|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
There is no question in anybodys mind of inquiries being confused with vendettas. The inquiries are there precisely to establish the truth, and it is absolutely right that they continue to do so. However, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the future of inquiries and how we handle the past. That is why my predecessorI pay tribute to the work that he did not only in this area, but during his entire time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland over the previous two yearsset up the consultative group. Its purpose, under Robin Eames and Denis Bradley, is to see whether, across the entire community of Northern Ireland, we can find a consensus on how to deal with the past. There is no question but that we
must continue to discover the truth about the past. That will never be sacrificed. However, we also have to find a way to deal with the past that does not leave us in a divided past, but allows us to use our inquiries as a way of healing for the future.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to their new positions and offer the best wishes of my party to them in doing what remains, potentially, a very difficult job. I share many of the concerns about the price of the inquiries, but we should never lose sight of their value. The Secretary of State just referred to the Bradley and Eames commission on the past. Does he accept that that is an inquiry of a different order? Will he ensure that its deliberations are properly resourced and that any recommendations it makes will be properly implemented?
Mr. Woodward: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and I am sure that he will be extremely successful. I also welcome the co-operation that he has already offered me in my job. I agree with most of what he said, but, on the other hand, I cannot second-guess the outcome of the work of Lord Eames and Denis Bradley. I have every confidence that if a consensus can be found on how to deal with the past for the future, they are the people who will help to find it from within the community. It is my intention to publish the findings of their report, but that will be based on consultation with them.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I welcome the new Secretary of State to his office and wish him well. We were both elected as Conservative MPs in 1997 and it is an interesting reflection on the different ways in which we have spent the past 10 years that we hold our current posts. I intend to build on the sterling work of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who supported the Government through the current process, but did not offer them a blank cheque. On the question of cheques, will the Secretary of State estimate the total cost of all the current and future inquires, and say when he thinks they may be completed?
Mr. Woodward: Since the hon. Gentleman invites me to look at the past, and the time when we were both elected, I will say to him that it took me two years to realise that the Conservatives were the party of the past and that Labour remains and will be the party of the future. Even though he has remained in the Conservative party for eight years longer than I did, if he wants to come across now, I am sure that we can always find a place for him here.
In relation to the hon. Gentlemans question about the cost of future inquiries, in the case of the four public inquiries currently under way, we anticipate further expenditure of about £60 million. We have set aside for the historical inquiries team £34 million, of which £10 million has already been spent, leaving a further £24 million, which we expect to be spent by the various agencies in Northern Ireland in looking at the past.
That was a helpful reply. The Secretary of State knows that the Chief Constable has stated that retrospective work is absorbing 40 per cent. of police
time. Can he confirm whether, in his opinion, the time may come when, in the interests of current police priorities, it will be sensible to draw a line under further historical inquiries?
Mr. Woodward: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. I believe that he has already taken the opportunity of discussing some of the issues with the Chief Constable. There is no question but that investigations into the past are a considerable burden for the Chief Constable, in terms of resources, manpower and time, but we should recognise that the investigations and inquiries have played a critical role in allowing us to get to where we are with devolution, the Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland. Crucially, as was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Minister of State who has responsibility for security, there are unparalleled levels of confidence in policing in Northern Ireland. The way in which the Chief Constable has dealt with the past is exemplary, and that has been crucial to ensuring those levels of police confidence. As for the future, we have asked the consultative group to consider the issues and find a consensus. I will not second-guess what it will find, but I will pay very close attention to the work that it produces.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): Positive action has already been taken by the Prison Service, and I have asked the director to review measures to reduce the supply of, and demand for, illegal drugs in prisons [Interruption.]
Mr. Hollobone: Given that so many prisoners are heavily dependent on drugs when convicted, and that so many prisoners suffer from mental illness through drug use, what extra measures will the Minister introduce to encourage the rehabilitation of prisoners while they are in jail, so that they come off drugs?
Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we need to deal with not just the supply of, but the demand for, illegal drugs in prisons. I was at Hydebank Wood prison earlier this week, and I saw the work of an organisation called Opportunity Youth, which works to support, help and counsel young people there. Its results are very good, in terms of lowering recidivism rates and ensuring a worthwhile future for those young people. When the director brings his recommendations to me, I expect him to include measures that will give people support and help in dealing with their addiction problems.
Paul Goggins: Of course, sentencing is a matter for the judiciary, rather than Ministers, but I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned with the need to make sure that for serious offences, particularly sexual crime and drugs offences, the punishment fits the crime. I can tell him and the rest of the House that later in the year I will bring forward proposals for a reform of the sentencing framework in Northern Ireland, which will include the possibility of tougher sentences for dangerous and violent offenders.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that it is not just in Northern Ireland that drugs coming into prisons are a problem; recently in Scotland, a solicitor was sent to jail for bringing drugs into prison. Will he ensure that there is adequate funding in Northern Ireland, not only for searcheswe must make sure that they are much more sophisticatedbut to ensure that the consequences for people convicted of bringing drugs into prisons are advertised, so that people know what they are up against when they do it?
Paul Goggins: Of course my hon. Friend is right: the problem of drugs in prisons, regrettable as it is, is not unique to Northern Ireland. It affects the prison system in Scotland, England and Wales, too, and it requires drug testing to take place. There are also issues of support for those with an addiction problem. I assure him that we will continue to pay attention to the subject, and to invest in it, and we will continue to learn about what works best from prisons in other jurisdictions.
5. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on cross-border movement of illegal drugs; and if he will make a statement. 
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): There is close and effective co-operation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border. Following the recent election in the Republic of Ireland, I hope shortly to meet the new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to discuss a range of issues, including the movement of illegal drugs.
Angela Watkinson: Home Office statistics show that since 1998, when the current method of recording crime was introduced, there has been an increase of 35.5 per cent. in recorded drug trafficking offences. What additional help is being given to the police to help them identify the paramilitary groups that are involved in drug trafficking and dealing?
We take drug misuse and drug trafficking very seriously indeed, and I can assure the
hon. Lady that there is close co-operation between the Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with the issue. I give them my full support as the Minister, and also as the chairman of the organised crime taskforce. We must stop drugs poisoning the lives of young people in communities in Northern Ireland, and none of us should rest until that is the case.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of the four servicemen killed in Iraq over the past weekthe three senior aircraftsmen from the RAF killed last Thursday, Chris Dunsmore of 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, Peter McFerran of 1 Squadron Royal Air Force, and Matthew Caulwell of 1 Squadron Royal Air Force, and at the weekend Lance-Corporal Timothy Flowers from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. They died doing important work in the service of their country and our country, and we owe them and others who have lost their lives a deep debt of gratitude.
Philip Davies: Since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, he has allowed the release from prison of 951 criminals who had been judged too dangerous to release from prison on a tag. If those people were too dangerous to be out of prison on a tag, why are they now safe to be released from prison without a tag?
The Prime Minister: I have studied the case that the Opposition have been making. Last week they quoted the National Association of Probation Officers, which says that it is not opposed to the end-of-custody licences. It has no objection in principle to them at all. As for the hon. Gentlemans point about tagging and home detention curfew, the people who were let out were let out four and a half months early under home detention curfew. The people who were let out in the past few weeks were let out on 6 July, whereas otherwise they would have been let out on 24 July. There was only 18 days difference. The major change that we have made as a Government over the past few weeks is to build more prison places, which the Opposition could not afford because they would not have the money to do it.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
I thank my right hon. Friend and all the other Ministers for the interest that they have taken in Gloucestershire. I pay due regard to the emergency services for the superb
work that they have undertaken, and I pass on my commiserations to my colleagues in the county and all their constituents. However, can it be right that we are told that it will take 14 days to get back our main drinking supplies? There is much misinformation about who is off the mains supply and who is likely to be off. All the businesses, farms and individual households want some certainty. It cannot be the case that we must wait so long in this day and age because of the present crisis. For some time Severn Trent has needed to understand that it must act more quickly. I hope my right hon. Friend will make sure that that happens.
The Prime Minister: Let me join my hon. Friend in expressing my sympathy to all the people in the Gloucester, Tewkesbury and related areas who have suffered an enormous amount of inconvenience as a result of the storms and then the floods. I also pay tribute to the emergency servicesthe police, the fire services, the Army and all those who have worked to try to get supplies into the areas and to make sure that the utilities are back serving the people. My hon. Friend is right that Mythe water station failed. He is right that we would like it back in use as quickly as possible. He is also right that all the civil engineering capacity that can be brought to bear is being brought to bear. The water works were polluted. There is, therefore, a danger that the water pouring out from there would contaminate local people. We have made it clear to the Severn water company that it has to provide the bowsers for the area. Nine hundred have already been provided, and 900 will be provided within the next day. Drinking water is being provided through the retail stores. I think that the company has discharged its duty in ensuring that that water is available. Obviously we want Mythe water station back as quickly as possible. I will visit the area later today, and I have invited the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and Gloucestershire Members on both sides of the House to join me on that visit, when we will see at first hand how things are progressing. I think that the House owes a debt of gratitude to all the emergency services, and we will do everything we can to get supplies restored as quickly as possible.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in sending my condolences to the families of Lance-Corporal Timothy Flowers and Senior Aircraftsmen Matthew Caulwell, Christopher Dunsmore and Peter McFerran, all of whom were killed in Iraq. Their deaths are a reminder of the daily sacrifices that our young men and women are making on our behalf, and we honour their memory.
I join the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) in praising the emergency services and local councils for the vital work that they are doing in dealing with the floods. The sympathy of the whole House will go out to those who have lost loved ones, those who have been flooded out or evacuated, and those who have had property damaged or lost.
Looking to the future and how we minimise the risk of future flooding, at least five times in the past decade the House has been told that co-ordination between the Environment Agency and local councils needs to improve. I welcome the review that the Prime Minister has set up. Can he confirm that it will look into
co-ordination to ensure that this time it really is delivered, and will he ensure that we do everything possible to protect key infrastructure in the future?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that the whole House will agree on our thanks to all the emergency services. I have seen at first hand the superb work they are doing, and I look forward to meeting them later today. I also agree that the sympathies that go out to those who have been disconnected and those who are without vital supplies are shared by the whole House. We will have to consider what is to happen in the future. Of course, the main thing at the moment is to make people secure, to prevent any further incidents, and to do what we can to give people the supplies that they need.
The review was set up as a result of what happened in Yorkshire and Humberside. It is to help us to understand why the flooding has been so extensive and why we are seeing such extreme weather conditions, but also to learn lessons for the future. The siting of infrastructure is one issue that I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree about; the provision of supplies for dealing with floods is another. Drainage is an issue that has become particularly relevant because of what is happening on the roads. All those issues will be investigated in full, and I believe that the report that he will see when it comes out later this year will be extensive in considering both what has happened and what needs to be done. I hope that there will be an all-party consensus that we need to invest more in preventing floods in the future.
Local councils are asking a specific question about the compensation that they will receive for the money that they spend on flood relief. They welcome the improvements that have taken place in the funding formula. The Prime Minister has said that there will be 100 per cent. relief, but the formula still requires councils to fund the first part of the bill, which can, in some cases, run into millions of pounds. So does 100 per cent. really mean 100 per cent.?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|