|Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill - continued||House of Commons|
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EFFECTS OF THE BILL ON PUBLIC SERVICE MANPOWER
111. The Bill is not expected to have any significant effect on public service manpower.
SUMMARY OF THE REGULATORY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
112. The power to create the single electricity market will impact on business. A full regulatory impact assessment will be prepared alongside the order that will give eventual effect to the policy. A strategic overview regulatory impact assessment has, however, been prepared and discussed with the Better Regulation Executive. That assessment was published on 14 February 2006 and is available on the Northern Ireland Office's website at www.nio.gov.uk.
EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
113. Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c.42) requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). The Secretary of State (the Rt. Hon Peter Hain) has made the following statement:
"In my view the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights".
Discussion of ECHR issues
114. None of the provisions in the Bill is thought to raise any substantial human rights issues. Nevertheless, there are a number of provisions that could engage Convention rights, the most significant of which are discussed below.
115. The provisions on elections could engage a number of ECHR articles, notably Article 8 (in that they will require the provision of personal information), Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 3 of the First Protocol (free elections).
116. Article 8 protects the right to respect for private and family life. However, the right is not absolute, and may be limited where that interference is in accordance with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interests of, among other matters, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. The provisions in the Bill concerning data collection have been included to help the CEO to ensure that the electoral register is accurate. The existence of an accurate and complete register helps ensure the rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland are respected, and that the democratic expression of their will is properly reflected at the polls, by preventing fraud and by encouraging voting. This objective supports the purpose of Article 3 of the First Protocol, because it is directed at ensuring that the register of electors is complete and accurate, and is therefore legitimate.
117. To comply with Article 8, the interference must also be proportionate to the legitimate aim of the legislation. The CEO's powers are limited to seeking information which will then trigger requests to the elector or potential elector for confirmation of their details. Except in the case of a person who has died, the CEO will not update the register directly from the information received. He may use the information provided for the sole purpose of his registration objectives and there are limits and safeguards on the onward transmission of the data. This measure is, therefore, proportionate. It is therefore considered that if Article 8 is engaged, it is a justifiable interference.
118. Article 10, and Article 3 of Protocol 1, of the Convention have been considered in the context of the provisions in the Bill covering political donations. These clauses allow citizens and other bodies in Ireland to donate to political parties in Northern Ireland, and restrict the transfer of funds between a political party in Northern Ireland and one in Great Britain.
119. Article 10 provides for the right to free expression of ideas. Article 3, Protocol 1 provides that "the High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the people in the choice of the legislature".
120. Any argument that these Articles were engaged would have to rely on the premise that the free expression of the people in the choice of legislature requires them to be able to donate to any political party. However, the funding of political parties is already the subject of regulation, and the Bill's provisions in fact bring the position in Northern Ireland closer to that which already pertains in Great Britain. The provisions aim to ensure that donations to political parties do not unduly influence the outcome of the political process, and so pursue the legitimate aim of securing free elections. It is considered that, even if a convention right is engaged (which is unlikely), the interference is proportionate to the aim.
121. The alterations to the arrangements for a canvass have also been considered, and it is considered that the right to free and fair elections is not compromised by a move away from an annual canvass, and that the safeguards in the Bill in relation to statutory intervals between one canvass and the next provide sufficient protection.
122. Article 1 of Protocol 1 has been considered in the context of Clause 8, which changes the status of the terms of office of Chief Electoral Office. The Article states:
"Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.
The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties."
123. Moving an incumbent CEO to the proposed new terms and conditions would have a basis in law. Whether the transfer would be compatible with Article 1 of Protocol 1 would depend firstly on whether tenure of office as CEO is a possession within the meaning of that article. As a general proposition, future income can only be a possession once it has been earned or there is an enforceable claim to it.
124. Even were the post of CEO a possession, the change of terms and conditions would not amount to an interference with a possession. Case law states that a claim for a breach of Article 1, Protocol 1 will fail if there was not legitimate expectation that the licence or claim would last. A new CEO is in the process of being appointed, and all candidates for the post have been informed of the change to the terms and conditions provided for in the Bill. Hence they can have no legitimate expectation that the current terms are to continue. We have therefore concluded that this article is not engaged.
125. Provisions of the Bill not mentioned are not considered to raise Convention issues.
126. By virtue of clause 32, the following clauses will enter into force on Royal Assent:
127. In Part 4 (donations for political purposes), clause 14 (Part 4 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000: the final disapplication period) and clause 18 (power to make provision in connection with permissible donors) will come into force two months after Royal Assent. Sections 15 to 17 (extension of categories of permissible donors and modifications during the prescribed period) and Schedule 1 (modifications of 2000 Act) will come into force on 1 November 2007.
128. The Bill's other provisions will be brought into force by order made by the Secretary of State.
|© Parliamentary copyright 2006||Prepared: 16 February 2006|