Part 5: Miscellaneous.Arms decommissioning: extension of amnesty period
15.The Act enables the end date for the amnesty period under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (c.7) to be changed so as to be on or before 27th February 2010 (instead of on or before 27th February 2007). The amnesty period is the period during which people are immune from prosecution for certain offences (set out in the Schedule to the 1997 Act) if they are acting in accordance with a decommissioning scheme.
Northern Ireland loans limit
16.The Act amends the Northern Ireland (Loans) Act 1975 (c.83) by increasing from £2000 million to £3000 million the aggregate limit on specified loans for capital purposes to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. It also allows the Secretary of State, by order and with the consent of the Treasury, to further increase the limit by an amount not exceeding £500 million. It removes the limitation on the number of times such an increase may take place but each increase will need to be approved by the Treasury.
Single wholesale electricity market
17.The Act provides that an Order in Council may give effect to any agreement or arrangement between the British and Irish governments on the creation or operation of a single wholesale electricity market in Northern Ireland and Ireland. These proposals for a single wholesale electricity market were developed under the All-Island Energy Market Development Framework, agreed by the British and Irish Governments in 2004. The aim of the proposals is to enhance Northern Ireland’s security and diversity of supply; provide greater competition and investment opportunities from a stable market with transparent and equitable trading arrangements; and encourage market efficiencies and economies of scale.
Financial assistance for energy purposes
18.The Act amends the Energy (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (S.I. 2003/419 (N.I. 6)) by extending the legislative powers covering the provision of financial assistance to energy projects. Existing Article 61 of that Order, which is focused on the provision of grants to the electricity and gas industries, is being replaced to enable assistance to be given to a wider range of energy-related projects and, in particular, renewable energy. The extended provision will allow use of the new £59 million Environment and Renewable Energy Fund which has been established to support renewable energy projects over the next two years. It will also address proposals published on 30th June 2004 as Energy: A Strategic Framework for Northern Ireland, and specifically the objective of enhancing sustainable energy supply and consumption.
19.The Act imposes a statutory duty on all Northern Ireland government departments and district councils to act in the manner which they consider best contributes to sustainable development. It also gives to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister a power to extend the duty, by order, to other public authorities.
Extension of provisions of SOCAP 2005 to Northern Ireland
20.The Act extends the provisions on investigatory powers in Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (c.15) to Northern Ireland. It also makes the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland an “Investigating Authority” for the purpose of those provisions.
Responsibilities in relation to the health and safety etc. of police
21.The Act provides a person who holds the office of Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“PSNI”) with “corporation sole” status, and amends relevant health and safety and other legislation so that any prosecution under that legislation will ordinarily be brought against the Chief Constable in his capacity as office holder, rather than against him personally. This brings Northern Ireland into line with police forces in Great Britain.
Duty to fill judicial vacancies
22.The Act places a duty on the Prime Minister to fill any vacancy in the office of the Lord Chief Justice or Lord Justice of Appeal (both before and after devolution of justice functions). The provision also places a duty on the Lord Chancellor to fill judicial vacancies at High Court level or below. However, these duties will not apply if the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland agrees that a vacancy in an office (except that of Lord Chief Justice) may remain unfilled.