Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Simon Hamilton MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA Ms Jennifer McCann MLA Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Declan O’Loan MLA
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr Jimmy Spratt MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA
Mr Trevor Reaney, Clerk/Director General
Ms Nuala Dunwoody, Clerk Assistant
Mr Damien Martin, Clerk Assistant
Mrs Christine Darrah, Clerk to the Liaison Group
Ms Marie Austin, Assistant Clerk
Mr George McClelland, Clerical Supervisor
Mr Oliver Bellew, Clerical Officer
Mr Danny Kennedy MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Paul Maskey MLA
The Lord Morrow MLA
Mr Jim Wells MLA
12.35 p.m. The meeting opened in closed session
1. Deputy Chairperson’s introduction
The Deputy Chairperson welcomed all to the meeting.
2. Minutes of the meeting of 19 January 2010
The minutes of the meeting of 19 January 2010 were agreed.
3. Matters Arising
There were no matters arising.
4. Guidance for witnesses appearing in front of Assembly Committees
12.37 p.m. Ms Jennifer McCann joined the meeting
12.38 p.m. Mr Declan O’Loan joined the meeting
12.43 p.m. Mr Jimmy Spratt joined the meeting
The Liaison Group considered draft revised guidance for witnesses appearing before Assembly Committees. The guidance had been revised to take account of requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and in particular the need to encourage participation by people with disabilities in public life. In reviewing the guidance, the Committee Office had consulted and sought advice from the Assembly’s Equality Manager and the Disability Advisory Group, an informal working group established by the Assembly comprising representatives of the wider disability sector.
The revised guidance more accurately reflected and informed witnesses of the adjustments that could be made and the additional services that were available for people with disabilities. The Liaison Group noted that it was already common practice for committee teams to make reasonable adjustments for witnesses and members of the public with disabilities attending committee meetings therefore it was not envisaged that there would be any major implications for working practices. Chairpersons also noted that it was good practice to call committee members to speak using their full name in public committee meetings.
5. New Committee Web Pages
12.44 p.m. Mr Alban Maginness joined the meeting
12.45 p.m. Mr Peter Weir joined the meeting
The Liaison Group was advised that a project was underway to develop a new Assembly website with the likely timescale of late 2010 for implementation. In advance of that, the Committee Office, in conjunction with the Communications Office, had been considering ways to improve the current committee web pages and the information provided on them taking account of the limitations of the existing website.
The Liaison Group considered possible enhancements to the current committee web pages that would improve availability and timeliness of information in relation to the work of committees and ensure that the web pages were more attractive and easier to navigate by users. The proposed improvements would also inform and assist the development of the committee web pages for the new website.
Agreed : The new lay-out of the committee pages should be implemented.
Agreed : A new home page for each committee should be developed and should include photographs of committee meetings and events and a “latest” news section.
Agreed: A new link should be introduced on each committee home page to provide access to the audio recording of the two most recent committee meetings.
Agreed: A short video clip of each chairperson speaking about their committee and its work should be included on the web pages.
6. Revised Standing Orders on Public and Media Access to Assembly Proceedings and on Sub Judice
The Liaison Group considered revised Standing Orders provided by the Committee on Procedures on Public Access to Assembly Proceedings, Media Access to Assembly Proceedings and Sub Judice.
The revised Standing Orders on Public Access and Media Access to Assembly Proceedings made it clear that, in relation to committee proceedings, members of the public and the media would only be allowed into places reserved for them by the chairperson; would not be allowed to have any item in a public area which the chairperson considered could interfere with the preservation of order; and, the chairperson had the authority, in the interests of preserving order, to require a member of the public or media to leave. The revised Standing Order on Sub Judice clarified its application to committees and made it more succinct.
The Liaison Group noted that the proposed amendments to the Standing Orders would make no practical difference to the conduct of committee meetings.
7. Letter from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister regarding delay in the provision of financial papers to the Committee
The Liaison Group considered a letter from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister regarding delays in the provision of financial papers to the committee by the department.
A number of chairpersons expressed serious concerns that the lack of detailed information provided by departments and the short timescale within which committees were required to consider the draft 2010-11 Spending Plans did not enable committees to effectively carry out their scrutiny role. The Liaison Group noted that the Committee for Finance and Personnel would be discussing this issue, which had been raised by a majority of the statutory committees, when it considered its report on the Review of the 2010-11 Spending Plans in the next couple of weeks and recommendations to address the matter may be included in the report.
Agreed: The Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel would communicate the serious concerns raised by the Liaison Group to the Committee for Finance and Personnel at its next meeting on Wednesday 17 February 2010.
Agreed: A research paper should be commissioned on the budget scrutiny process in other legislatures to include information on good practice models.
Agreed: The Liaison Group would revisit the matter and discuss possible courses of action after the report by the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the Review of the 2010/11 Spending Plans became available.
8. How committees review/improve their effectiveness and publicise their achievements
The Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development, Simon Hamilton, raised the issue of how committees could review and improve their effectiveness and how the detailed scrutiny work carried out by committees could be better publicised.
A detailed discussion took place during which the following issues were raised:
- Reviewing/improving the effectiveness of committees and publicising their achievements were two distinct areas;
- A key function of committees was the detailed scrutiny work carried out in relation to primary and secondary legislation and specific consideration should be given to assessing and publicising the impact of this aspect of committee work;
- The provision of a general analysis of committee activity/work would be useful;
- It was more difficult to measure outcomes than activity;
- A briefing by the Director of Engagement, Dr Gareth McGrath, on a draft communications strategy was scheduled to take place at the next Liaison Group meeting and should provide an opportunity to discuss possible ways of promoting the work of committees better; and
- Information should be available both from a wider general perspective across committees and in relation to the detailed work of specific committees.
Agreed : An analysis of committee work/activity should be carried out.
Agreed : The clerk should prepare an options paper on possible methods of reviewing/improving effectiveness for consideration at a future meeting.
9. Up-dated Forward Work Programme
The Liaison Group considered a draft forward work programme for the period February 2010 to June 2010.
Agreed : Chairpersons were content with the proposed work programme.
Agreed: Chairpersons would advise the clerk of any other items for inclusion in the work programme.
10. Any other business
11. Date, time and venue of next meeting
The next meeting of the Liaison Group will take place on Tuesday 23 March 2010 at 12.30 p.m. in Room 21, Parliament Buildings.
1.19 p.m. The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting.
Mr Danny Kennedy, Chairperson
23 March 2010