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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, went to a great deal of trouble and exercised a great deal of patience to get this amendment on the Marshalled List. As I am sure noble Lords appreciate, and as the noble Lord said in introducing the amendment, he is not seeking to employ a political manoeuvre to have released these two honourable young men. I made a modest contribution to the debate a few weeks ago in this House when their plight was debated. I did not hear one voice raised against them. I understood that all present were wholeheartedly in favour of the principles which have just been put forward, and were expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, earlier.
Since the amendment refers to the naval, military or air forces of the Crown, I wish to pay tribute to them--I do not think that it is out of order--for their devotion to duty and the courage and patience they have shown over these many decades. I do not exclude my old regiment which has been there almost from the beginning. I know that I speak for all the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland of whatever faith in paying
Lord Renwick of Clifton: I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has raised the cases of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright in the debate. I wish to assure the noble Lord that many of us on this side of the Chamber feel just as strongly as he does that there has been, and is, a miscarriage of justice in this case.
The question is how it is to be dealt with. There are now two ways in which to proceed. One is by the process of judicial review. Like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I should greatly prefer these cases to be dealt with by that process rather than by the process envisaged in the Bill which relates to terrorist offences. We feel as strongly as does the noble Lord that the security forces in Northern Ireland are called upon to perform an almost impossible task.
I should like to suggest to the noble Lord and to the Committee that there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with this case. I believe that the right way to proceed is for the Minister, as I hope he will, to take back to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the strongly held view of Members on all sides of this Committee that this case should be dealt with, and expeditiously, and that these guardsmen should be released.
I believe that the wrong way to deal with it is by an amendment to the Bill. The Bill gives effect to the agreement. I honestly believe that I am speaking at least in part on behalf of Baroness Ewart-Biggs, who used to sit on these Benches. She herself a victim of terrorism and longed to see the day when an agreement of this kind was possible to give new hope to the people of Northern Ireland. She would not want to see the Bill amended and sent back to another place in a form which could make it more difficult to achieve that essential goal.
On that basis, I hope that the Committee will join in expressing the view that the guardsmen should be released, that this should be a case for judicial review, but that they will not support the Bill being amended tonight.
Viscount Brookeborough: I will support the amendment if necessary. I have not spoken on this matter before. The noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, suggested a judicial review. I speak as a lay person but, if that is to happen, why can they not be released pending that judicial review?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I rise only to correct the noble Viscount. It is not judicial review. The way that it is done is that authority is given so that application is made to the Criminal Cases Review Commission--and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has already sent my papers there to achieve priority. The commission then sends the application to the Court of Appeal and the court of appeal either quashes the conviction, orders a retrial or refuses the application. That is the position.
I will say a few words about it as a lay person. If there has not been political influence in keeping the two guardsmen where they are, then there has definitely been political inactivity in doing anything about it. We know from the size of the majority that the Government have that it is possible for them to do anything if they put their minds to it.
The Government shy away from many of our amendments to the Bill which are designed to tighten up the legislation on terrorists and their release. The Government know that there is much unease felt by everybody about the release of prisoners--except by those connected with the terrorist parties. They seem to be overjoyed. Yet the one thing we cannot do is accelerate the release of two soldiers. They are there not because they choose to be; they are there because of the terrorist situation in Northern Ireland. Many people in Northern Ireland, let alone the remainder of the United Kingdom, feel that this case should be dealt with promptly.
If this amendment is the wrong way of doing it, I know that everyone would plead for some fast action rather than, as they see it, more delaying tactics until the Government feel that things are safer in Northern Ireland. I am not accusing them of doing that but that is the way it is perceived outside. It may not be fair but perceptions are all-important in Northern Ireland. People on both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland see no threat to the political process, to the peace process or to the present situation at all in doing something for these two guardsmen now.
Earl Attlee: I have one question for the Minister. Before asking it, I will remind him that I do have an interest to declare. As a serving officer in the TA, I have three or four regular soldiers under my command.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that this must be dealt with promptly. I was very heartened by the announcement that the Minister made in response to the question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, earlier in the proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit was not with us, as he acknowledged.
I was heartened because it indicated that the Government have now taken on board the urgency with which this case is viewed on all sides of the House. It is notable that in his statement he said that the Secretary of State would be taking into account the opinions of your Lordships, which have again been expressed very forcibly this evening.
However, I do not know whether I am alone in feeling unease about the equivalence implicit in the amendment we are now discussing between disciplined soldiers of the Armed Forces upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland and terrorists, whom we all condemn. I find some unease in that equivalence. I understand the
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My noble friend Lord Tebbit has once again raised a most important point which, as all Members of the Committee will know, has attracted great attention in your Lordships' House, in the Armed Forces in particular and well outside either of those august bodies all over the United Kingdom.
I noted what the Minister said earlier in response to my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and at this stage I want to say only that this is not a matter which will go away. It is a matter to which we shall return again and again. Once again this evening, as before, Members on all sides of the Committee have wanted to see the release of those men.
There is no doubt that this Bill changes the situation quite radically from what it was last autumn when the last decision was taken. I believe also that the most satisfactory way for the men to be released would be through a judicial process which cleared them of the murder charge, as opposed to just letting them out of prison, which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway is pursuing. As he said, we shall shortly have an opportunity to discuss that route.
But it is not the only route by which the end we all seek can be achieved. On previous occasions the Minister has suggested that this Bill may be a route through which it is achieved. The statement which the Minister made earlier seemed to suggest another, although I did not sense quite as much urgency in the way he expressed the matter as this Chamber feels on that matter.
I cannot judge which is likely to prove the quicker of the various routes on offer, but it is clear what the Committee wishes to be achieved. Meanwhile, I hope the Government will pay careful attention to what was said by my noble friend Lord Tebbit.
Lord Dubs: Perhaps the most helpful procedure to follow is for me to explain what is the situation as regards the guardsmen and then deal later with the amendments. I understand the reasons for the amendment, and I am aware of the strength of feeling in this Chamber, reflected today and on the several previous occasions when we have debated the matter.
Although some noble Lords may have been present when I made my earlier comment, it is only fair to those who were not present to repeat what I said in answer to a question by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, two or three hours ago. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently reviewing this case in the light of correspondence from the guardsmen's solicitors. She received the papers today and will be considering those papers as soon as may be during the next few weeks. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will be aware that the papers in such cases are extensive, but they must be given full and detailed consideration. The Secretary of State will consider the
As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will know, the Secretary of State cannot prejudge any decision she may make as a consequence of that further review, but when a decision has been made she will make it known. That was what I said in reply to a question raised on an earlier amendment. That is one avenue forward for the two guardsmen.
An alternative avenue, to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, referred, concerned the Criminal Cases Review Commission. That has nothing whatever to do with the Secretary of State and is concerned with the safety of the previous conviction and the question of a possible miscarriage of justice. During an earlier debate a few weeks ago, I offered to send various papers that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, had allowed me to see, together with others, to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The noble Lord agreed that I should do so; and, indeed, I have.
The third possibility is simply that, if the Bill becomes law in its present form, clearly the guardsmen, having committed scheduled offences--not because they are terrorists, but because they have committed offences which are defined as "scheduled offences"--would also be eligible to have their cases for release considered by the commissioners once they had been appointed under the legislation. I do not know which of those methods is the more likely. The guardsmen would certainly have to apply to the commissioners after the latter's appointment, but the Secretary of State is already considering the matter in the terms which I have described.
All I have said indicates that the Government are very sensitive to the views which have been expressed tonight. Clearly the Secretary of State's wish to look at the papers again, and her decision to start to do so today, is an indication of her desire, as it were, to reflect the views which have been expressed in this Chamber on a number of occasions. However, I cannot go any further in that respect.
I turn now to the amendment. I understand the reasons behind it but I cannot accept it. The Good Friday Agreement contains no such requirement and to impose such a requirement at this time would be not just to depart from its terms but, frankly, to drive a coach and horses--
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