4 On 10 January 2017, the then deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland resigned, which under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 also resulted in the First Minister ceasing to hold office. With no re-nomination to office of a deputy First Minister within the seven day deadline set out in the 1998 Act, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland fell under a duty to propose a date for the next Assembly election. He proposed that an election be held on 2 March, which was confirmed by Order in Council.
5 The Assembly subsequently met for the first time at 4pm on 13 March, starting a 14 day statutory period under the 1998 Act in which a new Northern Ireland Executive must be formed. Where an Executive is not formed by the end of that period, the Secretary of State falls under a duty to propose a date for a further Assembly election. That period ended on 27 March.
6 Discussions between the Northern Ireland parties, and the UK and Irish Governments, have been ongoing in the period since the 2 March election. However it was not possible for an Executive to form by 27 March and no agreement has yet been reached. As a result the duty to propose a date for a further election has arisen. And under the 1998 Act, with the 14 day period having expired, it is not now possible for an Executive to be formed unless a further election is held.
7 The Bill proposes to extend the statutory period for the formation of an Executive retrospectively. This will enable an Executive to be formed and power-sharing government to return to Northern Ireland at the earliest opportunity. It extends the statutory period to 108 days from the first sitting of the Assembly. This period would expire on 29 June, allowing time for Northern Ireland Ministers to be appointed prior to the UK Parliamentary General Election on 8 June and also providing parties with the space, if necessary, to resume talks and appoint Ministers after that election.
8 The Bill also sets regional rates for domestic and non-domestic property for the 2017-18 rating year. It does so by stipulating a regional rate for domestic and non-domestic property, expressed in terms of "pence per pound of rateable value". Regional rates are normally set through an Order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in the Assembly and made under Article 7 of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 (SI 1977/2157). It is necessary to proceed by means of a Bill at Westminster in this instance because, in the continued absence of an Executive, these rates could not otherwise be set.
9 The rates laid out in Clause 2 reflect a 1.6% increase, for both domestic and non-domestic ratepayers, equivalent to the current level of inflation as measured using the most recent GDP deflator. This inflationary measure has been the standard method used by the Northern Ireland Executive for providing for inflationary uplifts in this context since the restoration of the devolved institutions in 2007. It is also the inflation adjustment used in setting the Northern Ireland public expenditure budget.