Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Lord Carlile of Berriew Excerpts
Committee stage & Report stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 24th February 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 View all Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 99-I Marshalled list for Committee - (21 Feb 2020)
Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD)
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My Lords, I do not dissent at all from that assessment that a moral victory has been won, but that is only the beginning of the story. I simply want to address the Government’s distinctly lacking arguments against the amendment as advanced so far in a context where there was such widespread agreement on the efficacy of bringing the Parole Board into all cases but no very clear defence by the Government as to why the two-thirds provision has to be imposed on those who would otherwise have been released without the Parole Board’s involvement half way through their sentence.

The arguments produced by the Government have been very strange. One was that it would create greater confusion. It is in the essence—in the nature—of this provision that there will be confusion, because nobody can know what assessment the Parole Board is going to make of their case. The avoidance of confusion is not a primary objective of this: quite the contrary, we invite the Parole Board to make a very serious consideration of each case and only to allow release at either the halfway or two-thirds point if it is satisfied that there is not a danger to the public from doing so. The confusion argument does not really make any sense at all.

Then there is the argument that this will increase public confidence. Of all the things that might increase public confidence, I cannot see someone rushing into the pub saying, “Have you heard? Do you know that some of these offenders might spend up to another year in jail, but then they will be released?” That is not what public confidence is built on, and it is the wrong argument to use for something that involves issues of liberty.

Then I want to challenge the argument about the further period of incapacitation, because terrorists in prison are not incapacitated. They engage in grooming and recruitment activities and, as I said in the Second Reading debate, in some cases might be able to achieve more by their work among other prisoners—including prisoners who are not there for terrorist offences—than they might be able to achieve on the outside. They might recruit a larger number of people, so I do not accept the incapacitation argument.

The only argument that would be persuasive would be that it was impossible, with this amendment as drafted, to avoid the situation in which the Parole Board could not cope in a reasonable period of time with the cases at the half-time stage, but that probably could be overcome by alternative drafting if the drafting presented tonight has that problem. That would be the only argument that would persuade me: that we were letting people out without the Parole Board assessment, when the whole purpose of this is to make sure that they have that assessment.

Therefore, unless the Government produce a better argument, I do not think that they have made the case.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, my name is the fourth name on these amendments, and I am not going to add anything, save to say this: I wish it had not been necessary to table these amendments. They represent what I would have considered a reasonable Bill to tackle the difficult problems we are dealing with tonight. I support strongly my noble friend Lord Anderson and others who have signed these amendments.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My Lords, I rise only briefly. First, I apologise for not participating in the Second Reading debate. I had a professional engagement that I thought would go on all day, so I did not put my name down to speak, but I have been present throughout almost all the debate, so I am familiar with the arguments that have been articulated.

Turning directly to the comments and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, like other noble Lords I do not like changing goalposts. I entirely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, himself. In principle, it is an unsatisfactory business. I am not competent to form a view as to whether this is an infringement of Article 7 of the European Convention, but I am bound to say that I took a great deal of reassurance on that point from the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, both of whom addressed the matter most directly.

My arguments are of a more pragmatic nature. Firstly, the Bill introduces two elements of retrospectivity. The first is the introduction of the Parole Board filter—a point made by the Minister. The second, and different, element is the introduction of raising the minimum custodial period from one-half to two-thirds. Almost everybody who has spoken in this House, and everybody who I heard, welcomed the introduction of the Parole Board filter and thought it was a jolly good idea—but it is retrospective. Once one has decided that one can as a matter of principle accept that retrospective change, I find it quite difficult to see why as a matter of principle one should not accept the other change: namely, raising the minimum period from one-half to two-thirds.