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Summary

  1. Sinn Féin motion calling for end to sales of social housing is defeated
  2. Legislative consent motion on Policing and Crime Bill approved by MLAs
  3. Health Minister Michelle O'Neill and Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard face Question Time
  4. DUP's Jim Wells submits petition demanding promotion of protection of unborn children

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

Goodnight

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
BBC

That's all from us for today, but we'll be back tomorrow with a full and busy day of business inside the chamber.

The motion is defeated

The Alliance Party's amendment falls on an oral vote.

The house then divides on the substantive Sinn Féin motion, and it is defeated by 49 votes to 35.

'Alliance not listening or mustn't understand'

Carál Ní Chuilín winds for the Sinn Féin motion, and she dismisses the amendment.

Carál Ní Chuilín
BBC

"Alliance either are not listening, or don't understand," she says.

She knows of people in her North Belfast constituency who bought their houses, went on to sell them to private landlords and are "getting housing benefit for the house that they bought", she adds.

'Whole housing system need to be reviewed'

Kellie Armstrong says the motion would "let down" people who are already in the scheme and are waiting to buy their homes.

Kellie Armstrong
BBC

Winding the Alliance Party's amendment, she says: "We do need to have a review, we need to have a look at the whole system."

She adds that she agrees with the UUP's Andy Allen that the scheme itself is not the major problem.

'Era of high social home sales is over'

Communities Minister Paul Givan outlines the many issues surrounding social housing in Northern Ireland, and says his party, the DUP, cannot support the motion as it deals with this matter in isolation.

But he accepts that some aspects of the scheme may bear revisiting.

Paul Givan
BBC

"The discount that's being offered - is that justifiable in terms of where the current market value lies?" he asks.

The minister says the era of high social home sales is gone and is unlikely to return.

'Don't just suspect scheme, abolish it'

A "considerable percentage" of houses sold under the House Sales Scheme end up in the hands of buy-to-rent landlords, People Before Profit MLA Eamonn McCann says.

He claims that selling social housing is "strangling" the Housing Executive, which he says should be "brought back fully into the public sector".

A man building a house
PA

Money should be ploughed into a "crash programme of building social housing".

"Stop this scheme - don't just suspend it, abolish it," he concludes.

'Sustainable solution to homelessness is needed'

"Huge challenges" lie ahead in terms of social housing in Northern Ireland, says the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan.

He says the "reality" of that the "crisis" must be grasped, and he urges the house to support the suspension of the scheme until the executive's promise of building almost 10,000 houses is realised.

Rooftops of houses
PA

Green Party leader Steven Agnew point to homelessness, saying that a sustainable solution to tackling it must be sought.

"We can't build with one hand and sell with the other and expect to find that," pointing out that more houses have been sold than have been built over the duration of the House Sales Scheme.

'Owning your home is empowering and gives freedom'

Social housing need in rural areas is raised by Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew, who says supply does not come close to meeting demand for those in her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

"Young people are finding it increasingly difficult to get on the housing ladder," she says, and uncertainty in the jobs market means the social housing sector is best for them.

Michelle Gildernew
BBC

The DUP's Christopher Stalford says he believes in a "property-owning democracy", adding that it allows everyone to "participate in the economic life of the nation".

Having an asset such as a house is "empowering", and increases people's freedom and wealth and gives people something to pass on to their children "to help make their life more comfortable".

'Executive will build 9,600 new homes by 2021'

The House Sales Scheme has been "part of the fabric of the housing policy for nearly 40 years", DUP MLA Adrian McQuillan tells members.

Adrian McQuillan in the chamber
BBC

He says the executive's programme for government sets out a target of building 9,600 new homes by the end of the mandate.

Mr McQuillan  adds that he opposes both the motion and the amendment.

'Scheme depletes desperately needed housing stock'

Supporting Sinn Féin's motion is Nichola Mallon of the SDLP, who says the House Sales Scheme depletes "an already severely restricted and desperately needed social housing stock".

Estate agents' signs
BBC

She says a suspension of the scheme is "just one of the many measures required to tackle the housing crisis" that, she adds, devastates the lives of many people in Northern Ireland.

She points out that the unavailability of land for new social housing is an issue that housing bodies have raised with MLAs.

'Right to increase housing stock but wrong method'

The House Sales Scheme has been a "hugely successful policy", according to the DUP's Jonathan Bell.

He says the DUP wants to increase the numbers of new social houses and improvw its quality, but the suspension of the scheme is the wrong method of achieving that.

Jonathan Bell
BBC

Housing is the biggest issue Ulster Unionist Andy Allen deals with in his East Belfast constituency office, he says.

He makes the point that suspending the scheme is not going to free up social housing stock because those who buy their houses would have continued to pay rent to live there if the scheme did not exist.

'Suspending house sales scheme would be unfair'

Presenting an amendment to the motion is the Alliance Party's Paula Bradshaw, who says the House Sales Scheme "needs to be refined".

Paula Bradshaw
BBC

It began "too ambitiously" and became a victim of its own success, and the South Belfast MLA says that for every house sold a new one should be built.

But to suspend the scheme would be unfair on those who are going through the process of buying the home they live in, she says, and for that reason the party is calling simply for a "full review of the long-term impact" it could have on the housing stock.

'Need to protect social housing for future generations'

Today's final matter is a Sinn Féin motion calling for an end to the House Sales Scheme, which allow for the discounted sale of social housing to long-term residents until a review into its impact on housing stock is carried out.

Fra McCann proposes the motion, saying the scheme reduces the supply of houses that are available for rent to those who need them.

Housing in Belfast
BBC

"We want to protect what is left of the social housing stock for future generations," he adds.

The DUP's Christopher Stalford intervenes to point our that last year 400 of the more than 88,000 social houses were sold under the scheme, suggesting that it is not "taking a scythe" through the housing stock is not reflected in the figures.

'Essential piece of kit for ending violent crime'

Matters move on to an order relating to the draft Civil Legal Services (Scope) (No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016.

It is to allow two new public protection offences - the Violent Offences Prevention Order and the Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order - within the scope of legal aid funding, Justice Minister Claire Sugden explains.

Barrister's wig and legal books
BBC

She says it is difficult to put a figure on how much it will cost to introduce the order, she adds.

Justice Committee chair Paul Frew says it is an "essential piece of kit to rid our society of these crimes".

The motion passes unopposed on an oral vote.

Jim Allister's amendment is defeated

Speaker Robin Newton calls a division, but there is a problem - neither side puts up two tellers for the vote so it cannot go ahead.

Jim Allister's amendment is thus defeated, and the main motion passes on an oral vote.

'My department should've done better'

Justice Minister Claire Sugden sums up for her LCM, saying she accepts the committee's criticism of her department.

"My department could have performed better in this respect and for that I apologise," she says.

Claire Sugden
BBC

Ms Sugden goes on to thank Mr Allister for bringing up the issue of age of consent, which she has taken on board.

"I want to thank Mr Allister for enabling this legislation to go through," she says.

'Where are DUP members who wanted to save Ulster from sodomy?'

Jim Allister sums up for his amendment,and says he has more respect for those who spoke against him  "than those who remained silent".

Jim Allister
BBC

The TUV leader attacks the DUP, pointing out that the party's lone voice was Justice Committee chair Paul Frew, and he did not speak on the party's behalf.

"They have those in their ranks who carried the placards 'Save Ulster from Sodomy'," he says. 

'Marriage equality remains a distant reality'

Northern Ireland's LGBT community often feels ostracised and separate from society, the Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw.

An LGBT flag
PA

However, she says that "marriage equality remains a distant reality".

Claire Bailey of the Green Party says she thinks "this is the first time this house has ever effected positive progressive change through a vote in a matter of equality relating to sexual orientation".

'Distaste for homosexuality is Mr Allister's problem'

Trevor Lunn says the Alliance Party will support the LCM in all its aspects.

On the subject of maritime hot pursuit, he expresses surprise that each part of the UK has its own 12-mile territorial limit.

Trevor Lunn
BBC

"They're going to have to carry a computer to decide whose water it is," Mr Lunn says.

Turning to Mr Allister's amendment, he says the TUV leader's problem "is that he doesn't like homosexuality, he finds it distasteful".

"I think his amendment is disgraceful, " Mr Lunn says.

'Justice department must respect Policing Board'

Sinn Féin's Michaela Boyle expresses her party's concerns about the handling of the LCM by the Department of Justice, "particularly the maritime pursuit power".

"They must respect other accountability mechanisms, specifically the Policing Board," she adds.

Michaela Boyle
BBC

Alex Attwood of the SDLP has similar concerns.

"Is there a wider issue about understanding at a departmental level about the requirements for accountability when it comes to policing in Northern Ireland?" he asks.

'Pardons put bad law's consequences right'

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie says he supports the LCM, but he too points to the department's handling of the maritime enforcement powers.

He says his fellow Justice Committee members were "exasperated by the lack of progress" the department made on the matter.

Doug Beattie
BBC

But touching on the matter of pardons for abolished offences, he says that matter "did come late to the committee".

"It is fair to say that is was possibly rushed," he adds, but he concludes that it "puts right the consequences of a bad law".

'Department made mess over hot pursuit powers'

Mr Frew says it was "vitally important" to consider LCMs in detail, adding that the "series of failures" in this case "is a lesson for everyone" the need for proper scrutiny.

The committee "expressed extreme disappointment and frustration" over the department's handling of the maritime enforcement powers in hot pursuit situations, he tells the chamber.

A police boat
Press Eye

"Delayed engagement" by the department with the Northern Ireland Policing Board meant the hot pursuit powers had to be removed from the LCM and the bill.

He says there was a "very loose" arrangement between the department and the PSNI on the matter of hot pursuit powers, which left him alarmed.

"I have seen many messes in my time as an MLA," he adds, "and I must say that this ranks right up here."

'Frustration over police maritime enforcement powers'

Justice Committee chair Paul Frew outlines its assessment of the LCM, saying that cross-jurisdictional arrest powers and anonymity for victims of forced marriage were both supported by members.

On pardons for people with convictions for now abolished offences, he says the committee was content to extend them to Northern Ireland, but it asked the justice minister to also review abolished heterosexual offences.

Paul Frew
BBC

Moving on to maritime enforcement and hot pursuit powers, Mr Frew says it was an area that provided the committee with a fair degree with "frustration".

He outlines that there was confusion between the department and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in relation to whether or not the powers were required.

The PSNI's position had been agreed as a result of an informal discussion between staff "who were trying to be helpful" and was not considered at a senior level - that, Mr Frew says, is "astounding".

'Gay pardons are just fashionable pandering'

Allowing pardons for gay men is a "fashionable pandering to a particular interest", Mr Allister says.

The DUP, which once campaigned to "save Ulster from sodomy", would now be "validating sodomy" if it supports the pardons.

campaigners against gay rights
BBC

He also says there is "active discrimination" in this case, on the basis that there is no provision for heterosexual people who broke the law - those who had sex with people aged 16, for example, before the age of consent was reduced to 16 from 17.

The TUV leader concludes: "This is a totally unnecessary, fruitless exercise, which only exposes the inequality that this house is prepared to embrace".

'Assembly has never given retrospective pardons'

We return to the debate on extending the provisions of the Policing and Crime Bill, including pardons for gay men convicted of now abolished offences, to Northern Ireland.

TUV leader Jim Allister introduces his amendment to the bill, saying his is "wholly supportive of three of the provisions, but he is opposed to pardons for those convicted of obsolete criminal offences.

Jim Allister
BBC

He says the house "needs to come to terms with the novelty of what we are doing today", adding: "Never in the history of this jurisdiction has legislation been used to give retrospective pardons," he says.

He says it is a "rushed position" and there has been no consultation on the matter with anyone except the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

'Confident A6 upgrade will get go-ahead'

DUP MLA Gary Middleton asks for an update on the A6 Belfast-to-Londonderry road upgrade.

Heavy traffic on the A6
BBC
The A6 is the main Belfast to Londonderry road and is heavily used

Last week an environmental campaigner was given permission to challenge a proposed new section of the road through landscape made famous by poet Seamus Heaney.

The minister says he was disappointed by the court's decision but he adds: "I am absolutely confident that when it comes to the substantial hearing in the new year that the department will be successful in that."

First minister 'will meet Pope if he visits NI'

BBC News Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster will meet Pope Francis if he visits Northern Ireland, the DUP says.

Arlene Foster
BBC

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny broke news of a papal visit to Ireland after meeting the pontiff at the Vatican this morning, and Martin McGuinness said that would include a trip north of the Irish border.

The DUP said that if Pope Francis visits Northern Ireland in his capacity as the Vatican City's head of state, then "the first minister would meet him".

'Significant cost to speed limit systems at schools'

Mr Hazzard's Sinn Féin colleague Catherine Seeley asks for an update on reducing speed limits outside primary schools.

The minister outlines the arrangement at some rural schools where part-time speed limits with flashing lights operate at school-run times.

A 20mph speed limit sign
Thinkstock

"The cost of providing these initial systems has been significant with the most recent costing on average £50,000 to install," he says.

He adds that he has asked officials to investigate more "cost-effective solutions".

Abortion law report 'recommends legislative change'

Mark Devenport

BBC News NI Political Editor

A group set up to examine Northern Ireland's abortion law has recommended legislative change in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, Stormont sources say.

The working group reported to ministers on 11 October, but its conclusions have not yet been published.

A woman holding a pregnancy test
Thinkstock

A fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) diagnosis means medics believe an unborn child will die either in the womb, or shortly after birth.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness has called for MLAs to legislate for FFA cases.

'Executive decides on how to spend extra £250m'

Ulster Unionist Andy Allen raises the York Street interchange in Belfast, asking whether the £250m additional capital funding announced by the chancellor in his Autumn Statement can be used for that project.

Traffic at the York Street junction in Belfast
BBC

The infrastructure minister says it is for the executive to decide how the £250m is "divvied out".

Mr Hazzard believes his department will have some of the funding but he presumes it will also be used "for schools, for hospitals and for new homes, too."

Question Time for infrastructure minister

Chris Hazzard
BBC

It is now Chris Hazzard's turn to answer question from MLAs on the work of his Department for Infrastructure.

'You're trying to make a cheap headline'

Ambulance turnaround times are now raised in the chamber, with the UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson asking for the minister's assessment of the impact of "7,973 ambulances taking longer than an hour to turn around at hospitals in the last year".

During October, the minister says, almost half were turned around within 30 minutes and 95% were available to move to their next job within an hour.

Ambulances at a hospital
BBC

There has been an "increase in demand" for ambulance services, she adds, and she outlines a 5.5% increase in calls on last year.

She is "not sorry" for handovers of patients from ambulance crews to hospitals to take longer "if it makes a patient safer".

And Mrs O'Neill takes a shot at Mrs Dobson, saying she "has a tendency, quite frequently, to run away with herself and try to make a cheap headline".

'Absolute focus is on reducing waiting lists'

Still on waiting lists, the health minister says she encourages anyone waiting on an appointment to "go and see your GP" if they believe their condition is deteriorating.

A nurse with a clipboard
Thinkstock

She insists her department is "doing everything we can" to reduce waiting lists, and says it is "important the public have confidence" in those measures.

Her focus is on "absolutely bringing down the waiting lists as quickly as we possibly can".

'Hospital waiting lists due to Tory cuts'

Hospital waiting times are rarely off the agenda at Stormont, and the health minister is asked by the UUP's Steve Aiken asks how the department's "massaging" of targets to match its "poor performance" is beneficial to the near 250,000 cases on our waiting lists".

Mrs O'Neill says she is "not interested in massaging anything", and reiterates her intention to reform the healthcare system, which she presented to the assembly last month.

Steve Aiken
BBC

In the short term, she says has found £4m to invest in elective care over the next few months, which will enable 10,000 people to be seen.

She adds that lengthening waiting lists are as a result of Conservative Party cuts to Northern Ireland's block grant from the Treasury.

Question Time for health minister

Michelle O'Neill
BBC

Michelle O'Neill is at the despatch box to take questions on her brief at the Department of Health.

How can Northern Ireland enact Turing's Law?

Justice Minister Claire Sugden now introduces an LCM on the Policing and Crime Bill.

She explains that it is a wide-ranging piece of legislation relating to "UK maritime enforcement powers, UK cross-jurisdictional arrest powers, anonymity for victims of forced marriage and pardons for convictions of certain abolished offences".

The last of these refers to the so-called Turing's Law, after World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing (below), who received a posthumous pardon for gross indecency in 2013.

Alan Turing
Getty Images

The minister says that this "disregard" for men found guilty of sexual activity with other men in the past has proved controversial, and notes the amendment tabled by the TUV's Jim Allister.

Ms Sugden says her intention is that in Northern Ireland the disregard should apply to men who were convicted of sexual activity with persons aged 17 and over.

The proposed law in England and Wales deals with sexual activity with persons aged 16 and over.

'Vacancies will be filled by open competition'

Mr Hamilton now brings a motion on the Further Education Order.

He explains that the legislation "removes the right of the Education Authority to nominate two individuals for appointment to each of the governing bodies of the six Northern Ireland further education policies".

Simon Hamilton
BBC

Mr Hamilton says that in future vacancies on the governing bodies will be filled by open competition with the aim of recruiting more members from a business, industry, or professional backgrounds.

The motion passes on an oral vote.

'Being part of UK brand critical to NI universities'

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton rises to reply to the debate, and emphasises the importance of higher education as "fundamental to our aims to develop the Northern Ireland economy".

Students at a graduation ceremony
BBC

The minister says that "being part of the UK's higher education brand is a critical aspect of the international reputation of our higher education sector".

The house divides and the LCM on the Higher Education and Research Bill passes by 58 votes to 28.

'Lecturers and students oppose marketisation of universities'

Claire Bailey of the Green Party says she represents South Belfast, the home of Queen's University (below).

"I haven't heard any universities coming forward asking us to support this," she says.

Queen's University
BBC

Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit "there have been significant concerns about this bill".

He points to opposition from lecturers' and students' unions, and criticises "the marketisation of our universities"

'Let's take time to give this more interrogation'

The SDLP's Alex Attwood points out that Universities Minister Jo Johnson - the brother of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - said the bill was the "most significant piece of higher education legislation since the 1990s".

Mr Attwood says: "When you hear somebody with the name Johnson, with a Tory manifesto, saying something like that, then the assembly should be very vigilant about what it subscribes to."

Alex Attwood
BBC

He says the "wiser course of action" would be to "stand back for a moment".

"Maybe this deserves a little bit more interrogation," he adds, and asks the minister: "Should we not at least take time to work out the impact?"