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Mr. Norris : My hon. Friend made that point when he raised the subject of drugs and the necessity for officers to have wide powers to search for drugs. The issue is the same, and the Bill is concerned with the prevention not only of Irish terrorism but of terrorism generally.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) for not having given way to him. However, I am delighted and flattered that he is taking such an interest in my speech. I trust that he will stay for the end of it, which will arrive shortly. I want first to make the point that the hon. Member for Ladywood knows that the Bill requires that a search of the person may be carried out only by a person of the same sex. I regard that to be as necessary as the hon. Lady considers it to be. It provides some protection from prurient interest and from exploitation of an intimate examination to which the hon. Members for Ladywood and for Redcar have both rightly referred. We should be adamant in ensuring that that provision continues.
The Bill is almost unique in our current parliamentary framework, in that Parliament renews annually powers that, wisely, it has not taken to itself in perpetuity. The rationale for that is that the situation in the Province changes each year, so each year the House endeavours to ensure that the restrictions we put on freedom of the individual and freedom of passage to and from the United Kingdom and across the sea is only as severe as is appropriate to the threat to the peaceful order of the country at the time.
The hon. Member for Ladywood introduced the idea that perhaps the searches could be carried out by machine. My understanding is that, sadly, that is not the case. I say "sadly" because I assure her that if satisfactory evidence were available that machines that could be applied externally were utterly foolproof and that examination for substances or objects could take place without the necessity for anyone to take off any article of clothing- -
Column 81inner or outer--I would want this provision removed from the Bill. However, sadly, I do not believe that that is the case.
Mr. Greg Knight : Does my hon. Friend agree that the main point is that most law-abiding people are prepared to accept some embarrassment if that means that the risk of them, their neighbours or relatives being killed is diminished?
Mr. Norris : We all accept the intellectual logic of my hon. Friend's argument. He makes a reasonable point which, I hope, is the reaction of most honest people who are asked where they have been on holiday when they arrive back in this country with their perfectly lawful duty-free allowances.
I am prepared to accept that the hon. Members for Ladywood and for Redcar have reflected the genuine sense of outrage which not only women, but men, feel if an examination goes further than merely cross-questioning or further than a cursory examination such as one has every time one travels on an aeroplane, and involves taking off clothing and so on. I accept that that process involves indignity and that it is one to which we should never subject people without overriding reasons. Those overriding reasons exist in the context of the prevention of terrorism. As there is not at this stage a satisfactory technical alternative, those powers must remain until that technical alternative is available.
Ms. Mowlam : Our point followed a statement made by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) when he was a Minister at the Northern Ireland Office. He said that he would review the procedures in relation to alternatives. Does the hon. Gentleman know whether the Northern Ireland Office has carried out such a review? We are concerned because sometimes words are cheap, but the actions cost a little more.
Mr. Norris : I am not answerable for the promises or undertakings given now by my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who expresses exactly the point that I am seeking to make, although more succinctly.
Our aim is to prevent terrorism and to examine people who enter this country to determine whether they are bringing in with them explosives, weapons or any other items that they might use in the commission of terrorism. The aim is not gratuitously to offend either women or men. Although I cannot speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), I repeat that if I were satisfied that a satisfactory technical alternative existed which would mean that it was clearly and demonstrably unnecessary for anyone to remove any item other than rainwear, I should be the first to say, "Let us thankfully take the power out of the Bill." I believe that there would be unanimous support across the House for that view. However--when the hon. Member for Redcar reflects on this, I am sure that she will agree that this is the case--there is at best equivocal evidence that such a technical facility exists, and at worst the suspicion that our technical expertise in that area is not up to the dangerous task in hand.
Column 82is a real pleasure to listen to him because he has a somewhat different and more humane approach. I take on board his honesty in this matter. I do not believe that he wants to see strip searching or any other type of searching that could cause humiliation. I believe that he is genuine about that, and I understand the dilemma that he is in--and frankly we are all in--on this matter.
Let us examine what happens in relation to stopping terrorists or potential terrorists from getting into other places. Nowadays it is clearly vital that we have measures of protection at party conferences. That is obviously the case for the party in government, but we in opposition also do the same --although up to a point I cannot understand why. We prevent, for example, people entering the hotels at which the hierarchy are staying. However, as far as I know, no one who enters the portals of the Conservative party conference is strip-searched. Of course, they are searched effectively, as we are. In fact, I get a bit fed up with it at times because the security people look under one's fingernails, under one's coat, up the bottom of one's trousers and goodness knows where else. To say the least, it can be slightly annoying, but one understands that it has to be done. However, as I have said, nobody is strip-searched.
ter day, people enter the House of Commons. I well remember some events in the House before security was tightened. I remember somebody throwing a smoke bomb--thank God it was not a real bomb. Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : That happened twice
Mr. Heffer : Yes, there were two. I also remember a farming gentleman throwing something other than a bomb. It landed over here and made quite a mess. Rightly, efforts were made to protect Members of Parliament somewhat more effectively than they had been protected before, but nobody who comes to the House of Commons is strip-searched.
are three places where, despite strict protection, nobody is strip- searched-- Mr. Greg Knight : I have listened carefully to thehon. Gentleman's argument, and I am not sure whether he is making a good point. First, will he accept from me that each delegate who attends the Tory party conference must produce a security pass which has a photograph appended to it? That is a little different from encountering a couple of people dressed as farmers in a country lane in Ireland.
Secondly, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that police dogs enter the House before the House sits, and that they not only sniff out the Chamber for explosives, but go upstairs.
I agree that people coming to this country must have a passport, but if such people come from Northern Ireland, they are United Kingdom citizens. Although people may come here from another country by way of Northern Ireland, people from Northern Ireland are citizens of this country.
This is a difficult problem. I am not saying that it is easy. I am not arguing that we should do nothing because
Column 83this issue is of no consequence ; it is of consequence. However, I have always had a dreadful image of strip- searching. I have seen photographs and films--thank God I have not seen it done myself, although I was in the forces--of what we all know happened to the men and women who were stripped naked by the Nazis. We know of their terrible humiliation. The first thing that is done to humiliate a person is to strip him. There is nothing worse than being naked in front of several people. Dreadful things are done. We live in a civilised society. We do not use the methods of uncivilised people. If we did, we would cross the Rubicon from civilised behaviour. That is not acceptable.
It is about time we spent more money on getting machines to do searches. We remember the dreadful, horrible business of the plane being blown up. People from several companies came to me saying, "We have had machines for some time that would find that sort of thing, but they have not been used. They have not been taken on board." I do not know enough about the matter, but we should examine it and put some money into research to ensure that we create the appropriate machines. If we can go to the moon, we can surely do something to stop such humiliation.
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham) : I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the beginning of the debate. I am struck by one of the hon. Gentleman's points. He started speaking with perfectly humane motives. However, such motives can easily lead to sentimentalism and a confusion of categories. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Nazi analogy applied to us, whereas the problem is that we are dealing with people who have Nazi instincts. They are the killers, and we are trying to prevent them from killing. We must not allow one's justified concern about strip-searching to lead to a fundamental confusion of categories.
Secondly--I do not want to try the hon. Gentleman's patience--if we were to say "No, this is too abhorrent ; let us stop strip-searching, " what would be the practical result? It would be that people would take advantage of that to camouflage their terrorism more effectively.
Mr. Heffer : The hon. Gentleman has reduced the argument to a simple matter. It is not a simple matter. I do not agree with the methods of terrorism and violence to solve political questions, but we cannot say that, in all circumstances, people who conceal weapons necessarily have Nazi tendencies. For example, the people in Europe whom we supported and provided with arms to fight the Nazis did much the same thing. The Nazis called them terrorists. We regarded them as freedom fighters. It depends on what angle one takes.
We are talking about methods that are used now. Whatever happens, the ultimate solution to the problems of Ireland--North and South--is a political settlement. Violence by anybody on any side will not solve the problem--after all, we have had it for a long time. We must examine the problem from that angle.
I ask the House to support the amendment--perhaps with some reservations-- because of the humanity involved and the fact that it will prevent humiliation. Many innocent people are affected. Powerful arguments have been advanced on that point, and they should be supported.
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Mr. Sumberg : This has been one of the best debates on the matter that I have listened to. Some hon. Members have discussed this topic for a considerable time, both in Committee and in the House. I enjoyed the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris). I was crouched forward because I had not heard him speak in the House since before the last election. It was good to see him back and to hear his speech.
All decent instincts have come to the fore in the debate. None of us can be entirely happy that we are to pass a piece of legislation that will allow strip searching. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, there is a history to the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said that it would not be right to be sentimental, but images of the past and of the present make one frightened that such things must happen. There can be nothing more humiliating for a man or a woman--I make no distinction between the sexes--than to be stripped before others, or even before one other person, to prove his or her innocence. I have never experienced it, and I hope that I never will.
Throughout the Bill's proceedings, I have said that civilised society faces a great challenge to all things that we believe in. Hon. Members have referred to many of them in this debate. All civilised values are under threat from terrorists. The hon. Member for Walton was right to say that there must be a political settlement. However, until there is a settlement of peace and until law and order are established, such a settlement cannot happen.
Ms. Short : I put that point to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) whose return to the House I, too, enjoy. The hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) agrees that making someone strip off their clothes in front of uniformed individuals is oppressive and that none of us would like it. Does he agree that, if the power is necessary in some circumstances, there should be a requirement to show reasonable cause to do it? Under the Bill as it stands, an examining officer can do it to search for information. Does the hon. Gentleman consider that that goes too far?
Mr. Sumberg : That promotes various difficulties. If reasonable cause must be shown, it can be challenged. We are dealing with an emergency in which a decision must be taken immediately. We are relying on the good faith and good sense of the officer involved. As I said, society faces a challenge. Over the past 10 years, terrorism has increased. More and more people are being killed and maimed. Examples are invidious. The fact that we must contemplate this legislation means that the terrorist has achieved some form of victory. That is the price that we have to pay.
Dr. Reid : The hon. Gentleman has discussed at some length and in the abstract the principles involved in some of these issues. As a relative newcomer to the debate, may I ask him with no mischief intended to consider to what practical end strip searches are carried out? I ask in all innocence. Have any of the maimings been prevented by dangerous weapons and substances, detonators and so on being found during such strip searches? If so, to what extent? If not, to what end are we insisting on strip searches?
Mr. Sumberg : I do not have all the figures, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister does. Even if I could say that nothing has been found, it would still be reasonable to include strip searching, because it acts as a deterrent. It is a preventive measure against people taking the chance of importing explosives or other materials that can maim and kill. It works on the same principle as customs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest mentioned, when we may try to smuggle in something less dangerous. Not everyone is checked, but each of us knows that if we go through the green channel we may be challenged, searched and found out. As in other matters, I believe in the deterrent effect, although perhaps some Labour Members do not. Strip searching acts as an aid to fight terrorism.
I hope that we can look forward to the day when these measures are not necessary and when we have the technicality and science to avoid them. I hope that we are working on that. For a variety of reasons unconnected with Northern Ireland it is essential that people can travel safely. Until that day arrives measures of this sort are needed. I hope that it will not be long before they are redundant.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : First, I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, who is unwell and in bed. He is sorry not to be here to reply to this and a subsequent debate. Nevertheless, I am glad that the Northern Ireland Office is represented by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. This has been a good and far-ranging debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) said. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), I well understand the anxiety and distress articulated by the hon. Members for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). Those fears are more theoretical than real, but to the extent that they are real they may require further consideration.
I shall focus on the rather narrow amendment No. 24 which requires careful consideration.
Mr. Hogg : I heard that remark. I said that this had been a wide- ranging debate involving discussions on strip-searching in prison and elsewhere. We are talking about the exercise by examining officers of their powers at the port controls and it is on that that I wish to focus.
It is plain that many of the circumstances described are covered either by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice, particularly by code C, annex A, or by sections 54 and 55 of PACE. Where a person has been arrested by the police and brought to a police station, which could happen under paragraph 6(4) of schedule 5, or where a person is arrested by the police under clause 14 and brought to a police station, the safeguards contained in sections 54 and 55 apply. For that matter the provisions in annex A of code C also apply where a person is detained by the police in a police station. That is a power of detention which arises under the schedule, but which falls short of the exercise of a power of arrest. As the hon. Ladies will know, page 64 of the code deals with strip searching and states :
"A strip search (that is a search involving the removal of more than outer clothing) may take place only if the custody officer considers it to be necessary to remove an article which the detained person would not be allowed to keep."
Column 86So in many of the circumstances that we have discussed, the position is already safeguarded either by sections 54 or 55 of PACE or by annex A of PACE code C.
There remains a gap. If a person is detained not by a police officer and not in the police station, the position is not covered by either of those two sections or by the codes. The same is true if a detention or an arrest is made by an examining officer who is not a policeman because, as the House knows, examining officers, although usually policemen, are not always policemen. There is a gap which has been identified.
Dr. Reid : As the Minister is discussing the difference between the theoretical and the real position can he answer my question to the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg)? In reality, rather than in theory, what has been the result of strip searches in terms of discovering anything that could be regarded as remotely dangerous?
Mr. Hogg : I am afraid that I do not have with me a detailed summary of the result of searches, and I would not wish to try to summarise what is clearly a large subject. I shall not try to answer that question because I do not have the factual information to enable me to do so.
Dr. Reid rose --
Mr. Hogg : No, I have answered that question and I cannot clarify it further. [ Hon. Members :-- "Answer the question."] I did answer the question. I said that I did not have any information. It may not be the answer that the hon. Gentleman wanted, but it is a perfectly clear answer, it is the best that I can give, and I give it. A gap that requires further consideration has been highlighted. It is unattractive that, in the certain narrow circumstances that I have described, strip searching could take place without any of the safeguards that would have applied had the person been arrested by a police officer. Therefore, I should like to reflect on the matter to consider the extent to which further safeguards should and could be incorporated in the Bill. I will arrange for that to be done.
Ms. Mowlam : I appreciate the Minister giving way and acknowledging the obvious loopholes and weaknesses in this section of the legislation. When he refers to the PACE provisions, can he further reassure the House-- he has already explained the weaknesses that exist about controls at ports- -that the PACE provisions for Northern Ireland contained in statutory instruments currently before the House will include exclusions in relation to the prevention of terrorism as they have done in the past? May I assist the Minister by answering the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)? If the Minister had read the Hansard of the Standing Committee he would be aware that all that had been found from strip searches was perfume, £5, a couple of letters and a key.
Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider very carefully the hon. Lady's first point. I am grateful for the information that the hon. Lady gave about searches.
Amendments made : No. 15, in page 47, line 45 leave out if need be by force'.
No. 16, in page 48, line 3, leave out
if need be by force'.
No. 17, in page 48, line 6, at end insert
and he may, if necessary, use reasonable force for the purpose of carrying out his functions under this paragraph.'.
No. 42, in page 48, line 9, at end insert
and may, if necessary, use reasonable force for the purpose of performing those functions'.
No. 18, in page 48, line 35, leave out from first him' to end of line 36.
No. 19, in page 49, line 22, leave out
if necessary by force'.-- [Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
Amendments made : No. 20, in page 58, leave out lines 22 and 23. No. 21, in page 61, leave out line 36.-- [Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
Amendment made : No. 5, in page 13, line 32, at end insert-- (1A) A constable or examining officer may, if necessary, use reasonable force for the purpose of exercising any powers conferred on him under or by virtue of any provision of this Act other than paragraph 2 of Schedule 5 ; but this subsection is without prejudice to any provision of this Act, or of any instrument made under it, which implies that a person may use reasonable force in connection with that provision.'.-- [Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
The purpose of the amendment is to retain the existing position with regard to the remission of sentence under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978, so that by definition it relates almost exclusively to people serving sentences in Northern Ireland. If it will assist the Minister when he replies, I accept at once that on reflection, as the amendment is intended only to retain the existing position, we might have done better to move to delete the clause. I am sure that the Minister will not take refuge in draftsmanship, because the draftsmen will have ample opportunity during the discussions on the Bill to take it away to whatever dark recesses they inhabit, turn it into classical English and return it to us.
The Government are proposing to change the maximum period of remission from one half the sentence to one third. No doubt a casual reader of the Notice Paper--not the Minister, because he will have read it carefully--might say that that is the position in the rest of the United Kingdom because in the rest of the United Kingdom, give or take a few exceptions, the maximum
Column 88period for remission is one third. "Why," a casual reader may ask rhetorically, "should it be different in Northern Ireland?" The answer is to be found in the parole system. In the rest of the United Kingdom, normally a prisoner serving more than 12 months may earn remission up to one third of the sentence and then serve a further one third on parole. He may actually serve only one third of his sentence in custody. There is no parole system in Northern Ireland, and that is the reason for the difference in remission. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was Home Secretary, he introduced the provision for half remission in Northern Ireland. On 4 November 1975 he referred to a "prison population unnecesarily high because of the absence of a parole scheme".--[ Official Report, 4 November 1975 ; Vol. 889, c. 238.]
That was true, and it will not be a blinding revelation to the House if I state that the effect of the proposal in the Bill will be to increase the prison population at a time when we all agree that there is a crisis of overcrowding in the prisons.
If the Minister knows anything about the situation in Northern Ireland, I am sure that he will agree that it is not unreasonable to try to get prisoners, particularly young prisoners, out of prison in Northern Ireland as early as is reasonably possible. I cannot speak with knowledge of the present position because I am a little out of date. However, when I knew anything about the prisons in Northern Ireland, they were operating as the Sandhurst of the paramilitaries. Young people in prison received training by the paramilitaries in the techniques of paramilitary activity. It is not unreasonable to want to get them out of prison.
An extraordinary aspect of the proposal in the Bill is that it runs completely contrary to the recommendations of the Carlisle committee. It recommended in paragraph 274 of its report that those serving sentences of less than four years should be eligible for parole after they have served one half of their sentence.
I would be the first to admit that we got this wrong in Committee. When the asymmetry was pointed out by Justice, at the suggestion of Justice we tried to restore symmetry by proposing the introduction of a parole system in Northern Ireland. On reflection, I accept that that was not the right solution. It would impose an impossible strain on the probation service, particularly when it is dealing with people who in many cases regard themselves as political prisoners. It is perhaps ironic that, when the present one half sentence remission was introduced, it was expressly stated that it heralded the end of the special category status. It was said that the two went arm in arm. It cannot be said that the present system has been outstandingly unsuccessful. The reconviction rate for adult male offenders in Northern Ireland is 42 per cent. as against 57 per cent. in England and Wales. The reconviction rate for those convicted of scheduled offences is only one in five. It is perhaps worth remembering that the crime rate overall in Northern Ireland is lower than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : When the right hon. and learned Member quotes percentages of those reoffending in terms of scheduled offences, does he accept the difficulty facing the authorities
Column 89in convicting people of scheduled offences? Does he recall that, of the 177 murders committed by the IRA in my constituency, 92 per cent. have not been resolved through the courts by the due process of law? Therefore, he should recognise that percentages can be deceptive.
Mr. Archer : Of course I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Statistics must be viewed with some reserve. I have always had a suspicion of statistics since I saw a document headed "The House of Commons broken down by age and sex." But I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that arithmetically the same problems of conviction apply at both ends of the equation ; just as it may well be true that there are people who commit scheduled offences and are not convicted a second time, there are those who have not been convicted the first time. Arithmetically the statistic evens out ; and it is still significant and worth quoting that only one in five of those convicted a first time are reconvicted a second time of a scheduled offence when we consider the reconviction rate of 53 per cent. across the board for the United Kingdom.
No case has been made by the Government for the proposal in the first instance.
Mr. Norris : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to establish a disparity between arrangements in the United Kingdom and those in Northern Ireland. Will he comment on the effect on his argument of the 1983 announcement by the Home Secretary on policy towards remission on sentences for crimes of violence which, in effect, established that such criminals would serve a minimum of two thirds of their sentence? Would not the acceptance of his amendment mean that a prisoner on the mainland would serve longer for a terrorist offence than he would in the Province? Would that not be a worse disparity than he is suggesting currently exists? Does not the Bill make logic out of what is at present a rather illogical situation?
Mr. Archer : I accept that it is an illogical situation, and that the most logical way of dealing with asymmetry would be to have the same situation on both sides of the water. If we cannot do that, the best that we could do would be to have the same provisions for remission. It may be that we have set ourselves an insoluble problem, but what we would like to hear--I do not want to take up too much time because this is an abbreviated debate, the reason for which is to be laid squarely at the door of the Government's business managers--is the case for the Government's proposals. We discussed this in Committee, and I am bound to say that the reasons for the proposal were never made clear to us. Perhaps the most helpful course I can adopt is to sit down and invite the Minister to intervene at a fairly early stage to tell us the Government's case for their proposal and then we can debate that case.
Mr. Mallon : I believe that a most fundamental mistake will be contained within this Bill, for a number of reasons. Anyone who knows anything about the history of Ireland knows the potency of the gaol situation. Anyone with only a cursory knowledge of Irish history will realise the way in which it has been changed not in the streets, not in the fields and not in the roads, but in the gaols.
I do not have time or the inclination to go back over the past, but I believe that we would all ask the question : if the action taken in 1916 had been different, would things be different now on the island of Ireland? If, in the recent
Column 90past, a broad view had been taken within the prison service, would we have had the trauma of the hunger strike and the effect that that had and is still having in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland? When we talk about prisons, we are talking about probably the most sensitive area of life in Northern Ireland, which has had and no doubt will have a substantial bearing on what happens in future. I believe that one of the keys to a solution to this problem lies within the prisons and the approach to them.
I spend quite a bit of time talking to young people in the prisons, be they Loyalists or Republicans, and invariably the same sort of attitude comes through. They say, "What are we doing sitting here for 15 years when other people are out enjoying themselves? Why have we become the martyrs for spurious ideologies when, in effect, the world is still going on outside?"
I have no doubt that, rather than keeping people in gaol, getting people out is the way in which we should be moving. It has been seen since the early 1980s that, when people have been released back into the community in a spirit of consideration, that permeates its way down through the community--right down into that person's family and street. It has had a remarkable effect, as I have seen in my constituency. It is for that reason that the godfathers of violence--the people who run the paramilitary organisations--are afraid of the situation in the prisons being eased. It is there that we are making the fundamental and crucial mistake.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) asked what the Government's reasons are for the Bill. The only reason given in Committee was that it would act as a deterrent. If anything has been proved over the years, it is that prison does not deter those people who are highly charged and motivated ideologically. The given reason does not stand up.
I should have thought that what happens on the streets, in the towns, and in the villages in Ireland shows that if, one treats the prison situation in a hamfisted way, we will end up with trouble. Sir Leon Brittan, the former Secretary of State, made mistake after mistake about prisons and was told time after time that he was building up something which would have disastrous effects. Arrogance, however, got in the way of his powers to listen, and we ended up with the most traumatic situation, one for which we are still paying. Many of the young people in prison today would not be there had it not been for that terrible period surrounding the hunger strikes and deaths in prison.
I again ask the Government to listen to the view of the people who live in Ireland--because they know instinctively and see it in their everyday lives --that this is the wrong path to take.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West pointed out that the parole situation in Ireland is not the same as in the rest of Britain or the Republic of Ireland. The parole system does not exist, because the probation board would not be in a position to fulfil the functions that such a board does in other places. People are sentenced against a background of emergency legislation, such as the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 and the Diplock courts. It has been sought to put a normal face on an abnormal type of process, which leads to conviction and a process which of itself is doing damage to the cause of finding a solution in Northern Ireland.
Column 91Another anomaly is that of scheduled offences, which were discussed at great length at Committee. There are unlimited examples of people who commit a scheduled offence being convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 for an offence which was patently nothing to do with paramilitary activity are unlimited. This clause takes no cognisance of that and makes no allowance for it, but simply ploughs along a mistaken road.
Probably the most damaging part of the clause is the problem that it creates for young offenders. Northern Ireland has at present a large number of young offenders, because of the socio-economic situation in which they must live. We shall see a situation developing where young people who are sentenced are committed for civil offences to a young offenders centre, but, if they come under the heading of this clause, will find themselves serving their sentences out--for an offence which patently was not a scheduled offence in the first place and which was being served in a young offenders centre--under the temporary provisions Act. For that reason, the clause is a great mistake.
Unless we can reach the stage at which young people are convinced that the system of law and justice not only punishes them but protects them, we are fighting a losing battle. The problems will simply demand another piece of legislation next year, or in five or 10 years. Where does that lead? Unfortunately, the unholy spiral continues.
Presently, the prison population in the North of Ireland is going down. That is one of the remarkable things about the Bill ; that, at the time when the prison population is going down, we are about to extend the length of sentences to keep more people in prison. It is clear from the treatment of life-sentence prisoners and Secretary of State pleasure cases, how an imaginative, charitable approach, which is based on good judgment tempered by that quality of mercy necessary when dealing with prisoners, has had an effect. We are curtailing that effect in a brutal, unthinking manner.
During the past eight years, how many people committed to young offenders centres have subsequently been charged and sentenced for scheduled offences under the emergency legislation? I asked that question in Committee, but I did not get an answer. I hope that I shall today, because this is a crucial point. I do not think it is good enough to say that the Northern Ireland Minister is not here so the figures are unavailable. I put that question on record in Committee, and it is the Government's job to provide those figures. Unless we have those figures, we will make a decision in the absence of the necessary information.
Mr. Norris : The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) will be aware that, in the United Kingdom, the peak age for offending is 15 years for both sexes. A third of all reported crimes are committed by people under the age of 16. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that those 5 per cent. who commit 70 per cent. of the crimes for which conviction has been obtained--the recidivist element--almost inevitably had an early association with the criminal justice system. His argument that more should be done to keep people out of prison would find favour in all quarters of the House. It is welcome that the prison population in Northern Ireland is reducing and that, in the United Kingdom, the total of reported offences is reducing.
Column 92It is a fatal admixture to go on to deduce from the oft-quoted theory that prisons are merely universities of crime that we should not deal severely with sentences for terrorism.
Mr. Mallon indicated assent.