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Following the general election, the Conservative Government announced in the Queen’s Speech 2015 that it would take forward legislation to give effect to the Stormont House Agreement in Northern Ireland. On 17 November 2015, A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan (“the Fresh Start Agreement”) was reached. This followed ten weeks of cross-party talks between the UK Government, the five largest parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Government of Ireland. The Agreement set out a number of objectives to secure the implementation of the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement and to deal with the impact of continued paramilitary activity connected with Northern Ireland. The Agreement, upon which this Bill is based, seeks to make progress towards fulfilling the agreed objectives.

In summary, the key provisions of the Bill seek to:

  • Give effect to the treaty between the UK Government and the Government of Ireland which would establish the Independent Reporting Commission. The Commission would promote progress towards ending paramilitary activity connected with Northern Ireland.
  • Extend the time available to allocate ministerial positions from seven calendar days to 14 calendar days after the Assembly first sits following an election, to allow Northern Ireland parties more time to agree a programme for government prior to the allocation of ministerial positions.
  • Amend the existing pledge of office which all Ministers are required to affirm before taking up ministerial office; establish a new undertaking that Members of the Assembly must take before taking their seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
  • Increase transparency into the budgetary process by providing for the Minister of Finance and Personnel to lay a statement before the Assembly, at least 14 days in advance of laying a draft budget which would specify the amount of UK funding for the financial year.

The Bill passed its stages in the House of Commons on 10 March 2016. It was amended only by a number of minor government amendments. This House of Lords Library briefing provides further overview of the provisions in the Bill, and a summary of the Bill’s proceedings in the House of Commons. The Government has requested that Parliament fast-track the progress of the Bill. The Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords on 10 March 2016; second reading of the Bill is currently scheduled to take place on 12 April 2016.

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