asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the prison population of Northern Ireland; if he will express this figure as a percentage of the civilian population; and what information he has about how these figures compare with those for the United Kingdom as a whole.
The total prison population on 1 February 1987 was 1,893, including 225 young offenders centre inmates. This constitutes 0·12 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland. I understand that on 31 December 1986 the prison population of the United Kingdom as a whole was 53,603, or 0·1 per cent. of the civilian population.
How does my hon. Friend account for those figures? Will he confirm that, although the clear-up rates are very similar, the ordinary crime rate in Northern Ireland is significantly lower than the rate in the United Kingdom as a whole?
In Northern Ireland the ordinary crime rate is about 43 crimes per thousand compared with between 65 and 70 per thousand in England and Wales. There is a substantial difference between the two, although, of course, a very substantial percentage of the prison population in Northern Ireland have been convicted of terrorist offences.
As the serried ranks of the prison population were increased by two sentences at yesterday's Crown Court in Belfast, may I ask what kind of Government incompetence allows millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to pass into the pockets of paramilitary organisations through the building of houses in Northern Ireland? Is this not "On the Waterfront" gangsterism on a grand scale? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that such racketeering and extortion have nothing to do with a united Ireland and nothing to do with union with Great Britain? What, pray, do the Government intend to do about this?
I find it somewhat ironic that such criticism is made at a time when we are beginning to get convictions and I hope that if those accused are found guilty there will soon be more to counter racketeering activities whether in tax exemption certificate fraud, other activities in the construction industry or through drinking clubs, gaming, betting, and so on. We are beginning to choke off the supply of funds from those sources to paramilitary organisations. I am surprised that that is a matter of criticism from the Opposition Front Bench. I believe that all agencies, including the RUC, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment, deserve credit for what is being achieved.