Having read the Official Report of last week’s seven-hour Consideration Stage, I should not be entirely surprised that an even greater number of amendments have been tabled for the Bill’s Further Consideration Stage. I intend to oppose the three amendments in group 1.
Amendment No 1 would require a Department to inform its Committee that it had been designated by the First Minister and deputy First Minister under clause 1 for the purpose of creating a scheme. Amendment No 1 is unnecessary because such notification would occur in any event as part of ongoing liaison between a Department and its Committee.
During the Bill’s Second Stage and Consideration Stage, it was emphasised that any regulations made under clause 1 or clause 2 would be subject to normal Committee consideration, including any proposal by a Department to make regulations using the powers provided for in the Bill. It is normal practice for a Department that is proposing to make regulations to write to its departmental Committee Clerk to advise the Committee of a proposed statutory rule.
That practice will be no different in the case of regulations being made under clause 1 to deal with exceptional circumstances. The letter to the Committee will provide sufficient information for it to carry out an informed policy scrutiny. That notification procedure is set out in the handbook on subordinate legislation.
In addition to that formal communication, I would expect that departmental Assembly liaison officers would contact their departmental Committee Clerk to alert them immediately once they become aware that their Department had been designated under this legislation. In view of that, I reject amendment No 1, because it is unnecessary. Committees will be aware from an early stage that a Department has been designated to make regulations under this legislation.
Amendment No 2 would require the Department of Finance and Personnel to approve any regulations made under clause 1 of the Bill. When viewed in isolation, amendment No 2 does not seem unreasonable. However, it has to be viewed in the wider context of decision-making under clause 1. As we have said in previous debates on the Bill, any proposal for a determination, designation or scheme will have to come to the Executive for consideration and agreement. The views of all Ministers — including the Minister of Finance and Personnel — will have to be considered in reaching decisions. I reject amendment No 2, because the Minister of Finance and Personnel will have made his views known when the Executive were asked to agree to a proposed scheme.
Amendment No 3 would require the relevant Department to report on the scheme, to its Committee, within a year of the scheme’s commencement. The Members who tabled this amendment and amendment No 1 seem to believe that the Committees will be kept in the dark or ignored by their Departments; that will not be the case. However, if there is to be a statutory duty to report on a scheme, such a report would be to the Assembly and not to the relevant Committee.
In any event, a Committee could seek information on the operation of the scheme at any time, as part of its scrutiny role. Therefore, it is unnecessary to place a statutory duty on relevant Departments to produce a report on the operation of a scheme to a Committee. I ask Members to reject amendment Nos 1, 2 and 3.