Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. We know that the Government acted in good faith, but would he not agree that the IRA have not acted in good faith and that they have betrayed whatever agreement or trust there might have been about this Bill, to the extent that the people involved in these killings have not come forward? We have had intermediaries; we have had "Chinese whispers". Therefore nobody should be surprised that the bodies cannot be found when the people who have been given immunity by the Act should they point out the position of the bodies have not actually come forward

8 Jun 1999 : Column 1420

themselves. The Government should be doing something about forcing them to do so, either by imposing a time limit or in some other way.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the digging for the bodies is continuing at various locations in the Republic. I think that it is too early for me to comment on whether the whole venture will be successful, or at least will be helpful-- I do not like to use the word "successful"--to the families of the victims. Let us wait for a little longer to see whether the anguish of the families will be relieved by the discovery of the bodies.

I should stress that this is not an amnesty for the terrorists. The legislation was intended simply to help the families. If other evidence comes to light--indeed, because the bodies have not been found, they are not evidence at this stage--as to who committed those murders all those years ago, criminal proceedings could be brought. The Act certainly does not prevent that. I repeat the appeal which has been made on more than one occasion: if anyone has any more information which might help to pinpoint the location of the remains, I urge that person to pass the information on quickly to the commission for the sake of the families.

The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, urged the Government or the powers that be--the security services--to use what powers they have to deal with terrorism. Perhaps I may give the House some figures in that respect for the present year; that is to say, from lst January to the end of May. These very up-to-date figures are as follows: 112 people altogether have been charged under the various pieces of legislation dealing with terrorism. Of those, 32 republicans and 80 loyalists were charged, and that in a period of five months. So I do not believe that it is right to say that the Government, or, indeed, the RUC, are not acting diligently to bring terrorists to justice. I know that the RUC works very hard in this respect.

It is not a question of the betrayal of the people of Northern Ireland, as the noble Viscount suggested. We are simply working to implement the Belfast agreement, to which the people of Northern Ireland have demonstrated their full support. It is clear in the agreement that the future of Northern Ireland rests in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland; it does not rest in the hands of this Government.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I used the word "betrayal" on purpose because from information that I have there is discussion on this in all quarters not only in this country but also certainly in the north of Ireland in Ulster. I said it hoping that the Minister would refute my statement. I also said it because I think that the Minister and the Government should publicly refute such a statement. There is concern and mistrust from good and honest people. I used the word on purpose so that at a certain stage--not necessarily tonight--the Government would come forth and say that there is never to be any betrayal in the way that I put my statement.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am happy to say it now and I am sure that the Government will go on repeating

8 Jun 1999 : Column 1421

it at intervals lest there be any doubt. There is no question of any betrayal of the people of Northern Ireland. We have achieved an agreement which gives the people of Northern Ireland the power to determine their own future. Therefore, they cannot be betrayed. It is up to the people of Northern Ireland to make decisions in the fullness of time about how they wish their future to be. Of course, we want to hand over to the devolved assembly and to local Ministers as soon as possible. That is part of the process of the agreement. But there is no question of any betrayal, and I utterly refute the suggestion that there might be.

In conclusion, I should say that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to see the agreement work. They recognise that it represents the best hope for a new and peaceful future for them and for their children. There are difficulties to be overcome and the debate tonight has indicated some of them. It takes time to build the trust which is necessary for the agreement and the new institutions to succeed. It is taking a little longer than we had hoped for that trust to be established. But we as a government are determined

8 Jun 1999 : Column 1422

to overcome these difficulties; so, too, I believe, are the political parties. No one is walking away from that process. I believe that everyone is still committed to making it work. Everyone is still talking about how to achieve the final stage of the agreement with devolution.

But progress is being made; there are ideas on the table and these envisage progress to devolution by 30th June. This is the date set by the Prime Minister and it is his view of the final date by which devolution must take place. It is vital that all the parties face up to the difficult decisions that have to be made in order to implement the agreement in full. That is the position we are in. There are difficulties ahead, but the Government are hopeful that we can overcome those difficulties, and that will be the best way of guaranteeing a peaceful future for the people of Northern Ireland. In the meantime we need anti-terrorist legislation on the statute book. I am grateful for the support that the Government have received tonight for the renewal measure.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before eleven o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page