Date: 19 November 2013
ISBN: Only available online
This is the end of session report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 1 st September 2012 to 31 st August 2013.
The Committee on Standards and Privileges is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraph 10 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Assembly Standing Order No. 57. The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.
The Committee has power:
- to consider specific matters relating to privilege referred to it by the Assembly;
- to oversee the work of the Assembly Clerk of Standards;
- to examine the arrangement for the compilation, maintenance and accessibility of the Register of Members’ Interests and any other registers of interest established by the Assembly, and to review from time to time the form and content of those registers;
- to consider any specific complaints made in relation to the registering or declaring of interests referred to it;
- to consider any matter relating to the conduct of Members, including specific complaints in relation to alleged breaches of any code of conduct to which the Assembly has agreed and which have been drawn to the Committee’s attention; and
- to recommend any modifications to any Assembly code of conduct as may from time to time appear to be necessary.
The Committee is appointed at the start of every Assembly, and has power to send for persons, papers and records that are relevant to its enquiries.
The membership of the Committee is as follows:
Mr Alastair Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Kieran McCarthy (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Steven Agnew
Mr Sydney Anderson (1)
Mr Cathal Boylan
Ms Paula Bradley (2)
Mr Colum Eastwood (3)
Mr Declan McAleer (4,5,6)
Mr Fra McCann
Mr Ian McCrea (7)
Mrs Sandra Overend (8)
1 With effect from 7th May 2013 Mr Sydney Anderson replaced Mr David McIlveen
2 With effect from 15th April 2013 Ms Paula Bradley replaced Mr Jonathan Craig
3 With effect from 23rd April 2012 Mr Colum Eastwood replaced Mr Patsy McGlone
4 With effect from 3rd July 2012 Mr Alex Maskey replaced Mr Pat Doherty
5 With effect from 7th September 2012 Mr Francie Molly replaced Mr Alex Maskey
6 With effect from 15th April 2013 Mr Declan McAleer replaced Mr Francie Molloy
7 With effect from 3rd December 2012 Mr Ian McCrea replaced Ms Paula Bradley
8 With effect from 26th September 2011 Mrs Sandra Overend replaced Mr Michael Copeland
The Register of Members’ Interests
1. The Committee on Standards and Privileges has responsibility for examining the arrangements for the compilation, maintenance and accessibility of the Register of Members’ Interests and any other registers of interest established by the Assembly, and to review from time to time the form and content of those registers. The first register of this mandate was published on 29 th June 2011. Nine updated versions have since been published on the website, four of which during the period covered by this report.
Appointment of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards
2. The role of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards (“the Commissioner”) is provided for by the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act 2011. Mr Douglas Bain was appointed the Commissioner for Standards for a five year term from 17 th September 2012.
3. All-Party Groups provide a forum for MLAs from different parties to meet in order to consider and discuss shared interests in particular subjects. During the period covered by this report nine new All-Party Groups were established. They are:
- The All-Party Group on Congenital Heart Disease;
- The All-Party Group on Cost of Motor Insurance in NI;
- The All-Party Group on Country Sports;
- The All-Party Group on Cycling;
- The All-Party Group on Infertility;
- The All-Party Group on Organ Donation;
- The All-Party Group on Postal Issues;
- The All-Party Group on Renewable Energy; and
- The All-Party Group on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.
This brings the total number of All-Party Groups to 35.
Complaints against Members
4. At the beginning of this Session the Committee gave further consideration to two reports by the former interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards on complaints against a Member. The Committee agreed and reported to the Assembly that the Member had breached the Code of Conduct. The Committee recommended to the Assembly that it should impose a sanction upon the Member. The Assembly did not agree to do this. The Committee also considered a report from the former interim Commissioner for Standards on a complaint against another Member. The complaint was not upheld and a Committee report was published.
5. The Committee considered correspondence from the Commissioner on four complaints and agreed that all four complaints were inadmissible. The Committee considered two reports on investigations into complaints from the Commissioner and agreed with the Commissioner’s decision that each complaint was not upheld. The Committee published Committee reports on both complaints.
6. In addition to these eight complaints, two cases were carried over from the previous mandate and were transferred to the new Commissioner on 17 th September 2012. Both had been suspended pending the outcome of police investigations and other legal proceedings.
7. Since its last meeting the Committee has received a report from the Commissioner on a complaint against a Member and correspondence from the Commissioner regarding a further five complaints. These will be considered at the beginning of the next session.
8. In March 2011 the Speaker referred a specific matter affecting the privilege of the Assembly to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The matter was the unauthorised disclosure (leaking) of a draft Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report. The Committee agreed that the matter should be referred to the interim Commissioner for Standards for investigation.
9 . The interim Commissioner presented his report on his investigation to the Committee at its meeting on 20 th June 2012. The interim Commissioner was unable to identify with certainty the source of the unauthorised disclosure, but he did make a number of recommendations setting out additional "levels of assurance" that could be applied systematically to minimise the risk of a similar event in the future.
10. The Committee agreed that, as some of the interim Commissioner’s specific recommendations were for others to implement, it was appropriate that these bodies should consider the recommendations and report back to the Committee on whether they were practical and how they might address them.
11. The Committee therefore published an initial Committee report on the investigation (with the interim Commissioner’s full report included as an appendix) and agreed that following consultation with the relevant parties it would publish a full committee report addressing each of the interim Commissioner’s recommendations. Responses were received from the Assembly Commission; the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Chairpersons’ Liaison Group; and the Public Accounts Committee.
12. A full Committee report, incorporating these responses, was published on 13 th March 2013. The Committee noted with satisfaction that the majority of the interim Commissioner’s recommendations have since been implemented. However, important work remains to be done and the Committee looks forward to the swift adoption of the remaining recommendations
13. The Committee held ten meetings during this session. Of these, seven were held entirely in closed session, two were held in part closed session and one was held in open session.
14. The Committee noted the former interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards’ Legacy Report.
15. The Committee agreed the Directions for the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards which incorporated the ‘Directions on General Procedures’ and the ‘Directions on the Code of Conduct and Requirement to Register Interests’. The Committee also agreed the ‘Code of Conduct – Revised Complaints Procedure’.
16. Committee members attended an Effective Questioning seminar hosted by the Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Strengthening Trust on 10 th April 2013.
17. The Committee noted the annual report of the Commissioner which was laid before the Assembly. The Commissioner set out work carried out and costs incurred since his appointment. He also advised of his intention to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the PSNI, increase public awareness of his role, and contribute to the revision of the Code.
18. The Committee agreed to carry out a review of the Code of Conduct in the next session.
19. Details of the Committee’s expenditure are shown in Annex A.
Committee on Standards and Privileges
Expenditure for the period 1st September 2012 – 31st August 2013
Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings
Printing of committee reports
Includes the cost of printing:
The Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members
Report on a Complaint by Mr Jason Johnston against Mr David McIlveen MLA
Report on Complaints against Mr Jim Wells MLA from Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA and from Ms Mary McArdle
Second Report on the Unauthorised Disclosure of a Draft Report of the Public Accounts Committee
Report on a Complaint against Mr Pat Ramsey MLA from Mr Bertie Faulkner OBE
Report on a Complaint against Mr Dominic Bradley MLA
General Committee expenses
Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, room hire, witness expenses and the printing and publication of the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) (2011 Act) (Commencement) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012