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What are the different types of Bills?

A Bill is a proposal for a new law. Members of the public have the opportunity to comment and review all Bills during a formal consultation period. All Bills have to be passed by the Assembly before they become laws. Once passed, a Bill is called an Act.

There are a number of different types of Bills that fall within two categories: Executive and Non-Executive. What are the different types of Bills and who can make a Bill proposal?

Executive Bills

Executive Bills are Bills that are proposed by Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive and they will concern matters relevant to the Department that they run. The Executive is made up of the following Ministers:

  • First Minister (representing the Executive Office)
  • deputy First Minister (representing the Executive Office)
  • Minister of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs
  • Minister for Communities
  • Minister of Education
  • Minister for the Economy
  • Minister of Finance
  • Minister for Infrastructure
  • Minister of Health
  • Minister of Justice

Each Minister can bring forward a Bill proposal relevant to their remit. For example, during the 2017 – 2022 mandate, the Minister of Education brought forward the School Age Bill which was a Bill to amend the meaning of “compulsory school age” in the Education Orders. When an Executive Bill is proposed and introduced to the Assembly, it then begins the legislative process that sees it debated by MLAs, scrutinised by the relevant Committee (if appropriate) and ultimately voted on in the Assembly Chamber to see if it becomes an Act and passed into law.

 

Non-Executive Bills

While most primary legislation that passes through the Assembly is in the form of an Executive Bill, Bills can also be introduced by an individual MLA or an Assembly Committee. The Assembly Commission can also propose a bill. These are known as Non-Executive Bills.

Individual Members

Bills that are introduced by an individual MLA are also known as a Private Member’s Bill. Private Member’s Bills offer individual Members the chance to introduce legislation independently from the Executive departments.

During the 2017-2022 mandate, ten Private Member Bills (out of twenty that were introduced) completed the legislative process to become Acts. For example, in October 2021, Pat Catney MLA introduced the Period Products (Free Provision) Bill, which became the Period Products (Free Provision) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 in May 2022, making period products available free of charge in appropriate public service bodies.

Assembly Committees

Assembly Committees may also propose legislation if they deem appropriate. For example, during the 2011-2016 mandate, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (now known as the Committee for the Executive), introduced the Public Services Ombudsman Bill to combine the offices of the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints into a single office to be known as the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsperson. The Bill progressed through the various stages of the legislative process to become the Public Services Ombudsman Act in February 2016.

Learn more about the Committee’s work on the Public Services Ombudsman Bill.

Assembly Commission

The Assembly Commission (the body corporate of the Assembly) may also introduce legislation. The main role of the Assembly Commission is to ensure that the Assembly is provided with the property, staff and services required for the Assembly to carry out its work. On occasion this can involve the proposal of legislation. For example, in the 2017-2022 mandate, the Commission introduced the Assembly Members (Remuneration Board) Bill to amend the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. While the Bill was introduced, its second stage was not scheduled before the end of the mandate and so did not become an Act.

View Non-Executive bill proposals during the 2017-2022 Assembly mandate.

 

Legislative Consent Motions

A Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) is not a piece of primary legislation introduced by the Assembly. It is a motion in which the Assembly decides whether or not that it consents that the UK Parliament in Westminster pass legislation on an issue that is devolved and over which the Assembly usually has legislative authority.

This occurs when the UK Parliament proposes legislation that affects Northern Ireland on a devolved matter. MLAs can debate the motion and vote on whether they do or do not agree for the Bill to apply to Northern Ireland as well.

Learn more about Legislative Consent in the Assembly.

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