Clause 9 - Entitlement to licence

Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 10:15 am, 15th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in clause 9, page 6, line 20, after ‘possible’, insert—

‘, after having served either five years, or one third, of his sentence (whichever is the less),’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 131, in clause 9, page 6, line 24, at end insert—

‘(2A)A person subject to a sentence of life imprisonment is not eligible for a licence under this section until he has served at least two years of his sentence.

(2B)A person sentenced to a period of imprisonment of five years or more is not eligible for a licence under this section until he has served at least one year of his sentence.’.

No. 30, in clause 9, page 6, line 28, leave out subsection (4).

No. 132, in clause 9, page 6, line 28, at end insert

‘other than a sentence of life imprisonment or one of five years or more.’.

No. 133, in clause 9, page 6, line 31, leave out subsection (5).

No. 134, in clause 9, page 6, line 41, leave out subsection (7).

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Those who are convicted through the special tribunal—I do not even like the term “convicted”—may be eligible for a licence, and the only result is that they will be given a licence to walk out of the door. Indeed, they may not even be there to walk out of the door; they will simply have the licence to ensure that they never serve a prison sentence. On Second Reading, even some Government Members suggested that a prison sentence should be served, even for a short time.

Almost all the cases in question will be murder cases. The Minister said that this morning. It is immoral that people will be able to escape serving any time in prison, even though in some cases they are guilty of multiple murder. Not only is the provision totally immoral, it is inconsistent with the terms of the Belfast agreement. We did not agree with the early release scheme in the Belfast agreement, but at least under that, people who had committed crimes had to serve, and did serve, a portion of their sentence.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

How many individuals outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland does the hon. Gentleman think would return there if they were facing a prison sentence?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The Minister has also pointed out that the legislation is not only about on-the-runs but about the cold cases review. There are 2,100 unsolved murders.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

Did my hon. Friend take, as I did, from what the Minister has just said that it is somehow to the Government’s credit that they are bringing murderers back to Northern Ireland?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Nothing would surprise me about this Bill. Moral judgments have been stood on their head in this Committee. It is inconsistent, even with the Belfast agreement, that murderers who are on the run and those who may appear before the special tribunal as a result of the cold cases review will never serve a day in prison.

The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister have all claimed that the Bill deals with an anomaly. All the people that the Belfast agreement covered—those who had committed crimes before 1998—were released from prison. Therefore it would be an anomaly if those who sought to return to Northern Ireland or those who would be taken to court because evidence of a crime had been uncovered were not subject to the same provisions as were made under the Belfast agreement.

The Bill, in fact, creates a further anomaly. Those who were found guilty and served sentences before 1998 spent some time in prison. Those who will benefit from this Bill will spend no time in prison.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is yet a further anomaly? The main plank of the Minister’s case has been that terrorists will be charged, convicted and sentenced. In fact, the Police Service of Northern Ireland will have no motivation to waste public money on securing convictions, because it knows that as soon as people are convicted they will be released on licence.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI have already conveyed to the Northern Ireland Policing Board the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. They have indicated that, although the professionalism of the officers who are investigating the cold cases cannot be questioned, there is a morale problem. How hard do officers pursue a case that they know will never lead to someone serving even one day in prison? This is not just a tidying-up exercise. The Bill as it stands will create yet another anomaly.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.