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Lord Campbell of Alloway: Before the Minister continues, perhaps I may point out that there are two further avenues available. There are the general release powers of the Secretary of State after consultation with the trial judge and the Court of Appeal. That is the fourth avenue and the fifth, as the noble Lord conceded on 23rd June, is the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in truly exceptional circumstances where no other mechanism is
I was saying that the Good Friday Agreement contains no such requirement as that set out in the noble Lord's amendment. I contend that, if this Chamber were to pass the amendment, it would in fact drive a coach and horses through the agreement. I understand the noble Lord's motives, but I am disappointed that he has decided to make the release of individual prisoners an issue in this way. Indeed, it can only be a political issue because of the way that he has put forward the argument.
As I said earlier, there are well-established procedures under which life sentence cases are considered. Those arrangements have been applied in the case of these prisoners. Account has also been taken of the circumstances in which their offences were committed. While many noble and gallant Lords have made representations regarding the consideration of these cases, the argument has not been that different rules should apply. However, the procedures certainly mean that individual circumstances can be taken into consideration. That is what the Secretary of State is doing in looking again at the cases.
It would not be appropriate to pass the amendment. Indeed, I suggest that it would not be in the interests of the guardsmen to do so. I believe that it would take the whole issue which this Chamber has discussed on numerous occasions into the realm of political controversy, which would hardly be helpful to them. In the circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Tebbit: I just wonder what those two guardsmen would have felt had they heard the Minister say that it would not be in their interests for this amendment to be carried because it would take them into the realm of politics. I believe that the Minister is living in a different world. Those guardsmen want to get out of prison and be reunited with their loved ones. If that comes as a result of politics, I fancy that their view would be, "Well, that's the way it is", not that they would be upset if the Committee should enact this amendment, and that in consequence the doors of their prison would be opened and they would be released. Surely they would not hide at the back of their cells saying, "No, we cannot accept this freedom, it is so embarrassing for us". Of course they would not, and that is an extraordinarily weak argument.
I do not care how these men are released. I do not believe they care how they are released. In moving this amendment, and in all that I have said about them, I am not looking for honorary membership of the Caledonian Club or anything of that kind. I am looking simply for justice for these men. Had I and others not raised this matter, particularly on the Second Reading of this Bill, would the noble Lord have made the statement which he did today about these young men, or would it have
The Minister observed that this amendment was outside the terms of the agreement. So we are back again to this wonderful agreement from which not only may nothing be taken away but to which nothing may be added. I should remind the Committee that the representatives of Fisher and Wright were not invited to the talks from which this agreement sprang. There were no representatives at the talks of the Army or of their regiment, no one to speak for the soldiers. There were only people to speak for the terrorists and the democratic parties. We have to speak for them now. There is nothing in the agreement which says that these men should not be released. This amendment does not in any way affect the terms of the agreement. It would not delay the passage of the Bill. It would not delay its coming into effect, not by a single day, because it is within the power of the Secretary of State to release these young men. Of course if we were to enact this amendment tonight, or on Report, there would be great pressure on the Government to find a way out of the problem.
Let me again read to the Committee a paragraph from the letter of 2nd December from the Minister of State, Mr. Ingram, to my honourable friend Mr. Michael Trend, the Member of Parliament for Windsor. The concluding paragraph states:
That was the position of the Government last December. I understand that now the position is changing. I do not know why. Is it changing because they have been impressed by the material passed to them in the past few days by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway; or is it that they are impressed by the fact that people are beginning more and more to see that a fundamental injustice is being perpetrated by the Bill as presently drafted? I do not know which it is, but I have a fair suspicion.
I say to my noble friend Lord Campbell and others that politics is a pretty dodgy and unpredictable trade. All of us who have been in it for many years know that. But it is nowhere near as unpredictable and dodgy as the law. That is the implication of what has been said
Lord Tebbit: My noble friend says that it did. I am not able to judge that matter. I was not in the court. I did not hear the evidence. I do not know what happened. But what I do know is that almost all of us are convinced that, even if these men were guilty of the crime of which they were accused and convicted, in the light of the release of serial killers--terrorists--it is only just that they should be released. That is a political consideration. But clearly it is one that most noble Lords believe is correct.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I apologise for having spoken from a sedentary position. Yes, the law did go wrong. And your Lordships' House unanimously concluded, on 23rd June, that there had been a grave miscarriage of justice and that the judicial findings which supported conviction were fundamentally flawed on the affidavit evidence placed in the Library of the House. The law got it wrong, full-stop.
Lord Tebbit: The argument could not be made better. I understand that Parliament is the highest court in the land--except, of course, Brussels; but let us not go down the road of that argument this evening. I do not want to lose any more friends than I have lost already--or perhaps I might make a few. If my noble friend is right, if that is the conclusion that has been reached, why are these men still in prison? There is no need for this amendment once these men are out. Let them be out of prison and the amendment will go away.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, suggested that he was horrified by my action in bringing some air of equivalence between these young men and the terrorists. How strange. I did not hear him express his horror when the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, suggested that they might apply for their release under the provisions of the Bill as though they were terrorists. At Second Reading, the noble Lord indeed said that they could apply under the terms of the Bill. That is equivalence if ever I heard it.
Lord Dubs: The noble Lord knows that I said then, and I re-stated today, that because they were convicted of scheduled offences they would come under the scope of the Bill. I made that point on an earlier occasion in this House when I was asked whether they would be worse off as a result of the Bill than they would otherwise be. I made it clear that they would not be worse off.
Lord Tebbit: I understand that. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, should not be too touchy. I do not wish to be offensive towards him. He was not the target of my remarks. But the fact is that the noble Lord made it perfectly plain that there is equivalence in the Bill: that
I entirely accept that the Government have now shifted radically from the view, expressed not many months ago, that six years was too little for these men to the view that they should be let out, as I understand it, either by a judicial process or by a political process. I repeat that I do not care which it is. However, I know that the judicial process is uncertain and that, once the Bill has passed through this House, we shall have no leverage to insist that the men be released. Until the Bill goes through this House, we have some leverage. I do not propose to relent from my determination that that leverage should be used.
Tonight is not the occasion to take that decision, but we shall come back to this matter on Report, when noble Lords throughout the House will have had ample time to consider the issues and when there will have been further time for the Secretary of State to read these papers--of course, not hurriedly; of course, very carefully; but perhaps with a sense that time is not necessarily on her side. If I correctly detect the mood of this Chamber and of a number of noble Members to whom I have spoken, it is far from impossible that this amendment should be carried on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.