Employment, fuel prices, older people, dogs, student loans and apprenticeships were all on the Assembly agenda this week.
First up was a vote on a motion calling on Israel to allow safe passage to the Rachel Corrie taking aid to Gaza. This vote came after a special sitting of the Assembly on Friday and was taken on a cross community vote. The motion failed to pass, as it did not receive 50 per cent support from both communities.
The Second Stages for both the Commissioner for Older People Bill, whose role is to highlight issues affecting older people, and the Dogs (Amendment) Bill, which will tighten controls on dogs and their owners, were debated and agreed. The Second Stage enables MLAs to vote on the general principles of the Bill.
MLAs then moved onto the Consideration Stage of the Roads Bill which will make improvements to how road works are carried out. The Consideration Stage gives MLAs an opportunity to vote on the details of a Bill. With support from all sides, it was agreed that the Bill should continue its progress through the Assembly.
Finally, a motion on fuel prices was debated. The motion called on the First Minister, deputy First Minister and the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister to talk with fuel suppliers and the Treasury about ensuring that consumers here pay a fair price for fuel. This was agreed by MLAs.
Monday Question Time
The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, took questions on the responses to budgetary announcements, progress for savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society, the forthcoming US investment conference and public service reform. Sir Reg Empey, Minister for Employment and Learning then took questions on the importance of pay restraint for Vice Chancellors, the timescale for the review of student fees, the numbers of local students at UK wide universities and encouraging older people to access further education.
MLAs debated and agreed the Second Stage of the Student Loans (Amendment) Bill. This will ensure that people who enter into Individual voluntary arrangements (IVA) for repaying loans will still need to pay their student loans after the IVA has concluded.
The Committee for Employment and Learning then brought forward a motion calling on Sir Reg Empey, Minister for Employment and Learning to enter into roundtable discussions with training organisations and employers on the way forward for apprenticeships. After a wide-ranging debate, MLAs approved the motion.
Tuesday Question Time
The Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster, answered questions on small businesses in the Strangford area, the number of international companies locating to the Titanic Quarter over the past five years and leases held by Invest NI in the north-west. She also answered questions on the entry of Airtricity into the domestic electricity market and encouraging visitors from Great Britain to come to Northern Ireland
Assembly Committee Business
There were 11 Committee meetings this week. The Committee for Employment and Learning took evidence from departmental officials on widening participation in higher education, the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee received a briefing from the Tourist Board and the Department on a draft tourism strategy and the Health Committee continued its evidence taking sessions on the Sunbeds Bill.
Next Week at the Assembly
The 2010-2011 Budget, welfare reform, energy and employment will all be on the Assembly’s agenda next week. For more information about the Northern Ireland Assembly, you can go to www.niasssembly.gov.uk, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.