Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Thursday, 11 October 2007

Libraries Bill

11 October 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Paul Maskey
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

This section of the meeting will comprise a review of the evidence collected to date on the Libraries Bill, with the aim of the Committee’s coming to an agreement on the position that it intends to take on various clauses when Minister Edwin Poots gives evidence at next week’s meeting.

Independent legal advice, relating to staff transfers in schedule 2 to the Libraries Bill, was mentioned at the Committee meeting on 27 September. The Committee Clerk raised the issue informally with the Director of Legal Services. She advised the director that at the meeting on 4 October, an official from the departmental solicitor’s office (DSO) said that in light of NIPSA’s proposed amendments, he was prepared to review again the provision in schedule 2 to the Bill. The official said also that it would be helpful if he could have sight of the full legal opinion that NIPSA had received from senior counsel.

The Committee agreed to ask NIPSA to make available a copy of the legal opinion, which, when received, will be forwarded to the Department for onward transmission to the DSO official. When the DSO official has communicated final views on the matter, the Committee will be better placed to decide what — if any — legal advice is required from Assembly Legal Services on the interpretation of schedule 2.

The Committee Clerk:

This morning, I received from NIPSA the letter from Frank O’Donoghue QC. The letter provides all the evidence that NIPSA referred to when it gave evidence to the Committee.

Mr McNarry:

I welcome the fact that we have Frank O’Donoghue’s letter, because we can now look at it in conjunction with the evidence that we received from NIPSA. However, why we are giving it to the Department is slightly beyond me. Why are we doing the Department’s work? I seem to recall two things — although I need to be sure that my recollection is correct, so if it is wrong someone can pull me up on that. First, the legal gentleman who came to the Committee — and whose name eludes me — said that he had not had any discussions on the legal side of the situation.

However, he was quite adamant that he was right and everyone else was wrong. Despite not having had any meetings with him, he said also that he understood that Mr O’Donoghue had altered his opinion somewhat since drafting the letter to his clients. The letter from Mr O’Donoghue to NIPSA’s solicitors is dated 2 February. We need to know whether Mr O’Donoghue’s opinion has altered, because we have a legal man telling us in an evidence session that he understands — and we have to take people on trust — that it has altered. He was not able to substantiate that assertion, but it is now in the mix.

Therefore, if Mr O’Donoghue’s opinion has altered, how crucial is that to the Committee? In other words, is it wise or safe for us to consider the opinion that the Committee was given as being the endgame? Do we need to check whether Mr O’Donoghue has altered his opinion? On the basis of what he had heard and understood, the legal man did not give any indication that Mr O’Donoghue was either more right than he was or less wrong than he was. The situation is too grey for me.

The Principal Committee Clerk:

Certainly, we will check straight away whether there have been any changes to the document containing Mr O’Donoghue’s opinion. If there have not been any changes, a reasonable way forward would be to present the advice to the departmental solicitor’s office. Given that DSO commissioned the legislation, it is right to give its officials the opportunity to comment on it.

If there have been any changes, either we will inform the departmental solicitor’s office or we will ask the Department to inform the departmental solicitor’s office. Only when the departmental solicitor’s office responds will we be in a position to ask our legal advisers whether they are content with any dispute that has arisen between the two parties. We will check out fully whether any changes or amendments have been made to the document.

The Chairperson:

It is my understanding that the document has not been altered. The name of the official from the departmental solicitor’s office is Mr Noel Kelly, but that will also be checked.

Mr McNarry:

That information was recorded in a previous Hansard report. Until we have that information, we cannot consider the issue properly. If the Committee finds that it needs independent legal opinion, whom would it approach? Would we approach the same people who are providing the Department with legal advice or would we look elsewhere? Can we look elsewhere, because that seems to be the direction in which we are heading?

Mr Bradley:

On page 10 of the document at tab 4, there is a report of Mr Kelly’s evidence. He said that:

“There are two differing legal opinions, and I am fully prepared to reconsider the issue.”

The Chairperson:

He is prepared to reconsider the issue?

Mr Bradley:

Yes. He says also:

“I will reconsider each of the issues that have been raised.”

Mr McNarry:

Dominic is right. I cannot see any movement for the minds of Frank O’Donoghue and Mr Kelly to meet.

Mr Bradley:

At that stage, he says also:

“The opinion of Frank O’Donoghue QC has not been disclosed to me, but John Corey has indicated what he said.”

That reflects accurately what Mr Kelly said last week — that he was prepared to reconsider the issue and that he had respect for Mr O’Donoghue’s views.

Mr Shannon:

If the Committee refers the matter to the legal advisers for consideration, will their opinion come back to the Committee?

The Chairperson:

Yes.

Mr Shannon:

I wanted to ensure that that would happen.

The Principal Committee Clerk:

Frank O’Donoghue’s advice will be copied to the Department, which will forward it to the departmental solicitor’s office. DSO will respond by stating whether or not it agrees with the advice and by giving reasons if it does not agree. That opinion will come back to the Committee. At that point, the Committee will be free to take further, independent legal advice on any outstanding issues by liaising with the Assembly’s in-house Director of Legal Services. Therefore, if required, the Committee has access to independent legal advice.

Mr McNarry:

As a final word on that matter, I am uncomfortable with the Committee’s copying Mr O’Donoghue’s letter of advice to the Department. The Department should get its own copy. If it is prepared to consider the advice, why do its officials not get off their backsides and ask for it? I would vote against the Committee’s sending Frank O’Donoghue’s letter to the Department. Let the Department go its own way and get its own advice. By sending our advice to the Department, the Committee will be sucked into a situation in which it has both asked for and supplied evidence. It is not a clean process.

Mr D Bradley:

If the Committee disagrees with Mr Kelly and has access to another opinion, it would be churlish not to pass that on. NIPSA is Mr O’Donaghue’s client; therefore, the Committee might be the only conduit that is capable of supplying Mr Kelly with the information that he needs.

Mr McNarry:

In that case, we should ascertain whether NIPSA is happy for us to pass on a document that it submitted to the Committee.

The Chairperson:

We have that understanding from NIPSA. However, if David wishes to record his dissatisfaction with the notion of forwarding —

Mr McNarry:

I am dissatisfied, and I want to make that clear.

The Chairperson:

Members should now give their attention to the web article, which was sent to the Committee by Ms Julie Mapstone, who works for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Ms Mapstone has highlighted paragraph 3, which states that libraries:

“more than doubled their book spend for the second year running”.

Mr McCausland:

The article suggests that things are wonderful; however, the background is that over the past few years, the amount of money given to libraries has remained unchanged, increased slightly or, in some cases, decreased. In certain years, because it could not get money from anywhere else, the Library Service took money from the book fund in order to spend it on buildings and staff. Staff levels have been cut to the bone; therefore, there is a little bit of extra money for books. The sentiment of the article is disappointing — it is spin of the highest order. Total library expenditure has certainly not gone up.

However, there is no point in fighting with anyone about library spend — no one would listen.

The Chairperson:

You have vented your spleen on the matter.

Members should now refer to the chief executive designate’s reply to the Committee’s request for an update on staff recruitment and the notion of developing a sub-regional structure for the new library authority.

Mr McCausland:

The letter states that the proposed sub-regional structure would, in practice, equate to having an area manager. The person who was to fulfil that role would go to any local community-planning meetings.

The Chairperson:

That can be noted for now.

Mr McNarry:

I have a comment to make — I am sorry if I sound like I got out of the wrong side of bed this morning, but my day was going well until I arrived here.

Mr Shannon:

I thought that that was every morning, David.

Mr Brolly:

His bed only has one side.

Mr McCausland:

David’s bed has two wrong sides.

Mr McNarry:

To get out of the other side, I would have to climb over the wife. [Laughter.]

I cannot believe that a body that does not deserve the title “designate”, has now got a fancy title, which is the Northern Ireland library authority implementation team. It has an office and so on, and the chief executive designate has written to the Committee. I cannot believe that recruitment is being carried out for that body.

The Chairperson:

It is also setting up a temporary headquarters.

Mr McNarry:

This will come back and bite us; and that is crap.

The Chairperson:

Your views have been well noted. You have made them known on more than one occasion.

Members should know that we will be having a working meeting with the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure next week. It was thought originally that there would be time for the Assembly Research and Library Service to brief the Committee on its background paper on the Bill, which was provided to members during the meeting of 13 September 2007. I draw members’ attention to that.

However, given that we are also receiving a briefing next week from the Department on the budget process, there may not be sufficient time to allocate 30 minutes for a presentation on the background paper. Do members wish to receive a briefing on the background paper at another time?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

I want to draw members’ attention to the issues that have been raised by witnesses and the Committee during the course of the evidence sessions, along with the response from the Department, which we heard last week. I remind members that the Committee needs to agree its position on each of those issues and decide whether we want to attempt to persuade the Minister to make amendments to the Bill. It was great to discover that, sometimes, Committees can persuade Ministers to make amendments on their behalf before Bills go to the House.

It is best to discuss each issue systematically. I want to examine clause 2 of the Bill — “Duty of Authority to provide library service”. If we cannot add value, and if we are content, we will move on. The Chartered Institute of Library Information Professionals was concerned that the term “comprehensive and efficient” is not included in clause 2. It also suggested that the clause should make reference to the standards set out in the document ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’.

Last week, departmental officials said that if standards were included in legislation, the Department would have to go through the whole legislative process in order to upgrade or amend them. The officials said that using the term “comprehensive and efficient” would not be particularly meaningful, and that it has set out what it means by “a comprehensive service” in clause 2(2)(a). However, the officials also said that they would be prepared to reconsider the issue.

I draw members’ attention to the memo from Julie Mapstone, which reinforces the points that she made at the evidence session. The memo states that:

“It was considered inappropriate to legislate for efficiency. The service will be measured via the standards set out in Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries and through additional targets which may be set from time to time,”

It seems reasonable not to include standards in legislation, as they can change with time. For example, on a different subject, charges for fishing licences are not included in primary legislation because they change through time and are, therefore, dealt with under secondary legislation.

Are members content with the Department’s position on that issue? Do members want to ask the Minister to include the phrase “comprehensive and efficient”, or to specify standards in clause 2? That would run contrary to the advice from the Department. Do members wish to further question the Minister on this clause?

Mr McNarry:

There was good reason for the term “comprehensive and efficient” to be included in the Bill, mainly because we are the legislators; we will not write the Bill, but we, or whoever follows us, will be the fall guys for anything that goes wrong.

If one is to believe the leaks that are coming from another Committee, which deals with water, the amazing figure of 40% efficiency savings will be used as a means to pay for that Department’s proposals. An efficiency saving of 40% seems to be immense, and if you were to ask the electorate, their major criticism would be focused on the efficiency of the system and the civil servants and people who service the Assembly. I am keen to keep the word “efficient” in the Bill because if we take a backward step on efficiency, we will slide.

Mr Brolly:

People referred to operational matters outside the legislation, and that should have been raised at the time. I have made the point about whether the new library authority should be an institution or an operation. Fundamentally, we want a library operation. We have all expressed concern that the proposed centralised library authority might live in an ivory tower and that it would be clinical, losing touch with the people who most need the service. Operational matters should definitely be part of the legislation. The absence of the words “comprehensive and efficient” from the legislation cannot be used as an excuse for operational matters not being covered.

The Chairperson:

From time to time, the Department advises the Committee that certain matters will be covered in the rules of operation. David McNarry and Francie Brolly want “comprehensive and efficient” written into the legislation.

Mr McCausland:

I support that.

My other point is on the suggestion that the standards that are set out in ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’ should be drafted into the Bill. I accept that the legislation would have to be changed to reflect basics, such as targets. Is there a halfway house that allows a mechanism for the Assembly to have influence over standards so that they cannot be arbitrarily changed by the library authority, without its taking the Assembly’s views into account?

Mr D Bradley:

In its response, the Department said:

“Having to legislate for efficiency is a little strange, because one would expect that to be monitored anyway.”

Are there any indications of how efficiency will be monitored? The Committee needs to know the answer to that.

The Chairperson:

The Department said that it will judge efficiency against the standards set out in ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’ and through additional targets, which may be set from time to time. That is not a firm answer. Do you have a question for the Minister?

Mr D Bradley:

How will efficiency be monitored, and by whom? Education, for example, is monitored by the Education and Training Inspectorate, which is independent from the Department of Education. That can give an objective view of what is happening in schools and colleges.

The Chairperson:

Does that inspectorate have any jurisdiction over Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure matters?

Mr D Bradley;

Only in as far as that a school library can be assessed as part of a school inspection. The inspectorate can assess the range of books available, how often the library is used by pupils and how well it supports learning in the school.

Mr McCausland:

My question for the Minister is: is there some way of having influence over changes that might be made to the standards? Dominic Bradley’s point is about how the standards will be measured.

Mr D Bradley:

My question is: how will the standards monitored and by whom?

The Chairperson:

Those questions will inform the Committee’s approach to its engagement with the Minister next week. Are we happy to move on to clause 3?

Mr McNarry:

As we are going through the Bill line by line, can I ask you to re-cap what we are happy with when we decide that we are happy with it?

The Chairperson:

I will do that: we will ask the Department to include the words “comprehensive and efficient” in the Bill; and Committee staff will capture the spirit of the questions that we are raising today to ensure that we ask them of the Minister next week. Do members agree that we want the term “comprehensive and efficient” to be included in the Bill?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

NIPSA was concerned that clause 3 might not allow the library authority to co-operate with other bodies. Last week, the Department said that the legislation allows the library authority to make partnership arrangements as it sees fit; NIPSA disagreed. In response to a question raised by Nelson, the Department said that independent libraries, like the Linen Hall Library, would still be able to apply to the Department for funding. I refer to Julie Mapstone’s memo. She explained that clause 2(3) of the Bill gives the library authority the power to co-operate with other bodies and to develop partnership arrangements. That includes the Linen Hall Library. For information, that library is a private subscription library, which operates under a scheme framed under the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Act 1885, a very archaic piece of legislation.

Mr McCausland:

It is an archaic place.

The Chairperson:

Clause 8 gives the Department power to continue paying grants for library services provided outside the library authority. That would include the Linen Hall Library.

Mr McCausland:

That is fine.

The Chairperson:

Are any members of the Committee collectors for the Linen Hall Library? I know some people who collect for it; Councillor Tom Hartley does.

Mr McCausland:

He has made a collection for it; a very large and sad collection.

The Chairperson:

Are members content with Department’s position on the issue? Do members wish to ask the Minister to amend the clause or are they happy to move on. I see that members are happy to move on.

Clause 4 gives libraries the power of authority to undertake commercial activities. The Chartered Institute of Library Professionals was concerned that clause 4 implies that libraries will be judged on their commercial success. Last week, the Department said that this provision is included in the current legislation and that it is not a new thing. It explained that it allowed the libraries to sell local books or to run coffee shops. The Department confirmed that the performance of libraries will not be measured by reference to their commercial activities. That seems a reasonable explanation.

Are members content with the Department’s position on this issue?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Clause 6 refers to charges for certain library services. All the witnesses were concerned that clause 6 does not guarantee free core library services. Some suggested that core services should be defined in the clause. In relation to clause 6(2), NIPSA was concerned that there was scope for discrimination if different people were charged different costs, depending on their locality or circumstances. I remember that you posed that question, Dominic.

Mr D Bradley:

Yes.

The Chairperson:

Last week, the Department said that the legislation was intended to simplify the existing statutory provision for charging. It pointed to the explanatory and financial memorandum of the Bill, which states that core services will remain free of charge. The Department said that it would consider amending the clause and asked the Committee to suggest proposed wording. I refer members to an extract from the current legislation, which deals with charging for library services. It specifies where charges can be made. The Department’s proposed legislation turns that around, specifying where charges cannot be made.

Do any members wish to propose alternative wording or a different approach?

Mr McCarthy:

My recollection is that all the witnesses thought that the wording was not strong enough, and even the Department’s officials appeared to agree with that. I do not have alternative wording. However, if any other member has a strong wording, he should suggest it.

The Chairperson:

You want it specified in the Bill that “core services shall be free.”

Mr McCarthy:

Absolutely. No messing about.

The Chairperson:

Yes, Kieran, you have quizzed every witness on that point.

Mr McCausland:

The best form of words was produced by the witness from the Chartered Institute of Library Professionals.

The Chairperson:

We will have look at that evidence and form of words in order to incorporate Kieran’s sentiment. Are members agreed that we take that approach?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The Department offered an explanation for different charges for different persons’ circumstances and localities. The Department said that that reflects current practice, whereby, for example, senior citizens and children do not pay fines, whereas adults do. However, the Department could not provide an explanation for why people in different localities would be charged differently. The Department agreed to come back to the Committee on that matter.

I refer Members to the memo from Julie Mapstone. Julie explains that in respect of locality, some public libraries have rooms that are let to the community for meetings and events, charges may differ depending on the size of the room, the demand in a particular area and whether the users are from commercial or voluntary bodies.

Mr D Bradley:

Should a regional library authority not have regional charges?

Mr McCausland:

In Belfast, a library in, for example, Ligoniel would charge a different rate for the hiring of a room than would Belfast Central Library, which could charge more because of its city-centre location, and the increased value added by that location. Therefore, flexibility is important.

Mr D Bradley:

New ageism legislation may be relevant in regard to not charging fines for children and senior citizens. For example, the Southern Regional College has increased its fees because it is not allowed to charge pensioners less except on the basis of the benefits that they are in receipt of. Given that that legislation applies to the Southern Regional College, would that not also be applicable in this instance?

The Chairperson:

That is a good question which will be recorded and put to the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure during next weeks’ meeting.

Mr Shannon:

To elaborate on Dominic’s point, it would be wise to have a Province-wide charging system. Nelson’s point is valid: hiring a small room or a large room will incur different charges. Is there a way to implement a Province-wide charging system that is in proportion to the size of the rooms that are to be hired? Is there the scope for a system that would be the same whether in Londonderry, Newry, Strabane or Newtownards? Charges must be similar across the Province.

The Chairperson:

Do you take Nelson’s point about charging differently for rooms in Belfast?

Mr Shannon:

Yes.

Mr McCausland:

The rental of an office in Belfast city centre is more expensive per square foot than in somewhere such as Ballysillan. There must be flexibility because otherwise money may be lost.

The Chairperson:

Do you accept that, Jim?

Mr Shannon:

That puts a different light on the matter. The situation in the centre of Belfast will be different to that in Ballywalter.

Mr Maskey:

It is a difficult issue. The charge could not be calculated per square foot because that could not be written into legislation. A library should set out standard charges from an early stage. However, those charges would go up on a yearly basis; therefore a certain degree of flexibility should be included.

Mr McCausland:

There is the competition factor: if someone wants to rent public space in a library in Belfast city centre, he or she has the choice of the Linen Hall Library or Belfast Central Library, and there will be competition between those two for certain events. The money will go back into the library, so its users will benefit, and it is not in the libraries’ interest to charge themselves out of the market, so librarians should be trusted in that regard.

Mr Shannon:

It may be possible to put like with like: similar charges for a library in Strabane and a library in Newtownards would make sense; it would not make sense to charge the same for a library in Belfast and one in Ballywalter — where there is no library, of course. A library in the centre of Belfast could not be compared with a library in Newtownards or in Strabane.

Mr D Bradley:

Are there plans for a library in Ballywalter?

Mr Shannon:

Not that I am aware of.

The Chairperson:

Do you want it written into the legislation that there should be a library in Ballywalter?

Mr Shannon:

No, I will not make that claim.

The Chairperson:

If there are no issues regarding the different wording then we will move on, however, questions will put to the Minister next week.

Schedule 1 to the Libraries Bill concerns membership of the library authority. The majority of witnesses agreed that a board of between seven and 14 members was too small. Witnesses were concerned that the Libraries Bill did not require elected representatives or unions to be represented, or to be on the board, and that geographical representation was not assured.

Last week, the Department said that the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments has a tendency to recommend smaller boards, which is advice that the Department is following. The Department explained that the library authority will not need many subcommittees. However, it said that the Minister is prepared to reconsider the number of board members. Does the Committee feel that there should be more board members than the current provision of between seven and 14?

Lord Browne:

Although the board should be kept small, the suggested number of members is too small. I recommend approximately 20 members, but do not recommend expanding the numbers much more; otherwise, they would affect effective efficiency.

Mr K Robinson:

I agree with that. I have been a member of an education and library board, like yourself, and know the subcommittees that are set up, which put quite a strain on members, particularly if they are trying to cover a wide geographical area or, as in this case, a sub-regional area. I agree with Wallace’s recommendation of roughly 20. I feel strongly that elected representatives and union representatives should be on the board. I am worried about “the great and the good” from the public appointments point of view, but the number of those people available must be running out.

The Chairperson:

Maybe some of those people are on several bodies.

Mr D Bradley:

At last week’s Committee meeting, when I asked Ms Mapstone whether she had any evidence that smaller boards were more effective and efficient, she said that there was no evidence to that effect.

Mr McCarthy:

I support what Wallace said; the board should be a bit bigger because, as members know, it is difficult to get a quorum in any situation. Also, elected representatives should be on the board.

Mr McNarry:

What category of elected representatives do Committee members mean?

Mr K Robinson:

I meant elected representatives at council level, including those from the new councils in whatever form that they take. I certainly did not mean folk from this august Assembly.

The Chairperson:

We are talking about members of local government authorities.

Mr McNarry:

I thought that that was what was meant. Any changes to local government through RPA must be considered.

Mr McCausland:

I am fully supportive of that proposal. If a 20-member board is opted for, how many members from local authorities should there be, and how would they be selected?

Mr K Robinson:

That issue was touched on before, and we thought that a body such as Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) could co-ordinate the selection process.

The Chairperson:

The Committee will conclude on the matter in a second. Ken, will you think about formally wording an insert for the Bill about elected representatives and unions representatives being on the board?

The Department said that advertisement and criteria for board members would ensure that appointments were based on merit, and would specify the experience required. The Department also said that it will try to attract applications from a wide range of people. The Committee has suggested that the Department includes a clause, which states that the board must be totally reflective of society, as is the case in the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission. The Department said that it would consider that.

Does the Committee want the requirement that the board reflects the composition of society to be written into the Bill? Also, does the Committee want the requirement of elected representative and union representation on the board to be expressly included in the Bill?

Mr K Robinson:

I support a requirement for elected representatives and union representatives to be on the board. I have a difficulty with what constitutes being reflective of society; sometimes I see bodies that certainly do not represent society in my area.

Mr McCausland:

I favour the idea of the board being reflective of society. The problem is that these boards take reflective to mean getting representatives from east and west of the Bann, who are protestant and catholic, and are male and female, and leave it at that.

Mr K Robinson:

It finishes up as a strange box.

Mr McCausland:

As the composition of these bodies is usually made up of “the great and the good”, the east-of-the-Bann representation tends to solely consist of people who live in North Down. Given the cultural nature of this body — the cultural importance of libraries has been stressed — it should reflect the cultural diversity of Northern Ireland, and not end up filled with middle-class and upper-middle-class Anglo-Irish types from North Down.

The Chairperson:

Could you be clearer? [Laughter.]

Mr D Bradley:

Would you like to name those people?

The Chairperson:

Is this Committee a North-Down-MLA free zone? [Laughter.]

Mr McNarry:

Sometimes, where I live is included in North Down.

Mr McCausland:

That is because you are a snob. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

Do you speak for Peter Weir on the matter?

Mr McNarry:

Yes. [Laughter.]

Mr McCausland:

He attempts to speak for Peter Weir.

Mr D Bradley:

All areas will be represented, except North Down.

Mr McCausland:

Precisely; all areas will be represented, except North Down.

The Chairperson:

We are agreed on the need for elected representative and union representation on the board. We will have to consider further whether the clause should include reference to the fact that the board must be fully reflective of society.

Mr Shannon:

That would obviously include rural areas. Nelson’s point is very valid, and many of the representatives of the boards made that point when they appeared before the Committee. Those of us who represent rural areas are very conscious of that as well. It is important that the rural community is not forgotten about to the advantage of urban dwellers. I mean no offence to those who live in urban areas, but it is important that we ensure that there is a balance.

Mr K Robinson:

In particular, the Southern Education and Library Board seemed to be very fearful of that happening, and I can understand its concerns.

The Chairperson:

Of course, the Western Education and Library Board would cover a very rural area, too.

Mr McNarry:

I have a suggestion that I feel would be useful, and I wonder whether the Committee would agree. Could there be some form of user representation on the new board? Many such boards do not have any user representation.

Mr McCausland:

Any councillor who would sit on it would be a user.

Mr McNarry:

That may be so, but I am thinking in particular of the elderly, who frequently use libraries. It would be nice for them to have a voice.

Mr D Bradley:

The Committee may recall that, some time ago, I asked whether there was any representative body for library users. I believe that the Committee Clerk reported back that there was not. Therefore, that might create a difficulty.

The Chairperson:

Were you surprised that there was no such body?

Mr D Bradley:

Yes, I was. I thought that there would have been a group that represented readers and library users.

Mr Brolly:

Could the new library authority consider setting up such a group? That would be useful to the authority for the purposes of consultation — it could consult the group on issues — and for the purposes of information-gathering.

Mr McNarry:

That would be very useful.

Mr McCausland:

The number of people who actually attend meetings of consultative panels is small. For example, we have such a panel in Belfast, and although over 40 people may be invited to attend a panel meeting, we are lucky if four turn up.

The Chairperson:

There needs to be emphasis on getting feedback from users in some way or another.

Mr McNarry:

Such a group would provide a means of channelling users’ complaints and requests. As elected representatives, we hear from users that their local library service does not supply such and such. It would be better if there were a voice to represent those views. I take Dominic’s point, but it would be better if such a voice could be found.

Mr McCausland:

I know that this is an operational matter, but one approach might be for the library authority or local library service to hold meetings with users in a given area twice a year. The readers could be invited to attend that meeting when they come in to borrow their books. That situation would be easy to manage.

The Chairperson:

I feel that if departmental officials were present, they would suggest that that be put in the explanatory and financial memorandum, where the rules of operation are listed. It would not be linked to —

Mr McCausland:

I am not suggesting that for a moment.

Mr McNarry:

My constituency office is beside Newtownards Library, and we get a lot of people coming in —

Mr Shannon:

Looking for books. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

You hear people’s views.

Mr McNarry:

They are looking for the truth.

The Chairperson:

That is valuable.

Let us move on to paragraph 1 of schedule 3, which refers to “Tenure of office.” NIPSA stated that the chair of the board should only be allowed to hold that office for a maximum of two terms. Last week, the Department said that it agreed with that. However, it feels that the matter should not necessarily be included in the legislation; rather it believes that it should be included under the rules of operation for the board. Is that adequate?

Mr McCausland:

Will the library authority draw up its own rules of operation or will the Department draw up those rules?

The Chairperson:

We will have to record that question. It is another query about who will do what.

Members will note that paragraph 6 of schedule 1 to the Bill deals with secondments. NIPSA was concerned that the legislation might permit secondments from the Civil Service only, and that it would exclude the schools’ library service and the education and skills authority. Last week, the Department pointed out that paragraph 5(1)(b) of schedule 1 permits the authority to have such employees as it sees fit to have, which includes seconded staff as well as direct recruits.

The Department also highlighted clause 8(1) of schedule 1, which permits the authority to provide assistance to persons as it sees fit. The Department clearly stated that there is no attempt in the legislation to deny secondments, particularly from the education side and the schools’ library service. The Department explained that Civil Service secondments are specified because they may not have been allowable otherwise.

As that appears to clarify the legislation on secondments, are members happy to move on?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Schedule 2 deals with staff transfer schemes, and I remind members of our earlier discussions on seeking a final view from the departmental solicitor’s office. Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the explanatory and financial memorandum detail the start-up costs and estimated savings involved. Many witnesses were concerned that the start-up costs are inadequate and that the Department has overestimated the savings that can be made. Last week, the Department did not adequately explain how the figures for start-up costs or savings were calculated.

The Committee wrote to the Department seeking detailed answers, and I understand that its response is due tomorrow. I suggest that members await that before deciding to pursue the issue of costs with the Minister. Members who are not content with that response may wish to ask the Minister to amend the explanatory and financial memorandum to provide a more realistic estimate of costs and savings.

Mr D Bradley:

Did you skip a page? Did we cover all the points on the staff transfer scheme?

The Chairperson:

Yes, I think so, but tell me why you think otherwise, Dominic.

Mr D Bradley:

I do not remember covering all those points.

The Chairperson:

I moved through them swiftly because I have a time-management plan for the rest of the meeting, but let me know if something jumps out at you.

Mr D Bradley:

We need to cover some of the legal issues.

Mr K Robinson:

Further to Dominic’s point, we do not want to sleepwalk into creating a situation similar to that of the classroom assistants at some stage in the future. Therefore, when we revisit the staff transfer scheme and related issues, we must be extremely careful not to set a precedent that could hang, draw and quarter one group or advantage another. We went through the staff transfer scheme fairly quickly, and, therefore, we must revisit it.

The Chairperson:

I agree. Given that much has already been said about reaching a proper conclusion on the legal advice, it is an extremely difficult area. However, we agreed earlier to revisit the matter, as Ken and Dominic suggest.

Mr McNarry:

As two items — the legal report and start-up costs — have been identified as requiring further discussion, it may be prudent to suggest that the Committee does so before meeting the Minister. I cannot understand why the Department’s reply will arrive tomorrow, given that its officials know that the Committee is meeting today, and I find that unsatisfactory.

All the witnesses who were questioned on the subject made it clear that they did not consider the start-up costs to be adequate, and that will become a major issue. Therefore, if you permit it, Chairperson, we should meet earlier to go through whatever correspondence we receive from the Department as a Committee, rather than as individuals.

If we have evidence that the new authority cannot be established for the cost estimated in the Bill, we would be foolish to state that we will proceed with it — and the evidence of everyone that we have asked is overwhelming. It is a major issue, particularly because we are heading towards the Budget. Are we to allow a Minister to submit bids and compile budgets on the basis that we, as a Committee, do not think that he has enough money? It seems that the Executive do not have enough money to do anything.

The Chairperson:

What do you suggest is the way forward?

Mr McNarry:

The jury is out on the subject, because we do not have the necessary information. Can we meet half an hour earlier next week, before our meeting with the Minister, to come to a conclusion, as a Committee, on costs?

The Chairperson:

OK. That is what we will do.

On David’s point about discussing certain issues “in Committee”, I am disinclined to go down that route. An open Committee is open to the public.

Mr McNarry:

I meant that the Committee should gather earlier. I do not want to remove the issues from the public domain, or from Hansard. Perhaps Hansard’s services can be arranged for that earlier meeting too.

The Chairperson:

Thank you. That is fine; let us move on.

The need for an advisory council to the authority is not in the Bill. The Library and Information Services Council suggested that an advisory council should be established to support the authority. Last week, the Department said that it had considered that option, but that creating a separate body would involve considerable expense and that it would have recurrent costs. The Department suggested that a better option would be for the library authority to develop strong links with other public library services, as detailed. That seems to be a cost effective solution. Members will note also that only the Library and Information Services Council suggested establishing an advisory council. Are members happy to move on?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The timing of creating a library authority is also not in the Bill. Members and witnesses are concerned about the timing of creating a new authority, particularly in relation to the establishment of the education and skills authority and staff morale.

Last week, the Department said that the Minister will discuss the matter with the Committee when he comes to give evidence on Thursday 18 October. What are members’ views on the timing issue? When does the Committee think that the library authority should be established? That could be as soon as practically possible or at the same time as the education and skills authority. Are there any views on that?

Mr McNarry:

We need to tie that down. The Minister must tell us his view, and we can decide whether we agree with him. To leave the issue hanging in the air does not seem sensible to me. The Committee must consider RPA, the Budget and the many pressing issues that will come on top of that issue.

At one stage, the Minister indicated to the Committee that he would establish the authority, and it was not very important. Suddenly, he sped the matter up. There must be a reason why he is pressing ahead so quickly. It is probably because he is spending money on employing people in an authority that does not yet exist and for goodness knows what other reasons.

The Committee needs to tie him down. It is not for the Committee to stipulate when it wants the authority to be established. We need to ask the Minister when he is going to do it, and we can decide whether that is right or wrong.

Mr D Bradley:

It is probably impossible to synchronise the establishment of the library authority and the education and skills authority. It seems to be desirable that the two bodies be established in as close a time frame to each other as possible.

The Chairperson:

OK. The Committee can raise the matter again next week. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Links with the schools library service and the Department of Education are not in the Bill. Some witnesses and members were concerned that literacy and life-long learning programmes would be impaired by splitting the public library service from the Department of Education. There was also concern that the links with the schools library service would be endangered.

Last week, the Department said that it was in regular contact with the Department of Education on issues relating to the creation of the library authority and the education and skills authority to ensure a common approach to staff transfer. Officials said that in relation to links between the library service and the Department of Education on, for example, the Bookstart programme, the Department would ensure that services continue and that service-level agreements could be established with the education and skills authority. Are members content with that response? Do members wish to press the Minister to address any of those issues by including them in the Bill?

Mr McNarry:

I am reasonably satisfied that those issues are not included in the Bill. However, I need more guarantees from the Department. For the Department simply to say that it will ensure that this or that will happen is not good enough, particularly on the links between the library authority and the education and skills authority. I want those assurances to be strengthened through some sort of written agreement that the Department will be tied to, so that, at least, the Department can be held accountable for its actions.

The Chairperson:

OK. Is that agreed?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The sub-regional structure is not in the Bill. Members and witnesses have expressed concern about whether the library authority will have a sub-regional structure and, if so, what form that structure will take. The Committee wrote to the chief executive designate to ask for an update on her progress in establishing a sub-regional structure. A response is expected tomorrow. As David will be glad to hear, Friday follows Thursday.

Last week, the Department said that it sees the sub-regional structure as an operational matter. When the Department says that, one knows that it does not want the matter to be reflected in legislation. The Department does not want the sub-regional structure to be reflected in legislation as it considers it to be an operational matter.

The Committee suggested that contact and interaction with local authorities could be written into legislation. The Department said that it would consider that. Do members wish to pursue the matter with the Minister and suggest that he specifies elements of the sub-regional structure of the authority in the Bill, or are members happy that it remains in the rules of operation? Shall we consider that matter and return to it next week?

Mr McNarry:

May I ask a naïve question? The matter may have been discussed when I was out. The problem is that the Committee does not have clear indication of what the operational structure will be. Will all those promises be built into it? The Committee must tie down the Department. Is it the right time to ask the Department how far it has got with the operational structure, what it is and whether it can give the Committee a blueprint of it? The Committee has gone blind on that matter.

The Chairperson:

OK.

Mr D Bradley:

If the sub-regional structure will not be specified in the Bill, the Committee must have sight of the chief executive designate’s proposals for it. At present, the Committee has not heard anything about the structure, and it has not taken shape. The Committee must have an idea of what it will look like when it is completed.

The Chairperson:

The Committee must get more than a promise about the inclusion of the sub-regional structure in the rules of operation. We must have sight of the proposed rules. Is that correct?

Mr D Bradley:

I would not go that far. However, the chief executive designate of the education and skills authority has provided the Committee with the operational structure of that body. The Committee must also see the sub-regional structure of the library authority.

Mr McCausland:

It seems that the sub-regional structure will end up being local officers or managers for particular council areas. Those people will represent the library service at community planning meetings. Is that sufficient local input, bearing in mind that although there will be councillors on, for instance, a 20-member board, they will not be able to reflect the interests of different communities in that council area? It would not be possible for one individual to do so. Even if there were councillors on the board, it may be that there are none from a particular community.

Although there is a need for a library authority that will have a co-ordinating role between libraries, is the Committee satisfied that there is sufficient local input in the library authority that is envisioned? In a sense, the Committee was bounced into accepting a single library authority at first, because it had been put through quickly in the Chamber. Is the Committee satisfied that the current vision for the library authority provides enough local input, or should there be a single library authority that has a strategic role and a much more enhanced role for local authorities than simply to attend community planning meetings? That question has not been answered.

The Chairperson:

The local dimension troubles everyone who sits around the table. We do not believe that it is adequate.

Mr McCausland:

Now is the time to deal with it. We can tinker around with details on other matters. However, we must answer that question.

Mr D Bradley:

The Department is basically saying that there will be a local officer who will have input into community planning?

Mr McNarry:

That is what we think.

Mr McCausland:

We do not know that for certain. However, it could not be anything more than that. Will there be a local board in each area in the same way that there is a library committee? Will the officer meet with councillors in the area?

The Chairperson:

Those are key issues for the Minister.

Mr McCausland:

Yes. In a sense, the onus has been put on Irene Knox who introduced the sub-regional structure. It is a damning indictment of the people who came up with the scheme years ago that they never even considered introducing a sub-regional structure.

Mr McNarry:

That brings us back to the fact that there is a great need to see the operational structure, or even to see a draft of it. It worries me that if that work is not done, what are we buying into?

Mr K Robinson:

The actual model has yet to be determined. The departmental response on 4 October states:

“Perhaps, later on, we will talk about exploiting the subregional nature of libraries”.

That should worry us all, as it is so vague.

The Chairperson:

Does the Committee wish to write to Irene Knox to request a copy of the operational structure?

Mr McNarry:

No, we can ask the Minister next week. We can put him on the spot then.

Mr McCausland:

It may seem that we are being cantankerous at this late stage. The problem is that all of this was done during direct rule when there was no opportunity for proper input and scrutiny.

The Chairperson:

We have every entitlement to request to see the structure.

Mr Brolly:

Nelson is saying is that the library authority was in place before we had any opportunity for input. There is an obvious anomaly, because the idea of a library authority was to centralise the library service, and what we are talking about now is how best we can decentralise it. We will probably end up believing that we would have been better to stick with the education and library boards.

The Chairperson:

The location of the library authority headquarters is not mentioned in the Bill, and some witnesses and members were concerned about that.

Mr K Robinson:

Would you favour Omagh, Chairperson?

Mr McNarry:

I want to put in a plug for Newtownards: the new headquarters should be in Newtownards. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

East Antrim lacks public-service jobs.

Mr K Robinson:

Yes, East Antrim is very low down the list of priorities.

Mr McCausland:

Jim, get in quick with Ballywalter.

Mr Shannon:

I would vote for Newtownards. I would support my colleague in his bid for Newtownards.

Mr McNarry:

There is a majority of three for Newtownards.

Mr Shannon:

As long as it is not Omagh.

The Chairperson:

Last week, the Department informed the Committee that the chief executive designate and her team would move to temporary premises in Lisburn in November.

Mr McNarry:

Is that at the Maze?

The Chairperson:

Maybe it is at Long Kesh. [Laughter.]

The Department is waiting for final advice on the location of public-sector jobs before making a decision on the headquarters’ location. However, it is interesting that the team is moving to Lisburn in the short term. Are members content with that response or do they wish to pursue that matter with the Minister? Is the Committee content that the location of headquarters will be put into the context of the location of public-sector jobs?

Mr P Maskey:

What constituency does the Minister represent?

The Chairperson:

That is a good point.

Mr McNarry:

The point is that the Minister has said that the headquarters will not be a huge building, but I do not know of any small buildings in Lisburn.

Mr P Maskey:

They could use the Minister’s constituency office.

Mr McCausland:

Or maybe they could use Ulster Unionist Party headquarters?

Mr McNarry:

Aye, we have a big building in Lisburn.

The Chairperson:

Last week, the Committee suggested to the Department that the legislation should include a provision making it the responsibility of the library authority to ensure that there is a collection of relevant material that may be described as being of national importance. Nelson raised that point, and departmental officials said that they would consider the matter. A memo from Julie Mapstone explains that for such collections held by public libraries, there is a need to set the collection of materials relating to one subject or region in the context of the requirement set out at clause 2(2)(a) for the library authority to make available:

“library materials sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements of adults and children.”

That includes materials for lending and reference purposes to facilitate research and study. Senior library staff would judge how collections should be developed, bearing in mind their library budget.

Mr McCausland:

Is that Julie Mapstone’s answer to that question? I do not think that that is much of an answer, because, at present, that does not happen. We have left that duty with librarians, but nothing has happened, so how do we ensure that it will happen in the future?

Mr D Bradley:

The definition in clause 2(2)(a) could be interpreted in a very narrow way.

The Chairperson:

It is minimal.

Mr D Bradley:

The definition could be interpreted in that way — just what is necessary and no more.

The Chairperson:

It is very minimal and provides food for thought for the session with the Minister.

Mr K Robinson:

We must have a more comprehensive look at the Bill. There is a lot of material that a librarian might know about today, but he or she may well retire rather than deal with the new system. A new librarian may come in and look at the dusty old store and decide to clear it out. The whole archive could go, and that might include very important material for a district, a part of society or whatever. We must insist that that is a very important part of the role of a public library. Not only should there be public access, but there should be the realisation that librarians are holding history in their hands. Libraries hold much more than material: they hold social and individual history. Nevertheless, I have seen documents being sent to the shredder many times.

Mr D Bradley:

There may be a need to expand clause 2(2)(b)(ii) of the Bill to ensure that it is not given a minimalistic interpretation.

The Chairperson:

In the absence of any dispute, we will agree to seek further discussion on clause 2(2)(b)(ii).

The Northern Ireland Publications Resource has established a non-statutory national bibliography by collecting all locally published material since 2000 — this is all very interesting. That is the Linen Hall Library collection and the Belfast Central Library.

Mr McCausland:

It is across all libraries. The weakness with is that it applies to locally published material. For example, I know that the founder of Los Angeles was born Belfast, and a book about him was published in America — because the book was not published here, it has not been collected by the Northern Ireland Publications Resource. A huge number of stories are missing.

By the way, you might be interested to know that the founder of Los Angeles was educated at a Christian Brothers School in Dublin.

The Chairperson:

That is not so bad. That is very magnanimous of you, Nelson. [Laughter.]

Have any of the libraries collected any books on the Fintona tram?

Mr McCausland:

I am sure that you would find something in the Linen Hall Library.

The point is that the collection facility needs to be more comprehensive than that provided by the Northern Ireland Publications Resources: we are losing the diaspora element about people from here. Many American tourists trail round the Linen Hall Library on a wet day trying to find information. There should be information of wider significance and not just locally published material.

Mr D Bradley:

What document are you reading from? We do not appear to have a copy of it.

The Chairperson:

Are members content with the information provided by the Department, or will we pursue the matters as Nelson described? We can pursue matters further next week.

Mr McCausland:

Is there consensus that we should broaden our vision beyond locally published material? What about information published in Glasgow or Dublin? We should not just have locally published material.

The Chairperson:

OK: so that part should be reworded or reconsidered.

Mr D Bradley:

Libraries should seek information that is relevant to our local situation.

Mr McCausland:

Absolutely.

The Chairperson:

This part of the meeting has come to a conclusion.

Find Your MLA

Locate your local MLA

Find MLA

News and Media Centre

Read press releases, watch live and archived video.

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

Keep up to date with what's happening at the Assembly.

Find out more

Subscribe

Enter your email address to keep up to date

Sign up