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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, last Thursday, when a similar amendment was moved, I would have been inclined to support it. However, I think we have to take into account the fact that a Motion was passed unanimously, without a vote, on Monday which attempts to invoke the Royal Prerogative. We must listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and others have said; namely, that we must not upset the agreement in any way. They say that the agreement is sacrosanct. I can understand that, but before I decide how I vote today I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to assure me that that operates on both sides and that if we see this agreement as sacrosanct, Her Majesty's Government will also insist that the Government of the Irish Republic consider it to be sacrosanct too, and that there will be no alteration to the Good Friday agreement by the Government of the Irish Republic. I hope that my noble friend will be able to answer that.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 2, which I prefer to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, because its wording is more limited and it avoids the difficulty to which the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, drew attention. As already stated, your Lordships have discussed the cases of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright several times recently and the Minister is in no doubt about the strong views held on the subject in all parts of the House. In particular, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway initiated an extremely moving and memorable debate in which an important decision was made by this House. However, like my noble friend Lord Tebbit, I wish to see belt and braces in this matter.

This is, of course, a much more moderate amendment than the amendment that my noble friend Lord Tebbit moved to this Bill the other night. This amendment would not hold up the whole Bill--that was the point made the other night--but seeks to establish the order in which the cases should be considered by the review commission. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Tebbit does not make it a condition that the guardsmen should be released; it simply ensures that their cases are processed before other cases.

It has been said that this amendment is contrary to the agreement. I have looked again at the agreement and I cannot see anything contrary to the point made in the amendment. Certainly I do not think anyone has suggested--I do not think anyone would suggest--that it would be contrary to the agreement if the two guardsmen were to be released by another process. I refer to the process that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway suggested the other night, which the House supported, or the Secretary of State's review, which was in train before that, which might lead to their

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release. If they were released under one of those processes before anyone else's case was considered under this Bill--as far as I can see, the chance of any case under this Bill having completed its consideration before those processes are exhausted is small indeed-- I do not think anyone in this House would claim that to be contrary to the agreement.

The agreement does not specifically provide for any particular order in which the cases should be considered. Without the amendment the Bill leaves the question to the rules to be introduced under Schedule 2. There will be some rules which will settle the order in which the cases are considered. I take it that no one will complain that that is against the agreement. All the amendment does is settle the order in favour of the cases of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright being considered first. Nor do I believe that acceptance of the amendment would seriously delay the consideration of other cases. I do not believe that the consideration of the cases of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright would take the commission long, certainly not so as to make any serious dent in the timetable.

However, I know that many noble Lords, and indeed others, while wanting to see the guardsmen released as soon as possible, hate the idea that they should be released under the terms of this Bill. They believe that that would equate the guardsmen with terrorists. I share that distaste to some extent and I certainly understand why people think that way. However, I do not think that that should prevent this route being used by the guardsmen, if necessary. It seems to me that under the Bill they are entirely entitled to apply. The Bill requires that a prisoner should be serving a sentence for a scheduled offence, as the two guardsmen are.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. Of course, they are entitled to apply, but this House has decided unanimously that it is wholly inappropriate that they should.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's confirmation that they are entitled to apply. I shall return to that point in a moment. Certainly, I did not think that the House decided the other night on the method suggested by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in preference to another method. The House decided to support the method proposed by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway--it was entirely right that it should--but that does not prevent the braces being there as well as the belt.

I was saying that the guardsmen are entitled to apply in the sense that they are serving a sentence for a scheduled offence. The other requirement of the Bill is that they should not belong to a terrorist organisation. They do not, and they never have belonged to a terrorist organisation. Therefore, I do not believe that it would take the review commissioners 30 seconds to decide that they were "qualifying prisoners" in the words of the Bill. So the only consideration for their immediate release by this route would be whether they would otherwise serve half as long again as they have already served. I cannot believe that a decision on that would take the commissioners more than another 30 seconds.

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Regardless of the fact that other methods of release are being pursued, I do not believe that these men should hold back from applying, when the opportunity offers itself, to be released in this manner. They would indeed be wise to go for the braces, as it were, as well as the belt.

Those who have served the forces of law and order have as much right to benefit from the agreement as those who have opposed them. Most of those who will be released under the terms of the Bill have opposed law and order. They have been terrorists, even though the Bill requires that they should no longer belong to a terrorist organisation in order to qualify for release. Because I believe that those who have served the forces of law and order have as much right as anybody to benefit from the provisions of the Bill, I support Amendment No. 2.

4.30 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, the argument has reached such a high level on constitutional and legal matters that it is very difficult to see the wood for the trees. What we are talking about is the release of the two Scots guardsmen as soon as possible. We have been told by the Minister that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have made her decision within the next few weeks. Following the humble Address to Her Majesty on Monday, that would undoubtedly mean that this amendment would no longer be required.

However, if one looks at the history of (dare one say it?) the reward for terrorism and what has gone on in the past few years, it would appear to most of us that the appeasement of terrorism has normally been at the expense of most other events. For instance, we have received no weapons and the IRA has now conveniently given them away to splinter groups, so we may never receive them. People in Northern Ireland are afraid that if we do not take a "belt and braces" approach, we shall be let down yet again by what appears to be a reward for terrorism and a delay in all other matters affecting the normal law-abiding people of the Province.

I am inclined to support the amendment for that reason--being, as I hope, part of that law-abiding community, being involved in it and knowing the feelings of people about both this Government and the previous one, who have tended to give something for nothing in return. This time, we want Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, and we have a right to that.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I have not spoken on this matter before but, having been a guardsman for 12 years, I believe that it would be nothing less than awful if the two guardsmen had to apply for release under the terms of this Bill. In the 1970s, I was faced with a decision while travelling quickly in a "patchy" country, as it was termed, at night when it was wet, whether or not to drive through a road-block. I drove through it. They did not shoot at me. I am still here today. Had they done so, they might well have been within their rights. Security forces had been killed in that area in the previous week, I was on the list and I could not take that risk.

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The guardsmen were doing their best in appallingly difficult conditions. I was horrified when they were condemned, particularly in this country. If they had to stoop to apply for release under this Bill, it would be a blooming disgrace to the British judiciary and all that we stand for.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I feel that we have rather missed the point; namely, to achieve the release of the guardsmen as soon as possible. No timescale has been given. During the debate the other evening we were given four or five options by the Minister. But through the judicial process they could take years. We are trying to secure the release of the guardsmen now. No one from the Front Benches on either side of this House has indicated a way forward so as to do that quickly. I hope that the Minister now has something else to say. Frankly, his remarks the other evening were not impressive. The procedures referred to are lengthy; they could go on for months. This House deserves a speedy reply, and the speedy release of these two very brave guardsmen.


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