MEETING OF THE CHAIRPERSONS' LIAISON GROUP
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
TUESDAY 11 MARCH 2008
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan MLA
Mr Mark Durkan MP MLA
Ms Carmel Hanna MLA
Mr Danny Kennedy MLA
Mr John O’Dowd MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey, MLA
Ms Nuala Dunwoody, Clerk Assistant
Mr John Torney, Principal Clerk – Items 6 - 12
Mrs Christine Darrah, Clerk to the Liaison Group
Mrs Mary Curran, Assistant Clerk
Mr Paul Breen, Clerical Supervisor
Mr Jonathan Young, Clerical Officer
Dr William McCrea MP MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Patsy McGlone MLA
The Lord Morrow MLA
Mr Sammy Wilson MP MLA (Chairperson)
The meeting opened at 12.37 p.m. in closed session
Deputy Chairperson’s introduction
The Deputy Chairperson welcomed all present to the meeting.
Minutes of the meeting of 19 February 2008
The minutes of the meeting of 19 February 2008 were agreed.
Matters Arising from the meeting on 22 January 2008
The Deputy Chairperson advised members that there were a number of matters arising from the meeting on 22 January 2008 that had not been dealt with at the previous meeting due to lack of time.
Improvements to Committee rooms
Chairpersons were advised that the specification for each committee room had been finalised and the tendering exercise would be taken forward in conjunction with the Procurement Office.
Mrs Carmel Hanna joined the meeting at 12.40 p.m.
Travel Arrangements for Members – Carbon Footprint
Chairpersons were advised that the Office of the Keeper was currently undertaking an environmental audit of the Assembly, the results of which would inform the preparation of a draft sustainable development strategy. The Assembly carbon footprint would be one of the issues covered in the draft strategy.
CLG Pages on the Assembly Website
The Deputy Chairperson informed members that the Liaison Group pages for the website had been developed and would go ‘live’ in the near future. Information contained on the pages included details of the membership and role of the Liaison Group, minutes of the meetings and the forward work programme.
Overlap of Committee Business
The Deputy Chairperson advised members that all clerks had been reminded of the procedures in place for handling the overlap of committee business and had been advised to ensure that if there was any question/doubt regarding overlap of business with another committee, early contact should be made with the relevant clerk(s) before the approach to be taken was finalised. Ms Ramsey highlighted a number of issues coming before the Committee for Employment and Learning that had significant overlap with the work of the Education Committee and Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee. While arrangements were in place for handling this Ms Ramsey requested that the issue of Joint Committees should be progressed quickly.
Use of paper at Stormont
Chairpersons were informed that the Environment Committee would be kept advised of the results of the environmental audit of the Assembly and work in relation to the draft sustainable development strategy. The Environment Committee would also be advised of the outcome of the discussions regarding the use of IT in committees.
Matters Arising from the meeting on 19 February 2008
Response to the Committee on Procedures
A copy of the response from the Liaison Group to the Committee on Procedures on its initial findings in relation to the inquiry into committee systems and structures had been circulated for information.
Chairpersons were informed that, as agreed at the last meeting, research was being undertaken on the use of specialist advisers by committees in other legislatures and the matter would be placed on the agenda for the next meeting.
Review Report – Northern Ireland Assembly Secretariat
The Clerk Assistant advised members that the Chairperson, Mr Wilson, had met with the Director of Implementation to discuss the decision to remove the principal clerk level and provided an up-date on the current position. The Clerk Assistant also informed members that the next stage of the recruitment competition for Assembly Clerks had been completed and notification had recently been issued to candidates informing them whether or not they would be invited for interview. Members inquired about the number of committee clerks currently in post that would not be invited for interview. The Clerk Assistant outlined the number and advised members that she had responsibility for the implementation of the change process and the training of new committee clerks. Arrangements, including a reasonably lengthy hand-over period, were being made to ensure that committees continued to receive the appropriate level of service during the change period.
Mr Mark Durkan joined the meeting at 12.51 p.m.
Report on Committee Office use of IT and Information Systems
The chairpersons considered the findings and recommendations of a report on committee office use of IT and information systems. The work completed in relation to the committee database and management of information was noted and a discussion took place on the merits and difficulties of circulating committee papers solely on an electronic basis and establishing a system to facilitate access to committee papers electronically in the committee rooms.
Agreed: Research should be undertaken on the initiatives that had been introduced by a number of councils in relation to the provision of papers electronically and at meetings.
Agreed: A working group comprising committee and IT staff should be established to undertake the research and identify the feasibility and costs of possible options including possible pilot projects.
Agreed: The working group should report its findings to the Liaison Group for further consideration.
Agreed: The results of any pilot projects should be used to inform any consideration of the provision of new or improved committee rooms.
Mr O’Dowd left the meeting at 1.00 p.m.
Committee Headed Stationery
The chairpersons considered two styles of headed paper for committees and identified the preferred option.
Agreed: The same style should be used by all committees.
Committee Office Freedom of Information (FoI) Procedures
The chairpersons discussed the governance arrangements for handling FoI requests for committee papers and the need to ensure that the requirement to issue a response within 20 working days of receipt of the request could still be achieved during periods of recess when committees did not normally meet.
Agreed: Each committee should be asked to delegate authority during periods of recess to the chairperson and deputy chairperson to submit views to the FoI Unit on the releasing or withholding of information in any non-routine requests received.
Report on communicating and publicising the work of committees
A report on communicating and publicising the work of committees completed during the suspension of the Assembly was considered. Chairpersons noted the progress that had been made in implementing a number of the recommendations.
Agreed: Further consideration should be given to the findings and recommendations of the report once the results of the work on an outreach and public engagement strategy for the Assembly was available.
Up-dated Forward Work Programme
The chairpersons noted the up-dated forward work programme.
Agreed: A briefing on the procedures and support available for Committee Bills should be included in the work programme.
Any Other Business
The Commission had recently agreed interim criteria that applied for events to be held in Parliament Buildings. Chairpersons were advised that the criteria also applied to committee events and clerks had been informed of the new criteria and procedures to follow.
Date, Time and Venue of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Liaison Group will take place on Tuesday 15 April 2008 at 12.30 p.m. in Room 21, Parliament Buildings.
The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1.17 p.m.
Mr Sammy Wilson,
15 April 2008