2. Mr. Wm. Ross
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consideration he has given to the length of sentences currently provided for serious criminal offences in Northern Ireland: and if he will make a statement.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)
The length of sentences in particular cases is for the courts to decide within whatever maxima are laid down in the relevant 1706 statutes. However, criminal legislation in Northern Ireland is kept under constant review and as recently as last year Parliament approved substantial increases in penalties for offences provided under both the ordinary criminal law and emergency provisions legislation.
Since it is clear that the terrorists have not responded to the very generous remission of sentences that the Minister introduced a couple of years ago, will he now consider returning to the formal level of remission of sentences so that there is no possibility of criminals in Northern Ireland being treated as a group apart?
§ Mr. Concannon
As the hon. Member knows, there was no probation service in Northern Ireland. As the House passed this provision three years ago, it is up to the House to look at it and put forward any amendment to it. If people keep their noses clean in prison, it will still have an effect. Those who do not do so—and there are quite a number who do not—lose out. Up to now, they have lost nearly 300 years of remission. That should please the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I refer to the report of the advisory council on the penal system. Will the Minister confirm that, whatever the Government's eventual decision on this report, they will not apply it to the terrorists or those who commit related crimes in Northern Ireland and elsewhere?
§ Mr. Concannon
I have read the report all the way through. I think that it has been misunderstood to some extent. On the point that the hon. Member has raised, the advisory council has made it absolutely clear that offenders who pose the risk of serious harm should be liable to a penalty in excess of the normal maximum. Clearly this would have implications for the people the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We could increase the length of sentence, even to life imprisonment.