03/12/2012 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. On the programme tonight:


After MLAs were told off by the First and Deputy First Ministers


for not being in the hamber last week, today it was the turn of the


Speaker to do the scolding. He's written to every MLA warning that


he'll re-introduce sanctions if the conduct continues. But in the


chamber he was in a more forgiving One member who was definitely in


his seat for questions was the leader of the Ulster Unionists who


wasn't happy that the First and Deputy First Ministers will be


The first thing on the agenda wasn't quite the norm for a Monday


afternoon. The recent conduct of MLAs was very much on the Speaker's


mind specifically their attendance or in too many cases their


nonattendance in the chamber. Our political editor was watching.


Remind us of the background to this. This all relates to events last


week in the chamber. It was during questions to the First Minister,


Peter Robinson. Five MLAs were not present and two questions were


withdrawn. It was probably the quietest Question Time in recent


weeks. It annoyed the First and Deputy First Minister, the fact so


many questions weren't asked. Martin McGuinness described the


lack of attendance including one of his own MLAs as a disgrace. He


wanted the Speaker to look into this. Today Willie Hay made his


feelings clear. Members not being in their places at Question Time,


and let me say the unacceptable member of questions that are being


withdrawn - this was an issue that Written to every member about these


issues and my letter is clear about what I expect. I will also be


raising the issue once again at the Business Committee, reminding the


whips of what their responsibility is, and in my letter as well, I


have made it absolutely clear I am not responsible for ensuring that


members are in the chamber. That is clearly a responsibility for


parties themselves and parties alone. So why do remind the whole


house and all sides of the house where the responsibility lies. I


hope that all parties will make every effort to avoid a repeat of


the situation last week. It is for all members and ministers to uphold


the rules and conventions if -- of this house. I will be monitoring


the situation and I will not hesitate to reintroduce sanctions


on members who are not in their place when it comes to Question


Time. I hope that is clear and let us move on. I was one of those


attending members who did not turn up for Question Time. I apologise.


I was chairing a committee and I was detained - fact and I was


detained there. I appreciate the member's apology. We do sometimes


have confessions were members come forward and confess their sins. But


let it be a reminder for the whole house that Question Time is an


important piece of business of this house. Some members will see it as


the most important business in this house. Mr Speaker, will you do any


more analysis of the number of questions that were withdrawn and


the number of members who were not in a position and break it down by


party? Let me say, from time to time, all parties are to blame.


Although I have to say, there are some worse than others. my office


and the Business Office will be monitoring which members are absent


at Question Time. The reading of my letter is clear. We had members who


came up to the table to withdraw questions and then leave the


chamber. Some members have actually questioned the withdrawal of their


questions and then they leave the chamber. It cannot go one. The


situation will be monitored and we will find who are the culprits.


heard Speaker mention the letter he had sent. You manage to get hold of


a copy. What does it say? It is a strong rebuke and concentrates on


the attendance of the MLAs. He talks about what he expects a from


Assembly members. Here were the main points. He says attendance at


Question Time should be given priority, and he made that clear.


Questions can only be withdrawn before noon on the day of questions,


not during proceedings. He say he may be introduced sanctions, and


this is something some MLAs were asking about. So the whole issue of


sanctions is interesting. He says he may we introduce sanctions if


people do not turn up. Previously, people have been barred from asking


questions for two weeks. That is quite tough. Absolutely. MLAs want


to be seen asking questions and holding ministers to account. We


know MLAs wants a more spontaneity in the chamber, but the proceedings


are being looked at. It does not have the cut and thrust of


Westminster. It doesn't and people are saying it is dull and formulaic.


Some of these issues are being looked out, but Willie Hay is very


clear on this. Storm at -- Stormont is a political institution and he


hopes that members can show each other respect and avoid bringing


the Assembly into disrepute. Thank you. Now, or you can drink alcohol


promotions will be banned from January. Nelson McCausland said the


impact of binge drinking on health is out of control. During the


passage of the 2011 Amendment Bill, a commencement was given that the


detail of regulations to tackle irresponsible drink promotions will


be questioned. A public consultation ran for eight weeks on


proposed regulations to ban irresponsible drinks promotions.


The focus is on two promotions - all the country and for �20, as in


a fixed price promotion and also the pricing of certain drinks. The


Social Development Committee expressed doubt that a ban on bulk


purchases would have the desired effect. Having considered the


result of the consultation, and that the use of the Social


Development Committee, I have decided to proceed with the


introduction of the regulation to ban a fixed price promotion, such


as the all you can drink for �20. A weather, -- however, bulk purchases


will not be banned at this time. The ban on fixed price promotions


will make this sort of drinking illegal for the first time. That


regulation will become effective on the 1st January 1920 13 and


therefore I beg to move. committee are mindful of the impact


this is having in terms of been shrinking. We do understand the


implications for the health of the individuals themselves. On that


basis, the committee supports this regulation. After an eventful


Question Time with Peter Robinson last week, it was the turn of


Martin McGuinness to take to be Despatch Box. Here is the Deputy


First Minister Updating the Assembly on the outcome on the


recent visit to China and Hong Kong. It is hugely important that we


build on the contacts that are there. There are opportunities


opening up. There is something like I think that's something that can


be clearly built upon, and there will be a huge responsibility on


the Derry department to seize every opportunity that comes their way. I


thank the Deputy First Minister. I note in his original answer he told


the meeting diplomats and business people, but no word of politicians.


Given the Chinese party Congress coincided with your trip, do you


accept you didn't get within 1200 kilometres of anybody of any real


political significance? It's obvious from that question that the


view of the Deputy Mayor of Larne that the Ulster Unionist party is


in tatters is clearly an indicator of the ignorance of the question


that's been asked. The reality is the trade mission to China was


organised well before the Chinese Communist Party convention was held.


At that stage the First Minister and I agreed we would lead the


delegation and be part of it. It wasn't our fault the Chinese


Communist Party decided to change the date for their event. They did.


The advice we received from diplomats on both the British and


Irish side was that the First Minister and I should still go. I


think the opportunities that presents for us in the future are


unlimited. I think it's a very small minded question that's been


asked by the leader of a party that is now much smaller than it was


before. I am very pleased the Deputy Minister's gone to visit my


homeland. I hope he enjoyed the trip over there. You're right.


We've done well in establishing links with China in terms of our


two university, but they have worked very hard to do that, but I


think one thing perhaps we haven't done enough is developing tourism.


I have a number of travel agents who have talked to me from the Far


East to say about the potential for developing tourism. Titanic is very


big in China because of the movie and various issues, so can I ask


the Minister have we any solid plan in developing tourism between China


and Northern Ireland? There was a talk about flights from Belfast to


Beijing and I wonder if there is any solid plan on that. I want to


thank the member for her question. We took great pride when we were


there in being able to tell the Chinese people that we were very


proud of the fact that there was a woman from China in our Assembly,


and I think they were quite surprised at that, but it was a


real opportunity for us to outline the way in which politics here has


moved forward in a progressive way. The joint Ministerial working group


met for the last time on October 18th. The work of this group is


complete, and the report of the main findings was sent to the Prime


Minister for his consideration on the 16th of November. The British


Government must now decide whether the executive should be offered the


opportunity of taking responsibility for the tax. The


continued challenges faced by the business community as the economy


struggles out of recession means that it is essential that the


Government makes its decision as soon as possible. At our meeting


with the Prime Minister during his visit on the 20th of November, 2012


we discussed issues impacting on our local economy including the


general implication of devolving corporation tax. The Prime Minister


needs to consider further, so we agreed we would have a further


meeting in London where we can make our case, and we wrote to the Prime


Minister on the 29th of November to ask for this meeting as soon as


possible. We were hoping this decision can be made quickly in


order to alay speculation and unease within our local business


community and have asked for this request to be given urgent


consideration. I think that we're all very conscious and our own


Finance Minister referred to this during the course of the weekend -


that the situation in Scotland is something that can be either an


advantage to us or a disadvantage. The person who has to decide which


way that goes is obviously David Cameron. I think it's hugely


important that he recognises that we have a special case, and indeed,


David Gok from the Treasury whenever he came to Stormont to


meet with the First Minister and myself and our Finance Minister and


Derry Minister clearly acknowledged that the dissthrantion we face in


regard to the border and the 12.5% corporation tax in the south is


something that needs to be recognised and dealt with. So we


hope that whenever a decision is made that the decision will be


favourable. We're up for the challenge, but as I - as I've said,


it's now in the hands of the British Prime Minister at Ten


Downing Street - it's up to him to decide, and I hope he decides in


our favour. The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. The


potential cost of delays to the welfare reform bill was raised


again during questions to Nelson McCausland. An ad hoc committee has


been set up to examine the implications of the bill. Today he


revealed that the Westminster Government has suspended talks on


possible operational exemptions for Northern Ireland until the


committee completes its work. member will be aware from my


statement to the Assembly on the 22nd of October that I've already


secured the deferal of the introduction of universal credit in


Northern Ireland to April 2014, and flexible payment arrangements when


the system does go live. However, from my discussions this week, Lord


Freud has advised that he has put on hold any further discussions on


flexibilities until after the ad hoc committee finishes its work.


The ad hoc committee not only has the potential therefore to cost the


Northern Ireland budget, but has now also impacted my discussions


with WWP Ministers on a range of issues in relation to the welfare


reform bill, and I would also add at a time we're seeking to ensure


jobs in Northern Ireland, delivering welfare payments are


actually retained in Northern Ireland, it's not the best time to


start having a fallout with the Government - the coalition


Government at Westminster. I do feel it rather is an inappropriate


interference, Lord Freud, in the I'm looking at the moment, although


it has, as I have already indicated, been hindered and halted - whether


the member wants to remain in a state of denial about the truth or


not is another matter, but the fact is that it has been put on hold. It


has been halted, and slafs made absolutely clear to members of the


Social Development Minister -- committee and members of the


Subcommittee on Welfare reform. That was made absolutely clear by


Lord Freud on his visit last week. I'd hoped that the visit was more


productive. It was productive, useful, but it could have been even


more productive, but for the difficulty that we faced. As far as


I'm concerned, conversations with - and negotiations with Westminster


about this are actually better done face to face rather than in the


open chamber here. That's the way to get negotiations that are


successful because that's what worked the last time. We were able


to get what we wanted, and I believe we can get more in future.


I thank the Minister for His work in getting the flexibility thus far,


and he is aware of the concern that there is on all sides of the House


regarding the implications of the welfare reform bill, but could he


spell it out again? I know he's done it before, but could he spell


out again the implications of the delay - those who exercised the


democratic mandate in setting up an ad hoc committee and have done so


and the cost for that and the further cost of the ad hoc


committee takes an inordinate time to conclude its business. Yeah, I -


Mr Speaker, I welcome the question from the member because, first of


all, there is the issue of the financial cost, and the current


estimated cost to the Northern Ireland bloc from potential delays


in the welfare reform bill not securing Royal Assent and the


associated regulations in time is �18 million. That's based on a


three-month delay in the current timetable, and it represents an


estimate of the annually managed expenditure controls which will not


be achieved and the funding which may have to be found by the


Northern Ireland executive for the discretionary elements of the


social fund, so it sets out very clearly the basis on which that


figure was obtained. It's not some figure somebody conjured up out of


the air. I have stated clearly the two elements that make up that


figure. I mentioned the three-month - I had a discussion with one


member of the chamber who told me the work could be done in three


days of the ad hoc committee. Human trafficking was on the agenda


today as MLAs discussed a report on the issue. A group of experts on


Action Against Trafficking have issued a report suggesting several


recommendations to help in the fight against the crime. Lord


Morrow, who has a Private Members' bill going through the House on the


issue, is calling for the Justice Minister to implement those


recommendations that are relevant to Northern Ireland.


In Northern Ireland, some potential victims of trafficking from EU


countries who are referred to the national referral mechanism were


repatriated two to four days after their referral. Mr Speaker this


concerns me greatly. Vulnerable victims of trafficking who had been


referred to the NRM need to be supported effectively. This is not


facilitated by deporting victims soon after they have been


identified. What will the Minister do to ensure this practise does not


happen again? A further problem that the report identifys is that


page 75, paragraph 332 and 333 is that according to information


provided by the Law Centre in Northern Ireland, victims of


trafficking have been prosecuted and detained in Northern Ireland


before it was established whether involvement is unlawful activities


had been due to coercion. GRETA understands there have been cases


of victims prosecuted and convicted in relation to migration and non-


migration cases including those convicted for cannabis cultivation.


It is concerned about the high numbers of trafficking who are


detained. There is no data on the number of potential and confirmed


victims of trafficking who are detained. Again, I find this


situation deeply concerning. These individuals should not be being


prosecuted, and they need to be protected. What will the Minister


do to ensure that they are? The report at page 9, paragraph 353


outlined there have been only two successful prosecution for


trafficking in human being offences in Northern Ireland, which has a


detrimental impact on victims and fails to provide them with the


option of claiming compensation from the offender in the framework


of a criminal trial. I would submit to him that given the scale of


trafficking in Northern Ireland, this state of affairs is completely


unacceptable and requires a step- change. At the current time, the


Minister has brought forward a Criminal Justice Bill. This bill


does propose changes to the legislation in the area of human


trafficking. Although these changes are welcome, they do not welcome a


number of proposals of GRETA report. I do appreciate this was due to the


fact the Criminal Justice Bill was produced before the GRETA bill was


published. However, now that the members have had the opportunity to


consider the report they should consider amendments to the criminal


justice system bill as a means of implementing outstanding GRETA


recommendations. It is important to stress human trafficking highlights


social inqualities both in the countries which the trafficking


comes from and in the countries of destination. The trafficking of


human beings is a violation of human rights and is perpetrated by


individuals and organisations solely for the profits - purpose of


profit. Basically, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people


from society, particularly women and young people, who become the


majority of those trafficked. a number of the recommendations of


GRETA actually talk about coordination, cooperation,


supporting one another and agencies working together, and I think if


there is one message that comes out of this, that should be it, and


that is that agencies both within the United Kingdom and Northern


Ireland and indeed within wider Europe and the rest of the world


need to be working together. They need a coordinated approach between


the Security Services and customs and indeed all the relevant


agencies. I think it's imperative that we actually listen to those


that are impacted by it. Those from an individual perspective and those


from agencies and authorities that actually know what happens in human


trafficking, and I have heard some horror stories, I have to tell you,


from people who have actually seen people being brought into Northern


Ireland, and we may actually think that this doesn't happen in


Northern Ireland. But that is where we're wrong. It does happen in


Northern Ireland. But I do have to say, Deputy Speaker, we can have


all the reports and acknowledgments that we want, but unless there is


actually action on the ground and a proper coordinated approach on the


ground, then that's not actually going to work. It's an issue that I


know from my role both as chair of the Organised Crime Task Force and


from engagement with MLAs and NGOs alike is extremely emotive, and I


want to tap into that emotion and the enthusiasm that comes with it


to maximise the efforts of this society against this wicked crime


because only by working in partnership and taking a holistic


approach against the three fronts of prevention, protection and


prosecution can we tackle this. DSSPS have responsibility and all


the departments must play their part. The Justice Minister, David


Ford. Stephen Walker, our political reporter, is with me again. Stephen,


an early finish today - does it look like it's going to be any


busier tomorrow? You're right. It was a quiet day today with


proceedings ending at 3.30pm. Tomorrow looks different. It looks


a lot busier. We'll hear from the Education Minister, the Health


Minister, and there will be questions to the agriculture


Minister. Interestingly, there will be a debate from the afternoon


about the narrow water bridge, and that whole project has been in the


headlines recently. The European Union is giving 17 million groorst


fund it, and they hope this bridge will be built by 2015. The DUP want


an investigation into the funding into the way the project has found


its way to the top of the list. They want that to be looked at. The


First Minister made this call relatively recently after he was


challenged by the SDLP that claim he wanted money diverted away, so


did whole issue has been in the headlines. That claim was made by


the SDLP by Margaret Ritchie at with the whole issue of this bridge


is going to come up tomorrow. Peter Robinson has rejected those claims,


and what the SDLP want tomorrow is the Finance Minister to back this


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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