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Supervision of Offenders

3. Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): What recent steps he has taken to strengthen
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mechanisms for the supervision of offenders following their release from prison in Northern Ireland. [269406]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): This month, I have introduced electronic monitoring and extended post-custody supervision so that more offenders will be managed by the probation service on release from prison. Both these measures will strengthen the management of offenders in the community.

Mr. Bailey: I welcome the Minister’s comments and the policy. Can he reassure me that the extra burdens that the policy will place on the Northern Ireland probation service will be matched by extra resources in order to implement it? Otherwise, its impact could be severely reduced.

Paul Goggins: Until very recently, the only offenders coming out of prison who received supervision in the community were the most serious offenders who had been serving life sentences. We have now extended the provision so that anyone who receives a sentence of 12 months or more will receive supervision after their release. We have been able to increase the budget of the probation service by 20 per cent. to ensure that it can fulfil its obligations and provide the necessary support. I hope that that will reassure my hon. Friend that we are putting the necessary resources in place.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does the Minister have any information about the number of offenders being released from prison who might be tempted to associate with, and become members of, dissident groups in Northern Ireland?

Paul Goggins: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are constantly vigilant of people coming out of prison as well as of those in the community to ensure that we have the necessary intelligence to find out who is associating with those organisations, and to bring them to justice when they commit criminal offences.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Preparing prisoners for their release from prison can be achieved more easily when we have state-of-the-art, purpose-built facilities in which to house them in the first place. When will the Minister be able to announce the beginning of the construction of the new prison at Magilligan? He and I, and others, worked hard to achieve the announcement of that new, state-of-the-art facility. When will we see the beginning of its construction?

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman is a great advocate for the rebuilding of Magilligan prison. I cannot give a precise date when the building work will begin, but I can say that the detailed design work and the preparations are happening right now. I would be happy to meet him and update him on the plans at a suitable time.

Community Halls (Criminal Attacks)

4. James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to assist the Police Service of Northern Ireland in preventing criminal attacks on community halls. [269407]

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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): Community halls play an important role in every local area across Northern Ireland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland works closely with local community safety partnerships and those who run the halls to do everything possible to prevent such attacks.

James Brokenshire: The Minister will be aware of the considerable concern arising from the attacks on community halls. There has been some suggestion that the number of such attacks is increasing. Can he confirm whether that is the case and, if so, what impact it will have on his estimate of the sums payable under the applicable statutory compensation schemes?

Paul Goggins: We are constantly vigilant on the issue of attacks on community halls. The number of attacks in 2008 was a significant reduction on the number in 2007, but there is no room for complacency. The PSNI works with those who run the halls in order to protect them. We have extended the compensation scheme in Northern Ireland so that any community hall conducting charitable activities is given further protection.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): The Minister will be aware of the very important role of community halls, including Orange halls, in rural and urban communities across Northern Ireland. We welcome the— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. This noise is unfair to hon. Members who are in the Chamber for Northern Ireland questions.

Mr. Donaldson: We welcome the recent changes to the compensation legislation, which mean that halls will be properly compensated when they are the subject of an attack. Will the Minister continue to work with us to drive down the cost of insurance for community halls so that those who run them for the benefit of the community will not suffer the penalties that they suffered in the past?

Paul Goggins: I certainly join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those who run these halls. Whatever the organisation that runs them across Northern Ireland, they are a huge additional bonus to any community in providing very important resources. Of course, the recent extension of the compensation scheme—the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that it has taken place—has been a significant factor in helping to keep the insurance premiums down. I am happy to continue to work with him and with all organisations in order to make continued and steady progress.

Dissident Political Organisations

5. Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the size of membership of dissident political organisations in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [269408]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): We believe that there are three so-called dissident political organisations, but it is difficult to estimate the number of members of them, except to say that they have extremely limited appeal because they reject both the peace process and the political process.

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Mr. Jones: The Secretary of State will recall that, last month, the Minister of State told the House about the activities of dissident paramilitaries who were, as he put it, using extreme violence to extort money from drug dealers while at the same time pretending to protect the communities in which they were operating. He quite rightly said that it was necessary to bring such individuals to justice. Can the Secretary of State say what success the PSNI has had so far in that regard?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The PSNI continues to be extremely successful in bearing down on all kinds of criminal activity, including that from so-called dissident paramilitary groups. It is essential for the House to remember that the funding of those so-called dissident groups—they are also, of course, criminal—comes from criminal activity. We will pursue them rigorously.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The Secretary of State has admitted that the security forces do not even know the primary people involved in dissident organisations, let alone what attacks they are planning. Does he accept that that is partly due to the fact that the special branch of the RUC, now the PSNI, was disbanded, so those intelligence sources have been lost and we are now in the dark about what dissidents are likely to do and what attacks they are likely to plan?

Mr. Woodward: I really do disagree with the hon. Gentleman. First, I pay tribute not only to the RUC, but to the PSNI and the security services throughout the period. We should recognise the number of attacks that they have stopped and the number of people who have not died because of their work, which was important not only 10 or 20 years ago, but continues to be important today.

Later today, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have things to say about ensuring that the police have the resources that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised they would have. We are determined to bear down on those people and the hon. Gentleman will see actions and words together this afternoon.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [269360] David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 22 April.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

David Simpson: As we prepare to hear the Chancellor’s Budget today, will the Prime Minister detail for us what sort of an impact scrapping the Barnett formula would have on the least well-off regions of the United Kingdom, including, of course, Northern Ireland? Will he resolve that those areas such as Northern Ireland will not be penalised in the allocation of funding for essential services in the Budget?

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The Prime Minister: It has been common ground between all the parties over the last 30 and more years that the allocation of public spending resources in the United Kingdom is based on need. I believe that that is the right formula and the right way to proceed.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, over the last few months, as a result particularly of the pre-Budget report, an injection of resources into Northern Ireland has amounted to £600 million, so that the Northern Ireland economy can do better. He has made his representations about the need for extra policing costs as a result of recent terrorist incidents. I hope he can look forward to the statement that will be made later today by the Chancellor.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): The Home Secretary said on Sunday that she is committed to releasing any relevant information into the public domain as soon as possible that would shed light on the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have seen the distress and anger that still exist in Liverpool and elsewhere, and among families and supporters, by watching last week’s memorial service, which more than 30,000 people attended. Will he ensure that all information is got out as soon as possible? That should include not only police files, but health files, local government files and Government papers that relate to the disaster, because the way it was handled originally was a disgrace. The police tried to cover it up and present it as being caused by Liverpool fans. Of course, there was also the disgraceful 3.15 cut-off point for time of death.

The Prime Minister: I am sure the whole House, on its return, will wish to repeat the sympathies that have been sent to all those families who lost loved ones as a result of the tragedy at Hillsborough: 96 people lost their lives on that day and the inquiry found that actions had to be taken so that something like that would never happen again. I well understand that, even after all these years, the feelings of the families are such that they want to be sure that everything possible was done. So, yes, we will look at how we can release whatever information is available to the families.

I have to say that the Taylor report was a very full inquiry. There was then a further inquiry after 1997 to look into what it may be necessary to do in addition, but if this is a means by which we can help the families in difficult times, even after these years, we will look carefully at what we can do.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Today’s unemployment figures are a reminder of the human tragedy of this recession: young people leaving school and university unable to get a job, and families facing tight budgets as people go on to part-time work or lose their jobs altogether. Before we hear the Budget from the Chancellor, I want to use this opportunity to get the Prime Minister to confirm some simple facts about the state of our economy. First, will he confirm that today’s unemployment figures show that what we have seen so far this calendar year is the fastest increase in unemployment in our history?

The Prime Minister: That is exactly why we are taking all the action that we are taking. Unemployment is rising— [Interruption.]

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Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister speak. He is entitled to speak.

The Prime Minister rose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Do not tell him what to say!

The Prime Minister: There are still 29 million people in work, nearly 3 million more than there were 10 years ago. We will continue to do everything we can to help people into work and help people to stay in their jobs. That is why we have extended tax credits so that they can help people on short time to have a living income. That is why we have taken action to ensure that there are 35,000 more apprentices in our country. That is why this week we introduced a scheme to help people who have been unemployed for six months to get back into work. That is why we are prepared to spend the money and invest it where it is necessary to do so. There is not much point in the Conservatives coming and telling us that they want to do something about unemployment if they oppose every measure that we are taking to deal with it.

Mr. Cameron: The fact is that the Prime Minister’s schemes are not working. The forecast that the Chancellor made in the pre-Budget report of the level of unemployment at the end of the year was reached this morning, in April. That is the truth about these figures.

In terms of the figures, will the Prime Minister confirm that there are now more young people not in employment, not in education and not in training than ever before? Can he give us the figures for that?

The Prime Minister: I have looked at this very carefully, actually, and there are nearly a million more young people in education, training or work than there were in 1997. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for those aged 18 to 24 or 16 to 24, he will see that nearly a million more young people are in work or training.

Mr. Cameron: Talk about massaging the figures! I asked the Prime Minister for a very simple fact: how many young people are out of employment, education and training? The answer is 857,000. That is the highest number on record. Even before the recession began, it was higher than when Labour came to power. If the Prime Minister will not even acknowledge these facts, how on earth are we going to make any progress?

Let me turn to the public finances. Will the Prime Minister confirm that next year Britain will borrow more than at any moment in our peacetime history—yes or no?

The Prime Minister: First, on unemployment and young people, let me just give the right hon. Gentleman the figures so that he is absolutely clear. In 1997, 3.9 million 18 to 24-year-olds were working or engaged in full-time education. The figure is now 4.7 million. In 1997, 5.2 million 16 to-24-year-olds were in full-time education or employment. The figure is now 6.1 million. I am giving the right hon. Gentleman the facts, and these are the facts. There are more people in work, training or education than there were in 1997, and I challenge him to deny that fact.

The second issue is public borrowing. In every country, borrowing is rising. The right hon. Gentleman will find that borrowing is actually higher in America than it is in
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Britain. The reason is that having lost substantial revenues as a result of the economic crisis, we are still prepared to take the action necessary to help home owners, to help people into jobs, and to help businesses. Once again, the question is this: will the Opposition stop deciding to cut public expenditure at a time when it is most needed, and will they support us when we give real help to people now?

Mr. Cameron: What we have heard is a complete failure to address the facts. When the Prime Minister was in opposition, he talked about youth unemployment, not the number of people in jobs. The fact is that since Labour came to power, unemployment is up and youth unemployment is up.

The Prime Minister talks about the deficit. The Chancellor is about to stand up and, I believe, say that we are going to borrow around 11 per cent. of our GDP. There is no other country in the G20 with figures as bad as that. If we do not have a Prime Minister who can accept the facts, we are never going to make any progress.

Let me try another fact. In terms of the recession, will the Prime Minister confirm that, far from this being “not as bad as the 1980s” or “not as bad as the 1990s”, we are now, in Britain, in the deepest recession since the second world war?

The Prime Minister: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has asked that question. In the early 1990s, interest rates went up to 15 per cent. In the early 1990s, inflation went up to 10 per cent. In the early 1990s, the Conservatives did nothing when people were worried about their mortgages. In the 1990s, they did nothing when people became unemployed. And who was the chief economic adviser to the Chancellor at the time? None other than the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Cameron: Perhaps on another occasion we can talk about some of the Prime Minister’s chief advisers and what they have been up to. It is about time he realised that as well as bringing the country to the brink of financial bankruptcy, he has brought his party to moral bankruptcy. The truth is—we are going to look at the facts—that this is the deepest and most painful recession since the war. On this day—a day when the Chancellor is going to have to explain that unemployment is rising faster than ever before, that the number of young people not in education, employment and training is higher than ever before, that Britain is borrowing more than ever before, and that the recession is as deep as I said—will the Prime Minister finally admit that he did not abolish boom and bust?

The Prime Minister: Every crisis that has happened since the second world war has been the result of high inflation pushing interest rates up, causing businesses to go bust and forcing people to get unemployed. That has been the traditional economic crisis we have faced, but this current crisis is happening even when inflation is low and interest rates are low. [Interruption.] If the Conservatives do not want to understand the solution, they will not even understand the problem. This is a global banking crisis, which we are dealing with through measures that in every case the Conservatives have opposed. If they want to do something about the economic crisis, they should support the measures we have been taking.

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