The Budget Bill was the big issue for the Assembly this week with Monday and Tuesday’s business going on well into the evening.
With a proposed end time of 9pm, Monday business started with the suspension of Standing Orders to allow the Assembly to sit beyond 6pm.
First up was a motion to approve the budgets for Departments and other public bodies for the rest of the financial year. The motion was agreed with cross-community support. This and the next item of business – the first stage of Budget (no 3) Bill - will provide Departments and other public bodies with the necessary funds and resources to complete their work for the rest of the business year.
Next was the consideration stage of the Welfare Reform Bill, which will form part of social security legislation. This generated a lively debate. Assembly business closed with agreements to extend the Committee Stage for the Caravan’s Bill, Licensing and Registration of Clubs Bill and Dogs Bill.
Monday’s Question Time
The Minister for the Environment answered questions on the Review of Public Administration including how much his Department has spent on the review so far and how the scheme would be funded in the future. He then answered questions on his Department’s budget and the redeployment of staff from the Planning Service.
The Minister for Finance and Personnel was up next taking questions on how the costs of the £63 million fine imposed by the European Commission on the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development would be paid, budget planning for areas of deprivation, and the Department’s priorities in the current economic climate.
Today’s business began with a number of Ministerial Statements before the second stage of the Budget (No.3) Bill was debated at length. It received cross-community support – i.e. it received more than 50 per cent support from both communities. The Speaker then informed the Assembly that Ian Paisley Jnr would resign as a Member of the Assembly on 21 June.
The second stage of the Energy Bill was debated. This Bill will update legislation that applies mostly to the natural gas sector here. The Final Stage of the Employment Bill was passed and will see important changes to a wide range of employment law.
Business closed with the introduction of the Allowances to Members of the Assembly (Repeal) Bill which will now be added to the list of future business.
Tuesday’s Question Time
The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety took questions on the Lifeline service, equality of access to NHS Dental services and on the Department’s budget.
Assembly Committee Business
There were 12 Committee meetings this week. The Committee for Justice received briefings from Law Society and Bar Council on Legal Aid Reform, The Committee for Finance and Personnel took evidence from the Association of British Insurers on the cost of insurance in Northern Ireland. There were also a number of Committee visits this week including a visit to the Probation Board by the Committee for Justice, a visit to Macmillan Cancer Support Centre by the Committee for Social Development and the Committee for Education visited 3 schools to view Nurture Units.
Next Week at the Assembly
The consideration and final stage of the Budget (No.3) Bill, a motion to allow the Allowances to Members of the Assembly (Repeals) Bill to proceed under accelerated passage and the consideration stage of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill will take place next week.
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