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Lord Dubs: I should perhaps begin by saying that the Life Sentence Review Board will continue to carry out its advisory role in relation to life sentence prisoners in Northern Ireland as part of the normal life sentence review procedures.

The decisions of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State are relevant to the commissioners in their consideration of how long a qualifying life sentence prisoner should serve. Under Clause 6 the commissioners are required to specify a day for release which marks about two-thirds of the period the prisoner would have been likely to spend in prison under the sentence.

Prisoners are usually given provisional release dates by the Secretary of State which are about 12 months after the date of the consideration of their case by the Life Sentence Review Board. After they are given their provisional release date they will spend time on a pre-release scheme which counts as part of their period in custody. By requiring that information on all releases before 1999 should be provided by the Secretary of State and taken account of by the commissioners, the Bill ensures that all provisional release decisions made up to and including 10th April may be taken account of.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Licences: conditions]:

[Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 5, line 15, after ("Ireland,") insert--
("(c) that he is not involved in directing, assisting or promoting acts of violence committed or planned by other people,").

The noble Lord said: We have reached Clause 9 which deals with the licence conditions. It is interesting that the licence conditions do not include a provision about directing, promoting or assisting in violence by others. At least something reflecting the same thoughts as in Clause 3(9)(c) should apply to the licence conditions. We debated that clause a moment ago and the Minister agreed to consider the suggested improvements. Somebody who is released may not be directly supporting the terrorist organisation to which he belongs but he may be directing, assisting or promoting acts of violence committed or planned by other people. In that case, his licence should be revoked. I beg to move.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I have a lot of sympathy with this amendment. The direction of others does not arise only on this Bill. It arises in other emergency legislation. I remember well when that emergency legislation was passed through this House, the issue of the role of godfathers--those who direct the activities of others--took up a considerable part of our deliberations, and quite rightly so.

It may be that the Minister will reassure us that Clause (9)(1)(b) is intended to cover this issue of the direction of activities of others, but I should like to hear that in making up my mind about the amendment.

Viscount Brookeborough: I too support the amendment. One fears that we may reach a situation in which, while there are fewer groups which continue with terrorism, there are still a great number of weapons in the public domain. There will be people, if there are not already, who will commit crimes which are close to terrorism but not terrorism. Some of those people may have lived off their ill-gotten gains for many years and they will then argue that what they did was not terrorism as such. Therefore, I support this amendment to include other acts which may be closely connected.

Lord Dubs: Perhaps I may give the noble Lord, Lord Holme, the assurance which he seeks. I believe that the amendment is unnecessary because the matters covered by it are already fully and adequately contained in the terms of the licence set out in Clause 9(1)(b), which make a prisoner subject to the licence condition,

    "that he does not become concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland".

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That quite adequately covers the activity referred to by Members of the Committee. I contend that the amendment is not required.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Is the Minister saying that an individual becoming concerned in the commission, preparation and so on is the same as helping somebody else to do it? Perhaps it is. If it is, my amendment may be unnecessary but I should be grateful for the Minister's confirmation of that.

Lord Desai: I believe that in Clause 9, the word "instigation" covers what the noble Lord wants covered. That is what instigating is all about.

Lord Dubs: I thank my noble friend Lord Desai. The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is yes.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Accelerated release]:

Lord Tebbit moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 6, line 15, after ("is") insert ("whichever is the later of--

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple and straightforward amendment, as I hope have been all the other amendments which I have put forward this evening. It is designed to ensure that there is reasonable equity between one group of prisoners and another in connection with the sentences which they are intended to serve.

There is a possibility that a distinction will be made between prisoners who have been convicted before and after the coming into effect of this Bill. This amendment merely seeks to ensure that those who are convicted after the coming into effect of the Bill are treated no better than those who were convicted of similar offences and sentenced before the Bill came into effect. That is the intended purpose of the amendments and I hope that they will lead to that effect. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Lord Dubs: When I saw this amendment on the Marshalled List, I was not entirely sure what it was intended to achieve. I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting out the reasons behind his amendment. It is important that this part of the Bill be coherent. For that reason, the Government have brought forward their own amendments, which will be considered soon.

Under the agreement, those prisoners who remain in custody two years after the commencement of this legislation may be released. Clause 10 allows account to be taken of those prisoners arrested and charged after the commencement of the legislation, those prisoners arrested and charged before the commencement of the legislation but sentenced after, as well as those sentenced before the commencement of the legislation so that in each case no prisoner is released before he has

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served two years; and no prisoner is released before a date two years after the commencement of the Bill. I believe that that is the best way and a way that is fully in accordance with the agreement. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that his amendments are unnecessary.

Lord Tebbit: I am still not totally certain that my amendments are unnecessary. It is possible that a prisoner who has been convicted not that long before the coming into effect of the Bill will serve, let us say, two years and six months. It is also possible that, immediately afterwards, a convicted prisoner may serve two years having been sentenced to the same length of imprisonment. That would seem to me to be entirely unfair as between the two prisoners. I wish to ensure that, merely because of an arbitrary circumstance of the date on which the conviction takes place, prisoners will not be treated differently when the court has sentenced them to a similar sentence.

Lord Dubs: Without any prejudice at all, perhaps I may consider the noble Lord's point. I believe that I am right in what I say but, just to be doubly sure, I should like to check on the position. If I am wrong, perhaps I may get back to the noble Lord on the matter.

Lord Tebbit: I thank the Minister for what he says. I am entirely happy to accept his assurance that he will look again at the matter. Perhaps we may return to it on Report. Although I am sure that we are at one in our intention, we must ensure that the Bill carries out that intention, which I believe we both share.

Lord Dubs: I should point out to the noble Lord that, of course, what I have said is subject to the reservation that the agreement does have a two year cut-off period. I want to examine what the noble Lord said to make sure that what the agreement is intended to achieve is not being achieved through the argument that the noble Lord used. If it does achieve a two year cut-off, I am afraid that there may be some differences between prisoners sentenced before and after a certain date. However, that depends on whether or not they fall within the terms of the agreement.

Lord Tebbit: I entirely understand what the Minister says. I realise that he is back on his mantra of the agreement. However, I am back on my mantra of justice. I appreciate that there will be times when the agreement and justice are incompatible. Under those circumstances, if we cannot make them compatible, it is possible that I shall seek to divide the House on the matter. However, I need not do so tonight. I am sure that we shall try to find a way through the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1062

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