I am glad to have the opportunity to make a winding-up speech on the first group of amendments and to summarise the debate. As several Members said, a substantial debate on the Bill was held in the Chamber last week, and that debate was seen by many of us as being necessary.
I have used the words “loathsome” and “obnoxious” in relation to the legislation, but, today, I describe it as “dangerous”. That description should be taken at least as seriously, because, as legislators in a democratic Assembly, we should guard vigilantly the rights of that Assembly and its elements — particularly, in the context of this debate, its Committees. That is true in any legislature, and it is particularly true in a society that remains unstable and which has parliamentary institutions that are still subject to the test. Anyone who challenges that contention should remember that the Executive did not meet for 154 days, as has been referred to often.
Therefore, any measure that proposes significant changes to how the Assembly runs itself should be subject to close scrutiny. No one should misrepresent that as an attempt to hold up payments to those who are in need. It is for that reason that I am disappointed in the reaction of OFMDFM and its representative parties to the amendments. If OFMDFM was of a mind to assuage the concerns of others, it would have been willing to listen to these modest amendments.
Members will know well that we sought more substantial changes. We wished to delete clause 2 and await a more considered introduction of its provisions before the relevant Committee.
OFMDFM resisted that utterly and successfully. The changes that we sought to make to clause 1 of the Bill were also rejected. We are now submitting very modest changes to clause 1, the first of which is that we want a report of the designation to be made to the relevant Committee. Secondly, we want DFP to approve the regulations. Thirdly, a report on a scheme should be made to the relevant departmental Committee within a year. The unwillingness of the parties in OFMDFM to assent to those modest changes brings no comfort to those who table the amendments, or to their parties, that they will be given a fair crack of the whip in the relationships and decision-making in the Executive.
In proposing the amendments, Dolores Kelly outlined the reasons for tabling them with absolute clarity. She emphasised that there is no desire to hold up the financial measures that will represent the first use of the Bill. Naomi Long pointed out correctly that the amendments have not held up the proceedings of the Assembly or the payments even by one day. Other factors, to which I referred earlier, have held up those payments considerably.