Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2001

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Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): Before time is up, would the Minister address the point about the admissibility of phone-tapping evidence?

Jane Kennedy: Bearing in mind that time is short, I will answer the questions on interception after I have broadly reviewed the legislation. My comments on the task force will give the Committee an idea of how we are making progress.

Much other imaginative work is already under way, over and above the operational activities by the police and other agencies; for example, the Forensic Science Service is developing its profiling of drugs seizures to produce intelligence material on supply routes, in addition to the excellent analytical services it already provides. A strategic intelligence analyst has been working with the drugs squad for some time to improve the flow of intelligence about drug-related matters. Analysing information from individual crimes to develop an overall picture will assist in intelligence-led policing. Much more remains to be done, but I wish to pay tribute to the agencies for their work.

Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jane Kennedy: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way. I am running out of time, and I want to get to the point about interception.

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In October, police in the north-west seized cannabis resin with a street value of £500,000 and, in November, police in County Antrim seized drugs, including cocaine, worth £700,000. The police take action against criminals who are involved in drugs peddling, and anyone with information on this evil trade should pass it on to the police.

Northern Ireland will also benefit from the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which is before Parliament. It will enhance powers to seize criminals' assets and will apply directly to those who deal in drugs. Northern Ireland will be included in the remit of the proposed assets recovery agency. Action will be taken to remove the financial power base from which many criminals, including paramilitaries, operate.

On interception, I must tell hon. Members that the balance of opinion among law enforcement agencies, including those engaged in gathering intelligence, is to retain the present prohibition on the use of interception. The general consensus did not change after 11 September. However, the position will be kept under review; my colleagues in the Home Office are regularly in contact with us about such matters. A balance must be struck between the advantages of

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using interception and the damage that might be done by disclosure of operational techniques to organised criminals who would be able to adapt their operations to avoid police interception.

I had hoped to give a longer explanation of what the Government are doing and to explain some of the education, treatment and rehabilitation work of the devolved Assembly. I will look at the projects that the hon. Member for South Antrim mentioned, and I will also get a copy of the book that he recommended; I look forward to reading it.

I hope that the Committee will accept that all parts of government, whether devolved or not, recognise the threat that illegal drugs pose to all sections of the community, especially to the young and the vulnerable. The task is not easy, but I am confident that if we work together and encourage maximum co-operation among the agencies, we will make progress in tackling the issue to the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.

The Chairman: Since this is the last Northern Ireland Grand Committee before we go into recess, I take this opportunity to wish everyone in the Room a merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Five o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
McWilliam, Mr. John (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Beggs, Mr.
Blunt, Mr.
Burnside, David
Dodds, Mr.
Ellman, Mrs.
Gapes, Mike
Hayes, Mr.
Hermon, Lady
Hunter, Mr.

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Jackson, Helen
McGrady, Mr.
McIssac, Shona
McWalter, Mr.
Öpik, Lembit
Paisley, Rev. Ian
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Robinson, Mr. Peter
Smyth, Rev. Martin
Tami, Mark
Trimble, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 109(4):

Browne, Mr. Desmond (Parliamentary Under-Secretary

of State for Northern Ireland)

Hill, Mr. Keith (Streatham)

Kennedy, Jane (Liverpool,Wavertree)

Stringer, Mr Graham (Manchester, Blackley)

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Prepared 13 December 2001