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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.

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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

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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

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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

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is hastened as quickly as possible. But we should not do that by conditioning the Bill on the release of the guardsmen.

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