group's proposals were endorsed by the Executive in December, and arrangements for their implementation were discussed at a colloquy in Ballymena on 31 January attended by representatives of all the organisations that had been involved in the delivery of Peace I.

Following that, the chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body convened a focus group to draft guidelines for the formation and operation of the new partnership model. Throughout that period there were also consultations with the European Commission on the development of the new partnership model.

Mr Gallagher:

Given the many excellent initiatives that have come to fruition as a result of the effort and energy of the voluntary and community sector, will the Minister confirm that as a result of his actions there will be no downgrading of the role of that sector? Will he confirm that, on the contrary, the sector's influence will increase so that the concept of partnership will develop and continue long after the EU moneys have been spent?

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Member for his questions and concur with his positive assessment of the contribution that the partnerships have made to the success of Peace I and, as a result of that contribution, to wider efforts at local and regional levels. The partnerships have had a pathfinding role, and the community and voluntary sector has played a positive defining role. That is something that I want to see not only continued but developed as well.

I repeat the assurances that I have given in the House and in meetings with the community and voluntary sector. The Department of Finance and Personnel is concerned with seeing the partnership model succeed and flourish - not in ways in which it is just confined or in gateways to a particular EU programme, but where it can influence and inform strategic progress across a number of sectors.

4.00 pm

The community and voluntary sector will be well placed to continue to make a significant and positive contribution in that regard. There will be challenges for that sector in the new partnership model. There will also be challenges for other sectors, not least the statutory sector.

Peace and Reconciliation:
EU Structural Funds


Mr Berry

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to state what impact European Union structural funds have had in achieving peace and reconciliation in each section of the community.

(AQO 1265/00)

Mr Durkan:

A full assessment of the impact of structural fund programmes is a major research project which cannot be undertaken until the programmes in question have ended. The ex post evaluations of the 1994-99 Northern Ireland single programme and the 1995-99 special support programme for peace and reconciliation will begin before the end of the current financial year. These will aim to assess all programme impacts including peace and reconciliation.

Mr Berry:

Does the Minister agree that more needs to be done to ensure that there is an equal distribution of the EU structural funds, given that the Unionist community has been overlooked for many years? I appreciate the Minister's reply to my Colleague Mr Poots that equality and balance are the key issues. I agree 100%, and I trust that he will do everything in his power to address the issue of the Unionist community's being overlooked in the distribution of funds.

Mr Durkan:

While appreciating the Member's point, I stress again that we need to be careful about making sweeping assumptions about the balance of allocation with regard to some of these programme funds.

With regard to the Unionist community's being overlooked, the interim report of 1997 from the three MEPs, including Ian Paisley, stated that there was no question of discrimination. While it noted that there appeared to be a lower rate of applications from communities in Protestant areas, that, in itself, did not imply any discrimination. That exercise, and other efforts, recognised the need to try to improve the situation and particularly to mitigate some of the legitimate concerns that were being expressed at that time. That work continues.

We need to remember that many of these measures have to work according to particular criteria. Targeting social need and deprivation factors can be relevant. Targeting social need considerations will not necessarily be synonymous with some people's interpretation of what an equality consideration may mean.

Dr Birnie:

I am sure that the Minister is glad to be answering a question on funds other than Peace II. Will he confirm that sustainability will be a key consideration in the outlay of future funds with regard to Peace II, the transitional funds and the peace and reconciliation criteria to ensure that more jobs are created in areas which have genuine economic competitiveness to underlie them?

Mr Durkan:

The Peace programme, important and valuable though it is on the basis that it is additional money, is one part of the community support framework. The other larger part of the community support framework is the programme for building sustainable prosperity. A number of important principles have to inform the allocations and planning in respect of that programme. Not least of these is sustainability with regard to any project or measure. Longer-term sustainability with regard to underpinning longer-term economic development and supporting continuing prosperity is also important.

We need to ensure that we are making very clear, hard-headed decisions. This is not additional money, and many people seem to be under the illusion that it is. Since it is not additional money, it cannot be used, as some people seem to be suggesting, as a runner-up fund for projects that do not quite come through in relation to the Peace programme.

Clearly, the competition is going to be intense. We have to remember that the distinctiveness of the two programmes is important, and that is often emphasised to me by people who are very concerned to see that the integrity of the Peace programme is respected. That also applies in relation to the integrity of the programme for building sustainable prosperity.

Rates Arrears


Mr Close

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to give his assessment of the effectiveness of measures taken by his Department to reduce the level of rates arrears.

(AQO 1276/00)

Mr Durkan:

The level of rate arrears expressed as a percentage of the gross collectable rate for each rate year has fallen from 3·8% in 1985-86 to 1·86% in 1999-2000. The lowest level of rate arrears was 1·72% in 1997-98. The Rate Collection Agency has consistently secured an arrears level of less than 2% over the last five years. The performance compares favourably with that delivered by similar public sector revenue collection organisations in other jurisdictions.


Assembly Standing Orders


Madam Deputy Speaker:

I would like to explain how I propose to conduct the debate. As the next four motions relate to Standing Orders I propose to conduct only one debate. After the debate I will ask the Chairperson of the Committee on Procedures to move each motion, and I will put the question with regard to each motion without further debate.

As with all motions on Standing Orders, the question can be resolved only on a cross-community basis. However, where there are voices from all sides of the Chamber for the motion and none to the contrary, I regard a division as unnecessary. If that is clear, I shall proceed.

The Chairperson of the Committee on Procedures (Mr C Murphy):

I beg to move

That Standing Order 10(2), line 3, be suspended until the Summer Recess.

The following motions stood on the Order Paper:

In Standing Order 15(1) line 2 and line 3 delete "at least one hour prior to the comomencement of business" and insert "not later than 9.30 am".

[Mr C Murphy]

In Standing Order 20(1) line 7 after "concerned" insert "normally".

[Mr C Murphy]

In Standing Order 10(2)(c) line 2 after "shall" insert "normally".

[Mr C Murphy]

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. The motion to suspend Standing Order 10(2) line 3 is the result of discussion over a number of months following a request from some parties. Standing Orders provide time slots for many things but not for party business. The larger parties have more difficulty in this regard. There are no provisions for fixed time allowing parties to debate plenary matters or those generally pertaining to the Assembly.

The Committee on Procedures was asked to include this as part of an overall investigation into procedures in the House. Research has identified that, from the start of the current session, the average period for lunch on Mondays has been one hour and 45 minutes and the plenary sessions have generally lasted less than six hours. On numerous occasions the Assembly has adjourned much earlier than 6.00 pm.

Plenary sessions start at 10.30 am, and it is not possible to arrange party meetings during the lunch period, given that we do not know how long it will last. We considered a number of options for a later starting time for plenary sessions.

Under Standing Orders, the current starting time for plenary sessions is 10.30 am. Suggested options included a mid-afternoon start, finishing much later in the evening. However, after detailed consideration and taking on board the need to strike a balance with family-friendly policies which underscored the initial Standing Orders laid down for the Assembly, the Committee agreed that a starting time of 12 noon, finishing at 6.00 pm, should be introduced on a trial basis from now until the summer recess.

The removal of the lunch period will provide the Assembly with the same amount of time to consider business as before - roughly six hours. The Committee agreed that the new starting time would be an experiment until the summer recess and that it would then review the matter. For that reason, in this motion we are seeking a suspension of Standing Order 10, rather than proposing a new Standing Order. If, as we approach the summer recess, a review identifies that the later start time of 12 noon has been beneficial, the Committee will then undertake to table a motion at the start of the next session to make the change permanent. I beg to move the motion.

Madam Deputy Speaker, do you want me to speak to the rest of the motions now, or do you wish them to be read first?

Madam Deputy Speaker:

We are having only one debate on all four motions, so could the mover of the motions please speak to all four in his initial statement?

Mr C Murphy:

I was aware that all four motions had not been read; only one had been read. Do you wish to have the other motions read first, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Please speak to all four motions.

Mr C Murphy:

The second motion proposes a change to Standing Order 15 in relation to amendments. The current practice is that amendments have to be submitted in writing to the Speaker at least one hour prior to business commencing, which is normally 9.30 am on Monday and Tuesday mornings. This amendment seeks to ensure that where plenary sittings start at 12 noon, then further time is available to consider any amendments tabled by 9.30 am. Presently parties have only 60 minutes to consider amendments to business on the Order Paper, and this time is reduced by virtue of the fact that the amendments must be submitted to the Speaker who, within that time frame, considers if the amendment is competent. We propose that the time for submitting amendments be kept at 9.30 am on a Monday morning, rather than one hour before business commences.

The other two motions are connected and seek to amend the Standing Orders to deal with the issue of private notice questions. According to the present Standing Orders, a private notice question may be asked immediately prior to the start of the afternoon's Adjournment debate. There is no flexibility for a private notice question to be taken at any other time, and if a Minister were not available, then the question would fall, and the opportunity for a Member to hear a ministerial response on a matter of public importance would be lost.

There is a precedent in this matter involving the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. With the indulgence of the Speaker, a very important question was allowed to be taken earlier in the day so that the Minister could be present to answer it. Had the period just preceding the Adjournment debate been rigidly stuck to, the Minister would have been out of the country and the question would not have been answered.

These two proposed changes to the Standing Orders are to allow a degree of flexibility as to when the Speaker may take a private notice question, in light of ministerial availability, to ensure that important issues are addressed.

I beg to move the motions.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Procedures (Mr Dalton):

I support the motions put forward by the Chairman of the Committee. These motions deal with minor changes that the Committee believes will be of benefit to the operation of the Assembly.

I will work in reverse order and deal with the motions relating to private notice questions. The Committee Chairman mentioned the private notice question to the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. From that past experience we have seen that had flexibility not been exercised by the Speaker to take the question at that point - although contrary to the Standing Orders as currently drafted - we would have lost an important private notice question. It was the Committee's view that it would be foolish not to allow such questions to go forward simply because a Minister was unable to attend. By allowing a degree of flexibility and discretion, a Minister will be able to fit these into his or her timetable and ensure that private notice questions can be properly raised. This will be of benefit to the entire Assembly. Those are my reasons for supporting those secondary motions.

On the biggest change - the suspension of the timings - there was, again, a lengthy discussion in the Committee. A number of parties have indicated that the 10.30 am start time on a Monday is awkward - especially for the larger parties. They have a considerable logistical problem in properly discussing, debating and deciding how they are going to react to the day's business. By allowing extra time, the larger parties, in particular, will be able to facilitate that. It will benefit the Assembly as a whole and especially those Members who are travelling from the west of the Province first thing on a Monday morning. Perhaps it would not be unreasonable for the House to indulge those who have to travel getting on for 100 miles from Castlederg. I am looking for my Colleague Mr Hussey, but I see that he is not here. The extra time would be useful as well. That would be my main reason for supporting that proposal.

4.15 pm

The Committee discussed the idea of extending our time into the evenings as well. It was decided that that would not be appropriate, in the light of the family-friendly policy that was adopted by the Standing Orders Committee. We are putting forward a motion to suspend the Standing Order for this period, but we do so simply in order that we can sit from 12 noon until 6.00 pm. The Assembly will not lose any time, because there will not be a lunch break. The sitting time available will be the same as that previously available.

The change will have no impact on family-friendly hours, so that policy, which was agreed by the Assembly, will be maintained. I say that particularly to those Members who are concerned that the motion would take away the pleasurable time that they might spend with their families -or not, if that is their preference.

Mr Dodds:

I have no difficulty with the proposals on private notice questions. They are sensible suggestions, and they provide a degree of flexibility. The Speaker has already exercised such flexibility, despite the current wording of the Standing Orders but with the agreement of the Business Committee.

There is a problem, however, with the first motion, which provides that the Assembly will not sit until noon on Mondays. Although it is only a suspension and an experiment, such things have a habit of becoming permanent. We are being asked to accept a proposal that will allow for debate to be foreshortened on Mondays. At the moment, we can have seven and a half hours for debate in the House - from 10.30 am to 6.00 pm - if required. There have been occasions on which the Business Committee has timetabled debates and motions that have carried on right through lunchtime. That has happened on a number of occasions on which it has been deemed to be necessary; on other occasions, there has been a lunch break. There is also a facility in the Standing Orders to extend time beyond 6.00 pm.

Judging from what the Deputy Chairman of the Committee said about the thinking behind the motion, it is clear that the Committee's desire to keep family-friendly hours - stopping at 6.00 pm - will ensure that there will be less time available for the Business Committee to play with when agreeing business for Mondays. That does not reflect well on the Assembly.

Just over a week ago, we debated an issue that necessitated the recall of the Assembly. Many Members said then that there were many important social, economic and other issues that had to be debated in the House. Today, we have a suggestion from the Procedures Committee that we should reduce the time available for plenary sittings. Sometimes, we are in danger of forgetting about the views of the people who pay our salaries and who elect us to this place. They expect that, rather than devoting less time to discussion of matters of public interest, we should perhaps devote more time to it.

Members spend time in Committees and in their constituencies carrying out very important duties, but it does not reflect well on the Assembly to suggest, at this stage, that we should reduce the potential time for debate on the Floor of the Assembly.

I suspect that the real motive behind the proposal is that some parties are unable to get their act together sufficiently for a 10.30 am start. That may apply to one or more of the bigger parties whose Members have already spoken in the debate - it certainly does not apply to us.

It is amazing that those who are arguing for a lie-in on a Monday morning, and who have already spoken, say that there is a logistical problem and that they need extra time. If Members have not been organised to speak and amendments have not been thought about from 9.30 am, when they are submitted, it is unlikely that much extra work will be done between 10.30 am and noon.

Some Members, particularly those from west of the Bann, travel very long distances to be in the Assembly. However, to be fair, some of those who travel long distances are often in the Assembly before those who travel from considerably nearer places.

During the very bad weather, when the Assembly was very reduced in numbers, it was the Members from west of the Bann and from very far afield who made it here, struggling through very adverse conditions to their credit. If travelling long distances were really an argument for a later starting time, why are we leaving Tuesdays as they are? Surely the Committee should be suggesting that proceedings on Tuesdays should also start later? The argument does not stand up.

Mr McFarland:

If the Member accepts family-friendly hours, that the time available from noon to 6.00 pm is the same as that available at the moment, given the lunch hour, and that we have the ability to extend past 6.00 pm if required, would he clarify his objection to the new hours?

Mr Dodds:

I am happy to do so. The Member is clearly labouring under a grave misapprehension. I have not accepted some of the things that he mentioned. I have not accepted that we will have the same hours under the proposal as we do at present.

At the moment, the Business Committee has seven- and-a-half hours to play with, with the potential for extending beyond 6.00 pm if it wishes. Under the proposal to start at noon, according to the Deputy Chairperson, the Business Committee will have only six hours - so it is actually a reduction.

I do not accept that the number of hours will be the same. They would be the same if there were always a lunch break, but there have been occasions - and we are meeting on three days this week - when the Business Committee and the parties have agreed that we should continue through lunch.

Sometimes we have not had to continue through lunch because debates have not gone on as long as they were expected to. However, we are reducing the number of hours that the Business Committee has to play with on Mondays from seven-and-a-half hours to six hours. That is the situation, and I hope that the Member accepts it.

The Member also raised the issue of family-friendly hours. I did not make any comment about my views on the Assembly's stopping at 6.00 pm - the reference to family-friendly hours came from the Deputy Chairperson. Indeed, other Members have referred to that on previous occasions.

We should try to conclude our business in and around six o'clock whenever possible. I am not against extending that timescale if the business merits that. There are occasions on which I have supported an extension, in the face of opposition from others, because I believed that the subject under discussion merited it. Therefore I am not against an extension on all occasions. However, the proposal not to start the business until 12 noon will make it potentially more difficult to stick to the 6.00 pm deadline.

Those are some of the reasons why I will oppose the removal of the requirement to start Assembly proceedings at 10.30 am on Mondays.

Mr A Maginness:

I support the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Procedures who have presented the arguments fairly and properly to the House. I do not understand the argument objecting to the temporary suspension of the Standing Orders that Mr Dodds has put forward. The temporary suspension is merely to see how things will pan out. It will show whether starting at 12 noon and moving on to 6.00 pm suits the House in the efficient dispatch of its duties. It puzzles me why the Member is so strenuously opposed to the experiment. That is all that it is - an experiment. If the suspension fails, and we discover that by moving the times we are, in fact, losing valuable time for debate and discussion, we can revert to the present position after the summer recess. We will have lost nothing. Therefore I do not know why the Member is so perturbed about the matter.

There is a fair argument that the parties in the House do need time to reflect on Monday mornings on the business for the week - not just the business of the House, but the business in Committees and so forth. There is a great deal going on; parties must inform one and other about what is happening in the various Committees. On Monday mornings it is important they have time to get to grips with the business, and starting at 12 noon seems to be a sensible thing to do. I cannot see how anybody could have any great objection to the experiment. I hope that the House can support the suspension. It will be an interesting experiment, and if, in fact, it does turn out to be a bad one, we can learn a lesson from it.

Mr Neeson:

I am delighted to hear the optimism from all around the House that the Assembly will go on beyond the summer recess.

It is right and proper that we review Standing Orders from occasion to occasion. While I largely accept most of the proposals that are being put forward today by the Chairperson and his Committee, I have serious reservations about the first proposal. The Business Committee normally meets on a Tuesday, and, to a large extent, the business for the following week and weeks beyond is decided at that meeting. Therefore it provides opportunities, between Tuesday and Friday, for parties to meet and work out who will deal with the various business issues for the following week. My party meets at lunchtime on Thursday.

I accept the Chairperson's words when he says that it is still the Committee's intention to preserve the family-friendly hours. However, my fear is that we will reach the stage, maybe on a Tuesday, where we do not get the business completed, and that will necessitate special meetings of the Assembly on a Wednesday.

4.30 pm

The Assembly has been functioning very well for a year, and it is clear that the amount of legislative business coming through the various Committees is increasing. I have serious reservations about whether we will be able to get through all of that business.

Subject to the approval of the Business Committee tomorrow, we will be meeting next Wednesday to discuss the item that we were supposed to be dealing with this Wednesday. That shows that business is building up and that the Assembly is functioning well. I echo what Mr Dodds said - once something becomes temporary, it can well become permanent. We must remember that Members also face other pressures.

For example, many of us are members of councils, and every Monday evening many of us have council meetings to attend as well. In the circumstances, my party and I find it difficult to accept the first proposal and urge the Chairman and his Committee to rethink the matter.

Preserving family-friendly hours may seem like a worthwhile gesture to those who do have concerns. However, there is plenty of time to deal with the issues, through you, Mr Speaker, between Tuesday and Friday. We oppose the first motion.

Mr Beggs:

I would like to concentrate on how amendments are dealt with when put forward on a Monday morning. The deadline for amendments is 9.30 am. They are to be submitted to the Speaker's Office by that time. They have to be marshalled, and the Speaker must determine which amendments are to be listed on that day's Order Paper. Assembly Members are frequently notified of the Marshalled List at 10.00 am or, on occasion, before 10.30 am. I consider it inappropriate that Members are given only thirty minutes' notice, or sometimes no notice at all, of the Marshalled List of amendments before entering the Chamber.

That occurs through no fault of the Speaker, but rather through the fault of the procedures that are in place. I favour a trial period purely because it will provide an opportunity for amendments to be properly discussed in each group before a decision is made. It is inappropriate that amendments are presented to Members without proper time for discussion and debate in each of the groups before they enter the Chamber. Some parties may not have the same level of discussion.

Mr Dodds:

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I agree with the thrust of his remarks about the time available for the notification of amendments. The Assembly should address that issue. However, given the point that he makes - and I am sure that this will resonate throughout the House - I fail to understand why we are leaving matters as they are on a Tuesday. We now have separate Order Papers for Mondays and Tuesdays, so we will be in exactly the same position on Tuesdays as we are on Mondays, whereby amendments can be tabled up until 9.30 am, and Members can be given as little as 30 minutes' notice, or sometimes no notice at all. I agree with the point, but I wonder why is it a good idea for a Monday but not for a Tuesday.

Mr Beggs:

I agree with that point and would have supported a proposal to apply the proposed changes to Tuesday's sittings also. That argument works in favour of having a trial period during which we would be able to see whether there were any benefits from applying the arrangements for Mondays' sittings to Tuesdays'. There would be a two-month period during which the arrangements will apply on one of the Assembly's two plenary days, with an opportunity to compare how business is conducted on the different days.

Some parties may not have the same level of internal discussion and debate as others. In my party, it is difficult for everyone to make himself available at a fixed time, given the fact that there is a party Member on every Assembly Committee. It would be difficult not to eat into time during which Members should be at a Committee. I value the democratic nature of my party, and, as an ordinary Back-Bencher, I value the opportunity to discuss every issue and to have an input on the resultant party line. I strongly support the proposal.

Mr Gibson:

I am sometimes amazed by statements that I hear in the House. I thought that it was the role of the Business Committee to make businesslike proposals. I thought that those, in particular, who are so adamant that this place should work, would demonstrate a businesslike administration of their work. However, they are really admitting to the parties' inability to organise themselves - that is the nub of this whole argument.

The only real argument that emerged - that which took place between Mr Beggs and Mr Dodds - concerned the question of how much time the parties should have to consider amendments. The Committee should go back to this question and have an honest discussion about it. There is concern that at 9.30 am the Speaker has to make a judgement and may have to assess not just one contentious amendment, but possibly three or four. Having made his decision, he has to publish it to the various parties. I can see that this creates some logistical problems.

I want to make a further point concerning logistics. Every Member from west of the Bann, apart from Mr Byrne and me, has disappeared - and quite rightly so, given that they have work to do in other areas. If a sitting begins at midday and ends at 6.00 pm, some of us, because of traffic congestion, will not arrive home until 8.00 pm or later, and bear in mind that in a rural constituency, if a Member wants to do worthwhile work, he has to travel a further 30 or 40 miles. Given the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, how many of us want to drive on to farmyards and run the risk of contamination?

The one sensible thing that Mr Alban Maginness said was that time is important. I would have no objection if a sitting started at 9.30 am and finished at 5.30 pm. Those of us who have to spend time travelling would have more time to carry out constituency work when we returned home. There are constituency offices to run. Some parties cannot manage their affairs, so they are calling upon the Assembly to accommodate their inability to be businesslike. That is not a reasonable argument for the rest of us to accept.

I start quite early in the morning, and although I do not claim that everyone else should do the same, we have taken on the task of representation. We have, therefore, a duty of care to be businesslike and to demonstrate that responsibility not just in the Assembly, but in our constituency efforts. While I am sure Mr Dalton would say that he has a right to family-friendly affairs, I need to be convinced of it. Others among us have family commitments. Some travel from as far as Garrison and Castlederg, and the rest of us must travel considerable distances. This is a design some people have dreamt up because they could not handle their own business.


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