Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I am grateful to the Minister for his elaboration on, and explanation of, the general principles of the Bill. That will permit me to abbreviate my comments appropriately.
On 4 February 2009, the Committee for Finance and Personnel received a pre-introductory briefing from departmental officials about the background to the Bill and the approach that they took when they consulted with other Departments. The Committee recognises that the purpose of financial provisions legislation is to cover routine financial matters, such as minor amendments to governing legislation, or to regularise an existing practice. The Committee also understands that legislation is normally required at intervals of two or three years to adjust statutory limits and handle various non-controversial issues, and is regarded as a means of tidying up.
The Committee was advised by the Department that the Bill was technical and non-controversial in nature and did not, therefore, require a public consultation. The Department further explained that it had invited contributions to the Bill from other Departments in December 2007.
As a direct result, the Department identified a number of requirements for inclusion in the Bill. Those requirements included provision to confer absolute privilege to certain reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland; provision to enable the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to incur expenditure for consumer purposes and expenditure relating to social economy enterprises; provision to provide for the cost of district rates collection to be charged on and issued from the Consolidated Fund to the Department of Finance and Personnel; and provision to repeal the requirement on the Department of Finance and Personnel to prepare finance accounts.
Prior to the introductory briefing, the Committee was advised by the Department that the provisions of the Bill would be a matter of interest to the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Audit Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. As such, my Committee issued copies of the draft Bill to the respective Committees for scrutiny. Upon reply, no issues were raised by the other Committees in relation to the Bill.
At the briefing session on 4 February 2009, members raised a number of issues with the Department, including clarification on the account treatment of the issue of money from the Consolidated Fund to DFP in order to cover the costs of collecting rates on behalf of district councils, and clarification on whether the accounting treatment from the Consolidated Fund to DFP had any negative or positive impacts on district councils. The Committee also sought a detailed written explanation on the repeal of the requirement to prepare finance accounts. Those queries were dealt with very satisfactorily.
The Committee recognises that the Bill is, in general terms, technical in nature and does not appear to raise any substantial issues of concern at this stage. Members also acknowledged that the removal of the statutory requirement to produce financal accounts — which were identical to the public income and expenditure accounts in every respect — will avoid duplication and will provide for a more efficient approach by the Department in the preparation of Government accounts in the future.
Overall, the Committee was generally satisfied with the briefing and clarification provided by the Department. Members will engage with DFP officials and other stakeholders as part of its consultation exercise on the details of the provisions of the Bill during the Committee Stage. In the meantime, on behalf of the Finance Committee, I support the principles of the Bill and I support the motion.