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All Party Notice on Hybrid Proceedings

Standing Order 110A (2) provides that the Speaker may make provision for hybrid proceedings of the Assembly.

The Speaker has today amended the provision for hybrid proceedings. The amended provisions allows for a Private Member who is self-isolating to move any Bill stage of their Private Member’s Bill remotely and to participate remotely in the proceedings in relation to that Bill.  The amended provision also clarifies that Commission Members can respond remotely to questions for oral answer on the same basis as Ministers (i.e. if they were self-isolating and were unable to arrange for an alternative Member to attend the Chamber and answer on their behalf) and the previous ruling which allows for a Member who is self-isolating to raise a matter as an adjournment debate.

The amended provision, which is set out in Annex A below, shall take effect from 8 March 2022.

Annex A

Provision for Hybrid proceedings

Introduction

  • Further to Standing Order 110A (2), the Speaker has made the following provision for hybrid proceedings of the Assembly.
  • The provision made for Ministers differs to that made for other Members, as set out below.
  • Members and Ministers may only participate remotely in proceedings as per this provision.
  • This provision updates the previous provision. It shall take effect from 8 March 2022. It shall continue to be kept under review and shall be updated periodically based on experience.

Members

Debates

  • Members may participate remotely in debates, including in debates on the Second Stages and Final Stages of Bills.
  • Participating in debates includes raising a matter as an adjournment debate.
  • However, a Member moving or winding on a debate, moving or winding on an amendment to a motion, or moving or winding on an amendment to a Bill, should be present in the Chamber.
  • Further provision for remote participation by a Member in charge of a Private Member’s Bill is set out in the section on legislation below.
  • There is no provision for a Member participating remotely in a debate to either make or accept an intervention.

Question Time – listed, topical and urgent oral questions

  • A Member may ask his or her listed question remotely.
  • A Member who asks his or her listed question remotely may also ask a supplementary question to that question remotely.
  • Further supplementary questions to a listed question may only be asked by Members present in the Chamber.
  • A Member may ask a topical question remotely.
  • A Member who asks a topical question remotely may also ask a supplementary question remotely.
  • An urgent oral question and supplementary questions to that question may only be asked by Members present in the Chamber.

Ministerial Statements

  • A Member may ask a question remotely following a Ministerial statement.

Legislation

  • A Member may move a Bill stage of his or her Private Member’s Bill remotely, provided there is no opportunity for debate and no questions shall be put (e.g. at a Bill’s First Stage or at Further Consideration Stage when no amendments have been selected).
  • A Member who is self-isolating may move any Bill stage of his or her Private Member’s Bill remotely and may participate remotely in the proceedings in relation to that Bill.  In these circumstances the Member must first notify the Speaker’s Office.

Ministers

  • Ministers should continue to attend business in the Chamber in person.
  • If a Minister is unable to attend in person due to being required to self-isolate then, in line with established arrangements, he or she should either seek to have an alternative Minister attend on his or her behalf or, where possible and practicable, reschedule the business.
  • If a Minister who is self-isolating is unable to arrange for an alternative Minister to attend the Chamber on his or her behalf, or it is not possible or practicable to reschedule the business, that Minister may participate in proceedings remotely. In these circumstances Ministers must first notify the Speaker’s Office.
  • Notwithstanding these requirements, a Minister may move a Bill stage remotely, provided there is no opportunity for debate and no questions shall be put (e.g. at a Bill’s First Stage or at Further Consideration Stage when no amendments have been selected).

Commission Members answering questions

  • The arrangements for Commission Members answering questions in the Chamber are the same as those for Ministers.
  • Commission Members should continue to answer questions in the Chamber in person.
  • If a Commission Member is unable to attend in person due to being required to self-isolate then, in line with established arrangements, he or she should either seek to have an alternative Commission Member attend on his or her behalf
  • If a Commission Member who is self-isolating is unable to arrange for an alternative Commission Member to attend the Chamber on his or her behalf, that Commission Member may answer questions remotely. In these circumstances Commission Members must first notify the Speaker’s Office.

Other business

  • Members and Ministers may only participate remotely in proceedings as per this provision. There is currently no provision for carrying out any other business remotely, including amongst other things speaking on a Matter of the Day, the presentation of a public petition, asking an Urgent Oral Question or making a point of order.

How to participate remotely

  • A Member or Minister may only participate remotely via the Starleaf platform.
  • Remote plenary proceedings will be directly accessible to all Members and Ministers who can access StarLeaf via the app on their Surface Pros or other devices and are registered using their Assembly email accounts
  • Members and Ministers should use the Starleaf app when participating remotely. This ensures full functionality and that names are properly displayed. However, if for whatever reason the Starleaf app is unavailable, it is possible to log on using the link or the meeting code that will have been issued in advance.
  • A Member or Minister may only participate remotely if they have provided advance notice to the Business Office of their intention to do so. It is not possible to provide this notification via Starleaf. Notification should be provided as soon as possible and always in sufficient time to ensure that the Speaker has advance notice. Members should note that it is also necessary to provide notice if they intend to ask their listed oral or topical question remotely.
  • Only those Members and Ministers who have confirmed that they will be participating remotely should log on to Starleaf and appear ‘in the audience’. Members should not use Starleaf for the purpose of observing proceedings in the Chamber. Proceedings should instead be observed on https://niassembly.tv/.
  • A Member or Minister who is due participate remotely must ensure that they have logged on to Starleaf in sufficient time to allow the Speaker to note their presence in the audience in advance of calling them at the appropriate time. As ever, timings for business are purely indicative and if an item of business concludes early, the next item may be taken immediately.
  • A Member or Minister who logs on to Starleaf shall remain in the audience until such time as the Speaker brings them into the ‘Spotlight’ and invites them to speak. When in the audience a Member or Minister cannot be heard by others and will not appear on screen in the Chamber. Therefore, it is unnecessary to use the mute function.
  • The Speaker will be able to see a list of the names of all those who are in the audience. If a Member or Minister has logged on to Starleaf and has not used their full, official, name that Member or Minister will not be called as the Speaker will be unable to confirm who it is.
  • At the relevant time the Speaker will say “Please bring [Member’s name] into the Spotlight”. At this point the Member or Minister will be moved from the audience into the Spotlight and will appear on the screens in the Chamber – this process may take a brief moment to complete. Only once the Speaker can see the Member or Minister on the screens in the Chamber will he then say “I invite [Member’s name] to ask his question/make her speech etc”. Members should not begin their contributions until expressly asked to do so by the Speaker.
  • Those participating remotely will be unable to see the clock in the Chamber. Therefore, where there is a time limit on a particular remote contribution, the Speaker will advise the Member or Minister when to bring their remarks to a close. Those participating remotely must conclude their remarks when their time is up.
  • Those participating remotely should note that they will continue to appear in the Spotlight (and therefore on the screens in the Chamber) until their contribution has ended after which they will be returned to the audience. However, when a Member asks a question he or she will remain in the Spotlight until his or her question(s) have been answered.
  • Further guidance on using Starleaf is available on the Assembly’s website: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/committees/video-call-guides/

Connectivity issues

  • It is the sole responsibility of any Member or Minister who wishes to participate remotely to ensure they have adequate connectivity to ensure uninterrupted participation.
  • Members are reminded that their constituency offices are all provided with high-speed broadband access, which should be used where domestic connectivity is insufficient.
  • If a Member or Minister’s connection is interrupted or fails while they are participating remotely, the Speaker may take whatever action he considers appropriate in order to maintain good order and to ensure proceedings can continue. Actions that the Speaker may take in these circumstances include:

-       advising the Member or Minister of the interruption;

-       inviting the Member or the Minister to repeat [part of] their contribution;

-       ending the Member or Minister’s contribution; or

-       pausing or suspending proceedings.

  • A Member or Minister’s whose connection is interrupted or fails while they are participating remotely should not expect to be given any additional time. Nonetheless, in these circumstances the Speaker may use his discretion to allow additional time for an individual’s remote contribution or to increase the overall time allocated to the item of business.
  • A Member or Minister who is invited to resume an interrupted speech shall not be considered to have spoken more than once to the same motion.
  • Members participating in the Chamber should ensure that they stand in front of a microphone. Remote participants will only be able to hear commentary that is picked up by the bench microphones.

Behaviour and Courtesies while participating remotely

  • Ministers and Members participating remotely should continue to observe all the usual relevant behaviours and courtesies as would apply when participating in person in the Chamber. Members and Ministers participating remotely should therefore continue to dress in a way which demonstrates respect for the Assembly and are not permitted to display emblems, logos or anything else that would not be permitted in the Chamber.
  • Members and Ministers participating remotely should avoid repetition by listening to opening speeches or statements and being aware of previous contributions or questions.
  • Ministers and Members participating remotely must cease speaking if the Speaker intervenes during their contribution.
  • The Speaker may terminate any remote contribution in the interests of maintaining good order.
  • The Speaker shall take whatever steps he deems necessary in the circumstances to prevent conduct via remote proceedings which would constitute a criminal offence or a contempt of court

Quorum

  • Standing Order 110(A)(5)(a) provides that Members participating remotely are not present for the purposes of standing order 9 (quorum). Consequently, party whips should ensure that with certain Members participating remotely there remains a sufficient number of Members available in Parliament Buildings to attend the Chamber in person for business to commence and proceed as usual. 

Votes

  • Standing Order 110(A)(5)(b) provides that Members participating remotely may not vote using the remote platform, but may vote by proxy.
  • When a question is put, the Speaker will first seek to judge whether the question is carried by collecting voices. In collecting voices, the Speaker may take account of the number of proxy votes exercised by any Member. However, it will only be the voices of those Members present in the Chamber that will inform the Speaker’s judgement.
  • If the Speaker is unsure whether or not a question is carried following the collection of voices or if the Speaker’s judgement as to whether a question is so carried is challenged, the Speaker shall direct that the lobbies be cleared and the division bells sounded.
  • If a division is required, a Member or Minister participating remotely may only vote via the established proxy voting arrangements.

Privilege

  • Under Section 50 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, for the purposes of the law of defamation, absolute privilege applies equally to:
    · the making of a statement in proceedings of the Assembly; and
    · the publication of a statement under the Assembly’s authority.
  • Proceedings of the Assembly are considered to include hybrid proceedings.

Prayers

  • Members participating remotely will see a black screen for the first two minutes of a plenary sitting during Prayers.

Further guidance

Should Members require any further guidance on participating remotely or hybrid proceedings, they should contact the Business Office.

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