The British government has been accused by critics of hammering through legislation to finalize the handover of powers for policing and justice to Northern Ireland. Laws that allow the completion of the devolution of policing will be introduced in the House of Commons on February 23, when British Members of Parliament (MPs) return from recess. The new laws will then be debated on March 4. It is expected they will complete the parliamentary process on the same day. But the British government's critics claim that the legislation, which includes the model for the justice department, is being forced through parliament too quickly. Labor MP Andrew MacKinlay told Commons Leader Harriet Harman that it was an abuse of the House to try to rush it. "This goes to the heart of policing in Northern Ireland," MacKinlay said. "It is a major piece of legislation. I really do protest that we should push this through all at once." The British government, which wants the legislation in place to allow the transfer as soon as the Assembly requests the power, insists that MPs will have more than a week to consider the bill's details before it reaches the debate stages. It also points out that it is a technical bill, as the principles of handing over responsibility have already been agreed. In response to the recent criticisms Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said, "We gave a commitment at St. Andrews to ensure when the parties were ready to complete devolution with the transfer of policing and criminal justice, the legislation would be in place." The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) can delay devolution until it decides the public will accept policing and justice under the control of an administration including its partner in government Sinn Fein. Woodward added, "The legislation, which will be introduced on February 23 and have its Second Reading on March 4, fulfils that commitment and maintains the momentum towards the completion of devolution that was signaled by the agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein on November 18. "The bill deals with technical points which will allow the Assembly to move to the next stage of completing devolution," continued Woodward.
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