On 5 December 2021, the second reading and all remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill are scheduled to take place in the House of Lords. 

Northern Ireland has been without a fully functioning executive since February 2022 following the collapse of power-sharing over the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) objections to the Northern Ireland Protocol. A scheduled Assembly election took place in May 2022. The statutory deadline for forming a new executive following that election expired on 27 October 2022. Under current legislation, this leaves the secretary of state under a legal duty to propose a date for a new election to take place before 19 January 2023. The caretaker ministers who had been in place since February 2022 are not able to continue in post after 28 October 2022, leaving the Northern Ireland civil service to run departments.

The government is seeking to address this by using the bill to: 

  • Extend the period for forming an executive to 8 December 2022. The secretary of state could extend this again to 19 January 2023. This decision would have to be taken within seven days of the bill passing.
  • Clarify that Northern Ireland senior civil servants can exercise departmental functions in the absence of ministers if they are satisfied it is in the public interest. This power would last for six months or until a new executive is formed, whichever is sooner.
  • Enable UK ministers to deal with certain public appointments until a new executive is formed.
  • Give the secretary of state powers to determine the pay of Assembly members (MLAs) until the Assembly is functioning again, and in future periods where there is no functioning Assembly.
  • Give the secretary of state the power to set the regional rate (a Northern Ireland tax) for the 2022/23 financial year in the absence of an executive.

The bill went through all its stages in the House of Commons on one day on.

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