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I wish to move on quickly. I hope that dangerous offenders will, after they serve their sentences and are released from prison, not be part of the farce that has occurred in England and Wales, where serious offenders have, due to lack of resources, been released beyond their tariff without completing compulsory pre-release courses. That must not be repeated in Northern Ireland. However, I have serious fears that it will be repeated there. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, we had many promises about what would ensue if we could achieve agreement and peace, yet the Police Service of Northern Ireland is underresourced. I am concerned with the management of the PSNI, but part of that is a result of underresourcing.

A visitor to this House tonight mentioned that in the part of the country in which he lives—indeed, it is the case in the part of the country where I live—it is not possible for night-time patrols to be carried out as they should be because of a lack of resources. A lack of resources in policing is a very bad basis on which to try to consider devolution of policing and justice. I have made that point previously and I make it again. I hope that the Minister will reassure us about funding and how the whole issue of sentencing, of keeping people in prison and of getting people out of prison and back into the community will be financed.

There are aspects of the order that I disagree with, including the test-purchase provisions on the sale of alcohol, which I find abhorrent. It is absolutely ridiculous that we will use underage children to carry out these test purchases in a community that remains unstable in terms of criminality. Can one imagine what will happen if it is learnt that little Joe Bloggs was the guy who led to someone being taken to court

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because he did the test purchasing for the police? He could well become a victim; he could well finish up being the sort of person who needs protection. The last thing that we want in a society where people have had to be protected against terrorists for years is to have vulnerable young people requiring protection against thugs and bullies. What reassurance can the Minister give me on that?

On the subject of young people, the Minister knows well my interest in autism spectrum disorder. I wonder whether there is, within the context of this Bill, a consideration of those young people on the autism spectrum who accidentally, not understanding the situation, get themselves into confrontation with the police. I had an interesting and productive meeting with senior officials from the Prison Service about a review of autism services that I am involved with; I was very heartened by the enthusiasm that the Prison Service showed for something being done in relation to these vulnerable young people. I had a similar meeting with the PSNI and suffice it to say that I was not enamoured by the reception that I received. I ask the Minister to ensure that, in terms of justice, there is protection for those young people who are vulnerable.

I will leave it there because of time, except to say one final thing. Devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland cannot occur successfully unless this whole broad perspective of law and order is taken into account.

Lord Bew: My Lords, I commend the Minister for bringing the order before the House. There is considerable public concern about this matter in Northern Ireland, where 35,000 people signed a petition bearing on the central issues of this new legislation. As he rightly said, there is in the Assembly cross-party consensus, articulated most firmly by the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Mr Alban Maginness, in favour of what the Government are now doing. The Government are living up to their responsibilities. It has been a long time coming, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, but it has now, thank heavens, come.

It is also worth saying that the Government have resisted the temptation to play politics with this issue. They have acted on what, as the Minister said in the last few sentences of his speech, are in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland at the moment. There is a certain grim symbolism in the fact that this legislation comes to this Chamber tonight, a few days short of the time that was originally projected in the St Andrews agreement for the devolution of our policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland. There is a tacit acceptance by the Government that that will not happen in the immediate future. They have taken on the responsibility themselves and not used that broader issue as an excuse for delay. That is an important and valuable thing.

It is true the Northern Ireland Assembly has worked closely with the Government on this, but it is disappointing that it is not able to deal with the matter itself. The fact that Sir David Varney has been asked now to look at competitiveness in the Northern Irish economy looks like another example of the Assembly outsourcing problems back to London. All

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noble Lords in this House wish the Assembly well and we are glad that it has worked actively in response to the really genuine moves in public opinion in Northern Ireland on this matter. It is disappointing that the Assembly is not in the position yet to deal with this matter, but it is good that the Government have dealt with it.

Finally, there is perhaps a small glitch in the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order. At the bottom of the first page, there is a reference to the Parole Commissioner for Northern Ireland in the singular, whereas in the middle of the next page there is a reference to commissioners in the plural. I cannot see that there is any good reason for that. It should be either singular or plural in both cases. It looks like there is a small and tiny glitch there, the only glitch in what seems to be some quite exceptionally good Civil Service work.

8.15 pm

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene. I hope the Minister will tolerate what I want to ask him. I glanced through the order. Article 20 deals with the power to release certain prisoners on compassionate grounds. That is how the article is headed. I hope your Lordships will bear with me for half a minute. During my time in Northern Ireland I received a call when I was the duty Minister. One of the prisoners wished to have compassionate release for a short period because his mother was not well. I had not had the kind of briefing that the Minister has had as security and prisons and such things were not within my remit. I had had a general briefing but not on how to deal with a specific instance of this type. I received advice from the prisons sector that this leave for compassionate release for a short period overnight should not be granted to this prisoner. Others advised me that it was safe. I was advised that such release was workable. If somebody abused this granting of compassionate leave, the next time compassionate leave was requested, there might be more problems. I was somewhat startled to receive a message that had come through from my department that, unfortunately, the prisoner's mother had died but that enormous happiness was given by the fact that the young man was able to be present. Specific instructions were given to me; everyone knew the drill and it seemed to work well.

If the Minister glances at Article 20(2), he will see that it states,

I did not have the occasion to consult higher authority in any major detail in those circumstances, but it worked. I hope that such compassionate leave can and will be granted in future.

I also glanced further on in the order. Article 65 concerns:

I seem to remember that 40 years ago, musical horns in motor cars were very popular. Indeed, I seem to remember that one small car used to parade around London. It had a happy number plate that was, as the

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Army would put it, Foxtrot Unicorn 2. I leave your Lordships to discuss what that might mean. The young gentleman who owned that car had a musical horn that played melodies. Other people would gesture to him, which I understand caused more accidents. Musical horns are banned in Great Britain. I hope that the same applies to Northern Ireland.

One other system occurred to me. In summer, certainly in Scotland—I suspect in England; I do not know about Northern Ireland—ice cream vans tour various areas playing musical chimes. It just occurred to me, being of a somewhat quixotic nature, that such melodies may well be unwelcome in some areas and that melodies advertising the proximity of ice cream sales could well cause either deliberate or unwitting annoyance. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me about that case.

If the Minister could advise me this evening very briefly on Article 20, I should be very grateful. I humbly congratulate him on putting this order through so well and succinctly tonight.

Lord Laird: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for his explanation of the orders and in giving the orders a broad welcome. It is good that that they will bring the legislation in Northern Ireland broadly into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. There has been considerable demand in Northern Ireland for a review of sentencing. Every time that someone has unfortunately been killed by a joyrider or a drunken person, there has been considerable clamour when the defendant who is found guilty gets an extremely light sentence.

I join the Minister in recognising that we have in the House tonight Attracta Harron’s widower. It is becumbent on us all to recognise the tremendous dignity that the Harron family had in their tragic loss of their mother in dreadful circumstances. It is also fair to point out that had the person who has been convicted for that murder, Trevor Hamilton, not been released early from prison, had he been tagged or had there been supervision, Attracta Harron could very well be alive tonight. In other words, if the order had been in place, Attracta Harron could be alive tonight.

I shall make a couple of quick points, because time is going on. It is not easy to talk about security issues for Northern Ireland over here. I am still very concerned about the lack of prosecutions because of political interest. I am concerned about a recent statement from the Forensic Science Agency, which said that it now has the techniques for DNA testing that mean that it could go through the entire arsenal of rifles, guns and other machinery that have been taken off paramilitaries through crimes during the past 30 years and could identify an awful lot of people and evidence. Unfortunately, I see no evidence of that being taken up by the Historic Inquiries Team, which seems strangely reluctant to involve its colleagues in the art of DNA science to find out who used those guns, and so on. The people who look at the DNA are plugged into an extremely advanced computer system—possibly one of the most advanced in the world—which can identify people immediately from the DNA and indicate where they were on certain nights.



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I am also concerned about the ongoing lack of prosecutions for fuel laundering and other fuel offences. The Government’s own figures for a number of months ago indicate that in Northern Ireland the Government lose taxes at the rate of £365 million per year because of fuel laundering, mostly in South Armagh. That is £1 million per day. I think of the number of hospitals and other things that the Government and the Executive of Northern Ireland could fund with that money. We see very few people who have been made amenable to fuel laundering. I do not expect the Minister to answer these questions today. I will probably pursue these things through Parliamentary Questions in due course.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the general response to the order and I will do my best to answer all the points that have been raised. I would say at the outset that I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, need apologise for speaking in these debates. Given his track record as a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland, they were still talking about him when I was there and it was all good. I had an easy time compared to my predecessors in respect of direct-rule duties.

I will come on to these specific questions. I will try to go through them in order and try not to repeat myself. With regard to resources, approximately £14 million worth of costs has been allocated. Of this £4.7 million goes to prisons, £6 million to probation and something over £3 million to support structures for the parole commissioners, executive release and recall and electronic monitoring. Funding to the probation board will ensure effective risk assessment and supervision of offenders. It will include a recruitment of 55 front-line staff. We are confident that the package of measures will be properly resourced.

I was asked a couple of times whether we had learnt the lessons about problems in England or Wales. The prison service has been fully engaged in the resource package. An additional £70 million has been set aside to provide an additional 400 cell spaces by the year 2011. The additional resources for the sentencing framework are to build on the existing risk management and programme delivery provision. The prisons would have been getting these offenders anyway under the existing sentencing framework. A new prison will be built at the Magilligan facility. There will be redevelopment there and new places.

I was asked specifically about the figures. These are the best estimates we have at present. We anticipate that the new framework will lead over time to a net increase of some 60 to 65 in the average prison population. Initially we think that the impact on the population will be minimal but by 2021 the increasing impact will level off at a gross increase of about 160 in the average population. At the same time, however, counterbalancing measures, electronic monitoring and fine default alternatives will have an effect. That 160 is a gross figure. It is not a large increase but certainly there is potential for offenders to be kept in prison longer. Over 10 to 15 years this will lead to that increase in the prison population.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, asked about the availability of participation programmes. The prisons are already delivering offender behaviour

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programmes. The additional resource of almost £5 million is to build on and extend that provision. She is right to say the probation and prison services are working closely together to develop a strategy, although she concentrated almost exclusively on prisoners’ rights. They do have rights but at the beginning and end of time it is the victims and stable communities we are trying to help. We need to lock up the right people not the wrong people. We also need to keep them locked up for as long as necessary to protect society. However, as the noble Baroness said, they do have rights.

In prison the offenders cannot be forced to participate in programmes but it will be in their interest to do so. We need to change their behaviour. If they want to demonstrate to the parole commissioners that they are fit for release that is their choice. Once released, if participation in programmes is part of the licence condition then non-compliance could result in immediate recall to custody.

The noble Baroness asked about the presumption of dangerousness. This has been removed from our powers. It still exists in the England and Wales criminal justice legislation, but as she probably knows better than I, it is being removed by way of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill currently before your Lordships’ House. She also asked whether the sentencing and licensing arrangements are subject to review, and I can tell her that they are. It is proper for such a substantial change in the sentencing framework to be kept under review, and the security Minister is committed to reviewing the position in the Commons debate held yesterday, so it is on the record.

The noble Baroness asked about the delivery of supervised activity orders and resources for probation services. I hope that I have covered those areas. We are fully engaged on the costings and we shall probably get more information on supervised activity orders in the summer. The programme will be rolled out along with a package of other measures. This is not all going to happen overnight.

Lessons have been learnt. We have built adjustments into the provisions to ensure that Northern Ireland gets the benefit of the experience of England and Wales. We are making the new sentences available in the Crown Court. They will focus on the most serious offences and will not draw in the magistrates’ court. We are allowing judges the discretion to choose between the two types of public protection sentence and we are making no presumption of risk where there are previous convictions for specified offences. The sentence will be imposed on the basis of a rigorous risk assessment.

The noble Baroness put one question to me for which I suspect I do not have an answer that will satisfy her, and that relates to 17 year-olds. As I made clear, females aged 17 will not go to prison. However, given the significantly high number of 17 year-olds in relation to other groups in the youth justice system, we believe that to attempt to accommodate them in the juvenile justice centre would not only be impractical but have the effect of skewing the age range disproportionately, thereby distorting the regime for the younger children already being accommodated in the centre. There is only one juvenile justice centre in

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Northern Ireland, and there is a requirement to retain some capacity in order to be flexible enough to respond to fluctuating numbers. Reversing the proposal would make the current system unworkable and unmanageable. If all 17 year-olds were to be accommodated in the centre, it would be constantly full, with the high probability that the very young children there would be sent elsewhere, or other young people already settled in the centre, would have to be displaced.

8.30 pm

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He said in his peroration that a lot of money was being put towards creating more prison places in Northern Ireland. Why cannot a further JJC be adapted for young males of 17 who clearly are more numerous than can be looked after in the existing institution? That would be a good use of the money.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, as I listened to the noble Baroness, it crossed my mind that that is a very obvious point. There probably is a response and I shall write to her, because her question is reasonable.

I turn to the statistics. Between 2005 and 2007, 23 girls aged 17 were held in women’s prisons. I do not dismiss the figure; I am just giving the House the information. I mentioned that the consultation process had been lengthy in response to complaints that this has taken a long time, and I fully accept that. But I also make the point that now we have these provisions ready, the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to benefit from them.

I can deal with some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, but I shall have to write to him on others. The noble Lord gave examples to demonstrate why he is opposed to test purchase powers, but these powers are not new. They already exist around tobacco and solvent abuse for the purpose of protecting young people, and I am fairly confident about them. The vociferousness of the youngsters who raised the issue with me and the fact that it can be carefully managed gives me confidence, although I understand that some people might be placed in a difficult position. However, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has fired a warning shot, and therefore those who operate the system will have to be incredibly careful and ensure that it is well managed. It is not entrapment, but legitimate crime detection. Off-licence sellers of alcohol have to be put on notice that selling to underage youngsters will get them in real trouble and put them at risk of losing their livelihood. Our priority is to reduce such sales. We can give warnings and advance notice of schemes in an area, and we can issue warnings for initial non-compliance. The participants will not mislead licence holders. It is a perfectly legitimate procedure and is used in other circumstances to protect young people.

The noble Lord rightly raised important points about vulnerable young offenders. The system already allows the police considerable discretion and we know that they operate with these factors in mind. Within this order are specific requirements should such

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young people come to court. This is important in relation to inquiry, mental health and other medical reports, which will also ensure that prosecutions are brought appropriately. No doubt the defence and the prosecution will have to take account of this, as will judges. The noble Lord raised a fair point.

I am very grateful for all the supportive comments. I cannot go through everything in detail, but I am very grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, did not quite use the word, but he implied that the Assembly was subcontracting some of its work. I do not think it is that. Having been so long without the process, it makes sense to use the best possible help and advice around because it wants to make early progress. It wants some wins for the people of Northern Ireland to show that devolution makes a difference to people’s lives. I cannot comment on the help and assistance it has requested, but I think that that is its judgment. When the Assembly becomes more stable and more mature in the process of legislation, I am sure more can be done in-house. The noble Lord also asked about the consequential amendment order. I am advised that the references are correct and we will write to confirm this, so the point is well made.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, asked about the compassionate release power. It will continue to build on the temporary release powers that correctly exist to allow short-term release. I fully accept his point. He gave a very good example of the difficulty for a Minister asked to make a decision, probably within a few hours, and receiving conflicting advice. It is not his day job; he is the duty Minister, covering for others. That is the dilemma. I suppose that in some ways that is what Ministers are for—a judgment has to be made. In this case it was made successfully, but it would not have been unsuccessful if it had gone wrong. You have to make a judgment and then be responsible for it.

Prisoners can get out temporarily for urgent family matters, subject to risk assessment, and that would have been the case there. But it is a compassionate power and can allow for example, terminally ill prisoners to be dealt with in a compassionate way. It is a package around the whole process.

On the noble Lord’s final point, I can say with all the certainty that my note allows me that musical horns are banned in Northern Ireland so there should be no difficulty.


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