John McCallister won widespread praise from all sides of the chamber for the way in which he had consulted with each party and attempted to build cross-party support for his proposals.
The DUP’s Paula Bradley said: “I personally thank Mr McCallister for all his labours and resilience in trying, at every stage, to find a suitable agreement within committee. He has to be commended for that.”
Even Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane, who argued against every aspect of the bill, praised how Mr McCallister had gone about the issue.
TUV leader Jim Allister, a long-standing proponent of a robust Stormont opposition, told the chamber: “Given that this institution parades itself as a democratic legislative Assembly, I still find it amazing that we are at the point of talking and dithering over whether this democratic institution should have an opposition.”
Referring to some of those praising Mr McCallister, Mr Allister said there had been “supercilious compliments today from the very people who are about to kill his bill, insofar as they can kill it”.
He added: “My goodness, he has bent over backwards to get as much support as he can. All that he has got is a knife in the back from those who are going to try to kill his bill.”
Because of the late tabling of the Sinn Fein-SDLP petitions of concern, voting on several of the bill’s clauses will not take place until Monday, but many clauses were last night passed despite Sinn Fein opposition.