HC Deb 09 February 1981 vol 998 cc599-600
41 Mr. Canavan

asked the Attorney-General what criteria are used when deciding whether to institute criminal proceedings against members of the Armed Forces for alleged offences arising out of the performance of their duties when assisting the civil authorities.

The Attorney-General

The Director uses the same basic criteria in all cases whether they involve members of the Armed Forces or not.

Mr. Canavan

Although the Armed Forces have an unenviable task when dealing with terrorists, does the Attorney-General agree that it would be a deplorable legal precedent in this country for members of the Armed Forces to be given immunity from prosecution for carrying out summary execution of terrorists, especially after they have given themselves up? Was any such immunity from prosecution, or any order for summary execution, approved by either the Attorney-General or the Home Secretary in the case of the SAS raid on the Iranian embassy.

The Attorney-General

I must say that I am horrified by that question. There was a certain amount of confusion in the evidence. The matter has been reviewed, in part, in the trial at the Old Bailey, although not all the prosecution evidence was called. It was considered with care at an inquest with a coroner's jury last week. So far as I am concerned the courage and determination shown by those involved, which saved an unknown number of lives of innocent hostages, is a matter of pride for us all. I would especially like to add my admiration for the conduct of police constable Trevor Lock.

Sir Hugh Fraser

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this country, compared with any other in the world, shows amazing scrupulosity in the discharge of the function of the State investigating all events pertaining to disaster or tragedy such as that which occurred at the Iranian embassy? This is an attribute of which we might be proud. Surely, it is incredible that a member of the Opposition should try to damage this force—I happen to be a former member of the SAS—and use the House of Commons to attack what were found by the jury to be killings in the interests of the pursuit of the national interest?

The Attorney-General

I agree with my right hon. Friend. The evidence was reviewed both by the Director and myself. There was no evidence upon which proceedings in relation to the deaths of those terrorists could be justified.

Mr. John Morris

No one in the House would want to detract from the congratulations offered on the bravery of all those who were concerned in that incident. I say that as a former Minister in the Ministry of Defence. Do I understand from the Attorney-General's earlier remarks that equality before the law is a paramount consideration and, secondly, that, where an offence has been committed, the question of prosecution is examined on the same basis, whoever is involved?

The Attorney-General

The answer that I gave to the initial question was that the criteria are the same in all cases. The criteria that would apply here are the same as the test which is applied, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967.