Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 23 September 2002


Points of Order: All-Ireland Football Championships

Speaker’s Business: Assembly Commission Visit to Ottawa and Quebec

Point of Order: Scheduling of Assembly Business

Draft Programme for Government

Audit and Accountability Bill: First Stage

Health and Personal Social Services 
(Quality Improvement and Regulation) Bill: First Stage

Areas of Special Scientific Interest Bill: Second Stage

Company Directors’ Disqualification Bill: Consideration Stage

State Pension Credit Bill: Consideration Stage

Social Security Bill: Final Stage

Oral Answers to Questions

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Assembly Commission

Planning (Amendment) Bill: Committee Stage (Period Extension)

Local Air Quality Management Bill: Committee Stage (Period Extension)

Energy Inquiry Report

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

Members observed two minutes’ silence.


Points of Order: All-Ireland Football Championships

Mr Speaker:

Two Members wish to make points of order. I will take Mr ONeill’s, and then Mr John Kelly’s.

Mr ONeill:

Mr Speaker, would it be in order for you, as Speaker of the House, to send your congratulations to the victorious Armagh senior and Derry minor football teams on their magnificent successes at the weekend? Could I, as the Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, arrange with you a reception to recognise those wonderful achievements?

Mr Speaker:

Mr Kelly, does your point of order concern the same issue?

Mr J Kelly:

Yes. Will the Assembly send a message of congratulations to the Armagh senior county team, since it is based in the First Minister’s constituency, and to the Derry minor team? We must not forget that the Derry minor team won the all-Ireland minor championship yesterday. Will you send congratulations to both teams?

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker —

Mr Speaker:

Does your point of order concern the same issue, Dr Paisley?

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Yes. People in this House are greatly saddened by what took place in Lurgan yesterday when the supporters, who were supposed to be celebrating their victory, not only attacked the police and the Protestant people, but, to add insult to injury, hung a tricolour on the war memorial. On the previous night, there was a savage attack on places of worship in Keady. The Orange hall was painted over, the gospel hall’s windows were smashed, a beautiful stained glass window in the Presbyterian church was smashed, and the Church of Ireland church was also smashed.

Mr Speaker:

Dr Paisley, I ask you to come to the point of order.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

This should also be made public at this time.

Dr O’Hagan:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

Is it on the same issue?

Dr O’Hagan:

Yes, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

It would be sensible to have whatever points of order there are on this issue at the same time. However, I must emphasise that we cannot turn this into a debate.

Dr O’Hagan:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I wish to correct the erroneous statement made by the Member. I represent Upper Bann. I come from Lurgan and know the situation that occurred there yesterday. The fact is that GAA supporters were attacked by a Unionist crowd. The PSNI — [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:


Dr O’Hagan:

We need to correct an erroneous statement. I come from Lurgan and know the situation on the ground. GAA supporters were attacked by a Loyalist/ Unionist mob. The PSNI failed to protect GAA supporters in Lurgan yesterday.

Mr Speaker:

Order. I must ask the Member to take her seat. Order.

It is quite clear that we have gone well beyond points of order and that we are now into points of disorder in the Chamber.

I will advise the House of my ruling on the issue. First, it is entirely in order for the Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure to bring to his Committee the question of whether it would like to hold a reception to celebrate this event. He knows from previous occasions that if the Committee wants to hold such a reception, but does not have the resources to do so, and he approaches the Speaker’s Office, he will get the same positive response to this particular request, should it come from the Committee, as he had in respect of previous requests. That is the appropriate way to deal with this.

Responding to Mr Kelly’s point of order, it is not possible for the Assembly to make such a gesture without having a motion for debate. The Member may wish to put down such a motion, but it would, of course, lose something in terms of the timing.

Dr Paisley mentioned some concerns, and Dr O’Hagan mentioned her concerns about the same point. I ask that Members compose themselves, not only on this matter, but also on the general business of the day. It is a funny old place here. I do not suppose I imagined that I would find Nationalists demanding that Stormont have orange flags outside it, and Unionists expressing a degree of concern about that. However, that would be the circumstance if the Armagh team were here celebrating.

I ask members of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure to consider if that is the appropriate context in which to deal with this matter. If the Committee has a view on this, and comes to the Speaker’s Office, it will receive the usual generous reply that my Office tries to give to these matters.

Mr Close:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it not wonderful —

Mr Speaker:

Is this point of order on the same issue?

Mr Close:

It is just an observation. Is it not wonderful how sport —

Mr Speaker:

Order. I know the Member to be an imaginative and creative man, which is why I checked in advance.

Mr J Kelly:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

Is it on the same matter, Mr Kelly?

Mr J Kelly:

It is.

Mr Speaker:

I am afraid I cannot take any further points of order on this matter.

Mr J Kelly:

I was going to suggest that orange flags —

Mr Speaker:

Order. The previous Member was close, but you are not. You are not getting a further point of order.


Speaker’s Business: 
Assembly Commission Visit to Ottawa and Quebec

Mr Speaker:

I wish to inform the House that I will be absent from the plenary sittings of the Assembly next week.

Several Members:


Mr Speaker:

Thank you. At the invitation of the Speaker of the Canadian Parliament, I will be leading an Assembly Commission visit to Ottawa and Quebec.


Point of Order: Scheduling of Assembly Business

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

I assume it is on a different point.

Mr P Robinson:

I assure you that it has nothing to do with Armagh, though Armagh will be waiting to hear your response. On 2 September 2002, my Colleagues and I tabled a motion that called for the dissolution of the Assembly to enable an election to take place. We recognised then — as most of the House will recognise now — that the Assembly will lurch from one crisis to another because of the shenanigans in the Ulster Unionist Party.

I understand that to date, the Business Committee has set itself up to vote down the hearing of that debate simply on a political basis. As there is a statutory basis for the motion, Mr Speaker, surely you can use your influence to ensure that a large group of Members who wish to see a motion debated can have the opportunity to do so, and then we can move to elections, negotiations and the possibility of real, stable political structures in Northern Ireland.

Mr Speaker:

It is clearly a matter for the Business Committee to decide what goes on the Order Paper as far as private Members’ business is concerned. In the past, I have indicated that — [Interruption]. Order.

When motions are set down and have some statutory basis, which I think is the reference that the Member is making, if there is some reasonable chance of success as evidenced by support within the Business Committee to have the debate, one, as the Chairperson, might well urge the Business Committee to consider the matter. I cannot do more. I am the one member of the Business Committee who does not have a vote, and I do not seek to influence it politically in any way, except to do what is wise for the general well-being of the Assembly.

Of course, the Member’s Colleagues are at liberty to raise the matter in the Business Committee, which will meet tomorrow to consider next week’s business. Therefore, it will be a matter for the Business Committee to consider. I dare say that its members will consider the question, taking full account, as business managers, of what they judge to be the likely approach of their parties to the matter. That is not a wholly unreasonable way for them to consider the question.

Mr P Robinson:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am more concerned after listening to your response. Surely it can never be the Business Committee’s role to make judgements either on the outcome of a motion or on the basis of whether it likes or agrees with the principles behind it. The Assembly has the right to consider matters and reject them if so desired. The Business Committee does not have a veto in determining which particular political party policies should be allowed to be aired in the Chamber.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Mr Speaker:

Order. Nor did I suggest that that was the case. Since there is a long list of no-day-named motions, the Member is asking the Business Committee to put the particular motion from his party ahead of other motions. I am saying that as far as the Business Committee is concerned, I would certainly urge it to consider an extra degree of significance to motions that bear on the statutory basis of the Assembly. The Business Committee must make its own judgements.

However, I dare say that the Business Committee will make a judgement on the basis of what it believes to be the motion’s level of support. For example, since no seconder is even necessary, it would be entirely possible for a single Member to table a motion that was on a statutory matter of the type referred to. The Member would judge it not reasonable that that on its own should take precedence over everything else. Of course the Member is saying that this motion does not involve a single Member, but a significant body. In other words, he is saying that the level of support is significant. That is simply all that I am pointing out also — the level of support is significant and not unreasonably so in the mind of the Business Committee when making a judgement.

It would be wholly inappropriate to bring the discussions of the Business Committee on to the Floor. I am simply ruling on the procedural question. I trust that the Member is at least clear on the question, if not entirely happy.

Ms McWilliams:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I reassure the House that what you have said is exactly what happens. The Business Committee was unable to judge the level of support for the DUP motion because the DUP Chief Whip withdrew that particular motion —

Mr Speaker:

Order. I interrupt the Lady at that point because she is about to discuss the conduct of the Business Committee on the Floor of the House. The Business Committee minutes — [Interruption]. Order.

The Business Committee minutes are on record and on the web site once they have been approved. It is inappropriate that further debate takes place on that issue.

12.15 pm


Draft Programme for Government

Mr Speaker:

I have received notice from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister that they wish to make a statement on behalf of the Executive on the draft Programme for Government 2003-2004. Following a proposal from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister the Business Committee considered the form in which the Programme for Government should be presented to the House and agreed that it should be presented in the form of a statement today. A motion to take note of the draft Programme for Government will be debated tomorrow.

The Business Committee agreed to a different form of statement. As the House is aware, statements are usually followed by a series of questions to the Minister, or Ministers, who make the statement. However, in view of the fact that the Programme for Government is a singular presentation, it was viewed as appropriate — and the proposal came from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister — that party leaders should not be restricted to simply asking questions, but should have the opportunity to make a statement for up to five minutes, obviating the need for questions or response.

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will make their presentation, and all parties will have an opportunity, restricted to the party leader or a nominee, to make a response lasting five minutes. If that is clear, we will proceed.

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

The Deputy First Minister and I have pleasure in presenting to the Assembly, on behalf of the Executive, our draft Programme for Government covering the next financial year and beyond. At its meeting on Thursday 19 September, the Executive agreed a draft Programme for Government, supported by a draft Budget. We are laying that programme before the Assembly for scrutiny and for future approval after examination in Committees.

The draft Programme for Government sets out the Executive’s plans and priorities for the next few years, and will be supported by the draft Budget to be presented to the Assembly tomorrow by the Minister of Finance and Personnel. The Programme for Government is a detailed and comprehensive document, and Members will know that it is not a quick and easy read. We could translate the document and merely present a series of sound bites taking up a few pages, but we believe that it is important that the Assembly and others should see our plans and priorities in some detail and understand the context in which they are to be taken forward. Members should have the necessary information to carry out their role in scrutinising the document.

We have been keen to build on the progress already made as an Executive when developing this programme. We have the experience of developing and implementing two previous programmes that have been endorsed by the Assembly. We want to use that experience and build on our achievements to steer us through the months and years ahead.

We have achieved much, and there is much that we can be proud of. We have shown that we can work together across all four parties in the Administration to plan for, and deliver, good government. We have brought about real improvements in areas as diverse as education, infrastructure and the needs of children. We have demonstrated a commitment to accountability and a readiness to report openly on our progress that is unparalleled.

This is a time for commitment, not complacency. This draft programme demonstrates our commitment to deliver government that makes a real and positive difference to the lives of people here. Reinvestment and reform are the twin elements at the core of this programme; they must underpin our efforts to make a difference in the years ahead. We also want to deliver real progress in tackling social exclusion, promoting sustainable development and building stronger partnerships — partnerships with local government and the social partners in influencing the development of policies and programmes and their delivery. We have highlighted in our draft Programme for Government those key themes that cut across our priorities, and we will say more about them shortly. Members will have received a copy of the document, and the chapter on investing in the future sets out further details.

Another feature of this year’s document is our wish to bring out more clearly than before the context in which our economic, social and environmental policies and programmes are developed and implemented. We should not develop new policies or continue with existing ones without a clear understanding of the economy and society, and the challenges which the Executive and Assembly face. Chapter 2 of the document sets out the current position on some key indicators, the improvements which have occurred and the problems which continue to exist. The Executive’s programme needs to address the challenges identified.

I wish now to focus on our commitments in this draft Programme for Government on investing in our infrastructure and promoting sustainable development. I also want to say something about our plans for modernising and developing public services. The Deputy First Minister will later pick up the theme of reform and also outline our work to tackle social exclusion and build partnerships.

This draft Programme for Government makes clear our commitment to delivering new and substantial investment in infrastructure. We know from the work on examining the opportunities for public-private partnerships that we have an estimated £6 billion investment deficit in that infrastructure. We must try to remedy that deficit over the next decade. The need to address that problem has been raised by Members, most recently in the debate last Monday.

Tackling that deficit is not just about bricks and mortar, it is also about standards: the standard of education in our schools; the quality of treatment in our hospitals; the quality of our drinking water and the ability of our transport network to carry people and goods safely and effectively. It is about improving the infrastructure to improve the services that we all use.

In May 2002, we announced details of a new reinvestment and reform initiative designed to address the infrastructure problems that we have identified. In July 2002, we made a start in implementing the initiative. At that point we allocated £270 million to improve key areas of infrastructure. The draft Programme for Government reflects the work to date and our plans for the years ahead. We hope that in the first year covered by the programme, we shall have a new strategic investment board in place to assist us in improving the state of our infrastructure significantly.

For example, the draft Programme for Government states our commitment to investing in the road network. We shall work to eliminate 75% of the road maintenance backlog over the period of the regional transportation strategy. We shall undertake improvements to our major routes, in particular building on our earlier commitment to upgrade the trans-European network from Larne to Newry.

We shall strengthen our energy infrastructure. The draft programme contains our proposals in those areas. We are also determined to improve the health and education estates. We have already announced our plans for the new cancer centre — a development that should result in better diagnosis, treatment and care for those living with cancer. The draft programme signals our intention to increase capacity in hospitals, providing 100 more hospital beds by March 2005 to help ease the worst pressure points.

We also set out our proposals to start more major capital improvements to primary and post-primary schools and to deliver a programme of investment to improve the state of our further education colleges. We shall also bring about improvements to our public library network.

One of the big challenges in taking forward this programme of investment is making sure it is sustainable. We have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that the improvements we make to meet our needs now are not at the expense of future generations’ ability to meet their needs. That message came across very clearly at the recent world summit in South Africa.

For that reason, we identify promoting sustainable living as a theme which cuts across all the Executive’s work — in improving infrastructure and public services and in tackling poverty and social exclusion. In the draft programme we set out many commitments, which reflect that theme — for example, through investing for health and in our approach to securing a competitive economy.

On planning, for example, we wish to develop a more co-ordinated and efficient planning process that integrates our economic, social and environmental needs. That is why the draft programme commits us to modernising the planning process. We are also concerned about transport — and the draft Programme for Government highlights our determination to introduce measures to support public transport.

We recognise the need to reduce waste and tackle issues surrounding its disposal. For that reason, we have restated our intention to promote the recovery, or recycling, of 25% of all household waste by 2006.

If the principles of sustainable development need to underpin our work to address the infrastructure deficit, so too do they need to be reflected in our work to improve public services. The simple provision of more resources to improve our infrastructure will not result in the scale of change that the Executive want. That is why the focus in this draft programme is not just on reinvestment, but also on reform.

We want to deliver reform on several levels.

Mr Speaker:

Order. There is a general hubbub in the Chamber, which is unhelpful to Members who wish to listen to the statement. Members should restrain themselves or have their conversations in the Lobby.

The First Minister:

First, we want to examine how to finance our work to improve infrastructure and the delivery of public services. Secondly, we want to examine how to improve public services and public administration. Thirdly, we want to reform how the public sector operates, identifying new ways of working that will create real changes.

Of course, change for change’s sake is never effective. We are determined that our driving force will be reform that brings real and measurable improvements that people can see, feel and experience. The draft Programme for Government sets out a challenging and ambitious programme that, when implemented, will bring about real change for the better. It contains many specific commitments that are supported by the draft Budget, which the Minister of Finance and Personnel will present to the Assembly tomorrow. It reflects our continuing focus on delivering progress across our five priorities in the context of the Executive’s key themes.

The programme is in draft form; it is not set in stone. We want to consult on its content with the Assembly and more widely. We look forward to hearing the views of Members in tomorrow’s debate and over the coming weeks.

The Deputy First Minister:

The draft Programme for Government represents another step forward in delivering accountable government that meets people’s needs.

We launched a consultation on the Executive’s position report on 5 June to seek views on this year’s programme. We have received responses from Committees, the Civic Forum and other interested bodies, which have helped us to develop this draft. Based on those comments, the Executive concluded that the five priorities adopted before remain valid and should be retained. They are: growing as a community; working for a healthier people; investing in education and skills; securing a competitive economy; and developing relations.

We also identified relevant sub-priorities and specific proposed actions to support our priorities. Any commitments will have to be budgeted for in the draft Budget. It is right that, in all our priorities and at the heart of this Programme for Government, we focus on reinvestment and reform. We want to deliver modern, efficient public services. That will require investment and change.

I wish to outline the areas for reform identified in the draft programme. I will also comment on our commitments on social exclusion and our work to build stronger partnerships.

The draft programme makes it clear that we must take a more innovative approach to managing and financing our infrastructure programme. The reinvestment and reform initiative has already demonstrated our desire to think differently and to challenge the traditional methods of public sector financing. We want to continue in that vein. The new strategic investment board will ensure that investment in our strategic infrastructure is planned and delivered in a way that makes the most of the resources and the expertise available to us.

Our consultation on public-private partnerships (PPPs), which ended recently, is helping to shape our thinking on how to make best use of opportunities for PPPs in financing our future.

12.30 pm

The creation of Executive programme funds has been another important innovation, and we will continue to use them to support actions to deliver progress in the five priorities. The draft Programme for Government makes it clear that there is other work to be done. Agreement must be reached on a fair rating system for Northern Ireland after the rating policy review, and we must continue to press for reform of the Barnett formula to ensure that our resources meet our needs.

We have underlined the importance that we attach to modernising government and to reform. The Executive intend to develop departmental plans to reform service delivery, including efficiency improvements and the use of assets. Those plans will be completed in the coming weeks and will feed into the departmental service delivery agreements to be developed later this year.

We want to improve the quality of our public services and the structures for delivering them and to ensure that our efforts are targeted at those most in need. The draft Programme for Government sets out several commitments that the Executive are ready to make. We will continue our work to improve health and promote healthy lifestyles, modernise our hospital services and introduce new standards of clinical governance — all the while directing resources to those most in need and most vulnerable.

The Department of Education will introduce new curricula in primary and post-primary schools that reflect the needs of our economy and society. We will also take action to ensure that young people leave school with the highest possible standards of literacy and numeracy. We will reduce the proportion of pupils in schools serving the most disadvantaged communities who leave school with no GCSEs and the number of poor attenders. The Executive intend to make changes to how the education system deals with children with special educational needs and to make sure that they can share equally in the planned improvements. The draft Programme for Government underlines the Executive’s commitment to having pupils with special educational needs educated, where possible, alongside their peers in mainstream schools.

Another important focus will be welfare reform. The Executive want to play their part in implementing reforms to the social security and pensions systems. The draft Programme for Government commits us to joining up our jobs and benefits services. By March 2004, we will have extended a new jobs and benefits service to 20 combined social security and jobcentre offices across Northern Ireland. In line with a focus on putting work at the forefront of the benefits system, we want to improve services for those seeking work. In particular, we plan to take action to tackle poor literacy and numeracy in adults by helping an extra 2,500 learners to update their essential skills.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is already implementing an ambitious programme of modernisation, focusing on the needs of farmers and the agrifood industry, e-government and the delivery of research and education. We will also implement the recommendations of the vision exercise.

The Executive want to ensure that Invest Northern Ireland provides a new opportunity to improve competitiveness and encourage investment and enterprise. The draft Programme for Government sets out our plans in that area.

We also have key decisions to take over the life of the draft Programme for Government. We must reach agreement on the right structures for our acute hospitals and post-primary schools. We want to make sure that our decisions bring about positive improvements in the quality of service.

We must also reach agreement on the structures of public administration. The draft Programme for Government conveys our intention to introduce by the end of next year a new model for public administration. Our proposals will be driven by a desire to improve the delivery of public services.

The draft Programme for Government also sets out our commitment to improve community relations and tackle division. The need to support the capacity of local communities to deal with matters of dispute or division is particularly important. Our experience in north Belfast and other areas has shown that improved relations can only develop when elected and community representatives work together. By the end of next year, we want to have in place a new policy and strategy on good relations, which will include actions and targets. We also want it to include action focused on local areas with acute community difficulties and action to support the capacity of local communities to deal with issues such as sectarian flags and graffiti.

If we are to facilitate improvements in relations and an end to the trouble on our streets, we need to focus on delivering equality of opportunity for all. One of the greatest inequalities in Northern Ireland is that which exists between the affluent and the most disadvantaged. The draft Programme for Government emphasises, therefore, our determination to tackle poverty and social exclusion. It sets out our work to evaluate and improve our policy on targeting social need. It also highlights our determination to take action to root out child poverty.

The development of a children’s fund demonstrates our commitment to supporting children in need and young people at risk, a commitment which is restated in the draft Programme for Government. It also demonstrates the value of a partnership approach: working across sectors to do the best we can for children.

The draft Programme for Government represents what we can achieve by working in partnership in Government. However, we also need to build partnerships between the Government and social partners. It is not enough simply to change the form of government: our goal must be to change the face of the Government, the face of politics and the face of our society. Nor is it sufficient to have the social partners as passive consultees. They must be active participants in the development of policy. It is only by harnessing our collective energies and insight that the soundest solutions to our problems can be found.

The promoting social inclusion initiative and the work of the Economic Development Forum show the value of involving social partners not only in consultation, but in policy formation. We must consider how that can be extended as we consult further and, ultimately, implement the Programme for Government. The draft programme indicates our readiness to do that.

As in previous years, we are also presenting the latest public service agreements (PSAs) for the eleven Departments. The PSAs will support the Executive’s priorities and commitments by setting out what is to be achieved from the Budget allocations. They reflect our commitment to openness and accountability to the Assembly and the public, and they focus on improving public services. The PSAs are in draft form, and we invite the Assembly and the Committees to examine them during the consultation period.

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

The draft Programme for Government is a manifesto for reinvestment and reform, a pledge to improve public services. In moving forward, our guiding principle must be the desire to deliver a better service to the public. We need to focus on delivery, on the end result and how that can be improved. However, as the First Minister has emphasised, it is a draft Programme for Government. It represents the Executive’s current thinking on their plans and priorities for the years ahead. That thinking should now be debated, discussed and, where necessary, challenged inside and outside the Chamber. On that basis, we commend the draft Programme for Government to the Assembly.

Dr Birnie:

The draft Programme for Government is an impressive document, not least because it provides a comprehensive analysis of the problems facing Northern Ireland before attempting to outline solutions.

Page 10 shows that unemployment has fallen dramatically in the past decade, although an employability issue remains. Chart 3 on page 11 reveals a crucial economic and social problem: our level of gross domestic product (GDP) per head continues to lag seriously behind the United Kingdom and European Union averages. However, one technical but significant point is that the chart almost certainly exaggerates the extent to which the Republic of Ireland’s living standard improved compared with that of Northern Ireland and the rest of Europe in the same period.

The reinvestment and reform package mentioned in paragraphs 3.9 to 3.12 must be a driver to deal, at last, with the long-standing backlog in infrastructure investment, which amounts to around £6 billion. By attempting to deal with the problem, the initiative represents an act of political courage and financial wisdom.

Sub-priority 8 of ‘Growing as a Community’ identifies a role for museums. I hope that they will be able to show what is distinctive about Northern Ireland and its history, while recognising the substantial east-west links with the rest of the United Kingdom as well as the North/ South aspect. I note also the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s proposal to implement an archives policy.

My party is pleased that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure will provide support for implementing the football strategy from April next year and that new training facilities will be provided in at least seven sporting areas by March 2006.

Sub-priority 1 of ‘Securing a Competitive Economy’, which deals with improving and developing infrastructure, is immensely significant for the reasons that I have already given, especially the backlog in investment that developed during the direct rule period.

That chapter’s sub-priority 2 deals with modernising the planning process. Hitherto, our planning process satisfied no one. On the one hand, developers argued that economic progress was held up by undue backlogs in the system. On the other hand, residents felt that their vital interests were being overridden. A general debate about planning processes is taking place across the UK, so Northern Ireland’s problems are not unique. However, some aspects are peculiar to this region. The Ulster Unionist Party is pleased that the planning process will be modernised.

Paragraph 1.5 of the document points out the progress and achievements made in several areas that were highlighted in previous Programmes for Government, including the expansion of higher and further education and the provision of free public transport for the elderly.

The Ulster Unionist Party supports the draft Programme for Government in the hope that it, and future programmes, will support further achievements.

Mr Dallat:

The guiding principle of this draft Programme for Government is "making a difference". Let us reflect for a moment on what that means and how it can be implemented. It means building on what the Assembly has achieved in the past four years. It means no return to the corruption that occurred during the three decades of direct rule, when deals were struck in smoke-filled rooms, and millions of pounds worth of contracts were issued without tenders, or issued to companies that did not tender the lowest bid.

It means a fundamental change to the Senior Civil Service and non-departmental public bodies. It means an end to the soirées and the flagrant abuse of credit cards. However, it means more than that: it means building on the good work of Seán Farren and Carmel Hanna to end the scandal whereby one in four people have poor levels of literacy and numeracy, so that everyone can hold his or her head high when applying for a job or seeking promotion.

12.45 pm

I am glad that the Programme for Government addresses also the needs of students in serious debt, who are at the other end of the scale. In the past four years, access to colleges of further education and universities has been widened substantially. The threshold above which parents must pay fees has been raised and will continue to increase as a fundamental principle of the SDLP. Pressure will be continued on the British Government for improved central funds.

Will we allow those and other possibilities to be wiped out because a few weeping willows in the "No" camp, particularly the DUP, do not have the stomach to face the challenges of the future and have no alternatives to the Good Friday Agreement? Are we to turn our backs on the Health Service, which is in crisis? Are we to forget about our commitment to decentralisation and cross-border bodies, which bring untold benefits, particularly in west Belfast, Strabane, Derry and other unemployment black spots? I should think not. Those who connive behind closed doors to bring down the Assembly must rethink their actions. It does not seem to matter to them that they are creating a political vacuum, which gives the kiss of life to killer gangs that are long past their sell-by date.

The SDLP will not abandon the people to whom it made a firm promise in the Good Friday Agreement. We will fight for an extension to the free transport scheme for people over 60 years old. We will back our Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in radically reforming the industry to secure the future of new and existing farmers. We will support her efforts to develop a new vision for agriculture, to improve animal health and to show the British Government that they can no longer treat farmers as they do. However, none of that will be possible if members of the Saturday morning fur-coat brigade continue to vote like turkeys for Christmas. The "No" campers do not give a damn about equality, social inclusion or unemployment black spots. [Interruption].

Mr Deputy Speaker:


Mr Dallat:

They seem to believe that they can turn back the clock to the good old days when they reigned supreme. We are not going back to those days: there will be no cap in hand, no begging bowl, and no subservience to our absentee landlords. Will we be left to do it alone? Those who fooled themselves at the weekend that they could turn the clock back should get real with the electorate and begin to tell them the truth. The world is moving on, and so are we, whether they like it or not. Dismantling the political structures to stop the clock is not an option. In a global world, and in a European context, partitionist politics are as dead as a dodo. Let us face the future together, rather than trying to lift the ball and run away with it. It is no longer theirs, but ours to share. If Armagh and Derry can do it, so can the Assembly.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Having listened to the interesting statement of the petty comic, we should now get down to business. Do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister really think that they can bluff the people of Northern Ireland with the documents that they presented today? The First Minister's constitutional position is in jeopardy, and his party is stating, in the strongest possible manner, that things will change. We are told that the last date will be 18 January.

The First Minister told us that he was presenting his priorities for the next few years. It is quite interesting that an attempt is being made in this House to sweep the reality of the situation conveniently under the carpet and pretend that all is well when it is not.

As for Mr Dallat, he may have no respect for the electorate, but the electorate will not go away. In fact, the electorate or a Sinn Féin member in his own constituency may tell him to go away. Mr Dallat made as good a speech as any Shinner could have made in the days of absentee landlords and little fairies at the end of an Irish garden.

The report says that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will apply themselves to dealing with the troubles, but the Deputy First Minister did not have the honesty to say that the trouble lies with one member of the Executive, an active member, who takes his seat with us. The Deputy First Minister did not have the honesty to say that that member's party is dedicated to keeping this country in turmoil. It has the arms to do it, and it has been producing the goods.

The Deputy First Minister says that they will declare war on sectarian flags. I will ask him a straight question: does he think that the Union flag is a sectarian flag? Of all the flags, it has been the Union flag that has been most attacked and removed. Is that what he is after? The people of this country know what is wrong. They have a right to demand the right to live, the right to be free from gangsters and paramilitaries, from whatever side they come, and the right to maintain their place in a democracy.

It is quite amusing to hear the Deputy First Minister talk about equality of opportunity for all. There is no equality of opportunity in our new police service because of his party's policy that the Roman Catholic minority must have a majority over Protestants. The 50% share that is given to Protestants must also include Jews and Hindus and everyone else. There cannot be equal equality of opportunity for all, yet he unblushingly said that that great target has been set.

This House had better realise that sooner or later, no matter about the dodges of the Business Committee and no matter about the First Minister. I read carefully a statement from the First Minister that said that this would not be a fudge but that there might be flexibility. That was a good get-out. No doubt, he will have to run for shelter and quote that. We are not running for shelter. We believe in direct confrontation with the electorate. Let the electorate speak.


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