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Size of the Assembly will not go below 90

The Northern Ireland Miscellaneous Bill (2013-14) has almost reached the end of the legislative process at Westminster. This proposed legislation, currently going through the House of Commons at Westminster, was introduced by the Secretary of State for NI, Theresa Villiers.

Aims:

  • The holding of dual mandates between the Assembly and the House of Commons, and between the Assembly and the lower House of the Irish Parliament, will not be permitted;
  • The term of the Northern Ireland Assembly will be 5 years from now on. The next election will be in 2016, rather than 2015 – this means Assembly elections will not be overshadowed by elections to Westminster;
  • The Assembly will be able to reduce the number of MLAs, subject to consent from Westminster (no agreement on this yet – unlikely to happen in the near future); and
  • More information about political donations will have to be published – but not names of donors, due to NI security situation.

The Bill began its life in the House of Commons where no amendments were made, although some interesting ones were tabled. The SDLP suggested a return to the joint election of the First and deputy First Minister, rather than the current system agreed at St Andrews that the largest party nominates the First Minister, with the largest on the other side of the community nominating the deputy First Minister. The DUP wanted the Bill’s definition of victim to exclude anyone partly or wholly responsible for what has happened to them and those convicted of a serious crime.

The Bill was not amended in the Lords until the Third Reading. The main amendments passed were to:

  • Move the issues of Civil Service Commissioners* and functions of the Human Rights Commission from the Excepted to Reserved category so that responsibility can be transferred to the Assembly.
  • Limit any reduction in the size of the Assembly to one MLA per constituency. An NIO Minister explained why the Government made this amendment in the Lords.

"Many in Northern Ireland believe that, with 108 Members, the Assembly is too large, but it is not the Government’s intention that the Assembly should shrink dramatically. When it was established, the intention was that it should be a widely inclusive body, which is essential to the healthy functioning of the Northern Ireland settlement. The Government therefore tabled this amendment to ensure that the drafting of the Bill better reflects that policy. We hope that the Assembly will carefully reflect on the possibility of reducing its size at a time when spending in all parts of the public sector is under pressure.

We are, of course, leaving it to the Assembly to decide whether to reduce its size, and the amendment confines any reduction to one Member per constituency. If the Assembly decides to take that up, smaller parties and minority voices will still be well represented."

Read the Commons Debate on the Lords’ amendments to find out more about the different parties’ views of the Bill and how the Assembly should be reformed:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140312/debtext/140312-0002.htm#14031267000001

The Bill is currently at ‘ping-pong’ stage, when it travels back and forth between the 2 Houses until both agree on the text.

Keep up to date with what’s happening at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/northernirelandmiscellaneousprovisions.html

*The Civil Service Commission is responsible for ensuring appointments to the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) are made on merit on the basis of fair and open competition.