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Northern Ireland: Community "Alternative" Groups

Baroness Park of Monmouth asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): The Government are committed to working in partnership with the community and in that context broadly welcome the development of locally based arrangements for dealing with criminal activity, anti-social behaviour and other social problems.

In addressing these issues and delivering community-based services, the Government are committed to:

    upholding the rule of law;

    promoting and safeguarding human rights;

    protecting individuals against arbitrary decisions and procedures operating outside the rule of law;

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    the provision of services to communities and individuals based on consultation and objective assessment of need;

    partnership and consultation with and between the public, voluntary, community and private sectors.

Statutory agencies and voluntary organisations are encouraged to support communities which, within the law and in partnership, wish to embark on initiatives to promote such concepts as community safety, crime prevention, restorative arrangements and mediation. In the context of preventing offending behaviour or resolving problems arising out of minor disputes or anti-social behaviour, the Government will encourage mediation, restorative and other schemes, provided they are based on the genuine consent of all parties involved. Such initiatives should not be the preserve of any particular political party or interest group, but rather should involve the community as a whole. There can be no question of assisting, or taking referrals from, any scheme based on coercion or threat, real or implied, or which is predicated on the exclusion of the police or any other public agency from carrying out its functions as prescribed by law. Moreover, the formal processes of investigation, prosecution, adjudication and compulsory intervention or referral must remain the preserve of the appropriate statutory bodies, operating within the legal framework which protects and balances the interests of individuals and the community. Any arrangements must be complementary to statutory procedures, not an alternative to them.

In relation to your specific questions:

    (a) Applications for European funding have been received in respect of a number of projects. Greater Shankill Alternatives have obtained £50,000 from the Peace and Reconciliation Programme of European Funding. The bodies awarding the funding, however, act independently of government. The Northern Ireland Office has ensured that the funding bodies are aware of its policy as described above.

    (b) The RUC has made contact with the Greater Shankill Alterative Restorative Justice Scheme and has advised it of the need to inform police of offences and the requirement of the law in this regard. To date, police have not been informed of any offences which may have been disclosed to the scheme.

    (c) The Independent Commission on Policing is of course independent from government and it is a matter for commission members working within the remit of the Belfast Agreement to weigh the evidence that is placed before it.

It is understood, however, that the Commission has met with representatives of Greater Shankill Alternatives at a public meeting in Belfast and taken a presentation from the Progressive Unionist Party on the subject at a public forum. A presentation on community restorative justice was also made by the Community Justice Forum at a meeting in Londonderry.

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Northern Ireland: Electricity Generation

Lord Holme of Cheltenham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What socio-economic criteria have been used to judge current potential electricity generation policies within Northern Ireland, including the Scottish interconnector.[HL228]

Lord Dubs: The construction of generating capacity is a matter for the private sector subject to normal planning constraints. In addition the independent regulator must satisfy himself that NIE, in contracting for any proposed new capacity, will not breach its licence obligations. He has concluded that the terms of the Northern Ireland-Scotland interconnector supply agreement are not in breach of NIE's economic purchasing obligation.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps are being taken to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly will be consulted before any decisions on electricity generation projects are taken.[HL229]

Lord Dubs: The construction of generation capacity is a matter for the private sector, subject to the normal planning constraints. Energy policy in Northern Ireland is a transferred matter and, as such, will become the responsibility of the Assembly following devolution.

Hearsay Evidence: Law Commission Report

Lord Christopher asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the recommendations of the Law Commission Report No. 245, Evidence in Criminal proceedings: Hearsay and Related Topics.[HL386]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Government consider the Law Commission's Report No. 245, published in June 1997, a thorough and comprehensive review of the law on hearsay evidence. It contains 50 recommendations and a draft Bill which are intended to modernise and codify the law.

The Government have given careful consideration to the recommendations in the report, in consultation with the Law Commission. They have concluded that the proposals will simplify the law and enable more evidence to be deemed admissible, while maintaining proper safeguards to protect the interests of the defendants.

The Government have decided to accept all the recommendations in the report.

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Immigration and Asylum White Paper

Lord Shepherd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the comments received on the White Paper on immigration and asylum.[HL383]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Three hundred and thirty-four comments have been received on the White Paper Fairer, Faster, Firmer--A Modern Approach To Immigration and Asylum. A list of those who commented, together with copies of their comments, with the exception of six whose authors requested that they should not be published, have been placed in the Library.

Counter-Terrorist Proposals

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish their proposals for non-temporary, United Kingdom wide legislation against terrorism.[HL384]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today published, jointly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a consultation document containing proposals to replace the current temporary framework of legislation against terrorism with non-temporary, UK-wide provisions.

The document sets out the Government's proposals for police powers and other measures which would apply throughout the United Kingdom to deal with the threat from all forms of terrorism, including those which might develop in the future.The proposals take proper account of the peace process and the security situation in Northern Ireland. They also introduce measures to combat domestic terrorism and strengthen our response to the continuing threat from international terrorism.

The proposals in the consultation document are designed to be both effective and proportionate in responding to terrorism while ensuring that individual rights are protected and that the United Kingdom's international commitments are fulfilled.

Views are invited on all of the proposals discussed in the document, and the consultation period will last until 16 March 1999. Following this, proposals will be drawn up for new counter-terrorist legislation, to be introduced at a suitable opportunity.

Prison Visitors: Training Courses

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many members of boards of visitors at Her Majesty's prisons in England and Wales have not attended mandatory training courses; what central records of training are maintained by the Boards of Visitors Directorate of the Prison Service; and whether they will introduce a system analogous to that which is in operation for lay magistrates, whereby failure to attend automatically leads to formal warnings.[HL326]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Information on the number of board members who have not attended mandatory courses is not recorded centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost.

The requirement for training to be mandatory arose from the 1995 ministerial review. New members and newly elected chairmen are currently subject to mandatory training. How such training will apply to experienced members is currently being considered. As central records for all members are completed there will be enough evidence to support the issue of formal warnings when mandatory requirements have not been met.

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