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Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is not only the rural post offices which are under

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threat but also some in central London? For example, the very busy post office in Eccleston Street near Victoria is under threat of closure. I believe that there is some question of selling the building as a capital gain.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I was not aware of the detail of the Eccleston Street Post Office. However, if there are any plans to change its status, I shall try to inform my noble friend accordingly. I am not aware of that amount of detail.

Guardsmen Fisher and Wright

3 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When it is expected that Guardsmen Wright and Fisher will be released.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, no decision has yet been taken regarding a release date for Guardsmen Wright and Fisher.

In October 1997 the Secretary of State decided that the cases of the two guardsmen should be considered by the Life Sentence Review Board in October this year. The timing of this review is currently the subject of a judicial review. Judgment is awaited.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Do the Government acknowledge that the exercise of ministerial discretion to release those serving a mandatory life sentence for murder does not have to conform with advice from the judiciary or from a review board? If so, and it is so, why is that ministerial discretion--it is akin to the royal prerogative--not exercised to release those guardsmen now?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I well understand the strong feelings held on this subject. However, the Government have made their position quite clear. The Life Sentence Review Board looked at the cases last October. It was agreed by the Secretary of State that the Life Sentence Review Board would again look at the cases this coming October. That seems to me a proper process free of political influence; and a process which has been accelerated. Normally that body would not consider cases until the 10-year period. It started looking at this case after five years, and will do so again after six years.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, do the Government understand that such Questions are entirely natural after a weekend when convicted terrorists were released to attend a political meeting? Such concerns represented in this House are but a pale shadow of the wave of concern that is sweeping Northern Ireland because of a perception that the incessant and insatiable demands of paramilitary parties always seem to take precedence over the reasonable requirements of democratically rooted parties, law abiding citizens and sometimes

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justice itself. Do the Government understand that those so-called risks in aid of the settlement are beginning to become more of a risk to the settlement?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I listen to the noble Lord because of the great knowledge he brings to bear from his experiences in Northern Ireland and his involvement with the talks process. The prisoners who were temporarily allowed out of prison to attend the conference last Sunday were allowed out only on a short-term basis. There are precedents for allowing prisoners out on a short-term basis--for example, for compassionate reasons. It was judged helpful to the peace process if the views of a limited number of prisoners could be heard. That was a decision made. The prisoners are now safely behind bars.

Lord Annan: My Lords, why must the noble Lord be so formalistic about this matter? If the Balcombe Street murderers have been released, why could not the guardsmen be released as part of the process?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, first, the Balcombe Street gang were released by the Dublin Government, not by the British Government. But using the word "release" is not accurate. I understand that they were let out for a couple of days. The two or three prisoners held in prison in Northern Ireland who were allowed to go to that conference were let out for a short period of a couple of days only. That is not the same as a release.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the Government are to legislate shortly to set up a sentence review board to facilitate the release of loyalist republican prisoners under a new scheme as part of the settlement. Will those two guardsmen be dealt with in the same way?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, my noble friend touches on an important point. Under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, subject to legislation going through Parliament, there will be established a sentence review body which will look at earlier releases of prisoners held in prisons in Northern Ireland.

The position as regards those two guardsmen is as follows. Clearly their case will still come before the Life Sentence Review Board this October. However, if the legislation goes through in time, and the new sentence review body is set up, it is possible that that body might decide in its scheme of priorities to consider the case of the guardsmen early on. So they will come for consideration under one body or the other.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in reply to my noble friend Lord Campbell, the Minister said that last October the Life Sentence Review Board made a recommendation, and the Secretary of State decided not to let the men out. The two events had nothing whatever to do with one another. May we assume that the long delay in finding any answer to the review held on 25th March--we were promised it in about April--bodes well for a favourable decision both from the judge and the Secretary of State?

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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I cannot comment on what the judge will be minded to decide when he announces his decision. That is for the judiciary. However, last October the Life Sentence Review Board made its confidential recommendations to the Secretary of State. I have no knowledge as to the contents of that recommendation. It may well have been to keep them inside; I simply do not know. But the Secretary of State decided that it would be proper in the circumstances to ask the Life Sentence Review Board to consider again the cases of the two guardsmen this coming October. That is the position.

European Communities (Amendment) Bill

3.8 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(". Nothing in this Act affects the sovereignty of Parliament or the constitutional principle that one Parliament cannot bind its successor.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, many noble Lords will know that I seldom move non-contentious amendments, but on this occasion I am sure that noble Lords will all agree that this amendment is very non-contentious. It deserves, and I hope will receive, the support of the whole House.

Having said that, I believe that there is a need to have the declaration in Amendment No. 1 as part of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. I take that view because, first, we need to reassure those both inside and, more importantly, outside Parliament that their constitutional rights, privileges and ability to govern themselves are not being eroded step by step, with power being handed over to unelected bureaucrats or politicians who have not been elected by the British people and are not therefore under their control through the electoral process.

Secondly, we need to remind British Ministers that Parliament is supreme; and that, although it may go through a period of indolence or toadyism, it can still bite back and holds the ultimate sanction.

Thirdly, we need to educate the ignorant or arrogant in other countries that, however many deals they do with British Ministers, or whatever measures they force on Britain through qualified majority voting, in the last analysis Parliament is the ultimate authority and holds the eventual sanction of providing or withholding supply.

We also need to remind people that Parliament remains the ultimate highest court in the land and cannot be overruled by another sitting in a foreign city.

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It is timely to have a declaration of this sort at this stage, because it is now 25 years--a quarter of a century--since we joined the then common market, when we were assured by Mr. Heath in his 1971 White Paper that accession to the Rome Treaty would involve

    "no loss of essential national sovereignty".

It is 23 years since we were told by a Labour Government in a booklet entitled, Britain's New Deal in Europe, issued during the 1975 referendum, that no important new policy could be decided in Brussels or elsewhere without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and a British Parliament. So I am restating what has already been said.

Since then, we have had the Single European Act 1985, which extended qualified majority voting to many other areas and made a start on police and judicial co-operation and foreign and defence matters. Then came the Maastricht Treaty, which only just scraped through the Commons on a guillotine, and which consolidated and extended the measures in the Single European Act and laid down the conditions and timetable for the completion of economic and monetary union and the introduction of a single currency.

Now we have the Bill that is before the House today--a Bill to put into the effect the Treaty of Amsterdam, which further extends Community competence, strengthens the foreign and security pillar, gives further powers in respect of police and judicial matters, and strengthens and extends the powers of the institutions. The president of the Commission is given new powers and an enhanced status. The European Parliament has had its powers increased through new areas of co-decision--34, I believe--and qualified majority voting has been extended.

The Government may very well say that all this is merely a case of sharing sovereignty. But that is simply not true. Sovereignty cannot be shared. You either have it, or you do not. So it really is time to have it on record that none of this affects the basic truth of parliamentary sovereignty and the principle that one Parliament cannot bind its successor.

Furthermore, this declaration would help to put some backbone into Parliament, when it is told, as it was over the Factortame case--the case concerning the Spanish fishermen--that legislation it passed to protect the interests and livelihoods of British fishermen had been declared illegal and that it was required to repeal it--backbone, that is, to tell government that no European court can tell Parliament what to do.

This declaration is meant to be helpful to Parliament, government and indeed the Official Opposition. This is not a wrecking amendment. If it were agreed, it would not affect the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty. As I said, I wish to be helpful to the Government, as I always do--and on this occasion even to the Opposition--in that I want to strengthen their firm declaration that they are in favour of a Europe of nation states and against a federal or unitary union.

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On 31st January 1997, during the debate in which this House gave a Second Reading to the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to repeal Sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, speaking for the then Conservative Government, stated:

    "So we must and shall continue to argue and work for the sort of European Union which we believe is right: a partnership between nation states, working together through agreed decisions of decision-making where that brings real advantage".--[Official Report, 31/1/97; col. 1421.]

So there is no question about the position of the then Conservative Government when this House passed that Bill to repeal Sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act.

The same is true of the present Government--that is, if the Prime Minister is to be believed. During and before the last election, Tony Blair wrapped himself in the Union Jack, and his famous and ringing declaration in his Sun article of 17th March that, "I'm a British patriot", gave reassurance to millions of voters that neither he nor a Labour Government would sell Britain out to a European superstate.

In order that people know what he said, I wish to quote from the article. He said:

    "If there are those in Europe who want a federal superstate, we would refuse to go along. Furthermore, we would want to stop all of Europe moving in that direction. The people of Europe do not want such a superstate".

He went on to say:

    "I am a British patriot. Anyone who believes I would sell my country short has not listened to a word I have said in the past three years. I didn't change the Labour Party into the party it is today to give it all away to Europe or anyone else.

    But I look at the Tory record--on BSE for example, where nine months on from the 'beef war' John Major still hasn't got a bean out of Europe".

That is what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was saying to voters before the election. I am not at all sure, however, that by--

3.15 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way and showing such courtesy. I wonder if he would be kind enough to tell the House exactly what are the differences between his definition of "superstate" and that of the Prime Minister.

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