ASSEMBLY BUSINESS

Report on the Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill

Committee: Finance and Personnel

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Reference: NIA 97/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60463-6

Mandate Report Number: 2011-2015

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report, Minutes of Evidence, and Written Submissions

Powers

The Committee for Finance and Personnel is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 48. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department of Finance and Personnel and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

The Committee has the power to;

  • consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee Stage of primary legislation;
  • call for persons and papers;
  • initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister of Finance and Personnel. 

Executive Summary

This report sets out the Committee for Finance and Personnel’s consideration of the Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill, a Private Members’ Bill which was introduced to the Assembly by Mr Jim Allister QC MLA (the Bill sponsor) on 2 July 2012. The Bill comprises 11 clauses and one schedule, and its overall purpose is to amend the law on special advisers in the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Following the Second Stage debate in the Assembly on 25 September 2012, the Bill was referred to the Committee for Finance and Personnel for Committee Stage. As part of its consideration of the Bill, the Committee issued a call for evidence and received written submissions and held oral hearings with key stakeholders, including: the Department of Finance and Personnel; the Attorney General; the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders; the Commission for Victims and Survivors; the Equality Commission; the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; Ann Travers; Coiste na nIarchimí and Tar Isteach; and a number of academic witnesses. The Committee also heard from Sir Nigel Hamilton and Sir George Quigley with specific regard to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister’s Employers’ Guidance on Recruiting People with Conflict-Related Convictions. Two oral evidence sessions were held with the Bill sponsor and the Committee also received legal advice from Assembly Legal Services.

A number of key themes and issues were identified in the evidence and these are examined further in this Report. These include, for example: consideration of the needs of victims; blanket disqualification versus individual assessment; compatibility with other human rights requirements; commitments under the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and St Andrews Agreement; and transparency on arrangements for special advisers. In addition, the Office of the Legislative Counsel provided comments relating to drafting and technical issues, but advised that any amendments arising from these would not affect the policy of the Bill.

The Committee notes that there was no consensus in the evidence in respect of most of the themes and issues identified. Similarly, the Committee did not reach a consensus on all of the provisions of the Bill during its clause-by-clause scrutiny, with some clauses and the schedule agreed on a majority basis.[1] Nevertheless, the Committee considers that the substantial body of evidence gathered during the Committee Stage of the Bill offers the reader an insight into the different perspectives on the issues brought forth, and will help inform the contributions of Assembly Members to the remaining Assembly stages of the Bill.

[1] For details of divisions see the extract from the Minutes of Proceedings for the Committee for Finance and Personnel meeting on 30 January 2013 at Appendix 1

Download the full report here

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