Official Report: Monday 29 February 2016


The Assembly met at 12:00 pm (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes' silence.

Executive Committee Business

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Before we proceed with today's business, I have some announcements to make. I wish to inform the House that the Departments Bill received Royal Assent today, Monday 29 February 2016. It will be known as the Departments Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.

Assembly Business

Mr Swann: I beg to move

That Standing Orders 10(2) to 10(4) be suspended for 29 February 2016.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Before we proceed to the Question, I remind Members that the motion requires cross-community support.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved (with cross-community support):

That Standing Orders 10(2) to 10(4) be suspended for 29 February 2016.

Executive Committee Business

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: I call the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mrs Michelle O'Neill, to move the Further Consideration Stage of the Rural Needs Bill.

Moved. — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The amendments have been grouped for debate in the provisional grouping of amendments selected list. There is a single group of amendments. The debate will be on amendment Nos 1 to 7, which deal with commencement and technical changes. I remind Members who intend to speak that, during the debate, they should address all the amendments on which they wish to comment. Once the debate is completed, any further amendments in the group will be moved formally as we go through the Bill, and the Question on each will be put without further debate.

If that is clear, we will move on.

Clause 1 (Duty of public authorities to have due regard to rural needs)

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: We now come to the amendments for debate. With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to take amendment Nos 2 to 7. The amendments deal with the commencement of the Act and technical changes. I call the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to move amendment No 1 and to address the other amendments in the group.

Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development): Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I beg to move amendment No 1:

In page 1, line 10, after "appropriate," insert "by order".

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2: In page 1, line 14, after first "a" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

No 3: In page 1, line 17, after first "a" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

No 4: In page 1, line 18, after first "the" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

No 5: In page 1, line 18, after first "a" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

No 6: In clause 3, page 2, line 16, after "(1)" insert "(c)". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

No 7: In clause 5, page 2, line 29, leave out "2017" and insert "2018". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Mrs O'Neill: The amendments that I have tabled for consideration today are a small number of technical amendments that will provide clarification of the clauses of the Bill as amended at Consideration Stage and an amendment relating to the commencement provision in the Bill.

Amendment No 1 deals with DARD's power under clause 1(3) to add, remove or amend any entry in the schedule that lists the public authorities to which the Act will apply. The amendment adds the words "by order" to clause 1(3) to clarify that any amendment to the schedule would be taken forward through subordinate legislation.

Amendment Nos 2 to 5 relate to clauses 1(4) and 1(5) and change each reference to "person" to "body or person". That is to reflect that the schedule includes both bodies and persons and to provide consistency with clauses 1(2) and 1(3).

Amendment No 6 relates to clause 3 of the Bill, which deals with the monitoring and reporting arrangements. Amendment No 6 clarifies, by including a more specific reference, the information that is to be published by DARD in its annual monitoring report.

Amendment No 7 relates to the commencement of the Act. At Consideration Stage, clause 5 was amended to include a time limit for commencement on 1 June 2017. As I indicated during that debate, I supported a specified time limit for the Bill's commencement. However, it will be important to ensure that the necessary supporting framework, such as guidance and training, as well as the new monitoring and reporting arrangements are in place prior to the new duties coming into force and that the public authorities concerned have sufficient time to prepare for the application of the Bill. To ensure an effective phased approach to implementation, I envisage that the provisions of the Bill could be commenced for Departments and councils approximately a year after Royal Assent, in 2017, and for the remaining public authorities listed in the schedule for a further year after that and not later than 1 June 2018. Therefore, I propose an amendment to clause 5 to change the time limit for commencement to 1 June 2018.

That concludes my comments on the seven amendments that I have tabled. I look forward to hearing Members' contributions to the debate.

Mr Irwin (The Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development): I, of course, represent the views of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development. The Committee has not considered the amendments and has taken no position on them, but, as Chair of the Committee, I am content that the amendments do not affect the policy changes that we wanted and gained at Consideration Stage.

Of course, my fellow Committee members can represent the views of their parties. As far as my party is concerned, amendment Nos 1 to 6 are technical, and we have no issue with them. Again, on amendment No 7, on the time frame for commencement, we have no real issue either. We support the amendments.

Mr McMullan: Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I support all the amendments that have been tabled by the Minister. As she said, they are mostly technical in nature. Therefore, I do not need to go into the detail of any of them, as they have already been adequately explained by the Minister.

I will make one brief comment on amendment No 7. We all want to see the Bill and its duties put in place as soon as possible. It is vital that we get it right from the start, given that the bodies have been added at a late stage. It is important to ensure that the proper training and guidance is in place. It will allow the bodies listed to have the proper arrangements when they go ahead. With that in mind, the Minister has referred to a date no later than June 2018. This will allow training to start as soon as they are ready, as long as it is before June 2018.

Mrs Dobson: I welcome the opportunity to speak at this stage of the Rural Needs Bill. We support amendment Nos 1 to 6; however, we will oppose amendment No 7.

We must remember the Bill's origins. The rural White Paper action plan was approved by the Executive in May 2012 and formally launched by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in June 2012. That is over four years ago. It is five years from the date of commencement currently in the Bill and six years if today's amendment is made. Six years? That should be enough for people to judge the sheer inefficiency of the entire process.

That plan, which was long awaited, was notable not just for what it included but for how much it lacked any strategic vision and measurable outcomes. Some people will look at today's Bill and think that it was a missed opportunity for the Department to really enshrine protections for our rural communities. It remains unhelpful that, for whatever reason, the DUP and Sinn Féin thought it necessary to block many of our previous amendments, which would have strengthened the Bill, including requiring mandatory training for key DARD staff and placing a legal duty on the Department to make sure that public bodies cooperated. That has dumbfounded most impartial observers and, I know from reading emails that I have received, many people working in rural support bodies. Nevertheless, I still have not heard any good reason today why the Department thinks that it is unable to implement the Bill within 15 months.

I quote directly from the Minister at the previous stage:

"I am not opposed in principle to a time limit for the Bill’s commencement; however, the precise date of this time limit will have implications for my Department and other public bodies." — [Official Report, Vol 112, No 6, p44, col 2].

If those implications are that they need to ensure that they have met their statutory requirements under the Bill in a timely manner, I do not see why that is a negative thing. We need to remember that the public authorities in the Bill are not insignificant in size or scale. Bodies such as the Education Authority and the PSNI have bigger budgets and far greater staffing levels than DARD, so they should be in a position to adapt to it in a timely manner. It is up to the Minister, in her winding-up remarks, to make the case for an extension; if she does not, it is up to the parties to decide whether they are content for DARD to avoidably drag its feet for yet a further year.

Mrs O'Neill: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Members for their contributions to the debate. I will pick up on the last point on the commencement date. I said at the previous stage of the Bill that I would accept the amendment tabled by the party in relation to the commencement date but might need to come back to it. That is exactly what I am doing today. I am keen that we ensure that the Bill is all about enshrining rural people's rights in legislation. It is about making sure that we put protections in place so that, when policies and strategies are being developed, Departments and those bodies recognise and take into account the needs of rural dwellers.

The commencement date, with the amendment that I have tabled — amendment No 7 — will very clearly say "not ... later than ... 2018", so that does not prevent anybody who is in a position to move forward before that date from doing so. The fact that I have extended the list of bodies to be included under the legislation is something that I came to later in the consultation and as part of the Committee's scrutiny of the Bill. The fact that we have now added those bodies means that it is not inappropriate to allow some additional time for them to be ready. I am more interested in getting this right and that people embed their practices, with the proper guidance, training and advice available to them, to make sure that they carry out rural proofing in the manner in which we intended it to be done.

I thank all the Members for their contributions. I have clearly made the case for moving amendment No 7, and I thank the parties that have set out their support for the Bill going forward.

Amendment No 1 agreed to.


12.15 pm

Amendment No 2 made:

In page 1, line 14, after first "a" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Amendment No 3 made:

In page 1, line 17, after first "a" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Amendment No 4 made:

In page 1, line 18, after first "the" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Amendment No 5 made:

In page 1, line 18, after first "a" insert "body or". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Clause 3 (Monitoring and reporting)

Amendment No 6 made:

In page 2, line 16, after "(1)" insert "(c)". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Clause 5 (Commencement)

Amendment No 7 made:

In page 2, line 29, leave out "2017" and insert "2018". — [Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development).]

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: That concludes the Further Consideration Stage of the Rural Needs Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill.

This is a private Member’s Bill sponsored by William Wragg MP, and it had the support of the Government when it received its Second Reading on 4 December 2015. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is the public body charged with investigating alleged miscarriages of justice, which involves it seeking a range of evidence and information, often going back years. Its skilled investigators, caseworkers and commissioners do that important work for potential miscarriages of justice in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own arrangements.

In the course of its work, the CCRC will look at information and evidence coming from a wide range of sources, including the police, the prison and probation services, the NHS, local authorities and other public-sector sources. The power to require that information, subject to judicial safeguarding, is set out in section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. However, the CCRC will often need to look at evidence and information held by private sources, such as individual witnesses, solicitors, private security firms or private medical practitioners. Under the current legislation, the CCRC must rely on cooperation and voluntary disclosure, because it has no formal power to require evidence to be disclosed from non-statutory organisations.

In essence, the Bill seeks to redress a legislative oversight from 1995 and give the commission much-needed powers to request evidence from private sources. That is its sole function.

The Bill contains only two clauses. Clause 1 provides a power to obtain documents and other material from non-public bodies. Critically, as set out in clause 1(1), that power will be subject to the safeguards of judicial oversight and a Crown Court order, so the CCRC could compel a private individual or organisation to provide material only by order of the court.

The new disclosure requirements would apply notwithstanding any obligations of secrecy or other limitations on disclosure. Clause 1(3) provides that the commission shall not disclose any information without the consent of the person concerned.

The CCRC has sought that additional power for some time, and I am content that the contents of the Bill are necessary and proportionate. The commission believes that having the power on the statute book will be enough to persuade many private bodies to cooperate with the CCRC voluntarily, thereby avoiding the need to invoke the power to compel.

Clause 2 sets out the proposed territorial extent of the Bill, which is the same as that of the CCRC, being England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As the power already exists in Scotland, we had the opportunity to look at how it has worked there, where I believe that the process has worked well with no evidence of abuse.

I am, therefore, asking the Assembly for legislative consent to extend this Bill to Northern Ireland to ensure parity and consistency in investigations conducted by the CCRC. Given the demands on the legislative programme, there will be no opportunity to legislate for this change via the Assembly, and it will be to our advantage and to the advantage of those who suffered a miscarriage of justice to implement this change in tandem with England and Wales.

I appreciate that the Assembly's preference, like mine, is that we ourselves should legislate on Northern Ireland matters wherever possible. However, in this instance, we are talking about minor changes to a body that has a wider remit than Northern Ireland. For those reasons, it is appropriate that we should seek a legislative consent motion (LCM), and I ask the Assembly to support it.

Mr Ross (The Chairperson of the Committee for Justice): I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Committee this afternoon.

As the Minister outlined, this legislation, introduced as a private Member's Bill at Westminster, will allow the Criminal Cases Review Commission to seek an order from the Crown Court requiring a person in the private sector to give the commission access to documents or other material in that person's possession or control.

I will briefly outline the Committee's consideration of the matter. The need for an extension to the commission's powers to obtain documents from private organisations and individuals, where it is reasonable to do so and under judicial oversight, was raised with the previous Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson by the commissioners in September 2014. At that meeting, the commission provided examples that highlighted the difficulties it encountered due to its lack of powers in relation to the private sector.

The Department of Justice undertook a three-month public consultation on proposals to extend the powers of the CCRC with regard to the private sector in Northern Ireland, including proposed judicial safeguards. The Department reported to the Committee on 17 September 2015 on the results of its consultation, advising that the 10 responses received were largely supportive of the change and the proposed safeguards. The Committee noted that the Attorney General and the Information Commissioner raised issues regarding human rights and data protection respectively but that sufficient provisions to mitigate those concerns could be put in place. In view of the general support for the proposal, the Department indicated its intent to legislate for this change.

The Department later advised that the Ministry of Justice intended to bring forward the same legislative change in England and Wales through the Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill, introduced in the House of Commons by Mr William Wragg MP in June 2015.

The Department further indicated that, as it would be unable to make the change by way of an Assembly Bill before the end of this mandate, the Minister was seeking the Committee's formal agreement for the legislative consent motion mechanism to be used. That would enable the introduction of the relevant provisions in the same timescale as in England and Wales.

Following consideration of information provided by the Department on the results of the consultation on proposals to extend the powers of the CCRC, the Committee for Justice agreed that it was content with the Minister's proposal to extend its powers to enable it to obtain documents from private organisations and individuals, and for the legislative change to be made by way of an LCM.

The legislative consent memorandum in respect of the Bill was laid in the Assembly on 27 January 2016 and referred to the Committee for consideration on 28 January. At its meeting on 4 February, the Committee for Justice agreed that it was content to support the legislative consent motion in relation to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill. The Committee subsequently provided all MLAs with a copy of its report on the LCM, which was agreed at its meeting on 18 February. Therefore, I commend the motion to the Assembly.

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Like the Chair, we welcome the use of the LCM in this instance because of the work of the commission. I want to place on record our support for the work that the commission does. It has been useful in allowing people an avenue to explore whether there were miscarriages of justice. I think that there was a legislative oversight that has revealed that there is a gap in its ability to get relevant documentation to support a case. Therefore, we will support the motion.

Mr Ford: I do not believe that it is necessary to make any specific responses to the points raised by the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Committee except to make the point again that this was another example of good work being done between the Department and the Committee. I thank my officials and the Committee staff for the work that they did in putting it together. I certainly acknowledge the concerns that were raised and which the Chair highlighted, but I do believe that the issue of judicial oversight will ensure that these powers are not used disproportionately, will fall into line with what is already good practice in Scotland and will ensure that Northern Ireland remains on a par with England and Wales. With thanks to both the Members who have spoken in the usual lengthy debate that we have on these important matters, I again commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill.

That the draft Teachers’ Pension Scheme (Consequential Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Iarraim cead an rún seo a mholadh. The regulations that we are debating today make an amendment to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (Consequential Provisions) Regulations (NI) 2015 to ensure that the teachers’ pension scheme, which was created under the Public Service Pensions Act (NI) 2014, operates as intended. The proposed regulations make a small and technical modification to the law governing the teachers' pension scheme.

I remind Members that the Public Service Pensions Act 2014 provides the framework enabling legislation for the reform of public service pensions here. The design of the new teachers' scheme has been established, within the confines of the Act, and the scheme came into operation on 1 April 2015. The regulations before us today are simply the means to include a modification to the Pension Schemes (NI) Act 1993 to ensure that the scheme design for the teachers’ pension scheme, which was widely consulted upon with members and unions, works properly within the wider framework of pensions law.

This modification is in addition to the set of modifications made to the Pension Schemes (NI) Act 1993 in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2015. The consequential provisions were made in March 2015 and came into operation on 1 April 2015. At the time that the consequential provisions were made, necessary legislation to provide for the abolition of contracting out for defined benefit salary-related pension schemes had not yet been made here. It was therefore necessary to defer making consequential provisions that would ensure the protection of increases in guaranteed minimum pensions following the abolition of contracting out. With the introduction in June 2015 of the Pensions Act (NI) 2015, which provides for the abolition of contracting out, it is now necessary to make these proposed regulations.

In conclusion, this is a small, technical modification under the Public Service Pensions Act (NI) 2014 to provide for the protection of increases in guaranteed pensions after the abolition of contracting out. I therefore commend this modification to the House.


12.30 pm

Mr Weir (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education): The Department briefed the Committee on these regulations on 13 January 2016. As the Minister explained, the statutory rule is required to protect increases in guaranteed minimum pensions, following the abolition of contracting out. The rule appears to be beneficial and has been consulted on, with no objections being raised by stakeholders. Consequently, the Committee agreed on 27 January 2016 that it was content for the rule to be affirmed by the Assembly. The House may also wish to note that the Examiner of Statutory Rules had no comment to make on the draft rule.

Speaking as a DUP MLA, I say again that this is a fairly uncontroversial change that will be seen as being largely beneficial. Consequently, my party has no issue with the statutory rule and is happy to support it.

Mr O'Dowd: I welcome the Chair's comments and the Committee's examination of the statutory rule. I have nothing further to add to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That the draft Teachers’ Pension Scheme (Consequential Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.

That the Credit Unions and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill [NIA 56/11-16] do now pass.

I apologise for being out of breath, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. I have just dashed back from Antrim, where, the House will be delighted to know, the Mayor of London has given us another Transport for London order for 200 buses. That brings the total number of buses ordered to 1,000 and secures hundreds of jobs in Northern Ireland.

The Bill is the latest in a number of actions undertaken by my Department that are aimed at improving the legislative and regulatory framework that applies to credit unions and registered societies. Those sectors are of key importance to Northern Ireland, and the Bill's provisions will give them new operational freedoms and allow them to better serve their members and wider society.

Credit unions will be able to carry out new activities, permitting them to explore new commercial opportunities and to strike out in new directions. They will also enjoy a measure of deregulation for a number of the existing activities that they undertake, including the very welcome support that they offer to their local communities. Industrial and provident societies will also see deregulation. The Bill will remove unnecessary legislative requirements and give societies greater scope to engage with younger members and allow them to secure increased levels of investment. These sectors operate in a rapidly changing commercial environment. While the Bill represents a very positive development, my Department will continue to work with credit unions and societies to ensure that the sectors can continue to grow.

This is a somewhat complex and technical area, and I thank the Chairman and members of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment for their considered scrutiny of the Bill. I am grateful to them for the productive and positive way in which they worked with my officials and, in particular, for the suggestions that they put forward at various points, all of which helped to improve the Bill. I also thank Members for the keen interest that they have shown in the Bill during its passage through the Assembly.

Mr McGlone (The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire chomh maith. I thank the Minister. On behalf of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Final Stage of the Credit Unions and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill.

The passage of the Bill through the House represents the culmination of almost eight years of work by the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in this and in previous mandates to enable credit unions to expand their range of services and to offer the same facilities that their counterparts in GB, and in the South of Ireland, have been able to offer since 2002 and 2003 respectively. I want to pay tribute to previous Committees and their membership and to former party colleagues, Mr Alban Maginness and Mr Mark Durkan, for their sterling work.

On 13 March 2008, the previous Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment commenced an inquiry into how to support credit unions here to expand their range of services. The Committee reported on 5 February 2009, and its report contained only eight recommendations, which were broadly accepted by the Department. However, there were a number of major difficulties in implementing the recommendations, as changes were required to primary legislation here and at Westminster. The appropriate legislation could not be put in place in this House until the appropriate changes had been made in Westminster.

On behalf of the Committee, and, no doubt, previous Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committees, I offer my sincere thanks to the Minister, to his predecessors, and especially to their officials in the Department, past and present, for their hard work, their expertise and the dedication and professionalism that they have demonstrated to help to get this legislation to where it is today. Their cooperation, their knowledge, and, indeed, their good working relationship with the Committee, and with Committee officials — whom I have to especially thank for the great work that they have done — have brought us to where we are today.

I would like to put on record the Committee’s gratitude to the Irish League of Credit Unions and the Ulster Federation of Credit Unions and to the individual credit unions that participated in the Committee’s call for evidence. Their experience as grass-roots practitioners is invaluable.

The passing of the Credit Unions and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill will provide a tremendous opportunity for credit unions across the North to fulfil their potential as trusted, professional, community-based financial advisers and financial service providers.

A number of amendments to the Bill were brought by the Department on the Committee’s recommendation, and I do not propose to rehearse them here today as they were appropriately covered at Consideration Stage. However, a number of other issues arose during the Committee Stage of the Bill, and I would like to ensure that the Committee’s consideration of those issues is put on the record.

Clause 3 permits a credit union to offer interest-bearing shares in addition to shares entitling the holder to a dividend. The Committee had some concerns that the introduction of provisions for interest-bearing shares may have the potential to create a two-tier system, by which some members held only non-interest bearing shares, whilst others were able to avail of interest-bearing shares. The Ulster Federation of Credit Unions had concerns that the introduction of interest-bearing shares may tend to muddy the waters in relation to the traditional view of credit unions on the one hand as being solely owned by their members and banks, and, on the other hand, being commercial operations in business for the benefit of shareholders.

The Ulster federation did not think that interest-bearing shares was something that their members would be interested in. On the other hand, the Irish League of Credit Unions sees interest-bearing shares as an extra tool in a credit union’s armoury for its asset-liability management. It believes that, based on the principle that a credit union is a smaller form of financial institution, it should be enabled to undertake and partake in any financial activities and offer services to its members. It believes that the credit union movement will have to be competitive, as the level of uptake will be determined by the market in much the same way as a bank sets the interest rate at which a deposit account will be guaranteed over a one-year period.

The Irish league also helped to allay the Committee’s concerns in relation to any perception of a two-tier system. Whether or not a credit union member avails of interest-bearing shares will have no impact on voting rights, and no concerns have been raised in jurisdictions where that facility has been available for some time.

Clause 6 removes the 3% minimum amount of dividend that must be paid before surplus funds can be applied to social, cultural or charitable purposes but retains the requirement for some level of dividend to be paid to members before surplus funds can be applied to those purposes. That was a key recommendation in the previous Committee's inquiry. Clause 6 provides the opportunity for credit unions to contribute back into the communities in which they operate. For that reason, the Committee very much welcomes that provision in the Bill.

As the legislation stands, a credit union could not make any contribution for social or charitable purposes unless it had declared a 3% dividend. In the current financial environment, that is a highly unrealistic expectation for any credit union. There is a provision for a maximum of 10% of surplus funds to be applied to such purposes, and the Committee agrees that that provides the appropriate balance.

There were some initial concerns during the Committee's pre-legislative scrutiny that expertise in social finance may be required to ensure that credit unions would not put their members' money at risk. However, having seen the legislation, both the Irish League of Credit Unions and the Ulster Federation of Credit Unions are content that there is sufficient protection in the provisions.

In relation to clause 8, Co-operatives UK highlighted to the Committee that current Northern Ireland legislation does not require the registrar to make a rigid distinction, at registration, between cooperative societies and community benefit societies but that the new legislation will create three separate legal forms where now only one exists. According to Co-operatives UK, that has caused significant uncertainty and concern for societies in GB. However, they remain hopeful that the Financial Conduct Authority policy will achieve the necessary refinement and flexibility. The Committee was content with the Department's assurances that it would review the legislative framework underpinning credit unions and cooperative and community benefit societies after completion of work on the Bill, including consideration of whether future legislative change was considered appropriate.

The passing of the Bill will unlock the potential of all credit unions to become full and trusted players in the financial services sector. As community-based organisations, credit unions know the communities in which they operate and their individual members. This legislation will enable them to compete on an equal footing with the for-profit sector and to act as trusted, objective and professional financial advisers and lenders to individuals and groups in those communities. As Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, I commend the Final Stage of the Bill to the House.

Mr Dunne: I, too, welcome the opportunity to speak on the Final Stage of the Credit Unions and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill as a member of the ETI Commitee. I fully recognise the valuable role that credit unions play in providing financial assistance to people in need across Northern Ireland. Throughout the process of the Bill, we have seen the importance of this sector in everyday life in Northern Ireland. The Bill was designed to promote the continued growth and sustainability of the sector, and I believe that it will deliver the required change to create an improved service.

The success and significance of the service that credit unions provide here is backed up by statistics. Thirty-four per cent of our population hold a credit union account, compared with around 5% in the rest of the UK, and membership has doubled in the past decade. Regrettably, today, there are loan sharks around who often exploit the most financially vulnerable, and many of them often have greater resources and use attractive advertising as a means to lure people into unrealistic agreements. Credit unions are different, and that is why local credit unions that put the community at their heart are worthy of our support.

The three amendments will allow the sector to flourish. Clause 13A is an important one for the sector, given that credit unions will, for the first time, be able to admit companies and unincorporated associations into membership. The commitment to a review within two years is also an important step in providing the necessary protection to credit unions.

I welcome the progress that has been made, including the work of the Committee, and I am content to support the Bill.


12.45 pm

Mr Lunn: Not being a member of the Committee, I have not been as close to the Bill as I would have liked, but I welcome and support its passage at Final Stage.

As the Minister said, the Bill will extend the remit of credit unions and give them operational freedoms and commercial opportunities. That is grand, because nothing stands still these days. The Chair of the Committee said that the Bill would enable credit unions to become full players in the financial services sector. As I have said before in these debates, that comes with a bit of a health warning. Frankly, the more you imitate banks, the more you become like banks and the more you become susceptible to the same pressures and regulation as banks; and we all know what has happened to them.

I hope that the sector continues its progress. It has always been a marvellously well run system in the North of Ireland, and I am sure that it will continue to be so. I have no doubt in credit unions' ability to continue to invest and lend wisely under the benign hand of the Financial Conduct Authority — we will see how they manage with that organisation. All in all, it is a good day for the movement and the sector. I wish them well for the future and welcome the passage of the Bill.

Mr McKinney: I support the Credit Unions and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill. As a member of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, I welcome its Final Stage. The wide scope of the Bill is to be welcomed. By way of background, as has already been highlighted, the Bill is an attempt to update and modernise the law relating to credit unions and industrial provident societies. As has been stated, both are an integral part of our economy and make a massive contribution by offering financial services and credit to many individuals, including local businesses owners and those in the agriculture sector, who are the backbone of our economy.

The Bill has been long in gestation, but it is important legislation for the Committee. As has been stated, it is the outworking of a Committee inquiry in the previous mandate that made a number of recommendations to broaden the range of credit services that credit unions can offer.

It is important to remind the House, as I did at the previous stage of the Bill, of something that the SDLP holds dear: credit unions were established, with Ireland's greatest — John Hume — playing a pivotal role, to address the massive inequality in our society, when many vulnerable people were being exploited for profit, as mentioned by Mr Dunne. Some of that is still seen today in the payday loans and other short-term financial deals that exploit many people. I am glad that the Bill further protects the role that credit unions and other providers play in society, and I hope that it goes some way to alleviate the financial pressures that are put on people who are victims of extortionate payday loans.

It is important to take the opportunity to commend all those involved in bringing forward the Bill. I echo the comments of my colleague Mr Patsy McGlone. It has been an arduous task. I thank the Minister and his departmental officials for their continuous engagement with the Committee during its scrutiny of the legislation. I also thank the Irish League of Credit Unions and the Ulster Federation of Credit Unions, which attended numerous oral evidence sessions with the Committee to tease out the issues as they progressed. The Bill has been argely uncontroversial, and its clauses have the broad support of the sector, as was reflected in the Committee investigation.

I want to touch on one element that relates to further review. Both the Irish League of Credit Unions and the Ulster Federation of Credit Unions raised concerns about unincorporated bodies, in conjunction with their membership, being in the name of an individual rather than the organisation. They stated that that created something of an unequal playing field and some difficulties. Through further scrutiny by the Committee, in liaison with the Department, it became clear that there were complicated legal considerations. Due to that, with the pressing need for the legislation to proceed, the Committee was content to explore the possibility of a review clause in the Bill that would prescribe in law the actions to be taken by the Department to review how exactly an amendment to the legislation could allow for unincorporated members to be included.

In those circumstances we believe this to be the right course of action, and we look forward to the outcome of the review during the next mandate. I hope for a positive resolution that could provide a welcome boost in the opening of finance for businesses across Northern Ireland through the credit union movement.

To conclude, I reiterate that the SDLP supports the Bill. It is a step in the right direction and will go a considerable way towards bolstering credit unions and IPS regulations to ensure that they are best able and best placed to serve our community.

Mr Bell: I express my gratitude to the Chairman and members of the Committee and to Mr Dunne and Mr McKinney for their work and those very positive remarks. Iit is an example of the success of devolution that all of us from right across the House have worked together on this. I also thank my officials for the work that they put in. I think sometimes that the brevity of this debate does not reflect the intensity of the work that goes on behind the scenes, in Committee rooms and in private briefings with officials. It is that work that leads to success.

Credit unions are of enormous importance. I could speak for hours on their value to many people, both individually like myself and collectively for families. I am glad that they have the support that they have in Northern Ireland, because that reflects the value that people in Northern Ireland place on them. I can remember back to when I had a Sunbeam that cost £50. I was joining the health service, and they told me that I was to be an essential car user and would be expected to have a reliable car at work every day. It was to the credit union that you turned for the loan for the second-hand car that allowed you to get a career.

There is a far greater story that has not been told about credit unions. One of the most inspirational firms that I have come across is First Derivatives. In many cases, it was not looked on favourably in terms of borrowing money, but a credit union leant them £5,000. If I understand it correctly it was Brian Conlon, working from his spare room, who used that £5,000 loan to develop an international business that now stretches from Newry to North America to the Far East. I was very excited to talk about some of the personnel in New York recently about their vision for the future and to see what can be done with a £5,000 loan. That talent has been multiplied by Brian Conlon and the first-class team at First Derivatives, who, as I say, have stretched from their Newry offices right through to New York and across to the Far East. That is testament enough to what can be done.

That just leaves me to commend the Credit Unions and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That the Credit Unions and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill [NIA 56/11-16] do now pass.

The following motion stood in the Order Paper:

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions in the Enterprise Bill dealing with the Small Business Commissioner.

Mr Bell (The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Thank you, Principal Deputy Speaker. We are here today to consider the issue of extending the role of the Small Business Commissioner, contained in the Enterprise Bill, to Northern Ireland. The Bill will allow the Small Business Commissioner to provide general advice and information relating to dispute resolution and options for resolving disputes; a signpost service to mediation and arbitration services that are currently in operation; and to provide an in-house complaint-handling function in respect of payment or contract issues.

Extending the remit of the Small Business Commissioner to Northern Ireland is the most cost-effective way for small businesses across the region to benefit from the service, which is intended to support them in resolving disputes with larger businesses. Small businesses are not always sure where to turn for help in sorting out disputes with other businesses, and I am concerned that not enough small businesses are able to settle their problems with larger corporations sufficiently quickly. We know that some small firms suffer because of an imbalance in bargaining power when dealing with larger businesses. Some small businesses feel unable to challenge the contract terms proposed by larger businesses for fear of damaging their commercial relationship, and many do not have the time, money or expertise to make a legal challenge where they believe that practices are against the law. Those issues put small businesses under additional pressure and limit their opportunity for growth. They also, in some instances, put businesses at risk.

The Executive are determined to see small businesses thrive and grow in line with the Northern Ireland economic strategy. The establishment of the Small Business Commissioner will complement existing dispute resolution services and encourage a culture change in the way that businesses deal with each other. It will also deliver a consistency of service to small businesses across the United Kingdom when considering their commercial dealings with larger firms.

SMEs are very much at the heart of the Northern Ireland economy, and many of them trade with companies elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Clearly, we would not want to put them at an unfair disadvantage by not supporting the legislative consent motion (LCM). The consent of the Assembly is, therefore, being sought.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: I ask the Minister to confirm that he has moved the legislative consent motion.

Mr Bell: Yes, it is moved.

Mr McGlone (The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment wrote to the Committee on 20 October 2015 to advise that the Westminster Government had introduced the Enterprise Bill to the House of Lords. The Minister informed the Committee that the Bill included a range of measures that are intended to support the growth of enterprise in the UK.

The LCM is to enable the extension to Northern Ireland of provisions in the Bill relating to the establishment of a UK Small Business Commissioner. The Westminster Government undertook a public consultation. Time pressures precluded consultation in Northern Ireland, would you believe it? However, in oral evidence to the Committee on 8 December 2015, departmental officials stated that the Department had engaged with a number of representative bodies in the North. The Department learned that late payments were an issue and small businesses would welcome the extension of the commissioner’s remit to Northern Ireland.

The commissioner will be based in England and will provide an advisory service and will direct issues or complaints specific to Northern Ireland to the appropriate mediation or arbitration services based here or in the South of Ireland. The commissioner will not have the legal basis to make a legal ruling on any issues and will be obliged to report annually on any specific Northern Ireland items or issues.

The Committee is of the view that the legislative consent motion is the most appropriate means of enabling small businesses in Northern Ireland to access the services of a UK-wide Small Business Commissioner. The Committee supports DETI in seeking the Assembly’s endorsement of the legislative consent motion. With that, I conclude, and I support the LCM.


1.00 pm

Mr Dunne: I, too, support the legislative consent motion.

It is important that the motion has been brought to the House. It aims to bring a greater level of support for economic growth to the small business sector in Northern Ireland through the establishment of the role of Small Business Commissioner here. The Small Business Commissioner will provide a level of support to our small business sector through assisting it to resolve disputes and empowering it for the future, while promoting a culture change in how business is done with one another.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)

The main purpose of the LCM is to boost productivity and business growth in this vital sector. We want to see our economy in Northern Ireland grow. It is such a crucial sector and worthy of our full support as we continue to see growth in our economy and a rebalancing of it. We must take every opportunity to support and encourage enterprise. The LCM, which will allow for the extension of the remit of the Small Business Commissioner across the UK, will ensure that our local small businesses are not unfairly disadvantaged and will provide them with the level of necessary support and protection. I welcome the motion and am happy to commend it to the House.

Mr Bell: I thank all who contributed to the debate. I put on record my thanks to my ministerial colleagues and the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee for the way in which they considered this important matter in a timely way, allowing the motion to be debated today. I very much appreciate the positive manner in which the issue has been dealt with and the agreement that there is from all sides of the House.

I commend the motion to the Assembly, with thanks to Members for their support.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions in the Enterprise Bill dealing with the Small Business Commissioner.

That the draft Debt Relief Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 (Consequential Amendments) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.

I seek the Assembly's approval of the statutory rule. It is being made under powers contained in the Debt Relief Act (Northern Ireland) 2010, which prescribes that the order must be laid in draft form for approval by affirmative resolution of the Assembly.

There are long-standing provisions in various pieces of Northern Ireland legislation that bar anyone who is bankrupt from engaging in certain occupations or businesses or from being a member of various boards, trusts and other public bodies. Following the enactment of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 2005, it became possible to place culpable bankrupts under continuing restrictions after their discharge from bankruptcy. The restrictions relate to taking credit and the name under which the individual can trade.

A review was then carried out of the various provisions in Northern Ireland legislation barring individuals who are bankrupt from engaging in certain occupations or holding certain offices. It resulted in the making of orders in 2008 and 2015 to amend the disqualification provisions. Consequently, some provisions were amended to substitute being subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order as grounds for disqualification. In other cases, being subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order was added as grounds for disqualification.

Under the Debt Relief Act (Northern Ireland) 2010, it became possible for individuals burdened by debt to apply to the official receiver for a debt relief order, provided that their total debt was less than £15,000 and they met certain other eligibility criteria. The Act also provided for the making of debt relief restrictions orders. As debt relief orders and debt relief restrictions orders are directly comparable with bankruptcy orders and bankruptcy restrictions orders, there was a need to further amend the disqualification provisions so that they apply to persons subject to debt relief orders and debt relief restrictions orders. The draft order that you are being asked to approve makes those necessary amendments.

The order has been agreed with the Committee and the Executive. I believe that it should now be approved by the Assembly.

Mr McGlone (The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. I thank the Minister.

The Committee considered the SL1 at its meeting on 30 June 2015 and was content with the policy proposals. There were no changes to those proposals when the statutory rule was submitted to the Committee on 2 February 2016. In the Committee's consideration of the policy proposals, it noted that the order will amend disqualification provisions in various primary and subordinate legislation that already provide for the disqualification of persons from office in the event of insolvency so as to extend those disqualifications to persons subject to debt relief orders and debt relief restrictions orders.

The Committee was informed that all Departments with legislation that would be amended by the proposed order were informally consulted, as were the Northern Ireland Assembly and the NIO. All Departments have agreed to the proposed amendments to the legislation for which they are responsible. On that basis, the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment recommends that the draft Debt Relief Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 (Consequential Amendments) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 be affirmed by the Assembly.

Mr Bell: I thank the Committee Chair for his very positive remarks and contribution to today's debate.

The law as it stands bars individuals from holding certain offices if subject to a bankruptcy order or a bankruptcy restrictions order. As debt relief orders and debt relief restrictions orders are analogous to those orders, it is reasonable to expect that they should also be considered as grounds for disqualification from holding certain offices. Consequently, I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That the draft Debt Relief Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 (Consequential Amendments) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.

That the draft Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.

This statutory rule is being made under powers in the Energy (Northern Ireland) Order 2003, which prescribes that this order must be laid in draft for approval by affirmative resolution of the Assembly. The changes that I bring forward in the draft order relate to the Renewables Obligation Order (Northern Ireland) 2009. The Northern Ireland renewables obligation or NIRO, as it is better known, has been the main support mechanism for incentivising renewable electricity generation in Northern Ireland since 2005.

The NIRO has been subject to a number of changes in recent years. The draft Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016, which I am putting forward before the Assembly today, implements policy decisions to ensure that biomass material used for the generation of electricity is sourced responsibly and in a way that minimises any adverse environmental impacts. Similar provisions have already been introduced in Great Britain, and it is important that Northern Ireland adopts a similar and consistent approach on biomass sustainability.

In line with the rest of the United Kingdom, my Department undertook consultations in 2012 and 2014. The consultation in 2012 proposed enhancing the sustainability criteria for the use of biomass feedstock, and the 2014 consultation proposed technical adjustments to sustainability and to the reporting provisions for solid and gaseous biomass.

In total, six responses were received to both consultations, with support given to some proposals and concerns raised about or clarification sought on others. However, there was insufficient evidence provided to suggest that Northern Ireland should adopt a different position from the rest of the United Kingdom.

I now turn to the detail of the new provisions in the draft order. The first set of new measures is aimed at strengthening biomass sustainability criteria. Since June 2014, generating stations with an installed capacity of one megawatt and above, using solid or gaseous biomass, have been required to report only on whether they meet sustainability criteria. The draft order makes compliance with sustainability criteria mandatory for generating stations using solid or gaseous biomass, in order to receive support under the NIRO, as is already the position for bio-liquids. Those measures will ensure that renewable generation from local or imported biomass receives financial support only where that biomass delivers genuine greenhouse gas savings compared with fossil fuel and where it is sourced from land that is sustainably managed.

The draft order also introduces a new methodology for calculating an annual average greenhouse gas emissions figure for all biomass used by a generating station, excluding certain types of waste. This is to ensure that generators are not penalised if an individual biomass consignment exceeds the greenhouse gas target due to circumstances beyond their control, such as bad weather increasing transport distances. This is subject to the provision that each individual consignment of biomass must not exceed an overall ceiling to ensure that each consignment delivers a good level of savings.

The draft order also makes minor technical adjustments to the sustainability criteria for non-wood fuel biomass that correspond to the land criteria for bio-liquids. It amends the reporting requirements for wood fuel to enable more effective monitoring of the use of different types of wood by the bio-energy sector, as well as making reporting provisions more workable for industry. Ofgem, which is responsible for administrating the NIRO on behalf of the Northern Ireland authority for utility regulation, will regulate compliance with the greenhouse gas and land criteria.

In conclusion, Mr Deputy Speaker, I believe that the proposed amendments are necessary to ensure a consistent UK-wide approach to applying the principles of biomass sustainability and reporting provisions in the renewables obligation mechanism.

Mr McGlone (The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Committee considered the SL1 at its meeting on 12 January 2016 and was content with the policy proposals. There were no changes to policy when the statutory rule was submitted to the Committee on 26 January 2016.

The amendment order is being introduced in parallel with similar legislation for the two renewables obligations in the UK. The proposed rule will introduce amendments to the Northern Ireland renewables obligation in relation to the reporting requirements and sustainability criteria for stations using solid biomass and biogas feedstocks to generate electricity. These amendments make compliance with the sustainability criteria mandatory for generating stations of one megawatt or above using solid biomass and biogas; they tighten the greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2020 and 2025 and average greenhouse gas emissions across the year; and they make technical adjustments to the reporting requirements and sustainability criteria for solid biomass.

There are no additional costs to the consumer arising from these amendments. The requirement to provide information on the biomass used and a sustainability audit report will impose some administrative costs on generators using biomass. Biomass generators below 1 MW are not obliged to provide a sustainability report. The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment supports the Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 and recommends that it be affirmed by the Assembly.


1.15 pm

Mr Bell: My remarks may be repetitive, but I again want to thank the Chairman of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee and its members for their support today. The proposed amendments will improve the efficiency and sustainability of the NIRO and ensure that the legislation remains fit for purpose. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That the draft Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Business has moved rapidly today, and we are well ahead of schedule. We hope to be in a position to proceed with Consideration Stage of the Licensing Bill in a few minutes. I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly to suspend the sitting until 1.30 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 1.17 pm and resumed at 1.30 pm.

(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Newton] in the Chair)

Private Members' Business

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: I call Mrs Judith Cochrane to move the Consideration Stage of the Licensing Bill.

Moved. — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The amendments have been grouped for debate in the provisional grouping of amendments selected list. There is a single group of amendments which deal with licensing of outdoor stadia and related technical amendments. The debate will be on amendment Nos 1 to 13, inclusive. I remind Members intending to speak that, during the debate on the group of amendments, they should address all of the amendments in the group on which they wish to comment. Once the debate on the group is completed, any further amendments will be moved formally as we go through the Bill and the question on each will be put without further debate. The questions on stand part will be taken at the appropriate points in the Bill. If that is clear, we shall proceed.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 (Meaning of "outdoor stadium")

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: We now come to the single group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 2 to 13 inclusive. These amendments deal with the licensing of outdoor stadia and related technical amendments.

I call Mrs Judith Cochrane to move amendment No 1 and to address the other amendments in the group.

Mrs Cochrane: I beg to move amendment No 1:

In page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (3).

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2: In page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (4) and insert

"(4) After Article 2A of the principal Order insert—
 
'Meaning of "outdoor stadium"
 
2AA. In this Order "outdoor stadium" means any premises—

(a) which are structurally adapted and used, or intended to be used, for the purpose of providing a venue primarily for a variety of outdoor sporting events and other activities,
 
(b) which include one or more areas for indoor events and activities, and
 
(c) which are designated in regulations as a stadium which the Department considers to be of importance to the whole of Northern Ireland.'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 3: In clause 3, page 2, line 10, leave out "paragraphs" and insert "subsections". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 4: In clause 3, page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (4) and insert

"(4) In each of the following provisions of the principal Order, for "(k)" there shall be substituted "(l)"—
 
(a) Article 2(4) (meaning of references to premises);
 
(b) Article 15(2)(e)(ii) (renewal of licences);
 
(c) Article 22(6)(c)(ii) (transfer of licences).". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 5: In clause 4, page 2, line 21, leave out paragraph (a). — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 6: In clause 4, page 2, line 26, leave out subsection (3) and insert

"(3) In Article 77A of the principal Order (the cross-heading before which becomes 'Indoor arenas and outdoor stadia' and the title to which becomes 'Attachment of conditions to licences for indoor arenas or outdoor stadia'), in paragraph (1), after 'indoor arena' insert 'or outdoor stadium'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 7: In clause 5, page 3, line 4, leave out "an". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 8: In clause 7, page 3, line 10, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert

"(1) In Article 52A of the principal Order (the title to which becomes 'Indoor arenas and outdoor stadia'), in paragraph (1), after 'indoor arena' insert 'or outdoor stadium'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 9: In clause 7, page 3, line 15, leave out "inserted—" and insert "inserted; 'or' ". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 10: In clause 7, page 3, line 18, at end insert

"(4) In Part 1 of Schedule 10A to the principal Order (penalty points for offences punishable with level 3 fine on the standard scale), in the entry for Article 52A(2), after 'indoor arenas' insert 'or outdoor stadia'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 11: In clause 8, page 3, line 20, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert

"(1) This Act comes into operation on 1 September 2016.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 12: In clause 8, page 3, line 24, leave out

"is made by negative resolution and". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

No 13: In clause 8, page 3, line 27, after "order" insert

"; and an order under this section containing such provision or such modifications is subject to negative resolution.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Mrs Cochrane: I welcome the opportunity to move the Consideration Stage of the Bill. As Members know, the proposal with the Bill is to do with the investment by the Executive in our national and regional stadia, namely the Kingspan Stadium at Ravenhill, Casement Park and the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, as well as the dissatisfaction with current arrangements.

The Bill has changed very little between Second Stage and now, and there were very few amendments to be brought forward. The main amendment, amendment No 2, is about the definition of an outdoor stadium. I have tabled that amendment so that the new type of licence that will be created will be tied to there being business going on in the stadium, making the licence ancillary to whatever is going on in the stadium at the time. During Committee Stage, there was a bit of discussion around whether that had to mean that a sporting event or something else was happening on the playing field or, perhaps, that something was going on in one of the function areas in the stadium. That amendment is really to clarify that issue by making it clear that it means any event that is going on within the stadium.

The other aspect of that amendment is that it removes from the definition the number of seats in the stadia. Through discussions at Committee and with the Department, we decided that it would be more appropriate to leave the designation of a stadium as being of regional or national importance up to the Department, to be made by regulations. So that is a change.

The other amendments really are technical in nature. Most of them refer to very minor changes or are proposed to bring some sections together. It is an alternative approach of putting all those changes to provisions in clauses 2(3) and 4(2)(a), where references are made to all categories of licence, in the same place rather than throughout my Bill.

That is really all that I have to say on the matter. The amendments are very technical in nature. I look forward to hearing what other Members have to say.

Mr Maskey (The Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development): Go raibh maith agat, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the Member for bringing the Bill to Consideration Stage.

As has been outlined, the Licensing Order 1996 requires a person wishing to sell alcohol in the course of business to hold a licence. That is of relevance, as plans were announced in September 2010 for state-of-the-art, outdoor sports stadia to be developed at the GAA’s Casement Park, Ulster Rugby’s Ravenhill Park and the IFA’s Windsor Park. Such outdoor stadia are not covered by the principal order, and parallels in respect of licensing arrangements have been drawn between the situation faced by the then Odyssey Arena and the planned outdoor stadia.

The development of the SSE Arena in Belfast, formerly the Odyssey Arena, led to consideration of the need to amend the principal order, as that type of facility was not envisaged when the order was formulated. Subsequently, the issue was addressed by the Licensing (Indoor Arenas) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.

The Bill aims to apply the licensing provisions that apply to the SSE Arena to outdoor stadia. The Committee supports the Bill’s aim to introduce a new type of licence applicable to outdoor stadia.

A Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle, before I make comments about the amendments before us, I will, with your indulgence, speak briefly about some of the key issues identified in the Committee’s report that are pertinent to today’s discussions. Those generally related to child protection issues, the operation of the licence in respect of functions and, though not directly related to the Bill, antisocial behaviour in residential areas linked to alcohol consumption in stadia during and after games. In my doing so, Members may note specific reference to the Kingspan Stadium. I should explain that there was a greater focus on the Kingspan Stadium in the Committee’s report than the other two stadia currently under development — that is, Casement Park and Windsor Park — simply because it is already in operation and, therefore, provides an insight into how an outdoor stadia licence could be applied in practice.

The Committee took evidence from Mrs Cochrane and a number of other key stakeholders. All stakeholders who gave evidence supported the key provision of the Bill — that is, that there should be a new type of Bill applicable to outdoor stadia — but it is fair to say that there were some differences of opinion on the checks and balances that should be applied to the operation of the licence. For example, in relation to child protection, the PSNI raised concerns about mixed retailing; that is, the selling of alcohol and non-alcoholic products from the same sales point. The Committee noted that mixed retailing takes place in the SSE Arena and queried with the PSNI if there had been an issue with it at that venue. However, they were not aware of any such problems. The Committee also noted that Mrs Cochrane stated in a paper to the Committee there had been no conditions placed on the licence in relation to the matter.

The Committee also noted in correspondence from the Kingspan Stadium that there are 14 food concessions that are not mixed retail. Those serve food and non-alcoholic beverage only and are the main conduit for all food and non-alcoholic beverage in the stadium. That, to the Committee, appeared to be a balanced approach to child protection in respect of mixed retailing and one that the other two stadia under development may wish to consider.

There was some wide discussion about under-18s being on licensed parts of the stadia after 9.00 pm and at sporting events that are primarily focussed on under-18s. However, one of the key aspects of the Bill is to exempt under-18s from that provision of the principal order. Why is that? The Committee heard evidence that the sports in question are increasingly family focused. Taking the example of Ulster Rugby, the Committee heard that 40% to 50% of the crowd attend as families. Should a match extend beyond 9.00 pm, that creates a significant difficulty as it still means that families in the licensed areas with children under-18 must either separate or leave the stadium.

However, clause 4 amends the 1996 Order to include outdoor stadia in the provision that allows a court to attach conditions to the licence at the time that it is granted or renewed. The clause also provides for a district PSNI commander of the district in which the stadium is situated to apply to the court to attach conditions to the licence at any time during the life of the licence. Therefore, the Committee felt that there were sufficient protections provided by the clause in respect of child protection.

The Committee heard evidence that the business cases of each of the governing bodies include provision for ancillary use of the stadia — that is, functions. The extent of that was not defined for each of the stadia, although it was suggested that, for Windsor stadium, it could be between 20 and 30 functions a year. The Committee also recognised that it was difficult to estimate the number or type of function that each of the stadia would hold. For example, functions could be held during the day, and organisers may wish to avail themselves of the licensed facilities while others may not. The number of people attending a function could range from tens of people attending a seminar to hundreds attending charity fundraising events.

Some members, as well as the sporting organisations, noted that that was common practice for modern-day sporting stadia and, indeed, was an essential part of stadia business models.

The Committee also acknowledged that the issues faced by residents on the day of a game, when thousands of fans may be present, are likely to be significantly different to those resulting from a function held in a stadium. However, the Committee also recognised and shared the concerns of residents on that and, importantly, on antisocial behaviour. The Ravenhill residents' group favoured the establishment of a stadium community committee along the lines of that convened by the management of the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The Committee subsequently sought and obtained a commitment from Ulster Rugby that it would set up a similar committee to discuss and address residents' concerns. The Committee very much welcomes that development. In fact, the Committee wrote to the IFA and Ulster GAA with a similar request, and I am delighted, on behalf of the Committee, to report that, in the last number of days, the GAA has said that it is its intention to establish an event management committee that will have community representation. The IFA will continue with its community forum, which includes community groups and addresses issues relating to the development of the site and will also deal with event management in the stadium. I hope that those committees and fora provide residents with a platform to establish good working relationships with the stadia. We all look forward to seeing how that unfolds in the time ahead.

I believe that the Committee conducted a thorough examination of the Bill and was content with it as amended by the Member during Committee Stage. However, since the Committee concluded its consideration of the Bill, further amendments have been tabled by the Member that have not been formally considered by the Committee. I cannot, therefore, give a formal Committee position on them. However, I note that the majority are technical and do not change the policy intent of the Bill.

Amendment No 2, although not considered by the Committee, does not change the definition of "outdoor stadium" substantively. The inclusion of the word "sporting", for example, helps to clarify in the minds of many of us the type of event that can take place in an outdoor stadium. Amendment No 11 was considered by the Committee and simply states the date on which the Act comes into operation. Amendment Nos 12 and 13 address an issue relating to negative resolution, which the Member proposes after having taken further advice and which she has explained. The remainder of the amendments are minor or technical, and I have nothing further to say other than that I accept the Member's argument that they will simply enhance the coherence of the Bill in a drafting context.

In conclusion, I will add that, as Chair of the Committee, I believe that the reform of our licensing laws is well overdue. The Committee for Social Development has discussed that on a number of occasions throughout this mandate, and it is fair to say that it expected that it would have been able to consider a Bill on licensing reform long before now. Indeed, we thought that it might have been on its way about two years ago, but, for whatever reason, that never happened. Therefore, on behalf of the Committee — this point has been made very clear — I encourage whoever the Minister is in the incoming Department for Communities in the next mandate to bring forward comprehensive licensing legislation so that we can deal with the licensing law in a comprehensive and mature fashion. On that basis, the Social Development Committee supports the Bill.

Let me say, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle, with your indulgence, that it would be remiss of me, when we are talking about sporting stadiums, not to congratulate Carl Frampton, who today is now the WBA and IBF super-bantamweight world champion. That is a great credit to him, his family and the people here whom he comes from. On behalf of everybody here, I offer our congratulations to Carl and give our best wishes to him and his wife, Christine, and their family so that they may live long to enjoy continued and further success.

Mr Campbell: I will start where the Chair left off and append my congratulations to Carl Frampton. It was certainly clear on Saturday night that the Ulster boys were making all the noise everywhere they went. We wish him every success for the future.

In acknowledging the progress made thus far with Ms Cochrane's Bill, I will say that the vast majority of the amendments that we are discussing are mainly technical. I do not wish, therefore, to waste time analysing them, as they do not fundamentally or structurally change the Bill.


1.45 pm

The 9.00 pm threshold, which has been alluded to several times, was the subject of some scrutiny by the Committee, particularly in respect of the games — quite a few games — at the Kingspan Stadium that commence around 7.00 pm or 7.30 pm and therefore run close to the 9.00 pm threshold. Certainly, if people want to stay on after the game, the 9.00 pm threshold affects them, particularly if they are families, and quite a few of those attending the games are. Therefore, an issue arises of access to alcohol by those under 18 years of age.

The other issue that came up in Committee was residents' concerns, and a number of residents made representations to the Committee. If a large sporting arena is close to a residential development, it is paramount that the organisers of the events liaise closely with residents, if there is a formal residents' structure in the area, to make sure that access to and departure from an event are done promptly and in a manner that does not give rise to concerns among residents. A number of issues, although not directly related to the Bill, are, hopefully, being resolved. The Ulster Rugby people, I understand, are busily engaged in a much more comprehensive discussion with residents, and hopefully that will allay any fears.

The Member tabled a number of technical amendments. There may be one or two other minor amendments that Members may wish to consider in the next day or two, which I am sure we will reach at Further Consideration Stage next week.

Mr Beggs: I, too, pass on my congratulations to Carl Frampton. There is a relevance with this legislation in that, at some point, an outdoor stadium may be required for a world title fight. It is important that we update our legislation.

I would like to indicate my continuing general support for the Bill. I am pleased with amendment No 2, which would change the definition of "outdoor stadium", as it removes a degree of ambiguity and enables the Department to produce regulations on the issue. It is an important way to deal with the issue because who knows what may come in the future? By doing it in this fashion, we will future-proof the regulations and allow them to be adjusted if there is a need.

In amendment No 11 the Member has sought to bring forward the commencement date. I understand, as a result of conversations, that that is feasible and that the Act could come into being as of 1 September 2016. Having a firm date is much better than not defining a date. I indicate my support for that.

Like others, I view many of the amendments as minor or technical, and I support them. During the Committee Stage, Ulster Rugby agreed to set up a committee to improve communication with residents. I hope that other outdoor stadiums will follow that initiative to enable them to be aware of and address any issues that might arise with the communities in which they are located.

Mr Dickson: I am sure that Mrs Cochrane, when embarking on her quest to bring the Bill, did not think that, on the day that we would be having the conversation at Consideration Stage, she would be being congratulated for the work she has done to prepare the Bill, alongside congratulations for Carl Frampton, who has brought incredible glory to Northern Ireland and who is someone we should all be very proud of today.

I am proud of the work that my colleague Mrs Cochrane has done in bringing forward a private Member's Bill. I have seen at close hand the work required to develop that Bill, the amount of time that has been spent on consultation and the very determined way in which she has worked with the Committee. As a member of the Committee, I have to say that the Committee staff and the members of the Committee have reciprocated all of that work in a very professional way.

There are key elements in the Bill, and she has worked very hard to overcome concerns, for example with regard to residents. I also believe that she has comprehensively answered the question in relation to how children and young people below the age of the right to consume alcohol are dealt with in a practical manner inside the stadia. I think that there are great lessons that can be learnt from all of that. I also believe that the way in which the naming of the stadium has been dealt with at clause 2 is helpful to allow the Department to provide for regulation because, as other Members have said, we do not know but we hope that perhaps there will be further improvements to stadia facilities in Northern Ireland. There may be another sport coming along that will want to have an outdoor stadium home, and it would be foolish for us not to include that in the legislation.

It would be remiss of me not to make reference to the comments made by the Chair of the Committee about the need for a comprehensive review of licensing laws in Northern Ireland. While that issue is not necessarily linked to the Bill, I think that the Bill demonstrates the complexity of the existing licensing laws that we have. It demonstrates some of the confusion that there is out there, and, sadly, we have not been able to deal with other organisations that have been knocking on the door of the Committee to have issues for them resolved, for example Drumbo stadium. I believe that there are other ways in which we need to amend our licensing laws, both to protect people in respect of the consumption of alcohol and to allow opportunities for it to be made available where that is appropriate. I am content with the work that my colleague has done on the Bill, and I note that the vast majority of the amendments are of a technical nature.

Mr Douglas: I rise as a member of the Committee for Social Development. I also pay tribute to Carl Frampton. I was watching him fight on Saturday night, and I posted a photograph on Facebook with one word, "Yes". What a great ambassador for Northern Ireland.

Obviously, we are at Consideration Stage, and I pay tribute to Mrs Cochrane for bringing the Bill forward. She has certainly worked very hard on it, and she has been through all the rigours of having been questioned by the Committee at different stages. In fact, on the day of our meeting on 28 January, she had been up the whole night, only getting to bed at 6.30 am. As the Member who spoke previously said, there has been general support for these amendments. When I first saw them, I was quite shocked; but then I realised that they are just technical, so I am very happy to support them.

During the Bill's passage, I raised an issue around the Kingspan operators having some sort of advisory community forum. A number of Members raised that issue. We met the Ravenhill residents group, which raised a number of issues. Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, you will be familiar with one of the issues that I raised. In the past, there have been problems in the Cregagh estate with parking when the stadium was being developed. From speaking to residents, including some of my family who live on the Cregagh estate, I know that the Kingspan officials met a whole range of people and have worked very hard to iron out those problems. I was delighted to hear that they would also set up some sort of community forum advisory group that would include residents from Ravenhill Park and the adjoining Cregagh estate. I was pleased to hear the Committee Chairman say that the GAA is in the process of setting up some sort of community forum, similar to the IFA.

I am happy enough with the amendments, which, as I said, are technical. As my colleague Gregory Campbell said, a few minor amendments may be tabled over the next day or two. I am content with the work that has been done to date and I support the amendments.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: As Question Time begins at 2.00 pm, I suggest that the House takes its ease until then. This debate will continue after Question Time, when the next Member to speak will be Mr Jim Allister.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)


2.00 pm

Oral Answers to Questions

Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Questions 5 and 7 have been withdrawn.

Mr M McGuinness (The deputy First Minister): Mr Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I will ask junior Minister Jennifer McCann to answer this question.

Ms J McCann (Junior Minister, Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister): In remaining committed to eradicating harmful and unjustifiable age discrimination, we developed a consultation document to seek public views on proposals to extend age discrimination legislation. The consultation closed in October last year, and there was a significant response to it. Officials are finalising a comprehensive analysis of the responses to each of the consultation questions to provide us with an overall picture of the views emerging from the consultation process. While many people welcomed our proposals, the responses also present a number of fundamental challenges. We want to consider those responses carefully and make sure that we have agreed a clear and robust policy position before considering all the options available to us for bringing this legislation before the Assembly.

Mr Gardiner: I thank the Minister for her reply thus far. Can the Minister provide us with an update on the legal complaint from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), complaining about the way OFMDFM has conducted the consultation process?

Ms J McCann: I can confirm to the Member that on 21 October last year, the Children's Commissioner's office lodged a section 75 pre-complaint letter with OFMDFM. The Department then issued a response to that letter, and NICCY then lodged a formal section 75 complaint in respect of an alleged failure to comply with the Department's equality scheme in this consultation on age-related goods, facilities and services. It is now up to the Equality Commission to decide whether it investigates that complaint.

Mr Lyttle: The Alliance Party supports the extension of anti-age-discrimination legislation to all ages, so I ask the junior Minister what, in her assessment, are the key reasons why OFMDFM will fail to deliver legislation to protect older people from discrimination in the delivery of goods, facilities and services, as was committed to in the Programme for Government.

Ms J McCann: The Member will be aware, as we have had a number of meetings with the Member and the OFMDFM Committee on this issue. We went out to consultation to find out what people thought of our position. As I said in my previous answer, fundamental issues emerged from the responses to that consultation, with the Children's Commissioner and the Children's Law Centre being involved in taking a formal section 75 complaint about alleged failure to comply with the Department's equality scheme. We are now left in a position where we will look at the consultation responses before we come forward with any robust policy decision on that.

Mr Maskey: I thank the junior Minister for her responses so far. Can she elaborate any further on any specific issues that have been raised in the consultation?

Ms J McCann: While the legislation that we are bringing forward in this area was broadly welcomed by those who responded to the consultation, there were, as I said, a number of fundamental challenges as well. One, from the Commissioner for Children and Young People, expressed disappointment at the exclusion of people under 16 from the scope of any proposed legislation, and that was echoed by other organisations and individuals. A number of respondents also expressed disappointment at the proposed exception to allow financial service providers to continue to use age as part of a risk assessment. So there are fundamental challenges for us in bringing that forward, and we need to listen to what those organisations and individuals have said.

Ms Sugden: I do not believe for one minute that the Department had any intention of introducing the legislation before the end of the mandate. I think that that is a disgrace because, by not doing that, we are failing a significant part of our society. On behalf of the Department, will the junior Minister put on record its commitment to move that legislation as soon as possible in the new mandate?

Ms J McCann: I certainly will put that on record.

Mr M McGuinness: With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will ask junior Minister McCann to answer this question.

Ms J McCann: We have allocated £2·1 million to the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) for the delivery of the Urban Villages programme in 2015-16. That funding covers staffing costs for the SIB team and revenue funding for scoping and early engagement work in each urban village. These activities include capacity building; working with children and young people; and a series of creative and educational projects being taken forward by organisations such as National Museums, Libraries NI, NI Screen, and the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.

The urban village team is currently undertaking a programme of engagement within each of the five urban villages, and stakeholder engagement workshops are taking pace until next month. The outcome of that engagement will be the creation of an integrated development framework for each urban village, which will detail the capital and revenue projects identified from the extensive stakeholder engagement.

Mr Dallat: The Minister will no doubt be aware that, in a couple of weeks' time, Members of the Assembly will go on the hustings to give an account of themselves. Does she seriously believe that enough has been done to build our communities? Given that only one peace wall has fallen, this really has been cooked in a darkened room.

Ms J McCann: I am not really sure what the Member's supplementary question is, but I have indicated to him the amount of money that has been spent on Urban Villages thus far. Quite a lot of work has been done already on the one in the Bogside and Fountain area of Derry, which, although not in the Member's constituency is in his immediate area. We have also brought money into communities through the social investment fund. So, I think that there has been a lot of investment in the community infrastructure. Indeed, I have seen at first hand some of the work done as a result of money provided by the strategic investment fund and Together: Building a United Community. Two weeks ago on Saturday, I was at a seminar where hundreds of young people who took part in the United Youth programme and summer camps came together to meet people from different communities, sometimes for the first time in their life. They came together to build friendships and relationships that will, hopefully, last a lifetime and lead to reconciliation. So, a lot of work has been done through that particular strategy.

Mr Campbell: The junior Minister referred to work being done in various areas, including Londonderry. Is she able to give the House and the wider community any idea of where she sees the community across Northern Ireland being in, say, five years' time, at the end of the next Assembly mandate, after the Together: Building a United Community programme has had a chance to roll out?

Ms J McCann: As I said in my previous answer, I and the other junior Minister have been going out and speaking directly to, in particular, young people from the United Youth programme and the summer camps, as well as people in the Urban Villages who are going to be in shared housing and shared education. I would like to think that that work will be taken forward in the next mandate. I think that it is very important work, particularly for young people in our community. We need to show leadership and the way forward for people to be able to come together. We have built peace, but now we need to build reconciliation. I am hopeful that that will continue with the Together: Building a United Community strategy. That is not the only strategy; other things need to be done as well. It is about basing it on equality and equality of opportunity, particularly for all our children and young people.

Mr M McGuinness: The proposed referendum date is Thursday 23 June. That will leave just six weeks between the Assembly election and the EU referendum. A considerable part of the referendum campaign will run in parallel with our local elections. A lot is at stake, and clarity is needed to fully explore the implications of staying in or leaving the European Union. We would have preferred that the debate leading up to the referendum be kept free of other campaigning distractions. In a joint letter with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, we made our concerns known to the Prime Minister. The First Minister and I will meet the Foreign Secretary in London tomorrow, and we will press him for an informed public debate on the referendum, conducted in commonplace language that is clearly understood by all.

Ms McGahan: Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Minister for his response. What damage does he feel would result from an exit from the EU?

Mr M McGuinness: This will obviously be a huge debate over the next weeks and, indeed, months. People have said that, if there was a decision to exit Europe, we would effectively be walking into the unknown. The reality for us is that we have received significant support from the European Union, and we would, for example, lose access to the structural funds, which were something in the region of £982 million over the period 2014 to 2020. That is made up of things like the European regional development fund, INTERREG, Peace IV and the European social fund. Common agricultural policy funding is worth approximately £2·5 billion in 2014-2020, and we would lose access to competitive EU funding, which, in the four years from 2011-12 to 2014-15, amounted to £95 million. So there are implications.

When we have to answer questions of this nature in the Assembly, particularly from the perspective of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, I am always very conscious that there will be differences of opinion at times about how we should answer them. I say that respectful of the positions of other parties, like, for example, the DUP. Everybody is obviously entitled to their position in the debate. My sense of it is that we would lose out considerably for our farming community, our business community and the work that is going on in our universities. A lot of parties in the Assembly have expressed their opinions, and we await with interest what the Ulster Unionists have to say. It will be a big debate in the time ahead.

Mr Attwood: Does the deputy First Minister agree that the fact that the Prime Minister was in Northern Ireland at the weekend demonstrates that the votes of people in Northern Ireland will be critical come the June referendum? In that regard, as things stand, it seems that many farmers, many in small and medium-sized enterprises, many in the CBI and many in the community and voluntary sector — indeed, a critical mass of people in Northern Ireland — are very clearly in favour of staying in Europe.

Mr M McGuinness: I think that the Member is correct. It is certainly my view that there is no doubt that the strength of opinion in the North among the business community, farming organisations, the community and voluntary sector, the universities, educational establishments and, of course, the majority of parties in the Assembly is for staying in Europe. David Cameron was here at the weekend. Boris Johnson was here this morning, and the First Minister and I met him in what was a good news story with the £62 million investment in 200 more buses from Wrightbus that will secure jobs for 300 people for the next short while. During our visit to Antrim this morning, the media were very focused on the fact that he was here and on his views and opinions. He was asked about it, the First Minister was asked about it and I was asked about it, and we all stated our positions. I am in the "stay in" camp, and I think that the damage that would be done to us in the North and to the island of Ireland by an exit from Europe makes a compelling case for staying in. Look at the number of organisations and political parties in the North who are in favour of staying in. I believe that, when it comes to a vote, an overwhelming majority will vote to stay.


2.15 pm

Mr McCarthy: Does the deputy First Minister not think that, given the obvious rejection by the British Prime Minister of your and the First Minister's request, as well as the request from Scotland and Wales, for a meeting to postpone the date of the referendum, he will be snubbed once again as regards a request for another meeting?

Mr M McGuinness: The meeting that the First Minister and I are attending tomorrow is with the Foreign Secretary in London. Obviously, the joint letter that we sent with Wales and Scotland was not favourably received by the Prime Minister, who appears hell-bent on going ahead with the referendum in June. However, the die is cast, and we now have to deal with the ongoing debate that will run over that period. There is a very real danger that the debate will become a Punch and Judy show between the British Prime Minister and Boris Johnson. That debate will continue over the next number of months. The debate is very important because the implications of an exit from Europe, for us in the North and for the island of Ireland are very profound.

Mr Allister: Leaving aside the novelty of the deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin campaigning on a "Brits in" platform, does he at least acknowledge the fact that every penny that we receive from Europe is just some of our own money coming back to us, because we in this nation — the United Kingdom — are a huge net contributor?

Mr M McGuinness: I acknowledge that all sorts of figures have been bandied about in recent times to reinforce the arguments of certain individuals. What I am arguing is very clear and simple: any exit from Europe would be hugely detrimental to our farmers, our business community, our educational establishments and the community and voluntary sector, as well as to the island of Ireland as a whole. My interest in the debate relates to what is good for every one of Ireland's 32 counties, including the six that reside here in the North.

Mr M McGuinness: The sustainability of the local economy is the core of our Programme for Government. It is important to recognise that, since 2011, in the face of a global economic collapse, the Executive have succeeded in growing our economy. Over 40,000 new jobs have been created over the past five years, with almost 10,000 in the last year alone. Retaining those jobs and continuing to attract new opportunities continues to be a priority, especially in light of the recent devastating news at Bombardier. Next month, the First Minister and I will visit the United States and will use that opportunity to promote local businesses and the advent of a reduced corporation tax at a series of meetings with prospective investors on the east and west coasts. Our itinerary will include one-to-one meetings with senior executives from companies across a full range of sectors, including two major speaking opportunities with CEO-level contacts in New York and Silicon Valley, California.

We have taken a long-term view on promoting our position with targeted regions around the world, and the establishment of bureaux in Washington DC, Brussels and Beijing is a clear signal of the Executive's commitment to this strategy. Through their work in collaboration with Invest NI, I am confident that we will continue to attract further foreign direct investment and new jobs.

Mr Poots: Does the deputy First Minister recognise that quality people are a key aspect of selling ourselves internationally and that, therefore, training and universities are of huge importance? What commitment can he give that the universities and training sector, which has come under huge pressures in the last two years in particular, will be given the support that it needs to give international investors a quality workforce so that ordinary local working-class people who do not have jobs will be trained and well placed to receive those jobs?

Mr M McGuinness: I absolutely agree with the Member. In a very successful five- to six-year period, when the previous First Minister and I, along with the then Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister — now the First Minister — travelled extensively to the United States, we successfully brought more foreign direct investment to the North than at any other time in the history of the state. That was a remarkable achievement, given that we did it in a world economic downturn. The Member is correct: if we are to continue to be successful, particularly in the context of a lower rate of corporation tax, it is vital that we support our educational establishments so that we produce sufficient numbers of people with the skills to take advantage of the opportunities that will clearly be presented.

The First Minister and I are very focused on the issue. Obviously, in the aftermath of the Assembly election, with the reduction in the number of Departments from 12 to nine, we are amalgamating the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment with the Department for Employment and Learning. That sends a clear signal of the need to ensure a joined-up approach to attracting foreign direct investment and providing potential investors with the skills that they require.

Mr Ó Muilleoir: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Mo bhuíochas fosta leis an LeasChéad-Aire.

My thanks to the deputy First Minister for his answers. You mentioned the importance of the US, and you head to the US shortly. I was in New York at the weekend, and you will be happy to know that our friends in business and Irish-American politics are looking forward to your upcoming visit. I am too diplomatic to say that they are more interested in the fact that the First Minister will make her first visit as First Minister.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Will the Member come to his question please?

Mr Ó Muilleoir: Perhaps you could tell us about the importance of that visit and your trip to the west coast.

Mr M McGuinness: As I said in the previous answer, the First Minister and I absolutely appreciate the contribution that North America has made and the support that we have received. I am particularly delighted that Drew O'Brien of the State Department will arrive later this week with a high-powered delegation of people who are looking at potential opportunities. When you consider that the vast bulk of our foreign direct investment has come from the US, meeting potential investors in the United States is very important.

The conversation on corporation tax is a vital one, given that there will be intense interest. The previous First Minister and I, on the occasions that we were in the United States over many years, had conversations with some of the highest-profile business people in the world, and the question of our continuing involvement in Europe always came up. No doubt that will be a feature of the conversation when we go there. I still think that the First Minister and I have a compelling case to make about the potential opportunities that are there not just for potential investors but for us in getting our young people into employment, which is a vital consideration for all of us as we move forward.

Mrs D Kelly: The deputy First Minister will, I am sure, agree with me that, when international investors look to locate here, they want to look at quality-of-life issues as well and the availability of public services. Does he join me in calling for greater investment in our public services, across health and education, as those are key factors that investors consider when looking to establish a business in the North?

Mr M McGuinness: I agree with the Member: it is vital. Quality of life has an impact on those who come to explore potential investment in this part of the world. Education is critical to that. That is why we hope that the returns from our visit to the United States will be considerable, given that we have predicted that, if, on the basis of affordability, we can reduce the rate of corporation tax to 12·5%, we can create something between 30,000 and 37,000 new jobs, That is absolutely vital for employment for our young people and those currently out of work.

As we go forward, we will have to deal with the challenges that an increased interest in potential investment in the North poses for us. The Member is right to identify the issue of skills: skills are of critical importance. That means that we have to ensure that the education establishments are well equipped and well enough funded to ensure that we have the output to meet companies' needs. The point that I made earlier is also hugely significant: a very clear declaration of our intent to do something about that is the amalgamation of DEL and DETI into the Department for the Economy.

Mr Kennedy: Given the uncertainty of the outcome of the general election in the Republic of Ireland and the fact that we are now in the dying days of the Obama Administration in Washington, what is the likelihood of meaningful engagement with the American Administration around St Patrick's Day?

Mr M McGuinness: The Member mentions the election south of the border. I am, of course, delighted that our party performed very well, with an increase in our vote of something like 50% and a new batch of young TDs. I am particularly delighted that there are quite a number of women among them.

It is my sense that forming a Government in the South will probably be a lengthy process, with no Government being formed until some time after Easter. My sense is that it will be some sort of arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil — either a grand coalition or a willingness by Fianna Fáil to support a minority Fine Gael Government. It is still very unknown to all of us how it will work out in the period ahead. It is a scenario that impacts on all of us, but, no doubt, the Taoiseach will travel to the United States. The First Minister and I are meeting President Obama, and we will obviously have a conversation with the Taoiseach while we are there.

The US is of huge importance to all of us, and I do not think that, given the support that we have received from it over many years, there is a party in the House that does not accept that. The US has been absolutely invaluable to the peace process and to how we develop our economy in a way that delivers benefits to our people. It is therefore hugely significant, but I do not think that President Obama leaving the White House, as he will do at the end of the year, will change the American attitude to the North. They will retain that interest, whether it be former Secretary of State Clinton in the White House as president or, God forbid, Donald Trump.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Question 5 has been withdrawn.

Mr M McGuinness: The junior Ministers in OFMDFM will cease to hold office on 5 May, the date of the Assembly election. No decisions have yet been taken on the appointment of junior Ministers to the future Executive Office or to any other Department following the planned restructuring. Such decisions will be informed by an assessment of the responsibilities and business needs of each Minister.

Mrs McKevitt: Does the Minister anticipate the role of the junior Minister changing or evolving in the Department?

Mr M McGuinness: Given the decisions that we took in the Fresh Start Agreement on the reduction in the number of Departments and given the number of areas of responsibility that we have given over to other new Departments, we will have to give serious consideration, first and foremost, to whether we need junior Ministers in the Executive Office or whether they might be better employed supporting bigger Departments, such as the Department of Health or the Department for the Economy.

That will have to be considered over the next while. Of course, the duty and responsibility to finalise an approach on how we utilise the presence or otherwise of junior Ministers will fall to whoever has responsibility to take the Executive forward in the aftermath of the Assembly elections.


2.30 pm

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): That is the end of our period for listed questions. We now move on to 15 minutes of topical questions.

T1. Mr Rogers asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister whether the Executive have discussed or have plans for trade missions in Great Britain and Europe. (AQT 3561/11-16)

Mr M McGuinness: We are always very focused, particularly through Invest and the work of the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, to engage everywhere with all those who potentially are interested in trading with us. Obviously, it is back to the whole debate around Brexit; the amount of trade that takes place between this part of the world and Europe is absolutely phenomenal. The work that we are involved in obviously centres around our office in Brussels. We opened a new bureau about a year ago in Beijing in China. Of course, the bureau in Washington works consistently on our behalf and is very connected to Invest NI in terms of its trade missions. That work is ongoing all the time. Invest is very much involved in ensuring that, wherever there are opportunities, whether in Britain, Europe, the United States, the Far East or China, we have the ability to move at very short notice to ensure that we take advantage of them.

Mr Rogers: Thank you for that answer. Given the visit of the Prime Minister last weekend and his failure to acknowledge that 23 June is not a great time for a referendum, does OFMDFM have any plans to meet him to discuss the deal that he got out of Europe?

Mr M McGuinness: Obviously, "the deal" — I put that in inverted commas — has been put out there by the British Prime Minister. The die is cast. Quite clearly, there is going to be a public debate about that over the next while. I do not know what the opinion polls are saying about how narrow the vote is between in and out, but, going back to the question from your colleague MLA Attwood, I think he made a fair point when he said that, in the context of this being a very close-run thing, the votes of people in Scotland and here in the North of Ireland are going to be very important. That is why it is unavoidable for us to not have a debate around the issue of in or out. From our perspective, those who will argue to stay in will be making the case that as many people as possible who subscribe to that agenda should go out and vote for it. Likewise, respecting the position of other parties, an opposite argument will be made. At the end of the day, it will be a democratic decision of the people, but I hope that it is a democratic decision in big numbers to stay in.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Question 2 has been withdrawn.

T3. Mr I McCrea asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to state how far the deputy First Minister's condemnation goes of the disgraceful attack on the Teebane memorial during the weekend. (AQT 3563/11-16)

Mr M McGuinness: I was unaware that there was an attack, but, if that is the case, I unreservedly condemn it. Anybody in our society who believes that that makes any useful contribution to moving away from conflict and towards a normal society is mistaken. Those engaged in such activities are enemies of us all, in my view.

Mr I McCrea: We have heard the deputy First Minister's words of condemnation — rightly, I believe — but will the deputy First Minister condemn outright those who took part in this disgraceful, murderous attack on people in my constituency? What steps will he take to ensure that, long after this event — 24 years ago on 17 January — those responsible are brought to justice?

Mr M McGuinness: That brings us into the whole area of how we deal with the past and its legacy. During the Fresh Start negotiations, we made huge strides forward by agreeing the mechanism and structures that were required to deal with that. Obviously, we have a problem with the whole issue of disclosure and the British Government's approach to it. The Secretary of State has, on a number of occasions over the last number of weeks, expressed her belief that this can be resolved. I hope that it is, because victims on all sides of the community deserve to see those institutions up and running and the menu of options that many of them seek made available to them.

T4. Mr Allister asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister whether the deputy First Minister intends, by way of example to other IRA men, to provide information to the information retrieval commission when it is established. (AQT 3564/11-16)

Mr M McGuinness: That brings us back, once again, to the negotiations we participated in prior to Christmas and the huge progress made. There is not much point in establishing an organisation like the independent commission for information retrieval, or the other organisations that we agreed to, if we do not encourage people to participate, thereby ensuring that families who have been victims of the conflict get some information and the resolution that they seek.

Mr Allister: If that is so, perhaps the deputy First Minister will answer the question. Will he, as an officer commanding in the IRA, lead by example and give information to the information retrieval commission, if it is to afford any hope to the many innocent victims of his IRA?

Mr M McGuinness: On a number of occasions, I have made it clear that Sinn Féin policy was to argue for the establishment of an independent, international truth commission. We did not achieve that, but what we have done is compromise on the structures and mechanisms that we agreed on prior to Christmas. I further make the point that there is not much point in establishing them if people are not prepared to go forward. If I am required to go forward on any point of relevance to me, I am absolutely willing to do so.

Mr Allister: Will you also tell the police what you did?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Order. Conor Murphy is not in his place. I call Barry McElduff.

T6. Mr McElduff asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister whether the deputy First Minister and OFMDFM share the serious concerns of many people in the Greencastle/Rousky/Gortin area of County Tyrone about a proposal to locate a cyanide processing plant at the heart of the community in that area. (AQT 3566/11-16)

Mr M McGuinness: As the Member knows, I am very aware of the deep and genuinely held concerns, shared by many people, regarding the potential environmental impacts on the locality, particularly from the use of cyanide to extract gold from ore mined in the Sperrin Mountains in a proposed processing plant. Although the issue has not come before the Executive, it is clear that these concerns need to be addressed fully, openly and inclusively, involving all the communities affected by any potential environmental or health implications for the area.

Mr McElduff: I thank the deputy First Minister for his answer. What engagement has he had, or will he have, with the community? Indeed, what contact will his office have with the community in the Greencastle/Rousky/Gortin area regarding the issue? I note that there is very serious concern about the impact on public health and the environment generally.

Mr M McGuinness: I was pleased to meet representatives of the local communities, including a meeting on 15 February. Having spoken with them, I have no doubt whatever that their concerns are genuine and are motivated by the best interests of their communities. This has developed into a neuralgic issue for the local community. We have to ensure that the interests of local communities are protected, particularly when concerns are raised about the use of materials that could be detrimental not just to the environment but to people's health.

T7. Mr Campbell asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline the likely progress over the next few months with regard to the panel on paramilitarism. (AQT 3567/11-16)

Mr M McGuinness: The First Minister and I met the panel just a few weeks ago. The panel is effectively beginning its work. They have already touched base with a number of key sectors and stakeholders. We will look forward to receiving their report when their work is completed. They are now effectively up and running, and we wholeheartedly support the work that they are involved in. We hope that it will bring to the fore what is an important debate, which is for whatever armed organisations are out there to recognise that they make no contribution whatever to our society other than a detrimental one. We need to see coming out of the panel's report something that will be a further discouragement to groups that, in a foolish and misguided way, think that they can destroy these institutions and effectively plunge us back to the past. That is not an agenda that the First Minister and I have any intention whatever of kowtowing to.

Mr Campbell: The deputy First Minister refers to detrimental contributions by paramilitarism. Would he not agree with me that that has always been the case? It does not hold much water when, every time that I and others have indicated to him his past involvement in paramilitary groups, which was equally detrimental, he has denied involvement in or knowledge of every incident mentioned to hime, which leaves people with the conclusion that he was the most overpromoted —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Would the Member come to his question?

Mr Campbell: — Second in command (2IC) in paramilitary history in the history of the world.

Mr M McGuinness: Is it not just as well for all of the people out there, who we represent, that I am not as bitter as the Member who has just spoken? I spent a year in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister with Ian Paisley during which we built up not just a good working relationship but a friendship that lasted until the day he died. We had many conversations about many things. I know that the Member held the Reverend Ian Paisley in a very high regard: in all the conversations that Ian Paisley and I had, not once did we recriminate about anything — not once. In the eight years that I worked with Peter Robinson in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, all that we were interested in was making this place work, making the Executive work, delivering for our people, getting jobs, trying to improve people's lifestyles and standing together against the activities of those who would plunge us back to the past.

I just think that it is a pity that we still have small-minded MLAs in the Assembly. One of them has just spoken, and another spoke a very short time ago. Fortunately for all of us in the Assembly, the vast majority of people are not like that. [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Order. Question 8 has been withdrawn. As Mr McNarry is not in his place, I call John McCallister.


2.45 pm

Mr McCallister: I am sure that the deputy First Minister will be keen to have as much contact as possible with the incoming Irish Government.

T10. Mr McCallister asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister whether, in light of the Irish election results, the deputy First Minister thinks the d'Hondt process should be exported to enable an Irish Government to be populated. (AQT 3570/11-16)

Mr M McGuinness: Is it not interesting that our institutions are the most stable institutions on the island at the moment? [Interruption.]

Mr M McGuinness: On radio interviews over the weekend, I heard people make the same proposition that the Member for South Down has just made.

Obviously, the political landscape in the South has changed. Going into the election, we were the fourth-largest political party; we are now the third-largest political party, with a batch of new TDs. That opportunity has to be used sensibly. It is my sense that we will see a Government formed, probably around Easter or after. If that is the case, it appears to be shaping up to be the Fine Gael party and the Fianna Fáil party coming together. That in itself would represent a dramatic development, given that, for the first time in elections south of the border, both those parties recorded less than 50% of the vote. The landscape is changing fairly dramatically.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

Culture, Arts and Leisure

Mr Speaker: Mrs Pam Cameron is not in her place.

Ms Ní Chuilín (The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure): I thank the Member for his question. My Department and Sport NI have had a number of meetings with representatives of the NI pigeon association and Robin Swann MLA to explore options regarding funding, the recognition of pigeon racing as a sport, charitable status, rates relief and other avenues of support that may be available. The process to formally recognise an activity as a sport is the responsibility of the four sports councils. At present, Sport NI and the sports councils in England, Scotland and Wales do not recognise pigeon racing as a sport. Any application to recognise the activity as a sport would have to be agreed. In addition to meeting representatives of the NI pigeon association, my officials met the Charity Commission to explore the implications for pigeon clubs seeking charitable status and subsequently provided advice and guidance to the association.

Mr Clarke: I thank the Minister for that answer. I was not aware of the issue until it was raised, and I am glad that my colleague from North Antrim has raised the issue of pigeon clubs; I did not understand the value of it. However, Minister, in your answer, you did not allude to what your Department will do to recognise it as a sport, a step that could open more avenues for the clubs. Will you outline what your Department will do to help recognise pigeon racing as a sport?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The association has been advised by my officials — I think that it has been happy with the advice given thus far — on the procedures for recognition and the processes to go through with Sport NI. In the interim, we are looking at getting the Charity Commission to give them support. They are happy with the support they have been given. It has been a long time in the making, and, at least, I am trying to do something about it.

Mr Cree: Is the Minister surprised that the DUP is interested in promoting pigeon clubs when they voted recently against rates relief for community and amateur sports clubs?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I can feel an election coming on. I am not for one minute comfortable with getting into an argument between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party: I prefer to watch from a distance.

Certainly, it is good that everyone is, at last, trying to recognise the work of the pigeon association. The people involved in that have been lobbying for some time to get that recognition, regardless of the position on rates relief for sports clubs.

That is a positive step forward. In particular, I commend the Member's party colleague Robin Swann for his work. I hope that, when the recognition proceeds, that will also enjoy full party support.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. Responsibility for the development of grass-roots rugby here rests in the first instance with the governing body for the sport, the Irish Rugby Football Union, through its Ulster branch, Ulster Rugby. Since April 2010, my Department has provided over £1·6 million to rugby through a number of funding programmes to assist in the development of the sport, at grass-roots level in particular. The performance focus programme provides funding to Ulster Rugby to improve the quality of coaches and provide participation programmes in the game of rugby in clubs and schools. Active Communities is a Sport NI National Lottery-funded initiative that aims to increase participation in sport and physical recreation in communities across the North. Since April 2009, the funding provided to rugby through that programme has resulted in over 42,000 participants, including girls, young and older people and those with disabilities, taking part in the sport.

Funding was also provided to rugby from the Active Awards for Sport programme towards costs such as equipment, coach education, coaching fees and venue hire. In addition, within the current financial year, my Department has allocated an additional £114,000 of funding through promoting equality, tackling poverty and social exclusion through Ulster Rugby, with the key objectives of increasing rugby participation in school-age children, encouraging more young girls to get involved in the sport, creating fitness development programmes and developing club opportunities that cater for individuals with disabilities.

Mr Ross: I thank the Minister for a comprehensive answer. I am sure that she will agree that, with the Women's Rugby World Cup coming to these shores next summer and, indeed, the under-19 women's football championships, there is a real opportunity to get increased participation amongst young women and girls, in particular, in sport. What does the Minister intend to do in the run-up to that, and as a legacy of those events, to make sure that we get more females participating in sport, particularly rugby?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member is right: it was a comprehensive answer. He will have heard from the answer that a substantial amount of money is provided to Ulster Rugby, particularly given the work that it does at grass-roots level, including its work with young women and girls. It is important that that continues, not only because of the events that the Member mentioned, such as under-19 soccer for women, which we are giving support to and which, I believe, the Executive will be giving support to, as it does excellent work, but because of Ulster Rugby. It has gone to the communities surrounding Ravenhill, now Kingspan, and worked with hard-to-reach communities. That legacy in those communities and, indeed, in schools across the board is exemplary. I believe that the funding that we have invested in Ulster Rugby is well spent.

Mr McMullan: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her answers. Can she be sure that rugby is being developed at all grass-roots levels across the North?

Ms Ní Chuilín: Yes, I am assured of that. Sport NI's Active Communities programme has made a significant contribution, but I believe that the credit must go to Ulster Rugby and everyone involved in it through community groups, and in schools and clubs. There are Active Communities rugby coaches in the council areas of Antrim and Newtownabbey; Belfast; Mid Ulster; Lisburn and Castlereagh; Newry, Mourne and Down; Ards and North Down; Derry City and Strabane; and Fermanagh and Omagh. I believe that that is as broad and wide-reaching as you will get. Once again, I put on record the work that Ulster Rugby, Ulster GAA and the IFA have done with this fund. It has been nothing short of remarkable, given some of the work that they are picking up from other bodies and agencies. They are now bringing a more comprehensive approach to rugby across the North.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. The total cost of the repairs required for the MAC facade and pipework is estimated at £938,000. Indeed, it is almost £1 million. That figure includes the replacement of the stone facade and pipework as well as the cost for management and supervision of the works, which include professional and legal fees.

The cost of addressing the outstanding building snag list is being assessed, but it is estimated to be in the region of £160,000 to £180,000. Remedial work was carried out to the roof following recent dislodgement of the aluminium panel. The cost to date of that work is approximately £5,000, but the full cost is still being assessed. The cost to date of repairing the lintels, lantern, pipework, installation of the fall-arrest-system netting and the erection of scaffolding is currently at £55,000.

To date, approximately £28,000 has been spent on the various reports commissioned to address the defects identified in the building.

Mr Ó hOisín: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht an fhreagra sin. I thank the Minister for her answer. Can she outline any reports of inspections that took place on the MAC during construction work there?

Ms Ní Chuilín: There have been various reports certainly going into some of the problems that I outlined in my answer to the Member's primary question. Certainly, Ground Check Limited was commissioned to undertake an inspection of the stone cladding to the facade of the MAC. That inspection was carried out in April 2015. Ground Check was also commissioned to undertake a descaling operation to remove damaged or defective pieces of stone from the facade of the MAC.

In July 2015, Access Rescue Consulting at Height (ARCH) was commissioned to carry out a survey of the facade to check the safety of the netting and identify potentially loose material. ARCH is engaged on an ongoing basis to carry out regular checks to the facade. In September 2015, Consarc Design Group was commissioned to review the condition of the external stone work. Again, in January 2016, during exceptionally high winds, as the Member will be aware, a panel was dislodged from the MAC's roof. It took an immediate inspection to secure it. In February 2016, BuroHappold provided a report on defective pipework that has also been discovered.

Mr Dunne: I thank the Minister for her answers. I think that we are all concerned that an award-winning building is now literally falling apart. Does the Minister agree that the public should not pay twice for that work at a cost of almost £1 million? I understand that the contractor has gone out of business. Will she give us an assurance that all will be done to try to recover those costs and to ensure that this occurrence will not happen again?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I certainly agree with the Member: it is regrettable that almost £1 million of public money is being spent certainly not only to carry out repairs but to cover some of the outstanding healthy and safety related work. I assure the Member, and indeed every Member, that my Department, through the Arts Council, will pursue, as much as possible, full recovery of the money. It is an award-winning building, and many people have gone through its doors. This has certainly raised a lot of concern, particularly given the amount of money that was spent from the public purse in the first instance.

Mrs Overend: I thank the Minister for her response. Can she provide an update on the legal situation with respect to essential repairs at the MAC, which were due at the end of the month? Considering that today is a leap day, they have had an extra day.

Ms Ní Chuilín: Certainly, there are have been many reports, which I outlined to Cathal Ó hOisín. Reports on the legal situation and indeed others, particularly with regard to the last point that was raised by Mr Gordon Dunne, are still being pursued. When those reports are in front of me, they will certainly go very quickly to the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, and I will ensure that they are copied to the Member for information as well. It is unfortunate that, given the amount of money that was spent on the MAC, we are now having to invest additional scarce moneys from the public purse to repair a building that really should not need so many repairs, given that it is quite a young building. Those reports will go to the Committee and certainly to the Member thereafter.


3.00 pm

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. The subregional stadia programme for soccer 12-week consultation, as the Member will be aware, commenced on 30 November 2015 and ran until 22 February 2016. During that period, consultation events were held in Craigavon, Ballymena, Belfast, Omagh and Derry to seek views and feedback from stakeholders. I am content that there have been over 1,100 responses to the consultation. That demonstrates the level of interest in the subregional programme. A report detailing the responses is currently being prepared, and I intend to publish it as soon as possible, subject to requests for confidentiality. Careful and detailed consideration and analysis of the responses, as I mentioned, is now being undertaken and will help to inform the final programme going forward. I want to acknowledge and thank all those who have taken the time to respond to the consultation.

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra sin. I thank the Minister for her answer and welcome the consultation and the interest. As we take this forward, will there be some sort of regional programme, particularly for GAA and rugby? In light of the 2023 World Cup, will there be some sort of joint ventures to ensure that we can bring that to Ireland?

Ms Ní Chuilín: To take the Member's last point first, the Executive have endorsed the Rugby 2023 World Cup bid, and I believe that that commitment still stands. In relation to the consultation that went out into the subregional programme, we already knew before the consultation started that there would never be enough money to cover all the needs, particularly going across the whole of the North. To that end, we already commenced a full business case to look at a phase 2 subregional programme for soccer and a phase 1 subregional programme for GAA and rugby. I do not anticipate that business case being ready until late spring or early summer.

Mr Humphrey: Will the Minister join with me, since we share a constituency, in congratulating Carl Frampton on his great victory on Saturday night in uniting the IBF and WBA titles in Manchester? In relation to regional stadia, does the Minister envisage government money being used to upgrade the Brandywell Stadium in Londonderry?

Ms Ní Chuilín: There is no funding from my Department going to the upgrade of the Brandywell. Any funds that I put in were around Daisyfield and the Showgrounds. I believe that Derry City Football Club has applied to other Departments, and I wish it well in that. I accept the Member's sentiments in congratulating Carl Frampton, but I also congratulate Conrad Cummings, Ryan Burnett, Marco McCullough and Luke Wilton. I believe that the work that those boxers have done has been exemplary. They are role models for a lot of young men and women going forward in the world of boxing.

Mr Diver: Are the moneys to fund the subregional stadia programme going forward likely to come from the £100 million borrowing that was agreed at Stormont House?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I appreciate that the Member is relatively new here, but the subregional soccer money was already built in to an Executive decision that was made in March 2011. Anticipation of additional needs for the three sporting bodies will mean a fresh bid, but the £36 million for the subregional programme, which is a remainder of the £62 million, is coming from this mandate. The programme has attracted a lot of attention. There is a lot of demand out there, and even in the Member's constituency, you can see a coming together of clubs in relation not only to promoting sport but promoting health and well-being and physical activity with local groups and communities. I believe that that is the way forward.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for her question. Between 2007 and 2009, DCAL provided a total of £483,000 towards the construction of Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin through the north-west challenge fund. In 2014-15, through the north-west social and economic development programme, I allocated £150,000 towards the refurbishment of the Manse building at 35 Great James Street to establish an Acadamh Ceoil — a music academy — which officially opened at the beginning of this month. The project was part of my continuing commitment to establishing a legacy from the City of Culture across the north-west. In addition, an Gaeláras, which manages Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin and, indeed, the music academy, has received support through the Arts Council's annual funding programme of £139,000 in each of the years towards the last financial year.

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her answer and, indeed, for the focus she has had on Derry and the north-west for quite a number of years. Will she confirm how much DCAL has invested in the north-west since the City of Culture ended in 2014?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member will be aware that the City of Culture for 2013 received £12·8 million, and, between January 2014 and March 2015, I secured more than £6 million. That includes more than £2·5 million for resource and £3·5 million for capital. Since the announcement of the legacy programme, an additional £2·2 million has gone in, bringing that up to a total of £7·92 million. That is over £20 million in the Member's constituency.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. Responsibility for developing the sport of rowing and building on the successes of the 2012 Olympic rowers from Coleraine rests, in the first instance, with the governing body. My Department and Sport NI have worked very closely with the Ulster branch of Rowing Ireland and local rowing clubs, including Bann Rowing Club, to provide financial and practical support to further develop rowing. In the last five financial years up to March last year, Sport NI invested almost £1 million in rowing, which is an average of £200,000 per year. That is a significant increase from the investment in the three years prior to that, 2007-2010, when the total investment was £256,000.

Mr Campbell: Does the Minister agree that the sport of rowing yielded a very considerable haul at the last Olympics through Alan Campbell, who is no relation of mine, and the Chambers brothers, and that the developing sport now means that younger rowers are coming on exceptionally well? Does she also agree that we want to see more gold medals for Britain on the podium at the next Olympics?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I would like to see gold medals for every nation that competes, and I know that Bann Rowing Club has a very strong cross-community ethos that is reflected not only in its athletes but in the whole community. I would actually say that most people, regardless of which country or nation an athlete chooses to represent, think those athletes deserve all our support. Bann Rowing Club has done a great job. It does exemplary work in that sport and, outside that, builds and develops good relations in the constituency.

Mr Dallat: I am sure it was an omission or error on the part of Gregory Campbell to forget to mention that Bann Rowing Club has represented Ireland, as well as Britain, in events. Will the Minister assure us that future athletes who may also wish to represent Ireland or Britain will, in fact, have the finance to encourage them, given that rowing is not marbles and is an expensive sport to participate in?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I think the Member would recognise and accept that, since coming into this Department, I have had to be very consistent in my support for every athlete, regardless of who they decide to represent. That should be the case for every MLA in the Chamber. It is hard enough to have the commitment and discipline and to make sacrifices to compete without people here making silly political points that do not reflect where people are at.

I believe that the work that Bann Rowing Club has done in not only Coleraine but right across this island has been respected and accepted by all rowing clubs. I congratulate the club on its achievements. I know there will be more successes, given the work it has done and the investment it has made. My Department and Sport NI, I have absolutely no doubt, will continue that relationship.

Ms Sugden: We are incredibly talented on the north coast, but I believe the level of our success has led to some complacency in the Executive because they think that will carry us through.

What support will the Minister offer generally to rowing and other sports to ensure that we do create that important legacy when we have this level of success?

Ms Ní Chuilín: Certainly, it is easy for the Member to talk about complacency. I would like to think that if she has any concerns, she should bring them forward to not just my Department but other Departments. I know that Sport NI, and indeed all the athletes from the Member's constituency, are very happy with the level of support that they have received thus far. They certainly could do with more money, but the thresholds that they have, particularly going into the Olympic and Paralympic Games, are set at the same rate right across. If they need other support, and perhaps even some sponsorship, I will be happy to talk to sponsors, as I have in the past. There are many parents in this Chamber. One thing is common when it comes to success at games: when those athletes are training, they are giving up their family life and making many sacrifices. It is up to us to make sure that we have their back and their corner. I am prepared to do that. I know that my officials will continue that, as will Sport NI.

Ms Ní Chuilín: With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will take questions 8, 11 and 12 together.

The redevelopment of Casement Park remains an Executive Programme for Government commitment as an integral part of delivering the regional stadia programme. It is a project that I am fully committed to delivering. Following the concerns raised in April 2015, a project assessment review (PAR) was carried out in June 2015 by the British Cabinet Office. A panel of independent experts was selected by the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD). The PAR report was published on 7 August 2015 and confirmed that the Casement Park project not only was achievable but could be delivered. On that basis, the Department is not planning for failure and is working with the GAA to ensure the successful delivery of this Programme for Government commitment.

The GAA has already engaged its project team to work on a new planning submission for Casement Park. Since the judicial review decision, the GAA and its team have carefully considered the judgement to ensure that any new planning application fully addresses the points raised in that judgement. Initial meetings have been held with key stakeholders, including the safety technical group, to provide the necessary assurances required to support a robust new planning application. The GAA is preparing a detailed programme that will fully address the tasks associated with successful delivery of the Casement Park stadium.

Mr Swann: I thank the Minister for her answer. Can the Minister confirm that the new application for the refurbishment of the stadium will include all the new safety features, including emergency exiting procedures?

Ms Ní Chuilín: In every application that anyone makes around sports grounds, but particularly Casement Park, safety and emergency evacuation procedures will be front, right, left and centre. They will be an integral part of the application. Even though emergency evacuation was not part of the refusal it certainly has been raised since, so I give the Member — indeed all Members — the assurance that that will certainly be done before any new planning application is submitted.

Mr McCausland: Can the Minister confirm, as has been reported in social media, that the advertising hoarding along the front of Casement Park was erected without planning permission? If that is the case, will she call on the GAA to ensure that the illegal advertisement is removed within the 14 days specified?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I certainly cannot confirm that it was erected without planning permission, and I will not be calling on the GAA to remove it. If the GAA erected a hoarding that did require planning permission, it is up to it, in the first instance, to seek that, albeit retrospectively.

Mr Speaker: I call Ms Rosaleen McCorley for a very quick supplementary.

Ms McCorley: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagra go dtí seo. Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Minister for her answers thus far. Did Mr Dominic Walsh ever raise concerns about safety in regard to the redevelopment of Casement Park?

Ms Ní Chuilín: No. Mr Walsh never raised any concerns with me at any time about safety. In the early stages of the programme, Mr Walsh was a member of the sponsor board programme until March 2012. The regional stadia sponsor board is chaired by me, and its membership includes representatives from not only the governing bodies but Sport NI. Mr Walsh did not raise it there. The sponsor board and programme board meetings would have provided Sport NI and, indeed, Mr Walsh with an appropriate forum and opportunity to raise any concerns. He did not do it then, and he has never done it since.


3.15 pm

Mr Speaker: That ends the period for listed questions. We now move on to 15 minutes of topical questions.

T1. Mr Clarke asked the Minister, given the great victory that Carl Frampton had on Saturday night, what plans she has to host a reception for him in Parliament Buildings on his return. (AQT 3571/11-16)

Ms Ní Chuilín: As the Member will be aware, we have had receptions for athletes who have achieved a lot in the past. We plan to do that on 9 March in the Lakeland Forum in Enniskillen, where we will look at all of the successes and achievements of all athletes who have competed at different levels. I anticipate and hope that not just Carl but all of the other athletes who performed on Saturday evening will be more than welcome to that.

Mr Clarke: I thank the Minister for that answer. I want to focus primarily on Carl Frampton, given that he had the victory on Saturday night. In one of his speeches since then, he has said that he would love to have a fight in Windsor Park in Belfast. Given that there was a sell-out match in Manchester and we have the champion from North Belfast, which, indeed, is your constituency, what will you and your Department do, Minister, to support his ambition to have that fight in Northern Ireland at Windsor Park so that people in Northern Ireland can enjoy it here rather than having to travel elsewhere?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I visited Windsor Park last week, and I have to say that its redevelopment is very impressive. I think that it would be a great backdrop for any boxing bill. I am not a boxing promoter. It is up to the boxing promoters to bring forward opportunities, not just for Carl but for other boxers. In the past, we have met Barry McGuigan, Carl Frampton and many other professional boxers. Where there are opportunities, as there was in Titanic, to provide such a spectacle for us to enjoy, we will certainly do all that we can to help. In the first instance, it is really a matter for the boxing promoters.

Mr Diver: In the Minister's earlier answers, she referred to an ongoing package of funding that her Department has made available for cultural legacy projects connected to the City of Culture across the north-west. Obviously, we are aware that the new sports and leisure complex in Dungiven is one of the projects that has been able to benefit from that. We much very welcome that facility as the people of Dungiven are certainly deserving of it.

T2. Mr Diver asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what pot of legacy funding the funding for the Dungiven sports and leisure complex was taken from. (AQT 3572/11-16)

Ms Ní Chuilín: I made bids to ensure that there was a legacy for the City of Culture, and, thankfully, that was approved. I have made subsequent bids for Coleraine, which received £1·6 million, and for Dungiven, which received £2·2 million. I believe that there will be further funding applications for support for Ballymoney through the legacy programme, working in conjunction with Derry City and Strabane District Council and, indeed, others.
The Museum of Free Derry received money, as did many others. I am happy to write to the Member with those details. I believe, particularly given the legacy of underinvestment in the city, it is completely appropriate that each of the Departments bid to try to redress the balance somewhat.

Mr Diver: I thank that the Minister for her answer. With that in mind, was there a high level of awareness or consultation with, in particular, arts and cultural organisations that were involved very deeply in the City of Culture year on eligibility for that funding and on how this funding was likely to be rolled out?

Ms Ní Chuilín: There absolutely was. In fact, we have a DCAL office in the city and we worked with those projects through 2013, and we are still there and working with them. Indeed, I have visited many of the programmes, and they all came together in clusters, particularly around neighbourhood renewal areas and through those partnerships and fora and presented the best case. It was really good example to other areas. When you want to look at how an area puts its best foot forward, that is it. All of those groups and individuals will not only have been aware of but have been a part of and have supported the bids for legacy programmes.

Mr Lyttle: I add my congratulations to double world champion Carl Frampton, his camp and his family. I congratulate him not only on the skill and dedication that he shows to his craft but on the dignity and respect with which he treats others, which, I believe, unites a community behind him.

T3. Mr Lyttle asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether, after years of underinvestment in East Belfast in the context of subregional soccer stadium funding, she believes that it is vital that Glentoran Football Club is granted the funding necessary to develop a new stadium to drive sporting and community development in the constituency. (AQT 3573/11-16)

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member is aware of the work that Glentoran and many other clubs in his constituency have done primarily for the health and well-being of young men, but I would like to see more young women coming forward. That needs to be shown in any bid that will be made as part of any future application. Glentoran has done a great job in that regard, and I believe that that will stand the club in good stead for any future support.

I join the Member in congratulating not just Carl Frampton but his entire family, who also make sacrifices. He has been over there for almost four months, sacrificing his family life in order to compete at the level at which he did on Saturday. That is something that every Member in the House can support.

Mr Lyttle: I thank the Minister for her response, and I commend her for the work that she is doing to support grass-roots development in soccer. When will the final programme for the subregional soccer stadia funding be announced?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am sure that the Member was listening intently to some of the responses that I gave earlier in relation to the consultation process. There were over 1,100 responses, and we will bring a lot of them together and do a quick but thorough analysis of them. Given the fact that some people may have wished their submission to remain confidential, I will have those removed, and I will publish that analysis. The purpose of that is to inform the application process, and I hope that that process will be open some time in April or, if not, the end of April/beginning of May. It is really important that the momentum that has been built up thus far on this means not only that it happens but that people see an outcome from something that was announced in 2011 but will not realise its potential until 2016 and after.

Mr Ó Muilleoir: Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Aire. Amárach, tosaíonn mí na Gaeilge. Le linn do thréimhse chuir tú béim mhór ar chúrsaí Gaeilge agus ar chur chun cinn na Gaeilge. Ar mhaith leat, is tú ag breathnú siar, labhairt ar chuid de na ceachtanna a d’fhoghluim muid?

T4. Mr Ó Muilleoir asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether, given that tomorrow is the start of Irish language month and that the Minister has put great emphasis on the promotion of the Irish language, it would be appropriate in what may be her last Question Time to reflect on the successes of the Irish language during her period in office and on the lessons learned. (AQT 3574/11-16)

Ms Ní Chuilín: It is my last Question Time, and I want to use the opportunity to thank the Speaker, the Principal Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Speakers, the Speaker's Office and the Business Office and everybody else who is involved, including the Whips.

The work that has been done to raise awareness of Seachtain na Gaeilge, which is now Mí na Gaeilge, not just on this island but right across the world, has been massive. Already, we are preparing, as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge, a tráth na gceist, which is a quiz that will happen in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich in Belfast and will take in participants and competitors from New York and elsewhere via Skype. The awareness of this, from the very young to the very old, has been huge and continues to grow, and that is absolutely great. What will we do from tomorrow onwards? It is a question of "Watch this space".

Mr Ó Muilleoir: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Mo bhuíochas fosta leis an Aire. Níor luaigh an tAire Líofa, ach tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh sí sin. Ar mhaith leat, a Aire, tréaslú le gach duine a rabh baint acu le láidriú na Gaeilge le linn do thréimhse? Tá ráfla láidir ann go mbeidh tú ag glacadh páirte i Rith 2016 a thagann arais i mbliana.

The Minister did not mention Líofa, which she is certainly entitled to do because it has been one of the great successes of her tenure. Will she join me in congratulating the Irish groups that have strengthened the Irish language during her tenure? Rith 2016, the biennial run, comes back to Belfast this year. Minister, there is a strong rumour that you will take part; maybe you will let us know.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question and some of his sentiments. Even though I took only a very small part in the last Rith, I was happy to do so. I took the baton from Conradh na Gaeilge and passed it on to, I think, Cumann Mhic Reachtain and others. I am easily impressed when it comes to running short distances — I am a short-distance rather than a long-distance runner — and I was impressed with the number of people from all backgrounds and none who were involved in it. That will be the case this time.

I am very proud of my Department's work on Líofa and of the 17,000 people — that number is still growing — who have registered with Líofa and are, like me, learning the Irish language. I hope that that will endure into the next mandate. One thing is for sure: regardless of who the next Minister is — I wish them well — the growth of the Irish language and the interest in it and the commitment of those involved will prevail.

Mr Speaker: For a heart-stopping moment, I thought that he was referring to the Speaker doing the run.

T5. Mr G Robinson asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline the grants available to marching bands that wish to replace uniforms and instruments. (AQT 3575/11-16)

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member will be aware that we are looking at options on instruments for all bands, not just marching bands. The Arts Council has never funded grants for uniforms, and I do not believe that it will do so in the future, because there has been a strong public interest test. There is certainly an interest in the acquisition and teaching of music, and a lot of bands have done that very well. I do not anticipate the Arts Council taking forward funding for uniforms.

Mr G Robinson: I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree that involvement in marching bands is a positive way for young people to learn a skill and to enhance their knowledge of their culture and heritage?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I certainly would agree, and I believe that the few instances of some bands marching and conducting themselves in a very poor way in my constituency is not reflective of where many of them are. The bands forum and others need to step up and ensure that there is a code of conduct. They also need to ensure that, when there are breaches of that code of conduct or of public order, they are responsible for ensuring that such breaches and incidents such as that outside St Patrick's Church in my constituency are never repeated.

T6. Mrs Cameron asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure how much money has been allocated to band culture in the past five years. (AQT 3576/11-16)

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am happy to give the Member that information in writing, but there has been a lot of investment not only from my Department through the Arts Council but from the Ulster Scots Agency, which has invested in musical tuition. I will happily get the Member that in writing. I believe that many Members will be surprised when they see the investment that has gone into marching bands in particular.

Mrs Cameron: I thank the Minister for her answer. Will she tell us why she stopped funding to the bands culture? Does she value the contribution that bandsmen make to Northern Ireland?

Ms Ní Chuilín: Applications from bands and the funding stopped because the money was not there. I am working with colleagues in the Executive to bring forward a new scheme. I hope that the new scheme and the funding for it will be announced in a matter of weeks. Marching bands, by and large, play a very good role, particularly in small communities, where they pass on traditions, musical tuition and all that knowledge from one generation to another, and I would like to see more of that, rather than the ugly scenes that we see from time to time. I am happy to persist in securing a new fund for all bands, not just marching bands.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Paul Frew. We probably do not have time for a supplementary question, Paul.

Mr Frew: While we were all engrossed in watching Carl Frampton win his second belt on Saturday night, Ballymena's very own Alan Philpott became the new Lonsdale bantamweight champion in mixed martial arts.

T7. Mr Frew asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what support she can give the mixed martial arts, which is a growing sport in Northern Ireland. (AQT 3577/11-16)


3.30 pm

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am just going to say, getting to my feet very quickly, that I think that we need to do more. I certainly met Danny Corr, and I follow the work that he and others do in mixed martial arts right across the community but particularly in the Member's constituency. I believe that the work that he, his team and others do is absolutely brilliant, particularly in working with children and young people who are a bit hard to reach. Now that they have shown that they can compete on a world stage and get that reputation, I think that we need to try to get more investment.

Mr Speaker: Time is up. That is the end of Question Time. Congratulations, Minister, on completing your mandate. I ask the House to take its ease while we change the top Table.

Mrs Cameron: Mr Speaker, I want to apologise to the Minister for not being present for the first question, which was mine.

Mr Speaker: Thank you very much.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair)

Private Members' Business

Debate resumed on amendment No 1, which amendment was:

In page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (3). — [Mrs Cochrane.]

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

Nos 2-13

Mr Allister: In speaking to the amendments, I want to begin with amendment No 2. In various presentations to the Committee, the sponsor of the Bill spoke at length about clause 2 and, in fact, proffered the Committee three different options as to how she proposed to amend clause 2, indicating that the third of those options was her preference. Yet we find today that the amendment tabled is a different option altogether; it is not one of the three that was tabled to the Committee. It is different in a number of significant ways in that it removes from the Bill any reference to a qualifying stadium being "a regional or national stadium", which was, of course, the primary premise of the need for this legislation: that we are dealing with regional or national stadia. Yet, we find that, at Consideration Stage, that qualifying criterion has been removed, with apparently little, if any, notice. We also find that the qualifying criterion of 8,000 permanent seats has been removed. So, what we have now is a much broader embracing amendment than any ever notified to, or discussed by, the Committee.

Mrs Cochrane: I thank the Member for giving way and for raising that issue. The reason why the amendment that has been brought before you today is slightly different from the final one that I discussed with the Committee is on the basis of conversations that I had with the Office of the Legislative Counsel (OLC) about making sure that this was really tied down to our three regional or national stadia. The OLC felt that using the term "Northern Ireland", which I thought he would possibly support, would be more appropriate in allowing the Department to draw up its regulations.

On moving away from the provision on the number of seats, a strategy for subregional stadia is out for consultation, and there was a fear that one of those could end up with 8,001 seats and may, therefore, allow it to fall into that category. So the safer way to ensure that the policy intent of this is for our stadia of regional or national importance was to remove the information on the number of seats and allow the control to lie with the Department, so that the Department must stipulate, through regulations, whether or not a stadium is of that importance.

Mr Allister: I hear what the Member is saying, but it is quite clear that the Bill, as originally drafted, and the amendments, as originally intended, maintained an infrastructure that set certain thresholds that have now been removed. It has now been gifted to the Department to be as flexible as it wishes, with the language now simply being diminished to that which it considers to be:

"of importance to the whole of Northern Ireland."

That is a much wider embrace than the Bill as originally drafted. The removal of the threshold inevitably has that consequence.

Mrs Cochrane: Will the Member give way again?

Mrs Cochrane: As I said, it will be made through regulations that will come before the Social Development Committee that the Member sits on. He will have the opportunity to put that in. You may find that the number of seats will be specified in the regulations, but it was felt that the regulations could be drawn up in a much more beneficial way than putting that aspect into the Bill. It was felt that the amendment was more restrictive than how I left it before. That is why I tabled the amendment.

Mr Allister: I would certainly need a lot of persuading that the amendment is more restrictive. It seems to be more inviting of travel in a variety of directions rather than being more restrictive.

I suppose that the fundamental point I was making was that not only does it make changes that were never flagged up, but it flies in the face of quite extensive presentation to, and consultation with, the Committee. It surprises me that, if these were issues that would ultimately manifest themselves in amendments, then the Member was not aware of them at the point when she was engaged with the Committee and has left it until this point, having persuaded us of option 3 in her original proposals, and has come forward with a different amendment.

I want to move on to other aspects of the Bill. At Second Stage, the Member indicated a greater flexibility than is manifested in the amendments, in that she said that she was receptive to ideas such as putting a restraint on the licence on the occasions when stadia were being used for junior events; but that does not appear at all in the Bill. I regret that there was no support for my suggestion at the Committee that this needed to be in the Bill.

The purpose is to create licences to facilitate sporting events, and I am also disappointed that there was no attempt to restrict the licence from a 365-day a year licence to one in which the stadia are actually in use for those purposes. What we have created is a year-round licence for the stadia rather than one for the occasions when they are thought to be necessary and required. I am also —

Mrs Cochrane: I thank the Member for giving way again. He is aware that it is a new form of licence. It is a licence that is specific to a stadium and is ancillary to an event occurring in a stadium. On the notion of a 365-day licence, we will not be opening pubs in the stadiums. The licence is ancillary to an event.

If our stadiums, that have been invested in by the Northern Ireland Executive, could manage to run events 365 days a year, I would be immensely surprised. It would mean that they were really, really, realising the full potential of the stadiums. I do not see that happening; that is not in the business plan. The licence will always be ancillary to an event.

Mr Allister: If that is correct, there would be no reason why, in consequence, the licence could not have been restricted to the days of such events. If it will only apply to events, why do we need to legislate for something over and above and beyond that? That is what we are doing.

The further point that I want to make is that we heard evidence from affected residents. Apart from, perhaps, making some sympathetic noises to those residents, in the end, the Bill is essentially in the form that caused their concern in the first place.

Yes, there is an undertaking, which is mentioned in the Committee's report, that there should be a consultative committee that includes residents' representatives. Ulster Rugby has gone on record to say it is amenable to that, but there is no statutory requirement for it. That lasts only as long as Ulster Rugby wishes. I think that, too, is perhaps a deficiency in the Bill.
Those are my concerns about how this Bill has been fleshed out and where it takes us. I think that the concerns of the residents have not been copper-fastened in the manner in which they perhaps ought to have to been.

Mrs D Kelly: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this private Member's Bill. I congratulate the Member on all her hard work in getting the Bill to this stage. I also congratulate the Committee who assisted in terms of timing. Given the workload of the Committee, that was no mean feat. I congratulate the Chairperson on ensuring that the Bill got through.

Unlike Mr Allister, my disappointment was that the Member had to put forward a private Member's Bill. When it comes to licensing, we in Northern Ireland lag greatly behind others and are disenfranchising large sections of the licensed trade and, indeed, tourism. It is the regret of my party that the amendment tabled by the Committee in relation to Drumbo Park and other such stadia and our party's amendment to deal with the under-18s issue were found not competent within the confines of this legislation. I hope that a new Assembly mandate will see an overall licensing Bill brought forward that would bring us more in keeping with the times. It is some seven years since my party colleagues Social Development Ministers Margaret Ritchie and Alex Attwood consulted on an extensive redraft of the licensing regulations. Unfortunately, that has been sitting with the Executive now for the past number of years.

It is fair to say that this Bill will assist stadia in attracting international events. In sporting events, it will contribute to the experience of people using the stadia and watching the sport, because these events are about more than watching; they are, in the broadest sense, a leisure pursuit. I think the Member has taken good account of many of the concerns raised by a broad gamut of stakeholders.

I have spoken privately to Mrs Cochrane in relation to the residents' concerns and have sought and got assurances from the management at Kingspan that there will be proactive engagement with local residents, because their views have to be taken account of. Whilst I recognise that that cannot be in the Bill, I strongly urge Kingspan to live up to the commitments given to the Committee and the proposer of the Bill.

Mr Campbell: I thank the Member for giving way. On that point, which was raised earlier, does she accept that, although it is essential that Kingspan and Ulster Rugby liaise closely with the residents to minimise any disruption, it would be virtually impossible to enshrine anything like that within a legislative process?

Mrs D Kelly: I agree entirely with the Member. The view was expressed by a number of consultees that you could not have that in the Bill, but it is about being good neighbours. I must say that I was surprised at the attitude of the PSNI when they gave their response to the Bill at Committee. It seems to me that they, along with others, should be policing the antisocial behaviour outside the venue quite robustly. It is not always down to the management of the pubs, clubs or stadia to ensure that happens. I am a strong supporter of the management committee living up to the expectations and commitments given.


3.45 pm

If it helps, Mr Deputy Speaker, because many people are worried about the increase in alcohol consumption in society, I spoke recently to Addiction NI. The statistics that it has show that the greatest increase in alcohol addiction is actually in the over-50s, drinking at home. Addiction NI now holds stalls to educate and give people information outside the off-licences within major supermarkets. So we need to get a reality check in terms of where many of the problems actually lie these days. They are not necessarily about the family, or the person, going out to enjoy an afternoon of sport or whatever other event might be held within a stadium.

I finish by saying that my party supports the amendments but regrets that a private Member has had to bring forward such legislation.

Mrs Cochrane: I thank all Members for their contributions to the debate. The Chair of the Committee brought forward a comprehensive outline of the Committee process, and I agree with him that our licensing laws need reform. Northern Ireland is a very different place to what it was in 1996 — in a good way, I believe — and our legislation needs to reflect the different society that we now live in.

I would have liked to have been able to take forward changes to other areas of the legislation, but I hope that bringing forward this small change as a private Member's Bill has at least put the issue of licensing firmly on the agenda, and that it will be taken forward in a comprehensive manner in the next mandate. One of the very positive things that has come out of this process is the establishment of the stadium community committees, to which Mrs Kelly and others referred. Our three major stadia are situated in residential areas, and it is important that lines of communication are open to address any concerns and provide information to residents.

Some of the issues raised at Committee were not necessarily in relation to the licensing itself, which is what my Bill is about. Even those that were in relation to it were, admittedly, small in number. When you delve a little deeper, you find that what my Bill actually does is restrict the licensing arrangements, so that a stadium cannot now have a licence until 1.00 am, unless it is for just a small function area. Before, the stadium could have done that through an occasional licence, so what we have done is brought some protection to residents of those areas.

One of the other issues that has been talked about at some length at Committee Stage, which Mr Allister and others have raised, is in relation to some of the aspects for under-18s. As a mum of a seven-year-old and an 11-year-old, I obviously understand those concerns, and I am still considering whether there are any other amendments that I could bring forward in that area. I believe that we need to balance the child protection issues while, at the same time, allowing alcohol to be sold in a responsible manner. I have discussed how the current set-up, which actually expects children to be separated from their parents after 9.00 pm if a game is going on later in the evening, is not acceptable. I have had some really good conversations regarding alcohol-free zones and potential licensing restrictions when an event is predominantly geared to under-18s. I know that that was one of Mr Allister's points, but I actually raised it before he did; I brought it forward the very first time I went before the Committee, and I have looked at it in some detail.

Currently, Ulster Rugby at the Kingspan Stadium — the one that is finished and already operating — has already put in place really good operational practices. It has a family stand which is alcohol-free, and it only operates certain hospitality areas during, for instance, the Schools' Cup final. There is no law to make Ulster Rugby do that, but yet it still does it. I do not see any reason why it would move away from that responsible approach in the future. However —

Mr Allister: Will the Member give way?

Mrs Cochrane: Yes, I will.

Mr Allister: I understand and acknowledge that, to date, there has been self-regulation. However, the Bill was, perhaps, an opportunity to take it beyond self-regulation and make sure that there would be no slipping back on that, particularly bearing in mind that the primary sponsors of Ulster Rugby are drinks companies and, therefore, the perpetual pressure from the sponsors is to maximise sales. In those circumstances, might it not have been more prudent to have within the Bill the sort of self-regulation protection that we are now going to have to rely on, in the hope that it continues?

Mrs Cochrane: I thank the Member for his intervention. I did not think that Kingspan made alcohol, but maybe I am wrong.

Mr Allister: Sponsors.

Mrs Cochrane: Sponsors? You are probably referring to the Heineken Cup or the Guinness Pro12. The sponsors of the tournaments, yes, but not Ulster Rugby in general.

There is an option to place conditions on the licence. That is set out clearly in clause 4 and should allay any fears. Conditions can be placed on a licence by the court, either at the time of application or at any time during the life of the licence or, indeed, at renewal stage by input from the district commander. I had considered whether there was any way in which I could put those in the Bill while allowing the stadium to operate seamlessly. I had a lot of discussion with the Department about that, but any of the options that I looked at could have had unintended consequences. It really comes down to the fact that our three stadia are not of exactly the same design. The most appropriate place to put the conditions is on the individual licence. When you come forward, with the plans in front of you, to apply for your licence, you can delineate certain bar areas. If you want to have extra restrictions in place for certain events or whatever, that is the time to do it. I feel very strongly about that.

Even recently, I have had further engagement with the PSNI and the licensing people at Belfast City Council, because, when a licence is being applied for, they are the two statutory consultees. I wanted to be able to provide them with some information on some of the discussions that I have had and on some of the possible operational solutions. It is important that they are aware of why there is a policy intent still to have some sort of protection and to balance that with the operational requirements. Not putting restrictions in primary legislation does not mean that they should not be taken forward, perhaps, as I say, by conditions. If we follow that approach, there will be bespoke licences created for each stadium on the basis of their mapping. That will allow the good, family-friendly practices to continue but, at the same time, allow that bit of flexibility, should the need arise.

To sum up, I thank Members for their contributions and ask them to support the amendments to allow the passage of the Licensing Bill to the next stage.

Amendment No 1 agreed to.

Amendment No 2 made:

In page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (4) and insert

"(4) After Article 2A of the principal Order insert—
 
'Meaning of "outdoor stadium"
 
2AA. In this Order "outdoor stadium" means any premises—

(a) which are structurally adapted and used, or intended to be used, for the purpose of providing a venue primarily for a variety of outdoor sporting events and other activities,
 
(b) which include one or more areas for indoor events and activities, and
 
(c) which are designated in regulations as a stadium which the Department considers to be of importance to the whole of Northern Ireland.'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 (Licences for outdoor stadia)

Amendment No 3 made:

In page 2, line 10, leave out "paragraphs" and insert "subsections". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Amendment No 4 made:

In page 2, line 14, leave out subsection (4) and insert

"(4) In each of the following provisions of the principal Order, for "(k)" there shall be substituted "(l)"—
 
(a) Article 2(4) (meaning of references to premises);
 
(b) Article 15(2)(e)(ii) (renewal of licences);
 
(c) Article 22(6)(c)(ii) (transfer of licences).". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 (Attachment of conditions to licences)

Amendment No 5 made:

In page 2, line 21, leave out paragraph (a). — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Amendment No 6 made:

In page 2, line 26, leave out subsection (3) and insert

"(3) In Article 77A of the principal Order (the cross-heading before which becomes 'Indoor arenas and outdoor stadia' and the title to which becomes 'Attachment of conditions to licences for indoor arenas or outdoor stadia'), in paragraph (1), after 'indoor arena' insert 'or outdoor stadium'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 (Temporary continuance of business)

Amendment No 7 made:

In page 3, line 4, leave out "an". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7 (Requirements with respect to sale of intoxicating liquor)

Amendment No 8 made:

In page 3, line 10, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert

"(1) In Article 52A of the principal Order (the title to which becomes 'Indoor arenas and outdoor stadia'), in paragraph (1), after 'indoor arena' insert 'or outdoor stadium'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Amendment No 9 made:

In page 3, line 15, leave out "inserted—" and insert "inserted; 'or' ". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Amendment No 10 made:

In page 3, line 18, at end insert

"(4) In Part 1 of Schedule 10A to the principal Order (penalty points for offences punishable with level 3 fine on the standard scale), in the entry for Article 52A(2), after 'indoor arenas' insert 'or outdoor stadia'.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 (Commencement and short title)

Amendment No 11 made:

In page 3, line 20, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert

"(1) This Act comes into operation on 1 September 2016.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Amendment No 12 made:

In page 3, line 24, leave out

"is made by negative resolution and". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Amendment No 13 made:

In page 3, line 27, after "order" insert

"; and an order under this section containing such provision or such modifications is subject to negative resolution.". — [Mrs Cochrane.]

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Dallat): That concludes the Consideration Stage of the Licensing Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

I ask Members to take their ease as we move to the next item of business.


4.00 pm

Mr McCallister: I beg to move

That the Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill [NIA 62/11-16] do now pass.

As I said in various debates, the driving factor for the Bill has always been to deal with the historical divisions that plagued us for so many years, while recognising the successes that we have built on for almost 18 years. How do we do that? The absolute necessity is to provide good government by getting to a point at which a Government can function as a collective, make decisions and be held to account for those decisions by a properly constituted opposition.

It is fair to say that the Bill has been subject to a decent amount of scrutiny. We probably never thought that we would see this day; like others, I was not totally convinced that we would make Final Stage. So far, we have had 15 hours of debate; over nine Committee meetings; a Consideration Stage of nine and a half hours over two days; some 52 votes in Committee on clauses; 20 Divisions at Consideration Stage; and another five Divisions at Further Consideration Stage.

Mr Campbell: I thank the Member for giving way. Despite his lack of confidence or lack of faith in the progress of the Bill, there has been, as he outlined, a very significant degree of consultation and discussion. Would he not agree that, however much people complain in the discussions that we have from time to time about the state of play at Stormont, its capability to reform is exemplified in this discussion today and how far his Bill has progressed?

Mr McCallister: I am grateful to the Member. The point is worth reiterating. Sometimes the Assembly is at its best in its Committees and when it deals with the legislative process. I have often referred to the Executive as "dysfunctional", but I was always confident that the Committee and the Assembly would see the wisdom of what I was proposing. I am pleased that we are at this stage and hope that the Assembly sees fit to pass the Bill at Final Stage.

Reform is necessary, as Benjamin Disraeli said. In a progressive country, change is constant and inevitable. You always need change. Politicians rose to the challenge in 1998 — some of you were involved at the time — of lifting us out of a very dark chapter in our history and setting us on another path. As I have often said, if, in those times, the Assembly achieved very little, it got people talking to each other. However, that has changed now: there is a hunger from the people whom we represent to get on with governance and delivery and to move to a much more mature politics where policy matters. They expect the Executive and the Assembly to deliver.

This Bill is about reforming these institutions. It would be a significant change to have a place called "opposition". I was once involved in a debate about opposition, when someone said, "There is no place called opposition". I hope that, after today, that is no longer the case and that we will have a place called opposition. The big challenge will be to make sure that people stand up and have the courage to take up the role as an oppositional party. So, that is a huge reform that can be passed in the Bill.

Like all Bill sponsors, whether Ministers or not, I did not get everything that I would have liked. I break the Bill into a couple of main areas. The Bill has emerged from all the votes, all the stages, including two amending stages, and amendments that have been tabled with its opposition side largely intact and enhanced. It is enhanced by putting in an 8% threshold; that is better than in Fresh Start. The entire debate on the Bill has helped to move some of the provisions from the Stormont House Agreement to what is in Fresh Start. I suggest that the Bill has made civic society and other organisations start to use some of the language that it has helped to put into our politics. It got people thinking about what collective government means, so much has been achieved on the opposition side. The 8% is hugely significant, as is having it in the Bill that there will be an Assembly debate on a legislative timetable. We have seen in the past few months how difficult it is to cope with a rush of legislation.

The areas of the Bill that I would have liked to see more progress on, but, alas, could not persuade Members on, are very much how our Executive arm of government works and around collective cabinet Government. However, the Bill has helped to focus minds on what some of the other reforms mean; for example, reducing the number of Departments and changing OFMDFM from having departmental responsibilities to being a coordinating Department. All those changes help to drive the point about collective government. I will quote from the manifesto of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) in which it challenges the Northern Ireland Assembly to look at and reform the use of petitions of concern.

"Cross-departmental collaboration should be hardwired into the culture, budgets, operating systems and performance management of government and its agencies."

To me, that sounds very much like a single legal entity of a Government.

"The Northern Ireland Executive should operate with collective responsibility for the decisions it takes and the implementation of the Programme for Government."

The Bill established important debates on a collective cabinet Government, petitions of concern and whether, in our new system, some of the arrangements from Fresh Start will mean more than just, "Do not table something that will annoy me, and then I will not have to use a petition of concern". Will we get to the point where it will mean more than that? The very useful part of having that debate, here and in Committee, is that it has entered the mindset and political talk of many parts of our society. Those are conversations and reforms that we will have to revisit.

I would have liked to see changes on designation. We, as unionists, have to ask ourselves this: why is nationalism, as a collective, still so afraid of that change? As we want to develop, mature and see those changes over time, we have to look at how we progress that issue. The difficult one for nationalism to ask itself is this: why stick to the system of designation when even the Human Rights Commission questions whether it is truly compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights? Those are things that we will have to revisit at a future date. It was always aspirational for me to have that included in a schedule to trigger that debate.

Some of the debate that exercised the Committee for a considerable time was on the way that we might elect a Speaker in the future, including moving to weighted majority, holding a secret ballot and how you would run that process. That was the subject of significant debate from the Committee, academics and across the board. That has been a good process for our politics in Northern Ireland.

After all of the votes, we have emerged with the main components of the Bill strengthened and enhanced. All of the things that people and Members associate with opposition are included in the Bill. For example, speaking rights are in clauses 7 and 8; supply days are in clause 8, the chairmanship and deputy chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee is in clause 9 and changes to speaking rights being down to party strength is in clauses 7 and 8. The Bill also gives you the ability to question and hold to account. It gives you a place called "opposition", giving our electorate the chance to change our Government, which is something that has been sadly lacking to this point.

I am very pleased with what has come out at the other end of so many hours of debate and scrutiny. Some of the Committee Stage was useful for me. I listened to the debate on whether to change some of the language in the Bill so that it fits in more with our model of government. A PR electoral system will virtually always give you a coalition and will sometimes give you quite difficult decisions to make, as we have seen from our friends in the Republic of Ireland. All those things and all those safeguards are there.

There has been broad agreement from all parties. Most of the disagreements between Sinn Féin and me have not been about what an opposition looks like. Instead, they have been about how we get there; either through legislation or Standing Orders. I come back to the point that legislation would enshrine it. Some would debate whether that legislation should be passed at Westminster. Why would you do it in Westminster when you have the power to do it here? Westminster legislation would just say what the Northern Ireland Act 1998 says, namely:

"standing orders shall include provision for."

That is what this does.

We, as an Assembly, have to mature. Today is a good day for the Assembly. It is a good day to pass the Bill and show that we are fit to reform, that we are ready for reform and that we are capable of reform. That is a huge milestone for the Assembly.

Mr Sheehan (The Deputy Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee): Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Bill's sponsor for his opening remarks and welcome that the Bill has reached its Final Stage.

It is fair to say that the Bill has evolved considerably from what was introduced and scrutinised by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. Key provisions of the Bill, as introduced, such as the formation of the opposition by technical groups, the establishment of a Budget Committee, the renaming of the Office of the First and deputy First Minister and the proposal for Departments to be a single legal entity, have been removed.

The extensive schedule for reforming the Assembly and Executive was also removed and replaced with a significantly reduced one. The revised schedule provides for an Assembly and Executive transfer-of-responsibilities motion, which, subject to cross-community support in the Assembly, may request that the Secretary of State brings forward legislation so that the arrangements and time frames for agreeing the terms of the Programme for Government are dealt with as reserved, rather than excepted, matters.


4.15 pm

The Committee considered all those issues during Committee Stage. Whilst the Committee divided and did not support the initial clauses and amendments to the Bill, its deliberations on those provisions and, in particular, the views of academics who responded to the Committee's call for evidence, may prove useful to those charged with reviewing the relevant Standing Orders to reflect the provisions in the Assembly opposition Bill. Indeed, the need for legislation to require Standing Orders to be amended to provide for an official opposition was a matter that Members extensively debated during the Committee Stage. The Committee considered the views of the academics and the Bill sponsor on the advantages and risks of legislating for an official opposition in the Assembly. The Committee did not take a formal position on that matter.

The Committee also considered in some detail the implications of the Bill, as drafted, for the underlying principles of power-sharing and cross-community support enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. Many of the original clauses in the Bill and, in particular, the provisions of the schedule, which were of considerable concern in that regard, have been removed from the amended Bill that is before the House. Those included the replacement of cross-community support with weighted-majority voting, the election of the Speaker, the threshold for the nomination of a Minister, and the proposal for a simple majority for Budget approval. Furthermore, the revised Bill provides that cross-community support is required for the passing of the Assembly and Executive transfer of responsibilities motion in the House. Those amendments go some way towards addressing the concerns expressed by some members of the Committee on the issue.

As the sponsor acknowledged during the Further Consideration Stage debate, the scrutiny undertaken by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee made a huge contribution to shaping the Bill before us today and some of the thought processes on it. On that note, I place on record the Committee's thanks to the Bill sponsor, who actively engaged with the Committee, and the stakeholders, who submitted written evidence and provided formal oral evidence during the Committee Stage.

Mr Attwood: Taking up Mr Sheehan's last point, I place on record my acknowledgement of the assistance of the Bill Office during the passage of this legislation. As I have said before, there is a particular burden on the Bill Office in the frenzy of business that is before the House in the last days of the mandate. My experience and, I am sure, the experience of all parties and Members, is that it has more than measured up to that responsibility. Similarly, I acknowledge John McCallister, who was right to take time and, indeed, some pleasure, given the tone of his contribution, to scope out the contents of the Bill, as is, before the House. That represents and reflects Mr McCallister's achievement as sponsor of the Bill all those months and years ago. I very much wish to place that on record in respect of the Bill Office and the sponsor.

An American politician once said that he demanded the right to dissent because there was much to dissent from. The SDLP as a political party was born of democratic dissent. That is part of the DNA of the SDLP. At a time when the powers that be, who were in this Building and who managed this part of Ireland, resisted the democratic dissent of people, the SDLP was born of that democratic dissent, because much was wrong in our society that needed to be remedied. Then, through years of democratic struggle, the SDLP, its constituency and all like-minded people on this island in particular, went about, through democratic struggle, shaping that dissent into political platforms and programmes, which, eventually, were captured in not just the Good Friday Agreement but many interventions that shaped our society in ways that were different from the past, be it in policing, housing, human rights and all the rest.

Given that sentiment and the DNA of the SDLP, consistent with the democratic structures that were endorsed by the people of Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement, we recognise that creating a place called opposition or a place for more formal dissent in the Chamber is actually healthy for our democracy. Whether any party that is entitled to Government office on the far side of this mandate chooses that office or not, and whether all who may be entitled under democratic mandate to go into a Government do so and nobody chooses to take up the place called opposition, as Mr McCallister refers to it, this place and our politics will be better for the fact that there is nonetheless that place for dissent, constructive opposition or whatever words you might want to use to describe it. I note of course that it should be the aspiration of all parties — and I presume that it will be the aspiration of all parties — to go into a Government in order to have the responsibility to more critically shape the society and the new order of politics that were born with the Good Friday Agreement.

There is of course a slight contradiction or tension between all the hours that were invested in the Bill through the consultation, the work of the Committee, the various stages on the Floor of the House and all the amendments — all that effort and the endless hours undertaking that work in order to bring about measures to reform how this place operates — and the legislation that is going through Westminster at this very moment that is also about reform of this place and how it operates. A minimum amount time and reference to this Chamber is ongoing in respect of its contents. At the moment, in Westminster, we have a piece of legislation that will govern the Programme for Government of this place, the ministerial oath, the commitments that are made by MLAs and our Budget processes, yet for all the time that was rightly invested in shaping the Bill up to Final Stage, there is virtually little reference to all that work in Westminster to the membership who will be responsible and will have to subscribe to these new ways of doing business.

Before we leave this Chamber for purdah in two or three weeks, people will be asked to endorse some of that approach through a legislative consent motion (LCM). People should judge the LCM on the merits of the arguments that are being presented in that regard, but it does not take away from the fact that this Bill has been subject to very rigorous interrogation, yet other matters are being subjected to minimum interrogation in this place. Yet, all Members who aspire to be returned here and any other person who may be elected here on the far side of this mandate will, when they sign up to membership of this House, have to commit to a new oath. I hope that they do commit to that new oath, because it is meant to mean that in word and deed, unequivocally, every Member of the House upholds the rule of law. Without going further, because I probably will be going on the wrong side of the Deputy Speaker's ruling, you know what I am talking about: we will all, as Ministers or Members, have to commit unequivocally in word and deed to support the efforts of the rule of law in this part of Ireland.

I recognise the elements of the Bill that have got through. We were concerned that, in some of the discussions that we had with Mr McCallister and some of the amendments that are coming before the House, there was a danger that we would throw out the baby with the bathwater; that the necessary architecture of the Good Friday Agreement, given our bitter experience of politics and life in this part of Ireland for so many years, could all somehow too quickly be put in jeopardy, and that the baby of the structures of the Good Friday Agreement, the principle of inclusion and the protections for people would somehow too quickly be put in jeopardy. That is why, rightly, in my view, those matters were opposed, up to and including a petition of concern.

In taking forward a proper measure of reform in order to test the temper of this House on the far side of the mandate in respect of various matters, as well as creating the formal structures for opposition and the responsibilities of opposition that Mr McCallister outlined in his opening speech, we think that that is a good measure of reform, done with a fair bit of wisdom but not straying beyond the necessary protections and architecture of the Good Friday Agreement, which, even though politics has not served it well, has served the people of Northern Ireland well.

Mr Kennedy: I was not prepared for the sudden end to Mr Attwood's speech. He does not normally end so quickly, but we enjoyed his contribution all the more, I think.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Final Stage of the Bill. This Bill has had a rather more tumultuous journey than most that pass through this House. It is fair to say that the current version is almost unrecognisable from that which was first introduced. I am sure that, to a degree, that may disappoint the sponsor of the Bill, but successfully guiding a Bill through the House when you are not a Member of one of the two largest parties is no easy task. At times, it looked as though the Bill was set to be buried by the measures brought forward in the Stormont House Agreement and the subsequent so-called Fresh Start Agreement, but, seemingly, against all the odds, here we are at Final Stage.

There has been much said during the passage of the Bill, and I do not intend to repeat what I have said at previous stages, but the issue of opposition is one that the Ulster Unionist Party is passionate about and one that I will spend a few moments on later. We have attempted to introduce opposition structures to this House via Westminster, with Lord Empey tabling amendments in the House of Lords in an attempt to make it a reality, and we argued for its necessity at the Stormont House talks. Sadly, the March 2015 deadline set at those talks for the introduction of opposition measures was not met.

We remain totally convinced of the need for opposition structures to be put in place. The reasons why this Assembly was structured as it was in 1998 have been acknowledged at all stages of the debate, but we should always aspire to improve what we are doing and move in time with our ever-evolving society. It is clear from the increasing disconnect that we are failing to do so when it comes to the structures of this Chamber.

One of the problems faced by anyone attempting to lead on this issue is that most parties and Members of this House have differing ideas as to the shape of opposition and how it should be formed. The Bill faced the issue of having to reconcile the needs of the two main parties trying to force through their preferred way of doing things. I am thinking, in particular, of what is outlined for speaking rights for opposition parties in this House. We have seen the allocated business days reduced and attempts to enhance speaking time and widen the scope of questioning voted down. That is unfortunate, and I warn that, ultimately, it will prove to be quite foolish.

I am not sure whether it was arrogance on the part of the DUP that it perhaps thinks it may never be a party in opposition or whether it was simple insecurity over the prospect of facing greater scrutiny, but whatever its reasons, I am left slightly perplexed by the limiting of these rights.


4.30 pm

Regardless of the many hurdles faced, I hope that we will now see opposition structures in place for parties to occupy should they wish following the next Assembly election. I think we all know about the public disconnect from the House; I do not think there is a party or Members that have not acknowledged that publicly. I hope that we can see a shift in how we operate here. I have hope that, with an opposition in place, the public may view this place differently.

I do not think — the sponsor will probably concede this point — the final Bill is perfect. I do not think it is what many of us envisaged, but I hope that we will see an opposition in place, post-election, whatever the make-up here. I think that would be something that could revitalise the Chamber, and, on this day in the leap year, the Bill may not be a leap, but I think it represents some progress.

Mr Lunn: I think it is a good day for the Assembly that the Bill will finally pass today. Mr Kennedy said he hoped that the sponsor would not be disappointed. There is absolutely no reason why he should be disappointed. I know the Bill has been well shredded since its inception, but, as the sponsor said, the opposition part of it is largely intact. That is perhaps the most important part of the Bill and perhaps the bit he would have selected if all else had to fail.

I must say that there have been times in the passage of the Bill when I did not expect it to go any further than the point it had reached at various stages. We had the unedifying spectacle of Sinn Féin voting against every clause in the Committee, and the DUP was not helping much by abstaining. There was then the removal of the schedules through a petition of concern. But for all that, we are where we are, as they say, and we now have a Bill that will lead to the establishment of opposition systems here. I think that is a good day. I must also say that I would prefer to see it done this way rather than through Fresh Start because, frankly, I have more faith in this process than I do in Fresh Start.

Just to run through the Bill but without going into any great detail, where the formation of the opposition is concerned, the 8% threshold is a major success and addition. In no particular order, the opposition will have a right to chair the Public Accounts Committee. When I arrived here nine years ago, I thought it was the convention that a non-Government party would be selected to chair the Public Accounts Committee. Of course, the very first day I was here I discovered that was not the case and that the two major parties could do whatever they liked. They decided to keep the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee with one of them — with a Government party. They have continued in that vein ever since. So, there are many reasons why the establishment of an opposition system here will have beneficial repercussions for this place.

Clause 6 is about the first and second questions during topical questions to the First Minister and deputy First Minister coming from the leadership of the opposition. That is an excellent idea. The speaking rights and enhanced speaking rights for the opposition, which are in clauses 7 and 8, and even the membership for the opposition on the Business Committee, is a very good idea. I think there is a lot to be proud of in the Bill, and I say that directly to the sponsor. He has done a good job to take it this far. The financial assistance and, of course, the transfer of responsibilities motion will bear fruit, I guess, down the line.

I am not going to speak at length about this. It is a good day for the Assembly, it is a good day for the sponsor and it is a good day for democracy in this place. Thank goodness we cannot petition a Bill at this point because I think that probably would have happened again. But we will see what happens if we have to move to a vote. I really hope we do not have to divide on this; there does not seem to be any point at this stage in the cycle.

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I think that Mr Lunn described Sinn Féin opposing all the clauses at Second Stage as a spectacle. That is one description of it, but our position was clear from the outset, and we told the Bill's sponsor about it at the first opportunity. The Fresh Start Agreement created the basis for an opposition without having to legislate; it could be done administratively and by convention.

One of the most illuminating parts of Committee Stage was that, despite the myth that people propagate about opposition, as if it is somewhere enshrined by legislation in the great annals of democracy, we very much find that not to be the case. As a matter of fact, most opposition models come about by convention, changing Standing Orders and a democracy maturing to the stage at which it can be trusted not to have one idea dominating another.

Another illuminating fact that emerged during Committee Stage was that, when the Research and Information Service examined 21 parliamentary systems, it found only four in which the chair of the Public Accounts Committee was in the opposition. So, there are myths.

I have been on the Assembly and Executive Review Committee for a long time. At one time, perhaps in my naivety, I thought that it would be good convention, good practice and a better way to bring about democratic accountability to have the Chairs of the scrutiny Committees coming from parties that did not have a Minister. Lo and behold, when you go to Westminster, you find that the Chairs of most scrutiny Committees are from the same party as the Government. Sometimes this model of opposition is portrayed as the paragon of virtue, and, when you examine it, that is very much not the case.

Over the weekend, because of the nature and length of the count in the Twenty-six Counties election, the pundits in the studios got plenty of time to talk about things that were not relevant to the election process. It was interesting in a discussion yesterday that the net result of the outcome of the election was that a lot of smaller parties and independents did well. The proposition was made that maybe this was the time to do away with the nonsense that an opposition is effectively cut out by the Government: it is opposition in name but with not many speaking rights, and it is not this great paragon of virtue.

The pundits said that it was similar to Westminster, where the Opposition are there in name, but the Government, if they have the majority, steamroller through legislation. Indeed, one said that this might be the time to give the Committees in Leinster House some substance by following the model of the Assembly in the North. We found that out during Committee Stage —

Mr Lunn: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCartney: Go ahead.

Mr Lunn: I am fascinated by all this but, for clarification, is Mr McCartney saying that he does not think that an opposition model is desirable? Is he also saying that he thinks that the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee should be a member of a Government party, given the amount of scrutiny required?

Mr McCartney: All I am trying to point out, perhaps not very successfully, is that people have a perception that democracy equals opposition, and that is not necessarily true. The opposition model can be abused or used by Governments to steamroller through legislation, saying, "Sure you have an opposition and all the rights", which are sometimes not there.

The main point I am trying to make is that, in the context of the Assembly as it now sits, Fresh Start gives hope and aspiration to those who want to go into opposition. John McCallister has presented his Bill very well. He consulted and discussed with various parties, but most of the clauses state that Standing Orders must do something.

Since Second Stage, we have been very clear that, when you say that, it gives rise to the Assembly being able to do it without legislation. A Fresh Start, in my opinion, provides the model and the context and is perhaps the right fit for what should proceed. That is why we said to John McCallister, being consistent in our approach, that if you sign up to the Fresh Start Agreement you are signing up that you can do it without legislation. If you come in here and start to have legislation, you might say that we might have the spectacle of someone signing up to something and then not doing what they said they were going to do. At least we are consistent from that point of view.

Mr McCallister: I am grateful to the Member for giving way. The Member will probably be familiar with the Northern Ireland Act, many parts of which talk about Standing Orders and which is very prescriptive. As has been said here many times, the advantage of the Bill is that it engaged the Assembly in the process and made sure that everybody could shape and look at what is happening, not by somehow having Standing Orders drawn up. Indeed, after Stormont House, Standing Orders were not drawn up, and, as Mr Kennedy pointed out, that failed to be delivered.

Mr McCartney: Standing Orders can be drawn up only by going through the Committee on Procedures. That is the convention, the process and the legislation, so it is now up to the Procedures Committee to provide Standing Orders on how we take forward A Fresh Start. Indeed, if your Bill is passed, it will be up to the Procedures Committee to shape whatever comes out of it and what you are trying to bring about. Throughout the process, I have been trying to make the point — I hope, successfully — that we feel that A Fresh Start provided the model for opposition, and that is why we stood in opposition to each and every clause.

As we said to the sponsor of the Bill, the evidence from one of the academics was very striking to us as a party. It was pointed out to us that we have one system, consociationalism, that was designed for a particular purpose and that, when you try to move away from that or fuse it with another system, you could create Frankenstein's monster. We do not want to be part of any such process. We have said in debates that the sponsor of the Bill may be well intentioned, but, sometimes, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That is why we were cautious and stood opposed. I do not think that some of those elements around cross-community weighted majorities will feature as we go forward.

In conclusion, I thank John McCallister for the way that he conducted this at all stages. In fairness, when we said that we would not support this, there was no political point-scoring. I think that he took it in the spirit in which we engaged and the spirit in which we said that. Similarly, the Committee staff took us through the Committee Stage and provided us with excellent research. I think that we are all in a better place to examine how, based on A Fresh Start, the Procedures Committee should progress the issue around the need or an aspiration for opposition. Once the opportunity is presented, we will see how many people take it up.

Mr Allister: I commend the sponsor of the Bill for his tenacious pursuit of the issue. Despite many obstacles and attempts to derail all and everything to do with his Bill, he has salvaged and maintained some semblance of the Bill, although by no means all of it. It was never a Bill that was in the terms that I personally would have written because it still maintains at the very heart of our structures the poison that spreads the disconnect between these institutions, including this House, and the public, namely the continuing outrageous provision of as-of-right places for anyone in government. There has just been an election in the Irish Republic, and, of course, there was a bit of an object lesson in how democratic processes can work.

There is no suggestion whatsoever that the public should not be allowed to vote a party out of government; indeed, many used that option when they voted a couple of days ago. There is no suggestion whatsoever that there should not be a robust place for opposition, nor that any party should have an as-of-right place in government in that arrangement. Yet here, within the arrangements of the Belfast Agreement, we maintain that hideous position that the electorate are simply told that there are as-of-right places for parties in government — the very antithesis of due democratic process.


4.45 pm

It is also interesting that the party that in the Assembly during the course of Mr McCallister's Bill has done most to try to derail it, namely Sinn Féin, after its failure to attain its ambitions in the Southern election, falling significantly short of what it hoped to attain, has as the height of its ambition now in the Irish Republic to form the opposition. Yet, in this House, on every vote on this Bill, it has sought to deny even the right to have an opposition. What it preaches and what it wants to practise elsewhere on this island, it seeks to strangle at birth in Northern Ireland and seeks to deny even the very beginnings of an opposition with the very faltering steps that this Bill seeks to take in that direction. Sinn Féin stands exposed as anti-democratic in its approaches to democratic institutions by virtue of the stance it has taken in this House.

Likewise, of course, some in the Committee who were, perhaps, ashamed of following their Committee stance in the full glare of debate in this House, also sought to kill off the Bill and refused to support its clause-by-clause analysis. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that some progress has been made with the Bill and I trust that this will be the beginning of the building and re-establishment of due democratic process within these institutions. If these institutions ever want to recapture public alignment and connection, then they need to be based on the sustaining and growing of democratic norms rather than their suppression.

It is no surprise that if you say to an electorate that it can elect any sort of Government provided that it, as of right, contains certain parties, you diminish the electoral process and many people ask themselves, "What is the point?". If the Bill begins to dismantle some of the very ugly scaffolding of the Belfast Agreement, then it serves a purpose in that regard. I trust that it will be the start of that. I also welcome the fact that while the ink was barely dry on the misnamed Fresh Start, the Bill and the support that it garnered as it moved through the House has, in fact, bypassed one of the weaker aspects of that and has, somewhat, liberated the circumstances in which an opposition can be formed; that is to the good.

It continues to be wrong that if a party leaves the Executive during the course of an Assembly, as the Ulster Unionist Party did in this Assembly, it cannot form an opposition. Who knows what that party is going to do in the next one? It obviously does not know because it has been ducking and diving on that issue for some time. The issue that took it out of the Executive seems to have been long since forgotten, whether or not it goes back.

If, at a point during an Assembly, specific circumstances arise and a party, by leaving the Executive, qualifies on the formula of comprising 8% of the House, why should it not be able to form an opposition? I think that those in the House with a vested interest have tried to sustain as much as they can of the failing structures of the House by forcing parties to make their choice at the beginning and wanting them to hear the revving engines of the chauffeur-driven cars before they decide whether they really want to be in opposition.

I commend Mr McCallister for his tenacity and for the progress that he has made. I, of course, wish that the Bill had been more comprehensive and had reached more into the very basis of democratising the House, but so far, so good.

Mr Agnew: When it comes to the pace of progress in our Assembly and our political processes, I generally use the phrase that I am proud that we have come as far as we have but frustrated that we are not going further, faster. That is certainly how I feel about the Bill. I commend the sponsor for bringing it forward, for taking on — I know the difficulty of this through my experience — the challenge and for tackling something that most people said we in the Assembly, never mind an individual Member, could not do because we did not have the power. It is testament to Mr McCallister that he sought to bring forward the Bill. He has worked hard to get agreement on it, and, whilst he has not got everything that he would have liked, it is fair to say that the skeleton of the original proposal is intact.

Whilst I congratulate the Member, I condemn the House. We had an opportunity to really improve governance in Northern Ireland, and it was an opportunity wasted. We wasted the opportunity to abolish the petition of concern. We wasted the opportunity to abolish community designation. We wasted the opportunity to introduce collective responsibility, and we wasted the opportunity to introduce a mechanism by which we can hold Ministers to account.

I welcome the fact that we will have the opportunity to form an opposition. Whether or not that is taken up in the next mandate, time will tell. I welcome the provisions on extra speaking rights, resources and positions for an opposition. However, we in the House have failed to implement some of the fundamentals of good governance, such as collective responsibility. The shame of that is that we face another Assembly term where we could see one Minister taking another Minister to court. We could see the unenviable prospect of a party in government voting against the Budget but staying in government or claiming, "That wasn't us. It was them", when one Minister does something unpopular, yet staying in government. It is those factors that undermine the performance of the Assembly and its perception in the eyes of the public.

The failure to at least reform petitions of concern — in my view, they should have been abolished — will cause dismay outside this Building. People are frustrated by the time that is wasted debating sometimes very good and worthwhile proposals — from my point of view, probably none are more important than the proposals for equal marriage for same-sex couples — and they see them voted down by petitions of concern despite the will of the House to pass them. Increasingly, the public understand what that blocking mechanism is, and increasingly they are frustrated by its use.

How many parties have gone into an election saying that they want to move Northern Ireland forward, to make progress or to take credit for continuing their role in the peace process? Yet we have an Assembly that instils within it the divisions that have caused the problems in our society. We continue to enshrine the need to define ourselves as unionists, nationalists or those like me who refuse and are simply labelled "Other", whether we accept the term or not. It is a system that, in fact, denies the cross-community parties, whose vote is cross-community and whose electorate is cross-community, a say in cross-community votes. That is undemocratic, and, as Mr McCallister pointed out, it is arguably in breach of human rights.

The Bill is a step in the right direction, but it is far from a great leap forward.

Mr McCallister: I am grateful to colleagues who have participated in the debate, many of whom have participated from the outset and have spoken in every debate that we have had on the Bill.

I will turn to a few of the comments and respond to them. Mr Sheehan responded on behalf of the Committee. It is important to have it on record that I am incredibly grateful to the Committee, its membership and its support staff for the work that they did. I am also grateful to the witnesses who came forward and gave evidence or written submissions to the Committee. That was an invaluable process in shaping some of the thought processes, listening and asking how some of the language that we were using fitted in with some of the model. I am grateful to Mr Sheehan and the AER Committee for that process.

I am grateful to Mr Attwood and the SDLP for the way that they engaged, particularly at Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage. He made a point about the workings of the Bill Office and how incredibly hard they worked. I was working on amendments with some of the Bill team here and you would have thought that it was the middle of the day, but it was something like 10.45 pm and they were still working incredibly hard on those amendments. Mr Attwood, other parties and I made amendments, and the commitment is incredible. That highlights why we need a legislative timetable, and why I am so pleased that that is included in the Bill.

I know what pressure some of the Bill team were under, and I support Mr Attwood's words.


5.00 pm

I liked very much Mr Attwood's quote about demanding the right to dissent as there is much to dissent from. I think that it is very true that when we look —

Mr Attwood: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCallister: Certainly.

Mr Attwood: It was not my quote but that of Robert Kennedy.

Mr McCallister: Alex Attwood, Robert Kennedy, Danny Kennedy — I will try to hoke out a Danny Kennedy quote later on. [Laughter.]

Sorry, I missed hearing who it was from, but I think it is a brilliant quote because it covers the argument as to why we need an opposition in here.

I listened to Mr Attwood talk about the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. I am probably one of the few unionists who openly says, when anybody is listening, that I am a supporter of the Good Friday Agreement; I voted for it in 1998 and have never changed my mind. People born on the day when the Good Friday Agreement was signed will be old enough to vote in the 5 May election. So it is fair to say that they have come of age, and we have a chance today to show that we have maybe at least matured and are changing.

The Member made reference to other business going on at Westminster. This Assembly is probably the most powerful devolved institution in the United Kingdom, and, if we get a functioning Government, we could be in a position to get more responsibilities, such as tax-varying powers. I think that delivering in good government is critical.

As regards Mr Kennedy's comments, I may be able to quote him now. He made a point about needing the backing of the two big parties. It is fair to say that Sinn Féin set out its position back in mid-November, around the beginning of Fresh Start, and it has not changed from that position. To their credit, that made it quite easy for me, because I knew exactly where they stood, and I expect them to push the vote to a Division today. That means that, if you count in the 28 Members of Sinn Féin and 38 Members of the DUP, everyone else around here becomes an essential swing voter. It is up to the other parties to decide what stands or falls. If one of the large parties says no to everything and the other says yes, it is left to the SDLP, Ulster Unionists, TUV, Greens, Alliance and the independents to swing the vote. It is not all about whether or not there is a division between the two main parties in government, as there is an opening which we can use to get things through. That is why working with all the parties is important to deliver that.

I must say to Mr Kennedy that I have never been entirely sure what he wants or expects an opposition to look like. Lord Empey's amendments, which he cited, mentioned speaking rights, which are included at clauses 7 and 8 in this Bill; supply days, which are at clause 8; chairmanship and deputy chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, which is at clause 9; and making speaking rights proportionate, which are at clauses 7 and 8. The one bit that Lord Empey had wanted was that one Member could form the opposition, and I probably attempted to do that, setting the threshold a bit higher with technical groups. He voted against it, but —

Mr Kennedy: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCallister: I am quite happy to.

Mr Kennedy: I thank the Member for his comments, and it seems that I am a member of a party, amongst other parties, who are now "swingers". I do not think that that term has ever been levelled before, but clearly some people are enjoying the thought of the potential of being swingers. [Laughter.]

The fundamental reason for Lord Empey's attempts in the House of Lords is that he, like me and my party, trusts Westminster legislation so that others cannot tamper with it for political convenience in this Assembly or a future one. Even through Standing Orders, there are mechanisms by which parties locally can deploy measures that would be in their favour, whereas Westminster legislation is more firmly based.

Mr McCallister: I am grateful to the Member. I notice that he did not deny the allegation of being a swinger; he seemed to accept it with some relish.

On the substance of his point about Westminster versus here, I am never convinced that Westminster has served him or his party that well at times. Consider the changes to OFMDFM that were made at St Andrews. It has proven very difficult for the Ulster Unionists to counteract the argument that you need to vote for the larger party or a member of Sinn Féin is going to be the First Minister. That is very difficult. So, they are trusting Westminster with this when we have the power to do it. As I said at Second Stage on that argument about Westminster legislation, the House of Lords made it quite clear, in the several debates where the Lord Empey tried to introduce that, that it would not do it without this Assembly's saying. That is a sign that the Assembly has matured.

On the point about the opposition, I entirely accept that the original schedule has gone. I will cover Mr Agnew's points on this. However, we have established a principle of asking for matters to be moved from excepted to reserved status, and that is important. On the broad substance of the Bill, I have copies of the Bill at introduction and as it stands before us. There are 24 clauses in the original and 18 in the one before us. The clauses that are missing are the renaming of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister as the "Office of the First Ministers"; the single legal entity government; two clauses on technical groups; and one on membership of the opposition that was a change to the Committee. However, the broad substance of how an opposition would work — speaking rights, chairing the Public Accounts Committee, the rights that it would acquire, financial obligations and speaking times — all remains in the Bill. So, in opposition terms, it is still a significant reform to get through the Assembly.

I am delighted with getting so much of the first start of the Bill included. I happily concede that I would have liked much more of the schedule to go through. I would like to have put limits on the d'Hondt mechanism and changed the way we run the Chairs and all of d'Hondt as one piece. I would have liked the change on designation; I am happy and comfortable to move away from that. I would like to have gone to weighted majority vote and I think that those things, over time and at some point in the future, will happen. I think that the Bill, in those terms, has set off a useful debate.

Mr Lunn mentioned that the opposition proposal was largely intact, and I am grateful to him for all his help and support. He has more faith in this process than in Fresh Start; that seemed to be a recurring theme.

The move to the 8% threshold is a major success, in that it reduces the level at which an opposition can be formed and triggers opposition rights on the Business Committee. He puts it very well when he says that the transfer of responsibilities motion will bear fruit further down the line. That is an important point.

In response to Mr McCartney's point about the Public Accounts Committee, I say that even recommendations from groups such as the World Bank all very much point towards having the opposition chair the PAC as being the model of best practice. His party colleagues made much of presenting alternatives in the Republic of Ireland's election. They said that they opposed things such as water charges, and, indeed, they opposed Irish Water being a body altogether. Opposition gave them the space to do that. The trouble with our system is that at times we have had Government and opposition, but they have all been the one people. That is when you look as though you are a dysfunctional mess, and that has to change. The Government obviously want to hold on to their office, so one of the key roles of an opposition, as was said, is to drive a functioning Government. An opposition, if it is looking like a credible alternative, puts enormous pressure on and drives into that functioning Government a consensus that may not need to be there under another system. That is important.

Mr Allister happily said that this may not have been the Bill that he would have written, and I should probably take that as a compliment in some respects. I do, however, know where he is coming from. I know that sometimes when the Assembly scrutinises legislation, we see it as its best. We see an engaged Committee. We see amendments being tabled and an Assembly debating an issue that it understands. It is important to note that, in a conversation that I had last week, a Minister said that Ministers are at their most vulnerable when bringing legislation through the House, because Members can table amendments and garner support for them. That is an important part of the process. I know that the Member at least agrees with the point that, when the Assembly does legislate and scrutinise, it is probably one of its more admirable functions. At times, a lot of our dysfunctionality can be on the governance side — on the Executive. Those are the challenges that we have to meet.

Mr Allister mentioned Sinn Féin wanting to be the effective Leader of the Opposition in the Republic but welcomed the progress made with the Bill. His important point about how we reconnect this place and capture the public's confidence again so that we can deliver good government, held to account by a robust opposition, presents a huge challenge for the House.

Mr Agnew said that he is proud that we have come this far but frustrated that we have not gone further. I share some of that frustration. He knows that, when it comes to issues such as designation or changes to the petition of concern mechanism, he and I very much share the same views. When it comes to things such as collective Cabinet government, the one thing that I am proud of is that the Bill has firmly put that into people's psyche, as they are talking about it. I know that we have to move towards the Member's own Act about getting Departments to cooperate. The Government have to have a purpose and a direction and look as though all their members are putting their shoulder to the wheel.


5.15 pm

He said that he would have gone further; he would like to see the abolition of petitions of concern — I remind him that four petitions of concern were used against parts of the Bill — and the abolition of the need to define yourself as unionist, nationalist or other. As I said in my opening remarks, there is a debate to be had on that. There is a debate to be had not only in unionism about why nationalism is still so wedded to that concept but also in nationalism about having the confidence to want to see change over time. That is a debate for another day. I was keen for it to be in Bill and for us to have that debate. I probably never expected to win that argument, but I was keen for it to be part of it.

I am grateful to all the parties for their engagement with me in public sessions of Committee, in debate here and in private. It has been useful for the Bill. I am grateful to the Committee, the Bill team and the support that we have had. I am also grateful to my support staff of Annette, Peter and Meadhbh, all of whom have worked incredibly hard to get to this stage. I hope that the Assembly sees fit to pass the Bill tonight. Enormous work has been put into it. The course of a private Member's Bill is never particularly smooth or easy, and you have to work with all the parties involved to get something. I am happier with some bits than others, but the principle of an opposition set in primary legislation is a good one. Overall, this should be a good day for the Assembly. I commend the Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill to the House.

Question put.

The Assembly divided:

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved:

That the Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill [NIA 62/11-16] do now pass.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Dallat): I call Mr Roy Beggs to move the Consideration Stage of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill.

Moved. — [Mr Beggs.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Dallat): Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The amendments have been grouped for debate in my provisional grouping of amendments selected list. There are three groups of amendments, and we will debate the amendments in each group in turn.

The first debate will be on amendment Nos 1 to 8, 17, 18, 21, 42 to 44 and 47 to 54 and opposition to clauses 1 to 6, 8, 16 and 18 and schedule 1 standing part, which deal with licensing. The second debate will be on amendment Nos 11, 22 to 32, 34 to 41, 45, 46, 52 and 55 to 58 and opposition to clauses 7, 10, 14, 15, 17, and 19 to 21 and schedule 2 standing part, which deal with powers, offences and accountability. The third debate will be on amendment Nos 9, 10, 12 to 16, 19, 20, 33 and opposition to clauses 9 and 11 to 13 standing part, which deal with duties, identification, information recording and disposal of materials.

I remind Members who intend to speak that during the debates on the three groups of amendments they should address all the amendments in each group on which they wish to comment. Once the debate on each group has been completed, any further amendments in the group will be moved formally as we go through the Bill, and the Question on each will be put without further debate. The Questions on stand part will be taken at the appropriate points in the Bill. If that is clear, we shall proceed [Interruption.]

Order please, Members. I am having difficulty with the noise.

Clause 1 (Requirement for licence to carry on business as scrap metal dealer)

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Dallat): We now come to the first group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 2 to 8, 17, 18, 21, 42 to 44 and 47 to 54 and opposition to clauses 1 to 6, 8, 16, 18 and schedule 1 stand part. The amendments refer to licensing and display arrangements. I call Mr Roy Beggs to speak to his opposition to clause 1 and to address the other amendments and opposition to other clauses in the group.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

Nos 1 to 8, 17, 18, 21, 42 to 44 and 47 to 54.

Mr Beggs: I rise to indicate my opposition, first, to clauses 1 to 6 standing part of the Bill. This is unusual; I accept that. However, I will give some background. One of the difficulties in progressing the Bill was its very cross-cutting nature, with some aspects involving the Department of the Environment and others the Department of Justice. Both Departments saw merit in improving legislation, but each thought that the other should take the lead. Thus, it was difficult to engage at an early point.

To understand the majority of the amendments to my Bill, it is important to understand how the amendments emerged and, indeed, the consideration that was given to them from the outset by the experts in the Department of the Environment and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. All of the amendments in my name, with the exception of amendment No 44, and the opposition to clauses 1 to 6 stand part, were originally drafted by Department of the Environment officials with assistance from a drafting expert who had worked on the Westminster Scrap Metal Dealers Bill. Several sections of the debate can stand alone, enabling regulations to be consulted on and, eventually, brought back for consideration by the Assembly. They are enabling amendments.

The Committee called for evidence from the Department on 19 October, and the Committee Stage commenced on 16 November. Following a constructive meeting on 27 January 2016 between key departmental officials who were covering the area and myself, a draft way forward was agreed that resulted in the many amendments that have been tabled in my name.

After years of being told that these matters were ultra vires and beyond the power of the Department — critical comments on the proposals were made during Committee Stage — finally there was a welcome and dramatic change of approach by the Department. That can be seen in the Hansard report of evidence to the Committee on 2 February 2016. I have no doubt that earlier engagement would have been beneficial and would have allowed the Committee more time for detailed scrutiny of the amendments. I express my appreciation to the officials for their efforts, even at that late stage, because it was clear that considerable effort had been made when they recognised that legislative improvements could be made in scrap metal management to protect the environment and to deter theft.

I was advised that there was a need to achieve Executive approval for the Minister to table the amendments, but that was not forthcoming. I felt that the amendments had such merit that they should be brought into the public light and considered by the Assembly. It is for that reason that we are here today to debate them. I hope that Members will look at them carefully and see that sections of them can stand on their own and bring about improvement at an early stage.

If you examine the amendments, you will see that many changes are simply to remove several clauses and more closely integrate scrap metal proposals with waste management legislation — the regulatory system that already operates in Northern Ireland. That will remove the concept of scrap metal licensing and, instead, integrate the proposals into the waste management licensing system. I had always sought to link the proposals to the waste management system, as can be seen in my original report on the consultation.

I have to credit the departmental officials for what I consider to be a neater solution than that which I originally brought forward.

I would also like to highlight comments by a police officer giving evidence to the Committee on 15 December, which were recorded by Hansard. He indicated that, two years ago, there was a yard where oil was running into a tributary river and into Lough Erne. He said that that oil was running from the yard to the water two years ago and is still continuing today. It is clear that our current legislation is insufficient when, two years later, the problem still exists and illegal sites that are identified are still trading and polluting. Clearly, increased powers are required to stop those who are profiting at the expense of the environment. I urge Members to support aspects of the Bill to give those additional powers.

I could have quietly simply parked the Bill after Committee Stage, but I believe that, because of the merits of the proposals that have come forward following discussions with the Department, it is important that the Assembly should hear them and consider whether it wishes to adopt all or merely aspects of them.

I turn now to the detail of the amendments and the opposition to clauses 1 to 6. Following departmental discussions and agreeing with officials, I propose the idea of relying on waste management licences, which my opposition to clauses 1 to 6 has brought forward. In doing so, we would minimise costs to the Department and officials who would monitor scrap metal dealers, and there would also be minimal cost, interference and bureaucracy for scrap metal dealers, who would have to deal only with one set of officials and not possibly two. Although I had always intended that, if the Department had written the regulations, they may have been able to deal with one set of officials, I went along with the Department's proposal which makes it very clear that that would be integrated with the waste management system. For similar reasons, I will oppose that schedule 1 stands part of the Bill.

I turn to clause 8, which will require licences to be displayed. That is a rather simple idea. I would have thought that it was uncontroversial. In requiring scrap metal dealers and indeed mobile operators to display their licences, the public would be aware of whether the individual or organisation that they may be trading with had a waste management licence. Surely that is not controversial. At present, the public may not be. With the support of the public by not trading with unlicensed and therefore illegal waste operators, trade could be directed from the cowboys who are often also responsible for damaging the environmen