Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Jimmy Spratt (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Simon Hamilton
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr Danny Kennedy
Mr Alan McFarland
Mr John O’Dowd

Witnesses:

Mr Victor Hewitt ) Specialist Advisor

The Chairperson (Mr Spratt):

We will now receive a presentation from the specialist adviser, Victor Hewitt. Members have been provided with a pack that contains the replies from the various organisations that we gave a final chance to in order to provide information on any additional expenditure.

Victor, you are very welcome. I assume that you will brief the Committee on your paper. Thank you for the additional work that you have done. I know that it was done from afar, but it has worked out very well. We appreciate you doing that work during your break, and we hope that it did not interrupt your holiday too much. Without any further ado, I invite you to proceed with the presentation, after which I assume you will be happy to take questions.

Mr Victor Hewitt (Specialist Adviser):

Thank you, Chairman. I trust that a copy of the paper has been circulated to all members. We are trying to get an update on the information that was previously given to the Committee. Although we had a lot of information about the remaining two years of the 2007 comprehensive spending review (CSR) period, namely this year and next year, I was concerned that we had comparatively little information about forward pressures into the next CSR period. The paper refers to post-CSR 2007, which is the period up to 2014. It is useful that many of the returns hinted at expenditures in those forward years.

All the figures in the paper were taken from the returns, with a couple of exceptions. Obviously, some pressures will carry over from the current CSR period into the next CSR period. One example of those pressures is the hearing-loss claims, which will not be cleared within the next two years. Another example is the pressures on the Compensation Agency, which has previously indicated that it is running approximately £30 million light every year. I have indicated where I thought it prudent to put in an estimate for the forward years when it had not been given to us formally by the bodies involved. I am happy to take members’ questions about that process.

A degree of re-phasing of expenditure has taken place since the last time, especially in respect of capital spend. Some of that capital-spend money has been pushed out of the 2007 CSR period, which runs until 2011, and into the next CSR period. A good example of that can be seen in the £100 million that was allocated for the refurbishment of the Court Service estate. Some £15 million of that £100 million is now thought to fall within the 2007 CSR period, with the remaining £85 million pushed into the future. Capital spend is always liable to be pushed forward, particularly if other pressures are to be met.

The other assumption that is being made from the returns is that relatively small new pressures will effectively be absorbed in the CSR 2007 period. A number of new pressures will appear over the next two years, but the assumption is that the bodies that will be affected by that will live within their existing budgets. They are not being registered as inescapable new pressures to be met. If that assumption were to be violated, the figures would, to some degree, change again. I can deal with the individual figures in response to questions that members may have.

The bottom line is that the totals are reasonably substantial. From the 2007 revised period, there is £571 million, which, because of the re-phasing, is down from the previous figure of £631 million. There is a substantial indication for the post-2007 period of £463 million, which is probably something of an underestimate. That £463 million does not cover the cost of new prison facilities. Those were mentioned when we took evidence from the Prison Service and in its further return. The Prison Service merely said that it was constructing a business case, and it has not put a figure on that.

The figure of £250 million for a new prison and new women’s facilities is also an estimate. It is probably not an unreasonable estimate, but I have not included it the main body of the calculations. It is there as an additional factor to be taken into account. With that as background, I am happy to take questions.

The Chairperson:

Thank you very much, Victor. You said that the police hearing-loss claim will go beyond the CSR period. Do you have an indication of what that figure might be?

Mr Hewitt:

When the Chief Constable gave evidence, he said that the pressure from hearing-loss claims was estimated at £69·5 million for 2009 and £61·8 million for 2010-11. That was based on there being 200 new cases each month. That has now been revised to 275 cases emerging each month, and, as a result, the estimated cost for hearing loss claims has risen to £93·9 million for 2009 and to £84·2 million for 2010-11. Those costs will all be included in the current CSR period.

Potentially, approximately 20,000 people may or may not have a claim for hearing loss. That is running between 200 and 300 a year, so it could run for a considerable period. I asserted an additional pressure of approximately £80 million a year on the police on the basis of between 200 and 250 cases a month.

Mr Kennedy:

Thank you for your presentation. Were the post-CSR figures that you presented estimates or guesstimates?

Mr Hewitt:

They are based on extrapolating trends. For example, we knew that the Compensation Agency had been running £30 million light per annum for a considerable period. At the beginning of each year, it knew that it did not have enough money and it had to go back to the Treasury. In that case, we took the figure of £30 million and extrapolated it over three years, so a figure of £90 million appears against the Compensation Agency.

The costs for the prison have not been included in the main calculations, because, to some degree, that is a guesstimate of what a new prison and prison facilities would typically cost. I do not have the firm business case from the Prison Service, so I have not put that into the main figure work. I have merely noted it as a potential additional pressure.

I have also put a couple of question marks in one of the columns. A figure of £27 million was mentioned for a new laboratory for the Forensic Science Service. However, having experience of capital projects, I feel that that figure seems to be light for the type of facility that is being talked about. Laboratories are specialist facilities, and they tend to be relatively expensive. I have not altered the figure, but I have put a question mark against it. No figure was supplied in the further update, but a figure of £27 million was given in the original estimates.

The Chairperson:

I remind people who have just arrived that this is a closed session, and the figures that are being discussed are confidential.

Mr McFarland:

A number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) receive funding for criminal justice matters and policing work. Where do they fit into these figures? Are they included in the NIO’s budget?

Mr Hewitt:

No; they should have their own budgets. There are approximately 30 bodies within that family, and they are grant-aided by the NIO. The bodies were contacted individually, and they made individual returns.

Mr McFarland:

Where do they fit into this document?

Mr Hewitt:

The bodies that made submissions about new pressures appear in this document. Other bodies said that they had no trouble with their existing budgets. What we are looking at here is additional pressures.

Mr McFarland:

I understand that, but a plethora of NGOs get funding for criminal justice work, and some of them get it from the NIO. Presumably, when policing and justice is devolved, that funding will go to the Department of justice, and it will issue all the grants. Is that what is likely to happen?

Mr Hewitt:

Yes. The NGOs will have a baseline within the existing funding from the NIO, and that baseline will transfer to the new devolved Administration. We understood that the Committee was interested in whether that baseline would be adequate for existing and future pressures. That is why we focused on whether there was anything new coming along that the existing baseline would not be able to meet. That is where the evidence has fallen. I could find no mention in any previous or current returns of the expense of setting up a Department of justice. However, clearly, it will be an expense. The NIO carries that at the moment, but there is no estimate of what a Department of justice will actually cost. It will need the usual finance for staffing, private offices, and so on.

Mr McFarland:

From reading Secretary of State’s letter, there appear to be some unresolved issues. He said that the Heywood committee is dealing with a number of those issues. We have no idea what that committee will recommend about the setting up of the new Department and all the other issues. Therefore, we are still not clear on a key area, which is whether some of it will be taken off us and will remain with the NIO and the Government.

The Chairperson:

That is a fair comment.

Mr McFarland:

Is there no indication of when we may hear about that?

The Chairperson:

No; there is still no indication of when we might hear about that. There are no replies that I am aware of, and I certainly have not received any replies on that matter. We were told that the Heywood report would be published soon. A number of meetings have taken place, and the Secretary of State said that he expected to receive a paper, but he indicated that it would go to him and to the Prime Minister. At the meeting, we asked about sharing that paper, and he said that it would be a matter for the Treasury and the Prime Minister. He made clear at that meeting that the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) and others were involved in that process. I hope that we will get some indication when that becomes clear, but there is no indication that that has happened yet, and I have not heard anything to that effect.

Do you have any indication as to what is unavoidable, and what would be desirable or aspirational in the figure of £571 million from the 2007 revised period and particularly the £464 million beyond that period? Obviously, some capital work may well spin out over a number of years. There are aspirations to build and, for some of those projects, it may be some time before that will be granted.

Mr Hewitt:

In a previous paper, we tried to use a classification based on the rather strict definition of inescapability, which was legally or contractually bound. Taking that as a starting point, anything to do with the hearing-loss claims would be inescapable; whatever the figure may turn out to be.

Anything to do with the Legal Services Commission’s legal aid figure will be inescapable once the judge has issued the certificate for legal aid. It may be manageable in the longer term, and there are indications of developments in the longer term, but for the moment, that is not in the control of the Legal Services Commission. It simply has to take what comes.

Other inescapable expenses could result from low-pay claims, which would affect the PSNI and any other bodies that recruited through the Civil Service recruitment service. There may also be knock-on effects on their budgets from those claims. The low-pay claim would take the form of a lump sum to pay back what people should have been paid in the past, but it will also raise their forward pay. That would be an inescapable commitment in the future.

You are quite right about the capital; that is always somewhat moveable, and facilities can be maintained over time at a cost, rather than be replaced. Facilities such as the forensic science lab could consistently be pushed forward, as could any newbuilds such as prisons, but there would be a growing cost to maintain the system.

The Chairperson:

You mentioned legal aid. One indication was that the system would probably need to be changed to help to reduce that. Amazingly, they were saying that it would take until 2015 to sort that out. I would have thought that if a Department was set up, that could be done a lot sooner than 2015. Do you have any views on that?

Mr Hewitt:

I know that anything coming from m’ learned friends tends to go slowly at times. One of the problems is that there would probably be cases in the pipeline, which might run on for some years.

I am certainly no expert on the structural changes that would be necessary for the legal aid system, but that would involve negotiations with the judiciary. The judiciary has the independence to say how many counsels a particular defendant is entitled to depending on the nature of the case. I would not be at all surprised if 2015 is the target date.

Mr Attwood:

Thank you, I apologise that I missed the earlier part of your presentation. I have some questions that are probably simple to answer. The only organisation that you have commented on about equal-pay costs is the Policing Board. Does that mean that the equal-pay costs are covered from within other Civil Service budget lines for all the other organisations and do not have to be found as a separate funding stream?

Mr Hewitt:

The information that we have is that people who were recruited through the Northern Ireland Civil Service recruitment procedures fall within the low-pay claim bracket. Some people who work for the Policing Board and the PSNI as civilians were recruited in that fashion. The NIO has said that its recruitment procedures are outside that system, and therefore the low-pay claim does not apply to it. However, trade unions will press the point that the low-pay issue should be extended to anyone employed in Northern Ireland, be that by the NIO or anyone else.

However, that is the basis on which the low-pay claim is currently restricted to a limited number of bodies within the competence.

Mr Attwood:

Will it be difficult to determine whether people will fall inside or outside the equal-pay claim award, if and when it comes? It could be that 20 other organisations that are involved with justice in the North will have equal-pay responsibilities to their staff. That is still a possibility.

Mr Hewitt:

It is a possibility. The current advice is that equal-pay legislation affects people who were recruited through the Civil Service’s recruitment process. If the trade unions are able to press the matter beyond those people, the number of people that will be affected will, obviously, grow. The underlying amount of money associated with Civil Service and public service equal-pay claims is becoming very large; it is approaching £500 million. Originally, it involved £100 million; however, that figure is now approximately £470 million.

The Chairperson:

Most of the people who are employed by the police are civil servants who simply transferred. At an earlier stage, some of them may have been specifically recruited, but it was only in the latter part of last year that staff members were given the option of either staying with the Civil Service or fully transferring to the Policing Board. Although those people work for the police, they are still civil servants and have always had the option of going back to other parts of the Civil Service. The situation was only finally sorted out this year.

Mr Attwood:

The point that I was making is slightly different.

The Chairperson:

You are probably right; there are probably people in other parts of the justice family who fall into the same category, so I imagine that an equal-pay claim will be made on their behalf.

Mr Attwood:

I have not seen the papers, but the NIO might be stretching the point by saying that because the people who are employed in all those other organisations went through a different recruitment process, they have somehow ended up not being entitled to equal pay. I presume that equal-pay provisions apply to everyone in the public sector. One cannot differentiate between people based on the interview procedure that they underwent. My sense is that the unions might be right when they say that equal-pay provisions apply to everyone in the public sector and one cannot differentiate or pick and choose between various categories.

As a result of Alistair Darling’s emergency Budget, Northern Ireland Departments must find £123 million of cuts or savings. What is the NIO’s share of those cuts or savings? You said that the NIO has identified new efficiency savings, but what are they?

Mr Hewitt:

£17 million.

Mr Attwood:

Is that all? Did it say that it will achieve those savings within NIO HQ, or will it spread them between all the other organisations?

Mr Hewitt:

It has not given any indication of where the savings will be found. However, making £17 million of savings would place considerable pressure on HQ. I imagine, therefore, that it will probably try to spread the savings out.

Mr Attwood:

So, that £17 million is an added pressure, over and above everything else?

Mr Hewitt:

Yes, it has come about as a result of the Budget.

Mr Attwood:

Figures are being bandied about regarding savings to be found by Northern Ireland Departments, which amount to millions of pounds a year for four or five years. Do the figures that organisations have identified as post-07 CSR pressures take account of those additional and significant savings to be made by Departments, or do they refer only to post-2011 pressures that were already anticipated?

Mr Hewitt:

The latter; they are merely indications of things about which they know. Other factors will depend on the Budget at the time.

Mr Attwood:

Do you have a view, or even a broad indication, of the justice pressures that will arise in 2011 and annually thereafter as a result of wider Budget considerations in London?

Mr Hewitt:

That very much depends on the operation of the Barnett formula at that particular time. We are used to the Barnett formula increasing the Budget here when there are increases in comparable spending areas in the rest of the UK. However, if there cannot be reductions in the baseline spending in those comparable areas in the next CSR, we would take the consequential, which would be a negative. The £123 million calculated this time was calculated as a negative consequential through the Barnett formula.

Mr Attwood:

Are you saying that you have no idea what it might be but you feel that it will be very large?

Mr Hewitt:

It could be substantial. We will not know until we see what the reductions are across the water.

Mr Attwood:

Last week, someone — I cannot remember who it was — flagged up to me the fact that they felt that the cost of a new justice Department would be significant, because there is no culture or experience here of how to run such a Department.

I am surprised that the Police Ombudsman has written back stating that the pressures are currently non-identified. That is based on the Police Ombudsman doing nothing further with respect to examining the past. However, there is uncertainty as to what is going to happen as a result of the Eames/Bradley report. If anything does happen — which I hope is not the case — it may not be for two or three years. However, the Police Ombudsman has an obligation to investigate certain matters from the past, and it does not have the budget to do so over the next two years, never mind thereafter. Therefore, I am a bit surprised that the Police Ombudsman has not flagged up the fact that he will require funding to fulfil his statutory responsibilities over the next two years, independent of what may or may not happen as a result of the Eames/Bradley report.

The letter — which is from Al Hutchinson, the Police Ombudsman, not the chief executive of that organisation — says nothing about that. That surprises me because the legal requirement to investigate certain matters must be met one way or the other, and that could be a somewhat additional pressure, over and above the other pressures that we have identified.

Mr Hewitt:

I am constrained to work with the material that I have received from the different bodies. I have not included in my report any information that I have may have garnered from other sources, because it has no official provenance. Some of the responses are surprising in that they have not flagged up issues that might occur, but it is outside my remit to include any other information.

The Chairperson:

That is exactly the way that it should be; it is not for any of us to make speculations. If the Police Ombudsman says that he does not have additional pressures, we must accept that. Thank you very much for your presentation, Victor.

Mr Hewitt:

At a previous meeting, Mr Paisley Jnr asked us to perform some calculations that would demonstrate what would have happened if the NIO had been funded through the Barnett formula in the last CSR. We have completed those calculations, and I will send a short paper through to the Committee for information purposes. The results are actually quite interesting.

The Chairperson:

OK. Thank you for that, Victor.

We have received the additional information and the figures that were required. The Committee is due to meet again on 9 June 2009, when Victor will be making a presentation, but we still have no indication of whether the First and deputy First Ministers are available to attend. However, the Finance Minister has indicated that he would be happy to attend that meeting, if his diary permits.

If the First and deputy First Minister can attend the meeting on 9 June 2009, it will include that presentation; if not, it will be a normal meeting. The Committee has no meeting next week; therefore, do members agree to the Committee sending a short reminder to the First and deputy First Ministers to ascertain whether they will be available?

Mr Attwood:

I am sure that we will get a reply after the 4th.

Mr Hamilton:

Of July?

The Chairperson:

I am sure that we will, but I am not going to get into that debate. [Laughter.]

Mr McFarland:

Will we share the paper with the Finance Minister and OFMDFM before they come before the Committee, or will we keep it as a surprise?

The Chairperson:

Are members agreed to the Committee sharing the paper? It would probably be in our interest to do so. It would also allow them then to feed into the Heywood committee and what might be happening there. The Committee can question them on the day about whether they know where the Heywood committee stands and whether a report has been made. Would members be happy that the Committee shares that paper with them prior to the meeting? Ministers need to be briefed beforehand.

Mr McFarland:

It might be quite fun to see their surprise, but that is not a terribly constructive approach to getting results.

Mr Attwood:

I am concerned about the principle of a Committee sharing with other people confidential information that it has not shared with the Assembly, which gives us our authority.

The Chairperson:

We will be sharing the information with the Assembly when we make our report.

Mr Attwood:

It seems to me that, on principle, it is to the Assembly that the Committee answers and with which we share intelligence and information. Can the Committee Clerk inform us whether this is a new precedent of sharing confidential information from a Committee inquiry with Ministers in advance of the Committee agreeing a report, or a report going to the Assembly Floor?

The Committee Clerk:

I think that there is a precedent, although it is unusual.

Mr McFarland:

The problem is that OFMDFM has, I believe, asked the Committee to look at this matter. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the Finance Minister were supposed to be having discussions with the Treasury and the Prime Minister on the issue. They will have all the information that we have, because it has come from them. Therefore, there should be absolutely nothing new, other than whatever good work Victor has done in the margins in uncovering other areas that their Departments might not have volunteered to them, or making sense of it in a way that their Departments might not have suggested.

Logically, therefore, there is nothing here that they will not already have, if they have done their job. However, there might be angles that Victor has come across that they might not have spotted and that might make our discussions with them more useful, if they were to have a heads up on what the Committee will be asking them. On the other hand, they might have done none of this or, judging from our history with some of those Departments, they might not have quite got around to it yet. Therefore, that information might be very useful to them and might facilitate productive discussions.

I appreciate the point made by Alex, and there is an issue here about whether we share confidential information. However, we are trying to find some common ground, whereby the Committee and those Ministers pressure the Treasury and the Prime Minister to provide a solution to the problems that we have identified. We cannot go to the Assembly until we have constructive suggestions on the matter, and we cannot have constructive suggestions until we know what is happening with the Heywood committee, the Ashdown report, OFMDFM and the Finance Minister — if that all makes sense.

The Chairperson:

Almost.

Mr McFarland:

Therefore, it would be more productive for us if we were to have a discussion with OFMDFM that is based on a common starting point, and Victor’s paper could be that starting point, if we were to share it with them.

Mr Attwood:

There are two issues. The first is to establish what is the right convention. I am prepared to be guided by precedent. I would like to share as much as we can as long as it is appropriate to do so, because we can then have a better conversation.

The Chairperson:

The First and deputy First Ministers have indicated that they have had discussions with some of the groups. The Heywood committee is ongoing. It has already been indicated that DFP is involved. Therefore, my guess is they are aware of 80% or 90% of the information in the paper; one or two matters might have been picked up on as a result of the Committee’s probing. It is in all our interests that all the financial issues are out in the open so that others can argue for the deal that is needed to bring about the devolution of policing and justice.

Mr Attwood:

I am not opposed to the principle of sharing material, provided that doing so is appropriate and is covered by a convention. However, there may be wider political points, as Alan McFarland hinted.

The NIO and the Secretary of State tried to stop the Committee doing this work. Already, NIO types are trying to give briefings to the effect that these figures are not as credible as the Committee believes them to be. There is a lot of politics at play. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister may have had the conversations, but it has not taken evidence in the same way that the Committee has done. It may be that the qualitative nature of the Committee’s work is different from that done by OFMDFM. I do not know whether that is the case, because the Committee has not had sight of what OFMDFM has done, and none of its representatives has come to the Committee to inform us about it.

There are a lot of issues around this inquiry; the NIO does not like it and OFMDFM may have held conversations that were intense but not as extensive as the Committee’s. Therefore, I am anxious for the Committee to protect the integrity of its work, because some people will want to say that it does not present the true picture or that it has been talked up, or whatever.

The Committee Clerk:

The Committee is in an unusual situation, one aspect of which was flagged up by Mr McFarland. When the First Minister and the deputy First Minister gave evidence in closed session last autumn, they talked about a parallel process and stated that the Committee’s work would complement work being done elsewhere. On that basis, the Committee pressed on and challenged the Secretary of State’s assertion that the Committee should not be involved in the process.

It is also fair to say that, once the transcripts were cleared, the oral evidence sessions with witnesses have been published. Therefore, that information is in the public domain and is accessible to everyone. That brings us to the position posed by the confidential paper that Victor Hewitt presented this morning. As far as I am concerned, as the Committee Clerk, and in respect of the Committee’s responsibility to the Assembly, it appears difficult for the Committee to do anything other than try to participate in the parallel process and to share that information.

At some point the Committee must present all its investigations and findings in the form of a report. However, that report is to address all the category 2 issues and given that a number of those has yet to be resolved, the Committee might want to consider publishing an interim report on financial matters. If the report on all the category 2 issues is to be the means by which the Assembly will indicate that devolution should proceed, it seems to me that the report will be published too late to inform the negotiations on the required financial settlement.

That is an unprecedented dilemma. Ordinarily, a Committee report is brought to the Chamber for debate, is adopted and is then referred for ministerial action; however, because we are dealing with reserved matters, that course cannot be followed. In some respects, the approach has been different because new ground is being broken as part of a parallel process in which the Committee decided to engage.

Mr McFarland:

We are missing key pieces of the jigsaw. We do not yet know the outcome of the Eames/Bradley report, we are missing the conclusion of the Heywood committee, and one could also argue that we are missing the Ashdown report. Until those pieces of the jigsaw are fitted in, we will not know what our report will say. The difficulty is that those areas are outwith our control. We will not know what the final policing and justice Bill will include until those pieces of the jigsaw are available and are slotted into the appropriate places. It could be that if a chunk of this is taken back and kept with the NIO, the drop will be fairly dramatic. On the other hand, if it is being left with us, it could be even worse than we currently think that it is. Until we find out the missing information, it is difficult for us to do anything.

The Chairperson:

Due to the time frame for the Eames/Bradley report,it will not be included in our report; it falls outside our time frame.

Mr McFarland:

The Secretary of State said that the Government are due to take a view on the Eames/Bradley report by the end of June. That will not give us an indication of when things will happen, but it will inform us of whether something will happen in this CSR period, the next one or the one after that. If the Government are categorical about not revisiting any of the historical issues, we are, at least, a stage further on. We will know not to expect any change in respect of the costs for the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman, for instance.

Mr O’Dowd:

We are getting into the realms of that famous speech about things that we know that we do not know and things that we do not know that we do not know. In all forward-looking political or financial programmes, things will arise for which one cannot plan. At this stage of the process, we have tasked ourselves with completing the report and presenting it to the Assembly.

The original question was about whether we could divulge certain information to the Departments. If the Committee Clerk says that there is a precedent for doing so, we have no difficulty with doing that. We will go ahead: we will share that information with the Departments; we will invite the Ministers before us next week; and we will proceed from that point.

The Chairperson:

It is not next week; it is the following week — 9 June. They have got the invitation, and we are awaiting confirmation.

As the Committee Clerk has indicated, most of the information in the report came out in the evidence sessions, which were held in public session. Furthermore, most of the additional information that has come in — such as that relating to the capital projects — is also in the public domain already. Are members happy that the information is shared, to enable us to have some sort of constructive discussion with the three Ministers, after Mr Hewitt makes his presentation?

The Committee Clerk:

In case there is any doubt, I do not believe that there is a precedent for sharing this type of information. We are in an unusual situation. I do not know whether the Assembly would be offended if a Committee were to share information with the First Minister, deputy First Minister and the Finance Minister before presenting that information to the Assembly. However, I return to what I said before — the Committee engaged in a parallel process, and implicit in that was the knowledge that the time would come when the Committee would share information with the First Minister, deputy First Minister and the Finance Minister.

If it would help the Committee, I will check whether there is a precedent, but that will require me to report back to the Committee, so we will need a special meeting before the 9 June meeting and before the release of any information that is included in Mr Hewitt’s report. It is up to the Committee to decide what to do, because I do not think that there is a precedent in the Assembly for the circumstances in which the Committee finds itself. If you want me to try to get advice, I will do so.

Mr Attwood:

The Committee Clerk anticipated my question: where was the precedent? There appears not to have been a precedent. Therefore, I do not know how the Assembly will react.

Secondly, there has been a parallel process, but those are merely words; there has not been any sense of sharing between OFMDFM and the Committee. At best, it has been minimal; at worst, it has been non-existent. So, yes, we have a parallel process, and the processes may eventually converge at some point. For that process to be credible, we must build in some requirements. Despite all our correspondence with OFMDFM, it has never told us anything about its negotiations with NIO in London other than that it “hoped” that those negotiations would be concluded by the end of the last financial year. Since then, we have heard nothing from OFMDFM about what has happened over the last two months in its part of the parallel process.

Will OFMDFM share with us information on where it is? If there is a parallel process to the point of sharing, and this Committee is to decide to share information with other Departments prior to sharing it with the Assembly, is OFMDFM similarly obliged to share with us what it knows? If it is, will it do that before we meet on 9 June? If OFMDFM is going to have sight of what we know, we should have sight of what it knows, so that we can have a proper conversation. That would be a fair outcome. The parallel process is meant to stack up; there is meant to be sharing to facilitate a better understanding of where things are. That is the basis on which we should share information with OFMDFM.

Having said all that, I do not know that we should share at all. If there were an inquiry by another Committee, would that Committee share some of its draft report with a Minister if that Minister was to be called to give evidence to that inquiry? I think not. The Committee might indicate the terms of reference or provide a list of questions that the Minister might be asked, but it would not share with a Minister a working draft of an inquiry report into an issue that especially concerned that Minister. We are in an area where there is no precedent; therefore, we need to be mindful and be sure that we set a correct precedent. If this sets a precedent, and this is a parallel process, we will share only if they share. We want to share: are they prepared to do the same?

Mr O’Dowd:

I do not know where to start. There is a difference between having negotiations and preparing a report. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) is involved in negotiations with the Treasury and others to secure a financial package for the establishment of a Department of policing and justice. We are involved in preparing a report that will reflect the financial pressures created by any new justice system. There is a difference between sharing those two types of information.

I am easy, one way or the other. If the Committee is minded not to share the evidence, so be it. It will not make a whole lot of difference to the debate. One way around it, as Raymond has said, is to share the Hansard report of the evidence sessions with OFMDFM. Those hearings were held in public; if OFMDFM wants to, it can find out what was said by referring to ‘The Irish Times’, the ‘Newsletter’, or ‘The Irish News’. It is not highly classified information. If that is a way around Alex’s concerns, we can do that. However, a bartering session with OFMDFM would not be a useful way of spending the Committee’s time. If nothing else, taking the attitude of “you show us, and we will show you” is immature politics. There are a number of ways to move the debate on. The important thing is to get OFMDFM and the Finance Minister before the Committee to discuss the issue of finance.

Mr McFarland:

I am a great defender of Committees and their rights, but I think that Alex is not quite on the ball on this issue. The idea that Committee members from Sinn Féin, the DUP, or any party will not share the Committee’s findings with their Ministers, albeit illegally, before those findings are presented on the Floor of the House, is not realistic.

We are in a unique position: the devolution of policing and justice is the last brick in the wall of the Belfast Agreement. This is a unique Committee; it is not a departmental Committee.

However, Alex does have a point: if we are going to share — and I believe that we should — it is not unreasonable to ask them to give us a heads-up as to where they are in their discussion so that we can have a better conversation with them when they appear here.

I am aware that there is no precedent for doing so and that they have been obstructive all along. However, if we are going to share, and in order to have a proper conversation, it would be sensible to find out what discussions the Finance Minister and OFMDFM have had.

My understanding from another meeting that party leaders had is that there has been little agreement with the Treasury. It will almost certainly come down to a negotiation with the Prime Minister. Therefore, we will probably not get a great deal of information from them. However, they must have discussed that issue, and it would be useful if they could share those details with us at the same time that we are sharing with them.

The Chairperson:

I am happy either way. What is the Committee’s view?

Mr Attwood:

I do not want to be unhelpful. However, I will be difficult.

The Chairperson:

We have had a fair discussion on the matter.

Mr Attwood:

If we share the Hansard report and the Committee Clerk speaks to the relevant official in OFMDFM about Victor’s paper, I hope that they extend the same courtesy to us by way of sharing information so that we have some prior notice about where they believe the situation to be. I am relaxed about whether the information is shared through the Committee Clerk or, indeed, through the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson.

The Chairperson:

There is no meeting next week anyway. We have still not received an indication from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. We have received one only from the Finance Minister. We agreed earlier that we would check their availability for 9 June 2009.

Are members happy enough that the Deputy Chairperson and I share some of that information and indicate to them that it would be helpful if they could advise us as to the position of their discussions with the Treasury? Perhaps the Finance Minister could give us some indication as to what is happening with Heywood. It was made clear to us at an earlier stage that DFP was involved in that discussion.

Mr McFarland:

That would be useful, Chairperson.

The Chairperson:

Given Alan’s indication of the party leaders’ meeting and that discussions with the Treasury were difficult, are members happy enough that we receive some verbal indication as to the position of those discussions?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Thank you very much, Victor. I am sorry that you had to sit through all that discussion.

We will now review the outstanding issues on the devolution of policing and justice. I declare that I am a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. If no other members have any interests to declare, we will move on to the category two list of issues. Rather than my reading out the issues, members should indicate whether their parties have any updates on the previous proceedings.

Mr Hamilton:

I have nothing further to add.

Mr McCartney:

I have nothing further to add.

The Chairperson:

Mr Attwood, perhaps when your private meeting with Mrs Hanna is finished, you could let us know your party’s position.

Mr Attwood:

What was the issue?

The Chairperson:

Does your party have any updates on the category two list of issues regarding the devolution of policing and justice? While you were having your private meeting, the representatives of the other parties said that they had nothing further to add.

Mr Attwood:

We were discussing whether we wanted to share any update with you, but we have decided not to.

The Chairperson:

Thank you. As there are no updates, are members content to park those matters?

Members indicated assent.

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