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8 Jan 2003 : Column 158—continued

Criminal Justice

4. Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he is taking to help the victims of crime in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [89179]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Desmond Browne): The Government remain committed to improving access to justice for victims of crime in Northern Ireland. A key part of that is the implementation of the 16 criminal justice review recommendations on victims, which are

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currently being implemented. I intend to publish a renewed and revised criminal justice implementation plan soon.

Mr. Smith : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that one of the ways to heal the terrible scars of the troubles in Northern Ireland over the last 30 years is to do all that we can to assist and support the victims of terrible crimes? Will he tell me how much the Government have allocated to fund initiatives that specifically support and assist victims?

Mr. Browne: My hon. Friend is right to point out that we are the first Government to prioritise victims of the troubles in particular, but there has been a long-standing Government policy to support victims in Northern Ireland, certainly financially. He is also right to point out that resources are important in this regard. Not all the recommendations of the criminal justice review require resources, but I am pleased to tell the House that resources have been secured for those that do. For example, we have secured #1.6 million for Victim Support—which provides, among other things, a court witness service for witnesses and young people across Northern Ireland—and a grant of more than #150,000 to Nexus, a charity that works with victims of abuse. The House should also note that all this is in addition to the Compensation Agency's payments of compensation to victims, which amount to more than #45 million in this financial year alone.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Would not the best help that the Government could give to victims of crime be to ensure that terrorist crimes in Northern Ireland do not happen again? Is the Minister confident that bending over backwards to accommodate the IRA, which is inextricably linked to Sinn Fein, as the Government did before the last election by releasing all prisoners, is the best way to ensure that no more terrorist acts take place, particularly in the light of the spy ring identified at Stormont last year?

Mr. Browne: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, because it gives me the opportunity to confirm the Government's commitment to the very objective that he sets out—sustained peace and stability in Northern Ireland. He concentrates on but one issue, that of the release of prisoners. He will, of course, know that that was part of the Good Friday or Belfast agreement, which I understand he supports. There are difficulties involved with the implementation of that at the moment, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware of what the Government are doing because it is being done in a transparent fashion. I am sure that he supports the Government in the current discussions.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Some of the continuing victims of crime are those who have been forced out of Northern Ireland and into exile by paramilitary groups. Will the discussions with Sinn Fein provide an opportunity to ensure that its members put pressure on the Provisional IRA to end those practices? I hope that that can also be extended to the loyalist community.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and I would like to take this opportunity to pay

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tribute to him for his consistency on an issue that has been a blight on the community of Northern Ireland for three decades. He has been unstinting in his support for those who have been exiled and for those who support them, and he has been able to help me, the Government and the organisations involved. He can rest assured that the issue will be discussed with all parties in the context of the talks. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I call the next question, the House must come to order.

Weston Park Conference

5. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on recent progress on decisions taken at the Weston Park conference. [89181]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): On 5 December, the Government introduced legislation in another place to give effect to the commitments set out in the updated Patten implementation plan published following the Weston Park discussions.

Mr. Turner : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but will he confirm that bilateral discussions have been going on with all the parties and that indications have been given to some of them that there may be an amnesty for terrorists on the run? Will he confirm that there is to be no such amnesty?

Mr. Murphy: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that no such undertakings have been given. As he will be aware, the UK and Irish Governments said at the Weston Park talks in summer 2001 that they would take steps to resolve the issue of terrorists on the run who would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early release scheme, but that has also to be set against the Prime Minister's recent comments that the Government would contemplate steps on such issues only in the context of acts of completion.

David Burnside (South Antrim): I wish our new Secretary of State a happy new year and good luck in conducting his important responsibilities in Northern Ireland. Will he perhaps learn from the mistake made by his predecessor at Weston Park, where the Ulster Unionist party agreed nothing, yet deals were done behind the scenes with Sinn Fein? Will he give the House a commitment that no Weston Park-style behind-the-scenes deals will take place under his stewardship of the Northern Ireland Office?

Mr. Murphy: I reciprocate the hon. Gentleman's good wishes for the new year. It is important that we make the discussions over the next number of weeks as transparent as possible so that people are aware of exactly what is being discussed and negotiated. That is why I very much favour the round-table talks in Northern Ireland, but, of course, talks between the parties and the Governments are also extremely important. As he knows, we will not be able to resolve our difficulties unless all parties, including his, agree with the final outcomes of those discussions.

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Decommissioning

7. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the decommissioning of arms and explosives by paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. [89183]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): The IRA has engaged in two acts of decommissioning. It must now resume its contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and all paramilitary organisations must now, as the Prime Minister has said, complete the transition to exclusively peaceful means.

Mr. Bercow : I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful answer. Will she confirm that there can be no question whatever of any party serving in a reconstituted Executive unless it has first discharged its obligations to disband militarily and to decommission all arms and explosives?

Jane Kennedy: Broadly, yes. Although we continue to judge that the ceasefire is intact, there is no doubt whatever that the Provisional IRA remains an active paramilitary organisation. That is precisely why the Prime Minister sent the very strong message in his Belfast speech in October that it can no longer remain half in and half out of the process of normalising Northern Ireland.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) told us that the devolution of policing must not be a political football. Will the Minister give a commitment that the security of the people of Northern Ireland will not become a political football and that so-called normalisation, or the dismantling of security towers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, will not be bartered for some token gesture on decommissioning?

Jane Kennedy: The security of the people of Northern Ireland remains of paramount importance to the Government. I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we regularly demonstrate our commitment to delivering that security and to ensuring that the security services in Northern Ireland have all the resources that they need, as shown by our recent commitment of new funding. The vast majority of the rest of what he said is rhetoric and does not need to be responded to.

Northern Ireland Assembly

9. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had on the prospects for re-establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly. [89185]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson).

Mr. Tynan : I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Does he accept that violence in Northern

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Ireland is growing, and that that growth could be due to the suspension of the Assembly? Will he redouble his efforts to make sure that we get an agreement that will eliminate violence and restore the Assembly as soon as possible?

Mr. Murphy: I agree that the stability of the institutions is an important factor in ensuring that the stability of society as a whole in Northern Ireland is as good as we can achieve. I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the recent problems with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable is exercising a great deal of authority on these issues and cracking down on such crime, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that all of us who are involved in the Northern Ireland peace process must redouble our efforts to resolve the difficulties that we face.


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