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Business of the House: Standing Order 44

Lord Richard: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

There are three items of business arising before the Summer Recess on which the usual channels have agreed that more than one stage of a Bill may be taken on a day. These are, as usual, the Consolidated Fund Bill and the Finance Bill; in addition, the usual channels have agreed that the remaining stages of the Landmines Bill should be taken on Friday 24th July, the Second Reading being taken tomorrow. Rather than passing a number of Business Motions to give effect to those agreements, it was also agreed through the usual channels that a single Motion before your Lordships today would be appropriate. I commend the Motion to the House.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be suspended until the House adjourns for the Summer Recess.--(Lord Richard.)

Lord Renton: My Lords, I believe that this is the longest Session of Parliament for many years, and even though it has been so long, there is not enough time to consider in detail, as we need to do, all the legislation that has been, and will be, put before the House. In future Sessions, will the Government try to ensure that the legislation suits the timescale better than has been done this time?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am told that this is not the longest Session of Parliament. I merely repeat what I have been told; nor do I accept that the Session has necessarily been overloaded. The fact that this House is

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able to rise on 31st July seems to indicate proper application to the amount of work that we have had to do; and on the whole we seem to have succeeded in doing it. Returning on 5th October is not without precedent. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, is not in his place. I am told that, one year, he kept the House here until 12th August and brought noble Lords back at the beginning of October. So on that basis, we are doing quite well.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read a third time, and passed.

Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill

3.37 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Sentence Review Commissioners]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley: moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 11, at end insert (", and
(c) at least one is a representative of the victims of terrorist crime associated with Northern Ireland.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment concerns the question of whether the victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland should be represented on the new commission that is to be set up under the Bill. The amendment was moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Tebbit and was sympathetically received by many Members. As a result, the Minister was kind enough to say that he would give further consideration to the question. It would be helpful to know the results of that consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, an amendment on this subject was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in Committee. The amendment currently before the House is almost identical. It reflects the views of many noble Lords as expressed in Committee, and is very much in line with Clause 1(3) which states:

    "In making appointments the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of the Commissioners, as a group, commanding widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland."

In Committee, there was a minority view that the Secretary of State might find it difficult to identify an individual victim of terrorism. I am quite certain that the Secretary of State herself and the Minister will have no

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great difficulty, given that the former, in particular appointed Sir Kenneth Bloomfield in November 1997 to report on,

    "the feasibility of providing greater recognition for victims".

I quote from the terms of reference. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Dunleath reminded us that the Belfast agreement of Good Friday declares:

    "It is recognised that victims have a right to remember as well as to contribute to a changed society".

So on both grounds the Secretary of State would be on firm foundations if she were, for example, to appoint Sir Kenneth Bloomfield to the commission, given the collective or consensus views of the many victims who made submissions to him in preparation for his report.

Further, the Secretary of State has the authority of what has become the Holy Writ of the Good Friday agreement. I am quite sure that the Secretary of State would not want to incur the displeasure or even the censure of those who have condemned some of us here in the Chamber who have sought to scrutinise, amend and improve the Bill. We were condemned on the grounds that even a modest textual amendment or correction would "send the wrong signals", the phrase used so frequently in your Lordships' House. Presumably, it would send the "wrong signals" to terrorists and perhaps wreck the agreement.

I respectfully suggest that the Secretary of State and the Minister, by obeying the words of paragraph 12 of the Good Friday agreement, should say:

    "It is recognised that victims have a right to remember as well as to contribute to a changed society".

Surely, it would be indefensible to exclude victims from the opportunity, as laid down in the agreement, to contribute to what we all hope will be a changed society. In fact, it may be thought that their exclusion would clearly be a breach of paragraph 12 of the sacred Good Friday agreement.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am one of those who agree with the sentiment of the amendment but is unsure about its exact wording. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, are wise and the Government would be extremely well advised, when they come to make decisions about the membership of the commission, in practice to include someone who has the confidence of the many victims in Northern Ireland and that he or she would represent their concerns.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord said. I am open to correction but, as I see it, there is absolutely no reference in the Bill or the schedules to any representations being able to be made to the commissioners by victims of terrorist crime. That seems to be a gap which ought to be plugged. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would agree that somehow there should be a procedure so that representations can be made to the commissioners by the victims of crime.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cope for taking over the amendment which I originally put down during the Committee stage thus

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giving it even more force. Of course, we all understand that the Bill has no effect as regards the perpetrators of the particularly vile murder of the three young boys at Ballymoney, the cut-off date being Good Friday. However, as I watched the distress of the parents of those children, it seemed to me that it made even more powerfully the arguments put here in earlier days concerning the needs of the victims. There is nothing we can do to ease the grief of those parents other than to ensure that the perpetrators of the crime are hunted down and punished; punished with no prospect of any early let out in any future deal with another group of terrorists.

It would also give those parents some comfort if they felt that others who had been through what they are now going through were able to have some formal recognition of the way that those who had committed the dreadful crimes before Good Friday were now to be excused and let out.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Dunleath: My Lords, in Committee I too supported the amendment. Nothing has changed since then to make me alter my views. Indeed, the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, about the ghastly murders we had in Ballymoney last weekend serve only to reinforce that. As I am sure the Minister agrees, the Bill will give great comfort to the perpetrators of the crimes because they are being let out far earlier, I am sure, than even they dared to expect when the crimes were committed. In one small way I hope that we can all agree that the amendment will redress the balance in that it will provide a little bit of comfort for the victims of crime. After all, they are the ones who deserve that comfort.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I support the amendment. I also wish to reinforce the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, to the effect that it might be said that it would give the wrong signals. I believe that the amendment would give all the right signals. There is hardly a family or neighbourhood in Northern Ireland that is not touched by the sadness and terror of the past 29 years. The idea that victims should be represented would be extremely good in terms of the healing process.

However, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in suggesting that Sir Kenneth Bloomfield would perhaps be the person to represent the victims. For all the admirable work he has done, he is not a victim. There should be a strong case for a search for a victim who would be capable of representing victims in Northern Ireland.

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