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Antisocial Behaviour

2. Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast South) (UUP): What plans he has to bring forward legislation in the period following elections to the Assembly to deal with antisocial behaviour in Northern Ireland. [141215]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Spellar): I am considering measures to deal with antisocial behaviour, and in particular whether something similar to an antisocial behaviour order could be developed that could operate within the different local government structures that exist in Northern Ireland.

I plan to consult soon on a package of measures, including legislative changes, to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I welcome the Minister's positive response. Will he give us a guarantee that the package will not be unduly delayed? We must bear in mind that housing associations continue to allocate housing to people who have been moving from one place to another. They are jumping the queue because of their antisocial behaviour, to the consternation and destruction of good communities.

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Mr. Spellar: I take the points made by the hon. Gentleman. He and the impressive delegation from his constituency made those points in detail when they came to see me. I stress, first, that I intend to consult fairly soon. Secondly, the issue is about not only legislative changes, but the administration of the system and making sure that the Housing Executive, housing associations and other Government agencies take these matters seriously at all levels and implement actions in real time to the benefit of well-behaved orderly citizens and their families, who should not have their lives, their family life and their neighbourhoods disrupted by antisocial elements.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Does the Minister agree that if the acts of normalisation in the joint declaration—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) referred—are to take place, not only antisocial behaviour, but punishment beating, racketeering and other criminal acts must cease? Will he urge all the democratic parties that took part in last week's elections to support the police to ensure that that happens?

Mr. Spellar: May I first congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new Front-Bench appointment? We have made our opposition to all forms of paramilitary behaviour very clear. The hon. Gentleman is indeed right that that is an additional factor in the problems on some housing estates. However, none of that detracts from the responsibility of state agencies to ensure that people who are committing acts of antisocial behaviour and have persistent patterns of offending are dealt with rapidly and effectively for the benefit of orderly families and estates.

Irish Hare

3. Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab): What measures he is taking to halt the decline in numbers of the Irish hare. [141216]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith): The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland is currently considering a number of steps. We have a species action plan to double the number of Irish hares by 2010 and we are reviewing whether the Irish hare should be given protection at all times under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. Meanwhile, I am looking at a proposed temporary ban on the killing or taking of Irish hares, and we are encouraging the provision of Irish hare sanctuaries by landowners.

Mr. Pickthall : I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on advancing and strengthening the decision made by Assembly Members in 2001 to restrict the hunting of hares. I welcome the temporary ban, which will mean no hunting or coursing of Irish hares in Northern Ireland, but if and when the scientific evidence again shows that hare numbers are under severe pressure, will she find the means to ensure that the ban is made permanent and the hare is removed from the list of quarry species?

Angela Smith: My hon. Friend's interest in the issue and his concern about protecting the hare are well-founded. I can assure him that when we look at the

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Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order all scientific evidence will be taken into account. After consultation it will be the appropriate measure to use to end the killing of all hares.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): The Minister will be aware that I used to be retained as a consultant to the Countryside Alliance, as she was retained by the League Against Cruel Sports. From our different points of view, we both admire that noble animal, the Irish hare. Why is she using her personal prejudice, as hare coursing is muzzled in Northern Ireland? No animals are killed and a professor and a doctor of biochemistry from Queen's university, Belfast say that

The Minister is showing personal bias against country people—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House is getting far too noisy again, and it is important that I hear the Minister's answer.

Angela Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman declared his personal interest. My interest concerns the welfare and numbers of the Irish hare. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman misquoted Professor Montgomery, who did not say what was cited. In fact, it was Professor Montgomery who first asked the Department to consider removing the Irish hare from the list of quarry species. However, all those matters will be considered in the light of scientific evidence. There is no way in which I could allow the netting of hares for hunting and coursing following the Assembly's decision to protect the Irish hare.


4. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): What plans he has to encourage the take-up of broadband services in Northern Ireland. [141217]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson): Invest Northern Ireland is currently undertaking a major programme to encourage the take-up of broadband services by small and medium-sized businesses, including the provision of both practical advice and financial support to businesses.

Judy Mallaber : Getting businesses to take up broadband is extremely important, but at the moment, while 22 per cent. of businesses in the UK have taken it up, the figure is only 12 per cent. in Northern Ireland. Will my hon. Friend explain exactly how he intends to raise that figure to the welcome target of 20 per cent. by 2005?

Mr. Pearson: My hon. Friend takes a keen interest in telecommunications issues, and is right that at the moment we lag behind the rest of the UK in broadband take-up. We have a clear strategy on take-up, and there is a financial package that provides up to £5,000 of installation and first-year running costs to businesses.

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We have a major programme of awareness events to promote broadband, and we currently have a tender to ensure that we improve access to broadband. At the moment, only 65 per cent. of companies have access to broadband, which is a significant problem, but we are sorting it out.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): Is the Minister in a position as yet to indicate who will be the successful tenderer to provide broadband internet services across Northern Ireland? Does he agree that the talent and ability of locally based companies in Northern Ireland should be harnessed by the successful bidder so that broadband is rolled out, and so that all our councillors, for example, can be contacted by e-mail and so on at their local councils?

Mr. Pearson: I obviously cannot disclose the results of the tender exercise, which is still in its final stages. We hope to be able to make an announcement shortly, when the evaluations have taken place. Obviously, we are bound by EU procurement rules, but I am keen to encourage and support Northern Ireland indigenous businesses. A number of them already provide broadband services across the region, and as a Government, we are certainly committed to providing support to them as they go forward.


5. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the prospects for reinstatement of devolved government in Northern Ireland following the elections to the Assembly. [141218]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): As the Assembly election showed, the main parties and the great majority of the people who voted for them want to see devolved government. The future of devolution now depends on engagement among the parties. We shall provide all the help we can to secure a basis on which the Assembly can be restored and a functioning Executive quickly established on a stable and inclusive basis.

Helen Jackson : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I congratulate all those who have been newly elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Can he assure me that, as he works with the parties and the Taoiseach in Dublin on how to restore the devolved institutions, he will draw into those negotiations and discussions all those who have been newly elected and are indeed drawing 70 per cent. of their salary, so that they have a job to do?

Mr. Murphy: I can give my hon. Friend precisely that assurance. She will know that the way in which the Good Friday agreement was created, and the reason for its success, was that everybody was involved in the discussions and negotiations. All parties in Northern Ireland will have that opportunity to discuss among

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themselves, with me and with the Irish Government how we restore devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I again appeal to the House: it is far too noisy, which is unfair to Northern Ireland Members and others who are present.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): As the restoration of devolved government is now less likely because of last week's elections, is it not clear that there is a need to draw lessons from those elections? Is not the most important lesson that a lot of decent, moderate people in Northern Ireland rightly voted for the agreement after receiving handwritten pledges from the Prime Minister, but those pledges have now been broken? Can we have an undertaking that the Prime Minister will not break further pledges and harm the peace process in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Murphy: I certainly do not think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is harming the peace process in Northern Ireland—far from it. I think that the commitment that he has made to peace in Northern Ireland is exceptional. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is, of course, more difficult and challenging to restore the institutions, but I also remind him that, compared with the problems, challenges and difficulties of the past, it is still a possibility.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): Is it not the case that the Belfast agreement had the support of the majority of people in Ireland, both north and south, and represents an international treaty, which means that it cannot be renegotiated? Therefore, is it not the responsibility of every constitutional party, including the Democratic Unionist party, as the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland, to now sit down and form a Government?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right that the Good Friday agreement is based on an international treaty and, of course, on the results of referendums north and south. At the same time, he is also right that all the parties elected to the Assembly last week need to play their part in restoring devolution. He will know that I met the Democratic Unionist party this week, and I believe that further discussions will take place between us.

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