Executive Legislation Programme 2024

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:15 am on 11 June 2024.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin 11:15, 11 June 2024

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the Executive's legislation programme as presented by the First Minister and deputy First Minister in their statement of 23 May 2024.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to two hours for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

On 23 May, the deputy First Minister and I made a written statement to advise the Assembly of the legislation that Ministers on the Executive Committee intend to introduce in the period up until the end of this calendar year, subject to Executive agreement on the content of each Bill. It may be useful for me to begin by setting out for Members the principal considerations that informed the preparation of the programme.

The context in which the programme is being presented differs from that in previous years. The continuity of policy and legislative development that would normally have been maintained between mandates and sessions of the Assembly has undoubtedly been disrupted. With the return to full operation of the institutions in February, Ministers inherited a wide range of issues that may ultimately require the enactment of legislation. In the absence of Ministers, the development of policy across those areas had not been consistent and, in many cases, could not be translated into firm proposals for Bills. For the purposes of the legislative programme that we have presented to the Assembly, the Executive have therefore focused on the proposals that, we believe, can be introduced as Bills in the remainder of 2024. We wish to emphasise, however, that the programme by no means represents the totality of the Executive's legislative ambitions for the mandate.

Work is ongoing in Departments as the policy development process resumes, and we anticipate returning to the Chamber later this year with a further programme setting out the Executive's legislative intentions until the end of the 2024-25 session. The programme will be monitored regularly to assess progress and identify emerging legislation.

I will now turn to the programme itself and briefly set out the purpose of each Bill, as outlined in our statement. Members will be familiar with two of the Minister for Communities' four Bills, as the Defective Premises Bill and the Pensions (Extension of Automatic Enrolment) Bill were introduced in the Assembly on 20 May and have already passed Second Stage. The Child Support Enforcement Bill is scheduled for introduction on 17 June and will make provision for the enforcement of child support and other maintenance in order to maintain parity with Westminster legislation. To recognise, promote and protect British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL), the Minister for Communities also proposes to introduce a sign language Bill.

The Minister for the Economy will introduce legislation relating to his Department's financial powers, legislation to provide a new function for the Utility Regulator and legislation to make provision for the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme. A financial assistance Bill will resolve issues with some of the Department for the Economy's financial powers. A Utility Regulator decarbonisation powers Bill will provide the Utility Regulator with a new function to enable it to support the Department for the Economy in the delivery of the Executive's energy strategy and targets under the Climate Change Act 2022. An RHI scheme Bill will make provision for the future of the scheme.

The Minister of Finance will introduce the normal Budget Bills as part of the annual financial cycle and a financial provisions Bill to reconcile several routine financial matters across Departments. The Minister will also introduce a Fiscal Council Bill to establish the Fiscal Council on a permanent, statutory basis in order to bring greater transparency and independent scrutiny to the current and future state of local public finances.

The Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs will focus his legislative plans on dilapidated buildings and altering provisions relating to EU food legacy. A dilapidation Bill will confer functions on councils to provide them with a modern, fit-for-purpose regime to tackle dilapidated and often dangerous buildings and sites. In addition, the Minister proposes to introduce an agriculture Bill to provide powers to allow the Department to transition from or end the legacy EU fruit and vegetable aid scheme and EU agri-food information and promotion scheme as they apply locally.

The former Minister of Health introduced the first Bill of the mandate — the Hospital Parking Charges Bill — on 15 April. After process by accelerated passage, it received Royal Assent on 16 May. His successor proposes to introduce a further two Bills on the modernisation of public health legislation and adult protection. A public health Bill will replace and widen the scope of the Public Health Act 1967, which is over 50 years old and needs to be updated to make it fit for purpose. The adult protection Bill is a response to the Commissioner for Older People's 'Home Truths' investigation into Dunmurry Manor care home and the certified professional environmental auditor's independent review of safeguarding and care at Dunmurry Manor. It will introduce additional protections to underpin and strengthen the adult protection process and align it with best practice in other jurisdictions.

The Minister of Justice plans to introduce a justice Bill, primarily relating to the retention of fingerprints and DNA profiles and other provisions about child bail, remand and custody.

The Minister for Infrastructure will introduce a water, flooding and sustainable drainage Bill to provide new and additional powers across seven areas of water, flooding and drainage legislation.

Finally, as First and deputy First Minister, we will introduce a Bill on a mother-and-baby homes, Magdalene laundries and workhouses public inquiry and financial redress. Its purpose is to establish a statutory public inquiry to investigate issues of individual, institutional, organisational and state responsibility for human rights violations experienced in mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses between 1922 and 1995. It will further include provision for the Executive Office to establish a redress service to administer financial redress schemes.

On behalf of the Executive Committee, we commend the legislative programme to the Assembly. We hope that Members will engage positively with the Ministers responsible for the Bills as we seek to impact positively in a practical and meaningful way the communities that we have been elected to serve.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am pleased to debate the legislative programme for 2024, such as it is. We are told by the First Minister that the programme, which was laid on 23 May by written ministerial statement, does not represent the totality of the Executive's ambitions in relation to legislation. All I can say is, "Thank goodness for that", because, when compared with some of the promises that have been contained in motions from Executive parties over the past four and a half months and with the promises that have been made in PR photo opportunities, in videos by Ministers and, indeed, in party manifestos, what is in the legislative programme is, I am afraid, pretty thin gruel. I acknowledge that this is a three-year mandate. Curtailed and constrained by public finances as it is, it is still a significant period in which significant legislative achievements can be met.

Before I make broader comments, I want to go through some of the specifics in the legislative programme. In framing some of my comments, it would be helpful to know, perhaps from the First Minister or the deputy First Minister, whoever is winding up, to understand which of the Bills were in draft form when the Executive were restored in February or, indeed, which of them were in draft form when the Executive collapsed in 2022. Several of the Bills that we are talking about here are Bills that have been talked about for a long time, but there are lots of other Bills that are not on this programme that have also been talked about for a long time.

I commend a couple of the Bills in particular that, I am glad, are coming forward. The Minister for Communities has been commended, deservedly, for working with his colleagues to introduce the Defective Premises Bill in relatively quick time. The sign language Bill, clearly, is important progress for people in that community. There are some welcome tidying-up measures from the Minister for the Economy around the Utility Regulator's powers and the RHI scheme, but they are, as far as I am aware, legislation that has been in the works for a long time. There is nothing particularly that aligns to the Economy Minister's grand vision, much of which I agree with in principle. There are no legislative indications of how any of that will be delivered. There is certainly not the ambitious workers' rights legislation that has been promised by the Economy Minister and his party. Let us bear it in mind that these are simply Bills to be introduced this year. I am sure that few of them will be passed this year. I am glad that the Minister of Finance is introducing a Bill to put the Fiscal Council on a statutory footing. That is most welcome, and I have been calling for it for some time, as others have.

The Bill from the Health Minister to respond to the findings in relation to Dunmurry Manor is, of course, welcome. There are other measures, including the Minister of Justice's updating of the rules around fingerprints and DNA profiles. I have put on record my disappointment that the Minister of Justice has walked away from her and her party's long-standing commitment to a stand-alone hate crime Bill. I hear sighs from my colleagues on the Alliance Benches, but my job is holding the Executive to account, and I will not be deterred from doing that, no matter what Members from Executive parties think. That is what the Opposition are here for, and we will do that job.

Under the previous item of business, we had a discussion about the North/South Ministerial Council agriculture meeting, and you, Mr Speaker, are from an agricultural background. There is a saying in agricultural circles in Texas that certain farmers can be all hat and no cattle. Well, I would say that, looking at some of what has come out of the Executive over the past four or five months, the public of Northern Ireland might well conclude that, so far, the Executive is all hat and no cattle. We have had dozens upon dozens of motions promising everything from action on Lough Neagh to support for childcare — I admit that there has been some spending on childcare from the Education Minister, which I commend — and a range of other things. Indeed, this morning, the First Minister was saying that Sinn Féin is bringing forward a motion to support uniform costs. That is enormously welcome and urgent, but, so far as I understand, that will come via a private Member's Bill; it is not even in the Executive legislative programme.

All of those motions laid out vital aspirations with which we do not disagree. When will they be implemented? When will we see an actual Programme for Government? It is nearly 130 days into the mandate, after hundreds of meetings between civil servants and Executive parties between 2022 and 2024, and we still do not have that signed off.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Although we will not force it to a Division, we will not support the legislative programme.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

It is all hat and no cattle. It is time for delivery.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Although I am Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office, I speak in my capacity as an Alliance MLA. In that capacity, I endorse the legislative programme and will provide my party's initial response.

I trust that what is before us will indeed be what is delivered. Since the First Minister and deputy First Minister are presenting it as their programme, there must be no excuse for any delay in bringing forward the Bills contained in it across all Departments, including those that may usefully be introduced before the summer.

In the Executive Office, the introduction of legislation to set up a public inquiry and redress scheme for the victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses is, of course, welcome; indeed, it is long overdue. The inquiry will, it is stated, address human rights violations, and it is correct that it should do that. However, as with what we refer to as historical institutional abuse, we should call this out for what it really was: child abuse.

I note also that the statement uses the term "mother-and-baby homes" with reference to the planned Bill but that, later in the statement, the reference is to "mother-and-baby institutions". I urge them to use the term "institutions" in the legislation, as, I am afraid, there was nothing homely about those places.

With regard to Justice, the statement refers to a justice Bill, a modernisation Bill arising from the justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill agreed to by the Executive back in 2020. Given the timescale, it is essential that that Bill be brought forward before the summer, and I trust that the First Minister and deputy First Minister will be able to confirm later in the debate whether that will be the case.

In Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs we have two important Bills: the dilapidation Bill, which aims to confer functions on councils to tackle dilapidated buildings and sites, and the agriculture Bill on the continuation of EU legacy funding. Those are important modernisation bills that are most obviously of significance to rural communities.

In Health, we have concerns about the adult protection Bill, even though we fully accept its intent. We do not believe that mandatory CCTV is legally competent, and we fear delays in the subsequent regulations. We trust that the new Minister can address those concerns as a priority as a step in restoring families’ confidence. It is important legislation, and we want to make sure that it works. We also recognise the need to update our public health legislation but will reserve our position until we see what is in the Bill. I acknowledge, however, that the Health Minister provided some clarity on that at Question Time yesterday.

In Economy and Finance, we have the financial assistance Bill, on which the Department for the Economy is consulting but which, I understand, will probably transfer to the Department of Finance. The Bill seeks to clarify the Department's powers to provide financial assistance in the interests of the economy, to form companies, to exempt or remit certain fees relevant to Tourism NI, and to make other amendments, including to departmental accounting. We welcome those steps while reserving our position on the final Bill, depending on the detail that will follow the consultation.

In Economy, the Utility Regulator decarbonisation powers Bill will be the subject of an Alliance motion later today, so little more needs to be said here. We feel, however, that it falls short of extending the regulator's powers to cover oil, which my Alliance Party colleagues and I regard as a wasted opportunity. It is also concerning that we do not yet appear to have had Executive agreement on an RHI scheme Bill, despite its appearance in the statement.

In Finance, we support the Fiscal Council Bill to put the Fiscal Council on a statutory footing, but we would like its remit to include a specific requirement on assessing the costs of division. We recognise that this is a busy legislative period for the Department, with various Budget Bills and other legislation, such as on no-fault divorces, planned for later in the mandate.

Photo of Kate Nicholl Kate Nicholl Alliance

Does the Member agree that it is important to introduce as many Bills as possible before the summer in order to allow time for consultation and to be ready for scrutiny by Committees in the autumn?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Thank you. I agree with the Member. It would be a wasted opportunity if we did not get as many Bills out to consultation as possible over the summer. I thank the Member for her comment.

In Communities, we saw regulations yesterday on the Pensions (Extension of Automatic Enrolment) Bill and the child support enforcement Bill. They align with the rest of the UK and should lead to notable efficiencies of clear benefit to the population as a whole, so, of course, we support them. Personally, I warmly welcome the inclusion in the statement of a sign language Bill, although I hoped that it would have already been introduced during the mandate. My own view, which is well rehearsed, is that the Bill's contents should have been included the package of language and identity legislation passed in 2022, arising, at least in part, from the negotiations between parties after the institutions collapsed in 2017.

In Infrastructure, we welcome the water, flooding and sustainable drainage Bill, with the seven elements now contained in it, including expanded hosepipe bans. We will check the details as the Bill progresses, as it is important to avoid any unintended consequences. Two elements have been omitted from the Bill, on powers of entry and compensation to landowners for alleviating flood risk.

The legislative programme is a good start, but, of course, it needs to be accompanied by a Programme for Government. I recognise the difficulty that the calling of the UK election has caused, as noted by the deputy First Minister yesterday during Question Time, but we will need to see a Programme for Government urgently afterwards —

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

— to give greater purpose to this set of Bills.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chéad-Aire as ucht an rúin ar maidin.

[Translation: I thank the First Minister for moving the motion this morning.]

I want to be clear: the leader of the Opposition will force a Division, which means opposing sign language.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

No, I will not, Matthew. Thank you.

It means opposing sign language and opposing protections for some of the most vulnerable adults through the regulation and protection of safeguarding.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

We are not forcing a Division, Carál. You are misquoting me.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

OK, you will not force a Division — thanks for that clarity — but you are going to vote against the motion

[Interruption.]

You are going to vote against a public inquiry into mother-and-baby institutions and Magdalene laundries. You are also opposing fiscal transparency through putting the Fiscal Council on a statutory footing. It is important to make that clear. As we would say in the New Lodge rather than Texas, that is all fluff and no stuff. We will move on.

I welcome the Executive's programme of legislation for this year. It will probably be a minimum. It is an ambitious programme of legislative work, given that many of the issues have been around for some time. It is a demonstration of the Executive moving forward, and that is to be welcomed. Notwithstanding the challenges and the work that is ongoing to ensure that the British Government provide funding that meets our objective need, it is good that, at least, there is some funding to underwrite the legislative programme. I hope, as I am sure will others, that the Executive will progress the Programme for Government very soon.

It is clear from what the First Minister said that the Executive's legislative programme is the result of the advanced stages of work on policies from the Department. Paula, the Chair of TEO Committee, outlined some of the issues around scrutiny for TEO. I am sure that members of other Committees will do likewise. It is also important that the programme will not be just the final piece of the legislation. I am encouraged to hear that other legislation will perhaps be brought forward, followed by a statement by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister.

I welcome in particular, as I said, the introduction of legislation on the Fiscal Council, because it needs to be put on a statutory footing. Although I do not sit on the Finance Committee, in my opinion, that will ensure greater independent transparency and scrutiny. That is important work for our Finance Minister.

I am delighted to see the sign language Bill. I have been working on that matter for a long time. It should have been brought forward before. I do not agree with the format that you outlined, Paula, but it will be welcomed, particularly by the deaf and hearing-impaired community, because, effectively, without putting it on a statutory footing, unintended consequences and discrimination will continue.

I also welcome the adult protection Bill. It is very important, as the First Minister said, in the aftermath of the review of Dunmurry Manor care home. That all must be done using a human-rights approach. At the core of the legislation, every process must be implemented to uphold the dignity and rights of some of those who are the most vulnerable. I have looked at the legislation that the Health Minister will introduce, and I would like to see an individual duty of candour in Health and Social Care, particularly given the hyponatraemia and neurology scandals.

When it comes to mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and the need for a public inquiry and everything that we have heard, I want to see an acknowledgement that, while financial redress is important, it is about not only acknowledgement but inclusion. We have listened to the members of the consultative forum and learned that they are not happy with the officials' approach. I want to see a greater level of inclusion as part of that and, indeed, other legislation.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I welcome the legislative programme. It is good progress, but there is still much work to be done. I look forward to seeing what private Members' Bills are brought forward. Tacaím leis an rún.

[Translation: I support the motion.]

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Committee for Infrastructure. As the First Minister outlined, the Executive's legislative programme for 2024 includes one Bill for the Department for Infrastructure, and that is the water, flooding and sustainable drainage Bill. That is the first of five potential Bills that the Department identified, and the Committee understands that there will be at least three Bills in the current mandate. The water, flooding and sustainable drainage Bill will expand the range of activities that are to be included in a hosepipe ban; provide enabling powers for guidance on sustainable drainage systems (SuDS); enable the adoption of pre-1973 private drainage infrastructure; include powers for Northern Ireland Water to fix missed connections and register adoption agreements in statutory charges registers; put the homeowner flood protection grant on a statutory footing; and make technical amendments to existing legislation.

The Committee received oral evidence from departmental officials on the outcome of the Department's consultation and from NI Water, as the Bill will make amendments to its powers and duties. Although the draft Budget allocations had not been announced before the evidence sessions took place, the Committee was fully aware of the overall constrained financial position that the Executive faced. Departmental officials were therefore questioned on what cost or savings analysis of the Bill's provisions had been undertaken. However, they were unable to provide details of potential costs or savings. They explained that the Bill will provide for enabling powers, with the details subsequently being worked out in subordinate legislation.

In advance of its evidence session, Northern Ireland Water provided the Committee with its response to the Department's consultation, which was dated June 2022. In its covering letter to the Department, Northern Ireland Water stated that it would need clarity on the funding and cost implications of the proposal. During the oral evidence session, almost two years later, NI Water said that it had still not had clarity or detailed discussions, yet the proposed extended or new powers appear to have cost implications for it. Members will know the funding issues faced by Northern Ireland Water and the impact that underinvestment has had, particularly on waste water infrastructure. I expect the potential financial implications of the Bill to be of particular interest when the Committee undertakes its detailed scrutiny at Committee Stage.

Other areas explored during the evidence session with departmental officials were the policy proposals relating to SuDS and the homeowner flood protection grant scheme. While the Bill will provide enabling powers for the SuDS guidance, the detail will be brought forward in secondary legislation. It appears that quite a bit of secondary legislation will follow from the Bill. The Committee will want to consider whether the use of delegated powers is appropriate or the provisions should be included in primary legislation. Where delegated legislation is appropriate, we will want to ensure that it is afforded the proper level of Assembly control.

In closing my comments made with my Infrastructure Committee hat on, the Committee understands that the Bill is not expected to be large in the number of clauses that it will contain. Nonetheless, it will include important provisions, and the Committee will want to take time to consider them in detail when the Bill is introduced later this year.

As a DUP MLA, I will briefly touch on some aspects of the Bill. Through the Committee, I have become aware of legislation that is not fit for purpose, such as that which relates to our taxi industry. It is important that the Department takes that seriously, such are the consequences for home-to-school transport and, indeed, our night-time economy. Furthermore, there must be implementation of the planning reviews and strategies born from Northern Ireland Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports. Planning issues have a knock-on impact on our ability to grow our economy and could have a detrimental impact on our ability to reach the climate change targets that are already set out in legislation.

As I have said in the Chamber, infrastructure is the bedrock of our society. It is therefore important that legislation and finance match it to make Northern Ireland better.

Photo of Brian Kingston Brian Kingston DUP

Does the Member agree that the legislation is urgently required and that all parties should cooperate to ensure that progress is made at the earliest opportunity?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

Absolutely. I thank the Member for his intervention. It is vital to growing our economy and making Northern Ireland better. I therefore endorse the legislative programme, and I look forward to working on it with all colleagues.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am willing to accept an intervention right now from our friends in the SDLP in order to clarify the question of what was actually said and whether the SDLP will vote for the motion.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am happy to intervene. I did not realise that that was how interventions worked. As I pointed out, we said that we will not force a Division. That does not mean that we endorse the legislative programme. We do not have to force a Division in order to indicate that we do not endorse or support it. We think that that support should be fulsome. As I said, much of the legislation is very welcome, and we will support it. I am grateful to have been offered the opportunity to intervene.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP 11:45, 11 June 2024

Thank you very much, indeed.

I just wanted to get some clarity as we go forward with the debate. Some people may think that the Ulster Unionist Party is also heading in that direction, but I can assure you that we endorse the legislative programme.

Deputy First Minister, in your summing up, will you clarify the issue with a Programme for Government? Many people in Northern Ireland will be concerned by, what seems to be, a fairly light legislative programme. Comments have been made on several occasions that that is due to a Programme for Government not being able go forward because of what is going on in Westminster. Many people have pointed out that the Assembly has been back for well over 100 days. Maybe there will be a degree of clarification on that.

Our party particularly welcomes the legislation concerning the Utility Regulator. Many Members will know that there are many concerns out there about how the Northern Ireland energy market works — or, indeed, does not work. Giving more powers to the Utility Regulator will be vital to supporting and improving that.

I join with my friend across the Floor in welcoming the Fiscal Council Bill. That is a much-needed piece of legislation, and putting the Fiscal Council on a statutory footing should be progressed and welcomed by all.

I notice that some things are not in the legislative programme. Indeed, my party is particularly interested in looking at the future status of Northern Ireland Water and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, because they are vital for building social housing and making sure we have water and waste water infrastructure that is capable of doing what we need it to do.

We also need to be aware of some previous issues with ill-thought-out legislation coming before the House and being pushed through. I refer in particular to issues with legislation related to the justice sector and RHI. Such legislation needs to be scrutinised effectively and properly, and we cannot be in a position where our judicial process is questioning the validity of some of the legislation that the Northern Ireland Assembly has passed. That is a substantive issue, and it is something that we, as Members, need to be cognisant of to ensure that we are capable of carrying out our roles. Effective scrutiny is vital, and we need to be able to manage that effectively.

There are other Bills, but, again, the question needs to be about how quickly we can start the process. Again, I put it to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister that the people of Northern Ireland want to see a Programme for Government. We need to get moving. To be quite honest with you, from being out there, knocking on doors and getting ready for the Westminster election, people do not understand why we are delaying. Will you address those issues in your comments?

For any legislation that comes through the Assembly, we must look at it appropriately, give it the due diligence and scrutiny that it requires and look at it dispassionately across the Chamber to make sure that we provide good legislation that works for the people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Brian Kingston Brian Kingston DUP

I welcome the publication of the programme of legislation, which the Executive intend to bring forward during the remaining six months of 2024. Let us be mindful of the timescale: it not a full year's programme and is for the remaining six months of the year. As has been stated, the programme does not represent the totality of Ministers' intentions, but it is a clear commitment from each Minister to legislation that they will progress during the remainder of the year.

The programme responds to real needs in our society and the need to catch up with relevant legislation in the rest of the United Kingdom. As a member of the Committee for Communities, I welcome the undertaking by the Minister to bring forward four Bills. The first is the Pensions (Extension of Automatic Enrolment) Bill, which was introduced last month and encourages employees, particularly young people, to take up the opportunity for automatic enrolment in pension schemes, where they will receive an employer's contribution. That will lower the minimum age and minimum salary level so that more young people have the opportunity to be automatically enrolled onto pension schemes and receive the employer's contribution. The second is the child support enforcement Bill. This will address lengthy court times, which are typically 22 weeks in Northern Ireland. In the rest of the UK, however, they have been reduced to typically six weeks. That will be welcomed by all, ensuring that payments are received by parents with responsibility. Thirdly, Members will be aware of the Minister for Communities' very timely and responsible actions in taking responsibility for defective premises. He is addressing an issue that was highlighted in the news by bringing forward legislation that, again, establishes parity with arrangements elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The periods of liability will be 30 years retrospectively and 15 years prospectively. With the approval of the full Executive, the Minister agreed to bring that forward under accelerated passage. The full Executive supported that. There was a matter on which there was confusion over where responsibility lay, but the Minister for Communities stepped forward. There will also be a sign language Bill to ensure access to British Sign Language and Irish Sign language.

Briefly, as a member of the Committee for the Executive Office, I welcome the commitment to introduce a Bill relating to mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses between 1922 and 1995. There is a commitment to a public inquiry to investigate the range of responsibilities and establish further redress services. The Committee received delegations from a range of relevant agencies. What we heard was, at times, quite poignant and, indeed, harrowing. We heard from various groups representing victims and survivors, from the Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse and from departmental officials. For all concerned, this has been a long campaign for recognition, accountability and redress. It is important that victims and survivors, who have been waiting for many years, see completion on this matter during their lifetime, as many are at an advanced age.

As a member of those two Committees, I welcome the commitments made by the Ministers to progress those matters.

Photo of Connie Egan Connie Egan Alliance

I will speak in favour of the motion on the legislative programme for 2024. While I may have some concerns on combined outstanding commitments, I see this as a noteworthy step forward in our politics and, in this mandate, an opportunity to further the rights and experiences of people across Northern Ireland.

When we take a step back and read the document in the whole, it gives us some hope, not necessarily in its legislative proposals alone but in the idea of a moving, functioning Government seeking to deliver change for people in Northern Ireland. A few months ago, we did not have that. I will evaluate the legislative plan — I urge others to do the same — by how it ensures the success of our individuals and communities, adds to their lives and helps them to gain the justice that they seek.

The cross-departmental picture that is presented is largely welcome. Looking to the Department of Justice, I am excited by the contribution of the Justice Minister, Naomi Long, who will not just extend the rights of children to an international standard but will retract and rewrite the archaic and out-of-date laws that do not represent modern society.

The Finance Minister's Fiscal Council Bill will establish the Fiscal Council on a permanent, statutory basis, which will create more transparency on what comes out of the public pocket and how we grow our accounts to better our public services. I welcome that, but, as my colleague Paula Bradshaw touched on, we could expand the Fiscal Council's remit to include assessment of the costs of division.

A sign language Bill is to be brought forward by the Minister for Communities. The deaf and hard-of-hearing community have been asking the House to take leadership on that for many years. I hope that the Bill will look to our building an increasingly accessible and inclusive society.

I am also glad to see the legislative plans of the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, particularly the dilapidation Bill, which aims to confer on councils further functions to tackle dilapidated buildings and sites. We see the need across Northern Ireland for such a Bill, but I am acutely aware of the need for it in my constituency of North Down.

We also really welcome the Bill that will be introduced on a mother-and-baby homes, Magdalene laundries and workhouses public inquiry and financial redress scheme. As my colleague highlighted, we have heard extensive testimony from victims and survivors. That work is not just welcome but long overdue. Justice and answers must be given. We need a public inquiry and financial redress.

Taken together, the Bills will enhance the experiences of our people through different legislative avenues. I urge every Department to continue to have meaningful engagement with stakeholders and our communities on the ground to ensure that the expectations of those who live with the realities that the Bills seek to address are met.

Although I welcome the efforts being made, it would be remiss of me not to recognise the context in which we have received the legislative programme. How can we impactfully assess a legislative programme without having an outcomes-based Programme for Government? How can we approve actions for change without knowing the desired outcomes? I say this sensitively: there are also many outstanding commitments on the table to ensure that we progress as a society. Positive steps and recommendations have already been agreed to in the New Decade, New Approach agreement and other agreements. Those agreements were negotiated to improve the lives of people in Northern Ireland. Whether it be delivering an anti-poverty strategy, reform of the Civil Service, a bill of rights or action in many other areas, we cannot let those commitments fall by the wayside. There are already commitments in place to make changes that will have a positive impact on the lives of those who live here. The lack of delivery on those promises dilutes the hope and goodwill that people have for us to get the job done, and I include in that the legislation on the table today. That is not to diminish the ambition of our legislative programme. I welcome some of its commitments, especially the public inquiry into mother-and-baby institutions. As my colleagues and I have said in the Chamber, the programme marks a positive and welcome step in this mandate for delivery for the people of Northern Ireland. The fact, however, that it is not aligned with a Programme for Government is a lost opportunity.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I welcome the legislative programme from the Executive, but I sound a warning that having a programme is all well and good, but it should never be about quantity. Rather, it should always be about quality. There are examples from the previous mandate that should warn us all. The Department of Justice and its Minister are in a sorry mess because of legislation that the Minister of Justice passed in the House. In addition, the Department of Health was in the High Court on 29 May 2024 on account of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) Regulations 2020, particularly regulation 7(1). It has been attested that the PSNI did not have the power to enter premises to issue fixed penalty notices, which means that most of those fixed penalty notices are now unsafe. It is therefore really important that the Ministers in the Executive and the MLAs in the Assembly ensure that there is full scrutiny of all legislation that comes before the House.

When I look down the programme, I get all excited, because I see opportunities for me to table amendments to legislation to effect change in a positive way. I therefore welcome the programme, but there are Bills missing from it. It was interesting yesterday when the Sinn Féin Member Pat Sheehan asked the Minister of Health about introducing an individual duty of candour. The waffle that we got from the Minister, who talked about black boxes in aeroplanes, was astounding. That, however, typifies the Department of Health on the issue: it intends to consult it to death. It has no intention of introducing an individual duty of candour.

Let me remind the House: the report on hyponatraemia-related deaths was published in January 2018, following an inquiry into the deaths of five children in hospitals in Northern Ireland. Five children. The report concluded that the deaths were avoidable and that the culture of the Health and Social Care service and arrangements in place to ensure the quality of services and behaviour of individuals had contributed to their deaths. Justice O'Hara was appointed chair of that review and made 96 recommendations for HSC improvement, among which were the enactment of an organisational duty of candour and an individual duty of candour with criminal sanction for breach.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP 12:00, 11 June 2024

I thank the Member for giving way. This is something that I am passionate about. The Member and I will disagree on a number of issues, but we certainly agree in and around health and moving forward on a duty of candour. However, does the Member agree that politicians, when they are not here — they were not here for five years out of seven — have not played their part in any change and improvement to people's lives, whether in health or education, and that there is a responsibility on all of us to ensure that that does not happen again?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for his contribution, but that does not cut it. It simply does not cut it because there is no intent and has been no intent by the Department of Health, no intent by the previous Health Minister and absolutely no intent with the new Health Minister to bring in an individual duty of candour with criminal sanction for breach. That is astounding, and I wish to pursue that.

Pat Sheehan, who is not in his place, raised this yesterday, which alerted me to the fact that Sinn Féin must be in a position to support this. I give this guarantee and make this commitment: I will put my name to any amendment that brings in an individual duty of candour. I will work with any Member to effect change to make sure that the Roberts family get the justice and acknowledgement that they deserve, along with the blood transfusion scandal people and the Muckamore Abbey Hospital victims, and to stop the gaslighting and isolation of the vaccine-damaged and bereaved community, because they also deserve acknowledgement with regard to an individual duty of candour with criminal sanctions for breach.

It is not the fact that someone makes a mistake or even that there was wrongdoing. It is the fact that it is covered up — systematically covered up — by a Department, trusts and a health service that deem it necessary to do so. That is tremendously sad, and I will fight and put every effort I can into seeing that duty of candour in this place.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

Like many others here this morning, I welcome the legislative programme. People across Northern Ireland will be glad to see the work that the Assembly is doing and will recognise that this is, potentially, a first start at getting the Assembly moving on issues that really matter.

I particularly welcome the Health Minister's intention to introduce a public health Bill. As was noted in the statement, the current public health legislation dates from the 1960s. We do not have to look too far back to understand how inadequate that was in dealing with an unprecedented pandemic. We need to see a public health Bill that addresses some of those issues. There has been discussion about the public health Bill in the Health Committee, although we have not seen any drafts or been given any detailed information. I guarantee that we will scrutinise that Bill, because we want to ensure that its powers are appropriate and are organised appropriately. <BR/>There is a bit of concern around the timescale for the public health Bill. The previous Minister, Minister Swann, indicated that we would see the public health Bill in June: we have no indication from the current Minister whether that will be the case. It will be fairly complex legislation that will have to go through consultation etc, and, if we are to make moves in relation to the public health Bill, we need to see it fairly quickly.

I welcome the adult safeguarding Bill. It has always been the DUP position that we need a legislative approach to protection and safeguarding that prioritises the prevention of harm and affords disabled persons the dignity that they deserve. Again, I have a word of warning about the timescale. The adult safeguarding Bill has grown out of the Commissioner for Older People's investigation into Dunmurry Manor. The consultation on that dates back to 2020, and, therefore, we need to get a move on to make sure that the adult safeguarding Bill sees the light of day and that we are able to scrutinise it appropriately.

I will reinforce what my colleague said about the duty of candour. I was pretty appalled yesterday to listen to the Health Minister go on about everything and anything except a duty of candour. It arises out of the really sad circumstances of the deaths of young children in Northern Ireland, and there is a duty on the Health Minister to start to seriously look at it in a legislative way. It is not something that we on these Benches will give up on.

Those individual pieces of legislation are, however, just part of a wider, very complex picture for the Department of Health. The Department of Health has told us a lot about what it cannot do, but it needs to start to tell us what it can do with its substantial budget. It needs to tell us how it will prioritise waiting lists. It needs to tell us how it will prioritise the cancer strategy and red-flag patients who cannot get appointments.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

No, I want to finish. The Department of Health needs to tell us how it will make progress on the stroke strategy and address the crisis in children and young people's services.

In April, I asked the previous Minister of Health when he would bring forward his plan for the reorganisation of the health service. He told me on 15 April that he would do it in a couple of weeks. Obviously, he has left office, and I have invited the current Health Minister to bring forward that plan, but —

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Bring your remarks to a close.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

— we will not see an improvement in Health unless we see reorganisation, and we currently have no plan —

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

— to scrutinise. We need to see the plan.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Executive's legislative programme. It is good that, after almost 130 days, we finally have a bit more clarity on what exactly the Executive intend to do in the remaining time in the session.

There is a lot in the programme that I welcome and would like to see progressed as quickly and as judiciously as possible, and I further clarify that the leader of the Opposition has clearly stated that the SDLP will not force a Division. We are, however, rightly critiquing the level of ambition. As the official Opposition, we have repeatedly pressed the case for delivery, and it is right that greater transparency is welcomed, even in the absence of a Programme for Government. After all, stop-start government has repeatedly prevented legislation here, and certain Bills have been delayed by dysfunction in this place. For example, the First Minister and deputy First Minister's Bill on a mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses public inquiry and financial redress scheme cannot come soon enough; indeed, for many victims, it is already far too late. The Executive Office should proceed with haste with its introduction, conscious of the years of justice delayed and denied to those victims by the decisions of the parties of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to collapse this place again and again in recent years.

It is also welcome to see that the Justice Minister has committed to legislating on a range of issues, notwithstanding the long list of issues that remain unresolved, from the necessary ban on good character references to stand-alone hate crime legislation.

As SDLP economy spokesperson, I welcome the Bill that will adapt the functions of the Utility Regulator and look forward to the House's scrutiny of it. As we will debate later this afternoon, energy costs are out of control. That is thanks in no small part to the Government's failure to properly regulate the sector by giving the Utility Regulator the power to advise Departments, as well as the power to regulate home heating oil, something that, I hope, the Minister will consider including in the Bill.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

Sorry. I have literally five minutes in which to speak.

We need to tell the truth about the programme in front of us, including its shortcomings and omissions. It lacks ambition. Over months now, we have debated issue after issue, many of which related to legislation. Now, we know that the Executive parties met 100 times in advance of the return to the Assembly. In that context, I am surprised that the programme is so light in substance and that so many important issues are missing.

The Minister of Education has said that he is looking at legislation involving a price cap on school uniforms, but that is nowhere to be seen. Families are looking down the barrel of another summer of forking out absurd sums of money to send their children to school. The party of the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs promised an environmental Bill to create an independent environmental protection agency, but, in the middle of the biggest ecological disaster in living memory, we still do not see that coming through on the books. The Minister for the Economy has talked about legislating for the rights of unpaid carers, but, as we speak, tens of thousands of carers are still forced to choose between pursuing their career or caring for their relative. On each of those issues and many more the programme shows that people will be left waiting for another year at least.

I also want to address the issue of regional balance in the programme or the lack thereof. Members might think that I am a broken record on that topic — truth be told, I wish that I did not have to be — but nowhere in the legislative programme can I see a commitment to legislation on regional balance or any indication of how that body of work will level the playing field between different places. There are many objectives in this place. We all believe in causes that hold a special place in our politics, but surely we have some common ground in ensuring that everyone, regardless of postcode, has the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them. The Economy Minister is aware that I am convinced that only legislation will address the issue of regional imbalance in a long-term and sustainable fashion.

I understand that it represents only the beginning of the Executive's legislative programme, but I think that the public will be underwhelmed by the lack of urgency that the Executive parties are collectively displaying and the slow pace of change in our politics. The public deserve speedy action on the issues that they care about a lot —.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I rise as a Member from the Opposition to do what the Opposition do: provide scrutiny of the legislation and statements that are presented to the House. That is what the Opposition do here. I am pretty sure that it is what the Opposition do 100 miles down the road. That is our task. I certainly will not be taken to task for providing that scrutiny.

I welcome that, at least, the legislative programme is being offered. However, I agree with my colleagues: there is not much in it. It deals mostly with the mundane and things that, Departments say, have to be done, rather than being strategic or planned or offering something for the future. It simply deals with a lot of things that, Departments have said, need to see some movement after seven years when there was not much government here.

With regard to the health portfolio that I carry for my party, I am looking at things such as the public health Bill. It has been suggested that it will replace legislation that has been there for over 50 years.

It is out of desperation that we need some of the changes and that is why that Bill is coming forward. If we look back at the COVID period and how a lot of those regulations came in and at the difficulties that there were, we will see that the Department is saying that it needs the new legislation in order to be able to deal with things in a better way for the future.

Again, the adult protection Bill is there as a response to some current issues, but some, especially those that are to do with Dunmurry, showed how out of touch the legislation was as it was not able to deal with any of the issues that were being presented. That is why there was an urgency about updating those matters. Again, however, that is being done out of desperation. When problems arise, we have to rush and get some sort of legislation to try to cover the cracks that have been exposed. That is not planned or strategic, and it does not present a better future for people. It is about doing the barest minimum that we absolutely have to do because of what has taken place.

Things like the adult protection Bill expose how we operate in silos here. One arm of the Executive — the Health Department — is going to propose the Bill, which will include a requirement for the recruitment of a huge number of new social workers. However, there is no money from the Finance Department to go to the Health Department to deliver the new staff who are required. I have no doubt that we will pass the Bill, but then there will be a crisis, because we will not have the staff, as the money will not be there. That is what happens whenever we deal in silos.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Yes. I would like the extra minute.

[Laughter.]

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Well, we are all here to be supportive. The Member will be aware, of course, that because the Health budget has been cut by 2·3%, it will be increasingly difficult for any Health Minister to be able to deliver what is required. Indeed, many Members throughout the House will agree that cutting the Health budget by 2·3% is not what we should be doing, particularly given the approaching crisis.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you. It should be an extra minute and a half, because he covered the next 30 seconds of my remarks, which deal with the fact that the available budget will not even be able to do what is currently expected of the Department of Health and that the Department, when the Bill is passed, will not have the money from the Finance Department or the Executive to be able to deliver what is needed.

There is not one MLA in this room who has not heard, time and time again, that our health service needs to be transformed. We urgently need transformation in order to make our health service fit for the future. Is that in this year's legislative programme? No. All that we will be left with, then, is two years to pass some legislation to deal with transformation. I do not believe that that will happen. Alternatively, as has been mentioned, we will end up with such a short period of time to deal with an issue such as transformation that we will probably mess it up, because it will be rammed through with not enough time for scrutiny or interrogation of the Bill to make sure that it will be done properly.

That brings me to the next piece of legislation, which is to do with hospital car parking charges. Only this Executive could pass a Bill about cars that involves a U-turn. They overturned their own decision that they took only two years previously. They rammed it through in the time before an election when there was not the proper time for scrutiny.

I believe that the legislative programme will deliver some work but not enough. We must have more ambition for this place in order to be able to deliver much, much more.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I call the deputy First Minister, who has 10 minutes to make her winding-up speech.

Photo of Emma Little-Pengelly Emma Little-Pengelly DUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank Members for their contributions. This has been a wide-ranging debate that has touched on many of the key issues that the House has already discussed through a number of motions and debates. All those issues are, of course, important.

Passing legislation is the primary function of the Assembly. That is why we were determined to make our written statement and to move the motion, which sets out the Executive's immediate programme of primary legislation work. It was encouraging to hear from so many Members, and I want to touch on a number of points that were made in the debate.

The leader of the Opposition, Matthew O'Toole, described the programme as "thin gruel". I assure the Member that — he mentioned it in his remarks — this is the programme for the remainder of 2024. There are six months left, including the summer period. Of course, we have to be realistic. It is a primary duty of elected Members and, indeed, Ministers in this Government to ensure that we are honest with the public about what is realistic in what we can do. He accused us of being all hat and no cattle. I do like a hat, but, having attended some fantastic country shows over the past number of weeks, I like my cattle as well. On the serious point, the First Minister and I have discussed this issue in some detail. We find it incredibly important for us to get out there to support communities and to support events, but we recognise that absolutely key to this Administration will be delivery. It will be the cattle, and that is what we are working hard on. Of course, it is also key that what we focus on is deliverable. If we try to prioritise everything, nothing will be done. That is what we are working on in the Programme for Government and within the Executive Office. I can assure him that this is just the start of our ambition, and we are deeply ambitious for this place. We have a shared determination to build a better and brighter place, and that must include addressing the problems, growing our economy and, of course, the important work of the transformation of our public services.

The Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office, Paula Bradshaw, is not in her place. I welcome her endorsement of the programme. She raised a number of key aspects. She welcomed, as others, including Carál Ní Chuilín, did, the sign language Bill. I welcome that deeply. It is a very good indication and sign of our inclusive agenda to ensure that everybody is able to participate and access the public services that they require.

It is critical to recognise the role of this place on legislation. It must be about the identification of need. In a personal capacity, I am a small government politician. I do not support legislation for legislation's sake. It is a significant mistake for people to look at this Assembly and judge it on, as Paul Frew said, the quantity and not the quality. I urge Members to take caution because, when we look back over the past 17 years since restoration in 2007, we see that a number of the significant challenges and problems that we have faced have been to do with legislation or policy that ought to have been better and ought to have been scrutinised, with problems identified at an earlier stage. We have had to spend considerable time trying to address those problems.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank the deputy First Minister for giving way. I fully agree with her that those issues need to be scrutinised and better looked at. On the programme that we are debating, the ministerial statement says:

"An RHI Scheme Bill will make provision for the future of the scheme."

However, there is no detail whatsoever. It would be helpful if there were more detail on that.

Photo of Emma Little-Pengelly Emma Little-Pengelly DUP

I thank the Member for his intervention. Of course, an important point on the legislative programme, as was touched on by the Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office, is that this programme represents what Ministers have put forward but is very much in the context that the content of the legislation still needs to be agreed. It will need to be scrutinised by the Executive Committee and then by the Assembly Committees. The actual policies in those Bills are not yet agreed. Some of them we have a greater understanding of than others, but that will have to come forward. You are absolutely right that, on this issue, it is important that we get it right. That is the point that I was making around the role of the Assembly and of its Committees. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, Committees have a very particular role, which is different from that of Committees elsewhere: it is not just to scrutinise but to aid and support Ministers on policy development. That presents an incredible opportunity for Committees. I would like to see all of us commit to ensuring that we do not value quantity or speed over quality and getting things right. We absolutely have to scrutinise —.

Photo of Emma Little-Pengelly Emma Little-Pengelly DUP

Unfortunately, I have only 10 minutes, and I have a lot of contributions to touch on, I am afraid. I want to be fair to as many people as possible

Like a number of Members, Deborah Erskine mentioned her policy brief in relation to her chairing of the Infrastructure Committee, which is very welcome. I touch again on the point that, if the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are to deliver and have the determination to deliver, we will only do so by working hand in hand with the Committees, relying on them to call the relevant witnesses to really scrutinise the legislation to ensure that we are doing the right thing. I welcome the contributions from Deborah and other members of the Committees.

Steve Aiken mentioned the Programme for Government. As indicated yesterday, we are in the same position as Scotland and Wales. All three jurisdictions were in an advanced position with their programmes for government, and all three, having taken guidance about the election period, will not be publishing them. That is right and proper. I would love to say that the Programme for Government is so good that to publish it would give an electoral advantage to the First Minister and I, but, of course, that is what the guidance is there to caution against. I have no doubt that there will be a variety of views on the Programme for Government. Of course, we will publish it for consultation, because we want to hear those views and improve it. We are very mindful of our responsibilities during the election period, but we are determined to get it published as soon as possible following that.

Some Members referenced using the summer period for consultation. We acknowledge that using the summer period for consultation on legislation or policy is not ideal, but it allows people a little bit of extra time. We would have to consult into the autumn, as well, to ensure that there is adequate consultation time.

The policy area of a duty of candour was mentioned by a number of Members, and I add my support to that. I was not here for questions to the Health Minister yesterday, but there was a reference to "the black box" then. There is an excellent book called 'Black Box Thinking' that deals with that very particular point. It talks about why so much goes wrong, such as medical negligence and other issues, and focuses on the specific issue of candour. There is an important point on candour, not just relevant to our health sector but across all our policy areas and all our legislation: we need to be open and frank on what works and what does not work. If something is not working, let us get it changed; let us work together to try to address it. That is the only way that we will improve things.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

Will the deputy First Minister give way?

Photo of Emma Little-Pengelly Emma Little-Pengelly DUP

Unfortunately, I have only a minute and a half left.

I want to add to that point by saying that it is incredibly important that we are fully aware of the impact of what we are doing on all the issues. I come back, again, to the point about quantity in relation to legislation. When we speak to people on the doors, as all of us will be doing over the next number of weeks, the key issue that we hear about, time and again, is that people want their public services to work for them, such as access to GP services and affordable childcare, in health and education respectively, and all those types of issues. We are also conscious, however, that legislation is not always the answer to the problem. Sometimes the answer will be transformation, restructuring and getting the right policies in place. The Committees have an important role in all those things, as does the House.

I thank Members for their contributions to the debate. It has been very useful, and important issues have been raised. I urge people to consider this, however: let us get the right legislation, prioritising quality over quantity and consideration and scrutiny over speed. That is what the people of Northern Ireland demand of us and that is what will deliver for people throughout Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly notes the Executive's legislation programme as presented by the First Minister and deputy First Minister in their statement of 23 May 2024.