§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]
§ 10.4 am
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the most important issue of the rules of engagement which govern those who serve us in Northern Ireland. One particular case has received a great deal of publicity, but the wider problem of the uncertainty in the minds of many of our soldiers serving in Northern Ireland has not received equal prominence.
I shall maintain four points today. First, we should never allow charges less than murder to be brought in a case of deliberate killing. Secondly, we should put on hold the present review of the law of murder in the Home Office until the Select Committee on Defence has had the opportunity to consider the wider issue of the rules of engagement, and until the House has had the chance to debate it. Thirdly, we should expedite cases involving members of the security forces who are charged while serving on active duty, so that they do not have two-year waits. Fourthly, I shall make some brief remarks on the Clegg case.
I hope that it is in order for me to draw on an illustration from the other side of the world. In 1947, six miles south of Haifa, a party of British soldiers were escorting a civilian convoy—a mixture of Jewish and Arab civilians—when they were stopped by a gun battle between Jewish and Arab gunmen up ahead. The young officer concerned went forward with a party of his soldiers to clear the path, when a civilian vehicle with armoured plating came racing down the road.
The officer told the soldiers to stop the vehicle. It was pulled aside and suddenly, a few seconds later, it pulled away and drove rapidly off. Faced with that extremely suspicious behaviour in the middle of a dangerous situation, the young officer, my father, who was aged 20, tried to open fire on the vehicle with a Piat anti-tank rocket launcher. Thank God it misfired, because when that vehicle was eventually stopped, it turned out to contain a large number of women and children huddling in the back.
I make that point only because the House must be clear that, in a situation of conflict of any sort, from time to time tragedies can and will occur, which can cause the most terrible bitterness in the wider community. That does not mean, however, that anyone is culpably to blame. Our forces in Ulster have behaved with a degree of restraint that is not only remarkable, but that we have come increasingly to take for granted in a fashion that may be becoming almost unhealthy. They operate within rules of engagement which are probably the strictest that any army anywhere in the world has ever operated under.
992 I have attempted to obtain the statistics for soldiers charged on active duty in Ulster—so far, without much success. The only statistics that I have been able to find came in an answer to a parliamentary question and relate to murder charges. I am not sure whether they are complete. In particular, they appear to exclude the Ulster Defence Regiment.
The material that is available, however, shows a sinister trend. In the 17 years from 1974 to 1990, only six charges of murder are recorded, involving four incidents, and in every case the soldiers concerned were acquitted; yet in the three and a three quarter years from 1991 to the ceasefire, four incidents took place. Five charges were brought in the same number of incidents in a much shorter period. Of those, one resulted in an acquittal, and two, involving Private Thain and Private Clegg, in convictions. The remaining incident involving two soldiers is still sub judice.
An extraordinary statistical freak may have taken place, or discipline is suddenly breaking down across a cross-section of four different regiments in the Army, which I do not believe, or we must face the possibility that the criminal justice system has changed and hardened its attitude towards offences allegedly committed by soldiers while on duty.
The figures also show that, in almost all those cases, the soldiers concerned, whether or not they were acquitted, waited for between 18 months and two years for a verdict. Those soldiers were in a different situation from members of the public awaiting their trials in custody, because they were there not just because there were charges against them, but because they had volunteered to serve in the British Army and had been sent to Ulster. Their families faced the prospect of their men being in custody for two years.
A much larger number of lesser charges have been brought against our soldiers. Anybody who has spoken to people who have served in Northern Ireland—I know that some hon. Members who wish to speak have served there—will know of the concern caused from time to time by the rules of engagement and the yellow card.
The Clegg incident was first raised with me by soldiers in my local regiment, 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales Regiment, when I was privileged to visit them in Ulster last year. Individuals told me again and again that they were deeply concerned that the case left them uncertain about where they stood.
The House will expect me to say something about the Clegg case. As a former Territorial Army officer and someone who was privileged to serve for a while in the Parachute Regiment, I have to say that there are aspects of the case that leave me deeply troubled. I know that I was not there, but it seems extraordinary that a junior rank should be charged with and convicted of perverting the course of justice, when an officer who was present at the time was not even disciplined.
§ Mr. Brazier
I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me if I press on and allow time for them to speak later.
§ Sir Jim Spicer
There is another disturbing aspect of the Clegg case. How can it be possible for a soldier who is to be charged with a serious offence to be on duty out on the street for a further six to nine months with that charge hanging over him and with no action being taken by the authorities? That is inexcusable.
§ Mr. Brazier
That is a good point.
Another aspect that deeply concerned many people is the disgusting montage erected in the barracks afterwards. It must have caused tremendous offence to Karen Reilly's family and to the wider community.
That said, those aspects are of limited relevance to the subject that we are discussing today and, in fact, are of limited relevance to the Clegg case. People may try to manufacture evidence not only because of guilt but also for a very different reason—because they have no confidence in the system of law. When I discussed this issue with people who have served recently in Northern Ireland, the message I heard again and again was that they are not sure where they stand.
If a man is seen throwing a bomb at a patrol and a soldier shoots him before the bomb leaves his hand, he is within the rules of engagement. If he is shot just after the bomb has left his hand, the person firing could be committing a serious criminal offence. If he is shot just before the object leaves his hand and it was not a bomb after all, the person firing the shot may be in serious trouble.
Another point is made time and again. Only three days ago, I had a conversation with an officer who had just come back from Northern Ireland. He had nothing to do with the Parachute Regiment, and was not even an infantry officer. He said that, as a result of cases such as this, soldiers are increasingly uncertain whether they can trust the yellow card.
The House knows most of the facts of the Clegg case. Cars have been used frequently as lethal weapons against our soldiers. They have sometimes been packed with explosives but, more commonly, they were simply used to deliberately run down and kill soldiers. In fact, a soldier in B company of 3 Para, Clegg's company, was killed in that way earlier in the same tour of duty, when a car scooped him up on to its bonnet. The car was driven for several hundred yards, and the soldier was then sadistically crushed to death.
It is against that background that the whole of an eight-man patrol, two groups of four, opened fire. Somehow, the court ruled that they were justified in opening fire, but that the man who fired the second lowest number of shots—only four—was doing his duty on the third shot and, within half a second, became a criminal with his fourth shot.
I shall quote from the late noble Lord Diplock, from a time when it was still possible to have jury trials in Northern Ireland:the jury … should remind themselves that the postulated balancing of risk against risk, harm against harm, by the reasonable man is not undertaken in the calm, analytical atmosphere of the court-room 994 after counsel with the benefit of hindsight have expounded at length the reasons for and against the kind and degree of force that was used by the accused: but in the brief second or two which the accused had to decide whether to shoot or not and under all the stresses to which he was exposed.Private Clegg did not have a second or two between his third and fourth shot: he had about half a second.
Far be it from me to abuse the privileges of the House and suggest that any judge in this country, in Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom, does not understand fully—I am sure that they all do—the letter and detail of our common and statute law. However, I believe firmly that, had this case been heard by a judge from Lord Diplock's generation, someone who remembered the war, we would never have had a verdict which so jarred the feelings of justice of the British people. I believe that that would have been the case whether it had been a murder or a manslaughter verdict.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
I realise, probably more than most, the sensitivity of the matter under discussion. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is leaving out an important factor, which is that the evidence was given by a police officer who was with that patrol? The evidence from that officer was clear, and totally substantiated the story that the hon. Gentleman has referred to as the concocting of evidence. I cannot for the life of me see why the sympathies of any police officer in the North of Ireland would be towards harming the soldier. Surely the police officer was giving objective evidence about a serious incident.
§ Mr. Brazier
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I did mention the manufacture of evidence earlier, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, another soldier was convicted and imprisoned for that. None of that alters the fact that a man was convicted of a serious criminal offence—it makes no difference whether it was manslaughter or murder—in the half-second interval between a third legitimate shot and a fourth shot, at a time when shots were ringing out everywhere and no one had any way of knowing whether they were all coming from one side.
I am pleased about the close interest that the Cabinet and the Government are taking, and I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces on the Front Bench. I notice that the Home Office is carrying out a review of the law on murder as a result of the recommendations by the judiciary. The change would allow manslaughter charges.
I mean no offence to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, for whom I have the greatest respect, when I say that it is slightly odd that, of the three Departments concerned—the Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office—the Department selected to lead on this inquiry is the only one of the three with no internal military advisers. Nevertheless, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary assures me that he will be taking advice direct from the Army as well as from his colleagues in the other two Departments, in whom I also have the greatest confidence.
Of all the things that I have seen in Parliament and that sadden me as a Member, perhaps the saddest instances have been those rare occasions when we have seen the House make a terrible and grievous mistake by legislating in a hurry to change a law, often as a result of some 995 well-publicised incident, in which the Front-Bench spokesmen have agreed on a policy which has been widely supported by the establishment outside but which the people on the ground know to be impractical. I believe that we have the chance to make such a mistake now.
If we were to accept the recommendations of successive judges, starting 15 years ago and most recently endorsed by the House of Lords, that we should allow charges less than murder—perhaps some new concept of military manslaughter—to be brought against soldiers in uniform when a deliberate killing has taken place, we would remove the discipline on the courts in which it has to be murder or nothing.
That would not help any soldier. Private Thain would not have come out a day earlier had he been convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, but, should the hostilities start again—we desperately hope that they will not—we should be opening the way for a string of borderline cases in which civilian judges would in effect be allowed to rule on whether they thought someone had been negligent.
Incidentally, the recommendation was made in a wider civilian context. I believe that also to be profoundly wrong, although there is no time to argue the point now.
Instead, we should be considering ways to bring the rules of engagement into the law. One option, suggested in an early-day motion supported by 118 colleagues, is to embody them directly in the law. If that is thought to be too inflexible and impractical, an alternative would be to allow an absolute defence in law—not a defence that would somehow downgrade a murder charge—that a soldier reasonably believed that he was operating within the rules of engagement laid down on the yellow card on the advice of the Government's Law Officers. I suggest that the best body to examine the matter would be the Select Committee on Defence which could take advice from all levels in the Army, as well as from other interested parties and various local bodies involved.
I have four recommendations. First, and perhaps most important, we must reject the idea of removing from our soldiers the protection of an "all or nothing" situation. It would be shameful if we were to change the law in this respect under legal pressure. Secondly, we should suspend the internal inquiry in the Home Office until the Select Committee on Defence, if it chooses to do so—which I understand is likely—has had the opportunity to investigate the matter and report to the House, and until the House has then debated the options in the wider context of the rules of engagement.
Thirdly, there is one thing that we could do immediately to reassure our armed forces should hostilities tragically recommence. We could at least ensure that soldiers charged with offences while on active service have their cases heard at an early date. The numbers involved are relatively small, but they should not spend two years in custody waiting for their cases to be heard.
Finally, Private Clegg should be released on licence—as Private Thain was—and allowed to rejoin his regiment. The Northern Ireland Office has the necessary power to arrange that. I believe that we owe these things to the service men and women who serve us so loyally in Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West)
We are having this debate because of what happened on 13 September 1990. Hon. Members will know that, on that date, two young joyriders—Karen Reilly and Martin Peake—were shot dead by a patrol of the 3rd Parachute Regiment, which included Private Clegg. That same regiment had shot dead 13 unarmed people in Derry in 1972.
I wonder whether hon. Members, especially those on Conservative Benches who might have signed an early-day motion, know all the facts of the case. On 13 September 1990, and on every other night in west Belfast in that period, joyriders were out every night of the week, not only on the Upper Glen road but on Monagh road and Lenadoon avenue. Everybody in Belfast, and especially in west Belfast, and members of the security forces and police officers, were well aware of that fact. Joyriders are a plague; they can kill people and be killed themselves, but they do not deserve to be shot dead. They are not shot dead in England, Scotland or Wales.
§ Dr. Hendron
No, I must be brief.
Hon. Members may be aware that, in the 25 years since the troubles began in Northern Ireland, not once has a car used by joyriders been found to be associated with paramilitary activity. I cannot over-emphasise that point. I have made that statement many times, and never been challenged in any meaningful way. Not once in 25 years has a joyrider's car or the joyriders in it been found to he associated with paramilitary activity.
§ Dr. Hendron
We have been asked to keep our speeches brief.
Do hon. Members really know what happened on the night in question? My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) mentioned the policeman who gave evidence, but another person—Mr. Brannigan from the Lower Falls road—also made a statement. He came to me within days of the killings. The fact that he came to see me rather than a representative of another political grouping showed that he had a certain credibility.
He said that he came up the Suffolk road and turned left into the Upper Glen road to take a short cut home, but realised that it was not a short cut at all and did a U-turn in the dark. Of course, his car lights were on. Members of the Parachute Regiment's patrol seemed to come out of the darkness, and they surrounded him. He was threatened and ordered not to drive on. He put the car to one side and got out, and was searched with his hands on the car.
As Mr. Brannigan stood there, he heard the joyriders' car in the distance approaching quickly, as joyriders' cars are wont to do. As it came nearer, soldiers of the patrol further up the road, whom he had not seen and of whose presence he had not been aware, started firing. As the car went past him, the soldiers standing beside him also started firing at the car; and as the car passed, more soldiers who were part of the same patrol—also people he had not seen—started firing, too. The car came to a halt.
997 Mr. Brannigan said that he saw no checkpoint, but when is a checkpoint a checkpoint? Is it when a soldier or policeman steps out with a red light? I am not sure of the definition, but Mr. Brannigan did not see a checkpoint. I am not arguing that there was not a checkpoint further up the road in the darkness, but, if the patrol was so innocent, why did it try to subvert the course of justice? Why, according to the policeman's evidence, did one soldier try to hurt another soldier's leg? That is an important point. Hon. Members will be aware that Pierce Jordan was also shot dead on the Falls road while running away.
According to the law, any soldier who kills a civilian is exonerated if he testifies that he believed that his life or that of one of his comrades was in danger. We should remember that tens of thousands of soldiers have been in Belfast and Northern Ireland in the past 20 years and thousands of people have been killed, with many more thousands being injured. It is fair to say that millions of shots have been fired. Yet, of all those shots, it would appear that when only two of them were fired can it be said that the soldiers acted outside the law.
Sir Brian Hutton, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, said that it was right that Private Clegg should be convicted in respect of the unlawful killing of Karen Reilly and should receive a just punishment. I accept that there is something wrong with the accusation of murder, and that perhaps a charge of culpable homicide or manslaughter should have been considered a long time ago.
§ Mr. Mallon
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The difficulty is that we are trying to solve a legal matter by military means. We should remember the words of Lord Denning:Be you ever so high, the law is above you.Over the years in Standing Committees, in the House and in debates on emergency legislation, I have proposed the introduction of lesser charges—not for the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), but so that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the legal process would have an opportunity to deal effectively with serious crime rather than the opportunity being wholly obviated by the single charge, especially as a result of the Mcllhone decision made in the House of Lords in, I think, 1970. In effect, that decision makes it impossible for the whole gamut of the law to apply in these circumstances.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. This is a short debate, in which many hon. Members have a great deal of interest and a direct involvement. If we must have interventions, I hope that they will be very short. I need to call many hon. Members.
§ Dr. Hendron
The present campaign in Britain appears to want Private Clegg released whatever the evidence shows. If he is set free as a political gesture to that campaign, a new set of rules will have been established—one for soldiers and one for citizens in Northern Ireland. The conviction among many of my constituents that double standards apply in Northern Ireland will only be reinforced.
998 Let us look at the campaign. I shall quote directly from the Daily Express, which reported Private Lee Clegg's words on 20 January. Lee Clegg was supposed to have said:If I am released it would not be a victory. Two young people have been killed in a tragic situation which could have been avoided if I had been given the correct rules.I give Private Lee Clegg credit for stating his regret. But he also said on radio one morning recently that he had been well briefed that morning. Perhaps the issue surrounds not only Private Clegg but that whole patrol of the Parachute Regiment out that night. What about the senior officer or officers who gave that briefing?
On television the other evening, a former lieutenant colonel of the Parachute Regiment was asked on the "Counterpoint" programme in Northern Ireland whether he would offer an apology on behalf of the Parachute Regiment to the family of Karen Reilly. His answer was "Never." I say to that and to other comments, especially in some of the papers such as the Daily Mail: let us not have the cheap rhetoric of pseudo-patriots. Let us not have cries that, in reality, seem to amount to "Rule Britannia": that no matter what our boys at the front do, it seems to be all right.
I was asked on a television programme in the past few days whether the people of my constituency were sympathetic to the family of Private Lee Clegg, considering that he was—possibly—facing many years in prison. I answered that they most certainly would be sympathetic to the family of anybody, soldier, policeman or anyone else, if their son were facing a long time in prison.
I also asked whether the people running the campaign, especially Conservative Members, would show sympathy for the families of Patrick Kane, Sean Kelly and Michael Fitzsimons, who seem to face many years in prison for a crime which I believe they did not commit. Would they show sympathy for Mrs. Sarah Conlon, the widow of Guiseppe Conlon, mother of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four? Hon. Members have seen, I am sure, the film "In the Name of the Father". Guiseppe Conlon, who was my patient and constituent, was allowed to die in prison. An apology has never been given to his widow, Mrs. Sarah Conlon, who still lives in west Belfast.
The people I represent would support generosity towards prisoners. I most certainly support generosity towards prisoners. I shall not be so arrogant as to say how long Private Lee Clegg should be in jail. However, many others should be there with him, or at least should be facing the due course of the law. When generosity is shown—I believe that it will be shown—let it be across the board and to both communities in the North of Ireland.
§ Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in today's debate on behalf of Lee Clegg and his family, as his constituency Member of Parliament. Thousands of words have been written over the past few weeks about this tragic case, and I have received hundreds of letters urging me to do everything in my power to put right this injustice.
Lee Clegg did not set out to kill anyone as he went on his patrol on that dark night. He was a soldier trying to do his duty. He was faced with a split-second judgment: a car speeding towards his colleagues. He thought that the 999 occupants were terrorists. He fired, and we are asked to believe that the first three bullets were lawful, but that the fourth shot, fired in that same burst, was not. That fraction of a second has resulted in Lee Clegg being convicted of murder and serving a life sentence.
I do not believe that, had there been a jury, it would have found Lee Clegg guilty in those circumstances. Perhaps his case is a perfect and clear example of why we need to get rid of Diplock courts as soon as possible and return such judgments to ordinary men and women, who can bring common sense and a sense of decency to bear. Only in that environment can normality and trust develop to bring about peace and sustained development.
I understand and acknowledge the frustration felt by people in Northern Ireland, who believe that far more media coverage has been given to a British soldier accused of murder than to Irish people faced with injustice. Whoever is at fault in the press campaign, it is not Private Lee Clegg. I say to the fair-minded people of Northern Ireland that it is wrong to want an innocent man to stay in prison just because he is a British soldier.
Injustice must be fought wherever it occurs, and I hope that all cases that have been mentioned in the context of Clegg's case are examined again. The Government have a tremendous opportunity to investigate all cases of injustice in Ireland and on the mainland, to convince people of their continuing vigour to pursue a just and lasting peace settlement.
There are many questions relating to this case that cause Clegg's legal advisers and me considerable concern. The initial investigation by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army found no case to answer. A television programme later implied wrongdoing and promoted the existence of a shoot-to-kill policy, citing this case as an example. It is interesting to note that the producer of that programme now says that he has an open mind on Lee Clegg's guilt. That was not the case in the programme.
The quality of Clegg's legal advice is also in question. I find it staggering to hear that there was no detailed questioning and examination of the ballistics evidence. We have heard this morning about the 34 shots fired. There was also the question of who had been involved in the briefing that night. If the security forces knew that the car was driven by joyriders, why were the ordinary soldiers on the patrol not told, as Clegg maintained? Why did not the defence at Clegg's trial pursue that point?
It is clear that, at the time of Private Clegg's conviction, there was a rising tide of belief in the nationalist community that the security forces were out of control. I cannot help but feel that Clegg's murder charge had more to do with politics than justice. I have a suspicion that it was decided to make an example out of someone, and Lee Clegg happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If there was a problem with the security forces—I am in no position to judge either way—it was not that of an ordinary private soldier trying to do his duty in a difficult and dangerous situation.
Lee Clegg's legal advisers are collecting new evidence for presentation in the very near future. Lee Clegg does not want to be seen as a hero, but nor is he a murderer. The Law Lords in their judgment indicated the need for change in the law, and it is right for Parliament to consider such changes as required, in detail and not in haste. Never again should security forces face such a dilemma. Regulation of the security forces is definitely required, but it must be fair, and it must be just.
1000 The attempt to discredit Clegg should also be resisted. The courts found that he had no part in the perjury of the feigned injuries. He was also not connected with the infantile and insensitive actions of other companies in the Parachute Regiment.
Every day that Lee Clegg spends in jail is an indictment of British justice. I am pleased that the Ministry of Defence has agreed to pay for fresh examination of the ballistics evidence. Lee Clegg and his family have suffered enough. I hope that the Minister who has the jurisdiction will release Private Clegg as soon as possible. That, I believe, is the will of the overwhelming number of people in Britain.
I must also say, thank God we do not have capital punishment. Otherwise, we may have been arguing about somebody who could have been hanged. Conservative Members especially should note that, many of whom vote in favour of capital punishment. Clegg could have been an innocent victim. I hope that Ministers will look at the case and will release Clegg as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) for raising this important subject so well. I think that, across the House, there is general agreement on many points. I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) that no injustice should be allowed to go unchallenged, which includes many of the people mentioned by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron). People have been unjustly treated by Diplock courts, but each case must be judged on its merits.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West asked many questions which I shall try to answer. I spent the best part of a year of my life as a British soldier in his constituency, and I have a certain affection for parts of it. I speak with a little knowledge of the subject. During that time, I operated under the rules of engagement—the so-called yellow card. The rules are very tight and clear. I always believed that they were legally binding, and that is extremely important.
For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the so-called yellow card, I will quote from a white photocopy of it:In all situations, you are to use the minimum force necessary. FIREARMS MUST ONLY BE USED AS A LAST RESORT.A soldier is meant to challenge, if at all possible:'ARMY; STOP OR I FIRE'".I suggest that that is difficult in the middle of a gunfight.
Paragraph 5 states:You may only open fire against a person:if he* is committing, or about to commit an act LIKELY TO ENDANGER LIFE" .
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that the yellow card is a classified document.
§ Madam Speaker
Thank you. Apparently it is all right to quote from a classified document, so the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is in order to do that. I learn something all the time.
§ Mr. Robathan
The document is indeed classified and restricted. I am afraid to say that I have one somewhere in my bottom drawer from my first tour in 1976.
1001 The card states:if he* is committing, or about to commit an act LIKELY TO ENDANGER LIFE, AND THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO PREVENT THE DANGER.The asterisk informs the reader:*'She' can be read instead of 'he' if applicable.I hope that that is not political correctness creeping into the military.
It is essential to have clearly understood rules, and soldiers are trained in respect of those rules. They are asked questions about the yellow card during their training. The yellow card also states that a soldier may "fire only aimed shots" andno more rounds than are necessary".The hon. Member for Bradford, South referred to a shoot-to-kill policy. In the light of the yellow card, the idea of such a policy is ridiculous. When we talk about shooting, people expect the best trained marksmen to hit someone in the leg. We always hear people asking, "Why didn't they shoot him in the legs?" I spent a lot of time shooting and I was damned lucky to hit the target. That is the case with nearly all soldiers, especially at 100 m in the dark. One is very lucky to hit the target in such circumstances, let alone inflict a neat flesh wound in someone's calf. People who talk about a shoot-to-kill policy and want to know why soldiers do not shoot at people's legs show a remarkable naivety and lack of understanding.
The rules of engagement state:FIREARMS MUST ONLY BE USED AS A LAST RESORT.It is essential to understand that.
It is important to understand why soldiers are in Northern Ireland. They were sent there in 1969 to protect the nationalist population. Wiser and greyer heads on the Opposition Benches might remember these things better than me. They were sent to keep both communities apart. Their mission is, and remains, to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the defeat of terrorism. Every soldier knows that. Ask any soldier on the streets of Northern Ireland and he will confirm that. Incidentally, I am glad to see that soldiers are not allowed out in daylight these days, not because they are so ugly, but for other reasons.
As soldiers are aware of their mission, and as they walk around day in, day out—night in, night out, as it now is—for six months, they remember that they are supporting the RUC in the defeat of terrorism. Most soldiers are unlikely to see a terrorist. Most soldiers are issued with 30 rounds at the beginning of their tour, and they return the same 30 rounds at the end of their tour, which are carefully checked back in by the quartermaster.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West referred to millions of rounds being fired. That is simply not true. I was shot at, but I never fired a round. About 300 people have been killed by the security forces, but that must be balanced against the 2,800 or 3,000 who have been killed by terrorist action.
The problem about firing is that soldiers are sent to Northern Ireland to react. They can only react. They do not go out shooting. They can only react to an incident as they see it. I am delighted to say that there is currently a ceasefire, which I hope will continue. However, we do not send soldiers to Northern Ireland as targets. They must 1002 react 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 1003 ammunition 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.
§ Mr. Robathan
I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Any miscarriage of justice, be it in a jury trial or with a judge sitting without a jury, must be deprecated.
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 1004 a 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 isdeliberately 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 Blab:y (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 Deny. 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 1005 sign 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.
§ Mr. Martlew
The hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 minutes. I have been told to keep my speech short.
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 1006 Ireland 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.
§ 11.1 am
§ 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 1007 elements 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 la .w 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 1008 offence. 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.
§ 11.9 am
§ 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 1009 compromise. 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.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
No, I do not have time to give way.
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.
1010 We 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!
§ 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 1011 difficult 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.
§ Mr. Soames
I am glad that my hon. Friend is sorry.
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.
1012 I 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 amendedto 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 thata minor injury caused by a cardoes 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 1013 Ireland 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.
1014 I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury for the courtesy with which he has dealt with the matter and kept us informed of his thinking. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) said, although I am unable to agree with many of his comments. However, he presents his views with clarity and precision. The hon. Member for Bradford, South presented his constituent's interests clearly and boldly.
My hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and for Blaby bring to the House very real experience of the split-second decision making that is required while soldiering in Northern Ireland. Their experience is highly relevant and I am thankful that people who have served in difficult circumstances in our armed forces can bring a measure of authority to our debates. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), in his excellent and admirable speech, outlined and dealt with many of the real difficulties that we face in this area.
All hon. Members agree that keeping the peace is a crucial and critical task in which British soldiers have played a glorious and an heroic part. That is why we will always be prepared to examine any evidence that is brought before us by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury and by others to see how we can continue to refine the training and experience that we give to our soldiers before and upon deployment.
As my hon. Friend knows, we ask very young men who are armed with high-velocity weapons to make difficult decisions in a split second in the dark when it is raining, when their adrenalin is pumping and when they may be very frightened. Their discipline and training over the years have proved successful. They have given the British Army and services a record of which they can be proud in Northern Ireland—a fact for which our nation and the House are grateful.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on the tribute that he paid to his regiment. I am glad that he found its members in good heart. I am grateful to all who have taken part in this debate for the measured, clear way in which they expressed their views. The Government will take note of all of them. I assure the hon. Member for Bradford, South that his points about Private Clegg will be considered and referred to the proper quarters. Again, I thank all who have taken part—especially my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury—for giving me the opportunity to respond to this important debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
It may be convenient for the House to know that there is a fault in the Division Bell system. It is not a fire alarm.
We now move to—
§ Mr. Brazier
There was a reference in the debate that has just closed to an early-day motion on the Order Paper. May I put on record the fact that it includes the wordsrecognising that soldiers must obey the law"?