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Mr. Campbell: That is indeed the case, and it was alluded to in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I shall have to ask the hon. Member for South Down to explain that omission from his speech at some point, but I shall now move on.
The Secretary of State's earlier contribution on the Policing Board will cause concern in Northern Ireland. We attempted on several occasions to ascertain from the right hon. Gentleman the precise nature of the Government's position. It appeared that, when he met the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party and, I assume, other parties several months ago, the issue of the deadline for the nominations to the Policing Board was put to him. We were given the clear and precise response that a deadline would be adhered to and that, once it had passed, that would be it for any changes to the board until a subsequent point beyond the next Assembly elections, which are scheduled for 2003.
The Secretary of State appeared today to admit of the possibility that the boat might not have left the harbour, if Sinn Fein-IRA were to suggest, in the immediate future, either privately or publicly, that they had reviewed their position. We were told many months ago that the boat was to set sail, and that if Sinn Fein was not on it, it would be left behind. The implication tonight, however, was that if a change was in the offing from Sinn Fein-IRA, there could perhaps be a review of the legislation by Her Majesty's Government. It would be preferable if we could clarify that point tonight. Has the boat left the harbour? Is there any possibility that if Sinn Fein-IRA were to hint at a change of minddespite their previously stated position, their adherence to and support
Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify one point? Does he agree that it would be preferable to have Sinn Fein on the Policing Board at the earliest opportunity and thereby encourage young republicans to join the police service? Would not that be a better way forward for all of us in Northern Ireland and a clear indication that the war is indeed over?
Mr. Campbell: If Sinn Fein were committed to the political process and if its members were democrats, I would unreservedly and unequivocally say yes, but the point is that they are not. They would corrupt the system just as they are corrupting the system in Northern Ireland now. That is the point and that is why the hon. Lady has alluded over the past few days and weeks to the undermining of support for the Belfast agreement in the Unionist community. That community sees the corruption of civic and political life by Sinn Fein-IRA supporters across Northern Ireland, so it has no confidence in the agreement that delivered those people to the heart of government via the system that the hon. Lady supported and continues to support.
I return to the possible introduction of community restorative justice, which has been raised several times. That issue again divided the Northern Ireland Assembly ad hoc committee, as it causes deep concern to many communities in Northern Ireland. For a number of years, a barbaric type of justice has been meted out by those who support Sinn Fein or loyalist paramilitaries and some have banded together in a pseudo-community restorative justice programme. Some people involved in some programmes are causing major concern to those of us with a genuine interest in a restorative justice system that can command support across the communities in Northern Ireland. It is vital that the Northern Ireland communityProtestants and Catholics; Unionists and nationalistssee that a community restorative justice programme can have no semblance of credibility within the terms of the Bill.
Mr. Browne: That is a very bald assertion. The Bill sets out clearly the exact reassurances that the hon. Gentleman seeks on the proposed restorative justice agenciesthey must be accredited and they must be prepared to work with the statutory agencies, including
Mr. Campbell: The Minister should not underestimate the capacity of Sinn Fein and the community groups with which it is associated to do whatever it takes to control the justice system in their areas. In the so-called ghetto areas of Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein has proved over and again that it is prepared to use whatever means it has at its disposal to try to control the justice system.
Mr. Browne: The House needs to tease this matter out. The argument that the hon. Gentleman has just articulated is an argument for no restorative justice. Is that what he is arguing? He prefaced his critical remarks on the Bill by saying that, like the Government, he believes that restorative justice has a role to play in Northern Ireland. We should work together to ensure a restorative justice system that does not allow those elements to deny the people of Northern Ireland this opportunity. What is his position? Does he think that no system of restorative justice will ever work in Northern Ireland because of those elements, or can we work together to improve the provisions in the Bill?
Mr. Campbell: Last week, the Minister told me and my colleagues that he wanted our comments on the Bill and suggestions for improvements. We relayed our comments, including our concerns on the community restorative justice aspects of the Bill. I am merely laying down a marker. The ability and capacity for Sinn Fein and the community groups with which it is associated should not be underestimated: they will go to the nth degree to try to ensure that they retain control in Northern Ireland.
I do not think that the status of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland has been referred to in the debate. The ad hoc committee took evidence from the board. The board and the committee agreed that it would be a retrograde step to downgrade the board to the status of a next steps agency. I reiterate that view.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I want to speak against several aspects of the Bill, and to make specific criticisms of the proposals for restorative justice for young offenders in part 4. I also want to make some wider points about the nature of the Bill.
The simplest explanation of the aims of restorative justice can be summarised as the three Rs: responsibility, restoration and reintegration. As I understand it, a number of countries around the world already use similar systems for encouraging offenders to confront the consequences of their behaviour, and to make amends via one method or another to those against whom they have transgressed.
In Canada, the emphasis is on reconciliation, with victims given the opportunity to confront their offenders and to suggest ways in which offenders could make amends for what they have done. In New Zealand, they prefer a system of family or community conferencing, which involves people concerned about the victim and/or the offender in decisions about how amends can best be made.
The Australians use a similar system based on the New Zealand model but with a greater role for the police as part of the overall process. Closer to home, we have a slightly different system. In Scotland, offenders can be brought before panels of volunteer members of the public, who can discuss restorative justice options with them and their parents. In England, a non-criminal youth panel sees offenders who have been formally convicted by the youth court, and seeks to draw up a contract involving the offender and those seeking reparation.
The proposed system of restorative justice for young offenders in Northern Ireland is based on an amalgam of those different approaches, with youth conferences and associated youth conference plans. The critical difference is that the systems in other countries were not designed to operate in an environment such as Northern Ireland, where special circumstances clearly apply.
The proposals for Northern Ireland youth conferences allow the participation of a so-called appropriate adult. Under new article 3A, the appropriate adult could be a parent or guardian, a social worker or a legal representative. If no one in those categories was able or willing to serve, he or she could be replaced by
For instance, what is to stop members of paramilitary organisations effectively using their muscle in the local community to insist that only they should be allowed to represent young offenders at youth conferences, as "appropriate adults"? They might then argue for a very light penaltyif any meaningful sanction is to be imposed at all. Youths who had been involved in criminal activity might look to the local paramilitary bosses for protection via the system. Not only does that offer the paramilitaries an avenue to subversion of the justice system; it threatens to turn young offenders towards them if they appear to have been successfully protected.
I accept that the proposed system may be well intentioned, but I believe that it ignores the reality of life in Northern Ireland. All this needs to be thought through again very carefully, even before the system is piloted in the Province.