Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:45 am on 22nd March 2022.
I beg to move
That the draft Domestic Abuse Information-sharing with Schools etc. Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2022 be approved.
The Business Committee has agreed that there should be no time limit on the debate. I therefore call the Minister to open the debate on the motion.
As Members are aware, section 26 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 provides the power for my Department to bring forward regulations to enable information to be shared with an education provider about an incident of domestic abuse concerning a child who is a pupil or student of that provider. That information-sharing model is known as Operation Encompass and has been in place in England and Wales for the past 10 years. The model that is provided for by the regulations is broadly based on that model. Locally, Operation Encompass will be an early intervention partnership between schools, colleges, training facilities and others in order to enable support to be provided for children and young people who experience domestic abuse. Operation Encompass ensures that a simple telephone call or notification is made to a designated person in a school, college or training facility prior to the start of the next school day following an incident of domestic abuse, primarily in cases involving children who are related to either of the adult parties. That will allow for appropriate support mechanisms to be put in place for the child and will ensure that any feelings of fear or anguish are not escalated by the education provider's environment. For example, the school, college or training facility will be aware that the child might not have done their homework or have their proper uniform on and can take account of the incident in how they interact with the child on those matters. It is important to note that the model will not replace or detract from the protection mechanisms that are already in place for familial parent-on-child abuse.
Separately, Members will be aware that the Education Authority (EA), the PSNI and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust launched a pilot of the Operation Encompass model in September 2021 on the basis of consent. The catchment zone was initially the Down sector of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area, with the pilot expanding to the Newry and Mourne part of that district on 1 February 2022. A total of 135 schools are participating in the pilot, and, to date, a total of 95 notifications have been made to schools. It is intended that Operation Encompass will then be rolled out across Northern Ireland on a phased basis. That is likely to happen in the new school year, which starts in autumn 2022. It has been agreed that the Department of Education will be the lead Department responsible for the roll-out of Operation Encompass in schools once the regulations are in place and that the Education Authority and PSNI will be the operational leads. The Department for the Economy and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs will lead on further education (FE) institutions and training providers, including the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).
The regulations were drafted by my Department in partnership with officials in the Department of Education, the Department for the Economy and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in order to place the Operation Encompass model on a statutory footing when sharing information between relevant bodies. A targeted three-week consultation was undertaken on the draft regulations, which ran until 8 December 2021. All of the 18 responses that were received were supportive of the regulations being brought forward. The regulations will apply where there has been a domestic abuse incident or an incident that can reasonably be believed to constitute an incident of domestic abuse concerning a child who is a pupil or student. They will apply to those who are registered for a funded preschool place through to those who are of compulsory school age, prior to their turning 18, when they are considered to be an adult. That upper threshold aligns with the approach that is taken to children and young people who are in the criminal justice system.
Regulation 3 enables information to be shared between a number of bodies. The police can advise that there has been such an incident to a designated person, who is typically the safeguarding lead for a school, further education college or Department for the Economy-funded private training provider delivering training programmes or apprenticeships. That is to ensure that the needs of a child and any impact can be effectively taken account of and that support can be provided. The precise information that will be shared will be determined by the particular circumstances of the case and will be kept to the minimum that is necessary. That information can include the timing of the incident, its nature and severity, who it involved, its location or any such other information that is considered necessary to support and take into account the well-being needs of the child. That information will give the education provider a sense of the level of trauma that the child has been subjected to and will recognise that a child may be affected by domestic abuse, even in circumstances where they have not been physically present during the incident of abuse.
Regulation 4 provides that a domestic abuse incident concerning a child means any incident where there may have been abusive behaviour between two personally connected individuals, where the incident would be likely to cause harm, where it was intended to cause harm or the person was reckless about whether it would cause harm or where the incident concerned the child. The relationships that are covered are those where the individuals are or have been married, where they are or have been partners, where they are or have been in an intimate personal relationship or where they are close family members. That is intended to align with the general approach that applies to the domestic abuse offence, albeit recognising that, for the purposes of the scheme, a person may not have been charged with an offence at that point.
There is a need to ensure that the information-sharing provisions under the regulations do not cut across current procedures and protections, as well as the scope of the domestic abuse offence; rather that they supplement it. Abuse by a parent against their 16- or 17-year-old child would fall within that model. That is intended to ensure that there is an appropriate linkage to the parent domestic abuse legislation and what is deemed to be a domestic abuse offence or any other offence aggravated by domestic abuse. It also ensures that information sharing would apply where a child is affected by domestic abuse and, while, perhaps, not a direct victim, the child aggravator would be likely to apply under the 2021 Act. Where a child or young person is abused by a parent or a person who has parental responsibility for them and a child cruelty offence could apply, that would be captured by current information-sharing provisions.
In addition to the police sharing information with the safeguarding lead, there are other instances where information may be shared — again, where that is necessary — in order to ensure that the needs of the child, as well as any impact, can effectively be taken account of and that support can be provided to them. The regulations enable designated persons, such as the safeguarding lead, designated child protection officer or designated safeguarding officer or their deputies to share information with the police where a child has disclosed an incident to them, as well as a two-way sharing of information between those designated persons and a class teacher. That would apply where a disclosure has been made by a child or where an incident has been reported, and that is necessary in order to ensure that the needs of the child can be effectively taken account of and support provided. For the purpose of the regulations, "class teacher" will include its everyday meaning, as well as course lecturer, instructor, relevant support staff and education provider.
The regulations provide that it is an offence for any of those who are enabled by the regulations to share information to disclose that information without lawful authority, including that provided by the regulations under an Operation Encompass notification. It is also an offence for any other person to use or disclose to someone else any information that, they know, has been disclosed in contravention of the regulations. The penalty associated with that is a fine that could be unlimited. As Members will, no doubt, appreciate, it would be inappropriate to take forward information-sharing provisions without an associated offence of unauthorised disclosure. That being said, we do not consider that there should be a need to have recourse to that, as the offence is drafted to capture incidents where someone has knowingly disclosed information without lawful purpose, rather than accidentally.
It is intended that the regulations will be operational from 1 April 2022 and that the introduction of Operation Encompass will be rolled out across Northern Ireland on a phased basis after that, likely in the new school year from autumn 2022. I have no doubt that Members will welcome the provisions and the future roll-out of the Operation Encompass model and support the regulations that I am taking forward. They will enable appropriate and proportionate sharing of information where that is needed to best support a child. I commend the motion to the House.
As Chair of the Justice Committee, I am pleased to welcome the motion. It implements the provisions taken forward by the Committee in the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 to establish an Operation Encompass model in Northern Ireland, which is, as the Minister has outlined, a police and early intervention partnership enabling support for children and young people who are experiencing domestic abuse.
The Committee first heard about Operation Encompass from the Chief Constable, who told members that it was a programme operating in England and Wales that he would wish to see introduced in Northern Ireland. He advised that there were legislative impediments but hoped that those could be overcome with the support of the Committee and other partners.
During the Committee's subsequent consideration of what was then the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, a number of organisations highlighted their support for the introduction of an Operation Encompass-type approach in Northern Ireland. It was felt that the ability to advise when a domestic abuse incident to which the police had been called had occurred the previous night would ensure that the relevant school, college or training facility would be in a better position to quickly understand and support a child's needs and their possible behaviours. The provision of support in the educational environment would mean that a child would be better safeguarded against the short-, medium- and long-term effects of domestic abuse.
The Committee was supportive of such an information-sharing scheme being available in Northern Ireland and believed that the legislative provision to enable the PSNI to share information with a school on well-being grounds to support children in the context of domestic abuse should be provided at the earliest opportunity. It therefore tabled the necessary amendment at Consideration Stage, and it received the support of the House.
The proposal for the regulations to implement the provisions, which are the subject of the motion today, was first considered by the Committee on 3 February 2022. The Committee was advised that the Department of Education would be the lead Department for the roll-out of Operation Encompass once the regulations were in place, with the Department for the Economy as the lead for further education colleges and training providers. The Education Authority will be the operational lead with support from PSNI colleagues.
The Committee noted that the draft regulations had been developed by the Department of Justice in partnership with the Department of Education, the Department for the Economy and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and therefore agreed to seek the views of the respective Assembly Committees on the regulations.
The Committee also requested a more detailed report on the responses to the targeted consultation that had been undertaken on the regulations and clarification of the position in respect of older pupils in special schools. The Department's response, providing a detailed consultation analysis and explanation of why pupils aged 19 in special schools cannot be provided for under the scheme, was considered by the Committee on 17 February.
At that meeting, the Committee also noted that the Committee for the Economy had indicated that it had no objection to the proposal and the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the Committee for Education had advised that they were supportive of the proposals. Having considered the responses and the additional information from the Department, the Committee agreed that it was content with the proposal for the statutory rule (SR). The statutory rule was subsequently considered on 10 February, when the Committee noted that the Examiner of Statutory Rules had no comment to make by way of technical scrutiny. The Committee agreed to recommend that the statutory rule be approved by the Assembly.
Notification from the police of an incident of domestic abuse will enable the relevant school, college or training facility to offer immediate support to children experiencing domestic abuse. A pilot scheme has been operating with the Education Authority, the PSNI and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust across 60 schools in the south Down area since September 2021 and was extended to a further 77 schools in the Newry and south Armagh areas at the start of February 2022. The pilot scheme has received positive feedback, and a total of 51 referrals have been received by schools from the PSNI.
I am proud of the work that the Committee has done to make the scheme a reality across Northern Ireland. Therefore, on behalf the Committee, I am pleased to welcome the motion and support it in the House today.
I will conclude with a few comments as a Member of the House and on behalf of my party. Today is the last time that I will stand before the House as Chair of the Justice Committee. We had our final meeting of that Committee this morning, and I want to place on the public record our appreciation and thanks to our Committee staff of for all the work that they have done. They have been tireless and conscientious in everything that they have done, not only since I have had the opportunity to be the Chair but during the life of the Committee and for previous Chairs.
I also note that there are members of the Committee who are not seeking re-election. I refer to Emma Rogan, Robin Newton and Sinéad Bradley. I want to comment particularly on Sinéad Bradley, who is in the House today. I pay personal thanks to her for the work that she has done on the Justice Committee, along with other members. I thank her for the service that she has given. I have no doubt that the diligence that she has shown is reflected in the many changes made to the legislation that has been brought before the House. I also wish my colleague Mr Robin Newton well, whatever the future brings in the weeks and months ahead.
Minister, I thank you and your officials for the work that you have done. We have not always agreed and will not always agree. There will be issues on which we will still have disagreements. I trust, however, that we endeavoured to do our work in the best way possible to ensure the best possible outcome.
I ask for your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, to raise just two issues with the Minister. Reference was made earlier to the domestic abuse legislation. Issues of serious concern have been raised about the Protection from Stalking Bill, including with how stalking protection orders will be enacted. Moreover, a concern was raised, and you saw the correspondence, Minister, from the police, about challenges remaining with the training of officers. I ask that you address those concerns with the Chief Constable in a way that reflects their seriousness.
Finally, it is with some concern that I raise with the Minister the issue of the pay settlement that has been imposed on our prison staff. I understand that it has been imposed without reference to the pay review body. That is a serious departure from the working relationship between the Prison Service and its staff and the Department. I have written to the Minister today on that issue.
Thank you for your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker. We wish all on the Justice Committee success, whatever outcome 5 May brings.
I welcome the regulations. The inception of Operation Encompass was the result of a police officer and a teacher sitting at a kitchen table wondering what they could do to make life better for young people who had suffered as a result of being exposed to an incident of domestic abuse, whether they were directly involved or witnessed the incident. That is where it began.
I was at a Safeguarding Board presentation at which its representatives talked about Operation Encompass and the challenges that they had in bringing it in in the North. I asked them afterwards what the issue was, and they said that there just seemed to be a resistance to it but that they were not sure why. I was on the Policing Board at the time, so I asked about it at every opportunity, putting it to the Chief Constable on a number of occasions. When I got on to the Justice Committee, I did the same, and I saw the opportunity to include the issue in the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill. I thank the Minister and her officials for working with me on it, and the Speaker's Office, because we were concerned that it would not be found to be within the Bill's scope. Thankfully, it was. I thank the members of the Justice Committee, because every one of them without fail supported it. They saw that it would work to the benefit of our children and young people.
I acknowledge that Peter Weir, the previous Education Minister, brought forward a pilot, and that was helpful. It also highlighted the challenges, because the requirement for consent is a challenge. That was raised with me as recently as last week by somebody who works for Youth Service, who said that the consent issue is a challenge, particularly in some communities with certain traditions, as parents would not give consent for that information to be shared with a school. In some cases, the control to give consent to the information being given to a school was being given back to the person who was the very perpetrator. The importance of what we are doing today cannot be overstated.
Everything that we do in the House that protects, supports or looks after the well-being of a child will come back to us as a society and as a community, and we will all benefit from it. Everything that we do should be about nurturing our children and young people, because, in doing so, we will make a real difference not only to the life of the child but to the lives of the children around that child and to the attitudes of the people around them, who will see how to do the right thing.
The Minister outlined what seem like really small things. We often talk about the bigger stuff around counselling, support and the services that can often be very difficult to access, but sometimes it is actually just about asking, "Are you OK?", "Are you all right?" or "Do you need breakfast?", or saying, "You have not done your homework. Do you need half an hour before you go into class?". That child knowing that somebody cares, because the people at home may not care for whatever reason due to what is going on at home, can make a massive difference in their life. All of us who were lucky enough to grow up in a very loving, caring and supportive home will never understand what those children go through.
We need a more nurturing nature across the board, not just for children. Schools and educational settings are notified about domestic abuse incidents, but what is the benefit of roaring at a child who comes into school with their uniform not right or their homework not done? What is the benefit of calling them out in front of all their classmates? Take them to the side and ask them, "What is going on?", "Why is it not right?" or "Why have you not got your homework done?". I say that to anybody in any educational setting. The teachers or lecturers will benefit from that, the children that they talk to will benefit, the children around them will see that caring nature and will benefit, and we, as a society, will benefit from all of that.
I thank the Minister for bringing the regulations to the House. I again put on record my thanks to all the current and previous members of the Committee and the new Committee Chair for all the work they have done. I certainly enjoyed my time on the Justice Committee. We did a lot of good work, supported by the Minister and her officials and by the Committee staff. Like the Committee Chair, I place on record my thanks, because the staff on our Committee were second to none, and the work that they put in was second to none. I also place on record my best wishes to Sinéad Bradley in her future endeavours. I was — I still am — on one Committee with her, but I was previously on two Committees with her, and we worked well together. All of us, as a Committee, worked well together, particularly on the domestic abuse legislation, and we worked with the Minister and her officials. I just place that on the record.
I thank Members across the Chamber for their kind words.
I suppose that all of us like to consider ourselves to be fair. I include myself in that. I am the first to shout when somebody tries to take credit for something that was not their doing, but I also like to think that I can acknowledge when somebody is persistent and does not let go of an issue and wants to see it delivered. I really have to commend Linda Dillon on this particular piece of work, because she would not let it go at Committee. Not only did she instigate its being brought to the table, but she worked collaboratively with everybody there to find ways of extending it.
We looked at finding victims in all settings and extending this to where those victims were. We took an Operation Encompass-plus approach. A video came through in the Committee pack. After we watched it and spoke to Linda, it was an absolute yes from us. Why would we not want to do that? It was such a critical piece in safeguarding any person who had been exposed to something or who was in an environment where something happened that should not have happened, and where a child would or would not present himself or herself to an educational establishment the next day.
I thank the Minister for her update on the pilot scheme and the 95 notifications in that one geographical area, which just happens to be an area neighbouring where I am from. I think of those 95 notifications and ask myself what they mean. I presume that it was 95 individuals — it could be a repeat of incidents — but, for 95 days, a child presented himself or herself in front of professional people in a school environment. For the first time, those people had an understanding that that child had come from an environment where something had happened. As professional people, they will have adjusted their behaviour to go beyond the role of educator. It allowed them to lean in further to the role of nurturing and protecting that child and offering all the safeguards that the home had failed to provide during the incident that led to the alert. That is something that teachers really want to do. They would not be pleased with themselves if they did not have that information and, perhaps, put pressure on a child about their uniform or homework or for not bringing their lunch money or money for a school trip. There is a whole host of things, and teachers who are under pressure just want to get on with the day's education and the day's work.
This is a very kind safeguarding piece. I appreciate that it is limited in what is perhaps relayed, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows room for a bit of dignity, but it allows professional people to make a judgement and really safeguard the person in front of them. I think that everybody in the House, had they a child in their charge, would want to know if that child had been exposed to some sort of environment where they were feeling vulnerable or were presenting themselves in a way that maybe could not be explained. The preschool setting is particularly notable, because we can see all the little red flags such as no money, no uniform and no homework. Sometimes, it can present itself in a behavioural outburst, and professional teachers and those in their charge will be alert to that and will know that that needs to be managed and that a disciplinarian approach is not appropriate.
I would like to take a moment to thank the Minister for her support throughout the mandate on the overwhelming body of work that has come through the Committee. I hope that, when everybody's day comes to say their final words in the House, they do it with the same sense of reward that I got and a sense of satisfaction that we have achieved something that really does help victims.
I also thank the Chair of the Committee, Mervyn, for repeatedly chairing the Committee in a very fair and measured fashion during his time in that role. He has been an enjoyable Chair, and, at times, we have been able to enjoy each other's company, shall I say, and, when appropriate, have a laugh along the way. I also thank Paul Givan, the previous Chair, who was equally concise on the detail, all the members of the Committee and those who ceased to be members during that time.
It really was a case of putting the shoulder to the wheel and delivering for victims. That is not always evident to those outside the House, but the victims who, unfortunately, will present in the future will have safeguards that were not there prior to this mandate. I will always be thankful that I was able to be a part of delivering that, and I thank everybody who played a role.
I rise to make a few brief points in support of the regulations. This is, naturally, a highly sensitive issue, but Members will be aware that one of the most difficult aspects of lockdown was the inability of school staff to physically see their pupils, particularly those pupils who might be victims, in whatever way, of difficult situations in home settings. Counsellors and social workers often noted, sadly, that, for some children, school is their refuge or place of safety. That demonstrates the need for these regulations and for the information sharing of the type envisaged in them to take place across Northern Ireland.
The last couple of years highlighted a troubling gap in information sharing, which, for a decade or so, has been filled in much of the rest of the UK by Operation Encompass. That is an early-intervention partnership that provides an additional protection mechanism that is exactly about working through problems as soon as possible to restrict the potential for them to broaden and to ensure that appropriate support is made available swiftly. That model has now been piloted, as we have heard today, in the Newry area, and all the evidence gathered from it and from the subsequent consultation supports widening the pilot to the whole of Northern Ireland. Fundamentally, that will enable schools to respond more appropriately to notifications of domestic abuse arising from the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act, which passed last year. It is an example of how the Act is meant to operate — not just as a response to domestic violence but as a means of providing early intervention.
The regulations are supplementary to existing provisions, and it is worth emphasising that they make it an offence to disclose information enabled under the regulations or to use that information without lawful authority. It is unlikely that we will see that offence committed, but such regulations must have that protection inherent in them. I strongly recommend the regulations and the intended roll-out over the coming calendar year.
I recognise the hard work of the Justice Minister, her officials and the Justice Committee in getting the regulations before us this week before the end of the mandate. They will surely provide yet another important means of support and intervention for children.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on the regulations put forward by the Minister of Justice.
In January, the Committee was informed of the introduction of the regulations by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and of the overarching policy intent to improve support for children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. The Committee considered the proposal at its meeting on 27 January and sought further clarification of the implications for the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise regarding additional training for staff and the development of protocols with the PSNI. On 17 February, the Department informed the Committee that safeguarding staff at CAFRE would be supported through additional online learning via the Operation Encompass website and that that would be supplemented by further guidance and training by officials as required. The Committee was provided with further assurances that DAERA staff will engage with colleagues in the Justice, Education and Economy Departments to develop protocols to cover the provision of information between CAFRE and the PSNI in relevant circumstances.
The Committee supports the regulations being made today and considers it vital that agencies work closely together to provide holistic support and safeguarding for children and young people suffering from domestic abuse. Our education facilities play a crucial role in that regard, and the Committee welcomes the future introduction of the scheme at CAFRE and in schools and colleges throughout the North.
I rise to speak briefly and to welcome the regulations before us. The cooperation that we have seen between Justice and Education, the justice agencies and, indeed, the school system on the successful pilot in the Newry area has enabled the regulations to be rolled out, and that is a good sign. For all of us, when faced with the consequences of lockdown, particularly focusing on our children, there were grave concerns about many of the implications, one of which was the impact on the mental health of families. The impact of isolation on young people and the elderly was another concern.
A lot of good work was done by the Youth Service, the PSNI and others in trying to reach out. When children were out of school and the doors were closed in a range of domestic settings, we did not know what was happening behind those closed doors. We did not have the same level of access to what domestic abuse might be happening. One of the gravest concerns for many of us was that, while there was an awareness previously of a range of situations and some monitoring could be carried out, it was simply assumed that everything was all right, but terrible things were happening in many situations. I very much welcome the progressive move to have another tool to tackle domestic abuse through the school system and that level of cooperation. This is a good example of cross-departmental and cross-sectoral working to bring something forward. Unfortunately, it will not be the cure for every problem out there and will not prevent or even detect every case of domestic abuse, but, if it helps to shine a greater light on the issue and helps in a range of situations, that is helpful. I commend the regulations to the House.
I call the Minister to conclude and make a winding-up speech.
I thank Members for their supportive comments on the introduction of the Operation Encompass model, as well as the purpose of the regulations. I welcome today's debate on the draft regulations and thank Members for their valuable and supportive contributions to them. I pay special thanks to the other Ministers, Departments and Committees that have been involved in bringing the regulations forward.
With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, given that this is the last piece of DOJ business in the mandate, I wish to pay a wider tribute to past and present members of the Justice Committee and to the Committee staff. I thank Emma Rogan, Sinéad Bradley, who is with us in the House today, and Robin Newton for their contribution, as well as Gordon Dunne, who passed away during the mandate. He served on the Committee very diligently.
Particularly in the context of Operation Encompass, I pay tribute to the former Deputy Chair, Linda Dillon, who championed this element of the Bill and was keen to see information sharing put on a statutory footing. It is to her credit that we have been able to work with the Department and the Committee to bring this forward today. I thank her for her commitment to that.
When you look at how long we have spent in the Chamber in comparison with the time that might have been available to us, you see that has been a relatively short mandate, but it has been an intense one. The Committee has had to work hard, as have officials, to keep pace with the amount of change that we have been trying to deliver. However, we had ground to make up, and it was important that we used the opportunity that we had.
I listened to some of the contributions in the Chamber earlier today. We heard from some Members what the Assembly and Executive have not been able to do. Of course, there will always be things that we cannot achieve or deliver in any mandate. However, I have to say that, by working with the Committee, across parties and collaboratively on issues that really matter to the people whom we represent, we have proved that we can achieve a lot. With all of the Assembly's flaws and with all of the structural and political challenges that we face, we have proved that it is entirely possible for us to deliver real change for the people whom we represent. That is what should drive us forward through the next mandate.
I will turn to some of the questions raised, although they are not directly related to Operation Encompass, by the Chair of the Committee. Given that I will not have another opportunity to update Committee members, it is important that I do so briefly.
We are working with the PSNI on training on the domestic offence and the stalking offence. I meet the Chief Constable regularly, and we have listened carefully on those issues. We want to ensure that the training is rolled out to all officers, specifically those on the front line, so that, when the offences come into effect, they are prepared for them. The Department's intention is that stalking protection notices and orders will be available in the autumn, and we are committed to that timeline.
We entered into lengthy negotiations on prison officers' pay via the director general and the Prison Officers' Association (POA). We addressed issues such as a reduction in the number of points on people's pay scales, so that the money that we would have available would be best directed at those on the lowest wages. That was the right way for us to proceed. We made an offer to the POA, and we accepted its counter-offer to the Department. However, when the POA balloted its members, they rejected it. Whilst it was not our intention, we were unable to progress some of those items and have had to impose a pay settlement for 2021-22. Whilst it may be difficult, if not impossible, to recover the ground lost this year, we will invite the Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) to look at the 2022-23 pay remit. Obviously, affordability will be a significant consideration in all of that. Having accepted the POA's counter-offer, we were disappointed that it was not accepted by its membership, and there are questions that they need to answer in that regard.
In terms of Operation Encompass, the regulations will make a real and tangible difference to the lives of children who are suffering the impact of domestic abuse and will ensure that they are appropriately supported in an education environment. As many Members have reflected, education is one of the few places where young people are free of influence from the home and are able to speak in confidence to other people about their experiences, whether those are good or bad, and seek help and assistance where necessary.
It is therefore appropriate that such information sharing should be permitted so that every child can find themselves attaining their education in a supportive environment that has compassion at its heart. I believe that that will help us to go a long way towards that, so I commend the draft regulations to the House.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That the draft Domestic Abuse Information-sharing with Schools etc. Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2022 be approved.