The threat level in Northern Ireland remains severe, with persistent planning and targeting by terrorist groupings. However, action by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners continues to keep the pressure on these terrorist groups, with significant arrests and charges over recent months.
Instability in the Northern Ireland security system continues to be fuelled by organised crime and criminal activity. I therefore ask the Secretary of State this question again. Royal Assent for the National Crime Agency was achieved on 13 April 2013, so what steps has she taken since the last Northern Ireland questions to ensure that the NCA operates in Northern Ireland?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have raised this repeatedly with political parties in Northern Ireland. If we are to give the people of Northern Ireland the same protection against organised crime as is currently the case in Great Britain, I believe it essential that the National Crime Agency is given its full powers of operation in Northern Ireland. I am working with Keith Bristow, the Home Secretary and Justice Ministers to do all we can to build a consensus for the introduction of full powers for the National Crime Agency.
I apologise, Mr Speaker.
While this year’s parade season has been relatively peaceful, the PSNI is experiencing a budgetary shortfall and does not have the requisite number of officers. What can the Secretary of State do to enable it to fund sufficient police numbers to ensure that there is continued peace and security?
The Government have stepped in, providing an additional £231 million to support the PSNI’s efforts in regard to national security matters. That will help across the board, assisting community policing as well. It is, however, of grave concern that the failure of Sinn Féin and the SDLP to agree on welfare reform is having an impact on the budgets of other Departments in the Northern Ireland Executive, and, sadly, that includes the PSNI.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, let me first commend my right hon. Friend for her excellent work to secure peace and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend may recall that about three weeks ago I visited south Armagh, where is little security and where criminality runs rife despite the PSNI’s best efforts. We need the National Crime Agency in south Armagh, and in Northern Ireland as a whole. Will my right hon. Friend please put pressure on the good people of the SDLP, who are opposing that, and on Sinn Féin, which has been subsidised in the past by the very terrorists who are still running the criminality in Northern Ireland?
I warmly commend my hon. Friend for all the brilliant work that he did in Northern Ireland. I also warmly welcome his successor as Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison).
I agree that NCA capability in Northern Ireland is crucial. Only recently I had a conversation with Keith Bristow, the head of the NCA, who commented that a major child protection operation had been inhibited in Northern Ireland. The NCA had had to ask the PSNI to carry out work that was being carried out by the NCA everywhere else in the United Kingdom. That put further pressure on PSNI resources, which need not happen.
12. Does the Secretary of State agree that close co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána is essential? Does she share my optimism that the leadership of the guards is now more proactive and imaginative when it comes to closer working with its opposite number in the north? (904836)
My hon. Friend is right. The working relationship between the Garda and the PSNI is crucial to the combating of both terrorism and cross-border organised crime. As recently as May, the Garda made major arrests in relation to terrorism offences, and in a number of instances plots have been frustrated and arrests have been made as a result of a working relationship between the Garda and the PSNI that is better than it has ever been before.
Will the Secretary of State reiterate her commendation of leaders of the north Belfast community, political leaders at all levels, and the Orange institution for having devoted many hours of work to ensuring that the twelfth of July passed peacefully, despite provocation and republican threats of violence? Will she now recognise that this issue is not going to go away, and that she and the Minister need to make every effort to ensure that a solution is found?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I repeat my commendation of the efforts that have been made. I know that those efforts were assiduous, and that they involved many conversations with people on the ground. I think that had it not been for the efforts made by the leaders of Unionist political parties, by Members of Parliament such as the right hon. Gentleman, and by the Orange Order itself, the situation on the twelfth of July would have been very different. The determinations of the Parades Commission must always be obeyed, and those who disagree with them must find a peaceful and lawful way in which to express their concern.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s undertaking to look carefully at the Unionist leaders’ proposal for a commission of inquiry, and to consider all practical options to resolve the situation in north Belfast. Does she accept that respect for, and tolerance of, both traditions is at the heart of that? If a shared future is to be meaningful in Northern Ireland, it must mean sharing space as well.
I agree. I believe that what is happening in Northern Ireland illustrates that it is possible to enable loyal order parades to take place peacefully and without problems, often in areas with a predominantly nationalist population. There are many examples of that, but Derry/Londonderry is frequently cited. It is possible to enable people to express their culture in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, and I recognise that that is an important goal in north Belfast.
13. In the light of the recent incident involving two petrol bombs being thrown at Willowfield police station in east Belfast, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure local police officers are given sufficient safeguards against extremist acts? (904837)
Of course that was a disgraceful attack, as was the shooting attack on a G4S vehicle involved in tagging offenders. PSNI officers subject themselves to risk every day. The terrorist threat continues to be lethal and is predominantly focused on police and prison officers. That is one of the reasons why this Government acted to provide an additional £231 million of funding to help the PSNI fight terrorists and maintain the safety of its officers.
10. Can the Secretary of State confirm that an independent arbitration body is absolutely necessary to arbitrate the contentious parades, and will she confirm that the Parades Commission is the law and that those who want to support law and order must support the Parades Commission rulings, even if they disagree with the detail of a decision? (904834)
Yes I can. The Parades Commission is the lawfully constituted authority. Its determinations have the force of law. They must be obeyed and I welcome the huge efforts made over the weekend to ensure the determination in north Belfast was obeyed. I am afraid that I think we always will need some form of body to adjudicate parades where there is no local agreement, but I hope in all cases as much effort as possible is made to try to reach local agreement so there is not a further need for a determination.
I, too, welcome the Minister—my fourth—the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) to his position, but I confess myself saddened by the Government’s decision to downgrade the post from Minister of State. I hope this is not indicative of any diminution in the Government’s commitment to the proud people of Northern Ireland. I would also say that those on my Front Bench need be under no duty to emulate that.
While the whole House will pay tribute to outgoing Chief Constable Matt Baggott—and I hope I speak for everyone—the Secretary of State will shortly be meeting the new Chief Constable. What are the strategic priorities she will wish to establish with the new Chief Constable?
I have met the new Chief Constable on a number of occasions. I commend him and his officers on the work they did over the twelfth of July. I am sure his strategic priorities will continue to be countering the lethal terrorist threat from dissident republicans, keeping Northern Ireland safe and secure from that threat, and also being absolutely serious and determined in providing community policing as close to the community as possible and cracking down on organised criminals in cities in Northern Ireland.