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Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe): Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that as soon as the laboratory discovered the contamination of the equipment, that equipment was taken out of service and an investigation was commenced immediately? Does he agree that the answers to questions such as that are important, and not the characteristically synthetic indignation of the Opposition?

Mr. Howard: I agree with my hon. Friend that that is an important point, and I can confirm exactly what he said. The piece of equipment was taken out of action as soon as the matter was discovered.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): May I ask the Home Secretary a question of which I gave his private office notice? Are there any implications for the Lockerbie situation? In particular, will Professor Brian Caddy--who some of us know to be a distinguished forensic scientist in Scotland--be specifically asked either by the Home Office or by the Crown Office to look at the crucial work of Dr. Hayes and Dr. Fereday, as that is central to the Lockerbie situation? Will he give that undertaking? He could easily say yes.

Mr. Howard: It would not be remotely appropriate for me to give any such undertaking. Professor Caddy, to whom the hon. Gentleman has just paid such fulsome tribute, is in an excellent position to decide what material he needs to look at, whose opinions he needs to consult and what investigations he needs to carry out. That is why I have appointed him to carry out the scrutiny.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet): Having a forensic laboratory in my constituency and having visited it a number of times and seen the range and excellence of its work, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to dissociate himself from the Opposition's attacks on the forensic service? Will he also pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of the many people who work in it to underpin our justice system?

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Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is right. It would be quite wrong, as I have repeatedly said, to rush to any premature conclusions before we have the results of Professor Caddy's work. There is no evidence so far to indicate that any prosecution has been flawed by evidence contaminated in the way that has been the subject of such widespread speculation. But it is important that no stone be left unturned in the investigation, which is what I have asked Professor Caddy to do.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is the Home Secretary aware that, quite apart from the individuals concerned, there is bound to be international concern about these cases? Time and again when trying to deal with terrorism, which causes so much suffering and destruction, it is unfortunately the British criminal justice system that seems to be on the defensive. That does this country great discredit abroad. All in all, has this not been a bad day for justice?

Mr. Howard: If any concern has been caused abroad, it is much more likely to have resulted from the hysterical attitude of the Opposition parties than from the fact that the Government have, in public and at the earliest possible moment, said that we have found something worthy of investigation and that we will have it thoroughly and independently investigated.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a democratic criminal justice system, even if it has faults, is infinitely preferable to a terrorist system of summary executions in which all the victims are innocent and no victim has a chance of repeal or review before being murdered?

Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes his point with characteristic vigour.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North): I do not think that it is the Home Secretary 's role, or that of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, to examine test tubes in forensic laboratories--although that might be a suitable occupation for them after the general election. Nor do I have any criticism of the arrangements that the Government have made, apart from the fact that they failed to make a statement to the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)--shortly to be my right hon. Friend--had to ask a private notice question to elicit the information.

What I am worried about is the role of Professor Caddy. The Home Secretary seemed to say that the onus would be on the professor to recommend cases for examination on the basis of his inquiries. Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman's duty is to inform the legal representatives of anyone convicted, however remotely, by forensic evidence of the presence of Semtex. Thereafter the onus should be on the legal representatives to make representations and force the Home Secretary to take the cases to the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. We have already made it abundantly clear that we intend to do precisely that. Once it has been identified that there is some evidence that could have been contaminated in a particular case, the solicitors for the defendant concerned will be notified as soon as the information is available.

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Then the question of whether any such cases should be referred to the Court of Appeal will arise. In taking that decision I and--no doubt--the Criminal Cases Review Commission, once it is fully in operation, will place great significance on the work of Professor Caddy. I believe that we intend to approach the matter in precisely the way the hon. Gentleman suggests we should.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Is it not a bizarre spectacle to see Opposition spokesmen leaping on 30 millionths of one gram of Semtex on the off-chance of hitting my right hon. and learned Friend over the head with it? Is it not irresponsible that that political action may put at risk the convictions of terrorist murderers?

Mr. Howard: There is no limit, as we have seen yet again today, to the irresponsibility of the Labour party, but it is something that we have become well used to.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Does the Home Secretary understand that it is extremely important to clarify which cases will be reviewed so that the speculation about the rights of appeal can be ended fairly quickly? In that context, does he recall that, on 31 August last year, I referred in some detail to him the case of my constituent John Kinsella, who was convicted of involvement in the Warrington bombings, despite the fact that he has never been owned by the IRA, his involvement has been denied by one of the self-confessed bombers and his conviction was based only on his handling of a holdall in which the bombers had concealed the Semtex? Will John Kinsella's case be one of those that has been referred for review?

Mr. Howard: I will not indicate the cases, because we do not yet have the information that we need to do so definitively. Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the matter is clarified as soon as possible and that the cases are identified as soon as possible, and I hope that we shall be able to do so quickly. As for the case to which he referred, the material that he submitted to me in relation to that case is currently being studied.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): Has my right hon. and learned Friend been told by his Home Office scientific advisers that any contaminant in a centrifuge is highly unlikely to get in contact with anything being tested in an encapsulated test tube? Does he not find it extraordinary that the person who purports to be the shadow Home Secretary finds people guilty first and innocent later?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend has extremely accurately characterised the findings of the preliminary report. That is exactly what that report says, but it goes on to say that it would be prudent and responsible to commission a further independent inquiry, and I have done precisely that. I entirely agree with the points made by my hon. Friend.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey): In the light of cases such as those of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Seven, surely the Home Secretary realises the sensitivity of these issues. When will he stop blaming the Opposition for the incompetence in his Department and take some responsibility for those areas that he purports to be in charge of?

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Mr. Howard: What I blame the Opposition for is the hysteria with which they have approached this whole matter, the unnecessary alarm that they have caused by engendering and fuelling speculation about specific cases and the disgraceful way in which the hon. Member for Blackburn identified about a dozen realms of speculation in which he invited me to join him this afternoon.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): The way in which my right hon. and learned Friend has dealt with this matter so far has been exemplary. [Laughter] Does it not amount to this--that Professor Caddy is an acknowledged expert in his field, he is carrying out on independent inquiry, and he will have full access to all the information and records? Unless Opposition Members are seriously suggesting that the Home Secretary should personally check every glass test tube in use in a process like this, there is nothing for which he should be reproached.

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