The process of transfer will not be an instantaneous one

In addition to the wide-ranging Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions] Bill introduced in the Commons today, Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain has released what is described as a discussion document on the devolving of policing and justice powers[pdf file], according to the NIO statement, “The discussion document sets out the specific powers that Government thinks should be devolved and how these could operate including the concept of policing precept.” Update The policing precept refers to, as the accompanying written statement says, “giving the Assembly the power to raise revenue for policing from a policing precept, as is the case in England, Scotland and Wales.”The document also ends with a reminder of the built-in delays in the process of devolving those powers –

Next Steps & Implementation

19.1 The Government fully accepts, under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, the desirability of devolving policing and justice on a basis that is “robust and workable and broadly supported by the parties”. It confirmed that view in response to the Patten Report. The legislation going through Parliament will enable devolution to be delivered by secondary legislation when the circumstances are right.

19.2 The Bill enhances the arrangements already set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (section 4) for further devolution. Section 4 allows the Secretary of State, by Order, to devolve reserved matters, but only if the Assembly has passed a resolution, with a crosscommunity vote, requesting it. This therefore requires the parties in the Assembly to have come to an agreement about whether or not the time is right to request further devolution, about what should be devolved and about the departmental structures that should be put in place to receive the new functions. It is only at the point when these decisions have been taken that it will be possible to set in place the detailed implementation plan – and to draw up the secondary legislation – required to effect the transfer.[added emphasis]

19.3 The process of transfer will not be an instantaneous one, as there are a number of administrative and contractual changes that would need to be made in order to make the policing and justice machinery operate effectively in a devolved context. Without a definitive decision on the precise scope of devolution and the departmental structures that the Assembly will wish to put in place, it is difficult to give a clear
estimate of the lead time. Much depends on how quickly the parties can agree the detail of structures and scope of devolution.[added emphasis]

19.4 It is for this reason that the Government wants to encourage the parties represented at the Assembly to start considering these issues in some detail, both internally and in discussion with each other. The Government aims to discuss the possibilities with the parties over the coming weeks with a view to facilitating wider dialogue.

And this is what the NI (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill proposes to say on devolving those powers –

19 Department with policing and justice functions

35 [1] After section 21 of the 1998 Act insert—

“21A Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions
(1) This section applies if an Act of the Assembly—
(a) establishes a new Northern Ireland department; and
(b) provides that the purpose of the Department is to exercise functions consisting wholly or mainly of devolved policing and justice functions.

(2) The Act of the Assembly may (but need not) make provision of the kind mentioned in subsection (3) or (4).

(3) The Act may provide for the department to be in the charge of two Northern Ireland Ministers acting jointly.

(4) The Act may provide—
(a) for the department to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister who is supported by a junior Minister; and
(b) for the persons holding those offices to rotate at intervals determined by or under the Act, so that the person who was the Minister in charge of the department becomes the junior Minister and the person who was the junior Minister becomes the Minister.

(5) Schedule 4A (provisions relating to a department with devolved policing and justice functions) shall have effect.

(6) In this section “devolved policing and justice function” means a function relating to a matter which—
(a) is a transferred matter by virtue of an Order under section 4; and
(b) satisfies the condition in subsection (7).

(7) The condition is that, immediately before the matter became a transferred matter, it fell within a description specified in—
(a) any of paragraphs 9 to 12, 14A to 15A and 17 of Schedule 3; or
(b) any other provision of that Schedule designated for this purpose by an order made by the Secretary of State.”

[2] After Schedule 4 to the 1998 Act insert the Schedule 4A set out in Schedule 2 to this Act.

[3] In this Part “the 1998 Act” means the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47).

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