the Speaker’s ruling..

Unlike Hain’s committee, Hain’s assembly does, at least, provide rapid access to a written record. So, here is assembly speaker Eileen Bell’s official ruling on the Faustian Pact between the UUP and the PUP as noted yesterday.. clarifying what a political party is for the purposes of d’Hondt..

Speaker’s ruling on Standing Order 3

Madam Speaker: At the first meeting of the Assembly on 15 May 2006, Mr Peter Robinson asked me for a ruling in respect of the decisions I had made in publishing the list under Standing Order 3. I decided to take the advice of counsel on that matter. I have now received counsel’s opinion and have also had the opportunity to consider the representations of all parties and other Members on this issue. I want now to respond to Mr Robinson’s query.

Members should be advised again that, in line with custom, I will not enter into debate, either here or elsewhere, about the substance of my ruling. In making his request, Mr Robinson drew attention to the potential political consequences of a ruling. I remind Members generally that I am governed by legislation and Standing Orders, not by political considerations. I believe that my ruling is legally and procedurally correct. Standing Order 2(a) offers me the authority to make such a ruling. Political consequences are for others, not for me.

I should explain that Standing Order 3 had practical effect at the first meeting of the Assembly.

Standing Order 3(g) has a similar effect before any meeting of the Assembly where the business is referred by the Secretary of State under section 1(1)(b) of the Northern Ireland Act 2006; that is, the nomination of persons to hold office as Northern Ireland Ministers on the restoration of devolved Government. My ruling today will have few immediate practical consequences for Members. I trust that Members will reflect on the ruling and deal with its consequences as they see fit, or deem necessary, before such practical issues arise.

At the first sitting of this Assembly, my concern was to comply with the requirements of Standing Orders and the relevant statutes. The list of political parties published on 15 May was based on the information available at the time, and I am content that my decision was proper and in order. However, with the benefit of counsel’s advice, I have taken other factors into account, in particular the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and representations made to the Clerk by political parties and other Members.

The Act represents the fullest expression of legislative policy on what constitutes a political party. Although it focuses on the financial regulation of political parties, the Act also details characteristics of a political party. Counsel has advised that the characteristics drawn from the Act assist in defining a political party for the purposes of Standing Order 3 and should be considered when publishing a list of party membership.

The characteristics of a political party under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 can be summarised as: a short, suitable name; a headquarters, or at least an address for the purpose of communication; officers of the party, including at least a leader, a treasurer and a contact person, called a “nominating officer”, for the purpose of liaising with the Electoral Commission and others; a constitution; a scheme for financial support of the party; and an intention to contest elections.

In making a decision about any future list for publication, I shall require a party to have all those characteristics. From the information available, I do not consider that the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group (UUPAG) has yet demonstrated all those characteristics. I trust that Members will find this clear and helpful.[added emphasis]

Mr P Robinson: I am grateful for the Speaker’s ruling, not least because it is in line with the judgement that my right hon Friend and I expressed some months ago.

The Speaker referred to serious implications. I stated those implications to ensure that there was a thorough consideration of the point of order that had been made. My colleagues and I are satisfied that there has been a thorough investigation, involving senior counsel’s opinion and consultations with others. The DUP accepts the Speaker’s ruling that the two parties may be inextricably linked in a group, but that that link does not constitute a party under the legislation.

As there are ongoing implications, you may be willing to meet parties privately and separately to consider the legal advice that you received. The criteria that you have laid down may well be applied in the future, and perhaps not only by the party that attempted to apply them on this occasion.

Mr McFarland: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I must respond to Peter Robinson first.

I am content to meet any Member who has a query and listen to observations on this ruling.

However, I am not content to discuss my ruling. Members know that that is not the convention. The convention is that the Speaker makes a ruling based on advice that he or she has been given. In accordance with precedent, I do not intend to waive that convention and share that advice.

Mr McFarland: During the previous Assembly, three independent Members formed the United Unionist Assembly Party. One of those Members, while remaining in the United Unionist Assembly Party, stood for election as a member of the Democratic Unionist Party. Does today’s ruling overturn the accepted custom and practice in the previous Assembly in respect of forming a party? The United Unionist Assembly Party would not have met the criteria for parties laid down in today’s ruling. Has there has been a change in the practices of the Assembly?

Madam Speaker: As I have already pointed out, this Assembly is governed by different legislation from the previous Assembly. That legislation allows me to rule exactly as I have done today. If, having read my ruling in tomorrow’s Hansard report, the Member wishes to discuss the matter further, I will be happy to do so. However, I will not change my ruling.

Mr McFarland: The legislation is quite clear; this is a different Assembly. Of course, when the Assembly is re-established, we will return to the old rules. Will your ruling apply then? Will it have any bearing then?

Madam Speaker: I repeat my request for the Member to read the ruling in the tomorrow’s Hansard report. Should he have any further concerns, my office and the secretariat will listen to any queries. As I said, the ruling will have more of an effect on future business. When a list of party membership is next published, I will restate this ruling so that it is clear that any party on the list must have those characteristics that I outlined. Any further matters are for Members to decide them­selves. My decision was not political; it was in accordance with current legislation.

Mr Ford: Madam Speaker, I wish to ask a further question about your ruling. I do not wish you to add to the political embarrassment of the Ulster Unionist Party.

You made clear that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 overruled the precedent set in the Assembly elected in 1998, and you referred to the composition of a list of party membership. However, a question remains about what happens when d’Hondt comes into play. I have correspondence from the Secretary of State that refers to the UUPAG. The UUPAG is currently represented on Assembly Committees. Has the UUPAG now ceased to exist for all purposes or will it exist only when the d’Hondt formula is applied?

Madam Speaker: As a result of my ruling, I now consider that, as regards this House, there is an Ulster Unionist Party and a Progressive Unionist Party. The main immediate consequence concerns speaking rights in the Chamber. The Secretary of State will concur with my decision because I have a right to make such a ruling; I hope that Members will do likewise.

The standing orders referenced, in particular SO 3 Procedure at First Meeting of the Assembly[pdf file] does refer to politicial parties.. but doesn’t define them..

3. (9) The Clerk of the Assembly will draw up a list of the party affiliations of the Members. Each Member shall have the opportunity to confirm or correct his/her affiliation as stated in that list.

(10) A Member may change his/her party affiliation at any time. Any such change takes effect seven calendar days after notification in writing is submitted to the speaker.

..hence the need to refer to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.. and this section – among others.

Preliminary requirements
24. – (1) For each registered party there shall be-

(a) a person registered as the party’s leader;
(b) a person registered as the party’s nominating officer; and
(c) a person registered as the party’s treasurer;
but the person registered as leader may also be registered as nominating officer or treasurer (or both).

(2) The person registered as a party’s leader must be-

(a) the overall leader of the party; or
(b) where there is no overall leader of the party, a person who is the leader of the party for some particular purpose.

Updated On reflection, the section on registering a political party (Schedule 4) is probably more appropriate to link to.

And while the Northern Ireland Act 2006 allows for the Secretary of State to concoct direct proceedings in his assembly

4 (1) Proceedings are to be conducted in accordance with directions determined by the Secretary of State from time to time and notified to the presiding officer or any deputy presiding officer.

As it stands, the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which established the Assembly proper, is where the political party question arises

18. – (1) Where-

(a) an Assembly is elected under section 31 or 32;
(b) a determination under section 17(1) takes effect;
(c) a resolution which causes one or more Ministerial offices to become vacant is passed under section 30(2);
(d) the period of exclusion imposed by a resolution under section 30(2) comes to an end; or
(e) such other circumstances obtain as may be specified in standing orders,
all Northern Ireland Ministers shall cease to hold office and the Ministerial offices shall be filled by applying subsections (2) to (6) within a period so specified.

(2) The nominating officer of the political party for which the formula in subsection (5) gives the highest figure may select a Ministerial office and nominate a person to hold it who is a member of the party and of the Assembly.[added emphasis]

(3) If-

(a) the nominating officer does not exercise the power conferred by subsection (2) within a period specified in standing orders; or
(b) the nominated person does not take up the selected Ministerial office within that period,
that power shall become exercisable by the nominating officer of the political party for which the formula in subsection (5) gives the next highest figure.

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