Following Peter Robinson’s recent statement that arrangements at the Assembly are “no longer fit for purpose”, Members were keen to press the First Minister on what changes he proposes for institutional reform, during today’s Question Time. Under the terms of the St Andrew’s Agreement a committee has been formed to review the workings of the Assembly. As party leader, Mr Robinson has put forward his ideas for reform forward but “ultimately however it will be for each of the political parties to put forward their own proposals as to the reform of the current structures” and it is in everyone’s best interests to work out how to best move forward. At the time of the Agreement it was recognised that the “unusual” arrangements that were set up could not be permanent and would require re-evaluating. The First Minister argued that there is no-one who “believes that things are going so swimmingly in the Assembly and Executive that we are not in need of reform”.
The First Minister also pointed to the difficulties with implementing welfare reform and the impending penalties for the failure to do so as the main threat to the future of the Assembly. The proposed £1bn cuts from our £10bn budget “cannot be tolerated” without severely depleting our services. Issues such as flags, parades and the past are divisive but they do not threaten the collapse of the institution in the same way as a £1bn cut in the budget. It is an issue that “we cannot dodge – we must deal with it and deal with it immediately”.
Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell, also fielded questions on the sexual orientation strategy and the internet safety strategy. During fifteen minutes of topical questions, the First Minister discussed the transfer of powers to the Assembly in light of the Scottish Independence Referendum, voting rights for 16 year olds, child care payments and the north-west gateway initiative.