Skip to main content

Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008

Volume 701: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2008

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3 March be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak to both the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 and the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 2008. Copies of the draft orders were laid before the House on 3 March. Like other noble Lords, I hope, I welcome the opportunity to consider both the main order and the consequential amendments order as part of the same debate. They will, however, be moved separately. Both orders are Orders in Council as this is not a devolved matter. Although that is not the issue for this debate—everyone knows the rules regarding the devolution of criminal justice—given the amount of time that these issues have been before the public, it is important that this House should consider the orders.

Before I start on the actual orders I should refer to a correction slip which noble Lords may have seen associated with the draft order. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments felt that we should have included a slightly fuller text in the preamble and recital powers of the order. The correction slip provides this and will become part of the final order for printing if it is approved by Parliament.

The main criminal justice order before us is one of the most important pieces of Northern Ireland criminal justice legislation to be brought before Parliament in many years. It provides a significant shift in the sentencing framework available to Northern Ireland’s courts. We know from the extensive consultations that we have undertaken in preparing this order that it has widespread support across Northern Ireland.

The order changes the fundamental nature of imprisonment in Northern Ireland. It creates a new form of risk-based sentencing and release for those sentenced to prison. It creates tougher sentences; allows dangerous offenders to be locked up longer—some can be held indefinitely; and permits release only when it is safe to do so. It removes the automatic 50 per cent remission which has so long been a feature of imprisonment in Northern Ireland and replaces it with a custody and supervision regime. Prisoners will henceforth spend all the custodial time announced in court in prison followed by a period of statutory post-release supervision. The entire sentence is served. The order ensures that custody is reserved for those who most merit it and provides a balanced set of powers to the courts through new community-based options. Increased post-release supervision provides added protections and helps prisoners resettle, reintegrate into their communities, and, one hopes, move away from offending.

The second half of this order is also significant. There are a range of new powers around road traffic law, alcohol, and knife crime, and a range of procedural aspects to make Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system more efficient.

The order has its origins in a number of policy consultations and proposals carried out over a number of years. Building on a recommendation from the criminal justice review, a policy consultation was carried out in 2005 and a need for additional powers to deal with and manage dangerous violent and sexual offenders identified. A proposed draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 was then prepared and consulted on from November last year until January this year. The road traffic law proposals were subject to their own policy consultation, as were those on knife crime. Some 54 responses came in, which we consider to be particularly successful.

The Northern Ireland Assembly—and I think this may be the first time I have been able to say this on an Order in Council—established an ad hoc committee to consider the draft, gave it detailed consideration and was in support of what the order is set out to achieve. The ad hoc committee was made up of all the main Northern Ireland parties, and all supported the sentencing package. A number of Ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive, including the First and Deputy First Ministers, also expressed support. The Probation Service supported the sentencing powers, as did the chief constable. The public, too, have supported our proposals. A major campaign resulted in a petition of some 35,000-plus signatures calling for the ending of automatic 50 per cent remission.

Events themselves have also been a factor. There have been some very difficult cases in Northern Ireland in the past few years. The horrendous murder of Attracta Harron by an offender out on remission, now serving a life sentence with a whole life tariff, brought into sharp relief the need for a new form of prison sentence. Attracta’s widower is present to listen to our proceedings, as he was during the Commons consideration of the order.

There have been a number of sex offender cases where post-release supervision and monitoring has been difficult. The gaps in our laws were made abundantly clear. A sentence was needed for serious violent or sexual offences whereby release would not be automatic, dangerousness would have to be assessed, release would be controlled and post-release supervision enhanced. This draft order delivers such sentences and 50 per cent remission will disappear as a result of the order.

The order has three major themes: public protection; community safety; and improving the criminal justice system. On public protection, the order creates two new sentences to deal with dangerous sexual and violent offenders. One is indeterminate—the indeterminate custodial sentence, or the ICS. The offender would not get out of prison until it is safe for him to be released and could be on licence for the rest of his life. The other is an extended custodial sentence, or the ECS, whereby the offender serves his custodial part and is then subject to an extended licence period, not for life but for up to a potential maximum of eight years. Once convicted, a full risk assessment is completed and, if the offender is found dangerous, one or other of these sentences must be imposed. Release will involve the newly created parole commissioners for Northern Ireland. They will assess prisoners and have safety and public protection as the focus of their work. They will be fully independent of government. Through the public protection sentences and the changes to standard imprisonment, automatic 50 per cent remission for sentenced prisoners will disappear.

On community safety, prisoners will be subject to statutory supervision in the community and to recall if they fail to comply with conditions. The powers to deal with and manage sex offenders in the community are enhanced. The Multi-Agency Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management—the MASRAM process—will now become statutory. A range of agencies will be required to work together and share information to increase protection and reduce the risk posed by sexual and violent offenders. Powers will allow electronic monitoring or tagging of offenders in the community. That could be as a bail condition, a licence condition, or as part of a community order. Post-release supervision will provide an important level of protection and reassurance to communities, but it also provides continuity in offender management and helps prisoners to resettle into community life. All these ensure that offenders are properly supervised, managed and rehabilitated.

The order tackles areas of specific and current concern to communities. It deals with knife crime; improves alcohol laws and under-age drinking, so often causes of anti-social behaviour, and improves road traffic law. Knife crime powers deal with both possession and supply of knives and offensive weapons, creating a strong package of sentences of up to four years’ imprisonment across the board. On alcohol, there are powers to deal with public drinking and the sale of alcohol to minors. Councils will be able to designate areas in consultation with police whereby drinking in public will be better regulated, and age restrictions on off-sales will be policed through a test purchase power. My honourable friend in the other place, Paul Goggins, has published guidance on how this will operate.

During a period when I was a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland and responsible in part for a policy on children and young people, I met with a group of young people who were on a week’s community involvement. I do not need to say where, as it is not important, but they were from both of the communities. They had a week together in which to discuss art projects, sport and so on. I faced them for about an hour. It took me 10 minutes or so to get them going asking questions, but then I could not get out of the room, after the hour. I asked them what the message should be and what the key things were. They raised two issues with me, both of which I have referred to. One of them is highly relevant to what I have just said about alcohol. They argued about how they were described in the press and told me that they wanted to get rid of the blue plastic bags. That was the first time I had heard that phrase used about the off-licence unmarked plastic bags, which are almost there to encourage underage drinking. The only way in which to deal with this is to have test purposes to ensure that licensing rules are being followed. So off-licences and off-sales are on notice. As I say, the youngsters that I met demanded some action on that because it gave them a bad name and saw their compatriots led into bad ways.

On road traffic, additional police powers to tackle drink driving, speeding and seizure of vehicles, such as quad bikes or motorised scooters which can be a plague in some estates or communities, are created in the order. Sentences have been increased for driving while disqualified or without insurance, two offences which frequently see multiple offences coming before the courts.

On the criminal justice system, one of the order’s aims is to ensure that the system works effectively and well. The right services and punishments need to be targeted at the right type of offender. We are expanding the police’s powers to attach conditions to bail, and prison law is modernised in a number of areas. For example, 17 year-old girls will be able to go to the juvenile justice centre rather than be held in an adult prison. We are expanding the use of live video links between prisons and courts, improving flexibility around the execution of arrest warrants, and creating more efficient systems to deal with breach proceedings.

Perhaps one of the most significant improvements will be the power of the court to impose a form of community sentence on those who default on a fine. For too long we have seen numerous fine defaulters end up in prison—something that I and some Members of another place have always considered a ludicrous proposition. You can get the money back other ways; imprisoning those people is a complete waste of resources and does not assist at all. So this is a very helpful change. Prisons should be for the more serious offenders and the supervised activity order, managed in the community by the Probation Service, will be constructive, restorative and more effective in dealing with the problem of fine default.

Two further points about resources and choices are important. In the consultation exercise many people sought assurances that the system could cope with this very substantial package. I assure your Lordships' House that the package of proposals can and will be properly resourced. Almost £14 million has been allocated for implementation. That includes £5 million for prisons, probation and tagging. The Probation Service alone will be appointing over 50 additional probation officers.

A dedicated implementation team will take forward the proposals. Public protection sentences and the appointment of parole commissioners will be our first and most urgent priority. They will be in place in a matter of weeks with other powers being rolled out over the next year or so.

Public protection is one of the key aims that the order sets out to achieve but we also need to maintain perspective about what legislation can do. Offenders make choices—for better or worse. The system can help them with their choices, help them resettle, supervise them and, where appropriate, manage the risk they present. We can put the powers in place, require compliance and supervision and do all that we can to reduce the risk, but what we cannot do is guarantee an end to crime, nor, sad to say, can we guarantee an end to serious sexual or violent crime. However, we are confident that this package will succeed. It fills many of the gaps identified in the current law.

The focus of my speech this evening has been on the main order. The consequential amendments order also before the House is by and large a short technical piece to allow the main provisions to work in a UK context. It adds reference to the parole commissioners into House of Commons disqualification law and includes them in freedom of information legislation requirements. It also allows the new licensing regimes to transfer across the United Kingdom and deals with the International Criminal Court.

In conclusion, I am pleased to be bringing before your Lordships' House today this package of sentencing powers to deal with dangerous violent and sexual offenders; to strengthen post-release supervision across the board; and to remove 50 per cent remission. As I said, it has been widely consulted on, and has the support of Assembly Members in Northern Ireland. I hope the day is not too far away when they will deal with these issues themselves. The legislation is ready and has been consulted on and the people of Northern Ireland do not deserve to have it delayed. I commend this order and the subsequent order, which I will move at the appropriate time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3 March be approved. 16th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Rooker.)

My Lords, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for presenting the order, which in some ways is particularly complex and difficult. It is virtually a Bill waiting to be enacted. I understand that even more clearly now than previously. Generally, we support it. It is a positive revision of the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland.

When I was first faced with the order and its extremely comprehensive supporting documents, I thought, “Oh, God, we are back to the old days of trying to debate a Bill as an order in the dinner hour”. However, as the noble Lord said, this is the first major instrument, whether a Bill or a statutory instrument, that has come here after being debated—I hope in detail—analysed and supported by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This is a very special moment, certainly for me after enduring 10 years of these wretched statutory instruments on which we have to try to make decisions on behalf of other people. From that point of view, this is a superb moment. I hope that this measure will bring us more into line with the UK’s 2003 Act and that it will contain improvements because that Act has operated here for four years. I am sure that the officials who kindly briefed me this evening before we came into your Lordships’ House will have made significant improvements to this statutory instrument.

I strongly support almost all the major provisions, particularly the removal of the automatic 50 per cent remission. That will make a big difference to criminals who think that they will get 10 years’ imprisonment but will be out in five years or perhaps fewer. I suspect that, in those circumstances, they tend to take life very much less seriously, not that I have any first-hand examples or even experience of that.

The success of the statutory instrument will all depend on what resources not only the Government but the Northern Ireland Assembly make available. Undoubtedly, the prison population will increase as a result of the changes in the sentencing laws. I hope that the Minister will give the Government’s estimate in that regard. I imagine that somebody has done some work on this. I heard the noble Lord mention two figures, £14 million and £5 million, but what is the total anticipated increase in the cost of these changes to the judicial processes? Where will the resources come from and who will ensure that they are available over the next three to five years, because this will not all happen at once? The order makes it clear that its measures are to be phased in over several years. I suspect that they probably will not become completely operative until such time as criminal justice is totally devolved to the Assembly.

Where will the increased prison population be housed and how will it be housed? I believe there are plans to knock down and redevelop Maghaberry prison, which would remove quite a number of bed spaces—I do not know the number—in one fell swoop. The inhabitants of those bed spaces would have to be put up somewhere else. I want to be reassured—this is not criticism, as I do not want to criticise anything here—that the Government understand what resources will be required under this excellent piece of legislation that we shall pass tonight, that they know where they will come from and who will be responsible for delivering them. I support the order, which is a terrific piece of legislation.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the orders. Once again it falls to these Benches to be a little more robust in questioning him. We have only about 40 minutes to discuss this major piece of legislation. It is disappointing that such measures are not being introduced in primary legislation, although I accept that the Minister has engaged in long and detailed consultation on the issues in Northern Ireland. However, some of them are controversial. Prisoners also have rights and we must all recognise that, as it is the measure of a civilised and democratic society. Introducing indeterminate sentencing has proved to be highly problematic in England and Wales. Imprisonment for public protection—IPP—can be applied to 153 serious offences. That is a huge number when you compare it with the 11 offences that bring an automatic life sentence into effect.

These provisions are being tested all the time. The Court of Appeal has said that courts should presume that anyone convicted of one of the offences, and who has previous convictions, is dangerous unless the conclusion reached would be unreasonable. At least a little sense has prevailed in the Northern Ireland legislation, for which I am grateful, in that there will be a minimum tariff of at least 12 months for an extended custodial sentence, an ECS, and a two-year minimum tariff for an indeterminate custodial sentence, an ICS.

Will Northern Ireland be able to resource the IPPs better than appeared to be the case in England and Wales? That follows the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about resourcing. An IPP can be compared with a life sentence in that it involves a minimum prison term, after which a prisoner has to undergo some behaviour management courses. Only then can he or she be released at the discretion of the Parole Board. The release is on licence for 10 years at least, it is under supervision and it takes place only if the Parole Board considers that it is safe to release that person.

Can the Minister assure me that the courses offered in behaviour management will be sufficient in number and robust enough for people to demonstrate that they are fit for release? My noble friend Lady Linklater of Butterstone told us last year of a case in which she had been involved, which entailed a prisoner with a 28-day tariff being denied the courses that he needed to enable him to have a review by the Parole Board, because the courses simply were not available. What provisions have been put in place to ensure that this sort of thing will not happen in Northern Ireland? I understand that problems have also arisen in HMP Maghaberry and HMP Magilligan, because there have not been sufficient offending behaviour programmes or places available on courses there to meet the needs of prisoners. Has that situation changed?

The Minister will know of the High Court decision in July last year that it was unlawful to hold prisoners when they could not access courses that were designed to address their offending behaviour and prove that they were fit for release. I understand that £40 million has been made available for the implementation of the new sentencing provisions. What will the breakdown of that money look like?

On these Benches, we have always maintained that it is of primary importance to ensure that those in need of therapeutic care do not end up in prison. Will the Northern Ireland Prison Service be able to deal with the provisions of the order in terms of meeting the many and varied needs of those prisoners in custody for an indeterminate period who have physical and mental problems? Will it have the skills to enable it to prove that prisoners are safe to be released? Can the Minister say what work has been done in this area? Will the new sentencing and licensing arrangements be subject to review, as recommended by the Assembly’s ad hoc committee that looked at these matters?

I, too, welcome the supervised activity orders set out in Article 45. This is a good idea and is a good alternative to custody for fine defaulters. As the Minister said, the previous situation was always ridiculous. When I was a magistrate, I found the notion that one had to put people in prison because they defaulted on payment of a fine iniquitous. In Northern Ireland, between September 2005 and February 2007, 44 per cent of women who were sent to prison were there because they were fine defaulters. That cannot possibly be right.

I hope that access to the provisions in these orders is uniformly administered. It would be iniquitous for them to be available in some places and not others. Is the probation service in Northern Ireland satisfied that it is being given sufficient resources to enable it to use these provisions equitably? The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made that point. The Assembly committee also recommended that sentencers be given adequate training in how to deal with indeterminate sentencing. Can the Minister assure us that that training is being given?

Finally, I quote what the Northern Ireland Assembly’s report on the draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order said on youth justice, which is dealt with under Articles 94 to 98. The report states:

“In relation to the juvenile justice provisions in Article 95, the Committee received evidence from Criminal Justice Inspection and NIACRO who thought that the Article as drafted put the emphasis the wrong way round as children would be referred to Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre where Inspectors regard the regime on offer as gravely inadequate. CJI believed that, on the contrary, the presumption should be that 17-year-old males should be sent to the Juvenile Justice Centre unless either there is no room for them there or they are so difficult to manage that the JJC cannot cope with them. Females under 18 should not, in any circumstances that CJI could envisage, be sent to Ash House”.

The Minister has indicated that females will, indeed, not go there. I am concerned about the young males and I would be grateful if the Minister would reflect on that matter.

My Lords, I am perhaps less euphoric about this Order in Council than some other noble Lords. I believe that, while criminal justice continues to be the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament, whether that is for a long or a short period, primary legislation should be the vehicle used. For someone such as me who takes an interest in law and order matters but is not a lawyer, to be faced with a few moments to discuss a 95-page document is not heartening. It is not possible to deal with it adequately. I know that this order reflects the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. There is no acceptable reason why the public in Northern Ireland have had to wait five years for the protection of a sentencing regime designed to tackle dangerous offenders.

I wish to move on quickly. I hope that dangerous offenders will, after they serve their sentences and are released from prison, not be part of the farce that has occurred in England and Wales, where serious offenders have, due to lack of resources, been released beyond their tariff without completing compulsory pre-release courses. That must not be repeated in Northern Ireland. However, I have serious fears that it will be repeated there. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, we had many promises about what would ensue if we could achieve agreement and peace, yet the Police Service of Northern Ireland is underresourced. I am concerned with the management of the PSNI, but part of that is a result of underresourcing.

A visitor to this House tonight mentioned that in the part of the country in which he lives—indeed, it is the case in the part of the country where I live—it is not possible for night-time patrols to be carried out as they should be because of a lack of resources. A lack of resources in policing is a very bad basis on which to try to consider devolution of policing and justice. I have made that point previously and I make it again. I hope that the Minister will reassure us about funding and how the whole issue of sentencing, of keeping people in prison and of getting people out of prison and back into the community will be financed.

There are aspects of the order that I disagree with, including the test-purchase provisions on the sale of alcohol, which I find abhorrent. It is absolutely ridiculous that we will use underage children to carry out these test purchases in a community that remains unstable in terms of criminality. Can one imagine what will happen if it is learnt that little Joe Bloggs was the guy who led to someone being taken to court because he did the test purchasing for the police? He could well become a victim; he could well finish up being the sort of person who needs protection. The last thing that we want in a society where people have had to be protected against terrorists for years is to have vulnerable young people requiring protection against thugs and bullies. What reassurance can the Minister give me on that?

On the subject of young people, the Minister knows well my interest in autism spectrum disorder. I wonder whether there is, within the context of this Bill, a consideration of those young people on the autism spectrum who accidentally, not understanding the situation, get themselves into confrontation with the police. I had an interesting and productive meeting with senior officials from the Prison Service about a review of autism services that I am involved with; I was very heartened by the enthusiasm that the Prison Service showed for something being done in relation to these vulnerable young people. I had a similar meeting with the PSNI and suffice it to say that I was not enamoured by the reception that I received. I ask the Minister to ensure that, in terms of justice, there is protection for those young people who are vulnerable.

I will leave it there because of time, except to say one final thing. Devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland cannot occur successfully unless this whole broad perspective of law and order is taken into account.

My Lords, I commend the Minister for bringing the order before the House. There is considerable public concern about this matter in Northern Ireland, where 35,000 people signed a petition bearing on the central issues of this new legislation. As he rightly said, there is in the Assembly cross-party consensus, articulated most firmly by the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Mr Alban Maginness, in favour of what the Government are now doing. The Government are living up to their responsibilities. It has been a long time coming, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, but it has now, thank heavens, come.

It is also worth saying that the Government have resisted the temptation to play politics with this issue. They have acted on what, as the Minister said in the last few sentences of his speech, are in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland at the moment. There is a certain grim symbolism in the fact that this legislation comes to this Chamber tonight, a few days short of the time that was originally projected in the St Andrews agreement for the devolution of our policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland. There is a tacit acceptance by the Government that that will not happen in the immediate future. They have taken on the responsibility themselves and not used that broader issue as an excuse for delay. That is an important and valuable thing.

It is true the Northern Ireland Assembly has worked closely with the Government on this, but it is disappointing that it is not able to deal with the matter itself. The fact that Sir David Varney has been asked now to look at competitiveness in the Northern Irish economy looks like another example of the Assembly outsourcing problems back to London. All noble Lords in this House wish the Assembly well and we are glad that it has worked actively in response to the really genuine moves in public opinion in Northern Ireland on this matter. It is disappointing that the Assembly is not in the position yet to deal with this matter, but it is good that the Government have dealt with it.

Finally, there is perhaps a small glitch in the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order. At the bottom of the first page, there is a reference to the Parole Commissioner for Northern Ireland in the singular, whereas in the middle of the next page there is a reference to commissioners in the plural. I cannot see that there is any good reason for that. It should be either singular or plural in both cases. It looks like there is a small and tiny glitch there, the only glitch in what seems to be some quite exceptionally good Civil Service work.

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene. I hope the Minister will tolerate what I want to ask him. I glanced through the order. Article 20 deals with the power to release certain prisoners on compassionate grounds. That is how the article is headed. I hope your Lordships will bear with me for half a minute. During my time in Northern Ireland I received a call when I was the duty Minister. One of the prisoners wished to have compassionate release for a short period because his mother was not well. I had not had the kind of briefing that the Minister has had as security and prisons and such things were not within my remit. I had had a general briefing but not on how to deal with a specific instance of this type. I received advice from the prisons sector that this leave for compassionate release for a short period overnight should not be granted to this prisoner. Others advised me that it was safe. I was advised that such release was workable. If somebody abused this granting of compassionate leave, the next time compassionate leave was requested, there might be more problems. I was somewhat startled to receive a message that had come through from my department that, unfortunately, the prisoner's mother had died but that enormous happiness was given by the fact that the young man was able to be present. Specific instructions were given to me; everyone knew the drill and it seemed to work well.

If the Minister glances at Article 20(2), he will see that it states,

“consult the Parole Commissioners unless the circumstances are such”.

I did not have the occasion to consult higher authority in any major detail in those circumstances, but it worked. I hope that such compassionate leave can and will be granted in future.

I also glanced further on in the order. Article 65 concerns:

“Seizure of vehicles used in a manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance”.

I seem to remember that 40 years ago, musical horns in motor cars were very popular. Indeed, I seem to remember that one small car used to parade around London. It had a happy number plate that was, as the Army would put it, Foxtrot Unicorn 2. I leave your Lordships to discuss what that might mean. The young gentleman who owned that car had a musical horn that played melodies. Other people would gesture to him, which I understand caused more accidents. Musical horns are banned in Great Britain. I hope that the same applies to Northern Ireland.

One other system occurred to me. In summer, certainly in Scotland—I suspect in England; I do not know about Northern Ireland—ice cream vans tour various areas playing musical chimes. It just occurred to me, being of a somewhat quixotic nature, that such melodies may well be unwelcome in some areas and that melodies advertising the proximity of ice cream sales could well cause either deliberate or unwitting annoyance. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me about that case.

If the Minister could advise me this evening very briefly on Article 20, I should be very grateful. I humbly congratulate him on putting this order through so well and succinctly tonight.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for his explanation of the orders and in giving the orders a broad welcome. It is good that that they will bring the legislation in Northern Ireland broadly into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. There has been considerable demand in Northern Ireland for a review of sentencing. Every time that someone has unfortunately been killed by a joyrider or a drunken person, there has been considerable clamour when the defendant who is found guilty gets an extremely light sentence.

I join the Minister in recognising that we have in the House tonight Attracta Harron’s widower. It is becumbent on us all to recognise the tremendous dignity that the Harron family had in their tragic loss of their mother in dreadful circumstances. It is also fair to point out that had the person who has been convicted for that murder, Trevor Hamilton, not been released early from prison, had he been tagged or had there been supervision, Attracta Harron could very well be alive tonight. In other words, if the order had been in place, Attracta Harron could be alive tonight.

I shall make a couple of quick points, because time is going on. It is not easy to talk about security issues for Northern Ireland over here. I am still very concerned about the lack of prosecutions because of political interest. I am concerned about a recent statement from the Forensic Science Agency, which said that it now has the techniques for DNA testing that mean that it could go through the entire arsenal of rifles, guns and other machinery that have been taken off paramilitaries through crimes during the past 30 years and could identify an awful lot of people and evidence. Unfortunately, I see no evidence of that being taken up by the Historic Inquiries Team, which seems strangely reluctant to involve its colleagues in the art of DNA science to find out who used those guns, and so on. The people who look at the DNA are plugged into an extremely advanced computer system—possibly one of the most advanced in the world—which can identify people immediately from the DNA and indicate where they were on certain nights.

I am also concerned about the ongoing lack of prosecutions for fuel laundering and other fuel offences. The Government’s own figures for a number of months ago indicate that in Northern Ireland the Government lose taxes at the rate of £365 million per year because of fuel laundering, mostly in South Armagh. That is £1 million per day. I think of the number of hospitals and other things that the Government and the Executive of Northern Ireland could fund with that money. We see very few people who have been made amenable to fuel laundering. I do not expect the Minister to answer these questions today. I will probably pursue these things through Parliamentary Questions in due course.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the general response to the order and I will do my best to answer all the points that have been raised. I would say at the outset that I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, need apologise for speaking in these debates. Given his track record as a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland, they were still talking about him when I was there and it was all good. I had an easy time compared to my predecessors in respect of direct-rule duties.

I will come on to these specific questions. I will try to go through them in order and try not to repeat myself. With regard to resources, approximately £14 million worth of costs has been allocated. Of this £4.7 million goes to prisons, £6 million to probation and something over £3 million to support structures for the parole commissioners, executive release and recall and electronic monitoring. Funding to the probation board will ensure effective risk assessment and supervision of offenders. It will include a recruitment of 55 front-line staff. We are confident that the package of measures will be properly resourced.

I was asked a couple of times whether we had learnt the lessons about problems in England or Wales. The prison service has been fully engaged in the resource package. An additional £70 million has been set aside to provide an additional 400 cell spaces by the year 2011. The additional resources for the sentencing framework are to build on the existing risk management and programme delivery provision. The prisons would have been getting these offenders anyway under the existing sentencing framework. A new prison will be built at the Magilligan facility. There will be redevelopment there and new places.

I was asked specifically about the figures. These are the best estimates we have at present. We anticipate that the new framework will lead over time to a net increase of some 60 to 65 in the average prison population. Initially we think that the impact on the population will be minimal but by 2021 the increasing impact will level off at a gross increase of about 160 in the average population. At the same time, however, counterbalancing measures, electronic monitoring and fine default alternatives will have an effect. That 160 is a gross figure. It is not a large increase but certainly there is potential for offenders to be kept in prison longer. Over 10 to 15 years this will lead to that increase in the prison population.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, asked about the availability of participation programmes. The prisons are already delivering offender behaviour programmes. The additional resource of almost £5 million is to build on and extend that provision. She is right to say the probation and prison services are working closely together to develop a strategy, although she concentrated almost exclusively on prisoners’ rights. They do have rights but at the beginning and end of time it is the victims and stable communities we are trying to help. We need to lock up the right people not the wrong people. We also need to keep them locked up for as long as necessary to protect society. However, as the noble Baroness said, they do have rights.

In prison the offenders cannot be forced to participate in programmes but it will be in their interest to do so. We need to change their behaviour. If they want to demonstrate to the parole commissioners that they are fit for release that is their choice. Once released, if participation in programmes is part of the licence condition then non-compliance could result in immediate recall to custody.

The noble Baroness asked about the presumption of dangerousness. This has been removed from our powers. It still exists in the England and Wales criminal justice legislation, but as she probably knows better than I, it is being removed by way of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill currently before your Lordships’ House. She also asked whether the sentencing and licensing arrangements are subject to review, and I can tell her that they are. It is proper for such a substantial change in the sentencing framework to be kept under review, and the security Minister is committed to reviewing the position in the Commons debate held yesterday, so it is on the record.

The noble Baroness asked about the delivery of supervised activity orders and resources for probation services. I hope that I have covered those areas. We are fully engaged on the costings and we shall probably get more information on supervised activity orders in the summer. The programme will be rolled out along with a package of other measures. This is not all going to happen overnight.

Lessons have been learnt. We have built adjustments into the provisions to ensure that Northern Ireland gets the benefit of the experience of England and Wales. We are making the new sentences available in the Crown Court. They will focus on the most serious offences and will not draw in the magistrates’ court. We are allowing judges the discretion to choose between the two types of public protection sentence and we are making no presumption of risk where there are previous convictions for specified offences. The sentence will be imposed on the basis of a rigorous risk assessment.

The noble Baroness put one question to me for which I suspect I do not have an answer that will satisfy her, and that relates to 17 year-olds. As I made clear, females aged 17 will not go to prison. However, given the significantly high number of 17 year-olds in relation to other groups in the youth justice system, we believe that to attempt to accommodate them in the juvenile justice centre would not only be impractical but have the effect of skewing the age range disproportionately, thereby distorting the regime for the younger children already being accommodated in the centre. There is only one juvenile justice centre in Northern Ireland, and there is a requirement to retain some capacity in order to be flexible enough to respond to fluctuating numbers. Reversing the proposal would make the current system unworkable and unmanageable. If all 17 year-olds were to be accommodated in the centre, it would be constantly full, with the high probability that the very young children there would be sent elsewhere, or other young people already settled in the centre, would have to be displaced.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He said in his peroration that a lot of money was being put towards creating more prison places in Northern Ireland. Why cannot a further JJC be adapted for young males of 17 who clearly are more numerous than can be looked after in the existing institution? That would be a good use of the money.

My Lords, as I listened to the noble Baroness, it crossed my mind that that is a very obvious point. There probably is a response and I shall write to her, because her question is reasonable.

I turn to the statistics. Between 2005 and 2007, 23 girls aged 17 were held in women’s prisons. I do not dismiss the figure; I am just giving the House the information. I mentioned that the consultation process had been lengthy in response to complaints that this has taken a long time, and I fully accept that. But I also make the point that now we have these provisions ready, the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to benefit from them.

I can deal with some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, but I shall have to write to him on others. The noble Lord gave examples to demonstrate why he is opposed to test purchase powers, but these powers are not new. They already exist around tobacco and solvent abuse for the purpose of protecting young people, and I am fairly confident about them. The vociferousness of the youngsters who raised the issue with me and the fact that it can be carefully managed gives me confidence, although I understand that some people might be placed in a difficult position. However, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has fired a warning shot, and therefore those who operate the system will have to be incredibly careful and ensure that it is well managed. It is not entrapment, but legitimate crime detection. Off-licence sellers of alcohol have to be put on notice that selling to underage youngsters will get them in real trouble and put them at risk of losing their livelihood. Our priority is to reduce such sales. We can give warnings and advance notice of schemes in an area, and we can issue warnings for initial non-compliance. The participants will not mislead licence holders. It is a perfectly legitimate procedure and is used in other circumstances to protect young people.

The noble Lord rightly raised important points about vulnerable young offenders. The system already allows the police considerable discretion and we know that they operate with these factors in mind. Within this order are specific requirements should such young people come to court. This is important in relation to inquiry, mental health and other medical reports, which will also ensure that prosecutions are brought appropriately. No doubt the defence and the prosecution will have to take account of this, as will judges. The noble Lord raised a fair point.

I am very grateful for all the supportive comments. I cannot go through everything in detail, but I am very grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, did not quite use the word, but he implied that the Assembly was subcontracting some of its work. I do not think it is that. Having been so long without the process, it makes sense to use the best possible help and advice around because it wants to make early progress. It wants some wins for the people of Northern Ireland to show that devolution makes a difference to people’s lives. I cannot comment on the help and assistance it has requested, but I think that that is its judgment. When the Assembly becomes more stable and more mature in the process of legislation, I am sure more can be done in-house. The noble Lord also asked about the consequential amendment order. I am advised that the references are correct and we will write to confirm this, so the point is well made.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, asked about the compassionate release power. It will continue to build on the temporary release powers that correctly exist to allow short-term release. I fully accept his point. He gave a very good example of the difficulty for a Minister asked to make a decision, probably within a few hours, and receiving conflicting advice. It is not his day job; he is the duty Minister, covering for others. That is the dilemma. I suppose that in some ways that is what Ministers are for—a judgment has to be made. In this case it was made successfully, but it would not have been unsuccessful if it had gone wrong. You have to make a judgment and then be responsible for it.

Prisoners can get out temporarily for urgent family matters, subject to risk assessment, and that would have been the case there. But it is a compassionate power and can allow for example, terminally ill prisoners to be dealt with in a compassionate way. It is a package around the whole process.

On the noble Lord’s final point, I can say with all the certainty that my note allows me that musical horns are banned in Northern Ireland so there should be no difficulty.

The noble Lord, Lord Laird, raised the issue of prosecutions. He raised some examples, but that is a matter for the prosecution authorities. They are independent and are not responsible for operational matters relating to us. He said that he would pursue this via Questions for Written Answer, as he is entitled to do.

I hope that I have covered all the other issues that I have written down. I am very grateful for the support and to all the people who participated in this, because this has taken several years. Literally hundreds of people were involved in the consultation, leaving aside the vast petition in Northern Ireland.

On Question, Motion agreed to.