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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member and he knows that we do not tolerate that sort of thing in the House. There was no question of obscenities.

Mr. Maginnis: I think it is obscene when a Minister thinks more of those who have committed crimes against society than of his colleagues in this House, who are elected and who seek to represent the views of their constituents. Muttering under the breath is irksome, to say the least, but I take your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We are none of us experts in forensic science, but hon. Members know enough to know that if the IRA were genuine in wanting to meet the needs of those families who have suffered, we would not require this legislation. What possible forensic evidence could be gleaned after 30 years? Well, we might get some details about the extent to which the victims were tortured, their limbs broken and their bodies disfigured before they were disposed of.

Dr. Godman: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman in silence and I have not been muttering. Does he intend to divide the House on the Bill? He mentioned all those terrible murders of legal representatives by members of the IRA, but does he accept that there are profound differences in the circumstances surrounding the murder of Robert Hamill and the dreadful murders of those legal representatives?

Mr. Maginnis: My apologies; I am not sure that I picked up everything that the hon. Gentleman said to me. I shall try to answer him in so far as I heard what he said.

I believe that every killing is wrong. I believe that murders often take place in widely differing circumstances. The death of Robert Hamill--about which I shall provide the hon. Gentleman with a great deal of detail in the not too distant future--had nothing to do with neglect by the RUC of its duties. The RUC extricated Robert Hamill from where he was being beaten by a mob of loyalist thugs and saw him off to hospital, where his injuries--I need to be fairly careful what I say--would not have led to his death if they had been properly diagnosed and treated. I do not want to enlarge on that now, but that is the reality, because on the same night, a son of a councillor colleague of mine was beaten up and much more severely injured and, thanks to good medical care in the same hospital--

Mr. William Ross: At the same time.

Mr. Maginnis: Indeed, at the same time. Thankfully, he survived. Therefore, we need to be very cautious about

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believing the republicans' propaganda tales. I believe that if someone--the Minister could do it--obtained and made public the radio messages that were passed by the police that night, a great deal of light would be shed on Mr. Hamill's tragic death.

I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde touched on the points that I made about lawyers who were clamouring for an inquiry.

Dr. Godman: One question that I asked was whether the hon. Gentleman intended to divide the House on the Bill.

Mr. Maginnis: I do not intend, if but a handful of Members are prepared to vote against the Bill, to divide the House. In fact, I certainly do not intend to do so. I gather from what the Conservative spokesman has said that the Conservatives intend to abstain. I had hoped, in so far as they have quite vociferously condemned the release of prisoners, that they would give us a lead on this--I believe much more serious--issue. If they gave us a lead, I would be happy to vote against the Bill, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is not much point in the small number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament pitting themselves against the serried ranks of Labour Members.

I had hoped that there might have been a little bit of sympathy for society as a whole, instead of the self-satisfied looks on the face of one or two members of the Government. The Government know that they can force the Bill through Parliament by weight of numbers, without any serious opposition. I had hoped that they would have considered the implications of what is being enacted as carefully as I am trying to consider them.

I have made my feelings clear. For 30 years the House has sought to make accommodation with those who cannot and will not be accommodated. I sought to do that as a publicly elected representative. I have hoped against hope that at some time people would realise the futility of it all. However, I believe that we won part of the argument. There is now little doubt that the Irish Government have on many issues, including disarmament, a conviction not far removed from mine. On this issue, however, I believe that they are wrong. They are creating an accommodation for Sinn Fein-IRA that will be hurled back in their teeth.

I will be delighted if the victims of violence, the families of "The Disappeared", are able to give a Christian burial to their family members as a result of the Bill. However, I must caution again and again that accommodation with those who will not accept accommodation is a futile exercise and merely brings demands for more and more, which is not in the interests of society as a whole. Further demands merely help those involved to keep their evil grip on areas within Northern Ireland where they have dominated by gun, bomb and threat for three decades.

5.46 pm

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): In the short time that I have been a Member of this place and listened to debates on Northern Ireland, I have become accustomed to the wide circuit of issues that we go through despite whatever we are debating. I understand that. It is part of the process of coming to terms with the

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future and part of the process of coming to terms with the past and securing peace. However, sometimes I wish that we were not reliving every day the vendettas of the past.

I shall refer specifically to the Bill and to its implementation, and especially to clause 5. I shall be brief. I am concerned to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister concretely what he envisages as the next steps in the implementation of the Bill. Sometimes these debates become not heated, but perhaps angry. Throughout debates on Northern Ireland over the past two years, and especially during the most difficult period, the Minister and the ministerial team, far from muttering obscenities, have been courtesy itself to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and to all sections of the communities of the Six Counties. As a result of that skilled diplomacy and courtesy, we have been able to weld together the peace process so far.

On clause 5, and with regard to the next stages, who will be the agents of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains? We are to establish it, as my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, with a budget of about £100,000. We need to consider carefully who will be responsible for the detailed undertaking of the implementation of the commission's wishes.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has raised allegations of collusion in the past, allegations which have some currency and in some instances some accuracy. It is important that, as we implement the proposed legislation, we guard against any potential for even an allegation of collusion that may put lives at risk.

What powers will the commission have over its agents, the staff who will be implementing the detail of the legislation, and what security will be in place, particularly for the protection of information that will be supplied as a result of this measure? I am concerned about clause 5 because the security of the information given is important. The providing of information may put further lives at risk on all sides. I am anxious under clause 5 because, there are no penalties for those who disseminate information who have no authority to do so, or who may wish to undermine the process on which we are embarking. This is not a sectarian point, because information may be forthcoming from all sides of the different traditions within the Six Counties. Therefore it is important that we give security to those who provide information. We must ensure that those who are charged with implementing the legislation are properly controlled and managed, and that, where necessary, penalties are levied against them. On all sides there is the danger of collusion.

It is important that we put aside recriminations and past vendettas. The question has been asked about the prime motivation for the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, the prime motivation is to ensure that those people who have lost loved ones will now be able to bury them, further come to terms with their grief and their loss, and move forward in their communities. Those families are the prime beneficiaries, and there may well be secondary beneficiaries, as we have heard.

I support the Bill and wish it good speed. It is an important step forward in the peace process, and one of the confidence-building measures to which we have

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looked forward for so long. However, it is critical that we hear from my right hon. Friend in detail how security will be provided to all sides when the Bill is implemented.

5.51 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): I profoundly disagree with the conclusion of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). I shall return to that in a moment.

I listened with interest to the contribution of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). I regret that he and I have not entirely agreed on every aspect of Northern Ireland affairs in recent months, but on this issue we can find appreciable common ground.

I appreciated the Minister's comments on the fact that the debate clashed with the visit of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs to the United States. That was most unfortunate. I was one of the members of the Committee, and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) is another, who decided to be present for this debate, rather than go to the United States. The Committee understands that the Government felt obliged to keep to a strict timetable. I do not agree with that, but I accept that it is a legitimate position for the Government to take and acknowledge the reason for the Government proceeding with the debate at this time.

I listened carefully to the Minister introducing the Bill. He said that the Government were motivated with good intention and that the Bill was a wholly humanitarian gesture. With respect, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that his intentions are misdirected, mistaken and misplaced. I fear that this is an obnoxious and dangerous Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) used the word "odious". I would not quarrel with him in that respect.

The Bill is the antithesis of many of the values that the House exists to protect and promote. Under the provisions of the Bill, the political wish of the Executive further compromises and undermines the independent operation of the judicial process. The House should not accept that. Moreover, the fact that the Government are introducing the measure and that the Government of the Republic of Ireland are shortly to introduce a similar measure is a stark and gruesome illustration of the truth that the process of appeasement corrupts the appeasers.

Civilised society is underpinned by core values, which we compromise or abandon at our peril. We are doing so with the Bill. Those values include the absolute rule of law, a judicial process that is free from political interference, and genuinely accountable democratic structures. Each of those values has been compromised in Northern Ireland as a direct consequence of Government policy and is being further compromised by the Bill. With the Bill, I fear, we plumb new depths.

Northern Ireland is now a society in which morality and justice are twisted in the cause of political expediency. We delude ourselves if we think that a stable society can be built on such foundations. The Bill draws us deeper into the moral vacuum that we have created in Northern Ireland. It marks further inroads by the state into what should be the independence of the judicial process.


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