The clearance rate in Northern Ireland for 2008-09 was 23 per cent.—an increase of 2.5 percentage points on the previous year. Importantly, there has been an increase in clearance rates for some of the most serious crimes committed, including murder and attempted murder, as well as serious sexual offences.
I welcome that answer. I congratulate the Police Service of Northern Ireland on its detection rate for serious crime, but the Minister is aware that low-level crime and antisocial behaviour continue to increase. Will he resist any move to disband the full-time reserve, and will he ensure that we get more front-line policing, and a greater high-visibility police presence on the street?
There is absolute commitment from the Policing Board and the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland to making sure that we get as many police officers on to the streets as possible. There is a huge commitment to neighbourhood policing. The hon. Gentleman mentions the full-time reserve; I pay warm tribute to all those who have served in the full-time reserve in Northern Ireland. They have done a heroic job over many years. However, the Chief Constable recently reaffirmed his decision to continue to disband the full-time reserve. There are currently 180 full-time reserve officers on the front line. The Chief Constable has given a clear commitment that all their responsibilities, and all the cover that they provide, will be filled. He has given a categorical assurance on that, and he certainly would not compromise the safety of his officers.
In spite of the Minister's welcome statistics regarding the detection and resolution of crime, is he aware that the community in Northern Ireland, generally speaking, is frustrated by the failure to prevent and detect antisocial behaviour and low-level crime? Is he also aware that there was a scheme afoot to provide police community support officers? Such a scheme is essential to the resolution of crime, as well as a vital outstanding matter from the Patten review of policing. That scheme was frustrated by the failure in 2007 to provide the funding. Will he now provide that funding?
The Police Service of Northern Ireland received a very good budget for the comprehensive spending review '07 period—a budget that enables it to retain a police force of 7,500 regular officers. The hon. Gentleman made a point about police community support officers. I can tell him that I see the benefits of PCSOs every day in my constituency, and I look forward to the day when the Policing Board and the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland decide to commit to PCSOs. The hon. Gentleman is right about the need to deal with antisocial behaviour, and yesterday I had the great pleasure of launching the "summer splash" scheme in Northern Ireland, in which young people up and down Northern Ireland will be given positive activities to do during the summer months, so that they do not engage in antisocial activity.
The recent incident at Lisnaskea shows that, to improve crime detection rates, it is essential that republican and loyalist paramilitaries be put out of action for good. The recent loyalist decommissioning is highly significant and vindicates the position that we took on decommissioning legislation. However, a number of loyalist groups are still engaged in serious criminality. How does the Minister intend to reduce their activities?
Again, I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in welcoming support from other parties in this place for the provisions that this Government introduced to extend the decommissioning amnesty period. That has paid off, we have now seen further decommissioning and we should all take heart from that. However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right: people associated with paramilitary organisations are still engaging in criminal activities. They will be dealt with by the police and by the agencies that form the Organised Crime Task Force in Northern Ireland, and that work goes on apace.
The misery inflicted on the whole community by loyalist groups is wholly unacceptable. Does the Minister agree that, in order to cut crime and increase detection rates, he needs to maintain unrelenting pressure to force them to end all their illegal activities, disband their command and control structures and give their unconditional support to the PSNI?
I again make the point that the police are at the forefront of the drive against crime, and they can do their job only if they are properly resourced. This Government have provided those resources, and we certainly would not implement 10 per cent. cuts in the funding of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Despite the alleged increase in crime on which Mr. Paterson is trying to campaign, and despite 40 years of war and conflict, Northern Ireland has the highest points on happiness as against income in the whole British Isles. Will the Minister find out the essence of that happiness in Northern Ireland, bottle it and send it across to the rest of the British Isles?
That is an interesting question, however, and from my own observations over the last three years while serving in Northern Ireland, I should say that what is so important is the sense of community and identity. In the past, those things have played into the hands of conflict, but as we make progress I see them as great strengths that reassert the importance and solidarity of community life in Northern Ireland.