The Northern Ireland Assembly has been dissolved. The election will take place on Thursday 5 May 2016.

Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 19 January 2012

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting opened in public session at 10.02am.

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 12 January 2012 

Agreed:  The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 12 January 2012 were agreed.

Mr Fra Mcann joined the meeting at 10.05am

Mr Mickey Brady joined the meeting at 10.05am

3. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson advised Members that he was unable to attend the event hosted by TADA Rural Support Network on 29 February and asked for a representative to attend this event on his behalf if possible.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that anyone willing to attend should advise the Clerk.

Mr Michael Copeland joined the meeting at 10.06am

The Chairperson advised Members that the Pensions Bill is to be introduced on 23rd January 2012 and that the Second Stage is scheduled for 31 January 2012.

The Chairperson informed Members that Professor Harrington is due to visit NI between 5-7th March 2012 and preliminary discussions are underway to include a meeting and lunch with the Committee. 

Mr Gregory Campbell joined the meeting at 10.08am

The Chairperson also informed Members that the Minister contacted him regarding the Minister’s announcement of the Housing Executive rent increases.  The Committee noted a press release regarding this matter.

Agreed: That the Committee write to the Department seeking clarification on a number of issues relating to this rent increase.

4. Review of Gambling Laws – Briefing by Legalise Poker in NI

The following representatives from the Legalise Poker in NI joined the meeting at 10.12am

Mr Glen McCabe

Mr Paul Feldstein

Mr Alan Gilmore

Mr Desi Graham

The representatives briefed the Committee on the impact of the current gambling laws on the playing of poker and the potential positive economic impact that their proposals could have if these are addressed under the current review.

The Committee had a detailed discussion on these issues; in particular the recommendation from Legalise Poker in NI that poker is permitted in strictly regulated and safe licensed venues within an appropriate legislative framework.

Some Members acknowledged the social aspect of playing cards and that poker was primarily a game of skill with an element of luck; and also acknowledged Legalise Poker in NI’s view of feeling disadvantaged by the current legislation.

Ms Pam Lewis joined the meeting at 10.43am

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.50am

Members questioned how the figure of 420 jobs, created as a result of Legalise Poker in NI’s proposals, was determined and the nature of these jobs.

The Committee recognised that the majority of people who gamble do so sensibly and that gambling should be carried out within a strictly regulated legal framework and in a safe environment.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 11.04am.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department asking if the Minister intends to produce proposals on the reform of gambling legislation and, if so, when the Committee can expect those proposals. 

Agreed: The Committee also agreed to forward the submissions from the NI Turf Guardians Association and Legalise Poker to the Department, including the economic assessments they provided.

5.  Welfare Reform – Fraud and Error - Briefing by the Social Security Agency

The following officials from the Social Security Agency joined the meeting at 11.07am

Mr John O’Neill, Assistant Director of Pensions

Mr Conrad McConnell, Social Security Agency

The officials briefed the Committee on the strategy aimed to reduce fraud and error. 

The Committee had a detailed discussion on the strategy including the increase in the use of intelligence to combat fraud, risk-based targeting, tougher sanctions and penalties and increased levels of recovery.

Mr Alex Easton left the meeting at 11.25am

Members sought clarification as to why fraud and error are dealt with together on the same basis when they are two separate matters.

Mr Alex Easton re-joined the meeting at 11.32am

Members welcomed the fact that the overall level of fraud and error is decreasing but questioned why, if this is the case, the increased rate of reductions from benefits in order to recover debt is increasing.

Members expressed concerns that this increase, amounting to £3.30 per week, could be a significant amount of money for some benefit claimants and that this could take some people below the subsistence level.

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.39am

Some Members highlighted that the Department’s emphasis is on alleged fraud or actual fraud but very little on Departmental error.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 11.51am

Members questioned the nature of communication that takes place between the SSA and the Public Prosecution Service when the SSA gathers evidence of potential fraud cases.  Members also questioned the nature and level of communication between the SSA and a claimant when the PPS recommends that there is no ground for prosecution.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.58am.

6.  Consultations

The Committee considered a number of consultations.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to invite Macmillan Cancer Support to the Committee for their views on the proposals to change the Work Capability Assessment following recommendations from Professor Harington.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to contact relevant stakeholders about the proposals for the reform of Bereavement Benefits.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite Departmental officials to present to the Committee the proposals contained in the Queen’s Quay Masterplan.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite Departmental officials to make a presentation on proposed ways in which new powers within the Child maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 are implemented.

Agreed: Members agreed to note the remaining consultations

8. Statutory Rules
The Social Security (Loss of Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee agreed to defer consideration until 26 January 2012

9.  Correspondence

The Committee noted the Finance Minister’s statement to the Assembly on the         January Monitoring Round.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department regarding Children  and Young People’s Strategy Outcomes Model.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward this item of correspondence to the           OFMdFM Committee.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development regarding housing and fuel poverty issues affecting rural areas.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward this item of correspondence to the           Department for a response.

The Committee considered correspondence from a member of the public regarding the  relocation of Bookmaking Office Licenses.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to forward this item of correspondence to the          Department and ask for a response in relation to the implementation of the policy referred to in the letter.

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department regarding a stakeholder event on Welfare Reform which the Department is holding on 31 January 2012.

The Committee considered a press release regarding the Minister’s invitation to        1,000 households to seek their views as the introduction of Universal Credit          draws closer. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department and seek clarification on this survey.

Agreed: The Committee agreed for the remaining items of correspondence to be dealt with as per the proposed next steps in the correspondence Memo.

10. Forward Work Programme

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to note the draft Forward Work Programme

11. Any Other Business   

The Committee discussed the Housing Executive’s consultation ‘Establishment of a Belfast City Centre Waiting List’.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department and ask if the Housing   Executive’s consultation on the Establishment of a Belfast City Centre Waiting List could be extended to be included in other areas.

12 . Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 26 January 2012 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.15pm

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
26 January 2012

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