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Volume 491: debated on Thursday 30 April 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with reference to the Prime Minister’s response of 22 April 2009 to the e-petition submitted by Miss A Birt and others on the extension to Northern Ireland of the Abortion Act 1967, when he expects the Northern Ireland Assembly to assume responsibility for criminal law in Northern Ireland, including the law on abortion; what recent representations he has received on this issue; what recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the issue; and if he will make a statement. (271441)

The announcement by the Northern Ireland First and Deputy First Ministers on 18 November 2008 set out a process, the completion of which would see policing and justice matters devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The process is continuing to move forward. The Northern Ireland Act 2009 provided the necessary legislative framework for the Assembly to move to the next stage of that process. It will be for the Assembly to decide when to request the transfer of powers but the Government remain committed to doing whatever it can to facilitate progress towards devolution.

I continue to receive correspondence from people in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK both supporting and opposing any changes to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. The Government’s position remains that these are matters best dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly when it assumes responsibility for the criminal law.