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Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2000/2001

Date: 27 April 2001

Venue: Room 135

The Chairperson opened the meeting in public session at 10.03am.

1. Committee business

1.1 The Chairperson advised members of the forthcoming Assembly debate on Tuesday 1 May 2001 about those affected by the foot and mouth disease restrictions. He also informed members that he had agreed to allow representatives from the Livestock Auctioneers' Association to address the Committee, and summarised the day's amended agenda.

2. Minutes of Proceedings on 6 April 2001 and 18 April 2001

2.1 Resolved: that the draft Minutes of Proceedings for 6 April 2001 and 18 April 2001 were approved.

Mr McHugh and Mr Douglas attended the meeting at 10.08am. Mr Bradley attended the meeting at 10.13am.

3. Foot and Mouth Disease Update

3.1 The Chairperson welcomed the Minister, accompanied by DARD officials Dr Bob McCracken (Chief Veterinary Officer) and Mr Pat Toal (Deputy Secretary), to the meeting at 10.14am and invited the Minister to make a statement.

3.2 The Minister's statement included a summary of the slaughter and disposal arrangements; the news that the test result on the Ballintoy animals was negative; the recruitment of additional veterinary personnel; the programme of virology testing of sheep flocks in the Glens of Antrim; relaxations in animal movement restrictions; new operational structures and contingency plans; and further emphasised the need for farmers to continue with a 'fortress farming' policy.

3.3 The Minister answered members' questions on related matters including change of slaughter policy in GB; payment to vets to supervise animal movements; veterinary workload; continuing restriction on movement of horses; animal welfare problems; links between areas where outbreaks have occurred; serology tests; guidelines for public events; IACS payments deadlines extension; and regionalisation prospects.

3.4 Members expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Minister and her staff. The Chairperson thanked the Minister and the DARD officials. The officials left the meeting at 10.53am.

4. Inquiry into certain aspects of the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) - Evidence session with the Minister.

4.1 The Chairperson welcomed DARD officials Mr Liam McKibben (Grade 5) and Mr Gerry McCracken who joined the Minister at 10.53am.

Mr Armstrong left the meeting at 10.53am.

4.2 The Minister made an opening statement and responded to subsequent questions from members.

The Chairperson and Mr Ford left the meeting at 11.01am and the Deputy Chairperson took the Chair. Mr Armstrong returned to the meeting at 11.03am. The Chairperson returned to the meeting at 11.04am and resumed the Chair. Mr Ford returned to the meeting at 11.12am; the Deputy Chairperson left the meeting at 11.14am and Mr Dallat left the meeting at 11.19am.

4.3 Issues covered included classification; appointments to the LMC and representation; Quinquennial review; LMC funding; beef quality; marketing and promotional activities; and appeals.

4.4 As time constraints precluded further questioning, the Minister agreed to respond to further questions submitted in writing following this meeting, and subsequently as appropriate during the progress of the Inquiry.

Resolved: that the Committee would write to the Minister with further questions.

4.5 The Chairperson thanked the officials who left the meeting at 11.22am. The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at that point.

The Chairperson called the meeting to order at 11.29am. Messrs Armstrong, Bradley, Dallat, Kane, Ford, McHugh and Savage were present.

5. Fisheries and Aquaculture Structures (Grants) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001

5.1 The Chairperson welcomed DARD officials Ms Evelyn Cummins (Grade 5) and Mr Jim Prentice (Grade 7) to the meeting to join the Minister.

5.2 The Minister and officials answered questions relating to appeals procedures and confirmed that an appeals procedure, including recourse to a separate independent panel, is to be incorporated in the guidelines for each scheme where grant is payable under these regulations.

Mr Ford left the meeting at 11.33am.

6. Proposed Fishing Vessels Decommissioning Scheme (Northern Ireland) 2001.

6.1 The Minister made a statement referring to the package of measures proposed to help the fishing industry, including £5m for the priority decommissioning scheme, which has now received legal clearance.

Mr Douglas returned to the meeting at 11.38am.

6.2 In reply to members' questions, the Minister referred to 'track record' disposal and legal advice in relation to that matter; ships operating under 'flags of convenience'; review of Common Fisheries Policy; requirement for repayment of grants previously made in respect of boats being decommissioned; and the situation in relation to decommissioning in GB. The Minister also undertook to supply, to the Committee, a copy of the legal advice the Department had been given in relation to disposal of 'track record'.

6.3 The Chairperson thanked the officials, who left at 12.18pm.

7. Pig Industry Restructuring Scheme - Outgoers.

7.1 The Chairperson welcomed DARD official, Mr Brian Gallagher (Grade 7), who joined the Minister at the table.

Mr Armstrong and Mr Bradley left the meeting at 12.19pm.

7.2 The Minister referred to constraints preventing earlier discussion with the Committee and went on to make a detailed statement that included statistics on applications to the scheme; level of bids; comparisons with GB; publicity for the scheme; the competitive element; and the UK-wide dimension to the scheme.

Mr Bradley, following his return to the meeting at 12.25pm, declared an interest. Mr Armstrong returned to the meeting at 12.28pm.

7.3 Responses to questions from members included reference to the purpose of the scheme; the level of re-applications; fees to valuers; and the low acceptance level for outgoers in Northern Ireland.

7.4 The Chairperson thanked the Minister and Mr Gallagher and they left at 12.45pm

Resolved: that the Committee ordered the transcripts of all four sessions with the Minister to be printed.

Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.46pm.

The Chairperson called the meeting to order at 1.16pm. Messrs Armstrong, Bradley, Dallat, Douglas, Ford, Kane and McHugh were present.

8. Inquiry into certain aspects of the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) - Evidence session with the Livestock and Meat Commission.

8.1 The Chairperson welcomed Mr David Rutledge (Chief Executive), Mr Gerry Lowe (Chairman), Messrs Colin Duffy, Miceal McCoy and Ian Mark (Board members) representing the Livestock and Meat Commission, to the meeting at 1.16pm.

8.2 Mr Lowe introduced his colleagues and made an opening statement, referring to their written submission to the Committee, covering funding, classification, promotional activities and appointments.

8.3 Members of the Committee questioned the representatives on those issues, including the error tolerance level in the current classification system; the desire and potential for objective classification; training; monitoring; membership numbers, representation and appointments; and funding.

8.4 The Chairperson thanked the representatives and they left the meeting at 2.19pm.

Resolved: that the Committee will write to the Livestock and Meat Commission with further questions.

Mr Bradley left the meeting at 2.19pm.

9. Meeting with the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers' Association.

9.1 The Chairperson welcomed Mr Shaun Irvine (Chairman), accompanied by Messrs Harrison Boyd, Hampton Hewitt, Eddie O'Kane and Seamus O'Kane representing the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers' Association and invited Mr Irvine to make an opening statement.

9.2 In his statement, Mr Irvine demonstrated that, due to the enforced closure of livestock marts because of the foot and mouth disease outbreak, his members and their staff were deprived of the means of earning their living. Although agreeing that the foot and mouth restrictive measures were necessary and supported by the Association, nevertheless they were facing major financial hardship, not least because rates, rents and other costs still had to be met during the closures, with no money coming in. An estimated £1m has been lost over the last 9 weeks.

Mr Bradley returned to the meeting at 2.25pm.

9.3 Mr Irvine also referred to cash flow problems in respect of stock bought prior to closure, since farmers are unable to sell stock to clear their debts; capital investment that will be required before marts can reopen; the fact that they will have to wait 60 days after the last disease outbreak before they can recommence business; the lack of means of setting market value at present; the social and economic loss to the community through stoppage of marts; and emphasised that a package must be put in place to compensate auctioneers for loss in income to meet rent and rates bills and to meet the cost of any improvements demanded by DARD. He advised that some £13.5m was being set aside by the Scottish Executive to aid affected businesses.

9.4 Mr Irvine and colleagues answered questions from members on the matters raised including the risk of marts closing permanently, affecting the local economy of entire communities and necessitating further travel of animals; increase in future handling costs if sheep tagging is introduced; and the lack of livestock auctioneer representation on the Livestock and Meat Commission.

9.5 The Chairperson thanked the representatives, who left the meeting at 2.52pm.

9.6 Members deliberated.

9.7 Resolved: that Committee would bring the plight of the auctioneers to the attention of the Minister and the Assembly in plenary session on Tuesday 1 May 2001.

Mr Dallat and Mr Ford left the meeting at 2.53pm.

10. Matters arising from Minutes of Proceedings on 6 April 2001 and 18 April 2001.

10.1 Postponement of Vision Group report launch. Members noted the Chairperson's reply to the Vision Group Chairman's letter of 5 April.

10.2 Foot and Mouth. Members noted correspondence from the Enterprise Trade and Investment Committee to its Minister regarding problems in the tourism industry caused by foot and mouth.

10.3 Women's Resource and Development Agency (WRDA). Members noted the letter to the WRDA and the Agency's response.

10.4 Other Committees' responses to this Committee's Inquiries. Members noted requests from the Committees for Regional Development and for Enterprise Trade and Investment to be kept informed of relevant issues in the Rural Development Programme inquiry, and a response from the Committee of the Centre.

10.5 Rural Development Programme Strategy.

Resolved: that the Committee's letter of 6 April and the Minister's response of 24 April (also the correspondence which asked and answered questions following the recorded meeting) should be included with papers for the Inquiry Report.

10.6 Other Correspondence as Agreed. Members note copies of letters of invitation to NIMEA and others to appear before the Committee; letters to the UFU and NIAPA seeking answers to questions not put during evidence sessions; a letter to the Minister re Foot and Mouth; and the Committee's agreed response to the British Aggregates Association.

10.7 Proposed visit to Loughs Agency. Members noted that the Agency has been advised that the Committee's visit has been postponed.

10.8 Presentation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Members noted that arrangements have been made for the FSA presentation to the Committee at its meeting on 18 May 2001.

11. Statutory Rules.

11.1 Specified Risk Material (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001.

Resolved: that the Committee would invite officials from the Department to their meeting on 4 May 2001 to discuss the above Rule before considering it in draft form and responding to the Department.

11.2 Restriction on Pithing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001.

Resolved: that the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee should consider this Rule as the Food Standards Agency was taking the lead and the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee had previously considered this Rule in draft format.

11.3 Ban on Feeding to Livestock of By-Products from the Food Industry. Members noted for information only as this Order will not be laid before the Assembly.

12. Any Other Business.

12.1 Motion on relief for Businesses Affected by Foot and Mouth Disease. Members noted the Motion tabled by the Chairmen of the Finance and Personnel and Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committees.

12.2 Letter from the Minister on proposals to introduce a formal appeals mechanism for handling disputes relating to farm subsidy payments. Members noted the letter and agreed for the Clerk to arrange for officials to appear before the Committee on either the 18 or 25 May to discuss the intended proposals.

12.3 Departmental Bids for the Financial Year 2002 - 2003. Members noted the Letter from Finance and Personnel Chairman to Finance and Personnel Minister.

12.4 Letter from Chairman of the Regional Development Committee. Members noted letter announcing Inquiry into Belfast Harbour Commissioners' Titanic Quarter Leases.

Resolved: that the Committee should issue a letter to the Chairman of the Regional Development Committee informing him that they wish to be kept informed of the results of the Inquiry.

12.5 European Commission Green Paper on the 2002 Review of the Common Fisheries Policy. Members agreed to seek the views of the Assembly Research Department and reply to the Minister before the 8 June 2001.

12.6 Future Committee Meetings. Members agreed not to hold committee meetings on the 1 June and 8 June 2001, due to Council Elections being held on the 7 June 2001 and the possibility of a General Election.

13. Date of Next Meeting.

13.1 Resolved: that the next meeting will take place on Friday 4 May at 10.00am in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.

The Chairman brought the meeting to a close at 3.11pm.

George Savage
Deputy Chairperson

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