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Column 1002react when it comes to it. They must protect and support the RUC, but they are no good in Northern Ireland if they will not react when a terrorist appears, perhaps on the one occasion in six months of their tour.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury said, the difficulty is that soldiers are so concerned about the rules of engagement that they will not fire. It is very difficult to make them use their weapons. If that is the case, they should not be there. While we would all agree that it would be preferable if they were not there, they must be able to fire when the need arises.
To be honest, people are restrained, and I believe that that balance is about right. This debate is about keeping that balance right.
I have two examples, one of which took place in the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. In January 1976, a stolen car on the west circular road in Ballygomartin or Springmartin stopped beside two Protestants who were walking down the road and fired upon them. That car was stolen. The hon. Member for Belfast, West said that no joyrider has ever set out to kill soldiers. Well, one cannot ask everyone who steals a car whether that person is a joyrider.
Dr. Hendron: I referred to a joyrider's car travelling at speed. I was not talking about a stolen car. There are hundreds of stolen cars in Belfast. A joyrider's car travelling at speed has never been associated, or found to be associated, with paramilitary activity.
Mr. Robathan: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is very difficult to determine whether a joyrider is a terrorist. With regard to the west circular road in January 1976, two people were murdering Protestants. None of us would welcome that. A patrol emerged from the bushes and saw what happened. It was able to fire at the car--we can all agree, quite rightly--and it killed the driver. "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."
I regret that man's death as I regret every death, but it must be right that the patrol reacted to someone committing murder. That involved the tragic death of Jim McGrillen. The car sped away. Let us suppose that the soldiers emerged five seconds later and saw the car speeding away. Let us suppose that one of the soldiers said, "Get it, get it!" and the patrol opened fire. That is the difficulty with which soldiers are confronted.
Mr. Robathan: Yes, but if the patrol had arrived five seconds later, the soldiers would not have known that those people were armed. Soldiers must obviously have the right to fire, and they must be well constrained. However, we must consider the confusion that may exist on the ground in darkness.
My second example relates to an incident in early 1989, when New Barnsley police station came under heavy fire--millions of rounds, to quote the hon. Member for Belfast, West--from somewhere in Springfield avenue. A patrol of soldiers rushed out, came under fire, went behind a house and looked down Springfield avenue. The soldiers saw two men running away with what they thought was a rifle. The soldiers fired and hit a man. Sadly, the
Column 1003ammunition was not much good, and the man got up--leaving, I am glad to say, the rifle behind. He got away without being charged. We would all say that it was absolutely right for the soldiers to fire. They fired about 10 rounds, but hit the man only twice. It was dark, and the soldiers were perhaps fearful. There was confusion. One of the soldiers believed that the terrorist had got into a stationary car, and he shot at it. That is the kind of confusion that can occur. Luckily, no harm was done. We must understand the difficulties on the ground. The difficulties lie in applying the terms of the yellow card in the heat of the moment.
Our soldiers are public servants. They are sent by us to work out the rules of engagement. They are given lethal weapons, and they are sent to do our bidding.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I welcome the hon. Gentleman's clarification of the soldier's position, and I share his argument. However, he referred earlier to Diplock courts and mistakes. As I objected to those courts at the very beginning, does he accept from me that, even in Great Britain, where there are juries, there have been mistakes in judgments, which have sometimes brought wrong convictions and which have sometimes released guilty people? It is not necessarily that Diplock courts are so wrong, it is a matter of the human influence.
As I was saying, our soldiers are public servants and they have excellent training, but accountants, lawyers--I believe that there are some in the Chamber--and doctors have three, four, five or six years' training, and they occasionally make mistakes. It is nonsense to say that a soldier is so professional that he cannot make a mistake. I heard that mentioned recently. The difference between a soldier and an accountant is that, generally, accountants do not kill people when they make mistakes, although of course doctors might.
Our soldiers are public servants, and they are trying to do their best. They are not perfect--they get bored and they sometimes indulge in appalling practices, as was mentioned in respect of the montage of the car in the barracks. Occasionally, they have been involved in criminal activity in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Certainly, in Northern Ireland, there have been well-documented cases of appalling activity and murder, for which people deserve to be found guilty of murder. Such cases are very exceptional.
The case of Private Clegg also involved some disgraceful behaviour, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury and others have mentioned. It involved one man being convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. It involved a terrible lack of discipline. As a former officer, I think that an officer on that patrol was very lucky to get away without being punished. As I understand the facts, I would have wished him to be punished. Obviously, wrong was done, but, in the Clegg case, there were two car thieves--that is a better term than "joyriders"--who refused to stop. Yes, there were joyriders there the whole time, but there were also patrols with red torches there the whole time who tried to stop people. They hardly deserved to die. I agree that it was not
Column 1004a fitting punishment for being in a stolen car. It transpires, according to the Daily Mail , that Karen Reilly's father was the same man, McGrillen, who was killed in January 1976. That is a double tragedy to be visited on that family, and they should have nothing but sympathy. It is yet more pain and more tragedy.
In that case, the yellow card was not followed. The Law Lords' judgment has great sense in it--I do not criticise it--but it was dark and there was confusion. Who can say that Clegg did not believe in good faith that he was following rule 5a(3), which states that one may fire if someone is
"deliberately driving a vehicle at a person and there is no other way of stopping him."
That rule may now be dropped from the yellow card because of the Clegg case.
Is young Clegg a murderer? Wrong was done, but is he in the same league as sectarian murderers? Is he in the same league as Mr. Kelly, who blew up the chip shop on the Shankill road? Is he in the same league as those who steal cars to kill? I suggest not. I very much hope that he will be freed as soon as possible.
Even Sinn Fein, even many members of the nationalist community in west Belfast, and even the hon. Member for Belfast, West will not say, even in moral outrage, that Clegg is in the same league. They will not seriously compare him with those terrorists. Our soldiers are servants of the public. They deserve our support, sympathy and understanding when errors are made, but that does not mean that they need excuses.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, I believe that the Select Committee should examine the matter. Members of that Committee may interview lawyers and, as legislators, decide on the best way to safeguard public servants who, in good faith, go about their duties. Private Clegg has been punished enough for any errors that he and others may have made on that night.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I raised my point of order to clarify the situation with regard to the yellow card. It is classified. The reason for its being classified is not to let the enemy know when our soldiers are going to open fire. From now on, thanks to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), all they have to do is to read Hansard . I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would take the hint when I mentioned that the yellow card was classified.
I recently returned from a visit to my county regiment at Derry. I came back with nothing but admiration, not only for my own regiment but for our forces throughout Northern Ireland, especially those who have served for the past 25 years, patrolling the trouble spots of the Province and carrying out their duties with tremendous professionalism and dedication under enormous strain.
One must remember that, until the recent ceasefire, every member of the security forces was considered by IRA terrorists a target for assassination, whether on duty or not. That is the pressure that our soldiers lived with 24 hours a day, year after year. In many ways, it has been a forgotten war. As long as we managed to keep the lid on it and to contain it, we were quite happy for them to bear the brunt of the problem.
I have recently read and heard criticism that 300 people have been killed by the security forces, and that only two of the latter have been convicted of murder. That is a
Column 1005sign that people think that there has been a cover-up. It is nonsense. The reality is that 648 members of the security forces have been killed by terrorists. I am convinced that no other security force anywhere in the world would have been as tolerant as the British forces in dealing with such problems in Northern Ireland. Overall, the British security forces in Northern Ireland have a record of which they and we can be proud.
I now refer to the recent debate and controversy following the Law Lords' decision to turn down Private Clegg's appeal against his conviction for murder. We almost seem to have lost sight of the tragic loss of two young lives and the grief that must be felt by their families and their communities. Our condolences and sympathy should be expressed to the bereaved. We should have heard more about that from Conservative Members.
I am concerned also that the media and Parliament have not been objective. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) made that point. Five early -day motions refer to the case. I have sympathy with some, but the others are totally unacceptable.
I take this opportunity to compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on the way in which he has represented his constituent Private Clegg and his parents. He has pursued the case vigorously, but he has not exaggerated the injustice that has been caused. As we have heard, he has acted most responsibly.
Early-day motion 422, which is about Private Clegg and the rules of engagement, is totally unacceptable. It appears to say that there are no occasions when, on killing someone, security forces can be brought before the courts, and that there should be no public accountability for the security forces. The Army does not want that, and I am sure that the people of this country do not want that.
That early-day motion also states that the rules of engagement should be enshrined in the criminal law. As I have already pointed out, that information is classified, and for good reason. It is nonsense that the rules should be enshrined within the criminal law.
As for further action in Private Clegg's case, there are three possibilities. First, if there is new evidence that has not been before the court, it should be brought before the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to decide whether there is sufficient ground to resubmit his case to the Court of Appeal. Secondly, in future, the Secretary of State, who has jurisdiction, could release Private Clegg on licence. I am sure that that option will be considered. Thirdly, there could be a change in the law.
We support the Home Secretary's decision to review the existing law. Of course, a change in the law would not have a direct bearing on Private Clegg's case, but it would obviously be a major factor in a ministerial decision on early release. There is a strong case for a review, as, in the heat of the moment, it is impossible to determine the amount of force to be used.
It would be sensible to allow judges to be able to bring in lesser verdicts --for example, manslaughter--rather than the verdict of murder. Senior officers in Northern
Column 1006Ireland have always resisted that possibility, but their intransigence has contributed to the verdict of murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, being passed on Private Clegg. There is no flexibility. If there had been flexibility, I am sure that there would have been a fairer sentence in the case.
I am unhappy that senior Ministers--I refer to the Secretary of State for Defence--appear to have been allowing people to issue briefs on their behalf saying that they are in favour of the immediate release of Private Clegg. While politicians have the right to reflect public opinion, it is dangerous for Ministers to appear to be interfering with the responsibilities of judges.
The Opposition totally support the Home Secretary's decision to review the law regarding sentences. I hope that the high-profile campaign of the case is not counter-productive, although I have a feeling that it may be. The campaign may delay the decision of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to exercise leniency. I hope that it will not have any affect.
I remind the House of something that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South mentioned. If it had not been for Opposition Members--plus some Conservative Members--when we discussed the return of capital punishment in 1990, Private Clegg could have been sentenced to death. I make an exception of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who has a very good record of opposing the death sentence. The same cannot be said of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who is a strong believer in the death penalty. He should reflect that his actions in 1990 could well have had a serious bearing on the case of Private Clegg.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I congratulate the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) on obtaining this debate. I echo the praise which has been given to the Army and its record in Northern Ireland. I believe that its record as a whole is without reproach, and it is deeply appreciated by my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, and by most people in Northern Ireland.
I also sympathise with Private Clegg in the dilemma he was in, and also in the situation in which he now finds himself. I quite understand that there are feelings that an injustice has been done in this case. It is not, I regret to say, the only injustice. Hon. Members will appreciate that I am keenly aware of what I regard as a much greater injustice done to a man who has now spent nearly 10 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit. The man is a serving member of the British Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment--I refer, of course, to Neil Latimer. I shall not discuss that subject, in view of the time available today.
I agree with one point which the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) made. It was admitted in, and agreed by, the court that the initial shots fired by the soldier were lawful. The soldier, with his instincts and reactions, fired three shots which were lawful and then, a split second later--we do not know the exact time--fired a fourth shot which, in a cold courtroom, was dissected and was said to be unlawful. As the hon. Member said, that is an unrealistic approach.
I appreciate that there are great difficulties in saying that a series of events which have been entered into lawfully should continue to be lawful even when the last
Column 1007elements of that series have been separated and, when regarded in isolation, appear to be unlawful. Obviously, there could be considerable difficulty in drawing lines in this area, but perhaps too fine a judgment of the facts was exercised by the court. I am not sure that the other factors mentioned by the hon. Member for Bradford, South on the ballistic evidence were right. I would ask the hon. Member, and other hon. Members, to please read the judgment. This was not a jury case, but a Diplock case in which the judge had to issue a considered judgment. The judgment of Mr. Justice Campbell is in the Library, as is the decision of the Court of Appeal. Hon. Members who read the judgment may begin to appreciate some of the difficulties not only of the patrol but of the court in dealing with the situation.
I shall now deal with more general issues. Hon. Members have referred to the yellow card, or the rules of engagement. We are in danger of getting ourselves into an extremely difficult and untenable situation if we go down the line suggested by the hon. Member for Canterbury. The yellow card, which is probably getting too precise and detailed, is an attempt to state the law. In so far as it states the law, it is more restrictive than the law.
The law enshrined in the yellow card is the same here as it is in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members will remember that we are dealing with a matter in which the law in Northern Ireland is exactly the same as the law in England and Wales. The use of firearms by policemen and soldiers can occur in England and Wales, as it does in Northern Ireland. If changes are made to the law in Northern Ireland, there would be an irresistible case for making the same changes in England and Wales, and that should be borne in mind.
The law enshrined in section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 is identical in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland, and it goes wider than the yellow card. There are circumstances in which a soldier can open fire in breach of the yellow card and be within the law as stated in section 3 of the Criminal Law Act. The hon. Member for Canterbury said that a soldier acting in the reasonable belief that he was within the terms of the yellow card could use that as a defence. However, a soldier acting with an honest belief that he was in circumstances outlined within section 3 of the Act could also use that as a defence. That is the law as it is at the moment, and there is no need to make a change in that respect.
The problem facing Private Clegg is that--on the facts presented to the court--he was within the terms of neither the yellow card nor section 3. The hon. Member for Bradford, South said that Private Clegg believed that the car contained a terrorist. I do not know whether he believed that or not, but, had that been his defence, it is possible that he could have been acting within the terms of section 3 if he had an honest belief, and there were reasonable grounds to support that belief. That is a different view of the matter.
Remedies to the situation have been suggested, including the introduction of a new offence of manslaughter. I think that that is entirely wrong, and it would bring about a worse situation. That cure would be worse than the disease. At present, if a person has committed murder, murder is the appropriate charge. To introduce a lesser offence would have the effect only of saying that persons who, at present, are entitled to be acquitted of murder could be convicted of the lesser
Column 1008offence. The sole consequence of introducing a lesser offence would be that more soldiers would be in prison, and those soldiers--under the law at present--would be innocent.
The measure would simply be a means by which certain members of the community would pursue a desire for revenge, rather than justice. That is an important aspect of the case. If the actions of a soldier or a policeman fall within the law of murder as it is presently defined, murder is the right charge. If a court finds such people guilty, that is the just result. If their actions are not within the law of murder as it is presently defined, they are entitled to be acquitted. That should continue to be the case.
There is a dilemma in the present situation. A person who is not a terrorist has been convicted of murder, but he did not go out intending to commit murder. That person made a mistake in circumstances where fine judgments were called for and in which it was extremely difficult for an individual to make a snap decision. Consequently, there were extenuating circumstances. In the normal course of events, those facts ought to be taken into account in sentencing, but there is no discretion in sentencing. The Secretary of State and the Home Secretary have discretion, as was exercised properly in the case of Private Thain; but when that discretion has been exercised by the Secretary of State, politically motivated people make accusations that the laws have been bent.
A solution may be to return to the discussions of the House of Lords Select Committee on murder several years ago, where the Committee suggested that we drop the mandatory sentence for murder and replace it with a discretion for the judge to make determinate sentences where appropriate. If that had occurred in the case of Private Clegg, it is likely that the judge would have reflected the extenuating circumstances and the difficulties of the case in his sentence. The normal procedures for remission and early release could then follow their course without accusations of political interference in the course of justice. That is the option at which we should look again.
I hope that the Home Secretary's review of the law of murder will not go down the foolish road of introducing a new offence simply to have more soldiers and policemen behind bars.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): I am aware that I have limited time, and I want my hon. Friend the Minister to have as much time as possible to respond to the debate, so I shall skim quickly through my notes. I am grateful to see my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces on the Front Bench, because I have a great regard for him in this matter and hope that he can respond fully to what has been said.
If we make a special charge of manslaughter, soldiers serving in Northern Ireland may be increasingly drawn into spates of prosecutions where they are brought before the courts for many marginal issues with regard to the use of their personal weapons. We would then be placed in a position where we were seriously questioning the purpose of their existence on the streets. They are not police, but soldiers. They are not as highly trained as police in police responsibilities. They are armed and trained for combat, and no matter how much secondary training takes place, they will never be police. There is, therefore, always that
Column 1009compromise. They are there because the situation is
imperfect--people have chosen to use violence against civilians and police- -and it would be far better if we had thousands of police able to act as our soldiers do now; but we do not, so we compromise. The key point arises from the Law Lords' report, which said: "He did not kill Karen Reilly from an evil motive but because his duties as a soldier had placed him on the Glen road armed with a high velocity rifle".
We must be careful not to proceed down a road whereby we deny the very purpose of soldiers being there, for there can be no purpose if they hesitate every time they need to use their personal weapon. I shall not go through the changes to the rules of engagement discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). I agree with what he said. I disagree with what the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), said about that business being confidential and restricted. It is not. The key fact is that yellow cards are meant to reflect the criminal law and the confidentiality of those items is not really at stake. Somehow, soldiers must feel confident that they are acting under the law and that what they are doing is justiciable. In the case of Private Clegg, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) said that those were joyriders like joyriders anywhere in the United Kingdom. He said that, particularly in Northern Ireland, joyriders steal cars night after night, act recklessly and endanger other people's lives, but they are not terrorists and are not shot dead elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman missed one major factor. In Northern Ireland on the night of that incident, going through the mind of every soldier was the fact that he was there because terrorists were on the street. It was likely and possible that terrorists could have been in that car. It is no defence to say that the joyriders were not terrorists, because the soldiers were not to know that. That is an important fact and the Law Lords said that the soldiers were not even told at the time that they were specifically out stopping joyriders.
The point is simply that they were special circumstances, and we must not lose sight of that fact. We cannot simply say that justice has been done, for justice, as always, must be seen to be done. But justice can be the day in court, and the decision is not necessarily justice. Private Clegg's release is simply about right being done. The public and anybody who cares about the matter will see that his case is about right being done.
We need to reassure soldiers because we ask much, and much is given. We have the finest trained soldiers and, as the hon. Member for Carlisle said, they behave with the greatest restraint on the streets of Northern Ireland. I know of no other armed force that would act as they have, yet they do make mistakes and we need to show tolerance and lenience and make them understand that we shall support them.
Column 1010We need to reassure soldiers as they so often feel that they have been misunderstood and will not be protected by the very powers that put them there. Some lines from Kipling are apposite in those circumstances:
"For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' `Chuck him out, the brute!';
But it's `Saviour of `is country' when the guns begin to shoot; An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please; An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool--you bet that Tommy sees!" 11.14 am
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames): That was a powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith), who spoke with a good deal of highly relevant experience, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and others who have taken part in this important debate, particularly the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe). I note what he said about his constituent and I know that he is pursuing the case vigorously.
For good reasons, I do not have as much time as I should like to reply to all the points that have been made. This matter deserves careful analysis. The role of the armed forces in Northern Ireland is well known to everyone here this morning and was well set out by my hon. Friends the Members for Blaby and for Canterbury. I speak on behalf of the whole House, and of informed and decent opinion throughout the nation, when I express my profound admiration and gratitude for the exceptional professionalism, dedication and courage of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the armed forces in the conduct of their duties over the past 25 years.
Over that period, apart from horrific civilian casualties, more than 640 soldiers have been killed and more than 5,500 have been wounded. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford rightly said, our soldiers have combated the terrorists in a way that no other army anywhere in the world could have done. They have combated them within the rule of law of a democratic society, with huge and almost unbelievable restraint, great discipline and enormous courage. We should be, and are, extremely proud of them.
It is right that, whenever the security forces cause death or serious injury by the use of armed force in Northern Ireland, knowing that they must comply with the law, they be investigated fully and impartially--none of us disagrees on that--and it is right that, where there appears to be a case to answer under the law, it is reported to the independent Director of Public Prosecutions to determine whether the matter should be put before the courts and the courts should deal with the legal issues before them.
It is also important to keep constantly in mind the fact that it has been a cardinal principle of successive Administrations of all political persuasions that the security forces should act within the criminal law and within such additional anti-terrorist powers as are enacted by Parliament after the most careful and detailed consideration.
This Government--and all previous Administrations in the past 25 years-- have recognised the need to ensure that our soldiers are given the best training and guidance on the conduct of operations in Northern Ireland in these
Column 1011difficult circumstances, and I shall say a few words about how the Ministry of Defence prepares soldiers for tours of duty there. Soldiers receive extensive training before they are deployed to prepare them for the unique circumstances in which they will find themselves. I note the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury about his visit to the Princess of Wales Regiment. In those difficult circumstances, we shall always find people who find that they are not adequately prepared, but we are satisfied that the degree of training, guidance, advice and leadership--
Mr. Brazier: I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I must intervene for a moment on that matter. The battalion made no complaint about preparation. It was excellently prepared and had done an excellent job with no complaints from the public. The point that was made to me by people in the battalion and in many other regiments was that there is still uncertainty about whether the yellow card covers the law. The Clegg case has accentuated that uncertainty. I am sorry to have had to intervene in my hon. Friend's speech.
Training includes, for example, testing the soldiers' understanding of the law in a range of realistic scenarios. All possible measures are therefore taken to ensure that soldiers are fully aware of their role in Northern Ireland and of the rule of law. My hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and for Blaby will acknowledge that that is the case. The matter is dealt with extremely thoroughly. The rules governing the conduct of operations, including the use of lethal force--the rules of engagement--are summarised in the yellow card, which is issued to soldiers in Northern Ireland and gives guidance on the rules of opening fire.
It is important to understand and to put into context the nature of the guidance in the yellow card. It is impressed upon all service men deploying to Northern Ireland that in all situations which they may face there they are to use the minimum of force, and that firearms must be used only as a last resort. On those points, there is no uncertainty.
The purpose of the yellow card is to provide soldiers with an easily carried document which summarises the detailed guidance on the law of the United Kingdom with which they have been provided in training. The purpose of the guidance is to enable a soldier to understand the law and to minimise the risk that a soldier might open fire unlawfully. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby explained in graphic detail the huge real difficulties which soldiers face every day in that regard. We keep a constant eye on the scope for improving the guidance which is provided. However, as a form of guidance the yellow card has no legal status and, of course, cannot create independent legal rights.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury described the Army as being in a state of uncertainty about the law which has been exacerbated by the Clegg case. I am afraid that I cannot agree with that description. The Army as a whole is quite clear about the nature of criminal law that applies in Northern Ireland, but it is right to acknowledge the difficult split-second judgments which are required of all those--whether members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or of the Army--who have to operate within the law in countering terrorism in Northern Ireland.
Column 1012I know that it is not an easy or a pleasant task to be on the streets or in the deceptively beautiful countryside of Northern Ireland knowing that at any moment one--or others whom it is one's duty to protect--may be the subject of a premeditated, murderous and cowardly attack and knowing also that one may use only reasonable force if one is to stay within the law.
As my hon. Friends know, the reality is that there is no simple solution to those difficulties. For that reason, members of the security forces are given the most detailed and profound training and guidance based on 25 years of hard-won, bitter and painful experience of countering terrorism. For 25 years, the House and all decent public opinion have maintained as a matter of principle the need for the security forces in Northern Ireland to act within the law and to suffer the relevant legal consequences if they digress. That guidance and training incorporate the lessons learned over 25 years; but, given the circumstances in which the security forces in Northern Ireland are required to operate, those factors can never resolve all the dilemmas to which I have referred.
I now turn to the concerns about the wording of the yellow card expressed by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland when he gave his judgment last year on Private Clegg's appeal against conviction for murder. He recommended that the card be amended
"to make it clear that the mere fact that actual injury has been caused by a car does not justify a soldier in opening fire". In giving its judgment on appeal, the House of Lords made it plain that
"a minor injury caused by a car"
does not in itself justify a soldier opening fire.
When the current yellow card was drafted, it was not intended or judged likely that it would be open to the interpretation that use of lethal force could be justified simply because an injury, particularly a minor injury, had been caused. The guidance and training which I described earlier have always sought to ensure that there is no doubt about the detailed application of the law. As I have said, an injury has never been considered to be sufficient justification on its own for opening fire. Nevertheless, we reacted immediately to the Lord Chief Justice's comments by issuing further written guidance to make that even more explicit. The House may find it helpful also to note that, in giving evidence at his trial, Private Clegg claimed that he had opened fire because he believed that a colleague's life was endangered. The yellow card makes it clear that opening fire may be justified in those circumstances if there is no other way to prevent the danger; but the court did not accept that the fourth shot fired by Private Clegg was justified.
A number of hon. Members and others have suggested that--my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has been very good at keeping me in touch with his evolving views on the matter--the Clegg case demonstrates that the present law is inappropriate to circumstances such as those that resulted in Private Clegg's trial and conviction for murder. It has also been suggested, as my hon. Friend did today, that the yellow card should be given legal status so that compliance with its terms would provide immunity against criminal charges. While recognising the very genuine concerns behind those requests, we believe that it is important to the credibility of the actions of the security forces in Northern
Column 1013Ireland that, except where there is a clear need to give them additional powers, they are seen to be operating within exactly the same laws as those applying to any other citizen. Of course, there is a respectable opinion that the situation which they face in carrying out their specific duty to maintain law and order should be recognised in the construction and application of the criminal law; equally, there are many who would think it wrong in principle to accord them exceptional status of that kind.
Of course, those issues require the most difficult judgments. In response to the renewed debate on the issues which Private Clegg's conviction has generated, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced that he has initiated a review that will examine the law governing the use of lethal force in the maintenance of law and order. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend, who has raised the question of service and Ministry of Defence involvement, that we shall be involved very closely in the review.
The review will consider the position of both policemen and soldiers. It would be quite wrong to decide in advance of the review that there can be no case for considering whether the creation of a lesser offence than murder might apply to those who use lethal force in the course of carrying out their duty to maintain law and order. The concept that the yellow card should be given legal status will also be addressed during the review which my right hon. and learned Friend has set in train.
I am quite sure that the correct course is to proceed with that review and I cannot agree with the suggestion that it be postponed to permit the Defence Committee to carry out its own inquiries first, although views will be expressed to the Committee in the usual manner.
I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to await the review's conclusions, which my right hon. and learned Friend has undertaken to announce in due course. I know that he will take note of the strong views expressed in today's debate about the need for a reform of the law and the form which such changes might take.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury also raised the difficult question of expediting court hearings and I sympathise with his motivation in raising that point. No one would wish there to be extensive delay--with all the attendant anxiety that that can cause--before such difficult cases come to court.
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be taking note of the views that have been expressed today. He is aware of the concerns and is keen to keep to a minimum the time before cases--whoever the accused--come to trial. I believe that it is of the utmost importance that the Government do all they can to protect the lives of those decent and courageous men and women who serve their country so well in Northern Ireland.