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Lord Hylton: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she accept that this Bill applies only to murders committed before April 1998?

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, if that is so, I am extremely relieved to hear it. However, I shall be very interested to see whether the IRA does not in some way interpret the Bill in the way that I have interpreted it.

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4.37 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, it is difficult for me to welcome this Bill--a Bill to enable the Government to circumvent the democratic judicial system in the United Kingdom. However, I have the greatest sympathy for the families and relatives of "The Disappeared". They have been through hell and anguish during the past 30 years. For that reason, if this Bill achieves the recovery of the bodies and a decent burial, then, I suppose, it must go through. No reasonable person could deny the families that. But, at the moment, I do not know that the Government can persuade me that that will actually occur.

However, there is another matter. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and others have said, this Bill is to appease the terrorists and to help the peace process go forward. I seriously doubt that it will. The Government have been bargaining and dealing with Sinn Fein/IRA for years. The Government think that this Bill is a good deal. If it is, it is the first one that there has ever been. Indeed, there have been no deals up until now and it takes two sides to make any deal. There is only one side giving concessions at present.

I, and the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland--and, perhaps, in the United Kingdom--have supported the peace process from the Belfast agreement, through the release of prisoners, the legislation for decommissioning, the elections, and so on, because we fervently hope that Sinn Fein/IRA will give something in return. Virtually everything that the latter has demanded has been granted or been surrendered by us for nothing. Not one weapon nor an ounce of explosives have been handed in. If this Bill is thought by some to be a little footbridge on the way to peace and compromise by Sinn Fein/IRA, I fear that they will be proved wrong.

The Minister may say that I am ignoring the humanitarian reasons for the Bill. Mr. Ingram said in another place,

    "it is a wholly humanitarian gesture that has been made because the Government genuinely care about the families, who have borne so much grief and hurt over all those years with quiet dignity".".--[Official Report, Commons, 10/5/99; col. 41.] I do not question the Government's intention or sympathy. I have already said that I am extremely sympathetic to that. However, to use the word "wholly" is a contradiction of what Mr. Ingram had said earlier, or it seems to me to be so. He said at col. 39 of Hansard,

    "We have had to introduce a considerable amount of legislation as the peace process has developed, based on the circumstances prevailing at the time. It would have been better if we did not need legislation, but if that is the way in which we achieve the objective, the Government must introduce it". I am sure that the objective was clear to everyone; namely, the future of the peace process. At that stage I do not believe he was talking about the humanitarian aspect.

Therefore we must consider what the measure will achieve for the Government. Will it achieve a change of heart on the part of Sinn Fein/IRA? I doubt it. The Government are relying on our humanitarian instincts and sympathy for the families of the disappeared to ensure that this concession to terrorism goes through

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against all democratic and judicial principles. The Government are right; namely, that we may have to swallow a bitter pill. Our dignity and democratic right to fair play are being traded away on the back of our sympathy and humanity.

Let us consider the reasoning of Sinn Fein/IRA on this issue. When it brutally murdered these people that was not enough; it had to hide and dispose of the bodies secretly. It had to add to the intimidation and fear felt among the community. In that it succeeded. It was a card to hold for another time. That card has now been turned up when there is something to be gained by producing the bodies. In this Bill it is achieving an amnesty for the perpetrators who are perhaps senior members of Sinn Fein/IRA.

The Minister will say--as Mr. Ingram did in another place--that this is not an amnesty. However, the IRA believes that it is. Sunday Life of 11th April states,

    "The revelation comes after the IRA leadership announced they will not reveal the location of the secret graves, until they receive an amnesty from prosecution". This is an amnesty because if the security forces already had evidence there would have been a trial and perhaps a conviction. However, there is none. Therefore the only evidence, or the only evidence that is likely to lead to other evidence, that could be found will concern the locations of the bodies or the bodies themselves.

In addition the IRA is continuing to use the disappeared to further its own terrorist aims. First, it talks about only nine bodies. What about the remaining figure of anywhere between six and 11, including Captain Nairac? I suppose we shall have to await the IRA's "deal" on that one. The IRA also continues to heap misery and sorrow on the families of the disappeared. I again quote from a newspaper. The headline of the News Letter of 12th April states,

    "Bury them in secret, IRA tells families". The article continues,

    "IRA godfathers have ordered nine families of the 'disappeared' to agree to burying their loved ones in secret before the heartless terrorists will reveal where the bodies are hidden. It is the second cruel pre-condition imposed on the families in as many weeks". Another headline states,

    "Provos final insult". Yet another headline states,

    "IRA bars press at victims' funerals". That headline appeared in the Guardian which is not even a Northern Ireland newspaper. I mention that to show that these headlines do not emanate merely from Northern Ireland. These matters are picked up by numerous newspapers. Another headline appeared in the Sunday Life,

    "IRA's final insult". So it goes on. Is this the talk of people who wish to end the misery and who are likely to carry out their side of this bargain to hand over the bodies? I do not think so. That leads me to the ceasefire. How did the IRA wish to stop the families from holding the funerals in public? As far as I am aware, there is only one way to achieve that; namely, through intimidation, fear, weapons and more shootings. One cannot say that this is a case of a renegade group carrying out a kneecapping last night,

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    tomorrow or any other time. We cannot any longer get away with saying, "This is not the real IRA". Who is giving up the bodies? It is the real IRA. Who has said that they should not be given a public funeral? It is the real IRA. Yet the Government expect the IRA to hand over the bodies. I am not convinced about that.

The terrorists will not produce the bodies out of sympathy. An amnesty is their target and in this Bill they achieve that. In County Fermanagh we have a saying, "I did not come out Lough Erne in a bubble". I and many others are not taken in by this. Are the attitudes of the terrorists changing? I do not think so. The weapons issue is one example and everyone in your Lordships' House knows that all too well. There are other examples. The headline of the News Letter of 15th May states,

    "Every day, 20 people are abused in Ulster". The article continues,

    "Each day in Northern Ireland at least 20 men, women and children suffer one form or other of human rights abuse at the hands of the IRA and loyalist terrorists. These figures are not the rantings of a political propagandist but rather the figures confirmed by both voluntary and statutory agencies".

Those agencies have no axe to grind; in fact those victims are costing them money. Further, has the IRA stopped targeting? No, it has not. It has not stopped smuggling, money laundering and fraud. The godfather of them all--or so it is said--Martin McGuinness is about to receive an honest wage if he becomes a Minister. It will be about £70,000 a year. A journalist asked me the other day whether I thought this measure was a concession by Sinn Fein to walk into Stormont. The facts speak for themselves. They were hammering at the gates for a year trying to get in to get their hands on lucrative jobs. For most of the past year they have done that and now they have got there without a single concession being made. If anything, Sinn Fein is getting more ruthless. The headline of the News Letter of 15th May states,

    "Out of bounds". The article continues,

    "Sinn Fein's anti-RUC campaign plumbed new depths yesterday, when it managed to prevent a handful of schoolgirls from enjoying a day's walking in the Mournes". That walk was sponsored by the RUC.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I hope I may interrupt the noble Viscount. He referred to IRA and loyalist murders. Is he doing anything in his power to stop the loyalist murders?

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I hope that my 17 years of counter-terrorism service in Northern Ireland have achieved a fair amount to stop terrorism of all kinds wherever it comes from. The article continues,

    "The trigger for the cancellation came in a statement from Belfast City Councillor Tom Hartley, who attacked the school for going along with what he called the RUC's 'latest charm offensive'". The problem is that the Government and Sinn Fein have two entirely different goals: the Government believe that their goal satisfies something that Sinn Fein will be happy with; and Sinn Fein is absolutely sure that what is riding on the back of it is satisfactory.

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I wish to make one more point. It is always dangerous to make comparisons with what happens in Great Britain. But if the Government have produced the Bill for wholly humanitarian reasons, as we have been told, perhaps I may ask the Minister what the Government are doing about missing murder victims in Great Britain. I do not know how many there are, but one name is familiar--Suzy Lamplugh. The anguish, misery and sorrow of her family can be no less than that of any one of the families of victims in Northern Ireland. Her murderer might perhaps reveal the whereabouts of her body if the Government were to produce yet another humanitarian Bill to protect him or her.

4.50 p.m.

Lord McConnell: My Lords, I shall not delay your Lordships long in making my contribution to the Second Reading debate on the rather sordid little Bill that is before us today. It has been said on behalf of the Government that the Bill is not appeasement. Anyone who believes that will believe anything. It is as blatant an example of appeasement as I have seen for some time--and we have seen some fairly flagrant examples, such as the release of condemned prisoners with blood on their hands, who were let out without showing any kind of repentance and without anything being done to ensure that they did not carry out any further activities.

I have the greatest sympathy with the families of the victims, as have other noble Lords, but I very much doubt whether they will gain much from the Bill. To say "We must trust the terrorists to carry out their part of the bargain" is not a strong hope to hand out to anyone. It is not justified by what the terrorists have done in the past.

I, too, have thought about non-terrorist criminals who have buried their victims. Some have killed children and buried them and have not said where they have buried them. If a Bill was brought forward which provided that if they said where their victims were buried they would be protected from prosecution, such a Bill would not stand up for very long in this House or anywhere else. It is only when murders are terrorist connected that one can do that kind of thing.

One other aspect of the Bill concerns me. The Government of the Irish Republic are referred to in Clause 1 as the Government of Ireland. Of course they do not have such a claim. That our Government should be colluding with another government who are making claims over a part of the United Kingdom--it is contrary to the spirit of the European Union for one country to start claiming the territory of another--and that the Government should be putting such matters into legislation, shows a lack of self-respect. I think that is the easiest way to put it.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, at this stage of the debate, I, too, will not detain your Lordships long. We have heard some very moving and excellent speeches against the Bill. I wish to associate myself with the speeches of, in particular, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lords, Lord Fitt, Lord

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Molyneaux and Lord Cooke. I, too, was in Northern Ireland for the weekend--it was rather longer than that--where I was carrying out some millennium engagements. I had the opportunity to meet a number of members of the media, councillors, Assembly Members and so on. Knowing that the Bill was coming before the House, I questioned them about attitudes. I did not receive one answer that supported the Bill in any way; I had several answers that condemned it. I also learnt, at rather closer hand than I have in recent times, of the horrendous things that are happening even now, daily and weekly, in the communities and on the streets, in the way of terrorism, thuggery and so on.

In my opinion, the Bill is almost an insult to Parliament. I cannot believe the literature that I have seen on the Bill. It is an unpleasant and cynical little Bill. It undermines and cuts right across the fundamental laws of our society. I would go so far as to suggest that perhaps we have it only because of the Government's PR system. Quite rightly, they have been doing a certain amount to rehabilitate those murderers and terrorists who have been let out of prison. Money has been spent and care and effort has been put into it. But they have not done much for the victims of those terrorists. It became clear to the Government, by one means or another, that it was time they did something. Out of that, among other things, emerged this rather nasty little Bill.

Although I did not hear much of the debate on this matter in the other place, I have read virtually all of the Hansard report. I have to say that I was extremely disappointed that my party sat on its hands and did not go into the Lobby with the Ulster Unionists and the right honourable Mr. Hogg.

I have great respect and sympathy for all the families of the victims of the IRA's fiendish torture and sadism. As most people know, I spent about 12 years in Her Majesty's service and fought terrorism on three continents, sometimes in rather strange ways and remote places, which the noble Viscount will know. It happens in all walks of life--both in war and peace--that we lose our loved ones, either in unpleasant circumstances or even in accidents at sea, and the remains of our loved ones are never returned for burial. I am not condoning anything; I am just saying that it is not a situation in which these families are isolated. Although I have great feeling and sympathy for those who are bereaved and whose loved ones have not had a decent burial, I cannot and do not think that the Bill does anything for the greater good of mankind. I am fairly certain that most of those families would agree. The Bill condones torture and the desecration of human remains by creating a safe haven for those who have perpetrated these awful deeds and by guaranteeing them the right to remain at large.

I understand to some extent the Government's need to try to bring about the return of these remains. I would make one concession that was refused in the other place; namely, that the Government could be persuaded to place a time limit on the effect of the Bill.

If the Government are right and the terrorists are prepared to deliver in exchange for immunity from prosecution--which I doubt; as others have said, I doubt whether it is physically possible to return the remains of

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most of those for whom we are looking--six months should be more than enough time for them to deliver. In that way, and in that way only, is the Bill plausible. I suggest that a short time limit would help to prevent serious misuse of the Bill as a political negotiating tool and underline the Government's case that it a credible, humane gesture to help the bereaved.

5 p.m.

Lord Rathcavan: My Lords, I wish to add my voice to those of the majority of speakers in the debate in expressing deep concern about the Bill. No one could have expressed those views more movingly than the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, more eloquently than the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, or with deeper knowledge than the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough.

Many of us who live in Northern Ireland, and who support the Good Friday agreement and yearn for a return to peace and normal life, view the Bill with some nausea. It was rightly described in the other place as a grubby and obnoxious piece of legislation. It is yet another sop to the terrorists following the release of prisoners, the reduction of security forces, relaxations in security and turning a blind eye to punishment beatings. It is another instalment in an appeasement process--an amnesty, however the Minister may wish to phrase it. It is another twist to morality and justice in the cause of political expediency.

Of course, we all have deep sympathy with the families of the disappeared and can identify with the agony they have suffered. But, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, so accurately warned, the Bill may provide the cruellest touch of all: to raise their hopes and then dash them. There is no guarantee that the Bill will, or can, deliver what it sets out to do. The Bill's aims on admissibility of evidence and forensic testing are confused, as the Committee stage in another place clearly indicated. I therefore hope that the Minister will reflect deeply on the views expressed in this debate and take into account the strong and passionate feelings of those in this House who are closely involved in Northern Ireland affairs.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Dunleath: My Lords, during the Bill's passage in another place it was described as odious, nasty, obnoxious and outrageous, among other things. In that respect--and that small respect only--I disagree with those in another place and in this Chamber who say it. That is the only point on which I disagree in relation to today's debate. I read with great care the reasoning behind the Bill, given by Mr. Ingram in another place. And, as always, the Minister has introduced the Bill in this House today with the care, courtesy and consideration to which we are all accustomed. It is obvious that the motives behind the Bill are well intentioned and honourable.

However, the Bill is perhaps unfortunate. It is certainly inopportune and most definitely inappropriate. Like all noble Lords and Members of another place, I totally empathise with the relatives of those who are

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described as the "disappeared" or, more realistically, those who have lost relatives in the most savage and brutal circumstances as a result of the murderous activities of Sinn Fein/IRA. It is wholly understandable and legitimate that they should wish to recover the remains of their loved ones, to give them the basic and inalienable right to a Christian burial and to have a tangible memorial at which to confer their respects.

However, the concept of families not having a grave to which they can relate is hardly new. I doubt that there are more than a few Members of this House who did not lose relatives in the First World War and for whom there is no known grave. Agreed, there are memorials--headstones and graves known only unto God. Three years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the battlefields of northern France and seeing the memorial to the 36 Ulster Division at Thiepval. My own family was fortunate--if that is the right word. My grandfather's eldest brother was killed at Ypres while serving with the Irish Guards, but his grave is known to us and can be visited.

We then move to the Second World War and the number of allied sailors who were drowned as a result of U-boat attacks and naval warfare initiated by the Axis powers. Those men must have died in circumstances almost too harrowing to contemplate. Their relatives have no fixed point or remains on which to focus their grief. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, from his distinguished war service, could speak to that more eloquently than I ever could.

In the years since, in peacetime, the sea is no more a forgiving place. Every year, communities, and especially fishing ports, suffer tragedy and loss of life. Small and remote islands can lose most of a male generation.

Those are three examples of individuals or groups who do not have the remains of their relatives over which to grieve properly. There are obviously many, many more.

So the relatives of the "disappeared" are not a unique case. What is unique is that in this instance there are those in Northern Ireland who purport to be able to supply information to identify the location of nine of the 14 or 16 victims who have disappeared over the past 25 years. That responsibility lies fairly and squarely with Sinn Fein/IRA. Having ducked and evaded the issue for many years, Sinn Fein/IRA cynically announced that they would look into the whole issue of the location of these wretched victims' remains, having abducted, tortured and murdered those people in the first place. They then announced that they had discovered the locations of nine but would not reveal that information unless forensic evidence from the remains or their location was declared inadmissible as a tool in the prosecution's armoury.

It is most unfortunate that Her Majesty's Government have once again chosen to accept Sinn Fein/IRA's words at face value. Following on from the Belfast agreement, we have had prisoner releases, a commission of inquiry into the RUC, withdrawal of troops and dismantling of security installations among many other

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concessions. In return, Sinn Fein/IRA has given precisely nothing--not one Armalite handed in; not a pound of semtex decommissioned; not one bullet destroyed. Why then expect it to be any different now? Why offer it further concessions?

The Bill sets dangerous precedents. It offers a form of immunity--I resist calling it a total amnesty--to terrorist murderers, and with no time limit.

As I said, Sinn Fein/IRA are cynical manipulators. With no time limit they can drip feed information on the location of the remains, one body at a time so to speak, and can clam up at any stage if they seek yet more concessions from Her Majesty's Government.

Surely the desire to locate the victims' remains should not in any way hamper the Royal Ulster Constabulary from using every scrap of evidence available to secure arrests and convictions against those responsible for these most ghastly of murders. It is sickening that the RUC, who have for so long and so courageously defended society in Northern Ireland, should now not only be subject to a systematic campaign to discredit them, but also not be allowed to carry out their duties to the full effect of what is the recognised rule of law.

I assume that even if anyone were arrested and convicted of these dreadful crimes, they would be released in short order--within two years perhaps--as the murders were committed before the date of the Good Friday agreement. I should be grateful for the Minister's confirmation of that. And if that is the case, is it not truly extraordinary that all these efforts have been made to safeguard the perpetrators of these crimes from a short sentence when they meted out the ultimate sentence to their victims?

To conclude, it is a matter of record that I have consistently supported Her Majesty's Government on the Belfast agreement and all the Bills that followed from it. I have no such commitment on this occasion. I am minded to oppose this Bill. I shall listen with great care to the Minister's reply.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I apologise for speaking in the gap, which is not a habit greatly to be encouraged. I do so as an English person who has been visiting Northern Ireland for more than the past 20 years fairly regularly, and who now happens to have a daughter working in Belfast.

I agree very strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said, and I therefore welcome and support the Bill. I do so for three reasons, principally. First, the Bill is yet another example of the two governments, our Government and the Government of the Irish Republic, acting in the closest possible agreement and concert. To my mind, that is essential if we are ever to emerge successfully from the present, I admit, very difficult situation. Some noble Lords have thought that the Bill implies an amnesty. I believe that that is something of an exaggeration.

My second reason for supporting the Bill is that I believe that it will help to break the cycle of violence, which has continued for far too long, over far too many generations. I think it will reduce the temptations to

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revenge which may understandably be felt among the relatives of the victims. Here I beg to differ from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I am delighted that an independent commission will be involved in receiving the information and passing it on to the security services.

My third reason for supporting the Bill is that I see it from the point of view of the bereaved relatives. The point has already been well made today that they have been prevented from grieving in the normal way and from burying their relatives and other loved ones. In my view, they would not agree with those who oppose the Bill. It so happens that the only communication that I have received from that direction came from an organisation whose office is on the Shankhill Road. That is perhaps a little surprising, in the context of this House, where the nationalist point of view is almost totally unrepresented. There is perhaps a certain degree of self-indulgence among those speakers who have denounced the outrages and violence of the IRA and other terrorist bodies from the safety of this House. I wish the Bill a smooth passage.

5.13 p.m.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for not being here at the start of his speech. I was unavoidably detained. I thank your Lordships for allowing me a few words in the gap.

Contrary to what has just been said, I find the word "Independent" in "Independent Commission" rather useful for two governments, the Irish Government and the British Government. If something goes wrong, they are not to blame; it is the independent commission. If the Government want to do something like this, they should grip the problem themselves and go forward.

The commission will win only by completely kowtowing to the IRA. There is no other way in which it will succeed, and all the fine words from here and another place do not really matter. I am not accusing the Minister, who, we know, works with great diligence, duty and honesty.

I should like to draw the noble Lord's attention to Clause 4, "Restrictions on forensic testing". Some of us know the IRA quite well. There is nothing in the Bill that says that one gets the body of one's family member. There is no mention of DNA testing. It is quite easy to manufacture old graves.

If one was a terrorist in the IRA, one does not want the bones made public. Torture is apparent to experts from remains. That is well known. I am rather nervous that each of the nine families concerned--lovely families, good families--will get a bag of bones. It is up to the Government to ensure that the testing is such that they get the remains of the true member of their family.

I do not go along with the idea that with the Bill all will be rosy and lovely and everything will work out. To me, it is a shoddy little piece of legislation, and, like other noble Lords, I am amazed that a government of the day--from these Benches I do not mind which party is in power--can bring forward a Bill like this. It smells of appeasement and it does show amnesty.

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5.16 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, all noble Lords who have looked at the Bill will have had a problem with it. We on these Benches have certainly had a problem with it, because of the difficulty it imposes on justice and the rule of law.

I shall not use the terms of derision that many noble Lords have used about the Bill, not because I do not feel that they are appropriate, but because it would be unfair to the Minister. I believe that the Government have brought the Bill forward genuinely as a humanitarian Bill. That has to be respected. The families of the victims have a need to bury their dead and to put their suffering to an end.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said that if we asked the families we would find that they want justice. Some noble Lords--the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and I--have met members of the families, and we found that this was an issue that they wanted to be put to the House. They supported the Bill and wanted it passed.

A number of claims have been made. The first that I would like to address is the claim of amnesty made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I do not believe that this is the case. The murderers--that is what they are--are still liable to prosecution. However, the reality is that without the bodies no murderers will be brought to justice anyway. With the bodies, at least the families can bury the dead, and the murderers' cases are still open. I do not believe there is an amnesty, although, of course, there are problems. Many noble Lords will be aware of the difficulties associated with not using such techniques as those involved in gathering forensic evidence.

The second argument is that of appeasement. When the Bill was first introduced, I believed that it was a form of appeasement, because it has advantages for the IRA, and it is seen as a concession gained by the IRA. Having talked to the victims' families and to the groups supporting them, I have come to a very different conclusion. I believe that the IRA will find this issue very difficult in the months and years to come. It will be a thorn in the side of the IRA, which declared that it could identify nine of the 14 graves of the murdered bodies for which it claimed responsibility.

This has turned into a public relations disaster for the IRA because questions have to be asked, such as why the IRA did not come forward earlier with information about the location of the bodies. I refer also to some of the proclamations made by the press, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, drew the attention of the House, relating to the IRA's outrageous claims that the victims should be buried at night and without any press coverage. I believe that such statements will come back to haunt the IRA.

In a peace process which I believe will go forward such questions will be asked in the future. I do not believe that this subject will become a closed book. The culture of intimidation, which has guaranteed silence on

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this issue, will come to an end. Indeed, I believe that the Bill will help to bring that about. That culture of silence really should be challenged.

It is always interesting to reply to such debates because that gives one the opportunity to listen to all the Back-Bench contributions. I try not to write speeches in advance of debates because it is difficult to stick to them given that points are often raised which cause one to think again. I was particularly interested by the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, talked about the IRA "claiming responsibility". That is a particularly apt term in this context because in the coming years the IRA will not only have to claim responsibility, but also to consider its guilt for these actions and to answer why it carried out some of the murders which, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, pointed out, were particularly barbaric and for which there was no justification.

This is a fairly short Bill and I do not plan to consider it in any great detail now. However, from these Benches I should like to refer to two issues which my honourable friends raised in another place. I refer to the families who have gone through a great deal of suffering because of the intimidation which still continues. My honourable friends referred to the issue of funeral expenses. I was gratified to hear the Minister say that that has been sorted out and that the victims' families are to be awarded grants of more than £4,000 to meet such expenses.

I refer now to compensation, a matter on which I was thinking of tabling an amendment. However, this is an extremely complex and difficult area. Given the amount of time that this Bill will be allowed in this House, an incredibly well drafted amendment would be needed to rewrite a section of the Criminal Injuries and Compensation Act.

I believe that there are several difficulties which will stop many of the victims' families being eligible for compensation, not least the time-barred limitation. I had planned to ask the Minister whether the fact that forensic evidence cannot be used may be applied to record the fact that the time of death has not been revealed, thus meaning that the time-barred limitation may not have effect. However, I believe that that would be open to challenge on a number of grounds.

Am I correct in understanding from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act that, under Article 9 of the appropriate order, the families will be eligible for bereavement provisions, which would give them a small amount of compensation? I believe that that too may be affected by the time bar. However, I hope that, considering their special situation, some form of compensation may be worked out for the families of the victims.

Many noble Lords have said that they should like to oppose the Bill's Second Reading and that they feel almost honour-bound to do so. However, perhaps I may point out that some cases are almost 30 years-old. I should like to stress the interests of the group to whose wishes we should listen most carefully. I refer to the victims' families and their support groups. They are

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calling for this Bill to be passed. I believe that this is a humanitarian Bill. I do not have problems with it because I believe that either the bodies will be identified by the IRA or the IRA will have to answer many questions. It is paramount that we support the Bill.

5.25 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the background to the Bill and how it will work. I am equally grateful to other noble Lords who have contributed this afternoon. Like the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I have some sympathy for the Minister in his task of replying to the debate. We have heard many powerful and effective speeches this afternoon. It would be invidious to single out any particular contribution. Nevertheless, the view of this House is fairly consistent. However, both the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Blease, made speeches supporting the Bill in the measured and effective way that we have come to expect from them.

I am sure that all other noble Lords find the need for this Bill to be deeply distressing. We are well aware of the extreme ways in which the victims were violated and then disposed of; but so, too, are their relatives, many of whom hope that this Bill will enable them finally to lay their loved ones to rest. We also recognise that we may not be able to locate everyone, not least Captain Robert Nairac, GC.

We on these Benches believe this to be an odious Bill as it is offensive and repugnant. Moreover, the relatives themselves also appreciate the difficulty with this legislation, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. However, they are also desperate to be able to bury their loved ones properly. There is an understandable concern on their part that this House might delay or stop the legislation. We on these Benches will not do so. My noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip and the usual channels have agreed that we should shorten the usual interval between Second Reading and Committee. In addition, all remaining stages will be taken next week. That is all, of course, subject to your Lordships' agreement. However, I should be surprised if amendments were not debated in Committee. I think that the Minister implied that he expected that to be the case.

The Minister has explained the background to the Bill and the way in which it will operate. Many noble Lords have voiced their strongly held views and given their wise counsel on the Bill. I believe that your Lordships are clear on one point: as the Minister rightly stated, it will still be possible to prosecute someone for these murders if evidence is forthcoming from an alternative source. However, we must be honest and accept that if a terrorist takes advantage of this Bill and gives the commission the information required, there is no realistic prospect of him ever being convicted of that murder.

I must take issue slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on this. There must always be a fear in the mind of a terrorist murderer that he may be exposed by an accomplice, that forensic evidence exists which will back up any allegation and that that evidence is

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located with the buried remains. That fear will disappear under the provisions of this Bill should the terrorist take advantage of it.

The Minister drew parallels between this Bill and the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997. He is right in that they both work in similar ways, but there are significant differences. Arms, ammunition and explosives are by definition designed to kill people and are therefore dangers to society. A large number of people--that is to say, terrorists--may be involved with illegal arms holding. There is every risk of the arms falling into the wrong hands, as has already happened. It is shameful that these people, with one exception, have not even begun the process of decommissioning.

There is another difference in the need for this legislation. There is no doubt that arms will continue to be found for a very long time. Indeed, arms are still appearing from the Larne gun-running period before the First World War. But the need for this legislation arises from the desire to have some information that relates to about 14 victims of the Troubles. The relatives hope to have this information within two or three weeks. I sincerely hope that their aspirations are met. But many noble Lords are not confident.

The agreement between the two governments that underpins this Bill is not very reassuring. Article 3(2)(c) helpfully states that the commission is,

    "to report its activities to both governments no later than one year after the establishment of the commission and annually thereafter". My greatest fear with this Bill is that it will not have the desired effect and that the relatives will continue to be strung along by terrorists who have managed to persuade the Government to introduce this legislation. It is legislation which suits the terrorists, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Cranborne and others, as much as the relatives. But the terrorists either have this information or they do not, which was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I hope that the Minister can convince your Lordships of the desirability of such open-ended legislation.

I accept his view that many of the clauses must remain extant indefinitely. However, an interesting amendment was moved in the other place which well addressed that issue. No doubt something similar will be debated in your Lordships' House in Committee. I also note that the Bill does not create any new offence. So what happens if a terrorist organisation or individual deliberately and inaccurately tells the commission that the remains of a victim are located at a certain point, which happens to be underneath a building or within some item of infrastructure? The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, touched on that possibility. It may be an item that is not so big that it cannot be moved, but big enough to cause major destruction if it were. I stand to be corrected, but as I read the Bill the commission cannot reveal who gave it the maliciously incorrect information. The Bill may even protect the terrorists or troublemakers from prosecution in that case. That may not be a problem now, but it may be later due to the open-endedness of the Bill. I hope that the Minister can allay my fears on that point.

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The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, raised the issue of conditions being made by terrorist organisations as regards funeral arrangements. Can the Minister assure the House that those fears are completely groundless and that no Minister or official has agreed on any restrictions on the funeral arrangements?

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