Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 20 February 2001 (continued)

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I must ask Members please to keep their remarks to about five minutes. Otherwise we will not be able to keep within our timescale, and we will have very little chance to hear the Minister.

Mr O'Connor:

I support the Minister of Finance and Personnel. As you yourself would probably guess, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is extremely important to me that I touch on issues pertaining to the Department for Social Development. We see a lot of money being spent on administration in that Department, and the reason is that the benefit system is far, far too complex. There are grave errors in the benefit and child support system and in the Social Security Agency.

The Minister has already introduced the Child Support Bill, which we very much welcome. However, we want to see the whole system of administering benefits streamlined to make it much easier. Mr McCartney talked about people working to stay off benefit, but many people do not really have any choice. Their circumstances mean that they have to claim benefits such as disability living allowance (DLA). DLA should be the easiest benefit to claim; in fact, its administration makes application most difficult.

With regard to incapacity benefit, people who are cut off and decide to appeal are relegated to income support, 25% of which is taken away from them. These people who are living on the breadline are therefore further penalised by anomalies in the benefits system. It takes away their right to appeal because they cannot afford to live on so little money.

Many Members have touched on individual needs in their constituencies, which would best be served by the relevant Minister. It is not for the Minister of Finance and Personnel to decide how every single pound should be spent in Northern Ireland. If it were, there would be no need for any other Ministers.

In welcoming the Budget Bill, I want to draw attention to the capital receipts on housing which Mr Leslie touched on earlier. That stock is dwindling. We cannot continue to go to the well for water, because sooner or later there will be no water in the well. What will we do then? Some of our best public sector housing has been sold on. We are now talking about going into private finance initiatives to build public-sector housing. I am not a businessman, but private finance means that somebody has to get a cut. There must be profits for shareholders somewhere down the line, and those will be at the public expense. I do not believe that that is the way forward.

I very much welcomed the statement from the Minister of Finance and Personnel in the House last Monday when greater powers for the Comptroller and Auditor General were approved by the House. The powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General should enable him to play a vital role in properly reviewing public administration and how our money is spent.

I also want to touch on the points made by Mr McCartney about the damage done to our economy by climate tax, aggregate tax, smuggling and counterfeiting. We also have corporation tax, which makes it difficult to compete on a level playing field. What Mr McCartney has just done is show how much better off we would all be in an Irish Republic.

12.30 pm

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Thank you, Mr O'Connor. Your last few words raised the temperature somewhat.

I call Mr Shannon and ask him to be as brief as possible.

Mr Shannon:

The first issue I want to address is roads. The Minister of Finance and Personnel will say that he has no responsibility for roads; that that is the responsibility of the Minister for Regional Development. However, if sufficient funds were made available to that Minister, he could make use of them.

The Comber bypass has been a point of discussion for 30 years. Both local councils have seen the bypass as their number one priority. We have had various assurances from Government Ministers; Ministers who flew in on a Monday morning, flew out on a Friday and told us that the Comber bypass was one of their priorities. Still we have no bypass, and that is having a detrimental effect on Comber. Many factories and shops have shut down. The town is stagnating and local retail trade has decreased by almost 50%. The Department has not addressed this issue, and I am making a plea for an urgent allocation of money for the construction of the Comber bypass.

The bypass was originally planned for 2001; it has now been postponed until 2003-04. The problem of traffic and congestion was recognised some 30 years ago, but the problem has still to be addressed. We can do something if sufficient funds are set aside. The need for the bypass has been well documented locally and in the Department for Regional Development.

Secondly, I want to address the lack of health and social services funding, especially for special schools. Speech and language therapy and occupational therapy have been reduced in special schools. The Department of Health says that it is not its responsibility, as does the Department of Education. The two Departments are playing ball with children's special needs. That has been a matter of concern in the Eastern Health and Social Services Board area, where severe underfunding has made it necessary to cut back on therapy sessions for children. Funding is needed for resources and staffing. The staff provide a special service, but they are trying to balance resources with needs and responsibilities. Schools must meet the complex needs of each child. Each child's circumstances are unique and need special care. It is important that funding is set aside for that.

In my constituency of Strangford, discussions with the Eastern Health and Social Services Board about resources for therapy have not come to a fruitful conclusion. The board says that the finances are not available. If the Minister can make the finances available to the Department of Health, I am sure that the issue could be addressed directly.

Some 50 children in my area are waiting for special needs care. Children with learning difficulties and physical disabilities also require those benefits. I am concerned that the issue has not been addressed.

Children suffer if finance is not made available. That falls back, and reflects badly, on the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department of Education and us, as elected representatives. We urge the Minister to ensure that sufficient finance is made available to ensure that children's occupational therapy needs and language needs are looked after.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Thank you for being so brief, Mr Shannon.

I want to apologise for something that is entirely my fault. I was in the Chair yesterday and am in it again today. We allowed ourselves a little bit of latitude on a Supply motion yesterday, and we are doing the same with the Budget motion today. We have discussed all sorts of topics. It is not fair to the Minister to see his two objectives added together and adumbrated - several times in some cases. I apologise for not being as severe as I ought to have been yesterday, and possibly today as well.

Mr McCartney:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Bearing in mind the Minister's difficulties that you have highlighted, the House would be quite willing to give him a little time out so that he can separate his various responsibilities and bifurcate into Supply and Budget over lunch.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

We will return at two o'clock. Minister, having dealt most effectively with Supply yesterday, can you pick a way through what is Supply and what is Budget and deal with the Budget today?

Mr Durkan:

Mr Deputy Speaker, I welcome your observations. It saves me from making points that Members may feel are defensive, procedural pedantry. Nevertheless, the contributions, although perhaps not pertinent to the requirements of the Budget Bill, touch on the wider Budget considerations that Members feel are important to reflect upon. Given that latitude, and the spirit in which Members spoke, I will try to deal with some of the points raised, many of which were raised yesterday.

Given the underlying recurrent theme yesterday, today and on previous occasions when I have been here - and there have been quite a few - for all the lack of accountability that Members refer to, I must say that I am doing very little in relation to finance. I am doing nothing without the authority and agreement of the Executive Committee. There is little beyond that which I am not presenting in the House. I am open to questions whenever we make statements. We are bringing those various measures together. I accept that we are in the difficult situation of having to take several procedural devices close together. It is hard in those circumstances for Members to tell precisely what is what, and there is a tendency in the debates for everything to get crammed in.

Given the concern about the lack of accountability and the talk about a lack of responsiveness, I will try to respond to many of the points. Today, 13 Members contributed. There were 21 contributions yesterday. Thinking back to the debate on the Budget, the contributions were in the high twenties, as they were for the debate on the draft Budget on the motion that was tabled by the Chairperson of the Finance and Personnel Committee, Mr Molloy.

For all the criticism about the lack of consultation, there have been opportunities for Members to speak, without too many time constraints, on many of those issues. Many of the issues that have been raised today were also raised in previous debates. I have noted the points and have tried to respond on previous occasions, but they come back.

The issue of rates and taxation was raised earlier by Dr Birnie, and I welcome that contribution. It chimes with points that I have made. Members need to think fully about the implications and the complications of the issues that are involved here. It is not just a matter of sloganeering our way through these problems. If we are serious about addressing the issues raised by the regional rate, then we must also be serious about pursuing the Barnett formula. We need to join up our thinking on all those points.

If we are going to make a case to the Treasury about Barnett, then we need to be aware that it will be countered with other points. In that regard, I would not be at all surprised to find some of the sweeping statements about wasteful, extravagant expenditure and the supposed lack of financial control on some programmes in Northern Ireland being read back to us in discussions with the Treasury. I ask Members to think more about all these issues, rather than make the assumption that, on any given day, the Department of Finance and Personnel has three wishes that it can ask for, and automatically receive, from the Treasury. We have to make a case.

Dr Birnie and Mr Leslie, picking up on Mr Neeson's argument, made the point that even the Barnett case is not straightforward. It is not even straightforward between the devolved territories. Therefore, we must take care to have a strong, well-developed case, and also to put it forward in a sound political context.

If we are to make the sort of cases that we have been told we need to make to the Treasury - not just on Barnett but also on UK fiscal measures, as Mr McCartney said - then let us be clear. If I were to take some of the main points raised here today and on previous occasions, I would be saying to the Treasury, "We want more money for public expenditure. We are wasting the money that we are already getting. We do not want to raise any more money from our own households through the rates. We do not want to pay UK taxes. We want special exemptions from UK taxes and we want to be exempt from raising revenue of our own as well."

We would not survive very long in that conversation with the Treasury. I ask Members to listen with care to everything that has been said in the House. We will try to reflect, as an Executive, on all the positive contributions - and many positive contributions have been made. However, let us remember that all those points and contributions need to be read and considered in balance with each other. None of them can exist alone. If that is true of the world in general, it is certainly true in Government. Everything is connected to everything else. We cannot make our case on any of these issues on a purely free-standing basis. We need to make a case on most of those issues.

Mr McCartney:

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. On the issue of rates, the amount that is being collected is minimal compared to the amounts that the Minister has found and where he could spend it. It is not an either/or situation.

Mr Durkan:

I will come to that point later, because issues were raised about the monitoring rounds and this notion of finding money wherever we find it.

12.45 pm

People are rightly saying that I and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, who have a particular representational role on behalf of the Executive and the broad regional interest, need to be making those cases to the UK Government and the Treasury in particular. We need to make those cases with care and consideration. We need to ensure - as I have already said - that we join up our thinking on those points.

Patricia Lewsley, Iris Robinson and others raised the question of funding for schools. To reiterate what I said yesterday, we obviously have to continue to invest in temporary school accommodation, even though the need is clearly for longer-term provision of adequate facilities. That is simply because there are longer-term issues that need to be addressed, and in the interim we need to make sure that there is, at least, acceptable accommodation. Those longer-term issues need to be addressed through the education budget.

One means of addressing some of those longer-term issues is through private finance initiatives (PFIs) and public-private partnerships. Given the limitations of our resources, we have to identify other means that can be marshalled to assist the public policy aim of having adequate schools capital facilities.

Patricia Lewsley and Paul Berry also mentioned the pursuit of value for money. The Executive are pursuing that agenda in several ways. That is also vital for this Assembly and, not least, for the Public Accounts Committee. We are developing public service agreements, and the importance of those was underlined by Esmond Birnie. We are trying to manage the transition to resource budgeting, and to ensure that we have proper appraisal procedures. We will pursue all of those rigorously. I hope that in doing so, we have the support not just of the House, but also of the respective departmental Committees. Those measures will be most telling as they apply, and are applied, at the departmental level.

That brings me to a general point about the contributions today. Some Members seem to be under a misapprehension that I, as Minister of Finance and Personnel, have a directive role in relation to every bit of public expenditure that is discharged or managed by any Department or any agency. Members need to recognise that many of the very valid and useful points that have been raised today are particularly relevant when it comes to the departmental determinations, as far as spending priorities and spending allocations are concerned in departmental budgets.

As Minister of Finance and Personnel, I am in an unusual position. People tell me that I am interfering with what Departments want to do, that I am fussing around, that I am stopping Departments doing things and not affording people the flexibility or discretion that they need. It is alleged that the dead hand of the Department of Finance and Personnel is stopping and curtailing everything. At the same time I am told that the Department of Finance and Personnel is allowing Departments to do too much according to their own devices and whims.

The reality is that we are presenting the broad Budget allocations for the different Departments and the different programmes. Decisions within those Budget lines are taken at departmental level. I hope that the departmental Committees are informing themselves of those decisions, are making their own concerns and interests felt, and advertising their own particular priorities that they want to see reflected in those allocations.

Some of the important roles of Committees have been stressed - not least the importance of scrutiny. The Committees also have policy development and priority informing roles. I do not believe that a Committee's role should be confined to post hoc scrutiny. As Mr Dodds said, I hope that Committees will not feel constrained by the cycle of financial proceedings, and that they will still pursue those matters in their own time.

Mr Dallat:

Is the Minister suggesting that those Members who refuse to sit on Committees would serve the Assembly better if they put their name down for the Finance and Personnel Committee and contributed positively to the Assembly?

Mr Durkan:

I was not addressing any particular members of any particular Committees - or any Members who are not on any Committees. However, if anyone wanted to join a Committee, I could suggest some people that I would like to see replaced on certain Committees for a while to give me a break.

Mr McCartney:

Democracy precludes serving on Committees with trigger-men.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I cannot allow remarks made from a sedentary position.

Mr Durkan:

Questions have understandably been asked, notably by Mr Berry, about the criteria for the allocation of money. The process of public expenditure allocation is not one that lends itself to an easy formula for producing correct figures. Public expenditure is not managed on that basis anywhere.

We must try to balance resources against needs. We must also constantly reappraise and test the allocation of resources against perceived needs, first to check whether needs have changed and should be recognised in a different way, and secondly to see whether opportunities to meet needs have changed and can be responded to.

The change to resource accounting and budgeting should help with those matters. Spending plans should become a closer articulation of public policy priorities and public service interests than they have been in the past, because it is the focus on outcomes and outputs, not just on inputs, that helps us to make the change.

Ms Morrice said that people wanted to see a comparison between this year's allocations and last year's. I believe that what people and the Assembly really want to know is whether money allocated for a particular purpose is really being used to the best effect for that purpose, or whether money could be released for other needs. We need to move away from treating budgets simply in terms of the incremental changes to inputs and start to examine the real uses to which money is put.

Resource accounting and budgeting will help us to achieve value for money - a point that was made by several Members, including Ms Lewsley. That is because, with better information on the cost of services and a new focus on achieving objectives, there will be a renewed emphasis on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of government. Those "three Es" will sit strongly and positively with the "fourth E" of equality, which we have a particular duty to have regard to since the agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Mr Berry raised points about the Health Service deficits. I have to agree with Mr Maskey on this, as Mr Berry seemed to make some contradictory claims. He began by presenting a picture of wasteful expenditure - some sort of management abandon - in particular in the trusts and ended up talking about the previous chronic underfunding of the Health Service. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the Department of Finance and Personnel are jointly consulting to look at the causes and the consequences of these trust deficits. They are serious issues and we recognise that they pose serious questions, not just about financial control but also about service delivery. Clearly there is a question about whether the trusts are underfunded, and whether that is then reflected in the deficits.

Moreover, we have to address the serious issues of financial control. If the Assembly is to set budgets - and secondary allocations are made by the Departments based on those budgets - we have to ensure that everyone managing funds does so within the lines and limits of the set authority. The change to resource accounting and budgeting makes a difference here. Up to this point the spending of the trusts has been outside the departmental expenditure limit, and the deficits did not show up in the system for that reason. Under resource accounting and budgeting that will no longer be the case. Any emerging problems should show up early on and will be dealt with on that basis. The problem of cumulative trust deficits should not recur in the same way under resource accounting and budgeting. Other issues need to be addressed, and that is why we are consulting.

I have already touched on the points raised about Barnett. The First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and I did make representations to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last spending review. The real case that we need to make has to be in the context of the next spending review. Barnett and how UK fiscal measures affect Northern Ireland, which was raised by Mr McCartney, are matters that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister continue to make representations to the Treasury on, as do other Ministers. Sir Reg Empey, as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have made several representations to the Treasury on the matter of fuel tax.

The same applies to the climate change levy and to the aggregates tax. I, along with officials from several relevant Departments, met representatives of the Quarry Products Association. With further information from them we have been continuing to make that case. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister raised that matter in their last meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They pointed out - and we continue to do this - that some of these measures have an adverse effect, in economic terms, on Northern Ireland, for many of the reasons that Mr McCartney gave. Some, which are meant to be environmental measures, obviously have a perverse effect on Northern Ireland. They do not achieve their environmental aims and compound our economic disadvantage in other areas.

Mr Leslie and Mr O'Connor raised an issue with regard to housing. The Department for Social Development and the Housing Executive have jointly commissioned a strategic options study, which is examining options for the future financing of social housing. My Department has been consulted and I hope that we can look forward to a presentation in due course.

1.00 pm

I dealt with Mr Neeson's question about the gas industry yesterday. We recognise the importance of the Port of Belfast, and the Department for Regional Development is addressing that issue. The Regional Development Committee has also been looking at the matter and has been considering options.

We have pointed out some considerations that people will need to have regard to if we are to make diligent decisions. Some are not of our making, or of our choosing. Nevertheless, they are there and, in the realistic public interest, we need to bear them in mind.

Points were made in relation to railways, and some railway lines in particular. Again, I covered most of those yesterday.

The fraud issues - including those raised concerning the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety - are taken seriously. I have underlined that before. I hope Ministers take all incidents of fraud, and all possibilities for fraud, seriously. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety takes the issue of fraud seriously - be it at the level of service users or practitioners. Measures have already been announced and undertaken in relation to several aspects of health and social services.

I have already dealt with schools.

There were some issues raised concerning gap funding. I had hoped that I had dealt with some of those yesterday. Nevertheless - in case there are any outstanding issues or concerns - I will repeat what I said. Last week, I announced that part of the December monitoring round involved setting money aside to cover Departments in starting to make allocations to groups that they believe - on the basis of a sound judgement - would be eligible for Peace II funding. The moneys being allocated to the Executive programme funds for social inclusion are there as a safety net, in the event that Departments make allocations to groups or projects that do not qualify for Peace II funding. The Departments will be covered against that, as will the peace fund. This is something more than the previous forms of gap funding. We are now starting to look at making allocations on the basis of the criteria for Peace II. There are no guarantees, and sustainability criteria were written in for all groups to have regard to at the start of Peace I. They were also underlined in an interim report in 1997. The different funding agencies and bodies have had to have regard to sustainability. It is not just a matter for the Government.

Members may want to consider that, looking at the funding for Peace II - and at the issues of sustainability, which are obviously going to arise at the end of Peace II - developing the type of arrangement we have created with the Executive Programme Funds gives us one means of trying to pick up on those issues. It also enables us to mainstream - as we have been requested to do by Ms Morrice and others. I hope therefore that people will give some long-term thought to what we are trying to achieve with the facilities provided by the Executive programme funds. Given that the significant additional money that we receive from Peace II will be lost in some years' time - and we are aware of the important programmes that it supports -the Assembly will have to question its attitude to raising additional resources through the rates. I do not know how we are meant to meet that loss in the future if we forego the option of raising additional money through rates.

I have covered most of the new points made today. Obviously, I will endeavour to write to Members on any matters that I have not been able to cover. For instance, Jim Shannon made a point about roads at the end of the debate, which was covered yesterday. The spending decisions relating to many of those points cannot be determined by the Minister of Finance and Personnel - they need to be addressed and answered by the relevant Ministers.

I have had regard to the procedural issues raised. Jane Morrice wanted to know if the Estimates were going to be provided hand-in-hand with the Budget Bill. If anything, I thought that most Members were making the opposite criticism: that the Estimates and the Budget Bill are too close together. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for the confusion about which channel we are meant to be in at a particular time. In future, I hope that we can ensure that the Estimates are available a bit earlier so that Members can give them proper consideration.

However, allow me to stress that the allocation made for the deficits came out of the December monitoring round, even though it has had to be reflected in the spring Supplementary Estimates. Given that they had to be updated with such an adjustment, the spring Supplementary Estimates were turned around in very good time.

I reiterate that we will work with the Committees on improving the cycle to ensure that there is time for fuller consideration and greater contribution. Contributions do not always have to take the form of post hoc scrutiny by Committees, and that does not just apply to the Committee of Finance and Personnel; it applies to the other departmental Committees too. I hope that we can achieve better spacing between the Estimates and the Budget Bill and that that will allow for full and proper consideration of the Estimates. This should also free the Budget Bill from some of the confusion that has beset it this morning.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Thank you for your masterly expositions, both today and yesterday.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Second Stage of the Budget Bill [NIA 6/00] be agreed.

The sitting was suspended at 1.09 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) -


Government Resources and Accounts Bill:
Further Consideration Stage

2.00 pm

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 (The Consolidated Fund)

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

I beg to move amendment No 1: In page 2, lines 8 to 13, leave out subsection (4).

The following amendments stood in the Marshalled List:

No 2 (clause 3): In page 2, line 28, leave out "subsection" and insert "section". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 3 (clause 4): In page 3, lines 4 and 5, leave out subsection (4). - [Mr Durkan.]

No 4 (clause 4): In page 3, line 10, leave out "service on account of which" and insert

"Northern Ireland department or other body to which or person to whom". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 5 (clause 4): In page 3, line 12, leave out "subsection" and insert "section". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 6 (clause 5): In page 3, line 22, leave out "an Appropriation" and insert "a Budget". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 9 (clause 6): In page 3, leave out from "an Appropriation" in line 30 to end of line 33 and insert

"a Budget Act, direct that resources accruing to a department or a relevant body or person ('accruing resources') may be used for any purpose in any financial year in addition to resources authorised by Budget Act to be used for that purpose in that year." - [Mr Durkan.]

No 10 (clause 6): In page 3, line 38, leave out "an appropriation in aid" and insert "a use of accruing resources". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 11 (clause 6): In page 3, line 41, leave out "appropriation in aid" and insert "use of accruing resources". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 12 (clause 6): In page 4, lines 1 to 4, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert

"(a) the money may be used in accordance with the Department's direction, and

(b) in so far as not so used, it shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund." - [Mr Durkan.]

No 13 (clause 6): In page 4, line 6, leave out "appropriation in aid" and insert "use of accruing resources". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 14 (clause 6): In page 4, line 7, leave out "Appropriation" and insert "Budget". - [Mr Durkan.]

No 18 (schedule 1): In page 15, line 2, leave out "an Appropriation" and insert "a Budget". - [Mr Durkan.]

Mr Durkan:

This group of amendments is largely technical and represents the tidying-up of the way in which the Bill will set the framework for subsequent Budget Bills.

The starting point is that the control system up to now, based on cash control, has involved money being voted to services structured in a series of votes. The money available through a vote can be spent only on services within the ambit of the vote, and the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) will subsequently view expenditure on activities outside the ambit as irregular and not properly chargeable to the vote. That would then trigger qualification of the accounts and, if necessary, questions from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). This is a central aspect of the Assembly's control of spending.

With the introduction of resource accounting and budgeting, there is a need for a shift of emphasis from control on the basis of cash to resources. The proposal is that cash should be allocated and controlled at departmental level but that the Assembly's control of spending at service level should be preserved by a requirement that resources are used only within the ambit of the relevant request for resources.

Thus amendments 1, 3 and 4 provide for future Budget Bills to appropriate cash at departmental level, and they remove the requirements to identify cash drawdowns from the Consolidated Fund at a lower level. I stress that the raising of the level at which this control applies will be balanced by a new control on the use of resources at service level by Departments. I will say more about that later in relation to amendments 7 and 8.

Amendments 2 and 5 represent the simple tidying-up of terminology in the Bill - the removal of incorrect references to "subsection" and their replacement with "section" - and do not effect any change in its scope or its purpose.

Amendments 6, 14 and 18 simply replace the reference to "Appropriation Act" with the reference to "Budget Act" in order to reflect the change in title of the legislation referred to.

Amendments 9 to 13 deal with the simple change in terminology. Up to now, within limits defined in the Estimates, cash received by Departments could be used by them in addition to that directly appropriated by the Assembly. The term "appropriation in aid" has been applied to this concept. However, in future, such sums will be considered on an accruals basis and will be used to supplement resources authorised by the Assembly. Thus, the term "appropriation in aid" will be inappropriate and consequently will be replaced by "accruing resources".

The Chairperson of the Finance and Personnel Committee (Mr Molloy):

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. First, the Minister has written to the Committee indicating that he was minded to move these amendments.

He pointed out that the amendments were being proposed to ensure that the new resource accounting procedures would be afforded the same degree of legislative support as the outgoing cash-based system. The Assembly has been given certain powers with regard to the allocation of sums of money as appropriated by Assembly legislation. Those powers are provided under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 but do not extend to non-cash-based resources. The Government Resources and Accounts Bill is being amended to provide the Assembly with the same powers in relation to the resources that are not cash-based as it already has for sums of money.

Members of the Finance and Personnel Committee have now received a further letter from the Finance Minister, which sets out the reasons for the amendments, but they have not had the opportunity to consider them in detail. However, on the basis of the Minister's initial explanation of their effect, Committee members raised no objections to them.

Amendment No 1 agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 (Payment out of Consolidated Fund: standing services)

Amendment No 2 made: In page 2, line 28, leave out "subsection" and insert "section". - [Mr Durkan.]

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill

Clause 4 (Payment out of Consolidated Fund: sums authorised by Act of the Assembly)

Amendment No 3 made: In page 3, lines 4 and 5, leave out subsection (4). - [Mr Durkan.]

Amendment No 4 made: In page 3, line 10, leave out "service on account of which" and insert

"Northern Ireland department or other body to which or person to whom". - [Mr Durkan.]

Amendment No 5 made: In page 3, line 12, leave out "subsection" and insert "section". - [Mr Durkan.]

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 (Application of sums issued)

Amendment No 6 made: In page 3, line 22, leave out "an Appropriation" and insert "a Budget". - [Mr Durkan.]

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New clause

Mr Durkan:

I beg to move amendment No 7: After clause 5, insert the following new clause:

"Use of resources

-(1) The use of resources by-

(a) a Northern Ireland department, and

(b) any relevant body or person,

for any purpose in any financial year must be authorised for that year by Budget Act or under section 6 and must not exceed any amount so authorised in relation to that purpose.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to the use of resources for services which are under any statutory provision payable out of -

(a) the Consolidated Fund;

(b) the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund; or

(c) any other fund established under a statutory provision.

(3) Subsection (1) is subject to section (Use of resources without Budget Act)

(4) A body or person is a relevant body or person for the purposes of this section and section 6 if an estimate is approved by the Assembly for that body or person in respect of each financial year."

The following amendment stood in the Marshalled List:

No 8: After clause 5, insert the following new clause:

"Use of resources without Budget Act

-(1) If a Budget Act is not passed at least three working days before the end of a financial year ("year 1") authorising the use of resources mentioned in section (Use of resources) (1) for the service of the next financial year ("year 2"), the authorised officer of the Department may, subject to any Budget Act subsequently passed, authorise the use of resources for the service of year 2 for such purposes and up to such amounts as he may direct.

(2) The aggregate of the amounts authorised under subsection (1) for the service of year 2 shall not exceed 75 per cent of the total amount of resources authorised by Budget Act for the service of year 1.

(3) If a Budget Act is not passed before the end of July in any financial year authorising the use of resources mentioned in section (Use of resources) (1) for the service of the year, the authorised officer of the Department may, subject to any Budget Act subsequently passed, authorise the use of resources for the service of the year for such purposes and up to such amounts as he may direct.

(4) The aggregate of the amounts authorised under subsection (3) and (where applicable) the amounts authorised under subsection (1) for the service of any financial year shall not exceed 95 per cent of the total amount of resources authorised by Budget Act for the service of the preceding financial year.

(5) In this section "authorised officer", in relation to the Department, means the Permanent Secretary or such other officer as may be nominated by him for the purpose." - [Mr Durkan.]


<< Prev / Next >>