Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

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Clause 27

Extension to Northern Ireland of provisions of SOCAP 2005
Lady Hermon: I beg to move amendment No. 31, in clause 27, page 18, line 27, at end insert—
‘(1A) Section 112 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (power to direct a person to leave a place) extends to Northern Ireland.'.
I am delighted to speak to yet another miscellaneous provision in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The clause covers for the first time a subject that has not been mentioned—the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The amendment is fairly obviously a probing amendment. It proposes extending to Northern Ireland section 112 of that Act.
5.50 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
6.5 pm
On resuming
The Chairman: Before Lady Hermon resumes, I shall say that I intend to adjourn the Committee for a short period for a dinner break at 7 o’clock. I hope that that might focus minds.
Lady Hermon: I apologise, Mr. Atkinson, if I appeared to hesitate earlier. I had not heard the Division Bell because I was so excited by the anticipation of what the Minister would say aboutthe delay in extending to Northern Ireland sections of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, and in particular sections 60 to 67, 69 and 70, which are belatedly being extended by clause 27.
I have considerable concern about that point. The Minister, who is a diligent Minister and takes his responsibilities seriously, will have noted that immediately before the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill came before the House there was yet another report from the highly respected and regarded Independent Monitoring Commission, which he and his colleagues are so keen to quote to us. They will doubtless do so again before the end of the week.
I shall quote from the November 2004 IMC report, which I recommend to all members of the Committee if they have not already read it. Paragraph 5.5, on page 27, is pertinent to discussion of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. It states:
“The Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force has stated that there are some 230 organised criminal gangs believed to be operating in Northern Ireland.”
I shall repeat that: 230 organised criminal gangs.
“We have been advised that about 60 per cent. or some 140 have paramilitary links and that, of the top 25 criminal gangs involved in international activities operating in early 2004, 17, some two-thirds, had paramilitary associations.”
The next sentence is the most striking on the entire page.
“Seldom in the developed world has this high proportion of the most serious criminals been associated with groups originating in terrorism, with an organisational structure and discipline, and the experience of planning, learning and conducting sophisticated clandestine operations, methods of handling money, and with traditions of extreme violence.”
That was the report as recently as November 2004.
I was astounded that, in 2005, despite that report having highlighted the seriousness of the situation in terms of organised criminals and the gangs that operate in Northern Ireland—let me remind all members of the Committee that Northern Ireland is a small part of this United Kingdom—many provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act were not immediately extended to Northern Ireland by way of primary legislation. It concerns me greatly that now, two years later, clause 27 belatedly extends to Northern Ireland only sections 60 to 67, 69 and 70.
On Second Reading, the Secretary of State described the chief purpose of the Bill. He said:
“The Bill will chiefly allow maximum flexibility in the arrangements for the future devolution of policing and justice functions to the Assembly”.—[Official Report, 13 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 1167.]
Had it not been for their overriding purpose of devolving to the Assembly the decision about when it wishes to take responsibility for policing and justice, when in heaven’s name would the Government ever have got round to extending to Northern Ireland the important provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which ought to have been extended at the time of that Act in 2005?
Mr. Woodward: I welcome the hon. Lady’s amendment and the debate that she has raised. Unfortunately, we are not able to accept the amendment, but perhaps I may crave her indulgence for a moment, so that she will understand why—and why, none the less, we are interested in her ideas.
The powers referred to in the amendment are part of a package of exclusion powers that include exclusion orders and, where appropriate, electronic monitoring, all of which, as the hon. Lady recognises, are available in England and Wales under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and previous legislation, but not currently in Northern Ireland. Although the amendment is well intended, it would, even if technically correct, raise practical issues about how to apply it.
At present the necessary legislative building blocks are not in place in Northern Ireland to allow us to adopt the amendment as it stands. To extend section 112 of the 2005 Act to Northern Ireland now could require the creation of a much more substantive package of sentencing powers in the Bill, which is not what the Bill was designed for. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is now carrying out a review of the sentencing framework for Northern Ireland, including consideration of, for example, electronic monitoring. We hope to publish proposals for separate measures in due course, and in that context we shall of course carefully consider what the hon. Lady has said.
Lady Hermon: I appreciate the assurance that the Minister has given. I posed two questions, and I accept the answer about why the amendment cannot now be accepted, but my first question was why the provisions that clause 27 extends to Northern Ireland were not extended to it when the Act was first passed.
Mr. Woodward: Because at the time the exclusion orders were being developed for England and Wales, Northern Ireland was in the process of a criminal justice review, in the wake of the Belfast agreement. It was therefore deemed inappropriate to proceed with those powers for Northern Ireland. Things have clearly moved a long way since then. That is one reason for the review being conducted by my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
6.15 pm
Lady Hermon: I am sorry that I seem to have given the Minister the wrong impression in my intervention. I warmly accept his assurances. I am surprised, as we draw towards the end of our consideration of the Bill, to have had an indication that a Minister—one, at least—has been listening to our suggestions as to how it can be improved for the sake of the people of Northern Ireland.
My intervention concerned the extension, under this clause, of the SOCAP provisions to Northern Ireland. The investigatory powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions—the powers spelled out in sections 60 to 67 and 69 and 70—were available to be extended to Northern Ireland in 2005. My question was, when on earth would they have been extended to Northern Ireland had it not been for the fact that the Government were adhering to a commitment to Sinn Fein to give an indication that they would devolve policing and justice to the Assembly?
That was the chief purpose of the Bill, but it has turned into a ragbag of all sorts of things. Of course I welcome the extension of some parts of SOCAP to Northern Ireland, albeit so late in the day. I am just sorry that the Minister did not take the opportunity to explain to me why the measure was so delayed, when it was meant to concern just the DPP—not exclusion zones; not legislation that did not extend to Northern Ireland; and not the review that is currently being undertaken by the Minister of State.
However, the Minister has given me an undertaking that a review is being conducted and that he will look positively at our suggestions for further action. With those assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 3 agreed to.
Clauses 28 to 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4

Minor and consequential amendments
Amendments made: No. 16, in schedule 4, page 36, line 25, leave out ‘(1)(e)' and insert ‘(1B)(a)'.
No. 17, in schedule 4, page 37, line 2, leave out ‘56' and insert ‘58'.—[Mr. Hanson.]
Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5

Repeals and revocations
Mr. Hanson: I beg to move amendment No. 18, in schedule 5, page 38, leave out lines 26 to 30.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 15
Mr. Hanson: These are minor amendments relating to the removal of clauses 10 to 12, which was considered on the Floor of the House last week.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 32

Amendment made: No. 15, in clause 32, page 21, line 21, leave out ‘sections 10 to 13' and insert ‘section 13'.—[Mr. Hanson.]
Clause 32, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33

Amendment made: No. 32, in clause 33, page 22, line 4, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) But the amendments and repeals made by Schedule 3 (and Schedule 5 so far as relating to that Schedule) extend to England and Wales and Northern Ireland only.'.
Clause 33, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.
Mr. Hanson: On a point of order, Mr. Atkinson. On behalf of the Committee, I thank you for your couple of hours in the Chair this afternoon and your co-Chairman, Mr. Taylor, for his efforts this morning. I must confess that I am pleased that we managed to complete our proceedings on the Bill in Committee today. I thank the Clerks for their patience and hard work, and I thank our colleagues in Hansard for their ever present recording of our utterings and mutterings. I thank my colleague the Under-Secretary, and the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling(Mr. Coaker), for their contributions. Finally, most of all, I thank my hon. Friends, the members of the Committee, for their unfailing support, patience and commitment, and their renewed interest in the events and affairs of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Robertson: Further to that point of order,Mr. Atkinson. I echo the Minister’s thanks to you and your co-Chairman, Mr. Taylor, and to your staff. I thank my colleagues who have contributed today. The Minister referred, I think, to the silent majority when he thanked his Back Benchers, but it is always interesting to take part in these debates, and I look forward to further debates this week.
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