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Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member) 2:05 pm, 12th February 2020

I thank the hon. Lady. The same has been done in previous years in the case of other prisoners. Even during my tenure, we had special units for those involved in paramilitary activities in Northern Ireland. This is something deeply specialised, but it will require action both by those involved in the establishment of the units and by the Prison Service.

That brings me to the question of deradicalisation programmes. I recognise the difficulty of checking against delivery and ensuring that the programmes are working, but I think that we need to take steps. I have a special request for the Minister: I think that prison officers should have an input in these courses. Their input is currently very limited—indeed, almost nil—and they are outsourced, which is understandable. There are also the specialist resources such as imams, who were mentioned earlier. However, we should recognise that prison officers have remarkable skills. They are able to tell who is pulling the wool over their eyes. They may not be trained in this or qualified in that, but they know psychology and individuals within the prison institution. They can tell you why someone is applying for a course—in the main, because no one can always get it right. They are hugely skilful in distinguishing those who are signing up because they want to be able to tick the box and satisfy the Parole Board from those who are signing up for a course because they believe in it. They do not engage with the prisoners just on the course; they live with them 24/7, and they can see who prisoners are interacting with and what their behaviour is like. I think that we have been remiss in this regard, and I ask the Minister to take my suggestion on board.

Let me end by simply saying that we are satisfied about the need for the Bill. We are satisfied with the general principles. We wish to be assured that retrospectivity will be addressed, and that resources both within and without will be provided. If that is done—although we accept that no Government can give us an absolute, categorical assurance that these people will not reoffend —we can at least go back to our constituencies and say to our constituents that we are doing as much as we can to keep our communities safe.