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Northern Ireland Assembly: Policing and Justice

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 25 March 2008

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

In accordance with Section 18(2) of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, I have today laid before the House a copy of the report submitted to me by the Assembly under Section 18(1) of that Act.

The report is another important step towards the transfer of responsibility for policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland.

The transformation of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace has progressed with speed and confidence since the restoration of the Assembly on 8 May last year. I have no doubt that all parties, and the people of Northern Ireland, are committed to maintaining the momentum of change and to completing the formal process of devolution by transferring policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Assembly. The first steps towards this were taken last year with Sinn Fein taking up seats on the Policing Board and on district policing partnerships. The next step is for the Assembly to agree a date on which it will accept its responsibility for the delivery of local policing and justice services as it did last year in respect of other local public services and in respect of the Northern Ireland economy. The Assembly report, which I am today laying before Parliament, helps to pave the way for such a decision.

The report sets out in some detail those subject matters that all parties agree should transfer to the Assembly as part of the policing and justice package. The Assembly also agreed that there should be a single department of justice overseeing these matters once they devolve. I welcome this important progress.

The Assembly's report calls on the political parties to continue discussions on the outstanding issues of timing and ministerial structures, agreement on which will enable the handing over of those policing and justice powers that the Assembly has agreed should transfer. The Government support this call for further discussions and stand ready to assist the parties in reaching agreement on the completion of devolution at the earliest possible date. To this end my department will have ready the practical arrangements required to make the transfer once the Assembly requests it, including a first draft of the necessary legislation, made available to Members of the Assembly to facilitate their debate.

In laying the report, I want to pay particular tribute to the work that Members of the Assembly's Assembly and Executive Review Committee, chaired until recently by the right honourable Member for Lagan Valley, have done to get us to this point.