FINANCIAL PROVISIONS BILL
EXPLANATORY AND FINANCIAL MEMORANDUM
1. This Explanatory and Financial Memorandum has been prepared by the Department of Finance and Personnel ("the Department") in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. It does not form part of the Bill and has not been endorsed by the Assembly.2. The Memorandum needs to be read in conjunction with the Bill. It is not, and is not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require an explanation or comment, none is given.
BACKGROUND AND POLICY OBJECTIVES
3. A Bill is normally required at intervals of every two or three years to deal with routine financial matters including any minor and/or non-controversial amendments to governing legislation or to regularise an existing practice. On this occasion the Bill contains a number of miscellaneous financial provisions requiring primary legislation for which there is no other suitable legislative vehicle at present and a repeal of a redundant statutory obligation. Details are as follows:
- Absolute privilege for reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General;
- Expenditure for consumer purposes;
- Expenditure relating to social economy enterprises;
- Costs of district rates collection; and
- Repeal of requirement to prepare Finance Accounts.
4. The Bill is technical and non-controversial in nature and therefore no consultation has been undertaken.
5. The main options considered by each of the Departments with policy responsibility were either to take the provisions forward through their own Bills separately or to add the provisions to some other suitable legislative vehicle. It was concluded that the provisions would not justify separate Bills and the most appropriate method of dealing with the provisions was through the Financial Provisions Bill promoted by the Department of Finance and Personnel.
6. The Bill consists of 6 Clauses and a Schedule.
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
Comments are not given where the wording is self-explanatory.
Clause 1: Absolute privilege for reports of Comptroller and Auditor General
The Clause is intended to ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor General is free to present all relevant evidence gathered during the course of his studies and/or audits to the Assembly without having to defend an action for defamation.
Clause 2: Expenditure for consumer purposes
Sub-section (1) empowers the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to incur expenditure for activities which the Department considers are of benefit to consumers in Northern Ireland. Expenditure may also be incurred for the provision of –
- advice or information about consumer matters;
- educational materials and activities relating to consumer matters;
- advice or information to that Department in connection with the formulation of policy in respect of consumer matters.
It is intended that clause 2 be used to provide statutory power for funding the delivery, by the voluntary advice sector, of specialist advice to consumers on the management of debt.
The powers in clause 2 are, however, wide enough to enable the Department to incur expenditure for other activities considered, in the future, to be of benefit to consumers in Northern Ireland or for the other purposes set out in sub-section (1).
Clause 3: Expenditure relating to social economy enterprises
Subsection (1) empowers the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to incur expenditure for any purpose which the Department considers will benefit the development of the social economy in Northern Ireland. Expenditure may also be incurred for the provision of advice and information, educational materials or policy advice to the Department about the social economy.
It is intended that Clause 3 be used to provide statutory power to provide funding to the Social Economy Network (NI) Ltd or any other body to represent the interests, and facilitate the development, of social economy enterprises in Northern Ireland. The powers in Clause 3 are, however, wide enough to enable the Department to incur expenditure for other activities considered, in the future, to be of benefit to the development of the social economy in Northern Ireland or for the other purposes set out in the sub-section (1).
Clause 4: Costs of district rates collection
This clause authorises the issue of money from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund to the Department of Finance and Personnel in order to cover the costs of collecting rates on behalf of District Councils. This money is already included in the Department’s budget and this clause is to confer the actual authority to issue the money to DFP.
Clause 5: Repeal of requirement to prepare Finance Accounts
The clause repeals a redundant statutory obligation (section 10 of the Exchequer and Financial Provisions Act (NI) 1950) which required the Department of Finance and Personnel to prepare and lay, before the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Finance Accounts of Northern Ireland. The information previously only contained within this Account is now available in other published Departmental Accounts.
Clause 6: Short Title
This clause sets out the title of the Act.
FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL
7. The Bill only provides enabling powers to incur expenditure and therefore in itself does not have any financial implications. Departments have already secured (where necessary) any funding and approval in respect of the provisions highlighted. The Department does not consider that the provisions will lead to any new area of government expenditure and will therefore have no impact on the overall quantum of government expenditure.
HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
8. The provisions of the Bill are considered compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.
EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
9. The individual elements of the Bill have been screened for equality issues and it is considered that there are no equality issues in relation to the proposals.
SUMMARY OF THE REGULATORY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
10. A Regulatory Impact Assessment has not been prepared as the provisions of the Bill will have no, or negligible, impact on businesses, voluntary organisations or charities.
11. The Minister of Finance and Personnel had made the following statement under section 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998:
“In my view the Financial Provisions Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
12. The Minister in charge of the Bill, Mr Nigel Dodds , has made the following recommendation as required under section 63 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
“As Minister of the Department of Finance and Personnel , I recommend this Bill to the Assembly as is required by section 63 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”