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Mr. Ingram: The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) did not answer the question that I posed to him about how we could recover those bodies and help those families if not by means of this Bill. Can the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) address his mind to that point? If not by means of this Bill, how, other than by his rhetoric, will he recover those bodies?

Mr. Robinson: That question shows the moral decline of the Government. It assumes that it is society's responsibility to put right the wrongs of the terrorists. It is the terrorists who are responsible for "The Disappeared", so it is for them to say where the graves are. It is not for society to make concessions to the terrorists in order that they might do so. The question shows how the Government have declined over the past years and are now pandering to terrorists--give the terrorists what they want in order that they might give something back to society.

Mr. Ingram: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should just continue to hope that the people who carried out those murders will eventually own up to their crimes? They have not done so for 30 years and they are unlikely to do so now. It is also unlikely that we could make them amenable to their crimes because we do not have the evidence. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that would allow those people to be made amenable, he can, of course, pass it to the RUC. It does not stop any one of those who have carried out those acts being brought to justice. I urge the hon. Gentleman to address his mind to that. This measure deals with limited immunity; it is not an amnesty.

Mr. Robinson: That is the same nonsensical principle that the Minister enunciated in terms of decommissioning. He argued that we could not get the guns off those people unless we had this kind of legislation. The reality is that we did not require the terrorists to give up their guns. If the terrorists wanted to enter the democratic process, they should have abided by the rules of democracy, otherwise they should have been left outside the process and should not have had it both ways.

Again, the Minister asks what we are to do to discover the graves of "The Disappeared". The finger of responsibility points directly and only at the terrorist organisations that are responsible. It does not point towards the rest of society. The rest of society has a duty, if it has information that could lead the security forces to the unmarked graves, to pass it on. Indeed, the Minister must accept that even if the Bill is passed, even after the knee-jerk reaction, we shall still need information in order to discover the location of the bodies of "The Disappeared". After its so-called 18-month investigation, the IRA has been able to indicate only a limited number, and time alone will tell whether information comes forward.

However, there is no guarantee and this is a futile stab in the dark. The Government are acting like a puppet on a string, being pulled and pushed this way and that by the

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IRA, while the IRA laughs and guffaws at the Government's weakness and ineptitude. Look at the lies that the IRA has already told. One moment it claims to have divulged information and the next it retracts it. This legislation exonerates the terrorists. It contains no punitive measure, no condemnation and no punishment for their now sanitised "unlawful acts". The commission that will be established is just a sop to the Provisional IRA. The lawful security forces are not even to be entrusted with, or given control of, these matters. Another so-called independent agency is to be established that will cost taxpayers thousands of pounds for endless searches and blindfolded goose chases. Look at the millions of pounds of taxpayers' money that has already been wasted on the arms decommissioning body, and for no tangible benefit. The Government are throwing good money after bad.

The spokesman for the official Opposition, the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, said earlier in our debate that the Bill tells us much about the inhumanity of the terrorists. I have to say that it also tells us a lot about the depths to which the Government are sinking in terms of appeasing the provisional IRA.

It is exceedingly difficult truly to understand the torment of the families of "The Disappeared". They should never have been put in that position. Let the House be very clear: it is the IRA's responsibility to undo the evil that it has done--it is not the responsibility of the House or of society.

6.20 pm

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I apologise for my slightly late arrival for the debate. A certain little local difficulty in Cardiff has been occupying my mind, and it continues to be a labour of love.

The Liberal Democrats cautiously support the Bill. Like many hon. Members, we have some reservations about it. I am uncomfortable about some of the restrictions that the Bill will impose. Its approach is similar to that taken on forensic testing for decommissioned weapons, so a precedent exists. Many people did not like that approach, but it was required to move the peace process on, and the work on decommissioning is still in progress.

It is paramount that the remains of the victims are found and returned to their relatives. That is what the families want, and it is the humane thing to do. The fact that the legislation is needed shows how cynical the paramilitaries have been about "The Disappeared", and about the peace process in Northern Ireland as a whole. The location of the graves should have been divulged long ago without any need for legislation. That would have ended many decades of anguish, pain and heartache for the families, and would have been seen as a confidence-building measure by the paramilitaries.

The IRA showed its contempt by releasing a statement at the end of March in which it said that it had located the graves of nine people who had been murdered by the organisation, but did not reveal the location of the remains. It seems to think that its cause is more important than the feelings of people in Northern Ireland. It was a bitter and cruel blow for the families to have their hopes built up and then dashed again.

We are not trying to appease the terrorists: we are trying to do something for the families. The paramilitaries could have ended their suffering if they had wanted to. The fact that the British and Irish Governments found it

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necessary to introduce this legislation is a sad and damning indictment of the cynical attitude of the paramilitaries.

Mr. Swayne: Does not the hon. Gentleman realise the contradiction inherent in his position? He accuses the terrorists of being cynical, yet he supports a measure that rewards their cynicism. He said that the return of the bodies was paramount. However hard a truth it may be to accept, does he not realise that the rule of law and righteousness is paramount?

Mr. Öpik: The hon. Gentleman's point is at the heart of the argument about which side one takes. We are not granting a victory to the paramilitaries. We are trying to right a terrible wrong and to alleviate the continuing suffering of people who want to know where their deceased relatives have been buried or where their remains are located. We could take the intransigent position described by the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that this is solely about whether the paramilitaries gain a victory. I choose not to take that position. As the Minister explained in his introductory comments, the Bill focuses on the victims rather than on the paramilitaries.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) questioned the sense of hoping for any act of good faith from the paramilitaries. I understand his scepticism, not least because he is well versed in the feelings of people who have experienced loss and unbelievable suffering at the hands of the paramilitaries. I do not belittle his position, but I beg the House to remember that the people at the centre of this issue have given the strong impression that they support what we are trying to do.

It is my understanding that the families of "The Disappeared" have welcomed the Bill. They have said that they would agree to a great deal to get the victims' remains back. It depends on what one thinks is more important: the return of victims' remains to their families so that they can be given a proper burial and the long suffering can be put to an end, or the potential for a conviction and the avoidance of any hint of a precedent being set. My judgment is that the families of the victims are more important than the tenuous justification of not setting a precedent. Other hon. Members are entitled to take a different view: I am expressing the view of my party. I ask those who take a different view to consider seriously whether they have understood the feelings of the families who want the return of the victims' remains.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) said that appeasement corrupts the appeasers. I am not sure whether I agree with that in general terms, but I do not think that the Bill constitutes appeasement. It could more accurately be said of the Bill that the process of conciliation empowers the conciliators. The Bill is not about appeasement; it is about compassion. It is not about the killers, but about the victims.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Basingstoke, because, as other hon. Members have implied, the approach that he is taking is different from that taken by the Bill. The evidence suggests that his negative attitude towards the peace process has not been vindicated.

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Although enormous difficulties are still ahead of us, there has been some degree of success. Some of the doubts expressed in the House have not been borne out in practice.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that the Bill was unprincipled and dangerous. I doubt whether it is easy to characterise it as unprincipled. I have to believe in the Government's good intentions. I do not see what unprincipled motive could be ascribed to them in introducing the Bill. Perhaps it is a little dangerous and perhaps there is a risk, but we must recognise that there are risks for both sides as we move forward with such measures.

There must be some give on both sides. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, East that there has been precious little give by the paramilitaries. The Bill provides them with an important opportunity to show a modicum of humanity by releasing the information so desperately wanted by the families of the victims. We may be proved wrong, and if no action is taken as a result of the Bill, hon. Members who doubt that the Bill will do any good will have been proved right. We must let history decide, and I am willing to take a risk and lay the responsibility entirely at the door of the paramilitaries.

The IRA has kept the locations of the victims' remains to itself and has disregarded the human rights of the relatives. The Families of "The Disappeared" group has welcomed the Bill, because it hopes that it will bring an end to the great suffering. The families have suffered a terrible injustice. Not knowing where one's relatives are buried is something that I would not wish on anyone. I can hardly believe that there are people who think that that promoted their cause or did anything other than condemn the organisations that carried out the killings. Let us remember that we are doing this for the families of "The Disappeared". They have been clear that they want us to respect their wishes.

The Bill is not the ideal outcome, but nothing is ideal about the subject that we are debating. I should have liked the paramilitaries to act without any pressure and any conditions. The Bill should not be necessary, but we must deal with the real world and take the opportunity that we have before us. Without some movement by us, there will not be much chance of movement by the IRA, which will continue to hold the victims' families to ransom. That cannot be allowed to happen.

The Minister said that this was a "wholly humanitarian gesture", and that is probably a genuine and correct aspiration on the Government's part. I do not think that there is anything for us to celebrate in the Bill, which we debate to the distant beat of a funeral drum; but I feel that a grief that, perhaps, we must all merely say we respect without being able to appreciate it fully is sufficient justification for us to act, even if that involves the small risk of a precedent that could prove problematic in the future.

As the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) rightly said, we are discussing gruesome acts, and what tragedies and crimes are concealed in the soil of Northern Ireland hardly bear thinking about. What a step it would be, however--albeit a small step--for us to pass the Bill, if it will end so much suffering in Northern Ireland. Another small step would be taken if, following the Bill's passage, the paramilitaries responded in kind and ended that great suffering. In effect, they have robbed

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people of the opportunity to grieve. I accept that risks are involved, but perhaps after this debate the paramilitaries will find the decency to give them back that opportunity.

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