Further Consideration Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 26th January 2009.

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Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 2:00 pm, 26th January 2009

To some degree, the Member is reading my mind, because during last week’s debate, I made a point about clause 2 being omitted, but the time for that argument has passed. I stated then that it would be appropriate for fuller consideration to be given to the issue. Clause 2 is more substantive and complex than clause 1, and accelerated passage is an action taken in haste that will be repented at leisure — but we are where we are. However, it is a very flawed argument to then say that because of that precedent, everything should be done in haste. I would rather that six months were available to consider the regulations that are established under clause 2, as I am on record as saying that I would rather have had a proper Committee Stage to consider clause 2 in its entirety.

I have no principled objection to amendment No 9, which states that the relevant Department will notify the appropriate Committee of any designation; however, given that that will happen in any case, I am not sure what the amendment adds to the Bill. It does not particularly concern me, because the motivation behind the amendment is quite reasonable. Implicit in the amendment is the assumption that only one Department will be involved in the delivery of cross-cutting themes. That is quite flawed: two, three, four or even more Departments could be involved in the delivery of cross-cutting themes. One Department or a number of Departments could be involved, which is not made fully clear in the amendment.

As with amendment No 2, the Alliance Party understands the principle of amendment No 10, and some clarification has been provided on the wording. However, I want to put on record that the wording of the amendment is ambiguous. It mentions two Departments, stating:

“Regulations made under this section, if made by a department other than the Department of Finance and Personnel, require the approval of that department.”

The amendment is ambiguous about the Department to which it refers — the Department making the regulations or the Department of Finance and Personnel. I accept Mrs Kelly’s and Mr O’Loan’s reassurances that the Assembly Bill Office is content that that refers to the Department of Finance and Personnel.

One particular issue that relates to amendment No 10 does not apply to amendment No 2. Amendment No 2 deals with largely unforeseen and exceptional circumstances in which it is likely that additional moneys that have not been budgeted for would have to be taken into a central fund and used for emergency circumstances, whether through a monitoring round or another mechanism. It is implicit in clause 2 that the issue concerns how money is organised within existing budgets. Therefore, I am not sure that the argument for consulting DFP with regard to clause 2 is as strong as the argument for consulting DFP with regard to clause 1. However, I have no strong objection to the amendment, other than having an issue with the ambiguity of the wording.

The Alliance Party is content with amendment No 11 and has no difficulty with it in principle. However — not surprisingly — the party believes that amendment No 13 handles the issue of reporting back to the House more effectively, because more than one Department could be involved, and reporting directly to the Assembly in that circumstance is a much better way to ensure that all Members are apprised of the full extent of activity under the Bill. There would be nothing to preclude a Committee from calling for a report from the relevant Department about the detailed contribution that that Department is making under any scheme, but an annual report to the Assembly — which could subsequently trigger those reports — would be a more coherent way to handle that reporting rather than each Department producing separate reports. I suspect that it would also be a more comprehensive report for Members, who may have concerns that what is presented to their Committee does not give them the full flavour of what is being done under the powers of the Bill.

I hope that it is now clear where the Alliance Party stands on the amendments and the reasoning behind that position. The party will not support amendment Nos 5 to 8, and it queries how the remainder of the amendments will make a difference to the operation of the Bill.