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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend, with his long experience in general practice, has thrown up an interesting conundrum in his final remark.

On his first point, that even £21 billion is not necessarily the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, he is precisely right. That is why, in repeating the Statement, I said that even a £21 billion settlement will have to be tightly managed and properly targeted. We are in agreement on that point.

On the question of nurse and medical recruitment, we need to have imaginative policies. We are seeking to develop such policies in discussion with leaders of the profession, such as Christine Hancock of the Royal College of Nursing, and leaders in the medical profession. It comes back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Hunt; namely, when developing a human resources strategy we need to think of matters beyond pay. Issues that particularly affect nurses relate to the social context in which they work, the working environment, the possibility of flexible working, and other matters. As surveys always indicate, those considerations are at least as important to them as basic pay.

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One of the current problems in relation to nursing is that 140,000 registered nurses are not working. One of our first efforts will be directed towards trying to find out the reasons for the loss of that skilled labour and to try to attract some of those people back into the health service.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, while giving a general welcome to the Statement, perhaps I may congratulate the Minister and the department on the development of the Sure Start programme, which brings together several departments in dealing with the particular and acute issue of deprivation among those who are less well off in our society. It addresses the crucial issue of giving young people support in their early years, when some suffer crucial disadvantage.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am pleased to endorse what my noble friend says. The £540 million for the Sure Start children's fund will precisely address the problems of the under-threes and their parents, particularly their mothers, who may be very vulnerable indeed. It is a very good example of precisely what I referred to in replying to my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. It is a cross-government attempt to address an issue that will affect health throughout life. It is one of the appalling facts of our society that children born at the lower end of the social and economic scale have a shorter life expectancy, even in 1998, than those born to more prosperous parents. That is a matter that the Sure Start children's fund will attempt to address.

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, in the absence of any further Back-Bench questions, perhaps I may repeat my earlier question to the Minister. Does she accept the independent figures produced by the House of Commons Library which indicate that the extra money, over a conservative real growth trend of 3.1 per cent., is just over £2 billion?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: No, my Lords, I certainly do not. I have seen those figures repeated politically. I am slightly surprised that the noble Lord, with his great interest in accuracy in many areas, should repeat them again. As I said in my first response to his question on this matter, if we add up the figures--£3 billion next year, £6 billion the year after, and £9 billion the year after that--we get £18 billion of new money. If we add to that amount £3 billion for social services, the amount is £21 billion.

Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill

5.50 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 6 [Life prisoners]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 8:

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

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 8, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 9, 10, 12 and 19 also. They have been tabled by the Government in response to amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, when the Bill was considered in Committee. At that time I said that I thought the amendments had merit, but that I would reflect further on the matter. I have done so and I am happy now to move these amendments to the Bill. I also wish to thank the noble Lord for his assistance in this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, also spoke in Committee regarding the confusion caused by the use of the term "terrorist organisation" in the legislation and noble Lords supported him in making his point. I have undertaken to consider the matter further before Third Reading to see whether it is possible to identify an amendment which would reduce any confusion regarding the impact of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Kilbracken: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for taking over the two amendments that I moved in Committee. They have now spawned three other amendments in this group. I believe that they improve the Bill and I welcome them.

On the other point that my noble friend raised which is not relevant to the amendments, I am glad that he is considering the suggestion which received support from all parts of the House and which, if suitable wording could be found, would greatly improve the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 7 [Life prisoners: specified dates]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 9 and 10:

Page 4, line 25, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").
Page 4, line 29, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 11:

After Clause 10, insert the following new clause--

Release to be subject to approval of Secretary of State

(" . Nothing in this Act shall require the release of a prisoner if the Secretary of State regards such release as undesirable after taking into account the need to protect the community.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name. The Minister has said repeatedly in the course of our debates that the Bill should reflect that part of the agreement which refers to prisoners. That is the top half of page 25. The amendment seeks to do exactly that.

The agreement says that the review process should allow,

    "account to be taken of ... the need to protect the community".

That is a specific overall condition of the "Prisoners" part of the agreement, but I cannot see where it is provided for in the Bill. It seemed to me that the only way to raise the issue was by moving a new clause of the character that I have put before your Lordships' House.

Whenever we are thought to be pushing against the edges of what was agreed in a direction which might disadvantage the terrorist prisoners, the Minister tells us

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that we cannot go a millimetre forward. However, when we try to ensure implementation of the whole agreement, including the bits favourable to the law-abiding community, we are told that it is not necessary to be so precise. The new clause seeks to insert a phrase which is in the agreement, but is not in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I feel that it is right to support the amendment and the new clause because Parliament ought to grant the Secretary of State a form of over-riding power which she could exercise when drawing upon the intelligence information to which she alone would have access. That information might give her cause to believe that the release of a certain prisoner would pose a threat to the "community". That is the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and it runs parallel to the word "public" which we debated on an earlier amendment. For example, there might be good reason to believe that former associates of the prisoner could be engaging in certain undesirable activities, sometimes classified under the word "terrorism". We are grateful to the Minister for producing the new clause which is Amendment No. 16, to which we will come later.

In the current situation and given the capacity of terrorist movements as defined in the Minister's new clause, there is more than a possibility that former associates would exercise a good deal of pressure and blackmail on the released prisoner to suck him back into their evil activities. If, for that reason, intelligence reports indicated that that organisation was alive and well and that, by reason of the vulnerability of the prisoner and his family, there was a chance that he would become involved in such activities, he would pose what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggested was a threat to the community, or perhaps, in the wording of the earlier amendment, to the general public.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, this amendment concerns the protection of the public under the terms of the Bill. It seeks to add a further protection by allowing the Secretary of State to override a decision of the commissioners.

As it stands, the Bill contains a series of safeguards. I should like to run through them because it is quite an impressive list. A prisoner may not be released if the commissioners consider that he is a supporter of an organisation identified by the Secretary of State as having not established and maintained a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. A prisoner may not be released if the commissioners consider that he would be likely to become a supporter of such an organisation after release. A prisoner may not be released if the commissioners consider that he would be likely to become concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland. A life-sentence prisoner may not be released if the commissioners consider that he would be a danger to the public.

The Secretary of State may refer the case of a prisoner who has been granted a declaration under the Bill back to the commissioners at any time before he is released

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if she considers that the prisoner no longer satisfies the conditions in Clause 3. If she does so, the commissioners must reconsider the case.

Each and every prisoner released under the terms of this Bill will be released on licence. The Secretary of State may suspend a licence and return a prisoner to custody if she considers that he has become a supporter of an organisation that is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire or if he has become, or is likely to become, involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. The Secretary of State may also defer or suspend the accelerated release provisions set out in Clause 10 if she considers the circumstances require it. Finally, the Secretary of State may suspend all further releases under the Bill.

Those are extensive safeguards which are appropriate to the subject matter of the Bill. They are also in accordance with the Good Friday agreement and the policy that has been set out by this Government to implement the agreement.

I cannot give my support to the new clause that has been proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Molyneaux. The new clause would usurp the jurisdiction of the commissioners by giving to the Secretary of State the final decision on release in each case. In doing so, it would make release under the Bill into an executive decision. That is a very significant change.

6 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I can return to my point about intelligence information. It may be that some of the commissioners would not be of Privy Council rank. They would not then have access to the vital security information to which the Secretary of State has access and on which she forms her judgment. The noble Lord used the term that I used: is it not fairer to the Secretary of State and the community she is seeking to protect that she should exercise the override powers which she alone will possess?

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