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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister. I imagine that we shall spend a considerable time on this in Committee, but I wanted to make it clear now that I did not argue for a precondition. I did not argue that decommissioning should have begun before any prisoner was released. I argued for the two to proceed in parallel and for a tightening in the wording to try to secure that. The Minister is attributing to me and to a number of other noble Lords a much more sweeping amendment, stepping outside the agreement, which is not what I was advocating.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I may have contributed accidentally to the noble Lord's misunderstanding. None of us has used the word "disarmament", which relates only to arms. The term that has been used is "decommissioning", which refers to the breaking up and standing down of the control and command structures of terrorist organisations. There is absolutely no mystery about the existence of those structures. Without giving away any intelligence secrets, the security services know exactly where they are and the membership of those command structures. There is not the slightest doubt about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, and my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees, asked how many prisoners would be likely to be released under the terms of the Bill and when those prisoners would be released if the Bill were not enacted. Under the Bill the question of release falls to the commissioners appointed under its terms. It is their responsibility to decide whether a prisoner is entitled to receive a declaration. Therefore I cannot say precisely how many prisoners will or can benefit. However, I can give figures for the number of prisoners who are serving sentences of five years or more or life imprisonment for scheduled offences. That is the first condition that a prisoner must satisfy to qualify for a declaration. Between 400 and 450 prisoners are likely to meet that condition. Under current release arrangements, over 45 per cent. of those would be released within two years anyway. Under the arrangements in the Bill over 80 per cent. could be released within two years. About 60 prisoners would remain in custody after two years and could be affected by the cut-off. To put these figures in context, the Northern Ireland Prison Service releases about 1,500 prisoners every year and since 1983 has released more than 450 life sentence prisoners.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, suggested that the words of the Prime Minister's Balmoral speech were not fully reflected in the Bill. I am disappointed that the noble Lord returns to this issue, which I believe has been fully addressed in another place. The Bill gives full effect to the words of the Prime Minister. That fact was recognised by the right honourable Member for Upper Bann in a speech recently.
The noble Lord also asked whether or not there would be any fast-track extradition if a licence was breached. No. The position is as I stated it earlier. The extradition arrangements already in place are the ones that will be applied.
The noble Lord also made a comparison between non-terrorist and terrorist offences. The Bill before the House applies only to those convicted of scheduled offences; that is, those generally connected with terrorism. The Bill deals with very particular circumstances that cannot be made to apply to other groups. I understand the difficulty to which the noble Lord refers, but that is the answer.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, referred to the definition of terrorist organisations. He asked how an organisation that was proscribed as a terrorist organisation could not be excluded under Clause 3(8). The Bill before your Lordships has no effect upon proscription. The provisions in relation to proscription in the Emergency Provisions Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act are unaffected and will remain in place. No organisation which is currently proscribed will be de-proscribed as a consequence of this Bill becoming law. However, it is possible for an organisation to be a proscribed organisation but not be a terrorist organisation as defined by this Bill. This is because the Bill focusses on whether an organisation has established and maintained a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, whereas the EPA and PTA look to the nature of the organisation. The Bill before your Lordships' House applies a two-stage test that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State must consider. First, she must consider whether an organisation is
I have already reminded the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that no party is a signatory to the Good Friday Agreement but that every party and the two governments have fully endorsed it either at the time or subsequently. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, enquired about the McArdle case and the cases of other prisoners who were transferred to Northern Ireland. I cannot comment on whether an individual prisoner will qualify for release under the sentences Bill or when a prisoner can be released. No prisoner will automatically qualify for release and only prisoners serving their sentence in Northern Ireland will be eligible to apply under the Bill.
If a prisoner sentenced in England and Wales is transferred to serve his sentence in Northern Ireland he will be able to apply to the commissioners under the legislation. The Bill makes special provision for prisoners convicted outside Northern Ireland to take account of their transferred status and the fact that they
Lord Fitt: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. What has been said in no way deflects me from what I said earlier this afternoon. If a terrorist is found guilty of an offence in England and is sentenced to life imprisonment he may qualify under these arrangements. However, where a terrorist has committed an offence that results in the death of five people, such as in the Brighton bombing, and is sentenced to five life terms which all run concurrently, will he be given any priority over, or be treated any differently from, a person who has been found guilty of one terrorist murder? I have in mind particularly the Brighton bombing in which five people were killed and many more were injured. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, did not mention that. No one has asked me about this, but my conscience makes me refer to it. Would the person who did that be regarded with less sympathy than the person who had committed just one murder?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, speaking for myself I do not regard any of them with any sympathy but that is not the point that the noble Lord raises. The commissioners would have to consider each case individually and decide whether any individual qualified under the terms of this legislation. I agree that very difficult decisions would have to be made. The noble Lord points out some of the real dilemmas inherent in the Bill. However, I do not wish to speak about individual cases. It is not appropriate for me to do so; it does not fall within my terms of reference but is a matter for the commissioners. But if any prisoner convicted in England and Wales was to be transferred to Northern Ireland it would have to be for an offence connected with terrorism in Northern Ireland. There are some limiting conditions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, asked about the position of prisoners who claimed that they were no longer associated with a particular terrorist organisation as a way of qualifying for early release under the terms of the Bill. The Bill clearly excludes those prisoners who support organisations that have not established ceasefires, as required under Clause 3(8). No prisoner who supports such an organisation would gain a declaration under the Bill. The mere fact that a prisoner states that he no longer supports a terrorist organisation would not necessarily satisfy the condition. We could not have them merely claiming that they are no longer part of an organisation, and, that is all right then! An assessment would have to be made by the commissioners of all the circumstances, not just any particular claim made by a prisoner who is trying to imply that he had moved from one organisation to another or out of one organisation.
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