Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill - Explanatory and Financial Memorandum - As Amended at Consideration Stage

ASSEMBLY AND EXECUTIVE REFORM
(ASSEMBLY OPPOSITION) BILL
——————————
EXPLANATORY AND FINANCIAL MEMORANDUM


INTRODUCTION

1. This Explanatory and Financial Memorandum has been prepared on behalf of Mr John
McCallister MLA (“the Member”) in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help
inform the debate on it. It does not form part of the Bill and has not been endorsed by the
Assembly.

2. The Memorandum should be read in conjunction with the Bill. It is not, and is not meant
to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill, and where a clause or part of a clause does
not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.

BACKGROUND AND POLICY OBJECTIVES

3. The principal objective of the Bill is to enable the formation of an Opposition in the
Assembly and to confer rights on the Opposition once it has been formed.

4. The Bill also contains measures seeking to enhance the separation of powers by requiring
increased co-operation and collective working by the Executive (the Government) while
providing an Opposition in the Legislature (the Assembly) with additional financial and
logistical support and greater opportunity to examine the work of Government Ministers.

KEY CONCEPTS

5. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who are not in a party which has
Ministers in Government will often be described as being in opposition. This will
continue to be the case but the Bill will create a statutory basis for a formal Opposition,
with statutory rights and entitlements, if certain conditions are met.

6. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 devolved power from Westminster to the Northern
Ireland Assembly after a referendum endorsed the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The
Act has been updated after subsequent agreements and represents what we mean by “the
constitutional settlement”.

7. Standing Orders are the rules of procedure of the Assembly, which give practical effect to
the high-level provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
8. Separation of powers is a term used to describe a system of checks and balances which
safeguards the distinct roles of the Government, the Parliament and the Judiciary and
prevents intermingling, influence on or arrogation of those roles by the others.

CONSULTATION

9. The Bill’s Member conducted a consultation exercise over a seven-week period on the
policy objectives and proposed options for the Bill.

10. The Member also shared his legislative proposal with the NI Human Rights Commission
and the Equality Commission for NI and awaits their views.

OPTIONS CONSIDERED

11. The Bill’s Member reflected upon the changes that can be made directly by the
Assembly, within the powers which have been wholly devolved to it (transferred
matters), and those which would require legislation by the UK Government (excepted
matters). He decided that he wished to present a package of measures which would
include changes in both of these devolution categories.

12. The Member considered options for creating an opposition, including whether legislation
was necessary at all. After all, the Assembly has the power to change its Standing Orders
already.

13. The Member determined that to legislate would represent a conscious, active and
authoritative statement of intent. A Bill could bring disparate measures into one
comprehensive whole and allow them to be considered in one place. The legislative
process is also very transparent so the full and open debate of this scheme would lend it
the legitimacy required for constitutional change, as piecemeal changes to Standing
Orders might not. Finally, the passage of legislation is a deliberate, formal and discursive
process. The Member was sure this was the only fitting way for the Assembly to
determine whether and how it might reform the institutions.

14. The Member considered that the mechanism to enable discussion of non-devolved
matters might be: resolution by the Assembly to call on the Secretary of State to legislate
on a list of matters; referral of the issues to the Assembly and Executive Review
Committee for reconsideration under its remit to do so; or delegation of that brief to a
new body such as a constitutional convention. One respondent to consultation suggested
that the appropriate mechanism should be a referendum, and this option was also
considered.

15. The Member’s preference was for the first of these, namely a resolution to call on the
Secretary of State to make the necessary amendments to excepted provisions of the NI
Act 1998 to enable listed reforms to be made.

16. The Member selected this option because he considered that to complete every legislative
stage and debate a resolution calling on the Secretary of State to change the constitutional
settlement, would involve every MLA in proper deliberation and discussion and represent
the most legitimate expression of devolved decision-making.

17. Accordingly the clauses of the Bill describe actions that can be legislated for currently
within the Assembly’s powers.

18. Standing Orders are the rules of procedure of the Assembly. Much of the Bill does not
directly “do” something. Instead, it requires Standing Orders to be prepared and laid
before the Assembly in order to “do” the thing. This allows a measure of flexibility in the
detail of how the Bill is implemented.

OVERVIEW

19. The Bill seeks to provide for 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.

COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES

Clause 1 – Purpose

This clause sets out the purpose of the Bill. A purpose clause is not obligatory, but it is helpful in
setting out the aim of the Bill. The main purpose is to facilitate the formation of an Opposition.

Clause 2: Formation of the Opposition

An Opposition can be formed if one or more qualifying parties form it, qualifying parties being
parties which could have a Ministerial office but don’t.

Clause 3: Timing of formation of the Opposition

The formation of an Opposition follows the formation of the Executive. It can also be formed
whenever a qualifying party leaves the Executive.

Clause 4: Dissolution of the Opposition

If the Executive falls then logically there is nothing to oppose, so the Opposition is also dissolved
at that time. It can be re-formed if the Executive is subsequently re-formed.

Clause 5: Leadership of the Opposition

The Opposition will be led in accordance with this section. Where the Opposition is formed by
one qualifying party, then that party will nominate a Leader and Deputy Leader of the NonExecutive Party. Where the Opposition is formed by two or more qualifying parties, then the
largest party must nominate a Leader of the Largest Non-Executive Party and the second largest
party must nominate a Leader of the Second largest Non-Executive Party. These names may be
changed by standing orders.

Clause 6: Topical questions from the Leadership of the Opposition

The leadership of the Opposition has the first opportunity to question the First Minister and
deputy First Minister during topical questions.

Clause 7: Speaking rights in the Assembly

Standing orders will provide that speaking rights in the Assembly are allocated according to party
strength.

Clause 8: Enhanced speaking rights for the Opposition

The Opposition are to have greater speaking rights than their numbers would otherwise entitle
them to. They are to have a minimum of 10 days a year for Opposition business in the
Assembly.

Clause 9: Opposition rights to chair Public Accounts Committee

It is for the Opposition to determine who the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the Public
Accounts Committee are.

Clause 10: Membership of Business Committee for the Opposition

The Opposition are entitled to be represented on the Business Committee.

Clause 11: Financial Assistance for Opposition parties

Political parties within the Assembly are entitled to payments under the Financial Assistance for
Political Parties Act (Northern Ireland) 2000. This clause provides for additional payments to be
made to political parties in the Opposition.

Clause 12: Tabling of Assembly and Executive Reform Motion

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is responsible for ensuring that an Assembly
and Executive Reform Motion is tabled within 5 days of this clause coming into operation.

Clause 13: Reports by the AERC

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee must report to the Assembly at least once every
3 months on the progress being made by the Secretary of State in bringing forward legislation to
reform the Assembly and the Executive.

Clause 14: First topical question to Minister from chairperson of statutory committee

During topical questions to Ministers, the first question is to come from the chairperson of the
committee established to advise and assist that Minister.

Clause 15: Interpretation

This clause defines some phrases used in the Bill.

FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL

20. Three provisions have been highlighted as potential sources of expenditure, signalling
that if implemented as introduced the Bill would not be entirely revenue neutral. However
the Member points out that these are minimal.

21. Enhanced speaking times for the Opposition and additional Opposition days might
reasonably be expected to generate additional resource requirements for the Assembly.
This aspect of the proposal does not contain sufficient information for costing purposes.
As the proposal is developed additional research may be undertaken to consider factors
such as the extent to which Assembly resources could be rebalanced to take account of
this.

HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES

The Bill is considered to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

EQUALITY IMPACT

22. It is further considered that the Bill will not have an adverse impact on any of the groups
listed in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

LEGISLATIVE COMPETENCE

23. At introduction the Member in charge of the Bill, Mr John McCallister MLA, made the
following statement under Standing Order 30:


“In my view the Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill is within the
legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

Find MLAs

tools-map.png

Locate MLAs

Search

News and Media Centre

tools-media.png

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

tools-social.png

Keep up-to-date with the Assembly

Find out more