The Northern Ireland Assembly is a devolved legislature. This means it has the power to make laws, or legislate, on issues that affect the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland. These are called Transferred or Devolved Matters and they include health, education, policing, agriculture, environment, roads and public transport. Proposals for laws are called 'Bills' and 'Bills' are pieces of Primary Legislation. They can be introduced to the Assembly by Executive Ministers, individual MLAs or Assembly Committees. Once a Bill has been passed by the Assembly, it is known as an Act.
In the 2011 to 2016 mandate, the Assembly passed a total of 67 Bills - 60 Executive Bills, 5 Private Member's Bills (PMBs) and 2 Committee Bills. In the 2016 to 2017 mandate, before an unexpected, 'snap' election was called, only one Act had been passed to set the budget for the year and 2 other Bills were in the system - one Executive Bill concerning the licensing of pubs and clubs, which was well on its way to becoming law and one PMB which had only been introduced at First Stage . Both fell due to dissolution.
Some examples of laws passed between 2011 and 2016 are:
- Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill 2015-16 – a legal definition of bullying and requirement on schools to have robust policies and keep records of incidents
- Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill – with sections on changes to the rules for learner and new drivers and a reduction in amount of alcohol allowed when driving
- Food Hygiene Bill 2015-16 - restaurants to display hygiene rating (1 to 5) in prominent position
- Shared Education Bill 2015-16 - defines ‘shared education’ and requires Government to encourage, facilitate and promote it
- Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill ensures that young people who need extra support at school are identified early, assessed quickly and given appropriate support
- Rural Needs Bill –improves the rural proofing of government decisions (the needs of rural communities must be taken into account) and extends the duty to Councils
- Human Trafficking Act (2015) – to prevent human trafficking to NI and support victims (PMB, Lord Morrow MLA)
- Marine Act (2013) – conserves animal and plant life along our shorelines
- The Children Services Co-operation Act (2015) requires government departments to work together to improve lives of children and young people (PMB, Steven Agnew)
- The Carrier Bags Act (2014) - extended the 5p tax to all carrier bags under 20p, not just ‘single use’ 5p bags
- Pavement Café Act (2014) - allows Councils to enforce rules about placing furniture in public areas for the consumption of food or drink.
- Local Government Act (2014) - reduced the number of city/district councils from 26 to 11 and gave them new powers and responsibilities
- Work and Families Act (2015) - allows entitlement to parental leave (eg maternity leave) to be shared with another person.
- Sunbeds Act (2011) – bans people under 18 from hiring or buying sunbeds
- Budget Acts - authorise spending by government departments (12 per year)
- Pension Acts - have increased age at which we can retire and amount we pay towards our pension.
- Houses of Multiple Occupation Bill (2015-16) - ensures better protection for students when renting rooms in a house. For example, deposits paid will be held by independent body and landlords can’t keep them without proving that students have damaged the property.
- Assembly and Executive Reform (Opposition) Bill (2015-16) – to provide rights for a party or parties to act as opposition to the Executive (PMB, John McCallister MLA)