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The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) has been of service to the House by trying to clear up some of the confusion about the meaning of the words "political status". He has pointed out, correctly, that what we are concerned with is not political status—something that is not known in United Kingdom law—but a particular status granted to a certain number of people who were convicted of scheduled offences under the Act and of whom there are at present 300 or 400 still enjoying the privileges which were accorded to them, in my view wrongly, when the special status category was first brought into effect.
It therefore follows that what is aimed at is not political status as such—about which we know nothing, because it does not apply in the United Kingdom—but those privileges which are at present being enjoyed by these other prisoners who have been convicted of scheduled offences. It is important, when we are considering this matter and when publicity is given to it, to recognise that these people are not seeking to achieve anything new or different, or honourable or traditional. They are simply endeavouring to secure the continuance of something which was, rightly, taken away from all those convicted of scheduled offences in 1976.
There is, of course, a concept known to United Kingdom law which is of relevance to this type of case—that is, the concept of the political offence It is known to United Kingdom law and the law of extradition. A political offence is an offence which is incidental to violent disturbances where two or more parties are contending for power within a State. The general example that is given in the case law on this subject is that of an offence committed in the course of an anti-Government demonstration.
It follows that it does not in any way in our law apply to the deliberate cold-blooded killing which goes on in Northern Ireland and which is committed by the people with whom we are dealing tonight. That sort of thing may occur in war; but political offences have no application to war. So there is simply no basis upon which any sort of political status could be granted to these people.
I wish that Ministers would not keep saying that they will not accord political status to these people. What they should be saying is "We shall not grant their demands for privileges for any of them so long as they maintain their refusal to abide by prison rules." All of them are at present in breach of those rules. As long as they are, there is no ground for making any concessions whatsoever.