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Restorative Justice

2. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Policing Board about the introduction of community-based restorative justice systems. [40303]

6. Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): If he will make a statement on Government policy on community restorative justice in Northern Ireland. [40307]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the Northern Ireland Policing Board on 1 November, and I met them on 5 December, to discuss the introduction of community-based restorative justice guidelines. The draft guidelines have now been published for consultation, and I look forward to receiving the considered views of the board and of other key stakeholders. The Government will take the results of the consultation fully into account in deciding on our next steps.

James Duddridge: The Minister said that the draft guidelines for community restorative justice were put out to consultation in December, but can he tell us why they contain no requirement for all groups to endorse Northern Ireland's police and criminal justice system? Should not that be a fundamental condition before any further development of restorative justice in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman should perhaps go back to the guidelines and read them in detail, because he will find that the draft guidelines unambiguously specify that the involvement of the police and other statutory criminal justice organisations in the operation of the schemes is essential. There is no room for two-tier policing in Northern Ireland and we are committed to monitoring and developing those guidelines to ensure that the schemes that operate, independent of Government, are linked to the policing and criminal justice system. That is important. If the hon. Gentleman has comments to make on the guidelines, the consultation runs to the end of February and I would welcome his detailed comments.

Mr. Lancaster: Will people with terrorist convictions be able to participate in the scheme?

Mr. Hanson: The guidelines make it clear that no one currently involved in paramilitary or criminal activity should be involved in any scheme. One of the issues that we have put in the guidelines for consultation is the question whether individuals who have had criminal convictions in the past should be involved in the schemes. I am seeking views on that issue in the consultation, because some individuals may have criminal convictions from 30 or 35 years ago, are not now involved in criminality and may wish to be involved in those schemes. I will reflect on that issue when the consultation is completed.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): Will the Minister give me an undertaking this morning that he will impress on the Policing Board the need for it to
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support the good and effective restorative justice schemes that already exist, such as the IMPACT scheme in North Down, of which I am enormously proud?

Mr. Hanson: I know that the hon. Lady has several schemes in her constituency which are doing very positive work. She will know that recommendation 168 of the criminal justice review recommended that positive restorative justice schemes should operate. The intention of the guidelines is to lay down some minimum standards so that any schemes that are funded independently of Government operate at a standard that we would expect. I would hope that the Policing Board would make comments on the guidelines, but would also recognise the inherent value of restorative justice schemes to Northern Ireland for the prevention of crime in its communities.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Will the Minister assure the House that the same vetting procedure will apply to those involved in restorative justice schemes as is used, for example, to assess personnel for the police, so that only people who believe in the rule of law are admitted to the schemes? That would give the community the confidence in the CRJ schemes that it does not have at present.

Mr. Hanson: As I said in my answer to the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), we have made it clear that nobody who is currently involved in any criminal or paramilitary activity should be involved in the schemes. We are consulting on the question whether individuals who have previous convictions should be involved in those schemes. As I said earlier, it is possible to have a criminal conviction from a considerable time ago that may or may not affect the involvement of an individual in the schemes today. That is one of the issues on which I seek views in the consultation and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and others will supply their views during the process.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): For a number of years, people have not been arrested for being members of the IRA. If they are members of the IRA will they be able to partake in the scheme?

Mr. Hanson: As I have already said, the guidelines make it clear that nobody involved in paramilitary activity or criminality can be involved in the scheme. Membership of the IRA is involved in paramilitary activity, so I would want to reflect on that point, but it is clear to me that current involvement in paramilitary activity is not compatible with the operation of the scheme.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Can the Government categorically confirm that all restorative justice schemes will involve direct co-operation with the Police Service of Northern Ireland? The Minister says that no one involved with paramilitary organisations will be allowed to participate in the schemes, but he knows very well that not all people involved with paramilitary organisations actually have criminal convictions, or have been proved to have them, so how
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will he ensure that the restorative justice schemes operate within the law and not as a form of vigilantism with a sheriff's badge?

Mr. Hanson: The guidelines that I am producing for consultation were not drawn up out of the blue; they were drawn up in conjunction with the PSNI, the criminal justice agencies and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland. The criminal justice system and the police are integral to the operation of the schemes. At present, none of the schemes is funded by the Government, but they operate to support the reduction of crime in our communities. We have to ensure that there are minimum guidelines, and the minimum for us is that no paramilitary activity or criminality is involved and that individuals respect and comply with the rule of law and work with the agencies to tackle crime. That is central to our conditions for the guidelines. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Miss Widdecombe, there is far too much noise in the Chamber—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady is not the only one; there are a few others.


4. Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): If he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland. [40305]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): We continue to see dramatic improvements in the security situation compared to the height of the troubles, with paramilitary-style attacks on a downward trend.

Mr. McGrady: I thank the Minister for his abrupt reply. With reference to the announcement from the Secretary of State last week that he would bring forward a date for the legislation on the devolution of criminal justice powers to Northern Ireland, what action will the Minister and the Secretary of State take to restore confidence in the judicial and security systems, following revelations about the murky and dirty underworld of mutual spying by the Government and Sinn Fein? Following the abandonment of the Stormontgate trial, for what were widely believed to be political reasons, what will the Minister do to restore confidence that justice will be done, and seen to be done, in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Woodward: As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has been the policy of successive Administrations that the Government never comment specifically on security matters. None the less, there is no doubt that there was paramilitary intelligence gathering that the police acted to prevent. As a result of that operation, hundreds of    stolen documents were recovered, more than 1,000 people had to be warned and more than £30 million had to be spent on protective measures. The rule of law will be upheld in Northern Ireland and we are confident that the decision made independently by the prosecution authorities in relation to the issue was the right one and that it was in the public interest.
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David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): The Minister said that we continue to see improvements in Northern Ireland's security. Will he confirm to the House that there is a media recruitment drive by the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA in Northern Ireland at present?

Mr. Woodward: I am not able to comment specifically on the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I point out that it is absolutely essential to recognise that comparing last year with the height of the troubles we continue to see downward numbers of paramilitary-style attacks. The security situation continues to improve, and in relation to the issue that he raised, people in Northern Ireland are able to live in greater security than they have enjoyed in recent years.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the radical changes that were implemented in policing following the Patten report, and in the criminal justice system following the criminal justice review, rested on the assumption that everyone in Northern Ireland, especially those who aspired to serve in government in Belfast, would support the police force and the rule of law? Does he share my view that it is frankly intolerable that the republican movement should continue to demand a place in government while it refuses to support the police, refuses to recognise the courts and refuses to uphold the rule of law in the Province?

Mr. Woodward: We absolutely recognise what the hon. Gentleman says, and we will continue to work with all political parties to ensure that everyone contributes to ensuring a climate in Northern Ireland in which everyone is signed up to policing and security.

Mr. Lidington rose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Will the House be fair to the hon. Gentleman and to the Minister who is replying? Far too many conversations are going on.

Mr. Lidington: I am grateful to the Minister for his response, but he will have seen the statement made by those in the provisional movement a few days ago that the publication of draft legislation to devolve policing and criminal justice to Stormont would not be enough for them to convene the special conference that is required for them to endorse policing and the courts in Northern Ireland. Will the Government maintain a very firm line and tell the republican movement that support for law and the police is a fundamental expectation of any party that expects to serve in government and that no more concessions will be forthcoming? It is time for the republicans to deliver.

Mr. Woodward: We absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is essential for all political parties to sign up and agree to policing and criminal justice matters. In fact, that is a matter of common sense. There can only be long-term security in Northern Ireland as long as everybody, including all political parties, signs up to policing.
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