MINUTES OF THE THIRTY SIXTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON TUESDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2008 AT 4.00PM IN ROOM 29
Mr Stephen Moutray
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Sean Neeson
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Alban Maginness
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Dr G McGrath, Mr R Stewart, Mr S Welch , Mr R Good and Ms C McGowan. Mr H Widdis was in attendance for Items 1 – 6.
1. MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING
The minutes of the meeting held on the 21 October 2008 were agreed.
2. MATTERS ARISING
2.1 Senior Salaries Review Body – Update
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the Senior Salaries Review Body was still in the process of finalising the draft report and subject to availability; it would be presented to the Commission at their next scheduled meeting. The Commission agreed that it would defer formal consideration of the report until next year and that it should be published immediately following receipt.
2.2 Commission Off-Site Meeting
Mr Logue informed Members of the final arrangements for their off-site meeting on 26/27 November 2008.
2.3 Provision of shelving to lecterns
Mr Welch informed Members that a temporary shelf had now been installed within the Chamber for Member’s consideration.
3. CLERK’S MONTHLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an overview of his monthly report which detailed progress achieved in relation to delivering services to the Assembly and in the continuing implementation of the Corporate Plan and the Secretariat Review.
He informed the Commission that the main challenges facing the organisation remained in the area of human resources with the significant ongoing recruitment programme and the preparations for “separation” in 2010. He paid tribute to Secretariat staff on their commitment to the delivery of high quality services across the Assembly.
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the Assembly Audit Committee had considered the process to facilitate the appointment of a new Comptroller and Auditor General and that a further report would be made available to Members at a future meeting. The Clerk/Director General confirmed that funding would be required, from the Commission, to support the appointment process.
The Clerk/Director General suggested that as part of the forthcoming Commission Off-Site programme, consideration could be given to the annual review of the Corporate Plan and mainstreaming outstanding Secretariat Review recommendations with a view to developing a new composite plan for the next financial year.
The Clerk/Director General also drew Members attention to two requests for the sale of charity items in the Assembly shop. Following discussion it was agreed a s an interim measure, to allow the sale of the recipe book entitled ‘ An Assembly of Recipes’ in aid of Cancer Research, Portaferry Branch and a number of signed caricatures of MLAs, sponsored by Lord Wallace Browne on behalf of the Down’s Syndrome Association. The Clerk/Director General highlighted that further work would be conducted on developing a policy in this area for consideration at a future meeting.
4. NORTH-SOUTH PARLIAMENTARY FORUM
Mr Logue reminded the Commission of the background to the recent agreement between the Speaker of the Assembly and the Ceann Comhairle of Dail Eireann to establish working groups, in each institution, to develop proposals for the establishment of a North-South Parliamentary Forum.
Following discussion the Commission approved the terms of reference for the group and it was agreed that the Commission, as a whole, would form the working group in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was further agreed that officials, led by the Clerk/Director General, would carry out initial research into the establishment of the Forum in consultation with counterparts in the Oireachtas. It was further agreed that Party Leaders would be informed of the establishment, composition and role of the working groups.
5. AUDIT OFFICE MANAGEMENT LETTER
The Director of Resources, Mr Stewart provided the Commission with an overview of the report received from the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) in relation to their audit of the Assembly’s Annual Report and Accounts. He highlighted a number of recommendations made by NIAO about the administration of payments to Members and Parties and sought Members consideration on a possible way forward on occasions where Members and/or Parties fail to comply with existing procedures persists.
Following discussion, the Commission agreed that the Finance Office should issue letters to all Members reminding them of the current procedures and that a further progress report should be tabled for consideration at an early meeting of the Commission to include recommendations on possible remedies where Members and Parties fail to adhere to the procedures.
Rev Coulter further proposed that the Finance Office should supply details of Members by Party to each Commission Member in order that they could highlight the matter privately with their party colleagues.
6. GOOD RELATIONS
Mr Logue provided a paper detailing proposals for progressing the development of a Good Relations Policy and the associated implementation strategy for the Commission.
Following consideration the Commission agreed to the establishment and terms of reference of two working groups. The first group would be the Good Relations Advisory Group and would comprise nominees from the main political parties, church groups, the community/voluntary sector, trade unions and ethnic minorities. This group will advise and make recommendations to the Assembly Commission on the development of a Good Relations policy and implementation strategy. Mr Moutray requested that the Caleb Foundation be added to the Good Relations Advisory group.
The Commission also agreed to the formation of an internal Good Relations Working Group to provide support to the Advisory Group in the development of a Good Relations Policy and implementation strategy.
The Commission further agreed that further discussions in relation to progressing a Good Relations policy should be held with Party leaders.
7. ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY
Dr McGrath provided Members with a copy of the draft Engagement Strategy for the Assembly Commission. The Speaker proposed that Members consider the detail of the draft Engagement Strategy for further discussion as part of their off-site meeting on 27 November 2008.
8. MLA COMPLIANCE WITH DATA PROTECTION ACT 1998
Mr Logue spoke to a paper detailing the processing of personal data by all elected representatives in complying with the Data Protection Act 1998. He informed the Commission that the Act requires individuals / organisations which process personal data to be identified on a public register. Mr Logue also highlighted that notification is a statutory requirement and Members who process personal information must notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), unless they are exempt. He informed the Commission that failure to notify may be a criminal offence.
Following queries raised by Members, it was agreed that the Assembly’s Information Manager would clarify the accuracy of the Information Commissioner’s register of data controllers. T he Commission further agreed that letters should now issue to Party Whips, Members and party support staff advising them of their statutory requirement to register. It was further agreed that individual Commissioner Members would be informed of Members not registered within their Party Groups.
9. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
9.1 Assembly Commission Annual Report
Members agreed the Assembly Commission Annual Report for 2007/2008 and agreed to consider the public brochure version as part of their off-site meeting on the 27 November 2008.
9.2 Litigation and Employment Law Services
The Commission endorsed the Clerk/Director General’s intention to extend the contract for the procurement of specialist legal services for the Assembly.
9.3 Private Members Motion – Carbon Neutrality
Mr Logue drew Members attention to a Private Members Motion submitted by Mr Jim Wells, to be taken in the Plenary Session on 25 November 2008 in relation to Carbon neutrality. Mr Neeson agreed to respond on behalf of the Assembly Commission.
9.4 Request from the Apprentice Boys of Derry
Mr Logue provided the Members with details of a request from the Apprentice Boys of Derry in relation to the loan of jardinières which were thought to be carved from the wood of the 17th century sailing ship, The Mountjoy. The Commission agreed to the loan of one jardinière with the provision that the arrangement be reviewed in 12 months.
10. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Tuesday 2 December 2008.
The meeting ended at 5.37pm