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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I too support the amendment. With respect, I slightly disagree with my noble friend Lady O'Cathain on the issue of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield. His would be the right appointment because he represents all victims. When we discussed the matter before, the difficulty was whether it would be victims who were Catholic or those who
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, perhaps I can clear up a misunderstanding. Sir Kenneth Bloomfield was in my mind because he was a victim of a bomb attack on his home. It was only through a degree of luck and the grace of God that he and his wife were not killed.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, that makes the case even stronger. There is even more support for the idea that the agreement--if we have to think in these terms--fully authorises what we wish. Paragraph 11 states:
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in Committee I supported the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. Everything I have heard since leads me to believe that I was right in doing so. The events of recent times in Northern Ireland have sickened people more than ever of the violence that has happened in the past and is happening now. If we pass this amendment today, the people of Northern Ireland will at least understand, be aware of, and appreciate that those who have suffered most at the hands of terrorists, of whatever denomination, would at least be represented and their voice heard.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, before speaking to this first amendment there are some preliminary matters that I would like to address. When your Lordships' House considered this Bill in Committee, I undertook to reflect further on a number of the amendments that were spoken to by noble Lords. I have done so and the Government have brought forward amendments in response to some of the points. We shall come to them in due course. However, there is one other issue, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, that I should like to mention at this point if your Lordships will permit.
The noble Baroness spoke to an amendment that would have required the commissioners to consider applications in the order that they were received. She was concerned that the commissioners should have clearly defined procedures for prioritising cases to protect them from any suggestion of capriciousness or partiality.
The Government agree with the noble Baroness that the manner in which the commissioners carry out their functions will be important in maintaining public confidence in the implementation of the legislation. Under the Bill my right honourable friend the Secretary of State may make rules relating to the procedures to be adopted by the commissioners, and she intends to do so. However, it is the Government's view that the commissioners should develop their own priority rules to take account of the speed with which applications are received and other matters such as when prisoners would be likely to be released should they receive a declaration.
By allowing the commissioners to set the priority rules, account can be taken of unforeseen circumstances or developments without the requirement that the legislation be amended after it has been commenced. But the noble Baroness can be assured that my right honourable friend will draw to the attention of the chairman or chairmen the importance of establishing clear rules of procedure where they have a discretion. In addition, the Secretary of State would intend to require the commissioners to make available any rules of procedure that they may choose to adopt.
I now turn to the amendment before your Lordships' House. First, I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiments expressed about the tragic murder of the three children in Ballymoney a few days ago. I know that everybody was shocked in this country, Northern Ireland and in most parts of the world at such a brutal and callous act.
The people who committed that awful murder--I hope that they will be brought to justice--will not come within the scope of this Bill. They committed the murder after the necessary date and there is no way in which they will be given early release--I am presuming that they will be caught, convicted and sentenced--and the Bill does not apply to them.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, this amendment is the same as an amendment that was spoken to in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. He asked that I consider the amendment further or, as an alternative, that I might give a commitment to your Lordships that the Secretary of State would appoint such a person as a commissioner.
I have considered the proposal in conjunction with the Secretary of State. We do not think that it is necessary to amend the Bill, but consider that there would be merit in appointing a person with the expertise identified by the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Cope.
The Government acknowledge that, although many victims accept the release of prisoners as part of the package that is the Good Friday agreement, the work of the commissioners under this Bill is likely to cause them concern. The Government sought to address that concern in part by providing that victims may be given information about the release of individual prisoners should they request it. But the Government consider that it is also important that the commissioners take forward their work in a manner that is sensitive to the concerns of the wider group of victims, including those who do not request information under the scheme provided for
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked a specific question as to whether representatives on behalf of victims or victims themselves could make representations to the commissioners. I am not happy about that. It is not part of the agreement to make the release subject to the views of victims. Indeed, many victims would not want such a specific role which would in part make them responsible for the release of prisoners. I understand the sentiment behind the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, but that is not the right way to go.
I hope noble Lords will agree that the Government are meeting the substantive point at issue in the amendment, even though we believe it can be done by a decision of the Secretary of State without requiring amendment to the legislation. In those circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say that he misunderstood my argument. I did not mean--or I think say--that release should be subject to representations. I was suggesting that representations could be made to the commissioners. There would be no pressure. I was concerned with providing access for the victim to make representations. They may be rejected, but at least they could be made. That is all I was suggesting.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I take that point. It was in that sense that I understood the noble Lord's comments, even though I used the phrase "subject to the views of victims". There is still a difficulty in putting on the face of the Bill a provision that there will be arrangements whereby victims or people representing victims could make representations to the commissioners. I am not sure that is the best way forward. It may give victims the sense that if they made representations, those representations would have a bearing on the release procedures or on the release date. It would also involve victims directly in the work of the directors in a way that I am not sure would show that wide-ranging respect for victims that many noble Lords feel.
I understand the point and am not unsympathetic to the motive behind the noble Lord's argument. But to put that on the face of the Bill would not be appropriate and may set up all sorts of other expectations, which would be undesirable.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may thank him and the Secretary of State for examining the purpose of the amendment I moved at Committee stage. From bitter
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