Previous Section Index Home Page

8 Nov 2004 : Column 525W—continued

Paramilitary Criminal Activity

David Burnside: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what his estimate is of the (a) size, (b) scale and (c) range of criminal activities being carried out by (i) the UDA, (ii) the UVF, (iii) PIRA and (iv) INLA; and what action is being taken to stop such activities. [196501]

Mr. Pearson: The Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) Threat Assessment, which was launched on 11 May 2004, clearly indicated that all Northern Ireland based paramilitary groups remain involved in organised crime, particularly in respect of counterfeiting, drugs, oils fraud, extortion, money laundering, robbery and illegal tobacco.

The IMC reports of 20 April and 4 November also provide a clear assessment of the criminal activities of all paramilitary groups.

The Organised Crime Task Force provides the strategic framework for the law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and agree priorities for tackling organised crime in Northern Ireland. The effectiveness of this approach is clearly evidenced by the partner agencies' continuing successes against organised criminal gangs.

Pension Shortfall

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to introduce relief for homeowners facing the prospect of being forced to sell or re-mortgage their homes because of an income reduction caused by a pension shortfall. [193562]

Mr. Timms: I have been asked to reply.

The Government are tackling pensioner poverty through personal tax and benefit changes which mean that the average pensioner household is now £26 per week better off in 2004–05 than they would have been under a continuation of the 1997 system. One of the key measures that offers extra financial support to the poorest and most vulnerable is the pension credit. This guarantees pensioners a minimum weekly income of £105.45 for single pensioners and £160.95 for couples and rewards pensioners who have low or moderate income or who have saved for their retirement.

For those who face a shortfall from their occupational pension schemes, from next April, when a company becomes insolvent and is unable to honour employees' Defined Benefit pension rights, the new Pension Protection Fund will offer a scheme that offers compensation, thus reducing the shortfall that they
8 Nov 2004 : Column 526W
would otherwise suffer. To help members of schemes that wind-up before April 2005 DWP are developing a Financial Assistance Scheme


Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he will take to prevent development without prior planning permission through the operation of the retrospective planning process. [193439]

Angela Smith: The planning system aims to stop unacceptable development and to allow other development to proceed, subject to conditions. In certain circumstances, it is appropriate to accept retrospective planning applications, but generally, development in advance of planning permission is discouraged. To strengthen this, I shall bring forward legislation in the forthcoming Planning Reform Order enabling the Department to apply a multiple of the normal planning fee to retrospective planning applications.

The Department is also implementing recommendations from its benchmarking of planning enforcement against planning authorities in Great Britain that enable more effective action against unauthorised development. This includes an experienced, well equipped and well trained body of enforcement staff commensurate to its workload that can act within reasonable timescales, further development of working relationships with district councils and seeking the application of more realistic fines by the courts.


Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many cells in prisons in Northern Ireland are occupied by more prisoners than those cells were designed to hold. [195531]

Mr. Pearson: At present there are 156 cells designed for single occupancy that now accommodate two prisoners per cell.

Telecommunications Masts

Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consultations are being held with the mobile telecommunications industry on the need for further dialogue between communities living in the immediate vicinity of masts and their possible relocation. [194789]

Angela Smith: My Department is not involved in any formal consultations with the telecommunications industry on this matter.

As you will be aware, all proposals for the erection of mobile phone masts in Northern Ireland require planning permission and are considered on their individual merits against prevailing planning policies, taking account of representations received following normal advertising and consultation arrangements.

The telecommunications industry does, however, appreciate that the Government would support greater public consultation by operators prior to planning applications for new telecommunications equipment being lodged.
8 Nov 2004 : Column 527W

It was for this reason the Mobile Operators Association (MOA), which represents the main mobile telecommunications operators, developed the Traffic Light Rating Model for Public Consultation, as part of the operators 10 commitments. The guide is to assist the operators in ascertaining the amount and type of public consultation that is required for any proposed site. The consultation that is carried out under this process by the operator is in addition to that already carried out by the Planning Service for planning permission.


Child Witnesses (Court Delays)

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment he has made of the (a) level and (b) length of delays in court cases involving a child witness since 1997. [196639]

Mr. Leslie: The waiting time for a child called as a prosecution witness in the Crown courts in June 2004 was 118 minutes, down from 155 minutes in 1997. For a child called as a defence witness, the waiting time was 54 minutes, compared to 189 minutes in November 1997.

In the magistrates courts, the waiting time for a child called as a prosecution witness was 92 minutes, down from 97 minutes in 1997. For a child called as a defence witness, the waiting time was 134 minutes compared to 153 minutes in November 1997.

The Effective Trial Management and "No Witness No Justice" Programmes will reduce the numbers of ineffective trials and delay at court and further improve services for victims and witnesses, including child witnesses.

Civil Servants

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the average length of continuous service for civil servants within the Department is. [194404]

Mr. Lammy: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Ruth Kelly), on 3 November 2004, Official Report, column 267W.

Electoral Registration

Mr. Evans: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what action he is taking to ensure that Electoral Registration Officers are proactive in registering overseas voters. [196738]

Mr. Leslie: Electoral Registration Officers each year invite electors who have applied to be added to the overseas electors' list to renew their applications to be included in the electoral register. The independent Electoral Commission provides information and advice to British citizens living abroad on their electoral rights and has produced a registration form for use by eligible British citizens.
8 Nov 2004 : Column 528W


Mr. Allen: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs if Ministers in the Department will make it their policy to encourage magistrates to meet tenants' leaders, neighbourhood watch co-ordinators and other community leaders in the areas they serve; and if he will make a statement. [196211]

Mr. Leslie: There are existing and successful programmes in operation so that magistrates can engage with their local communities, such as "Magistrates in the Community" which aims to raise awareness of the magistracy and its work.

The Secretary of State has commissioned a programme entitled "Supporting Magistrates to Provide Justice". This initiative will be seeking input from all those who work within, and with, the magistrates courts. Ideas from here will be fed through to the very good work that is already being carried out under the Magistrates in the Community Programme, and further foster community links. Further announcements in relation to this initiative will be made in due course.

In addition, the Courts Boards that are being established will provide another means of engaging with representatives of the local community.

Mr. Allen: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs if he will make it his policy to encourage magistrates to meet hon. Members who serve courts in their constituency. [196212]

Mr. Leslie: Hon. Members can meet with magistrates to discuss the general concerns of their constituency, where both parties are content. In order to preserve judicial independence, magistrates should not be asked to discuss individual cases.

Next Section Index Home Page