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Rates (Amendment) Bill: Accelerated Passage

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:00 am on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker 11:00 am, 19th January 2016

I call the Minister of Finance and Personnel. You are very welcome.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I beg to move

That the Rates (Amendment) Bill [NIA Bill 75/11-16] proceed under the accelerated passage procedure.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Maybe the next time, you will ask the Minister of Justice to speak a little slower and that will mean that our passage here will not be just as quick.

I welcome the opportunity to address the Assembly on the motion, which will provide enabling powers for two commercial rating measures. There are two substantive clauses in the Bill. The first provides a power to enhance rate relief for community amateur sports clubs (CASCs), subject to criteria to be prescribed in subordinate legislation, which will be subject to affirmative resolution of the Assembly.

The second allows commercial window displays to be disregarded from occupation for rating purposes and is essentially an anti-blight measure suggested by businesses and advanced by my Department. The measure is untried anywhere else in the United Kingdom and is time-bound in the new clause to the end of 31 March 2017 with the potential to extend further.

My predecessor appeared before the Committee on 17 November 2015 to explain to the Committee, as required under Standing Order 42(3), why it is necessary for this particular Bill to proceed by way of accelerated passage and the consequences should it not be granted. Minister Foster had a productive session with the Committee, and I thank the Committee members and Chair for the responsible way that they recognised the need to expedite the process for the Bill and also for the Committee's support in seeking Assembly approval for accelerated passage.

The use of accelerated passage is not something that any Minister takes lightly. I believe that the best way to take forward legislation is to have a full Committee procedure in which legislation can be scrutinised and any outstanding issues resolved to the satisfaction of the Committee. That is undoubtedly the way in which legislation should be advanced. There were a number of factors, however, that prevented my Department bringing the Bill forward to the Assembly through the normal passage procedure. I will take the opportunity, as required under Standing Order 42(4), to explain to the House why I am seeking accelerated passage, the consequences of it not being granted and how I will minimise future use of the mechanism.

There have been delays outside my Department's control in bringing forward the Bill. Essentially, the policy process in relation to the Bill commenced immediately following commitments made during a motion in the Assembly in 2011. From that point, the issue was taken up by DCAL as the policy-competent Department, which then referred the matter to Sport NI.

The whole concept of community amateur sports clubs and their status for tax purposes, including the matter of their treatment for rating purposes, then became the subject of a recent state aid case in GB taken against Her Majesty's Government. The decision was then not reported until 30 April 2015. It remains an issue for the Department, and a final assessment needs to be made so that we do not fall foul of state aid rules. However, it is no bar to the Department taking forward an enabling power in that regard. Just as it was preparing to do so, the Department was then held up by further issues from the recent private Member's Bill on rate relief for community amateur sports clubs, which fell at Second Stage.

Members will already be aware of my party’s position on that Bill, and I do not intend to go over that old ground today. Needless to say, it had the effect of further delaying the Department’s Bill. That has all contributed to the need for accelerated passage if the Bill is to be passed in this mandate. I want to assure Members that the Bill will come to them as soon as possible following Executive-level clearance.

The commercial window displays disregard will now see the light of day, which is a signal to the business sector that we continue take the ideas promoted by it very seriously. The provision will help to improve high streets and shopping areas at the earliest possible date. As Members know, the enabling power relating to relief for community amateur sports clubs will permit the further consultation work on the substantive changes to be made through subordinate legislation to take place, and my predecessor informed the Committee that I intend to undertake a targeted eight-week consultation on the issue as early as possible. Early Royal Assent may enable both changes to be made in the 2016-17 rating year, subject to the consultation outcome and Land and Property Services administrative requirements.

I reiterate that accelerated passage is not an attempt to shield the Bill from proper scrutiny by the Committee or the Assembly. The Committee has been aware of the Bill's content since September of last year and has had briefings on the policy content in meetings dating back to April last year. The Bill is short, and I trust that the content is not contentious in any way; there are now significant safeguards built in by way of enabling powers; and any final policy on the sports clubs policy will not be implemented without a debate in the Assembly.

Turning now to my obligations under Standing Order 42(4)(c), as I have indicated, where possible, I believe that legislation should be taken through the normal process, as that ensures that due process is followed and the Committee is afforded adequate time to scrutinise a Bill clause by clause. I will take all necessary steps to ensure that the accelerated passage mechanism is not exercised unnecessarily . I resort to that approach in exceptional circumstances, which I have outlined.

Bearing in mind that Members will have the opportunity to raise issues on the detail of the Bill during Second Stage, I seek the support of the House for accelerated passage for the Bill and look forward to hearing Members' comments. I look forward to the Assembly showing the same all-party support for accelerated passage that was demonstrated by the Committee.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I will not labour the debate any longer than is necessary; we have enough ahead of us today as it is.

The Department originally briefed the Committee on the Bill on 9 September and advised that it intended to seek accelerated passage. The Department also informed the Committee that it would consult publicly on the proposed regulations on enhanced rate relief for premises that are used solely for certain prescribed recreations that are to be made under clause 1. In evidence to the Committee on 17 November, the Minister at that time outlined the reasons for accelerated passage and the need for the changes to take effect. The Department also advised that it is minded to propose that the enhanced rate relief applies only to community amateur sports clubs that do not have liquor licences.

I will not rehearse the detail of the Committee’s deliberations at this point, as that can be covered when we consider the principles of the Bill during the next debate. Suffice to say that the Committee decided that it would be supportive of the Minister’s proposal for the Bill to receive accelerated passage.

I should point out that the Committee was mindful that, if accelerated passage is granted by the Assembly, it will mean that the Committee will not have the opportunity to scrutinise some important issues during the normal Committee Stage. In view of that fact, the Committee agreed that, in advance of the Bill's being introduced to the Assembly, it would schedule oral briefings from panels of stakeholders, including representatives of the main amateur sporting bodies and applicable business-sector representatives on the proposals for enhanced relief for certain CASCs that will flow eventually from the Bill. I shall outline the findings from the evidence in the next debate. However, on behalf of the Committee, I wish to support the motion that the Bill be granted accelerated passage.

Photo of Ian McCrea Ian McCrea DUP

Like the Chair, I will be short. At this point, I suppose that there is very little to say other than that the Committee agreed to support accelerated passage being granted. It was not necessarily something that everyone in the Committee was happy about, and I do not think that anyone in the House is happy about agreeing to accelerated passage because of the work that Committees do in scrutinising legislation.

Whilst there was an element of scrutiny in the previous private Member's Bill, certainly with respect to amateur sports clubs, there was a slight concern that we were not getting enough time to deal with the other part. But I think it is proof that Committees are willing, where necessary, to grant accelerated passage, and in this case I think it is one of those pieces of legislation that is necessary, certainly in respect of the timing. I will have more to say in respect of the later debate, but we will certainly be supporting accelerated passage and hoping that it passes without any difficulties.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 11:15 am, 19th January 2016

I thank the Chair for his comments, and also Mr McCrea. He makes a valid point in relation to the work of the Committees. Not wishing to rehearse all that was said in this House yesterday when we discussed the Legal Complaints and Regulations Bill, I think that is another example, and there are others in this Assembly, where we have demonstrated that when a Department and a Committee work together we can actually have an enhanced outcome in relation to the original policy intent. We look forward to hearing the detail of the concerns raised by the Chair when we move into the Second Stage of the Bill in a few moments' time.

I thank Members for their help in bringing it to this stage, and I thank them for their contributions.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

Before we proceed, I remind Members that this motion requires cross-community support.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved (with cross-community support):

That the Rates (Amendment) Bill [NIA Bill 75/11-16] proceed under the accelerated passage procedure.