“(3A) The relevant department shall notify, as soon as is practicable, the appropriate statutory committee of any designation under this section.”
The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:
No 2: In page 1, line 20, at end insert
“(4A) Regulations made under this section, if made by a department other than the Department of Finance and Personnel, require the approval of that department.” — [Mr O’Loan.]
No 3: In page 2, line 4, at end insert
“(8) The relevant department shall, within 1 year of the commencement of the scheme, provide a report on the operation of the scheme to the appropriate statutory committee.” — [Mrs D Kelly.]
It was well articulated last week, particularly by the SDLP, and also by the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party, that we have no desire to hold up the process and that we fully recognise the need for legislative cover to provide assistance in an emergency situation. In your opening remarks, Mr Speaker, you pointed out quite rightly that these amendments seek to ensure that the relevant Committee, which may fall under the legislation of any of the schemes to be introduced, shall have full sight of the scheme when it is introduced, at the point of designation. Amendment No 1 seeks to ensure that the matter is brought before the relevant Committee as soon as the scheme is initiated.
Amendment No 2 looks to the financial situation in which a Department might find itself. If there are no Executive funds or contingency funds, the approval of the Minister of Finance and Personnel should be sought, and the Executive should give consideration to where a Department’s money might come from. There is concern that this legislation will give the First Minister and the deputy First Minister the authority to instruct a Department on how it should use its money, without regard having been given to the Programme for Government or any other money having been secured. It is incumbent on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to indicate at an early stage — during the monitoring rounds, for example — what contingency fund he hopes to introduce to provide the money.
When the Executive and the First Minister and the deputy First Minister are considering the introduction of a scheme, consideration must be given to where the money will come from so that the relevant Minister has an opportunity to indicate what impact that loss of finance will have if there is no additional or new money. It is also important that the legislation should oblige a Department to provide a report to the relevant Committee within one year of the scheme’s commencement, because Committees need to have oversight.
Mr Speaker, you have spoken many times about the primacy of the Assembly and the scrutiny Committees, and other Members have said that Committees have a clear role and remit and that they welcome their scrutiny.
These amendments seek to improve the legislation and should not cause the First Minister or the deputy First Minister any concern. The amendments seek to put the relevant Committees in good stead in respect of the scheme’s introduction, outworking, evaluation and impact. That may also inform future debates concerning the Programme for Government and any decision on whether those should be mainstreamed at the next Budget round. It is our party’s wish that Members, particularly those from Sinn Féin and the DUP, will give consideration to our concerns and support these genuine attempts to improve the legislation.