HC Deb 11 February 2004 vol 417 cc1400-2
4. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland. [153158]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

Dissident republicans remain a threat to the peace process, as evidenced by the recent device at Shackleton barracks in Ballykelly. For the most part their activities have been thwarted, intercepted or nullified by intelligence-led policing operations. Loyalist and republican paramilitaries continue to carry out attacks and acts of intimidation against their own communities. Apart from a few isolated incidents, however, interface areas have been quiet for the past 18 months.

Mr. Bellingham

Does the Minister agree that illegal shipments of arms from Libya to the IRA played a vital role in prolonging the terrorist campaign? Now that we are reopening diplomatic and other relations with Libya, and Libya is giving information about its weapons of mass destruction, surely Colonel Gaddafi owes it to us to give us details about those illegal shipments. Does the right hon. Lady agree that that would help the decommissioning process?

Jane Kennedy

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would expect that the subject of arms supplied by Libya to the IRA in the past would be part of the Government's wide-ranging discussions with Libya. The hon. Gentleman is right; such information would be of great benefit.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) (SDLP)

The Minister will be aware that in recent years Northern Ireland Office Ministers have found difficult, if not impossible, to decide when ceasefires had been broken. Can she give us some idea about how the international Independent Monitoring Commission will receive evidence that points to the breaking of ceasefires? Can she inform the House whether that evidence will come from police and security sources who could not give such assurances to previous Ministers?

Jane Kennedy

I am not quite sure about the point that my hon. Friend made in his last sentence, but I can assure him that the Independent Monitoring Commission will receive reports from all the areas that he identified and that it will present its reports to the two Governments.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD)

Will the Minister comment on the extent of the intimidation directed both at Catholic members of district policing partnerships and at Catholics who apply to join the police? What steps are the Government taking to help the police to tackle that issue—for example, by commencing an active dialogue on it with Sinn Fein?

Jane Kennedy

The attacks upon members of the district policing partnerships are being undertaken by dissident republican groups. Obviously, we are interested in speaking to whoever might have influence to bring about an end to intimidation in Northern Ireland. However, the specific attacks to which the hon. Gentleman refers are being diverted and disrupted by intelligence-led policing operations, and the police are to be commended for the work that they are undertaking. Such attacks are deplorable and the people who carry them out have no place in a democratic society.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab)

May I ask my right hon. Friend about the security situation for minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to the Chinese community, which has suffered appalling violence and intimidation at the hands of racist thugs? Will my right hon. Friend tell us what is being done to protect the Chinese community in Northern Ireland, and will she meet the all-party Chinese in Britain group to discuss what we can do to try to help?

Jane Kennedy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. New legislation is being developed that will enable the police to have more powers to deal with such attacks and will allow the courts to deal with them more rigorously. The police continue to do all that they can to divert such activity and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is looking into the matter to see what more can be done on that front.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP)

Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is a feeling of dread in Northern Ireland—given the kind of remarks that have been made in the Chamber today about the increasing likelihood of no-warning bomb attacks from the Real IRA, the race attacks that have been taking place and general issues of criminality—at the prospect of losing 1,600 members of the security forces with the removal of the police reserve? Will she ensure that no political pressure is applied to the Chief Constable that would lead to such a decision?

Jane Kennedy

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he knows, the Chief Constable will review the security situation later this summer, and following that review final decisions will be taken.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP)

Given the lack of confidence in the security situation at present, and particularly in prior acts of decommissioning, has any thought been given to replacing de Chastelain at the head of the independent weapons decommissioning monitoring body?

Jane Kennedy

As I hope to have the opportunity to say later today, I commend the work of General de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. No thought has been given to the matter that the hon. Lady asked about. We are grateful for the commitment that the general has shown to the peace process in Northern Ireland, and I look forward to working with him in the future—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to come to order.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con)

A recent written answer that the Minister of State gave me showed that the full-time reserve of the Police Service of Northern Ireland accounts for roughly a quarter of all officers attached to district command units, and in the case of some local command units the proportion is much larger. In view of that, can the Government state categorically that the full-time reserve will not be sacrificed or disbanded for political reasons, and that it will be maintained for as long as its presence on the ground in Northern Ireland is necessary for the maintenance of effective local policing?

Jane Kennedy

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is a decision that the Policing Board has in hand. Its decision will be very much informed by the advice of the Chief Constable once he has completed his review of security later this summer.