Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 5 February 2001 (continued)

Mr Speaker:

The Member is one of the few I have heard who only asked for information and did not want anything to be done. That is an interesting proposition. The Member will receive a written response from the Minister, as his Colleague indicated. It will be received, I trust, at an early stage. If not, perhaps the Member will advise me so that I may take the matter up on his behalf.

Mr Maskey:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In relation to Mr Bradley's comments, very often when one asks a question, it would be very foolish to expect something to be done - but we will leave that to one side. Following on from Jim Wilson's comments, I know from my recent dealings with the Department of the Environment - having put a number of questions down - that it is very quick to say that the matter is nothing to do with it. Mr Speaker, I would like you to analyse the way in which this matter has been dealt with by the Department of the Environment. The Department of the Environment does have responsibility for road safety measures, and it could at least have had the courtesy to give Members responses to their questions, even if only to the effect that it wanted to refer matters to the Department for Regional Development. The Department of the Environment does have a legal responsibility for road safety measures.

Mr Speaker:

I certainly undertake to look at the matter. There may be a question as to whether this is a matter upon which the Speaker can rule. However, if there is concern or discontent on the part of Members - and from the response it seems that there is - there may be another appropriate avenue to address the matter. I will advise Members as to how they might raise the question - and the Floor of the House will not necessarily be the appropriate place.

Mr Foster:

On a -

Mr Speaker:

Is it a point of order.

Mr Foster:

I just want to make it clear that -

Mr Speaker:

I am sorry, but I cannot allow the Minister to make a point. However, perhaps we will be permitted to proceed to the next item on the Order Paper.

Mr Hussey:

I am awaiting a ruling on a point of order which is relative to this afternoon's -

Mr Speaker:

Order. I have sought to take that issue up with the Member outside. I will either do that or give a ruling at the beginning of Question Time today. I will say no more at this stage.

Planning (Compensation, Etc.) Bill: Final Stage

The Minister of the Environment (Mr Foster):

I beg to move

That the Planning (Compensation, etc.) Bill (NIA 7/00) do now pass.

This Bill will repeal various provisions in the Land Development Values Compensation Act (Northern Ireland) 1965 and the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. It will also correct a minor drafting error in the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. Parts I and II of the 1965 Act have been obsolete for some time now, and the last records of any compensation paid under them date back to 1988. A repeal of these parts can be regarded, therefore, as a tidying-up exercise.

The more significant provisions in the 1965 Act, which are to be repealed, can be found in section 29. This section has been giving rise to significant payments by my Department for the past 10 years or more. Typically, we have been paying out approximately £100,000 per year, and the current liability is in the region of £1·5 million. Under this section, compensation can be claimed for a refusal of planning permission in certain circumstances laid down in the Act. This has mostly concerned the reconstruction of old buildings which were in existence on 4 November, 1965.

Planning decisions are made for the good of all the community, and there is no place in a modern planning system for compensation for the refusal of planning permission in any circumstances. As significant sums have already been paid out under parts I and II of the Act, and under section 29, this Bill will not repeal the recovery provisions in the Act. This means that where compensation has been paid and planning permission is subsequently given for relevant development on the site, the Department will seek to recover the compensation paid.

The provisions of the 1972 Order which are to be repealed provide for compensation for a refusal of consent for the alteration or extension of a listed building where the alteration or extension does not constitute development for the purposes of requiring planning permission. It makes little sense to compensate in respect of a control that was introduced to protect listed buildings, and there would be no claimants under these provisions.

The final purpose of the Bill is to correct a minor drafting error in the 1991 Order which relates to rights of entry. Those parts of the legislation which deal with compensation shall be effective from 23 October 2000, when the Bill was introduced in the Assembly. No claim for compensation will be paid in respect of a refusal of planning permission or listed building consent where such an application was made on, or after, this date. All other claims will be processed in the normal manner. This is a straightforward Bill which removes both irrelevant and costly provisions from the statute book and corrects a minor drafting error. It will bring Northern Ireland's planning compensation law into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I thank Members for their contributions in the earlier stages. I am particularly grateful to the Chairperson and members of the Environment Committee, who carried out detailed, clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill. I also thank the Committee for affording my officials the opportunity to give evidence during that scrutiny process.

The Chairperson of the Environment Committee (Rev Dr William McCrea):

I thank the Minister for his consultation with my Committee on this Bill. Having discussed it, we decided that no amendments were necessary. I therefore put on record the Committee's agreement with the reasons for bringing Northern Ireland's legislation into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Planning (Compensation, etc.) Bill (NIA 7/00) do now pass.

The sitting was suspended at 11.29 am.

On resuming -

Assembly: Oral Answers to Questions



2.30 pm

Mr Speaker:

At the sitting of the Assembly on Monday 29 January, Mr Hussey raised a point of order in relation to the ruling that his oral question on rural proofing to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister was inadmissible. The question was ruled inadmissible on the grounds that it was a matter for the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair at the time undertook to examine the issue.

I have taken advice on this matter and am satisfied that the Business Office was to decide that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was the lead Department. This has been confirmed in writing by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I have informed Mr Hussey of my decision.

However, his point of order raises a number of issues to do with convention on which clarification would be helpful to Members. First, appeals to the Speaker on the inadmissibility or otherwise of a question should in the first instance be made outside the Chamber. It would also be helpful if Members were to seek clarification on admissibility decisions from the Business Office before raising the issue with me.

Secondly, to ensure that the best use is made of Question Time, I remind Members that questions should be tabled to the Minister who has primary responsibility for the subject of the question - in other words, to the lead Department. The NNIA7 report of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of 15 February 1999 contains some clarification of departmental responsibilities, and copies of that report are available from the Printed Paper Office.

Finally, insofar as there is a problem with clarifying departmental responsibilities or procedures for questions, I undertook this morning to explore the difficulties with which Members are confronted. I will advise the House further on these.

Mr Fee:

On 18 December 2000 I raised an issue with regard to Standing Order 19(1). I was advised that where there is ambiguity about the responsibility of any Department, we should in the first instance take advice from the Business Office. This morning I was one of a number of Members whose questions were arbitrarily diverted to another Department. No notice was given, and in my view it was an extremely blatant attempt to subvert the authority of the Assembly. Standing Order 19(1) provides for a question to be asked of a Member of the Executive Committee relating to the public affairs with which his or her Department is officially connected or to any matter of administration for which he or she is responsible. Surely when a question is tabled and published on the Question Paper, the Minister should explain in the Chamber why he or she is absolving him or herself of either total responsibility or the lead responsibility for answering it.

Mr Speaker:

This matter was raised by several Members this morning. The problem centres round the question of ministerial responsibility and clarification of which Minister is the lead Minister and which Department is the lead Department.

Secondly, there is the question of timing. It was particularly disruptive for Members to learn only this morning that some questions would not be asked this afternoon. It was also disruptive for other Members whose questions were further down the list or who wished to put supplementaries. Accordingly, this morning I undertook to look into the matter, which I discussed briefly with the Business Committee at a lunchtime meeting. We will try to clarify the issue, but I am not persuaded that it will be possible to do so on the Floor of the House. This may take a little time, but we must clarify the matter for everyone's sake and for the better administration of the Executive and the House.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the end of the debate on the Garda Síochána on 30 January 2001, the question was raised whether this House has the right to discuss matters that are sub judice in another jurisdiction. The Deputy Speaker ruled that if a case might come before another jurisdiction this Assembly could not discuss it. I find that unacceptable.

It amazes me that any House that has no jurisdiction beyond its own can say that certain cases that are being heard in a court in a foreign country cannot be discussed by it. Madam Deputy Speaker Jane Morrice was to give the House an explanation, but as yet nothing has been forthcoming.

Mr Speaker:

I was made aware of this matter. I have some sympathy with the Member's concerns about the tight ruling. The Assembly's legal advisers are deliberating on it, and I undertake to give a ruling as soon as possible.

Oral Answers


Mr Speaker:

Question 17, standing in the name of Mr Alex Maskey, has been transferred to the Department of Finance and Personnel and will receive a written response from that Department.

Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Local Government Review


Mr R Hutchinson

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail (a) the timetable for the fundamental review of the council tier of local government and (b) if it will be completed within one year.

(AQO 700/00)

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

As part of the Programme for Government, the Executive are committed to a comprehensive review of all aspects of public administration in Northern Ireland. The Executive intend to review the structures and functions of local government as part of that review. However, as decisions have yet to be taken on the timing of the review, I cannot give an indication of the timing of the specific local government element within it. The Executive have recently been involved in discussions about the details of the review, including the terms of reference, mechanisms for taking the review forward and the timescale.

We will need to have further detailed discussions on these points later this week in order to reach decisions that will enable the review to be progressed without delay. I anticipate being in a position to make a full statement on the details of the review to the Assembly in the coming weeks.

Mr R Hutchinson:

Can the First Minister tell the House if he has made, or if he intends to make, a recommendation to the Secretary of State that the local government elections should not proceed in May?

The First Minister:

May I remind the Member of the answer given by the Deputy First Minister to much the same question on 4 December 2000. The timing of local government elections is a matter of law, and under current law those elections are due to be held on the third Wednesday of May 2001. That will continue to be the position unless the Secretary of State decides to introduce amending legislation.

Dr McDonnell:

Can the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister outline what progress has been made to date in preparation for the launch of this review, and, specifically, can the House be assured that the review will incorporate all aspects of public administration including central government and quangos as well as local government?

Moreover, can the First Minister indicate whether the review will last six months or six years?

The First Minister:

I very much hope it will not last for six years. In fact, I am confident that it will not take six years. On the other hand, six months is more than a little optimistic. As I said in response to the original question, we are still looking at the timing. We are also looking at the scope, and the Member will recall that I said that we intend to be comprehensive. However, we will not reopen, as it were, the present departmental structures and responsibilities in the review. In effect, it will be a review of all aspects of public administration outside the existing departmental structure. However, it may have implications for the departmental structure because - and this is the really complex part, but also the exciting part of it - we will be looking at the mechanisms used outside the Departments to deliver services in a number of areas. That may involve changes which may mean more functions going to local government, but it may also mean functions coming to Departments. This is intended to be comprehensive.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Why does the First Minister want to hedge the answer to the first question? Is it not a fact, and one which comes from a very leaky Northern Ireland Office down the road, that his party has been advocating to the Secretary of State that the local government elections be postponed? Why does he hide behind the present law, telling us that it is a matter for the Secretary of State, when he is bending his ear to have them postponed?

The First Minister:

As I said in my original - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


The First Minister:

As I said in response to the original supplementary question, under current law the elections will take place on that date. It is entirely a matter for the Secretary of State if any amending legislation is brought forward. The Member who asked the question is an old enough hand in parliamentary terms to realise the implications of the timing. Indeed, if he was listening as clearly as he claims to have been to things said in my party, and particularly by me, he will know that I have been saying to my party Colleagues for some time that everybody should assume that the elections will go ahead on the named date. [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


The First Minister:

Furthermore, let me assure the Member that we look forward to the results of those elections, and of the general election. Those results, we are confident, will clearly demonstrate that the people of Northern Ireland support the agreement, support the Assembly and - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:

Order. If Members are truly interested in asking questions to which they want answers, a degree of order is needed. I am finding it difficult to hear the First Minister's answers - and I am sitting beside him.

Mr R Hutchinson:

On a point of order -

Mr Speaker:

The Member knows that I do not take points of order during Question Time. I will take his at the end.

Equality Legislation


Mr C Murphy

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to indicate a date for the introduction of legislation proposals designed to consolidate the provisions of current equality legislation.

(AQO 697/00)

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce a single equality Bill to the Assembly in 2002. As far as is possible and practical, that Bill will harmonise the existing anti-discrimination law on religious belief or political opinion, race, gender and disability. It will take into account developments in European Union law. The Race Directive, for the first time across Europe, provides comprehensive legislation dealing with discrimination on the grounds of race. The EU Equality Treatment Directive provides a framework for anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation.

Our aim will be to bring forward a Bill that will provide a framework relevant to Northern Ireland. In line with our Programme for Government commitments, we will be consulting widely on the scope and content.

2.45 pm

Mr C Murphy:

I was given to understand that the Committee of the Centre was to expect some form of consultation document in early spring. Perhaps the Deputy First Minister could advise us if this is still the case, and if there is to be a delay, what is the nature of this delay.

Can he also assure us that when such proposals are brought forward there will be very widespread and full consultation not only with the Committee of the Centre but also with all other interested parties?

The Deputy First Minister:

Two things will determine the feasibility of having such a consultation document ready for the spring. The first is the capacity to bring forward the consultation document in a proper manner. The second is the extent to which the two EU Directives will need to be incorporated and the implications of that. There will be implications for those Directives in relation to issues already in statute.

I assure the Member that there will be proper consultation, right across the board - in the Assembly, in Government Departments and outside of the political process. That consultation is going to be essential, especially as this body of legislation, when it is finalised, will be in place for a considerable period.

Mr Attwood:

The Deputy First Minister referred to two recent EU Directives on discrimination and race. Will he indicate whether any assessment has yet been made about the implications of those Directives for discrimination law in the North?

The Deputy First Minister:

The Member is quite correct. The EU Race Directive, which is to be implemented in July 2003, will require some amendments to the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. This will include changing slightly the definition of indirect discrimination, extending protection from victimisation to ex-employees and removing the bar on receiving compensation in cases of unintentional, indirect discrimination. The EU Framework Directive will require amendments to be made to the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. We will be required to introduce legislation to deal with discrimination in employment on the grounds of age and sexual orientation.

Assembly Executive Committee


Mr Gibson

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail (a) when the next meeting of the Assembly Executive will take place and (b) what issues will be raised with the Minister of Education and the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

(AQO 667/00)

The First Minister:

The next meeting of the Executive will take place on 8 February 2001. It is important for the good working of the Executive that issues to be raised with, and exchanges between, Ministers remain confidential. Accordingly, it is not our policy to disclose what issues will be raised at Executive meetings.

Mr Gibson:

In view of last week's legal decision, what new sanctions does he intend to apply to the representatives of armed terrorists in his Executive? Or does dealing with armed terrorists in his Executive have the same elasticity as the word "decommissioning"?

The First Minister:

I advise the Member to read the judgement with greater care than he has evidently done so far. If he does, he will see that the submission that the Deputy First Minister and I are under a legal duty to make nominations was rejected. The court accepted that there was a discretion and set out the grounds on which that could be exercised, including the case of persons being considered unsuitable because they had failed, or were not doing enough, to implement parts of the agreement.

On that basis, I anticipate no immediate difficulty for myself. However, I noted with interest the Member's reference to elasticity. There could scarcely be anything more elastic than his party, which campaigned on an anti-agreement ticket but now sits here in numbers, happy to participate with the people to whom he refers - at whom they are conspicuously not pointing fingers - in this House and its Committees. They are happy to go with them to Brussels, to America, even to Portavogie - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:

Order. Some of the less impressive habits of other places seem to be affecting Question Time here.

Rev Robert Coulter:

On a serious note, can the First Minister give the Assembly his view on the recent terrible findings in the Redfern Report on the activities of Dr Dick Van Velsen at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool? Can he assure me, in the light of reports on the unacceptable practice of storing organs of deceased children without parental consent, that this has not happened in hospitals in Northern Ireland over the years?

Mr Speaker:

Order. I have to intervene at this point. It is clear - although the question is not complete - that this matter is the responsibility of the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and not the First and Deputy First Ministers, I refer Members to things which were said earlier. I cannot accept this question.

Rev Robert Coulter:

May I finish the question, which I will link to the Executive?

Mr Speaker:

Questions must be relevant, and we must not have irrelevant preambles. The Member may complete his question, which I trust will be relevant.

Rev Robert Coulter:

Are the Executive taking the necessary steps to ensure that no such unforgivable and unauthorised mutilation will ever again take place in any hospital in Northern Ireland?

Mr Speaker:

I am sorry I have to say that my first judgement was correct. This is a matter for the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Therefore I cannot accept the question.

Mr McCartney:

As someone with a degree of expertise who has read the judgement - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


Mr McCartney:

Practical expertise.

Mr Hussey:

Modesty forbids him.

Mr McCartney:

Modesty, Mr Speaker, must always give way to truth.

Mr Justice Kerr made it patently clear that the First Minister's decision to exclude members of Sinn Féin from the North/South Ministerial Council could not be sustained on the basis that breaching one part of the agreement in order to attempt the enforced fulfilment of another was not valid. Will the First Minister enlighten the House as to what he is now going to do, this ploy having failed as a means of forcing Sinn Féin to discharge its obligations in relation to decommissioning?

The First Minister:

It is obvious, from the tone and the terms of the question, that the Member has let the wish be father to the thought. I say so as one who has read the judgement - also with a degree of expertise - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


The First Minister:

If the Member's memory were as good as the expertise he claimed, he would realise that in response to the earlier question I was quoting parts of the judgement.

Mr Speaker:

Order. I am afraid that your Speaker is neither a lawyer nor the son of a lawyer, and we must therefore proceed to the next question.

Mixed Marriage Association


Mr Ford

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline any meetings with the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association.

(AQO 709/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

The First Minister and I have not met with the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, nor have we been invited to. However, we understand that staff from the Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland, which funds the association and which is part of our Office, have met with them on five occasions during the past year.

We are conscious of the difficulties faced by people in mixed marriages, be they couples of different religious backgrounds or races. We are determined that people who find themselves under pressure and under attack in their own communities because they belong to a mixed religious or race marriage will have their cases heard fairly and that every attempt will be made to help them.

Mr Ford:

I trust that the Deputy First Minister and his Colleague will find time for a direct meeting sometime in the next few months. Furthermore, I trust that they will take on board the problems caused for those brought up in mixed relationships by employment categorisation and the need to determine community background.

Will they acknowledge that those difficulties cause increasing problems for the growing number of people from mixed-marriage families? Will they ensure that something is done to end discrimination against the progeny of mixed marriages in the future?

The Deputy First Minister:

The Member asks a very valid question. There is a factor, but the extent of that factor is something that will need to be scrutinised. We will do everything to ensure that no one is disadvantaged because they are part of a mixed marriage. We will ensure that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland examines this issue too, so that the Member, together with every other Member and ourselves, will be satisfied with it.

Mr O'Connor:

I will touch upon something that the Deputy First Minister mentioned in his response to Mr Ford.

Throughout the troubles some people were specifically targeted because they were members of mixed marriages. Has the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minster examined this matter in order to help these people in a positive manner?

The Deputy First Minister:

Over the last 30 years there was, in parts of Northern Ireland, a distinct trend of subjecting vulnerable people to substantial attacks because they belonged to mixed marriages and because of their housing situation.

With regard to the substance of the question, the Member will be aware - after he and other MLAs in the Larne area received a letter from ourselves - that, following an approach from the Department's community relations unit, the local district partnership has agreed to convene a preliminary meeting involving partnership members, officials from the community relations unit, Larne Borough Council officials, the Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland and the Mediation Network for Northern Ireland, to discuss steps they can take to improve community relations, particularly in the borough of Larne.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Member and other Members who represent that area for the way in which they have tried to help in a situation where obscene attacks have been taking place. These must be ended. We cannot have any sort of normal or stable society if people are attacked on any basis, be it race, religion, colour or creed.

Civic Forum


Mr Wells

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail the costs associated with the establishment and running of the Civic Forum.

(AQO 692/00)

The First Minister:

The cost of establishing the Civic Forum was approximately £75,000. That covered the cost of filling the post of Civic Forum Chairman, which was widely advertised in order to attract the best possible field of candidates. The establishment costs also included costs to the nominating sectors, which placed advertisements in local newspapers to ensure the widest possible opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland's community to apply for membership of the Forum.

In addition, some of the nominating bodies used the services of external consultants to manage their selection processes. The Forum's running costs, since its establishment in October 1999, have been £110,000. These include the secretariat staff costs and the costs of plenary and other Forum meetings.

Mr Wells:

Will the First Minister accept that this is a scandalous waste of public money, that this residential home for yes-men, place-women and failed politicians is a drain on the public purse? The money could have bought 40 hip operations or two nursery units, and the Forum has achieved absolutely nothing since its inception.

3.00 pm

The First Minister:

I am rather disappointed at the response. Consider the wide range of voluntary organisations that are represented in the Forum, either directly or through the various consortia that were formed. The Member, in his comments, has dismissed the churches, sporting bodies, voluntary bodies, the agriculture sector and industry. He has referred in abusive terms to the whole of civil society in Northern Ireland. That is rather sad.

Mr McClarty:

The First Minister will recall that at the opening session of the Assembly on 9 October he said that he was looking forward to the development of a constructive relationship involving the Assembly, the Executive and the Forum. Is he able to give an assessment of how that relationship has developed since that date?

The First Minister:

Since its establishment the Forum has been considering its own procedures. We have also, in consultation with the Forum, been considering measures to take forward the body's role and to enable it to consult on issues that it wishes to focus on and also to respond to requests for its views from the Executive and the Assembly.

As the Member knows, this issue will come to the Assembly tomorrow, when an appropriate motion - needed under the legislation - will be before the Assembly. I hope the Assembly will look favourably upon that motion and we will then be able to move into developing a dialogue with the Forum on social and economic issues. The Assembly will want to treat seriously the views of people who have given voluntarily of their time and expertise.

'All Truth Is Bitter' (Report)


Mr McGrady

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to comment on the report 'All Truth Is Bitter' published by Victim Support Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO).

(AQO 671/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

I commend the Member on the breadth and comprehensive nature of his reading patterns. The report was published following a visit to Northern Ireland by Dr Alex Boraine, vice-chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

We understand that Dr Boraine has had further involvement with stakeholder groups in Northern Ireland and that a project entitled 'Healing Through Remembering' has been developed. We look forward to receiving a report on the project in due course.

Mr McGrady:

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his reply and accept his compliment. However, does he agree that the main recommendation of the report 'All Truth Is Bitter' requires further discussions in terms of truth and reconciliation? Can he indicate what provision by way resources and structure is being made to facilitate such discussions? Was there any movement to do that in the Assembly's December financial review?


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