Written Statement by Peter Hain on Progress Towards Devolution in Northern Ireland, (24 July 2006)
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Written Statement by Peter Hain, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on Progress Towards Devolution in Northern Ireland, House of Commons, (24 July 2006)
"On 15 May, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly were recalled to participate in a process to secure the full restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland on or before 24 November. The Assembly rose on 7 July for summer recess and will reconvene on 4 September.
Following their discussions, with the Northern Ireland political parties in Parliament Buildings, Stormont on 29 June, the Prime Minister and Taoiseach issued a statement which again reiterated their commitment to the November deadline and called for all sides to commit to a period of genuine and frank political engagement on the outstanding issues in the months ahead.
A work plan was also published alongside the statement in order to assist the parties in their work between now and the November deadline. Both the statement and the work plan have been placed in the libraries of the House.
The plan allows for the Preparation for Government Committee to continue its valuable work during the summer recess and I have recently provided for the creation of sub-groups within the Committee to deal with the issues of devolution of justice and policing, changes to the institutions and the economic challenges facing Northern Ireland.
I have made clear previously that, in the event that devolved government is not restored on or before 24 November, all MLAs' salaries and allowances will be cancelled with immediate effect.
I have repeatedly stressed that it remains the Government's firm hope that devolution can and will be restored by that deadline but I wish to ensure that MLAs have the fullest of opportunities to arrange their affairs in advance.
My officials have therefore written to all MLAs explaining the implications of the termination of allowances for MLAs' in respect of their responsibilities as employers of their staff and for their constituency offices. A copy of this letter has been placed in the libraries of the House."
COPY OF LETTER SENT TO MLAs BY THE NIO
"In light of the statement issued by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach following their recent visit to Belfast, I am writing to all MLAs to expand on the arrangements that would apply if the Northern Ireland Assembly were not restored before 25 November, with particular reference to MLAs' contractual obligations to their staff.
As has been stated publicly, in the event that devolved government is not restored by then, MLAs' salaries and allowances will be terminated with immediate effect.
Should you wish to terminate the services of any staff, following the potential withdrawal of MLAs' salaries and allowances on 25 November, you will need to consider your statutory and contractual obligations, with legal advice as necessary, including any entitlement those staff may have to paid notice of termination. Decisions in relation to the employment of your staff are a matter for you, and Government is not in a position to give advice on such decisions
For staff who are made redundant either on or before 25 November as a result of the Office Costs Allowance (OCA) terminating, you will be able to claim the cost of the statutory redundancy payment, on production of evidence of eligibility, as set out in the current Determination. MLAs will be able to claim these costs either under the existing Winding Up Allowance or under a special allowance which I would intend to create to make parallel provisions in the absence of dissolution. In either case, these payments will be made to cover inescapable and minimal costs necessarily incurred on or after 25 November in connection with your duties as a member, based on actual expenditure up to a specified maximum.
However, it will not be possible for you to claim the cost of any payments made to staff in lieu of notice on or after 25 November under this or any other allowance. Should you wish to terminate the employment of any staff, you will have had sufficient time, from receipt of this letter, to allow such staff to work out their notice by 25 November.
It will therefore be necessary to ensure that any staff who you would not intend to retain beyond 24 November, receive notice (in accordance with the terms of their contract of employment) in sufficient time for their employment to terminate by 25 November. For example, staff entitled to four weeks' notice would need to receive notice by 27 October. Obviously, it will be a matter for you, in consultation with your legal advisers, to determine the precise terms of the notice given.
The Secretary of State will also be issuing a further direction in respect of the Office Costs Allowance which will mean that claims for the financial year 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007 will be paid in two amounts. The first amount will be payable for the period 1 April 2006 to 24 November 2006 inclusive and shall be calculated by the Secretariat on the basis of a pro-rata adjustment to the current OCA of £48,000, that is to say £32,000. Should political developments later this year prove positive, the balance will be a matter for the devolved Assembly to process.
The purpose of this letter is to ensure that all those who will be affected by any future termination of allowances have sufficient notice to get their affairs in order in advance. It is the Government's firm hope that full devolution can and will be restored by 25 November and that the arrangements detailed above will not need to come into effect. You will, however, obviously wish to exercise your own judgement on the likelihood of the deadline being met, and act accordingly on the arrangements described above.
Assembly staff will be available to deal with any queries you may have arising from this letter."
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