MINUTES OF THE FIFTY THIRD MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 10 DECEMBER 2009 AT 1.00PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Sean Neeson
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mrs Carmel Hanna
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Dr G McGrath, Mr R Stewart, Mr H Widdis, Mr A Witherspoon, Mr J Stewart, Mr R Good, Mr A McQuillan, Mrs N Shephard and Ms C McGowan. Mr D Kennedy and Mrs C White were present for Item 4. Mr D Lynn was present for Item 6.
1. DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission Members in relation to items of business being discussed and all Members noted an interest in relation to the issues being discussed regarding the publication of expenses and the draft Report on Members’ Pay, Pensions and Financial Support for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Mr Moutray noted an interest in Item 4 as a member of the Committee for the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister.
2. MINUTES OF LAST MEETING
The minutes of the meetings held on the 11 November 2009 and 1 December 2009 were agreed without amendment.
3. MATTERS ARISING
3.1 Commission Newsletter – December 2009 Edition
Mr Logue tabled the December 2009 copy of the Commission ‘Newsletter’. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the newsletter should now issue to Members.
3.2 Commission Governance Workshop
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the recent governance workshop held on the 19 November 2009 in Dublin. The Clerk/Director General proposed to defer any further governance workshops until after the appointment of the new Commission Member nominated by SDLP.
Mr Kennedy and Mrs White joined the meeting.
4. OFM/DFM COMMITTEE - EUROPEAN REPORT
The Speaker welcomed Mr Danny Kennedy, Chairman of the Committee for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister and Mrs Cathie White, Clerk to the Committee to the meeting. Mr Kennedy provided the Commission with the background and an overview of the Committee’s draft Report on ‘Consideration of EU Issues’. Mr Kennedy highlighted seven draft recommendations arising out of the Committee’s consideration of European issues which the Committee considered as relevant to the Assembly Commission. Commission Members welcomed the draft Report and stated their commitment to moving the matter forward.
Mr Kennedy and Mrs White left the meeting.
The Clerk/Director General highlighted a number of issues in relation to the proposed recommendations and it was agreed that the Speaker would write to Mr Kennedy with the issues raised for consideration by the Committee.
5. COMMISSION REPORT ON MEMBERS' PAY, PENSIONS AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an options paper in relation to making progress on the recommendations set out in the Report on the Pay, Pensions and Financial Support for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the existing pay Determinations for Members and highlighted that unless a contrary decision was taken by the Assembly that the existing Pay Determination should be applied.
Following a briefing by the Director of Legal Services in relation to the current passage of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill at Westminster and the indicative timetable for the establishment of an Independent Statutory Body, the Commission agreed that the Speaker write to Mr Paul Goggins MP, Minister of State, confirming the continuing cross-party support for the draft Bill and outlining the planned timetable for the Body. The Commission further agreed that a meeting should be arranged for mid January 2010 with Party Leaders to discuss the options for making progress in relation to the Report.
Mr D Lynn joined the meeting.
6. ACCOMODATION ISSUES
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with a presentation in relation to the problems with water ingress to the roof of Parliament Buildings. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that repairs and general maintenance continue in the short term. The Commission further agreed in principle to the roof development proposal presented at the meeting and agreed that a further paper should be developed for their consideration setting out details and indicative costs.
Mr D Lynn left the meeting.
7. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with an update in relation to the development of sustainability within the Assembly. Following consideration the Commission approved the sustainable development policy statement and agreed that a further presentation on the topic should be delivered to an early meeting.
8. CLERK'S MONTHLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General presented his monthly report to the Commission. The Clerk/Director General highlighted the continuing high quality and level of existing service provision within the Secretariat and drew Members attention to several key issues within the report, namely:
8.1 Financial Planning
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to the Assembly’s expenditure and highlighted the amounts available for surrender as part of the December monitoring round. The Clerk/Director General reminded Members of the recent discussion held in November 2009 on longer term financial planning and their continuing scrutiny role in the context of wider public sector financial constraints. The Clerk/Director General also provided Members with an update in relation to informal discussions with DFP to explore the constitutional and legislative framework for funding the NI Assembly.
8.2 Major Incident/Business Continuity Plan
The Commission noted that work had commenced in preparing a major incident/business continuity plan with the assistance of the NI Assembly’s insurance provider.
8.3 Security and Access to the Stormont Estate
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with detail in relation to correspondence he had received relating to the operational arrangements put in place by DFP for security staff at each of the access gates to the Stormont estate. The Speaker confirmed that the Commission held no authority in relation to these arrangements and encouraged Commission Members to inform their party colleagues of the arrangements. The Commission agreed that a letter should issue to Party Whips informing them of the Commission’s responsibility in relation to the matter and highlighting the existing arrangements required by DFP.
8.4 Breach of Information Security
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the recent breach of Information Security and informed the Commission that the investigation had now concluded. The Clerk/Director General reported that it had been found that no current member of the Secretariat staff was involved in the incident and that the PSNI had been asked to review the evidence obtained during the investigation. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that he would now meet with the respective offices involved to inform them of the outcome of the investigation. The Commission agreed that a further postmaster to all staff, MLAs and their support staff should also issue.
8.5 Request for Display of Artwork/Exhibition
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that he had received a request from t he Arts Council, through the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, to display art work and exhibitions at Parliament Buildings. Members agreed in principle to the request and that details of the artwork would be provided to the next meeting.
8.6 Consultancy Assignments
The Clerk/Director General, in line with delegated authority, reported on two consultancy projects, which exceeded the £50k threshold, currently being undertaken within the Assembly.
8.7 Protocol for Tributes; Expressions of Condolence; etc
The Commission noted the ongoing work by officials to prepare a protocol in respect to the Assembly’s response to the death of a significant individual and agreed that the matter come forward for consideration to a future Commission meeting.
9. SCHOOL VISITS
The Director of Engagement reported that he would be bringing forward a new Education policy to the Commission to include an approach to increasing participation from schools throughout Northern Ireland.
10. LITIGATION UPDATE
The Director of Legal Services provided Members with an update in relation to current litigation against the Assembly Commission.
11. STANDARDS AND PRIVILEGES COMMITTEE CONSULTATION
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to correspondence received from the Standards and Privileges Committee. The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided the Commission with the background and detail on the consultation exercise being undertaken by the Committee on Standards and Privileges. He highlighted that the Committee had agreed to carry out an inquiry on the appointment of an Assembly Commissioner for Standards, on maintaining the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members (the Code of Conduct), and on handling alleged breaches in relation to the Code of Conduct. The Commission agreed that the recent process for the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General was worth considering, both from a process and funding perspective. Following further consideration the Commission agreed that a meeting should be initially set up with the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson to explore this issue and other issues raised with the Commission in an earlier Report by the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
12. ASSEMBLY EXPO
Dr McGrath provided Members with a brief update in relation to the Assembly Expo and informed the Commission that he would be tabling a substantive paper on the topic to the next Commission meeting.
13. EQUALITY AND GOOD RELATIONS ACTION PLAN
Mr Logue spoke to a paper detailing proposals for progressing and implementing a Good Relations Action Plan. Following consideration the Commission approved the Good Relations Commitment Statement and agreed to defer consideration of the Good Relations Action plan and associated actions until after they had had an opportunity to discuss the matter within their Party Groups.
Mr A McQuillan left the meeting
14. SARC APPRAISAL
The Clerk/Director General presented a paper detailing the process for the appraisal of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC), its Chairperson and Independent Member. Following consideration the Commission agreed that SARC should undertake a self evaluation annually and include the results of the process in their Annual Report to the Commission.
The Commission further agreed the responsibilities for conducting the appraisals for the SARC Chairperson and Independent Member.
15. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission will take place on Thursday 21 January 2010.
The meeting ended at 3.03pm