HC Deb 24 May 1984 vol 60 cc1231-2
Mr. A. Cecil Walker

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many young offenders were detained at the Secretary of State's pleasure in prison establishments in Northern Ireland in each of the years 1972 to 1975, inclusive; and how many of them, respectively, have been subsequently released.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

Twenty young persons were convicted and sentenced to be detained during the pleasure of the Secretary of State during this period: one in 1972, three in 1974 and 16 in 1975. Three have been released on licence, of whom two served nine years and four months and the third served 10 years four months.

Mr. Walker

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State agree that this type of sentence causes great psychological suffering to such young men, who have no means of knowing when they will be released, especially when they are aware that prisoners given fixed sentences have already been granted their freedom? Does he accept that such an anomaly is not in the interests of British justice?

Mr. Scott

By definition, all those sentenced in that way have been convicted of very serious crimes. Before releasing them we have to take account of the gravity of the offence, ensure that they have served a suitable period, and consider their behaviour in prison and the continued safety of the public.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Does the Minister agree that such a step could benefit prison administration, in that a prisoner who knows the date of his release and can work towards it is less likely to behave badly, knowing that it could affect his release date?

Mr. Scott

We are anxious to ensure that prisoners are told of their release date some time before they are released, so that they have that assurance and can take part in some sort of pre-release scheme to fit them for life outside prison.

Mr. Maginnis

Does the Minister agree that many of these young people were inveigled into serious crime at a time when tempers in Northern Ireland were running particularly high? Will he re-examine the review procedure for these young people and make a special case on their behalf?

Mr. Winnick

What about the IRA?

Mr. Maginnis

We have not sought in our questions to differentiate between the types of prisoner detained at the Secretary of State's pleasure.

Mr. Scott

I welcome that comment. I am satisfied that we have the right machinery for keeping such cases under review. Youth at the time of a crime is one of the factors that I take into account when advising my right hon. Friend about release dates.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister accept that some crimes, which cannot be excused, sometimes involve people who have only a low-key role in them but who are subjected to indeterminate sentences, while others involved in equally dastardly crimes are being released after remission?

Mr. Scott

Such matters are for the courts to decide. People convicted of murder are usually given an indeterminate sentence. We must be sure that the sentence served is commensurate with the gravity of the crime.

Mr. Soley

Will the Minister review sentencing practices in Northern Ireland, particularly for non-paramilitary offences? Is he aware of the concern about certain aspects of the criminal justice system as it relates to non-paramilitary offences?

Mr. Scott

That does not arise out of the question. I am not convinced that sentencing policy in Northern Ireland is out of line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

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