Report into the Assembly & Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 19 January 2016
Reference: NIA 299/11-16
Committee: Assembly and Executive Review
The principal objective of the Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill is to enable the formation of an Opposition in the Assembly and to confer certain rights on that Opposition once formed. The Bill also seeks to enhance collective decision-making in the Executive, and to increase scrutiny of the Executive by the Legislature.
During the Committee Stage of the Bill, Members considered written evidence from 25 organisations and undertook 6 oral evidence sessions and held an additional 5 formal meetings to deliberate on the Bill and agree the Committee report. Additionally, the Committee sought and received legal advice and considered two research papers on the Bill from Assembly Research and Information Services. The Committee also participated in a Politics Plus legislative scrutiny session on the Bill which was facilitated by Mr Daniel Greenberg.
In November 2015, ‘A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan’ was published which contains provisions relevant to the Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill. In particular, it contained provisions relating to the use of petitions of concern and the establishment of an official Opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
A key issue discussed during the Committee’s consideration of the Bill was whether provisions for an official Opposition in the Assembly could, or should, be put in place by administrative, or other, means not requiring primary legislation. In some cases the Bill instructs that changes be made to the Standing Orders of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In others, the Bill allows for an Assembly and Executive Review Motion to be submitted to the Secretary of State, asking for changes to be made to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Discussion also focused on the implications of the Bill and compatibility with the principles of the Good Friday Agreement and whether certain provisions of the Bill were within the legislative competence of the Assembly. As noted the Committee sought its own legal advice on this matter and were content that the provisions of the Bill as drafted fall within the legislative competence of the Assembly. In their submissions to the Committee, some stakeholders raised concerns that certain provisions within the Bill and the Schedule potentially depart from the d’Hondt and cross–community principles of the Good Friday Agreement and its further iterations in subsequent negotiations. The Committee took the opportunity to raise and explore these concerns with both stakeholders and the Bill Sponsor on a number of occasions during the Committee Stage of the Bill.
The Committee divided and agreed that it was content with Clause 1 which sets out the purpose of the Bill. The Committee divided on the remainder of the 23 clauses and the 15 paragraphs of the Schedule. The Committee agreed to one of the Sponsor’s thirty five proposed amendments to the Bill which related to the Sponsor’s intention to oppose Paragraph 12 (Leaving the Opposition and re-joining the Executive) at Consideration Stage. The Committee divided on all other proposed amendments.