HC Deb 20 January 1987 vol 108 cc735-46 3.32 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on my review of the cases of the Birmingham pub bombings, the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings and Mrs. Anne Maguire and her co-defendents. Although there were, of course, connections between the Guildford bombings case and that of the Maguires, these were three separate cases, treated entirely spearately in the courts. It follows that I have considered each one separately. I apologise to the House for the length of the statement.

All 17 people concerned were found guilty of very serious offences by a jury following lengthy trials. The verdicts in each case were later upheld on appeal after further long hearings. In short, the question of guilt was in each case properly determined by due process of law.

A Home Secretary must consider very carefully in what circumstances if any he would be justified in interfering with a verdict reached by the courts. Over the years, all kinds of changes may come to alter the view which some people may take of a particular case. The enormity of the crime committed may cease to dominate the scene; those convicted may continue to protest their innocence; police procedures may be improved; new scientific tests may be developed; individuals may write books or produce television programmes which summarise days or weeks of evidence in a way which reflects their genuine conviction that the verdict was wrong or open to considerable doubt: as a result, a body of distinguished opinion may grow up to the same effect. All that has happened here.

In responding to these pressures, a Home Secretary must never allow himself to forget that he is an elected politician and that, under our system, the process of justice must be kept separate from the political process. It is open to others to say: "If I were trying that case as a judge, I would have given a different summing up," or, "If I had been on that jury, I would have reached a different verdict." But it is not open to a Home Secretary simply to substitute his own view of a case for that of the courts. It would be an abuse of his powers if he were to act as though he or those who might advise him constituted some higher court of law.

A different situation arises, of course, if new evidence or some new consideration of substance is produced which was not available at the trial or before the Court of Appeal. In any civilised system of justice, there must be a means whereby a case can be reopened so that new matters can be assessed alongside the old evidence by due process of law. This distinction between new evidence and differences of opinion about old evidence has governed the way in which my predecessors have used the power under section 17 of the 1968 Criminal Appeal Act to refer cases to the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Robert Kee, in his book "Trial and Error", implies that this distinction is a technicality. I disagree. In my view, it is fundamental. It is hard to see how the Court of Appeal could fail to dismiss any reference to it based simply on the proposition, argued without fresh evidence, that its predecessors and the jury had got it wrong. More important, perhaps, this House and the public would rightly become deeply suspicious of a convention which enabled politicians to throw a verdict into doubt simply because they had developed, without any fresh evidence, a view that the verdict may have been mistaken. Once such a convention had become established, the door would be wide open to interference in any case in which a Home Secretary thought it convenient to bow to pressure to have a case reopened.

Thus I believe that my predecessors were right to take a principled view of the circumstances in which it is proper to exercise the power of reference to the Court of Appeal, and after much thought I mean to follow them.

I turn to the cases. Mrs. Maguire, her husband Patrick, two of her sons, Vincent and Patrick, her brother-in-law Patrick "Guiseppe" Conlon, Patrick O'Neill and Sean Smyth, were convicted in March 1976 of unlawfully handling explosives. The prosecution case rested almost entirely on the results of TLC on thin layer chromatography tests which indicated that all seven defendants had handled nitroglycerine. After a trial lasting six and a half weeks, during which the scientific evidence was examined at great length, all seven were found guilty. In July 1977 the full court, after a hearing lasting 10 days, refused their applications for leave to appeal.

The defendants had protested their innocence throughout and have continued to do so. The case has been reviewed previously, most notably in the period 1980 to 1983 and following a debate in another place in May 1985, by which time Mrs. Maguire the last to complete her sentence, had been released from prison.

I have examined with the greatest care the arguments which have been advanced in particular by Mr. Kee in his book published last October. I am clear that there is no new evidence or consideration of substance which I can regard as casting doubt on the safety of the convictions. I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses a memorandum which sets out in greater detail the reasons why I have reached this conclusion. None of the arguments now presented succeeds, in my view, in challenging the scientific evidence. The scientific validity of the TLC test—which is not the same test as that used in the Birmingham case—has not been undermined. The main argument which Mr. Kee advances—that the samples must have been accidentally or deliberately contaminated—is not supported by any evidence. In these circumstances I can see no grounds on which it would be right for me, following the principle I have stated, to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.

I turn next to the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings. In October 1975, after a trial lasting over a month, Patrick Armstrong, Gerard Conlon, Paul Hill and Carole Richardson were found guilty of carrying out the bombing of two pubs in Guildford in October 1974 in which five people died. At the same trial, Armstrong and Hill were convicted of two murders arising from the bombing of a public house in Woolwich in November 1974. All were found guilty by unanimous verdicts. In October 1977, after a hearing lasting 11 days, the full court refused applications for leave to appeal.

These convictions were based wholly on confessions made by the four to the police. It is common ground, and was fully before the court of trial and the Court of Appeal, that there were a number of inconsistencies and contradictions in the statements made. All four alleged at trial that those statements were untrue and that they had been improperly obtained. All four put forward alibis, which were plainly not accepted by the jury. Later, between the trial and the appeal, members of the Balcombe street gang and Brendan Dowd claimed that they, and not the four, were responsible for the Guildford and Woolwich bombings, and these claims formed the main plank of the four's grounds of appeal.

However, the Court of Appeal concluded that there had been a cunning and skilful attempt to deceive the Court by putting foward false evidence". The Court of Appeal also specifically considered Carole Richardson's alibi evidence, and concluded that it was concocted.

Again, I have carried out a detailed examination of the points which have been raised about these convictions. However, it is clear to me that no new substantive points have been raised. The arguments that have been put forward simply repeat or rework those that were aired at trial or on appeal. Indeed, Mr. Kee acknowledges that there is no new evidence. I have had to conclude that there are no grounds that would justify my referring the case to the Court of Appeal. Again, I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses a memorandum which sets out in greater detail the reasons for my decision.

Finally, I turn to the case of the six men who were convicted in respct of the Birmingham pub bombings. In August 1975, after a two-month trial, Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Robert Hunter, Noel McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in respect of the bombing of two public houses in Birmingham in November 1974 in which 21 people were killed and 162 injured. Applications by the six men for leave to appeal were refused by the full court on 30 March 1976. The men later pursued a civil action that was eventually dismissed by the House of Lords in 1981.

The prosecution case rested principally on admissions made by the six men in police custody, together with scientific evidence that indicated that two of the men had handled nitroglycerine. The six men maintained at trial that the admissions had been secured by means of police brutality and intimidation. The defence also disputed the scientific evidence, alleging that the results obtained on the Griess test were due to contact with a harmless substance called nitrocellulose.

As the House will be aware, the safety of these convictions had since been challenged, notably in two "World in Action' programmes and in a book published by Mr. Chris Mullin in June last year.

I have examined all the material with great care. I am satisfied that there is new evidence that would justify my referring this case to the Court of Appeal, and I have now done so. The effect of my action is that the case will now be treated as an appeal by the six men and is sub judice. The House will therefore understand why I cannot comment in detail. I can say, however, that the grounds relate to the scientific evidence given at the trial and the recent allegations by ex-PC Clarke that he witnessed intimidation of five of the six men in police custody and saw signs of injury on them.

I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses a copy of a letter which I have today sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and the report of a reappraisal of the Griess test that was conducted at my request by the Aldermaston forensic science laboratory.

Following consultation between the chief constables of the West Midlands and the Devon and Cornwall forces, the latter force has been asked to undertake further inquiries into the allegations made by Mr. Clarke. The results of that investigation will be made available to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the appellants.

I should add, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Court of Appeal is not confined to considering those matters which form the grounds of reference by me and that it is open to the appellants to seek to place before the court any matters which they wish to raise on their behalf.

As the House will recognise, these have not been easy decisions to take. I have thought it right to maintain the principle that I should interfere with the verdict of a court only where there is some new evidence or new consideration of substance which casts doubt on the safety of the convictions. The second necessary principle is that, where such material is to hand, no consideration of amour propre or possible embarrassment should prevent a referral of the case. I believe that by following these principles a Home Secretary can best serve the interests of justice.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The House will wish to thank the Home Secretary for that properly lengthy statement. His decision to refer the Birmingham case to the Court of Appeal under his section 17 powers is wholly right. He will recall that I recently led a delegation to him about this case. I know that he will agree that his decision is due to the pressure of many people and organisations, including many of my hon. Friends, and I pay tribute to all who have campaigned on this issue.

Could the Home Secretary tell the House a little more about the procedure to be followed and the likely time scale of the proceedings that he has announced today? While I welcome what he said about the Birmingham case, I am disappointed by his faiilure to take similar action on the other cases with which his statement deals.

The scientific evidence in the Maguire case is not as secure as the Home Secretary implies, since it has emerged that the test which the prosecution contended was uniquely applicable was not. That is particularly troubling in a case where many believe that there has never been incontrovertible proof that a crime was committed by anyone, let along by the Maguires.

In the case of the Guildford bombings, testing of the police refutation of the alibi of Carole Richardson shows strongly that it would have been well-nigh impossible for her to get to her concert within the necessary time scale after her alleged role in the Guildford crime. Furthermore, as the Home Secretary has just pointed out, the Balcombe street confessions, although considered by the Court of Appeal, were not available to the jury which delivered its verdict on that case. In those circumstances the Home Secretary should also have bitten the bullet on those two cases and acted under his section 17 powers.

For those reasons, will the Home Secretary consider this proposal? After the conclusion of the Birmingham appeal, whatever the outcome, will he consider setting up an inquiry, under a senior judge with lay assessors, to consider the general question of confession evidence and how it should be handled in future? All three of the cases to which he has referred today, as well as the Bridgewater case which, some time ago, he rightly decided should be reinvestigated, depended heavily on confession evidence which has since been called into question.

We should consider carefully whether uncorroborated confessions should be admissable as evidence unless they have been at least audio-recorded and, most desirably, video-recorded. If the Home Secretary agrees to consider setting up such an inquiry, and I hope he will, will he request the inquiry as part of its remit to consider the confession evidence in the cases that he has dealt with in his statement today, together with the Bridgewater case?

The bombing crimes with which the Home Secretary has dealt today are some of the most serious and savage ever committed in Britain. Everyone would want to see the perpetrators punished with the utmost stringency. If the wrong people have been convicted, it is not only an unacceptable injustice to those who have been convicted, but means that the real and vile culprits of the crimes may still be at large and free to commit further atrocities.

Finally, if capital punishment for murder in general, or terrorist murder in particular, had been in operation in 1974, the Home Secretary's action today would have been academic, since the victims of any ascertained injustice would not be alive to receive a remedy or even the prospect of one. Therefore, is not his statement about Birmingham today the conclusive answer to those who still campaign for capital punishment?

Mr. Hurd

My decision on the Birmingham case was the result of careful consideration which has taken some time—longer than some hon. Members would want—because of the often fresh suggestions and allegations being made. The suggestions recently made by Mr. Clarke were recent and had to be taken into account. I cannot say how quickly the Court of Appeal will move, but the timing is now in its hands and I am sure that it will wish to avoid any avoidable delay.

On the Maguire and Guildford cases, the Maguires were found guilty on a charge of possessing explosives—a fairly narrow charge—and the evidence based on the TLC test was addressed to that charge, not to anything wider. I have taken considerable trouble to establish that there is no serious scientific questioning on the validity of that test.

Carole Richardson's alibi was tested repeatedly at great length during the court proceedings. The Balcombe street and Dowd confessions were similarly tested with great thoroughness by the Court of Appeal, which reached a very clear conclusion about them. There is no connection between the Birmingham case on the one hand and the Guildford and Maguire cases on the other. I do not entirely follow the right hon. Gentleman's point.

We have often discussed the point of principle about uncorroborated evidence. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman and I discussed that point frequently during the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Most people would agree that in each case it is for the court to decide whether evidence that comes forward without corroboration is to be believed. I do not think that this is ground which should be tilled all over again.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has taken firm, clear and courageous decisions which must be supported in the interests of justice? In connection with the horrific bombings in my constituency of Guildford and those who were convicted as a result, will he reassure us categorically that, in reaching his decision in that case, he found not the slightest trace of new evidence or evidence in the case before the Appeal Court which could in any way be subsequently questioned or discredited before finally reaching the conclusion that he announced today? If he can give that assurance, that will at least reassure those who have been pressing for that case to be reopened.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I examined the Guildford case with great care. Against the tests that I have described, I am satisfied that in the Guildford case there was no new evidence or new matters of substance—I did not stick on the definition of evidence—not before the original court or the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Will the Home Secretary accept that those of us who have been concerned with these matters will agree with his statement that these are not easy decisions to make and also accept that he reiterated many sensible principles during his statement? Will he also accept that while I, as the Home Secretary at the time, am glad that he has taken action with regard to the Birmingham case, he would have been better advised to take all three cases together—Guildford, Maguire and Birmingham—and to have set up a special inquiry under a very senior judicial chairman to consider whether there was something in the climate of the time conducive to an unsafe verdict?

Clearly, all three cases are not exactly the same. However, they have sufficient features in common that I think that he will find it difficult if the Birmingham verdict was overturned—perhaps if not—to hold the line on the other cases. Will he not accept that, in the interests of the authority of the law, apart from anything else, it would be better if the cases were considered together rather than have it dragged from him piecemeal?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is clearly on record as Home Secretary in making a strict definition to the House of the way in which a Home Secretary should refer cases to the Court of Appeal. He is now making not that proposition but a wider one which I understand. I am a little surprised that he should link all the cases together. There is a link between the Guildford and Maguire cases, but there is no link between those and the Birmingham case. I am a little surprised that with his experience he should take that line.

I am not sure where the special inquiry which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed would lead. It would not really be fair to ask a distinguished judge and lay assessors to assess something so vague as the climate of opinion. If we followed that practice on these matters, I am not certain what the outcome would be. Clearly, it would be open to anyone after the passage of years to claim that the climate of opinion had changed and therefore the verdicts were unsafe. In these cases, the judges concerned in the summing up went to considerable pains to ensure that the juries were aware of the danger of allowing the emotions of the moment to dominate their judgment. I am sure that that was correct and that that was the right way to handle matters. I do not see how a special inquiry of the sort suggested by the right hon. Gentleman would do anything but leave matters in the air.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)


Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Sir John Farr

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the correct and courageous decision he has taken in respect of the Birmingham six? Will he give an undertaking to the House that, when the matter is considered by the Court of Appeal, as continued imprisonment or otherwise will rest so much upon the new evidence that has already been submitted to him, he will do the best he can to ensue that the new evidence is considered by a jury?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. On my hon. Friend's last point, it is not in my power to order a retrial. One of the choices open to the Court of Appeal is to quash the verdict and order a retrial, but that is something for the Court.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Obviously, all of us who have become convinced that the conviction of the Birmingham six was unsafe will welcome the Home Secretary's announcement. However, does the Home Secretary remember the case of Cooper and McMahon that was referred to the Court of Appeal four times and was turned down four times, until eventually the Home Office released the men from prison? Is he convinced that the Court of Appeal has the open-minded and fair approach to the cases that it needs to have? Many of us are worried that history might repeat itself and that justice might still not be done?

Mr. Hurd

I am aware of the case of Cooper and McMahon and I have discussed it with my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw who was Home Secretary at the time. We are clear that there is no comparison between that and that Birmingham case. The hon. Lady is obliquely suggesting that in some way it would be right in this case for that Home Secretary to use the Prerogative to advise Her Majesty to pardon those concerned. In order to do that, a Home Secretary has to be convinced of innocence. I do not see how, in this case, any Home Secretary could go down that path.

Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be much sympathy for the difficulties he has had to face in reaching the decision that there is new evidence to justify the reopening of the Birmingham pub bombing case? Will he further accept that his decision in those circumstances to refer the case again to the Court o Appeal will be welcomed as a wise and satisfactory way of dealing not only with the case itself and any uncertainty that may surround it, but with the public disquiet that has been raised by the case?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend There is a temptation in these matters to take what, in purely immediate and political terms, would be the easier course, which is to refer more widely or to set up an inquiry. However, for the reasons I have given, it seemed that that temptation could lead to great difficulties for myself, my successors or the criminal justice system as whole. I am glad to have my hon. and learned Friend's support.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Is the Home Secretary aware that I am glad that he has affirmed today his own personal responsibility for the decision he has announced? There are some decisions that a Home Secretary has to take that cannot be put in commission to the Cabinet.

On the Birmingham case and the procedures of the Court of Appeal, in view of a press report▀×I was not quite sure what the Home Secretary said today—is he saying that the Appeal Court judges, if they wish, could have a jury subpoenaed? Will people other than the appellants be allowed to send written evidence or ask to appear or is it only in the control of the appellants he has named today?

In view of the allegations made by Mr. Mullin that he has spoken to people in the Republic who claimed that they had carried out that crime, is there any way in which the right hon. Gentleman can ask the West Midlands police to start investigations into the allegations at this stage and not wait for the outcome of the Court of Appeal procedures?

On the Guildford case, I accept that there is no new evidence and that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If only because the confessions were the only grounds on which the accused were sentenced, I shall continue to support those who feel strongly about this case. Deep down, there is something wrong with the Guildford decisions.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman says that, but it runs against his own statements as Home Secretary when, in a letter of 9 March 1979 about a case, he wrote: I cannot substitute my judgment for that of the courts on the facts before them. I can intervene only if some significant new evidence or consideration comes to light that the courts have not previously considered".

Mr. Rees


Mr. Hurd

I followed exactly the line that the right hon. Gentleman then outlined. I repeat that it is for the Court of Appeal to decide. One of the options before it is to quash the previous verdict and order a new trial by jury.

As I understand it, the position as regards matter before the court is exactly the same as in any other case in which someone appeals against a conviction. It will be for the appellants—obviously, they will have access to lawyers to prepare their case—to decide what matters to bring before the court. Of course, among the matters that they may wish to bring before the Court are the points raised by Mr. Mullin about certain things that he believes have been said to him. I cannot safely go into those matters. It will be for the appellants to prepare and mobilise their case.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, as the constituency Member for the Maguire family, I have made representations to him about the concern arising over the validity of the forensic evidence? Although I respect and fully understand what my right hon. Friend has said to the House today, that concern will persist. If some additional fact or new evidence is produced, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the matter in the light of that evidence?

Mr. Hurd

I pay tribute to the fair and even-handed way in which my hon. Friend has sustained this case on behalf of his constituents. The Maguire verdict rested overwhelmingly on the thin layer chromatography test. Obviously, it is not enough to say that there are now new tests that did not exist before. The question is whether, in any way, the TLC test has been undermined or discredited. I am satisfied that it has not been. Obviously, if evidence came forward—I think it is unlikely—that discredits this test, as opposed to showing that it should have been corroborated or that other tests are now available, it will have to be examined.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

As the Home Secretary, by his answer today, has made it clear that it is possible that innocent people have been convicted—that is the basis of his reference of the Birmingham case to the Appeal Court—will he not recognise also that, since the conviction was by a jury, and he himself has said that new evidence has arisen, this measure should again go to a jury, as other hon. Members have said? Even though the Home Secretary may not have the power to direct that the case go to a jury, will he not state that, having been satisfied that new evidence is available, he himself is also of the view that that new evidence should go to a jury for that body to assess it and not be left solely in the hands of the Appeal Court?

Mr. Hurd

No, I cannot do that. Under the law, it is for the Court of Appeal to decide that matter. That is right. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first comment, I must make it clear that, although I have taken this action in the Birmingham case, I do not express any view about the verdict one way or the other. I simply say that, in my judgment, there is new and substantial matter that justifies a reference to the Court of Appeal.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary aware that some of us will find his full confidence in the TLC test in the Guildford case rather surprising? Is my right hon. Friend aware also that I first raised in the House the case of the late Giuseppe Conlon and, therefore, the Maguires in 1980? The efforts that are being made by many hon. Members, and indeed by other people of different opinions outside, will not cease now.

Mr. Hurd

Over many years, my hon. Friend has been tireless in pursuing this case. I entirely accept that he is one of those whom I mentioned who have formed the view that, if he had been a judge in that case, he would have handled it differently, and if he had been a member of the jury, he would have reached a different conclusion on the evidence. That is an absolutely honourable position to take. I have not been able to find after a careful study of his representations over the years, or of Mr. Kee's book, any other matter—that is, new matter or new evidence—that casts doubt on the TLC test, which, as I have said, was the basis of the prosecution and the basis of the conviction of the Maguires and their co-defendants on this charge, which was, I repeat, a charge of possessing explosives.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Secretary of State has stated his principal view on procedure. However, will he not agree that the essential principal view is that the innocent should never be found guilty and be caused to suffer as a result? In the light of the Northern Ireland experience of uncorroborated confession evidence, will he not reconsider his position and examine the possibility of a special inquiry into the other cases so that we can be absolutely sure that everything has been done to prevent the possibility of an innocent person being made to serve long periods in prison?

Mr. Hurd

The question, in the interests of justice, is what is the most secure way of establishing the difference between guilt and innocence. I have set out my approach to that at some length. In previous incarnations, the hon. Gentleman and I have argued about uncorroborated evidence in Northern Ireland. One may have a certain point of view, but the argument that in no circumstances should uncorroborated evidence be accepted by a court, whatever the view of the court, would not find favour in most jurisdictions. It should be for the court to decide in each case.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

As one who has been involved in obtaining two royal pardons for wrongly convicted persons, I congratulate the Home Secretary on his extremely difficult and responsible decision. In general, I draw his attention to the Evidence Act 1895 that the law of England imposed on all her dependent colonies. Under sections 25 and 26 of that Act, no confession made by a person to a police officer while in custody is admissible in evidence, and no confession to any other person except a magistrate while a person is in police custody is admissible as evidence. That is still the law of most of our now independent colonies. Might it not be a good idea, if the law of England thought it fit to impose those provisions on dependent colonies in 1895, to reintroduce them in England in 1987?

Mr. Hurd

I do not agree with my hon. and learned Friend who, through no fault of his own, was not on the Committee that examined the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. We examined the matter of uncorroborated evidence while we were elaborating the safeguards for interviewing persons in policy custody—safeguards that, clearly, are important. I repeat the view which I formed then and in which I have been reinforced since—that it is for the court to decide, having listened to the evidence and having noted the fact—if it is a fact—that it is not corroborated, whether it is safe evidence.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is there not a basic flaw in our judicial system when it takes a sustained campaign by hon. Members and distinguished journalists to persuade the Home Secretary to refer the Birmingham case to the Court of Appeal 11 years after conviction? If the Home Secretary rejects the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to set up a special inquiry, will he consider setting up a special monitoring committee that could constantly review cases of fresh evidence and confessional evidence and make public recommendations to him?

Mr. Hurd

Not long ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs went into that suggestion carefully and there was an exchange with the Government, under my predecessor, on that point. I believe that the section 17 procedure, which is basically what we are discussing, is a useful and valid way of performing that task. It puts the emphasis not on the politicians—whether hon. Members or Ministers—or on an inquiry by persons of whose status one cannot be quite sure but back where it ought to belong, on the courts of law. I believe that that is the right answer if we are to sustain confidence in those courts.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

As one of the few non-lawyers in the House at the moment, may I ask the Home Secretary about a point of procedure which has not been cleared up so far during questions? Will the appellants have the right to address the Court of Appeal? The right hon. Gentleman has referred constantly to the giving of evidence and admissions. Will the men have the right to speak and to be heard? Can the Court of Appeal allow that? I ask those questions for one reason: I know from personal experience that the men have not felt fully confident to talk to those who have visited them from time to time in prison.

Mr. Hurd

They will be in the same position as anyone else who makes an appeal. It will be for the Court of Appeal to establish the procedure; it will be for the appellants to prepare their case. Although they will remain in prison, they will have access to legal advisers and therefore will be able to prepare their case. I understand that normally they would receive legal aid in preparing their case.

Mr. Derek Spencer (Leicester, South)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he refers cases to the Court of Appeal only when they raise a justiciable issue, and that media and political hue and cry are not enough, nor are vague and sentimental misgivings about decisions that have already been upheld in the Court of Appeal?

Mr. Hurd

I do not in any way criticise those people in any part of the House or outside who have devoted a great deal of time to seeking to persuade my predecessor and me that one or more of these convictions were unsafe. That is a perfectly honourable course to take. It has generated a good deal of genuine feeling. I have been trying to say—this is my hon. and learned Friend's point—that I do not think that it is the job of a Home Secretary to allow those considerations to deflect him from what I believe is the principal course of cueing back to the Court of Appeal when he thinks that there are grounds for doing so.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

If the Home Secretary feels unable to support the view which is expressed on both sides of the House, and which I share, that there should be a new jury trial, will he at least consider appointing a Queen's counsel to oversee the referral? Will he ensure that the defence has access to all the information that has been available to the prosecution before and since the original trial?

Mr. Hurd

I do not see the purpose of arranging for a QC to supervise the referral. The referral has been made in the proper form to the court, and I have confidence in the way in which the court will handle it. I should not like to answer the hon. Gentleman's second point off the cuff, but I shall certainly let him know the answer.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to have regard to the fact that another statement and a ten-minute Bill application are to follow, and that no fewer than 50 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to take part in the later debate. Therefore, I shall allow two more questions from each side of the House.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most fair-minded people will regard his difficult decisions as entirely right? Those decisions demonstrate once again that the system of justice in England in among the best in the world.

Mr. Hurd

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

In view of the time it has already taken the Home Secretary to reach his welcome decision on the Birmingham case, when will the police begin their inquiry into what happened to these people in police custody?

Mr. Hurd

That has been gone into over and over again. As I said in my statement, the Devon and Cornwall constabulary will investigate further one of the new facts to which I drew attention—the allegations of ex-Police Constable Clarke. Thereafter, it is for the Court of Appeal to weigh the different considerations. That further investigation by the police is under way.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that he was entirely right to reject the idea that there is no distinction to be made between hard new evidence and mere speculation about different interpretations? Does he agree that, if he had not been prepared to draw that distinction, although his task might have been easier today, it would have been extremely hard for other holders of his office in due course to resist any reinterpretation by well-minded people of cases many years after they were first heard?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend. One must take a long view. I am glad that the House of Commons has, on the whole, upheld that.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Makerfield)

We welcome the Home Secretary's decision on the Birmingham pub case, but we are disappointed by his action on other cases, especially the Guildford and Maguire cases. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that one reason why he decided to refer the Birmingham pub case to the Court of Appeal was the new evidence presented by a police officer. Would it not be a great irony if the uncorroborated testimony, which the right hon. Gentleman has said that he cannot overrule, in the Guildford and Maguire cases was put in jeopardy—as the Birmingham case has been put in jeopardy—because a police officer subsequently came forward to say, "I can support the allegations of these people. The confession resulted from duress"?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House of Lords——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Briefly.

Mr. McGuire

I shall be as brief as I can, Sir.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House of Lords threw out the Birmingham appeal on the basis that no police officer could ever have been guilty of what those concerned with the Birmingham pub bombing said happened? Now we are told that a policeman has come forward and that the case will be re-examined. Is that not enough evidence to get all three cases referred and put out of the way rather than to consider them bit by bit?

Mr. Hurd

The difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's argument is that Mr. Clarke has come forward in respect of the Birmingham case and no one has come forward in respect of the Guildford or Maguire cases. I am not saying whether Mr. Clarke's allegations are correct. I am simply saying that they are part of the pattern which has persuaded me to agree to a reference. There has been no similar coming forward in the other cases.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall have regard on a subsequent occasion to those hon. Members whom I have not been able to call on this statement.