14 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.
Why is fast-tracking necessary?
15 It is necessary to fast-track this Bill to safeguard the continued delivery of public services and provide clarity for departments to safeguard public finances and therefore it cannot be delayed further in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive and a sitting Assembly.
16 If there is delay in authorising the issue of sums and use of resources for the full financial year ending 31 March 2019 there is a risk that Government departments and other bodies in Northern Ireland will reach the limits of cash and resources authorised for them by the vote on account contained within the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018.
17 As a result of reaching these limits the only alternative would be for the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland to exercise the powers under section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and section 7 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act (Northern Ireland) 2001 in order to allow services to continue to be delivered in Northern Ireland once the amounts authorised by the vote on account become exhausted. These powers are emergency powers intended to be used only in the absence of alternative legal authority. They also involve a limit of up to 95 per cent of the previous year's provision and cannot authorise the use of accruing resources, therefore legislation would still be required, albeit at a later point in the year. Relying on these powers would risk creating unnecessary uncertainty around public finances.
What is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the bill?
18 The provisions of this Bill are required to provide the necessary authorisations and appropriations to allow public services to continue to be delivered for the full financial year ending 31 March 2019.
19 This Bill does not authorise any new money. Instead it will appropriate sums already provided to the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland through the UK Estimates process, together with revenue generated within Northern Ireland. That being the case it would not have been appropriate to introduce this Bill ahead of the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, but as set out above, the Bill is required to be passed before 31 July and therefore needs to be fast-tracked to allow Royal Assent before the Summer Recess.
What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for Parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?
20 The need for this Bill arises from the continued absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, such that there would now be insufficient time for a Budget Bill to be passed by a restored Northern Ireland Assembly. It is being taken forward at the latest possible point before the risk to public services could manifest but also after the point at which UK Main Estimates have been passed. The figures in this Bill are based on the Budget Statement made to Parliament and subject to debate in March 2018. In the circumstances it has not been possible to give Parliament more time to scrutinise this Bill without risking the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.
To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?
21 The Bill is being introduced in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive. The figures were discussed with the NI political parties and the NI business community in advance of the Secretary of State’s Budget Statement of 8 March.
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?
22 The Bill does not contain a sunset clause. However, the Bill only applies to the financial year ending 31 March 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?
23 As noted above, the Bill only makes provision for the issue of sums and the authorisation of the use of resources for the financial year ending 31 March 2019.
Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all the issues in question?
24 Yes. See paragraphs 16 and 17 of these Notes.
Has the relevant Parliamentary committee been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?
25 Due to the need to implement the Bill urgently, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has not scrutinised the Bill in draft. However, the Committee has seen a draft copy of the Bill and received an informal technical briefing from NIO officials.