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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 11 June 2002


Senior Civil Service Review

Budget (No. 2) Bill: First Stage

Strategic Planning Bill: First Stage

Railway Safety Bill: Consideration Stage

Amendments to Standing Orders

Report of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Cultural Tourism and the Arts

Incident at Belfast Institute of Further and
Higher Education, Tower Street Campus

Erection of Unauthorised Terrorist Memorials

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

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Senior Civil Service Review

Mr Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Finance and Personnel that he wishes to make a statement on the Senior Civil Service review.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Dr Farren): With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on behalf of the Executive about the independent review report ‘Appointment and Promotion Procedures for the Senior Civil Service of the Northern Ireland Civil Service’ and the intention to open it up for public consultation.

The Executive agreed in late 2000 to commission an independent review. The review became a formal commitment in the Programme for Government that signified the importance which the Executive place on ensuring equality of opportunity for all. The review team, under the chairmanship of Lord Ouseley, was formally commissioned by the then Minister of Finance and Personnel, and the team commenced work in March 2001.

Lord Ouseley is managing director of Different Realities Partnership Ltd and a former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. The team comprised: Rosheen Callender, national equality secretary of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU); Dr Trefor Campbell, managing director of Moy Park Ltd; Sir Bob Cooper, former chairperson of the Fair Employment Commission; Judith Eve, chairperson of the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland; Prof Gerry McKenna, vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster; and Dr Monica Wilson, chief executive of Disability Action.

The team operated under the terms of reference that had been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive as follows: to review the effectiveness of current policies, practices and procedures concerning appointment to, and promotion within, the Senior Civil Service to ensure that they facilitate the business objectives of Ministers and Northern Ireland Departments by providing for the timely and efficient filling of posts with appropriate staff; to promote the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) goal of being fully representative of the community that it serves by tackling under-representation in the NICS as quickly and as effectively as possible; to address any identified obstacles to fair participation by all sectors of the community; to match best practice in other major public and private sector bodies in Northern Ireland and beyond; to examine the roles of officials and Ministers at each stage of the selection process; to consider the appropriate level of independent involvement, taking account of the statutory role of the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland, in recruitment and selection processes; and to make recommendations.

Although retirement age is not referred to explicitly in the terms of reference for the review, the then Minister of Finance and Personnel, Mark Durkan, asked the review team to consider that matter and to take into account the possible implications for the entire NICS.

The independent review team submitted the report in March 2002, and the Executive considered it in May. The report is wide-ranging, and I am grateful to the team for the work it has undertaken in presenting its findings and recommendations. The team has conducted a thorough analysis during which it consulted with key stakeholders, called for a range of presentations on NICS practices, sought statistical analysis and external validation of the analyses and called for equal opportunities information from New Zealand to provide a benchmark.

My Executive Colleagues and I welcome the report, which contains 25 recommendations. They include two recommendations on retirement age; given that they have implications for the entire NICS, not only the Senior Civil Service, I have decoupled them from the report and will treat them as a separate issue. Two further recommendations are outside the legislative competence of the devolved Administration, and they will be raised directly with Whitehall Ministers. They are: recommendation 4, that the Secretary of State should seek to ensure that the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland are fully representative of Northern Ireland society; and recommendation 22, that the UK Government should be urged to introduce appropriate legislative change in relation to the nationality requirements that are imposed on those Civil Service jobs that are classed as public service posts. Therefore, 21 substantive recommendations must be considered. However, one recommendation is overarching as it refers to the need to develop an implementation action plan.

The review lasted longer than had originally been expected. That was due to difficulties in aligning members’ diaries for meetings and also to the fact that the task was more complex than had been anticipated.

During the review the team commented on the dynamic nature of the environment in which the NICS operates and the progress that had been made. Consequently, many of the specific recommendations deal with areas where work is already under way or where it is planned to meet legislative change or business need. The Executive agreed that officials should continue to progress, or initiate, action on the majority of the recommendations and that challenging targets for the achievement of those recommendations should be set out in the action plan, which will form an integral part of the further consultation process.

There are two recommendations that we believe need careful consideration through further consultation before any action is taken. The first is the recommendation that all Senior Civil Service vacancies be externally advertised. A range of equal opportunities and business considerations will be identified in the consultation paper, on which various stakeholders will wish to express their views.

The recommendation on early action to reduce the long-hours culture of the Senior Civil Service needs to be considered in a similar way. The review team believes that culture to be a serious obstacle to participation across all the section 75 groups. There are a range of legal and business issues that will be considered in the consultative paper.

The Executive, having considered the report, have decided to issue a consultation paper, which will include a detailed draft action plan on those recommendations on which action is under way and on which comments would be welcome, and request specific comments and views on the two recommendations I have highlighted — external advertising of all Senior Civil Service vacancies and long-hours culture.

At least 12 weeks will be devoted to public consultation, and the report will be published on the Internet. To allow for the holiday period, public consultation will start in July and will be completed by 31 October. I have arranged for copies of the report to be placed in the Assembly Library today. Once public consultation is completed, any equality impact assessment required in respect of proposed policy changes will be taken forward, subject to normal screening.

The Executive welcome the report and wish to make early progress on its implementation. They recognise that many of the issues raised by the review are complex and challenging. It is, therefore, important to hear what interested stakeholders have to say on the issues associated with the recommendations and action plan. Further consultation will enhance and maintain the progression towards equality of opportunity for all in respect of appointment and promotion procedures for the Senior Civil Service.

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

I welcome the Minister’s statement on the review and thank the review team for the work that it has done.

In view of that fact that the review has taken longer than anticipated, can the Minister give any indication about the implementation of those aspects of the review that can be brought about immediately? Has he had any indication from Westminster regarding the timescale of the nationality question and how it could be resolved?

Dr Farren:

I welcome the Member’s compliments to the review team, who worked exceedingly hard. As I said, that work will be recognised in the contents of the report. It has been a complex task.

I said that it is our intention, with respect to many of the recommendations, to develop an implementation plan and to proceed with it as soon as possible. So the answer is essentially about the ongoing implementation of the recommendations that the plan will seek to address from now on. Indeed, as I said, some of the recommendations relate to actions that are already under way. However, I also said that we are not saying that, in the course of the consultation, we do not want to hear views regarding those recommendations that are already being acted on. We welcome views, comments and further recommendations regarding those particular aspects of the plan that might attract the attention of particular groups and individuals.

There is a willingness in Whitehall to address the nationality issue. It is a matter of finding parliamentary time to do so. To underline the urgency with which we want the matter addressed, after today’s statement I will be communicating with my Whitehall counterparts to ensure that action is taken to address the issue through the required legislative change as soon as possible.

10.45 am

The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel (Mr Beggs):

Does the Minister accept that all Northern Ireland citizens are treated impartially with regard to opportunities within the Civil Service whether they carry a British passport or an Irish one? Given that there is no discrimination against local citizens on grounds of nationality, why should they face additional outside competition from other European countries for appointments to the Senior Civil Service?

How will the Minister ensure that the high reputation of the Civil Service is protected against the perceived poor practice that occasionally occurs in the Republic of Ireland and other European countries?

Dr Farren:

To answer the third question, there are adequate controls in place to ensure that the integrity of the Civil Service is maintained to the highest standards. Where any shortcomings are revealed with respect to those controls, steps will be taken immediately to address them. It is my experience that the highest standards do obtain, and I have no reason to question them. Members can rest assured that everything is done to ensure that those standards are maintained.

To answer the first question, arising from the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, posts in the Northern Ireland Civil Service should be open to people of nationalities other then British. It is a curious anomaly that Ministers can come from the other part of this island and exercise ministerial authority with no inhibitions on their attaining their posts, notwithstanding their nationality. The same opportunity should be extended to those who seek posts at the highest level in the Civil Service. When, rather than if, candidates of other nationalities can apply, they will have to meet the same standards and criteria as all others who seek appointment at that level.

The statistics contained in the annexes to the review team’s report show a fairly dynamic pattern with regard to community affiliation and gender in the Senior Civil Service. The dynamic is in the right direction with respect to the balance between Roman Catholics and Protestants and between males and females. That is to be welcomed. If the Member’s question implied discrimination, I would point out that the review team in no way highlights discrimination in any form, and it comments favourably on the dynamic.

Mr ONeill:

The Minister’s statement is a clear indication of his, and the Executive’s, commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity by opening up the Senior Civil Service to everyone, regardless of religion, gender, physical well-being or ethnic origin.

The Minister said that work is already under way in some areas covered by the recommendations. Given the proposed consultation exercise, is that not premature? How does he propose to deal with the recommendations on the age of retirement, which he has decoupled from the report?

Dr Farren:

With regard to the Member’s first question, many of the review team’s recommendations relate to building on the equality of opportunity work taken forward to date by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Given that that principle is central to devolution — indeed, it is enshrined in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 — all of us want to promote the concept of a Civil Service that is seen by all whom it serves to be open and inclusive and which is staffed by those who can best meet the business challenges of providing support to the devolved Administration. That will be facilitated by early action on many of the report’s recommendations. It will enable the Northern Ireland Civil Service to build on the work to date in developing what almost all observers regard as robust and equitable processes and procedures.

The draft action plan and timetable will be drawn up to show progress and plans for implementation, and that will form part of the consultation process. Consultees will be provided with a clear indication of the direction proposed to implement the majority of the recommendations made by the review team. As I have already underlined, in adopting that approach consultees will have the opportunity to confirm that the proposals are acceptable, or, if otherwise, that there are other issues to consider in relation to the action plan.

With respect to the recommendations on the age of retirement, I indicated that I decoupled them simply because they affect the Civil Service as a whole. Proposals on the age of retirement for the Northern Ireland Civil Service are currently being formulated and will be brought forward separately to the Executive in the autumn, given that the implications are Civil Service-wide and not exclusive to the Senior Civil Service. The review team’s two relevant recommendations will, therefore, be considered in bringing those proposals forward. I stress that the trade unions will be fully engaged in all discussions on the matter.

Mr Poots:

It must be put on record that the elusive report has not been made available to Members — copies are neither in the Assembly Library nor in the Business Office. It is therefore difficult to discuss it. Nevertheless, I have some questions.

The Minister referred to the dynamic swinging in the right direction. Between 1985 and 1999, the Civil Service has swung from 58·6% Protestant representation to 53·4%, and Catholic representation has increased from 41·4% to 46·6%. Those figures suggest that Protestants are under-represented in the Civil Service. How does the Minister expect that to impact on the Senior Civil Service? If Protestant representation in the junior ranks of the Civil Service is too low, it will impact on the Senior Civil Service in later years.

Will the Minister tell the House why there was only 42·3% Protestant representation in the former Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment when he was the Minister and why there is only 45·9% Protestant representation in the Department for Social Development; 40·3% in the Social Security Agency (SSA); and 49·4% in the Child Support Agency (CSA)?

It is most inappropriate for a Minister to have so little confidence in his own civil servants that he believes that he must go out of the country to recruit people with the necessary quality and integrity to run Northern Ireland.

Dr Farren:

I assure the Member that the appointment of civil servants does not rest in my hands. The Executive must ensure that equality of opportunity is available to all.

The nationality issue is pertinent and must be addressed. The record shows that many people from Northern Ireland have availed of the opportunity to rise to senior posts in the Civil Service in the South of Ireland. I see no reason why we should not open up posts in our Civil Service to people from other jurisdictions, and we should not be afraid to do so. That is a matter of equality and, as the review team recommended, it is being addressed. It is important to remember that my statement was about a report that a review team has submitted to the Executive. We welcome many of its recommendations and have found that they are in line with our thinking.

Mr Poots referred to the composition of the statistics. It is important that we note the dynamic in the Senior Civil Service and that we welcome a Senior Civil Service that broadly reflects the balance in our community. Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires us to consider not only religious affiliation and gender, which are the most significant categories and foremost in people’s minds when they address the composition of labour forces, but also other categories. We are obliged to consider disability, sexual orientation, race and other important categories.

11.00 am

The review team examined not only the dynamic of the Senior Civil Service but the composition of lower Civil Service grades. There is an imbalance — incipient, in some respects — in lower Senior Civil Service grades, particularly with respect to Protestant males. There would be concern if that imbalance were to gather momentum. As a member of a political party that was founded in the context of the civil rights movement and was informed by civil rights issues, I would be concerned if there were a dynamic in reverse to that that has emerged recently. Therefore, we shall address the matter as part of the equality agenda of the entire Civil Service.

Mr McCarthy:

I welcome the report, but I am disappointed that it has taken so long to present it to the Assembly. The report was not in the Library this morning, and Members have little opportunity to discuss a document that they have not seen. When will the report be available?

Mr ONeill asked about retirement age, a point that I mentioned to the Minister on several occasions. I cannot understand why the matter was not included in the terms of reference initially, but I am grateful to Mr Durkan for ensuring its inclusion later.

I am concerned that the two recommendations have been decoupled from the report. Will that not delay the resolution of this important matter until a decision is made? In the meantime, people will be forced out of the Civil Service against their will. I hope that Civil Service employees who are approaching the age of 60 will be encouraged to stay at work rather than be hounded out.

Dr Farren:

I shall place a copy of the report in the Library today. I trust that Members will study it and express their views, individually or at party level. I do not intend to inhibit debate on the issues. During the forthcoming 12-week consultation period, Members will be able to deliberate on the report and the associated consultation document, which will be published by the beginning of July.

As regards decoupling, I hasten to assure Mr McCarthy that the issue of the age of retirement is not intended to create further delay. That matter applies to the entire Civil Service; however, the review is about the Senior Civil Service in particular.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)

The retirement age issue applies to the entire Civil Service, and it is appropriate that the matter should be decoupled. It is not appropriate to suggest that my predecessor belatedly added the issue to the terms of reference — it was there from the outset. The retirement age issue must be considered in that context; it did not suddenly arise when the review was established. There has been lively debate on the matter. It was important to bear the issue in mind, as the review could have, and has, shed some light on it. The matter must be addressed urgently, and I have given a commitment that the Executive will consider the proposals in the early autumn. I hope to be able to come to the Assembly then with proposals on how the issue should be addressed in the future.

Mrs Courtney:

The SDLP strongly endorses the report’s recommendation that the nationality criterion be dropped. There should be no bar on anyone from entering the Senior Civil Service. The issue has been live for some time, and I urge the Minister to continue to press it with the United Kingdom Government. The Minister said that there is willingness in Whitehall to consider that viewpoint. How does he intend to raise the matter with the Westminster Government?

Dr Farren:

The need for change in the nationality legislation has been brought to the attention of the UK Government. They have indicated their keenness to open up civil employment under the Crown. I have commissioned definitive legal advice on the question of nationality from the departmental solicitors’ office. It is my intention to write to the Secretary of State without delay to advise him of the recommendation made by the independent review team and to seek his commitment to a change to the nationality legislation being introduced by the UK Government as a matter of priority.

Mr Close:

Does the Minister agree that the Executive appear to be indulging in foot-dragging over the report’s implementation? The report was commissioned in 2000; the review team submitted its report in March 2002; and it seems to have lain around for a couple of months, as the Executive only considered it in May. It is the middle of June, and the report has only now come to the House.

Paragraph 1.12 of the report states that

"Consultation also played an important role. The team consulted with a range of stakeholders, including Ministers, Trade Unions, The Equality Commission, umbrella groups representing the Section 75 categories, the DFP Committee, Permanent Secretaries".

I could go on. Many people have been consulted, and we are now told that there is to be further consultation and that implementation will not take place until goodness knows when. Will it even happen this year? I detect foot-dragging. Would it not be better for the Minister to implement the report straight away?

Dr Farren:

I get tired listening to the same hollow complaint from Mr Close. How much consideration has the Committee given to the review team’s work? I understand that the Committee — of which Mr Close is a member — met Lord Ouseley once, but he was unable to have a second meeting with it. What does that say about that Committee’s consideration of the issues? Mr Close had the opportunity to pursue the matter vigorously. I do not take kindly to being chided by Mr Close, given the — [Interruption].

Mr Deputy Speaker:


Dr Farren:

I do not take kindly to that, given the record of the Committee, of which Mr Close is a member, on addressing the issue. It may not have been his fault, but we must consider the way in which the Committee has deliberated on the issue before criticising the review team. The review team was asked to carry out some work. There were some difficulties about the timetabling of meetings. The team thought that the matter required greater deliberation than was at first deemed necessary; hence, the length of time that it took to complete the review. When the review team reported, the Executive deliberated on the matter as expeditiously as possible.

An implementation plan is being prepared on many of the recommendations. Three recommendations in particular are being highlighted for further consultation. The recommendations on retirement age, the nationality issue and the composition of the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland are being treated separately for reasons that I have already outlined. Progress will not be delayed.

Mr Close raised the issue of wide consultation. Yesterday, he attacked the suggestion that there should be general consultation on issues that concern the working of the Executive and the Administration. His approach to consultation is exclusive and elitist. He believes that only certain sections of society should receive consultation documents and be invited to submit their views.

Yesterday, I rejected the suggestion that we should be anything but fully transparent in the consultation process. I shall remain committed to such an approach as long as I have any responsibility for consultation, especially consultation on such fundamental issues as equality of opportunity. I make no apology for holding a full public consultation, and I reject the suggestion that we should be elitist, selective or include only certain groups, as Mr Close advises us to do.

Mr A Doherty:

The Minister made it clear that it is appropriate that the Senior Civil Service be open to all nationalities. Therefore, will he join me in wishing the members of the Republic of Ireland senior soccer service, many of whom perform at the highest level in the English League, all the best in their match today?

Dr Farren:

Our Senior Civil Service performs to the highest standards, and I am sure that the Irish team will play to the highest standard today. I trust that the House will join me in extending good wishes to the Irish team, which I understand will take to the pitch in Japan in just over one hour. I trust that there will be some rejoicing over lunch.

Budget (No. 2) Bill: First Stage

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Dr Farren):

I beg leave to lay before the Assembly a Bill [NIA 16/01] to authorise the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of certain sums for the service of the year ending 31 March 2003; to appropriate those sums for specified purposes; to authorise the Department of Finance and Personnel to borrow on the credit of the appropriated sums; to authorise the use for the public service of certain resources (including accruing resources) for the year ending 31 March 2003; and to repeal certain spent enactments.

Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Bill will be put on the list of future pending business until a date for its Second Stage has been determined.

11.15 am

I have received notice from the Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel that the requirement of Standing Order 40 has been fully met in terms of appropriate consultation. It is therefore in order for the Budget (No 2) Bill to proceed with accelerated passage.

Strategic Planning Bill: First Stage

The Minister for Regional Development (Mr P Robinson):

I beg to lay before the Assembly a Bill [NIA 17/01] to make further provision in relation to the regional development strategy for Northern Ireland.

Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Bill will be put on the list of future pending business until a date for its Second Stage has been determined.

Railway Safety Bill: 
Consideration Stage

Mr Deputy Speaker:

To enable Members to speak to the Bill, I shall take the vote on clause 1 separately, by leave of the Assembly. I also intend to group the remaining clauses for the questions on stand part, followed by the two schedules and the long title.

Clause 1 (Safety of railways)

Mr M Robinson:

The Chairman of the Committee for Regional Development has asked me to extend his apologies for not being able to attend today’s debate. He has asked me to speak on behalf of the Regional Development Committee. I begin by expressing the Committee’s thanks to those who gave evidence to the Committee. I also express the Committee’s gratitude to the departmental officials who made themselves readily available, often at short notice, throughout the Committee’s deliberations.

As Members will be aware, the Railway Safety Bill is primarily technical in nature. It is, none the less, an important piece of legislation that has major safety implications for our railway network. The importance of the legislation cannot be underestimated, particularly when we look at the recent rail accident at Downhill and, indeed, other accidents such as the unfortunate death of a contract worker on the railway track at Sydenham in February of this year. Such accidents serve only to reinforce the need for exacting standards of rail safety.

Mr Deputy Speaker, during the Committee’s deliberations on the Railway Safety Bill, it noted that the Bill will enable several important pieces of secondary legislation to be brought forward. In particular, clause 1 of the Bill provides for existing legislation to be used to introduce railway safety regulations. Under article 17 of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, the Department will have the power to require rail operators to prepare safety cases. That is to be welcomed. A safety case approach will require Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) to conduct a rigorous audit of all its plant infrastructure and machinery, including its trains. The Minister is to be praised for ensuring that the safety cases will be closely scrutinised. His Department has reached an agreement with the Health and Safety Executive whereby the railway inspectorate will act as agents to scrutinise and approve each risk assessment and safety case. That will undoubtedly contribute to ensuring that safety cases are carefully prepared and closely monitored.

As the basis of the legislation is the requirement for railway operators to provide safety cases, it is important that the safety case regulations are swiftly implemented, particularly in the light of recent accidents. I note that during the Second Stage debate the Minister stated that the safety case regulations will require NIR, in particular, to undertake quite a bit of work before it has prepared a detailed safety case.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to monitor the situation closely to ensure that NIR completes the work as soon as possible. The Committee for Regional Development had no amendments to the Railway Safety Bill and agreed unanimously with all its clauses and schedules.

Mr McNamee:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I do not oppose the Bill, but I wish to make some comments on it. I welcome the principle of introducing railway safety legislation, given that the existing legislation is Victorian-based and does not attend to today’s health and safety standards.

Concerns were raised about the Bill, notably by Translink and by Transport 2000. One of the initial concerns was that an opportunity had been missed to introduce substantial legislation. The Bill is enabling legislation; it does not contain detail. Detail will be provided by secondary legislation in the form of Statutory Rules.

I shall make a general comment on the use of Statutory Rules as a means to introduce legislation. Statutory Rules will be used to introduce the detail required to ensure that rail safety is addressed properly by legislation. However, Statutory Rules are not subject to the same level of scrutiny by Committees or the Assembly as Bills that are introduced through the Assembly’s legislative process. I question whether that is the correct way for the Assembly to deal with legislation — to pass enabling legislation and then have the detail to be provided by Statutory Rules. I shall comment briefly on the Bill itself.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr McNamee, I remind you that we are considering clause 1 rather than the entire Bill.

Mr McNamee:

Clause 1 sets out the substance — or lack of substance — of the Bill. It sets out the Bill’s overall position. That is what I am speaking to, as opposed to the detail.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Please continue.

Mr McNamee:

I am not speaking to any of the other clauses or their content. I am speaking on the general nature of the Bill, which is covered by clause 1.

The Bill generally reflects the system in GB. Some concerns were raised about the application of the safety case system were there to be fragmentation of the rail network. I refer to paragraph 5 of the explanatory and financial memorandum, which states:

"Furthermore effective rail safety legislation would have to be in place before a Public Private Partnership, which would involve the private sector operating trains in Northern Ireland could be introduced. We could not risk the profit motive tempting the private sector to cut corners on safety measures."

The explanatory notes refer to an issue regarding public-private partnerships. Concern was raised that if there is a fragmentation of the operation of the railway, and there are contractors who have sub-contractors, and sub-contractors who have subsequent sub-contractors, a difficulty would arise in identifying who was responsibe for safety issues.

It is also clear that the Bill does not identify how safety auditing would be carried out on the safety cases and who would be responsible for ensuring that operators actually carry out the risk assessments, as provided for in their safety case. The Bill also fails to identify who would monitor whether operators are taking remedial action to deal with any problems identified by the risk assessment.

Those are my main concerns. When the detail of the Bill is introduced in the form of Statutory Rules, the Assembly will have an opportunity to study it.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I support the Bill. Has good practice in the safety of railways throughout the world been looked at? Japan springs to mind, and the speed of the trains there. Football teams are using the bullet train to get from their bases to the grounds. Will the Minister join with me in supporting England in the match tomorrow against Nigeria? I hope that the team wins and reaches the last 16.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I think that that is stretching it a bit.

Mr B Hutchinson:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. You allowed an SDLP Member to speak in the debate on the Budget (No2) Bill without saying anything about a budget.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I do not take points of order at this stage, Mr Hutchinson, as you well know.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I represent the Business Committee —

The Deputy Speaker:

I shall not take points of order now, Mr Hutchinson. I call the Minister to respond.

Mr B Hutchinson:

You never mentioned anything —

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr Hutchinson, Order.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I raise —

Mr Deputy Speaker:

You may raise a point if you wish, Mr Hutchinson, but you will not disturb the business of the House once more. I call Mr Peter Robinson.

Mr B Hutchinson:

You should behave even-handedly.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Will you repeat that, Mr Hutchinson?

Mr B Hutchinson:

You should behave even-handedly.

The Minister for Regional Development (Mr P Robinson):

I thank Mr Mark Robinson for his kind comments and the Committee for its support for the Bill. It was analysed seven times and given clause-by-clause consideration, so it has been looked at thoroughly.

In my statement to the House yesterday on the accident at Downhill on 4 June, I showed how important the Bill is to enhancing railway safety here. Last month’s crash at Potter’s Bar, which followed another major accident on the mainland, and the recent fatality on the Bangor line show the need for a focused legislative and operational approach to modern, safe travel by railway.

We were fortunate that the outcome of the Downhill derailment was not more serious. The Assembly will agree that we shall not have a culture of complacency on safety matters on our railways. I thank Northern Ireland Railways for its positive contribution to the development of the Bill and the secondary legislation that will follow. I urge it to complete its safety case. Although there have been criticisms about the control of railway safety in Great Britain, none has been directed at the safety case concept. Rather, criticisms have been directed at the fragmented nature of the railway industry there.

Mr Mark Robinson asked about the secondary legislation that will flow from the Bill, and that was also raised by another Member. I assure Members that I have no plans to change the integrated way in which the rail industry is operated here. I am convinced that the best way to ensure safety on our railways is by introducing a safety case regime along the GB model.

The safety case Regulations will follow as soon as possible after the Bill becomes law, allowing NIR the necessary time to finalise its safety case and have it thoroughly examined. I also thank Mr Mark Robinson for his comments on the measures that my Department has taken to ensure that all safety cases developed here are rigorously examined.

11.30 am

I shall deal with the issue of the Bill’s being enabling legislation. That is one of its inherent strengths. Those who have had ministerial responsibility may have been — at least, they will be by now — frustrated by the length of the legislative process and how long it takes for a Bill to come before the House. I shall outline the number of Statutory Regulations that flow from the Bill, and I assure Members that the Committee for Regional Development will thoroughly examine all the secondary legislation.

In addition to the Railways (Safety Case) Regulations, my Department will introduce other Regulations that will flow immediately from the Bill and will constitute further steps to assist NIR to provide a safe railway.

The Railways (Safety Critical Work) Regulations will seek to ensure that staff engaged in safety critical work, such as drivers and signalmen, are competent and fit and do not work for periods that are likely to result in fatigue. The Railway Safety Regulations will provide for train protection and warning systems to be fitted to all trains, and at key junctions and other danger points on the network.

As a result of the Railways (Approval of Works, Plant and Equipment) Regulations, new and altered works, plant and equipment, including locomotives and rolling stock, will be subject to approval by the Department.

The Railways Safety (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations will replace many old provisions that date back to 1842, covering the prevention of unauthorised access, for example, by fencing, the means of passenger communication on trains, the prevention of collisions and derailments through adequate signalling and braking systems and the prevention of accidents to staff, such as injury to trackside workers caused by moving trains.

The Private Crossings (Signs and Barriers) Regulations deal with the erection of signs and barriers at private crossings and are aimed at further improving the safety of the public at railway crossings.

Amendments will be made to RIDDOR — the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations — to make them applicable to railways. Guidance on that matter will be prepared and published.

Detailed Regulations are being introduced. If we were to take them through by primary legislation, which would require two or three years in each case, many accidents could occur during the period of delay. This is a much speedier way to proceed.

As I said at the Bill’s Second Stage, I intend to consult the Committee for Regional Development on each set of Regulations. I shall also consult with other interested parties. The consultation process will commence in early summer.

I thank the Committee and the House for their consideration of this important Bill. I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will join me in wishing the England football team every success. We hope that they travel safely to the game. I look forward to the Bill completing its Assembly Stages by the summer recess and to the introduction of the secondary legislation by the early autumn.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Does Mr Mark Robinson wish to respond?

Mr M Robinson:

No. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

That concludes the Consideration Stage of the Railway Safety Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

Amendments to Standing Orders

Mr Deputy Speaker:

As the next two motions, to amend Standing Orders 10 and 18, relate to the same issue, I propose to conduct one debate. I shall call the Chairperson of the Committee on Procedures to move the first motion. Debate will then take place on both motions. When all who wish to speak have done so, I shall call the Chairperson to wind up and then put the Question on the first motion. I shall then ask the Chairperson formally to move the second motion and will put the Question on that motion without further debate.

The Chairperson of the Committee on Procedures (Mr C Murphy):

I beg to move:

Delete Standing Order 10 and insert new Standing Order:


(1) The categories of business to be conducted in the Assembly shall consist of the following:

(a) Assembly Business

(b) Executive Committee Business

(c) Committee Business

(d) Questions

(e) Private Members' Business

(f) Private Business

(g) Adjournment Debates

(h) Party Business.

(2) Subject to the authority of the Business Committee to determine the time for commencement of business in plenary session the sittings of the Assembly shall be arranged as follows:

Monday 12.00 midday - 6.00 pm

Tuesday 10.30 am - 6.00 pm

The allocation of time for business within these sittings shall be determined by the Business Committee, except that

(a) on each Monday on which there is a sitting there shall be a period for Questions commencing at 2.30 pm and finishing at 4.00 pm;

(b) at the end of each sitting up to one hour may be set aside for an Adjournment Debate;

(c) any private notice questions shall normally be asked immediately before the Adjournment Debate.

(3) Where business on the Order Paper has not been disposed of by 6.00 pm on Monday, the Speaker may allow business to continue until 7.00 pm or until the outstanding business is completed, whichever is earlier. Consideration of business on the Order Paper not concluded by 7.00 pm shall be postponed until such a time as the Business Committee determines.

(4) If at 7.00 pm a division is in progress, or a question is being put and a division or a vote in the chamber results, adjournment of the Assembly shall be deferred until after the declaration of the result of the division or vote in the chamber.

(5) If Tuesday's business cannot be completed in the allocated time, the sitting may be extended into the evening, into Wednesday, or both.

(6) Additional sittings may be arranged by the Business Committee according to the exigencies of the Assembly.

(7) Where statements made under Standing Order 18 impinge upon the time bands specified in this Standing Order the Speaker shall take action under Standing Order 18(5).

(8) An adjournment of the Assembly shall mean an adjournment until the next sitting day unless the Assembly, on a motion made by a Member of the Executive Committee after notice, has ordered an adjournment to some other definite date.

(9) A Session of the Assembly shall be that period from the commencement of business following the Summer Recess until the end of the subsequent Summer Recess. The Business Committee shall determine the dates for recess."

The following motion stood in the Order Paper:

In Standing Order 18(5) line 7 delete "Standing Order 10(3)" and insert "Standing Order 10(5)". - [The Chairperson of the Committee on Procedures (Mr C Murphy).]

The two motions form part of the Committee's ongoing work on ensuring that the Assembly's Standing Orders and procedures best meet its needs.

This is not an attempt by the Committee on Procedures to extend by the back door the sitting time on a Monday. Instead, it is intended to clarify existing Standing Orders and to introduce an addition to Standing Orders that will improve the way the Assembly conducts it business. There are two main changes to Standing Order 10. The first and substantive change relates to paragraphs 6 and 7 of Standing Order 10, which require business to be interrupted at 6.00 pm so that the Speaker can put the Question of whether business should continue. Members will know that it has become the convention that that requirement has not been enforced.

That requirement has been in Standing Orders since devolution, and it was taken from the Standing Orders at Westminster. Members will recognise that, at the time of devolution, we had little experience of how business could best be managed, and it was recognised at that time that it would be a case of amending Standing Orders as time progressed and experience highlighted their deficiencies or otherwise. Paragraphs 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are examples of Standing Orders that were considered to be necessary at that time, but in practice they have become redundant.

In consultation with the Business Committee and the Speaker about amending Standing Orders, it became clear that the opportunity should be taken to include a facility to allow scheduled business, if it has been delayed, to proceed beyond 6.00 pm. The proposal is to allow business to continue beyond 6.00 pm only on a Monday, and it applies only to scheduled business. That means that the Business Committee must plan business for a Monday on the basis of a 6.00 pm finish.

If the Business Committee decides that pressure of business is such that it will go on beyond 6.00 pm, a suspension of Standing Orders will continue to be required. This amendment to Standing Orders is designed to cater for those circumstances in which, for different reasons, business on the Order Paper has not been completed - for example, when business is unexpectedly delayed.

That may arise when there are a number of divisions, which on average take more than 15 minutes each, or when a Minister decides to make a statement. That is fine on a Tuesday because there is no pressure on time, as business can run on into Tuesday evening. However, on a Monday that is more difficult because business cannot proceed beyond 6.00 pm. Therefore, if a Minister wants to make a statement on a Monday when business is already anticipated to run until 6.00 pm then, because up to an hour can be allocated for questions in addition to the time that it takes to make the statement, some business may fall. Invariably, the business that is likely to fall is the final item on the Order Paper, which is normally the Adjournment debate.

The Committee on Procedures considers that that would be unfair to the Member who brought the Adjournment debate or to any other motion that fell in that way. Therefore, the Committee, with the support of the Business Committee and the Speaker, considers it reasonable that in such circumstances, where there is insufficient time before 6.00 pm to complete the remaining business, the Speaker should have the discretion to allow business to continue until 7.00 pm or until the outstanding business is completed - whichever is the earlier.

The Committee on Procedures also considers that the facility to allow business to go on until 7.00 pm is necessary because, in the near future, it proposes to amend Standing Orders to allow a Member to table, with the agreement of the Business Committee, an urgent motion for debate. The scenario envisaged is that, on a Monday morning, a Member might propose to table a motion for plenary debate on a matter of urgent public importance. The proposed amendment to Standing Orders would help to facilitate that by allowing business to proceed until 7.00 pm. If that facility had been available, it would have been used only once since the start of this session. Therefore, it is to be used only occasionally, when unforeseen business delays the scheduled business.

The second change proposed to Standing Orders is to clarify Standing Order 10(2). The proposed rewording is necessary to clarify the authority of the Business Committee to arrange an earlier start to Monday sittings. At present, Standing Order 10(2) sets out the days and times for which sittings of the Assembly should ordinarily be arranged and provides for the allocation of time for business within those sittings to be determined by the Business Committee. Clarity is required in order to define "ordinarily". The Business Committee has interpreted the word "ordinarily" to allow the plenary to start earlier than 12 noon on a Monday when the pressure of business forces it, although that has occurred only once during this session. That was endorsed by the Speaker in a ruling he made on 5 November 2001.

Members were confused about why it was necessary to suspend Standing Orders to proceed beyond 6.00 pm, yet it was unnecessary to suspend them to start before 12 noon. I shall not go into the detail of the reasons behind that, but there is currently no flexibility in Standing Order 10 to go beyond 6.00 pm on a Monday, unlike on a Tuesday when Standing Order 10(3) allows business to proceed beyond 6.00 pm and, if necessary, into Wednesday. Hence the suspension of Standing Order 10(2) is required.

It is important that Standing Orders are clear and that Members are in no doubt as to their meaning, and as such the Committee proposes the rewording of Standing Order 10(2), which clarifies the authority of the Business Committee to arrange an earlier start to a plenary sitting on a Monday.

The Committee has taken the opportunity of the consideration of Standing Order 10 to make several drafting changes to it. The first of those is in Standing Order 10(1), where a new category of business - Assembly Business - has been inserted. Items of business in that category would include petitions, Speaker's rulings, et cetera.

Changes to Standing Order 10(2)(b) are proposed in order to reflect current practice. We have made it clear that at the end of each sitting up to one hour "may" be set aside for an Adjournment debate as opposed to "shall", in order to reflect the way in which business is managed.

In conclusion, I re-emphasise that changes to Standing Order 10 should not be viewed as an attempt to change the set finishing time of 6.00 pm on a Monday - 6.00 pm will continue to be the standard finishing time for the Business Committee when it plans business for a Monday. If the pressure of planned business is such that the sitting is required to go beyond 6.00 pm, a suspension of Standing Orders will continue to be required.

The second motion on the Order Paper is a consequential change to Standing Order 18. The change is proposed to reflect the new numbering in Standing Order 10.

I commend the motions to the Assembly.


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