Debates

Debates

Debates take place during plenary meetings in the Assembly Chamber on Mondays and Tuesdays.

MLAs debate motions that propose a course of action, and/or seek an Assembly decision, on a particular issue.

When speaking in debates, MLAs try to represent their constituents’ views on the issue under consideration. They will use examples from their constituency as evidence to support the points they are making either in favour of or against the motion. Ministers are usually present for debates on issues in their area of responsibility and are expected to respond. By proposing or speaking on a motion, an MLA tries to make the Minister aware of constituents’ concerns and put pressure on the Minister to act.

MLAs who belong to a political party represent that party and have to speak and vote in line with party policy. Sometimes, party policy may conflict with the views of some constituents.

Find out what motions have been debated by the Assembly at: www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/order-papers/session-2016-2017/

For a full record of debates, go to:www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/order-papers/session-2016-2017/

Legislation

Debates on Legislation

MLAs debate Bills at several stages during the law-making process. At the Second Stage they debate the general principles of the Bill. Is it a good idea? Is it a proposal that the Assembly thinks should be considered further?

The third stage of the process is the Committee Stage. At this stage the relevant Committee scrutinises the Bill, clause by clause and line by line. It consults experts and the public on their views. Then it produces a report on the Bill, which may suggest amendments. The Assembly debates the Committee’s report on the Bill, and any suggested amendments, at Consideration Stage. Ministers and individual MLAs can also suggest and debate amendments at this stage and at the Further Consideration Stage. The Final Stage debate provides an opportunity for comment on the final draft of the Bill and the Bill's sponsor (Minister, Committee Chair, MLA) will usually thank all those involved in getting the Bill to this stage. The Assembly then votes on whether to pass the Bill.

Private Members’ Motions

Debates on Private Members’ Motions

Individual MLAs can table a motion for debate on any subject of their choice. MLAs will use Private Members’ Motions to raise matters that concern their constituents. The list of Private Members’ motions goes on a ‘No Day Named List’, (no date for debate has been agreed) The Business Committee decides which motions to select for debate in plenary meeting. The number of motions that a party can propose is governed by d'Hondt, so it is difficult for smaller parties to get their issues on the agenda.

Adjournment

Adjournment Debates

This type of debate usually takes place on a Tuesday, as the last item of business in the plenary meeting, just before the meeting is adjourned. MLAs can request an adjournment debate about a topical issue that concerns their constituency, for example the proposed closure of a school or the future of hospital services. The Minister responsible for the issue is present and responds to issues raised at the end of the debate. No vote is taken, so the Assembly does not resolve to do anything about the issue. The Minister is not obliged to act. However, the adjournment debate is an effective way for an MLA to raise constituents’ concerns in a very public way.