Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 17 January 2008

Libraries Bill

17 January 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

Ms Irene Armstrong ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms Julie Mapstone )
Mr Noel Kelly ) Departmental Solicitor’s Office

The Chairperson:

We move now to the Libraries Bill. I invite Mr Noel Kelly from the Departmental Solicitor’s Office, and Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) officials Julie Mapstone and Irene Armstrong to the table. I refer members to the correspondence between DCAL and the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA ) on schedule 2 of the Libraries Bill.

First, the Principal Clerk will set the context for us and remind us what stage we have reached.

The Principal Clerk:

It might be helpful for members to pause for breath and see what stage we have reached with the Libraries Bill. Over the last day or so, I read through the Bill thoroughly and the Committee’s work on it. All the clauses have been agreed, except clause 2, which is subject to a possible minor amendment by the Department. The Committee can deal with that this morning; it is in the letter from the Minister. Clause 2 is the only clause that the Committee must deal with today.

There are 19 paragraphs in schedule 1, all of which have been agreed, except paragraph 2, which is subject to three possible departmental amendments. Those amendments are also in the Minister’s letter, and the Committee will deal with them this morning. We can ask the officials to explain them.

Paragraph 6 of schedule 2 is slightly unusual because, according to the minutes of previous meetings, the Department and the Committee agreed that it should be omitted. That would involve a very minor amendment. The Committee requires the Department to say that the Minister will table an amendment to omit paragraph 6 of schedule 1.

There are 10 paragraphs in schedule 2.

All 10 have been agreed, except paragraphs 1 and 4. NIPSA had concerns about those paragraphs, and last week the Committee agreed to send a letter to NIPSA stating that the Committee was minded to accept the Bill in its present form but that it wanted to hear whether NIPSA had any concerns. The deadline for receiving a reply was not met; however, a letter from NIPSA was subsequently received.

At its meeting on 6 December 2007 in Belfast Central Library, the Committee agreed that it would accept a reassurance from the Minister about the legal aspects in respect to schedule 2. That assurance has been given and is in a previous letter from the Minister that the Committee looked at last week. I am concerned that although the Committee received and accepted the Minister’s reassurance, it asked for further confirmation. The Committee might want to consider the letter that has subsequently been received from the Minister.

There are three technical departmental amendments to schedule 3; they are in the Minister’s most recent letter. The Committee can ask for a short explanation on them.

The Committee must sign off clause 2, finalise a couple of paragraphs in schedule 1, finalise two paragraphs in schedule 2, and finalise part of schedule 3. There is no reason that that should not be completed today.

The Chairperson:

That matches my understanding of what has happened to date, specifically the Minister’s assurance that he is content with the legal advice. I suggest that the Committee move to finalise its consideration of the Bill. Are members agreeable?

Members indicated assent.

Clause 2 (Duty of Authority to provide library service)

The Chairperson:

I refer members to the proposed amendments to clause 2(1); to schedule 1(2)(1)(b); and the amendments to schedule 3.

I also refer members to the Minister’s response to schedule 1(2); and to schedule 2(1) and schedule 2(4). I suggest that we consider each item in order.

I invite the Principal Clerk to go through each amendment.

The Principal Clerk:

The Minister’s letter sets out in simple terms the proposed amendments that he suggests the Committee accept. There are three groups of amendment, the first of which relates to clause 2. I understand that it is in response to a request by the Committee, but members may wish to ask the Department to set out the background to that amendment. If the Committee is happy with it, it is a matter of signing off the clause to be amended.

Ms Julie Mapstone (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

We discussed this matter with the Committee during previous evidence sessions. Members may recall that the phrase "comprehensive and efficient" appears in the existing libraries’ legislation in Northern Ireland and across the water. When we came to draft this legislation, we felt that that phrase did not deliver much in the way of meaning. Therefore, instead of the word "comprehensive", we set out in clause 2(2)(a) what we consider to be the main task of the library service. We removed the term "efficient", because we did not feel that efficiency should be legislated for but should be dealt with in the procedures and monitoring of public expenditure.

However, I know that the Committee received evidence from several other people connected with the Library Service who asked for the phrase to be reinserted, and we are content to do that. It will not change the major policy but it will, perhaps, provide reassurance that there is no change, in effect, to the way that the Library Service should be delivered.

Mr McCausland:

I am happy for the phrase to be reinstated, and I agree entirely that it should be. On several occasions, I have said that the Library Service should stock books on, for example, the Ulster diaspora and the history of Northern Ireland. How will that be addressed? At the moment, much of that material cannot be accessed in Northern Ireland’s libraries and people end up having to go to somewhere such as the British Library. The Committee has discussed the lack of a national library in Northern Ireland. Can appropriate wording be included in the legislation to ensure that people can access such material in Northern Ireland?

Ms Mapstone:

Earlier exchanges of letters between the Minister and the Committee dealt with the nature and importance of collections. Clause 2(2)(a) sets out that the new library authority shall:

"secure that facilities are available for the borrowing of, or reference to, library materials sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements of adults and children".

We cannot place a highly technical and specific demand on the public library service to make all research material available. However, we accept the importance of collections, and Belfast Central Library is among several holding important collections.

Mr McCausland:

I appreciate that point, but the wording of clause 2(2)(a) is probably not much different from that in the current legislation, and, at the moment, there is not sufficient access to the type of material that I have mentioned. How can that access be created? Any attempt to develop cultural contacts between Northern Ireland with the rest of the world must include an emphasis on tourism, particularly geological and cultural tourism, and so forth. Lack of access to such material creates a void in the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland.

Ms Mapstone:

Library professionals tell me that there is considerable access to existing collections. Inevitably, there will be some gaps because in the absence of a national library there cannot be a fully comprehensive collection.

Mr McCausland:

I appreciate that. Therefore, in the absence of a national library, how can we produce something — and I accept that it would not be of the same calibre — that would at least concentrate on books that are specific to this place?

Ms Mapstone:

That is a matter for the collections policy which will be developed by the library authority. Perhaps the Committee will recall the Minister’s letter about collections, which assured members that he would ask the library authority to develop a collections policy that will ensure that existing material is better advertised and more widely availability and will look at the development of collections.

Mr McCausland:

I understand and accept that the Minister has given us an assurance that he will do that. However, would it not be better to include something in the legislation? This Minister may keep to his assurance, but a future Minister may not have the same interest in the matter. People have the right to access that sort of information.

Ms Mapstone:

All I can do is refer the member to clause 2(2)(a). Without being specific, the clause states that facilities should be sufficient for "general requirements", and that would apply to research facilities also. I would expect a collections policy to address any major gaps in collections as regards local historical or local cultural information.

Mr McCausland:

There is a parallel example regarding museums. Legislation relating to museums states that they should collect general material, which means that in museums you will find items from Egypt and all over the world. However, there is also a specific reference to — and I cannot remember the exact terminology used — the history of this region. If that can be the case for museums, there is no reason why it cannot be the case for libraries. It is not incumbent on museums to collect every remaining type of left-footed spade or other obscure items: the reference is general. Therefore, some reference to Northern Ireland, or the region — or whatever people want to call it — could be included in the Libraries Bill. I accept the Minister’s commitment, but something more could be done.

The Chairperson:

Are you referring to the way that museums are set up, Mr McCausland?

Mr McCausland:

Yes, there is a specific reference in the legislation governing museums.

The Chairperson:

Do other members have a view on that point?

Mr K Robinson:

I agree with Mr McCausland: it is very important to have collections that are specific to Northern Ireland given the possibilities of genealogical tourism, et cetera. The only helpful reference I can find is in Ms Knox’s presentation paper on the organisational structures of the library authority, which states:

"Providing access to local, Ulster and Irish history."

From experience, I know that it is sometimes extremely difficult to gather local material. As Mr McCausland said, sometimes one ends up going to London, Dublin or — in extreme cases — Armagh to get local material.

Ms Mapstone:

I also draw the Committee’s attention to the Department’s policy guidelines in the document ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’, which set out the importance of collections and their maintenance. Therefore, there is a departmental commitment to collections and to recognising the importance of material that is relevant to local historical research. That commitment, which is in the policy guidelines, will be monitored by the Department, as regards the operation of the Library Service, in order to make sure that it is adhered to. The legislation states that the material must be sufficient; and when that is taken together with the Minister’s letter to the Committee assuring it that he would seek to have a collections policy; we feel that those measures meet the issues that members have referred to.

The Chairperson:

Normally, the Committee would seek such an assurance. You are reminding us that we have already got that assurance, Ms Mapstone.

Ms Mapstone:

The Minister’s letter on the collections policy was one of the earlier letters — I do not have it with me and I cannot remember the date.

Mr P Ramsey:

Mr McCausland’s request is not unreasonable, and I do not understand the resistance from the departmental officials. It would only take a one-liner to ensure that access is provided to the materials that have been mentioned. If such wording were included in the Bill, then ensuring that such reference material would be accessible would be one of the Department’s priorities. I support the inclusion of such a measure in the legislation.

The Chairperson:

It strikes me that the Committee will need to revisit this clause.

The Principal Clerk:

The question is whether it would be appropriate for such a measure to go into primary legislation, a policy document, or regulations setting out the duties of libraries. That is a matter for the Department.

Mr McCausland:

Documents come and go: legislation is more permanent. The record indicates that policy documents in this area have not been adhered to.

The Chairperson:

As a Committee, we have to form an opinion on the matter.

Mr Brolly:

Could we have an example of how such a measure would be put into primary legislation? The matter seems to be more operational than legislative.

The Chairperson:

Mr Brolly, are you saying that you are content for the matter to continue to be covered by policy guidelines rather than legislation?

Mr Brolly:

Yes, unless the Committee wishes to include some form of monitoring principle that would ensure that the type of material that Mr McCausland, or any of us, wants to read is available. We could reach a point at which various interest groups, large and small, would be asking for this facility.

Mr McCausland:

If I want books about an obscure aspect of Japanese history, I cannot expect my local library, or even Belfast Central Library, to hold them. However, if one wants to access material on Northern Ireland, one should be able to get it in Northern Ireland. There is a huge volume of material — perhaps I should not have said "huge" as that will frighten the officials when they think of the cost. There is a significant volume of material that should be, and could be, made available, but it is not. People in both communities are being robbed of part of their cultural heritage.

A simple, two-minute story will hammer the point home. The man most responsible for the founding of Los Angeles was born in Belfast and he was educated in a Christian Brothers School in Dublin before going to America. He is a significant individual. People have come to Belfast from Los Angeles, and I have discovered that no-one knows that he was originally from here despite an interesting biography, which I have at home, having been written about him. If I were to go into a library, I would never come across it. That is the sort of interesting material that I am talking about. Past records regarding libraries suggest that if such material is not nailed down, it will get pushed aside and be forgotten.

Mr P Ramsey:

You are right.

Mr McCausland:

Museums legislation contains a phrase that could be used as a guideline.

Mr Brolly:

I appreciate exactly what Mr McCausland says. However, we need an example of the wording that could be included in the legislation.

Mr McCausland:

The museums legislation contains a line — I cannot remember the exact terminology — that refers to Northern Ireland, or the region.

Ms Mapstone:

I want to propose some wording that has been brought forward by my colleague Mr Kelly. He suggests that a phrase that could be added to clause 2(2)(b) which would be along the lines of: "creating an adequate collection of reference material relevant to the cultural heritage of Northern Ireland."

Mr McCausland:

Perfect.

Ms Mapstone:

I am not suggesting it as an amendment, because, of course, legislative counsel would have to do that. However, would that type of wording be appropriate?

Mr McCausland:

That is the sort of phrase that is needed. The wording that was used for museums was slightly wider. I believe that it employed the term, "Ulster", because, pre-partition, material would have been relevant because someone was born in Donegal, or whatever; whereas, now, it has general relevance. However, apart from that minor comment, Mr Kelly’s wording is not a million miles away from what we need. He has earned his money today.

Mr D Bradley:

It is not unreasonable to expect the legislation to refer to material on Northern Ireland since it is directed at Northern Ireland. The current wording could be used as a template for any region therefore it is a good idea to make it more specific. In my view, the collections policy does not necessarily cover this issue. As I made you aware before, Chairman, part of the Irish and local studies collection in Armagh was removed to the cellar of the libraries headquarters. It is essential that such collections are made available to the public. Such a reference in the legislation might help to drive that policy.

The Chairperson:

I believe that we have reached an outcome.

Mr Brolly:

Sorry, Chairman. I missed what has just been agreed.

The Chairperson:

I invite Noel or Julie to restate the wording that was offered.

Mr Noel Kelly (Departmental Solicitor’s Office):

Generally, it is wrong to legislate in haste. However, a rough draft of the new sub-paragraph, which would become clause 2(2)(b)(vi), would require the authority to have regard to the desirability of creating an adequate collection of reference material relevant to the cultural heritage of all of the people of Northern Ireland.

The Chairperson:

We can sign off on that aspect of the legislation subject to confirmation of the wording of the amendment. We will discuss the exact wording next week. Is that fair?

The Principal Clerk:

Therefore, the clause will be amended in accordance with the amendment that is before the Committee today and which will be along the lines of the wording proposed by departmental officials. Although, ultimately, that will not be the wording that the Office of Legislative Counsel (OLC) produces, Mr Kelly could leave his wording with the Committee Clerk so that the Committee can see that the revised wording will be along those lines.

Question, That the Committee is content with the clause subject to the Department’s amendment, put and agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 1 (The Northern Ireland Library Authority)

The Principal Clerk:

The next three suggested amendments are linked. The amendment to schedule 1, paragraph 2(1) will insert the new line "not more than 18 members"; the amendment to schedule 1, paragraph 2(2) relates to members being drawn from among representative councillors; and the third amendment, which is also to schedule 1, paragraph 2(2), will provide an opportunity for the Minister to bring forward a statutory rule to amend the figure of 18. Chairman, you might wish the officials to comment on that.

Ms Mapstone:

The Committee has received a letter from the Minister in which he committed himself to the principle of the amendments, and we have now tried to nail down the language. There are two aspects to schedule 1, paragraph 2: one is the number of people who will be on the board of the authority and the provision to amend that number by statutory rule; the second is the composition of the authority and the provision that a majority of members must be drawn from among elected district councillors. We have met the Committee’s wishes in respect of those points. The only thing is that, as you can see from the Minister’s letter, he has included the words "up to 19". The reason for that is that we do not want to render the authority inoperable if, for any reason, it loses a member. However, the objective is that it should have 19 members.

The Chairperson:

That was your point, Mr Robinson.

Mr K Robinson:

Yes. My point seems to have been addressed. However, will the officials clarify whether, at some point, a cute Minister would not, for his own convenience, refer the number back to seven and so thwart the will of the Committee, which was that membership of the authority should have as wide a geographical and gender spread as possible. I realise that, initially, it may be difficult to get members with the experience and expertise required to get the authority off the ground. Can I be assured that, in the future, a cute Minister will not abuse that point?

The Chairperson:

Do you want some mechanism for nailing down that number?

Mr K Robinson:

Yes.

The Chairperson:

Can that be done? Is there a way of ensuring that the emphasis is on having 19 members and discouraging regression from that figure?

Mr K Robinson:

I suggest that an antiquated form of words, perhaps a spoken assurance, might be useful in this context.

Mr Shannon:

Could the number seven not be omitted from the Bill? The wording could be "the chairperson and eighteen members".

Mr K Robinson:

I do not want to mess around too much with the wording of the Bill at the moment. It struck me on reading through the papers that after quite a struggle with officials the will of the Committee prevailed and we got it accepted that elected representatives should be on board to give some public accountability and geographical spread.

We went for a higher number of members to try to achieve that. I do not want the will of the Committee to be thwarted at some point in the future. The term "a spoken assurance" means nothing to me, but perhaps someone can elaborate on it?

The Principal Clerk:

As the evidence being given to the Committee is on the record, assurances given will be recorded. That should be sufficient for the Committee.

Mr Shannon:

In the Minister’s reply dated 20 December he clearly stated that he is disposed to agree to a board of 19 members. That is clear-cut; why do we not just go with that?

Mr K Robinson:

If members are content, and if officials are giving us that assurance, then that is fine.

Mr Shannon:

If there is any hassle, we do not need any other assurance, or form of words. The Committee can simply quote the letter.

Mr K Robinson:

I know where Jim Shannon lives if this goes wrong.

Mr Shannon:

It will not go wrong. I am the eternal optimist.

Mr McNarry:

He is never in.

Question, That the Committee is content with the schedule subject to the Department’s amendment, put and agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 (Transfer Schemes)

The Principal Clerk:

The Committee needs to sign off schedule 2. The schedule was agreed apart from paragraphs 1 and 4 because there was doubt over what the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance’s (NIPSA) response would be. Since the Committee has concluded that it will not consider the issues raised by NIPSA, there will be no amendments to schedule 2 and the Committee is clear to sign it off.

Question, That the Committee is content with the schedule, put and agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 (Amendments)

The Principal Clerk:

Schedule 3 is subject to three technical amendments. The Committee agreed in an earlier session that it was content for the Department to draft those amendments and bring them forward. Members now have the wording of the amendments in front of them, and they are simply changes to other pieces of legislation that will ensure that references to the board are included. Three pieces of legislation are mentioned. The Committee has already indicated that it is content with those technical amendments but it may wish to hear further comment from the officials.

The Chairperson:

Do officials wish to say anything further on the amendments?

Ms Mapstone:

The amendments simply deal with replacing references to the education and library boards with the library authority in other legislation.

The Chairperson:

Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

Schedule 4 (Repeals)

The Principal Clerk:

Schedule 4 has not been signed off. None of what has been done so far has brought about the need for any amendments to schedule 4. The Committee can now be reasonably satisfied that the schedule simply repeals old pieces of legislation which will no longer be relevant. The officials might want to comment on schedule 4, but it appears to me that the Committee is clear to sign it off.

The Chairperson:

Do the officials wish to comment further on schedule 4?

Ms Mapstone:

No.

Question, That the Committee is content with the schedule, put and agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

The Committee Clerk:

I have been passed a note suggesting a proposed amendment to clause 2(2)(b). The suggested wording is to add the following words:

"(vi) creating an adequate collection of reference material relevant to the cultural heritage of (all the people of Northern Ireland or the heritage of Northern Ireland)."

The Principal Clerk:

At some point, that amendment can be brought back to the Committee for members’ reassurance, but it is clear that the Committee is content with the general thrust of it.

The Chairperson:

That concludes the clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Libraries Bill. I am grateful to members and not least to departmental officials and the departmental solicitor’s office for their helpful contribution. Thank you.

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