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Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 6, line 19, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Lord said: Government Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 and the consequential amendments to Clause 18--that is, Amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42--are intended to correct an oversight with a government amendment to the Bill made in another place. Clause 10(8) of the Bill was added to the legislation in another place to take account of prisoners who may have been convicted of a qualifying offence prior to the commencement of the Bill but who had spent time unlawfully at large. As the Bill had originally been drafted, such prisoners might have been eligible for release before they had served two years in custody. That was not the intention and so the subsection in question was added.

However, in adding the subsection, the Government overlooked that Clause 10(4) to (6) were variable by order of the Secretary of State. The variation of these subsections was a direct consequence of the terms of the agreement which allows for flexibility in relation to the two-year cut-off depending on the circumstances and progress towards a peaceful society.

Although this amendment affects only a small number of cases, it ensures that all cases are treated on a similar basis and that no prisoner is released before the date of the cut-off, set under Clause 10(4) as two years from the commencement of the Bill, and no prisoner, no matter when he is committed to custody, serves a shorter period in custody than the period between the commencement of the legislation and the cut-off, that is, under Clause 10(5), (6) and (8), two years. I commend the Government's Amendments Nos. 30, 31, 40, 41 and 42 to the Chamber. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am not sure that I am entirely happy about the Secretary of State being able to change the minimum of two years. I am not quite sure in which circumstances he would wish to reduce the minimum of two years. It might be helpful if the Minister were to spell that out to us. However, I have another, more technical difficulty with these amendments. As I understand it, Clause 10(7) will permit the Secretary of State to amend Clause 10(8). Similarly, Amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42 refer to Clause 10(9). As far as I can see, there will not be a Clause 10(9). Perhaps those amendments are defective in their drafting.

Lord Dubs: I am assured that the figures are correct and that everything is proper and in order. Without spelling it out in detail--I am sure the noble Lord would not want me to do that--I have received confirmation that everything is as it is supposed to be.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 6, line 24, at end insert--
("(9) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsections (4) to (8).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1063

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Interpretation: prisoners and sentences]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 7, line 7, leave out ("each").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 32 I refer also to Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 which are grouped with it. This is an attempt to increase the fairness with regard to multiple sentences. As I read the Bill--I may be wrong about this--if a prisoner has two consecutive sentences of five years or more for qualifying offences, they are to be treated as one. Therefore the prisoner with two sentences of exactly five years would serve one-third of 10 years; that is to say, three years and four months. That is assuming he is not overtaken by the accelerated release provisions under Clause 10.

Unless an amendment on the lines of my own is accepted, a prisoner with one sentence of five years and another of, say, four years, would serve one-third of five years but a half, under previous legislation, of the four years; that is to say, three years and eight months. That is four months longer than for the first prisoner, who had the longer sentence. That would seem unfair on the man with the shorter sentence. I should be grateful for the Minister's comment.

Lord Dubs: The paper that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State placed in the Library on 20th April made clear that only sentences of five years or more would be considered under the Bill. The effect of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, would be to allow consecutive sentences of less than five years to be discounted if imposed in respect of a qualifying offence and at the same time as the imposition of a qualifying offence of five years or more. That would go beyond what the Government have said they will do. However, if the noble Lord wishes me to do so, I will undertake to consider the matter further before Report.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I think the matter should be considered before Report. I realise that both the agreement and the paper have taken on a quality of holy writ in relation to this matter, even though, as previously discussed, clearly there were detailed matters which are extremely unlikely to have entered into the minds of those who were considering them before Good Friday. However, in view of the noble Lord's undertaking, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Inadmissibility]:

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 7, line 41, at end insert ("or a co-accused").

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving this amendment, with the leave of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 36.

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1064

Both of these amendments seek to explore what is intended by subsection (4) of Clause 13, which provides that subsection (2) of the clause,

    "shall not prevent the admission of evidence adduced on behalf of the accused".

Two issues arise. The first is the need to clarify that an accused man would be able to lead in evidence in his defence at a criminal trial evidence and information provided to the commissioners by another party and covered by the provisions of Clause 13(1).

The second issue requiring clarification is that, if the person who provided the information was one accused, would subsection (4) permit a co-accused to lead that information as evidence in his defence even though the prosecutor could not lead it as evidence upon which the prosecution would wish to found against the first accused, who was the person who had provided the information to the commissioner?

I can well see that the two issues that I raise fall within the policy that is intended in subsection (4) of Clause 13. Notwithstanding the character that the agreement and the document are acquiring as the hours go by, it does not seem to me that either document deals with this issue. I should therefore welcome clarification from the Minister. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble and learned Lord is quite right in his understanding as to the meaning of Clause 13(4). I am happy to give that clarification.

As has been observed earlier, there are prohibitions in Clause 13(2) against the admission in distinct, discrete proceedings of anything that might have been said for the purposes of these arrangements in Clause 13(1). However, the saver is in Clause 13(4); statements made to the commissioners which may not be admissible in the proceedings that I have described may well be admissible as evidence if adduced on behalf of the accused. The noble and learned Lord is right in his surmise. That would include a person who is a co-accused. I am happy to reaffirm in relation to subsection (4) of Clause 13 that, when one speaks of the admission of evidence, that may be the defendant's or applicant's own evidence; the evidence of a co-accused; or indeed--the noble and learned Lord is right--a party who is not even the subject of the proceedings. I hope that that has reaffirmed the noble and learned Lord in his tentative view that Clause 13(4) is wide enough to cover what we both recognise as being necessary.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: I am most grateful to the noble Lord. On the basis that my amendment is unnecessary, I seek leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1065

10.15 p.m.

Clause 14 [Information for victims]:

Lord Kilbracken moved Amendment No. 37.

Page 7, line 47, at end insert ("or has been released under section 4 or 6").

The noble Lord said: In Clause 14 we move on to the question of providing information for victims. The clause begins by stating:

    "The Secretary of State shall provide a statement ... if ... he believes--

    "that the person about whom the statement is sought is serving a sentence of imprisonment in Northern Ireland for a fixed term of at least five years".
However, subsection (3) provides that such a statement shall state,

    "if his application has been granted, whether he has been released and the date on which he has a right to be released".

Clearly, if a prisoner has been released, he is no longer serving a sentence of imprisonment,

    "for a fixed term of at least five years or for life",
as required by subsection (1)(a). It therefore seems clear that the words,

    "or has been released under section 4 or 6",
should be added at the end of Clause 14(1)(a). I beg to move.

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