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Mr. Clarke: In principle, the hon. Gentleman is correct. However, the practicality is a matter of concern, which the Secretary of State for Health, other colleagues
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and I are discussing carefully to ascertain how we can improve matters. The relationship has not always been as smooth as it needs to be, as the hon. Gentleman said. We are considering how we can deal with such issues more profoundly in the context of our departmental work, the new proposed legislation that the Department of Health will introduce and the comprehensive spending review. That is one of the reasons why simple statements about the prison population are not necessarily especially helpful. A large proportion of the prison population has mental health needs, and the Secretary of State for Health and I agree that there is a good argument for perhaps dealing with that in better ways, if we could find such ways and have a proper assessment regime. The hon. Gentleman is therefore right in principle, but, in saying that, I do not want to imply that there is not much difficulty in practice.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Home Secretary agree that it would be far more effective to fire the head of the probation service, who has failed us, build more prisons and end the disgraceful practice of releasing people halfway through their sentences, thus enabling them to embark on a trail of rape, robbery, mugging and murder? When will he stop all forms of early release and make our streets safer?

Mr. Clarke: I do not agree with that assessment.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Home Secretary's statement is too little, too late. Since home detention curfews were introduced, 7,000 crimes have been committed by people who are out on a tag, and more than 1,500 people released on parole have committed further crimes since 1997. Does not the Home Secretary understand that those crimes would not have occurred if those people were in prison? They include a convicted murderer who was let out into my constituency and recently convicted again of abducting and raping a young boy. Surely the time has come for prisoners to serve their sentences in full.

Mr. Clarke: As I said earlier, the statement is not about home detention curfew arrangements, though I note that the Opposition supported those proposals when the House first considered them. However, the statement is about protecting the population from dangerous offenders. I believe that we are strengthening that protection, and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Would not the public feel properly protected if they
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knew that offenders released from prison were not still addicted to drugs? What steps will be taken to eradicate access to drugs in prison?

Mr. Clarke: The short answer is yes, they would. That is why we have the most substantial programme of drug rehabilitation in our history. It includes a massive expansion of treatment to an extent that was not thought of under the Conservative Government, and a regime of requirement by law, which we have changed, for people to have drug rehabilitation treatment. We are not there yet, but we are making progress, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support in implementing that policy even more strongly.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I join my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) in welcoming the statement, which many will interpret as an admission by the Secretary of State of the failure of the sentencing, remission and parole polices that have been followed to date. However, I welcome the fact that there is now some action or at least the promise of it. He gave an assurance that the measures would apply to Northern Ireland. In the light of the outcry in the Attracta Harron case, how will the measures be resourced? Proper monitoring will require additional resources.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for that general support, if that was what it was. I repeat the comments that I made to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell): I am keen to work with hon. Members on the matter, in conjunction with my Northern Ireland colleagues. We need a regime that is as consistent as possible and we shall discuss that constructively.


Northern Ireland

Mr. Secretary Hain, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Clarke and Mr. David Hanson, presented a Bill to make provision for preparations for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland and for the selection of persons to be Ministers on such restoration; to make provision as to the consequences of selecting or not selecting such persons; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 24 April, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 169].

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Orders of the Day

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

(Clauses 1 to 7, 10 to 12, 19 to 22 and Schedule 2, and any new clauses and schedules other than those relating to Parts 2 or 4)

Considered in Committee [Progress, 19 April].

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 19

Department with policing and justice functions

1.4 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I beg to move amendment No. 30, in page 13, line 41, leave out 'and justice'.

It is a delight to be back in the Chamber to discuss the Bill, and I am sure that the Minister shares those sentiments. He had a lively and enjoyable time yesterday, so I am sure he was impatient to get today's business under way.

Clause 19 is the central feature of the Bill and proposes the devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland. It was the measure's original core, around which all the other miscellaneous elements have been wrapped to give the clause some cover and the Bill some substance.

As drafted, the clause is curious because it provides that

there will be two options. If the Assembly decides that policing and justice is to be devolved to it, the clause proposes that either two Ministers "acting jointly" should look after only one Department or that one Minister with a junior Minister should do it and rotate every six months.

I would dearly appreciate an explanation from the Minister of how we have reached the presumption that there will be only one Department.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr.    David Hanson): The Northern Ireland Act 1998 provides for several models. The clause proposes two additional models, but a range of options already exists. We are not trying to restrict options for the Assembly to determine.

Lady Hermon: The Minister must clarify exactly what he means by that intervention. Does he mean that there is a range of options for Ministers to act jointly or every six months? The reason for the amendment is that I would like the Minister to articulate why policing and justice should be devolved to one Department.

Mr. Hanson: The 1998 Act already allows for separate Departments, if the Assembly chooses that option. The Bill provides for two additional models, which the 1998 Act does not cover.

Lady Hermon: The amendment aims to discover what is in the minds of those in the Northern Ireland Office,
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if that is possible—it varies from month to month and sometimes from one week to the next. We have separate Departments for England and Wales—the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which covers justice issues, and the Home Office. We have just heard a statement from the Home Secretary. Is one of those separate Departments the Northern Ireland Office's preference, or is it completely neutral about the matter? The Minister indicates that he is entirely neutral. That is a happy outcome. Given that there are two separate Departments in England and Wales and Ministers are not required to act jointly or swap places every six months, it is a little odd that that could happen in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hanson: It might help the hon. Lady to know that we are entirely neutral on which form of devolution—should it exist—the Northern Ireland Assembly should introduce. The Bill provides two models that at present are not available to the Assembly, but we are neutral; it is for the Assembly to determine how it proceeds.

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