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12 March 2002
Mr Derek Hussey, the Deputy Chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Standards and Privileges, today announced that the Committee would be conducting a review of the Assembly "Code of Conduct" and "The Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members". Speaking after a meeting of the Committee which was attended by Sir Nigel Wicks, the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Mr Hussey said:
"Today, the Committee has announced its intention to undertake a fundamental and searching review of the two key Assembly documents which inform the behaviour of Members and ensure that they are accountable for the conduct of their public duties. These two documents are the Assembly "Code of Conduct" and "The Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members".
The Committee was delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Sir Nigel Wicks and to let him hear at first hand about the Committee’s latest inquiry. We were also very interested to hear about the work currently being undertaken by Sir Nigel and the Committee on Standards in Public Life."
Mr Hussey’s announcement follows the publication of the Committee’s report last year into "The Appointment of an Assembly Commissioner for Standards". The key recommendation in that report was that there should be an independent mechanism for investigating complaints against Assembly Members; The Northern Ireland Assembly Ombudsman is now responsible for investigating complaints against Members. Mr Hussey said:
"The publication of the Committee’s report last year has resulted in the Assembly Ombudsman now investigating complaints against Members. This was an important development and the next key area that the Committee must look at is the "Code of Conduct" and "The Guide to the Conduct of Members". In reviewing these, the Committee will be examining the scope for introducing a greater ethical dimension to the Code and the Guide. The Committee is convinced that Assembly Members will wish to demonstrate fully and openly their commitment to the highest levels of probity in the conduct of their duties inside and outside the Assembly;"
The Assembly "Code of Conduct" details the seven general principles of conduct which underpin public life and which were originally identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1995. The Northern Ireland Assembly subscribed to this Code by way of a resolution of the Assembly in December 1999.
The "Guide to the Conduct of Members" deals with registering and declaring financial and other interests and the application of the rule prohibiting paid advocacy (lobbying for reward or consideration).
Speaking about the practical details associated with the inquiry/review, Mr Hussey said:
"The Committee will undertake a detailed review of the Code and the Guide to the Conduct of Members between now and June 2002. We will publish a consultation document on proposed amendments to the Code and the Guide before the summer recess in early July; this will be widely circulated and comments and observations on the proposed amendments will be welcomed.
In the autumn, we will invite a number of key witnesses and experts to give evidence to the Committee and we will aim to have our final report on the review of the Code and the Guide published before Christmas. This final report will be the subject of a major debate in the Assembly."
Concluding his remarks, Mr Hussey said:
"The review of the Code and the Guide is an extremely important piece of work not only for the Committee but also for the Assembly and all its Members. The Committee is determined to promote the highest ethical standards by Assembly Members in the discharge of their public duties. The Committee also supports the full and frank declaration of financial and other interests by Assembly Members. In the final analysis, the purpose of the Code and the Guide, and any amendments to it that the Committee proposes, is to provide a framework within which the conduct of Members can be judged by the people of Northern Ireland."
The Committee on Standards and Privileges is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraph 10 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Assembly Standing Orders 48 and 52. The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.
The Committee has power:
The Committee is appointed at the start of every Assembly, and has power to send for persons and papers and records that are relevant to its enquiries.
The membership of the Committee since its establishment on 29 November 1999 has been as follows:
* Mr Edwin Poots resigned from the Committee on 11 September 2000
** Mr Paul Berry was appointed to the Committee on 11 September 2000
*** Mr Derek Hussey replaced Mr Roy Beggs on the Committee on 5 March 2002
All enquiries about the work of the Committee on Standards and Privileges should be directed to:
Mr Donovan McClelland
Principal Clerk of Standards Clerk of Standards
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