Clause 1 - Period for making Ministerial appointments

Part of Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 am ar 6 Gorffennaf 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 9:30, 6 Gorffennaf 2021

I am not sure that is quite right because Ministers would be able to take decisions within their departmental remit, which are running-order decisions for their departmental business. Clearly, they would not be able to take decisions that are about making significant changes to policy. The offer of working together is also part of the pledge of office. It is an important part of power sharing and that is one of the things that they are constrained by in their activities. Where a programme for government is agreed, they will also be stuck within its limits and will be working forward with that.

As Sir Jonathan Stephens said, the fundamental protection in the case of caretaker Ministers is the absence of an Executive. If there is no First Minister and Deputy First Minister, significant, controversial or cross-cutting decisions cannot be taken by the Executive. In a resignation scenario, Assembly Committees will also continue to function for the Assembly’s duration and can continue to discharge their important duties of scrutinising Ministers and Departments and holding them accountable. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, Ministers cannot take any decisions that ought to have been taken by the Executive. We therefore believe there is no need to provide further statutory clarifications given that legal safeguards are already in place. We also know, and as we saw during the period of absence of an Executive, that the courts are prepared to step in if they feel that decisions are being taken beyond the remit of whoever is taking them. We have seen examples of that.