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As that matter seems to be resolved, let us think about the long term. If policing functions were devolved to a Departmentor two Departments, if the Assembly so chosewhat would be the implications for the Policing Board? The board was the creation of the Patten committee and its report, and in the absence of an Assembly with devolved policing functions it was given political accountability by Members of the Legislative Assembly serving on it. However, in a new scenario in which policing is devolved to the AssemblyI hope that we shall see that one dayI presume that there will be a committee of Assembly Members to scrutinise policing. The Ministeror perhaps the two Ministerswill therefore be accountable to, and have their actions scrutinised by, that committee. What long-term impact would that have on the Policing Board and its composition? I would appreciate an answer from the Minister, who seems to have addressed the other issues. Will it be up to the Assembly to establish whether one or two Departments are involved? Will policing and justice powers be devolved at the same time, or will one be devolved ahead of the other?
Mr. Hanson: I hope that my earlier comments about the amendment satisfied the hon. Lady. The Government's purpose is to ensure that when the Assembly judges the time to be right to seek the devolution of policing and justice powers it can implement whichever model it concludes is appropriate. The amendment would have run counter to that purpose, because it would have restricted the number of options available to the Assembly rather than enhancing it. The Government believe that the Assembly should choose whether it has two Departments, how it runs them and how accountability to the Assembly is determined.
The hon. Lady made an important point about the Policing Board. She will note that paragraph 4.5 of the discussion paper, "Devolving Policing and Justice in Northern Ireland", which we published earlier this year, stresses the importance of considering the political oversight of policing and whether any Assembly
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committee performs that role. That will need to be considered in the light of the Assembly's wishes. The Patten recommendations set out key roles for the Policing Board, on which a number of MLAs are represented. The document states:
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Under the options that the Minister has provided, if the Assembly were to decide to devolve policing and justice matters to one Department, would that Department have to be part of the overall bidding under d'Hondt, or could it be dealt with separately?
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I think that the answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) lies in some of the clauses and schedules that we are about to deal with. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Patten reportwhich, as he rightly said, established the Policing Boarddealt with the devolution of justice and policing powers, and stated that steps would have to be taken to protect the integrity of such structures as the Policing Board, to ensure that devolution did not have adverse implications for its role?
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. In principle, devolution will be undertaken when the Assembly wants it, when the Government agree to it and when the House of Commons votes for it. The Assembly has the freedom to consider whatever model it wishes, and the Bill will add models to those set out in the 1998 Act for the Assembly's consideration. The position of the Policing Board needs to be examined, and the future of any Assembly committee overseeing policing will need to be considered in the light of the important role played by the board.
Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the Minister for his response. I am greatly encouraged by his closing remarks, in which he said that clause 19 gave "freedom" to the Assembly to decide which model it wants to use, whether to have one or two Departments, and which provisions of policing and justice ought to be devolved to it.
In the light of the point made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), and the Minister's response to it, I would like the Minister to reflect again on the impact of these measures on the Policing Board. If there were a scrutiny committee in the Assembly to look after policing, on which MLAs would serve, as well as the Policing Board, on which other MLAs serve, there could be rivalry and claims of superiority between the two. That is a really serious issue.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab):
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I was perturbed
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to see her name misspelled in yesterday's Hansard. I can assure her that none of us in the House is in any doubt about who she is, despite the fact that somebody cannot spell.
The hon. Lady seems to be raising two separate points in regard to her amendment. On the first substantive point, does she not agree that the joint declaration of 2003 did in fact provide for these alternative models? Is it not a good thing to give freedom to the very people who should be organising the affairs of the people of Northern Ireland, so that they may be allowed to do so?
Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention, and I am delighted that he has put on record the fact that the misspelling of my name worried him so much that it caused him a sleepless night
Mark Durkan: I have listened to the hon. Lady's comments on her proposed amendment, and to her concern about the implications for the role of the Policing Board and its possible duplication by a departmental committee. Would her amendment not compound the problem? If the only role of the Department and the committee were to oversee policing and not wider justice issues, the problem that she describes would definitely arise.
Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. That is precisely what I needed to find out from the Minister. It seemed to me, when I read the Bill, that I had missed the entire discussion on whether there was to be simultaneous devolution of policing and justice to a single Department in Northern Ireland. That is what appears in the Bill, and my purpose in tabling this probing amendment was to discover the words that the Minister would use to justify the drafting of clause 19. I am not prescribing my preference.
Having said that, I am reminded of the fact that the Belfast agreement establishes that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. I am therefore concerned that justice and criminal law issues will be devolved to the Assembly. Antisocial behaviour orders might be withdrawn in Northern Ireland, for example. I am worried about policing and justice powers being devolved at the same time, because we have two separate Departments in England and Wales to deal with those issues, and they do not necessarily integrate or sit easily together. However, the Minister has given the House an
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assurance that clause 19 gives "freedom" to the Assembly to choose the format, the timing and the combination of powers that it wishes to see devolved.
Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the Minister for confirming that clause 19 gives freedom to the Assembly in conjunction with the 1998 Act, with which I am perfectly contentthe 108 Assembly Members are entitled to make up their minds about the Department's configuration. With that assurance from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
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