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Lord Dubs: I am not convinced that Amendment No. 16 makes much difference to the way this part of the Bill is constructed. I believe that the matters referred to are already clearly addressed in Clause 3(9)(b). Therefore, I do not believe that the amendment takes the matter much further.

However, I have greater interest in Amendment No. 17. I believe that there is merit in the point at issue here. I agree that, as currently drafted, Clause 3(9)(c) is too restrictive, in that it is limited in range to acts of violence that are committed by other organisations. We shall explore how to give effect to the spirit of the amendment. If we can devise a form of words, we shall table a government amendment at Report stage.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Suddenly, we appear to be getting somewhere. Given that assurance, I am delighted to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Fixed term prisoners]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 3, line 26, leave out from ("he") to end of line 27 and insert ("would otherwise have been discharged").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 19. The amendment raises a rather technical point. I am seeking guidance about the meaning of the particular provision rather than pressing the Government on the matter. The amendment proposes to delete the words at the end of Clause 4(4). Those words refer to what happens when a prisoner is released on licence and they help to determine the date on which his sentence is regarded as expiring and therefore the date on which the licence lapses.

During the course of today we have heard a good deal about how prisoners can be pulled back in--it sounds a very easy process but in practice it may be very hard to do--if they fall below the standard expected while on licence. Therefore, the date on which the licence comes to an end is important.

The words in the Bill as it stands suggest that the licence should come to an end when the prisoner could have been discharged on the grounds of good conduct under the prison rules; that is to say, every prisoner is assumed to have good conduct, but that will not be the case with all prisoners. Before the Bill is passed and

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before any of its provisions affect them, some prisoners may already have lost remission or had bad conduct leading to the discharge date being changed. In that case, bad conduct should not be rewarded. I suggest therefore that the licence should lapse when the prisoner would otherwise have been discharged, taking into account bad conduct, and good conduct if he has behaved well. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he put this matter. The precedent that one remembers is the 1995 Bill, brought forward under the previous government when a similar limitation was not introduced. Clause 4(4) we think has it right, because a prisoner still serves his sentence until the licence elapses. His sentence will continue until such a time as he could have been discharged on the ground of good conduct under prison rules.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, is right, that even with his amendment, as it were, there would not be the result that some people might wish. For instance, the amendment would not let a sentence run on a fixed term. I give an example. If a prisoner were serving a 10-year sentence, the amendment would not ensure that the sentence ran to the last day of the 10 years, because it has no effect on the operation of Rule 30 of the prison rules, which derive their validity from Section 13(7) of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953.

Again, the noble Lord is right: those prison rules automatically give a prisoner remission for good behaviour unless he misbehaves. If one leaves out the reference to "good conduct" it is arguable that bad behaviour is therefore to be ignored. Therefore we think we have this right. It just indicates clearly that his licence is determined--that is, his sentence comes to an end--at the time when he could have been discharged on the ground of good conduct under prison rules. If he is of bad conduct, under prison rules the remission will not inure to his benefit.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: It would seem that the effect that I wish to achieve is being achieved by the Bill without the necessity of my amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Fixed term prisoners: special cases]:

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Life prisoners]:

Lord Kilbracken moved Amendment No. 21.

Page 4, line 11, leave out ("elapse") and insert ("completion").

The noble Lord said: I am not a great admirer of the drafting of this Bill. This is the first of three little amendments I have put down in the hope of improving it. I will not detain the Committee long with it. It refers to the use of the word "elapse" in Clause 6 (1). This word is not included as a substantive in Collins dictionary nor in the Concise Oxford dictionary. In the 20-volume Oxford Dictionary it does appear but it is

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stated as being archaic. There was a use of it in 1793 and again in 1800 but it has not occurred in literature since 1883.

I therefore propose that it is inappropriate in the Bill and that it would be preferable to change it to the word "completion". I know that my noble friend is resisting amendments put down by your Lordships, but I very much hope that he can have no objection to mine. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: In this group are Amendments Nos. 21 and 23, both in the name of my noble friend Lord Kilbracken. Since my noble friend Lord Dubs is not replying on this occasion, the Committee will not be surprised to know that a much more flexible approach will be found from me. (I was testing whether anyone was still awake!)

There may be some value in accepting Amendment No.23. I should like to give particular consideration to Amendments Nos. 21 and 23. Before accepting the amendments we would wish to consider further and consult with draftsmen. But if it is decided that the amendments are necessary or helpful, I can undertake to bring forward an amendment or amendments at the next stage.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: It is highly desirable that this House should not appear antique and out of date in the legislation that it passes. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has done us a service in drawing our attention to it. I am grateful for the Minister's positive reaction.

Lord Kilbracken: I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken. In the light of the undertaking that has been given to me by the Minister on this vital matter, I am happy to withdraw the amendment; and also I hope to avoid the necessity of speaking to Amendment No. 23.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Life prisoners: specified dates]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 4, line 24, leave out ("1999") and insert ("10th April 1998").

The noble Lord said: I find the subsection to which this provision refers rather odd. Clause 7(1) requires that,

    "The Secretary of State must inform the Commissioners of the length of time served by persons sentenced in Northern Ireland to imprisonment for life, and released on licence after 1982 and before 1999".
I assume that the Secretary of State and her officials would be entirely willing to give such information, or any other information that the commissioners might require, to enable them to fulfil their duty without needing legislative provision to do so. I put down the amendment because the information to be given relates to the length of time served by life-sentence prisoners up to the end of 1998. I am not sure why only the length of sentence is to be given. Many more particulars are

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required to decide how comparable are other sentences served in the past to the sentences appropriate for those serving life sentences at present. It is not an average which is required; it is as precise an application as possible of what the individual prisoner would have served if the Bill had not existed.

On page 25 the agreement states that one of the matters which is relevant is the seriousness of the offences for which the person was convicted. In considering the seriousness of the offences for which the prisoner was convicted and comparable sentences one needs to know more than the average length of time that was served.

There is a second oddity. Why does it go to the end of 1998? I am not sure how quickly the commissioners will be in business and releasing prisoners, but it is entirely possible that some prisoners may be released--even life sentence prisoners--before the end of 1998. In that case the amount of time served by people who have been released on licence will be affected by those released early by the commissioners. That is arithmetically wrong.

In deciding what a sentence would otherwise have amounted to, the commissioners should look only at sentences which have been served by prisoners after 1982 and before the Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10th April 1998. An alternative might be to make a provision which commences after 1982 and before this Act comes into force, or something of that sort. I do not want the calculation of the lifers' terms to be affected by those released early under this Bill. I beg to move.

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