Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. However, I remain a little concerned. The noble Lord is well aware of my fields of interest, particularly the activities of the Scientific Advisory Committee.

The deliberations of that committee will be excluded on the basis of economic interests because they are provided in confidence because of commercial interests and because of Section 118 of the Medicines Act. Can the Minister give some assurance that where deliberations are important to people who have, for example, been exposed to pesticides and are ill as a result, the information will be disclosed as it is in the United States of America, from where I obtained most of my information?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this will have to be developed on a case-by-case basis. Not every assertion of confidentiality will be sufficient. What I was saying earlier was that if there were a breach of confidentiality which was actionable, that would be a reason for not disclosing. Not all commercial interests, if they are simply barely asserted, are sustainable, but if we want scientific committees of inquiry to do a thorough job of work, it is idle to think that those with legitimate commercial interests or those with legitimate requirements for commercial confidentiality will volunteer the information unless they are obliged to do so at the point of a statutory gun.

The noble Countess has asked some extremely important questions, and they are the kind of questions that we would expect to be asked during the two-month consultation period. It is not so long that it will be kicked into the long grass; it is short enough to be focused. I hope that we will return to such points of detail when we scrutinise the Bill in your Lordships' House.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the Government are to be commended for making it quite clear that there will be an extensive consultative process not only in public but also in Parliament. It is very difficult to go through the Bill in any detail, but can the noble Lord give an assurance, in view of his emphasis on the information that can now be demanded from the public bodies listed at Schedule 1, that the emphasis will not be confined to the National Health Service, the police services and the local authorities, but that they will also comprise the public departments mentioned in part of Schedule 1?

I ask the noble Lord for an assurance that, although these other matters will be considered, and properly so, equal attention will be given to the provisions of Section 26 which deals with law enforcement and Section 24 which deals with the exemption of certain economic information:

24 May 1999 : Column 678

That is a very broad exemption, and we would appreciate reassurance that it will not unduly restrict those whose business it is from finding out as much information as possible as to how the economy is working.

Section 29 deals with the way in which Government departments arrive at decisions. Can the noble Lord assure us that these matters will also receive the Government's attention because the origins of the demands for a Freedom of Information Act centred on the secrecy in Government departments? Will these matters also receive very considerable attention in the course of consultations and presentation of the Bill?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hope that that will be so. If we want to maintain secrecy, confidentiality and privacy--whatever term one uses about the workings of government--my belief is that we ought to be able to demonstrate that it is legitimate to do so. I take the point about economic interests very much to heart. That is something that we have particularly in mind regarding whether or not we need to define or refine what we mean by "economic interests", and do not simply hide behind a general concept.

I do not know what the outcome of the consultation will be. It is a good document, which has been put out allowing a reasonable time for consideration. However, I stress that Parliament remains paramount. We want the outcome of the consultation to be of assistance to our deliberations and those in another place. Nothing in the consultation responses will dictate anything to your Lordships or, indeed, to the other place. Nevertheless, if I may say so, my noble friend's point about economic interests is a particularly pertinent one.

Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill

5.50 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 2.

Lord Tebbit moved manuscript Amendment No. 3A:

Page 2, line 34, at end insert--
("( ) No order may be made under subsection (5) unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that all witnesses giving evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry will be guaranteed anonymity.")

The noble Lord said: As I was abroad last week and, therefore, unaware of the accelerated progress of the Bill, I was unable to table this amendment until this morning. So it is a manuscript amendment. For the convenience of the Committee, I shall read through the wording of my amendment, which reads:

Page 2, line 34, at end insert--
("( ) No order may be made under subsection (5) unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that all witnesses giving evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry will be guaranteed anonymity")".

My amendment is about justice. It is about justice in Northern Ireland. I know that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway objects to it, not because he is against justice but because this is a somewhat untidy

24 May 1999 : Column 679

way, to a lawyer's mind, of legislating to achieve justice. However, if untidiness is the price that we have to pay for justice, it is a price that I, at least, am willing to pay.

The Bill before us now is about "The Disappeared" and about sheltering from justice those responsible for the disappearances, provided that they reveal the locations of the bodies of those whom they murdered. I should say in passing that I hope that General Pinochet is not receiving copies of the Hansard reports of our debates. Surely to contemplate the differing standards of treatment given to the friends of this country and the enemies of this country would be a cruel and unnatural punishment.

The renewed inquiry into the events of so-called "Bloody Sunday", some 30 years ago, can be described either as a sop to the IRA, or as something akin to the recovery of the remains of "The Disappeared"--an effort to discover the truth about what happened on that day and to understand how the deaths were caused--in order to give satisfaction to the bereaved of that day.

Let us accept that second explanation, for it brings this most closely into a parallel with the Bill. Then let us contrast the protection given to deliberate, sadistic murderers--that is, the IRA--and to soldiers who were trying to do their duty in extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances. Almost all of those soldiers--indeed, perhaps all of them--are now retired from the Army. Many are married with families. A good number married Northern Ireland girls from either side of the religious divide. Those wives have borne children. As I said, they have families. Some of their families are living in areas which are still effectively controlled by the IRA; that is to say, areas where punishment beatings and other sanctions against those who offend the IRA are still being carried out.

I hesitate to prejudice the safety of those wives and families by even referring in too great a detail to the links which some of them have with Republican families. But I know of at least one case regarding a former soldier. He is expecting to be called to give evidence and he has every reason to fear for the safety of his family, should his identity become known.

What are we to do about such people? Unless those men are granted anonymity, the IRA will be given, by courtesy of the Government, a hit-list of victims. Perhaps I may remind Members of the Committee that the IRA is still fully armed; indeed, not a gun, a bullet, or an ounce of semtex has been given up. It is still fully operational and, as Ministers know, it is still engaged in reconnaissance and preparation for the resumption of hostilities should it not gain its way. It is still in control of what it calls its "areas" and its "people".

Today, the legal status of the military action, which is being taken in Serbia, is still somewhat unclear to me. The airmen who are carrying out the policies of the Government, and who inadvertently kill innocent civilians in Serbia and in Kosovo, are given anonymity. Whoever programmed in error the missiles with the address of the Chinese Embassy is protected. Those concerned killed innocent civilians, but their names are

24 May 1999 : Column 680

not to be known. Whether it is because there is a fear that reprisals might be taken against them or whether that decision has been taken merely on the principle that their names should not be given, I do not know. Why are the Paras to be treated differently from the IRA or our soldiers and our airmen who are carrying out the Government's instructions today? What message will this inquiry give to those soldiers and airmen who are today fighting on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and who may be fighting in far more dangerous circumstances at some time in the future? Will their anonymity be taken aside when it suits the Government?

My amendment would not in any way affect this Bill, unless the Government choose it so to do. Indeed, there would be no change to its provisions. There is nothing in it about the location of bodies nor about the protection against justice for the terrorists. It is very simple: it merely requires that Her Majesty's Government treat our soldiers with at least part of the courtesy and the respect which they give to the IRA. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: I asked my noble friend Lord Tebbit whether he would allow me to group my Amendment No. 13 with his manuscript amendment. I am glad to see that he nods his head and confirms that that is so. I hope therefore that the Committee will allow me to speak not only to his amendment but also to my Amendment No. 13. I hope that the Committee will approve of that because, quite apart from anything else, it should save a little time.

During the course of some of the remarks that I ventured to make on Amendment No. 1, which stands in my name, I detected a feeling--this was expressed most strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale--that I had been gratuitously offensive to the Government. I hope that I made it clear that the last thing in the world that I wanted was to make any personal remarks about the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for the reasons I explained. My charge against the Government is not that they are nasty, but that they are too nice. They are too nice to deal with gangsters, whether they be in the Balkans or in Northern Ireland. After all, I venture to suggest with the greatest of respect to the Minister, that prolonged exposure to the niceties of parliamentary procedure and the way we conduct our politics here is not a good preparation for dealing with cut-throats. If I may say so, that is greatly to the credit of the Government.

As I rise to support my noble friend's amendment, I feel most strongly, for the reasons he explained, that what is sauce for the IRA goose should certainly be sauce for the parachutists' gander. I shall not repeat my noble friend's remarks in which he made a connection between the two cases, as I believe that that connection was perfectly clear.

My amendment is not as specific as that of my noble friend. Had I not had the opportunity to group my amendment with that of my noble friend, I would have said that Amendment No. 13, which gives the power to anyone who applies to the commission to force the commission to disclose the name of any person providing relevant information to the commission, was

24 May 1999 : Column 681

directed at exactly the same spot as my noble friend's Amendment No. 3A. If the Minister had been so kind as to give the same amount of protection to the former British soldiers who will be forced publicly to give evidence under their own names to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, I would have withdrawn my Amendment No. 13.

I hope therefore that the Minister will recognise--as my noble friend said--that the Government, like all of us, pay tribute to the extraordinary gallantry and courage of the people we in this Parliament send to do difficult and dangerous jobs on our behalf. No one is more forward in paying that tribute than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. However, I have to say that those words are often belied--I am afraid I do not except Conservative governments from this accusation, any more than I do Labour ones--by the substance of what governments commit. Under the circumstances which my noble friend has described, it is inevitable that those who served in Northern Ireland for 30 years of the Troubles, those who are still serving, and indeed those who are about to serve, will wonder whether the words which governments of both persuasions have poured on to our Armed Forces in tribute are words that are meant when it comes to the point and when political expediency dictates the opposite.

If my noble friend's amendment fails, we should be aware that whatever the rights and wrongs of Bloody Sunday, it is perfectly possible that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, will find that the Parachute Regiment is innocent--I know that that is not a fashionable point of view, but it is perfectly possible that it could be innocent--in which case innocent people would be exposed (particularly those who live in the Province) to the kind of dangers that my noble friend enumerated. If it is found guilty, the sin would be just as great because it is not for us to rely on the IRA to exact its own particular kind of retribution. We must hope that any punishment that is meted out--or is thought right to be meted out--should be according to the law of this land rather than the law of the gun and the armalite.

For all those reasons, I hope that the Government will realise that they are not playing in the play-pen of Westminster where a standard gavotte is danced--and thank goodness it is. We are dealing here with the world of gangsters, just as we are in the Balkans. For those who want to defend the liberties which this Parliament has historically defended, that requires the kind of tough-minded approach which I fear governments of both persuasions have failed to show. It is by being nice rather than by being nasty that we deliver ourselves into the hands of the terrorists.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page