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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I shall seek to move my amendment, Amendment No. 2, on which I hope that the House may divide later. I have no wish to prolong proceedings on the Bill since the House has a great deal of important business today. But like the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, I wish to say a few words about the principle of the Bill as a background to the amendment.

One does not have to doubt the good intentions of those who brought the Bill forward, or those who support it. Its objective is to secure peace in Northern Ireland, but it introduces grave injustices. It is part of a process of the appeasement of wicked men responsible for the most appalling crimes. I have a strong feeling, as does the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, that in the light of the bombs which have been discovered just in time recently, of the mortar attack, and the murder by an IRA body of some kind of one of its own religion--if one can say that the IRA has a religion beyond the religion of violence--sooner or later a government amendment will alter the date in the Bill and bring into its provisions those people who are committing and will shortly commit other such crimes.

There could not be a better example than this Bill of the ends being held to justify the means. The means of this Bill is the reward of criminals; the end is peace. I do not think that we can be too sure that that end will be achieved by these means.

Against that background it is now generally agreed--I realise that Ministers cannot say too much without risk of being held to have prejudiced themselves on the issue--that the treatment of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright always seen as controversial, is now seen as a further and serious injustice. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has done the cause of justice a signal service in the way in which he brought his Motion to the House the night before last. It would surprise us all, I think now, if either by the route which he promoted, or by the Secretary of State's current review, Fisher and Wright were not soon released. Indeed, I am told by journalists that leaks--I hasten to say, no doubt unauthorised--from the Northern Ireland Office say that they will be released before the end of the next month.

As we know--the Minister has told us--he hopes that the release of the terrorist prisoners will commence at the beginning of September. If my noble friend's route is the belt, my amendment is the braces of a belt and braces approach to the matter. We know that the Petition

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will lie upon the Secretary of State's desk in just the same way as does the present review. I doubt whether any of us would wish those soldiers to be left to use the provisions of this Bill to secure their release. But if none of the other three possible routes which were laid out by the Minister leads to their release, they may well be driven, and are entitled, to use the provisions of the Bill. If so, the applications of men in their circumstances should be accorded priority over those of terrorists. Nothing less would be fair.

That is what the amendment would secure. It would also secure an opportunity for Members of another place to consider these matters afresh and express their own view upon them in the light of our debate the night before last on my noble friend's Motion. I think that all of us who were present for that Motion, or who have read the account in the official record, will realise that there are grave doubts about the safety of the conviction of those two men.

It would be helpful if it were not seen to be just this House supporting the review of the conviction and sentence of those two men. It would be very helpful if we could send this Bill back to the other place, amended in this way, so that the Members of the other place could express their view, which I believe would be overwhelmingly akin to that which has been expressed in this House.

4 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, it is not possible to speak to either Amendments Nos. 1 or 2 without also speaking to the sister amendment relating to implementation, Amendment No. 13. All these amendments are opposed because they are contrary to the best interests of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright as regards release as soon as possible, as now protected on the Humble Address debate. For it was then accepted unanimously by your Lordships that release under the Clause 3 linkage, to which I objected in any event, was not appropriate and that release under the Royal Prerogative was in no way inhibited. The exposition of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was a truly memorable, constructive speech.

As regards Amendment No. 13--I do not know whether your Lordships have seen the Belfast agreement--to delay until 31st August--

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. It will save the time of the House and perhaps his energy if I say that I do not intend to move Amendment No. 13.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has his name to the amendment, any other noble Lord can move it and I shall be very brief about it. At paragraph 6 on page 10, the document provides that the British and Irish Governments will take all necessary steps to facilitate the decommissioning process to include bringing the relevant schemes into force by the end of June.

One of the relevant schemes is the mechanism to provide for the accelerated process for release--I refer to page 35--which is reflected in Clause 3. The Bill

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came to this House only at the end of June. The only conceivable reason for postponing an Act beyond the Recess is to afford time in which Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 can be implemented.

I keep coming back to Guardsmen Fisher and Wright because I am much more interested in them than in any other aspect of the debate. As far as they are concerned, Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 directly affect their interests as to release; whereas before, the amendment to Clause 21, which is now Clause 22, was withdrawn in Committee, negatived on Report, albeit supported by my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley, if only to make a strong signal for release as soon as possible. That indirectly affected their interests as to release, but the signal is now on its way as a result of the humble Address. The form of the amendments has changed, but the substance remains precisely the same.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 to Clause 3 import the same type of precondition to the implementation of the Belfast agreement as reflected in this Clause 3 linkage. If this is accepted, it would inevitably deprive the Government of moral authority to continue to foster the peace process. The argument was deployed in Committee on 6th July and at the Report on 16th July and I have no intention of boring your Lordships further by seeking to deploy it on the third time of asking.

I comment not in any sense of seeking to be unkind or controversial, but Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 13 embark on the plotted course of political confrontation. They cannot be accepted by the Government; the Government have made it totally plain that they cannot accept them and why they cannot accept them. I say with respect to my noble friend Lord Tebbit--he knows that I have a great respect for him--who said that the Government would introduce an amendment to this Bill in the Commons, that elephants might fly! The Government will never do it; they have made perfectly plain the fact that they cannot and will not do it. Therefore, to what purpose are these amendments to be supported, if they would hazard peace in the Province?

In conclusion, in the humble Address debate, noble Lords on all sides of the House decided to eschew confrontation and follow the path of persuasion in the best interests of these guardsmen who, although not named in Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, are inevitably involved. As these amendments cannot serve the best interests of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, to what constructive purpose shall your Lordships support them?

Lord Renwick of Clifton: My Lords, this house has devoted many hours of discussion, and rightly so, to the cases of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, to whom these amendments clearly refer. They have been before us in a variety of guises and I admire the tenacity of the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Molyneaux, in pursuit of a good cause, but not the method by which they are seeking to pursue it now.

As others have said, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is reviewing these cases and a decision can be expected by the end of August. Meanwhile, we have just voted a Petition to Her Majesty asking her to exercise the Royal Prerogative of Mercy

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in these cases, which no doubt will also be referred to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has the power to order the release of these guardsmen and my noble friend the Minister will have taken the universal conviction from all parts of the House that she should use it.

I share the hope of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that the two guardsmen will be released before any convicted terrorist receives accelerated release under the provisions of this Bill. I entirely agree with him, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and others that this is an injustice which must be righted and I am convinced that very soon it will be righted.

However, that is not a reason to amend the Bill before us today. The Bill gives effect to an agreement negotiated between the parties in Northern Ireland which affords the best hope for a more peaceful future for the Province than in the previous three decades. We cannot now add new conditions without those two being negotiated with the parties and starting the whole negotiation over again--and that, clearly, we are not going to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has expressed serious reservations, to say the least, about the agreement. Certainly, he gives the impression that he does not expect it to succeed. But the great majority of the people of Northern Ireland, who voted on the matter, do support the agreement and they very much want it to be given the chance to succeed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that the agreement will not end terrorism, as we have all too clearly seen from the actions of groups on both sides, including the tragedy at Ballymoney in the past few days.

However, there is now at last the real prospect of drastically reducing terrorism and public support for it, of reducing these organisations to the character of splinter groups without significant support and of marginalising the men of violence and extremists on both sides, thereby giving the people of Northern Ireland the prospect of a better and more peaceful future. I do not for one moment believe that the House would wish to do anything that would compromise the chances of achieving that essential goal.

I am convinced that there is near universal support in the House for the agreement, as there is for the release of the guardsmen, and that the House will understand that it would be irresponsible to seek to introduce new conditions now. I also believe that it would be wholly inappropriate in any way to link the cases of these two guardsmen, who in the course of their duties made a fatal mistake, to those of prisoners convicted of premeditated acts of terrorism. I very much hope that the noble Lords will, on reflection, decide to withdraw their amendments. I must urge noble Lords not to support them.


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