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Committee Stage of the Public Health (Amendment) Bill

24 January 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mrs Iris Robinson (Chairperson)
Mrs Michelle O’Neill (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Buchanan
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Dr Kieran Deeny
Mr Alex Easton
Mr Tommy Gallagher
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr John McCallister
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín
Ms Sue Ramsey

Mr Seamus Camplisson ) Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Mr Andrew Elliott

The Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Mrs I Robinson):
We are now at the Committee stage of the Public Health (Amendment) Bill. I welcome departmental officials Andrew Elliott and Seamus Camplisson. The officials are present to provide clarification and answer questions, as the Committee commences clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Public Health (Amendment) Bill. Members have been provided with a copy of the Bill, submissions to the Committee’s consultations, and a copy of the Hansard report of the Committee briefing by officials on the background to the draft Bill, on Thursday 15 November 2007. Also enclosed is a brief prepared by the Department.

I now invite officials to explain the background to the Bill, why it is needed and what it will achieve, before proceeding to the clause-by-clause consideration. I remind members that when the Bill was referred to the Committee before Christmas, the Committee decided to put notices in newspapers, and invite views and comments from a range of relevant organisations. Only four responses have been received, and all are supportive of the provisions in the Bill. I draw your attention also to the response from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, which urges the urgent introduction of the provisions, saying that:

“It is only a matter of time before this situation causes operational difficulties and reputational difficulties to the Port.”

You are very welcome, Seamus and Andrew, and I hand over to you to take us through this Bill.

Mr Andrew Elliott (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety):
Thank you very much. It is important to reiterate what I said when we met the Committee at the Children’s Hospice — the Bill is highly technical and is about ensuring that Northern Ireland’s domestic legislation is capable of replicating the international health regulations that were produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005. As they are applied to all signatory members of WHO, every part of the world has to respond to those international health regulations. Therefore, it is important to ensure that our primary legislation — the Public Health Act ( Northern Ireland) 1967 — can replicate those regulations, which is the purpose of the amendment.

The Chairperson:
Do Members have any questions about the Bill or what Andrew said? If Members are content, we will begin the clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill. In effect, the Bill only contains one substantive clause and a second clause, which is the short title. I invite the departmental officials to outline the meaning of clause 1, and questions or discussion after that.

Clause 1 (Regulations for control of certain diseases)

Mr Seamus Camplisson (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety):
The clause extends the Department’s power to make regulations so that it can give the Eastern Health and Social Services Board — which, in Belfast, has the only registered port for such purposes — the power to inspect ships for chemical or radiological contamination in addition to the existing powers to inspect for infectious diseases. That will enable the Department to write new regulations, which are compliant with international health regulations and are, generally, up to date.

Question, That the Committee is content with the clause, put and agreed to.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Are Members content that a report on the Committee Stage of the Public Health (Amendment) Bill be drafted for consideration at a later date?

Members indicated assent.  

That completes the Committee Stage. I thank the Departmental officials for their time.