Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 11 October 2018

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Thursday 11 October 2018

Meeting Time: 11.00am

Commission Members:

The Speaker
Mr Jim Wells MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Robin Swann MLA
Mr Stewart Dickson MLA

Officials present: Mrs Lesley Hogg, Ms Tara Caul, Mr Richard Stewart, Mr Robin Ramsey, Ms Frances Leneghan and Mrs Janet Hughes
Others in attendance: 
Mr Jim Brook, Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Chairperson
Mr Jonathan McMillen, Head of Legal Services
Mr Ken Eccles, Head of Security
Mr Simon Burrowes, Head of Public Engagement
Ms Tracey Wilson, Information Officer
Ms Alice McKelvey, Legal Adviser
Ms Martina Dalton, Information Standards Officer
Ms Angela Kelly, Examiner of Statutory Rules

The meeting commenced at 11.04am.

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.

The Speaker thanked Mr Maskey for chairing the last meeting in his absence.

2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

There were no declarations of interest.

3. MINUTES OF MEETING – 5 July 2018

The minutes from the last Commission meeting on 5 July 2018 were approved for publication.

The Chair noted that the draft minutes had previously been sent to Members in advance of papers being issued for the meeting and that officials intend to continue to circulate the draft minutes of meetings electronically to Members ahead of any subsequent meeting. Official approval of minutes would continue to be sought at the next meeting.  Members were content.

4. COMMISSION ACTIONS

Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive, advised Members that all actions from the previous Commission meetings had been completed.

Mr Attwood raised a question of whether, the longer the current political situation continued, the Commission should consider proceeding with some projects rather than awaiting the return to normal Assembly business when a new Commission would be appointed. Mr Attwood noted that a paper was scheduled for later in the meeting giving Members the option to proceed, or not to agree centenary events but asked if officials should not now bring forward options for a Youth Assembly at an earlier stage. Although, it had been previously agreed that it was for a new Commission to consider this matter, in light of the ongoing political situation Mr Attwood stated that it was his preference to proceed if it was possible to get consensus.

Mr Wells agreed that on centenaries there was no reason not to move ahead given the Commission’s successful track record.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that it was intended to update the Commission on work on a Youth Assembly early in the New Year and that options were currently being developed. The Commission could then reconsider whether this was a project which should advance earlier.

5. CORRESPONDENCE

The Speaker advised Members that a number of pieces of correspondence had been received since the last meeting in July and confirmed that some would be dealt with in the course of the meeting.

5.1 The Commission noted correspondence between the Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and the Speaker.

5.2 The Commission noted correspondence from Mrs Kellie Armstrong MLA in relation to a request to review procedures regarding Members and disability.

The Speaker advised Members that officials had prepared a paper for consideration in relation to this request and confirmed that it would be dealt with under agenda item 11.

5.3 The Commission noted correspondence from Mr Jim Allister MLA in relation to the Assembly’s Events Policy.

The Speaker advised Members that officials had prepared a paper for consideration in relation this matter and confirmed that it would be dealt with under agenda item 12.

5.4 The Commission noted correspondence from Mrs Kellie Armstrong MLA regarding a review of sundry expenses.

Members acknowledged that this issue was relevant to the discussion on agenda item 8 on the Administration of Determinations and the Management of Litigation and agreed to consider a response to Mrs Armstrong following review of this paper.

5.5 The Commission noted correspondence between the Chair of the All Party Group (APG) on Disability and the Speaker, requesting promotion of equality in participation in public life for people with disabilities.

Members agreed to consider this request along with item 5.2 under agenda item 11.

5.6 The Commission noted correspondence from Mr Jim Allister MLA requesting a permanent exhibition of Assembly artefacts at Parliament Buildings.

The Speaker advised Members that this request would be addressed in the Clerk/Chief Executive’s report to the Commission at agenda item 6.

5.7 The Commission noted correspondence from the Chair of Politics Plus enclosing the Politics Plus annual report of activity and outcomes

for 2017 and requesting a meeting to clarify their future relationship with the Assembly Commission.

The Speaker advised Members that this would be dealt with under agenda item 15.

6. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE KEY UPDATE REPORT

Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on the key issues which had arisen since the last Commission meeting, namely:

Staffing Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the Staff in Post (SiP) figure on 20 September

2018 was down by 5.1 on the last reported figure at 20 June 2018 to 313.5 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) against a complement of 349.4 FTE.  Due to the number of FTE vacancies Mrs Hogg advised Members that this would continue to be monitored given the potential impact on the Commission’s readiness to return to normal Assembly business at short notice. However, Mrs Hogg confirmed that in keeping with the Commission’s agreed principle of retaining readiness, work had already been undertaken to ensure that recruitment activity to fill vacant posts could commence as soon as a return to normal Assembly business is envisaged.

Members noted that of the 313.5 FTE staff, 166.25 staff continued to be retained to carry out continuing activities on behalf of the Commission, 68.8 FTE Staff were physically redeployed to other organisations and 68.0 FTE staff were carrying out work for other organisations while based in Parliament Buildings.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for August 2018 and advised that following the recent October monitoring round, a surplus of £2.2m had been handed back to the Department of Finance (DoF). Mrs Hogg confirmed that the level of underspend would continue to be kept under close review.

Inappropriate Behaviours

Mrs Hogg advised Members that work was progressing on the actions agreed at the Commission meeting on 30 May 2018, to manage and address inappropriate behaviours.

Mrs Hogg informed Members that research undertaken with other legislatures indicated that they were dealing with complaints of inappropriate behaviour for all those visiting or working at the legislature under one policy. She also advised that a paper on providing additional HR support to Members would be brought to a future Commission meeting for consideration.

Mr Dickson asked about how new procedures being developed by the Commission would align with the fact that the standard terms and conditions of employment for MLAs’ staff included a grievance procedure and in the context that MLAs are the employers of their own staff. Mrs Hogg advised that there could be a potential weakness with the existing procedure if someone employed by an MLA wished to make a complaint against that MLA.

Litigation Update

Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on recent litigation matters.

BBC Letter: Copyright

Mrs Hogg informed Members that she had received correspondence from the BBC setting out its views on the impact of amendments made by the Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations 2014 to the

Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988. The BBC advised that it would be launching a public consultation regarding the revision of its editorial guidelines to take account of the revised law.

Mrs Hogg stated that the legislation impacted upon the potential use of footage of plenary and committee business and that in light of the new Regulations, officials had commenced a review of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s current Copyright Statement.

Display of Assembly Artefacts

Members noted that the temporary exhibition of artefacts previously agreed by Members for a four-week period, had concluded at the beginning of October.

Mrs Hogg advised that correspondence had been received from Mr Allister MLA (item 5.6) and seven members of the public who had visited the exhibition, requesting the Commission to provide for a permanent display of the artefacts so that they can be viewed by the public.

Mrs Hogg referred Members to previous discussions when the decision was taken at the July 2018 Commission meeting to hold a temporary exhibition with a view thereafter to considering the loaning of some items to appropriate organisations to which they had relevance. In light of the recent requests referred to, Mrs Hogg sought Members views on the preferred way forward.

Mr Wells supported the request for a permanent display of artefacts and suggested they could be held in locked display cases similar to those used for Speaker’s gifts.

Members agreed that a paper be prepared for consideration at the next Commission meeting on options for a way forward including potential loan arrangements or a permanent exhibition.

Action: Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, to prepare a paper for the next Commission meeting on proposals for a way forward.

Action: Speaker to issue a response to Mr Allister advising of the Commission’s initial decision.

Meeting with the Children’s Commissioner

Mrs Hogg advised Members the Speaker had met with the Children’s Commissioner in September following a request from the Commissioner. The Speaker and Clerk/ Chief Executive had provided the Commissioner with an update on the development of a Youth Assembly. The Commissioner appreciated the difficulty in making progress in the current political circumstance and noted that the Commission had requested officials to develop options for the development of a Youth Assembly for a successor Commission to consider at an early stage when the Assembly resumes normal business.

7. SECRETARIAT PAY POLICY 

Following Mr Stewart’s presentation of the paper on Salary Benchmarking, Assembly Allowance and related Matters at the July 2018 Commission meeting, Mr Stewart presented a further paper seeking the Commission’s considered views on a future pay policy for Secretariat staff.

Mr Stewart advised Members that this paper was an amalgamation of a number of papers previously presented to the Commission on the Secretariat

Salary Benchmarking Review Report, the Assembly Allowance and Pay Recovery. It also included a copy of the draft pay claim for 2018 from Trade Union Side (TUS).

The findings of the recent Salary Benchmarking Review Report were discussed and Mr Stewart highlighted those posts which Hays had identified as either medium or high risk of underpaying or overpaying against the mid-point salary identified for particular posts.

Mr Wells raised concerns about the risk within the Information Systems (IS) and Finance Offices. Mr Stewart advised Members that officials were working to address this risk and had commissioned an Independent Review of the structure and resources within the IS Office to be carried out by the Group Head of Digital Services from the Scottish Parliament. Mrs Hogg confirmed that a report on the findings of this review was due in October and that consideration would be given to the recommendations in order to decide on the best way forward.

Jim Wells left the meeting at 11.44am

On reviewing the Salary Benchmarking Review Report all Members agreed the need for a comprehensive job evaluation, grading and salary exercise to be carried out. Mr Stewart also highlighted that it was TUS’ view that the current job evaluation methodology does not properly consider and weight some jobs and that this would also need to be reviewed.

Jim Wells re-joined the meeting at 11.47am.

The re-introduction of the Assembly Allowance was considered with the majority of Members opposed to any change to policy on this. Mr Attwood noted the Commission’s position on this.

Members went on to consider the issue of pay recovery and whether the Commission considered there was a pay recovery issue to be addressed.

Jim Wells left the meeting at 12.03pm

Mr Attwood supported the principle of pay recovery but stated that it would be necessary to confirm individual party views on this matter and see if it was possible to obtain consensus to proceed.

Mr Swann suggested it would be helpful if a set of questions could be prepared by officials for Members to take to their respective parties.

Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for a set of questions to be issued to Members to enable them to seek their party’s views on pay recovery.

Jim Wells re-joined the meeting at 12.09pm

Mr Stewart advised that he had received the final version of the 2018/2019 pay claim and outlined the eight elements of it. Mr Stewart agreed to circulate the final pay claim. Members noted that the substantive element of the pay claim related to pay recovery and that the issue of an allowance had already been debated. Members agreed to defer discussion on the pay claim to the next Commission meeting and to seek their party’s views on pay recovery.

Action: Mr Stewart to circulate a copy of the final pay claim to Members.

Action: Members to seek their party’s views on pay recovery.

Jonathan McMillen, Head of Legal Services, joined the meeting at 12.22pm for agenda item 8.

8. BRIEFING ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF DETERMINATIONS AND THE MANAGEMENT OF LITIGATION

Tara Caul, Director of Legal, Governance and Research Services, informed Members that this paper had been prepared to address matters raised at the July 2018 Commission meeting.

Members noted that the paper had been divided into two parts and that Mr McMillen would present part one dealing with the administration of the 2016 Determination. Mr McMillen set out the legislative background and the longstanding view of the Commission that decisions on MLAs’ pay and expenses, and the administration of those decisions, should be taken independently from elected representatives and that the Commission had therefore fully delegated these matters to the Clerk/Chief Executive.

Mr Attwood thanked Mr McMillen for a very comprehensive report.

Following discussion, in relation to the administration of the 2016 Determination Members again endorsed the position that the Commission should not be involved in decisions involving MLAs’ salaries and expenses and the administration of determinations.

Ms Caul presented part two of the paper setting out the system for the management of legal proceedings and the point at which the Commission is informed of contemplated or active legal proceedings.

Members were content with the current protocols in place to ensure that legal issues likely to present financial or reputational risk are brought to the attention of the Commission.

In light of the Commission’s decision to support the established approach in relation to the administration of expenses, Members were content for Mrs Armstrong’s letter as referred to in 5.4 to be forwarded to the Assembly’s Finance Office for reply.

Action: Speaker to issue a response to Mrs Armstrong advising her that based on the Commission’s decision in relation to the administration of the 2016 Determination the Finance Office would contact her directly.

Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for a response to issue to Mrs Armstrong in relation to her request to review sundry expenses.

Jonathan McMillen left the meeting at 1.03pm. Comfort break until 1.16pm.

The Chair informed members that there would be a change to the scheduled order of meeting items to allow for some Members having to leave earlier.

14. COMMISSION APPROACH TO DECADE OF CENTENARY EVENTS DURING THE POLITICAL IMPASSE: SCHEDULED REVIEW OF CURRENT POSITION

Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support, referred Members to the July Commission meeting, when the approach to historic anniversaries was considered. The Commission had agreed on two previous occasions that the process to agree dates and events should not be initiated until the Assembly resumes normal business and a successor Commission is appointed. In July 2018, the Commission agreed that the position would again be reviewed if the political situation had not changed by October 2018. Mr Ramsey stated that he was returning to the Commission at this meeting given that one potential anniversary which could be included occurs in January 2019.

Mr Ramsey noted that the options on whether to initiate the Commission’s approach to centenaries had not changed since it was last discussed by the Commission. While it had been prudent for the Commission to defer a decision on the Commission’s approach to future centenaries, Mr Ramsey noted that there were arguments to be made about whether to continue with that position given the ongoing political situation or whether the Commission should agree to a series of centenary dates and events for this mandate. Mr Ramsey noted that this was essentially a political judgment and sought the Commission’s views.

Following discussion, Members were content to initiate the Commission’s principles on centenaries in 2019.

Members then agreed to the following proposed list of anniversaries to be marked during the mandate but noted that where dates occur in close proximity, anniversaries may be combined into one event:

  • January 2019 First Sitting of Dáil Éireann
  • January 2019 Beginning of the Irish War of Independence
  • December 2020 Government of Ireland Act
  • May 2021 Partition/Creation of Northern Ireland
  • June 2021 First Sitting of Northern Ireland Parliament

In light of this decision Members were also content for a lecture covering the two anniversaries in January 2019 to proceed as follows:

  • The Speaker hosts a lecture in the Senate Chamber.
  • The lecture be delivered by an appropriate academic.
  • As with all previous “Perspective On ….” lectures, a question and answer session would be held afterwards to enable different narratives and perspectives to be expressed and discussed.
  • The Ceann Comhairle be invited to attend and make some short remarks.
  • The event concludes with light supper for conversation to continue.

Simon Burrowes joined the meeting at 1.25pm for agenda item 12.

12. CORRESPONDENCE REGARDING AN EVENT (“ALTERNATIVE QUEER ULSTER”) IN PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS ON 28 JULY 2018

Mr Burrowes presented this paper which had been prepared in response to correspondence received from Mr Allister MLA in relation to an event held in Parliament Buildings on 28 July 2018.

Members noted that Mr Wells MLA had also raised an issue with the Assembly’s Events Office in relation to this event.

Mr Burrowes provided Members with a detailed report of the event in question and highlighted the following in relation to events held within Parliament Buildings:

  • the conduct and behaviour of those attending events is ultimately the responsibility of the primary sponsor;
  • the current Events Policy and the Conduct and Behaviour Policy contain no detailed guidance on what is considered to be appropriate or inappropriate behaviour, conduct, use of language etc; and
  • the policies mentioned above contain no sanction/consequence for those sponsoring and/or organising events.

Members noted that the paper made clear that officials intended to review the Events Policy. Officials also advised that in advance of such a review, they would seek the Commission’s view on the principles on which a review of the Events Policy would be based.

Mr Wells thanked Mr Burrowes for his comprehensive and detailed report of the event.

Action: Mr Burrowes to prepare a paper for a future Commission meeting outlining the principles on which a review of the Events Policy should be based.

Action: Speaker to issue a response to Mr Allister based on the lines proposed in the paper.

Simon Burrowes left the meeting at 1.39pm. Alex Maskey MLA left the meeting at 1.39pm.

Ken Eccles, Head of Security, joined the meeting at 1.39pm for agenda item 12.

10. NEW PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS SECURITY SYSTEM (PBSS)

Mr Eccles presented this paper, seeking Members’ approval to proceed with the proposal to acquire a new security management system for Parliament Buildings.

Mr Eccles updated the Commission on the status of the existing security management system (SMS) and provided two options for consideration, namely:

(i)  Do nothing.

(ii)  Replace the SMS with a new IP based system before 2020.

Mrs Hogg informed Members that approval of expenditure for the security system was within her delegated authority but due to the current political situation and sensitivities around expenditure at this time she wanted to seek guidance from the Commission on the way forward. Mrs Hogg advised that she was firmly of the view that this was essential expenditure and should be progressed urgently. She also confirmed that the system was required whether or not the Assembly had resumed to normal business.

Following discussion, Members were content to proceed with the recommended Option (ii) to replace the SMS with a new IP based system before 2020.

Ken Eccles left the meeting at 1.48pm.

11. PROCEDURES REGARDING MEMBERS AND DISABILITY

Mr Stewart presented this paper, which had been prepared in response to Mrs Armstrong’s letter (item 5.2) requesting a review of procedures regarding Members and disability.

Members also noted that the letter from the APG on Disability (item 5.5) highlighted similar issues to those raised by Mrs Armstrong and would subsequently be addressed within this paper.

Members noted that the point raised by both letters in relation to the registration of Members’ interest was not within the remit of the Commission and would have to be considered by the Committee of Standards and Privileges in the future. Mr Stewart sought Members approval for two additional measures to address the requests received, namely:

  • Extend the annual disability survey which is issued to Commission employees by the Human Resources Office to Members. This will enable a Member to declare a new or existing disability and will provide advice on who they may contact to discuss support which may be available from the Commission and the support that may be available to them under the Disability Expenses provision of the 2016 Determination; and
  • Place the Disability Declaration Form which is provided to Members for completion at the start of a new mandate on the Members’ pages of AssISt, therefore enabling Members to declare a disability and seek support at any time.

Members were content to support the implementation of the additional measures outlined by Mr Stewart.

Mr Swann acknowledged the range of work and structural alterations that the Commission had undertaken to support Members with disabilities and thanked officials for the adjustments which had been made to support a Member and former Member of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Action: Speaker to issue replies to Mrs Armstrong and the Chair of the APG on Disability outlining the additional measures agreed by the Commission.

Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for an annual disability survey for MLAs and to ensure that the Disability Declaration Form is available on AssISt.

15. POLITICS PLUS REPORT ON 2017 ACTIVITY

The Commission noted the annual report from Politics Plus on its activities during 2017.

Mrs Hogg referred Members to a request from the Chair of Politics Plus for the Board to meet with the Commission in order to discuss the future of Politics Plus.

Mrs Hogg proposed bringing a paper on the relationship between the Commission and Politics Plus to the next Commission meeting for consideration by Members. This would inform a discussion by the Commission on the Commission’s future relationship with Politics Plus. Members could then consider the request to meet with the Politics Plus Board during that discussion. Members agreed that the Chair should issue an initial response to the Chair of Politics Plus acknowledging receipt of the report and advising that clarification of the Commission’s position would be provided in due course.

Members were content with Mrs Hogg proposals.

Action: Mrs Hogg to prepare a paper for the next Commission meeting to assist Members in their deliberations in relation to its future relationship with Politics Plus.

Action: Speaker to issue a response to the Chair of Politics Plus.

Martina Dalton joined the meeting at 1.57pm for agenda item 13.

13. UPDATE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE GENERAL DATA PROTECTION REGULATION (“GDPR”)

Ms Dalton provided Members with an update on the implementation of GDPR compliance. Ms Caul confirmed that adequate procedures were in place should a critical data incident occur.

Angela Kelly joined the meeting at 1.59pm.

Members were content to note the report.

Martina Dalton and Angela Kelly left the meeting at 2.04pm.

Alice McKelvey, Legal Adviser and Tracey Wilson, Information Officer joined the meeting at 2.06pm for agenda item 9.

9. BROADCASTING AND RELATED SERVICES CONTRACT VARIATION

Mrs Hogg presented this paper seeking Members’ approval of two contract variations to the Broadcasting and Related Services Contract.

Mrs Hogg informed Members that approval of expenditure for both variations was within her delegated authority but due to the current political situation and sensitivities around expenditure at this time she wanted to seek guidance from the Commission on the state of broadcasting readiness to be retained.

Firstly, Mrs Hogg advised Members that the current contract variation is due to expire on 9 November 2018 and she informed Members of a proposal to extend this until 21 December 2018 to accommodate two days of RHI Inquiry closing statements scheduled for December and to facilitate the restoration of the Senate Chamber thereafter.

Members were content to approve the extension of the current contract variation from 10 November to 21 December 2018 to facilitate the RHI Inquiry closing statements and restoration of the Senate Chamber.

Action: Mrs Hogg to liaise with the Procurement Office and arrange for an extension to the current contract variation, covering the period 10 November 2018 until 21 December 2018, to be issued to the contractor.

Secondly, in relation to the contract period beyond 21 December 2018 Mrs Hogg outlined four options for consideration by Members.

Following discussion, Members agreed with the recommended Option D.

Action: Mrs Hogg to liaise with the Procurement Office and arrange for a contract variation covering the period 22 December 2018 to 9 July 2019 to be prepared and agreed with the contractor as per agreed Option D.

Alice McKelvey and Tracey Wilson left the meeting at 2.23pm.

16. AOB

Mr Swann raised an issue in relation to confusion around the entitlement of expenses for MLAs attending external events representing the Assembly.

Mrs Hogg explained that she was recently made aware of this issue and confirmed that there appeared to be an anomaly regarding expenses paid to Members when they represented the Assembly on external bodies and attended external events but were unaccompanied by a member of Secretariat staff and confirmed that this matter was under review.

Members noted correspondence from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (EQNI) complimenting the Assembly Commission on its recently submitted Section 75 Annual Equality Progress Report.

17. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, 5 December 2018 at 10am.

The meeting concluded at 2.24pm.

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