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MLA slams moratorium on Stormont private member's bills

Proposed legislation from individual MLAs has been halted due to a backlog

STORMONT authorities are facing growing criticism over a decision to halt fresh private member's bills due to a backlog.

Earlier this week, The Irish News revealed that assembly speaker Robin Newton is refusing to accept any further attempts by individual MLAs to table proposed new laws until a review of the system is completed.

Private members bills are tabled by MLAs rather than government ministers but since the beginning of the new mandate in May, Stormont's bills office has been inundated with proposed legislation, with 19 items clogging up the system.

The assembly speaker said the system was "never designed for this level of demand".

Colin McGrath said private member's bills are a vital part of the assembly's output

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath described Mr Newton's moratorium on private members' bills as "harsh" given the "precious little legislation" emerging from the executive.

He noted that justice minister Claire Sugden had told MLAs that she has no plans to table primary legislation before next June.

"Private members bills have been proven to be vital in shaping the assembly – fighting human trafficking, meeting the needs of children and other issues important to the public," he said.

"Right now the SDLP are working bills to address issues including equal marriage, gender equality, housing and homelessness, regional economic fairness and even an Irish language act."

The South Down representative acknowledged that "enormous demands" had been place on staff in the assembly's bills office.

"However, we need to keep all democratic avenues open and so a way to free up private members bills must be found," he said.

An assembly spokesman said the Stormont authorities supported MLAs wishing to introduce private members’ bills and insisted "there is no restriction on individual members introducing a bill".

"The high number of proposals for private members’ bills received so far this mandate create resource challenges but all those received to date will be actively supported and developed and when the Committee on Procedures has considered its review of systems and procedures the opportunity to have direct support for developing and drafting a private members’ bill will again be open to MLAs," the spokesman said.

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