ROLE OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOLLOWING
Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland
This paper provides guidance on the role of
the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland following devolution.
2. Post-devolution, the Secretary of State
has significant responsibilities in five key areas. Namely:
(a) to continue to have responsibility for
Northern Ireland interests on a wide range of "excepted"
and "reserved" matters (particularly security, policing,
the criminal law, public order, etc) within the UK Government.
The Secretary of State also takes the lead in the presentation
in Northern Ireland of UK policies and achievements in relation
to "excepted" and "reserved" matters;
(b) to act as guardian of the devolution
settlement in Northern Ireland by encouraging Northern Ireland
Departments and Ministers to maintain and develop stronger bilateral
links with their Whitehall/Westminster (and Edinburgh and Cardiff)
counterparts and to act as honest broker should there be any dispute
between the NI administration and Whitehall or Westminster. More
generally, the Secretary of State will continue to have overall
responsibility for securing the successful implementation of the
political projectlong-term political stability;
(c) to promote good British/Irish relations,
particularly through the British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference
and its Secretariat;
(d) to secure Northern Ireland's share of
public expenditure; and
(e) to have formal responsibility for "consenting"
to relevant Northern Ireland Bills, to submit Assembly Bills for
Royal Assent and to approve and lay before Parliament any Assembly
legislation on reserved matters.
3. From 2 December 1999, the Northern Ireland
Assembly has exercised legislative and executive responsibility
for issues which had previously been dealt with by the six Departments
of the Northern Ireland Civil Service under the responsibility
of the Secretary of State. Ten new departments have been created
and responsibility has been transferred to them for dealing with
such issues as health, social services, education and training,
employment, regional and social development, the environment,
trade and investment, culture and the arts and agriculture and
rural development. In addition, the Office of the First and Deputy
First Minister is responsible for the promotion and protection
of human rights and equality issues as well as economic policy.
Further information on the new Northern Ireland Departments and
their responsibilities is given at Annex A.
4. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 divides
responsibility for Northern Ireland on the basis of three categories,
entitled "excepted", "reserved" and "transferred"
matters. Responsibility for the first two of these categories
remains with the Government, while responsibility for "transferred"
matters now rests with the devolved Northern Ireland administration.
The three categories closely reflect those in the Northern Ireland
Constitution Act 1973. A number of updatings of the schedules
have been made, however, generally by adding to matters in the
reserved field, reflecting the appearance of new subjects for
legislation in recent years. Annex B sets out the three categories
in greater detail, and the Secretary of State's role with regard
to legislation in each category.
5. Whilst the Secretary of State remains
in charge of certain "reserved" functions, such as criminal
justice and policing, it is intended that responsibility for many
of these matters will be devolved as soon as circumstances allow.
In the meantime, the Assembly can legislate on reserved matters
with the Secretary of State's consent and subject to Parliamentary
control, although it is not expected that it will regularly do
6. Responsibility for "excepted"
matters will remain at Westminster. The Assembly can legislate
on excepted matters only with the consent of the Secretary of
State and only where the matters concerned are ancillary to other
provisions dealing with reserved or transferred matters.
7. The legal distinctions between excepted,
reserved and transferred matters will not prevent lively discussion
developing across the UK on issues which transcend these categories,
discussion in which the Secretary of State will necessarily be
involved. The Secretary of State will also need to continue to
promote the devolution settlement, by encouraging close working
relations between the Assembly, UK and Northern Ireland Departments,
and between the UK and Scottish Parliaments and the Welsh Assembly.
Under normal circumstances the lead UK Departments will liaise
directly with their Northern Ireland counterparts.
8. The Secretary of State will have an important
role to play in promoting British/Irish relations, especially
through the British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference and its
Secretariat. The Northern Ireland administration will also be
represented at meetings of the Conference.
9. The Secretary of State will also work
with the Irish Government, the devolved administrations in the
UK and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, in the British
Irish Council, on matters within their responsibility.
10. Following devolution, there are separate
financial allocations for the NIO and the devolved institutions.
Changes to the Northern Ireland budget are largely determined
on an automatic basis by application of the "Barnett"
formula, while the NIO negotiates directly with HM Treasury alongside
other Whitehall Departments.
11. The Secretary of State will represent
Northern Ireland's interests in any Cabinet discussion on Northern
Ireland financial matters, and may need to brief the Chancellor
and the Chief Secretary on the wider political context of any
bid for additional resources made by the Northern Ireland administration.
The Secretary of State will also need to advise the Chancellor
and the Chief Secretary on the Government's wider interest in
a successful political settlement and provide any relevant information
about the attitudes of other Whitehall Departments and/or the
12. Under sections 5, 8 and 14 of the Northern
Ireland Act 1998 the Secretary of State has formal responsibility
for "consenting" to certain Assembly Bills and the forwarding
of all Assembly Bills for Royal Assent. Further information on
his powers in this area are set out in Annex B.