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The Northern Ireland Act 1998



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An Act to make new provision for the government of Northern Ireland for the purpose of implementing the agreement reached at multi-party talks on Northern Ireland set out in Command Paper 3883.

[19th November 1998]

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-
 

 

PART I

 

PRELIMINARY

Status of Northern Ireland.

     1. - (1) It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.
 

 

    (2) But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.
 

Previous enactments.

     2. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 is repealed; and this Act shall have effect notwithstanding any other previous enactment.
 

Devolution order.

     3. - (1) If it appears to the Secretary of State that sufficient progress has been made in implementing the Belfast Agreement, he shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council appointing a day for the commencement of Parts II and III ("the appointed day").
 

 

    (2) If the draft Order laid before Parliament under subsection (1) is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall submit it to Her Majesty in Council and Her Majesty in Council may make the Order.
 

Transferred, excepted and reserved matters. 

     4. - (1) In this Act-
 

"excepted matter" means any matter falling within a description specified in Schedule 2;

 

"reserved matter" means any matter falling within a description specified in Schedule 3;

 

"transferred matter" means any matter which is not an excepted or reserved matter.

 

    (2) If at any time after the appointed day it appears to the Secretary of State-
 

 

(a) that any reserved matter should become a transferred matter; or

 

(b) that any transferred matter should become a reserved matter,

 

he may, subject to subsection (3), lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council amending Schedule 3 so that the matter ceases to be or, as the case may be, becomes a reserved matter with effect from such date as may be specified in the Order.
 

 

    (3) The Secretary of State shall not lay the draft of an Order before Parliament under subsection (2) unless the Assembly has passed with cross-community support a resolution praying that the matter concerned should cease to be or, as the case may be, should become a reserved matter.
 

 

    (4) If the draft of an Order laid before Parliament under subsection (2) is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall submit it to Her Majesty in Council and Her Majesty in Council may make the Order.
 

 

    (5) In this Act-
 

 

"the Assembly" means the New Northern Ireland Assembly, which after the appointed day shall be known as the Northern Ireland Assembly;

 

"cross-community support", in relation to a vote on any matter, means-

 

(a) the support of a majority of the members voting, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting; or

 

(b) the support of 60 per cent of the members voting, 40 per cent of the designated Nationalists voting and 40 per cent of the designated Unionists voting;

 

"designated Nationalist" means a member designated as a Nationalist in accordance with standing orders of the Assembly and "designated Unionist" shall be construed accordingly.

Table of Contents

 

PART II

 

LEGISLATIVE POWERS

 


General

Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

    5. - (1) Subject to sections 6 to 8, the Assembly may make laws, to be known as Acts.
 

    (2) A Bill shall become an Act when it has been passed by the Assembly and has received Royal Assent.
 

 

    (3) A Bill receives Royal Assent at the beginning of the day on which Letters Patent under the Great Seal of Northern Ireland signed with Her Majesty's own hand signifying Her Assent are notified to the Presiding Officer.
 

 

    (4) The date of Royal Assent shall be written on the Act by the Presiding Officer, and shall form part of the Act.
 

 

    (5) The validity of any proceedings leading to the enactment of an Act of the Assembly shall not be called into question in any legal proceedings.
 

 

    (6) This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Northern Ireland, but an Act of the Assembly may modify any provision made by or under an Act of Parliament in so far as it is part of the law of Northern Ireland.
 

Legislative competence.

    6. - (1) A provision of an Act is not law if it is outside the legislative competence of the Assembly.
 

 

    (2) A provision is outside that competence if any of the following paragraphs apply-
 

 

(a) it would form part of the law of a country or territory other than Northern Ireland, or confer or remove functions exercisable otherwise than in or as regards Northern Ireland;

 

(b) it deals with an excepted matter and is not ancillary to other provisions (whether in the Act or previously enacted) dealing with reserved or transferred matters;

 

(c) it is incompatible with any of the Convention rights;

 

(d) it is incompatible with Community law;

 

(e) it discriminates against any person or class of person on the ground of religious belief or political opinion;

 

(f) it modifies an enactment in breach of section 7.

 

    (3) For the purposes of this Act, a provision is ancillary to other provisions if it is a provision-
 

 

(a) which provides for the enforcement of those other provisions or is otherwise necessary or expedient for making those other provisions effective; or

 

(b) which is otherwise incidental to, or consequential on, those provisions;

 

and references in this Act to provisions previously enacted are references to provisions contained in, or in any instrument made under, other Northern Ireland legislation or an Act of Parliament.
 

 

    (4) Her Majesty may by Order in Council specify functions which are to be treated, for such purposes of this Act as may be specified, as being, or as not being, functions which are exercisable in or as regards Northern Ireland.
 

 

    (5) No recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty to make an Order in Council under subsection (4) unless a draft of the Order has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.
 

Entrenched enactments.

    7. - (1) Subject to subsection (2), the following enactments shall not be modified by an Act of the Assembly or subordinate legislation made, confirmed or approved by a Minister or Northern Ireland department-
 

 

(a) the European Communities Act 1972;

 

(b) the Human Rights Act 1998; and

 

(c) section 43(1) to (6) and (8), section 67, sections 84 to 86, section 95(3) and (4) and section 98.

 

    (2) Subsection (1) does not prevent an Act of the Assembly or subordinate legislation modifying section 3(3) or (4) or 11(1) of the European Communities Act 1972.
 

 

    (3) In this Act "Minister", unless the context otherwise requires, means the First Minister, the deputy First Minister or a Northern Ireland Minister.
 

Consent of Secretary of State required in certain cases. 

    8. The consent of the Secretary of State shall be required in relation to a Bill which contains-
 

(a) a provision which deals with an excepted matter and is ancillary to other provisions (whether in the Bill or previously enacted) dealing with reserved or transferred matters; or

 

(b) a provision which deals with a reserved matter.

 


Scrutiny and stages of Bills

Scrutiny by Ministers.

    9. - (1) A Minister in charge of a Bill shall, on or before introduction of it in the Assembly, make a statement to the effect that in his view the Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Assembly.
 

 

    (2) The statement shall be in writing and shall be published in such manner as the Minister making the statement considers appropriate.
 

Scrutiny by Presiding Officer.

    10. - (1) Standing orders shall ensure that a Bill is not introduced in the Assembly if the Presiding Officer decides that any provision of it would not be within the legislative competence of the Assembly.
 

 

    (2) Subject to subsection (3)-
 

 

(a) the Presiding Officer shall consider a Bill both on its introduction and before the Assembly enters on its final stage; and

 

(b) if he considers that the Bill contains-

 

(i) any provision which deals with an excepted matter and is ancillary to other provisions (whether in the Bill or previously enacted) dealing with reserved or transferred matters; or

 

(ii) any provision which deals with a reserved matter,

 

he shall refer it to the Secretary of State; and

 

(c) the Assembly shall not proceed with the Bill or, as the case may be, enter on its final stage unless-

 

(i) the Secretary of State's consent to the consideration of the Bill by the Assembly is signified; or

 

(ii) the Assembly is informed that in his opinion the Bill does not contain any such provision as is mentioned in paragraph (b)(i) or (ii).

 

    (3) Subsection (2)(b) and (c) shall not apply-
 

 

(a) where, in the opinion of the Presiding Officer, each provision of the Bill which deals with an excepted or reserved matter is ancillary to other provisions (whether in the Bill or previously enacted) dealing with transferred matters only; or

 

(b) on the introduction of a Bill, where the Bill has been endorsed with a statement that the Secretary of State has consented to the Assembly considering the Bill.

 

    (4) In this section and section 14 "final stage", in relation to a Bill, means the stage in the Assembly's proceedings at which the Bill falls finally to be passed or rejected.
 

Scrutiny by the Judicial Committee.

    11. - (1) The Attorney General for Northern Ireland may refer the question of whether a provision of a Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Assembly to the Judicial Committee for decision.
 

 

    (2) Subject to subsection (3), he may make a reference in relation to a provision of a Bill at any time during-
 

 

(a) the period of four weeks beginning with the passing of the Bill; and

 

(b) the period of four weeks beginning with any subsequent approval of the Bill in accordance with standing orders made by virtue of section 13(6).

 

    (3) If he notifies the Presiding Officer that he does not intend to make a reference in relation to a provision of a Bill, he shall not make such a reference unless, after the notification, the Bill is approved as mentioned in subsection (2)(b).
 

 

    (4) If the Judicial Committee decide that any provision of a Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Assembly, their decision shall be taken as applying also to that provision if contained in the Act when enacted.
 

Reconsideration where reference made to ECJ. 

    12. - (1) This section applies where-
 

(a) a reference has been made under section 11 in relation to a provision of a Bill;

 

(b) a reference for a preliminary ruling has been made by the Judicial Committee in connection with that reference; and

 

(c) neither of the references has been decided or otherwise disposed of.

 

    (2) If the Assembly resolves that it wishes to reconsider the Bill-
 

 

(a) the Presiding Officer shall notify the Attorney General for Northern Ireland and the Attorney General of that fact; and

 

(b) the Attorney General for Northern Ireland shall request the withdrawal of the reference under section 11.

 

    (3) In this section "reference for a preliminary ruling" means a reference of a question to the European Court of Justice under-
 

 

(a) Article 177 of the Treaty establishing the European Community;

 

(b) Article 41 of the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community; or

 

(c) Article 150 of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community.

Stages of Bills.

    13. - (1) Standing orders shall include provision-
 

 

(a) for general debate on a Bill with an opportunity for members to vote on its general principles;

 

(b) for the consideration of, and an opportunity for members to vote on, the details of a Bill; and

 

(c) for a final stage at which a Bill can be passed or rejected but not amended.

 

    (2) Standing orders may, in relation to different types of Bill, modify provisions made in pursuance of subsection (1)(a) or (b).
 

 

    (3) Standing orders-
 

 

(a) shall include provision for establishing such a committee as is mentioned in paragraph 11 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement;

 

(b) may include provision for the details of a Bill to be considered by the committee in such circumstances as may be specified in the orders.

 

    (4) Standing orders shall include provision-
 

 

(a) requiring the Presiding Officer to send a copy of each Bill, as soon as reasonably practicable after introduction, to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; and

 

(b) enabling the Assembly to ask the Commission, where the Assembly thinks fit, to advise whether a Bill is compatible with human rights (including the Convention rights).

 

    (5) Standing orders shall provide for an opportunity for the reconsideration of a Bill after its passing if (and only if)-
 

 

(a) the Judicial Committee decide that any provision of the Bill would not be within the legislative competence of the Assembly;

 

(b) a reference made in relation to a provision of the Bill under section 11 has been withdrawn following a request for withdrawal under section 12;

 

(c) a decision is made in relation to the Bill under section 14(4) or (5); or

 

(d) a motion under section 15(1) is passed by either House of Parliament.

 

    (6) Standing orders shall, in particular, ensure that any Bill amended on reconsideration is subject to a final stage at which it can be approved or rejected but not amended.
 

 

    (7) References in subsection (5) and other provisions of this Act to the passing of a Bill shall, in the case of a Bill which has been amended on reconsideration, be read as references to the approval of the Bill.
 

Table of Contents


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