Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 6 March 2001 (continued)
|Mr Deputy Speaker:
It always hurts them to hear these things.
The implementation of the Belfast Agreement subscribes in the fullest manner possible - and I say this to the Alliance Party - to all rights and obligations to deal with Northern Ireland's divided society. That will manifest itself.
Economic issues were also raised over the past two days. Mr Roche said that the Programme for Government had no analysis of problems facing the Departments. In the section of the Programme for Government entitled "Securing a Competitive Economy" one will find an assessment of the difficulties relating to the infrastructure and the economy of Northern Ireland. The challenges that need to be met in respect of globalisation are also stated. Northern Ireland, with its population of 1·8 million, is very small compared to the rest of the United Kingdom, never mind to Europe and the world.
George Savage and Dr Paisley raised some agriculture issues - very important, sensitive and serious at this time. The process of rural proofing will be steered by an interdepartmental group. It will be chaired by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and it will have representatives from all Departments. Each Department will be required to rural proof its own policies. The early retirement scheme will be examined. I am glad that my Colleague George Savage is still in the Chamber - he will be mindful of what happened before.
I have not forgotten it.
He has not forgotten it, nor have I. Mr Poots raised the issue of victims. That is another sensitive subject that must be referred to. We accept that there is not much cash - only £420,000 - in the Victims Unit of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. We anticipate increasing that, but £6·7 million is expected to come through Peace II, and £12 million has been announced through Mr Ingram, the Northern Ireland Office Minister.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
What about the fishermen?
I have not forgotten about the fishermen and the tie-up scheme that the Member mentioned the other day. I am liaising - wearing my constituency hat - with the fishermen in South Down. You can strike that off if you wish, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I did say that I was wearing my constituency hat.
Let us come to money - the fluidity that makes government work. I can understand the comments made by some Members. Mr McGrady said that we must pressurise central Government to get funds for our roads. Dr Paisley said that the rural roads need to be attended to. Mr Campbell talked about the decades of underinvestment. Ms de Brún said that the inherited budget of £2 billion is not enough.
Mr McCartney, who, I am glad to see, has entered the Chamber, made reference using economic arguments to twist the reality when he said that economic power is limited to the cake you share. Let us try to analyse that. Is he saying that we should have power to raise taxes because we do not have enough money? Is he aware that regions such as the Länder in Germany, though they do not raise taxes, are very economically viable? Is he saying that we should raise marginal taxes? Is he aware that in Scotland, for example, where there is a £14 billion Government purse, that would raise taxes of only £300 million? In Northern Ireland 1p on the rates would raise only £50 million. The point of taxation, if that is what he is on about, is that it is a marginal cost, which tests whether the Government that makes that decision is spending wisely.
Does Mr McCartney realise that we are a devolved region in the United Kingdom within a single fiscal unit? Unfortunately, I will leave Mr McCartney with one word and say that, as always, he is a Cassandra - a prophet of doom.
Globalisation of economic power is limited. OPEC and oil prices, the USA and its economy, currency and currency fluctuations all affect our economy. Mr McCartney may be - may be - a good lawyer, but a lesson or two in economics would not go amiss.
Mr Haughey and I are jointly responsible for bringing the Programme for Government forward to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I thank Mr Haughey, but, more importantly, I thank Will Haire and other officials in the Economic Policy Unit for the work that they have done.
We work in conjunction with the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the officials in the Department of Finance and Personnel. I thank them for the Programme for Government that has been brought to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
I have sought to answer some of the points but not all of them. We have had a wide ranging debate about many things that I mentioned at the beginning. The programme that is before Members provides a framework. It is a public document. It is a working document. It is an unfolding and developing document. I therefore ask that the Assembly reject the amendment proposed by the leader of the Alliance Party and endorse the Programme for Government as agreed by the Executive. I commend the motion to Members.
Question put That the Amendment be made.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 5; Noes 46.
Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Sean Neeson.
Ian Adamson, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Tom Hamilton, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, David McClarty, Alasdair McDonnell, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Mick Murphy, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O'Connor, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, George Savage, John Tierney.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 47; Noes 27.
Ian Adamson, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Ivan Davis, Baírbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, Séan Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Tom Hamilton, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alban Maginness, Séamus Mallon, David McClarty, Alasdair McDonnell, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Mick Murphy, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O'Connor, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, George Savage, John Tierney.
Eileen Bell, Paul Berry, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Séamus Close, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, David Ford, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Kieran McCarthy, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Séan Neeson, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this Assembly endorses the Programme for Government agreed by the Executive.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
We had a happening here which I hope will never be repeated in this House. An attempt was made to keep a section of the Assembly from registering its vote. This is very serious. If people on the other side think that it is a laugh, that is their democracy. If two Members say "No" the House has to divide. If the great House of Commons divides for two people, this devolved Assembly must do likewise.
I intend raising this issue with the Speaker. An attempt was made to take away the right of individuals to vote.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I note your comments, Dr Paisley. Thank you.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
As no amendments have been tabled, I propose, by leave of the Assembly, to group the five clauses of the Bill.
Clauses 1 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Long title agreed to.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):
I beg to move
That the Budget Bill [NIA 10/00] do now pass.
I will be brief. The Final Stage of the Budget Bill is the conclusion of the first full financial year during which the Assembly has been responsible for approving Estimates. The Assembly has had the opportunity to question and debate the detailed expenditure proposals for the 2000-01 financial year. I am glad, for want of a better word, to say that it has taken full advantage of that opportunity. This began with the Supply resolutions associated with the main Estimates early last summer. We had a full debate again in February on the 2000-01 spring Supplementary Estimates. It is right that there should be full that which we had today on the Programme for Government. That is the important difference that devolution is helping to make.
These expenditure proposals emanate from our devolved Administration, which is fully accountable to the Assembly. The Assembly has the ultimate say on whether to accept them. I can assure all those who participated in the various debates and in the deliberations of the Committees that the points they raised are of interest. Their validity and merit is recognised, not least because they reflect the concerns of the wider community that Members represent.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
If this Assembly has the final say, why is it that we were not able to put down an amendment on this today? We tried to put down five amendments and were told that we could not do so. If we have the final say on everything that we are passing tonight, why is it not amended?
Mr Deputy Speaker:
My understanding is that no amendments can be put down at this stage.
This is the Final Stage. There would not be amendments at this stage. Amendments were submitted yesterday for the Further Consideration Stage, but those amendments were not taken. The Speaker gave his ruling and his grounds for it, in answer to points raised by Mr Dodds. Those points were accepted. It was the nature of the amendments, not the fact of amendments, that was ruled out. The Speaker in his ruling said that the particular nature of the amendments would have had the effect of making the Bill ultra vires. That was the reason that those particular amendments were not taken. That is a matter for the Speaker, not for me or, indeed, the Executive.
The Minister accurately records what happened. However, the Speaker, in his ruling, agreed with me that the amendments - which would have deleted expenditure on the all-Ireland aspects of the Belfast Agreement (the North/South bodies) and kept it within Northern Ireland Departments - were not acceptable because those particular bodies were given a special position in the legislation. You can amend and remove expenditure in relation to health, education and agriculture, but you cannot do so for the North/South bodies. It illustrates a point that we have made in the past - that those bodies are given a special position within the institutions set up under the agreement.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I support the ruling of the Speaker yesterday. I therefore do not see any point in taking amendments at the Final Stage of the Bill.
The debate that has taken place yesterday and today on the Programme for Government has served to underline the fact that the Executive and the Ministers in the various Departments have been getting to grips with their responsibilities and tasks. The Ministers have taken up their respective responsibilities and, more importantly, have collectively taken up the key responsibilities of the Executive.
This past year has also seen the various Assembly Committees get to grips with their responsibilities. I know that points of concern have been reflected at various stages of budgetary consideration, and I want again to underline the fact that departmental Committees have a crucial role to play in scrutinising expenditure proposals and presenting their views on priorities and allocations.
I know from the interest that Committees have shown in financial issues that their contribution will develop further. I have no problem with encouraging that, but I also know from the way in which Members' interests are being pressed in Committees that I have no need to encourage it.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the role and contribution of the Finance and Personnel Committee. Its work is very difficult and thankless, and it has to work within strict time limits. I appreciate its members' commitment and understanding in helping to develop financial procedures. We need to develop these further and improve them in the interests not just of the Finance and Personnel Committee, but of all the Committees and of the House.
We will continue to work with the Committee and the Assembly to help establish improved practices and procedures. These should facilitate the management of the budget cycle and provide greater confidence that the Assembly is fully exercising its scrutiny responsibilities, and that it is being consulted appropriately on expenditure proposals.
That developing confidence in the activities of the Assembly should in turn help the development of public confidence in the Assembly. This Administration will be seen to have a proven ability to recognise and reflect local interests and priorities in a way that simply was not possible under direct rule.
The 2001-02 Main Estimates will be coming before the Assembly in a few months. I look forward to that further round of discussions and debate, including those in relation to the greater and more timely involvement of the Committees. I must stress that the interests and concerns on expenditure which people have expressed in budget considerations and in the course of today's debate do not have to wait for the return of the Main Estimates before Committees. People can pursue those interests now. The public service agreements on which so many useful comments were made in the previous debate should be an aid to Committees in exploring those issues.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 48; Noes 20.
Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alasdair McDonnell, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Francie Molloy, Mick Murphy, Danny O'Connor, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, John Tierney.
Ian Adamson, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Ivan Davis, Reg Empey, Tom Hamilton, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Dermot Nesbitt, Ken Robinson, George Savage.
Eileen Bell, David Ford, Monica McWilliams.
Paul Berry, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Sammy Wilson.
Total Votes 68 Total Ayes 48 ( 70.6%)
Question accordingly agreed to (by cross-community consent).
That the Budget Bill (NIA 10/00) do now pass.
Adjourned at 7.37 pm.