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Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words on behalf of my noble friends. I strongly support, as do all my noble friends, the campaign for the release of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was kind enough to pay a justified tribute to my noble

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friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for his speech on this subject on our behalf on Monday night. So there is no doubt on that question. Like the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, I also admire the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in seeking yet another occasion to press the case.

However, the fundamental position that we take on these Benches is the one already articulated; namely, that these amendments cannot be supported by us principally because they lay down conditions which are not contained in the Belfast agreement. We must remind ourselves that that agreement, which was finally concluded on Good Friday, was painfully and painstakingly negotiated. No one party should seek unilaterally to make changes to that agreement lest the whole agreement should unravel. Indeed, it is a delicate enough instrument as it is and we should leave it as it is.

Lord Bramall: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has tabled his amendment with the best possible motives and with the best interests of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright at heart. However, having had that very full debate on Monday night, which ended with the unanimous agreement of your Lordships' House to send a humble Address to Her Majesty asking for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, and also having been assured by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the full weight of your Lordships' unanimous view would be passed to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is in a position to exercise that prerogative, I wonder whether we are not muddying the waters by trying to link in any way the, hopefully, imminent release of these guardsmen with the future release of some terrorists for purely political purposes.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, we should all listen carefully to those who have spoken so far in the debate, and not least to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who has led so forcefully in recent weeks on the case of the two guardsmen. The three amendments now before us are linked to the release of the guardsmen and I do not wish to add to the words that have been spoken or, indeed, to the words of warning about voting on the amendments and perhaps passing them.

I should like to raise a practical point about the amendments. Amendment No. 1, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, refers to,

    "a prisoner who is or has been a member of a terrorist or proscribed organisation",

while the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, refers, in much the same terms, to membership of such organisations. But how does one prove membership? In my time in Northern Ireland I was advised that membership was usually a makeweight. I had a membership card for the Labour Party in my wallet, but these people do not go around carrying a membership card on their person which will actually prove membership of a proscribed or terrorist organisation. Indeed, such membership is almost impossible to prove. That is a weakness in the amendments which would make it difficult for the Secretary of State when deciding what orders she should

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make in connection with release. It would be almost impossible to prove the membership of those who are referred to in the Bill. That is another weakness in the amendments, and I hope that the House will take that into account.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. However, I should point out to him that that is why my amendment also refers to supporters. That is the expression used in the Bill and it is from there that I have imported it.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Dunleath: My Lords, I have not spoken to the previous amendments on the subject tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, either in Committee or on Report, as I am aware of the possible complications that such amendments might cause. However, I firmly believe that the mood of your Lordships' House last Thursday showed much sympathy with the amendment as then tabled. Certainly, it had the support of the Opposition Front Bench. It was clear on these Benches at least that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, intended to withdraw the amendment on Report. I believe I speak for many noble Lords when I say that the confusion that followed, which led to the amendment being negatived, was most unsatisfactory.

I was sorry that other commitments in Northern Ireland prevented me from being present when the humble Address was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, on Monday evening regarding Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. However, I have read the Hansard report with care and I am delighted that there may now be a further lever that can be used to secure the release of these two soldiers.

Much has been made, and rightly so, by noble Lords who have served in Northern Ireland of the fact that they might have found themselves in exactly the same situation as Fisher and Wright. I believe the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, said, "There but for the grace of God go I". It has crossed my mind that the continued incarceration of the two guardsmen could have an effect on soldiers currently serving in Northern Ireland, whereby the implications of their opening fire could just cause that moment of hesitation which would give the terrorists a tactical advantage, leading to the injury or death of a member of the security forces. That would be a truly deplorable situation.

All of us who have served in Northern Ireland will be aware of the paramount importance attached to the Rules of Engagement as summarised in the yellow card. It is quite clear on this occasion that the warnings were given in accordance with the yellow card to McBride and that, as he chose to ignore them, the guardsmen were entitled to fire at him believing that he was carrying a coffee jar bomb. McBride was offered an opportunity to surrender, which is never, ever given to the many off-duty, part-time UDR soldiers or RUC officers who have been shot, maimed or blown up by the IRA.

Quite clearly, there has been a miscarriage of justice, and it is quite wrong that Guardsmen Fisher and Wright should continue to be locked up in prison.

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The amendments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Tebbit, today give Parliament, both your Lordships' House and another place, an input and a chance to think again; and, indeed, a say in the future of these two soldiers. It is a further mechanism available if their release continues to be unnecessarily delayed.

I hope that the Minister will have more encouraging news for us today--more encouraging indeed than the previously announced date for the Secretary of State's review being completed by the end of August. Moreover, can the Minister give the House any reasons whatever why Guardsmen Fisher and Wright cannot be released into the care of their regiment, pending the pronouncement by the Secretary of State?

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, in opposing these three amendments, I should like to concentrate my arguments on Amendment No. 2. I believe that everyone in this House recognises that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has consistently and well-meaningly advanced a crusade on behalf of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. However, the purpose of my arguments is, it is to be hoped, to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, to withdraw his amendment.

We have had a debate about the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and there has been widespread support for it. We know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is reviewing the circumstances. Everyone is sympathetic with the issue surrounding the imprisonment at present of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright; but in our determination to secure their release we should ask ourselves whether we ought to be doing so as a condition of passing a Bill that is in fact intended to bring about peace in Northern Ireland, which we have not had for decades. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, used some very emotive terms. He talked about rewarding criminals and drew attention to past crimes. We are all aware of those circumstances. But is it not our objective to prevent criminality in the future and prevent those horrendous crimes occurring again? That is the case we have to address.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said that this will be the belt that is added to the braces. I do not share that view. I think that if we attempt to secure the release of the guardsmen as a simple condition of passing this Bill, it will become a propaganda weapon in the hands of those who are opposed to peace in Northern Ireland. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, think hard and long about that. I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, is absolutely right. This is an emotive subject. However, it is most emotive of all for Guardsmen Fisher and Wright who are languishing in gaol when other people may be released. They must applaud the efforts of my noble friends Lord Tebbit and Lord Campbell of Alloway to obtain their release. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, is now trying to do that too. The guardsmen must feel sad that no one thought of them when the Good Friday agreement was drawn up. I hope that the Minister can answer my next question. How was it possible for the Prime Minister of

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this country to go to Saudi Arabia and prevail upon the government there to free two nurses who had been convicted of murder whereas his own Government cannot be prevailed upon to release two guardsmen who, we now gather, were convicted of murder on slightly dodgy grounds while protecting the interests of this country?

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