Organised Crime

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireiand – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9 May 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside 12:00, 9 May 2001

If he will make a statement on further measures being taken to fight organised crime in Northern Ireland. [159615]

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Government and the operational agencies in Northern Ireland are committed to tackling the problem of organised crime. Since September last year, I have led a multi-agency taskforce involving the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Customs and other Government agencies. Our remit is to confront the malign influence of organised crime wherever it raises its ugly head. The taskforce has already published an analysis of the problem and a strategy for tackling it. A copy of those documents can be found in the Library.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

Does my right hon. Friend consider that the new Criminal Assets Recovery Agency has sufficient power to fight organised crime? When does he expect it to show that it has made a difference?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The Government's proposals are set out in the recently published Proceeds of Crime Bill. When enacted, it will go a long way towards dealing with the twin evils of racketeering and drug pushing. As experience here, in the United States, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere has shown, the seizure of illegal assets can help to destroy or to undermine the hold that organised crime has on many parts of society. The legislation will help to achieve all those objectives.

Photo of Mr Cecil Walker Mr Cecil Walker UUP, Belfast North

The Minister must be aware that the RUC is now seriously under strength in terms of both experience and manpower. Given the high level of interest in the recruitment programme, will he consider increasing the number of people to be recruited, which is 240 at present?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

That is an interesting point. Although I do not accept the premise on which the question is based, all of us have been surprised by the level of interest that has been shown in the new Police Service of Northern Ireland—there have been just under 8,000 applicants to date, all of whom are being assessed. Clearly, we must look at ways in which we can, if it is possible and practical, improve policing numbers in Northern Ireland as a result of that recruitment. The initial tranche of 240 is being considered. Of course, that will be increased in subsequent years.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

Does the Minister agree that there are organisations in Northern Ireland engaging in Mafia-style activity which want the absence of law and order to continue in order that they can develop their trade, particularly that in drugs, threatening our young people? Does not that underline the fact that all of us should do everything in our power as soon as possible after the elections to ensure that we have a police service on our streets that has the loyalty and support of all sections of our people in order to deal with such situations?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The point raised by my hon. Friend goes to the heart of the issue. Some of what we have to deal with is a consequence of moving out of a terrorist-driven society to, I hope, a more normalised society. The taskforce that I mentioned earlier has reported that there are 78 organised criminal gangs in Northern Ireland, involving about 400 individuals. The strategy that the Government have put in place with the RUC and other law-enforcement agencies will tackle that with great vigour, but they cannot do it on their own. As my hon. Friend has said, they need the support of the wider community. The best approach is when everyone joins the police service and the law-enforcement agencies, not only in tackling organised crime but in helping to bring in normalised policing in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The House should consider that many hon. Members are here to listen to Northern Ireland questions.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

Does not the Minister agree that the fight against organised crime is hardly helped by the European Court of Human Rights awarding in favour of people who set out to blow up a police station? Is it not demoralising to our security forces?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I should have thought that even in their current state the Opposition would recognise that that was a judgment of a court of law, which the Government have to take into account and study very carefully. That is what we are doing. The case is not related to organised crime. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help the Government to tackle that insidious and evil aspect of society in Northern Ireland.