Session: 2012/2013

Date: 19 November 2013

ISBN: Only available online

Committee: Procedures

Remit and Powers

1. The Committee on Procedures (the Committee) 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.

2. 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;
  • Republish Standing Orders annually; and
  • Call for persons and papers.

Membership

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

Mr Gerry Kelly (Chairperson) (1)

Mr Trevor Clarke (Deputy Chairperson)

Mr Jim Allister

Mr Samuel Gardiner

Mr Chris Lyttle

Mr Barry McElduff (2,3)

Mr Oliver McMullan

Mr Alban Maginness

Lord Morrow

Mr George Robinson

Mr Mervyn Storey

1 With effect from 6 February 2012 Mr Gerry Kelly replaced Ms Sue Ramsey as Chairperson

2 With effect from 10 September 2012 Mr Phil Flanagan replaced Ms Sue Ramsey

3 With effect from 21 January 2013 Mr Barry McElduff replaced Mr Phil Flanagan

End of Session Report

4. This annual report summarises the work of the Committee on Procedures from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013.

5. Coming into this parliamentary year, the Committee brought forward work matters from the previous year, such as the inquiry into Topical Questions and responses to written Assembly Questions.

Meetings

6. The Committee met on ten occasions during the period of the report. Four meetings were held in public session, and six were held in part public/part closed session. All meetings were held in Parliament Buildings.

Inquiries

Topical Questions

7. The Committee conducted an inquiry into whether the introduction of a system for asking Topical Questions of Ministers is appropriate and, if so, how could it best be done. The Committee concluded that a facility for asking Topical Questions of Ministers should be introduced to the Assembly, and on 15 April 2013 the Assembly approved the Committee’s report on its inquiry into Topical Questions.

8. Revised Standing Orders were drafted to give effect to the recommendations in the Committee’s report, and these amendments were agreed by the Assembly on 1 July 2013. Topical Questions are scheduled to commence at the first sitting in the new session, ie, 9 September 2013.

Attorney General participation in proceedings of the Assembly

9. The Committee agreed to proceed with an inquiry (which had been initiated by the previous Committee on Procedures in the last mandate) into “the extent to which Standing Orders should permit the Attorney General for Northern Ireland (AGNI) to participate in proceedings of the Assembly”. The aim of the inquiry is to inform the Committee on how best to interpret the existing legislation into Standing Orders, the extent to which the AGNI should be enabled to participate and how it could best be done.

It is expected that the inquiry report will be presented to the Assembly in November 2013.

Review of Standing Orders and Procedures

10. In accordance with its agreed work programme, the Committee reviewed a number of Standing Orders and procedures of the Assembly, and the main items of business considered are summarised below.

Re-introduction of Fallen or Rejected Bills (Standing Order 30)

11. The Speaker wrote to the Committee in relation to Standing Order 32(2) which relates to Reasoned Amendments to Bills, asking it to consider whether Standing Orders should be amended to state a period during which a Bill that has been rejected at Second Stage cannot be reintroduced. The Committee agreed that Standing Order 30 should be amended to include an exclusion period of six months, prohibiting the re-introduction of a Bill that has fallen at any stage during its passage through the Assembly. The proposed amendments are scheduled for debate by the Assembly in September 2013.

Responses to Written Assembly Questions

12. In the previous session the Committee had written to the Speaker, expressing its concerns about the poor performance of some departments in complying with the timescales for answering written Assembly Questions as set out in Standing Orders.

13. At the Committee’s request, the junior Ministers attended the Committee meeting in September 2012 to discuss the issues. The Committee wrote to the junior Ministers following the meeting, and the response advised that, in light of the concerns raised by Members at the meeting, the matter was raised at the Executive Committee meeting on 4 October 2012, when the importance of according such questions their due priority was emphasised.

Amending Bills after Further Consideration Stage

14. The Committee considered the issue of whether the Assembly requires a change to Standing Orders to enable a Bill, taken outside competence as a result of amendments made during its passage, to be brought back within competence after Further Consideration Stage and before Final Stage.

15. The Committee agreed that Standing Orders should be amended to provide for a new, narrowly defined amending stage (Exceptional Further Consideration Stage) to occur in limited circumstances after Further Consideration Stage and prior to Final Stage. Draft amendments to Standing Orders are being prepared for consideration by the Committee in the autumn of 2013.

Motions in Plenary

16. Apart from minor and technical changes, amendments to Standing Orders must be agreed by cross-community vote in the Assembly. Consequently, the majority of the Committee’s output must be agreed by the Assembly before implementation.

17. The Committee had nine motions debated and agreed by the Assembly.

Expenditure

18. Details of the Committee’s expenditure are attached at Annex A.

Key Priorities for the Next Session

19. The Committee has agreed a work programme for the coming session. The programme will include the following key priorities:

  • Completion of the inquiry into the Attorney General participation in proceedings of the Assembly, and, if necessary, drafting of new Standing Orders
  • Conduct a review of the scheduling of parliamentary business
  • Consideration of issues relating to the emergence of new political parties or groupings during a mandate, including speaking arrangements
  • Consideration of the jurisdiction and powers of Assembly Committees, particularly with regard to private organisations, where the matter under consideration relates to a transferred matter
  • Possible amendments to Standing Orders in relation to Petitions of Concern and establishment of Ad Hoc Committees on Conformity with Equality Requirements
  • Possible amendments to Standing Orders on completion of the review into the budget scrutiny process by the Committee for Finance and Personnel
  • Possible amendments to Standing Orders on completion of the trial by the Committee for OFMDFM in relation to Subsidiarity monitoring and reporting
  • Possible amendments to Standing Orders on completion of the Review of the Committee System project
  • Possible review of the public petition procedures

ANNEX A  

Committee on Procedures

Expenditure for the period 1 September 2012 – 31 August 2013

Budget area

 

Details

Expenditure

Printing of Committee reports

Inquiry into Topical Questions

£191.66

Consultancy support - the cost of drafting Standing Orders

Draftsperson for Standing Orders

£1,500.00

General expenses

Cost of lunch and refreshments
for Committee meetings

£590.26

Total Expenditure

 £2,281.92

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