Proposal for a Draft Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2004

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Mr. Gardiner: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments. As he said, we have been in correspondence on these matters. He will appreciate that any funding for temporary accommodation for the primary school would inevitably come out of the resources that are available for other capital and educational provision, so a very good case would have to be made for giving the primary school funding for the refurbishment.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about Dromore high school. No doubt, the school and the local education and library board will put their case to my Department, and I look forward to receiving the details. We shall give the issue every consideration, taking account of the relevant criteria.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): Does the new Minister not see a certain irony in the fact that he, as a member of the Labour party and perhaps even a socialist—I do not know whether I am allowed to mention that word in the company of Labour party members—is presiding over the implementation of the Costello report? It will lead to the biggest-ever private sector building programme in education in Northern Ireland and to the creation of independent schools, to which the rich, reacting against comprehensive education, will be able to send their children—just as in England. Does he see no irony in the fact that this meritocratic, socialist, Labour Administration will destroy our state grammar school system?

Mr. Gardiner: If I thought for a moment that that would be the effect, I might be able to understand the hon. Gentleman's remarks. However, I do not think that, and I do not accept his point. As the Costello report sets out, a full range of different schools, including grammar schools, will still be available to children in Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, those schools will have to work in concert with other schools and with the FE sector to facilitate the range of provision that Costello says is required.

The hon. Gentleman will agree that it is wrong for certain schools to offer only 10 or fewer subjects at GCSE and A-level when provision should be broadened. He will accept that the status quo in schools is not universally rosy, just as I accept that the work done in certain sectors, including certain grammar schools, is of the highest quality. I hope that he accepts that we must not only preserve the best of the education system but tackle its worst aspects, such as the fact that 21 per cent. of our children leave school without even level 2 skills in literacy. That does no service to those children or to the educational requirements that businesses put on us to get the right skills base into the economy of Northern Ireland.

Organised Crime Task Force

4. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): If he will make a statement on the fourth annual report of the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force. [173492]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson): The Organised Crime Task Force threat assessment and strategy, which was published on 11 May, indicates that levels of organised criminality in Northern Ireland remain high. Of the 235 Northern Ireland-based organised crime groups identified in the assessment, 85 have been classified as top level, and the vast majority have links to paramilitary organisations.

The taskforce's partner agencies have had significant successes in the past 12 months and will continue to concentrate their efforts and resources on disrupting and dismantling organised criminal groups at every opportunity.

Mr. Swayne: The press release that accompanied the Minister's publication of the report last Tuesday spoke of paramilitary involvement in criminal activity worth tens of millions of pounds. Did he see yesterday's Irish Independent report, in which the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, is quoted as saying that the IRA's criminal activity is massive and sustained. Given his response to the question asked by the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), does he accept that the two orders that we passed last Thursday, which in effect take £120,000 from the IRA, require more Government action to be taken? Can we have a response proportionate to the problem that we have uncovered?

Mr. Pearson: The important thing is that we are serious about tackling organised crime, whether it is committed by republican groups or by loyalist groups. In the past 12 months, as a result of the actions that I described, 60 organised crime groups have been dismantled or disrupted. There have been major successes. Only yesterday, the police seized cannabis and amphetamines with an estimated street value of £1.8 million. Only last week, the PSNI seized £1.2 million of cocaine in Belfast. There have been several arrests. Other drugs with a street value of around £12.5 million have also been recovered. Assets have been confiscated, and there has been a 38 per cent. reduction in the number of attacks on cash-in-transit couriers. As I mentioned, 21 fuel-laundering plants have been broken up, and more than 1,500 vehicles seized.

We need to do more. As I said, we need to continue to bear down on organised crime, whether it is committed by groups with paramilitary links or by others. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to think for a moment that we are not working flat out to tackle this problem. We are working very hard, through the Organised Crime Task Force, and I hope that I have reassured him that we are having considerable success.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I, too, welcome both my hon. Friends to the Committee and congratulate them on their new roles and responsibilities. I wish them the very best in pursuing this agenda.

Does the Minister agree that it is not only the good work of the Organised Crime Task Force, but the augmentation of that work by the Assets Recovery Agency, cross-border working and the full co-

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ordination of all these programmes that is vital to tackling organised crime and terrorist-based crime in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Pearson: My hon. Friend is right about the work done by the Assets Recovery Agency and the important role that it has to play, as well as about the importance of cross-border co-operation. There is very good co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Siochana, and we are strengthening those ties at the moment. That is important, because organised criminals do not respect boundaries. It is important that we have sufficient resources and the commitment and co-operation of police services north and south of the border and in the rest of the UK so that we can bring these people to justice, whether they are organised locally, nationally or internationally. That is what we are committed to doing.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): May I, through the Minister, congratulate the police in Northern Ireland on the seizures to which he alluded?

I have two questions to ask the Minister. First, many decent, law-abiding people in both communities in Northern Ireland want the firmest possible action to continue to be taken against the paramilitary groups who organise and fund their activities in some of the ways that he described. They want to see people appear before the courts, they want severe sentences to be handed out to those people and they want firm action taken against both sections of paramilitaries. Will he comment on the fact that there is a view in the Unionist community that the Assets Recovery Agency has carried out splendid work against the loyalist paramilitaries, but that it wants to see the same action taken against republican paramilitaries?

Mr. Pearson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the ARA is investigating republicans and loyalists and will bring both to book. I have no doubt that, during the coming months and years, it will be a major and important part of bearing down on criminal activity. He says that it is a question not only of arresting people, but of bringing them to book, and I totally agree with him. There is frustration in Northern Ireland, as there is here, and a desire to see stronger, tougher action.

I was pleased to see earlier this week that two individuals convicted for blackmail in Northern Ireland received sentences of eight and five years respectively. That shows that courts are prepared to give out commensurate sentences and demonstrates some of the successes that the police in Northern Ireland are having in tackling criminal behaviour.

The Chairman: We must now move on to the main debate.

Points of Order

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr. Cran. Anyone who has been in this House as long as I have knows that you are a man of considerable influence here. This Committee has long had a difficulty, in that it is a Northern Ireland Grand Committee that is being hampered with regard to meeting in Northern Ireland. At a recent meeting that my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley

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(Mr. Donaldson) and I had with the Secretary of State, it became clear that such a move was being blocked by the SDLP.

You will see, Mr. Cran, that once again the SDLP Members have absented themselves from the Committee, but have prevented it from meeting in Northern Ireland. Will you use your influence to ensure that we have the opportunity to let the people of Northern Ireland participate by listening to these debates? A group of headmasters has come from Northern Ireland specially to hear this debate. If it had been held in Northern Ireland, the Gallery would have been full of people from the education sector.

The Chairman: As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not a question for me at all. It is to be discussed through the usual channels, and doubtless that will occur if all the parties wish.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Cran. I raised the same issue with the Leader of the House today at business questions. He said that he had no responsibilities in the matter. Perhaps you could advise us as to the procedures that determine where and when the Committee meets. Surely the Leader of the House has a role in connection with that. Although such decisions might be influenced a great deal by the Northern Ireland Office, they should at least be rubber-stamped by the supreme figure in this area in the House, so that the rest of us can respond.

 
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