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Belfast Agreement: Release Of Prisoners

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1998

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Upon what powers they intend to rely to release certain categories of terrorist criminals before the expiry of their minimum sentences in accordance with the recent agreement on Northern Ireland. [HL1575]

If the Belfast Agreement is endorsed in referenda to be held on 22 May, the Government would intend to bring forward new legislation to give effect to the commitments entered into in relation to prisoners which form part of that agreement.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they expect to undertake any consultation with the victims or families of victims of the terrorists to whom they propose to grant amnesty in accordance with the recent agreement on Northern Ireland. [HL1577]

The Government do not intend to grant amnesty to those prisoners released as a consequence of the Belfast Agreement. Prisoners who are released will continue to serve their sentences on licence in the community and will be recalled should they breach the terms of their licence. The Government do not intend to consult victims or their families on those parts of the agreement relating to prisoners. The agreement in its entirety will be put to the peoples of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has previously commissioned a report and recommendations from Sir Kenneth Bloomfield on taking forward recognition of victims of violence. Sir Kenneth's report will be published on 13 May.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will define the word "paramilitary" as they use it in connection with terrorism in Northern Ireland; and in what respects they differentiate between terrorist and paramilitary criminal acts in Northern Ireland. [HL1578]

Terrorism is defined in Section 20 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act as "the use of violence for political ends and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public in fear". The word "paramilitary" is not defined in legislation. In the Northern Ireland context, however, it is widely used to describe acts, including terrorist acts, committed by members of terrorist organisations.The Government do not differentiate between terrorist and paramilitary acts in Northern Ireland.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will set out the process, criteria and reasoning by which they intend to differentiate between crimes motivated by political considerations and those not so motivated in implementing the recent agreement on Northern Ireland. [HL1580]

The paper referred to in my Statement to Parliament of 20 April and placed in the Library of the House on that day set out how the commitments in the Belfast Agreement in relation to prisoners would be implemented. Under the proposed arrangements, prisoners who qualify to be considered will be prisoners convicted in Northern Ireland of scheduled offences and sentenced to life imprisonment or to fixed sentences of five years or more as well as transferred prisoners serving sentences for similar offences committed in Great Britain.