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Policing

9. Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Assembly in respect of policing. [25601]

Dr. John Reid: I have not held any discussions with the Nl Assembly on policing, which at present remains a reserved matter.

The policing situation in Northern Ireland is a tri-partite arrangement involving the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and myself under detailed provisions set out in the Police (NI) Act 2000.

As Secretary of State, I am responsible for setting the statutory framework for policing and the long-term objectives for policing in Northern Ireland. The Policing Board, which is made up of democratically elected Assembly Members chosen by three of the parties and independents appointed by myself, has responsibility for holding the police to account and for monitoring and evaluating the service provided. The Chief Constable is responsible for the operational direction and control of the police service in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Agreement

10. Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what definition he uses of the phrase parity of esteem in the Belfast agreement. [25602]

Dr. John Reid: I define the phrase parity of esteem with reference to its meaning in the Belfast agreement—which is of equal respect for the identity and ethos and aspirations of both communities in Northern Ireland.

19. Andy King: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he expects the Belfast agreement to be implemented in full. [25648]

Dr. John Reid: We have already made significant progress in implementing all aspects of the Belfast agreement. However, it is neither possible, nor helpful, to speculate about when this process will be completed. The agreement itself represents a process, not an event, and the British Government will continue to work with all the parties to ensure that the implementation process continues.

24. Mr. Soley: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on progress with the Belfast agreement. [25653]

Dr. John Reid: Much has been achieved since April 1998. Progress has been made on all elements within the Belfast agreement including human rights and equality of opportunity, normalisation, the reviews of policing and criminal justice, decommissioning and the establishment of the devolved institutions. We still have some way to go before the agreement is implemented in full and the British Government are committed to working with the political parties to ensure that progress continues on all fronts.

Fireworks

11. Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the sale and use of fireworks in Northern Ireland. [25603]

16 Jan 2002 : Column 315W

Jane Kennedy: Having become increasingly aware of the many problems associated with the misuse of fireworks, not least in public order situations, I announced on 12 October 2001 that my officials, working closely with the police, prosecuting authorities and other interested bodies, would be undertaking a review of the situation to see if these problems could be resolved by strengthening the existing law.

That review should be completed within the next two months and it is my intention to produce proposals for public consultation.

Decommissioning

12. Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the terrorist weapons which have been decommissioned. [25604]

Jane Kennedy: The IICD reported on 23 October 2001 that it had witnessed an event, which it regarded as significant, in which the IRA had put a quantity of arms completely beyond use.

Also, on 18 December 1998, the Loyalist Volunteer Force decommissioned what the IICD described as a "small but significant" consignment of weaponry.

The Commission listed the arms as follows:


Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on what date he expects the decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives to be completed. [25608]

Jane Kennedy: Future decommissioning events are a matter for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the representatives of the various paramilitary organisations.

Decommissioning is only one part of the Good Friday agreement of which we can now say that implementation of every aspect is under way. Full implementation of the Good Friday agreement in all its aspects is a task that will take some time to accomplish.

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21. Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made in decommissioning; and if he will make a statement. [25650]

Jane Kennedy: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) today, Official Report, columns 281-82W.

Electoral Fraud

14. Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what use is made of national insurance numbers to combat electoral fraud. [25606]

Mr. Browne: National insurance numbers are not currently used to combat electoral fraud in Northern Ireland.

I am looking carefully at the arguments which have been made for the inclusion of a person's national insurance number as one of the items of personal information required on an application to the electoral register in Northern Ireland. I am discussing with the Department for Work and Pensions how national insurance numbers might be used effectively in the electoral process and whether their use would help to combat electoral fraud.

17. Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent assessment he has made of the level of electoral fraud in Northern Ireland; and what measures are being taken to reduce it. [25646]

Mr. Browne: Following the 7 June elections, an independent research company was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Office to investigate all aspects of elections in Northern Ireland. The research findings were placed in the Library of the House on 16 October 2001.

The measures contained in the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill will tackle electoral abuse in Northern Ireland effectively without disadvantaging honest voters.

Police Recruitment and Retention

16. Mr. Brazier: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on police recruitment and retention. [25609]

Jane Kennedy: Two recruitment competitions have now been launched for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which together have attracted over 12,000 applicants, of whom over 36 per cent. were Catholic. Recruitment competitions to the Royal Ulster Constabulary which were held on an approximately annual basis attracted on average 3,000 applicants; the highest proportion of Catholic applicants in any single competition was 22.3 per cent.

During the period January to December 2000, 208 Regular and 166 Full-Time Reserve officers left the RUC under natural wastage.

The voluntary severance came into operation in January 2001 and in the period January to December 2001, a total of 1,069 Regular officers and 129 Full-Time Reserve officers left under the terms of the scheme. In the same period, a further 149 Regular and 166 Full-Time Reserve officers left under natural wastage.

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Police Service of Northern Ireland

22. David Burnside: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve will receive priority in applying for full-time employment in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. [25651]

Jane Kennedy: All those who apply to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland are required to achieve a fixed standard of merit when tested in nine separate policing competencies. Candidates are thereafter selected on a 50 per cent. Catholic, 50 per cent. non-Catholic basis. No priority is given to members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve or any other police service.

Saville Inquiry

23. Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the cost to date is of the Saville inquiry. [25652]

Jane Kennedy: The cost of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry to the Northern Ireland Office, as at 7 January 2002, is £52 million. This does not include costs to other Departments such as the Ministry of Defence.


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