HC Deb 30 June 2004 vol 423 cc268-70
4. Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Coop)

What efforts he is making to eradicate paramilitary-style assaults on the civilian population of Northern Ireland. [180483]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson)

The police are doing all that they can to bring those responsible for these vicious assaults to justice, but it is not solely the responsibility of the Government to seek to bring these attacks to an end; it requires the support of the whole community. We continue to call on those with influence over the paramilitary groups to demand a complete cessation of these barbaric acts.

Mr. Bailey

I thank the Minister for his reply. The first report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stressed that everyone in Northern Ireland with a community responsibility had a duty to do everything in their power to end these attacks. Will my hon. Friend tell us what progress has been made on that front?

Mr. Pearson

The Government are engaging with politicians and community leaders at all levels in an attempt to bring these barbaric acts to an end. In addition, the policy of community policing is being vigorously taken forward, the better to integrate police on the beat with their local communities and to build support and trust within those communities. It is important that we continue to do all this work with the police acting on the ground at community level and with the Government engaging with political and community leaders. We are quite clear that all paramilitary activity must cease, and that must be the clear objective of the intensive discussions that will take place in September.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD)

One paramilitary-style assault that led to a conviction for murder was the killing by two Scots Guardsmen, Mark Wright and James Fisher, of Peter McBride in 1992. Is the Minister aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), together with The Irish World and other media outlets, has sought to highlight the findings of the independent assessor for military complaints procedure, Jim McDonald, who criticised the readmission of Wright and Fisher to the armed forces? What assessment has the Minister made of Mr. McDonald's assessment?

Mr. Pearson

I admire the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in asking that question. I have not yet had a chance to read that report, but this is essentially a matter for the Ministry of Defence, and I shall bring it to that Department's attention.

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

The Minister will be aware that in the past three weeks, two of my constituents were beater almost to death, one by loyalist paramilitary groupings, the other by republican groupings. Does the Minister agree that this type of cudgel policing in parts of Northern Ireland is being used by paramilitary groups to gain a stranglehold? Will the Government again make it clear, along with the Irish Government, that any political grouping that continues to associate with illegal armies has no place in the legitimate political process?

Mr. Pearson

I agree with my hon. Friend. These paramilitary-style attacks—so-called punishment beatings—are completely unacceptable. I totally reject the term "punishment beatings" which is sometimes used, because it gives a spurious respectability to the activity and hides the level of violence that is taking place in Northern Ireland today. People are being crippled, made limbless or becoming brain damaged as a result of these attacks. They must cease, and we must call on all responsible politicians in Northern Ireland to ensure that that happens.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)

The Minister was quite right to stress the importance of policing as a response to paramilitary assaults. However, the number of officers who have left the part-time reserve since June 2000 has been 313, while only 108 have joined. How can he therefore contemplate dispensing with the services of the full-time reserve?

Mr. Pearson

The Chief Constable will review the issue of the full-time reserve and produce recommendations in the autumn. The policing budget in Northern Ireland this year is some £726 million. I believe that we have a reforming and totally transformed police service in Northern Ireland that is doing an effective job at community level and in tackling paramilitary activity wherever it occurs, and I am sure that it will continue to do so.