Debates take place during plenary meetings in the Assembly Chamber on Mondays and Tuesdays. They are chaired by the Speaker.
MLAs debate motions that propose a course of action and/or seek an Assembly decision, on a particular issue. They are listed on the Order Paper.
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 may also make speeches on behalf of a Committee. MLAs who belong to a political party represent that party. They usually speak and vote in line with party policy.
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 speeches and results of votes, go to: https://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/officialreport/officialreport.aspx
To search for debates on particular issues, you can search at https://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/plenary/search.aspx
Debates on Legislation
MLAs debate Bills (proposals for new laws) 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?
If the Assembly votes in support of the Bill after the debate, it progresses to Committee Stage, which means it goes to the relevant committee for detailed consideration. After line-by-line scrutiny and consultation with experts and the public, the Committee produces a report on the Bill. This is debated at Consideration Stage, including any amendments proposed by the Committee, the Minister or individual MLAs. There is another debate and chance to make changes to the Bill at the next stage of the process, the Further Consideration Stage.
The Final Stage debate provides an opportunity for comment on the final draft of the Bill (after any changes agreed by the Assembly). The Bill's sponsor, who introduced the Bill to the Assembly (Minister, Committee Chair, MLA) will usually thank all those involved in getting the Bill to this final stage. The Assembly then votes on whether to pass the Bill. It is rare for the Assembly to vote 'No' to the Bill at this stage.
Q Why do you think it is unlikely that MLAs would vote against a Bill at Final Stage?
Private Members’ Motions
Debates on Private Members’ Motions
Individual MLAs can table a motion for debate on any subject of their choice.
MLAs 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 which meets on Tuesdays, will decide which motions are selected for debate at the next week's meeting and, provisionally, for the meetings in two weeks' time. The selection of motions is governed by d'Hondt, so the larger parties get more of their motions selected. It is difficult for smaller parties to get their motions onto the Order Paper, although some may be able to persuade a larger party to put forward a motion on their behalf.
Find out what motions MLAs have been put forward by MLAs for future debates by going to the No Day Named List on the main website https://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/plenary/nodaynamedlist.aspx..
This type of debate usually takes place on a Tuesday, and is the last item of business on the Order Paper, just before the meeting is adjourned (ends). MLAs can request an adjournment debate about an issue that concerns their constituency, such as 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.