Alliance MLAs believe recorded vote was required for key climate bill amendment

Alliance MLAs have expressed their “disappointment” at how a crucial vote on a climate change bill for Northern Ireland was handled.

On Monday evening, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots had an amendment passed limiting the required reduction in one specific greenhouse gas, methane, to no more than 46%.

That move was seen by some as backtracking on more ambitious targets, including Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey, who said methane has a warming effect more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide, so it is vital that methane emissions are cut.

The amendment was put to an oral vote in the Assembly, with members shouting ‘aye’ or ‘no’.

MLAs could be heard expressing both views.

Speaking after the vote in the Stormont chamber, Alliance MLA John Blair said he was “surprised” the amendment was passed on an oral vote because there was “clear opposition” to it.

Addressing Deputy Speaker Roy Beggs, he added: “I do respect your judgment on this; however I am puzzled as to how I record my opposition to the amendment as I was previously advised this could be done in Hansard.”

Mr Beggs disputed that point saying members ought to be aware that if they want a vote they should raise their voices, particularly when it gets to the stage that the Speaker or a deputy thinks the ‘ayes’ or ‘noes’ have it.

He explained that it is for representatives to voice their dissent if they do not agree with his estimation.

Later, Alliance MLA Andrew Muir raised the same concerns and was told by Speaker Alex Maskey that he could examine the issue.

He also informed Assembly members that if divisions continued and business was not expedited then they would be there all night and the following day.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Muir said: “The reluctance by the Chair to facilitate a recorded vote on this amendment was disappointing and raised as a concern by both John Blair MLA and I.

“Our reservations were raised as a formal Point of Order with both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker and are a matter of public record.”

An Assembly spokesperson said voting on amendments to the Climate Change (No.2 Bill) was conducted in compliance with the Assembly’s procedures.

“It is entirely in order for the Speaker or a Deputy Speaker to determine that a vote has been carried if they are content that there are more voices calling ‘Aye’ or ‘No’,” she explained.

“During the Further Consideration Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill on Monday 28 February 2022, Deputy Speaker Beggs put the question on amendment 1 to the bill. As the Deputy Speaker was initially unsure whether or not the question was carried, he put the question again after three minutes.”

The spokesperson added: “On putting the question a second time, he was satisfied that there were more “Ayes” than “Noes” and Members did not continue to raise their voices to seek a recorded vote at that time. There was therefore no need to have a division in respect of amendment 1.

“The Speaker is entirely satisfied that all the normal procedures were followed and has received no further contacts in relation to this issue.

“The Assembly’s Standing Orders set out that the Speaker’s ruling on all questions of procedure and order, including voting, is final and therefore individual Members or parties having a different view on the handing of procedures has no impact on the progress of a bill.”

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