08/12/2015 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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After yesterday's high drama which saw Nigel Dodds ruling himself


out of the DUP leadership, things seemed positively pedestrian today -


though several important issues were discussed in the chamber.


The move to cut the number of government departments ramped up a


gear and the Health Minister went on the attack against people who smoke


Reducing government departments here has been a long time coming,


but some are sceptical of the benefits...


Warm and meaningless phrases, but somehow the mere reduction to nine


departments will have a transformative impact in terms of


the character of government. Simon Hamilton changes tack on


smoking in cars with children and My view is that anyone who smokes in


a confined space like a car with children in that car is an idiot.


And with me to share his thoughts on today's developments is


Back in March the First Minister, Peter Robinson,


formally announced the names of Stormont's nine new departments, and


after today we're one step closer to seeing them become a reality.


The Departments Bill, which would see the majority


of the current twelve departments renamed or replaced before next


year's Assembly elections, passed its second reading and was granted


There will be hopefully financial savings but the primary rationale


for this proposal is more efficient and effective government for the


people of Northern Ireland. It is hoped that the reorganisation will


bring more joined up government and synergies that can be delivered but


the Alliance Party would go further. We would reduce the number of MLAs


also to 90 in time for the next election and we would also like to


see greater use of a statutory duty to cooperate on government


departments. I figured his third to say that for some time now there has


been some all-party support for reform in this house and within the


structures there has been an agreement on the reduction of


departments. We now have that proposal and as far as we are


concerned, it is the time to get on with it and to deliver what we


promised we would deliver. I hope that in the context of the recent


negotiations that this will form part of evolving this place into a


more efficient working relationship. There is some sense that somehow or


another the reduction to nine departments is a more efficient


working relationship. There is some sense that somehow or another the


reduction to nine departments is up and I will give way but I will


finish this point before I do. The nine departments will lead to more


joined up government. The Junior Minister says it will eliminate


unnecessary bureaucracy. And so on and so forth. Scores of war and


meaningless phrases. Warm meaningless phrases that somehow the


mere reduction to nine departments will have a transformative impact in


terms of the character of government and the content of our politics.


That is if anyone indulges that view. It is idle as it is casual and


foolish. This is not some idea that has emerged out of the left field.


It has been around the same blog on a few occasions. This is not an


insignificant bill, it may be small in terms of clauses, but it is a


bill of acute importance because it will impact on everything a person


in Northern Ireland. From the day and hour we eventually reduce the


number of departments, that is why in this debate I state that the


Ulster Unionist Party has concerns about such an important bill being


introduced so late in the mandate and the attempts to use Excel array


to passage means it will not receive the attention it deserves. We are


not arguing against the rationale of cutting the departments, our quarrel


is not with the content of the bill, it is with the failure of the


Executive to run the government and get this matter are agreed. As


streamlined Department system will offer fresh opportunities for


improving the way we do business. The future departments will have a


clear identity which will be appreciated by citizens. The new


slimmed down structure will enable related policies and functions to be


put together and synergies to be achieved. It will provide a leaner


more efficient Executive. The changes will have consequences for


this Assembly, fewer Executive departments should simplify


committee structures and business scheduling. Together with wider


public sector services... Emma Pengelly - and the second stage


of the bill passed on an oral vote. The proposals in this bill have


been a long time coming... Yes they have been around for a


while and I think it is fitting that Emma Pengelly articulated the


argument for reform because it has been something that the DUP have


been interested in. That being said, I think Alex Attwood struck


the right though. It is one thing to say it will lead to more streamlined


government as Emma Pengelly said, however what we know is that it is


the nature of the relationship between the governing parties that


will lead to the type of synergies and interconnected government, that


remains to be seen after the next election whether he ever decides to


go into the next Executive can form a harmonious relationship that takes


it forward. Not all departments are affected


by the bill, though... A number have not been. Those that


have, the new economy department which will bring together the


employment and learning, it will be interesting to see to the DUP once


again take finance first in which case Sinn Fein have the choice of


opting for the economy department and finally take a department with


money or do they go for education. In the time ahead, that will be


interesting to see do we have new faces in terms of the parties in the


new departments. They are disappearing, but a


minister is going to be taking responsibility for those areas. The


point can be made in other jurisdictions, they can cope quite


handily with the smaller number of departments, greater


responsibilities, this is a very small region. There have been


shake-ups in Westminster without any great discussion.


Some concerns were put forward there about such a significant piece


of legislation being rushed through accelerated passage?


I do not share those concerns. We have had these discussions for years


and we are at the point that this needs to get pushed through. It


needs to be in place a head of the next elections.


Arguments also for reducing the number of MLAs.


I cannot see it happening until those five years have passed. The


reason we had 108 MLAs was so that all the minority parties would be


represented. We are now a long way into this new year and I think the


parties are comfortable about moving from six seat constituencies down to


five. Interesting what will happen after that, the number of


Westminster seats if that was to reduce further, we would move from


90 two 80. The Health Minister today revealed


to MLAs that he hopes to see smoking in cars carrying children


made illegal in Northern Ireland. In fact,


Simon Hamilton went as far as to He confirmed


the new law could be part of another larger health bill making


its way through the Assembly... Before I move on to part two I want


to address an issue that is not in the bill but many believe should be.


Many people were concerned about the omission of a clause banning smoking


in cars with children. I have listened carefully to the arguments


made by many that Northern Ireland should follow the example in other


parts of the UK and I can confirm to the House that it is my intention to


bring forward an amendment to ban smoking in cars with children. I


would like to indicate my intention to bring forward an amendment on a


sugar tax levy insuring that the Department will consult on a levy on


sugar sweetened drinks. This is a major source of our ill health,


particularly among our younger children and young people.


Conditions such as obesity, type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease and


tooth decay, so consumption of sugary drinks is higher among young


people and those on low incomes. Scotland and Wales and the Republic


are legislating while England has introduced a ban. There is a great


risk and it is welcome what the minister is doing but there is a


great risk that children here will be left behind to suffer a great


risk that children here will be left behind to suffer detrimental effects


for the introduction of the ban. Some parents smoke in cars under the


well intended assumption that winding down the window will let the


smoke out. In reality, that only pushes it back into the back of the


car. In these types of conditions, it has been proven that smoke can


reach up to ten times the recognised unhealthy level and often lingers


for hours. I believe there is a sound medical reason to introduce


this ban. Unlike adults, children do not really have any choice regarding


whether they are in an enclosed place or not with someone who is


smoking. We have already banned smoking in enclosed public places


and workplaces and that is very welcome. Smoking has also been


prohibited in vehicles if they are work-related. This extension to the


law to protect our young people would seem logical and consistent


with what we have done before. I am delighted to see that the Minister


is intending to bring an amendment which will make it an offence to


smoke in cars carrying children. The adverse effects of passive smoking


have been well documented for years and its effect on children are even


greater. Children cannot make their own decisions in respect of passive


smoking in a car so by introducing this ban, we will protect children


from these effects. Also the associated health problems. The


arguments to why we should do this are well rehearsed. The health


implications for children, the lack of choice for them, the fact that


their immune systems and their bodies are not fully developed, the


harm is exponentially worse on a young child than for example one of


us sitting in a car. My view is that anyone who smokes in a confined


space like a car with children in that car is an idiot. Given the


multiplicity of evidence that there is about the damage that smoking


does to individuals themselves, the well-established knowledge and


information that second-hand smoke can do damage and particularly be


impact that it can have on young children.


And the second stage of that bill was passed.


That debate was in the Assembly either side of lunch


but there was no rest for the Health Minister as sandwiched in


And given his recent announcement it came as little surprise that the


scrapping of the Health and Social Care Board was the hot topic...


On the 4th of November I outlined radical plans for transforming our


health and social care system, the proposed changes seek to reduce


pre-Chrissy as well as the department taking firmer strategic


control of our health and social care system. I want trust to be


responsible for the planning of care in their areas and to give them


independence to deliver it. I propose that we close down the


Health and Social Care Board. Departmental officials are currently


drafting a document that seeks views on the changes and I aim to bring


forward that consultation as soon as I can to gather views. I have been


encouraged by the positive response to my proposals from other


politicians and from members of the public.


The ministers of the potential for change before the Admiral Sir George


Zambellas -- legislation has been put in place? The panel will look at


the best confederation of our services. -- configuration. It will


probably take 18 months to do that. That is a reflection of what I


believed to be the realistic timetable to get the legislation in


place. Bearing in mind there is an election coming up. Officials have


been working assiduously on producing a consultation document


and I hope to be in a position to prove that shortly and launch it


soon after to start this process of consultation which will provide the


format for the drafting of legislation. Can the Minister assure


the house there will be no redundancies? I do not envisage any


compulsory redundancies but that is not to see there will not be the


need to get rid of some posts. I do not see a compulsory redundancy


process. It is worth emphasising that this is about getting a system


which is appropriate in place for our staff so weak and get the best


from them. I do not believe the system currently in place is getting


the best out of our staff, talents are not being optimised. There are


too many layers. Has the Minister not got a target in terms of savings


which will come out of it as well as other organisational advantages? Are


there are too many people, it has grown too large over the years? I


accept the point he makes about the size of it growing. It has increased


since its inception in 2010 by 160 members of staff. And interview to


the Belfast Telegraph said that he wanted the organisation to be a


leading organisation and there should be a maximum of 250 staff but


after a lot of crying that they could not do it with that number, I


allowed it to go to 350. In fact it started off at 436 members of staff


during his tenure. A lot higher than the 250 we envisaged. I presume he


was talking about crying and civil servants who he told me could not


run our health service at the committee but it was clear they


could get him to do whatever they wanted.


Simon Hamilton, unable to resist having a pop


Dealing with the past - it was the one issue that


politicians failed to agree on in the recent Fresh Start deal.


But while the talks didn't bring about a resolution on that matter,


the Justice Minister announced today that he's agreed to recruit


investigative support for the Coroners' Service


The failure of the latest political agreement to come to an agreement on


legacy matters makes progress on legacy matters more difficult. I


appreciate the disappointment this will cost effectiveness. I want to


deliver as much as I can for families so I have agreed to the


Tribunal service launching a recruitment scheme with a view to


providing support for the Coroners' Service. The scheme is launched


yesterday and I would expect appointments by next spring. The


cost of such appointments will result in further pressure on my


department. Does he agree the current process does not provide


access to investigations with unacceptable timeline? He makes a


point which has a number of different factors. There are


problems around resource in for the Coroners' Service. There are also


issues regarding legacy issues were matters have been engaged which need


clarification from the police or Ministry of Defence, especially


where a national security issues are engaged. I am determined to put the


maximum resources into the Coroners' Service. Good work has been done to


strengthen the complement of coroners by assigning judges to deal


with coroners cases. Until we resolve the fundamental issue of


resourcing, it will not be done as fast as we would wish. I am away in


the case of the Kingsmills inquest, a preliminary hearing has been held


and a further is due to be held before Christmas. The intention is


to proceed if matters can be strengthened at the preliminary


hearing, we will proceed to a full hearing in early 2016. This hearing


is being looked after by one of the High Court judges who has been moved


across to assess the Coroners' Service. This should help produce


results for the families concerned. Could the minister inform the house


if there's 56 outstanding legacy requests will be completed within a


reasonable period of time or will be completed at all? At the moment, the


Lord Chief Justice having assumed the presidency of the coroners


courts in line with an Assembly decision, has instructed one of the


senior judges to review all of those outstanding 56 cases. That will lead


to a healing by Lord Justice we're in each of them in the month of


January. That will establish the position for all of those cases and


which will move forward speedily and which will take longer or creative


goodies. There are difficulties and disclosure matters which are causing


delay in a number of them. I am determined that we will put the


resources in, if they can be made available. Members will recall there


was a promise from the Prime Minister when you Google for funding


to deal with legacy matters but we have not seen the additional funding


so far. I am determined to see blue will make progress within the system


and funding will be put from the limited budget into dealing with the


past. There was plenty of legislation


today for Members to get their teeth into and it was onto the last course


for the Food Hygiene Rating Bill as it now moves to Royal Assent


after passing its final stage. The bill aims to make it mandatory


for food businesses to display a food hygiene rating sticker


on their premises. Not only will the bill Ann Maguire


consumers to make an informed choice regarding where they choose to eat


or shop for food but it will provide an impetus for businesses to


maintain food hygiene. It will drive standards for individual businesses.


There are 40 cases of foodborne illnesses every year which result in


hospitalisation and resulted in 24 deaths. This costs ?83 million to


the economy. The intention was that businesses would only be required to


display as sticker made of plastic at a physical location on their


premises. The committee was concerned that the Food Standards


Agency did not intend this should be displayed on websites. We will of


the view that given that customers place orders for food on websites,


those websites should display this. The previous scheme was voluntarily


and played a valuable role in establishing overall authority. It


has been very successful. It operates on that completely


voluntary basis. When the committee found only 56% of establishments


where I'd healing to it, it underscored the need for action.


Where I'd healing to it. Many people were not aware of these stickers


were mandatory so this bill has addressed what some would consider


an omission of existing policy. Overall, the voluntary scheme has


worked well but inevitably people who had something to hide were least


likely to get involved. The numbers proved that.


Bullying - either online or in the playground.


It's something the Education Minister is very keen to


And today John O'Dowd's bill addressing the issue reached


The Minister began by outlining the bill's goals...


This is a short bill with just three objectives, to provide an inclusive


definition of bullying, introduced a duty for schools to keep a record of


bullying and to introduce a duty for the Board of Governors to play a


more direct role in how bullying is dealt with in their school. These


will help establish a framework of good practice which schools can


adapt to their individual needs. I think the committee hopes the


department will use the information from the database along with pupil


absence data to develop useful pupil guidance which will start getting


rid of bullying from our schools. That is a general welcome from the


education committee for the spell. Sometimes teachers are afraid to


deal with issues arising from bullying. This is not helping


pupils. This notion of banter, just traditional banter. I see this as a


member of a football club and someone who has coached young


people. The use of language, some people describe it as banter. I


strongly support the principle behind the clause but I have


concerns. I believe the language should be stronger and be specific


to place a duty on the school to actively review its policies on a


yearly basis. Schools review their policy and practice as part of their


annual review of their development plan so I think this should be


incorporated in this. We also need to see the supporting guidance to


the bill. What formal brigade against take? Who will rate it and


window be finalised? Will it be before the end of March 2016 when


this Assembly will be dissolved? -- who will write it. Sectarianism is


not specifically mentioned, political opinion is and religion or


belief. But we have a particular problem year at around sectarianism


so perhaps it needs to be in there. The danger of not tackling wider


issues as we risk losing another three up to five years. The Lord


Chief Justice said keeping MPs with legislation is often a slow response


in keeping up with these issues. NI21's Basil McCrea - and Chris


Donnelly is here for a final word... Let's stay with the topic of


bullying - you're a vice principal, do you feel this is an issue that


needs to be on the statute books? Very much so. I welcome it. Schools


will be keen to share the definition with children and parents. The bill


is also giving clarity to schools to see when they are obliged to


intervene. Not just about bullying inside the school. There is a


responsibility to children outside school grounds. It is important that


schools have the authority to take action as necessary. Let us talk


about musical chairs. And we could be about to see


the return of a former Minister. It seems Michelle Gildernew is


in the hunt for a seat in Yes, Pat Ramsey was a very popular


MLA and he has also had his house attacked over a period of years by


dissidents. No one will graduate in his retirement. Sinn Fein are


looking stunned by the loss of Michelle Gildernew's seat and they


want her back in the Assembly. I think they want her back in the


Assembly because she is one of their stronger candidates. Thank you very


much, as ever. That's it from the Stormont


team until the New Year. Do join me for The View, though,


on Thursday at 10.35 on BBC1. We'll leave you with this Christmas


send off from across the chamber. From everyone in the team -


bye bye and Happy Christmas. I thank the member for his question


and his Christmas cheer. We think there are some people in this house


who need a hug but I am not up for that. I would not even ask an elf to


hug you Gregory, let's be frank. Sometimes, all that's needed


is a helping hand. Recognising someone's value,


and seeing when they need help. A few minutes out of our lives


to show that we care. We're all doing something to


support older people this Christmas.


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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