Further Consideration Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 26th January 2009.

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Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:45 pm, 26th January 2009

I accept what you say, Mr Speaker.

I was disappointed by Stephen Moutray’s responses to the individual amendments. He said that reporting the designation to the Committee was already standard protocol. If it is in place already, why is there resistance to writing this simple amendment into the Bill?

Amendment No 2 is important. In relation to the point that Stephen Farry raised, the exact wording has been properly verified by those who are competent to do so, as far as parliamentary drafting is concerned; therefore, the Member can be confident that the words, “of that department”, clearly refer to the Department of Finance and Personnel. It is a necessary provision. As John McCallister said, it will give Ministers peace of mind that they will retain control over their own budgets. Again, if the two parties want to give the assurance that they are working in partnership with others in the Executive, they can support this amendment.

Without amendment No 2, we could find ourselves in the situation where the Public Accounts Committee, the Government auditor, or other oversight bodies would, later on, find themselves looking at the scheme and the regulations and saying that there were financial deficits or irregularities. DFP would be put in the position of saying that it had nothing to do with creating the scheme; it simply allocated a certain sum of money, but was not involved in how that money would be spent. That is not good Government. Amendment No 2 is valid.

Stephen Moutray — surprisingly for a democrat speaking in a democratic Chamber — was not happy that the Committee that was set up to scrutinise that activity should report on the scheme within a year. He said that it would be better if the matter were to come to the Assembly as a whole. Where is the provision in the Bill that a report be made to the Assembly as a whole? It is not there.

We have made our points cogently in relation to the amendments, and the Bill would be better if those amendments were included.

The deputy First Minister referred to existing protocols around informing Committees. He used the words, “I would expect”. He believes that everything is covered by ordinary procedure. Once again, the SDLP wants much more confidence on the issue and the clarity that would be expressed by writing those straightforward amendments into the Bill.