Official Report: Minutes of Evidence
Assembly and Executive Review Committee, meeting on Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:Mr Pat Sheehan (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Paula Bradley
Mr D Kennedy
Mr S Rogers
Mr A Ross
Ms C Ruane
Mr J McCallister
Witnesses:Mr McCallister, MLA - South Down
Mr Peter Hutchinson, Researcher
Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill: Mr John McCallister MLA, Mr Peter Hutchinson
The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Sheehan): Good morning, John, and good morning, Peter. We are going to try and race through this. We have received a few apologies, and a few people will be late. There was an accident on the M2, I think, and a few people have been held up.
I refer Members to the updated table on page 16 of their packs, which provides a summary of the sponsor's draft proposed amendments and the Committee’s view on each of the 24 clauses which were considered at the meeting on 1 December 2015. The schedule to the Bill is on pages 61-80 of those packs. At this stage the Committee is being asked not to formally agree or reject the schedule but to advise if further information is required, or indeed, if a Committee amendment is sought. Formal clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill will take place in January. At its meeting on 17 November, the Committee had agreed that it would complete its deliberations on the Bill prior to political parties submitting their responses.
Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the schedule set out the scope of Assembly and Executive reform motions. Whilst stakeholders were content with this, a query was raised as to whether the scope should be restricted to the rights of parties/groups not in the Executive. Daniel Greenberg also suggests that this motion, as provided for under clause 13, is unnecessary as the Assembly is entitled to pass motions about things that are clearly outside its competence. A summary of the stakeholder responses can be found on page 61 of the electronic pack.
I will give members a minute or two to think about that and whether or not they have any views in respect of paragraphs 1 and 2 and whether they wish John to provide clarification.
Ms Ruane: I think we have put it on record already, but I will put it on record again: we will not go into each individual amendment. We believe it can be done without legislation. It has been a useful discussion, John, and we were happy to let it go to Committee Stage, but I am just putting on record our position. We believe the Fresh Start Agreement is the way to go. We do not see the need for your Bill — we can do most of it in Standing Orders.
The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Sheehan): Do Members wish to request that a Committee amendment be drafted to paragraphs 1 and 2? No? OK.
We will move on to paragraphs 3 to 6 of the schedule. These paragraphs provide for the replacement of cross-community support with weighted majority voting. The majority of stakeholders raised concerns about this, including the Speaker, the Human Rights commission and Professors McCrudden and Schwartz. A summary of the responses can be found on page 62 of the electronic pack. Members may wish to note the suggested amendment by Professor Cochrane and Dr Loizides on page 64. Have Members any views in respect of paragraphs 3 to 6 that they wish John to give clarification on? No? You could have an easy morning here, John. Would anyone like an amendment to these paragraphs? No?
I will move on to paragraph 7 of the schedule. This paragraph requests measures to make the Speaker more independent and above party politics. Members may wish to note the stakeholder comments on page 65 of the pack. Members may also wish to note the amendments brought forward by Mr McCallister on pages 66 to 67 of the table. Have Members any views with respect to paragraph 7, or do they wish to seek any clarification from John on his proposed amendments? Does anyone wish the Committee to draft an amendment? No? OK.
Paragraph 8 of the schedule provides for the First Minister and deputy First Minister to be renamed as "the First Ministers". Members may wish to note the oral evidence from Professor Coakley, which highlights the fact that a device will have to be found to distinguish between the two Ministers. A summary of the stakeholder responses can be found on page 67. Does anyone have any views with respect to paragraph 8 or want clarification from the sponsor? No? Does anyone wish an amendment to be drafted?
We move to paragraph 9 of the schedule. This paragraph requests that section 28A of the NI Act 1998 relating to the ministerial code include the provision that Ministers uphold the principle of collective responsibility. Stakeholders highlighted concerns, particularly in relation to the regulation of this and the potential for a code of conduct to be produced. A summary of the stakeholder responses can be found on page 69 of the electronic pack. Do any Members have any views, or does anyone wish to see clarification? Does anyone wish to request that a Committee amendment be drafted? No? OK.
We will move to paragraph 10 of the schedule. This paragraph requests that a threshold be set for the nomination of a Minister. Members may wish to note the comments from Professors McCrudden and Schwartz stating that this would needlessly tamper with the working of the d'Hondt formula. A summary of the responses can be found on page 71 of the pack. Does anyone wish to express any views or seek clarification? Does anyone wish to have a Committee amendment drafted? No? OK.
Paragraph 11 provides that nomination of Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons forms part of the same process as the nomination of ministerial offices. A summary of the stakeholder responses can be found on page 73. Are there any views on that? Does anyone wish to request a Committee amendment? No? OK.
Paragraph 12 makes provision for a Member leaving the opposition and joining the Executive. Stakeholders are generally content with this paragraph. A summary of the responses can be found on page 74. Are there any views on this, or does anyone want clarification? Would anyone like a Committee amendment drafted?
Paragraph 13 provides that the Executive set out a Programme for Government at the outset. Stakeholder comments on this schedule can be found on page 75. Does anyone have any views? Does anyone want clarification, or would anyone like to have the Committee draft an amendment?
Under paragraph 14, a motion may request that the function of Statutory Committees is focused on scrutinising rather than assisting and advising Ministers. Members may wish to note the concerns and the proposed amendment from the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. A summary of all the responses can be found on pages 78-79. Does anyone have any views on this, or would they like clarification?
Mr Kennedy: You are going to take that on board yourself, basically.
Mr McCallister: I can do, or if the Committee wants to do it I am happy either way.
The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Sheehan): Under paragraph 15, a motion may request that any Budget under section 64 of the NI Act 1998 be approved by simple majority. Professor Birrell urged that strong justification was needed for a special rule. Members may also wish to note the response on this clause from the sponsor, on page 80 of the table. Do Members have any views, or do they want clarification of this from John? Would anyone like to have a Committee amendment drafted? No?
John, that is us finished on that business — short and sweet.