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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Desmond Browne): Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has a criminal injuries compensation scheme, which, in the last financial year, we funded to the tune of £47 million.
In addition, the Government provided overdue acknowledgement of the human cost of the troubles when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) instituted for the first time a programme of support for victims of the troubles.
More than £18.25 million has been allocated to support victims of the troubles in Northern Ireland. The support includes the establishment of a family trauma centre, the Northern Ireland memorial fund and funding for groups that provide support to victims. Support for victims who live in Great Britain was announced earlier this month, and further initiatives will be announced in the coming months.
Brian White: In paying tribute to groups that have helped victims of the troubles, may I draw my hon. Friend's attention to several individuals who have not been able to access support from them? What are the Government doing to help individuals?
Mr. Browne: My hon. Friend makes an especially valid point. Isolation and lack of awareness of what is available are especially acute among the victims of the troubles. Consequently, the service that the family trauma centre provides is designed for individuals; those individuals whose education was disrupted by the troubles have received grants and bursaries of approximately £300,000, and the Northern Ireland memorial fund has devised schemes for individuals.
Lady Hermon (North Down): I understand that an eminent Queen's Counsel has backed the civil action being taken by the victims of the Omagh bombing. In those circumstances, are the Government prepared to give public support to, and encourage businesses to provide financial backing for, the legal fund for the Omagh victims?
Mr. Browne: The hon. Lady knows that a specific initiative was taken in conjunction with the local health organisation to respond to the trauma of the Omagh victims. Research has revealed the need for significant support, which has been put in place.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): As my hon. Friend may know, the Parades Commission has no statutory power to ban a parade. The factors to which the commission has regard in deciding whether to impose conditions on a procession are set out in the Public Processions Act 1998 and in the commission's statutory guidelines. It may, for example, take into account the likelihood of public disorder or damage to property, the potential impact on community relations and whether a parade is a traditional parade. In reaching a decision, the commission also takes into account the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Mr. Prentice: I understand that only 151 out of 3,400 parades have been re-routed. A tiny number of parades cause problems, yet the same parades cause them year in, year out. Should not parades that habitually cause offence
Jane Kennedy: My hon. Friend exaggerates slightly. As always with Northern Ireland, it is important to keep matters in perspective. Last year, the Parades Commission found it necessary to restrict routes on only 130 of the 3,440 parades of which it was notified. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have consistently stated that our preferred outcome is the resolution of disputes through local agreements that reflect mutual respect for people's rights, traditions and sensitivities, thus rendering determination by the commission unnecessary.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Will the Minister join me in condemning those who took part in a republican-orchestrated attack on the RUC while it was carrying out its lawful duty of upholding a decision by the Parades Commission? In upholding that decision, the RUC made limited use of plastic bullets. Does the Minister agree that the do-gooder, naive comment by Professor Brice Dickson that the use of plastic bullets should be ended should be put to him face to face and that he should be asked to withdraw such a ridiculous statement?
Jane Kennedy: May I first place firmly on record our appreciation of the work, courage and endurance displayed by the RUC in the situation that it faces? It is important to recognise that it was serving both sides of the community in implementing the decisions of the Parades Commission.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about baton rounds, everyone agrees that we would like to find an alternative. We are following the recommendation of the Patten report by urgently researching alternatives, but until they can be found we cannot take from police officers the ability to defend themselves from blast bombs, petrol bombs, acid bombs and live fire.
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): I welcome my hon. Friend's strong expression of support for the police service in Northern Ireland. It is not responsible for creating the divisions, the sectarianism or the ensuing disorder that still blights Northern Ireland's society. Does my hon. Friend agree that, for the police to do their job in Northern Ireland, they need adequate manpower resources, in terms of the number of officers available to go on to the streets during times of disorder, and financial resources to cope with the disorder and violence and to see through the reforms resulting from the Patten legislation? Will she reassure the House that those manpower and financial resources will continue to be made available to the police in the coming years?
Jane Kennedy: I am happy to give the House those assurances. As my right hon. Friend says, policing in Northern Ireland will require additional funds during 200102 and in subsequent years. That is due to the specific pressures caused by sectarian tensions and
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): As we have already heard, the RUC is primarily responsible for enforcing the determinations on marches. I hear what the Minister says about adequate resources. Is she saying, therefore, that she will make good the £117 million shortfall in resources that the RUC estimates it will require adequately to do the job that we all agree it must do? Will she confirm that specific figure?
Jane Kennedy: I will not confirm any specific figure today. My officials are continuing discussions with the Police Authority for Northern Ireland and with the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, and it is likely that we shall consider carefully the proposals that they make.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. John Reid): At the conclusion of the Weston Park talks, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach issued a paper setting out the progress made so far in implementing the Good Friday agreement; a copy is in the Library.
More remains to be done in a number of key areas, but, as the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach made clear, it is now for the two Governments to draw together a final package to secure the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday agreement.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: My constituents, a large number of whom are either Irish or direct descendants of Irish people, will be grateful for those words because they fully understand that the Good Friday agreement has brought great prosperity and the alleviation of many of the troubles of Ireland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only the full implementation of that policy will bring to the Irish people the rewards that they deserve?
Dr. Reid: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Full implementation of the Belfast agreement is the only basis for lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and the agreement can succeed only if all its parts are implemented together. We as a Government will discharge our responsibilities and I hope that all others will do likewise. My hon. Friend will recognise that, as a Government, we are working hard in the midst of conflicting pressures and sensitivities to ensure that all the parties implement all parts of the agreement.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): Is it not the case that the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary said last week that the IRA orchestrated and organised violence in Ardoyne in my constituency? In view of that breach of the ceasefire and the revelations that the IRA at the highest level was involved in importing arms, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why he continues to negotiate the future of Northern Ireland with IRA-Sinn Fein, which
Dr. Reid: On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I can assure him that I will, as I have over recent weeks, act on any information given to me by my security advisers, including the Chief Constable. The hon. Gentleman referred to a specific case, but information has not been put to me on it. If it is, I will consider it.
The hon. Gentleman's second pointhis feeling that we are not meeting his own partyis of course incorrect. The Prime Minister met representatives of his party recently, including the hon. Gentleman himself. Indeed, only yesterday I wrote again to his party leader to accept two invitesone to his constituency and one to have a further meeting. The hon. Gentleman was not at the Weston Park talks for a simple reason: the talks brought together those who signed the Good Friday agreement and those who have acted in support of it. Of course, he and his colleagues are neither.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, there have been significant troop reductions in Northern Ireland, the closure of more than 40 security installations and the highest economic growth in the UK? Is not that a powerful argument for persisting with the peace process and encouraging all parties to press ahead with the full implementation of the agreement?
Dr. Reid: I can confirm the figures referred to by my hon. Friend. Troop levels in Northern Ireland are at their lowest for 31 years: at about 13,500, they are half what they were26,000at their height and 34 military establishments and nine joint establishments have been closed. I emphasise to him that the number of troops deployed to Northern Ireland is commensurate with the threat, and I shall continue to take advice on that from the Chief Constable and others.
That makes the point solidly: we have to move forward on all aspects of the agreement, including putting illegal paramilitary weapons beyond use. In that context, a signal that the threat has been further reduced may enable us to take further measures. However, we must keep in step with the politics and the security situation and move hand in hand on those and all other aspects of the agreement.
Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): I think that I heard the Minister correctly earlier, but will the Secretary of State confirm on the record that all necessary resources continue to be available to the RUC in protecting the law-abiding from the lawless, including, if necessary, the use of plastic baton rounds at the discretion of the Chief Constable?
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, all of us in Northern Ireland want to see a situation in which the police do not have to have recourse to plastic baton rounds, but the police have recently been faced night after night with petrol bombs, acid bombs and live firing. Two hundred and forty eight police officers were injured between 1 June and 14 July, and in the two days after that an additional 38 were injured, 28 of them seriously. Every Member will understand why it is necessary to have the means between a baton and a bullet to allow the police to protect themselves. As long as that is necessary, the police will have such weapons at their disposal.