Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 14 December 1999 (continued)
Mr C Wilson:
I support the amendment. At a sitting of the Assembly on 15 February 1999 I did not move the motion that I had given notice of to have your position as Presiding Officer of the House formally endorsed and for you to become permanent Presiding Officer of the New Assembly, as it was then.
Let me refresh your memory by reading from the Hansard report of that sitting:
"When I first considered placing this motion before the Assembly, it was reasonable for me to expect that it would have the support of all parties. However, over the past few days it has become clear to me that the prospect of all-party support for the motion has disappeared. Indeed, I have received reasonably sound information to suggest that the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party intend to oppose it.
I feel that I have a duty to make clear the reasons for these parties' opposition to the motion to everyone in the Chamber, to those in the Galleries, and to the wider public. It gives an indication of the shape of things to come. We will have in the Assembly what in the business world would be known as a cartel. Those who have been preaching the gospel of inclusivity and responsibility sharing are about to carve up between them all the positions of responsibility in the Assembly. These jobs for the boys will be shared between the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP."
I mentioned that this was the shape of things to come, and what we are witnessing today is a further outworking of exactly that mentality. We have heard words like "inclusiveness" and the high-sounding reasons for bringing people together to share responsibility and authority. The reality is, Mr Speaker, that in the weeks to come you will need to fix yourself very firmly to your seat. There will probably be people here eyeing up your position, not because they believe that they have more ability or that they would serve the Assembly better than you, but because of the job and the money that goes with it.
The Assembly is rapidly running out of credibility as far as the public is concerned. What is happening here today is a further demonstration of that. This process has been based on deceit and lying. It has been based on lies, manipulation and propaganda on the part of the Northern Ireland Office. It is hardly surprising that we are faced with the sordid little mess that has been presented to us today. I look forward to a day when all of this is swept away - a day when all the items that are cluttering up the site can be removed and a proper, clear and democratic process can be restored, with an Assembly that is truly accountable to the people, an Assembly that exists because of the will and the wish of the people.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Over the years many of us have listened to the gross accusation that the old Stormont, the ancien régime, existed on the basis of corruption, that it was based on jobs for the boys and that Catholics need not apply. [Interruption] I hear people from the SDLP shouting "Hear, hear." Of course, it was black propaganda; it was lies. The reality is that today the SDLP are party to corruption. They are party to a decision that is about jobs for the boys, and people who are not part and parcel of their party, people who are not yes-men, need not apply. Over 400 jobs in the Assembly are to be advertised, and there have been allegations that those jobs will also be jobs for the boys.
Mr A Maginness:
It ill behoves the DUP to make any criticism in relation to this matter, given the fact that your own two Ministers appointed parliamentary private secretaries without even coming to the Assembly to tell us that you had done so. You did this quietly and at your own bidding; nobody else asked you to do that, and you attempted to employ them.
Order. I encourage Members to speak through the Chair rather than directly to each other.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for drawing that to the attention of Mr Maginness.
My party pays certain members to fulfil a political role, and it raises money to do so. It is perfectly entitled to do that. The money does not come out of the public budget or out of the Assembly's purse. It is hard-earned money, and we can do as we wish with it. There is nothing corrupt about this; we did not have to bring it before the Assembly for approval by the Member or his party. [Interruption]
We did not. It was a decision made within our party, and one we stand by. The Member will know that in other Assemblies across Europe there are in parties similar functionaries who are paid to fulfil a certain role.
The issue is that in the first few days of the Assembly, since the Executive was established, we have seen more exploitation by the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists. We have seen exploitation of the party political role - [Interruption]
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Posts have been given to party hacks or party friends and to people who are not fit for them.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
The SDLP puts out the long arm to Europe, pulls back a former member and puts him in the First Minister's Office. I have not found out whether he is still being paid by the European Parliament.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
In today's 'Irish News' it is suggested that the SDLP are paying daughters of Members with regard to the new posts that were established yesterday in Armagh. That point will raise its head again and again. Other Members referred to an article in the 'Irish News' which states that a number of positions have been given to party hacks and party faithful. I will not go over the names that Members have already read into the record.
None of the posts the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are asking us to vote for have been equality-tested. We hear about equality and fair representation, but these posts have been tested to see who is fit to follow every whim of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Those who match up to that standard will be appointed.
The comments made by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have exposed the fact that Northern Ireland is to be over-bureaucratised. For years democrats across Northern Ireland have complained that there is not enough people power, that we do not have democracy and that we need real and accountable democracy and access to the levers of power. Over the past few months there has been an increase in bureaucracy and a decrease in democracy. In the past, three Ministers serviced six Departments. Now we have 10 Departments and 10 Ministers, and we are to have two junior Ministers. That is an increase in bureaucracy, not an increase in democracy, and that is sad.
Who is to pay for these junior Ministers? The answer is that the money will come from the public purse. Mr Durkan (the Finance Minister) and Mr McGimpsey have been on the radio voicing their concerns about the budget and how they hope to make the figures add up. They will need a creative accountant, some stir-frying and bit of cooking to get the books to balance. The amount that will be taken from the public purse to service the new appointments will be a public scandal. I do not often agree with the leader of the Women's Coalition, but she pointed to the tip of the iceberg when she spoke about how much this will cost.
What is the real purpose of these appointments? Is it accountability, transparency, openness and real democracy? The reason for appointing the two junior Ministers - Ministers literally without portfolio who can stick their noses into any business the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister decide - is to prevent proper Assembly scrutiny of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Their actions will cover over what the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are doing and prevent the establishment of proper scrutiny Committees to examine and probe.
At the commencement of this debate Mr Mallon said
"It was in the best interests of our Departments".
After voting for an exorbitant pay rise, he now wants someone else to do his job. As Mr Dodds said, if the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister do not feel up to the job, they should resign. To appoint someone else to do the jobs that they are paid to do is a scandal. The Deputy First Minister said that good government requires these posts. Good government does not require a waste of resources or the extending of bureaucracy and the diminishing of democracy. When Mr Dodds moved the amendment on behalf of my party he spoke about sincerity. I share the view that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are not sincere when they talk about equality, openness and transparency. Theirs is the most insincere position of all.
Let us call a spade a spade. This is a carve-up for party political purposes. I noted the comments of Sinn Féin inside and outside the Chamber. They were crying crocodile tears and saying that these junior Ministers should not be appointed: "Appoint us instead. Appoint Sinn Féin. Give us the jobs."
They do not object to the waste of resources or to the abuse of the democratic process. What they object to is that they have not been given the jobs, and that is another public scandal.
Perhaps the Member could inform me if he and his party are declaring that they have no interest in any further junior ministerial appointments and that they would eschew any nomination for such?
Mr Paisley Jnr:
If the Member is confirming that his party will be proposing more and more junior Ministers and that he wants those posts because he probably will not get this one - he got a chairmanship last week - that is a matter for him, and I look forward to those proposals.
My party has made its position clear in the amendment, and anyone who supports our position can vote for the amendment. I hope that we will get support. It would not serve the purposes of open and transparent democracy for the motion in the name of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to be passed.
Before giving way to Mr Haughey I mentioned Sinn Féin's using this for cover because it wants these jobs for the boys. It believes that this is the way it can justify what it has been about over the years. The more jobs available, the more access to power Sinn Féin will get. Of course, it makes Bobby Sands's stance all the better. It proves that it was right. Sinn Féin wants these jobs only to undermine and destroy this country. It has no interest in preserving or defending it or making it run better.
Let me send a warning to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and to the parties. They will probably proceed with these appointments. They will pick party hacks and party faithful. We have already heard the public outcry against certain Ministers with links to terrorist organisations who are now in the new Executive. May I suggest that if they are interested in salvaging what little credibility they have, they should not appoint these junior Ministers. If they are to appoint junior Ministers, let them be careful about whom they do appoint. According to speculation in the local press, certain names have been mentioned: people whom, in other places, the Law Society has described as unfit for public office; people who, in other places, have been told that they cannot practise alone as solicitors. If that is the calibre of people that the two parties are going to select, God help this country, and God help good government here. It is wrong and obnoxious to have this increase in largesse for the sole purpose of feathering the nests of the First Minister's and the Deputy First Minister's parties.
I oppose the amendment. I wish to address a point made by Mr Paisley Jnr. I am amazed that Members can claim to know what Sinn Féin is saying. It annoys me sometimes that they should be sitting here with Sinn Féin.
We agree that there is a need for junior Ministers, but we do not believe that they should be attached to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. We argue that they should be appointed for specific areas.
We strongly advocate that one of these posts should be in a department of children's rights, given that children make up one third of the population and we have the highest birth rate in the European Union. Many children live in areas of high and long-term unemployment, and 37% of them are affected by poverty. Also 39% of young people have mental health problems.
And hundreds are beaten by paramilitaries.
The Member supports what I am saying about a junior Minister for children.
In an average week three children under the age of 16 will be raped and a further 12 will be indecently assaulted. The overall picture in relation to children and children's rights is a negative one. Sometimes I am ashamed that all the parties in the Assembly claim to represent the rights of children. However, when it comes to promoting those rights, their interest ends.
I agree with some Members that it is a case of jobs for the boys. Although the 10 Departments all have a remit for children, there is not a holistic policy approach. I am also concerned to ensure that the appointment of junior Ministers should not be looked upon as another opportunity for the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP to appoint some of their Colleagues who missed out on becoming full Ministers.
We should send the clear message that we are here to deliver benefits and to recognise the sizeable section of our community which has so often been ignored. When speaking about children, Members often say that they will do this and that for them. However, when it comes to the bit, no one cares because children do not have a vote. We should send out a clear message that children's rights should be at the centre of the Assembly.
In the debate on the amendment many parties expressed concern about the way in which the proposal has been put forward, the lack of detail in terms of the functions that are described in the written determination and the notion that the two parties that are represented by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should take these two positions of patronage to bolster their party positions.
Our amendment is totally consistent. We have pointed to the fact that this is not the place to talk about special advisers. We have mentioned the extent of existing support for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the raft of civil servants.
I have not heard any proper case for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister requiring two junior Ministers in addition to their raft of advisers and supporters to carry out the functions of that Office. It has clearly emerged during the debate that there is concern as to how the public will view this. Already a number of parties have described it as jobs for the boys. It is clear that that is what it is.
I urge Members to support our amendment. If a proper and reasonable case can be made, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister can come back to the House. They have all the support and back-up that they need to carry out their current responsibilities. No proper case has been made for the appointment of these two junior Ministers. The determination is devoid of any job description or detail as to what these people are to do. I again urge Members to support the amendment.
The First Minister:
In replying to the debate I may not pick up every point made. However, I would like to focus on the key theme of quite a few contributors. Mr McLaughlin was the first to state it when he referred to the determination as being too imprecise. Others said that when they first saw the determination they felt that it did not convey enough information to them.
Members should bear in mind that the determination necessarily used formal language. It had to refer to the range of functions of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It would not have been possible for the determination to refer to specific matters.
Several Members spoke about equality and they said how important that was. It is something we acknowledge. We appreciate how crucial the equality unit within the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is going to be in the effective functioning of the Administration as a whole. We are well aware of the need to ensure that equality aspects have been properly examined with regard to every legislative measure and almost every policy issue. We know how important it is that legislative measures and policy issues should not be farmed out to 10 different Departments to have 10 different standards applied. There will be only one standard.
It would not have been wise to mention only that matter and to delegate it to a junior Minister. That would be to completely misunderstand the nature of the operation. This is not a delegation of any function of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. This is a matter of the appointment of junior Ministers who will act under the direction and control of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister at all times. No function will be delegated to them. We will give them work to do, and that work may well be in the area of equality.
It was not appropriate, nor was it possible in terms of the formal language that is necessarily used in the determination, to assign specific roles to junior Ministers. Furthermore, when one considers the joint nature of the Office, Members will see how inappropriate that would be. It would be quite wrong for one junior Minister to be assigned to equality and another to the economic policy unit. That would clearly be wrong when it is a joint Office. We cannot have a joint Office shared between two parties and then delegate part of that Office to one party. That runs counter to the whole nature of the operation. While junior Ministers may be given a responsibility with regard to economic policy or equality, it will have to be done in a manner in which the Office operates as a whole. It will have to be done with a degree of joint approach, as is appropriate, and with the ability to adapt it to the needs of the particular situation.
The determination necessarily had to cover the whole range of matters. However, the Deputy First Minister and I have a number of clear ideas in mind about what should be done and how it should be carried out. We also have a clear understanding of how it will have to be adjusted from time to time to meet the needs that are there.
The needs are considerable. I have mentioned the economic policy unit and the equality unit. They are major elements. However, there is also the very significant matter of cross-departmental issues. The agreement provides the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister with the task of co-ordinating policy across Departments. This is a more significant role with regard to this form of Administration than it would be with regard to a conventional one. As this is a multi-party Administration, a compulsory coalition of four different parties that do not always see eye to eye - indeed, we have difficulty seeing the eyes of some of our ministerial colleagues from time to time - the need for co-ordination at the centre becomes more important.
It adds to the burden because of the multi-party nature of the Administration as a whole and the multi-party nature of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. That underlines the need for this.
Reference was made to co-ordination on particular issues. That is something to which we will be paying very considerable attention. We are well aware of the need for a degree of co-ordination and focus on matters which do not fall within a single Department and where
"communication and co-operation between departments may be difficult because of the nature of this compulsory coalition".
We will keep in mind particular things mentioned - for example, women's issues and family issues. It is part of the responsibility of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to keep these cross-departmental issues in mind and to ensure that such matters do not lose out in the competition between Departments. I hope Members understand why the question of job descriptions is not appropriate. It is a matter of relating to the range of functions in the Office as a whole.
I would like to touch on some particular issues very briefly. Reference was made to victims. It is somewhat unsatisfactory that certain functions remain within the Northern Ireland Office while others have come to a Northern Ireland Department. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has a role with regard to liaison, but Departments such as Social Development and Health, Social Services and Public Safety also have a role. We are aware of the need to give a priority to victims' issues. I hope the Assembly will see before long that we have responded to it in a very particular way.
Children were mentioned. Equality, particularly in matters relating to targeting social need, covers the rights of children. They will continue to be a significant priority for us.
One comment was made which I thought was spectacularly inappropriate. That came, of course, from Mr McCartney, who said that this was not about servicing a need, but simply about patronage and departmental control between parties. That is utterly wrong. This is about serving a need. This is about ensuring that this Administration delivers a good quality service to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole. It is also about ensuring that, in spite of the unique nature of this Administration, what comes out at the end is co-ordinated and integrated, takes account of the crucial issues of equality and related matters and delivers a quality service to the people.
The Deputy First Minister:
May I first of all make reference to what I regard as a new low in the standard of contribution. I refer to that made by Mr Wilson. I will leave it at that, but at times in the debate I thought that some people plumbed the depths. I did not understand how low they could go.
I do not wish to cover ground which has already been covered by the First Minister. I wish to make a number of points as briefly as I possibly can. In doing so, I will not be able to make reference to all the points that were raised.
The question of a job description has been raised. Let us not forget that the reason for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister rests in the Good Friday Agreement. This Office was not thought up, devised or schemed by the First Minister or myself. It was devised by all of the pro-agreement parties as a unique form of Administration which is not easy for anyone, and it will not be easy when it comes to making any decision. While we are engaged in craw-thumping, however, can we all remember that all the pro-agreement parties agreed this unique type of arrangement?
May I turn to job description - [Interruption] I will not give way. The hon Member's party has had its say - and plenty of it.
May I very quickly list some of the areas the job description covers. There is the economic policy unit, which, in conjunction with the Department of Finance and Personnel, is one of the cross-cutting parts of the arrangement that the First Minister referred to. There is the equality unit, which many parties thought, as I said earlier, could stand with validity as a Department on its own. If that is the case, surely it deserves the type of junior Minister that we are talking about to ensure that it properly functions among the economic policy unit, European affairs, international affairs, the Civic Forum, victims, women's issues, community relations, human rights, public appointments policy, machinery of government - to name just a few. The First Minister or myself did not decide these. They were decided in the agreement and in the legislation upon which the agreement is based. Let us not forget that. I would have thought that a fair job description of the type of function that will be required of junior Ministers.
Let me mention something that touched me deeply. Mr McLaughlin asked why the Assembly should rely on media speculation. Why indeed, especially when Mr McLaughlin's party declared its position on this in a Sunday newspaper known as 'Ireland on Sunday' and demanded - not requested but demanded - one of these posts for Sinn Féin and one for the DUP? So when we are into the craw-thumping bit about costs let us remember that the craw-thumping can work in two directions.
Mr McLaughlin went further. He made a point of telling us that in the negotiations prior to the setting up of the Departments his party proposed that children's issues should be a stand-alone Department. It did nothing of the sort, and it is on record that that is not the case. Those papers are on record, and I invite Mr McLaughlin and anyone else concerned to examine them.
He also spoke about Sinn Féin's contribution to the negotiating of - let me use these terms carefully - checks and balances in the arrangements for the Assembly. The reality is that during the two years those negotiations were taking place they opted out of any discussion on strand one - any discussion to do with the Assembly, the Office of the First and the Deputy First Minister, not to mention any checks or balances of that nature.
May I also remind Mr McLaughlin that on the question of children's rights - and that is a huge issue - his party holds the portfolios of the two Departments jointly responsible for bringing forward a children's strategy, along with Mr Dodds in his ministerial position. Let us see how all Departments - and I mean all - handle children's issues internally and elsewhere.
May I also remind the House that one of the most important functions of the Office of the Centre will be its responsibility for targeting social need. It will also be responsible for overseeing human rights. Nowhere will that need - and the application of that need - be more evident than in ensuring the well-being of children.
I would have liked to have the time to go through the contributions made by each Member, but I will make a few general points. I understand the position of Members who would like to have a junior Ministry for their party or who would like to have junior Ministries for various parties. So would I. If the First Minister and I had made a different decision it might have been easier - much easier - for us, but, while I do not want to get into the business of casting aspersions, I can think of some people in the DUP that I would not want to put in charge of children's issues, women's issues or any other issue. That would be to the detriment of this Administration.
If Members think about what I have said they may consider that it was said advisedly.
I can think of others and other parties who have a craw-thumping attitude, but they stated publicly that they wanted a junior Minister. I would like to see all parties have a junior Minister. If that had been the proposal, would we have had the financial analysis that has been put forward today? Would we have had all this self-righteousness? Would we have had all the variation between pontification and the gutter stuff that we have heard from some quarters?
There is a serious and immediate need for the appointment of junior Ministers. I refer Members to that job description. I refer them to the future well-being of this Administration. I refer them to the fact - and reference was made to this - that it is right that Members of this Assembly should be appointed. There were one or two references to the fact that other advisers might be able to do this. That suggestion was implicit - other advisers might be able to do this. The First Minister and I could not possibly have agreed to that. That decision-making process is a matter for this House and no one else. It is most surprising, not to say almost shocking, that those who are and have been attacking the position of policy advisers may themselves have certain ideas on that matter, that they may themselves have made indications of that nature, that they may themselves recognise that there are a remarkable number of problems within any Department on which help and advice are needed.
Unfortunately I do not have the time to refer to every point that was made. However, all points will be replied to in writing.
I look forward to the experience of applying the new targeting social need (TSN) in the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers. In those circumstances I look forward to going to all the parties to tell them what the equality unit and equality legislation requires of them. I will try to explain to everyone that women's issues and children's issues should not be used as a political, emotional brush to beat people with. They are much too serious for that.
This is a crucial responsibility, and it is a responsibility which the First Minister and I are determined to fulfil. I will say it again: we need the two junior Ministers to ensure that the work in that job description is carried out and that the crucial issues, especially those which centre on TSN, economic policy, children, women and human rights, with other factors, are properly dealt with. That is what this is about, and I regret that some Members have helped to degrade a motion which is to the benefit of those in society who need it most.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Deputy First Minister deliberately to mislead the House? There is nothing in the agreement about junior Ministers - nothing. He has tried to achieve a cheap sell to the public. But I welcome his declaration of war on the Democratic Unionist people. We accept that, we take up the gauntlet -
Order. I can understand that Members may want to make points, but points of order need to be points of order.
Mr C Wilson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I concur with some of the comments made about the new dimension to Mr Mallon as Deputy First Minister, which we are seeing -
You asked for a point of order.
Mr C Wilson:
It is a point of order. Mr Mallon said that Mr Wilson had stooped to new depths in debate. I want him to clarify what comment he was referring to.
Mr S Wilson:
And which Mr Wilson.
I assume that the point of order is that there are a number of Messrs Wilson in the House. Given that the Deputy First Minister did not clarify which of those Members he was referring to, none of them can query it on behalf of any of the others. Therefore we should move to the vote.
Mr C Wilson:
The Deputy First Minister made an attack in general on Unionist Members. It would be helpful if he could identify on behalf of the Wilson clan -
Members made attacks on each other during the debate - it was characteristic of the debate. I cannot take it as a point of order.
Question put That the amendment be made.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 24; Noes 67.
Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Ian Adamson, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Eileen Bell, Tom Benson, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Arthur Doherty, Pat Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Monica McWilliams, Jane Morrice, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O'Connor, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, John Tierney, David Trimble, Jim Wilson.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 49; Noes 38.
Ian Adamson, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, Sean Farren, John Fee, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Eugene McMenamin, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O'Connor, Eamonn ONeill, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, John Tierney, David Trimble, Jim Wilson.
Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Pat Doherty, David Ervine, Oliver Gibson, Michelle Gildernew, William Hay, David Hilditch, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Alex Maskey, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Barry McElduff, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Monica McWilliams, Jane Morrice, Maurice Morrow, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Mary Nelis, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Sue Ramsey, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this Assembly approves the determination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of the number of junior ministerial offices, the procedure for appointment and the functions which would be exercisable by the holder of each such office.
The sitting was suspended at 6.55 pm.
On resuming -
I propose to make a slight change to the order of the rest of the business. There are two motions in the name of Mr Conor Murphy which would make amendments to the Standing Orders that were agreed at the last sitting in respect of the two Committees that were set up to scrutinise the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. However, given the debate that is likely to ensue, not on the substantive motion that follows on the Committee of the Centre but on the amendment, there is the prospect, if the amendment and the substantive motion are carried, of negativing the two proposals in Mr Conor Murphy's name and of those Committees, whose terms of reference are set out, no longer existing. For this reason I propose that we defer the two issues until later. Whether or not the two proposals remain competent will depend on the outcome of the votes on the Committee of the Centre proposal and the amendment. Given that this will save time, I am sure there will be general agreement.
We proceed to the motion on the Code of Conduct. Members may be surprised to see a motion on a Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules identical to the one that was unanimously voted through by the Assembly earlier this year. The reason is that the transitional sections in the Northern Ireland Act do not permit a decision taken by the New Northern Ireland Assembly on this matter to be carried forward beyond devolution. We must formally take the same decision again. The Register of Members' Interests before devolution was desirable; it is now a legal requirement. It is impossible to get proper guidance without the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules, which are only properly extant if the Assembly has agreed on them post devolution.
That this Assembly agrees the resolution set out in Annex A to 'The Code of Conduct together with the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members' [NIA 1] as made by the New Northern Ireland Assembly on 1 March 1999. - [Mr B Hutchinson]
Mr Speaker, you have answered some of my queries about the Register of Members' Interests. I spoke to the Clerk of Standards on Friday 10 December and asked him why, by 21 May 1999, 17 out of 18 Sinn Féin Members had not complied with the directive that this was to be completed by 30 April or with the letter of 30 April which said that we had to comply by 21 May.
Would it be in the public interest to find out why 17 of the 18 Sinn Féin Members had not declared their interests? What had they to hide? Do Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and others in Sinn Féin have other incomes which should have been declared?
Order. Let me repeat what I said. Prior to devolution there was no statutory requirement in respect of the Register. It may have been desirable to have interests declared, but there was no statutory requirement. That statutory requirement came with devolution, and it cannot be met without the passage of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules.
I caution Members against raising matters of privilege on the Floor of the House, for a number of reasons. The due process is for such a matter to be raised with the Clerk of Standards - and the Member has indicated that he has indeed sought such guidance - and then, if appropriate, for it to be taken to the Standards and Privileges Committee.
If such a matter is to be raised on the Floor of the House, it ought to be contained in a motion on the Order Paper, and if it were to be debated on the Floor of the House tonight under the auspices of the current motion, two things would be accomplished besides those I have already mentioned. First, it could be argued that such a debate would diminish due process if the matter were later raised in the Standards and Privileges Committee. Secondly, if there were a vote on the matter, there would be no way of properly discussing any possibility of appeal. The proper process is to go through the Clerk of Standards and then to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and any decision of that Committee could then be appealed on the Floor of the Assembly. If the matter had already been dealt with here, there would be no proper process for appeal. I strongly caution Members that this is not something that we should debate now, because of the timing, because of the place and because of due process.
Is it in order to make comments on the Code of Conduct for Members?