HC Deb 04 July 1984 vol 63 cc421-34
Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 11, line 4, at end insert— '"British Islands" means the totality of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland.' The amendment deals with one case of the large matter which was raised by the new clause in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), but it avoids many of the difficulties which the Minister found in accepting that new clause. In particular it avoids the whole question of a definition of terrorism or of a restriction of the theoretically unlimited discretion of the Secretary of State. It has the perfectly simple effect of removing the Irish Republic from the scope of the Bill altogether. It therefore does in practice deal with the principal case where the questions which were discussed in an earlier debate are likely to arise.

I want to make it clear that in proposing to remove the Irish Republic from the application of the Bill there is no question of impugning the good faith of the Irish Republic or casting doubt upon its intention to carry out agreements into which it has entered. Indeed, the amendment would be as much in the interests of the Irish Republic as it would of this country since in the present and foreseeable circumstances great embarrassment of the potentiality of public scandal exists where a transfer has taken place of a terrorist offender between one country and the other.

Incidentally, so far as I can understand from the Bill, it is not a requisite for the transfer that the prisoner transferred out should be a citizen of the receiving country. He could be, for example, a citizen of both countries or he could be a citizen of a third country. Therefore, there are many circumstances in which pressure could well be exerted, for instance on humanitarian grounds, for the transfer of a terrorist prisoner from imprisonment in the United Kingdom to imprisonment in the Irish Republic, with the attendant risks of what might follow after the transfer. So we are dealing with a practical possibility, indeed the principal practical possibility of public scandal under the Act. It could only be to the advantage of both countries that such cases should be avoided.

The Irish Republic has not so far signed the convention. It has been in no hurry to sign the convention and we have no knowledge of any bilateral arrangement which is proposed to be made between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic. Therefore, I hope that that will commend the amendment to the Government at this stage. They could eliminate from the Act the one country with which we have a land frontier and the one country with which we share the same terrorist menace and thus avoid in that case the mischief which was apprehended by those who argued and voted in favour of the new clause with which the House has just dealt.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

With great respect to the arguments of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), it seems to me that his amendment inevitably contains significant discrimination against the Irish Republic and, perhaps more important, undermines the purpose of the Bill in relation to the United Kingdom and the Republic.

The Bill, which has come about after many years of international pressure and the preparation of the convention on the transfer of sentenced persons, is intended to deal with the harrowing problem of the numerous prisoners who are sentenced not for terrorism, but for sentences that fall within the ordinary criminal calendar and who, because they are sentenced in a foreign jurisdiction, prima facie have to serve their sentences in that foreign jurisdiction.

There are numerous Irish citizens serving sentences in United Kingdom prisons for ordinary offences and numerous United Kingdom citizens serving sentences in the Republic. The difficulties faced by such prisoners are well documented. The most obvious are the problems of travel for their families and the fact that the prisoners can play no part in the upbringing of their children. There are other humanitarian problems which the Council of Europe accepted, after considerable consideration, as serious and worthy of a convention.

Mr. Forth

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that those who committed the crimes should have thought of that when they committed the crime? Is not it asking a lot of us to pick up the tab afterwards?

Mr. Carlile

The hon. Gentleman asks for far more sophistication than exists in the criminal mind. In some instances, the criminal should have considered those matters, and perhaps did, but his wife and family did not. Part of the basis of the convention is that it is wrong that the close relatives of a person serving a sentence abroad should be deprived of the ordinary rights that they would have if he were serving his sentence in the United Kingdom.

It may be said that there is no problem between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, because we have a land border. However, the Bill presents the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that if there are bilateral arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Republic or if the Republic becomes a signatory to the convention, prisoners will be transferred from the Republic to prisons on the mainland of Great Britain and to local prisons near to their family home. It is of paramount importance not to thwart the purpose of the Bill in relation to the one foreign jurisdiction for which it may have the greatest utility.

Mr. John David Taylor

I support the amendment, which is consistent with what was said in the debate on the new clause on terrorism. Indeed, I preferred the new clause, because it specifically mentioned terrorism as the matter at issue. The amendment covers all types of criminals and is weaker than the new clause.

However, I wish to emphasise several aspects of the amendment. The first is the nationality of persons transferred back to the Republic of Ireland. Many people in the United Kingdom have dual citizenship and people could take out citizenship of the Republic after having been sentenced to prison in the United Kingdom. They need not have been born in the Irish Republic to do that. People who have been here for several generations could, if they wish, take out citizenship of the Republic of Ireland. We are opening the floodgates through which many people in the United Kingdom could, by this measure, seek transfer to the Republic.

11.45 pm

I said earlier, and I repeat, that the Government did not recognise that the transfer of terrorist prisoners from the United Kingdom to the Republic of Ireland would be a major issue in the consideration of this legislation. It is clear from reading earlier debates that they did not take that aspect of the matter adequately into account. Indeed, Lord Elton in another place did not even know whether the Bill would apply to the Republic, and it was only after some hours of debate that he was able to confirm that it extended to the Republic of Ireland. That is why I support the amendment.

Mr. Dubs

As I listened to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I thought that his usual logic had deserted him, for it was difficult to appreciate his argument for the amendment. For example, according to the Interpretation Act 1978, the definition of "British Islands" in subsequent legislation covers the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, but not the Republic of Ireland. It would seem, therefore, that we would have a confused situation if we adopted the amendment.

I prefer, however, to discuss the amendment by dealing with the principle involved. Certain remarks were made when we were debating an earlier amendment about the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I found those remarks offensive and untrue. That Government have made clear on countless occasions their detestation of terrorism. It was regrettable, therefore, that hon. Members of this House should have attacked the Government.

The amendment, if passed, would undermine the purpose of the Bill. Governments arrive at an agreement which makes possible the subsequent repatriation of prisoners from one country to the other. The amendment would undermine that position. It makes no sense that in respect of a country with which we have friendly and close ties and with which there is much interchange, in tourism and other matters, we should debar prisoners from having an opportunity that is enjoyed by prisoners from other countries.

Why should we, as would be the effect of the amendment, prevent British citizens—who, say, are on holiday in the Republic and who commit a criminal offence — from being allowed to return here? [Interruption.] I suspect that Conservative Members are saying, "That is their lookout." That is an argument against the whole basis of the Bill, and hon. Members who feel that way can express their view on Third Reading.

I support the principle of the Bill and I am not seeking to stir up trouble, directly or inadvertently. There is no reason why a country with which we have friendly ties should be excluded from the Bill's provisions.

Mr. Mellor

I am most grateful to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for moving the amendment in such order and for recognising that we fully ventilated the issue of terrorism when discussing new clause 1. Although he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were not successful in winning the Division on the new clause, I hope that they will be able to take comfort from the assurances that I gave.

The difficulty posed by the amendment is that by taking the Irish Republic out of the arrangements we would preclude the transfer of a number of prisoners between the two countries who have nothing to do with terrorism, and as such I would have difficulty in commending it to my right hon. and hon. Friends. A greater difficulty even than that, though that is difficult enough, was anticipated by the right hon. Gentleman. Just as he saw the point about the Interpretation Act 1978, although the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) seemed to think that he had not, he recognised immediately the argument that would be advanced against the amendment, which is that we would be ssen to be impugning the Republic if we were to separate it from every other country.

The right hon. Member for Down, South said that in making this proposal there was no intention in his mind of separating the Republic. I accept the sincerity of that statement, but if the British Government were to have to enter a formal reservation on their signature to the convention stating that it could not have force between the United Kingdom and the Republic, which is the only state with which we have a land boundary—the Republic is a fellow member of the Council of Europe and the European Community — I fear that that would appear to be something of an insult to the Republic. I cannot see that any such reservation would not carry such an interpretation, although I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not intend it to do so.

It is our intention and hope that the Republic will sign the convention and that there will be transfers of prisoners. We are not concerned with terrorist prisoners. I should be astonished if a terrorist prisoner were to be transferred from the United Kingdom to the Republic of Ireland in the circumstances that have been set out. However, there are quite a few burglars and other such prisoners, and if the Irish Government are prepared to receive them there seems no reason why burglars currently languishing in London prisons should not be transferred, and equally no reason why we should preclude such transfers.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Have the Government made any attempt to quantify the number of prisoners now in gaol in the United Kingdom who could apply for transfers to Irish prisons? What is the percentage and what is the total number?

Mr. Mellor

We have the figures in a number of instances. There are about 3,100 prisoners who were born overseas in a prison population of about 45,000. Quite a few of those prisoners have the right to remain here and so would not be transferred elsewhere. I am talking generally about those born overseas, and not only in the Republic, although quite a few of the prisoners would come from the Republic. If they were to apply and if the Irish Government were prepred to receive them back, it would be for us to decide whether the circumstances made it right for there to be a transfer. In most instances the prisoners would have a right to remain here notwithstanding the fact that they had committed a criminal offence and had been imprisoned. I think it unlikely that they would ask to be transferred.

It is not necessarily sinister that someone should want to be transferred to the Republic. The effect of the transfer would be—I say this while looking encouragingly at my right hon. and hon. Friends—that the British taxpayer would no longer have to maintain him in prison. He would be transferred only if the receiving Government were prepared to uphold the sentence that we had passed.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

That is the point.

Mr. Mellor

It is worth stressing that in all these arrangements the prisoners will not be transferred to their countries of origin to heroes' welcomes with ticker-tape receptions through the streets of the capitals. They will go back under the terms of a solemn obligation that their countries have entered into either formally through the European convention or through bilateral or ad hoc arrangements, that they will honour the sentences that have been passed.

In endeavouring to quell the fires it seems that I am stirring them up, and perhaps I should shut up.

Mr. John David Taylor

We have been addressing ourselves to the number of prisoners who would opt to leave the United Kingdom to go to the Republic if we operated an arrangement through the convention, or a bilateral arrangement with the Irish Government. It would be interesting also to know how many United Kingdom prisoners are in the Republic who are from Northern Ireland and how many would be likely to transfer to our already overcrowded prisons in Northern Ireland, especially the Maze. Finally, it would be interesting to know whether the Government have done their homework.

Mr. Mellor

I would require notice of that question. I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman about that.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

It is a matter of disappointment to my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself that the two attempts that we have made to forestall the mischief that we apprehend, and apprehend specifically in relation to the Irish Republic, from this legislation, have failed to take effect. We would not be discharging our duty to those whom we represent and to their point of view if we were agreeable to the passage of the Bill without the safeguards that we would have wished, in some appropriate form, to see embodied in it. Therefore, we shall necessarily be opposing the Third Reading, and in view of the late hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

11.55 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile

I shall say a few words about the Bill to make it clear that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I support this Bill — [HON, MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—which has been courageously brought before the House by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). The hon. Gentleman and I were pitted against one and another repeatedly during the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, and it is a pleasure to be able to support the Government in bringing before the House a Bill, that does not necessarily have the popular appeal of Bills, to enable persons to be brought to this country to be tried for crimes. This Bill concerns the serving of sentences once such people have been tried.

I do not agree with the argument that a Bill such as this presents a threat to our sovereignty. It does not —indeed, it is a sign of national strength that one can enjoy reciprocal arrangements on criminal justice with other countries. It is essential to the effective operation of our criminal justice system that we should have reciprocal arrangements on criminal justice. We cannot have reciprocal arrangements on criminal trials and then say that we shall not have them for criminal sentences.

I hope that this Bill is part of the increase in those reciprocal arrangements. The problem of such arrangements on criminal justice has been a thorny one. This has been exemplified and highlighted in the past few days by the allegations that safe havens are enjoyed elsewhere by people guilty of serious crimes within the United Kingdom. I hope that this Bill, which I support, will be part of the trend towards full reciprocation in criminal justice.

11.57 pm
Mr. Forth

I welcome this, the first opportunity for Back Benchers to contribute to the debate on this controversial measure. I am grateful for the fact that this opportunity has now arisen, because all previous discussions on this Bill have been dealt with either in the other place or in Committee. It has always been a sufficiently important matter, both in principle and in application, to have deserved the most thorough possible airing. I regret that it is only at this late stage, and only at this late hour, that we have an opportunity to do so.

I have severe reservations about the Bill for three reasons. The first is that it has the whole-hearted support of the Opposition. That always makes me suspicious of any measure. It is made worse by the fact that it is one of those measures that is surrounded by that cosy, comfortable unanimity that always makes me think that there is bound to be something wrong with it.

12 midnight

The position gets worse when we realise that it is one of those measures—we have had them before and will no doubt have more in the future—which have arisen from a convention. In this case the convention comes from the Council of Europe, a most peculiar international body, the sole purpose of which seems to be to dream up conventions of this sort, which often bear no relationship to real people's problems or to the real demands of the day. But they are brought to this House, based on some sort of international argument, and we are expected to swallow them simply because they originate in those august places.

My next problem arises precisely from the word "humanitarianism", one of those cosy and pleasant words which are nowadays attached to measures which are expected to receive universal approval. When we consider the meaning of the word "humanitarianism"—promoting welfare and social reform, let us say—we are forced to ask: whose welfare and social reform are we talking about? [HON. MEMBERS: "The criminal's."] Yes, we are talking about the welfare principally of criminals—those convicted of offences—and their families. Most of us seek to uphold the principle of the family. On that basis the criminal himself is primarily responsible for the welfare of his family, and that should be the case.

I have the gravest suspicions of the measure. As I have said, it is controversial and I regret that we did not have an earlier opportunity to debate it. When introducing the measure in another place, Lord Elton said: The Bill is a new departure in the administration of criminal law and it introduces an entirely new form of procedure."—[ Official Report, House of Lords, 21 December 1983; Vol. 446, c. 751.] That aspect was referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). That is why the Bill warrants more than a passing glance; it warrants close scrutiny. The Bill also involves the expenditure of public moneys over and above those which are presently provided for. In this case it is to ensure that criminals—those convicted of offences of a lesser or greater kind—are brought back from far places in order to serve out perhaps only some of their sentences in this country. I should like to return to that aspect later.

Therefore, the matter is not uncontroversial; it is a matter of some great argument, both in principle and in practice. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister said himself in Committee that there are quite a number of people who are not very much persuaded even of the principle of the Bill. I wholly agree with him.

I have some questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer, if it is not too late now to raise them. The first has not yet been referred to in these proceedings and I do not believe that it was referred to in the Committee proceedings. The Bill allows for the repatriation not only of United Kingdom nationals but of-those who have "close ties" with the United Kingdom. I am anxious to know just what that might mean. It could, depending on the way in which it was interpreted, mean that if a considerable number of people had ties which were unspecified and not dealt with in the Bill, the door could be open potentially to the repatriation to our prisons of a number of people who are not nationals. That requires much more explanation than has been given.

We have the estimate of the additional cost given in the memorandum—about £100,000 per annum. I have grave doubts about that figure as well. Although, as has rightly been said earlier, the prisoners themselves will be asked to pay for the costs of their transport back—I shall be interested to know how it will be enforced in those cases where they are unable or simply unwilling to pay—more importantly there are the costs, which will be borne by the taxpayer, of providing the police escort from wherever the prisoner is being repatriated. In the case of a far-flung country that could be a very considerable cost.

There are other costs involved. Will there not be a requirement, for example, for additional prison places in Britain because of what I would call the differential effect? It is very likely that most United Kingdom nationals who are in prison in, say, Turkey, will be very anxious to come back and serve out their sentences here. I do not imagine that too many Turkish nationals would be in a great hurry to go back to the prisons in their country. If that is the case, this measure will mean increased pressure on prison places in the United Kingdom because of the differential effect. The cost estimate in the Bill is likely to be an underestimate.

I come to the important matter of sentencing policy. Lord Elton said in another place: It seems to be generally accepted that following transfer the enforcement of a sentence, including arrangements for remission and conditional release, should be in accordance with the law and practice of the receiving state." —-[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 December 1983; Vol. 446, c. 756.] The House should receive a full explanation of the meaning of that utterance.

I am greatly worried that there is more than a possibility that people who have voluntarily gone to another country and committed a crime and have been convicted and sentenced, will be repatriated and receive a lighter sentence and gain earlier remission here than they would in the other country. That raises an interesting point. We often slide into arrogance in assuming that our judicial system and remission and parole procedures are superior to those in other countries. If another country has the gall to imprison one of our nationals for a serious offence, he may, on repatriation, be released in Britain much earlier than he would have been in that country. That point raises an important issue of principle.

For all those reasons, I am unable to support this measure in its present form. I hope that we will receive a fuller explanation of some of the important questions, including my question about close ties, which may have been raised for the first time.

12.6 am

Mr. Bermingham

Having listened to the reasons given by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) on why he cannot support the Bill, I begin to shudder at the thought of what five years in the European Parliament will do to some of those who have recently been elected. Five years in the European Parliament have seemed to make the hon. Gentleman believe that, because a measure receives all-party agreement, it must perforce be bad, and that because the Council of Europe—which has served many honourable causes and on which many hon. Members have served with distinction—had the temerity to suggest that the measure might be a good idea, he is opposed to it.

The hon. Gentleman is probably not aware that the idea of transferring prisoners is not new. The Americans and Canadians have entered into it already. It is realised that one of the factors that must be considered in the rehabilitation of an offender—the hon. Gentleman may not be aware of this point—is the importance of family ties. Family ties should be enhanced. I note that the hon. Gentleman looks askance. I appreciate that some Conservative Members do not accept that criminals can be rehabilitated. Believe it or not, that is the objective of any incarcceration system. [Interruption.] I thought that that statement would flush out the Conservative Members.

There are two schools of thought in penology—the barbaric school which says, "Screw them into the ground and keep them there", and the humane school which says, "If someone has committed a crime, by all means incarerate him if necessary, but at least have a purpose behind that incarceration."

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I should give them a gun.

Mr. Bermingham

The hon. Gentleman is his usual, natural, humane self again tonight.

If, during his five years in Europe, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire had spent a little time looking into the suggestions of the Council of Europe on what lies behind the convention, he might have learnt something.

It is not a question of terrorism, on to which we were sidetracked earlier, but of people incarcerated in gaols abroad, sometimes for acts that are offences in other countries but not here. To take a simple example, I know that some of the Conservative Members who have been trying to interrupt are partial to the occasional mild alcoholic beverage. If such a partiality came to the fore during a trip to the middle east they might be locked up. Is it suggested that we should not seek bilateral agreements to bring them back to serve out in this country the sentences imposed on them abroad? I agree that if one breaks the law of another state it is fair enough that one should pay the price, but let us bring the people concerned back to this country where they have family and other close ties.

That is really the principle behind the Bill and the principle that anyone with any thought for humanity should support. If the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire cared to ponder a little more generously towards humanity he might find himself able to support the Bill. Incidentally, if he had been so interested in the subject it would not have been too difficult for him to ask the Government Whips to see that he was appointed to the Second Reading Committee or to the Standing Committee on the Bill. It is possible to apply to serve in that way if one feels strongly about an issue, although the duties involved are bound to take up a little of one's time.

I tabled an amendment in Committee to deal with the position of people who are mentally or physically handicapped. As the consent of the person is essential under the Bill, it was suggested that the Home Secretary might take the decision for people whose handicaps rendered them incapable of doing so themselves. The Minister agreed to consider the matter and I sought leave to withdraw the amendment. The Minister has now replied, in a letter dated 28 June, in accordance with the undertaking that he gave in Committee. I ask him to reaffirm for the record the contents of that reply.

The Minister suggested in his letter that a review panel would be set up by the Home Secretary similar to that which exists under the Mental Health Act and that that panel would make the decision on behalf of persons so mentally incapacitated as to be unable to do so themselves, and I agree that that might solve the problem. Such cases will be extremely rare. We should not expect many in the next 20 years. If the Minister will confirm that a panel could take the decision on behalf of prisoners or patients confined as a result of criminal proceedings to mental hospitals, and incapable of making the decision themselves, I shall rest content and thank the Minister for his efforts as I believe that his ideas and mine are ad idem on this.

I understand that a similar review panel of doctors would be established for severely physically handicapped people in the same position.

I do not often say this about the Government's measures, but I believe that this is a good Bill which goes to the root of an international problem. It seeks to bring a little humanity into the prison system and to help in the rehabilitation of those who offend abroad. I ask the House to support it.

Mr. Dubs

I welcome the Bill. It represents the culmination of many years of effort by hon. Members and people outside the House. In particular, I pay tribute to members of the National Council for the Welfare of Prisoners Abroad, which has. campaigned ceaselessly and energetically over many years and is to be congratulated on its success in a Bill that I hope will be passed by the House tonight. The National Council for the Welfare of Prisoners Abroad campaigned hard, with limited resources, and I am glad for the help that it gave to me and to other hon. Members in the various stages through which the Bill has passed.

The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) asked the Minister how many British citizens were detained in prisons in the Irish Republic. It is not really for me to answer on behalf of the Minister, but it may be of interest to the House to know that a question that I put to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that was answered on 8 May revealed that there were altogether 923 British citizens abroad. They were not necessarily all convicted. Some of them may have been awaiting sentence. In Second Reading Committee the Minister said that that number could probably be whittled down to 250 coming within the terms of the Bill, because it did not apply to prisoners serving short sentences.

According to the answer to my parliamentary question, there was one British subject in prison in the Irish Republic on that date, although it did not say whether he originated in Northern Ireland or on this side of the water.

I emphasise that, in supporting the Bill, there is no intention of being soft on criminals. Indeed the reverse is the case. As regards Britons serving sentences abroad, in some countries prison regimes are more onerous than ours. However, there are also other countries where prison conditions compare well with, or are even better than, those in many of the old, Victorian prisons in this country.

Mr. Forth

Would it not be reasonable to suppose in that case that a prisoner would opt to stay in more pleasant surroundings rather than to come back? The prisoner has it either way.

Mr. Dubs

The Bill rightly gives that choice to the prisoner. There is nothing wrong in that.

Mr. John David Taylor

On the point about the numbers of British prisoners in prisons in the Republic of Ireland, I suspect that the reply received by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) referred to persons from Great Britain but certainly not to persons from the United Kingdom. It was to that that I specifically directed my question. There are many from Northern Ireland, who are British citizens, in Portlaoise gaol. Most of them will ask for transfer back to Northern Ireland in the same way that IRA prisoners in English gaols continually request the Home Office for transfers back to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Dubs

It is not for me to interpret the meaning of a question answered by the Government. [Interruption.] It is not for me to interpret for the right hon. Gentleman. I asked the question before the Second Reading Committee to find out how many British subjects would be involved. I received an answer, and the Minister has helpfully explained during the debate how many prisoners might benefit from the Bill. That is surely relevant, given the question asked by the right hon. Member for Strangford, about how that would affect our already overcrowded prison system. That is relevant. I was merely trying to be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman. If he does not want that help, I am sorry that I endeavoured to help him. If he wishes to proceed down the path of interpretation it is up to him to ask the Minister to explain the matter further.

I was saying a few moments ago that there is no intention in the Bill of being soft on criminals. It is a matter of common sense and justice and of protecting our society when Britons sentenced abroad are eventually released. I say that for the following reasons. There are particular and additional problems for prisoners who are not in their own countries — differences in language, culture, diet and religion. Above all, there is isolation from their families. It is not a matter of pandering to people who should have thought of that in the first place; it is a matter of ensuring that, apart from common humanity, when prisoners are released into society—and British prisoners will, in most instances, return to this country—it is in circumstances that will help them to go straight and to play their part as law-abiding citizens.

If the prisoners are helped in that process by serving the remaining part of their prison sentences in closer proximity to their families and friends, that is something of which we should be proud because it will be helpful to us and to the way in which prisoners are eventually allowed to take part in our society. It is not only a matter of benefiting prisoners—it benefits us all.

I suspect that in many European countries the conditions for parole are better for certain categories of prisoners than they are here, especially following the Home Secretary's latest changes in and restrictions on parole for long-serving prisoners—those serving over five years for drug offences, using firearms or life sentence prisoners. It is not all one-way traffic; it is not that our system is better than those abroad.

I regret that we do not have similar legislation that would allow prisoners in any part of the United Kingdom, especially Northern Ireland, to move nearer to their families. That does not always happen. I wish it did, because that would make sense. However, it is not within the scope of the Bill.

I hope that the Bill will be passed by the House and quickly implemented. I hope that the Government will be successful in securing arrangements with as many countries as possible. It will be of benefit not only to prisoners but to our society as a whole.

12.22 am
Mr. Mellor

Because of the hour, I shall be very brief—[Interruption.] That is the most popular thing that I have said this evening. I have left it to a late hour, but by the law of averages we always pick a winner when we try hard enough.

It is a modest but significant humanitarian measure that I am proud to bring before the House. I take the somewhat unfashionable view—I take it nevertheless—that I am glad that there are some Bills that can command widespread support and are not the subject of partisan controversy.

I have enjoyed our debates on the Bill. I have taken seriously the amendments proposed, from whichever side of the House. Indeed, we have accepted some amendments, and the Bill has been improved thereby. I hope that all those who have played a part in the passage of the Bill are pleased to have done so. I shall not, in deference to the hour, say any more about the measure. I made my points in the Second Reading Committee. However, I warmly endorse what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said in favour of the Bill.

I certainly stand by the commitment I gave to the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). I shall not repeat the text of the letter because of the lateness of the hour. I shall place a copy in the Library so that it is on the record. He made a valuable point, which we have accepted.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) feels so alienated from the principles of the Bill. I am sure that he is not right to feel so because we are not saying that criminals should not be punished. We are saying that, in addition to the deprivation of liberty in prison, which is involved in any transfer under the Bill, there is no reason to impose the extra deprivation of being in a prison of a quite different character from a British prison. Some of the prisoners would not be imprisoned at all, or for the same length of time, under our penal code, so some sympathy for their predicament might be appropriate.

On my hon. Friend's specific points, there is no question of our abrogating the normal immigration rules on close ties. They will be applied with the same rigour as always. An example of a case where the Secretary of State's discretionary powers may be used is that of a foreign spouse of a British citizen who, although resident in the United Kingdom for many years, still has citizenship in his country of origin. We expect that the power will be sparingly used.

In answer to the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), may I say that costs are involved in escorting prisoners, but we do not think that they will exceed our estimate. We have no reason to believe that there will be a net addition to the United Kingdom prison population as a result of the measure. If anything, a net diminution is likely, although one cannot be confident about the figures. More people are eligible to be transferred overseas from British prisons than British prisoners are eligible to be transferred from foreign prisons to Britain. I do not accept that it is less likely that prisoners in British prisons will want to be transferred back to their own countries than British prisoners in gaol overseas who will wish to return to Britain. There is no reason to think that.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the conditions under which people will be transferred. The convention provides that the normal rules of the prisons regime of the recipient country should apply. For good order and discipline in our prisons, we have provision for automatic remission and, in most cases, eligibility for parole. It would be inappropriate if those regulations did not apply to a transferred prisoner. If that transfer comes under the Council of Europe, they will apply. However, if it is necessary to negotiate bilateral treaties, one cannot guarantee what their terms will be. It would present difficulties if a country insisted that the full term should be served.

Mr. John David Taylor

If, for example, a person was in prison in Saudi Arabia because he was caught with a glass of sherry in his hand, or if someone in the Republic of Ireland was caught with a contraceptive in his hand, and sought a transfer to a prison in the United Kingdom, would it mean that they would receive immediate remission or freedom in accordance with the laws of this country?

Mr. Mellor

No. That is why the measure is not the beer-and-skittles arrangement that some seem to think it is. The person would have to serve the sentence imposed on him. That will pose problems, especially if the sentence were passed, for example, for a breach of the apartheid laws in South Africa. These arrangements are not as uncomplicated as some think. However, it is right that if the option of a transfer exists, it should exist, and if a person prefers to serve a sentence in Britain than under the conditions that would exist in some other countries, it is fair enough that he should be allowed to do so. That is the basis for the measure.

I am sorry that hon. Gentlemen representing Northern Ireland feel obliged to oppose the Third Reading. I hope that when the Bill is enacted they will not find any reason to believe that I have gone back on any commitments on the transfer of terrorist prisoners. I hope that even at this late hour they will find sufficient good in the Bill not to oppose it. I commend the Bill to the House and take pride in so doing.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 110, Noes 8.

Division No. 392] [12.27 am
Alexander, Richard Mather, Carol
Ancram, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Ashby, David Mellor, David
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Merchant, Piers
Baldry, Anthony Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Batiste, Spencer Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Beith, A. J. Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Bellingham, Henry Moynihan, Hon C.
Bermingham, Gerald Murphy, Christopher
Berry, Sir Anthony Needham, Richard
Best, Keith Neubert, Michael
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Newton, Tony
Boscawen, Hon Robert Nicholls, Patrick
Bottomley, Peter Norris, Steven
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Osborn, Sir John
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Ottaway, Richard
Bright, Graham Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Powell, William (Corby)
Bruinvels, Peter Powley, John
Burt, Alistair Proctor, K. Harvey
Butterfill, John Raffan, Keith
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Rowe, Andrew
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Carttiss, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Cash, William Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Chope, Christopher Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Conway, Derek Soames, Hon Nicholas
Cope, John Spencer, Derek
Couchman, James Steen, Anthony
Cranborne, Viscount Stern, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Dorrell, Stephen Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Dover, Den Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Dubs, Alfred Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Dykes, Hugh Stradling Thomas, J.
Evennett, David Sumberg, David
Fallon, Michael Terlezki, Stefan
Fox, Marcus Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Godman, Dr Norman Tracey, Richard
Goodlad, Alastair Twinn, Dr Ian
Hayes, J. Waddington, David
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Hunt, David (Wirral) Walden, George
Jackson, Robert Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Lawrence, Ivan Watson, John
Lee, John (Pendle) Watts, John
Lilley, Peter Wheeler, John
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Whitfield, John
Lord, Michael Whitney, Raymond
MacGregor, John Wolfson, Mark
Maclean, David John Wood, Timothy
Major, John
Malins, Humfrey Tellers for the Ayes:
Marland, Paul Mr. Donald Thompson and
Mates, Michael Mr. Archie Hamilton.
McCusker, Harold Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Maginnis, Ken Winterton, Nicholas
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Nicholson, J. Tellers for the Noes:
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Rev. Martin Smyth and
Taylor, Rt Hon John David Mr. William Ross.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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