MEETING OF THE CHAIRPERSONS' LIAISON GROUP
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2008
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jeffrey Donaldson MP MLA
Mr Mark Durkan MP MLA
Mrs Carmel Hanna MLA
Mr Danny Kennedy MLA
Dr William McCrea MP MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Patsy McGlone MLA
Mr Robin Newton MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mrs Iris Robinson MP MLA
Ms Nuala Dunwoody, Clerk Assistant
Mr John Torney, Principal Clerk
Mrs Christine Darrah, Clerk to the Liaison Group
Mrs Mary Curran, Assistant Clerk
Mr Paul Breen, Clerical Supervisor
Mr Jonathan Young, Clerical Officer
Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
The Lord Morrow MLA
Mr John O’Dowd MLA
Mr Sammy Wilson MP MLA (Chairperson)
The meeting opened at 12.38 p.m. in closed session
Deputy Chairperson’s introduction
The Deputy Chairperson welcomed all present to the meeting.
Minutes of the meeting of 20 November 2007
The minutes of the meeting of 20 November 2007 were agreed.
Mrs Carmel Hanna and Mr Barry McElduff joined the meeting at 12.47 p.m.
Improvements to Committee Rooms
The Deputy Chairperson advised members that work was ongoing regarding the procurement of plasma screens for the committee rooms. A different solution had been identified which did not require a lectern to be installed in each committee room and the viability and cost of this was being assessed.
Communication between Committees and Departments – Access to Ministers
As agreed, the Chairperson had written to the First Minister and deputy First Minister regarding the arrangements for the handling of any contact from a committee chairperson to a Minister. Members confirmed that no further issues had arisen regarding access to Ministers.
Mr Jeffrey Donaldson joined the meeting at 12.51 p.m.
Hansard coverage of committee meetings
The chairpersons considered a letter from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure requesting clarity on the items of committee business for which Hansard could provide coverage and the protocols for Hansard coverage of closed sessions.
Agreed: A copy of the protocol on Hansard Services should be sent to the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure
The chairpersons also noted that the Editor of Debates was due to meet with the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure which should resolve any outstanding issues.
Mr Danny Kennedy joined the meeting at 12.54 p.m.
Review Report – NI Assembly Secretariat
The chairpersons noted the response from the Director of Implementation regarding the decision to remove the principal clerk level and concern was expressed that the issues raised had not been adequately addressed. Members were advised that the Chairperson was due to meet with the Director of Implementation to discuss the matter and a further up-date would be provided at the next meeting.
Agreed: The Chairperson would reflect the concerns raised in his meeting with the Director of Implementation.
Correspondence from the Speaker
Access for the public to committee rooms
The chairpersons noted a copy of a reply from the Speaker to the Chairperson of the Employment and Learning Committee, Ms Sue Ramsey, regarding the issue of lack of room for members of the public attending committee meetings. Ms Ramsey confirmed that, following the reduction in the number of reserved seats for the press, she was content with the situation.
Speaking in Plenary as Chairperson of a Committee
The chairpersons noted a letter from the Speaker regarding speaking in plenary as the chairperson of a committee and agreed that the approach outlined was sensible. The Liaison Group was also of the view that it was important for a chairperson to clearly indicate when they were speaking on a constituency, personal or party political basis rather than speaking on behalf of a committee, both in the Plenary and when speaking to the media.
Mr Barry McElduff left the meeting at 12.56 p.m.
Arrangements for Members and Staff travelling on Committee Business
The chairpersons welcomed the policy agreed by the Commission for travel arrangements for Members and staff travelling on Assembly, including committee, business. Mr Durkan requested clarification regarding the Assembly policy on off-setting the carbon footprint.
Subsistence rates for Members travelling on committee business
The chairpersons noted the subsistence amounts agreed by the Commission that a clerk was authorised to spend per member when on committee business. It was also noted that where an individual member travelling with a committee made their own arrangements for meals the normal subsistence rates applied.
Procedures for handling Freedom of Information requests
The chairpersons noted that, in accordance with the governance arrangements for handling Freedom of Information (FoI) matters in the Assembly, the decision on whether or not to release information requested in relation to committee papers rested with the Assembly FoI Unit. It was also noted that committees would be kept informed of relevant FoI requests and associated responses and, in contentious cases, any views expressed by a committee on releasing or withholding the information would be passed to the FoI Unit for consideration when reaching a decision.
Committee headed stationery
The chairpersons discussed a request by an individual committee member for committee headed stationery.
Agreed: It would not be appropriate to provide committee headed stationery for the use of individual committee members given that only the chairperson or the clerk could write formally on behalf of a committee.
Agreed: Chairpersons should be offered business cards and TSO should be asked to set up templates for headed paper for the use of each chairperson.
Committee Effectiveness Report
The chairpersons noted the findings and recommendations of the Committee Effectiveness report completed during suspension.
Draft Forward Work Programme
The chairpersons noted the draft forward work programme.
Agreed: Members would provide the clerk with details of any other items they wished to have included in the forward work programme.
Any other business
Information on the Chairpersons’ Liaison Group
The chairpersons discussed the provision of information relating to the Liaison Group on the Assembly website.
Agreed: Information relating to the Chairpersons’ Liaison Group including minutes of meetings should be placed on the Assembly website.
Ms Sue Ramsey left the meeting at 1.19 pm
Overlap of Committee business
The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Mr Mark Durkan, tabled a letter regarding the overlap of committee business. The chairpersons discussed the matter and noted the procedures currently in place.
Agreed: The relevant procedures should be drawn to the attention of all committee clerks and they should be advised to ensure that if there was any question/doubt regarding overlap of business with another committee, early contact must be made with the relevant clerk(s) before the approach to be taken was finalised.
Dr McCrea and Mr Robin Newton left the meeting at 1.25 pm
Use of paper at Stormont
The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment, Mr Patsy McGlone, tabled a letter regarding the amount of paper being used and the committee’s interest in any action being taken centrally by the Assembly to tackle this issue and any timescale for introducing new IT for committees.
Agreed: The issue of committee office use of IT and information systems was an agenda item for the next meeting and the Environment Committee would be kept informed of the discussions.
Date and time of next meeting.
The next meeting of the Group will be held on Tuesday 19 February 2008 at 12.30 p.m. in Room 21.
The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1.33 p.m.
Mr Sammy Wilson,
19 February 2008