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  • 71

    Assembly Business Mr Speaker: I have received notice from the Minister of the Environment —

    Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During yesterday’s debate on the 50:50 recruitment policy, a Member said:

    “Catholic officers who joined the police in recent years have the stigma of not necessarily getting their place completely on merit.” — [Official Report, Vol 49, No 1, p68, col 2].

    The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of stigma is:

    “a mark or sign of disgrace or discredit”.

    I ask you to review Hansard, Mr Speaker, and make a ruling on the matter. To suggest that any member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, given what it has experienced recently and over a long period could, in any way, be deemed to carry a sign of disgrace or discredit is a poor reflection on those who would make such a comment and a poor reflection on the House. A ruling is required to ensure that, in future, comments of such gravity and severity are not made in the House or, if they are made, that they be corrected immediately.

    Mr Speaker: I thank the Member for his point of order. I have continually warned all sides of the House about the language that they may use in the House and to be moderate and temperate in their language. I will study Hansard and come back to the House directly or to the Member directly.

    Mr Attwood: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, I stress the point that, in addition to Members making unparliamentary or inappropriate comments about other Members, I am of the view that a line may have been crossed when inappropriate and improper references were made to people outside the Building. Whenever

    a Member uses a word that has a very explicit and unfortunate meaning, such as the word “stigma”, I believe that a ruling must be made, rather than a mere exhortation being given to Members to be moderate in their comments.

    Mr Speaker: On occasions in the House, debates can raise emotions from all Members, and some of the comments that are made are part of the cut and thrust of debate. Once again, I remind Members to be of good temper when they speak in the House. It is important for Members on all sides of the House to remember that.

    Mr McDevitt: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the end of questions for oral answer to the Department of the Environment yesterday, I raised a point of order with you about a DUP Member making unacceptable comments from a sedentary position. You gave a commitment to check the Hansard report, and I thank you for that. However, I checked Hansard this morning, and it does not record that sedentary comment. Will you give a commitment to check the tape on that matter?

    Mr Bell: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

    Mr Speaker: Order. Let me deal with Mr McDevitt’s point of order first.

    Hansard does not record everything. There is a procedure for how it does its work. I advise the Member to speak to Hansard or to the Business Office about that issue.

    As I said yesterday — I thought that I dealt with the issue fairly strongly — Members should not try to speak from a sedentary position in the House, because, on occasions, remarks can be picked up. As the Member found when he read the Hansard report for yesterday, not every remark is picked up. However, that does not necessarily mean that neither I nor the Clerks at Table hear those remarks. Members

    Northern Ireland Assembly

    Tuesday 2 March 2010

    The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

    Members observed two minutes’ silence.

  • Tuesday 2 March 2010

    72

    Assembly Business

    may have the notion that because remarks are not picked up by Hansard they are not picked up at the Table. However, that is not the case, and I remind Members of what I said yesterday: it is vital that they do not try to speak from a sedentary position. It is wrong, and I remind all sides of the House of that again.

    Mr Bell: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday we had the shameful behaviour of the Deputy Speaker John Dallat of the SDLP shouting from a sedentary position for the Minister of the Environment to resign. Will you make a ruling on that disgraceful behaviour as urgently as possible?

    Furthermore, Mr Attwood raised a point of order this morning about public officials being slurred, yet in recent Committee meetings, Members have slurred planning officials. Can the House have your ruling on that? Perhaps the SDLP will take the log out of its own eye before it looks for the speck in others’. Moreover, is Conall McDevitt’s sectional behaviour in raising of a point of order about people speaking from a sedentary position, when he wilfully watched and heard the Deputy Speaker screaming “resign” from a sedentary position yesterday, not sectarian in itself?

    Mr Speaker: Order. Let us try to close this debate down. All parties in the House have Members who, from time to time, will try to speak from a sedentary position. Let us remind ourselves that that should not happen.

    Mr McDevitt: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

    Mr Speaker: If the Member’s point of order is on the same issue, I am very reluctant to take it. If it is a different point of order on a different issue, I will take it.

    Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

    Mr Speaker: Is it on a totally different subject?

    Mr Attwood: I can give the Speaker a 100% guarantee that it is, although my point of order arises from one that was raised on a previous day.

    You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that you stated that you did not have the power to make a ruling that the First Minister should lodge legal advice in the Library. Subsequently, I met you last Tuesday in relation to the matter. The First Minister stepped down from office for 21 days and has now been in office again for 24 days. He was out of office awaiting legal advice for

    a shorter period than other people have been waiting to hear about that legal advice since he returned to office.

    Given that it is a matter of public interest, that the Department of Finance and Personnel has said that it would be inappropriate to publish the instructions to counsel in respect of that legal advice and that there is now a long delay and some doubt about the matter, I urge you, Mr Speaker, to bring the matter to a close as quickly as possible. I urge you to consider whether a ruling from the Chair is appropriate or whether in some other manner it can be indicated to Ministers, including the First Minister, that it is a matter that needs to be shared with the House and the wider public.

    Mr Speaker: I have given the Member quite a bit of latitude on this issue, as he will appreciate. I have spoken to him and have once again written to him, and, as far as I am concerned as Speaker, that is where it ends. There are other avenues that the Member should explore in trying to resolve the issue. I do not feel that, as Speaker, it is my job to come in here and make a statement on a particular issue that a particular Member has brought to me, because I would be doing that quite often. I believe that there are other avenues that the Member could pursue in relation to the issue.

    Mr Attwood: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have not yet received a letter from you in relation to the matters that I raised with you in our conversation last Tuesday. If that is your final ruling on the matter there is nothing further that I can do, except to express the concern that the requirements of accountability and disclosure to the House in this matter — subject to the issues of privilege and ongoing legal investigations — will not have been satisfied if the House is not in a position to require anything further from the First Minister.

    Mr Speaker: I have taken some time to look at the issue. In fact, I have taken my own counsel on the issue, and my mind has not changed from the first day that the Member raised the point of order. Once again, I say to the Member, as I did when I spoke to him face to face, that I believe there are other avenues that he should follow, which can hopefully resolve the issue for him.

  • Tuesday 2 March 2010

    73

    Ministerial Statement

    Planning Reform

    Mr Speaker: I have received notice from the Minister of the Environment that he wishes to make a statement.

    The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can assure you that, being in a debating chamber, you will not need to wrap me up in bandages or mollycoddle me; I am quite up for the challenge of facing the Chamber and do not need to be pampered, unlike some Members who have intervened this morning.

    With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to formally update Members on our current position in relation to the reform of the planning system. As Members know, over the past few years there has been widespread pressure for reform from many quarters. That is continuing, and was drawn into sharp focus with the publication last month of the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the performance of the Planning Service. We all recognise that the planning system needs to be able to adapt more flexibly and quickly to the many challenges facing our society today.

    The Executive are committed to doing what they can to grow the economy, and we all know that we need a planning system that helps us to do that. Members will be aware that the consultation paper ‘Reform of the Planning System in Northern Ireland: Your Chance to Influence Change’ was issued