Clause 8 - Commencement

Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 6th July 2021.

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Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down 10:30 am, 6th July 2021

I beg to move amendment 5, in clause 8, page 8, line 8, leave out “at the end of the period of two months beginning with” and insert “on”.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

Everyone appreciates that politics in Northern Ireland is extremely fluid—that is probably a massive understatement. We never know what political crisis is around the corner.

This is an excellent Bill, and I am keen to see it implemented as quickly as possible following Royal Assent. I am not conscious of what the reason is for the two-month delay in commencement after Royal Assent, so I would be very grateful if the Minister outlined the Government’s thinking in that regard. I am conscious of the laws of unintended consequences, and while this otherwise excellent piece of legislation is sitting on the statute book, about to be implemented, a situation could emerge to which the implementation of one or another aspect of the Bill was very pertinent. We could have the bizarre situation where these good measures could not be deployed because of the two-month delay. Obviously, New Decade, New Approach was not specific about commencement dates, so it is in the gift of this Committee and subsequently the Chamber to look at them further.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I rise briefly to speak in support of the amendment in my name and that of the hon. Member for North Down. Recent events could scarcely have proven more how important this legislation is. Because it is clearly the will of this Committee and the House to support the measures in this Bill, it is important that they commence as soon as possible. It is baffling that it has taken 18 months to get here. As I said on Second Reading, covid is not a good enough excuse for why it has taken this long. If it progresses as quickly as it has so far, it will still not be in place until Christmas, which would be two years since NDNA was signed. That is just not good enough, as that will be approaching the end of the mandate for the May Assembly elections. We have made it very clear that we are prepared to do anything we can to help speed up the passage of the Bill and would welcome movement from the Minister on the commencement date.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

There are no surprises in this Bill to the parties of Northern Ireland. There is no period of time that is required to get ready, implement or reflect the changes brought forward in the Bill. The shadow Secretary of State has clearly outlined that the agreement was reached 18 months ago. But for coronavirus—whether we accept it as an excuse or not—the provisions in the Bill would be in place and we would be able to fall back on them if they were required.

I am not sure what the rationale is for two additional months beyond Royal Assent. A strong argument has already been put forward by the hon. Member for North Down and the shadow Secretary of State. Subject to a compelling reason why an additional two months are required, there is merit in curtailing that timescale.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Committee members will know that it is usual practice and parliamentary procedure to allow two months before provisions come into effect following Royal Assent. The type of preparatory measures we might be referring to in this case could be the very changes to Assembly Standing Orders that we have debated. Nevertheless, I recognise the strength of feeling among Committee members.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley talked about recent events in Northern Ireland. The Bill was not brought forward as a response to recent events. It was brought forward as a response to NDNA and what was agreed between the parties. In terms of the time that has elapsed, she will know that Parliament has been extremely occupied with covid legislation, thanks to the pandemic, but we made a point of introducing this Bill early in this Session. We have also given the time for the Bill not to be rushed through as emergency legislation, but to be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny, which has been welcomed by all sides. That is good news and is all too rare an occurrence for a Northern Ireland Bill.

We are not minded to accept the amendment, but should the political context in Northern Ireland and an early commencement be beneficial for Executive stability, we are content for it to be considered in the other place. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment for the time being and allow the process of parliamentary scrutiny to continue. Should the progress that we have seen today be repeated in the other place, and the level of cross-party support that we are seeing at this stage, I see no reason why they could not allow for an amendment of this nature to proceed.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.