Friday, 28 March 2008

Next week on the Hill

Next week the first Private Member’s Bill is to be introduced into the Assembly, since the restoration of devolution. The Carer’s Allowance Bill would prevent the adjustment of carer’s allowance by reference to retirement pension. There is no indication of the costs of this measure and whether the Executive are prepared to back it. It would represent a ‘break’ in the convention that social benefits are the same throughout the UK. The Bill represents a ‘win-win’ for its sponsor Ulster Unionist David McNarry – if it goes through he can justifiably claim credit; and if it does not, he can blame his political rivals. Whether we shall see his fellow UUP member, the health minister Michael McGimpsey, rise to oppose a Bill which is proposed by his Party’s Chief Whip remains to be seen.

One suspects that this could be the first of many such initiatives and that it might spur the Executive into bringing forward more of its own legislation – if only to prevent MLAs from bringing forward measures such as this that runs coaches and horses through their plans and budgets.

The Executive will be seeking the accelerated passage of the Commission for Victims and Survivors Bill. This aims to extricate the Executive from the legal mess they created when they decided to appoint 4 Commissioners rather than the one envisaged under the original legislation. The Executive is apparently also likely to seek accelerated passage for legislation to appoint a Boundary Commissioner. This would happen as soon as the Minister has made a statement to the Assembly on the Review of Public Administration. The Alliance Party has expressed reservations about the use of the accelerated passage procedure but in reality as long as the DUP and Sinn Féin are ‘on board’ there is nothing they can do.

Margaret Ritchie, the Social Development Minister, appears to have very little to say about the hundreds of jobs loses in the Housing Executive. However, when she proposes that the Pneumoconiosis, Etc., (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 be approved, she is unlikely to find many MLAs who rise to oppose this snappily titled measure – the only other legislative measure this week.

There will also be Private Members’ motions on: the Varney Review on taxation and investment; the use of former army base in Forkhill; underage drinking; international development; and the redevelopment of the Newtownards Road in Belfast.
Finally, the replacement of Jeffrey Donaldson on the Education Committee, following his promotion, by the equally combative DUP colleague Nelson McCausland is unlikely to bring much cheer to the office of the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane.

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