Session: 2012/2013

Date: 19 November 2013

ISBN: Only available online

Committee: Social Development

Membership and Powers

The Committee for Social Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48.

The Committee has power to:

  • consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • consider relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of primary legislation;
  • call for persons and papers;
  • initiate inquires and make reports; and
  • consider and advise on any matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Social Development.

The Committee has 11 members including the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of 5.

The membership of the Committee since 1 September 2012 has been as follows:

Mr Alex Maskey (Chairperson)

Mr Mickey Brady (Deputy Chairperson)

Ms Paula Bradley (1)

Ms Pam Brown

Mr Gregory Campbell (3)

Ms Judith Cochrane

Mr Michael Copeland

Mr Sammy Douglas (2, 4, 5, 6)

Mr Mark H Durkan

Mr Fra McCann

Mr David McClarty

1 With effect from 20 February 2012 Ms Paula Bradley replaced Mr Gregory Campbell

2 With effect from 26 March 2012 Mr Alastair Ross replaced Mr Sammy Douglas

3 With effect from 01 October 2012 Mr Gregory Campbell replaced Mr Alex Easton

4 With effect from 01 October 2012 Mr Sammy Douglas replaced Mr Alastair Ross

5 With effect from 07 May 2013 Mr Sydney Anderson replaced Mr Sammy Douglas

6 With effect from 07 May 2013 Mr Sammy Douglas replaced Mr Sydney Anderson

End of Session Report 2012 – 2013

During the period 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013, the Committee for Social Development completed a substantial work programme including a total of 54 meetings. Of these meetings, 47 were held entirely in public and 7 were held partially in private session. The private portions of these meetings were generally scheduled to allow for the Committee to take advice from the NI Assembly’s legal staff on issues relating to Bills under consideration by the Committee.

Throughout this period, the Committee held 2 meetings outside Parliament Buildings in Members’ constituencies.

The Committee’s work programme during this period covered:

Details of the key items of business considered by the Committee during the session are given in the following report:

Primary Legislation

  • Welfare Reform Bill

The Bill is generally acknowledged as establishing the most radical reform of the welfare system in a generation. The central plank of the Bill is the introduction of Universal Credit which will replace 6 existing benefits. The replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments, establishing a cap on the amount of benefits that working age people can receive and changes to housing benefit are other key elements of the Bill.

Due to the size and complexity of the Bill it constituted a substantial element of the Committee’s work programme and necessitated the scheduling of additional meetings.

During its’ consideration of the Bill the Committee acknowledged there were a range of issues relating to human rights and equality. It therefore agreed a motion for the Assembly to establish an Ad Hoc Committee on Conformity with Human Rights and Equality Requirements to assist with the consideration of the Bill.

The Committee subsequently lodged opposition to ten Clauses in the Bill on 22 May 2013, and is awaiting the commencement of the Consideration Stage.

The Committee published its report on the Welfare Reform Bill on 14 February 2013. The full report is available online here .

  • Charities Bill

The Bill amends the public benefit provision of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 to provide clarity on the requirement to be met in determining whether an institution is, or is not, a charity within the meaning of that Act.

The Committee received evidence from key stakeholders including churches, solicitors and voluntary groups.

The Committee was content with the Bill, but made a minor amendment to one clause, based on recommendations made by the Examiner of Statutory Rules.

The Committee submitted its report to the Assembly in October 2012. The full report is available online here .

  • Business Improvement Districts

The Bill makes provision to allow for statutory Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in Northern Ireland. The Bill introduces proposals informed by legislation and practice in other parts of the UK and Ireland.

The Committee received evidence from key stakeholders, including city and borough councils, RICs and NILGA.

The Committee was generally content with the positive implications of the Bill, but expressed concern over some elements, such as the effect the Bill may have on small independent retailers and the potential on out-of-town BIDs having a detrimental impact on town centres, as well as a lack of interdepartmental co-operation in respect of town centre regeneration and planning.

The Bill passed Final Stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 11 February 2013 and is currently awaiting Royal Assent.

The Committee submitted its report to the Assembly in December 2012. The full report is available online here .

  • Legislative Consent Motion - Small Charitable Donations Bill

The LCM was introduced to allow eligible charities and to claim a Gift Aid-style top-up payment in respect of individual donations of £20 or less without having to obtain a declaration from donors as is required from Gift Aid.

The Committee took evidence from Departmental officials and representatives from the NI Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA). Members of the Committee expressed concern that not all charities would be able to benefit from this new Scheme and the Committee queried the rationale for the eligibility criteria.

The Committee published its report on the LCM associated with the Small Charitable Donations Bill on 16 November 2012. The report is available online here .

  • Licensing of Pavement Cafés Bill

The Bill is currently at Committee Stage and makes provision for the regulation by district councils of the placing of furniture on public areas for the consumption of food or drink.

The Committee has received briefings from the Department on the Bill, and has heard the views of relevant stakeholder groups.

While broadly acknowledging and welcoming the positive implications of the Bill, the Committee expressed some concern over the obstacle that street furniture may present to those with disabilities, including blind and partially sighted people.

A Call for Evidence has been issued for the Bill and the deadline for submissions is Friday 13 September 2013. The Committee will consider the comments submitted by stakeholders and address any concerns to the Department. A report will be issued in due course.

Subordinate Legislation

The Committee considered over 70 proposed statutory rules. Most of these rules were associated with social security, pensions and child maintenance. Where necessary the Committee sought additional information and briefings from officials and other stakeholders before reaching a decision.

The Committee considered 43 statutory rules that were laid in the Assembly.

Budget Scrutiny

The Committee has been mindful of difficulties resulting from the continuing poor economic climate and has worked closely with the Department throughout the session to ensure that best use is made of the available resources.

Briefings were received from departmental officials at each of the quarterly monitoring rounds in September and December 2012, and in May and June 2013. This detailed examination of budgets contributed to ensuring that departmental financial targets were met.

Policy Scrutiny

Throughout this session the Committee has taken an active interest in the Department’s Housing Strategy and has taken evidence from the Department on this issue, as well as proactively engaging with stakeholders. The Committee considers this an important ongoing issue and will continue to engage, with the potential to work collaboratively, with stakeholders and the Department to ensure the best outcome across all tenures.

Engagement

During 2012 -13, the Committee undertook a range of activities to enable interested organisations and groups to engage with the Committee. These focused on the consideration of the Department’s Housing Strategy.

Stakeholder Events

  • Housing Stakeholder Event, 11 April 2013.

Stakeholders from the across the housing sector gathered to discuss what issues they considered to be most important for the Department to consider in relation to social housing reform and the Housing Strategy.

From this event the Committee identified key issues which it will consider when developing its forward work programme.

Members of the Social Development Committee with stakeholders

Members of the Social Development Committee with stakeholders

  • Tackling the Problem of Repossessions, 6 June 2013

One key issue identified with regards to housing is the current high number of repossessions. The Housing Rights Service and the Committee co-hosted an event focusing on possible solutions to this problem.

Presentations on the NI Housing Market and the Economy, mortgage rescue schemes in the UK and approaches taken to dealing with repossessions and negative equity in the RoI were delivered by guest speakers.

Based on the discussions the Committee made recommendations to the Department to assist in the formulation of the work programme of the proposed Repossessions Working Group to be established in September/October 2013.

The Committee will monitor the progress of this group.

Events

The Chairperson addressed representatives from the advice sector at an event organised by Advice NI addressing the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill on advice centres.

Visits

  • 16 May 2013 - Members of the Committee visited the Ballynafeigh Community Development Association in South Belfast to talk to residents and learn firsthand the positive impact of Shared Neighbourhood schemes.
  • 23 May 2013 – The Committee visited Ballymena where Members had the opportunity to see the result of town centre regeneration and speak to officials and business owners on the practical application and potential benefits of the BIDs bill.
  • 20 June 2013 – The Committee visited Coleraine Borough Council to hear about the use of the European Regional Development Fund (Sustainable Urban Development) and receive a tour of the regenerated Waterside Area.
  • 27 June 2013 – Members of the Committee visited the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) Centre in Royston House in the centre of Belfast to gain practical insight into the process of WCA. Members received a tour of the centre and presentations from Atos Healthcare.

Meetings Outside Parliament Buildings

The Committee undertook the following external meetings in Members’ constituencies:

  • 23 May – Ballymena Town Hall (The Braid)
  • 20 June – Coleraine Borough Council

Members of Social Development Committee with Coleraine Mayor D Harding

Members of Social Development Committee with Coleraine Mayor D Harding

Committee Motions

The Committee raised Assembly Motions to extend the Committee Stage of Bills under consideration, to allow time for effective consideration.

Key Priorities for Next Session

  • Inquiry into allegations made by BBC Spotlight programme
  • Legislative Programme – amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, Pavement Cafés, Liquor Licensing
  • Housing Programme –. The Committee undertook some preliminary investigatory work during this session and will be continuing this work through engagement with stakeholders and the Department in the coming session.

ANNEX A

Committee for Social Development  

Expenditure for the period 1 September 2012 – 31 August 2013  

Budget area

Details

Expenditure

Committee Travel – committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of committee visits to:

  • Ballymena and Coleraine for external committee meetings
  • Ballynafeigh Community Development Association

£1, 248.06

Printing of committee reports

Includes the cost of committee reports on:

  • Welfare Reform Bill
  • BIDs Bill
  • Charities Bill

£3, 754.79

Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to committee inquiries, the committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of public notices in relation to:

  • Call for Evidence for Welfare Reform Bill
  • Call for Evidence for Pavement Cafes Bill

£1, 864.92

Consultancy support – the cost of specialist advisers appointed by the committee and commissioned research, also the cost of drafting Standing Orders

No specialist advisers employed or research commissioned during this session

N/A

General expenses

Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire, witness expenses, gifts provided by the committee during visits and conference fees for members

£4, 046.54

Total Expenditure

£10, 914.31

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