HC Deb 20 April 1989 vol 151 cc443-5
2. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many sentences of Northern Ireland prisoners have been reviewed over the past 12 months; and what is his policy towards indeterminate sentences.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ian Stewart)

The cases of 170 prisoners serving life sentences and detention at the Secretary of State's pleasure have been reviewed in the past year. Our policy toward indeterminate sentences is to release a prisoner subject to such a sentence when a period commensurate with the gravity of the crime has been served, and when the risk of re-offending in a violent way is considered remote.

Mr. Alton

While I thank the Minister for that reply and for his reply to my recent letter, and I am grateful to him for the developments, especially at Maghaberry prison, will he tell the House what weight is placed on a prisoner's decision to move from a segregated wing into an integrated situation such as in Maghaberry? Will he also tell the House how many reviews he expects to carry out next year?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a numerical answer to the second part of his question, but, if I can give him a reasonable indication in correspondence, I shall do so.

The moving of prisoners to integrated conditions, such as in Maghaberry is certainly taken into account as a positive step, but that must be considered against all the other circumstances of each particular case.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Minister tell the House why ex-members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who are serving prison sentences, have served very long stretches without being favourably considered for review, while members of paramilitary forces—including the IRA—who have been imprisoned for similar acts of terrorism or murder, have been released before serving as long as those RUC prisoners?

Is the Minister aware that certain evidence has now come to the surface concerning the imprisonment of certain UDR men in the Craigavon area? Is the Minister prepared to look at the evidence and consider whether those men should have another trial?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman has raised two entirely separate points. If further evidence is forthcoming, existing sentences are reconsidered under certain circumstances. In such cases, however, the evidence must be genuinely new.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, regardless of background, religion or occupation, everyone who is reviewed by the life sentence review board has his case considered according to the consistent principles which I gave in my answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton).

Ms. Short

The Minister must be aware that the system of review for indeterminate sentences causes great unease in both communities in Northern Ireland. Are not people required to give undertakings about their political views before they can be released? Is that not completely subjective and does that not mean that some people, who are currently in prison, will stay there for the rest of their lives unless we change the system?

Mr. Stewart

I do not know how the hon. Lady gets that idea. It is important that one of the criteria for release should be that the risk of re-offending, especially in a violent way, is considered to be low, but not on the basis on which the hon. Lady has put it. A whole range of factors is taken into account under that heading.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is it not the case that the present rate of recidivism after committing terrorist offences is already very high? Would not the best way of deterring terrorism be to institute a sentence of imprisonment for the duration of the emergency?

Mr. Stewart

If I heard my hon. Friend correctly, he is not right about those released from indeterminate sentences. The rate of reoffending after determinate sentences is high and that is one reason why we introduced new measures regarding reactivation of remitted sentences under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Is the Minister aware that some prisoners released on parole have been under threat from paramilitary organisations? Is it possible for suitable arrangements to be made for them to work out their sentences in Great Britain?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion would fundamentally cut across the normal arrangements for pre-release schemes. If there are individual cases where persons may be under a particular threat that matter can be considered.

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