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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 1 March 1999


Presiding Officer’s Business

Assembly Members: Code of Conduct

Assembly: Adjournment Debates

Landfill (Belfast Area)

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (The Initial Presiding Officer (The Lord Alderdice of Knock) in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Presiding Officer’s Business


The Initial Presiding Officer:

By virtue of paragraph 1 of the schedule to the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998, it falls to the Secretary of State to determine where meetings of the Assembly shall be held and when. I have received a letter to the Assembly from the Secretary of State directing that the Assembly shall meet at Parliament Buildings, Stormont at 10.30 am on Monday 1 March until 6.00 pm on Tuesday 9 March 1999.

The Secretary of State has also indicated that she will consider a further direction as respects this period, in particular in the light of any indications she may receive as to the wishes of the Assembly after it has begun to meet.

At the last sitting, as recorded on page 120 of Volume 2 of Hansard, Mr Dodds raised a question as to whether remarks about the Orange Order and the RUC made by Mr Mitchel McLaughlin at the sitting on 16 February 1999, recorded on page 105 of Volume 2 of Hansard, were unparliamentary. At the time I said that, however objectionable Mr Dodds or others might have found the remarks, I did not believe them to be unparliamentary or a breach of privilege. Having examined the matter further, I am still of that view.

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. The business of today’s sitting was originally trailed as being the presentation of the report from the Standing Orders Committee. I understand that the Committee is within sight of the finishing line and that its report will come later. However, I understand that the Committee’s work was further disrupted at its last meeting by the behaviour of Sinn Féin/IRA members who questioned the integrity of the SDLP joint Chairman. Subsequently the meeting had to be adjourned.

Are you satisfied that the Chairmen of the House’s Committees have sufficient powers to deal with this kind of disruptive behaviour? Should those who cause such disruption not be ejected from the meeting, rather than the meeting itself being stopped?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I understand that the meeting to which you refer took place on Friday afternoon. I have not received any report of it save what you have said, Mr Robinson, although this morning I have been engaged in making preparations for today’s sitting. Obviously, if any such matter were to be brought to my attention by the joint Chairmen of the Standing Orders Committee I would be content to look into it. That is a matter for them.

If there are any other matters in regard to that which I should deal with, I will do my best to do so. However, it seems to me that this is essentially a Standing Orders matter, and if the Standing Orders Committee is unable to address the matter of Standing Orders for Committees, things are in poor shape.

I look forward to receiving a report of what happened at the meeting.

Mr C Wilson:

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, as you are aware, last week I lodged with your office a complaint about the presence in this Building of a large number of delegates from the Irish Republic. I believe that they were senior civil servants. This matter was of concern to many Assembly Members.

Apparently the delegates were allocated a number of rooms and were free to roam around. They appeared from every doorway — it was almost an infestation of Dublin civil servants. I would like you to tell us under what authority —

Mr Farren:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

It is not permissible to intervene with a point of order during a point of order, but you may make your point after this.

Mr C Wilson:

This matter was of concern not only to my party but also to many others who wondered on what basis these people had gained access to the building and under whose authority the rooms had been allocated. I believe that protocol dictates that proposals for official visits from other bodies should, at the very least, be brought before the Shadow Commission or the Committee to Advise the Presiding Officer. I do not think that any party knew that these people were going to be here. The Assembly should be notified of any visits by people from a foreign state. Members should also be given information on the proper procedures to be followed in the event of any future visits of this nature.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

There are three matters relating to this issue. The first is a political one, and it is not for me to comment on, save to say that I think it would be best if all our comments, political or otherwise, were made in the most courteous way.

The second matter concerns the arrangements for the allocation of rooms. I remind Members that we are not legally in possession of this Building. Until the appointed day the Building will remain the property of Her Majesty’s Government. The Secretary of State or Ministers acting on her behalf occasionally request the use of offices or other facilities here. In fact, these are rather more than requests, as ownership still rests with the Government. Offices must be made available in response to requests from the Secretary of State or her Ministers. The Building is the property of the Government, and such requests do not come through the process that applies to other applications. This request was made in the way that I have described.

The third issue is to do with security and whether people are adhering to the regulations that have been established. Following the Member’s complaint, I asked for a report from the Keeper of the House. Having received a written report, I met with that official. I have asked for further enquiries to be made, and I hope to have meetings later today to address the matters so that everyone may be clear on how the security of all those who come into the Building can best be ensured.

Mr Farren:

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, thank you for your clarification about the authority under which the civil servants from Dublin were present in these premises over the last week. I wish to express a very strong objection to language used by Mr Cedric Wilson of a party whose name escapes me for the moment. To describe servants of the Southern state as infesting this Building is very objectionable, and I wish my objection to be recorded.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I understand your objection. I think I indicated earlier that such points are essentially political matters rather than matters of order. That does not mean that they cannot be made, of course.

Assembly Members: Code of Conduct


Motion made:

This Assembly agrees the resolution set out in Annex A to Paper No NIA 1 "The Code of Conduct", together with the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members. — [Mr Haughey and Mr Cobain]

Which resolution is as follows:

"a. Approval is given to:

(i) The Code of Conduct contained in Assembly Paper NIA1;

(ii) the Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members contained in Assembly Paper NIA1; and

(iii) The Committee on Standards and Privileges to make such minor amendments to the Guide to the Rules as appear to it to be justified by experience or necessarily reflect decisions of the Assembly; and to report such amended versions of the Guide to the Assembly.

Registration and Declaration of Members’ Interests

b. Every Member of the Assembly shall furnish to the Clerk of Standards such particulars of his or her registrable interests as shall be required, and shall notify to the Clerk of Standards any alterations which may occur therein, and the Clerk of Standards shall cause these particulars to be entered in a Register of Members’ Interests which shall be available for inspection by the public.

c. In any debate or proceedings of the Assembly or its Committees or transactions or communications which a Member may have with other Members, Ministers or servants of the Crown, he or she shall disclose any relevant interest or benefit, of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that he or she may have had, may have or may be expecting to have. For these purposes:

(i) any interest disclosed in a copy of the Register of Members’ Interests shall be regarded as sufficient disclosure for the purpose of taking part in any division in the Assembly or in any of its Committees;

(ii) the term "proceeding" shall be deemed not to include the asking of a supplementary question.

d. It is the personal responsibility of each Member to have regard to his or her public position and the good name of the Northern Ireland Assembly in any work he or she undertakes or any interests he or she acquires. The scope of the requirement to register remunerated trades, professions or vocations includes any remunerated activity in the fields of public relations and political and Assembly advice and consultancy; in particular, in regard to the registration and declaring of clients, the services which require such registration and, where appropriate, declaration include, as well as any action connected with any proceedings in the Assembly or its Committees, the sponsoring of functions in Parliament Buildings, making representations to Ministers, civil servants and other Members, accompanying delegations to Ministers and the like.

e. No difficulty should arise in any proceeding of the Assembly or its Committees in which the Member has an opportunity to speak. Such proceedings, in addition to debates in the Assembly, include debates in Committees, the presentation of a public petition, and meetings of Committees at which evidence is heard. On all such occasions the Member will declare his or her interest at the beginning of his or her remarks. It will be a matter for the Member’s judgement, if the interest is already recorded in the Register, whether he or she simply draws attention to this or makes a rather fuller disclosure. Declarations of interest made in Committees shall be recorded in their Minutes of Proceedings.

f. Any Member proposing to enter into an agreement which involves the provision of services in his or her capacity as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly shall conclude such an agreement only if it conforms to the Code of Conduct for Members; and a full copy of any such agreement, including the fees or benefits payable in bands of up to £1,000, £1,000-£5,000, £5,000-£10,000, and thereafter in bands of £5,000, shall be deposited with the Clerk of Standards at the same time as it is registered in the Register of Members’ interests and made available for inspection by the public.

g. Any Member who has an existing agreement involving the provision of services in his or her capacity as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly which confirms to the Code of Conduct for Members, but which is not in written form, shall take steps to put the agreement in written form; and within three months of the date of this resolution a full copy of any such agreement, including the fees or benefits payable in bands of up to £1,000, £1,000-£5,000, £5,000-£10,000, and thereafter in bands of £5,000, shall be deposited with the Clerk of Standards and registered in the Register of Members’ Interests and made available for inspection by the public.


h. It is inconsistent with the dignity of the Assembly, with the duty of a Member to his or her constituents, and with the maintenance of the privilege of freedom of speech, for any Member of the Assembly to enter into any contractual agreement with an outside body, controlling or limiting the Member’s complete independence and freedom of action in the Northern Ireland Assembly or stipulating that he shall act in any way as the representative of such outside body in regard to any matters to be transacted in the Northern Ireland Assembly; the duty of a Member being to his or her constituents and to Northern Ireland as a whole, rather than to any particular section thereof and that, in particular, no Member of the Assembly shall, in consideration of any remuneration, fee, payment, reward or benefit in kind, direct or indirect, which the Member or any member of his or her family has received, is receiving, or expects to receive:

(i) advocate or initiate any cause or matter on behalf of any outside body or individual; or

(ii) urge any other Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, including Ministers, to do so,

by means of any speech, question, motion, introduction of a Bill or amendment to a motion or Bill.

i. A Member with a paid interest should not initiate or participate in, including attendance, a delegation where the problem affects only the body from which he has a paid interest."

Mr Haughey:

Unfortunately I have to begin with an apology. My voice is not in its usual working order because of a bad dose of the cold. I hope that Members will be able to make out what I am saying.

Let me at the outset refer to the comments of Mr Robinson about the last meeting of the Committee on Standing Orders. I am very moved indeed by the Member’s concern for my safety and welfare. The Committee has worked very well for the last nine months. I cannot recall a single cross word or a single vote at any other meeting.

The Committee has almost completed its work — owing to the energies of Mr Cobain and myself, with a remarkable degree of consensus, I think. I regret the minor squall which shivered our timbers on Friday afternoon, but I fancy that I steered the ship safely into port without any glass being broken. [Interruption]

I did not get that.

The Initial Presiding Officer:


Mr Haughey:

I will find out later what the remark was.

As Members are well aware, the Committee is working very energetically to compile a set of workable Standing Orders. It is with some regret that it is not able to bring a full report to the Assembly today. However, all good things come to those who wait.

Having created an air of anticipation, I have a duty to put before the Assembly a matter which I think cannot wait until the Committee has completed its task. The Assembly has been in operation for approximately nine months, albeit in shadow form. I suppose one could say that it is time for us to make a delivery of some kind. Last week we heard from a quintet of quantity surveyors, when the Assembly was asked to adopt the Commission’s report. This week, it is the medics.

Last Monday some Members may have initially — I emphasise the word "initially" — been surprised at the projected increase in the operating costs of the "New Assembly plc". The reasons for this were soon made clear, but the media saw it as a controversial issue. I trust that today the media will note that the Assembly is, I hope, going to christen a bouncing baby Prudence. This is about self-regulation, about setting up an infant system of registration and the monitoring of Members’ interests.

The Committee on Standing Orders has considered this issue and has come up against some problems. There are a number of imponderables. Will there, as elsewhere, be an Assembly Commissioner to look after standards? We do not yet know. If there is no Commissioner, what alternative arrangements will be made? We do not know that either. If there is to be a Commissioner, how will he be appointed? What exactly will he do? We do not know the answers to any of these questions. The enquiries that have been made through the Office of the Initial Presiding Officer have not yet yielded any clear information.

We therefore consider it unwise to continue to wait for such answers, and, through this motion, we are proposing a temporary arrangement based on minor adaptations to the Code and Guide to Members’ Interests at Westminster — a document which will be familiar to those who are also Members of that House.

The proposed arrangement is an interim one which will provide the quickest means of establishing a form of regulation pending the setting up of more permanent and more carefully considered arrangements.

10.45 am

We propose — as Dr Paisley suggested last week, albeit for other reasons — that a Committee on Standards and Privileges be set up. This Committee would be a Standing Committee of the House, standing not in the Westminster sense, but in the true sense of its being a permanent Committee of the House. The issue of Members’ interests is much too serious and wide-ranging an issue to rest with the Committee on Standing Orders.

We recommend that the policy functions associated with this be passed to the new Committee, and we seek the Assembly’s approval, in principle, for its establishment. Our detailed proposals on Committees generally are contained in the draft Standing Orders, but because they are far-reaching, we ask Members to be patient and await their exact delineation, probably next week. If the Assembly chooses to approve this interim arrangement, it is our view that the matter of Members’ interests, including the interim issues, should be taken forward by the proposed new Committee.

The purpose of action on Members’ interests is to assist Members in the discharge of their obligations to the Assembly, to their constituents and to the general public. Members have a duty to uphold the law and to act in accordance with the trust placed in them. Holders of public office should promote and support, by their leadership and example, the principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and honesty. In essence, this translates to the following:

Members should base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two in favour of the latter. We should at all times conduct ourselves in a manner which maintains and strengthens the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly and never undertake any action which would bring the Assembly or its Members into disrepute.

The acceptance by any Member of a bribe to influence his or her conduct, including any fee, compensation or reward in connection with the promotion of, or opposition to, any Bill, motion or other matter submitted or intended to be submitted to the Assembly or to any Committee, is unlawful and entirely unacceptable.

It is proposed, as part of this package, that a Register of Members’ interests be established. This would be under the control of a Clerk of Standards who would also act as Clerk to the proposed new Committee that we wish to see established as soon as practicable. Members can see from the papers the range and extent of the proposed register.

I will not spend time repeating or explaining what is before the House. The Guide itself is sufficient. We should fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the Assembly in respect of the registration of interests in the register. [Interruption]

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Order. May I ask Members who wish to converse to do so outside the Chamber. I know that from time to time it is quite reasonable for a word to be passed, but there are a number of Members who are having lengthy conversations, and this is unhelpful to the Member who is speaking and to those Members who wish to listen.

Mr Haughey:

Thank you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

We should fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the Assembly in respect of the registration of interests in the register and should always draw attention to any relevant interest in any proceedings of the Assembly or its Committees or in any communications with Ministers, Departments or executive agencies. In any activity with or on behalf of an organisation with which a Member has a financial arrangement, including activities which may not be a matter of public record, such as informal meetings and functions, he or she must always bear in mind the need to be open, and honest with Ministers, Members and officials.

No Member should act as a paid advocate in any proceedings of the Assembly. No improper use should be made of any payment or allowance made to Members for public purposes, and the rules which apply to such payments must be strictly observed. Members must bear in mind that the information which they receive in confidence in the course of their Assembly duties should be used only in connection with those duties and that such information must never be used for the purpose of personal or financial gain.

We need to start now as we mean to go on. Quite apart from the basic requirements of Section 43 of the Act, which will be addressed when we present the Standing Order on this matter, we must be seen to be completely open and honest in our dealings, and that should be characterised today by a readiness on the part of the Assembly — a readiness that we saw last week when it embraced the Commission’s report — to accept the motion and agree what is proposed in Annex A to Paper No NIA 1.

I ask Members to proceed on this matter without further ado.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I call Mr Nigel Dodds.

Mr Haughey:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I think that the proper procedure is for my co-Chairman to jointly move.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

May I confirm, Mr Cobain, that you are jointly moving?

Mr Cobain

indicated assent.

Mr J Kelly:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I understand that Mr P Robinson referred to Sinn Féin’s conduct at the last meeting of the Standing Orders Committee. First, Mr Robinson was not there. Secondly, if Mr Robinson or his colleagues were to be removed from meetings for unruly conduct, they would not be in attendance at many meetings. The meeting was adjourned by the Chairman, as is the Chairman’s right.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I think that we have dealt with that matter, but the joint Chairmen may wish to address it. The matter has been proposed.

Mr P Robinson:

On a point or order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Has there been any occasion on which you have thought it necessary to refer to me in relation to my conduct in the Assembly or in its Committees?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I am not aware of any occasion when I have made such a reference to Mr Robinson.

Mr Dodds:

I am a member of the Standing Orders Committee, but I was not in attendance at Friday’s meeting during what the Chairman has called "this minor squall". I have attended almost all meetings of the Standing Orders Committee, but I was called away five minutes before Friday’s squall arose. Members can imagine my surprise when I returned and found that, like the Marie Celeste, the place had been abandoned. I hope that that had nothing to do with my absence. It was unfortunate because, as the Chairman said, the Committee has operated reasonably well. It still has an enormous amount of work to get through, but I hope that we will be able to reach —

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Perhaps there is a little confusion. I called you to speak to the motion. The matter that was raised earlier and on which there was an intervention and a point of order has been properly aired and dealt with. I ask you to continue with your speech on the motion.

Mr Dodds:

I am well aware of the point that is being addressed, and I am simply responding to points that were raised by the Chairman. They were not strictly relevant, but I note that you did not call him to order. I thought that as you had not ruled on that matter, I was perfectly within my rights in referring to it.

11.00 am

Given that I do not anticipate an abundance of Members who wish to speak today on this issue, I am a little surprised at how assiduous you are in calling me to order on this point.

Coming back to the main point, I do hope that the Committee on Standing Orders will be able to finish its work in the constructive way in which it has operated throughout. It is unfortunate that that incident occurred on Friday.

I want to deal with a couple of points that the Chairman went into in some detail. It is a sign of the times that we are bringing this type of motion to the Assembly. Fifteen or 20 years ago this would not have been one of the first priorities of any elected body, but it is right and proper that one of the first duties of the Assembly should be to implement this report and set up a Committee on Standards and Privileges. That is no less than all Members should now expect, and, indeed, members of the public and the press expect it. We should be open and transparent in our work; people should know exactly what our interests are; and this motion should therefore command the unanimous support of all Members.

The recommendation to set up a Committee on Standards and Privileges is very welcome. Such Committees have operated well in the House of Commons and elsewhere.

I want to draw attention to one point: this report does not specifically recommend or deal with an Assembly Commissioner on Standards and Privileges. That will be dealt with by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, but my view, and the view of my party, is that such a person should be an appointed official of the House whose duties would be to monitor how the rules were being applied, to draw to the attention of the Committee and the House any breaches or difficulties that were foreseen or were occurring with the operation of the various rules and to investigate complaints made by Members or by members of the public.

It is important that these issues do not become party political and that we do not have members of Committees from any one particular party carrying out investigations, whether that be the Chairmen or the members of those Committees. Investigations should be carried out by someone who is answerable to an entire Committee and is an official of the House.

The idea of having an Assembly Commissioner on Standards and Privileges who was an official to look after this area, to monitor, to draw attention to and to investigate is a good one and something that the Committee, when it is set up, will arrange quickly, and I anticipate that this Committee will be set up very soon.

When we debated this in the Standing Orders Committee there was some initial thought that we should just have a general, wide-ranging motion, leaving it to Members to register interests that might be perceived as interests that they should register. However, several members of the Standing Orders Committee believe that we need to be more specific, and more certain, because there is nothing worse in this area than uncertainty and vagueness. Members need to know where they stand, and what interests need to be registered. Likewise, the public should know exactly what should be registered and declared as an interest.

It was also made clear that the Committee, when it is set up, should have the power, specifically, and the Chairman drew attention to this, to tweak the rules and change them if necessary as we proceed so that they are what the Assembly requires and what the people of Northern Ireland deserve and require.

These rules are not set in concrete. They are very full and follow very closely what is in operation in the United Kingdom and what is going to be in place for the National Assembly of Wales. They can be changed as we go along, and any changes will be brought to the House, to enable them to reflect the particular needs of this Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland.

I warmly welcome this report and hope that it will have full support from all sections of the House.

Mr ONeill:

Although I am not a regular member of the Standing Orders Committee, I frequently attend its meetings as a substitute for my party. I should like to place on record my appreciation of the Committee’s hard work and, in particular, the work of the joint Chairmen, both of whom have put in a great deal of effort. It would not be beyond the bounds of acceptable comment to mention Denis Haughey in that regard. His work as a Chairman has been exemplary and visionary, and has helped to guide the Committee through many rough patches. It is very disturbing when his character is impugned in a meeting, as happened on Friday, and I strongly object to that.

It is important to begin at the beginning when debating the motion. As Mr Dodds said, there was a time when this topic would not have come up for discussion. It is important to recall the need to introduce a method of self-regulation for Members of an elected Assembly. The origin lies in the spate of allegations in Britain in the early 1990s which, when taken together, persuaded many people that standards in public life were falling and that an atmosphere of sleaze had taken hold.

The allegations included cash for questions; the employment of ex-Ministers and former officials by firms that they had privatised; links between political donations and appointments and honours; and fraud and corruption in local government and in quangos. All of that will be familiar to Members. Public concern on all those matters led the Prime Minister of the day to set up the Nolan Committee in 1994 to inquire into standards in public life. Although Neill has replaced Nolan, the Committee is expected to continue indefinitely. Perhaps that is good. I hope that our Committee, when it is formed, will continue, as Mr Dodds said, tweaking and improving the rules as it goes along.

Most of Nolan’s findings were adopted or added to by the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. Those same standards are reflected in the important report that is before the House. Historically, many of the people that we represent have a jaundiced view of democracy. Some have had little trust in it and have adopted other means to get their views across.

It is incumbent on the Assembly to ensure that the unique form of democracy that we are attempting to build is not only above reproach but is seen to be above reproach. That is essential not just on moral grounds, which of course it should be, but also because it is necessary for us to demonstrate that Members and the systems that we are creating can be trusted. That is why the report is so significant.

The requirements for Members to register their interests are open, clear, comprehensive and straightforward. They cover all the main areas that might be considered vulnerable to abuse. They also clearly set down the limits and procedures both for Members and for the public. In that regard the procedure for the declaration of Members’ interests is so laid out as to cover almost every possible situation, whether in Assembly debates, written notices, Adjournment or emergency debates, or anything else.

The advocacy rule is also of great importance, and it deals well with both the initiation of proceedings and participation in a debate in which the Member has a financial interest. In particular, the section deals well with a difference of opinion that arose between Nolan and the Select Committee on the types of bodies with which Members should be allowed to have a paid relationship. Members will recall that the Committee concentrated on actions that might be open to abuse or suspicion.

They therefore distinguished between paid advice, which was permitted, and paid advocacy, which was prohibited. Nolan had rejected this as unenforceable, and there is little doubt that he was right. Financial relationships of this kind have the potential to corrupt by influencing decisions. I welcome the fact that the report’s proposals cover all financial interests. There are some issues on which I should like some clarity because I was not present when some of them were discussed.

Category 2 on page 5 lists exceptions from some representative roles on various bodies. Now that district councillors are being salaried, should not district council payments be included in that section along with the others? If there is a reason for not doing that, it should be made clear. Is everyone satisfied that the Committee on Standards and Privileges can provide the Assembly with rules for the necessary level of control? Will the role of the Clerk of Standards, which is outlined in paragraph 66, be the same or similar to that of the Independent Commissioner at Westminster?

I agree with the line in paragraph h of Annex A which states that a Member’s duty is

"to his or her constituents and to Northern Ireland as a whole, rather than to any particular section thereof ".

The duty that that places on a Member in terms of responsibility is stated in paragraph 63. Should a complaint be made, is it sufficient merely to include the provision in paragraph 66 which will

"expect the complainant to assemble supporting evidence"?

That will sometimes be difficult for a Member, never mind members of the public. One must have the discretion to dismiss frivolous or malicious complaints, but perhaps there is a need to allow some greater opportunity to seek out information. In Westminster, there have been many examples of personal papers, bank and credit card statements being examined by the Commissioner.

Will the penalties to be imposed on an errant Member be the same as in Westminster where public censure, apology, suspension and eventual expulsion are imposed? If so, how will they be operated here? Perhaps the Committee could explore that in the future. It could also explore a Member’s right to appeal, and what procedure might be put in place to allow that. We should offer Members that opportunity.

On personal conduct and integrity, the report states

"Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties."

That is a worthy requirement. Over the weekend, there has been much concern in my area about the fact that a convicted murderer, and self-confessed and brutal murderer to boot, has continued his membership of the Orange Order. That this should be allowed to continue is a matter of great concern, but the question that came to my mind was what influence such an organisation might have on a body such as this if that kind of standard were allowed to continue.

Mr Molloy:

A Chathaoirligh, it is certainly very rich of the Ulster Resistance and the DUP to talk about disruption in this place or at any meetings.

11.15 am

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, I would like some clarification from you on Committees, on the Register of Members’ interests and on the fact that people are coming out of Committees and talking about their business outside before matters are brought to the House. Here we have Members who were not at the Standing Orders Committee yet seem to be aware of what happened there, or rather are not aware of what actually happened — that would be my line. I cannot understand how the issue of disruption has arisen. I was at the meeting, and I did not see any real disruption. If every time questions were asked or there was cross-questioning or discussion, the Initial Presiding Officer vacated the Chair, the Chair would be empty quite often. We need to look further at this issue.

The issue in question is the recognition of the Irish language. Members should be allowed to speak it freely in the Chamber. That is Sinn Féin’s position, and people have a right to debate that and other matters in Committees. The purpose of Committees is to enable there to be discussion on issues before they come to the Chamber. I saw no problems at all with the discussion that took place on Friday.

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. The week before last the Committee meeting was adjourned at 3.45 pm, whereas last week it was 5.00 pm before it was adjourned. So other interests may have been involved apart from what was going on in the meeting itself.

Ms Rodgers:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I understand that the Member, during his speech, said that he wished to raise a point of order. That is rather unusual. It would be difficult for me to take a point of order from you now. However, since the Member was in the throes of his speech, I am not sure that it was necessary for him to call the matter a point of order and I will therefore permit you to make your point of order, Ms Rodgers.

Ms Rodgers:

Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an té atá ag labhairt. An nglacann sé leis nár cuireadh cosc ariamh ar dhuine ar bith labhairt as Gaedhilg sa Chomhthionól seo?

Mr Beggs:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Should we not hear an interpretation of what Ms Rodgers has said? It is rather ignorant to speak in a foreign tongue.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I am grateful to you for bringing that to my attention. I ask Ms Rodgers to translate.

Ms Rodgers:

Mr Presiding Officer, Mr Molloy will have undoubtedly understood what I said, and I trust that you yourself have received the translation. I would expect that to be sufficient.

Several Members:

On a point of order.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

May I rule before taking any points of order?

I have from a very early stage made it clear that a translation is a courtesy to other Members; it is not to clarify the position for me. I have taken the precaution of making arrangements for myself so that I can know if a translation that is proffered is a reasonably accurate translation of what was said. However, I have always taken the view — and this is one that I have expressed to the Assembly and which Members have never challenged — that when Members speak in another language they should give a translation out of courtesy to the other Members.

I cannot say whether Mr Molloy understood or not, but it is absolutely clear that many other Members did not. I therefore ask Ms Rodgers to translate.

Mr Molloy:

Mr Presiding Officer, first of all — [Interruption]

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I ask Ms Rodgers to translate and then Mr Molloy can continue.

Ms Rodgers:

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, can I take it then that I will also get my reply in the same language? What I asked on a point of order was if anyone had ever been prevented from speaking in the Irish language in this Chamber.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I trust that that is not the case and I have taken precautions to ensure that it is not the case.

Mr Molloy:

I thank Ms Rodgers for her intervention and I am pleased to hear that this has been her first time to speak in her native tongue in this Chamber. This is an important matter to discuss. I am not an Irish language speaker and I openly admit and regret that. That does not mean that I do not recognise the right of people to speak it. I want to see it put quite clearly on the record and on Standing Orders that people do have the right to speak the Irish language — not a language of their choice but the Irish language.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I have been trying for some time to define for myself quite how the right to speak the Irish language comes into registrable interests. It is not entirely impossible that it would, but it is taking increasing ingenuity to find out how it might. I should be grateful if Members would return to the motion on the registration of Members’ interest and the Code of Conduct.

Mr Molloy:

As you said at the last meeting of the Assembly, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, one question begs an answer. Nearly every Member who has spoken has referred to the Standing Orders Committee on Friday. It is only right that I, as a member of the Standing Orders Committee, also refer to it. However, I do welcome the interventions, which have been worthwhile. It is not simply a matter of choice — it is a matter of putting on record in the Standing Orders. That is what we are supposed to be debating.

It is important to support this report. It is a temporary measure. Until Standing Orders and the Committee for Standards and Privileges start to deal with the issue of members’ interests and have in place a register of those interests, it is important that we set in place some categorisation of standards.

It is important that the financial interests of Members are recorded as well as their non-pecuniary interests, but it is more important that we have recognition in the register of Members’ interests in secret organisations. I refer, in particular, to the Loyal Orders, the Freemasons and other related organisations. This would ensure that we know where Members are coming from, and that, when Members speak on a particular issue, we know which organisation they support.

I support the motion.

Mr Dallat:

I welcome the report and want to express my thanks to the Members of the different political parties who have worked so hard to produce it.

I note that the register will include not only pecuniary interests but also non-pecuniary interests. That is fundamental. It is very important because much of the past mistrust has been based on the belief that power was often exercised outside the democratic institutions in a way that served no one well in the long term.

I am delighted that this proposal comes before the Assembly on the same day that new legislation aimed at preventing religious discrimination in the provision of a wide range of goods and services also becomes law. I am convinced that there is a genuine desire on the part of the Government to chart a new beginning, free from the mistrust of the past.

Given the opportunity and the goodwill of all parties, I am convinced that the fears of the past can be laid to rest. Everyone, irrespective of class or creed, can, with confidence, take their rightful place in society, apply for jobs, seek goods or services and know that discrimination will play no part in the decision-making process.

To make this work, it is essential Members complete the register, declaring all outside interests, so that no allegations can be made that Members used their position in public life to influence decisions outside the House.

People have a right to belong to any organisation provided that it is not illegal and that includes semi-secret or oath-taking societies. However, I am convinced that they should openly declare their membership of these organisations so that there can be no confusion in the minds of the public when it comes to making decisions on behalf of the electorate.

In Northern Ireland there has been a tendency to believe that real power has often been in the hands of people who, while operating quite legally, are very restrictive in who belongs to their organisations. It would be unfortunate if people continued to believe that the power to influence decisions remained anywhere but in this House.

The public must begin to place their confidence in the ability of the Assembly to make decisions on their behalf, which are influenced by nothing but the common good of everyone, irrespective of who they are or where they come from.

I am convinced that there is an enormous amount of goodwill for this new Assembly and that the majority of the people in the whole community share that goodwill.

I am further convinced that as we learn to work with and trust each other, confidence will grow and, in time, the Assembly can become a model for the rest of the democratic world. Many people will look for signs that no external interests are capable of influencing the way we do our work. I belong to no such organisations and have to respect the rights of others who do, but they should record their membership of all organisations, including those that demand an oath of secrecy.

Finally, while it is not yet our responsibility, I hope that the Code of Conduct, with which I strongly agree, can be adapted to meet the needs of district councils. My Colleague Mr ONeill spoke about that. Only by adopting and enforcing the highest standards of public integrity, can we advance the cause of democracy.

Mr S Wilson:

I was out of my seat and had to move back to my natural home. I was not thinking of joining the Ulster Unionist Party. I had not intended to speak, but after listening to some of the comments I feel that it is worth noting a few points about the Code of Conduct.

As some Members have said, we do not wish the House to get the same reputation as the Dáil in the Irish Republic or the reputation that some elements of Westminster have obtained for the Mother of Parliaments. There have been allegations of sleaze and backhanders, and of people having their overdrafts cleared or ignored by the banks. It is important to ensure a Code of Conduct that will protect the Assembly and its Members from such allegations. The problem is that when one Member is tainted by allegations we all tend to get tainted.

The Code of Conduct is important. As my Colleague Nigel Dodds has said, the rules are extremely tight so as to cover every eventuality. If new eventualities arise, the Standing Orders Committee will be able to tighten the rules even further. The integrity of the Assembly is important.

There was a late intervention by Sinn Féin. Mr Molloy spent most of his time defending his behaviour and that of other members of his party at Friday’s meeting of the Standing Orders Committee. He said little about the report but, of course, that does not surprise me because Sinn Féin members must have choked when they read the first page. They may not have got past the first page, or the first paragraph of the first page.

The section that is headed "Public duty" deals with the public duty of Members. We should not forget that opposite us is a party which includes people who have been convicted of bombing, murder, blackmail, kidnapping and extortion. What is the first public duty of a Member of the House? The code states

"Members have a duty to uphold the law".

Ms Rodgers:

Does the Member agree that the duty to uphold the law places an obligation on all Members to accept and abide by the legally binding determinations of a statutory body which has authority, placed on it by Parliament, to make such determinations? Does the Member agree that it is therefore the duty of Members to accept such determinations? I am referring, of course, to determinations by the Parades Commission.

11.30 am

Mr Berry:

It is comical to hear the Member for Upper Bann crying about hypocrisy. A few years ago on the Garvaghy Road when the parade was legally allowed to take place at Drumcree, this woman said, "This is terrible that this is happening in Portadown". The Government passed that parade as legal and she said that it was terrible.

Ms Morrice:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I think that you should question that point of order.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

That was not a point of order: the Member was intervening. From a point of order perspective he was wide of the subject that is under debate. I ask Mr Wilson to continue.

Mr S Wilson:

The intervention, of course, provoked the helpful intervention from my Colleague Mr Berry. Mr ONeill had started to smile because he thought that I had been caught out by Ms Rodgers. I thank my Colleague for his helpful intervention. It does not surprise me that Sinn Féin Members have little to say about the Code of Conduct. The very first duty must choke them. The next is a kind of double whammy:

"Members have a general duty to act in the interests of the electorate and the community as a whole".

The term "punishment beatings" flashes to mind. Members of Sinn Féin would have difficulty with that particular aspect as well.

Mr Molloy spoke on his favourite topic of bashing the Orange Order. He wanted to have secret or semi-secret organisations included in the register. I wonder how many Members of IRA/Sinn Féin could declare their interest in secret organisations to the House. The police may have some interest in that.

Mr Poots:

Bearing in mind that some Members have convictions for membership of the IRA, perhaps it would be in order for those Members to declare when they left the IRA or whether they are still members of it.

Mr S Wilson:

I thank my Colleague for that helpful intervention. When commenting on and defending the rights and the recognition of the Irish language, Mr Molloy said that he was not an Irish language speaker. That is an amazing confession from a Sinn Féin Member. Let me quote from the Sinn Féin’s discussion booklet ‘Learning Irish’:

"Now every phrase you learn is a bullet in the freedom struggle."

We all know that. This next one is a cracker:

"You speak Irish or you speak English. Every minute you are speaking English you are contributing to the sum total of English culture on this island. There is no in-between."

David Ervine has occasionally said that Sinn Féin has come a long way, but I think that this is going the second mile. A Sinn Féin Member has confessed that all he can do every time he opens his mouth is contribute to the sum total of English culture on this island. I will leave that thought with him. We may find that there are some other expulsions from the Assembly before long.

I had not intended to speak in this debate but I was provoked by other Members’ contributions. The Code of Conduct represents an important step towards ensuring that the Assembly is not afflicted by the same sleaze and corruption which can be found in another Parliament on this island. I trust that Members will adhere to the Code and that it will be rigorously enforced to ensure that this House is not brought into disrepute.

Mr Neeson:

On behalf of the Alliance Party, I welcome the Code of Conduct and support the motion. In view of the fact that the guidelines which we will be adopting are very similar to those to be adopted by the Welsh Assembly, it is very appropriate that we are discussing this matter on St David’s Day.

The importance of this report is that it will safeguard Members’ interests. It is important that the highest standards of honesty and integrity are upheld by those elected to serve the community. Obviously there will be temptations, and politicians’ reputations will be at stake. It only takes the actions of one person, or of a small number of people, to tarnish the reputations of all politicians. That is why it is important that the requisite standards are set out in this document. We have only to look at the situation in the Republic of Ireland, where the reputations of a number of politicians have been tarnished by their activities in recent years. I was listening to the radio yesterday, and I heard that one of the biggest-selling records in the Republic at the moment is called ‘The Little Brown Envelope’, which takes a swipe at politicians. Is it purely coincidental that it is Mr Haughey whose name is on the motion before the House today?

The public needs to be able to have confidence in politicians. We have been elected to serve the public interest, not self-interest, and the public is entitled to expect full accountability from its elected representatives. Last week, the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ published the lists of the interests of our representatives at Westminster. This made very useful reading. However, I feel that, as well as including details of any remunerative posts, lists of Members’ interests should include details of non-pecuniary interests. I agree with Mr Molloy’s comments about the need to include in the register of interests membership of any organisation, be it the Masons, the Orange Order, the Knights of Saint Columbanus or the Knights of Malta. Membership of all these organisations should be included.

The main point of my intervention is to state clearly the Alliance Party’s support for this document and to express the hope that it will be accepted unanimously.

Mr C Wilson:

I support the motion and would like to commend the work that has already been done by the Committee. Sammy Wilson has already raised a very important point in relation to the extent to which Members of the Assembly and, indeed, the wider public in Northern Ireland can have confidence in this document. He pointed out that the Code states

"Members have a duty to uphold the law".

His comments about some of those who are inextricably linked to paramilitary groups are very serious. One could accuse Members from this side of the House of being churlish, of looking back at the past and talking of other people’s misdemeanours. However, rather fortuitously and amazingly, page 1 of the Code of Conduct requiring Members to uphold the law reflects page 1 of the Belfast Agreement — the Bible for the Members opposite, including Sinn Féin.

Under the heading "Declaration of Support" on page 1 another commitment is required:

"We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose, whether in regard to this agreement or otherwise."

As reflected in the document today, it is a requirement for Members of the Assembly to support fully the democratic process and the structures for law and order in the Province. Someone commented recently that that is also a requirement for those taking their seats on the 26 councils across Northern Ireland. The Sinn Féin members and those fronting other paramilitary groups cross their fingers and make pledges about their support for the democratic process and the Crown forces, but they do not mean a word of it.

One has to question whether this document means much when people find it difficult to get past the first page.

Mr B Hutchinson:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. You are allowing Members to continue to make general remarks about people. I am a Belfast city councillor and a Member of the Assembly. I take seriously the pledges that I make. I am not sure if other Members do — even the Member who is speaking. If he is going to talk about "other paramilitary groups", I wish he would name them because I am fed up with his not naming them. Is he talking about me? If so, I would like to be able to answer the allegations that he makes.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I have already made it clear that when Members speak in general terms they have a degree of cover in that their words cannot be taken as being unparliamentary. The more particular they are, the more they come to the edge. This may be frustrating for the Member, and I understand that. However, if Members are precise and particular, they are more likely to fall foul of privilege and be accused of using unparliamentary language.

Mr C Wilson:

I thought that I made it very clear. I will help Mr Hutchinson: I was referring to parties which continue to front fully-active paramilitary groups, which are inextricably linked to those groups, and which are clearly in breach of the commitment to use solely the democratic process to achieve their political goals. If Mr Hutchinson feels that his party is associated with groups such as I have described, that is a matter for him. He is the best judge of that.

In relation to the pledge of office, the issue of decommissioning is currently occupying minds. You will recall, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, that several weeks ago the entire Unionist family represented in this Chamber endorsed a motion that stated

"any party inextricably linked with a paramilitary organisation retaining arms cannot give a total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic means of resolving differences on political issues or oppose the use or threat of force by others for such purposes."

For that reason, the issue of decommissioning, which we are currently facing, is of no great consequence. This is because the Unionist Members in the Chamber have declared that until the parties represented end their associations and affiliations with paramilitary groups that are fully active and operational in the Province, they cannot make the "Declaration of Support" as required by the Belfast Agreement or meet the requirements of page 1 of the Code of Conduct.

Even if there were a change of heart on the part of the Republican movement, which is represented by Sinn Féin, it would have to meet the requirement to stand down its forces, which are armed and fully prepared to return to war.

11.45 am

Mr Ervine:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Unfortunately I was out of the Chamber, but I did hear that you had made an adjudication, if not necessarily a full ruling. It reminded me of a discussion at a previous session when, because only two members of Sinn Féin were singled out, even though they were not mentioned by name, it was perceived that it was not specifically the whole group that was being challenged. Given that the Progressive Unionist Party has only two Members in this Chamber are you not out of order in some respects, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, in not linking those two circumstances together?

Furthermore, could you clarify the issue of fronting paramilitary organisations. What does "fronting" mean? If you require assistance from Mr Cedric Wilson, I am sure he would be more than keen to deliver it. I would also like you to consider a previous ruling on the issue of two Sinn Féin Members being singled out but not named as potentially taking up ministerial posts. The two sets of circumstances are absolutely similar, and I fancy that Mr Cedric Wilson is sailing close to the wind, as you suggested others were on that day.


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