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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I did not say that the Government were party to that at all, but that it was purely a threat made by the terrorists to the families of the disappeared.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, raised the issue of compensation and funeral costs. That is yet another sensitive issue. I do not find the compensation culture that is developing in society very appealing. However, a burial grant cheque can sometimes be so pitifully small and impersonal that it can actually insult the value and the dignity of the human life to which it relates. I am sure that many will welcome the availability of grants from the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund to which the Minister referred.
We on these Benches have no intention of delaying this Bill any more than proper parliamentary scrutiny requires. I hope for the families that this Bill will be passed next week. I have already pointed out that we have agreed to shorten the time scale for the proceedings. I hope--and I have been expressing a great deal of it this afternoon--that the relatives' long wait to bury their loved ones will soon be over and that they will not be subject to further anguish and the cruellest of tricks from their tormentors.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in this debate. It has been a sombre and very serious debate. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Blease, Lord Hylton and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for their strong support for this particular measure. I am also grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for agreeing to the timetable for this Bill, which means that we shall be able to dispose of it rather more quickly than our normal procedures would suggest. On one of the many debates when we discussed matters in Northern Ireland, I remember my noble friend Lord Fitt speaking very passionately about the appalling situation for families whose loved ones had disappeared, the bodies never having been recovered. I believe that he made the whole House aware, if it was not aware before, of the enormity of the issue, the terrible situation for the families and the urgent need for the IRA to reveal where the bodies were. I am sure that the noble Lord will remember very well how the House listened to him with enormous attention.
I am also grateful for the support for the Good Friday agreement given by those noble Lords who perhaps have doubts about this particular legislation. We all agree that terrorism is vile, cruel and absolutely barbaric. Therefore, our concern is properly with the victims. I
I have made reference to the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund established to help victims in a practical and meaningful way. Sir Kenneth Bloomfield initiated a review, which is an important document for victims. He is also reviewing fitness for the purpose of the criminal injuries compensation scheme. Grants have been given to the community and the voluntary sector. We have supported the commissioning of a survey of organisations supporting the bereaved or injured to assist in the development of government policy in that area. We have helped in the establishment of a Touchstone group to facilitate discussions between the Government and the victims in the community. We have tried to do a lot. Of course, one can never do enough for the victims of the Troubles, but certainly as a Government we have taken this matter as a very important responsibility. I believe that we have demonstrated our commitment by what we have done.
I repeat that there is one motive only for this Bill; namely, to help the families of those people whose bodies have never been found. The Bill is to support those families. We have no other agenda and there is no other motive. The Bill is simply and solely for that purpose.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comment. A question was asked about funerals. When the remains of a victim have been revealed it is for the family to decide what sort of funeral it wishes to have. There is not, and should not be, any pressure on the families to have any specific funeral. If they wish to have one which is high profile that is up to them. If they wish to keep it quiet and discreet for their own reasons, that is up to them. There is no question of the Government conceding to any pressure from outside. I hope that none of the families will feel under pressure to do other than what is best for their loved ones if and when the bodies are revealed.
It has been suggested by many noble Lords and, I regret to say, by my noble friend Lord Fitt that this is a matter of appeasement, that it is a sort of amnesty for the IRA. I should like to ask your Lordships what benefits there are to the IRA in what the Government are doing. Surely this debate can be of no benefit to the IRA. I have said that the Government are not in a position to give guarantees. After the raising of consciousness in particular of the families concerned that the bodies may be revealed, everyone would know
If the IRA does not reveal the location of the remains of a body, none of the provisions of the Bill applies. The only way in which the provisions of the Bill apply is if indication is given as to where the body or the remains happen to be. So I do not think that it is possible to argue that on the one hand this is a concession and an amnesty for the IRA, and on the other that the IRA will not reveal the bodies. It seems to me that either one or the other will happen.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I was not accusing the Government of intentionally appeasing the IRA. I think that many of us talk of it as a by-product, that the Government do not seem to realise the dangers. If the terrorists do not reveal where the bodies are and there is no Bill such as this, they live continuously in the fear that in the future someone who has an idea of where those bodies are--in the new climate he decides to come clean or pillow-talk, or whatever--might lead the security forces to the bodies and the forensic evidence. The Bill refers to forensic evidence because that is the problem for the organisations. We would not refer to it if it were not a fact that might lead to conviction. Therefore the terrorists have something to gain. Quite simply they are taking that threat out of the book. They are clearing the decks. Provided they can find the body, they have got clean away with it. It will only be the threat of someone breaking his silence in the future that will bring the terrorists to justice.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, it is almost certain that these bodies have been hidden for 10, 15, 20 or 25 years and although in theory it is possible that at some point in the future the bodies might be discovered, I am bound to say that on the face of it that is rather unlikely. Therefore the only way in which the families can have access to the bodies is through this measure. I do not believe that there is any other way in which the family can have any sense that the body may be discovered.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the advantage to the IRA is that it has demonstrated to its people that it is so strong that it can cause two governments to give what amounts to an amnesty to the people among them who have murdered. That is a message to its whole community of how powerful it continues to be.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I understand the point, but I doubt that the majority of people in Northern Ireland will take it that way. The families do not take it that way. There is a sense on the part of the community in Northern Ireland that it wants the agony of the families
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, referred to the fact that it was an amnesty. That is simply not the case. The Bill provides some limited protection in cases where bodies are revealed. But I would not have thought that it is an amnesty because proceedings can still be brought if other evidence is available to the prosecution. It does not let the perpetrators of these murders off the hook. It simply means that the one piece of evidence that is revealed when the location of the body is identified cannot be used. But in all other respects the individuals who committed the murder are liable to proceedings.
I have mentioned the situation as regards funerals. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, raised the issue of compensation. He also asked about time limits. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having drawn to my attention in advance the fact that he would raise the issue. I have told him what is to be made available to the families of the victims.
If there is any doubt as to whether a family is within or outside the time limit for claiming compensation, they can claim for compensation. They probably will not succeed unless they can demonstrate that the claim is within the time limits. It does not stop them claiming, but it is unlikely that it will have a successful outcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked whether the Government could put a time limit on the Bill. I think that I mentioned that in my speech. It is important to understand that the main provisions of the Bill must stay in place. It is impossible to say when those provisions might cease to be needed. I stress this again. We need to be flexible on timing as we hope that those with information about the remaining victims will come forward. I have already said that we shall keep the operation of the commission under review.
One question has not been answered. I throw it open to every Member of the House who spoke in the debate. What would you do? Not a single speech of those critical of the Bill has any solution. The only suggestion is that we do not have the Bill; let the bodies not be found and somehow or other we shall just have to forget the agony of the families. I wait here. Would any one of your Lordships care to suggest what you would do if you were in the Government's place?
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