11. The Government intends to ask Parliament to expedite the parliamentary progress of this Bill. In their report, Fast-track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution recommended that the Government should provide more information as to why a piece of legislation should be fast-tracked. 1
Why is fast-tracking necessary?
12. In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive and a sitting Assembly, it is necessary to fast-track this Bill to extend the 2018 Act’s existing provisions to safeguard the continued delivery of public services. This is achieved by clarifying the powers of the NI Civil Service to take certain decisions in the absence of Ministers while the UK Government pursues alternative arrangements for addressing decision making and breaking the deadlock.
13. Time and space were required to give the talks the best possible prospect of success - this extension provides additional time for the parties to come together and provides continuity of decision making while decisions on next steps are taken by the Government.
What is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the bill?
14. Clause 1 of this legislation makes the necessary amendment to the 2018 Act so as to extend the period provided in the 1998 Act for Northern Ireland Ministers to be appointed.
What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?
15. The need for this Bill arises from the continued absence of a Northern Ireland Executive. It is being taken forward at the latest possible point before the relevant provisions of the 2018 Act expire on 25 August. After this point, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be under a legal duty to set a date for an Assembly election and Northern Ireland departments would revert to the restrictions applied to decision making by civil servants following the ‘Buick’ Court of Appeal judgement.
To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?
16. As of w/c 1 July, Business Managers will begin undertaking engagement with counterparts. As of w/c 1 July, Ministers will begin intensive Parliamentary engagement with members of the House of Common and the House of Lords. In parallel, Ministers and officials will also be engaging with the Northern Ireland political parties and the relevant Northern Ireland departments.
17. A detailed Parliamentary handling plan has been prepared in advance of the Bill’s passage through both Houses. Briefings have also been offered to key Parliamentarians ahead of introduction.
Does the bill include a sunset clause (as well as any appropriate renewal procedure)? If not, why does the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
18. The Bill contains a sunset clause. The extension period for forming an Executive and thus the provisions concerning decision-making in the 2018 Act will expire on 21 October 2019. The Bill also contains a clause that enables the Secretary of State to further extend the period for forming an Executive from 21 October 2019 until 13 January 2020. She may only exercise the power so as to substitute that date and she must exercise it on or before 21 October 2019.
19. The reporting requirement is a one-off only and the report must be published and laid on or before 21 October 2019.
Are mechanisms for effective post-legislative scrutiny and review in place? If not, why does the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
20. The Government does not consider post-legislative scrutiny to be appropriate. The provisions of this Bill are time-bound (sunsetting 21 October 2019 with possible extension until 13 January 2020). It is simply a series of measures to continue to manage the current period without Northern Ireland Ministers. Given that a sunset provision is included, with the possibility to further extend only once until 13 January 2020, post-legislative scrutiny is not appropriate.
Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all the issues in question?
21. Existing legislation is not sufficient to deal with the issues in question. The 2018 Act which extends the period for formation of an Executive will expire on 25 August 2019 and therefore requires legislation to amend it. The provisions of this Bill seek to extend the period of Executive formation and thus as a consequence the provisions concerning departmental decision-making until 21 October 2019.
Has the relevant parliamentary committee been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?
22. Due to the need to implement the Bill urgently, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has not scrutinised this Bill. However, as above, Ministers began intensive Parliamentary engagement as of 1 July.
Commentary on provisions of Bill
Section 1: Extension of period for forming an Executive
23. Clause 1 amends section 1(1) of the 2018 Act so as to extend the period for Executive formation. It enables Northern Ireland Ministers to be appointed without the need for further legislation at any point until 21 October 2019.
Section 2: Limited power to further extend period for Executive formation
24. Clause 2 substitutes a new section 2 in the 2018 Act. As substituted that section will confer a power on the Secretary of State to extend the period for forming an Executive by regulations until 13 January 2020. This means that if Ministers have not been appointed, but the Secretary of State is of the view that further time is needed to enable this, she may extend the period without further primary legislation.
25. The Secretary of State may only exercise the power on or before 21 October 2019 and if she does, may only extend the period so as to expire on 13 January 2020 (subsections (1) and (2) of new section 2).
26. The regulations will be subject to the made affirmative procedure in Parliament. That is to say, they may be made without the prior approval of Parliament. They must however be approved by Parliament within 28 days of having been made and if they are not will cease to have effect. The 28 days is calculated so as to exclude any days when Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days (subsections (5) and (8) of new section 2).
27. If the regulations are not approved within 28 days and cease to have effect on or before 21 October 2019 then the period for forming an Executive will be treated as ending on that date (subsection (6) of new section 2). If the regulations are not approved within 28 days and cease to have effect after 21 October, then the period for forming an Executive is treated as ending when they cease to have effect (subsection (7) of new section 2).
Section 3: Progress report
28. Clause 3 will require the Secretary of State to report on or before 21 October 2019 on the progress that has been made towards forming an Executive in Northern Ireland. She must publish that report and lay it before Parliament.
Section 4: Extent, commencement and short title
29. These clauses are self-explanatory.
30. The Act will come into force on the day on which it is passed.