Previous SectionIndexHome Page

20 Nov 2002 : Column 693—continued

6.31 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down): I am taken aback at being called to speak. I owe an apology to all the hon. Members in the Chamber. As the Deputy Speaker knows, I had to leave the Chamber to attend a Standing Committee, so I appreciate being called so promptly, and I appreciate the forbearance of other hon. Members, who may have been present this afternoon while I was not.

There is much that the Ulster Unionist party welcomes in the Gracious Speech, particularly the proposals to deal with antisocial behaviour. I noticed that it is the Government's intention to deal with antisocial behaviour throughout the United Kingdom. At our last Home Affairs Question Time, I pointed out to the Home Secretary that while hon. Members criticise the number of antisocial behaviour orders that have been made in Great Britain, no such orders are available to the police or local councils in Northern Ireland. If the Government are committed to dealing with antisocial behaviour throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, will they please bear it in mind that we in Northern Ireland would love antisocial behaviour orders to be available there?

I was especially pleased to see that the Government intend to increase sentences for those involved in sex crimes, particularly against women and against

20 Nov 2002 : Column 694

children. In that regard, I draw the Minister's attention to a loophole that currently exists in Northern Ireland. We are the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land frontier with another European Union country, the Republic of Ireland. I have a constituent, a young lady, whose daughter, a very young child, was taken by her mother's brother on an outing, ostensibly to Dublin, to Butlins, and was raped in the Republic of Ireland.

The man was duly convicted in the Republic of Ireland and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. However, he was transferred to a prison in Northern Ireland, on the ground that he wished to be near his family, without members of his family being aware that he had been transferred. He had been included on the sex offenders register in the Republic of Ireland, but he is not included on the sex offenders register in Northern Ireland, so when he becomes free, he can reappear in my constituency. My constituent, and particularly her daughter, are very fearful of that man coming anywhere near them. That loophole needs to be cleared up.

The Ulster Unionist party expects Northern Ireland to be included in all the measures that are introduced to modernise and streamline the criminal justice system. We had an extensive review of criminal justice as part of the Belfast agreement, and many new institutions were developed through the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which has been on the statute book since July. There was a major shake-up of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. We lead the way in the reform of policing, in human rights and in criminal justice.

I commend to the Minister one of the changes that was introduced—the judicial appointments commission, a body that has been set up to appoint all but the most senior members of the judiciary. That gives an enhanced sense of accountability and transparency to those who sit on the Bench. The commission is designed to be representative of the community. Community involvement in judicial appointments is helpful to the judicial system.

I was pleased to see the references to international co-operation, given that Northern Ireland shares a land frontier with another EU member state. We suffer greatly in Northern Ireland, as does the Treasury, from cross-border smuggling. The Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office with responsibility for security has just returned from a useful trip to study cross-border co-operation between Canada and the United States of America in dealing with cross-border smuggling.

I hope that in the spirit of co-operation, the Government will make representations to ensure that the Irish Government, on passing their new extradition measures, will give sufficient powers to police forces in the United Kingdom to execute arrest warrants in that jurisdiction. That would be invaluable in countering those who are involved in cross-border smuggling. As the Minister will appreciate, the smuggling of fuel and cigarettes is used by paramilitary organisations, both loyalist and republican, to fund their paramilitary activities. Any co-operation between police forces in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom would be welcomed to clamp down on such activity.

I thank the Deputy Speaker again, and leave those points with the Minister, in the hope that he will incorporate them in future legislation.

20 Nov 2002 : Column 695

6.38 pm

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): I welcome the Queen's Speech. Reading the debates on the Gracious Speech in June 2001, I was struck by how much the Labour Government have achieved over the past year, and how little the rhetoric from the Opposition Benches has changed.

I am delighted with the focus on justice for victims of crime and antisocial behaviour. That is important to my constituents in Hamilton, South. Dealing with crime is a devolved matter for Scotland. Because of the need for United Kingdom-wide solutions, we have an opportunity for real partnership between Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. By tackling poverty, we are improving social inclusion, enhancing benefits and tax credits, and increasing employment opportunities. If we do not do that, we will not eradicate the crime that exists in many of our communities.

Crime and disorder is a UK-wide problem, but the Government have taken significant steps to deal with it. The Home Secretary admits that we have not solved the problems. The measures proposed by the Government are an opportunity to further advance the improvement in our communities that we all desire. I do not believe that it is a failure that each of the measures that we have introduced has built on the successful implementation of previous law. We have been building measures in a sensible way, seeing what works and listening to what communities are saying, particularly about what has to be done to solve the problem of antisocial behaviour and deal with that blight on our lives. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid) that pressure for action on antisocial behaviour is generally coming from the grass roots. We must take cognisance of that fact.

In the middle of Hamilton, we still have a problem regarding the yob culture. The same problem is endemic in many of our constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) spoke about fireworks, which are topical. Local communities face considerable harassment and nuisance from children who regard fireworks as some sort of toy and apparently find enjoyment in putting them in pillar boxes or letter boxes. While an elderly lady in my constituency was waiting for an ambulance to take her to hospital, a rocket was put into to her letter box and lit. It hit the back of the hall. The trauma for that person, who was waiting to go into hospital, was substantial.

I should like to consider some solutions to the problems that we face. In Hamilton, South, we introduced a successful pilot scheme as part of our child safety initiative in which young children aged 12 and under who were out late at night after a certain time were collected by the police and taken back to their homes. Their parents were held responsible for correcting the problem. Unfortunately, the amount of policing time involved makes such an approach untenable in the long term, as police had to be moved from one area to another in order to make the scheme successful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central spoke about the 137th item on a list of calls. I should like to draw attention to a pilot scheme that is in operation in Hamilton, South in which a dedicated call centre has

20 Nov 2002 : Column 696

been set up and four experienced police officers work on a shift rota to take and screen the calls. Callers often report that a car has been broken into and that the police force cannot do any reparatory or investigatory work. Those taking the calls can advise the caller, perhaps saying XYou don't really need a police officer; this is what can be done."

Working in partnership with the likes of South Lanarkshire council, with which the police have a good relationship, those involved in the scheme have been able to deal with many of the problems that arise. When yobs are constantly causing problems in an area, the problems are highlighted and it is possible to ensure that the callers understand how to deal with them. If a problem relates to yobs in a drunken rabble, the police can look to the licensed retail outlets in that area in order to deal with it. The scheme is a good example of joined-up thinking involving the local council, the police and other bodies working together not only to be proactive, but to look in the long term at how best they can deal with the problems in their area and eradicate their causes. That is certainly a way forward.

Having outlined some of the problems that the Queen's Speech seeks to tackle and local initiatives that are working, I should like to express my welcome of the proposals and suggest a number of others. If the revised antisocial behaviour orders are used wisely, they can have a genuine impact. In my constituency, we set up an antisocial behaviour unit and found that it could make a difference in tackling problems in particular areas. Where people felt previously that they were in a hopeless situation, taking evidence and ensuring that families were taking responsibility for their children worked well and enabled us to prevent the problems from escalating out of control.

Another problem is young kids who are out of school during the day, especially in the afternoon. That is a problem not only of policing, but of education and trading standards. It is also a council issue. Those involved have to work together in particular to ensure that those young children are not involving themselves with alcoholic beverages because of peer pressure.

Last night, I welcomed to Westminster the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities fireworks task group, which has considered the problem of fireworks for the past six months. Some 22 local authorities have given evidence, along with the police. The group has made a number of recommendations that I would recommend to the Home Office for its consideration. Misuse of fireworks is one of the biggest problems that we face. Unless we deal with it, it will continue to escalate out of control. The group said that health and safety is one of the big issues and recommended that the retailers who are selling fireworks should be made responsible and that the law should be tightened to prevent fireworks from falling into the hands of young people.

I congratulate the Government on introducing a range of important measures, but crime and antisocial behaviour are not easy issues to solve. The best way for us to deal with them is to ensure that we exert pressure as Members of Parliament, consider the issues and deal with the problems.

Next Section

IndexHome Page