HL Deb 16 July 1998 vol 592 cc426-38

(". In this Act "terrorism" means the use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Government have tabled this amendment in response to an amendment spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in Committee. The noble and learned Lord proposed a definition of "terrorism" and "terrorist". A definition of the latter is not required, and I could not accept the amendment that was tabled in Committee. The Government accepted the principle behind the amendment, however, and have brought forward a further amendment to give effect to it. As before, the definition of "terrorism" is that as given in the prevention of terrorism Acts. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for accepting at least half of the amendment moved by my colleague at an earlier stage.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, on their initiative in tabling in Committee the interpretation clause which paved the way for the new clause. I respectfully commend the efforts of the Minister, who in a comparatively short time has produced a clause which removes ambiguity over the meaning of the word "terrorism".

Without this clause it would still have been possible to ignore violence for political ends, or any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear. That is most welcome in the light of the atrocity in Ballymoney. With those offences go intimidation, the torching of homes, threats of arson, beatings, knee-cappings and the continuing targeting of individuals, particularly off-duty members of the security forces. The knock-on impact of the Minister's new clause will be the elimination of the capacity to wage war and thereby threaten elected governments if their concessions via the conveyor belt slow down. One hopes and expects that this will apply to the "subcontractors", such as those attempting and intending to, as the amendment says, put in fear the public in Northern Ireland and in London within very recent times. I join in the congratulations that have been paid to the Minister and thank him for his consideration of the matter.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.15 p.m.

Clause 21 [Commencement]:

Lord Tebbit moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 9, line 32, at end insert ("but no such day may be appointed (other than in respect of this section) until after the release on licence of every member of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown serving a sentence of imprisonment in respect of a conviction for murder committed in the course of their duties in Northern Ireland").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is very little I can add to the case which I made on Monday of last week and which no doubt I shall make again next week. I remind the House that, although to avoid rendering the Bill hybrid the amendment does not mention Fisher and Wright, it is about those two young men. I do not think there is any doubt that there is a growing consensus inside the House and outside that those two young men should not be kept any longer in prison; least of all should they be kept in prison while terrorists are being released. The Minister was helpful in setting out some of the ways in which it is possible that they might be released. But, of course, there is at the moment no guarantee.

It may be useful to remind the House of some of the events which have occurred over this affair. On 3rd November last year, in a Written Answer, the Minister, in replying to my noble friend Lord Westbury, said of the case: The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has decided that the cases of Guardsmen Wright and Fisher should be referred back to the review board in one year's time, i.e. in October 1998, when they will have served six years in custody. No date for release has therefore yet been fixed".—[Official Report, 3/11/97; WA 276.]. The position seemed to have hardened up a little some months later, in February, when in the course of a debate in the other place the Minister of State, Mr. Ingram, told the House that, given all the available information, the Secretary of State had concluded that Fisher and Wright had not served a period sufficient to reflect the seriousness of their crime and she decided to invite the review board to consider the cases again in October 1998 when each guardsman would have served approximately six years.

Thus it rested until 3rd June, when in the course of another exchange between my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister said, somewhat surprisingly: there was a court case which concluded on Friday 22 May; before that court case was concluded, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was not able to conduct her own review That was palpably not correct. She had conducted her own review before the court case had started.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, perhaps I may correct my noble friend on a very small point. The date of 22nd May followed a judicial review which was held some time earlier. That was the day on which the result of that review was published.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The Prime Minister went on to say: Now that is out of the way"— the judicial review— she will do that, and do so as quickly as possible".—[0fficial Report, Commons, 3/6/98; col. 359]. "As quickly as possible" did not turn out to be terribly quickly. In our consideration in Committee on 6th July, the Minister said: Clearly the Secretary of State's wish to look at the papers again, and her decision to start to do so today"— that is about five weeks after the Prime Minister said she would do it with great urgency— is an indication of her desire, as it were, to reflect the views which have been expressed in this Chamber on a number of occasions".—[Official Report, 6/7/98; col. 1076.] Five weeks does not seem very immediate to me.

So this matter drifts on. At least we know now that the Secretary of State has finally turned her attention to the matter, but nonetheless Guardsmen Fisher and Wright are still in gaol. It seems to me that it would only be appropriate if during her consideration, which we know has started, and in view of all that has been said, Fisher and Wright were at least released on bail. I am sure I shall be told that there are many technical, legal and administrative reasons why they cannot be released at this stage. I remind the House, and particularly the Minister, that it is not that long ago that terrorists were released from prison in order to assist the Government's campaign to achieve a yes vote in the referendum. If terrorists can be released from gaol for that political purpose, then there can be no conceivable reason why the same powers that the Secretary of State used to release those terrorists, temporarily, should not be used to release the guardsmen temporarily, pending the final outcome of her review of the case.

I suspect that the Secretary of State would like this matter resolved. My amendment would help her to do that. It would be effective and certain. It does not affect the terms of the agreement, although when the Minister gave way to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway he was in the process of saying during Committee proceedings that the amendment would drive a coach and horses through the agreement. That is not so. It would not affect the agreement in any way whatsoever. It is merely that this Bill is a convenient vehicle for the release of the guardsmen. It would not delay the passage of the Bill. Were the Government to accept this amendment tonight or even next week, the Bill would continue on its schedule without any damage at all. We do not know the date on which the Secretary of State intends to bring this legislation into effect, but that need not be affected either. All she has to do is release the guardsmen either on bail, day release or whatever other arrangements can be made. It would be up to the Government, and no one else, to decide whether the implementation of the Act, as it will be, were to be delayed.

There is very little more I can add. I was encouraged by the way in which the House reacted to this proposal during the Committee stage. I was also encouraged to a considerable extent by the Minister's demeanour and his words on the subject. He has had something like 10 days to mull it over in company with the Secretary of State. If needs be, I am content to give him and the Secretary of State a few days more. I shall be grateful to the Minister if he can tell us what exactly the Government now have in mind for these two young men. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend misunderstands. When I opposed this amendment at Committee stage I said, Release (as proposed by this amendment) is without paragraphs 1 to 3 of page 25 of the Stormont agreement, which is not subject to negotiation. There is no concept of priority of eligibility for release either under the agreement or the paper used in negotiations".—[Official Report, 6/7/98; col. 1070.] I referred to paragraphs 5 and 7 of the paper. That is the position which I maintain today.

The collapse of the Stormont agreement—which was overtly opposed by my noble friend for reasons which are fully understood and totally respected—is possible. It is even perhaps probable, but not inevitable, as assuredly could be the case if the Government were to accept this amendment.

Your Lordships may well believe that neither the end, the means nor the result of this amendment is well conceived. One may support the purpose of this arrangement. I call it "an arrangement" because it was not signed. In my book something that is not signed is not an agreement, but an arrangement. It is an arrangement to seek peace in the Province. Even if one objects to its provisions—and I object to some of them, which I shall come to in a moment—they are not subject to renegotiation. I support the peace process.

The end is the release of the guardsmen as soon as possible. That has been, and will continue to be, so in a manner hitherto acceptable to your Lordships on all sides of the House without hint of political contention. Questions have been asked in your Lordships' House and my noble friend referred to some of them. They have been asked for quite some time. The last Unstarred Question was debated on 23rd June. It was retrieved from limbo in "No Day Named" with the help of the Government Chief Whip, who found extra and wholly sufficient time for the debate.

Long after that Unstarred Question was tabled, information was received on 14th May which cast doubt on the rectitude of the conviction. Affidavits and documents were prepared, placed in the Library and handed to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In fact, only today the affidavit of Guardsman Williams, the fourth man in the patrol, was put in the Library. The noble Lord has a copy. There was also the affidavit of C.S.M. Dunn.

Your Lordships concluded that findings as to culpability, which supported conviction and which continue to thwart release, were fundamentally flawed; that there was a grave and manifest miscarriage of justice; and that these guardsmen, as my noble friend said, should be released immediately. But that could only be under the delegated remit of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

At Committee stage of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, told us about a fresh review to be set up by the Secretary of State. On 20th July, which is next Monday, your Lordships will be invited to support a Motion to resolve to present an humble Address to Her Majesty to release these guardsmen in the exercise of her unfettered discretion of the prerogative of mercy. If it is carried, which is the hope, and without a Division, the prospects of immediate release could be enhanced. Indeed, the object of my noble friend's amendment would be fulfilled.

At Committee stage it was made perfectly plain by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the Government would not, could not, accept this amendment which delays implementation of the Bill, frustrates the Stormont arrangement and inhibits the peace process.

These guardsmen qualify for general release many months ahead under the Clause 3 linkage. That is a strange and somewhat indigestible anomaly. This was the linkage between those who killed on duty in aid of the civil power and those who resorted to the gun and the bomb to kill and maim, on many occasions for sectarian and politically motivated purposes. It was however part and parcel of the Stormont arrangement. I referred to the passages at the start of my speech. That has been endorsed by the electorate of Northern Ireland.

To what constructive end may your Lordships support this amendment? As matters stand, release from a mandatory life sentence in Northern Ireland as a matter of law may be granted only by the Secretary of State under a variety of mechanisms identified on both 23rd June and 6th July. I understand—I may be wrong—that the review of 6th July is under the statutory power of general release after consultation with the trial judge and the Court of Appeal, but this is months ahead. The only mechanism under which immediate release may be granted by the Secretary of State is the delegated remit of the Royal Prerogative, in truly exceptional circumstances, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has fairly conceded. Release from a mandatory life sentence according to statute is a matter for the Executive, not the judiciary or the legislature, save under a criminal justice repeal Bill of general application, which this Bill assuredly is not. This amendment therefore is without the accepted province of the judiciary and the legislature under the separation of powers.

When the criminal cases review commission has investigated the matter—which will take some time because there is a backlog of work of about a year, and it has referred the matter to the Court of Appeal to challenge the rectitude of this conviction; it was the unanimous conclusion of your Lordships' House on 23rd June that there had been a miscarriage of justice—an application may be made months ahead. So much for the end.

As to the means, apart from the fact that this Bill is not a repeal Bill of general application to remove release from the Executive, the means are not well conceived because the claim to priority of release as a precondition to the Bill taking effect constitutes a pre-condition to the letter and spirit of the Stormont arrangement. That would inevitably delay the implementation of general release in any event. Without losing moral authority to foster the peace process, the Government simply cannot accept this pre-condition to the linkage of general release. Your Lordships may well think that it is wholly unacceptable that these guardsmen should have been taken hostage and used as pawns for such a purpose.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I do not believe that anyone in this House is unsympathetic to the aims of the amendment moved by noble friend Lord Tebbit, having seen the dangers that the RUC and the security forces have had to face during the past week. They have had no choice in the matter. I hope that that sympathy extends to the Minister and the Secretary of State.

My noble friend Lord Tebbit generously gave the Minister a few more days. One can imagine how much more comfortable a few more days are to noble Lords in this House than to young men who have been in prison for a considerable time and have to face further time in prison without a firm future. I am sure that the lawyers have an answer—they always do. But for me the moral issue now is whether it is right to let out terrorists while we keep in prison two men who were doing their job.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, my noble friends who have spoken are united in wishing to see the release of these soldiers. I have sympathy with the amendment that has been moved by my noble friend Lord Tebbit. This has become a complex matter, although at heart it is simple. I believe that the House would be considerably assisted in considering the different ways in which these two soldiers might regain their freedom if it knew how long the review by the Secretary of State would be likely to take.

It is obvious to me that the review of the Secretary of State—whether it started on 3rd June, as the Prime Minister said, or on 6th July, as appears to be the case—must be completed well before this Bill leads to any release of terrorists who are supposed to have renounced terrorism. When the Bill has achieved Royal Assent a new commission has to be selected and assembled and has to set up shop, as it were. A good number of rules have to be set down for that commission under Schedule 2 to the Bill. The commission must then ask for and receive applications. Only then can it begin to consider the applications made to it and reach decisions. Beginning as it would at least three weeks later than the Secretary of State began her review, it would be amazing if the Secretary of State's review did not finish before the new commission got to the point of releasing anybody. That is one way in which the guardsmen may obtain their freedom.

The background to this matter is the respect and admiration that we all have for the work of the security forces. For some three decades we have placed young soldiers in the most difficult and dangerous position. Many have lost their lives in our service and in defence of democracy. The Army and the other Armed Forces in support of the RUC have shown exemplary restraint in their behaviour. I observed that over a number of years, not only when I was security Minister in Northern Ireland. For all that time we have asked individual private soldiers to place themselves in an incredibly difficult and dangerous position. Both in training and in action the necessity for restraint, the cadre system and so on have been drummed into them daily until they are second nature. I do not believe that any other army in the world has that capacity to carry out sensitive individual peace-keeping operations. That is why there is such intense sympathy for these two individuals, given the position in which they find themselves.

As has been spelt out again this afternoon, the legal complications have become very great. Whatever arrangements are made to release them, through whatever mechanism—clearly a number are available—we hope that the guardsmen will be released as soon as that can be arranged. Many of us in your Lordships' House, regardless of the difficulties of this amendment, wish to send a strong signal to that effect. That is why I support the amendment.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am sensitive to the strength of feeling that has been expressed in this House today and on a number of other occasions regarding the two guardsmen. We have debated the matter several times in recent months and I am aware of your Lordships' feelings about the case. However, I made it clear when we debated this matter last week that the Government could not accept this amendment or any amendment like it. That remains the case.

The amendment would depart entirely from the terms of the Bill that is before your Lordships' House. It imposes a condition that was not contemplated by the Good Friday agreement or by any of the parties to that agreement. Indeed, the amendment attempts to make the implementation of the Good Friday agreement hostage to the release of two prisoners.

Many noble Lords here today have pressed the case for the early release of the guards both with myself and with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. They have done so in a measured way and have deployed arguments that are related to the cases. No suggestion has been made that the release of the guardsmen should be bartered for the release of other prisoners—and that is how it should be. It is a testament to those noble Lords who have spoken on behalf of the guardsmen that, although there is great strength of feeling, that feeling has not clouded their judgment of what is the right way to proceed.

I am therefore disappointed that this amendment has been pressed again given that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that she will look at the case. I made clear that she had started to look at the case when I announced her intentions when we debated this Bill on a previous occasion.

Last week I told your Lordships' House that the Secretary of State had received papers on the case and was now reviewing it again. At that time I explained that the case papers are extremely extensive. They run to about 2,500 pages. Although the Secretary of State has seen much of the material before, she has undertaken to conduct a thorough review of the case. That will take some time as the review will have to be undertaken in parallel with her other responsibilities. Further papers or advice may be required before a decision can be made. Noble Lords will understand that it is not a decision which can be taken in an over-hasty manner. But equally, the Secretary of State understands that the decision must be made with due attention to the fact that the liberty of the two subjects is in question.

Noble Lords will also be aware that under the law as it applies in Northern Ireland my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is required to consult the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge before releasing a life sentence prisoner. She cannot engage in that consultation process until she has come to a view regarding the case. The decision on release is for the Secretary of State alone, but she will want to consider any comments the Lord Chief Justice or the trial judge wish to offer before making a final decision.

Your Lordships will understand that the review process must protect the position of the judiciary. There can be no suggestion that the question of release falls to the Lord Chief Justice. For that reason, I cannot give any indication as to when the Secretary of State might ask members of the judiciary for their views as to do so would suggest that a view had been taken of the case and that would place the Lord Chief Justice in an invidious position.

As such, I will not separate out the periods taken to make an initial decision and to request and receive the views of the judiciary if that advice is required. Taking account of the matters set out above, the Secretary of State may not be able to announce the result of the review until the latter part of August. This is the time that it will take to consider all the papers and to request and receive such advice as is required. I understand that noble Lords will be disappointed that the process should take such a period, but that is the time required to consider all aspects of the case and to make any arrangements that follow from consideration of the case.

Noble Lords have asked when prisoners would first be released under the Bill—or at least have indicated that they want to see how the two timetables might work in relation to each other. Although that is not related in any way to the review of the cases of the two guardsmen, noble Lords were concerned that any review should not extend beyond the point at which prisoners might begin to be released under this Bill. It is difficult to be certain about dates. This Bill has further stages to complete before it receives Royal Assent. Commissioners must be appointed and orders made. When all the arrangements are in place, prisoners must make applications. Those applications will have to be given due consideration. Taking all this together, it is possible that the first releases might not take place until early September.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I take my noble friend's major point that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, should not be supported. I could not support the linkage.

The point that concerns me is the point that has been made in this House time and time again. These young men were carrying out duties that we imposed on them. They are not policemen; they are soldiers. They were put in an invidious position. They made mistakes. I want to hear not that we shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, which I think is flawed, but that we shall proceed with speed and that the guardsmen can be released under the miscarriage of justice provisions, or this Bill.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that. The position is that the Secretary of State may not be able to announce the result of the review until the latter part of August. That allows for the necessary consultation with the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge. Given that it is now the middle of July, we are talking of a matter of a few weeks only. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. This may be a naïve remark which will make every lawyer in your Lordships' House wince, but why does the sequence have to be that the Secretary of State can consult with the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge only after she has read all the papers? Can she not consult with them first and ask what their opinions would be if the answer was plan A or plan B and therefore speed up the process?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, my understanding of the procedure is that the Secretary of State has to come to a view about the case and, having come to a view, she will then consult or seek the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge. If she were not to come to a view first, she would simply open it up for comment. It seems appropriate—and certainly the procedure as I understand it is the normal one—that she comes to a decision and then goes through a process of consulting the two people concerned. It is a sequential process and hence it will take, as I have already said, probably until the latter part of August.

I appreciate that time drags on and that the liberty of two individuals is at stake. On the other hand, we are talking about a matter of four or five weeks from today. I think that it is not unreasonable that one should give the Secretary of State the time to do the consultation.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, will the Minister agree, however, that we have been talking, right through this Bill, about sending messages? A message needs to be sent to the Armed Forces and to the RUC and to all the people who have supported them. No message could be more telling than speed in this matter. It is very difficult for everybody out there—not excluding us—to understand, even despite the weight of paper, why it is not possible to be faster than the end of August by which time a lot will have happened. This is a critical moment to send the message that there is concern for the good people, not just the bad ones.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister if he will consider, and if he is aware, that a week is a very long time in politics and an even longer time in prison.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact that we are on Report.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, being on Report, I wonder whether I can assist. Will my noble friend the Minister consider that matters might be speeded up if the 2,500 pages now being read by the Secretary of State were sent now to the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge so that they are apprised fully of the situation when she makes up her mind? The consultation can then be very brief indeed.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I shall deal with the points that have been made. First, I accept that if one is deprived of one's liberty a week is an enormously long time. My noble friend made a suggestion. I am not sure that I can give him an authoritative answer at this stage, but I shall look into it to see whether there is any way in which the sequential process that I have described can be made into a simultaneous process. I do not have the knowledge or authority to say that that can be done, but I shall look into it to see whether it is a possibility.

I can assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State is well aware of the strength of feeling and the issues raised in this House and in the Guards regiments, and the Army in general. She is sensitive to the need to move quickly. That is why, instead of waiting as she had originally said, until October or November, she decided recently that she would come to a quicker decision.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will the Minister deal with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. I think he will agree that the answer is that the only mechanism available for immediate release for a miscarriage of justice, as has happened in this case, is the delegated remit to the Secretary of State of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy? It is available. The Minister has conceded that. The question is: why can it not be exercised?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is going to debate that very point next Monday. Although I appreciate that that is a few more days, perhaps I should try to deal with that point on Monday rather than today. In answer to the questions raised by my noble friends Lord Merlyn-Rees and Lord Mishcon on the matter of sending the papers to the Lord Chief Justice, the advice I have been given is that the Lord Chief Justice is not given all the papers; he is merely given the Secretary of State's view on the particular case. It would be difficult to send the papers simultaneously because that is not the procedure. The Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge are given just the Secretary of State's views, and then they comment accordingly. I do not suppose it would save that much time even if one were able to adopt the procedure suggested.

I shall return to the key point. I was asked when prisoners would first be released under the Bill. As I was saying, that is in no way related to the review of the cases of the two guardsmen. There was a concern that the review should not extend beyond the point at which prisoners might be released under this Bill. I was saying that it is difficult to be certain about dates. The Bill has to receive Royal Assent; commissioners have to be appointed. When all the arrangements are in place prisoners must make applications, and those applications will have to be given due consideration. Taking all that together, it is possible that the first releases might not take place until early September.

It is also likely that applications from those prisoners serving life sentences, because of the additional matters to be considered, might take slightly longer to consider than applications from fixed-term prisoners. Of course noble Lords will understand that that view of the time likely to be required to consider cases is based partly on speculation regarding how the commissioners, who are, after all, independent, will go about their business. That will be their responsibility, subject to the rules that my right honourable friend intends to make to cover the procedures that they will adopt.

I am aware, and the Government are aware, as my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees, said, that we send soldiers out there to face difficult conditions. A few months ago I met the parents of Lance Corporal Restorick who was shot some time ago while on duty in South Armagh. I am aware—I was aware before, and I am even more aware having talked to them—of the difficult situation faced by young soldiers. I should like to pay a tribute to his parents for the brave way in which they have responded to the terrible tragedy when their son was shot. The Government are aware that our soldiers and the RUC have behaved bravely in difficult circumstances. Their lives are in danger, and many of them have lost their lives to keep the peace and protect ordinary people. The Secretary of State is well aware of the need to move quickly on this issue and will do so. I suggest that this amendment is not the right path to follow.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I suspect that the Minister must begin to feel the pressure upon him and the Secretary of State not just from these Benches but of course from the Benches opposite including, if I may say so, the noble friend of us all, the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and so many others. We have also to recollect that there has been what would appear from the outside to be a lack of urgency within government.

The Minister told us that the Secretary of State had begun to consider this matter on 6th July. He gave us an indication this evening that he hoped that a conclusion might be reached by about the end of August—roughly, I think, about seven weeks. But five weeks elapsed following the Prime Minister's undertaking in the other place that this matter would be dealt with at once since it was possible, he said, to do so then because the judicial review proceedings had been completed. If those five weeks had been used the Minister tonight could have told us that a conclusion would be reached by the end of this month.

I think the Minister can therefore understand why we have some reservations about these matters. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway set out a number of legal obstacles on the road to justice. I am a little impatient of legal obstacles on the road to justice. I shall join him on Monday in doing all that I can to persuade this House, by voice or by vote, that the route which he has set out should be followed. Of course we should explore every route. He was wrong in two matters. I am sad to have to say that to my noble friend. First, that would not delay the Bill. It does not have to delay the Bill. It will be the Secretary of State's choice as to whether it delayed the Bill. It will be entirely in her hands.

My noble friend ignored also that there is another way of taking men out of prison in Northern Ireland. On 1st June I asked a Question of the Government. It was on a slightly different point but it was related closely to this issue. I asked: Whether, following the day release from prison of IRA criminals to assist in the campaign for a Yes vote in the forthcoming Northern Ireland referendum, it is their intention to release an equal number of other criminals to campaign for a No vote". The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, answered me, saying: The Secretary of State granted temporary release to four prisoners to attend a Sinn Fein conference to discuss the Belfast Agreement on 9 May". He went on to acknowledge that, The release of those prisoners was a matter of concern and hurt to many members of the public and the Secretary of State has said that releases will not be granted for such purposes in the future".—[Official Report, 1/6/98; col. WA 19.] Quite clearly the Secretary of State had power to release those men.

My amendment refers to "release on licence", but I do not mind, nor I suspect do they, by what means the prisoners are released—by the means by which those terrorists were released to campaign for a yes vote; by release on bail pending the Secretary of State's conclusions; or any other method. That would be entirely up to the Secretary of State. I am not asking that the Bill should be used as a vehicle to overturn their convictions. In my judgment, and I am sure that of every Member of this House, that would be entirely wrong. My noble friend Lord Campbell will take that route in seeking, through an appropriate method, to overturn the convictions. I, as I am certain does every Member of this House, simply want to see those men free.

7 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, what he has suggested is probably the most important point. Sympathy for the guardsmen extends throughout the House. We wish to see their cases reviewed and to see them released. Of that there is no doubt. However, it is the means by which we do that that is important. The circumstances that we face are extremely difficult. On the one hand, we have the case of the guardsmen in prison that the noble Lord has argued. On the other, we have a peace process with which the Bill is associated to prevent future terrorism, bombings, killings and mutilation in Ireland. The issue is very sensitive.

It seems to me that if the noble Lord's amendment is pressed to a vote and succeeds, it would be like a Damocles' sword over the head of the Secretary of State and would not help the situation in Northern Ireland. This House having taken a view and extended sympathy towards the guardsmen, it seems better that that is relayed to the Secretary of State and that the review is hastened as quickly as possible. But we should not do that by conditioning the Bill on the release of the guardsmen.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, of course I understand the view that the noble Lord puts. However, what he forgets is that once the Bill is enacted there is no further leverage for Parliament to exert. We know that there are good intentions all round. But the road out of gaol is unlikely to be paved with those good intentions. We need more than that.

I sense that the House would not wish to divide on this issue tonight. I may return to it with a view to seeing whether the House, or some Members, would welcome a Division next week. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Serota)

My Lords, is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Lord Campbell of Alloway


The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, the Question is that the amendment be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content".

Lord Campbell of Alloway


The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, the amendment is negatived.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am not clear whether that was intended to be a vote on whether there should be a vote.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, what is the position? I have said "Not-Content" that this amendment should be withdrawn. Why is not a Division called?

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, I put the Question again: the Question is that the amendment is agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content". The "Not-Contents" have it.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I object.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the amendment has been negatived. The "Not-Contents" have won.

Schedule 1 [Commissioners]:

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Schedule 3 [Sentences passed outside Northern Ireland]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 13, line 41, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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