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  1. 10am: Professor Derek Birrell of Ulster University's Institute for Research in Social Sciences is giving evidence to the Finance Committee as part of its review of the Barnett Formula.
  2. 2pm: Officials are briefing the Justice Committee on the proposed way forward for reform of the scope of civil legal aid.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

Justice Committee adjourns

That concludes the session of the Justice Committee.

Justice Committee

Committee votes on Wells amendment

The committee votes on whether or not to adopt the Wells amendment.

DUP, SDLP and UUP members back the amendment.

Sinn Fein and Alliance MLAs vote against.

MLAs discuss abortion clause

Members discuss Jim Wells' amendment to the Justice Bill.

The amendment aims to restrict lawful abortions to NHS premises, except in cases of urgency when such access is not possible and where no fee is paid.

Edwin Poots

The DUP's Edwin Poots says the amendment doesn't make any significant difference to the laws on abortion.

Raymond McCartney of Sinn Fein says his party is opposed to the proposal.

And we're back

Normal service is resumed at the Justice Committee as the MLAs emerge blinking into public session.

Committee taking advice

The committee goes into private session to take advice.

Committee objects to 'very broad' clause

The committee agrees to object to Clause 86 of the bill.

Alastair Ross describes it as a "very broad clause that's stuck in the end of bills which pretty much allows the department to do whatever they like".

What is the Justice Bill?

Justice Minister David Ford
Justice Minister David Ford

According to the Department of Justice, the

Justice Bill has three main aims:

  1. To improve services for victims and witnesses
  2. To speed up the justice system
  3. To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of key aspects of the system

Committee considers Justice Bill

The Justice Committee

The members turn to their clause-by-clause consideration of the Justice Bill.

Seeing double?

Department of Justice official Michael McGuckin fielding questions from the committee this afternoon.

Michael McGuckin

Not to be mistaken with DOJ colleague Michael McGuicken sitting beside him.

Mark McGuicken

Savings 'may be illusory'

Alban Maginness
Alban Maginness

The SDLP's Alban Maginness, himself a qualified barrister, tells Michael McGuckin that the savings the Department of Justice is seeking "may be illusory".

'Not the way to do it'

Raymond McCartney

A sceptical Raymond McCartney of Sinn Fein says the plan to change legal aid "just doesn't look the way to do this".

Legal aid proposals

Court scene

Northern Ireland's lawyers recently said they were prepared to

withdraw their services if the justice minister's proposed cuts to legal aid were implemented.

Access to justice

Alistair Ross

DUP Committee chairman Alastair Ross says "We have a responsibility around access to justice".

Way forward

The officials appearing are Mark McGuckin, Deirdre McDaid and Mark McGuicken. They are reporting on a DOJ consultation on the way forward for legal aid.

Welcome back

Today's Justice Committee begins with a briefing from Justice Department officials on the reform of civil legal aid.

That's all from the Finance Committee

We'll be back again with coverage of the Justice Committee at 2pm, when MLAs will be considering legal aid and examining the Justice Bill.

In the meantime, why not take a look at the BBC NI online

politics page.

Draft budget briefing

Officials from the Department of Finance and Personnel are appearing before the committee to discuss the report on the Draft Budget 2015/16.

Monitoring Scotland

Prof Birrell recommends Northern Ireland monitor the situation in Scotland.

In the mean time the Executive could look at devolving other taxes and seeking more clarification around borrowing powers, he said.

He also mentions government bonds and public private finance initiatives, "which have got quite a bad press" but "fit into that area of increased borrowing".

Replace the formula?

Lord Barnett
Lord Barnett, who died in 2014.

Prof Birrell notes that Joel Barnett, who produced the formula, thought it should be replaced.

Unintended consequences

Michaela Boyle of Sinn Fein asks how the budget can be "enhanced".

"Anything you consider has to be considered in detail" said Prof Birrell, citing scrapping free prescriptions as an example, "you might not necessarily save money, you could have unintended consequences".

He also said Northern Ireland is restricted by very limited borrowing powers compared to other regions such as the Republic of Ireland.

South Eastern surplus

In terms of the balance between income tax revenues and public spending, only London and sometimes the South East of England are in surplus, says Prof Birrell.

Compared to the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland is "somewhere in the middle", he says.

Income tax, or corporation tax?

Committee chairman Daithi McKay of Sinn Fein asks the professor whether Northern Ireland should seek to gain control over income tax rather than corporation tax.

The principle behind Scotland and Wales getting income tax powers was to increase "electoral accountability" says Prof Birrell.

They could vote for lower taxes, but that would mean lower public spending. "I'm not sure it would benefit Northern Ireland", he says.

A needs-based model

Prof Derek Birrell
Prof Derek Birrell

Prof Birrell, author of five books on devolution and governance, says there is political support for replacing the Barnett Formula with a needs-based model, but this raises many difficulties as to how it should be calculated.

What's the Barnett Formula?

Banknotes and coins

The Barnett Formula is a system of grants which dictates the level of public spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Under the formula, extra funding - or cuts - from Westminster are allocated according to the population size of each nation and which powers are devolved to them.

Barnett Formula

Up next. Professor Derek Birrell from Ulster University to give evidence on the operation of the Barnett Formula.

Reducing the workforce

Independent MLA John McCallister asks what difficulties will arise from reducing the workforce so quickly and moving civil servants between departments.

John McCallister
John McCallister

"There's an opportunity here," says David Sterling "moving people around means they will have to be retrained. That gives us an opportunity to freshen things up, to do things differently and to do things better."

"The glass is more than half full at the moment", he says.

Officials briefing the committee

David Sterling and Brigitte Worth

Finance Department officials David Sterling and Brigitte Worth briefing the committee.


Ulster Unionist MLA Leslie Cree says "losing all these people is bound to increase pressure on others".

David Sterling agrees and says permanent secretaries have agreed to ensure support mechanisms are in place for the staff.

'A big challenge'

On the voluntary exit scheme, David Sterling of DFP says: "This will be a big challenge for the Civil Service."

There have so far been 3,500 "expressions of interest", he says.

Draft Business Plan

Brigitte Worth and David Sterling from the Department of Finance and Personnel are delivering a briefing on the Draft Business Plan 2015/16.

Hello and welcome

Good morning. Welcome to BBC Democracy Live's coverage of proceedings at Stormont.

The Finance Committee will commence at 10am.