The meeting began at 12.40 pm

Present: The Speaker (Chair)
Mr B Armstrong
Mr D Bradley
Mr PJ Bradley
Mrs D Dodds
Mr K McCarthy
Mr D McClarty
Mr P McGuigan
Lord Morrow
Mr J O’Dowd

Present (secretariat): Mr A Moir The Clerk
Mr J Reynolds Deputy Clerk

In attendance: Mr P Moore Clerk of Business
Mr R Good Adviser to the Speaker
Mr H Widdis Legal Adviser
Ms F Leneghan Assistant Private Secretary to
the Speaker

Observers: Mr F Molloy Deputy Speaker
Mr J Wells Deputy Speaker
Mr N Jackson OFMDFM

1. Minutes of the meeting held on 5 December 2006

1.1 The minutes of the meeting held on 5 December were agreed and were signed by the Speaker.

2. Matters Arising

2.1 The Speaker drew members’ attention to paragraph 3.3 of the minutes (guidance on lobby voting and supplementary guidance on the exercise of a vote in vacancy). Members were content with the guidance. Members also noted the contents of a letter, which the Speaker had received from the Chief Electoral Officer, regarding the current vacancy in the Belfast West constituency.

2.2 Referring to paragraph 5 of the minutes (subgroup on Standing Orders), the Speaker noted that the subgroup had met for the first time on Monday 11 December.

2.3 The Speaker reminded members that an All Party Notice had issued on 7 December following the Business Committee’s decision (as recorded in paragraph 6 of the minutes) on the Christmas recess.

2.4 Finally, on an issue related to the arrangements for plenary covered in paragraph 7 of the minutes, the Speaker asked that Members moderate the levels of background conversation in the Chamber, particularly when more quietly spoken Members have the floor. In response to the differing opinions expressed by members on the matter, the Speaker advised that while she would not discourage robust debate in the Chamber, her priority was to maintain order, and that the ability to be heard was an important element of good order.

3. Arrangements for plenary meetings during week commencing 18 December

3.1 Members agreed that four motions should be scheduled and debated over two days.

3.2 Mr D Bradley proposed that the motion on Agriculture, in the names of Mr Elliot and Mr PJ Bradley, should be scheduled for debate. He further proposed that the motion on deferment of water charges, in the name of Mr A Maginness, should be scheduled.

3.3 Mr McCarthy proposed that the motion on water charges, in the name of Mr Cree, should be scheduled for debate. He further proposed that the motion on the Bamford Review, in his own name, should be scheduled.

3.4 Mrs Dodds proposed that the motion on protection for the elderly, in the names of Mr Paisley (Jnr.) and Lord Morrow, should be scheduled for debate.

3.5 Mr O’Dowd proposed that the motion on electoral registration, in the names of Mr Doherty and Ms Ramsey, be scheduled for debate. He further proposed that the motion on an Oireachtas report, in Mr McGuigan’s name, be scheduled.

3.6 Mr McClarty proposed that the motion on free personal care, in the names of Mr Bell and Rev. Dr Coulter, be scheduled for debate.

3.7 Members agreed that, in light of the Committee’s decision during the previous week’s meeting, the original motion on water charges should be given precedence over that tabled by Mr Maginness.

3.8 Members considered the seven remaining motions. The four motions selected for debate, having attracted the most votes in favour, were:

3.9 Members agreed to allocate 2 hours to each debate. Members also agreed that the first two motions should be debated on Monday 18 December, with the first commencing at 10.30 am and the second at 2 pm. They further agreed that the third and fourth motions be debated on Tuesday 19 December, also commencing at 10.30 am and 2 pm respectively.

3.10 Members agreed that, for all four debates, speaking times should be limited to 15 minutes for the Member proposing each motion, and 10 minutes for all other contributions, including the wind.

3.11 Mr O’Dowd expressed concern that none of the motions selected had been tabled by Nationalist Members. He suggested that an alternative method of selection should be considered. Mrs Dodds contended that the subjects of all four motions affected all communities equally. Mr McCarthy, Mr D Bradley and Mr McClarty noted that, while they had been disappointed at non-selection of motions during the current and previous meetings, they acknowledged that the motions could be proposed at future meetings, when they might secure sufficient support. The Speaker indicated her expectation that, over time, selection of motions would balance out fairly among parties.

3.12 Following discussions, it was agreed that the Business Committee should not schedule motions for plenary debate (even provisionally) beyond the following week, allowing all current motions to be considered on an equal basis. It was also agreed that Mr O’Dowd could, if he wished, bring forward written proposals for an alternative mechanism for scheduling motions.

4. Any Other Business

4.1 Mr McCarthy sought advice on the possibility of scheduling a later start time for Monday sittings in future. Other members agreed that the early start time caused some difficulty for parties, and it was agreed that the Committee should re-visit the issue after the Christmas recess.

4.2 The Speaker provided members with a copy of a letter that she had received from Paul Goggins MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, dated 4 December. With his letter, Mr Goggins had enclosed a copy of a consultation paper, a draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order and an Explanatory Memorandum. The Speaker reported that Mr Goggins had asked that she refer the matter to the Transitional Assembly so that an appropriate mechanism for considering the consultation paper and draft Order might be set up.

4.3 Members agreed to the Speaker’s recommendation that the matter should be referred to the Programme for Government Committee for consideration by its subgroup on policing and justice. The Speaker anticipated that the Programme for Government Committee might bring forward a report and ask the Business Committee to schedule a debate on it in time for an Assembly decision by the deadline for the consultation period, which was 22 January 2007. Members were also advised that it would be appropriate for the Committee Chairperson to table a motion on the report.

4.4 The Speaker referred to previous refresher/induction sessions for Members on Chamber etiquette, and suggested that a further session in light of Members’ experience might be worthwhile. The Speaker reported that she had asked the Business Office to contact whips regarding each party’s views on its Members attending another session.

5. Date and time of next meeting

5.1 Members agreed to meet at 12.30 pm on Wednesday 3 January 2007 in Room 106 Parliament Buildings.

The Speaker brought the meeting to a close at 1.30 pm.

The Speaker

5 December / Menu / 3 January