HL Deb 23 May 1984 vol 452 cc302-23

8.30 p.m.

Lord Hylton rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider their policy on the transfer to prisons in Northern Ireland of prisoners normally resident there who are now in English gaols.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to start by very warmly thanking all noble Lords who are taking part in the debate on this Question. Some might consider this hour to be a slightly unsocial one, but I am very glad to say that it is nothing like as unsocial as the 5.22 a.m. at which another place recently debated the case of one particular prisoner, who may be mentioned later tonight.

I should like to add that I have received a number of letters of support and encouragement. Two came from noble Lords who are closely associated with the National Association of Probation Officers, and others I have received from noble Lords who accompanied me on an all-party delegation to discuss this very question with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, at his office about a year and a half ago. I am sorry that in the interval it has not proved possible to make much progress, and that is the reason for this Question tonight.

In preparation for this debate I have visited a number of prisoners in England. These have included, first, unrepentant IRA members; secondly, men who deny ever belonging to illegal organisations, which denial has been publicly confirmed by the IRA; and, thirdly, a former terrorist who, with Home Office help in 1978, apologised to his victims and publicly repudiated political violence. I have also corresponded with an Ulster Loyalist prisoner who has spent 10 years in English prisons—I might add, for his own protection—but who now wishes to be transferred to Northern Ireland. I believe these to be a fair sample, a fair cross-section, of the 50 or 60 prisoners we are discussing tonight, about one-third of whom it is important to know are serving life sentences.

I wish to approach this Question from a humanitarian angle. I believe that there can be no doubt that resistance by various Governments to requests for transfer by prisoners with real or alleged terrorist records has caused great hardship, in particular to the families and next of kin. For instance, I have visited a prisoner whose son is now aged four. Yet because of distance and the cost of travel, he expects to get only two visits a year during the remaining nine years that he has to serve. How can that son maintain adequate contact with his father? We have to remember that the family is entitled to 12 visits per year in England, and that the father could receive one visit per fortnight if he were transferred to Northern Ireland. The noble Lord the Minister may like to verify what proportion of prisoners in Ulster in fact receive the maximum permitted number of family visits.

I understand from two separate sources that there is another prisoner now at Hull who has seen his wife only twice in nine years. The reason for this is that his son was born after his arrest and the son suffers from a severe handicap which makes it impossible for him to be transported over long distances. This means that this father has never seen his son, who is now aged about nine, and I am sorry to say that it is possible that the child may die before his father is released. The situation would be quite different if the father were to be transferred to, for example, Magilligan Prison in Northern Ireland.

Therefore I ask: have the noble Lord the Minister and his colleagues in London and Belfast studied the details of these and other poignant cases? Can he confirm that these and other Northern Irish prisoners are lucky if they get three or four visits per year on average?

I would like to know why Her Majesty's Government have rejected the reasoned arguments put to them by the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders, and by the National Association of Probation Officers. In August 1982 the latter body wrote: It is abundantly clear that there are many non-political reasons why these men should be transferred to Northern Ireland. Transfer would ease the pressure on families and relatives, reduce the risk of family and marital breakdown, improve stability within relationships and help these men and their children to maintain some form of parent/child relationship. For others it would give the opportunity to keep closer contact with often ageing parents, who are frequently in poor health and unfit to travel long distances. In addition, it would considerably reduce the financial burden now placed on all relations when a visit to England is planned". The noble Lord, with his experience in education and the social services, is well placed to appreciate the force of these arguments.

As to distances, it is some 310 miles from Belfast to London as the crow flies, and further by train and ship. A family travelling from Londonderry to visit a prisoner on the Isle of Wight faces a total journey of well over 900 miles. It is necessary to spell out what this involves for the difficulties to be clearly seen. It will involve a train from 'Derry to Belfast, a boat to Liverpool, a train to London, a crossing of London by tube, a train to Southampton or Portsmouth, a ferry to the Isle of Wight, and a bus or car to the prison. Few of your Lordships would, I think, wish to undertake so daunting an expedition several times a year, in all weathers, in order to visit near relatives.

The cost, too, may be prohibitive, particularly for people who are employed and cannot obtain their fares from social security. About one and a half years ago it already cost over £300 for a wife and three children under the age of 12 to visit an Isle of Wight prison from Northern Ireland. This figure includes the expense of one or more overnight stops. It was for this reason that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others have asked the Government, and the Government have agreed, to pay for air travel where this does not greatly exceed the cost of surface transport plus board and lodging. I wish to ask tonight how this important, though only palliative, arrangement is working out in practice. In how many cases has it been made use of?

To return to the main theme, I shall now quote Rule 31 of the Prison Rules for England and Wales, which is closely paralleled by Rule 57 of the Northern Ireland Code. The rule states: 1. Special attention shall be paid to the maintenance of such relations between a prisoner and his family as are desirable in the best interests of both. 2. A prisoner shall be encouraged and assisted to establish and maintain such relations with persons and agencies outside prison as may, in the opinion of the governor, best promote the interests of his family and his social rehabilitation".

Point 1 is clearly mandatory: point 2 is discretionary and in this context rather meaningless for the governors of English prisons. It would of course be highly applicable in Northern Ireland. I submit, however, that Her Majesty's Government are breaching both the intention and the letter of point 1. By refusing transfers, they are placing unnecessary restrictions on the best interests of prisoners and their families.

For this reason they find themselves in trouble (not, I might say, for the first time) with the European Commission on Human Rights. I understand that some five petitions have been presented to the commission by prisoners and their families. The Government have been remarkably slow in answering the commission's questions. In the case of Mr. S. P. O'Doherty, two extensions of time were granted, yet the Government had not replied by 2nd March of this year. Have they replied by now? If not, when will they do so?

I come now to the Government case. They say that each application for transfer is considered on its merits. This is fine. But the fact remains that there have been no transfers to Northern Ireland since 1975, except for a limited number of non-terrorist offenders. The criterion as stated by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, on 14th March 1983, Hansard, column 587, is that the prisoner must show himself likely to co-operate with a normal prison régime and, in particular, to have severed any links with para-military organisations.

I have to ask: how do you prove a double negative? How do you show that you have broken links with a body which you deny ever belonging to and which disowns you? Why, in another case I have already quoted, is a man not believed who, six years ago, wrote, with Home Office approval, to local newspapers in Northern Ireland repudiating political violence and who was then reviled for his pains in the Provisional Sinn Fein House-Magazine? It seems to me that the Government are setting a standard which cannot always be met. It is anyway unlikely that enforced separation from their families will break the will of the really dedicated para-military prisoners.

Another point has been put to me, that conforming prisoners might, if transferred, qualify for the more generous remission available in Northern Ireland. If that is the real objection, surely it would be possible to make it a condition of transfer that only the English scale of remission or parole should apply. In any case, higher remission does not apply to life sentences and conditional-release licences can be granted in Northern Ireland but not in Britain.

It has been argued that to grant transfers would outrage public opinion in England. I maintain that English opinion wishes terrorists to be caught and to be sentenced appropriately. It does not wish to be unnecessarily vindictive towards the families of prisoners, very many of whom are peaceful, law-abiding people who detest all violence, as I know from personal contact with some of them.

I would like to ask whether the objection is that transfers on a significant scale would complicate and make difficult the management of Northern Ireland prisons. I do not believe that this can seriously be maintained. Northern Ireland already has a large prison population, the majority of whom have been convicted of terrorist offences. The addition of men, now imprisoned in England, in the sort of numbers we are discussing, would not markedly increase the population. Indeed, the prisons in Ulster are already less crowded than those in Britain, and a whole new prison at Maghaberry, I understand, will be in a position to open before the end of this year.

I wonder whether the real reason for Her Majesty's Government's unwillingness to accept a case, however well argued, may be the fact that transfers have been backed and supported by the Provisional Sinn Fein. If so, I think there is a way out. Let the Government, from a position of strength, begin by transferring nonmembers of the IRA and those who, in the opinion of numerous fair-minded people, have quite clearly repudiated the IRA and all its works. The next stage could be temporary transfers to Northern Ireland to enable prisoners to receive accumulated visits. The final stage should he permanent transfers, for humanitarian reasons, of conforming prisoners. The Government could well state that they have been moved by the requests of the Bishop of Derry, the Archbishops of Armagh and Westminster, the honourable Member in another place, for Foyle, and numerous other Members of both Houses, of all parties and religious persuasions. To act in this way would be to assert the values of democracy and nonviolence, and would provide an incentive for good behaviour in English prisons.

My Lords, this matter is doubly difficult, because two Government departments are involved, the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office, though I understand that the primary responsibility lies with the Home Office. I can only urge that the vital interests of the families should not be allowed to fall between two stools. I ask Her Majesty's Government tonight to treat the European Commission on Human Rights with the respect it deserves and not to fall foul of the Court of Human Rights.

In a parallel context, the Government have signed the European Convention on the transfer of sentenced persons. It will soon be in a position to ratify it, once the Repatriation of Prisoners Bill, which the noble Lord piloted through this House, has become law. In view of the convention and of the Bill, it would be both proper and consistent to take a more sympathetic attitude towards transfers between England and Northern Ireland.

It is, I think, generally accepted that loss of liberty is the essence of the penalty of imprisonment. I do therefore beg the Government not to impose additional burdens over and above imprisonment on a minority of prisoners and their families. Parliament exists in part for the redress of grievances. This is a major grievance affecting a small number of people. Present official attitudes, however, run the risk of alienating not only the families, but also the friends and acquaintances of prisoners. Every increase in alienation tends to prolong the cycle of violence from one generation to the next. For that reason, and above all on humanitarian grounds, I ask the noble Lord and the Government to think again and to reconsider their present policy. I look forward to hearing the noble Lord's reply.

8.47 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I rise to lend all the support in my power to the moving, careful, and well worked out case presented by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. So far as I know he is not even Irish, and that is all the better, because if he were he would no doubt be suspect. That an Englishman should have taken all this trouble, have gone to all these prisoners, and made all these personal contacts is something that even the ranks of Tuscany may not have done—if that covers the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and perhaps others. I think everybody must applaud the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his zeal, which is in the highest possible tradition of this House.

My difficulty is that he stated the case in a bare quarter of an hour so effectively that anything I can say is only by way of embellishment. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, as we know, is very humane and entertaining. He is not, if I may say so, at his happiest on this subject. I do not know why it is. He got off on the wrong foot earlier. But there is still reason to hope that he will come off the wrong foot. Up until now it has been his weakness, relatively speaking.

I hope that we shall not be told that there are technical difficulties about this. I remember some years ago when Mr. De Valera—and I hope I can mention him without arousing any sort of anti-Irish prejudice—told me how well he had been received by Mr. Winston Churchill. Mr. De Valera had of late years become Prime Minister, and Mr. Churchill had always denounced Mr. De Valera until then. Suddenly he showed a great deal of love towards him and entertained him royally in Downing Street. Mr. De Valera said that nothing would help Ireland more, and Anglo-Irish relations more, than if the remains of Sir Roger Casement, executed in 1916, were transferred to Ireland. Sir Winston showed every sympathy for that and gave the impression that it would be done. However, he felt compelled to write to Mr. De Valera later and say that there were legal objections which could not be overcome.

When Sir Harold Wilson came in the legal objections were overcome within 24 hours. I hope that we shall not be told that there are technical objections which are perhaps of a kind too difficult for us to understand. This has to be argued on grounds of humanitarian principle. I hope I need not say yet once more that I detest violence, whether by the IRA, the UDA, or anyone else. So, let us look at the case.

It is easier for me to speak fairly briefly tonight because Mr. Shane O'Doherty, whose case has been mentioned before now, has suddenly undergone a remarkable transformation of fortune. When I saw him about six weeks ago he was living in a hell on earth, in the remains of the old control units, along with gentlemen called Messrs. Blake, Baker and Dick. These gentlemen were there in these control units. I raised the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, but I do not think that I need to go into all that this evening because, owing, possibly, to the ministrations of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, suddenly he is in Wormwood Scrubs, which I do not say is exactly heaven, but compared with the control units at Wakefield it could be so described. There he is in Wormwood Scrubs, taking every opportunity for education, well-received, back again where he had been before, after some much less attractive prisons.

I shall not raise his maltreatment tonight, except in the one connection that he is in prison in England. His mother, a lady advanced in years—I do not know whether she is older than me; but if she is, and I rather think she might be, she is very old—is in frail health and she finds it extremely difficult, not to say expensive, to come over to see him, in the way the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has described similar situations. While he is well looked after in Wormwood Scrubs and has no complaints at all about the treatment, he is not being given justice because he is a completely Irish boy. When he was brought here nine years ago he had only been in England for short holidays. No one could be more completely a son of Derry than he is, yet here he is stuck in a London prison. He is just one example.

If we take the case more generally, as Lord Hylton showed us, I can only repeat his arguments. He handled it all with great skill and care. The Home Office arrangements are usually based on the understanding that a prisoner is placed as near his family as possible. It cannot be done perfectly, but it would be done normally. Here no attempt has been made to do it, for some special reason. What is the reason? The reason why this boy and other prisoners should not be imprisoned in Northern Ireland has never been given. If only on humanitarian grounds, and in accordance with Home Office practise, it is a far more desirable arrangement. We may be told they are dangerous. That may be true of some of them, but it is not true of Mr. Shane O'Doherty.

Lord Elton does not know him so he cannot really speak from first-hand acquaintanceship. On what information is he relying? I must press him on this. It was his predecessor, Lord Belstead, who suddenly told me that the opinions I was receiving at the prison—that was Wormwood Scrubs then—were not in accordance with the information he had received. No one has ever come into the open and explained what this information is. Here is a boy who was an altar boy years ago of the Bishop of Derry, when he was a parish priest. He is someone whom the bishop knows intimately. As he is 29 he has probably known him for all his life. The family were very well-known people in Derry. Here is somebody whom the bishop would vouch for personally, but Lord Elton cannot in the nature of things know him. Lord Elton has some 45,000 prisoners to look after and he cannot pretend to know these people. He has to rely on some information. The question is: what information is he relying on? To the best of my belief—

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

Not the bishop's, my Lords.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, will be making a speech in a moment and he must hold himself in. He is going to make a hell of a speech in a moment. Let us wait for it because we know he is a bit conservative on Northern Ireland. He is regarded as far to the Right on that topic. Why should he not be? It is a free country.

This boy is trusted by those who know him. I have visited him often in Wormwood Scrubs in the past, and half a dozen governors told me how much they trust him. I was there yesterday once again and I was told how pleased everyone is to have him back. I say that this information that has been laid by some mole—whatever the phrase is—about him is contemptible. Whoever the mole is should be brought into the daylight. I doubt whether he will be this evening, and that is something the noble Lord, Lord Elton, should realise. I regard him as relying on contemptible information.

However, this young person is only one case. The wider question is the one that has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. When all is said and done, what is the argument against? Perhaps we shall be told that there is some mysterious argument against. Lord Hylton was making a moderate demand. He was saying that those who clearly are not dangerous should be sent home. That is all that should be done to start with. One is bound to ask and press the noble Lord again and again whether he cannot come into the open. He is a candid debater, but on this one subject he is extraordinarily secretive. On this one topic he is not worthy of himself. So I hope we shall have something rather plainer from him than we have had in the past.

No doubt there are practical arguments which can be brought up, that this might add to the problems in Northern Ireland. As Lord Hylton has explained, we are talking about 50 or a good many fewer than 50, because Lord Hylton was not saying that all the 50 or 60 should be sent back at once. As we know, there are several thousand people in prison in Northern Ireland. That is the practical argument, that this might be dangerous. The argument applied to that has been indicated.

What about the English prisons? Are the Irish prisoners here welcome? I cannot speak for prison officers or governors. I have talked to a good many at different times on this subject and every prison governor and every prison officer would like to see them go back; so do not let the noble Lord tell us that in some mysterious way it is in the interests of the prison service to keep these people here. That would be the phoniest of all arguments to be used against the proposition as it is being unfolded. If it would help the noble Lord I would go on my knees to him, but I do not think that would be of very real assistance.

I attended a conference of the Prison Christian Fellowship in Belfast—a world conference of 31 countries—and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was there. I was driven from the airport to the centre of Belfast city by a UDA man. I say that so that the noble Lord will not think I am only interested in Roman Catholics. This UDA man had been born again. I hope no one will laugh at the idea of being born again, but he was serving quite a long sentence for vicious crimes and from my conversation with him I think he was lucky not to have had a life sentence. He was serving a good many years, but in prison he was made to share a cell with a Christian, a cripple, a man with only one leg. It seems that at that time he was something of a bully and he gave this man absolute hell; but the Christian with the one leg was so Christian in his attitude that this man was converted. He has now become a very active worker for the prison Christian Fellowship. Everything is possible in prison if there is kindness—the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that because he is a better Christian than I am. I hope so. The noble Lord will agree that if one can bring the right influences to bear one can achieve what seem like miracles in prison. But they will not be achieved among these people in a foreign land. I have said enough for the moment.

8.59 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I have been, first, chairman, and now president, of NACRO for something like 30 years. We have always maintained that people who are to lose their liberty should be confined, as near as possible, to their families. There is nothing new about this. We have pressed the Home Office about it. We know there are technical difficulties within this country, but we are entirely in favour of this.

My first remark in this debate is that I do not think there should be any absolutely rigid rule about whether or not people from other countries who commit crimes in this country are returned. In fact, it is important that there should not be. For example, there must be in Northern Ireland a certain number of what we used to call ODCs—the ordinary decent criminals, the shoplifters and people of that kind. Anybody of that kind who is imprisoned in this country, I would think, certainly ought on humanitarian grounds to be sent back to where he came from, unless there are some particular difficulties.

But when you are dealing with people whom we describe as terrorists and whom you may describe as "freedom fighters" in the way that the Greeks described the Furies as Eumenides, if you are talking about what I call terrorism, then you have a different situation. You have people who regard it as a patriotic duty to try to escape from prison, to try to disrupt prison discipline, and, if anybody gets in their way, a patriotic duty to kill them. Make no mistake, my Lords. This is what I am saying about the IRA; and they have said it again and again, and if you deny it you are wrong.

This is clearly a different situation. What we have to consider in this country is that when somebody is convicted of blowing up people in a bus or shooting them or whatever it is, and accepts the judgment of our courts—and sometimes they are wrong, but not always; they are usually right—we confine him in this country. I think it can happen (as the noble Earl has suggested) that after a certain time people change. I have always believed in this and I think it very important. I think it is essential that there should not be a rule so rigid that, if the people concerned with the prisoner report that this man has severed all connection with the terrorists and has become a Rastafarian or something of that sort, perhaps has become religious, has changed his views altogether and is now, in their opinion, an innocent character, then there is no case for sending him home. I think there is every case for doing so. But I do not think there is any case for sending back to Northern Ireland people who are dedicated to killing and disruption unless the Northern Ireland prisons are perfectly happy to have them. I have not had anything to do with the Northern Ireland prisons for seven or eight years, but my impression when I was there was that they were very much overcrowded with very dangerous men and the last thing that they wanted was 50 or 60 more sent from here. I think that the most important thing from the point of view of the Home Secretary is to consider, first, the lives and safety of the people in the prisons to which they are sending them, the people who have to contain them and who are openly threatened with death by these people. Let there be no mistake about it. This is what they do and what they think and what they regard as a patriotic duty. As long as they do so, then one must be careful how one overloads one place rather than the other.

I will say—and I shall not take any longer because it is a very simple point—that what is important is that the Government's general decision should not be rigid. They should be open-minded. If somebody changes in a way that is convincing—and, of course, people can pretend to change and it is quite a difficult decision as to whether somebody really has changed, as the noble Earl knows, and we have both had to deal with such cases—then, after a certain time to make sure of it, I am in favour of sending him home. But if there is no indication, then I think one has to bow to the fact that you cannot be somebody who believes in killing and destruction and who also expects to get the same attention as somebody who does not.

There is one thing that I should like to say. In Northern Ireland, when I was there, we had a very interesting system—and still have, I think—of home leave. People on very long sentences were allowed to go home—and I do not think that there were any exceptions—and they always came back. If they did not, their colleagues beat them up because they were then going to stop the whole system. I am not opposed to a suggestion that long-term terrorist prisoners in this country should be allowed to have a four-day weekend, say, every two years or something of that sort. This is something that I think could be looked at. This would depend really upon the first man who broke trust and then it could be finished. But I do not myself believe that they would break it. The experience in Northern Ireland is that they come back and that breaches of home leave are very rare.

But that is absolutely as far as I would go. I regard the safety of the prison officers, the governors and the policemen who have to look after prisoners as more important than one's compassionate attitude (which is a genuine one) regarding them and their family. They are deprived of something which is extremely important, the relationship with their family, but I would rather do that damage to them than give them the opportunity to do an equivalent damage—actually, a worse damage, which is what they usually do—to the people who are prepared to guard them. I hope that the noble Lord will have a fairly open view, so that when there is a real change in somebody it can be recognised. I hope to goodness that he will not concede otherwise.

9.7 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I have listened with a great deal of attention to the case which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I take an entirely opposing view to that which has been put forward by those Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken, except for my noble friend Lord Donaldson. I have lived my life, and, more particularly, my political life, in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I am aware of the reality of what happens in Northern Ireland. I do not live in the English countryside, in London or outside of London. I lived in Belfast and one of the reasons why I became a political outcast in Northern Ireland is that I had more sympathy, humanity and compassion with the victims of the terrorists than with the terrorists.

What this debate is all about—and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, must face the consequences of what they have said here tonight—is that it is not terribly long ago when the vast majority of the people in these islands, in Britain and in Northern Ireland, and indeed in the Republic, all held up our hands in horror at the appalling tragedy and murders which took place at the Harrods bombing. The whole world—even the world outside of these islands—held up their hands in horror. Now the noble Lords are saying that if next week or next month the perpetrators of that dastardly crime are detected by the police here in Britain and they are brought before a court and they are sentenced, if their homes are either in Belfast or Dublin they can then claim to be transferred back again. Who, in their right senses, would stand by that judgment?

We have yet to find the perpetrators or those who exploded the bomb in the Tower of London, when so many innocent people lost their lives. We have yet to find the perpetrators of all those outrages that took place throughout the United Kingdom when totally innocent people lost their lives or their limbs. What the noble Lord is saying here is that, when they are caught, if they are Irish terrorists they should be transferred back either to the Republic or to Northern Ireland. I do not believe that that is a tenable argument.

One of the noble Lords who was in support of this said that it was only from the point of view of humanitarian priciples. I found last week and the week before that—and probably shall do next week and the week after—that when a terrible murder took place in Northern Ireland both the murder and the funeral would get a little mention in the English newpapers and a little mention on the 6 o'clock or 9 o'clock television news. But about a week after the funeral has taken place nobody thinks of the victims or their bereaved relatives, so all of humitarian sympathy goes then to the prisoners, to the people who did this, and the bereaved relatives are not thought of again. I say this with a good deal of experience. I know the bereaved relatives. I have met many of them. In fact, some of them are very close friends of mine. Some have lost limbs; others have no husbands, sons, brothers or fathers left.

I resent bitterly the edicts which are handed down from the European Court of Human Rights as to how a prisoner should be treated, how he should be given every consideration, how he should be given every priority. I repeat that there is no consideration given to those who have been maimed or murdered, or to their relatives.

Those people who bombed Harrods last year were well aware of the consequences of their action. They knew what would happen. They knew of all the atrocities that had taken place in Northern Ireland and throughout England. Whether their wives, their brothers, their sisters or their family know it, they knew what the consequences of their actions might be if they were caught. We are asked now to believe—in fact, the implications are in what has been said—that the wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters did not know that their particular relations were members of the IRA or the INLA; there was only one member of the family who knew that he was engaged in terrorist activity; and then everybody said, "My God, his family didn't know and we have to take them into consideration".

Let me also say this—and my remarks may be a little conjectural. I have repeatedly heard over the years, particularly from churchmen, that a person who has committed one murder will live with this on his conscience to the end of his days, and that that is sufficient punishment for the crime. That is not true, because UDA men and UVF men, Loyalists, have killed a Catholic one day, have killed a Catholic the next week, and another Catholic six months afterwards; and the IRA have done exactly the same thing. They do not kill one person and then throw up their hands in horror and say, "That is a terrible thing that I have done".

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question?

Lord Fitt

My Lords, certainly.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord is arguing—and, heaven knows, he has more right to than others—

Lord Fitt

I am waiting for the question.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, yes, I am going to put the question. I am trying to be polite, you see. The noble Lord is arguing most strongly about the wickedness of these doings, and no one is more entitled to do so: but I am saying that if these crimes take place in Northern Ireland then the people should be imprisoned in Northern Ireland. It is agreed that there has to be a very long imprisonment; but why, if it is committed here or is in any way connected with here, have they to be imprisoned here?

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I think that is rather a foolish argument for the noble Earl to advance. If you carry that argument to its logical conclusion, you could say that a fellow called Sirhan Sirhan, who is in gaol in America for having murdered Robert Kennedy, should be sent back to Iran to be imprisoned. Then there is the fellow, whose name I cannot pronounce—the Turkish fellow—who was convicted of attempting to assassinate the Pope in Italy. You could say that he should be sent back to Turkey. If you want to continue this sort of argument, you could say that all such people should be sent back to their own countries of origin; so there is absolutely no logic in that.

There is another argument which has been put forward—something that I am increasingly resentful of and which could only have come from an Englishman. Here I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, when he talked about "alienation". He has not said it in so many words, but I will say it for him——

Lord Hylton

Thank you.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, he would say that if all these prisoners who are serving prison sentences in Britain for the most horrible crimes are sent back to Northern Ireland, it will so enhance the political situation that all the Catholics—and, let us face it, most of the prisoners are Catholics—will say, "The English are not too bad, so we will all start voting for moderation and we will reject the IRA". That does not happen. There were 102,000 people—and I say it with a great deal of regret that they were all Catholics—who voted for the Sinn Fein IRA candidates in the Westminster elections last year, and I do not hesitate to predict that more than 102,000 will vote for the IRA candidate in the European elections which are to take place on the 14th of next month. So in no way will the sending of prisoners back to Northern Ireland decrease this so-called alienation which is taking place between the Catholic population and the institutions of government.

I want to put this case forward to the House to show just how complex this matter is. Round about Easter, an IRA man (or an IRA cell) in Northern Ireland set off a bomb in Derry with the intention of killing members of the security forces. After the bomb was set up the command was taken by this man—misguided and patriotic as he may be in Irish terms—and the detonator was pressed by him. Against all the run of bombs, one of the bricks from the bomb came the wrong way and killed him; it killed the person who had set off the detonating wire. The priest who was there when his funeral service was taken in Derry actually said that the dead IRA man could now be numbered among the saints in Heaven. That is what was said by a Catholic priest at the funeral of that IRA man who was himself killed while he was engaged in the process of trying to kill members of the security forces.

So do not let us talk about the Bishop of Derry or the Bishop of Armagh, or any other Catholic bishop or any other Protestant bishop, because churchmen in Northern Ireland are also people who were born there and they have their own political support or rejection. The very fact that the Bishop of Derry or the Bishop of Armagh put forward a case and said that this man should be returned—and I know very well the case which has been put forward by certain people concerning Mr. Shane O'Doherty. The fact is that Mr. O'Doherty sent a lot of bombs to different people throughout the United Kingdom, and people were badly maimed. He was found out, and he was subsequently sentenced. But when we hear tonight of Mr. Shane O'Doherty, does anyone even remember the recipients of those bombs? Does anyone even think of the terrible consequences that there were when those bombs were delivered?

Everyone, and particularly the sort of liberal-minded Establishment, are always thinking of the prisoners, of the people who did this; and they say that we should be as generous as we can to them. I say with a good deal of sincerity that I am more concerned about the victims of the terrible crimes which have been committed by the IRA. If prisoners who had been sentenced for terrorist offences were transferred to prisons in Northern Ireland, would they be accepted in the terrorist compounds in Northern Ireland? Whether we believe it or not, there are still terrorist compounds in Northern Ireland. As soon as they had returned to that atmosphere and were among their former comrades, there is absolutely no doubt that once again they would be caught up in what we regard as terrorism but which they regard as their patriotic duty. That is the reality of the problem which we are discussing tonight. My noble friend Lord Longford said, in relation to what was going to be said by my other noble friend, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that he would regard it as being of the extreme Right.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it was not meant to be personal.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I would not regard it as being of the extreme Right, because in Northern Ireland they would regard it as being, in many ways, of the extreme Left.

The Earl of Longford

Not now, my Lords.

Lord Fitt

That, my Lords, I quite accept, but I would absolutely and totally reject every argument which has been put forward. You are saying this not only to the Harrods bombers; you are sending a smoke signal and saying, "If you are caught and sentenced, you will be sent back to Northern Ireland or to the Republic". But—this is more difficult—you are saying to people who have not, as yet, committed a crime in London, or in England, Scotland or Wales, that you are giving them some kind of priority. You are saying, "We do not agree with you setting off bombs at Harrods or anywhere else in Britain; but if you do, misguided though you may be, you may be sentenced and then you will be sent back to Northern Ireland".

My very last point is complex. In Britain there is one-third remission. In Northern Ireland there is 50 per cent. remission. So one would be sending people back to Northern Ireland and saying to them that they would be getting 50 per cent. remission on their sentences. If therefore you sent back to Northern Ireland prisoners who had been sentenced for terrorist offences, it would be ridiculous if they could get 50 per cent. remission while other prisoners got only one-third remission.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to read tomorrow what I have said on that very point.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lord and I shall certainly read what he has said. More particularly, however, readers in Northern Ireland will take what the noble Lord has said as giving succour and support to the IRA. That is the one thing which I have never done in my political life, and I certainly have no intention of doing it in your Lordships' House.

9.24 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the very fact that this debate is taking place, the very fact that a Motion of this kind is on our Order Paper, is, in my view, a great credit both to this country and to this House. There must be few countries in the world, there must be few legislatures, which, having suffered so much from terrorism, would even stomach a Motion of this kind, and have a civilised debate about whether or not it is more humane to send some of the terrorists back to Northern Ireland where their families live. It is delightful always to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, because he has a reputation in this House for great humanity, and the fact that people may differ from him in this debate in no way lessens the tribute we would always want to pay to him.

There is no doubt about the attitude of this House to the repatriation of prisoners generally. I and other noble Lords can remember a very pleasing measure that came before us concerning the repatriation of prisoners. It was one of those delightful examples of where constructive suggestions were made from all sides of the House for a humanitarian measure. I remember it as a red letter day in my life because the noble Lord, Lord Elton, agreed on behalf of the Home Office to a great number of amendments. We all stood and paid tribute to him for the way in which he was prepared to accept those amendments to a Bill which he piloted through this House with his usual ability. So there is no doubt about the general humanitarian view of Parliament, irrespective of party, as to the repatriation of prisoners generally.

Therefore, if there are prisoners who are normally domiciled in Northern Ireland and who in respect of ordinary offences—if I may call them that—are in our prisons, I am fairly sure that it is a continuing Home Office policy, from one Administration to the next, that provided (as I understand it) such prisoners have more than six months to serve, then their applications will be almost automatically granted. But tonight, we are dealing in the main not with that class of prisoner but with what policy there ought to be with regard to the repatriation to Northern Ireland of those who have been charged in this country, and who therefore have presumably committed crimes of terrorism in this country.

It has been said—and said quite rightly—that there are humanitarian considerations always involved, even when one is dealing with the most heinous of crimes and the most wicked of convicts. Of course that must be so. I can remember from these Benches urging with others that there should always be an opportunity to repent, and that there should always be an opportunity at some stage, at the end of a long dark road, of parole and of release. That, too, is not being debated tonight. Every one of us would agree that that consideration should apply even to the most dreadful of terrorists.

But one has to keep a sense of balance and a sense of public responsibility. That is the difficulty which all of us face in a debate of this kind. On the one hand, one can speak—as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, did most feelingly—of those sons who are deprived of seeing their mothers and of those mothers who are deprived over the years of seeing their sons. On the other side of the balance there are those children who will never see their mothers and who will never see their fathers at any time as a result of terrorist bombs.

One can study, as I have tried to do, the very pathetic story of Mr. O'Doherty. I am glad that he is in Wormwood Scrubs now. I am glad that he is in a happier condition. But I am sure that my noble friend Lord Longford will forgive me if I take up his description of Mr. O'Doherty at 20 being "a naughty boy".

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I did not say that he was "a naughty boy".

Lord Mishcon

I am sorry, my Lords, but if the noble Earl will look at the report in Hansardtomorrow, he may not have meant to say it but that is what he said. He may not have meant to say it—and I will not even use those words again.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I must insist. I have known this young man for many years. I have never called him a naughty boy. He was 20 at the time. The noble Lord simply misheard me because I never said any such thing.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I accept that immediately. It so happens that the other companions on my Bench also must have misheard the noble Earl. I accept immediately that he did not say those words if he said he did not, or, if he did say them, that he never meant them.

The Earl of Longford

I never said them, my Lords.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, as I said, I accept that completely. To get a situation of some realism, it may well be that O'Doherty is one of those cases which should be considered within the principle I am about to enunciate, and it is not a very original one. If the newspaper reports that I have are right—and they are newspaper reports which are seeking, in the message that the newspapers are giving in Ireland, to get repatriation—this is how one newspaper described what happened: At the Old Bailey, in 1976, he was convicted of sending letter and parcel bombs, and making or placing time bombs during 1973–74. Letter bombs were sent to Reginald Maudling, the shadow foreign secretary, the Catholic bishop to the armed forces, right reverend Gerard Tickle, an Old Bailey Judge, 10 Downing Street, the Bank of England and the Ministry of Defence".

Lord Fitt

My Lords, he was a naughty boy!

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I have tried to study his history which I know is the history of a man who is now 28 and studying for a degree at the Open University. I know that he has said he has joined a religious order, that he is extremely sorry for what happened and that he does not regard his offences as political offences. That is what I read and that is what I have studied.

I am only going to say this. I hope that the Home Office, as a result of this debate and other pleas that have been made, will look into every one of these cases with the utmost care and the utmost sympathy where that sympathy can be extended. If it be shown that this is truly the sort of person who now is wasting his life away in Wormwood Scrubs, then there will be nobody more pleased than any one of your Lordships, I imagine, to know that the transfer is made and that his old mother can visit him instead of having to travel with all the difficulties we have heard about.

However, it must be done on an individual basis. It cannot be a general principle of repatriation. One of the difficulties that I am sure those responsible for public safety in this country have to remember—and the safety, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, mentioned, of prison officers, the police, and so on—is that it is not easy for a prisoner to communicate with other members of the IRA, or other terrorist organisations that might exist, if he is in prison in England, but it is awfully easy if he is in Northern Ireland. That, too, is a consideration which must be borne in mind.

Therefore, I think that it is right that this debate should have taken place. As I have tried to say, it is a tribute to Parliament and this country, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that it is taking place. No general principle can emerge from this debate, if I may respectfully say so, except this. Of course we want to give the opportunity of mercy to be afforded in the right case after a proper examination and after being properly satisfied, even in the case of someone who started out as one of the most terrible terrorists who was responsible for innocent people losing their lives. I should have thought if that were the conclusion we all reached it would he a very sensible conclusion indeed.

9.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, we have indeed had an extremely interesting debate on a subject in regard to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has shown that he has a close interest, considerable knowledge and strong feeling. It is an issue in which all the main elements are much the same as they were when we last discussed them. Indeed, it was in recognition of that that the noble Lord said he put on the Order Paper the Motion which your Lordships are now considering. There will, therefore, be a certain familiarity, I fear, in my recital of them.

First, let me state once more that the Government fully recognise that prisoners should be located near their homes so far as is possible, both for humanitarian reasons during the sentence and to help the prisoner to readjust on release. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has properly, in a very eloquent and compellingly sensible speech, described our continuing concern in this matter. The prisoner's home area and his accessibility to his likely visitors is one of the main factors in deciding on location. But there are many others which have to be taken into account, such as pressure of overcrowding in some parts of the system, the prisoner's security category, his length of sentence, his likely conduct, his suitability for particular types of accommodation or regime and his medical, educational and training needs. Indeed, a good deal of my correspondence is with Members of both Houses who feel that in one respect or another we do not have the prisoner properly matched with the resources, and I have to consider those moves. Considerable efforts are made to locate prisoners near their homes, but even within England and Wales it is not always possible to overcome the difficulties posed by these various considerations.

Where the prisoner's home is in another part of the United Kingdom—another jurisdiction—the difficulties are more acute. Each jurisdiction has its own separate legal system, and the presumption is that a prisoner will serve his sentence in the part of the United Kingdom in which he was sentenced. Under Sections 26 and 27 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961, however, there is a power for the responsible Minister to transfer a prisoner once he is sentenced, on his own application, to another jurisdiction, either permanently to serve the remainder of his sentence there, or temporarily so that he may receive the visits to which he is entitled. Responsibility for deciding whether to transfer a prisoner rests with the "exporting" jurisdiction, if I may so describe it, and with the "receiving" jurisdiction in consultation. Both must be content with what is proposed. Under the long-standing agreement we have with both the Scottish and Northern Ireland Offices, applications for permanent transfer are normally considered only if the prisoner has at least six months left to serve, if he was previously domiciled in the other jurisdiction and if his family still live there. Cases which do not satisfy these criteria may be considered only if there are exceptional and compelling compassionate circumstances.

The prison population in the Province of Northern Ireland has risen by four to five times since the late 1960s, and a massive building and recruitment programme was needed during the 1970s to cope with that rise. But the problem is not only one of numbers. Much of the additional prison population consists of prisoners who are committed to the activities of paramilitary groups and who retain that commitment during their sentence. As noble Lords have already said, that means that they are dedicated to killing other people. These prisoners were described in the recent report of the inquiry by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons into the security arrangements at the Maze, which was published on 26th January, as: totally dissimilar to the usual criminal recidivist population to be found in the nearest equivalent establishment in England and Wales. It consists almost entirely of prisoners convicted of offences connected with terrorist activities, united in their determination to be treated as political prisoners, resisting prison discipline, even if it means starving themselves to death, and retaining their paramilitary structure and allegiances even when inside". He added that they were: bent on escape and ready to murder to achieve their ends". In recent years, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has rightly told us, shortage of accommodation in the Northern Ireland prison system has eased somewhat; but the control and security problems posed by such prisoners remain as pressing as ever, as the chief inspector's report on the incident which precipitated it makes absolutely clear.

Consequently, when we consider applications for transfer to Northern Ireland we have to satisfy ourselves that the prisoner can be relied upon to co-operate fully with a normal prison régime following transfer. We could, after all, hardly expect another prison administration to accept a prisoner whom—for whatever reason—they could expect to be disruptive and dangerous once he had arrived in one of their establishments. Moreover, para-military organisations tend to operate within prisons as cohesive groups to foment disturbances and disrupt the normal prison regime. We would therefore also want to be satisfied that the prisoner has formally severed his links with any such organisation with which he had been involved. In assessing such applications, we accordingly have to look very carefully at the prisoner's behaviour while in prison here. I shall revert to that to save the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the intervention that otherwise I seem to be seeking.

Another factor for consideration is the seriousness of the offence for which the prisoner is convicted. Considerations of public policy may arise in relation to prisoners convicted of particularly horrific crimes who may be regarded as undeserving of any degree of public sympathy. I am thinking here not only of terrorism but also of multiple murderers, particularly ruthless and unprincipled drug traffickers, as well as those who have killed innocent people as an act of terrorism. This is particularly relevant in cases where there may be little prospect of parole in this country. I shall read with care the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on that, but I rather think I am inclined to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has I understand, taken particular interest in the number of prisoners serving very long sentences, both for acts of terrorist violence committed here, but who have roots in Northern Ireland. I quite understand his reasons for taking up these cases. On the particular point in the case of the prisoner, Shane O'Doherty, we have recently received from the European Commission on Human Rights an application from him alleging various breaches of the European Convention as a result of our refusal to transfer him to Northern Ireland. I am not aware of any set time by which it had to be answered, but the commission has asked us for further information on the case and we have recently supplied that. Also, the commission is still considering the admissability of the application. Therefore the next move does not lie with us. The proceedings at this stage are confidential so I cannot give the noble Lord any details of what were contained in the exchanges.

The noble Lord believes that to show flexibility is not only right in humanitarian terms; he hopes it may also help to relieve tensions in Northern Ireland, and believes conversely that to show inflexibility may help those whose only interest is in violent conflict.

I, too, am in favour of moderation and reasonableness and indeed of being humanitarian, but I do not feel quite so confident as he does as to its immediate results. It is, however, unfortunately the case anyway that very few of those convicted here of terrorist acts have been able to show, by their conduct, that they meet the criteria I have described. The majority of them continue to act as part of the paramilitary organisation with which they were involved, and demonstrate by their behaviour a continuing refusal to accept a normal prison regime. Certainly there are one or two cases where individual prisoners have claimed that they want to make a complete break with their past, but as their cases demonstrate it is very difficult to do so. That is why, although there are a number of permanent transfers to Northern Ireland—three last year and one so far this year—it is some time since a prisoner convicted of terrorist acts was transferred there. But as I have tried to explain, the remedy lies in the hands of the prisoners concerned. If they do not show by their own conduct that they are fit to be transferred, then the inflexibility is in fact theirs and not ours.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, know we have considered the case of Mr. O'Doherty very carefully on many occasions. He has been given every chance to show his willingness to co-operate with the normal prison regime but had refused to do so for very long periods at successive establishments, by refusing to wear prison clothing, refusing to go on parade or location and refusing to work. I will not dwell on this because I hope all this has changed. But I think those of your Lordships who have heard only the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, might have been left in the position of feeling that there might not be any justification for our not already having sent him across the water.

Last year he was moved to Long Lartin prison in order to give him the chance to break the cycle of disciplinary offences and the punishment that he had established elsewhere. But his behaviour in fact deteriorated and he participated in a smash-up in the segregation unit in November, and then commenced a dirty protest. That means smearing the cell with excrement. This behaviour was repeated at other establishments to which he was subsequently tranferred. He was transferred to Wormwood Scrubs on 18th April and is reported to have been relatively well behaved since then.

I very much hope that the improvement will be sustained, because it is what we have been looking for after every move. Should it do so, and if he meets the criteria of good behaviour, it will still of course be necessary for us to be convinced that he has genuinely severed his connection with terrorist organisations. We have received opinions from a number of people outside the House as well as in it for whom I have a considerable and genuine respect who believe that he has. We have of course to consider other evidence—and I much regret that as yet we are not confident that they are right. I hope also that this will change. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, pressed me on this point. Incidentally, let me tell him first, that it was not from a control unit at Wakefield. I am sure that that was a slip of the tongue.

The Earl of Longford

No, it was not a slip of the tongue.

Lord Elton

Control units at Wakefield were closed. My Lords, we stopped having them several years ago. He was in the segregation unit. I know because I have visited there.

The Earl of Longford

I do not accept that. I understand—and I went there not long ago—that he was in the cell that was part of the control unit. So are the other gentlemen that I mentioned earlier.

Lord Elton

My Lords, maybe we are indulging in semantics. We both know where he is. He was not under the regime or in the accommodation described as a control unit, which was the subject of great controversy and which was abandoned long before I came into the prison service.

Let us turn to the matter about which the noble Earl is more particularly exercised, because Mr. O'Doherty is no longer there. He is somewhere that the noble Earl expects, and I hope that he will conduct himself well. The information on which these decisions are taken is put before Ministers only after careful evaluation by experienced members of the service. It is gathered from a wide range of staff, long practised in assessment for purposes, for instance, of the allocation of prisoners, categorisation of prisoners and the parole of prisoners, and who have the advantage of seeing the prisoner over long periods of time and who have also been able to base their own views on experience in handling dangerous prisoners as their professional duty.

It happens that they have an advantage over those who see them only on rare visits or who know them through correspondence. There is nothing secretive about this; nor is there anything designed to serve some secret policy. There are criteria that have to be met. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in a rather moving speech, has explained to your Lordships why they have to be met. Sometimes, they do appear to have been met to outsiders, when it is clear to those insiders who see the prisoners day after day and week after week and upon whom Ministers must rely for discharging their clear and inescapable duty of operating the system so as to protect the lives of innocent citizens from actual and potential terrorists, that they have not been met.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for his support in the matter. It is worth commenting that the three contributors to this debate who have been most firm in their response—I hope that this is not discourteous—to the proposals of the noble Lord, have been the three Members of the House who have served with responsibility in Northern Ireland and who know what it is like at the other end. I listened therefore with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon—and, again, I felicitate him on his balanced approach—that I habitually look at cases such as this with great care. I look with equal care also at those which do not have the distinguished attention and support of your Lordships or other people outside the House. I readily assure him that I shall continue so to do.

I do not suppose for a moment that I have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to move a fraction in my direction—I have not quite finished. I see that the noble Lord is trembling on an interruption. I do not know whether or not to ride roughshod over him. I shall give way.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the noble Lord is very kind in giving way. I just wanted to catch him in some way or other before he sat down. It was simply to ask him if he would accept that I went out of my way to suggest a phased approach to this question of transfer, and I did not ask for an across-the-board approach to it.

Lord Elton

Yes, my Lords. Recognising the pressures of conviction and emotion under which the noble Lord speaks, I think he was very restrained in what he said. He did not ask us to rush pell-mell into a new arrangement. However, the question to which we have to address ourselves is whether the new arrangement is something at which one can arrive at any speed. What I am saying is that it depends on the criteria, the nature of the crime, the behaviour of the prisoner, the question of his reverence or otherwise from previous connections with terrorist organisations and, of course, the agreement of the receiving organisation to take him. That is the question I am addressing and I think that those aspects have to be met.

I have said that we do look genuinely at these cases on their merits every time. I have already told your Lordships in detail what we do. That amounts to saying—I reassert it—that no prisoner is ever ruled out automatically.

I turn now to a final issue to which the noble Lord addressed himself. He asked about assistance to visitors to prisoners from Northern Ireland. Subsistence is payable at supplementary benefit levels at £8.35 a night and £1.35 for each meal. That is hardly generous, but some prisons operate for visitors hostels which are relatively cheap.

Air travel, which is the noble Lord's particular concern, is only marginally more expensive and may actually be cheaper than surface travel if the prison is in or near London. For instance, a return flight from London to Belfast can cost as little as £70 and at most £110. The return rail-ship journey, Belfast-London via Liverpool, costs £79. If the prison is outside London a relative who chooses to fly must pay the cost of rail travel from the airport, which in the case of the Isle of Wight prisons is about £20 return. It is open to relatives with assisted visiting facilities to use the air ticket money, as it were, to off-set the cost of surface transport if they wish to do so; I think that is what the noble Lord wanted to know.

We do not know how many relatives choose to pay the difference because it is up to them to do it if they wish. If the noble Lord is interested, we do know the numbers who on medical grounds have been allowed to travel by air. The number was one last year and three in 1982. Each close relative of a prisoner is entitled to 13 visits a year and therefore one must look further than these provisions to see why some of the cases to which the noble Lord referred have actually occurred.

What I wish to leave with your Lordships is this. First, the criteria are really necessary for running the system and for protecting the public. They are not imposed as inflexible mathematical formulae without the consideration of the human eye. They are evaluated carefully before they reach Ministers, and by Ministers. We cannot impose these prisoners on the Northern Ireland prison system, nor could we if we wished to do so.

We ought not to forget the message which our policy proclaims. It must not be interpreted in Northern Ireland by terrorist organisations, however ill-advisedly, with however little justification, as a signal that we did not really mind, that these were not atrocious, horrible crimes, for which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, rightly counts on the forgiveness of the Almighty but from a repetition of which he must surely count upon Her Majesty's Government to protect the rest of the nation to the best of their ability. If we do not establish that, then we have created a false and a dangerous situation for which we could blame no one but ourselves. I admire the noble Lord's humanity. I hope that he respects our practicality.

House adjourned at five minutes before ten o'clock.