Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I have great pleasure in supporting the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Monson. It is another very reasonable proposition. Without such an expression of remorse, a released prisoner will be tempted, and may yield to the temptation, to repeat the current practice of taunting the widow or children of the person they have murdered

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1019

and, as in some cases known to me formerly as a constituency Member of Parliament, targeting and intimidating the bereaved family for years after the murder was committed.

No reasonable person can resist, or object to, a simple requirement for the commissioners to put to the prisoner/applicant such a simple question. If the prisoner/applicant is sincere in his intention

    "to lead a new life"--
words which will not be unfamiliar to the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard--how could he decline to answer that simple question? After all, surely that question is central to his request for release.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I hesitate to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, on Northern Ireland matters. It is a reasonable proposition. However, given the situation that he recalls from his days in another place, I think it is unreal to ask these people to express remorse, which, if that were the price of freedom, they would undoubtedly do with all sincerity. That would put the Government in an embarrassing situation if the action were to rebound on them. I believe that, if we put this requirement on the face of the Bill, we shall create more problems than we stop. One hopes only that that remorse is forthcoming and sincere. But I do not believe that that is what we have to do at this stage.

The Earl of Longford: I felt that perhaps I could contribute from my own knowledge for a moment. Years ago I met a young man who was only a boy at grammar school. He had a promising life and his father was a headmaster. He was so horrified by the performance of British troops on one occasion that he joined the IRA. He distributed letter bombs. Lots of damage was caused and two people lost their hands.

I got to know the boy very well later. He wrote to everybody to apologise. He did not expect to be released; he just felt bitterly ashamed. Eventually, after 15 years, he was released and has made a good life since. So there are people who, completely out of character, do something terrible and then express remorse. On the other hand, I never forget to remind prisoners--people who have done terrible things of whom I see quite a few--of what President Nixon said when he was disgraced. He said, "I have screwed everything up. I have let everyone down. I am not going to grovel". There must always be that little compromise. I simply wanted to contribute to the debate from my own knowledge.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: This is an interesting point. It was particularly emphasised at Second Reading both by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who moved the amendment, and by my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon. It was also raised in another place where the Minister of State described a similar proposal as "unnecessary, unfortunate and unsound". That seemed to me to be a bit over the top.

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1020

The Minister seemed to think that prisoners might suppose that an undertaking they gave to be on their best behaviour would somehow absolve them from meeting the other criteria. That cannot be a serious worry. It would be a confirmation of the criteria for release rather than a substitution of different criteria.

Nevertheless, I have doubts about the amendment. Remorse can certainly be genuine and the case of Sean O'Callaghan is a good one in that context--as no doubt is the case cited by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. But the question is whether remorse should be a condition of release and that is the central difficulty. I have no doubt that if the amendment were accepted it would make everyone--certainly me--feel much better about releasing terrorists. But perhaps my noble friend Lady Denton may be right in that it is difficult to make it a condition of release, which is what the amendment proposes.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and I share the same instinctive sympathy for the arguments put forward. However, remorse is not something to be required by Act of Parliament; it derives from a moral imperative. Indeed, when I was listening with some care to what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, it seemed to me that he illustrated that point abundantly. He said, in reference to Sean O'Callaghan, that he acted in the way he did because his conscience dictated it to him, not an Act of Parliament.

The noble Lord said that actions might wipe the slate clean. I doubt that. If there is genuine remorse, that would be a moral act for those who had behaved criminally and disgracefully. It might--it is not for me to speculate; it is an impertinent intrusion into other people's pain--be some consolation to some families; I do not know. But something required as of rote has no moral worth and, indeed, might reasonably be regarded as insulting.

I pay attention to what the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, said. On different sides of this Chamber she and I debated the problems of Northern Ireland over many years and I always pay careful attention to what she says. I believe that she is right on this occasion.

I share the thought behind the amendment. I honour the thought behind the amendment. But it is not something we want in an Act. If a man is remorseful, he should be remorseful and express it, not be made to parrot out a formula in an Act of Parliament.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Monson: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Molyneaux of Killead for supporting me. The noble Baroness, Lady Denton, suggests that if a prisoner expressed remorse, was released in consequence and committed another terrorist crime after his release, the Government would be embarrassed. But the Government will be embarrassed anyway if a terrorist prisoner re-offends, no matter whether or not he previously expressed remorse. Therefore, that argument against the amendment is not particularly powerful.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, conceded that the amendment would make everyone feel better, "but", and then brought forward objections. But is not the whole

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1021

point to make people feel better, particularly the victims of terrorist atrocities? Making them feel better is valuable and something towards which we should aim. It would make people in Northern Ireland who are unhappy with the agreement feel better. That must be desirable. People on this side of the water would feel better, too.

In relation to the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, I concede that enforced repentance is not as morally worthy as voluntary repentance. But surely it is better than nothing. It sends some kind of signal. Obviously, we cannot for the moment agree on that and I shall have to reflect on what has been said.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he believe that the victims of this prisoner's crime will believe the expression of remorse?

Lord Monson: There is a chance that they will; the remorse may be genuine. One noble Lord this afternoon talked of meeting prisoners from both the loyalist and republican sides who were genuinely repentant, or partly repentant, for their crimes. There is a reasonable chance that some of the remorse expressed would be genuine. I believe it would be helpful, though that is just an opinion. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 2, line 28, leave out ("may specify only") and insert ("shall specify").

The noble and learned Lord said: Amendment No. 10 raises a simple but important point. It seeks to take out from the second line of Clause 3(8) the words, "may specify only" and insert "shall specify".

As drafted, subsection (8) gives to the Secretary of State a discretion as to whether or not to specify an organisation as a terrorist organisation even in a situation where she believes, first, that the organisation is, concerned in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland, or in promoting or encouraging it, and has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire.

I fully accept that it will be for the Secretary of State to decide, on the basis of information placed before her--much of which will be from the security services and her security advisers--whether or not a particular organisation is concerned in terrorism and whether or not any such organisation is not maintaining a "complete and unequivocal ceasefire". Subsection (9) sets out on the face of the Bill the matters to which the Secretary of State shall have regard in addressing the issue which arises for her consideration under subsection (8)(b). It is set out helpfully, though possibly the use of the words "in particular", as may be discussed later, are a less helpful part of that subsection.

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1022

In relation to the discretion in the first part of subsection (8), the Bill is silent as to what criteria are relevant. The Bill gives the Secretary of State no guidance whatever as to the circumstances in which she should specify an organisation or those in which she may decide not to.

Having considered very carefully what is set out in the Belfast agreement, and in particular what is set out in paragraph 2 on page 25 of the agreement, it seems to me that there is an argument that if the Secretary of State is satisfied that a particular organisation is concerned in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland and if she is also satisfied that such an organisation has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, she should not have a discretion as to whether or not to specify such an organisation as a terrorist organisation for the purposes of the Bill. In considering her duties under the PTA it may be that other considerations may be applied or may be relevant. But, for the purposes of this Bill, it seems to me that there is an argument for saying that there should not be such a discretion.

If the discretion is to remain in the Bill it would lay the Secretary of State open to all manner of pressures upon her to refrain from certifying a particular terrorist organisation. Those pressures might be political and, in certain instances, they might be worse than that. They might in fact take the form of threats of terrorist violence or terrorist violence itself by some offshoot of the organisation concerned.

If one turns to the terms of paragraph 2 of the section of the agreement headed "Prisoners" one reads:

    "Prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire will not benefit from the arrangements".
There is no suggestion in that paragraph, or in any other section of the agreement dealing with the issue of prisoner release, that either the British Government or the Irish Government should have a discretion as to whether or not to water down what is set out in the sentence that I have quoted. On the contrary, when one reads the sentence, it is, I believe, quite unequivocal that if a prisoner is affiliated to an organisation which has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, that prisoner will not benefit from the arrangements for early release. In those circumstances, it appears that this matter might merit some further consideration. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page