Children's Services Co-operation Bill: Extension of Committee Stage

Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:15 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 1:15 pm, 2nd March 2015

I beg to move

That, in accordance with Standing Order 33(4), the period referred to in Standing Order 33(2) be extended to 3 July 2015, in relation to the Committee Stage of the Children's Services Co-operation Bill [NIA Bill 44/11-16].

As Chair of the Committee, I ask for the support of Members today. The Children’s Services Co-operation Bill passed its Second Stage at the Assembly on 26 January. It was then referred to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister for Committee Stage. We put out a public call for evidence, and we also wrote directly to stakeholders. The closing date was last week. However, written submissions are still being received by the Committee office, and our first oral evidence session in connection with the Bill will be heard by the Committee this week.

The Bill requires Departments to discharge their functions and to cooperate to further the achievement of six high-level outcomes for children and young people. Those are taken from the strategy and are as follows: being healthy; enjoying learning and achieving; living in safety and with stability; experiencing economic and environmental well-being; contributing positively to community and society; and living in a society that respects their rights. The Bill also creates an enabling power to allow Departments to pool budgets.

The Committee received a briefing from the Bill's sponsor, Mr Agnew, on 14 January following the Bill’s introduction, and we also heard from officials from the Department on the same date. Although it is a short Bill, it is clear from the discussions to date that there are a number of issues that require more detailed consideration by the Committee. Indeed, I highlighted some of them during the Second Stage debate. Both Mr Agnew and departmental officials have already signalled potential amendments that could address some of the issues raised, and the Committee expects to be kept fully apprised of developments throughout the Committee Stage.

There is a lot of work to be done, even though it is a short Bill. Indeed, earlier today, the First Minister, in his statement regarding the reconfiguration of Departments, made it clear that there will be some significant impact on the delivery of services for children and young people. We need to take time, as a Committee, to consider the implications of that for Mr Agnew's Bill.

The Committee believes that it is essential that it is afforded more time to fully examine the Bill and to properly exercise its scrutiny role, not just for the Bill but for business coming out of the Committee, which I regard as our primary duty. Therefore, on behalf of the Committee, I ask that the House supports the motion to extend the Committee Stage to 3 July 2015.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I obviously support all the comments made by the Committee Chair. I only want to make the point that we have in or around 40 sitting weeks before the end of the mandate. Given the time frame and the points that the Chair has just made in respect of the reconfiguration of the Departments, that certain functions relating to children will be transferred to one or more than one of the new Departments, it is urgent that we get this through the business of the Committee and the House. It will require maximum effort from OFMDFM to ensure that there is a fair wind and every opportunity for the Bill to come back to the Floor before the next mandate.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Chairman of the Committee have concluding remarks?

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I have some very short concluding remarks. I concur with Mr Attwood. Given the timescales, it is important that we get on with it, and we cannot get on with it without the cooperation of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. We look forward to its urgent and detailed engagement in this matter.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That, in accordance with Standing Order 33(4), the period referred to in Standing Order 33(2) be extended to 3 July 2015, in relation to the Committee Stage of the Children's Services Co-operation Bill [NIA Bill 44/11-16].