End of Session Report 1 September 2012 - 31 August 2013

Committee: Assembly and Executive Review Committee

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Tuesday, 19 November 2013

ISBN: Only available online

Remit

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is a Standing Committee established in accordance with Section 29A and 29B of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Standing Order 59 which states:

“(1) There shall be a standing committee of the Assembly to be known as the
Assembly and Executive Review Committee.

(2) The committee may –

(a) exercise the power in section 44(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998;

(b) report from time to time to the Assembly and the Executive Committee.

(3) The committee shall consider –

(a) such matters relating to the operation of the provisions of Parts 3 and 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as enable it to make the report referred to in section 29A(3) of that Act; and

(b) such other matters relating to the functioning of the Assembly or the Executive Committee as may be referred to it by the Assembly.”

Membership

The Committee has eleven members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson with a quorum of five. The membership of the Committee is as follows:

Stephen Moutray (Chairperson)

Pat Sheehan (Deputy Chairperson)

Roy Beggs

Gregory Campbell

Stewart Dickson

Paul Givan

Simon Hamilton

Raymond McCartney

Conall McDevitt

Seán Rogers (1)

Caitríona Ruane (2,3)

1 With effect from 04 March 2013 Mr Seán Rogers replaced Mr John McCallister

2 With effect from 12 September 2011 Mr Pat Doherty replaced Mr Paul Maskey

3 With effect from 10 September 2012 Ms Caitríona Ruane was appointed as a Member

Annual Report 2012-2013

1. This report covers the work of the Committee during the Assembly year 2012-2013, from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013.

2. During the Assembly year session the Committee met 22 times, including 15 times in partly closed session.

3. When the Committee met in partly closed sessions, it was for the purposes of consideration of Committee report conclusions, discussion of options papers, proposals for review, or to receive legal advice.

Key Activities, Outputs and Achievements 2012-2013

Review of the Number of Members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly and on the Reduction in the Number of Northern Ireland Departments: Part 2 - Reduction in the Number of Departments.

4. On 26th June 2012, the Assembly debated and noted the Committee’s Part 1 Report on the Number of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

5. Following the completion of the Part 1 Report, the Committee began work on the Part 2 Report, which related to the Reduction in the Number of Departments.

6. In undertaking the Part 1 Report, the Committee had already agreed the Terms of Reference for the Review, a Stakeholder ‘Call for Evidence’ Paper and a stakeholder list which included all Political Parties registered in NI.

7. The Committee received and considered 21 Stakeholder responses relating to this Part 2 Review, which focused on the fifth key issue set out in the Committee’s ‘Call for Evidence’ Paper, that is:

5) The reduction in the number of NI Government Departments and associated re-allocation of functions which will ensure the effectiveness of the Executive functions are maintained.

How many Departments are required to effectively discharge the current range of devolved functions?

In broad terms, what functions should be grouped in the reduced number of Departments and what factors informed your decisions on grouping functions together in a Department?

8. The Committee considered oral evidence on Key Issue 5 from Professor Rick Wilford (Queens University Belfast) at its meeting of 28 February 2012.

9. Although Members did not reach agreement on how many NI Government Departments there should be, the Committee did agree the underlying objectives, broad areas of commonality within the Committee, and underpinning principles for any reorganisation of Departments.

10. The Report sets out the particular position of the Political Parties represented on the Committee in relation to the Key Issue considered in this Review, and also details the objectives, areas of commonality and underpinning principles for any reorganisation of Departments agreed by the Committee.

11. The Report on the Review was debated in Assembly Plenary on 10 th December 2012, and the Assembly noted the Report. The full report can be accessed at: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Assembly-Business/Committees/Assembly-and-Executive-Review/Reports/

Review of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition

12. Following the completion of the Part 2 Review in November 2012, the Committee agreed that its next priorities for Review were the issues of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition.

13. In August 2012, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland launched a consultation entitled, ‘Consultation on measures to improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly’, one of the key areas of which was “Government and Opposition”.

14. In February 2013, the Secretary of State published a draft version of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was formally introduced in Westminster in May 2013. The Bill did not include any provisions relating to Opposition, with the introduction to the draft legislation stating:

“While the Government would welcome moves towards a system of government and opposition, we remain clear that such changes could only come about with the agreement of parties in the Assembly. In addition, such moves must be consistent with the principles of inclusivity and of power-sharing that are central to the Belfast Agreement. We do not believe that there is sufficient consensus for statutory change at present which is why the draft Bill includes no provision on this issue.

However, the consultation document also drew attention to the possibility of procedural change within the Assembly aimed at providing for a more effective opposition. The Government notes that the Assembly and Executive Review Committee is examining these questions, amongst other institutional issues.”

15. In February 2013, the Committee agreed the Terms of Reference for its Review of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition, a Stakeholder ‘Call for Evidence’ Paper and a stakeholder list that included all Political Parties registered in NI.

16. The Committee received and considered 22 Stakeholder responses to the Review. The Committee heard oral evidence from Professor Derek Birrell, University of Ulster, Professor Yvonne Galligan, Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Christopher McCrudden, University of Oxford, Professor Brendan O’Leary, University of Pennsylvania, Professor Rick Wilford, Queen’s University Belfast, and Dr Robin Wilson and Ms Eileen Cairnduff from Platform for Change.

17. The Committee also visited the Scottish Parliament in April 2013, when Members met representatives of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and the Parliamentary Bureau, in order to inform the Review.

18. The Committee did not reach consensus on ceasing to use/replacing the current D’Hondt system as the mechanism for allocating Ministerial positions or Committee Chairperson/Deputy Chairperson.

19. The Committee concluded that there is no consensus at present to move to a formal Government and Opposition model, such as exists in Westminster. It also concluded that there is no consensus to move from the current opt-out model, whereby Parties can exercise their right to opt-out of taking up their Ministerial post or withdraw from the Executive, based on existing Assembly provisions.

20. However, the Committee did reach some consensus in relation to financial support, speaking rights, speaking order and speaking time, and in relation to a Heads of Agreement of a Programme for Government. Details on these are included in the Report on the Review.

21. The Committee recommended that the facility for technical groups be reviewed.

22. The Committee concluded that there was no consensus for replacement of community designation by, for example, a weighted-majority vote in the Assembly of 65%.

23. Following the evidence that was presented to the Committee regarding Petitions of Concern, the Committee concluded that further detailed work in relation to Petitions of Concern needs to be carried out.

24. The Report on the Review was debated in Assembly Plenary on 2 nd July 2013, and the Assembly noted the Report. The full report can be accessed at: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Assembly-Business/Committees/Assembly-and-Executive-Review/Reports/

Likely Key Priorities for the 2013 – 2014 Session

25. In May 2013, the Committee Chairperson wrote to the leaders of all Political Parties represented in the Assembly and all independent Members, requesting information by on what issue or issues Parties would like to see prioritised for review by AERC in the coming session.

26. Responses were received from the Alliance Party, DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, UKIP, the UUP and the TUV. The Committee discussed these responses at its meeting of 2 July 2013 and agreed to return to the matter at the first meeting following the summer recess. Options for review include the NI Civic Forum and gender equality within the NI Assembly.

27. Another option, following its conclusion in its Report on ‘D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition’, is to undertake further detailed work in relation to Petitions of Concern, as its immediate review for the autumn 2013 session.

Appendix 1

Assembly and Executive Review Committee – Expenditure for the period 1 September 2012 – 31 August 2013

Committee meetings & visits:

Budget area

Details

Expenditure

Printing of Committee Reports

Includes the cost of Committee Reports on:

  • Review of the Size of the Northern Ireland Assembly – Part 2: Reduction in the Number of Departments.
  • Review of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition

£1,971.82

Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to committee inquiries, the committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of public notices in relation to:

  • Review of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition

£615.62

Travel

Includes the cost of Members’, Staff and Expert Witnesses travel in relation to:

  • Review of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition

£1648.29

General expenses

Cost of refreshments for Committee meetings

£650.57

    TOTAL: £4,886.30

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