MINUTES OF THE FIFTY SIXTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 25 MARCH AT 1.15 PM 2010 IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Sean Neeson
Mr Alex Attwood
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr R Stewart, Mr S Welch, Mr H Widdis, Mr R Good, Ms C McGowan, Mrs N Shephard and Ms C Dodson. Mr T Logue was present for Items 1-11, Mr D Martin was present for Items 6-8, Ms M Bannon was present for Item 9 and Ms S Mallon was present for Items 14-15.
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 Mr Attwood to his first Assembly Commission meeting. The Speaker informed Members that a meeting of the North-South Parliamentary Forum Working Group would take place following the completion of the Commission Meeting.
3. MINUTES OF LAST MEETING
The minutes of the meeting held on the 18 February 2010 were agreed without amendment.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Townland Names
The Speaker reminded Members that they had agreed to raise a request from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure with their Parties for the use of the townland name of ‘Ballymiscaw’ within the address of Parliament Buildings. Following consideration the Commission agreed to the use of the townland name within the address of Parliament Buildings and agreed that their decision should be corresponded to the Chairman of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure.
4.2 Standards and Privileges Committee
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update on his attendance at the Standards and Privileges Committee in relation to their Inquiry into the appointment of a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
4.3 Update on Members’ Pay, Pensions and Financial Support Issues
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to progressing matters relating to Members’ Pay, Pensions and Financial Support issues.
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that Parties had been asked to provide feedback by the 26 March 2010 on the Policy Considerations Paper, in respect of the bill to establish the Independent Statutory Body. He noted that there had been no responses to date and that contact would again be made with Parties. The Commission Members agreed to raise the matter with Parties and highlight the availability of Officials to attend Party meetings to clarify any matters.
The Director of Legal Services provided Members with an update on the passage of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill through Westminster. The Director highlighted that the Bill was expected to receive Royal Assent in April 2010.
5. CLERK'S KEY UPDATE REPORT (MARCH 2010)
The Clerk/Director General presented his first key update report to the Commission under the new format as agreed at the last meeting. He drew Members attention to a number of key issues, namely:
5.1 Governance and Strategic Planning
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that in exercising its roles in governance and strategic planning, the Commission may wish to consider an opportunity to hold an off-site meeting to consider a number of key issues. Following consideration of the proposed agenda for the planning event, it was agreed that the Clerk to the Commission would liaise with Members regarding possible dates and a suitable venue. Rev Dr Coulter also proposed that consideration of a proposed visit to Brussels should also be discussed at this event.
5.2 Human Resources
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with information relating to a staff reception to be held on the 26 March 2010 to mark the establishment of the Assembly Secretariat as an independent parliamentary service. The Clerk/Director General invited Commission Members to attend.
The Clerk/Director General further provided the Commission with an update on the job evaluation exercise currently ongoing within the Assembly Secretariat.
The Clerk/Director General also provided Members with an update on the discussions with NIPSA regarding the application of the NICS Equal Pay settlement. Following discussion, the Commission agreed that the principles of the NICS equal pay settlement should be applied, as appropriate, to staff in the Assembly Secretariat. The Commission also agreed that further engagement should occur with the Civil Service to seek to resolve the issues surrounding the interpretation and application of the NICS agreement for staff who worked at the Assembly between 1 June 2008 and 31 January 2009.
The Commission also agreed that the Clerk/Director General examine the problems encountered by staff who worked at the Assembly during the 2008/2009 period, and who have since returned to their Departments. He highlighted that following consideration and assessment of impact, that a paper would be produced for consideration at an early meeting of the Commission.
The Clerk/Director General also highlighted that the outcome of the NICS Pay Settlement for 2009 was still awaited and that, due to separation, this would be the final time the Commission would adopt a pay settlement in line with the NICS.
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that the results of the Public Attitudes Survey would be presented to the Commission at its next meeting.
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed Members that he had completed the review on the current security arrangements at Ormiston House and proposed that the arrangements should continue as currently operated but should be subject to regular review. Following consideration of the risk factors, the Commission agreed to continue as proposed. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House also informed Members that the Environment Agency will consider the planning application on the 16 April 2010.
The Clerk/Director General informed Members that security vigilance at Parliament Buildings is being kept under review, and contingency arrangements are being progressed should they be required. The Clerk/Director General further highlighted that discussions were continuing with the Department of Finance and Personnel in relation to difficulties with car parking facilities on sitting days.
The Director of Legal Services provided an update on the current litigation cases.
5.6 TV Distribution Project
The Clerk/Director General updated members on the progress of the upgrade to the TV distribution system. He highlighted that it was anticipated that work would be completed prior to the commencement of Summer Recess.
5.7 Visit to the European Parliament
The Clerk/Director General reminded Members that they had agreed to explore a possible joint visit to Brussels in conjunction with the OFMdFM Committee. He highlighted that the purpose of the visit was to assess how the Commission might best support the Assembly in developing its awareness and influence of European Issues. The Clerk to the Commission highlighted that initial discussions had taken place with the Clerk to the OFMdFM Committee to consider possible dates and that he would provide further detail to the next meeting.
The Clerk/Director General welcomed comments from Commission Members regarding the revised format of the monthly report.
Mr Martin joined the meeting.
6. UPDATE ON POLICING AND JUSTICE
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a summary of the preparations that have been taking place to make sure the Secretariat is in the position to support the arrangements for the Devolution of policing and Justice, based on the assumption that Devolution would proceed on 12 April 2010. The Clerk/Director General confirmed that consideration had been given to possible accommodation requirements for the Attorney General.
7. LEGISLATIVE PROGRAMME UPDATE
The Speaker welcomed Mr Martin to the meeting. Mr Martin spoke to a paper regarding the legislative programme to be introduced over the next 6-9 months and the ongoing efforts to seek to manage the programme. Mr Martin described the plans being made to cope with this additional work. Mr Attwood commented that it should be anticipated that the additional pressures are likely to be very significant, and the Clerk/Director General confirmed that plans were being made to ensure that support services would be in place.
Ms Bannon joined the meeting.
Mr Martin left the meeting.
8. DRAFT LANGUAGE POLICY
The Clerk to the Commission took the Members through a paper regarding the development of a draft Language Policy to cover services provided by the Assembly Secretariat and staff employed by the Commission. Following clarification on a number of points, the Commission agreed to consult with their parties on the draft policy and provide comment to the next Commission meeting.
Ms Bannon left the meeting.
9. PSNI/NIA: SERVICE LEVEL AGREEMENT
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House took Members through a paper relating to the current position and future options for the resourcing of the Northern Ireland Assembly Police Unit. He agreed to provide members with a copy of the Service Level Agreement on request. Following consideration of the level of PSNI personnel and costings, the Commission agreed to proceed with option 2 as outlined in the paper.
10. ACCOMODATION UPDATE
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House spoke to a paper regarding the proposals to upgrade accommodation on the ground floor of Parliament Buildings during the Summer Recess 2010 period. Following consideration of the proposed alterations and refurbishment, the Commission agreed the proposed work programme.
Mr Logue left the meeting.
11. DRAFT CORPORATE BUSINESS PLAN 2010-2011
The Clerk/Director General spoke to a paper regarding the revised Corporate Business Plan for 2010-2011. The Commission considered and agreed the revised Corporate Business Plan for 2010/2011.
12. MEMBERS’ PENSION SCHEME
The Director of Resources provided Members with an update on a series of recommendations made by the Pension Trustees to amend the Scheme Rules. Following consideration the Commission agreed to remove the Favourable Early Retirement option for new members from the date of the next Assembly Election, whilst retaining the provision without amendment for existing scheme members.
13. POLICY ON MARRIAGE CEREMONIES AND WEDDING RECEPTIONS
The Speaker welcomed Ms Mallon to the meeting. Ms Mallon took Members through the paper regarding the policy on marriage and civil partnership ceremonies and wedding and civil partnership receptions held within Parliament Buildings and its immediate environs. Following clarification on a number of issues, the Commission agreed to preclude the holding of all further marriage ceremonies within Parliament Buildings and its immediate environs. The Commission further agreed to mandate full costs recovery in relation to staffing and catering for wedding and civil partnership receptions within Parliament Buildings and its immediate environs. Members were also content that a charge should be applied relating to the use of Parliament Buildings for wedding and civil partnership receptions to cover the indirect costs associated with running the event.
The Commission also requested that a further paper should be submitted detailing various options in relation to when the building should be made available for receptions, the costs involved and who would be eligible to avail of the service. Ms Mallon also confirmed that all bookings made to date would be honoured.
14. DRAFT CHARITIES POLICY
Ms Mallon took Members through the detail of a revised 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. The Clerk/Director General highlighted that the policy would be reviewed on an annual basis. Following consideration, the Commission agreed the policy as detailed within the paper.
Mr Neeson left the meeting.
15. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
15.1 Mr Doherty requested that consideration be given to revising the start time for future Commission meetings to accommodate his Committee schedule.
16. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Thursday 22 April at 1pm in room 106.
The meeting ended at 3.10pm