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13 Mar 2001 : Column: 510W
Dr. Reid: Today I have laid before the House a White Paper outlining the Government's proposals to combat electoral abuse in Northern Ireland. This Government are determined to minimise opportunities for abuse, while avoiding putting obstacles in the way of people's legitimate exercise of the franchise. The White Paper sets out a comprehensive strategy to address the weaknesses in the electoral procedures that have allowed electoral fraud to take place. It is important to note that these measures will apply only to Northern Ireland, where electoral abuse is believed to be a more serious problem than elsewhere in the UK.
The extensive consultation and investigations that we have undertaken have ensured that our proposals are practical and realistic, and will make a real difference. Several of the proposals contained within that paper will require changes to the law, and we intend to bring forward legislation at the earliest possible opportunity.
In addition, I welcome the measures which the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland has put in place to combat fraud in future elections. The provision of enhanced training and guidance for electoral staff is under way. The Electoral Office already co-operates closely with the police in investigating suspected cases of electoral fraud, and this liaison has intensified recently in the run-up to the local elections. The processing of absent vote applications has been returned to the local electoral offices in order to allow local knowledge to inform the scrutiny of these applications.
I am happy also to be able to announce the initiation of a research project designed to measure the true extent of electoral fraud. This research will inform our continuing efforts to stamp out electoral fraud.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures have been taken since the UK ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that practices of the police and criminal justice agencies offer the full range of protection under international law. 
Mr. Ingram: Since the UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 legislation has been introduced and recommendations have been made further to ensure the protection of the rights of the child in the justice system. Particular highlights include: the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which removed the power of the juvenile court to give a custodial sentence for the care and protection of non-attendance at school; the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, which reserved custodial sentences for only the most serious and/or persistent offenders; and the Criminal Justice (Children)(Northern Ireland) Order 1998, which introduced short determinate sentences, half of which is served in custody and the other half under supervision in the community. On 1 March 1999, as a result of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Human
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Rights Commission (NIHRC) came into existence. It has taken a keen interest in the welfare of children in the justice system, taking as one of its first investigations the impact of custody on the rights of children. The Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force on 2 October 2000, formally incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law. On a Quinquennial basis the Government are required to submit a report to the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child. Such reports include details of measures that exist within domestic law, practices and procedures, to ensure the rights of children who come into contact with the police and other criminal justice agencies.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he has taken to familiarise officers of the RUC with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; and what mechanisms are in place to monitor effective compliance. 
Mr. Ingram: A recent Force Order on the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 highlighted other relevant International Standards, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In drafting the Force Order the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was consulted. No separate monitoring mechanisms are currently in place. However, consideration is being given to their introduction in line with Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, when the Royal Ulster Constabulary becomes a 'delegated authority' for the purpose of that Act.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will (a) list those sections of emergency legislation where the exercise of police powers involves officers making contact with members of the public and (b) specify those areas of their powers where police have a responsibility to ascertain whether the member of the public is an adult. 
Mr. Ingram: Such powers are currently governed by the provisions of Parts IV, V and VII of the Terrorism Act 2000, its related Schedules 5, 7, 8, 10 and 14; as well as the relevant Codes of Practice issued under the Act which stipulate an express requirement on the police to ascertain if an individual is a juvenile. For example in the Detention Code (in Northern Ireland issued under Section 99 of the Act) Section 1.7 states:
Mr. Ingram: 'Minors', i.e. children under 10 years of age, have no criminal liability in law in Northern Ireland and are therefore not subject to PACE etc. Any intervention by the police, therefore, is from a 'care and welfare' perspective as provided for by the Common Law and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. 'Juveniles', i.e. under 17 years of age, have the same rights as adults, with such additional safeguards as are
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stipulated in the various Codes of Practice issued under PACE, the Terrorism Act 2000, the Royal Ulster Constabulary manual and Force Order.
In common with the exercise of police powers in all other areas of the United Kingdom, Royal Ulster Constabulary officers have been receiving training and guidance on the principles arising from the Human Rights Act 1998.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what (a) guidance, (b) instructions, (c) training and (d) rules have been issued to the police governing treatment of traveller children and children of other ethnic minorities. 
Mr. Ingram: There is no specific guidance issued to police officers about the treatment of traveller children and children from other minority groups. Treatment of these groups is governed by the safeguards which are in place in respect of all children in the form of the statutory Codes of Practice issued under PACE (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 and the Terrorism Act 2000, with their additional safeguards in respect of juveniles. Language difficulties are overcome with the involvement of trained interpreters. Additional training and guidance is provided on Human Rights and Equality issues.
Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the other written notices that have been circulated in the past five years (a) for the attention of and (b) to be communicated to officers having dealings with members of the public the responsibilities they have towards the exercise of their powers in respect of children. 
Mr. Ingram: The Royal Ulster Constabulary operates under the Codes of Practice issued under the provisions of PACE (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Other than addendum's to the Royal Ulster Constabulary manual held by each officer explaining aspects of the law, no other notices have been issued or communicated to the police in this respect.
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