Chief Political Correspondent
An independent review of anti-terrorism legislation and an extension of compassionate leave for terrorist prisoners was announced last night by Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
But Sir Patrick denied that the concessions on prisoners could be linked to the early release of Private Lee Clegg, the British soldier jailed for life for killing a joyrider. Sir Patrick told MPs that the independent review would probably be conducted by a judge or senior barrister and would examine the anti- terrorist laws which have been in place since the IRA cam- paign began in earnest in the Seventies.
The moves were intended to show that the Government is willing to push the peace process forward, but stopped short of Sinn Fein demands for more than 50 per cent remission for prisoners serving fixed sentences and early remission for those serving life.
Sir Patrick said compassionate leave for prisoners to attend family funerals is to be doubled from 24 hours to 48 hours; it will apply also to serious illness in grandparents and grandchildren; and leave to visit family members who are disabled will be extended from those serving more than 11 years to all prisoners serving more than six.
John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, warned John Major last week that the release of Pte Clegg would trigger calls for the early release of IRA prisoners. Yesterday, Downing Street rejected any link. Sir Patrick told MPs that he had received the recommendation of the life sentence review board on Pte Clegg's case last Tuesday.
"There is no question at all of any linkage between the case of Pte Clegg and any consideration of possible changes to remission rates or possible changes of conditions for prisoners," he said.
"Pte Clegg's case will be treated solely on its merits. There is no question of one law for the security forces and another for the rest, as Pte Clegg's prosecution and conviction plainly demonstrates," he said.
The Government is determined to resist calls for an amnesty for republican and loyalist prisoners, but ministers privately are prepared to allow early release of prisoners if progress is made on decommissioning terrorist arms.
The review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act could lead to the abolition of the highly controversial measures for detention and arrest. Because of civil liberties objections, Labour last night voted against the renewal of the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act, which gives powers to the Diplock courts for trial without jury. The Act has to be replaced next year when its five-year term expires.
t The first demolition of a border checkpoint since the ceasefires will start today when members of the Royal Engineers begin to dismantle a checkpoint in Clady, Co Tyrone.