Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 24th October 2018.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 1:12 pm, 24th October 2018

I have received a nod from the Box, which means that it is there, but we will check as to why it was not available for the hon. Gentleman, because he should see a copy of the guidance, given that I have said it is vital that Members read it. The hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench who has great dexterity when it comes to mopping up water—Stephen Pound—appears to have a copy, so I hope that copies will be available for others.

The guidance sets out a clear framework to support Northern Ireland Departments in making a judgment on whether those judgments should be made in the absence of Ministers. The Bill stipulates that I must have regard to representations from MLAs before publishing the guidance, which would of course also be the case, should there be any need to revise the guidance. I would welcome representations from MPs as well as MLAs on its content before I publish a final iteration, which I intend to do shortly after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Those in the Northern Ireland civil service have a difficult task of weighing up which decisions they can take in the absence of Ministers, and I again pay tribute to their hard work and dedication. The combination of the Bill and the proposed guidance will provide a framework to inform their decision making. For example, it is advised that opportunities should be taken to work towards the 12 outcomes published in the 2018-19 outcomes delivery plan, based on the draft programme for government developed in conjunction with the political parties of the previous Executive.

The guidance takes as its starting point the fact that there are certain decisions that should not be taken in the absence of Ministers. Senior officers in Departments will then be obliged to consider whether there is a public interest in taking a decision rather than deferring it. The guidance does not, however, direct the Northern Ireland civil service to take decisions on the wide range of pressing decisions raised by various hon. Members in their amendments to the Bill. As I said earlier, the principle that established our interventions over the past year is that we will legislate when doing so is necessary to protect the delivery of public services and uphold public confidence.