The week outside Westminster

The devolution of policing & justice powers to the Northern Ireland assembly was finally completed this week, in spite of opposition from the Ulster Unionists.

• SNP leader Alex Salmond and Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones wrote to the BBC’s director general claiming the election leaders’ debate would “endanger the conduct of a free election” if they were to be excluded.

Northern Ireland

• Commenting on the successful vote by MLAs to devolve policing and justice powers to Stormont, Gordon Brown declared: “It sends the most powerful message to those who would return to violence – that democracy and tolerance will prevail.”

• Speaking during the debate on policing and justice, Reg Empey declared the UUP would not budge in its opposition to the deal. Martin McGuinness dubbed their opposition as being a sign of “dysfunctional political positions”.

• The Ulster Unionists position caused headaches for David Cameron and the Conservative party, as the Conservative chair of the Northern Ireland select committee questioned whether the UUP/Tory relationship could continue when they differ on such an important issue. Left Foot Forward questioned how a potential prime minister Cameron could have any credibility in Northern Ireland.

• Former Ulster TV reporter, Fearghal McKinney was named as the SDLP’s candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone at the general election as Ian Paisley Junior was selected to fight his father’s North Antrim seat for the DUP.

• Introducing legislation to outlaw such practices, the UK Government made clear that MPs who also serve at Stormont should not receive two salaries. The Conservatives called for the measures to go further, with a complete ban on sitting in the assembly and parliament concurrently.

Scotland

• The director of CBI Scotland described as “militant behaviour” the decision by SNP and Labour MSPs not to cross the picket lines of striking PCS workers, bringing Holyrood to a halt.

• The Scottish Chamber of Commerce expressed disappointment Scotland would be left out of the initial roll-out of the high speed rail development. Scottish secretary Jim Murphy had another view, declaring: “This is a historic announcement by the Labour government, the fastest trains in history, 250mph, initially going to Leeds and Manchester, and then we’re committed to getting it to Scotland as well.” Scotland’s SNP transport minister Stewart Stevens pledged to “work with the UK Government” to deliver high speed rail between Scotland and London.

• The Scottish government described as “flawed” data, suggestions by whisky giants Whyte & Mackay that a minimum alcohol price could cost 200 jobs at its Grangemouth factory.

• Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced that NHS spending in Scotland would reach a record £8.4 billion. Labour’s Jackie Baillie, however, concluded that it would “represent a real-terms cut for much of Scotland”.

• The Electoral Commission reported that a quarter of residents in Glasgow had failed to register to vote, described by Labour MP for Glasgow South West, Tom Harris. as a “democratic scandal”.

• The Scottish government made clear that it would follow Gordon Brown by instigating a pay freeze for senior public sector managers and civil servants.

• The Scottish Affairs select committee concluded that it was “political will” that would improve co-operation between Holyrood and Westminster rather than simple changes to structures and institutions alone.

Wales

• The director of CBI Wales, David Rosser, described the decision by Plaid Cymru and Labour AMs to join PCS picket lines at Cardiff as sending out “completely the wrong messages”. Labour AM Jeff Cuthbert described the action as a “democratic right”.

• Welsh secretary Peter Hain met managers at Toyota’s Deeside plant after news that 150 jobs would be going at the site. Ahead of the meeting, Hain made clear that he was going “to see for myself what plans are being put in place to protect workers”.

• The number of people waiting more than 26 weeks for referral for hospital treatment rose by 1,900 during January.

• The assembly government announced NHS dental charges would be frozen for 2010/11, with prices remaining at 2006 levels. Health minister Edwina Hart said: “By freezing dental charges again we are maintaining access to NHS dentistry for Welsh citizens and helping to tackle oral health inequalities.”

The Environment Agency warned that spending on flood defences would have to triple to £135 million by 2035 to protect homes against the threats posed by rising river and sea levels. A government spokesman responded: “Improving flood and coastal defence infrastructure will continue to form a key part in managing flood risk into the future.”

• A parliamentary answer by Peter Hain revealed civil servants at the Welsh Office have spent £100,000 over the past year on first class travel between London and Cardiff.

Quote of the Week

“If the Tories allow this sham marriage to continue after a no vote, they will demonstrate a total lack of principle and leadership.”

Alliance leader David Ford commenting on the UUP/Conservative alliance during Tuesday’s debate on devolving policing and justice powers

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