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Lord Dubs: I have listened carefully to the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and other noble Lords. The Committee is right to draw attention to the importance of giving consideration to those who have been the victims of terrorist crime.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that I do not agree for one moment that the Bill is intended to appease republican opinion. The Bill is intended to give effect to an agreement which was supported by political parties across the spectrum in Northern Ireland, not just republicans. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, also suggested that the Government had not said enough about their concerns for and their wish to do more for victims. I do not believe that that is an accurate reflection of either my position or that of the Government. I remind the Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, very helpfully pointed out, that in November 1997 my right honourable friend the Secretary of State appointed Sir Kenneth Bloomfield to report on,

The report We Will Remember Them was published in May 1998. It will be the focus of future government help for victims and their loved ones, and will inform the allocation of the £5 million promised by the Prime Minister to support victims and their families.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has appointed the Minister of State, Adam Ingram, as Minister for Victims and has also established a victims liaison unit within the Northern Ireland Office to develop policy and implement the recommendations of Sir Kenneth's report. Last Tuesday my honourable friend the Minister of State announced the first package of measures, which included £700,000 to establish a new trauma centre for young people and their families who have been affected by the troubles, and a £200,000 fund to be established immediately for community groups and voluntary organisations to take forward recommendations in the Bloomfield Report. A major consultation exercise will inform further action. These are positive measures and the Government are committed to building on them to meet the needs of victims.

I turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. The effect of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to appoint as a commissioner someone who,

    "is representative of the victims of terrorist crime associated with Northern Ireland".
Although many victims and their relatives will be concerned about the release of prisoners under this measure and the Bill gives recognition to that concern through the provisions for victim notification, that does not mean that victims or their representatives should be given a direct role in deciding who should be released. The Bill does not require that victims' views should be

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taken into account by the commissioners in deciding whether a prisoner should receive a declaration. In that respect I note that the noble Lord who spoke to the amendment did not say that it should impose such a requirement. The commissioners are required to apply the conditions referred to in Clause 3 and no others. As such, there is no specialist expertise that a victims' representative would bring to the process. This is not to say that the Secretary of State could not or should not appoint to the body someone who might be considered to be representative of victims; only that there is no reason to make it a requirement under the legislation. I believe that that is the nub of the argument.

I deal with two or three specific points. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, requested that a Bill that had recently been published in Dublin should be made available. I shall do my best to see what can be done in time for Report stage. Under this Bill the number of commissioners will be 10. For their normal work they will be arranged in panels of three, but decisions by commissioners will be made by a majority.

I am aware of the sensitivity of any issue to do with victims. Many people in Northern Ireland are victims and have suffered enormously over the past 25 years. But it is my view that many victim groups do not necessarily want a specific role in deciding on releases under the Bill. They are probably far more concerned that their own needs should be addressed. The Government have already gone some way in endeavouring to do that. Some victims do support the agreement; perhaps others do not. There is no unanimity of view among victims. There is nothing between us except whether this should be the subject of a specific requirement in legislation. I am prepared to consider further what the Committee has said in the course of this debate without making any commitment.

Lord Tebbit: I am grateful to the Minister for his last wise words. He could very easily say that, whatever the Bill might say, it would be the intention of the Secretary of State to appoint such a person. I am sure that then we could all rest entirely happy. The Minister underlined much of what was said by all those who supported the amendment when he observed that there was no requirement to consider victims under the Bill. Precisely so. That was why I thought it appropriate to amend the Bill in this way.

I am surprised that the Minister denies that the Bill seeks to appease republican opinion. We do not want to cover old ground today. However, I remind the Minister that the referendum upon which he leans so heavily took place when the IRA was fully armed and the people of Northern Ireland were told that if they did not vote "Yes" there was little doubt that the IRA would again use its arms. I have my worries about that.

I remind the noble Lord that when I asked him whether Her Majesty's Government accepted any

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obligation to ensure impartiality in the conduct of the Northern Ireland referendum he observed:

    "I can comment only on the position of the Government ... We wanted to see, and were pleased that there was, a yes vote, but we took the position throughout the campaign that how people chose to vote on 22nd May was entirely a matter for them".--[Official Report, 5/6/98; col. WA 57.]
We would be naive wholly to believe that, especially when the noble Lord also confirmed that the Secretary of State had granted temporary release to four prisoners to attend the Sinn Fein conference and acknowledged that that was a matter of concern and hurt to many members of the public.

The Minister informed me that the Secretary of State had said that such releases would not be granted for such purposes in the future. So it was all right to say that the Government were impartial; and all right for them to release people from prison to campaign for a yes vote. But no one was released from prison to campaign for a no vote, or, indeed, no help was given to those campaigning for a no vote. Nor do I think that talk of £5 million in that context as washing away the Government's responsibilities towards victims is adequate. The victims are not to be bought with £5 million. The Minister may shake his head, but many people would be extremely hurt that in a discussion of whether one of the commissioners should be representative of the victims, the Minister should introduce the question of £5 million that was going to be paid out to help them in some way or another.

I should find the suggestion that there are so many victims that it would be difficult to find anyone to represent them laughable, if it were not tragic. I take some encouragement from what the Minister said at the end of his speech. Therefore I am content to withdraw the amendment so that we can return to it on Report when the Minister might have something more positive to say about the Government's intentions, even if nothing more positive to say about the possibility of putting that into legislation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Applications]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 2, leave out from ("for") to ("life") in line 5.

The noble Lord said: For the convenience of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 20 and 27. Clause 3 is an important clause. It deals with the eligibility for release of individual prisoners, and sets out the criteria involved. The criteria include four conditions, three of which apply to fixed sentenced prisoners and a fourth condition which applies, with the other three, to life sentence prisoners alone. It is the fourth condition which is the subject of the amendments.

The fourth condition is that if the prisoner were released immediately he would not be a danger to the public. As I say, that applies to life sentence prisoners only. Even if it were the opinion of the commissioners that a prisoner serving a fixed term would be a danger to the public he would, nevertheless, be released if the

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other conditions were fulfilled. I find that an extraordinary proposition. I found it odd that a similar amendment was not accepted when it was moved in another place.

In the debate in another place, the Minister of State advanced as a reason for not accepting the amendment that prisoners on fixed sentences were, in the normal course of things, released at the end of the term of their sentence, whatever that may be, which had been fixed by the judge with the appropriate rules for remission and so on. They are released at the end of the term of their sentence whether or not they were regarded as a risk. No judgment is made at the end of the fixed sentence as to whether there is a risk. He therefore regarded that amendment as a significant new concept in the criminal justice system of Northern Ireland. The Minister said rather the same in response to that point being made briefly in this place on Second Reading.

However, the whole Bill is a significant new concept in the criminal justice system of Northern Ireland. In any case, there is to be an assessment of risk for those serving fixed term as well as for those serving life under the third condition:

    "if the prisoner were released immediately, he would not be likely to become a supporter of a terrorist organisation, or to become concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland".
That is to say, that even for lifers the risk of committing terrorist offences is to be assessed and is to form part of the decision leading up to--or not, as the case may be--the release of the individual prisoner.

In that sense, the principle of the amendment is conceded so far as concerns terrorist crimes. All the amendment does is extend that principle to crimes that are not regarded as terrorist crimes under the Bill. If a fixed sentence prisoner was thought likely to return to violent crime, but not a terrorist crime, he would still be released early. There would, as I see it in the Bill as it stands, be no legal way to stop that. That is not desirable. It is not that novel a principle, given the context of the Bill as a whole.

We may be told that all that has been drafted in the Bill was set out in the paper Prisoners and the Political Settlement. I referred briefly in some earlier remarks to that paper, which was placed in the Library of the House by the Minister at the time of the agreement. But I am not clear as to what is the exact position of that paper. I take it to be an expression of the Government's view on how they would implement the agreement, which was made available to those negotiating the agreement, and hence it can be thought of in some sense as an embodiment, at least so far as concerns prisoners, of the spirit of the agreement. It is not of course part of the agreement itself.

The agreement itself is clearer on that point. In paragraph 3 on page 25 in the section on prisoners it says that account will be taken of the seriousness of the offences of which the person was convicted and the need to protect the community. It seems to me therefore that it is well within the terms of the agreement itself that the community should be protected from a fixed sentence prisoner who otherwise might be thought liable to go back to violent crime of some kind on his release.

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It seems to me that in that respect the Government have not implemented in the Bill the full terms of the agreement, or the section on prisoners. This gives me the opportunity to make it clear once again that we on this side accept the whole of the agreement--the words of the agreement and its spirit. Nothing that I have said before, and nothing that I intend to say, should be outside the terms of the written agreement--if I can manage it, as I read it, at any rate--and I hope that nothing will be outside the spirit of the agreement. Judging by the Minister's remarks on Second Reading, and his colleague's remarks in another place, in this case the amendment is nearer to the words of the agreement than the Bill itself. I beg to move.

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