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Have your say on the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill

23 June 2021

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Do you have relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill 2021-22, which is currently passing through Parliament?

If so, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.

The first sitting of the Public Bill Committee is expected to be on Tuesday 29 June. Written evidence can now be sent in to the Public Bill Committee. The Committee is scheduled to report by Thursday 8  July. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Thursday 8 July. You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration.

Aims of the Bill

This Bill will deliver aspects of the New Decade, New Approach deal which was agreed by the five main Northern Ireland political parties when a power-sharing Executive was formed and the Assembly returned in January 2020.

Appointing Ministers 

Between January 2017 and January 2020, Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions were not fully functioning. This followed the resignation of deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness. One intention of the Bill is to prevent a situation in which Northern Ireland is left without devolved government for another prolonged period.

By law, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is required to propose a date for an election if Northern Ireland Ministers have not been appointed within 14 days of an Assembly election, or if the posts of First and/or deputy First Minister have become vacant and remain unfilled after seven days.

The Bill would replace these time limits with up to four six-week periods for appointing Northern Ireland Ministers. It would also allow Ministers to remain in office following an election for up to 24 weeks, and for up to 48 weeks if the First or deputy First Minister stop holding office (for example, through resignation).

Petition of Concern

A mechanism known as the Petition of Concern will also be altered by the Bill. Currently, this enables 30 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to force a matter before the Assembly to require cross-community support  (that is, a majority not only of all MLAs voting, but also a majority of those “designated” Nationalist and Unionist).

There are concerns that the Petition of Concern has departed from its intended use. The Bill will add a new 14-day consideration period before a valid petition can be confirmed. It will also require petitioners to come from more than one Northern Ireland political party; prohibit the Assembly’s Speaker or their deputies from signing a petition; and prevent its use on anything relating to the conduct of an MLA or on the second stage of a bill.

Code of Conduct

Finally, the Bill would make changes to the Northern Ireland Ministerial Code of Conduct. These include provisions around the treatment of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, public appointments and the use of official resources and information management.

As “excepted” matters, none of these aspects of the New Decade, New Approach agreement can be legislated for in the Northern Ireland Assembly and therefore require legislation at Westminster.  Together the reforms will make significant changes to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (as amended).

The text of the Bill and Explanatory Notes are available on the Bill pages on the Parliamentary website.

Follow the progress of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill

The Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill 2021–22 was introduced to the House of Commons on 12 May 2021. This Bill was debated at second reading on Tuesday 22 June 2021 and has now been sent to a Public Bill Committee which will scrutinise the Bill line by line and is expected to report to the House by Thursday 8 July 2021.

Oral evidence sessions are expected to be held on Tuesday 29 June.

Guidance on submitting written evidence

Deadline for written evidence submissions

The first sitting of the Public Bill Committee is expected to be on Tuesday 29 June. Written evidence can now be sent in to the Public Bill Committee which will be set up when the Bill is re-presented to the House in the new Session. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration and possibly reflect it in an amendment. The order in which amendments are taken in Committee will be available in due course under Selection of Amendments on the Bill documents pages. Once the Committee has dealt with an amendment it will not revisit it.

The first sitting of the Public Bill Committee is expected to be Tuesday 29 June and the Committee is scheduled to report by Thursday 8 July. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Thursday 8 July. You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.

Your submission should be emailed to scrutiny@parliament.uk

Further guidance on submitting written evidence can be found here.

Image: Parliamentary Copyright

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