Making Legislation

The Northern Ireland Assembly is the legislature for Northern Ireland. This means it has the power, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to make laws, or legislate, on local issues, called 'Transferred Matters' or 'Devolved Matters'. They include health, education, policing, agriculture, environment, roads and public transport. Proposals for laws for consideration by the legislature are called 'Bills'. There are Executive Bills, introduced to the Assembly by Ministers and Non-Executive Bills, introduced by individual MLAs (called Private Members' Bills - PMBs) or Assembly Committees. Once a Bill has been passed by the Assembly and receives Royal Assent, it is known as an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

Bills are pieces of Primary Legislation. Secondary legislation is law created by ministers under powers given to them by Primary Legislation. In Northern Ireland, secondary legislation is known as 'Statutory Rules'. Acts provide a broad framework of law and secondary legislation is used to fill in the details, or to update a law without the Assembly having to pass a completely new Act. Statutory rules are just as much a part of the law of the land as an Act of the Assembly.

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 short 2016 to 2017 mandate, before the unexpected, 'snap' election was called, only one Act had been passed, to set the budget for the year. Two 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 been introduced at First Stage. Both fell due to dissolution.

Following the 'snap election' of March 2017, when the Assembly was reduced in size from 108 MLAs to 90, no Executive was formed and the Assembly was 'down' for three years. When the institutions were restored in January 2020, following the New Decade, New Approach Deal, MLAs worked hard to pass 46 pieces of legislation in just over 2 years, before dissolution in March 2022 for the May 2022 election. Of these 46 Acts, 36 had been Executive Bills, introduced by Ministers and the remaining 10 were Private Members' Bills, introduced by individual MLAs. They included the Climate Change Act 2022, the Integrated Education Act 2022, the School Age Act 2022 and the Protection against Stalking Act 2022. This considerable amount of work was achieved while the Assembly and Executive were dealing with the Covid-19 crisis and working under special measures, including lockdown. Towards the end of the mandate, committees had a heavy workload, ensuring that Bills were properly scrutinised and several extra plenary meetings were held to ensure that as many Bills as possible made it to Final Stage. When the DUP First Minister, Paul Givan, resigned in February 2022 over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Executive no longer met but ministers remained in office and parties continued working to pass legislation.

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