HC Deb 23 June 1988 vol 135 cc1258-9
4. Mr. Wall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the Irish ambassador to discuss the case of the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I met the ambassador on 13 June at his request. He repeated to me his Government"s concern about these convictions. I made it clear that I was bound to respect the recent confirmation of the original verdict after a full hearing by the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Wall

Did the ambassador inform the Home Secretary of the widespread belief in Ireland that an Irishman accused of terrorist offences in Britain cannot expect a fair trial? Is not the Birmingham bombing case casting doubt on the whole judicial system in Britain? Will the Home Secretary find some way of ending the scandal once and for all?

Mr. Hurd

The ambassador did not express himself in that way. I do not think that he would have become an ambassador if he had. The hon. Gentleman is simply feeding prejudice by passing on such criticism. After a lot of thought, I referred the case of the Birmingham bombers back to the Court of Appeal because there was new material which it seemed to me a court of law ought to consider. The Court of Appeal considered the case again and reaffirmed the original verdict and I have to respect that.

Dame Jill Knight

There is very little point in my right hon. Friend meeting the Irish ambassador on any occasion to discuss this matter, since there is not the slightest doubt that the Birmingham bombers had a fair trial in the first place and had their case reviewed again and again. Those who suggest in their written works that other people were responsible might have the guts to come forward and identify them.

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend"s second theme. If hon. Members or any other citizens have specific information on this or other cases, it is their duty to come forward and give it in the proper way to the proper people.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Mullin.

Hon. Members

Name them.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Mullin.

Mr. Mullin

Will the Home Secretary confirm that he has the power—and can choose to use it—to set up an independent review tribunal which could consider evidence inadmissible before a court of law, and that that has been done in other alleged serious miscarriages of justice?

Mr. Hurd

I have the power to set up inquiries, but in this case I took a course which seemed much more straightforward. I referred the new material to the Court of Appeal, which then, as the hon. Gentleman knows, had the right to look at all matters and to hear all arguments all over again. The Court of Appeal held a very long hearing. The hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that it was a hearing of record length, and, I would say, thoroughness. That was the straightforward way of handling the matter, and the original verdict was reaffirmed.

Mr. Stanbrook

If the highest courts in the land are satisfied of the guilt of those men, what interest is served, except that of the IRA, in attempting to set aside their judgment?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend knows from his long experience that in many cases throughout the history of this country people have continued to disagree with verdicts. In a country such as ours that disagreement can be satisfactorily resolved only by a court of law. That is what happened in this case.

Mr. Hume

Will the Secretary of State confirm that neither the security authorities nor the prison authorities, both of which are subject to his Department, regard the people convicted of the Birmingham bombing as high-risk, high-security prisoners? That is evident in the handling of the Old Bailey hearings in comparison with other such hearings. It is also evident to anyone who has visited the men in prison. Does he agree that the fact that the prison authorities who know the men on a day-to-day basis do not regard them as dangerous tends to confirm the widespread opinion that they are innocent?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman knows better than that. He knows that the secondhand, hearsay opinion held by prison officers is neither here nor there. The matter has been referred to the only people who, in a law-abiding country, are competent to make a decision, and that is those in a court of law. It has been examined thoroughly. There has been no serious criticism of the way in which it has been done, and the House, like myself, should respect the outcome of that process.

Sir John Farr

May I ask my right hon. Friend to look at Thursday"s debate on the proposed new clause 2 of the Criminal Justice Bill? He will see that a good deal of unease was expressed on both sides of the House about the validity of the Birmingham Six convictions. In view of the widespread unease expressed by former Home Secretaries and other senior Ministers, will he look again, as some of his predecessors have done, to see whether it is his duty to establish a special review into the case of the Birmingham Six?

Mr. Hurd

This morning I read the interesting and high-quality debate on the new clause to the Criminal Justice Bill. I recognise my hon. Friend"s deep-seated, persistent concern with this case. As I have said before, it is normal in a free country that people should have strongly differing views about verdicts in controversial cases such as this. I repeat that I believe—nothing in the debate altered my view—that the straightforward course was followed by me and others who handled the matter. I am bound to respect the confirmation of the original verdict reached in this thorough way, and the House should do the same.