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Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): The job description that the hon. Gentleman has just given for a First Minister is not one that I would recognise in a devolved Scotland. The First Minister in a devolved Scotland is a political leader and a political driver who sells Scotland abroadand sells it very successfully, given that we will host the Commonwealth games in 2014.
Mr. Robinson: I would be content to exchange not just the First Minister but our whole Assembly for the Scottish Parliament. Our First Minister in Northern Ireland spent about 80 per cent. of his time trying to keep his party together, never mind the country.
I recognise that the option may be withdrawn, but I do not believe that any of these provisions will be sufficient to secure the devolution of policing and justice. Further legislation will undoubtedly be required, because there are weaknesses and gaps in the existing legislation.
I assure the hon. Member for Foyle that no deals have been done with the Government or any other party in relation to my party's participation in any Assembly, any Executive or any devolved institutions, including policing and justice. No agreement has been made on those aspects. I greatly doubt that, in my lifetime, we shall ever see circumstances in which they could be devolved, although I would be happy if that were possible.
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One suggestion that I did make was that if there were a single Department with a single Minister and if it could be bid for under d'Hondt, my party, being the largest party, would secure that office. That would be a way forward for Northern Ireland, and if other parties are willing to consider it we shall be happy to oblige.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I have a practical question. We would have no objection to the First and Deputy First Ministers acting jointly, or for that to be an option that the parties could consider in deciding how to arrange a Department with policing and justice functions, but, although I may well be wrong, it seems to me that the amendment is superfluous. I see no reason why the joint exercise of the powers by Ministers could not involve the First and Deputy First Ministers. Does the Minister agree that it is for the parties in Northern Ireland to decide how they organise their own Departments?
As I told the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) privately outside the Chamber before the debate, if he examines sections 17, 19 and 21 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, he will see that his amendment is unnecessary. What he wants it to do is already possible and need not be included in the Bill. Sections 17 and 19 of the 1998 Act provide that the First and Deputy First Ministers may, with cross-community Assembly support, determine the functions to be exercisable by the holder of each ministerial office, and that will include themselves. I hope that that will allay the hon. Gentleman's fears, and those of the hon. Members for Solihull (Lorely Burt), for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson).
Mr. Hanson: Additional models need to be applied to support the potential options for the Assembly to choose, in due course, what form the devolution of policing should take. If we did not include those additional models, we would restrict the Assembly's choice. That relates particularly to the point made earlier by the hon. Member for Foyle, who said that it was a case of rearranging the furniture. That is not so: the 1998 Act, as it stands, is insufficient without further primary legislation.
Mark Durkan: Will the Minister address the possibility that the Bill will limit the choices? If the parties in the Assembly are confined to the models in the Bill, we shall not be able to agree that a sole Minister could be appointed, outside d'Hondt and by direct election, on the basis of cross-community support by the Assembly. We shall not be allowed to pursue that option. If we do, surely new legislation will be needed and the Bill will be redundant.
A number of potential options in the 1998 Act allow the appointment of Ministers, including
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the First and Deputy First Ministers, and set out the way in which such appointments are made. This Bill is adding to that by putting in place a number of additional options to allow what I believe individuals want in due course, which is the potential to devolve policing and criminal justice.
I find myself in a strange situation. Yesterday, I was arguing to have Assembly matters devolved back to the Assembly and to give away my responsibilities for housing, culture, arts and leisure to the Department for Social Development and my colleagues in the Assembly. Today, I am proposing giving my criminal justice powers to the Assembly when the Assembly wants them. It is strange to be giving away powers on both occasions for devolution to the Assembly yet to find difficulty in terms of the wish of hon. Members to receive those powers in due course.
Mark Durkan: Can the Minister tell us where in the Bill the power is being given away and what power? While we have all sorts of options in the Bill as to how Ministers might be appointed, it is silent on what their powers would be.
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have given previous commitments that devolution of policing and criminal justice will happen. The Bill sets the framework for that. Part of the 1998 Act relates to that framework. As the Minister now, I am saying to the Committee, as we said on Second Reading, that, if at some point in the future, when the Assembly is reconstitutedas I hope that it will be by Novemberand if it wishes to have devolved to it criminal justice and policing, if the Secretary of State wishes to agree to that and if the House of Commons supports it, devolution will take place.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: I am grateful to all hon. Members who contributed. I recognise the objections that have been made, although the amendment seeks to give the Assembly the option of that particular arrangement. Given that the Minister has put on the record an assurance that an option already exists, I am happy to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(8A) A Northern Ireland Minister shall not take up office until he has made a declaration before the Assembly pledging to support the Police Service or Northern Ireland and uphold the rule of law.".'.
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