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Community Halls (Criminal Attacks)

Volume 491: debated on Wednesday 22 April 2009

4. What steps the Government are taking to assist the Police Service of Northern Ireland in preventing criminal attacks on community halls. (269407)

Community halls play an important role in every local area across Northern Ireland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland works closely with local community safety partnerships and those who run the halls to do everything possible to prevent such attacks.

The Minister will be aware of the considerable concern arising from the attacks on community halls. There has been some suggestion that the number of such attacks is increasing. Can he confirm whether that is the case and, if so, what impact it will have on his estimate of the sums payable under the applicable statutory compensation schemes?

We are constantly vigilant on the issue of attacks on community halls. The number of attacks in 2008 was a significant reduction on the number in 2007, but there is no room for complacency. The PSNI works with those who run the halls in order to protect them. We have extended the compensation scheme in Northern Ireland so that any community hall conducting charitable activities is given further protection.

The Minister will be aware of the very important role of community halls, including Orange halls, in rural and urban communities across Northern Ireland. We welcome the—[Interruption.]

Order. This noise is unfair to hon. Members who are in the Chamber for Northern Ireland questions.

We welcome the recent changes to the compensation legislation, which mean that halls will be properly compensated when they are the subject of an attack. Will the Minister continue to work with us to drive down the cost of insurance for community halls so that those who run them for the benefit of the community will not suffer the penalties that they suffered in the past?

I certainly join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those who run these halls. Whatever the organisation that runs them across Northern Ireland, they are a huge additional bonus to any community in providing very important resources. Of course, the recent extension of the compensation scheme—the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that it has taken place—has been a significant factor in helping to keep the insurance premiums down. I am happy to continue to work with him and with all organisations in order to make continued and steady progress.