Minutes of Proceedings
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 20 January 2021
Meeting Venue: Meeting via Microsoft Teams
Meeting date: Wednesday 20 January 2021
Meeting Time: 1.30pm
Assembly Commission Members:
Mr Keith Buchanan MLA
Mr John O'Dowd MLA
Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA
Mr Robbie Butler MLA
Mr John Blair MLA
Mrs Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive
Ms Tara Caul, Director of Legal, Governance and Research Services Dr Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services
Mr Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services
Mr Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support Mrs Janet Hughes, Clerical Supervisor
The meeting commenced at 1.40pm.
There were no apologies.
The Speaker noted that while the meeting had been called to consider a single issue in relation to COVID-19 planning, there were two other brief matters that he wished to raise under Chairperson's Business.
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
3. CHAIRPERSON'S BUSINESS
Assembly Members (Remuneration Board) Bill
The Speaker confirmed that in light of the current Coronavirus restrictions and prioritisation of Assembly business, he had spoken with Members individually in relation to the timing of the second stage of the Assembly Members (Remuneration Board) Bill, and whether it should be brought forward to the Assembly as a priority at this time.
Following discussion, Members agreed to pause bringing forward the Second Stage of the Bill until at least the Easter recess and to revisit the scheduling of the Bill. It was noted that there might be legal implications from any rescheduling of the passage of the Bill and it was agreed that officials would prepare a paper for consideration by Members before the Easter recess.
Action: Officials to prepare a paper on the legal implications of potentially rescheduling the passage of the Bill, for consideration by Members before the Easter recess.
Correspondence with the Audit Committee
The Speaker advised Members that in recent months, Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive, had received a number of items of correspondence from the Audit Committee and expressed some concern both that these issues were not being raised with the Assembly Commission, and that the nature of the issues being raised fell within the Assembly Commission's responsibility rather than that of the Audit Committee. The Speaker advised that as Chair of the Assembly Commission, he had issued a response to the most recent correspondence received and that this would be tabled at the next Assembly Commission meeting.
4. COVID-19 PLANNING – WEARING OF FACE COVERINGS IN PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS AND PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS OPENING ARRANGEMENTS
The Speaker noted that a number of MLAs had raised issues with him in relation to the wearing of face coverings in Parliament Buildings and the growing risk of infection from the new Coronavirus variant; that he had been involved in discussions with party whips; and that it was important that the Assembly Commission reviewed the arrangements in Parliament Buildings in the context of the latest restrictions.
Richard Stewart presented this paper, and advised that the Assembly Commission's response had, at all times, been informed by the Coronavirus Regulations with full compliance with the law and by the guidance issued by official entities. He outlined that the Coronavirus Wearing of Face Coverings Regulations did not require the mandatory wearing of face coverings in Parliament Buildings other than in the Blue Flax canteen; that many areas, including the Assembly Chamber and Committee rooms had been risk assessed; that provisions were in place to ensure social distancing throughout Parliament Buildings; and that Parliament Buildings was not currently open to the public.
Mr Stewart explained, that in light of representations made to the Speaker about the growing risk of infection, the views of Members were sought regarding the wearing of face coverings in various settings in Parliament Buildings.
The Speaker proposed, that the Assembly Commission introduce the wearing of face coverings for building users moving around the building, as social distancing was not always possible in corridors. Members noted the contractual difference between the Assembly Commission's relationship with staff and MLAs, but agreed that the welfare of all building users was best served by everyone wearing face coverings including MLAs, in public areas of Parliament Buildings. Following discussion, it was agreed that with immediate effect, all building users should wear a face covering in all public areas of the building.
Members discussed some concerns in relation to the voting lobbies. The Speaker indicated that he would write to MLAs in relation to wearing face coverings in the lobbies and that he was content for any issues in relation to the lobbies to be brought to the attention of the Chair in the Assembly Chamber at the time.
Mr Stewart also sought Members' views on proposed revised opening hours for Parliament Buildings, in light of the clear "stay at home" message that had accompanied the recent amendments to the Coronavirus Regulations.
Following consideration, Members agreed that the building would close on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6pm (subject to parliamentary business) with effect from 21 January 2021 and that the building would close on Fridays, save for attendance for necessary repairs and maintenance to the building fabric or equipment.
It was noted that no change was being proposed to the current arrangements for sitting days on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Robbie Butler MLA raised an issue regarding remote access to the Education Committee meeting earlier in the day, and noted his concerns with capacity issues in light of the increasing use of remote access for committee meetings.
It was agreed that officials would investigate the issue raised.
Action: Officials to investigate the remote access issue raised by Mr Butler MLA and report back to him.
6. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
Officials to liaise with Members to agree a date for the next Assembly Commission meeting,
The meeting ended at 2.24pm.