I beg to move amendment No. 44, in schedule 4, page 20, line 25, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘shall not’.
I shall be brief, as I know that there will be further Divisions in the House shortly. The amendment has been tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. [Interruption.]
I shall attempt to be brief. Does the hon. Gentleman share my view that no one really knows how many people will apply and avail themselves of the scheme? As we do not know that, we do not know how many will be eligible for legal aid. Is that not one of the problems?
As ever, I am indebted to my good friend, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, who makes a fair point.
We are concerned about the possibility of the applicant being eligible for legal aid in cases being considered by the tribunal. Under the Bill as it is drafted at present, legal aid could be provided to applicants. That could run up a bill of millions of pounds, without the potential for any of the applicants having to spend a single day in prison. That is another waste of public money. There are many other pressing needs in Northern Ireland; my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Foyle could recite many instances of how that money could be better spent. Given that we face higher rates and the introduction of water charges because the Government have said that we have to be more efficient with public money, it is plain wrong that those applicants should be eligible for legal aid. The amendments would remove the possibility of their receiving it.
Under the scheme, normal legal aid is not available to anybody who appears before the appeals commissioners. However, because of its special nature, the Bill provides for a special form of financial legal assistance to be available for those whose cases come before the commissioners. I cannot accept the amendment because it would prevent people whose case is being heard before the appeals commissioners from applying for and receiving that legal assistance.
It is appropriate that a person in such a position should be able to be legally represented, especially when the outcomes of the appeals commissioners’ decisions are so significant. Decisions on licences could result in a person being sent to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. In that case, it is important that proper legal process is maintained. That was the thinking when the sentence review commissioners were created. The provisions reflect the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. It is important for individuals to have that financial support, and I ask my hon. Friends to reject the amendment.