Further Consideration Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:30 pm on 26th January 2009.

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Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance 12:30 pm, 26th January 2009

I fully concur with the First Minister’s remarks, and his Back-Bench colleagues, and those belonging to Sinn Féin, would do well to listen to them. I recognise that the First Minister engages in debate, and such conduct should be encouraged in respect of all Members.

Returning to the substance of the amendments, it is important that we do not rehearse the arguments made last week, when there was a full debate on clause 1 and, although not to the same extent, on clause 2.

The Alliance Party takes a slightly different approach to clause 1 than it does to clause 2. We envisage that clause 1 would deal with short-term and exceptional circumstances, in which case more checks and balances would ensure that relevant Departments and Ministers act in accordance with them.

Furthermore, Mr Brady said that the Bill is designed to deal with emergency situations; however, we should focus on it dealing with exceptional circumstances. Winter-fuel payments are not emergency provisions — winter happens every year. However, circumstances might be exceptional, particularly, for example, in the present economic situation, and it is important that we make that distinction.

My colleague Naomi Long will discuss clause 2, and she will demonstrate that a different approach might be appropriate when dealing with longer-term systemic situations that pertain to delivering policies throughout Departments. I can envisage circumstances — for example, if a Department or a Minister is not operating in line with a policy direction that has been centrally agreed by the Executive — in which it might be possible, indeed, necessary, to make progress without the consent of the relevant Department or Minister.

Nevertheless, we should move more cautiously with clause 1 in order to ensure that all parties sign up to it, and that is why I am sympathetic to the thrust of amendment No 2, although more explanation is required about whether the final “department” contained in it refers to the Department of Finance and Personnel or to the first Department mentioned. If it refers to the first Department mentioned, the amendment’s drafting might be tautological, but if it refers to the second, the amendment would be acceptable to the Alliance Party. I shall await clarification at the end of the debate from those who tabled that amendment.

An argument may be made that the actions stipulated in amendment Nos 1 and 3 would happen in any event; however, there is no reason why they should not be added to the Bill to provide additional reassurance and to ensure proper reporting and accountability in Committees and in the Assembly. Therefore, the Alliance Party has no difficulty in accepting them both. Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I look forward to a free exchange of ideas among Members during the rest of the debate.