Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Moss: I am grateful for the Minister's response. Can a candidate who is deemed to be disqualified, for whatever reason, from taking his place in the Assembly appeal against that disqualification under existing law? Why does it require the Assembly to lay an order? That allows the Assembly to decide whether the disqualification should be waived.

The Minister said that a similar measure applies to the House of Commons. As I said, it is contained in section 6 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Going through the House at the same time was the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975, but this measure was not in that legislation. Do I understand from his final remarks that he is now saying that the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 has been amended to bring it into line with the measures applying to the House of Commons?

Mr. Worthington: I regret that I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's last point immediately. He raised the issue of an appeal against disqualification. Again, it is difficult to give an instant answer without knowing the grounds on which an appeal was being made. A person is disqualified from standing for the Assembly if he holds a particular position. That is usually a cut and dried case--either one holds a position or one does not. Obviously, there would be an appeal--to use the word loosely--within the Assembly by the Assembly Member concerned or his or her representatives when the Assembly could hear the case.

We are talking here about the Assembly's ability to set aside the disqualification if the grounds for disqualification have already been resolved. It would be against the law for a person to continue to hold a specified post and become a Member of the Assembly. Although it would be grounds for disqualification for a person to stand for election to the Assembly while holding such a post, if he or she had given up the post, the Assembly would have the power to set aside the disqualification that had previously applied. The hon. Gentleman may wish to enlighten me later, but it is difficult to think of other grounds for an appeal. There could not be an appeal in respect of the merits of holding the post. That is simply the law of the United Kingdom Parliament.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman. It seems fairly obvious that the Assembly requires some flexibility, as the consequences of setting aside the results of an election on what may be a technicality or a post-holding issue that has been resolved by resignation are too serious to leave the Assembly without the power to set aside that disqualification.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister. When I spoke about an appeal, I was asking about an appeal by a person who has been disqualified in clause 29(2)(a) who feels

I wondered whether that would be possible without necessarily giving the Assembly the power to do that by order.

24 Jul 1998 : Column 1396

The Minister said that he would write to me or speak to me at a later date, but I am still puzzled why, if the provision is already incorporated in Northern Ireland statute, I could not find it in the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975. It may have been added later, in which case it has simply been brought across and presumably will fall from the earlier legislation. I am quite happy to accept the Minister's statement that it already applies to Northern Ireland and, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 30 and 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32


Mr. McGrady: I beg to move amendment No. 187, in clause 32, page 16, line 37, at end insert--

'Such directions shall not be given without cross-community support.'.

Clause 32 deals with the Commission, which is akin to the shadow business committee that currently exists to deal with the day-to-day requirements of the shadow Assembly. Subsections (1) to (4) have been substantively dealt with by the creation of the shadow committee, of which the Commission will be the successor. The committee was created under the requirement of cross-community support, and my amendment to subsection (5) would mean that special directions or requirements given by the Assembly to the Commission in connection with its functions would also require cross-community support. It may be argued that the amendment should apply to all of clause 32. If so, I should be happy to hear the Minister accept it in those terms.

12.45 pm

Mr. Temple-Morris: I support the amendment. The Assembly will give directions to the Commission, which will be the body on high for the whole operation. Most of clause 32 has to do with membership of the Commission, which is covered by other parts of the Bill. Subsection (5) is distinct in providing that

That goes very wide, and the Commission's role may be altered by it. There is a clear case for adding the safeguard suggested by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), which is provided in the rest of the Bill.

Mr. Öpik: Am I to understand that the hon. Gentleman judges the amendment to be a safety measure?

Mr. Temple-Morris: It is, and that is the spirit in which the hon. Member for South Down moved it.

Mr. Worthington: The amendment deals with the Commission that will provide the property, staff and services of the Assembly. Clause 32(5) empowers the Assembly to give special or general directions to the Commission in relation to its functions. I appreciate the spirit of the amendment supported by the hon.

24 Jul 1998 : Column 1397

Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris). The Commission will be the servant of the Assembly, and should carry out its functions dispassionately.

However, the Bill already contains safeguards. A motion to give directions to the Commission could, for example, be subject to the petition of concern procedure, which would require a cross-community vote. Equally, the Assembly Standing Orders could ensure that there was cross-community support: we assume that the Standing Orders under clause 32(2) on the appointment of members of the Commission itself ensure that members are representative of the Assembly as a whole.

There could be ambiguity about the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster referred to the mystical ways in which this place is run. I have never troubled myself with that, but one sees that it runs in a fair way. No doubt, directions are given all the time; one would not want to come to the House so that they could be given all-party support. It is necessary to delegate at times, but I believe that the safeguard is there in the petition of concern. The safeguard will be there in the terms of the membership of the commission.

Mr. McGrady: I hear what the Under-Secretary says regarding the various safeguards applying to many aspects of the running of the Assembly and the business committee, or, as it is called in the Bill, the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission, but clause 32(5) gives the Assembly statutory authority to give any

without cross-community support. As a layman, that is my interpretation of what clause 32(5) does. I urge him to give this matter further consideration, if necessary. The normal mechanisms that he has described, which apply to other aspects of the clause and other aspects of the management of the Assembly per se, have the same criteria for support--that is, cross-community support--that we had anticipated.

Mr. Worthington: If the Assembly looks like it is going to give, in a biased, partial way, special or general directions, that would, I assume from the Bill, have to come to the floor of the Assembly. It will then be open for people who object to the way in which the Commission is developing to have a petition of concern, and for 30 Members to say, "This should be on a cross-community basis." Therefore, what the hon. Gentleman seeks is there for the safeguarding of his Members or other Members.

I fear that if one said that everything that the Commission had to do in managing matters had to be on a cross-community basis, there would be an element of paralysis about it, but, if, at any time, Members were concerned about the way in which the Commission was developing, there are safeguards in the Standing Orders, in the membership of the Commission and through the petition of concern mechanism, to ensure that things are done through cross-community support.

We are listening to the whole debate. If there are any grounds for us to think that the safeguards in the Bill are inadequate--at the moment, I think that they are adequate--we shall contact the hon. Gentleman, or, if he

24 Jul 1998 : Column 1398

wants to flesh out what he is saying about his concerns, we shall look at the matter again. However, at the moment, I feel that what he wants is within the framework of the Bill and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. McGrady: In view of the Under-Secretary's last remarks and his very generous offer of reconsideration and, indeed, communication on the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Next Section

IndexHome Page