Clause 70 - Community safety strategy

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:45 pm ar 12 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 6:45, 12 Chwefror 2002

I am grateful. We have had a debate on the importance of implementing the review, and of the Government being faithful to it. We have said that the purpose of the Belfast agreement was to set up a review, and that it would be wholly unreasonable to expect the Government neither to abide by its terms nor to introduce the necessary legislation to implement it. However, that is what the clause is inviting us to do in respect of community safety.

I commend the section of the review on community safety, and it is a pity that the Government have chosen to ignore it. The review's specific recommendation is not for community safety partnerships, but for community safety and policing partnerships. An important debate is going on—I accept that, as the Government say, it is current—about how, and by which bodies, community safety strategy is to be implemented. The conclusions and recommendations of the review represent a strong strand of argument that the local authority structure, and the geographic district structure, should be part of the community safety strategy and, therefore, that community safety should be implemented by community safety and policing partnerships, thus

rolling the district policing partnerships into the community safety partnerships.

I am convinced by the logic of the arguments and by my experience as a Member of Parliament in the county of Surrey. Satisfactory arrangements for dealing with community safety have resulted in the overlap that has been achieved since the Greater London Authority Act 1999 was passed. The police boundaries in Surrey now align precisely with the boundaries of the county of Surrey. That means that there is effective co-operation not only at county but at district and borough levels in dealing with issues of community safety.

For example, discussions now take place on housing matters, because the troublemakers in the community—those people who cause rows with their neighbours—whom the housing authorities deal with are precisely the same people who come to the attention of the police. It is very important to align the responsibilities for community safety with police responsibilities.

Police in Northern Ireland have told me that the legislation that the Government are proposing, instead of a review, is wholly unwelcome, because the local police commander of a district must agree a policing strategy with his district policing partnership. It is unrealistic to expect him then to look to a totally different body for community safety.

The Government have acknowledged the difficulties in this area. When the Secretary of State introduced the Bill on Second Reading, he said:

''Another subject on which we have received a number of submissions is community safety. There was widespread support in the local government sector for a provision in the Bill to give councils clear statutory authority to undertake community safety work. I very much welcome the councils' intention to play an active role in community safety, which will contribute to reducing crime and the fear of crime in their localities. In order to facilitate that, I am minded, subject to consultation with the Northern Ireland Executive, to bring forward an amendment on those lines.''—[Official Report, 21 January 2002; Vol. 378, c. 646.]

I have been waiting in hope for the Government to come forward with an amendment on community safety in order to make sense of their provisions. Instead, they have simply taken the powers in the widest possible sense. By doing that, they will reinforce rather than allay concern about what community safety partnerships mean and exactly who will be involved in them.

There is an on-going and important debate in Northern Ireland about community restorative justice and schemes in the unofficial sector of justice, which obviously apply mainly in republican areas, but in some loyalist areas as well the writ of the police does not run. Community restorative justice schemes range from the basest example of justice, administered by a bullet to somebody's kneecap, to schemes that—in the absence of anything else, and if I were to take a wholly pragmatic judgment—might actually contribute in some way to community safety. Some community restorative justice schemes have tried to establish an oversight board not moderated by the Government but by non-governmental organisations; for example,

the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. However, the concern must be that the powers that the Government are taking will give them the ability to bring those schemes within the remit of community safety, which would alarm members of the community in Northern Ireland.

I note that Government amendment No. 302 to clause 88 would ensure that any future changes that the Government might make would have to be done by affirmative resolution. At least the Government have gone some way to addressing our concerns on that matter. It would have been utterly and wholly unacceptable if the Government had decided to take those powers without further reference to Parliament. However, the Government have gone far enough. In particular, I do not understand why the Bill does not deliver the review. From experience gathered elsewhere, it seems quite proper for the district policing and community safety partnerships to run alongside each other, based on local authority boundaries. In that way, there would be a clear responsibility within the local structure, and one would know exactly who was dealing with what. One of the criticisms in the review is that that responsibility is not clearly set out.