Risk Assessment and Management of Sex Offenders

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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South on securing the debate. In a way, when he speaks about his constituency and the problems of antisocial behaviour, youth nuisance and the fear of crime among older people, he speaks for every Member of Parliament because those issues concern us all. His constituents will be pleased that he has raised these matters on their behalf.
My hon. Friend rightly says that people want effective policing. That means better access to policing, more responsive police services in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and the partnership that he spoke of between the police, statutory agencies and community organisations. As we move into more responsive and better partnerships between the police and the wider community, that strong partnership will be absolutely essential. In Northern Ireland, in recent years, we have developed the infrastructure to enable that partnership to develop through the district policing partnerships that are in every district council area and community safety partnerships. I hope that those two arrangements will work ever closer, but without duplication. They have different roles—district policing partnerships deal with scrutiny and accountability and community safety partnerships bring the delivery agents together—but there is much that they can do together. I look forward to discussing that with the Policing Board in the near future, because there is great enthusiasm for it.
My hon. Friend talked about antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime among older people. The Northern Ireland Office has sought to do something about that. Currently, we are evaluating consultation on a strategy to give greater reassurance to older people in the community. We have had several initiatives such as the Lock Out Crime scheme and the Good Morning projects, all of which are designed to help older people to be less fearful of the crime that is undeniably still in their communities. Therein lies the challenge. I can tell my hon. Friend that crime in Northern Ireland fell by 10 per cent. last year—that is what the figures tell me—but in a survey undertaken last year, three out of four people said that they thought crime had increased. The difficulty is that, although the statistics tell us that crime is coming down, people feel anxious and are concerned. That is why partnerships between the police and the community are so important. In Dungannon, where they have gone ahead with neighbourhood policing in a particular area, crime on that estate has fallen by 17 per cent. because of that effective partnership.
My hon. Friend mentioned the cases of Mr. Holland and Mr. McGreevy. These horrific crimes have had a terrible impact on the families concerned and they have spread fear and concern more widely across the community, and the community wants and needs us to respond appropriately.
My hon. Friend also mentioned funding. In this year and the next two years, there will be £1.1 billion to spend on policing in Northern Ireland. It needs that money—I do not deny that—but in the long discussions that I had with hon. Friends about the funding settlement for policing in Northern Ireland, we got within £88 million pounds between what the board asked for and what we gave, in relation to a three-year period, despite the fact that during those discussions the amount that it was asking for increased by £300 million. By any measure, particularly given the recent tight spending round, this was a fair settlement.
My hon. Friend mentioned the goodwill behind policing. He is right. May I say that his party has played a huge role in getting Northern Ireland to where it is today in terms of policing. The composition of policing has changed dramatically, from around 8 per cent. Catholic representation just 10 years ago to almost 25 per cent. now and rising, up to the target of 30 per cent. in the near future.
The political support means that all parties are engaged in policing on the Policing Board and in the district policing partnership. My hon. Friend’s party stood first on representation from his community and I commend him and his colleagues for doing so and for playing a prominent role. The pay-off is better representation and more reporting of crime, which has to be welcomed.
I want to see new, imaginative ways forward in terms of developing community partnerships. I recently launched the west Belfast community safety forum, an initiative that is trying to bring all the partners together. There will be other initiatives. We need that focus at community level to make a real difference.
Within my Department we have the community safety unit, to which I recently announced an £18 million allocation over three years. Half that money will go to local partnerships, which will mean practical things like the “summer splash” schemes happening over the summer months, midnight football and many other imaginative ideas to try to divert these people, which is important.
When it comes down to it, I know that my hon. Friend will agree that we need, at local community level, accessible, visible policing in partnership with local community organisations with good communication to build confidence. The Chief Constable, the police service as a whole and the Policing Board are absolutely up for that model of policing. That can only be good news for Northern Ireland.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Seven o’clock.
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Prepared 18 June 2008