MINUTES OF THE FIFTY FOURTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2010 IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Sean Neeson
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MBE
Mr Alex Attwood
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr R Stewart, Mr S Welch, Mr H Widdis, Dr G McGrath, Mr J Stewart, Mr R Good, Mr A McQuillan and Ms C McGowan.
1. DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. There were no disclosures.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker welcomed the return of the Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House. The Speaker also informed Members that the fifth meeting of the North-South Parliamentary Forum Working Group would take place immediately after the Commission Meeting.
3. MINUTES OF LAST MEETING
The minute of the meeting held on the 21 January 2010 were agreed without amendment.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Commission Newsletter
The Commission considered the content of the Newsletter and agreed that it should now issue to Members.
4.2 SARC Membership
The Clerk/Director General advised the Commission that Mr S Moutray had agreed to become the Commission representative on the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee.
4.3 Responses to queries raised during Oral Questions
The Speaker drew Members attention to several issues that were raised by Members during the Oral Question time to the Assembly Commission on Tuesday 2 February 2010. He highlighted that two of the issues relating to the costs for items within the vending machines and car parking facilities on sitting days, would now be taken forward as written responses.
The Director of Facilities informed Members that in relation to the issue of cigarette litter at the West door, that he was proposing to increase the frequency of cleaning the area. He also confirmed that a dedicated smoking area had been allocated in the court yard area and that staff/members were encouraged to avail of this facility.
4.4 OFM/dFM Committee – European Report (Update)
Mr Logue provided an update in relation to the recommendations for the Assembly Commission as raised within the OFMdFM’s Committee Report on its Inquiry into Consideration of European Issues and highlighted the agreed responsibilities within the Secretariat on taking the issues forward.
The Commission also agreed in principle with the proposal to participate in a joint visit to Brussels with the OFMdFM Committee, scheduled for June 2010 and agreed that the Clerk to the Commission should liaise with the Clerk to the Committee to take the matter forward.
5. UPDATE ON MEMBERS’ PAY, PENSIONS AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT ISSUES
The Speaker thanked Members for their participation in the meeting with Sir Christopher Kelly on 17 February 2010. Members agreed that the meeting had been very useful.
5.1 NI Assembly Members Bill
The Director of Legal Services provided on update on the current passage of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill, explaining that it had now had three readings in the House of Lords and would then be passed over for consideration by the House of Commons. The Director of Legal Services highlighted that the Bill was expected to receive Royal Assent in April 2010. The Speaker thanked Officials for the their work in taking this matter forward.
5.2 Independent Statutory Body
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a progress update and highlighted that an updated Policy Considerations Paper, in respect of the bill to establish the Independent Statutory Body had issued to Parties for their consideration, as part of the wider consultation process. The Commission Members agreed to raise the matter with Parties and highlight the availability of Officials to attend Party meetings to clarify any matters.
5.3 Issues arising from the Commission’s Report on Pay, Pensions and Financial Support
The Clerk/Director General highlighted several issues arising from the Commission’s Report on Pay, Pensions and Financial Support for Members. Members considered the three recommendations detailed within the Report in relation the independent valuation of the rental payments for Members’ constituency offices. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the three recommendations be taken forward and that the services of an independent valuer be procured to undertake the valuations of all constituency office rentals, as soon as practical.
Members agreed that recommendations from the Report in relation to the salaries of Members and Officeholders are not progressed until further discussions are held with parties. Commission Members agreed to take the matter back to parties and provide a view at the next meeting.
The Commission noted that OCA was likely to increase by approximately 3.5%-4% in April 2010 and agreed that further consideration would be required at a future meeting. Commission Members agreed to take the matter back to parties and provide a view at the next meeting.
The Commission also noted that a revised draft of the Financial Support for Members Handbook was being prepared for the Commission’s future consideration.
6. CLERKS MONTHLY REPORT (February 2010)
The Clerk/Director General presented his monthly report to the Commission. He highlighted the high volume and quality of existing service provision within the Secretariat, as evidenced by the recent Members survey results. He drew Members attention to several key issues within the report, namely:
6.1 Governance Issues
Assembly Commission Handbook
The Clerk/Director General highlighted the recent work undertaken with the Commission on improving the governance arrangements. He proposed that that as part of this on-going process, that the Commission should consider reviewing and updating the Assembly Commission’s Handbook to include matters such as a review of weighted voting procedures; media policy; updates in relation to the revised Corporate Plan; and changes to the Clerk/DG’s delegated authority.
Following consideration, Members agreed that a paper should be brought to a future meeting on proposals to take forward the governance matters and detailing the required changes to the Handbook.
The Commission further considered the current portfolio allocations for Members in light of Mrs Hanna’s retirement and agreed that they were content with the current arrangements and proposed that Mr Attwood would take a lead interest in the portfolio of the Directorate of Resources to include Finance, Personnel and IT but with a specific responsibility for matters relating to finance and personnel.
6.2 Devolution of Policing and Justice
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that preparations within the Secretariat to support the work of the Assembly and the establishment of a Justice Committee were well advanced. He highlighted that one element of the financial package agreed by the Government to support the devolution of policing and justice included the possible purchase of salable assets by the HM Treasury and that this matter was being explored with the Department of Finance and Personnel in relation to the Ormiston House site.
6.3 Policy on Weddings in Parliament Buildings
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to a matter raised by MS Anna Lo MLA during Plenary questions to the Assembly Commission on 2 February 2010 which related to the Commission’s policy on weddings within Parliament Buildings. The Clerk/Director General highlighted that the existing policy was developed in 2004. He confirmed that the Director of Engagement was currently reviewing the existing policy and would present an options paper for the Commission’s consideration at an early meeting.
Mr Neeson also highlighted that the matter of funeral services should also be considered in the development of policy options.
The Director of Engagement confirmed that he had instructed his staff not to accept any further requests for weddings ceremonies until the Commission had had the opportunity to fully consider the forthcoming options paper.
7. FINANCIAL PLANNING IN THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY COMMISSION
The Director of Resources spoke to a paper detailing the arrangements for financial planning in the Assembly in light of prevailing economic conditions. The Commission agreed that this matter required further discussion and that a future meeting would be set up following consideration of the issues by the Secretariat Management Group.
The Commission also considered the letter received by the Speaker from the First Minster and deputy First Minister in relation to potential savings from a review of the NICS and public bodies and agreed a response.
8. DRAFT CHARITIES POLICY
The Director of Engagement took Members through the detail of a draft paper on the development of an Assembly Charities Policy proposing matters for consideration, including a mechanism for the selection of a charity, and the range of activities that could be undertaken by, and in support of, the charity.
Following clarification on a number of issues, the Commission agreed that further consideration was required on the selection criteria and selection process for a charity and agreed that a further paper would come forward to an early meeting.
9. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
9.1 Townland Names
The Speaker informed the Commission that he had received a letter from the Chairperson of the Committee for Culture Arts and Leisure requesting that the Commission consider the inclusion of the townland name in the address for Parliament Buildings that is “Ballymiscaw”. He highlighted that the request was part of a wider promotion by the DCAL Committee to encourage the use of townland names by Departments and MLAs as part of their official addresses. Commission Members agreed that they would raise the issue with their Parties and provide comments at the next meeting.
9.2 Request from WWF
The Speaker informed the Commission that he had received a request from WWF Northern Ireland for the Commission to consider joining in the “ WWF’s Earth Hour”. He highlighted that this required landmark buildings, around the world, to turn off their lights for one hour from 8:30pm – 9:30pm on 27 March 2010 to highlight global climate change. The Speaker confirmed that the Commission had agreed their involvement in 2009, subject to any restrictions caused by on-going events in the building. The Commission agreed to participate in this years event to highlight global climate change.
9.3 Filming by the BBC
The Director of Engagement informed the Commission that he had received correspondence from the BBC informing him that they had commissioned an independent film-maker, Doubleband Films, to produce a documentary-style series on the work of the Assembly. He further reported that filming was due to start in early March and would continue through to the start of summer recess with the final production of three 30 minute programmes, to be broadcast during autumn 2010. The Director of Engagement highlighted that all costs would be met by the commissioning channel (BBC). Following consideration the Commission supported the proposed production and emphasised that it was an excellent opportunity to highlight the work of the Assembly.
10 DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Thursday 25 March 2010 at 1pm in room 106.The meeting ended at 2.40 pm