09/02/2016 Stormont Today


09/02/2016

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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Transcript


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Two big pieces of legislation dominated proceedings in the chamber

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- the Budget Bill and the Employment Bill.

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Mervyn Storey brought his budget one step closer to becoming reality -

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and Stephen Farry made his position clear on zero hour contracts.

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Eye-watering sums of money are discussed in the chamber

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as the Finance Minister brings forward the Budget Bill...

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15 billion 770 million and of ?704,000 from the Northern Ireland

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2016, Consolidated fund 2016,

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A complete ban on zero hours contracts is ruled out

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And I'm joined with his thoughts on today's money matters

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It was the last business of the day, but perhaps the most important

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as the Finance Minister opened the debate on the second stage

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The legislation, which has already been granted accelerated passage

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to make sure it's completed before the end of this mandate,

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will cover the Executive's finances for the next twelve months...

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the purpose of the bill is to authorise the issue of 15 billion

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and 70 million and of ?704,000 from the Northern Ireland Consolidated

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fund in 2016, 2015, 2016. The amounts for each department are

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detailed this is ?359 million more than the authorised in the June

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estimate. This cash is drawn down on a daily basis as needed from the

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Northern Ireland Consolidated fund which is managed by my department on

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behalf of the executive. The bill also authorises the use of resources

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by departments and certain other around ?389 million more than

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authorised in the estimate. The bill also authorises 2017 vote for cash

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of resources of this is to allow the flow of cash and resources to flow

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into public services of 2017 until the main estimates are approved in

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June later this year. There amongst the business community and local

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economy for the executive to take hold of, further fiscal levers.

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Outlined is figures relating to the powers of revenues, in terms of

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spent. Across the water you had Smith, Kalman, silk so to the suite

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of fiscal levers that the Scottish and Welsh administrations have. We

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have not have that in Belfast. The life story of this budget was the

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disagreement over welfare. We think to in gauge with reasonable

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proposals, not all you would have agreed with, but the failure to even

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engage with those amendments, the rejection of the ideas of other

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parties during the talks process, then the presenting with about half

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an hour of parties like ours, the fresh then this budget that followed

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and it to the money going but there is a talk about mandates and the use

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wipes out and ignores the mandates of the other parties. In the budget

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report, we have a reference how they which comes from and I think I

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trotted this out about a month ago. Is 9.2 billion and I would think

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that taxes generated in Northern Ireland are less than that. I do not

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know whether it is their to ask the Minister how close that is to that.

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My own feeling is it is light years away from 9.2 billion. The Alliance

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that was the time when there was still an opportunity for an

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alternative to be agreed. Now that these democratic decisions have been

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taken for better or worse we have a duty to support the measures that

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have put in place the finance for our government departments and

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agencies. We recognise that 2016 and 2017 is transitional and it will be

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followed by a four year budget and I have some hope that when the

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rationalised apartments are in place and a new programme for government

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is agreed that we will see a regard for

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displaying at this regard for Judith Cochrane - and the economist

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John Simpson is with me now... There were some enormous numbers

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there from Mervyn Storey, it is a large sum. The difficulty is

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breaking down the prove. It is at a standstill budget, the first budget

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after the new government elected at Westminster and in real terms, after

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you allow for putting money across for welfare reform, it is a budget

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that is broadly speaking, do you think they have got the way in which

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it is to be they have kept on the mechanism from the previous year. It

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is there will be significant. The budget has been reduced not just in

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monetary terms but in real terms. We to the election. We will now watch

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and what they will promise after the election and one of the things I

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will be looking at, we know the amount they will have, the two

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parties have agreed they will live within the Westminster allocation of

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the Barnett Formula. You know what the ceiling is, now if you're

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proposing to change bending, you not only had to say what more you want

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to do, but you will have to say what you're going to take out a more you

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will make savings. That is the challenge. The legislation is last

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year we were talking about a fantasy budget and now about a compromise

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budget. The parties have said we have to get the show on the road, we

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need to get a fresh start, the show is now rolling through a process in

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which there will be many things that can go wrong. An interesting point

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you make, it is a budget for one year, Judith Cochrane referred to it

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as a transitional budget, it is not the way ideally you would plan the

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finances of the country. No, after the last British election we were

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told what our Barnett what are these parties

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going to suggest coming up to the election? You know what you have to

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live with them, that that is unlikely to I would like the economy

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but there to be high-profile but there

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Thanks John - we'll hear more from you later.

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Another big piece of legislation in the Assembly today

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was the Employment Bill and during the debate Stephen Farry

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told MLAs that a complete ban on zero hours contracts would lead

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to the loss of the thousands of jobs here.

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The bill covered a variety of aspects of employment law

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but the main arguments centred on the sometimes controversial

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The Employment Minister told the house that more professions

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than you might think work under similar circumstances...

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indeed there are some immediate risks that could arise from an

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outright ban. Once any measure became law employers would be faced

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with changing the nature of employment contracts, that may not

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be feasible in every situation particularly where flexibility is of

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a premium. Therefore there is a prospect of an outright ban leading

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to the loss of thousands of -- my understanding is that this could be

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construed as zero hours contracts. There are also over 10,000 names on

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the substitute teachers register who can be regarded as being on these

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contracts together with a number of contracts in further an outright ban

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of that was to be adopted would be to create chaos in both the health

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how can people get a mortgage on the zero hour contract? When the

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minister brought forward proposals on how to tackle this, one of the

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issues along that are in low paid jobs and their ability to access

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benefits and working tax credits and the ministers are us that there are

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department and the Department for social development were working on a

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joint approach to tackle out. No update on how the benefit system is

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going to be changed to meet the flexibility of employees who may be

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one week get 30 hours and for the next 34 weeks do not get any hours

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per because that is the case, they do not get benefits. We have a

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responsibility as a community to try and create appropriate implement

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opportunities and to have those presented in such a way that those

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young people are treated early and that they can at least, even if they

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are on a relatively low salary, that think what would happen if we

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could encourage They have no idea what their order

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sheet will be like months in advance. They very often take an

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order on Monday for that weekend, so they depend on a short term order

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book. Zero hours contracts allows them to take that work knowing they

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have a list of people who can come in at short notice and help them do

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that catering job. We all know what zero hours contracts looked like,

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but I don't think an outright ban is appropriate. It has allowed me to

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prioritise something that was more important in my life whilst being

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able to work and earn something to pay for any bills that I had.

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And the Sinn Fein amendments on zero hours contracts fell.

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There was no rest for Stephen Farry who also faced Question Time

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The Employment and Learning Minister was asked about student

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accommodation being built in Belfast city centre and,

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first of all, the expansion of the Magee campus

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The oversight and stewardship of the business case always going to be

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critically important in the uncertain context of moving from one

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department to a new department. Can the minister give the house

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assurance that the same team will be working on the business plan?

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Starting from the back, the same unit as transfers into the new

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department on this, there may be some change of personnel as is the

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case with every aspect of Government, but there will be no

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more or less continuity than anything else. I do take issue with

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the point around the false dawns. I haven't been involved in. Is around

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this. I support the expansion of Ulster University, it is clear that

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we do need to be producing more graduates, particularly those

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identified as needed by our economy. But we cannot expand the University

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of Ulster at ID unless more resources are allocated towards

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higher education. I welcome his continuing support for expansion of

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Maghee. We have already been down this road, and it was raised in what

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we produced in the summer of last year. It took quite some time before

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the revised business case came back to the department, so whether this

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is the final stage of the process that we are now in, or whether we

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have to go through another iteration depends upon the tick killer point

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around scrutiny, but the issue isn't one about the capacity of the

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Council of consultants or the university to produce a business

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case. The answer the of whether Maghee will expand is how it will be

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resourced by the executive, and they will have to be done in a way that

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is sustainable. In relation to student accommodation in Belfast

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University students, with the minister like to comment on what

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appears to be a frenzy of planning applications in relation to student

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accommodation, both in North Belfast and also in south Belfast? And the

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fact that it appears that the universities are simply allowing

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these applications to develop in a free market without any plan or

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control? In terms of accommodation, we are seeing different approaches

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depending on which of the universities we are talking about.

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Obviously Queens have moved ahead with their own projects in terms of

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their own managed accommodation, and Ulster University is adopting a

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situation where the private sector is responding. I wouldn't say it is

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fair to say that there is no control in that regard, but there is

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controlled by planning in terms of land use and the recommendation of

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individual applications, and Belfast City Council is the lead authority

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with the responsibility. The council goes through their own processes.

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Stephen Farry on the challenge of providing adequate student

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As we come towards the end of the mandate there are a lot

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of T's being crossed and I's being dotted.

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Today it was the turn of the Environment Minister,

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He brought the final stage of a bill to simplify environmental

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Aristotle is credited with saying that even when laws have been

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written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered. Currently

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Northern Ireland environmental regulators operate under some 230

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pieces of environmental legislation. This has produced a complex and

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unwieldy legislative landscape which is difficult for the regulated to

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understand, and for the regulators to enforce. This is clearly a system

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which should no longer remain unaltered. The environmental better

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regulation Bill aims to harmonise and simplify aspects of this body of

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environmental legislation. Better environmental legislation will mean

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a cleaner, safer environment for all. The committee recognises that

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as environmental legislation has developed, it has become complex

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with different rules and regimes, making it confusing for businesses.

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The committee is aware that the bill is one aspect of a wider regulatory

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transformation programme aimed at reducing the burden of regulation on

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business. Mr Speaker, the bill is in essence a Skeleton Bill, meaning

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that the real operation of the act would be made entirely by the

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regulations under it. 20 pollution incidents have occurred in five

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years, decimating fish stocks, and yet only half of these resulted in

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prosecution, and such incidents happen across Northern Ireland, with

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the Paul Cook continually going unpunished -- the culprits

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continually going unpunished. We would like to use additional

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resources to swiftly bring them to justice. It will be less burden to

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businesses, but it is key when we bring it forward before the

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regulations that we talk to businesses, engage them and through

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the scrutiny process bring forward some suggested amendments for

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consideration stage is brought forward by the Minister, and that is

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to be welcomed. The Department of the Environment will be subsumed and

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divided into three parts, but it will continue to exist, and in

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successive departments, and it is very important that we in dealing

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with the environment set the proper regulatory and legal basis for it to

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continue its good work. The Bill sounds well-meaning, but is

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undoubtedly liked an actual detail in terms of new policy direction.

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Having read the committee report, I realise that the Bill is what is

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considered enabling legislation, and I therefore wish the new department

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well in its efforts to reform and modernise our new regulatory

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framework. Alastair Patterson making his first

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contribution to a debate in the chamber - and here's a little

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more of his maiden speech... Representing Fermanagh and South

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Tyrone, an area of outstanding natural beauty, where tourism is

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extremely important, I pledge myself, Mr Speaker, to working with

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all members of this house to promote when and whatever we can Northern

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Ireland has to offer. Especially in this year of food and drink. I

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appeal to this house. We must ensure that we promote hospitality to all.

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I have to confess to having a vested interest in this area of hospitality

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as my wife, Olga, as chair of hospitality Ulster. Trust me, Mr

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Speaker, going home doesn't bring about quietness as I have often

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lobby Dominique Gisin the hospitality industry, and I will be

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pressing our health Minister on the need for more resources, in

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particular for the South West acute hospital, which sadly doesn't even

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have full-time doctor cover at weekends, which is extremely sad, it

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seems that you are not allowed to be sick at weekends. I wanted to be

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clear to all members of this house that I will extend the hand of

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friendship to all members to work for the benefit of all the people.

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Alastair Patterson, keen to forge friendships across the House.

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The Enterprise Minister was on his feet at Question Time

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The old faithfuls Corporation Tax and the EU referendum not

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surprisingly made an appearance, but Jonathan Bell also had

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to respond to a question from the Ulster Unionist,

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Ross Hussey, about recently published statistics

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We have experienced growth in three of the last four quarters, with an

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annual increase of 1.6%. Despite those positives, the figures for the

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latest quarter were negative, and these findings are disappointing. I

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think most economists that are advising me say don't get too

:23:07.:23:08.

fixated on just one single quarter's data. There are relatively small

:23:09.:23:17.

quarterly statistics and can be volatile. If you look at quarterly

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figures, I do see concerns. I take the advice to look at those but also

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to note the volatility, Inoha look at the annual change, services were

:23:28.:23:35.

1% at a manufacturing output were 2.9% up, and construction output

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were 3.7% up. This change in corporation tax is described as a

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game changer. Why did it not change the game in my constituency by the

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large companies who are leaving our shores at precisely the time when a

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reduction in corporation tax will come? I spent time with the Michelin

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management and I asked them if there was anything more the Government

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could have done, and they told me know. But what I can tell members is

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there is a huge interest in Northern Ireland. When companies come to me

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and say, we came for the costs, we stayed for your people. When other

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companies like City come to provide hundreds of jobs, they now provide

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somewhere in the region of 2000 jobs. When we see the large

:24:30.:24:37.

companies tripling their profits and talking about what they could do

:24:38.:24:41.

into the future, I think of we present that collective message of

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low-cost low tax and excellent work forced, we have a winning message

:24:48.:24:50.

that the economy of Northern Ireland. Perhaps you could outline

:24:51.:24:55.

for us and tell the House the representations that you have

:24:56.:24:58.

received from business and industry about their concern of the negative

:24:59.:25:02.

impact of an exit of the United Kingdom from the EU. I made a

:25:03.:25:10.

mistake last week and talked about the nature of the quest, and I

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should have said the nature of the terms, I will correct that record.

:25:14.:25:18.

Business has spoken to me, not exclusively with one voice. There

:25:19.:25:20.

are differing approaches that are being made. What I have tried to do

:25:21.:25:27.

is say to people that we have commissioned Oxford economics to try

:25:28.:25:30.

to provide the best information for people to examine against what may

:25:31.:25:36.

or may not come next week. First supplementary. Minister, with the

:25:37.:25:45.

first Minister leading towards out, is it likely that you will be the

:25:46.:25:49.

only enterprise minister in the United Kingdom who is an TEU, and

:25:50.:25:55.

will be leading the charge against business and industry in Northern

:25:56.:26:03.

Ireland? -- who will be Tabac to? I support the position that has been

:26:04.:26:08.

adopted 100%. What I have asked people to do is to look seriously at

:26:09.:26:16.

the information that we are commissioning from Oxford economics

:26:17.:26:18.

on the range of options, and to examine it against the terms that

:26:19.:26:21.

come through. Jonathan Bell suggesting it's better

:26:22.:26:24.

to wait and see when it comes for discussion in the chamber

:26:25.:26:27.

on an almost daily basis - with the House pretty divided -

:26:28.:26:34.

what way do you think any For the United Kingdom, I think

:26:35.:26:44.

there is a real doubt about which way the vote will go, but I will say

:26:45.:26:48.

it looks to me as if the Scots will vote quite clearly to stay within

:26:49.:26:52.

the European Union. If the English, and I use the word meaning England,

:26:53.:26:57.

if they vote to come out, that is the equivalent of saying they are

:26:58.:27:02.

allowing the United Kingdom to break up, because the Scots will then go

:27:03.:27:06.

for a new referendum, and I have no doubt they will win it. I was

:27:07.:27:10.

frightfully worried about the referendum. Never mind that. In

:27:11.:27:14.

terms of Northern Ireland, I am quite clear in my own mind the right

:27:15.:27:17.

answer for Northern Ireland is to stay within Europe and reform it

:27:18.:27:22.

from within. To step outside and try to reform from outside seems to me

:27:23.:27:27.

to be a waste of time. There are significant voices within the DUP

:27:28.:27:32.

which are very Euro-sceptic I think it is fair to say. They believe that

:27:33.:27:36.

Northern Ireland does not benefit from its membership of the EU. You

:27:37.:27:41.

don't see it that way? I don't agree with that conclusion. I think there

:27:42.:27:46.

is a debate about, if it is just in terms of loads of money, Northern

:27:47.:27:50.

Ireland does quite well. If it is about flows of money for the United

:27:51.:27:53.

Kingdom, the United Kingdom contributes to the prosperity of the

:27:54.:27:56.

rest of Europe, but it is not about money. It is about what we think is

:27:57.:28:02.

to be gained by operating on a corporate and cooperative European

:28:03.:28:05.

bases, on the short answer is there is more often something to be gained

:28:06.:28:10.

and lost, and unfortunately this debate about where we are in terms

:28:11.:28:13.

of European Union is now turning into something I am sorry to say is

:28:14.:28:16.

becoming emotional rather than rational. And a final word on

:28:17.:28:23.

corporation tax. Where Ari with that -- where are we with that? It is

:28:24.:28:28.

coming, but the one thing that can damage it is that it creates

:28:29.:28:32.

uncertainty. Will the American investors think of Northern Ireland

:28:33.:28:36.

in the same way if we are out of the European Union? No. Will they have a

:28:37.:28:40.

chance of going to the Republican said of coming to the North? Yes. It

:28:41.:28:45.

will be a fascinating debate. Thank you very much for having you on the

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programme. And that's it for tonight,

:28:47.:28:49.

but I'll be back with an extra edition of the programme tomorrow

:28:50.:28:52.

night at the slightly later time Until then, from everyone

:28:53.:28:55.

in the team - bye bye...

:28:56.:28:59.

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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