HC Deb 27 March 1996 vol 274 cc616-7W
Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures he is taking to combat organised crime. [23509]

Sir John Wheeler

The Government are continuously seeking to enhance the effectiveness of the law to combat racketeering and organised crime in Northern Ireland in a way which balances the freedom of law-abiding people to go about their business against the threat from those who would pervert this freedom.

Our primary concern has been to counter the murderous campaigns of republican and loyalist terrorists. This will remain the case so long as it is necessary to combat the activities of groups, or a particular group, who espouse violence as a means of achieving their ends. The Government recognise that racketeering in Northern Ireland is intimately bound up with the activities of the terrorists. Indeed, the problem did not disappear during the ceasefires.

There has never been a clear distinction between "terrorist" racketeering and racketeering for personal gain and the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Organised Crime has recently warned that combating this menace should not be hindered by concern about what is and is not 'organised' crime".

This is why we are taking a number of measures to strengthen the law in dealing with organised crime—no matter what its motivation.

It is vital that those who are willing to testify against criminals are properly protected. Included in the Criminal Procedures and Investigation Bill are proposals which protect the fairness of trials from being prejudiced by intimidation: it will be possible for acquittals to be reopened where there has been an offence involving intimidation of witnesses and jurors. In the same Bill, the rules of disclosure in advance of trial are to be recast, with the intention of reducing the risk of unmeritorious acquittals, as where a prosecution has to be stopped to protect the identity of informers. And we hope shortly to bring forward proposals for a new offence of witness intimidation. In other areas, changes which will enable the security services to become involved in the investigation of serious crime will extend to Northern Ireland. No less importantly, we will be taking steps to strengthen and update the law on the confiscation of the proceeds of criminal activity of any nature, in the draft Proceeds of Crime (Northern Ireland) Order which I hope will be laid soon.

I will also be looking for ways to enable improved co-operation and exchange of information between the RUC and other forces, whether this concerns intelligence, information technology, DNA samples or other issues. I will look carefully at arrangements between police forces to make sure that arrangements which best serve the needs of the RUC and other forces in the UK are implemented in Northern Ireland. I am also considering ways to facilitate the sharing of information between different agencies and to make sure that Northern Ireland can benefit from full participation in new arrangements at the international level.

Numbers and percentages of unemployed claimants in travel to work areas' on 8 February 1996
Travel-to-work area Total unemployed by travel-to-work area Percentage unemployed
Males Females Total Males Females Total
Ballymena 1,735 611 2,346 10.0 4.5 7.6
Belfast 32,498 9,414 41,912 13.7 5.3 10.2
Coleraine 4,084 1,132 5,216 17.3 6.9 13.1
Cookstown 1,356 341 1,697 18.4 8.7 15.0
Craigavon 5,330 1,460 6,790 12.7 4.9 9.5
Dungannon 2,134 574 2,708 17.1 7.5 13.5
Enniskillen 2,512 570 3,082 16.4 6.2 12.5
Londonderry 7,756 1,544 9,300 22.4 6.4 15.8
Magherafelt 1,531 400 1,931 16.3 6.6 12.5
Newly 4,682 1,042 5,724 22.0 7.8 16.5
Omagh 2,081 508 2,589 16.2 6.0 12.2
Strabane 2,076 373 2,449 23.3 7.8 17.9
Northern Ireland total 67,775 17,969 85,744 15.3 5.7 11.4
1 Travel-to-work areas are designated by the name of the major town in the area. Some of them coincide with a single District Council area and some are made up from several District Council areas.
2 All rates are based on the estimated workforce at June 1994.