HL Deb 04 November 1986 vol 481 cc1020-3

2.58 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take on the cases of the Maguire explosives and Guildford bombings in the light of Robert Kee's book Trial and Error.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is examining Mr. Kee's book carefully. In the Maguire case, he will want to determine whether it raises any new points which require further investigation or which may affect his earlier decision that he would not be justified in referring the case to the Court of Appeal. In the Guildford case, he is looking at the points Mr. Kee raises in the light of the review which is already under way.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, as far as it goes. However, does not the noble Lord agree that growing concern from different quarters about the miscarriage of justice warrants a greater urgency? Therefore, in the light of the irrefutable presentation of evidence and facts by Robert Kee, and in order to remove something which has nagged at, and will continue to nag at, the conscience of British justice, will the noble Lord urge his right honourable friend to set up an independent review which will investigate and report on the inter-relationship between the two cases, rather than look at the two cases separately? I am sure the noble Lord will agree that admitting an error would not weaken British justice but, in this instance, enormously strengthen it.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, my right honourable friend has seen it as his duty, having regard to his powers under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, to consider each case on its own merits. He has not taken the view to date that there are grounds for setting up an inquiry into any of these cases.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the case of the Maguire family and the Guildford bombers is unique as regards all the circumstances which attach to it? In view of this latest book by Robert Kee and the degree of doubt that has been expressed by eminent scientists and members of our own judiciary, some representatives of which are to be found in this House, and the fact that 210 signatures are now appended to an Early Day Motion which has received all-Party support in the House of Commons, and in view of the fact that members of the Maguire family have already served their very long prison sentences and are still proclaiming their total innocence of the charges on which they were convicted, will the noble Lord make representations to the Home Secretary, telling him very clearly that this case is not going to go away, however much he may attempt to keep defending the perimeter?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, the whole of this case was looked at carefully following the debate in your Lordships' House in May 1985. No grounds could be found to justify interfering with the convictions, but as I have said, my right honourable friend is nevertheless prepared to look at the case again. The door is never closed on cases of this kind.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the deep concern about this matter among parliamentarians of very high repute, and that among those who have written to The Times recently is a very noble and learned Member of your Lordships' House who has interested himself in this case? In view of that, does the noble Lord think that he ought to go further? Does he remember that I ventured to make a suggestion to try to stop this revolving circle in the very debate to which he referred? I suggested that the Home Secretary should set up a body of independent scientists to advise him whether there was fresh evidence so that he could move under Section 17. Lastly, is the noble Lord aware that his noble predecessor said that he thought that it was a worthy suggestion? Is he prepared to ask his right honourable friend to look into this matter again on that basis?

Lord Beaverbrook

My, Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Yes, I am aware of the concern that has been expressed by many eminent people, including Members of this House. My right honourable friend has certainly taken careful note of the concern expressed by a number of eminent people about the convictions in this case. As regards the second point that was raised by the noble Lord concerning a scientific committee, my right honourable friend the Minister of State wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in January, to say that the Home Secretary could not find grounds to justify such a step. However, I should like to re-emphasise that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said that the door is never closed.

Lord Scarman

My Lords, while I welcome the statement on the part of the Government that there is to be a further inquiry. I should like to ask the noble Lord two questions. First, in any review, departmental or otherwise, that may now be undertaken into this case will particular attention be paid to the fact that each individual defendant—and there are 11 in the two cases—has the case against him or her carefully considered separately from the sort of general case that can be levelled against all of them?

Secondly, if significant facts or something that looks like significant facts or considerations of substance appear to emerge after a full consideration of Mr. Kee's book, will the Secretary of State for Home Affairs bear in mind the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, which were spoken judicially in a criminal appeal case, that if there is a reference to the Court of Appeal under Section 17, the Court of Appeal can look into the whole case again in order to ensure that justice, however belated, is done?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. There must be some factor for the court to look at other than evidence which the courts have already considered. Having said that, yes, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will look at all these aspects.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, are the Government concerned that this is yet another example of a possible grave miscarriage of justice which has only come to light through investigative journalism rather than through the judicial process? Does the noble Lord think that the time has come for a thorough review of the limits which the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal has placed upon itself as to the grounds on which it is prepared to allow an appeal or to order a new trial?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I think that question goes rather wide. If the noble Lord would like to put down a Question I should be pleased to answer it on another day.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the concern voiced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, is shared by people with widely varying views on Northern Ireland? Concern is by no means confined to one part of the political spectrum.

Lord Beaverbook

My Lords, I have already said that we are looking at the concerns expressed by a number of eminent people who are representative of all parts of the political spectrum.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, in view of the fact that the IRA gang which was arrested in the Balcombe Street siege claimed sole responsibility for the Guildford bombings, can the noble Lord say why the criminals who confessed to the crime at Guildford were not charged with it?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, it is not for me to answer in this matter on behalf of the police, but I must say that I think that confession was largely discounted.

Lord Annan

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that many who believe that there has been a miscarriage of justice suffered by the Maguire family fully understand the sense of outrage that swept the whole country when the Guildford bombings took place? Will he agree that in that sense of outrage there was very great pressure on the police to find the bombers, and that very understandably the police felt that they had a very good lead to the Maguire family? That having been said, will he further accept that the sole evidence against the Maguire family was the discovery of nitro-glycerine from the parings under their finger nails? Because of that sense of urgency in wishing to bring criminals to justice, which everyone had at the time, is it not possible that some mistake or error ocurred with that particular piece of evidence? If that is not part of the case which can be discussed and properly brought before the Home Secretary, it is very difficult to see how there can be any reconsideration of the case.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, the evidence was placed before the jury and the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Appeal upheld the verdict. All I can say is that the Home Secretary has considered all aspects of the case and, as I said, is reconsidering Robert Kee's book. Unless some new evidence comes to light, I must say that it is unlikely that the Section 17 referral will be used.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, in the light of all the exchanges which have recently taken place in this Chamber, is the Home Secretary reconsidering whether there should be an extension of capital punishment to catch people who are found guilty under this heading?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I think that goes rather wide of the Question.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, substantial representations have been made here this afternoon, which have come from very authoritative sources, as I feel sure the noble Lord will agree. If I may say so, he has answered very fairly and clearly; but he has also said that the door is still open. That being the case, will he convey to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary the real concerns about this case which exist across the House today? Will he say to his right honourable friend that many of us on all sides of the House will feel dismayed if he does not give the matter further considerable consideration?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition. My right honourable friend will of course hear the views that your Lordships have expressed today. I undertake to convey them in the full spirit in which they were expressed to me.