Previous Section Index Home Page


COE/WEU (Information Bulletin)

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I have placed in the Library today the latest Information Bulletin on the activities of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union covering the period November to October 2003.


Independent Monitoring Commission(Abduction Incident)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): On Friday 20 February the Police Service of Northern Ireland made a number of arrests in connection with an alleged assault and abduction. The case is sub judice.

Four people now face serious charges, including grievous bodily harm, possession of articles likely to be of use to terrorists and unlawful imprisonment. The PSNI are following a number of very definite evidential lines, including video material and the items, clothing and other forensic material recovered at the scene. The Chief Constable of the PSNI has made it clear to me that he is satisfied that there was Provisional IRA involvement in the incident.

These events are a matter of serious concern. As far as the overall situation is concerned, my assessment of the various paramilitary organisations' ceasefires, in the

26 Feb 2004 : Column 60WS

light of information I have received, remains unchanged. But all the indications are that there has been a serious breach of the requirement set out by the British and Irish Governments in paragraph 13 of the joint declaration for an end to all forms of paramilitary activity.

Such behaviour is wholly unacceptable. As the Government has repeatedly made clear, parties cannot be half-in, half-out of the democratic process. All paramilitary activity must stop.

These developments have inevitably had a serious impact on this week's discussions with the Northern Ireland political parties within the review of the operation of the Belfast agreement. At those meetings, we listened carefully to the views of the parties and, in particular, to their concerns about the implications of these events for the establishment of the trust and confidence required to achieve a successful outcome to the review and to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland.

Both Governments are now asking the Independent Monitoring Commission, which was established in January, to examine Friday's incident in the context of the preparation of its first report on paramilitary activity. We have also asked the Commission to bring that report forward from July to May. The report is expected to take account of all paramilitary incidents and activities within its remit since the Commission's establishment. The Commission is obliged by law not to do anything in carrying out its functions that might have a prejudicial effect on any legal proceedings.

Both the British and Irish Governments are very clear that the achievement of a sustainable basis for political progress in Northern Ireland requires a full and permanent cessation of all paramilitary activity. As part of the wider agenda of the review, it is vital that we intensify engagement with the parties on this core issue, and we envisage that next week there will be a significant focus on it.

Prison Service

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): On 8 September 2003, the Secretary of State formally accepted the recommendations of the Steele Review of Safety at Maghaberry Prison. The review recommended that prisoners with paramilitary affiliations should be accommodated separately from each other, and from the rest of the prison population, on a voluntary basis.

One aspect of implementation has been the development of a prisoner compact, which makes clear the routine and facilities available to separated prisoners and what will be required of them in return. These proposals were issued for public consultation in December.

The Government have considered the representations made and, have made some adjustments to the compact where these do not reduce the ability of prison staff to maintain good order. The revised compact is published today and I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses. This is the compact that will set the parameters of the regime in the separated facilities.

26 Feb 2004 : Column 61WS

As I have made clear on numerous occasions, no-one wants a return to the conditions that pertained at Maze where staff were threatened, intimidated and subjected to brutal attacks and where prisoners could threaten and intimidate other prisoners with impunity.

Many have voiced their concerns that separation could ultimately lead us back to a Maze style regime. I am determined that that should not happen. I firmly believe that the additional security measures which have been incorporated at Maghaberry, taken together with this Compact, will ensure that it does not.

Another of the Steele Review's recommendations was that we should consider the appointment of a prison ombudsman. We will be bringing forward proposals for public consultation shortly.

The publication of the compact now clears the way for full implementation of Steele's recommendations. Most of the physical work required in Maghaberry has now been completed and staff training is well underway. The Prison Service aims to achieve full implementation by the middle of March.

Police and Criminal Evidence Review

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): A review of the Police & Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 and the accompanying codes of practice is being undertaken by officials in the Northern Ireland Office.

The review, which aims to bring the existing PACE legislation and the codes of practice in Northern Ireland into line with that in England and Wales, will adopt much of the new or amended legislation and revisions to the codes of practice introduced by the Home Office as a result of their fundamental review of PACE in 2002.

26 Feb 2004 : Column 62WS

It is my intention to issue a draft Police & Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order and associated codes of practice for consultation in autumn 2004 with the aim of them becoming operational by summer 2005.


2012 Olympic Games

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games is focused on the Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley. The London Development Agency submitted an outline planning application for the Park and four ancillary applications to the Joint Planning Authorities Team (representing Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest London Boroughs) on 30 January 2004. Decisions on these, and any subsequent applications, are matters for the local authorities concerned. However, it is possible that decisions in relation to these applications could fall to be determined by me as First Secretary of State (either on appeal or if applications were to be called in). I and other Ministers in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have other policy responsibilities, including the delivery of development and regeneration in the Thames Gateway and the role that the London Olympics bid might play in achieving these objectives. In order to ensure that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's "Guidance on Propriety Issues in the Handling of Planning Casework" is followed, I have decided that any planning decisions arising for the First Secretary of State in respect of development related to the Olympics bid will be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). She will not be involved in any other matters relating to the Olympics bid.