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House of Commons

Wednesday 25 July 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Harmondsworth and Campsfield House Immigration removal centres


Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): What funding was allocated to policing in Northern Ireland in each of the last three years; and what the forecast budget is for 2008-09. [151122]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): The total resource funding allocated to policing in Northern Ireland in each of the past three years was £860 million in 2005-06, £889 million in 2006-07 and £960 million in the current year of 2007-08. The allocation for policing in Northern Ireland for 2008-09 will not be determined until the comprehensive spending review has been concluded.

Mr. Donaldson: I thank the Minister for his response. He will be aware that the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Chief Constable are concerned about a possible reduction in the police budget in the forthcoming financial year, and that there are increasing pressures on the budget as a result of policing the past, the ongoing inquiries, and the cost of the legal advice that the police need to secure in order to participate in them. However, does he agree that it is right that the Government provide adequate funding for the ordinary policing in the community that tackles all the matters that concern the people of Northern Ireland? Does he accept that there should not be a reduction in the police budget, given the increasing costs of the inquiries that I have mentioned? Will the Government do something to reduce the cost of the inquiries, and ensure that adequate policing is provided for all the victims of crime in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Speaker: That sounds like an Adjournment debate to me.

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Paul Goggins: Mr. Speaker, we had the Adjournment debate yesterday, and in it we covered much of the territory in the hon. Gentleman’s question. However, I shall start with the facts. This year’s budget for the Police Service of Northern Ireland is £100 million more than it was two years ago. As for the CSR discussions, I assure him that we want to maintain the same police numbers—that is, 7,500 officers—as we have at the moment. For obvious reasons, that is rather more than one would find in the average police service in the rest of the UK. What matters too is how those resources are deployed. That is very important, and the Chief Constable’s commitment to neighbourhood policing is very welcome.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) touches on another important issue that no doubt will be touched on later in our proceedings today. We cannot go on spending on investigations into the past without there being a knock-on effect on both present and future services. The CSR considerations that are going on at the moment will be important in that respect, but I am committed to making sure that we continue to provide the necessary funding for the PSNI, and I am determined that that will happen.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Will the Minister assure the House that budget constraints in the future will not curb or compromise the roll-out and full implementation of the Patten vision for policing? This morning, the Police Service has had to seal off a number of streets in Derry city centre because of hoax devices. Will he join me in condemning the so-called dissident republicans responsible for such attacks? At a time when Derry city centre is seeing the fruits of normalisation and the removal of military installations, the attacks serve only to bring the British Army, in the form of the bomb disposal units, back on to the streets there.

Paul Goggins: I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are fully signed up to what he describes as the Patten vision, and that we will continue to deliver on it. That will include making sure that the PSNI reflects more fully the composition of Northern Ireland’s population. Over the past three years, we have committed £178 million to fulfilling the Patten vision for policing in Northern Ireland. He has told the House about the events in Derry, and I of course join him and others in condemning dissident republicans who continue to think that violence and conflict are the way forward, when the truth is that politics is the way forward. Equally, however, I condemn those loyalist paramilitaries who were involved in the shooting of a police officer at the weekend. That is just as damnable, and such actions are increasingly marginal in a Northern Ireland society where real politics is taking over and determining the future.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does not the Minister’s very proper condemnation of the events of yesterday and the weekend underline the necessity for keeping an absolutely first-class police force in Northern Ireland, under the inspired leadership of an admirable Chief Constable? Will he
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ring-fence expenditure on the past and try to ensure that is totally separate from the running budget for police needs?

Paul Goggins: The special fund of £34 million that we have provided for the historical inquiries team to look into the unresolved murders of the years of the troubles is, of course, additional money that does not come out of the day-to-day policing budget. It is important that we focus all the resources that we can on day-to-day policing—that is, on neighbourhood policing and dealing with antisocial behaviour, for example—but we must also deal with the remaining threats from dissident republicans, loyalist paramilitaries or those involved in organised crime networks. I know that the hon. Gentleman cares very deeply about such matters, and that he will agree that we must remain very strongly focused on them.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Assets Recovery Agency has an important role to play in deterring crime, as well as potentially obtaining more funds for policing in Northern Ireland? Can he outline the progress the Government have made in obtaining funds through that source?

Paul Goggins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. He is right: where assets are seized and turned back into cash, it can be put back into front-line police services. I am pleased to say that with some of that money the Police Service of Northern Ireland has just taken on 60 new financial investigators, who will further improve the capacity for that work. The ARA is doing a tremendous job in Northern Ireland and its work will be redoubled and strengthened when it merges with the Serious Organised Crime Agency next year. Of course, partnership with our colleagues in the Republic is also an important element of that work.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister on their appointments and thank them very much for their kindness this week following the terrible flooding in my constituency. I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and the House for having to leave shortly after this question to attend to those problems.

Given that the security situation has improved so much, is it not rather unfortunate that over the past 10 years the level of policing has dropped from 8,500 to 7,500 officers, and also that the full-time reservist force has dropped from 3,000 to fewer than 700 and the part-time reservist force from 1,300 to fewer than 900? Although we hope that the security situation continues to improve, are not those figures of a little concern to the Minister?

Paul Goggins: On behalf of my right hon. Friend, may I express our sympathies to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents for the difficulties that they face?

At 7,500, the PSNI has greater strength than any other police service in the United Kingdom. Significantly, confidence in the PSNI shows an encouraging story: 75 per cent. of people in Northern
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Ireland express full confidence in the police service that they receive. We should all take encouragement from that.

Maze Prison Site

2. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the future of the Maze prison site. [151123]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The future of the Maze prison site is now the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. To date, they have not sought discussions with me on the matter, but of course I would be happy to meet them to discuss it further if they wish.

Mr. Vara: I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and thank him for that reply. The estimated cost of building a national stadium at the Long Kesh Maze site is between £43 million and £400 million. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a definitive figure, to the extent that he is able to do so, after taking account of all contingency and additional costs?

Mr. Woodward: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks.

The matter is now devolved and it is for the Executive in Northern Ireland, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. Suffice it to say that it is under review; the Executive are looking at a business case and I understand that they will bring it back in the autumn.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He will be aware that the people of Northern Ireland are pleased that the question of the future of the Maze is now in the hands of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but will he make sure that every piece of information relating to the stadium is put into the public domain so that people such as Northern Ireland football supporters do not have to go to freedom of information legislation to obtain information about various aspects of the process that seem to have been kept very secret? Will he assure the Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland that every bit of information will be put into the public domain?

Mr. Woodward: In so far as it is appropriate for me to do so, yes.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The Secretary of State will be well aware of the almost total opposition of Northern Ireland football supporters to the siting of the stadium at the Maze. He will also be aware of the total opposition of Unionists to the provision of a shrine to hunger strikers at the Maze—something that is already happening, promoted by Sinn Fein. Will he give an assurance that no agreements made in the past by direct rule Ministers or actions taken by direct rule Ministers in the future will limit the ability of the Executive and the Assembly in
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Northern Ireland to be the final arbiters of what happens to the Maze site and the location of the national stadium?

Mr. Woodward: I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, of course, this is now a matter for the Executive—the final decision will be theirs—but I remind him that when direct rule Ministers looked at the issue, it was the subject of enormous consultation and that the decision was endorsed by all three major sporting bodies—those for soccer, rugby and Gaelic football? However, these are now matters for the Executive.

In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s observations about what some have described as a terrorist shrine, there is no question of its being a terrorist shrine and, frankly, to suggest that it is, as I think that he knows, denigrates the work done by the Maze consultation panel. It came up with proposals and a way forward on all this, and it would be best to remember the words of the Deputy First Minister, who said yesterday:

Historical Inquiries

3. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): How much has been spent on ongoing historical inquiries in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [151124]

6. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): How much has been spent on ongoing historical inquiries in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [151127]

7. Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of ongoing historical inquiries in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [151128]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The Bloody Sunday inquiry, the Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright inquiries and the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s historical inquiries team were established to address specific issues arising from Northern Ireland’s past. The total cost of the four public inquiries, as at April 2007, is £211 million. The estimated expenditure of the historical inquiries team at end March 2007 is £9.9 million. I have placed a more detailed breakdown of expenditure in the Library today for the benefit of right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Harper: Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of how many of the 3,268 murders related to the security situation that are being investigated by the historical inquiry team are likely to lead to the establishment of a separate public inquiry?

Mr. Woodward: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the historical inquiries team was specifically set up by the Chief Constable to focus on providing resolution, where possible, for the families affected by those deaths in a way that would command the confidence of the wider community. There is no question but that it has been successful, particularly in its specific purpose of engaging with families. As for prosecutions, that is, of course, a matter for the Chief Constable.

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Mr. Mackay: Does the Secretary of State accept that those of us who supported setting up the Bloody Sunday inquiry would not have done so if we had known that, by now, it would cost £180 million? It has not yet concluded, and it almost certainly has not brought the closure that we all desired.

Mr. Woodward: Undoubtedly, the costs of the Bloody Sunday inquiry are higher than many people would like. Of course, the Government are committed to ensuring not only that the inquiry has the resources to do the job, but that we can bring about best value for money for the public purse. The fact of the matter is that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, justice must take its course. The inquiry has had to interview more than 900 witnesses. There have been endless judicial review proceedings. None the less, it is now proceeding towards its end, and we expect and hope that its resolution will come soon.

Robert Neill: I apologise for not have heard all the answer, Mr. Speaker.

The Secretary of State has been helpful in what he has said, but will he tell me whether he in the Department or someone in the devolved Administration decides which inquiry will take place and determines the extent of the investigation and the budgetary parameters? Who decides whether it is appropriate to hold an inquiry and on what terms?

Mr. Woodward: The conduct of most of the inquiries that are taking place is already set out, and they are already proceeding along their courses. A number of inquiries are under way. I am not quite sure which inquiry the hon. Gentleman is referring to, but I am happy to discuss that with him or to pursue it by letter. Of course, inquiry matters are for me to set out, but once under way, they are matters for the chairman or the judge involved.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): The Secretary of State says that justice must take its course, but does he accept that many of the innocent victims in Northern Ireland see no justice? What they see is hundreds of millions of pounds being spent for political purposes by the Government and others to pursue a vendetta against the security forces and those who work to defeat terrorism. I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, but will he do something to redress the balance in favour of the victims and against the terrorists and those who would seek to rewrite history?

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