Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 13 November 2000


Assembly: Mr Speaker

Assembly Standing Orders

Programme for Government

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Higher and further education, training and employment

Department for Social Development

Programme for Government

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes' silence.


Assembly: Mr Speaker


Mr Speaker:

I wish to advise the Assembly that I am to travel to Lima tomorrow to undertake a series of long-standing official engagements on behalf of the Assembly and in conjunction with the British Council and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Accordingly, I will miss the sitting tomorrow but will be back in time for the following sitting.

Assembly Standing Orders


Motion made:

That this Assembly suspends Standing Order 10(2) and Standing Order 10(6) for Monday 13 November 2000 - [The First and Deputy First Ministers]

Ms Morrice:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to speak against this motion to suspend Standing Orders. This is setting a precedent that is totally improper at the start of the Programme for Government. We are committed to family-friendly working hours and childcare. It is not a good idea to suspend Standing Orders to allow us to speak beyond six o'clock tonight. This debate is important and could have been extended into Wednesday. It is totally improper for this House to suspend Standing Orders, defeating our proud achievement of securing family-friendly working hours for this Assembly.

Mr Speaker:

If the Member wishes to speak, it is possible for her to be called to speak. Of course, other Members would then have to be given the opportunity to give their views and the proposer would have to be given the opportunity to respond.

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, will you rule on the issue? It has been suggested that there is some impropriety in the proposal. Surely it is quite in order and perfectly proper. If the Assembly wishes to take extra time to debate an issue, it should be allowed to do so, and there is provision for that in Standing Orders.

Mr Speaker:

There is no question of its not being perfectly proper. In fact, this has occurred on a number of occasions. Standing Orders are there to facilitate good order, but also to facilitate the work of the Assembly. There are occasions when the business managers judge that the better function of the Assembly can be achieved by a suspension of Standing Orders, in particular Standing Orders which refer to timing and so forth. However, if it is the case that Members wish to speak to it, they may speak to it. If the Member wishes to speak, I will give her the opportunity to speak. If other Members so wish, they must also be given the opportunity to speak, and the proposer must have an opportunity to respond.

Ms Morrice:

I will be happy to withdraw the word "improper" and replace it with "inappropriate".

I am sure that most Members will appreciate the struggle we had in the Standing Orders Committee to secure family-friendly working hours for this Assembly when it was originally established. People wondered how we could do the business of Government on a nine-to-five basis. We asked "Why not?"

The cut-off at six o'clock on Mondays was a huge leap forward for the family-friendly approach to working hours. Not only does it allow the men and women of this Assembly to go home to their families at six o'clock; it also allows women greater access to public life and to this Assembly. We can start the business of Government earlier at 10.30 am, rather than in the afternoon and into the night, with decisions being made late at night when we are tired, instead of early in the morning when we are refreshed and prepared to work.

Why did the Business Committee not consider the Programme for Government important enough to go beyond Monday into Tuesday and Wednesday? Standing Orders allow us to work through Tuesday evening, rolling over to Wednesday morning. The Programme for Government is vital for the Assembly and its work in Northern Ireland.

Mr P Robinson:

Did the Member or her party propose this at the Business Committee? Did her party vote against it at the Business Committee? Is not the Business Committee the place to do it, rather than in the House?

Ms Morrice:

We would oppose this in the Business Committee. However, had we done so, I doubt we would have had the opportunity to win the debate. I am doing the democratic thing: standing in the Assembly and calling on Members to vote against the motion. It sets a precedent of extending the working hours set out in Standing Orders at the whim of the Assembly. We must also take into account the option of continuing this debate into Tuesday and Wednesday. I ask Members to consider family-friendly working hours and the importance of the debate and vote against the motion.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member's suggestion that the debate be continued into Tuesday and Wednesday raises a matter of order. That proposition is not available at present. Were Standing Orders not suspended, I would be required to put the Question at six o'clock. The debate could not continue beyond that time, and the motion would be voted on at that stage. Continuing into Tuesday or Wednesday is not a possibility at this stage. That is simply a matter of order that I need to draw to the Member's attention.

Ms Morrice:

I ask Members to vote against the motion and put our achievements on family-friendly working hours before our ability to go beyond the limit of our working hours at six o'clock.

Mr Dodds:

When this matter was raised in the Business Committee, there was unanimity on the need for an extended period of time to debate this very important issue. We support the suspension of Standing Orders in this case in order to facilitate extra debate. It would certainly be an issue if Standing Orders were suspended, or if there were a motion to suspend them, in order to curtail debate or prevent Members from having their say on an issue of concern to them.

The motion before the House will allow Members to have their say on an extremely important issue. It is invidious and wrong for a Member whose party did not raise any objections to the motion or speak against it at the Business Committee to raise the matter now on the Floor of the House in this fashion. There are proper channels through which to do this, and they have not been observed. I can see no worthy grounds on which the Member's proposal should succeed.

Mr Speaker:

I shall make one brief comment. I discourage the House from entertaining discussions on the Floor of the Chamber about what may or may not have happened in the Business Committee, given that discussions through the usual channels are usually best kept in that context. That applies both to those who raise questions and to those who respond. It is best if the matter can be dealt with there.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly suspends Standing Order 10(2) and Standing Order 10(6) for Monday 13 November 2000.

Programme for Government


Mr Speaker:

It may be useful if I outline how I hope to facilitate this debate. To provide for the discussion of thematic issues, it has been agreed through the usual channels that we divide consideration of the draft programme into three sections.

After the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister propose the motion, section one will deal with chapters one, six and seven of the Programme for Government, covering the overall approach including external relations and style of operation. Section two will deal with chapters two and three covering equality, human rights, poverty and health. Finally, section three will cover the issues in chapters four and five, education, training, the economy and infrastructure.

While there will be three sections to the debate, the normal Standing Order, 17(2), will still apply and a Member may not speak more than once to a single motion, except for the Member who is moving the motion or winding up the debate. Members called during a particular section should speak to that section. However, they may make comments about any other part of the draft Programme for Government when they are called to speak. Indeed, if they have comments to make they will have to make them at that time as they will not be given a second opportunity to speak.

10.45 am

To facilitate the debate, at the start of each section I will call a Minister to speak, and at the end of a section I will again call a Minister, or Ministers, who may wish to comment on matters raised. All Members, including Ministers, but excluding the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, will have the same amount of time, because I have had a large number of requests to speak. I have looked at those requests, and the indications from some Whips of the number of Members who wish to speak - although the indications I get at the start and end of debates often bear little relation to each other, which makes it hard to judge.

With 10 minutes for both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to open, there will not be more than five minutes for each other Member, including the Ministers, to speak during the debate - even with the extension into the evening. Had the previous motion fallen, there would have been even less time available.

I must rule that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will have 10 minutes each to open, and time to wind at the end if they so choose. For the rest of the debate, those called will have five minutes. I trust that is clear. It is an unusual debate, but we are trying to work as closely within the Standing Orders as possible. If Members are clear, we will proceed.

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the Executive Committee's proposed Programme for Government; notes that it will guide the public spending plans for 2001-02 in the Budget; notes that the Programme for Government will be presented for the approval of the Assembly in the New Year, embracing public service agreements for all Departments.

Today's debate on the draft Programme for Government is, arguably, the most important business we have transacted since this Assembly came into existence. That might seem a bold assertion, and I acknowledge that the debate may well lack some of the political pyrotechnics of other occasions, but it is, in my opinion, the most important meeting we have had to date. I say that because this debate represents the beginning of the maturity of the new politics that the agreement has achieved for Northern Ireland. It is, or ought to be, a new beginning.

The Programme for Government hopes to represent a contract between this Assembly and its Executive, and the people of Northern Ireland. It represents a statement of the policies and objectives we have identified as our main priorities for the months and years ahead. It will act as a road map, describing the direction in which the Executive hopes to take our public services. In this programme we have the coming to maturity of the work of devolved Government in Northern Ireland. It is our opportunity to start making a difference, to begin to put behind us the sterility and neglect of direct rule and to apply our imagination and energies to the good of all our people.

A number of Ministers will speak in greater detail about the aspects of the Programme for Government. The Deputy First Minister and I will speak in more general terms, providing an overview of the programme as a whole.

Our objective is to deliver a new beginning for Government in Northern Ireland - a Government that is responsive to the community it serves and in tune with the people who elected it. It will be a Government that will seek to provide new and better public services and opportunities for the whole community, Protestant, Catholic, those of other religions or of none. It will seek to provide new and better public services and opportunities for Unionists, Nationalists, Republicans and those of no particular political conviction, males, females, the young as well as the elderly, those of British or Irish descent and those who have only more recently come to live among us.

The Executive will endeavour to provide real, meaningful and effective Government for all of the people who make up our community. In doing so, we hope to see this community grow in its self-confidence and its economic and social well-being - a community that no longer looks exclusively in on itself but which is sufficiently confident to look beyond its own shores and play its part in the wider world, whether through business, education, culture or other endeavours.

The aim is to produce a Northern Ireland at ease with itself, an inclusive Northern Ireland, where all can feel they belong and where all can enjoy equal esteem. We also want to construct a more prosperous Northern Ireland, where everyone enjoys equality of opportunity and to move towards a world where there are jobs for all who are capable of work. We wish to help society to become more outward-looking, more confident about learning from others and more assured that it has much to contribute to the rest of the world.

The Programme for Government also demonstrates that the diverse parties which constitute the Executive have been fully able to work together constructively for the benefit of Northern Ireland. That co-operation is important in itself, but it is not enough. The final judgement on this programme will be made on the basis of what it achieves and whether what it contains can indeed make a difference to the lives of people across Northern Ireland.

The kernel of the programme is a list of 230 actions which the Executive propose to take after consultation and a vote in the Assembly. Many of these actions are specific and costed - policies for which funds are provided in the draft Budget, which the Assembly will also consider. Members will want to consider the details of these actions. All have budgetary implications, so any proposed changes need to be reflected in the consideration of the Budget, which we will debate tomorrow.

There is a great deal we wish to change, improve and develop, but major changes need to be carefully planned and require wide consultation. That is why the programme contains 15 reviews of policy covering a wide range of issues from selection in education to safety on the roads. As these reviews report and are implemented, we believe that the face of Northern Ireland will begin to change for the better and that the pace of change will accelerate.

The programme sets out the intentions of the Administration, and it is important that those aims are delivered quickly and effectively. Members and the wider public need assurance that the large amounts of taxpayers' money being deployed here actually improve the services that people need. Our determination is to deliver the programme effectively and to be seen to be doing so, and that is reflected in an important administrative innovation, the public service agreements, to which all Departments will attach targets and timetables for their actions.

These public service agreements are being worked up and will be presented to the Assembly in the next debate on this programme. Their aim is to deliver more and better services to the public and to provide better value for money. As we said in our statement on 24 October 2000, these agreements will form a contract between individual Departments and the Executive. They will provide the transparency and accountability which was not adequately provided for under direct rule. They will form an important part of our new way of doing business, and they will create a culture change within the Government, focusing managers' attention not merely on the inputs of financial resources but on the outputs of real services delivered to real people.

We are determined to improve the effectiveness of the Government, and this is reflected in the provisions contained in the programme to achieve joined-up Government. A joined-up approach was built in to the development of this programme, and, in particular, it defines our priority areas for action. We will develop this approach in the Executive's own work, with Ministers working in sub-committees to develop cross-cutting policies in a much more coherent way and to ensure that a silo mentality does not inhibit their delivery.

Hence also our strong focus on the Executive's programme funds. These are to be organised and agreed by the Executive as a whole. They will enable us to carry out much more effective cross-cutting work. They will also enable us to deal with major infrastructure and rural projects, to focus on the needs of children and to work on developing new policies in important areas, on improving the quality of service and on tackling the issue of social inclusion and community regeneration. In addition, as set out in the final chapter, there are a number of cross-cutting initiatives that can improve the effectiveness of the Government. These include the increased use of electronics to create new and more effective means of providing services to and information for citizens and to handle data and information within the Government. We also need to link this to the reform of public administration. We hope to have more details on the review in the coming months.

We must face up to the significant problems of finance too. We need to tackle the weaknesses of the Barnett formula, which does not always meet our needs. On the other hand, our ability to find innovative ways to finance public services must be integral to this strategy. We must examine if, for example, public-private partnerships and the private finance initiative are practical solutions.

Having dealt with those matters in general terms, I now invite the Deputy First Minister to give more detail on some aspects of the Programme for Government.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

The First Minister has emphasised that the Programme for Government is an exercise in joined-up Government. It flows from the collective reflection and responsibility of the Executive and not from the entrenched individual interests of Departments. The Executive's programme funds are perhaps the strongest example in the Programme for Government of our commitment to innovate and break away from traditional departmental approaches. The development by the Executive of a clarity of purpose, an overall vision and priorities and sub-priorities provides the framework within which Departments will implement the 230 actions through the operation of public service agreements. The Programme for Government has been constructed to unlock the energies and realise the economies that become possible when Departments and agencies work together to achieve an interlocking set of aims.

One important aspect of coherence was our determination to ensure that the concept of equality ran through the draft programme. Our commitment to equality is a promise to every citizen that he or she shall share in basic human dignity. This dignity rests not on possessions or position, but on the right to be treated as a person with opportunities equal to those of all others. Chapter 2 has a major focus on this theme, but equality will be delivered in all the programme's areas. We hope, for example, to provide high quality education with equal access to all and tackle the unacceptable levels of ill health, which are closely linked with social disadvantage, through a public health strategy. These are two key objectives for this Administration. I believe that we have threaded equality into every relevant aspect of the draft programme. We look forward, at this consultative stage of the process, to taking account of the views of the equality groups and the Equality Commission.

A second element that has run through our thinking is realism: facing up to the real challenges that we face with the resources at our disposal and hence the parallel of the Programme for Government and the Budget. Not everything can be achieved as rapidly as we would like. We would like to do more in every area, and we are sure that the Assembly would wish to do more. For example, no one is content with the progress we are making in tackling Northern Ireland's waiting list for health care and community services. Nor can we be satisfied with any of the objectives and targets that are in the Programme for Government. However, we must be frank about the reality, even as we aspire to overcome all of those problems. Let us not forget either that each year we will present an updated programme which will allow us to modify our approach in the light of experience. In the words of President Dwight Eisenhower,

"Plans are nothing, planning is everything."

I will now say a few words about the challenges which we face, especially those for which the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have a particular responsibility. We have to face the reality of deep divisions in our society. It cannot be otherwise after centuries of division and 30 years of conflict. In particular, we recognise the need to put in place a cross-departmental strategy to promote community relations. New thinking, new energy and above all moral and political support must be given to this crucial activity. The promotion of a cohesive, inclusive and just society is a particular challenge for us, but it also applies to all modern societies as they deal with economic restructuring, growing individualism and the weakening of their traditional social institutions.

11.00 am

We identified a healthy society with a future for young people as a society that provides educational opportunities for all and creates jobs in the new economy - the key social issues to be addressed. Looking at the physical backdrop to economic and social activity, we identified the importance of a sustainable environment, the need for a new focus on the rural economy and the creation of a renewed infrastructure after the under-investment in recent years as major priorities.

Finally, there is the need to shape a society which will develop relationships and interact successfully with its neighbours - on this island, throughout Britain and worldwide. Chapters 2-6 of the document set out the detailed sub-priorities, programmes and actions that respond to those challenges. In our discussions in the Executive, we considered a variety of ways in which we could have described those priorities. Our conclusion was that we should limit the priority areas to five, each with a very broad approach. We decided that organising our work around those five priority areas, producing greater overall coherence for our policies while having a wider number of sub-priorities, would produce the right balance.

But public policy is not an exact science. We are a new Administration, operating in unique circumstances, trying to break new ground. We are open to hear Members' views on whether this balance is correct or whether there are significant issues that need greater emphasis and future development.

Chapter 6 covers the fifth priority, namely 'Developing North/South, East/West and International Relations'. There we have set out the ways in which the Executive will seek to work with other Governments and bodies such as the European Commission to realise the full potential of enhanced co-operation and maximise the benefit to Northern Ireland. The development of the global economy, the development of the European Union and the nature of many policy areas such as the environment, which, in essence, know no boundaries, require us to work on a much wider canvas than just that of Northern Ireland. Members may be interested to know that we have already sent copies of the draft Programme for Government to all of the Administrations with which we interact.

We need to seek the benefits of co-operation on the North/South, east-west axes as well as internationally. Whatever the short-term difficulties - and they must be overcome as quickly as possible - the Executive, as set out in the Programme for Government, are fully committed to taking forward the work of the North/South Ministerial Council.

I pay tribute to those Ministers and officials who have worked hard to get the new North/South bodies up and running. With devolution, we now have the opportunity to make our views known and to play our part with neighbouring Governments for our mutual benefit. While there is a wide range of east-west issues to develop, we have identified transport and the fuel tax problem as matters of particular importance to Northern Ireland. In addition, we will develop more effective links with the European institutions by establishing an office in Brussels, and we will develop our presence in north America.

Finally, we pointed to the important work that we need to do to improve the international image of Northern Ireland - we all know the legacy that our history has left in this area. If we are to prosper and gain investment and tourism, it is important that we act in a coherent way to improve our image.

I finish by emphasising the importance we place on the Assembly's views and those of the wider community. I am disappointed that, to date, there has been a relevant absence of public analysis and discussion about the Programme for Government. I hope that today's debate, involving so many Ministers and Back-Benchers, will help to stimulate wider discussion.

The draft programme was prepared by the Executive and is a document for which the Executive take responsibility. It provides the best structure for taking our work forward and for the important budgetary decisions that must be made next month. It is also a programme developed and approved through the Assembly process. The Executive look to Members for help to frame the document and guide its annual development. The agreement places responsibilities on us all to work in new ways to create a new approach.

Ours is a new and unique style of politics, and the programme must play a central role in this process. It is a working, developing document that must, and will, evolve. The input and approval of all Members is essential for the achievement of that evolution.

Mrs Carson:

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Programme for Government. It is another milestone on the road to developing good government in Northern Ireland. There are many hurdles to pass in order to overcome the legacy of direct rule and stagnated legislation and catch up with the remainder of the United Kingdom. Years of underinvestment are making it difficult in all Departments.

To most people, environmental issues relate only to birds, bees and trees, but in the Programme for Government, environmental issues cut across all Departments. On page 12, paragraph 1.8, 'A Better Environment' and paragraph 1.9, 'A New Basis for the Rural Economy' are worth reading, and I ask Members to read them. I was struck by the use of the word "sustainability" in paragraph 1.8. It is used many times throughout the document with regard to built heritage, natural heritage, agriculture, economy, rural life, countryside, air, land, and water quality. We must latch on to this term.

The awareness of sustainability is common to the rest of the United Kingdom. On 24 September, Lord Dubs emphasised the value of embedding nature conservation into other policy areas - particularly agriculture support and countryside management. He also said that the ability to achieve that would be an important test of whether things were developing in a sustainable way.

There are some high sounding words in the Programme for Government. Paragraph 6.9 on page 83 states

"A high quality environment and a modern water and sewerage network will be of benefit to everyone".

That sounds good but requires flesh on the words.

Page 54 states that the Executive will

"assist district councils in implementing acceptable measures for the disposal of waste".

How are the Executive going to do that? What direction will be given? Will district councils be given direction with advice and financial help? I am sure that councillors are awaiting an explanation.

Page 54 also states that the Executive will

"maintain effective arrangements for the treatment and disposal of sewage and sewerage sludge".

It is just not good enough to maintain the status quo. I wish to see treatment for phosphates in place at all sewage disposal works.

Page 54 also states that by the end of 2001 there will be a strategy in place which will, through advice and research, seek to reduce eutrophication levels. That conflicts with the action to maintain existing sewage treatment and disposal. Anyone living near Lough Neagh will be aware of that.

Pages 50 and 51 mention tourism. I welcome the fact that a start has been made to develop the different aspects of it. In paragraph 5.3.3 it states that in 2001 there will be a launch of water-based tourism programmes. However, it also states that by March 2003 a strategy will be prepared to develop the recreational potential of inland waterways as a tourist attraction. It is rather difficult to understand what is meant by this. Surely strategy preparation comes before action. A clear direction of action is required. Will that happen in 2001 or in 2003?

The word "sustainability" is used throughout the document. However, sustainability will be impossible if the funding for a sustainable environment is not made available. I noticed that bids for environmental programmes were not met and that therefore work on landscape protection and nature conservation will not be undertaken. The funding needed for sustainable built heritage has not been met, and this will have a detrimental knock-on effect on bids to other funding bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund. If the Programme for Government is to be effective on the issue of environmental sustainability -

Mr Speaker:

Order. Time is up.

Mrs Carson:

I welcome the draft programme, but there are many areas that require much more work.

Mr Gallagher:

I commend the Executive for bringing together the draft Programme for Government and for the consultation prior to its implementation. There are several key areas that I want to highlight.

With regard to the proposed Housing Bill, I am concerned about the introduction of a discretionary grants system in Northern Ireland. Such a system would leave the grants budget vulnerable. It would also be a difficult system to implement as regards the setting of eligibility criteria. This model, as implemented in England, is unsatisfactory, especially for those who live in unfit dwellings and are in dire need of improvements to their homes. The motto should be: if the system is not broken, why fix it?

There are two important exceptions to that. It is particularly important in my constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone that the matter of closing orders be reviewed. There must be a better way of dealing with the situation where the only option considered by the Housing Executive for many deserving cases is to place a closing order on a lived-in house just because the resident was not aware of the fine print in the application. We have the highest level of unfit housing in the British Isles. It is currently 17·5%, which is more than twice the Northern Ireland average. Since 1997, 307 properties have been subjected to closing orders in Northern Ireland, and 171 of those have been in Fermanagh. It is imperative that a more adaptable form of legislation is introduced for replacement grants. Also, under new legislation, all previous refusals should be reviewed to see if some of the deserving cases can be reconsidered for grant aid. After all, the Programme for Government states, among other things, that decent living accommodation will be provided for everyone.

The other grants issue that needs to be addressed is the eligibility requirement for minor works grants. The applicant must be on income support and must be over 60. There are many people outside that category who need repairs to their homes, but they find themselves excluded, particularly since the major cuts were introduced in the amounts payable for repair grants on the foot of environmental health notices.

I welcome the strong commitments to ensure that the Health Service caters for the needs of different users, irrespective of their backgrounds, and to modernise and improve hospital and primary care services. I want to see that commitment, particularly in respect of acute medical care, delivered at the Erne and South Tyrone hospitals. As I emphasised to the Minister of Health, the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone are as entitled to these services as the people of Belfast, because the real test of rural proofing will be in the delivery of a decent health service to rural areas.

11.15 am

A further requirement for rural areas, and particularly for my constituency, is out-of-hours GP (general practitioner) cover. Presently, some people on the periphery have to travel up to 45 miles to get access to a GP after hours. While we all recognise that GPs need some time off, patients require a more amenable medical service. The Department should explore this issue in a cross- border context with the Department of Health in the South. We must find better arrangements, whereby GPs have their time off and the public has a satisfactory service.

Mr P Robinson:

With only five minutes at one's disposal there is no time for detailed consideration of the Programme for Government. There is time only for a broad sweep of its content.

As I listened to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister speak, I felt there was a real danger that they are starting to believe their own rhetoric. It was very high in its waffle content; indeed, almost as high as the Programme for Government itself.

Here is a Programme for Government that is full of platitudes and padding and general concepts and clichés, that are mainly shibboleths, but have very little substance. Everyone, as they go through the 80 pages of this Programme for Government - this first effort of devolution - will recognise that it is 90% packaging and 10% content.

The people of Northern Ireland are looking for more than just grand visions and fine words. They want to see something tangible happening on the ground; they want to see real proposals that will change their lives, rather than all this candyfloss that has been thrown into the Programme for Government. I recognise that there are great difficulties in a power-sharing arrangement. In any other Government, parties produce their manifestos; people vote for something to happen; and when the party that they have voted for is elected, they expect to see the outpouring of the manifesto commitments that have been made. However, when people have been elected with different manifestos, promising different and often contradictory objectives, clearly people do not get what they voted for, and a mishmash results.

This programme has been a year in the making. Governments at Westminster are ready to put forward programmes for Government within days of being elected. The same is true of the Republic, while Scotland took a matter of weeks. Here, we had to wait about two years - they certainly had the best of two years to think about it - only to get what is a very disappointing effort.

It really suffers from the "Nationalist psyche" syndrome, something that Unionists have noticed in previous negotiations. When Unionists go into negotiations, they want to do a deal. They want to get down to brass tacks and discuss specific proposals.

But not Nationalists - they come in and want to analyse everything. They then want to set out a whole series of principles, and once they catch people on their concepts and principles, there is only one conclusion left. I do not know whether the First Minister and his Colleagues have recognised that this is precisely what they have fallen into with this Programme for Government, particularly in the area of North/Southery. The Executive have produced a Programme for Government where North/Southery permeates almost every aspect of Government. It is oozing out of every pore of the Government. I think that the Unionist community in general will be very concerned when it starts to look at the detail.

The one point that I do agree with the Deputy First Minister on is in hoping that the public debate starts on this Programme for Government. I hope that people start to analyse what the Programme for Government is and where the Government are intending to take us all. The sorry specimen in front of us has very few innovative ideas in it. Because they want to show themselves as being dynamic and part of the whole development of the society, they look to the young and to economic development. The greatest disappointment for me is that there is no section for our senior citizens. There is nothing for them, apart from a few exceptions such as the proposal for free fares. I found it interesting -

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member's time is up.

Mr Adams:

Nuair a seoladh an Clár Rialtais, chuir mé barúil Shinn Féin in iúl, agus i rith na díospóireachta seo beidh ár bpáirtí ag cur a bharúil in iúl arís. Ach ba mhaith liom caint faoin dóigh a bhfuil an Chéad-Aire ag baint mí-úsáid as an chomhaontú agus ag baint mí-úsáid as a oifig féin. Tá sé ag baint an Chláir Rialtais anuas - ag iarraidh é a chur i leataoibh.

In my remarks today I want to concentrate on the role of the First Minister. When the Programme for Government was launched, our party detailed its views on it, covering both the positive areas and those areas we have reservations about. I listened with amusement to Mr Peter Robinson of the DUP. His party has had no part in any negotiations at any time in the last eight or nine years, and yet he can stand outside the process and complain about it.

The Programme for Government was launched here on Tuesday 24 October, and the Executive met that Thursday. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, on the very same day, wrote to the delegates of the Ulster Unionist Council. Here is the rub. We have to decide whether the Government is here or whether it is vested in the Ulster Unionist Council, which has met 22 times and which has threatened matters again, with yet another meeting planned for January. In his letter the First Minister said - and I paraphrase - that what is required is an exit strategy with a re-entry strategy. He accused his opponents in the party of having an exit strategy without a re-entry strategy. He then went on to give notice that he would outline a considered response involving suspension. He said that suspension was preferable and the only way to make progress -

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for a ruling on a matter. I am sure that there will be those in the Assembly who will be pleased to see Mr Adams expounding the virtues of joined-up Government, but to what extent are you going to allow people to discuss issues which are not directly contained in the Programme for Government?

Mr Speaker:

It is certainly preferable that Members concentrate first of all on those aspects of the Programme for Government that are in the section under debate. That is what I have encouraged. I cannot stop Members ranging widely over the content of the Programme for Government, and I guess that some Members will want to make comments about the programme as a whole.

Given that they have only five minutes in which to do so, I think they would be wise to focus on the content. I will allow Members a fair degree of latitude within their five minutes, since the Programme for Government is wide-ranging in both its purpose and its content. Please continue, Mr Adams.

Mr Adams:

Thank you. I am dealing with the sustainability of this experiment. I am dealing with the sustainability of these institutions and, among other things, I am dealing with the refusal of the First Minister to nominate Sinn Féin members and with his taking away of the cross-border, all-Ireland strand. These are supposed to be interlocked and interdependent.

I am also dealing with the other demands which have been put forward by the First Minister; for example, a call for a moratorium on policing as well as a demand to change the remit of the decommissioning body, neither of which is within the authority of this Assembly or the office of the First Minister. I make all of these points because this is not joined-up Government. You cannot have an Executive or an Assembly putting together the type of Programme for Government which we are debating here today if the First Minister has already commenced an exit strategy and if - in his own words - he differs only from his party political opponents on a matter of tactics. In other words, he thinks they will collapse the institutions, and it will not be possible to put them back in place, while he simply wants to suspend them so that they can be restored.

The answer has to be made very clear. Any Government must be a Government of equals. That is of paramount importance. This Assembly has to be based on the principle of equality: the rights of all citizens, whether we disagree with them or not, must be cherished. All citizens have to have due entitlement to have their rights upheld - and they have to have their rights upheld by the First Minister. I want to appeal to the First Minister today to review, to reconsider, to step back from the process which he has commenced, because the only conclusion to what he has begun will see not just the suspension of these political institutions, but their collapse.

Mr Ford:

We will have to put the Programme for Government to the test to see how well it deals with the entire range of problems which affect this society. There is no doubt that the draft programme is long; it is detailed; it is even specific in places, and perhaps it is a good start on socio-economic policies. If, as Mr Peter Robinson suggested, this were Wales or Scotland, we could, perhaps, give the Executive seven out of 10 for a moderate start - although we might have to deduct a few marks for the length of time it took to hand in its homework.

Despite the agreement, the fundamental problem that we in this Assembly have to face is the deep division in our society, and it is in that respect that the programme is sadly lacking. When my party launched its alternative Programme for Government last month, we highlighted a central theme which we determined as "sharing over separation". While the Executive's draft programme does have many positive policy suggestions, it fails to address fundamentally the divisions in this society - divisions which, if they are not addressed, could well destroy the agreement and the institutions. Having listened to the last two Members who spoke, I think that is evident.

I am concerned about health, education, agriculture, the environment and railways, but we will never deal with those if the Executive do not do something to address the real problem which we have to face. It starts off quite well; on page 10 there is a nice piece of rhetoric:

"We must promote a just society where everyone enjoys equality of opportunity, whatever their religion, gender, ethnic origin and personal background."

and it continues. This is fine rhetoric, but if you wade through the full programme, you will emerge wondering what the plans actually are. Section 2.5 is supposed to deal with that. There are only seven points in it, but not one has a target attached to it. The flowery rhetoric belies the fact that there are no specific targets to promote community relations and sharing over separation, and that is the fundamental weakness - the utterly key weakness - in the way the programme has been put together.

11.30 am

Let us look at some of the possibilities. My party has called for the number of pupils in integrated education to be boosted to 10% by 2010 through the transformation of existing schools. The Programme for Government has one weak reference to integrated education: one line in 85 pages. We have called for measures to aid the integration of public housing. The Programme for Government does not mention promoting mixed housing at all. We have called for more funding for community relations projects, and, while there are certainly gestures in that direction, there is no detailed strategy for improving community relations. One would have thought that after a year of working on a Programme for Government, we might have seen something on that.

During the summer, we had complaints in this Chamber, outside in the streets and in every local newspaper about the proliferation of paramilitary flags and emblems in housing estates and on public property throughout Northern Ireland. Where are the measures in the Programme for Government to condemn that kind of intimidation? I cannot find them. There is a need for new shared symbols in Northern Ireland. Last week, the problems caused by a lack of shared symbols were demonstrated, but there is nothing in the programme about it. My party has called for all Government policies to be proofed to ensure that they promote sharing over separation. There are no plans for that in the Programme for Government.

Of course, targeting social need is important, as are rural proofing and compliance with human rights legislation, but what about the biggest divide in this society? Where does the Programme for Government address it? It simply does not. All kinds of issues are missing. Where is the "green economy" task force? Where are specific problems addressed, as opposed to bleating about the Barnett formula, on funding for Northern Ireland as well as Wales and Scotland? Where is the proposal for a children's commissioner? What about student finance? What about freedom-of-information legislation? I have asked about that in this Chamber and have been told nothing very much.

Those matters are all important, but the priority remains building a shared society. George Holyoake, the nineteenth- century radical publisher, once said that a liberal is one who seeks to secure for everyone the same rights that he asks for himself. In this place, we have turned things on their head. I stand here as a liberal demanding for myself the rights that the two major sections of this society have taken for themselves but denied to every other minority.

There is a danger that if we apply that we will not have a united, pluralist and diverse society, but a dualist one wherein only two sections are recognised. The fundamental test that we will be looking for in January 2001 is what specific measures within the final Programme for Government will be applied to promote sharing and end separation.

Mr C Wilson:

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the Programme for Government presented to the Assembly today, my party will be neither supporting nor endorsing it.

Mr Trimble has said that this is the most important business ever to be discussed in this Assembly. He referred to it as "the maturing of the Belfast Agreement." It may well be that. However, what we will witness today is an attempt to place a veneer of democracy and normality over something extremely undemocratic and very abnormal. What is abnormal - and the public are well aware of it, even if those in this Chamber have become slightly insensitive to it - is that those who have participated in this Programme for Government include a party that is fronting a terrorist organisation. As we sit here planning government, they are planning further acts of terrorism, restocking and replenishing their weaponry, planning bombing campaigns and targeting members of the security forces.

It is also abnormal that in this very Chamber one of the major parties in the Executive and involved in this Programme for Government, namely Mr Mallon and the SDLP, is not prepared to give its unqualified support to the security forces in Northern Ireland. It will not support the RUC. Along with its partner Sinn Féin, it even questions whether it will ever be able to endorse any law enforcement group in the Province.

There is another extremely abnormal thing about the situation we find ourselves in today. Many Members were elected on a mandate to oppose the Belfast Agreement. They stood, as I did, through the referendum campaign and during the election for this Assembly pledging themselves to oppose the outworking of the Belfast Agreement and the institutions and Executive set up under that agreement. When Sinn Féin Members took the Pledge of Office under Annex A of the Belfast Agreement, committing themselves to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, others in the Chamber had to make a pledge to participate in the preparation of a Programme for Government. That programme is before us today, and those Members will have to operate within the framework of that programme when it has been agreed with the Executive Committee and endorsed by the Assembly.

I make no apology for saying that my party will not be supporting this draft Programme for Government. Others have in that under the Pledge of Office they swore that they would see to the implementation of the programme once it had been agreed. The majority of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland is opposed to the Belfast Agreement, to the outworkings of the agreement and to those elected to this House to represent that view who are reneging on their pledges and promises. We in the Northern Ireland Unionist Party intend fully to meet our commitments. We are opposed to the Belfast Agreement, to terrorists in Government, and we are opposed to the sham that passes for democracy.

Ms McWilliams:

I noted that the First Minister in his introduction stated that they had produced a Programme for Government that

"represents the beginning of the maturity of the new politics which the Belfast Agreement has achieved for Northern Ireland."

I have to say that we have reached an immature stage where, if the programme goes out today, we will have already created what is mentioned on page 25

"a strategy for the devlopment of centres of curiosity and imagination".

I do not know what that entails, but we have already created a centre of curiosity and imagination, because one party has not participated in the Programme for Government. Another party which did participate is probably now prohibited from taking part in an aspect of that Programme for Government.

I will follow the themes set out by the Executive, and I want to make a number of points relating to targets and timetables. It was unfortunate that the public service agreements have not arrived with the Assembly, for they would have contained most of the meat for the Programme for Government.

The First Minister informed us that the public service agreements should be with us by next month, although potentially in draft form only. We are not approaching this in a coherent way. This Programme for Government lists some actions and some targets but very few. Most will be in the public service agreements, but we do not have them, so we cannot compare one with the other.

We are told there are 32 action points. One in particular tells us that by 2002 we will have some type of health education programme for schools. That point has been talked about for a number of years. Why was it not linked with the issue of teenage pregnancy? We do not have these programmes in our schools at the moment, and clearly that is an emergency. That is one example of where the Government have not met their own target of being cohesive.

I welcome the Executives' programme funds, though like my Colleague, Mr Ford, I feel that an opportunity has been lost. We have heard enough about the need for a children's ccmmissioner in Northern Ireland. The Deputy First Minister has, I understand, already signed an Early Day Motion in Westminster to have the remit of the children's commissioner extended to Northern Ireland as it has been to Scotland and Wales, and when the possibility of there being a children's fund was mooted, he should have followed this up. However, there is no mention of it under the children's fund in the Programme for Government.

What will the distribution network be? The Chancellor has set up a children's fund in Great Britain, although we know that the distribution network there was not to be used to subsidise statutory programmes but to create new funding for those who work with children. We should do likewise here, but the Programme for Government does not state that.

The welfare-to-work programme has one of the largest budgets. If we bring in those funds, we will have the flexibility that should go with devolved expenditure. At the moment, we are greatly restricted in how we spend funding from the New Deal programme. Since Northern Ireland has the highest unemployment, I would have liked to see that in the Programme for Government.

I have raised the private finance initiative over and over again. We are to decide whether this is strategic and practicable by 2002. I am tied up in planning appeals at the moment because the private finance initiative has had such a disastrous impact in a community in which I have lived. It has been decided to build a school under the private finance initiative, and all the hockey pitches have been sold off. The Department of Education has said that the pitches were surplus to needs. However, at the inquiry, the Department of the Environment said that that should never have been done. Is that cohesion? It certainly is not. In the Programme for Government, I would have liked to see a reference to Departments' talking to one another about what they are going to do about open space.

I would like to point out something about justice, equality and inclusion. In the Northern Ireland Civil Service review, only three women were appointed to senior positions. If any new review is to take place, it should have an affirmative action programme to take account of that.

The lack of consultation worries me greatly. The Assembly Committees are mentioned once in the entire document, as is the Civic Forum. If the Assembly Committees have powers for policy development, consultation and scrutiny, why was so little reference made to their important work in the Programme for Government?

Finally, the issues in the appendix were the most useful, because there we have actual performance indicators. They should be integrated into the Programme for Government, not annexed.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member's time is up.


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