The Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates) Bill 2016-17 allows a longer period, lasting until 29 June 2017, for an Executive to be formed, and sets a regional rate to allow rates bills to be issued.Jump to full report >>
The Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates) Bill 2016-17, Bill 171, seeks to do two things:
What is the Bill for?
The Bill is a response to events that have unfolded in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the first part of 2017.
The Executive collapsed when Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister, mainly in protest at the role of the First Minister, Arlene Foster, in a controversial energy subsidy scheme, an extraordinary election was called, and the parties failed to agree on a new Executive within the statutory time limit (this is explained in Section 2).
Rather than call another election immediately, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, left a pause for further negotiations aimed at bringing the two largest parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, to an agreement.
Under existing legislation it is not possible for an Executive to be formed on the basis of the March 2017 election, even if an agreement were reached. A new election would be needed, or a change to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Bill therefore provides for the possibility that the ongoing negotiations bear fruit, by changing the effect of the 1998 Act in this instance to provide interim arrangements.
Without an Executive to set the regional rate, rate bills cannot be issued and revenue cannot be collected. The Bill addresses this by setting a regional rate itself.
The Government casts the Bill as a practical measure allowing a new Executive to be formed and allowing rates to be collected. At the same time, the Secretary of State is under a statutory obligation to name a date for another election. There is no time limit in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 within which he has to do this. Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, has called on the Irish Government to apply pressure for a new Assembly election to be held if the current talks do not lead to an Executive being formed.
What does it contain?
The Bill has three clauses and no schedules.
Clause 1 extends the period during which an Executive can be formed after the Assembly election on 2 March 2017. This period is currently 14 days after the first meeting of the Assembly (itself 8 days after the election). Under the Bill it will be 108 days.
The existing statutory period expired on 27 March 2017: it will now be extended to 29 June 2017. This provision has retrospective effect.
Clause 2 sets a regional rate for the coming financial year, allowing rate bills to be issued, and thus providing ongoing finance to local government and to the Executive.
Clause 3 covers extent, commencement and the short title. The Bill extends only to Northern Ireland and will come into force on the day it is passed.
The Bill had its First Reading on 20 April 2017 and will have its remaining stages in the House of Commons on 24 April 2017.
The Government justifies this on the basis that public revenues must be safeguarded, and ratepayers paying by instalment will have to pay fewer but larger instalments if rates are further delayed. Also, any agreement between the parties to form an Executive would have to wait until after the UK general election for legislation to allow it to come into being.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7916
Authors: Paul Bowers; Mark Sandford