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Organised Crime

6. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What additional measures his Department has considered for engaging and developing cross-community support in tackling organised crime in Northern Ireland. [72225]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): The Organised Crime Task Force is tackling organised crime on a cross-community basis with the support of the law enforcement agencies, the Northern Ireland Departments, the Policing Board and the business community.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and congratulate him and the Organised Crime Task Force on their work. The Organised Crime Task Force report of 2005 stated that the statistics show that loyalists and republicans are moving from sectarianism into organised crime. It said:

That did not include the splinter groups or the new gangs that came into the picture. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is fundamental for police groups and community groups to work together to ensure that the trend goes downwards, not upwards?

Paul Goggins: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know that he has a particular interest in the matter and that he has been very supportive of the relevant legislation. He is quite right that, if organised crime is taking place in order to line the pockets of organised criminal gangs or to fund paramilitary activity, those people need to know that the full force of the law will be brought to bear against them and that the agencies will work together to ensure that organised crime in Northern Ireland is combated.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): The issue in Northern Ireland is not the lack of cross-community support for the security forces in dealing with organised crime, although I note that Sinn Fein still does not support the police. I hope that the Minister will join me in urging that party to cross the line and support the rule of law. Is not the issue one of ensuring that the police, the Assets Recovery Agency, the Organised Crime Task Force and Revenue and Customs have the resources that they need to tackle the problem? Until organised crime and the grip of paramilitarism is broken, we will not have real peace in Northern Ireland.

Paul Goggins: I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in saying that all parties in Northern Ireland should fully support the rule of law. Of course that is the case. The agencies are well resourced and may I say that, under the incentivisation scheme that the Government have put in place, 50 per cent. of any assets recovered go back to the agency that recovered them and into front-line services? It therefore becomes a successful cycle in which more ill-gotten resources go back to the benefit of the community.

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Northern Ireland Executive (Appointments)

7. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): What his policy is on the appointment to ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Executive of people who do not support the police. [72226]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The Government believe that all parties, especially those holding ministerial office in a restored Northern Ireland Executive, should support policing arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Dunne: I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he conceive of any democracy—for example, the Republic of Ireland—in which Ministers hold office in an Executive without supporting the police? Will he support my call for Assembly Ministers to sign a new pledge of office to support the police and uphold the rule of law?

Mr. Hanson: The Government believe that support for the police should come from all political parties and I am encouraging all parties to play their role in the Policing Board. We currently have a pledge of office in place and I confirmed in a debate last week that we can discuss making revisions to it and having a new pledge if that is what people want. I am happy to discuss that with all parties.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Would the Minister regard the Prime Minister as incompetent if he were to allow into his Cabinet someone who thought that it was optional whether or not he supported the police? Should not supporting the police be a requirement or are there double standards when it comes to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hanson: As I have already confirmed, support for the police from all parties is something that we are working towards. I want Sinn Fein in particular to play its part in the Policing Board. We currently have a strong pledge of office and I am willing to discuss a revision of it with all parties. As I have already said, I am happy to do that in due course if the hon. Gentleman wishes to get agreement on those matters.

Northern Ireland Assembly

8. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If he will make a statement on the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly. [72227]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier answer.

Mr. Bone: We will not allow terrorists or former terrorists to sit on the Treasury Bench, so why do the Government think that it is all right for such people to be involved in the Government of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hain: If the hon. Gentleman is referring to Sinn Fein, the fact is that the Independent Monitoring
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Commission has spelled out in categorical terms that Sinn Fein and the IRA have turned their backs on their past paramilitary activities and violence, and that they are increasingly doing so in respect of criminality, too. That puts us in a good position to seek agreement between the parties to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive and to bring local democracy to Northern Ireland.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): If it is confirmed to the Secretary of State and the House that Martin McGuinness attended a paramilitary display in Londonderry at the weekend, will the right hon. Gentleman now tell the House that he has thus proved himself totally incapable of gaining the confidence of the people in respect of playing a part in any Northern Ireland Executive?

Mr. Hain: As I have just said, it is very important that we recognise the enormous change that has taken place. As the hon. Gentleman will know, because he and his colleagues and relatives have suffered over the years, there has been an enormous sea change since bombs and bullets were being let off by the IRA and other paramilitary organisations every day of the week. We must take advantage of that sea change, and build with confidence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s party will agree to move forward, with all the other parties, and establish a restored democratic Government for Northern Ireland.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [73142] Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, I should say that during this week we have sadly lost a Member of our House. Eric Forth was a redoubtable opponent, caustic at times, fearless and principled always, often witty—a lot of it at my expense—but also privately immensely courteous, friendly, and just a thoroughly decent man. We all send our deepest sympathy and condolences to his family.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Dr. Wright: I am sure that the whole House will want to associate itself with what the Prime Minister has just said.

When the Prime Minister was in Baghdad this week, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, was in this country, saying that it was now ridiculous for anyone to suggest that Iraq was not in a state of civil war. Does the Prime Minister agree, and where does that leave our promise not to leave Iraq until a stable democracy has been established?

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The Prime Minister: I think that the people best able to give a sense of where Iraq is today, and where it needs to be, are the people who are now in government, elected by 12 million Iraqi votes. What they describe to me is a situation in which, for the first time, they have a genuine unity Government. In other words, we have Sunni, Shi’a and Kurds sitting down and working together, all of them representing parties that have stood in elections and been elected by the people of Iraq. I may say that none of them wanted the multinational force to withdraw immediately, but all of them believe that the terrorism that is attempting to push their country into civil war is a terrorism that has to be defeated—that can be defeated—by the united will of the Iraqi people who want democracy, and the international community that should support them in that endeavour.

I believe that, as the new Prime Minister of Iraq said to me, if we defeat terrorism there we will defeat it everywhere.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I begin by adding my tribute to Eric Forth. He was a master at this Dispatch Box. He had a quick wit, a brilliant mind and, above all, a dedication to this place. While he loved the Commons, he also worked hard for people in Bromley and Chislehurst. From his seat just behind me, he gave a running commentary on Prime Minister’s Question Time. He had a few things to say about the Prime Minister’s performance, but just as often he had a few things to say about mine as well. He always spoke his mind about everything, but he was a principled defender of what he believed in, and he will be missed by everyone.

The new Home Secretary has said that the immigration and nationality directorate, after nine years of a Labour Government, is “inadequate”, “dysfunctional” and “not fit for purpose”. More than two years ago, in February 2004, the Prime Minister said:

Does the Prime Minister now agree that that judgment was completely wrong?

The Prime Minister: Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the facts of what has changed over the past nine years. I think it is fair to point out that whereas over the last four years of the Conservative Government the number of asylum applications rose by 50 per cent.— [Interruption.] This is on the record. We have reduced the number of asylum claims to below the number that we inherited in 1997. Whereas that Government used to take 22 months over initial asylum applications, 80 per cent. are now decided within two months. We have doubled the number of failed asylum seekers who are removed, and unlike the previous Government we now actually know the number of people whom we need to deport and can deport them.

I agree that a huge amount still needs to be done, for the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We have waves of migration, not just in this country but throughout Europe. Migration is a major issue in the United States at the moment for the self-same reasons. There has been, as my right hon. Friend said, huge progress in the past nine years, but there needs to be much more.

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Mr. Cameron: To try to blame previous Conservative Home Secretaries just will not wash. The Prime Minister will be blaming Sir Robert Peel next. Let us be clear about what the Prime Minister said and what the Home Secretary said. The Prime Minister said that the IND

The Home Secretary, who is trying to help the Prime Minister in his hour of need, said:

How can those two possibly wash?

The Prime Minister: For the very reason that I have just given to the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] No, I am not blaming the last Conservative Government. I am simply pointing out that the system that we inherited in 1997 took ages to decide asylum claims, and that it was a system in which the number of asylum seekers rose and failed asylum seekers were not removed. It is a fact that the number of asylum claims is now down; it is a fact that the number of removals has now doubled; and it is a fact that 80 per cent. of claims are now decided in two months. It is also, however, the case that much more needs to be done.

Mr. Cameron: All right; if Ministers are going to take responsibility, perhaps the Prime Minister can answer this. Can he explain why the Minister who has been judged too incompetent to run the immigration part of the Home Office has been put in charge of the police?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) has been moved, and I point out that, under him, we actually doubled the number of removals of failed asylum seekers.

Let us turn to the measures that we now need to take. We need to introduce the new immigration points system, as we have outlined, but we also need to introduce the electronic borders that we have suggested, and we need a proper system of identity for everybody in this country. In addition, we need to change the law on deportation. Let me just point out to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) that every time that this Government have sought to take measures— [Interruption.] Well, yes, but although the Opposition talk about tackling the problem in general, they oppose the measures in particular that are necessary to do it. So let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman that they opposed the measures that increased our powers to deport, they opposed —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentlemen must give the Prime Minister an opportunity to answer the question. There is far too much shouting down.

The Prime Minister: I was merely pointing out to the right hon. Member for Witney that every time he and his party have had an opportunity to vote for tougher measures —[Interruption.]

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I tell you this: when people hiss, I cannot find out who is hissing, so the next move is that I suspend the House, and we do not have Prime Minister’s Question Time. [Interruption.] Order. So the behaviour must improve, or I suspend the House. That is the next move.

The Prime Minister: I was merely pointing out to Opposition Members that every time that we have proposed tougher measures—for example, to deport people or to fine those illegally getting people into our country—and every time that we have tried to tighten the law on those people who are in prison and whom we need to deport, the Opposition have voted against it. [Interruption.] It is no use the right hon. Gentleman looking puzzled. Does he want me to go through each and every measure? [Interruption.] Right. The Opposition voted against deporting foreign national prisoners at the halfway point of their sentence. They voted against removing refugee convention protection from all prisoners sentenced to two years. They voted against the single-tier appeal system, which is an absolutely vital part of getting people out of the country. They failed to support fines for carriers of illegal immigrants, and they failed to support one-stop appeals or penalties for spurious appeals. They also abstained on the measures for a points system and for limiting the rights of appeal in this country. In other words, the charge against the right hon. Gentleman, with respect, is that every time that we propose a tough measure, he opposes it.

Mr. Cameron: Honestly, it is hard to know where to start. If the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) was doing such a good job, why was he moved? The Prime Minister says that we have opposed his legislation: we have been telling him about the problems with the Human Rights Act 1998 for years, and he said that everything was fine. In the last week, we have learned that 95 foreign criminals who have committed serious crimes are still at large; 700 people escaped from open prisons last year; and illegal immigrants have been allowed to clean the offices of the Department that is meant to remove them. That is a typical week in Labour’s Home Office.

While all the other Ministers are being moved, there is one Minister who has held the same job for nine years and who said that law and order was his priority. When will the Prime Minister take personal responsibility for the shambles?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to take personal responsibility, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that according to the British crime survey, overall crime is down, not up. We have put in place the antisocial behaviour legislation—measures that he also failed to support in this House. We have also toughened sentences, which is why there are more people in prison serving longer prison sentences. He voted against the measures that allowed us to do that. In addition, we have an extra 14,000 police officers, and he voted against the investment for that. With the greatest respect again, although he talks in general about how much he cares about crime, he ends up voting in particular against the measures necessary to deal with it.

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