“I will consider the nature of Members’ remarks and the context in which they were made.”

A short clip of the NI Assembly Speaker’s Business from today’s Stormont Live. Afterwards Mark Devenport commented that it’s the Speaker declaring there will be “No More Heroes” being ejected from the Assembly for a day. Jim Fitzpatrick noted that the new arrangements for addressing “unparliamentary language” – potentially not being “called to speak in the Chamber for some time on any debate” – amounts to the creation of a “Stormont naughty step”. Heh.

Here’s the text from Hansard

Speaker’s Business

Mr Speaker: Before we proceed, I wish to remark on the standards that I expect in debates in the Chamber. Let me say before I make my ruling that I will not take any points of order on this issue, and I do not want Members to raise bogus points of order to try to get at the basis of that ruling.

In making my ruling, I want to refer to points of order that were raised during last week’s sitting on the use of unparliamentary language. Two points of order referred to remarks made by Mr Mervyn Storey and his use of the terms “hypocrisy” and “hypocrite,” and I am aware that, on a previous occasion, those terms have been ruled to be unparliamentary.

“Unparliamentary language” means different things in different places and to different Members at different times. In some places, the list of words and phrases deemed to be unparliamentary runs to several pages, but it would not be helpful for us to adopt such an approach here.

I know that it sometimes strikes Members as odd that some words and phrases are deemed unparliamentary while others are permitted as being part of the cut and thrust of debate. The context in which particular words are used can affect their meaning, making them more, or less, acceptable to those to whom they refer.

It is for those reasons that, from now on, I intend to take a different approach to the language that will or will not be permitted in the Chamber. Rather than making judgements on the basis of particular words or phrases that have been ruled to be unparliamentary here or elsewhere, I will judge Members’ remarks against the standards of courtesy, good temper and moderation. Those are what I consider to be the standards of parliamentary debate, and the Assembly, and the people who elected it, would be better served if its Members were to adhere to those high standards. In making my judgements, I will consider the nature of Members’ remarks and the context in which they were made.

I have acknowledged that, at times, Members will wish to express their views forcefully and engage in robust debate. That is acceptable. However, what is not acceptable is where the tone or nature of remarks becomes so ill tempered and bad mannered that they are closer to discourtesy and disorder than to debate. When that happens, I will interrupt Members and ask them to moderate their remarks. If Members refuse such requests from the Chair, they will be asked to resume their seats, and I may rule that they should not be called to speak in the Chamber for some time on any debate. Remarks made from a seated position will be treated in exactly the same way. As always, the Chair’s ruling on such matters will not be open to challenge.

I will now speak directly to the Whips of political parties. Whips have a huge responsibility to discipline their groups and individual members. I do not want to see Whips rising to defend a Member whom they know to have crossed the line. Whips have a huge responsibility for instilling discipline in their members and groups. If the Whips are not prepared to do that, the Chair will do it. I want to make it clear, once and for all, where Whips’ responsibility lies for representing their groups in the Chamber. It is not only the responsibility of the Chair to instil discipline in the House; there is also a huge responsibility on the Whips of the various political parties.

On other occasions, as in the past, Members may make remarks or allegations that fall so far short of the standards that I have outlined that I will ask them to withdraw them. I sincerely hope that Members do not place themselves, and the Chair, in that position. Where they do so, I hope that they will see the merit of respecting the ruling of the Chair and withdraw their remarks, as some Members have done in recent months.

With regard to the specific points of order raised last week about Mr Storey’s use of the words “hypocrite” and “hypocrisy”, I have examined the Official Report and, in my view, Mr Storey could, and should, have expressed his views in a more moderate way. I trust that he will take this morning’s ruling on board and temper his future remarks accordingly.

Indeed, I ask all Members to study my remarks when they are published in the Official Report, to reflect on them, and to take account of them when they exercise the privilege and the responsibility of speaking in the Chamber.

We shall now proceed with today’s business. I will not take any points of order. However, I intend to say more on the subject at the meeting of the Business Committee this afternoon.