Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Twentieth Report



The Committee does not normally report on bills when they are still in the House of Commons but has decided to do so in the present instance because of the expected speedy passage of this bill through both Houses of Parliament. In the circumstances, the Committee thought it would be for the convenience of the House if we were to report on the bill as introduced into the House of Commons.[2]

The purposes of this bill are explained in paragraph 3 of the Explanatory Notes to the bill. The main purpose is to provide for the postponement of the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly which are due to take place on 29 May.


The delegated powers in the bill are explained in the memorandum from the Northern Ireland Office, which is printed at Annex 1 to this Report. In this Report, we consider the power in clause 1 only. The other delegations in the bill are, in our view, both appropriate and subject to an appropriate level of Parliamentary scrutiny.

Clause 1

Section 31(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 ("the 1998 Act") provides for elections to take place on the first Thursday in May in the fourth year after the previous election. Section 31(2) of that Act (as originally enacted) provided for an election to be held on 1 May 2003 (subject to special provision for delay in electing a First Minister and a deputy First Minister under which the same date was in fact fixed). The Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Act 2003 ("the 2003 Act") amended this date to 29 May 2003. There is a power given by section 31(3) of the 1998 Act to the Secretary of State by order (subject to negative procedure) to bring forward or move back an election by up to two months. But this is disapplied for 2003, by the 2003 Act.

Clause 1(2) provides for the date of the election currently due on 29 May 2003 to be instead a date specified by order made by the Secretary of State and laid before Parliament. There is no limit on the time within which an order may or must be made. Neither the affirmative nor the negative procedure is applied.

In considering the appropriateness of this provision, two distinct issues arise. The first is whether the decision to set the date by the Secretary of State should require Parliamentary scrutiny. In the delegated powers memorandum it is argued that this is not necessary. The Committee however considers the fact critical that a decision about the date of an election implies a statement that the conditions under which the postponement was necessary have changed. In these circumstances, Parliament needs to be involved. In view of the practical difficulties referred to by the Government in paragraph 6 of the memorandum, and acknowledging that Parliament may have to be recalled for the purpose, the order will require the affirmative procedure.

The second issue is whether the delegation of the power should include the possibility of delaying an election date, in principle, indefinitely. The Committee does not regard this as acceptable and recommends that the House seek a way of defining the enabling power and including in the definition proper Parliamentary scrutiny.


We draw to the attention of the House the recommendations in paragraphs 6 and 7 above. There are no further matters in relation to the delegated powers in this bill on which we wish to report to the House.

2   Bill 104. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003