Inquiry into Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

Committee: Committee on Procedures

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Friday, 03 June 2011

Reference: NIA 4/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60406-3

Mandate Report Number: NIA 4/11-15

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report, Minutes of Evidence, and Written Submissions

Powers

The Committee on Procedures 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 Order 54.

The Committee has the power to:

  • Consider and review, on an ongoing basis, the Standing Orders and procedures of the Assembly;
  • Initiate inquiries and publish reports;
  • Update the Standing Orders of the Assembly for punctuation and grammar;
  • Republish Standing Orders annually; and
  • Call for persons and papers.

Membership

The Committee has eleven members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson with a quorum of five. The membership of the Committee since its establishment on 23 May 2011 has been as follows:

  • Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
  • Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)
  • Mr Jim Allister
  • Mr Samuel Gardiner
  • Mr Gerry Kelly
  • Mr Chris Lyttle
  • Mr Alban Maginness
  • Mr Oliver McMullan
  • Lord Morrow
  • Mr George Robinson
  • Mr Mervyn Storey

Contents

Report

List of Abbreviations

Summary of Recommendations

Introduction

Consideration of Key Issues

Appendices

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings relating to the report

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

Appendix 3

Written Submissions from Parties and Independent MLAs

Appendix 4

Research Papers

List of Abbreviations

DS Deputy Speaker

DSs Deputy Speakers

PDS Principal Deputy Speaker

SO Standing Order

SOs Standing Orders

The 1998 Act The Northern Ireland Act 1998

Summary of Recommendations

Recommendation 1

In Standing Order 1(3) the following be omitted: “may be called ‘Mr Deputy Speaker’, ‘Madam Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Deputy Speaker and".

Recommendation 2

In Standing Order 5, after paragraph (3), a new paragraph be inserted - “(4) A Deputy Speaker may be called ‘Mr Deputy Speaker’, ‘Madam Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Deputy Speaker’."

Recommendation 3

A new Standing Order 5A be drafted and that this includes a mode of address function to enable the PDS to be addressed as ‘Mr Principal Deputy Speaker’, ‘Madam Principal Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Principal Deputy Speaker’.

Recommendation 4

No change to the number of Deputy Speakers elected is made.

Recommendation 5

As part of a new Standing Order 5A - provision for one of the Deputy Speakers to be nominated to act as Principal Deputy Speaker is made.

Recommendation 6

The agreed process for selecting and replacing the PDS form part of a new Standing Order 5A.

Recommendation 7

That the following be specified in the text of the new Standing Order 5A

a) Nominations to fill the role of PDS be limited to DSs previously elected in accordance with Standing Order 5;

b) That the nomination to act as PDS only take affect if approved by resolution of the Assembly and with the agreement of the person nominated to act as PDS;

c) That no further nomination for the role of PDS be made unless the first nomination is not approved or the person nominated does not agree to act as PDS;

d) That resolutions made under the recommended Standing Order 5A should be required to have cross community support.

Recommendation 8

The newly inserted SO 5A makes reference to both these circumstances, (where the Assembly resolves to replace an existing PDS and where a PDS ceases to hold office as a DS) again ensuring cross community support for action taken.

Recommendation 9

Rotation of duties among DSs and PDS remain at the discretion of the Speaker as a matter of precedent.

Recommendation 10

No change in allowance for PDS is desirable or made or reflected in Standing Orders.

Introduction

Background

1. This matter was referred to the Committee on Procedures by the Assembly on 16 May 2011. (“That this Assembly agrees that there shall be a Principal Deputy Speaker and directs the Committee on Procedures, as its first priority, to table the necessary amendments to Standing Orders by 6 June 2011".)

2. The Committee on Procedures has provided this report to inform Members about its consideration of the drafting of Standing Orders (SOs) for Principal Deputy Speaker (PDS) and to provide background information for the future debate on the proposed amendments to Standing Order (SO) 1 and SO 5 which will enact the direction of the Assembly outlined at 1 above.

The Committee Approach

3. The Committee agreed that the methodology for the inquiry should include:

  • Commissioning comparative research on the role and responsibilities of Principal Deputy Speakers (PDSs) in other legislatures;
  • Obtaining legal advice;
  • Seeking evidence from the parties represented within the Assembly;

4. In response to its call for submissions from parties within the Assembly, the Committee received written submissions from the following:

  • Democratic Unionist Party;
  • Green Party;
  • Sinn Féin;
  • Mr David McClarty, Independent.

5. In addition the Committee took oral submissions and/or additional information from the following parties at its meeting of 26 May 2011:

  • Alliance Party;
  • Democratic Unionist Party;
  • Sinn Féin;
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party;
  • Traditional Unionist Voice;
  • Ulster Unionist Party.

6. The Committee also sought advice from Assembly Legal Services and commissioned Assembly Research and Information Service to inform its initial considerations.

7. The Committee weighed up the issues arising from the evidence received from the various sources and carefully examined the procedures in relation to the offices of Deputy Speaker (DS) and the new role of PDS. Out working of the Committee’s consideration of each issue is covered separately in the report.

8. The Committee held four meetings to consider how the PDS SOs might be developed. Of these, two were held in closed session and a further one started in closed session and then moved into open session.

9. At its meeting on 2 June 2011 the Committee on Procedures, by a majority of those present, approved its report on SOs for PDS and ordered it to be printed.

Consideration of Key Issues

Background

10. The role of DS is largely defined in SO 5(3) which states that: “In Standing Orders, references to the Speaker shall, unless the context requires otherwise, include a Deputy Speaker acting as Speaker – (a) under Section 39(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, or (b) under the authorisation of the Speaker in accordance with paragraph (2)".

11. The roles and duties conferred on the Speaker by SOs and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (the 1998 Act) are outside the scope of this inquiry and thus the role conferred on the Deputy Speakers (DSs)/PDS by delegation from the Speaker will remain unchanged.

Legal Basis for Creation of the Role

12. The Committee assessed whether the inclusion of the role of PDS within SOs would be inconsistent with the1998 Act.

13. Legal advice indicated that sufficient scope did exist for creation of the title, but that as the 1998 Act provided for DSs to exercise powers only where the office of Speaker was vacant, or the Speaker was unable to act, or by delegation of the Speaker, there was no statutory scope to assign additional duties to the PDS.

14. The matter was considered at length by the Committee. A number of options and how, or indeed if, these could be reflected in SOs or permitted by the 1998 Act, were discussed and approved by a majority of those present: “that the Committee continue with the business to change Standing Orders as directed by the motion agreed by the Assembly on 16 May 2011". Having reached this agreement a number of more detailed issues were then considered in order to provide in-depth direction for the drafting of revisions to SOs. These are detailed below.

Protocol for Addressing the Principal Deputy Speaker

15. The Committee noted that SO 1(3) currently performs two functions. The first is interpretive in that it links the use of the term “Deputy Presiding Officer" which arises from the 1998 Act to the term “Deputy Speaker" used in SOs. The second function is to provide the mode of address of a Deputy Presiding Officer (DS).

16. The effect of the interpretative function is that anywhere that SOs refer to ‘Deputy Speaker’, the legal meaning is ‘deputy to the Presiding Officer’. This function will not be changed, since any PDS must necessarily first be elected as a DS.

17. Based on the evidence provided and the Committee’s wish to ensure clarity it was approved by a majority of those present, that these two functions of SO 1(3) be separated and that: In SO 1(3) the following be omitted: “may be called ‘Mr Deputy Speaker’, ‘Madam Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Deputy Speaker and".

18. It was further approved by a majority of those present that: In Standing Order 5, after paragraph (3), a new paragraph be inserted - “(4) A Deputy Speaker may be called ‘Mr Deputy Speaker’, ‘Madam Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Deputy Speaker’."

19. In order to define the protocol for addressing the PDS, the Committee approved by a majority of those present that: a new SO 5A be drafted and that this include a mode of address function to enable the PDS to be addressed as ‘Mr Principal Deputy Speaker’, ‘Madam Principal Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Principal Deputy Speaker’.

Number of Deputy Speakers

20. SO 5(1) sets out the number of DSs currently appointed within the Assembly. The Committee approved by a majority of those present that: “no change to the number of DSs elected is made" and therefore SO 5(1) still requires the election of three DSs.

Filling the Post of Principal Deputy Speaker

21. The Committee noted that SO 5(1) requires the election of three DSs using the process set out in SO 4.

22. The Committee further noted that the role of PDS does not have the same statutory basis as that of DS and as such a PDS could be selected only from those elected as a DS, the latter title being linked back to section 39 of the 1998 Act and meaning ‘deputy to the Presiding Officer’.

23. With this in mind the Committee approved by a majority of those present that: “As part of a new SO 5A - provision for one of the DSs to be nominated to act as PDS is made".

Appointing the Principal Deputy Speaker

24. The Committee noted that the 1998 Act vested powers in the role of DS, but that no specific reference to the role of PDS was made. This meant that one of three DSs elected by the Assembly would subsequently need to be selected for the role of PDS.

25. Members considered a number of options for the selection process and for any subsequent replacement process and approved by a majority of those present that: “the agreed process for selecting and replacing the PDS form part of a new SO 5A."

26. Further to this the Committee approved by a majority of those present that the following be specified in the text of the standing order:

(a) Nominations to fill the role of PDS be limited to DSs previously elected in accordance with SO 5;

(b) That the nomination to act as PDS only take affect if approved by resolution of the Assembly and with the agreement of the person nominated to act as PDS;

(c) That no further nomination for the role of PDS be made unless the first nomination is not approved or the person nominated does not agree to act as PDS;

(d) That resolutions made under the recommended SO 5A should be required to have cross community support.

27. The Committee also considered circumstances where the Assembly resolves that the person acting as PDS no longer act as such or where the PDS ceases to hold office as a DS, and approved by a majority of those present that “the newly inserted SO 5A makes reference to both these circumstances, (where the Assembly resolves to replace an existing PDS and where a PDS ceases to hold office as a DS) again ensuring cross community support for action taken".

Codifying the Role of Principal Deputy Speaker

28. The Committee heard that the rotation of duties among DSs was at the discretion of the Speaker and a matter of custom and practice rather than being defined by SOs. Following deliberation it was agreed that no valid circumstance existed to amend the current arrangement and the Committee therefore agreed that: “Rotation of duties among DSs and PDS remain at the discretion of the Speaker as a matter of precedent".

The extent to which the functions of a Principal Deputy Speaker be defined in Standing Orders

29. The Committee heard from Assembly Research and Information Service on precedent in other legislatures and the variety of functions carried out by DSs in situations where hierarchical arrangements existed. The Committee noted that the 1998 Act is not prescriptive in this regard and had already agreed that roles and duties conferred on the DSs/PDSs by the Speaker were outside the scope of this inquiry and therefore would remain unchanged.

30. There were a number of conflicting views as to whether SOs should include mention of the PDS/DS having a role in deputising for the Speaker as the Chair of the Business Committee should he/she be unavailable. However, it was ultimately agreed by consensus that no such provision be made.

31. The Committee also recognised that the Speaker’s role as the ex officio chairperson of the Commission, and provision for chairing the Commission when the Speaker’s office was vacant or he or she was, for any reason, unavailable to act, was set out in the 1998 Act and therefore excluded from the Committee’s deliberations.

Remuneration

32. The Committee sought legal advice on the issues surrounding remuneration of a PDS. It was noted that Section 47 of the 1998 Act provides for remuneration of Members and that this section was significantly amended by the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Act 2010 to allow the Assembly to confer the function of determining salaries or allowances to an external body.

33. The Committee recognised that the Assembly has already exercised these powers by passing the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (the 2011 Act); which provides for an Independent Financial Review Panel (the Panel) to determine salaries and allowances payable to Members. Section 3 of the 2011 Act provides that exercise of the Panel’s functions is not subject to the direction or control of the Assembly.

34. This information was noted by the Committee who unanimously agreed that: “no change in allowance for PDS is desirable or made or reflected in SOs".

Entitlement to Vote and Administering Oaths

35. It was clear from earlier deliberations that references to DS in SOs will necessarily include reference to the PDS as a DS. Having taken legal advice, the Committee was of the view that references in existing SOs to administration of oaths (SO 72) and entitlement to vote (SO 26(2)) did apply to the PDS and therefore no recommendation for amendments were made.

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings

Tuesday 24 May 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jim Allister
Mr Samuel Gardiner
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow

In attendance: Alison Ross (Clerk)
Neil Currie (Assistant Clerk)
Michael Greer (Clerical Supervisor)
Christopher McNickle (Clerical Officer)

1.32pm The meeting opened in private session.

The Chairperson welcomed members to the first meeting of the Committee.

Members agreed that meetings should, as a rule, be held in public session, unless otherwise agreed.

1.33pm The meeting moved into public session.

1. Apologies

Mr Gerry Kelly
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr George Robinson
Mr Mervyn Storey

6. 2007 – 2011 Legacy Report and First Day Briefing

Members considered the 2007 – 2011 Legacy Report summarising the work of the committee during the previous mandate. Members also considered a First Day Briefing paper prepared by the Clerk, outlining some issues the incoming committee may wish to take forward.

Members considered a briefing paper prepared by the Clerk, highlighting a number of issues and options in relation to the amendment of Standing Orders to provide for a Principal Deputy Speaker.

Agreed: It was agreed to hear briefings on this matter from Legal Services and the Research and Information Service at the next meeting.

7. Draft Forward Work Programme

Members considered the draft Forward Work Programme.

Agreed: It was agreed that Committee meetings will have single item agendas until the work on the Principal Deputy Speaker has been completed.

Agreed: It was agreed that the meeting on 26 May 2011 would commence at 4.00pm, and that further consideration would be given to the arrangements for future meetings on Thursdays. Otherwise, members agreed to proceed as set out in the draft Forward Work Programme, and to meet on the dates indicated.

Agreed: It was agreed that the Chairperson would write to Party Whips to request comments from their parties in relation to the Principal Deputy Speaker, for consideration at the next meeting.

Members suggested bringing forward the briefings from Legal Services and the Research and Information Service to this meeting. It was agreed to suspend the meeting for ten minutes in order for the Clerk to check if this could be facilitated.

1.49pm Meeting suspended

2.00pm Meeting reconvened in public session with the following members present:

Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Samuel Gardiner
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow

The Chairperson informed members that the Research and Information Service could brief the Committee at today’s meeting, however, the Legal Services representative was unavailable. As the Committee wished to be briefed by Legal Services, followed by the Research and Information Service, it was agreed to hear both briefings at the next meeting.

2.02pm The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Thursday 26 May 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jim Allister
Mr Samuel Gardiner
Mr Gerry Kelly
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow

In attendance: Alison Ross (Clerk)
Neil Currie (Assistant Clerk)
Michael Greer (Clerical Supervisor)
Christopher McNickle (Clerical Officer)

4.01pm The meeting opened in closed session.

Members agreed that meetings of the Committee in closed session could be recorded, for use by Committee staff as an aide memoir, and then destroyed immediately after use.

1. Apologies

Mr George Robinson
Mr Mervyn Storey

2. Inquiry into Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

(a) Briefing from Legal Services

4.02pm Jonathan McMillen from Assembly Legal Services joined the meeting and briefed the Committee on the legal advice he had provided on this matter. This was followed by a question and answer session.

4.12pm Mr Lyttle joined the meeting.

4.15pm Mr Maginness joined the meeting.

The Chairperson thanked Mr McMillen for the briefing.

4.45pm Mr McMillen left the meeting.

4.45pm The meeting moved into public session.

(b) Briefing from Research and Information Service

4.46pm Ray McCaffrey and Tim Moore from the Research and Information Service joined the meeting and briefed the Committee on the research paper they had provided on this matter. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Committee requested further related information be provided by the Research and Information Service for the next meeting.

The Chairperson thanked Mr McCaffrey and Mr Moore for the briefing.

4.56pm Mr McCaffrey and Mr Moore left the meeting.

(c) Consideration of written and oral submissions from parties

Members considered written submissions from the DUP, the Green Party, Sinn Fein and independent Member, David McClarty.

Oral submissions were also provided by the parties at the meeting.

Following discussion, a proposal on the way forward was submitted by Mr Clarke and an amendment to the proposal was submitted by Mr Allister.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting for five minutes in order to marshall the proposal and the amendment.

5.20pm Meeting suspended

5.26pm Meeting reconvened in public session with the same members present.

It was proposed by Mr Clarke:

“That the Committee continue with the business to change Standing Orders as directed by the motion agreed by the Assembly on 16 May 2011."

An amendment was proposed by Mr Allister:

“For avoidance of doubt, that there shall be no change or addition to the remit or functions of anyone appointed to the position of Principal Deputy Speaker."

The question was put that the amendment be made.

The Committee divided on the amendment. Ayes 4; Noes 5.

Ayes Noes
Jim Allister Trevor Clarke
Samuel Gardiner Gerry Kelly
Chris Lyttle Oliver McMullan
Alban Maginness Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey

The amendment accordingly fell.

The question was put on the motion.

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 3.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Gerry Kelly Samuel Gardiner
Chris Lyttle Alban Maginness
Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

5.34pm The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Tuesday 31 May 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jim Allister
Mr Gerry Kelly
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Oliver McMullan
Mr George Robinson
Mr Mervyn Storey

In attendance: Alison Ross (Clerk)
Neil Currie (Assistant Clerk)
Michael Greer (Clerical Supervisor)

1.30pm The meeting opened in closed session.

1. Apologies

Mr Samuel Gardiner

2. Minutes of the meeting held on 26 May 2011

Mr Lyttle confirmed that he had voted in favour of the motion proposed by Mr Clarke, and that he had not abstained. Subject to this amendment, members agreed the minutes of the meeting held on 26 May 2011.

4. Inquiry into Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

1.32pm Mr Maginness joined the meeting.

The Committee considered an issues paper prepared by the Clerk, and agreed to consider each issue from the paper in turn. Members also considered a first draft of the revised/new Standing Orders prepared by Assembly Legal Services. Jonathan McMillen from Legal Services explained the draft amendments to Standing Orders and answered members’ questions as required.

Issue 1 – Protocol for addressing the Principal Deputy Speaker

The Chairperson proposed that in the revised Standing Orders, the Principal Deputy Speaker should be addressed as either Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker, or Principal Deputy Speaker.

The Committee divided. Ayes 7; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Gerry Kelly Alban Maginness
Chris Lyttle
Oliver McMullan
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Issue 2 – Number of Deputy Speakers

Agreed: Members agreed that the number of Deputy Speakers should remain unchanged at three.

Issue 3 – Filling the post of Principal Deputy Speaker

It was proposed by Mr Allister that the post of Principal Deputy Speaker be filled by rotation among the existing Deputy Speakers on an annual basis.

The Committee divided. Ayes 2; Noes 3; Abstentions 4.

Ayes Noes Abstentions
Jim Allister Gerry Kelly Trevor Clarke
Alban Maginness Oliver McMullan Chris Lyttle
Sue Ramsey George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly fell.

It was proposed by Mr Clarke that the Principal Deputy Speaker be selected from among the three elected Deputy Speakers.

The Committee divided. Ayes 7; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Gerry Kelly Alban Maginness
Chris Lyttle
Oliver McMullan
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Issue 4 – Codifying the role of Principal Deputy Speaker

Agreed: Members agreed that no codification of the role of Principal Deputy Speaker be written into Standing Orders, but that this should be left to the discretion of the Speaker.

Issue 5 – Functions - the extent to which the functions of the Principal

Deputy Speaker need to be spelled out in Standing Orders

Mr Clarke proposed Option A –

“Say nothing in Standing Orders and rely on the discretion of the Speaker."

The Committee divided. Ayes 4; Noes 4.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Gerry Kelly
Chris Lyttle Alban Maginness
George Robinson Oliver McMullan
Mervyn Storey Sue Ramsey

The proposal accordingly fell.

Mr Kelly proposed Options B and C together –

“Specify that when delegating duties the Principal Deputy Speaker will have first refusal." (Option B) and;

“Specify responsibility of the Principal Deputy Speaker as Deputy Chairperson of the Business Committee." (Option C)

The Committee divided. Ayes 3; Noes 6.

Ayes Noes
Gerry Kelly Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Trevor Clarke
Sue Ramsey Chris Lyttle
Alban Maginness
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly fell.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting for five minutes in order to marshal a further proposal.

1.56pm Meeting suspended.

2.00pm Meeting reconvened in closed session with the same members present.

Mr Kelly proposed Option C –

“Specify responsibility of the Principal Deputy Speaker as Deputy Chairperson of the Business Committee."

The Committee divided. Ayes 3; Noes 6.

Ayes Noes
Gerry Kelly Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Trevor Clarke
Sue Ramsey Chris Lyttle
Alban Maginness
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly fell.

Issue 6 – Remuneration

Agreed: Members agreed that the office holder allowance/salary for the Principal Deputy Speaker should be the same as that of Deputy Speaker.

The Committee requested further related information be provided by Legal services for the next meeting.

2.20pm The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Thursday 2 June 2011
Room 21, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jim Allister
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow
Mr George Robinson
Mr Mervyn Storey

In attendance: Alison Ross (Clerk)
Neil Currie (Assistant Clerk)
Michael Greer (Clerical Supervisor)
Andrienne Magee (Clerical Officer)

4.06pm The meeting opened in closed session.

1. Apologies

Mr Gerry Kelly

2. Minutes of the meeting held on 31 May 2011

Members agreed the minutes of the meeting held on 31 May 2011.

Members agreed that the Chairperson could approve the minutes of today’s meeting, so that an extract can be included in the Committee report.

3. Inquiry into Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

(a) Consideration of draft amendments to Standing Orders

4.09pm Lord Morrow joined the meeting.

4.10pm Mervyn Storey joined the meeting.

The Committee considered the revised draft amendments to Standing Orders prepared by Assembly Legal Services. Jonathan McMillen from Legal Services explained the draft amendments and answered members’ questions.

The Committee considered each of the proposed amendments paragraph by paragraph.

Amendment 1

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Amendment 2

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Amendment 3

The Committee considered each of the paragraphs within amendment 3.

Paragraph (1)

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph (2)

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph (3)

The Chairperson suspended the meeting for five minutes in order to marshal an amendment.

4.32pm Meeting suspended.

4.38pm Meeting reconvened in closed session with the same members present.

An amendment was proposed by Mr Allister:

“That we amend Standing Order 5(3) to reflect the procedure in Standing Order 4(4), namely that all nominations are taken before a vote/debate takes place."

The question was put that the amendment be made.

The Committee divided on the amendment. Ayes 2; Noes 6.

Ayes Noes
Jim Allister Trevor Clarke
Alban Maginness Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The amendment accordingly fell.

The question was put that paragraph (3) be included as per the wording in the draft.

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph (4)

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph (5)

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph (6)

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph (6A)

The Committee divided. Ayes 8; Noes 0.

Ayes Noes
Jim Allister
Trevor Clarke
Alban Maginness
Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph (7)

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Agreed: Members agreed that the order of paragraphs (2) and (3) should be reversed.

(b) Draft Inquiry Report into Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

The Committee read the draft report on its Inquiry into Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker paragraph by paragraph.

Front cover – agreed

Powers and Membership – agreed

Table of Contents – agreed

Abbreviations – agreed

Main Report

Paragraphs 1 – 7, agreed

Paragraphs 8 – 9, agreed, as amended

Paragraphs 10 – 12, agreed

Paragraphs 13 – 14, agreed, as amended

Paragraphs 15 – 16, agreed

Paragraphs 17 – 21, agreed, as amended

The Chairperson suspended the meeting for five minutes in order to marshal amendments.

5.04pm Meeting suspended.

5.10pm Meeting reconvened in closed session with the same members present.

Paragraph 22:

Mr Allister proposed that Paragraph 22 be amended to state that the role of Principal Deputy Speaker does not have any statutory basis.

The question was put that the amendment be made.

The Committee divided on the amendment. Ayes 2; Noes 6.

Ayes Noes
Jim Allister Trevor Clarke
Alban Maginness Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The amendment accordingly fell.

The question was put on the original wording of Paragraph 22.

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraph 23 agreed, as amended

Paragraph 24 agreed

Paragraph 25:

Mr Maginness proposed that Paragraph 25 be amended to state that one of the options considered was that the post of Principal Deputy Speaker be filled by rotation among the existing Deputy Speakers on an annual basis.

The question was put that the amendment be made.

The Committee divided on the amendment. Ayes 2; Noes 6.

Ayes Noes
Jim Allister Trevor Clarke
Alban Maginness Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The amendment accordingly fell.

The question was put on the original wording of Paragraph 25.

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Paragraphs 26 – 28, agreed, as amended

Paragraphs 29 – 31, agreed

Paragraph 32:

Mr Clarke proposed that Paragraph 32 be removed.

The question was put that the amendment be made.

The Committee divided on the amendment. Ayes 6; Noes 0; Abstentions 2.

Ayes Noes Abstentions
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Original Paragraphs 33 – 34, agreed

Original Paragraph 35:

Mr Allister proposed that the word “unanimously" be inserted in Paragraph 35, line 1.

The question was put that the amendment be made.

The Committee divided on the amendment. Ayes 8; Noes 0.

Ayes Noes
Jim Allister
Trevor Clarke
Alban Maginness
Oliver McMullan
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

Original Paragraph 36, agreed

Summary of Recommendations – agreed, as amended

Agreed: The inclusion of the following appendices was agreed:
Appendix 1 – Minutes of Proceedings
Appendix 2 – Minutes of Evidence
Appendix 3 – Written Submissions from Parties and Independent MLAs
Appendix 4 – Research Papers

Agreed: In view of the late timing of today’s meeting, it was agreed to order the report to be printed on 3 June 2011.

Members confirmed that they had no suggested corrections to the Hansard transcript from the meeting on 26 May 2011.

Agreed: The report will be embargoed until commencement of the debate of the report in Plenary.

5. Motion to amend Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

The Committee considered a revised version of the motion to amend Standing Orders, which had incorporated the amendments agreed at today’s meeting.

The Committee divided. Ayes 6; Noes 2.

Ayes Noes
Trevor Clarke Jim Allister
Oliver McMullan Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow
Sue Ramsey
George Robinson
Mervyn Storey

The proposal accordingly was agreed to.

5.40pm The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

26 May 2011

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jim Allister
Mr Sam Gardiner
Mr Gerry Kelly
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr Oliver McMullan
Mr Alban Maginness
Lord Morrow

Witnesses:

Mr Ray McCaffrey
Mr Tim Moore


Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Information Service

1. The Chairperson: I welcome Tim Moore and Ray McCaffrey and thank them for the paper that they provided to the Committee.

2. Mr Tim Moore (Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Information Service): Before Ray presents his paper, I remind members that the Research and Information Service is here to provide research and information to the Committee as a whole and to individual members confidentially. We do not provide legal advice. You heard from Mr McMillen, who gave legal advice. Nor do we have any opinion on whether the creation of the position is a good or bad thing: we are simply presenting information and research to the Committee. With that, I pass over to Ray.

3. Mr Ray McCaffrey (Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Information Service): Thank you, Chair. Members have the paper in front of them. I will speak to the key points. The Research and Information Service was asked to look at examples of other legislatures where there might be a distinction or hierarchy among Deputy Speakers. To that end, it examined the position in the other devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales, along with Dáil Éireann and the Houses of Commons at Westminster and in Canada.

4. The role of Deputy Speakers is broadly similar across the institutions. They can generally be defined as chairing plenary meetings, determining questions relating to the interpretation or application of Standing Orders and representing the institution in exchanges with other bodies. The first point to note is that there is only one Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann, so, of course, there is no distinction.

5. There are two Deputy Presiding Officers in the Scottish Parliament; the Scotland Act 1998 specifies that there should be two. They are elected, and there is a requirement that the three successful candidates for the positions of Presiding Officer and the two deputies should come from at least two different political parties. However, the Scotland Bill, which is currently before the UK Parliament, will allow for the Scottish Parliament to appoint more Deputy Presiding Officers, who could operate for a limited period in the event of illness or other unforeseen circumstances. That recommendation arose out of the Calman Commission, which was set up to review the impact of Scottish devolution. Another interesting point is that it also recommended that more flexibility be built into the system so that the Presiding Officer and the deputies did not have to be appointed at the first plenary sitting. That would give parties more time to consider their options if, for example, they were unsure about having to commit a Member to a non-voting role.

6. There are some issues with comparing sovereign Parliaments to regional Assemblies, but, nevertheless, Westminster and the Canadian House of Commons provide an interesting perspective on the issue of Deputy Speakers. At Westminster, three deputies are elected by the House. Until recently, they had been appointed, but a 2009 report by the Procedures Committee recommended introducing elections, thereby enhancing the transparency of the process. The Principal Deputy Speaker is the Chairman of Ways and Means, which is a role that predates the role of Deputy Speaker, although there is no longer a Ways and Means Committee. The other two Deputy Speakers are the Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means. They are known respectively as the First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.

7. The Deputy Speaker can exercise all the functions of the Speaker in his or her absence, but the deputy also has three distinct roles from the Speaker: the supervision of arrangements for sittings in Westminster Hall, general oversight of matters connected with Private Bills and Chair of the Panel of Chairs, with responsibility for the work of general Committees. The First and Second Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means are entitled to exercise all the powers of the Deputy Speaker.

8. The rules governing the election of the Deputies stipulate that at least one man and one woman shall be elected across the four posts of Speaker and Deputy Speakers and that the candidates should reflect party balance in the House. That is interesting for the Assembly given the consociational nature of the arrangements that underpin it. There appears to be no requirement that the three Deputies reflect party strength, albeit that they are elected with cross-community support.

9. The arrangements in the Canadian House of Commons bear some similarities to those at Westminster in that there are three Deputies: Deputy Speaker, Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of the Committees of the Whole. The creation of the posts of Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair really reflect the increasing workload of the House over the past century. For example, the position of Deputy Chair was created in 1938 via an amendment to Standing Orders, with the post of Assistant Deputy Chair following in 1967 after the House had identified the need for an additional Presiding Officer. However, there is an important difference: there are no elections for Deputy Speakers in Canada. Rather, the Speaker proposes the names following consultation with party leaders.

10. There is also a requirement that the Deputy Speaker be fluent in the official language that is not that of the Speaker, the official languages of Canada being French and English. As with the House of Commons at Westminster, the Deputy Speaker has certain administrative responsibilities. Those include serving on the Board of Internal Economy and as a member of the Panel of Chairs for legislative Committees.

11. The table on remuneration in our paper sets out the additional salaries enjoyed by the Deputy Speakers.

12. To sum up, Westminster, and its equivalent in Canada, are examples of legislatures with hierarchical arrangements among their Deputy Speakers. Within those structures, the Speaker is supported by three Deputies, one of whom has more responsibilities than his or her counterparts. Those additional duties are reflected in the increased salary applied to this role. There is no hierarchical arrangement in the Scottish Parliament, where both Deputies have identical roles. The National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann have only one Deputy each.

13. The Chairperson: OK, thank you.

14. Mr T Clarke: I picked up on something in your comments about the remuneration. In Westminster, is there a difference between the role of the principal Deputy Speaker and those of the First and Second Deputies?

15. Mr McCaffrey: The principal Deputy Speaker has more responsibility. He has three distinct roles from the Speaker, which I pointed out: supervision of arrangements for —

16. Mr T Clarke: So, that could attract more remuneration.

17. Mr McCaffrey: That attracts the increased salary.

18. Mr Allister: I have two questions for you. Stormont has 108 MLAs. Westminster has 650 MPs or thereabouts. Scotland has somewhat more Members than Stormont and survives with two Deputies. Wales and the Republic of Ireland survive with one. So, at three Deputies, we are on a par with a House six times our size. Are you aware of any difficulties in the past four years that would necessitate this change?

19. Mr McCaffrey: I cannot really offer a comment on that. The research was asked —

20. Mr Allister: Have you been here for the past four years?

21. Mr McCaffrey: No, I have not.

22. Mr Allister: Has your colleague?

23. Mr Moore: I have been here for the past four years, but I do not think that I would want to give an opinion on whether there have been difficulties. We did not research beyond the motion. We would be happy to look back at the Hansard report to see whether anybody raised difficulties.

24. Mr Allister: Very well.

25. The Chairperson: On that point; is that a suggestion, Mr Allister?

26. Mr Allister: No, it was a question.

27. Mr A Maginness: From what Mr McCaffrey has said, in Westminster, a clearly stated hierarchy has emerged over time. I am sure that that is not set in statute, is it?

28. Mr McCaffrey: Assembly Legal Services referred to the fact that there is the Deputy Speaker Act 1855.

29. Mr A Maginness: Ok, so it is set in statute.

30. Mr McCaffrey: The role of Deputy Speaker is.

31. Mr A Maginness: Therefore, there is a clear statutory basis for that. It is clear that that is a hierarchical system. That is all that I wanted to clarify.

32. Lord Morrow: Is it not also the case that, in the House of Commons procedure, there is a panel from which a Speaker can be drawn, from the smaller parties, I think?

33. Mr McCaffrey: I think that, in the event of the absence or unavailability of the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, there is contingency for other Members to take the Chair as need be.

34. Lord Morrow: So, they recognise that, potentially, there could be occasions when that will arise.

35. Mr Allister: Is that not just in Committee?

36. Lord Morrow: I do not think that it is. I am aware that, quite recently, a Member from Northern Ireland chaired proceedings in the House of Commons. I understand that that was the first time that that had ever happened.

37. Mr Moore: Rather than speculating on that, we are happy to go away and find out for sure.

38. The Chairperson: Members would find that useful. I thank the witnesses.

39. We will now move to consideration of oral and written submissions from parties. We have received a number of written submissions, which are contained in members’ folders. They have been arranged alphabetically so that we can consider each of them in turn. Do members have any comments on any of the written submissions?

40. Mr Allister: This proposition emanated from the two parties opposite, but we have yet to hear from either of them — or from both of them if they have an agreed position — about whether it is anticipated that there should be additional functions for the Principal Deputy Speaker if he is appointed. I do not think that either of the written submissions put that beyond doubt, and it would be helpful to know the DUP and Sinn Féin’s position. Is it a single position? Is there a disagreement about the matter, or where does it stand?

41. The Chairperson: I will allow parties to give a general view of the issues. For members’ information, I asked for a Hansard report on the debate on the motion to be included in members’ packs. That gives some of the parties’ views.

42. Lord Morrow: In the submissions in which the various parties outline their positions, all the parties, whether they are for or against, take a consistent position with that which they took in the Assembly on the day of the debate. Since Mr Allister asked for comments from the DUP, I will outline what we said we said in our submission:

“The creation of such a post is consistent with procedures in other jurisdictions, particularly Westminster. In each jurisdiction there is a post of Speaker, and a number of Deputy Speakers, with one performing the role of principal deputy."

43. We do not have much to add to that.

44. I will digress a bit. I listened to what Mr Gardiner read out from his submission. He talked about the size of this House. I happen to believe that this House is too big in number, that there are too many Ministers and that there a whole lot of things that need changing. [Interruption.]

45. The Chairperson: You mentioned Westminster. That is Big Ben.

46. Mr A Maginness: A timely intervention.

47. The Chairperson: I am glad that people have a sense of humour. I remind members that they need to switch off their electronic devices and phones.

48. Mr Gardiner: I apologise.

49. Lord Morrow: I am sort of lost now. [Laughter.]

50. The Chairperson: I will go round the parties and ask for oral submissions, which gives everybody an opportunity to come back. Are members agreed on that? I will do it in alphabetical order. I am not forcing members to make an oral submission if they do not want to; they should not feel that they have to do that.

51. Mr Lyttle: No.

52. The Chairperson: Lord Morrow, I will allow you to finish.

53. Lord Morrow: We made a submission, be it long, short or indifferent. As I said, our position is consistent with what was said in the Chamber when the matter was debated. However, if we want to go through all the wrongs of the Assembly, this is not the day to do it. I am quite happy to have that debate some day. If it were down to our party, I assure you that there would be fewer MLAs and fewer Departments, but that was all established by others.

54. The Chairperson: You are right that this is not the time to do that. We could end up dealing with a lot of things that we were not instructed to deal with in the motion.

55. Mr McMullan: Any amendments to Standing Orders will be on basis that the functions are exercisable only when the Speaker is unable to act or has delegated the function. A Principal Deputy Speaker would not have functions as of right and would have nothing distinct from a Deputy Speaker other than the increased frequency. We agree to the drafting of any necessary Standing Orders to give effect to the position. However, we also state that it is clear that, although the intent of the motion is to give a differential standing to a Principal Deputy Speaker, that will not arise from amendments to Standing Orders alone. In view of that, we suggest that the Committee on Procedures recommends that the Assembly writes to the British Secretary of State requesting that the 1998 Act be amended to enable the Principal Deputy Speaker to chair the Assembly Commission as of right and also to chair the Business Committee when the Speaker is unable to do so.

56. Mr A Maginness: I have a couple of points. What Sinn Féin is asking for is over and beyond what we are dealing with. Clearly, Sinn Féin sees the Principal Deputy Speaker as having additional functions over and beyond the functions exercised by other Deputy Speakers. That is very clear from what Mr McMullan has just read out. I presume that that is Sinn Féin’s official position. However, it is also quite interesting. I am confused about the political instructions and the political intention of all this. Is it a change in title, or is it a change in function? Clearly, Sinn Féin sees it as a change in function. I am not sure what the DUP sees it as, but I will read from the Chief Whip’s position paper:

“The creation of such a post is consistent with procedures in other jurisdictions, particularly Westminster. In each jurisdiction there is a post of Speaker, and a number of Deputy Speakers, with one performing the role of principal deputy. This amendment to the Assembly procedures would simply bring us into line with other jurisdictions."

57. If you look at Westminster, we are talking about a Principal Deputy Speaker who has different functions from the other Deputy Speakers. It is also based on statute, which Mr McCaffrey mentioned. The statute is under the Deputy Speaker Act 1855.

58. So really, there is a bit of pretence here. At least, I think that there is either pretence or confusion. What is being attempted here? Is it a change in function, a change in title or something in between? I just do not understand where the parties are coming from; it is quite unclear. But it does point out that the intentions of both parties seem to be inconsistent with section 39 of the 1998 Act. That is quite clear from what they are saying now.

59. Mr Allister: It is not clear to me whether there is a marital rift between the DUP and Sinn Féin on this, because it is clear from what Sinn Féin said that it wants the Principal Deputy Speaker to have additional functions. When you read the penultimate paragraph that Mr Maginness read out from Mr Weir, it seems also to be the message from the DUP, although its members do not want to say that. They say that they want to parallel what exists elsewhere, particularly in Westminster, but, in Westminster, the principal Deputy Speaker has different functions to those of the other Deputy Speakers. So, are DUP members saying that they agree with their Sinn Féin colleagues and that they want extra functions for the Principal Deputy Speaker? They cannot have it both ways. They cannot hide behind a cloak and pretend that they want what exists at Westminster, because, if that is what they are saying, there would be extra functions for the Principal Deputy Speaker.

60. We need absolute clarity on where we are going with the proposition that the two parties are driving. Is asking the Secretary of State to amend the legislation, thus giving extra powers to the Principal Deputy Speaker, to be a staging post or not? Is the DUP’s position that appointing a Principal Deputy Speaker would be a pointless exercise because there would be no distinction from the other Deputy Speakers, that he would have no extra powers and that it is just that somebody’s ego requires it, or is it saying that it agrees with Sinn Féin that the Principal Deputy Speaker must have extra status and power? Until we get the answer to that question, we cannot see where we are going.

61. For my part, I am absolutely clear, and I note with interest that no one in this room or at any time in the past four years in the Assembly has been able to make a case for the need for a Principal Deputy Speaker. There is patently not a need; it is patently a political carve-up between the two parties that came up with it; and it is patently linked with keeping the present Speaker in office until he becomes Lord Hay in three years. It is quite clear that it is all tied in to that and that the DUP, using ambivalent language, appears to be giving a nod and a wink to the Sinn Féin position, which is that it wants a Principal Deputy Speaker with real functions. We want clarity. From my part, it is utterly unnecessary and a waste of time, effort and, if it comes to it, money. There is no cause or need for it whatsoever.

62. Mr Gardiner: The Ulster Unionist Party does not support the appointment of a Principal Deputy Speaker. The present system seems to be working, and we do not know what the hidden agendas are for a Principal Deputy Speaker. We will not run with it, because it would incur more expense. The place is overspent as it is and we are trying to cut back, without appointing additional positions.

63. The Chairperson: I was opening things up for party submissions, but everybody has touched on other issues, which is the next stage that we need to go to, so we have started the debate. Gerry Kelly indicated that he wanted to come in, so I will open it up for members to make additional comments that will allow us to take the matter to the next stage. We need to get agreement on a number of issues beyond the issue of a Principal Deputy Speaker. It is for the benefit of our staff so that they know whether to prepare stuff for our next meeting. If anybody, apart from Mr Kelly, wants to come in with a point, they should indicate that they wish to do so.

64. Mr G Kelly: I do not think that we are being ambivalent at all. As Oliver McMullan pointed out, the intention of the motion is to give differential standing to the position of a Principal Deputy Speaker. The issue of need is a matter of opinion, and our opinion is that there is a need for it. That was argued for Sinn Féin by Paul Maskey in the debate, and that is in the notes for anybody to read.

65. However, as we discussed earlier, it is about what can be done in Standing Orders and what can be done by asking for an amendment to the 1998 Act. In the first instance, the title of Principal Deputy Speaker can be sorted out with the Standing Orders. That has already been discussed. What is being suggested here is that, if it is necessary to go to the British Secretary of State, let us do that.

66. Mr Lyttle: My previous contribution was made on the basis of a change of title. The legal evidence presented was that a change of title was not inconsistent with section 39. The further submissions would seem, at best, to make it unclear as to whether this is a change of title or a change of function. That makes the agenda for this meeting quite difficult to close on, given that that is a change in the way in which the proposal was presented previously.

67. The written submission from the DUP makes clear reference to “a practical problem", about which we have not heard much detail. It also includes the line:

“This ... would simply bring us into line with other jurisdictions."

68. We heard from the research papers presented that there is clearly no consistency around this in neighbouring jurisdictions and that it is a matter for individual jurisdictions to decide. I am finding an increased lack of clarity around the proposal, and that is making life difficult.

69. Mr T Clarke: I think that it is fairly clear from the motion that was put down in the Assembly, the last part of which said:

“as its first priority, to table the necessary amendments to Standing Orders".

70. As we have heard in legal advice today, to do maybe what Sinn Féin referred to in its submission would be a change to the 1998 Act; however, to do what the motion said would only be an amendment to Standing Orders. What we are debating today are amendments to Standing Orders, which do not affect the 1998 Act. For that reason, I propose that we go ahead.

71. Mr Allister: Is it a precursor to amending the 1998 Act? That is the question.

72. Mr T Clarke: We are talking about the motion that was laid in the Assembly.

73. Mr Allister: From your perspective, is it a precursor?

74. Mr T Clarke: I am here today primarily to speak about the motion that is in front of me. That is the business that I have been charged with: to come here and represent my party. I have been asked to talk about amending Standing Orders in relation to creating a Principal Deputy Speaker.

75. Mr Allister: To what end?

76. The Chairperson: I said at the start that I am not going to allow this to become a table tennis match. Let Mr Clarke finish. If anybody wants to come in after that, I am more than willing to let people in.

77. Mr T Clarke: Chair, as I said, I am here to discuss the motion that was laid in the Assembly. It is possibly a bit disappointing that Sinn Féin did not make any reference in the Assembly that day to the fact that its next stage would possibly be a change to the 1998 Act. We are here today to discuss a change to the Standing Orders, which makes no reference to the 1998 Act at all. The legal advice is that to make any change in the role would be a change to the 1998 Act. We are not agreeing to that. Our party is agreeing today to a change to the Standing Orders to allow for a Principal Deputy Speaker.

78. Mr A Maginness: I am getting more confused by the attitude of the DUP. When I read the penultimate paragraph of its submission by Mr Weir, it seems to me that the DUP is hinting at a change in function. Sinn Féin is straight and honest about the thing. Sinn Féin is saying that it wants the primary legislation changed. This is only part one; you change the title and then you get the Act changed. I want to know what the DUP’s position is. Does the DUP see this as just a change in title or does it see this as a change in function some months or years down the line. What is its position? I do not understand it. Maybe the DUP members might explain or give a reassurance that they do not want to see any change in function as far as a Principal Deputy Speaker is concerned.

79. Lord Morrow: I think that Mr Maginness is being facetious and, quite frankly, trying to read into the submission something that clearly is not there. There is no mention anywhere in Mr Weir’s submission of referral to the 1998 Act. As a matter of fact, it is explicit. It says that:

“We are happy to leave the detail of any procedural changes that are required to the Committee itself, but we would indicate that we would not envisage any additional powers for the post of Principal Deputy Speaker".

80. I am not sure what you are seeking clarity on, Mr Maginness. I suspect that you are not as naive as you let on and that you can read plain English like all the rest of us. I think that you are trying to confuse something that is quite clear. We are here today to try to change procedure. We are not here to change any 1998 Act. Others might be trying to do that, but that is a matter for them. That is not what we have been asked to do and it is not what we are getting involved in.

81. Mr Lyttle: The problem here is that we are dealing with a role that must command the full confidence of the entire House. I understand and agree that the motion tabled refers to the amendment of Standing Orders, but it does not encourage cross-party confidence when, at the meeting to consider those Standing Orders, amendments to Acts are introduced.

82. The Chairperson: I will try to pull this together and move on. We had a vote earlier on the issue of the Principal Deputy Speaker. There are a number of outworkings from the changes to the Standing Orders. We need to look at the remit of the Principal Deputy Speaker. People need to take on board that this allows our staff — the legal staff, the research staff or the Committee Clerk — to go away and do some work prior to our next meeting. Has anyone any comments to make, or questions to ask, on the remit of the Principal Deputy Speaker?

83. Mr T Clarke: To refer to the remit is to break away from the original motion. No reference has been made in that to the remit. What we are talking about is the amendment of Standing Orders to create a Principal Deputy Speaker. If we talk about the remit, it suggests that someone is considering a change in the role. We are not here to discuss that, we are discussing only the creation of a Deputy Principal Speaker.

84. The Chairperson: I need a proposal.

85. Mr T Clarke: I propose that, in line with the motion that was resolved by the Assembly, we amend the Standing Orders before 6 June to create the role of Principal Deputy Speaker.

86. The Chairperson: Is there a seconder for that?

87. Lord Morrow: Yes.

88. The Chairperson: We have one proposal. Are there any others?

89. Mr Allister: May I propose an amendment? That:

“For the avoidance of doubt, there shall be no change to remit or additional functions for the holder of any such office."

90. Lord Morrow: That contradicts the legal advice that we have been given.

91. Mr T Clarke: That is not an amendment; it is a new motion.

92. Mr Allister: It is an amendment, because the legal advice is that once you add functions, you are breaching the 1998 Act. My own view is that you breach the 1998 Act before you get to that point.

93. Mr T Clarke: To make an amendment, we have to take the motion first and then amend it. That means that you have to support the motion that was made in the Assembly, albeit you want to attach a part to the end of it.

94. Mr Allister: I can support an amendment and vote against the motion, even if amended.

95. Mr T Clarke: It is a direct negative.

96. The Chairperson: There are two proposals; we have a second proposal from Mr Allister.

97. Mr Allister: I do not want it as a separate proposal.

98. Mr T Clarke: It is a direct negative; it is not an amendment.

99. Lord Morrow: It is down to you, Chair.

100. The Chairperson: I know. Is there a seconder for that proposed amendment?

101. Mr T Clarke: We need to clarify that it is not an amendment; it is a counterproposal.

102. Mr Allister: If it is a counterproposal, I will not make it. If it is an amendment, I will make it.

103. The Chairperson: I am advised that we should take a five-minute break.

Committee suspended.

On resuming —

104. The Chairperson: For the record, the Committee Clerk will read out the original motion.

105. The Committee Clerk: The motion put forward by Mr Clarke was:

“That we continue with the business to change the Standing Orders as directed by the motion agreed by the Assembly on 16 May."

106. The Chairperson: Do we have a proposer and a seconder for that motion? Mr Allister has put forward an amendment.

107. The Committee Chairperson: Mr Allister indicated that he would like to insert in the text of the proposed motion:

“For the avoidance of doubt, there should be no change or addition to the remit or the function of anyone appointed to the position of Principal Deputy Speaker."

108. The Chairperson: Is there a seconder for that?

109. Mr A Maginness: I will second that, yes.

110. Mr T Clarke: Where is it proposed to insert that?

111. The Committee Clerk: It would read:

“That we continue with the business to change the Standing Orders as directed by the motion agreed by the Assembly on 16 May and that, for the avoidance of doubt, there should be no change to the remit or functions of anyone appointed to the position of Principal Deputy Speaker."

112. Lord Morrow: What is your ruling, Chair?

113. The Chairperson: I rule that the motion as amended is acceptable, if members support it. If not, we will vote on the amendment.

114. Lord Morrow: No, wait. That is not my question. The question is: are you ruling that Mr Allister’s proposal amends Mr Clarke’s motion? Is that what you are ruling?

115. The Chairperson: Yes.

116. The Committee Clerk: Yes.

117. The Chairperson: No, sorry, I am not ruling that. I am allowing it to go to the vote. I am not ruling; it will go to a vote.

118. Mr G Kelly: We are dealing with a proposal and an amended proposal, as opposed to two proposals.

119. The Chairperson: Yes. I am not ruling. It is up to members to vote.

120. Mr Allister: If the first question is whether it is a proper amendment, is the next question not whether the proposer of the substantive motion accepts it?

121. The Chairperson: That is what I will ask, but I wanted clarity. Mr Clarke, do you accept the amendment?

122. Mr T Clarke: No.

123. Mr Allister: He does not. There is the answer.

124. The Chairperson: I will take a vote on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 4; Noes 5.

AYES

Mr Allister, Mr Gardiner, Mr Lyttle,
Mr A Maginness.

NOES

Mr T Clarke, Mr G Kelly, Mr McMullan,
Lord Morrow, Ms S Ramsey.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5; Noes 3.

AYES

Mr T Clarke, Mr G Kelly, Mr McMullan,
Lord Morrow, Ms S Ramsey.

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr Gardiner, Mr A Maginness.

The following member abstained: Mr Lyttle

Main Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved:

“That we continue with the business to change the Standing Orders as directed by the motion agreed by the Assembly on 16 May."

125. The Chairperson: Our legal people and the Committee staff are now instructed to come back with first drafts for the next meeting. Unless members have any pressing issues that they wish to raise now, we will adjourn until Tuesday.

Appendix 3

Written Submissions
from Parties and Independent MLAs

Written Submission from the Democratic Unionist Party – 26 May 2011

Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker – DUP Position

The DUP position on this issue was outlined in the Assembly debate on the subject and has not changed since. We believe that this proposal simply regularises and formalises a situation which in practise already happens. The post of Principal Deputy Speaker will clarify the issue of who should deputise for the Speaker in his or her absence at any formal or informal occasion. At present any one of the Deputy Speakers regularly deputises for the Speaker but there are no rules or guidance as which one should do it on any particular occasion. This clarifies the protocol and establishes in effect a chain of command. It would not preclude another Deputy Speaker deputising on occasions, but this person would only be needed in the absence of both Speaker and Principal Deputy Speaker. We believe that this is a common sense solution to a practical problem, and believe that there should be no controversy attached to it.

The creation of such a post is consistent with procedures in other jurisdictions, particularly Westminster. In each jurisdiction there is a post of Speaker, and a number of Deputy Speakers, with one performing the role of principal deputy. This amendment to the Assembly procedures would simply bring us into line with other jurisdictions.

We are happy to leave the detail of any procedural changes that are required to the Committee itself, but we would indicate that we would not envisage any additional powers for the post of Principal Deputy Speaker nor any additional remuneration.

Peter Weir DUP Chief Whip

Written Submission from the Green Party –
26 May 2011

76 Abbey Street
Bangor
BT20 4JB

Ms Sue Ramsey
Chairperson of the
Committee on Procedures
c/o Room 430 Parliament Buildings
Belfast
BT4 3XX

Thursday 26th May 2011

Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

Dear Ms Ramsey

The Green Party can find no compelling reason for the appointment of a Principal Deputy Speaker. There was nothing about the running of the last Assembly that highlighted a need for such a position, and certainly there was no public demand for such a position.

The Party sees no way in which the introduction of a position of Principal Deputy Speaker will help the effective and efficient running of Assembly business.

The Green Party view is that this post is being proposed as a token gift to the party that takes up the role rather than due to any specific need.

We should have more respect for these institutions than to simply give out token positions. Only if a genuine need can be demonstrated would we be willing to reconsider our position.

Yours Sincerely,

Steven Agnew Signature

Steven Agnew
Leader
Green Party in Northern Ireland

Written Submission from Sinn Féin – 25 May 2011

Oifig Shinn Féin
Foirgnimh an Tionóil
Stormont
Béal Feirste
BT4 3XX

Fón: (028) 90 521471
Facs: (028) 90 521488

25/05/2011

Standing Orders for Principal Deputy Speaker

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect the party’s views on this matter.

Sinn Féin supported the motion that there be a Principal Deputy Speaker and that the necessary amendments are made to standing orders by 6th June.

Therefore we support the Committee on Procedures in their work on amending standing orders.

Jennifer McCann, MLA
Sinn Féin Whip

Written Submission from David McClarty MLA -
26 May 2011

Dear Alison,

I wish to strongly object to the creation of the post of Principal Deputy Speaker. I believe that this is completely unnecessary given the experience of the position of deputy speakers in the Assembly over the years.

I am speaking from my own personal experience of serving as a deputy speaker for a four year term. The system which is presently employed works exceedingly well and does not require tinkering with.

No doubt, I am wasting my time writing this e-mail because I believe that DUP and Sinn Fein have already agreed the outcome.

Yours Sincerely,

David McClarty

Appendix 4

Research Papers

research and library service research paper logo

20 May 2011

Ray McCaffrey

Proposal for a
Principal Deputy Speaker

This research paper has been prepared for the Committee on Procedures as part of its inquiry into the proposal to create the post of Principal Deputy Speaker within the Assembly. The paper examines the position in the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann. It also references the Canadian House of Commons as an international comparison.

Paper 000/00 NIAR 267-11

Key Points

The Houses of Commons in the UK and Canada are examples of legislatures that have more than one Deputy Speaker. Within this structure, the Speaker is supported by three Deputies, one of whom has more responsibilities than his or her counterparts. These additional duties are reflected in the increased salary applied to the role. For example, the Deputy Speaker in the UK House of Commons has three distinct roles from the Speaker which include arrangements for sittings in Westminster Hall, matters connected with Private Bills and chairing the Panel of Chairs with responsibility for the work of general committees.

In Canada, the Deputy Speaker is a member of the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees, and may be appointed by the Speaker to chair a legislative committee, or act in place of the Speaker to appoint Members to chair legislative committees.

There is no hierarchical arrangement in the Scottish Parliament, where the two Deputy Presiding Officers have identical roles. The National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann have only one Deputy Speaker each.

Executive Summary

In May 2011 the Assembly resolved that ‘there shall be a Principal Deputy Speaker’ and called on the Committee on Procedures to table the necessary Standing Orders.

This research paper examines the appointment, role and remit of deputy speakers in the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann. It also references the Canadian House of Commons as an international comparison. A key question the research sought to address was whether any hierarchical arrangements existed in circumstances where there was more than one deputy speaker.

The role of deputy speakers is broadly similar across the legislatures. They exist primarily to substitute for the Speaker in circumstances where he or she is unavoidably absent and are usually empowered to carry out all of the duties of the Speaker, which can be broadly defined as:

  • Chairing meetings of Plenary
  • Determining questions relating to the interpretation or application of Standing Orders
  • Representing the institution in exchanges with other bodies

The National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann have only one deputy speaker. The Scottish Parliament has two Deputy Presiding Officers and their role is identical. However, the Scotland Bill, currently before Parliament, allows for the Parliament to appoint more deputy Presiding Officers who could operate for a limited time in the event of illness or other unforeseen circumstances.

UK and Canada

The Houses of Commons in the UK and Canada provide a more interesting perspective on the role of deputy speakers. In the UK, the Speaker is supported by three Deputy Speakers elected by the House. The principal Deputy Speaker is the Chairman of Ways and Means and the other two Deputy Speakers are known respectively as First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (the Ways and Means Committee no longer exists but originally pre-dated the role of Deputy Speaker).

The main role of the Deputy Speaker is to take the Chair during unavoidable absence or absence by leave of the House by the Speaker, and to carry out his duties in relation to all proceedings in the House. The Deputy Speaker also has three distinct roles:

  • Supervision of arrangements for sittings in Westminster Hall
  • General oversight of matters connected with private bills
  • Chair of the panel of Chairs with general responsibility for the work of general committees

These responsibilities are reflected in the additional salary of the Deputy Speaker, which is greater than that payable to the other two Deputies.

The structure of the offices of deputy speakers in the Canadian House of Commons bears some similarities to its Westminster counterpart. However, unlike the UK House of Commons, the Deputy Speakers are not elected, although interestingly, there is a requirement that at least one man and one woman be elected across the four posts of Speaker and Deputy Speakers.

There is a Deputy Speaker, Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of the Committees of the Whole (when the House sits as one large Committee, using Committee rather than House rules) supporting the Speaker. The Parliament of Canada Act allows for the Deputy Speaker to assume the duties of the Speaker in circumstances where the Speaker’s absence is unavoidable.

The Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole support the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker in the Chamber as presiding officers.

The Deputy and Assistant Deputy Chairs of Committees of the Whole are members of the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees, and may thus be appointed by the Speaker to chair a legislative committee. They may also act in place of the Speaker to appoint other Members from the Panel to chair legislative committees.

Contents

Key points

Executive Summary

Introduction

Background

Deputy Speakers in other legislatures

Introduction

This research paper has been prepared for the Committee on Procedures as part of its inquiry into the proposal to create the post of Principal Deputy Speaker within the Assembly. The paper examines the position in the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann. It also references the Canadian House of Commons as an international comparison.

Background

Along with the Speaker, there are currently three Deputy Speakers serving in the Assembly. Standing Order 5 of the Assembly allows for their election based on cross-community support and states that:

Where the Speaker wishes to authorise a Deputy Speaker to exercise functions on his or her behalf, he or she shall notify the Deputy Speaker of the duties which that person is to perform and the authority which that person is to exercise[1].

Following the Assembly election on 5 May 2011 there was discussion in the media about who would assume the role of Speaker. In the event, the previous Speaker, William Hay, was re-elected on 12 May with cross-community support. On 16 May the following motion was tabled in the Assembly:

That this Assembly agrees that there shall be a Principal Deputy Speaker and directs the Committee on Procedures, as its first priority, to table the necessary amendments to Standing Orders by 6 June 2011[2].

Introducing the motion, Mr. Peter Weir (DUP) explained the rationale for the new post:

In addition to you, Mr Speaker, we have three Deputy Speakers who are elected. However, at present, when it comes to either a line of succession or protocol, there is no indication of who should be the principal person who should take your place when you are tied up or away, perhaps on parliamentary business for the Assembly, or when invitations clash, as happened on one occasion.

The motion sets forth a relatively straightforward and simple solution and, in effect, sets up a chain of command to a degree that one of the Deputy Speakers, to be decided by the Assembly, will be the Principal Deputy Speaker. That person is meant, if you like, to fill in on such occasions. From that point of view, I do not envisage that the Principal Deputy Speaker would be given any additional powers. Although that will be a matter on which the Committee on Procedures will deliberate, it is essentially a protocol issue. Similarly, I do not believe that this should lead to any additional expenditure on behalf of the Assembly. Indeed, I do not think that the Assembly would find favour with that[3].

Mr. Paul Maskey (Sinn Féin) spoke in favour of the motion:

A Principal Deputy Speaker is a good sign and will hopefully be a good way for someone to build up further experience when it comes to the possibility of taking on the job of Speaker. It is about leadership and about showing that the Assembly can work together. We are in for power sharing: why not power-share on the job of Speaker by having a Principal Deputy Speaker[4]?

During the debate, some Members raised concerns about the role and responsibilities that a Principal Deputy Speaker would exercise beyond those of the existing Deputy Speakers. Mr. John McCallister (UUP) commented:

There has not been a great deal of clarity on what we are actually talking about with this issue. I suppose that the Speaker has two main sets of functions: first, those that are categorised by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and in Standing Orders; and, secondly, broadly representational duties. Mr Weir argued that this would merely clarify protocol. However, one would have to question how we have survived this long, since 1998, without having a Principal Deputy Speaker. So, I am not sure that that argument stands up to a great deal of scrutiny.

We have issues. This seems to me very much like part of the carve-up. There will probably not be many surprises as to who the candidate for Principal Deputy Speaker is[5].

Mr. Pat Ramsey (SDLP) outlined his concerns:

The SDLP will resist this. I am afraid, Peter, that I am not sure of your logic in putting forward the motion, other than that it seems to be a two-party carve-up, along with the arrangements, as we all know now, for the rotation of the Speaker in three years and then two. That is the deal in essence, and it creates a hierarchy of Speakers. People talk about equality and an island of equals; in this case the mantra is that Deputy Speakers are equal, but some are more equal than others[6].

The Assembly endorsed the motion with 72 Members voting for and 31 against.

Deputy Speakers in other legislatures

House of Commons

Role and remit

Three Deputy Speakers are elected by the House of Commons. The principal Deputy Speaker is the Chairman of Ways and Means (a role which pre-dates the role of Deputy Speaker although there is no longer a Ways and Means Committee). The other two Deputy Speakers are Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means and are known respectively as First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. Once elected, the Chairman of Ways and Means and the two Deputy Chairmen all withdraw from an active political role.

In the absence of the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means may exercise all the authority of the Speaker, under the Deputy Speakers Act 1855. The main role of the Chairman of Ways and Means is to take the Chair during unavoidable absence or absence by leave of the House of the Speaker, and perform his or her duties in relation to all proceedings in the House. The Chairman of Ways and Means is also chairman of any committee of the whole House.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has three distinct roles from the Speaker:

  • Supervision of arrangements for sittings in Westminster Hall
  • General oversight of matters connected with private bills
  • Chair of the Panel of Chairs with general responsibility for the work of general committees

The First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means are entitled to exercise all the powers vested in the Chairman of Ways and Means, including his powers as Deputy Speaker.

Method of selection

The method of selection for the Deputy Speakers of the House of Commons has recently undergone significant change. In 2009 the Procedure Committee published a report examining the method of appointment of the Deputy Speakers[7]. It called for the then procedure for appointing Deputy Speakers – whereby the House appointed a Deputy Speaker after agreeing to a motion moved by a Member of the Government – to be replaced with an election process. The House subsequently adopted the recommendations contained in the Committee’s report and those in a later, more detailed report[8].

As a result of the endorsement of the Committee’s report, the election of the Deputy Speakers must operate under the following rules, as outlined in Standing Orders:

  • two candidates shall come from the opposite side of the House to that from which the Speaker was drawn the first of the candidates will be Chairman of Ways and Means and the second, Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means
  • one candidate shall come from the same side of the House as that from which the Speaker was drawn and shall be First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means and
  • at least one man and at least one woman shall be elected across the four posts of Speaker and Deputy Speakers

This last point is interesting in the context of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Given the consociational nature of the arrangements underpinning the Assembly, there is no requirement that the three deputy speakers reflect party strength, albeit they must be elected with cross-community support.

Scottish Parliament

Role and remit

The Scottish Parliament website defines the role of the two Deputy Presiding Officers in the following terms:

The Deputy Presiding Officers have the same range of responsibilities when acting in place of the Presiding Officer, but both retain their party allegiance and will vote in the Chamber unless chairing proceedings. This means that they also support the Presiding Officer in his representation of the Scottish Parliament at home and abroad[9].

During the passage of the Scotland Bill in 1998, there was some discussion about the use of the term ‘Presiding Officer’ as some MPs felt it was unwieldy compared to the term ‘Speaker’. There was also debate about the need for the Presiding Officer and the two Deputies to come from different political parties. There was no discussion around the role and remit of the Deputies, beyond that they should be able to substitute on those occasions when the Presiding Officer was unavailable.

Method of selection

Section 19 of the Scotland Act 1998 provides for the election of a Presiding Officer and the two deputies and is outlined in Rules 3.2 and 3.3 of Standing Orders. The three successful candidates must represent at least two different political parties, although both Deputies could be drawn from the same party.

A second Scotland Bill, currently before the UK Parliament, allows for the election of additional deputy Presiding Officers who could operate for a limited period in the event of illness or some other unavailability of the Presiding Officer. These additional deputies may hold office for a shorter period than deputies appointed under section 19 of the Scotland Act 1998. The Bill also relaxes the existing requirement in section 19 that the Parliament elect a Presiding Officer and two deputies at its first meeting. Instead, it allows Parliament to appoint the officers before it conducts any other business (other than Members taking the Oath of Allegiance) and, in any event, within 14 days of the election. These provisions followed a recommendation contained in the report from the Commission on Scottish Devolution (the Calman Commission which was set up to review the workings of devolution) which stated:

Section 19(1) of the Scotland Act should be amended so as to loosen the requirement on the Parliament to appoint a Presiding Officer and deputies at the first meeting of a new session, and to enable additional deputies to be appointed if and when that becomes appropriate[10].

The Commission received submissions during the course of its review calling for greater flexibility in the appointment of deputy Presiding Officers. The Commission recognised that this would be beneficial in circumstances in the event of illness on the part of the Speaker and/or one or both of the Deputies. It also wanted to give political parties more time to consider their positions in the event of a close election before deciding if they wanted one of their members to take on a non-voting role.

National Assembly for Wales

Sections 25, 26 and 27 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 make provision for the offices of Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer – these were created by the Government of Wales Act 1998 but the 2006 Act set out their responsibilities in greater detail.

Standing Order 6 of the Assembly outlines the process by which the Presiding Officer and Deputy are to be elected. Standing Order 6.12 states that the Presiding Officer and the Deputy Presiding Officer must not belong to the same political group, or different political groups both of which are political groups with an executive role. However, Standing Order 6.13 states that this can be disapplied by a two-thirds majority of the Assembly. This occurred in 2007. In the initial instance, the Rt. Hon the Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM (Plaid Cymru) was re-elected as Presiding Officer and Rosemary Butler AM (Labour) was elected as Deputy Presiding Officer. However, Labour and Plaid Cymru subsequently formed a coalition government. On 11 July 2007 the motion was put to Plenary that:

section 25(7) of the Government of Wales Act 2006 shall not apply and, in accordance with Standing Order No. 2.14, Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Rosemary Butler may remain in office until they cease to hold the offices of Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer.

No objections were made to the motion.

Dail Éireann

Standing Orders 9 and 10 of Dail Éireann allows for the election of one Leas-Cheann Comhairle (Deputy Chairman):

  • 9(1) An election shall be held for a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and motions may be made to this effect after notice
  • 10 When a vacancy has occurred in the office of Ceann Comhairle, the Less-Cheann Comhairle shall perform the duties devolved upon, and exercise the authority conferred upon the Ceann Comhairle by these Standing Orders. The Clerk shall report such vacancy to the Dáil at the opening of its next meeting and an Order shall be made fixing a date for the election of Ceann Comhairle.
  • 11 In the unavoidable absence of the Ceann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle shall perform the duties devolved upon, and exercise the authority conferred upon the Ceann Comhairle by these Standing Orders until the Dáil shall otherwise order[11].

The role of Leas-Ceann Comhairle is provided for under Article 15.9.1 of the Constitution. In the official absence of the Ceann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle deputises and acts as follows:

  • Under the Constitution as an ex-officio member of the Presidential Commission which acts in the absence of the President;
  • Under Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann as:
  • An ex-officio Chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges;
  • As Chairman of the Executive of the Inter-Parliamentary Union which maintains and nurtures contacts between Parliaments all over the world.
  • Under statute as an ex-officio Chairman/Member of Statutory Bodies:
  • as a member of the appeal board in relation to the registration of political parties (Electoral Act, 1997) and a member of the appeal board to hear appeals in relation to registration of nominating bodies for the Seanad election – Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947;
  • In the EU as an ex-officio Member of the Presidents (Speakers) of Parliament of the E.U.

The independence of the Leas Ceann-Comhairle is secured by the following requirements:

  • A Minister of Minister of State cannot hold the office
  • In the absence of the Ceann-Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is ex-officio a member of the Presidential Commission, which acts as President in the absence of the President who is also required to be above politics
  • The Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle when presiding may not make a speech in the Dáil or cast a deliberative vote on any matter and may exercise a casting vote only i.e. where there is an equality of votes.

Standing Order 9 requires the incoming Leas-Ceann Comhairle to make a declaration that he or she will act impartially and independently[12].

Canadian House of Commons

The arrangements in the Canadian House of Commons bear some similarities to those in the UK House of Commons, with a Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of the Committees of the Whole supporting the Speaker. Standing Orders 7 and 8 outline the procedure for choosing the Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair.

In 2004 the rules governing the appointment of the Deputy Speaker, Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of the Committees of the Whole were amended. Before 2004 the Prime Minister proposed the candidates for these positions, but since then the Speaker proposes the names following consultation with party leaders. A motion for that Member’s election is deemed to have been moved and the question is put immediately without debate or amendment. There is also a requirement that the Deputy Speaker be fluent in the official language which is not that of the Speaker (the two official languages of Canada are English and French).

The Deputy and Assistant Deputy Chairs of Committees of the Whole hold office for one session, rather than a full Parliament. Appointments to these offices are made by motion, following the same process used to select the Deputy Speaker.

The offices of Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole may be filled either at the start of each session, or when necessary. Therefore, a vacancy during a session may not necessarily be filled immediately, or at all.

The Parliament of Canada Act provides for the Deputy Speaker (who is also Chair of the Committee of the Whole) to assume the duties of the Speaker in circumstances where the Speaker’s absence is unavoidable. There have also been circumstances where both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker have been absent. At such times, the Deputy Chair or Assistant Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole have taken the place of the Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker also has certain administrative responsibilities. For example, he or she may be asked to serve on the Board of Internal Economy. In addition, the Deputy Speaker is a member of the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees, and may be appointed by the Speaker to chair a legislative committee, or act in place of the Speaker to appoint Members to chair legislative committees. There is no specific provision prohibiting the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair from taking part in debates, but they generally avoid doing so.

The Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole support the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker in the Chamber as presiding officers. In the absence of the Deputy Speaker, they take the Chair when the House sits as a Committee of the Whole.

The Deputy and Assistant Deputy Chairs of Committees of the Whole are members of the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees, and may thus be appointed by the Speaker to chair a legislative committee. They may also act in place of the Speaker to appoint other Members from the Panel to chair legislative committees.

Remuneration

The following table contains the salaries paid to the Speakers and their Deputies in addition to their ordinary salary. The hierarchical nature of the role in the UK and Canada is reflected in the salaries.

House of Commons (UK) Speaker £79,754 Chairman of Ways and Means (Deputy Speaker) £41,370 First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Deputy Speaker) £36,360 Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Deputy Speaker) £36,360
House of Commons (Canada) Speaker $75,516 Deputy Speaker $39,179 Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole $15,834 Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole $15,834
Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer £40-45k Deputy Presiding Officers £25-30k
National Assembly for Wales Presiding Officer £41,950 Deputy Presiding Officer £26,386
Dáil Éireann Ceann Comhairle €125,005 Leas-Ceann Comhairle €54,549

[1] Standing Order 5(2), Northern Ireland Assembly

[2] NIA OR 16 May 2011

[3] NIA OR 16 May 2011

[4] As above

[5] As above

[6] As above

[7] Procedure Committee Fourth Report of Session 2008-09, Election of the Deputy Speakers:
Principles 27 October 2009

[8] Procedure Committee - First Report of session 2009-10 Election of the Speaker and of the Deputy Speakers 27 January 2010

[9] Website of the Scottish Parliament http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/corporate/po/DeputyPresidingOfficers.htm retrieved 18 May 2011

[10] The Commission on Scottish Devolution Serving Scotland Better: Scotland and the United Kingdom in the 21st Century June 2009

[11] Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=17757&CatID=5

[12] Role of the Leas-Ceann Comhairle http://ceanncomhairle.oireachtas.ie/cv_deputy.asp

research and library service briefing paper logo

31 May 2011

Ray McCaffrey

Deputy Speakers in
the House of Commons

This research paper has been prepared for the Committee on Procedures as part of its inquiry into the proposal to create the post of Principal Deputy Speaker within the Assembly. The paper examines the position in the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Dáil Éireann. It also references the Canadian House of Commons as an international comparison.

Paper 000/00 NIAR 000-00

Introduction

This briefing note provides supplemental information on the role of deputy speakers in the UK House of Commons. It was requested by the Committee on Procedures to further inform its consideration on the creation of the post of Principal Deputy Speaker in the Assembly.

The role of Deputy Speakers relating to Committees of the Whole House and Westminster Hall debates

The following section outlines the role played by the Deputy Speakers in relation to Committees of the Whole House and Westminster Hall debates.

Panel of Chairs

Standing Order 4 of the House of Commons states:

The Speaker shall nominate not fewer than ten Members to act as temporary chairs of committees when requested by the Chairman of Ways and Means…the Members nominated in accordance with the preceding paragraph together with the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means shall constitute the Panel of Chairs[1].

The role of the Chairmen’s Panel is further outlined in the latest edition of Erskine May:

In addition to the Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Chairmen, the House may appoint up to four members of the Chairmen’s Panel to take the Chair at sittings in Westminster Hall as Deputy Speaker, and at those sittings are so addressed. Other members of the Panel may also chair the sittings, but are addressed by name[2].

There is no reference in Standing Orders or Erskine May to Members of the panel of Chairs (apart from the three Deputy Speakers) chairing general sittings of the House.

Committee of the Whole House

The Committee of the Whole House is the entire House sitting as a Committee in the Chamber. It is presided over by the Chairman of Ways and Means (the Deputy Speaker) or one of his/her deputies – the First and Second Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means, who are also the other two deputy speakers of the House of Commons.

In the absence of the three deputy speakers, ‘the Chair of a Committee of the Whole House may be taken by a member of the Chairmen’s Panel’[3].

The Committee of the Whole House proceeds under Committee rules, even though its proceedings are in the Chamber. As in other committees, any Member may speak more than once to the same question. The Chairman or his/her deputy is addressed by name, as is the case in a general committee.

A Committee of the Whole House is usually convened to consider bills of constituional importance, urgent bills and parts of the Finance Bill or for short, uncontroversial or technical bills.

Westminster Hall debates

Westminster Hall debates began in 1999 following a recommendation from the Modernisation Committee. It was envisioned that a second Chamber (based on an existing Australian model) would debate non-controversial legislation, Government reports and adjourment debates, thereby freeing up time in the main Chamber for more urgent work.

[1] Standing Order 4, House of Commons

[2] McKay and Erskine, Erskine May’s treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament (23rd edition) p229, 2004

[3] As above p795

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