Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords am 4:00 pm ar 5 Medi 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Hain:

Moved by Lord Hain

Leave out from “20” to end and insert “, do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments 20A and 20B, and do propose Amendments 20C, 20D and 20E in lieu—

20C: Clause 13, page 11, line 9, at end insert—“(3A) The Commissioner for Investigations must ensure that each review, whether or not a criminal investigation forms part of the review,”

20D: Clause 13, page 11, line 42, at end insert—“(6A) The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe the standards to which the Commissioner for Investigations must ensure that reviews by the ICRIR are carried out.(6B) Standards prescribed under subsection (6A) may include (but need not necessarily include)—(a) whether reviews should be carried out to criminal justice standards,(b) what measures should be used to ensure that reviews comply sufficiently with obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights,(c) whether as much information as possible should be gathered by reviews in relation to the death or harmful conduct, and(d) whether all evidential opportunities should be explored by reviews.(6C) The Secretary of State may prescribe standards under subsection (6A)—(a) following representations from victims’ families or representations on their behalf, or(b) if the Secretary of State considers standards should be set or changed in the light of experience of the reviews.(6D) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative procedure.”

20E: Clause 15, page 13, line 14, at end insert—“(2B) If particular questions were included in the request for a review (see section 11(1)), the final report must include—(a) the ICRIR’s response to those questions, if and to the extent that it has been practicable to respond to them in carrying out the review in accordance with section 13;(b) for each question to which it has not been practicable to respond, a statement of that outcome.””

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Llafur

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Caine, for his generosity. It is true that, having clearly been uncomfortable with the Bill from the outset—a Bill imposed from elsewhere in the government machine—he has sought to come at least some way towards the deep concerns and criticisms of it that have been expressed on a cross-party basis. Yes, he has made some concessions, but, frankly, they have not gone anything like far enough to satisfy victims’ groups especially. The Bill remains toxic for almost all victims’ groups in Northern Ireland and has not been supported, even in its amended form, by any political party in Northern Ireland, so far as I am aware.

My amendments would ensure that there was an opportunity to improve over time—by affirmative resolution, not executive fiat—what will soon be an Act, thereby creating a measure of consent for it where currently there is absolutely none in Northern Ireland, amended or not. As this sorry Bill slithers towards Royal Assent, one thing is clear: despite the willingness of the noble Lord, Lord Caine, to engage and listen—he has regularly gone out of his way to do so to me, for which I thank him—and despite the amendments that he has tabled that have marginally improved a truly terrible Bill, the Government have monumentally failed to persuade Northern Ireland’s victims and survivors that what is being done in the name of reconciliation is even remotely in their best interests. Instead, the Government turn their back on them, saying, “Take it or leave it. We are done with you”.

Even when the Bill leaves here, with all its worst excesses, and goes to the other place, that will emphatically not be the end of the story, hence the need for my Motion. There remain serious doubts as to the legal basis upon which the Bill is founded. When Sir Declan Morgan, an outstanding jurist of unimpeachable integrity and the immediate past Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland, who has been appointed interim chief commissioner of the ICRIR, was asked whether he believed that the legislation was European Court of Human Rights-compliant, he said:

“I am not going to express a view”.

But the Secretary of State at the time that the Bill was published did express a view that it is and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Caine, will express that same view. What else could he do?

Just last week, Sir Declan said that he welcomed victims challenging the legislation in the courts. I repeat: he welcomed them challenging it in the courts. What on earth are we doing to victims? Will they welcome being forced to go to court to fight for their basic right to be treated fairly, with respect and dignity and within the law? For that is what the Government are doing to them.

There is no doubt that the Bill’s immunity provisions will be challenged and, very possibly, the review/investigations mechanism as well. In my amendments in lieu, I set out a mechanism whereby the commissioner can move towards a Kenova-type operating model, endorsed by this House but rejected by the Commons, that is demonstrably European Court of Human Rights-compliant, and evolve the Bill in the light of experience and the views of victims’ groups, or indeed if the courts rule against what is proposed, as many think is likely. It is a modest amendment but if it is adopted change can evolve by affirmative resolution rather than ministerial fiat or going through further lengthy years of consultation and fresh primary legislation on this perhaps most thorny and difficult of the issues in Northern Ireland’s great list of difficult issues. I tried to address it with the Eames-Bradley report; the Minister has grappled with this issue for years. We who are former Secretaries of State have all tried to address it but it is very difficult.

If the Bill does not have the support of those whom it is designed to address, surely it should be allowed to evolve in the light of representations. That was what my amendments provide for, rather than going through years of further grief and consultation, and fresh primary legislation. I appeal to the Minister, even at this late stage, to accept my Motion and, by doing so, achieve a measure of support for a Bill that currently has none. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Llafur

My Lords, I will speak to the complicated amendments in the Motion in my name on the Marshalled List. Like the Minister, I wish to pay tribute to his civil servants, who have worked very hard on this Bill during a very long 13 months. I also thank the Minister himself for the courtesy and diligence with which he has taken this dreadful Bill through this House.

I do not believe for one second that the Government were wrong in trying to address the issue. Of course, it has to be addressed. It is a difficult one: Governments and the people of Northern Ireland have tried for a quarter of a century to deal with it. Generally speaking, they have failed, so there is no difficulty in accepting that the Government should try to deal with it. However, I believe that in this instance, particularly because of the most central and controversial part of the Bill—the issue of immunity—they have not succeeded in acquiring the support that would be deserved under normal circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Some months ago, your Lordships agreed the amendment I tabled to delete entirely Clause 18—the central clause dealing with immunity and therefore the central and most controversial issue of the Bill. It was defeated in the House of Commons and has now come back, but, because the clause was defeated here, two important amendments that would have been debated on that occasion—one tabled by my noble friend Lord Hain and one tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames—were not given the opportunity to be considered by your Lordships. My amendment is an amalgamation of both of them, dealing with licence conditions and family consent.

I point out again to the House that those amendments were originally moved by a former Secretary of State and a former Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh—so they were serious amendments about serious issues. I believe that the Government have tried to remedy some of the worst injustices of the Bill, and I thank them for it, but they have not gone far enough. They have not addressed the real issues that have been expressed over the course of the last 13 months when the Bill has been going through.

My noble friend Lord Hain referred to the comments of the commissioner-designate, Sir Declan Morgan, and I share his view that he is of course a considerable and significant jurist. He said that the issue of compliance and compatibility with the ECHR would now be a “matter for the courts” and international law. Only last week, we heard that the Irish Government are contemplating taking serious legal advice about going to court. That cannot be right for a Bill as significant as this.

Sir Declan went on to say that the Bill has virtually “no support” in Northern Ireland—that is one of the most major understatements I have heard for a very long time. Every Church in Northern Ireland is opposed to the Bill—and Northern Ireland is a very churchgoing place. If all Churches are against it, that should be taken seriously into account. Every single political party is opposed to it, whether they be nationalist, republican, unionist or none of these. Every victims group, and the victims’ commissioner, is opposed to the Bill. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and commissioner are opposed to it, as are all human rights bodies in Northern Ireland. The Irish Government do not like it, the Council of Europe has disagreed with it, the United States Government are dubious about it and the United Nations is against it. With all that opposition, why on earth are the Government insisting on proceeding with this?

My amendment would not solve the whole difficulty with this bad Bill, but it would mean the involvement of victims’ families and the ability to impose conditions on immunity, including the right to revoke it altogether. This would improve it, but we have heard that the Minister will not accept it.

But the best solution is for the Bill to be put on hold and frozen until such time as we have a properly governing Executive and Assembly back in Northern Ireland. Those are the people who should decide how these matters should be dealt with. Once again—finally, I suspect—I appeal to the Government to do such a thing. The Minister knows that imposition on the people of Northern Ireland never works, and nor should it.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, although the House is faced with two undesirable options, I very much prefer the position advanced by the Government to that advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. If accepted, his amendment would preclude immunities from being granted, in the most part. The Government’s position allows for the possibility of immunities, albeit surrounded by provisos and caveats.

I personally take what I know to be a minority view: that the proper way forward is for a statute of limitations to preclude all prosecutions for all offences alleged to have been committed prior to the Good Friday agreement. This would apply both to security personnel and to alleged terrorists; I do not think it is possible to make a distinction between the two.

My reason is a very simple one: there is, I believe, a serious disparity between the position of former servicemen and the way they are being treated—that is to say that they are at risk of prosecution—and, for example, the distinction, the positions and the respect which have been accorded to people who have been alleged to have committed former terrorist acts. I have in mind, for example, Mr McGuinness. I have the greatest respect for the courage of Mr McGuinness in his decision to renounce terrorism and to participate in constitutional government, but you cannot overlook the past entirely, and it seems to me to be wholly wrong in principle, and an abuse of legal process, to expose former servicemen, whose culpability is probably very much less, to the risk of prosecution when, at the same time, you have given positions of honour and respect to people who have allegedly committed crimes.

It is for that reason that I favour very much a statute of limitations, and I am prepared to call it an amnesty. That is what we recommended when I was at the Foreign Office for many countries that had been through periods of civil discord, and that is what I think is the proper way forward. However, I know full well that that is not a majority view, either in this House or in the Province, or indeed in Ireland itself. That being so, I favour the position adopted by the Government rather than that advocated by the noble Lord, much as I respect him.

Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 4:15, 5 Medi 2023

My Lords, I shall speak in favour of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to the Minister’s Motion on Clause 13, and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, to the Minister’s Motion on Clause 18.

The Bill removes fundamental legal rights from victims of the Troubles throughout the United Kingdom. The aim of the Bill is clear. The Minister referred to the purpose of the Bill in his introductory remarks, but actually the Long Title says that its purpose is to limit criminal investigations, civil legal proceedings and inquests, despite the fact that by May 2024, there will be some 15 outstanding legacy inquests to be heard. It is also to prevent police complaints investigations—all this into matters arising between 1966 and 1998. All these ancient and balanced legal procedures are being removed under the Bill, as well, it has to be said, as all the protections and powers that the courts have in the conduct of criminal, civil and inquest proceedings.

The Minister’s amendments do not address the deficiencies identified in the Bill by so many across the world—the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, referred to them—and the other place’s responses to the amendments made in your Lordships’ House do not address the deficiencies identified either.

It is important to remember that the Council of Europe, its Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN special rapporteurs, national human rights organisations, our own parliamentary committees, civil society organisations, all political parties in the UK, with the exception of the Conservative Party, political parties in Ireland and the US, victims groups and community groups have all declared the Bill to be unacceptable because of its manifest deficiencies, and because of the breach of our international legal obligations.

I remind noble Lords of the fact that, under the Bill, the ICRIR does not even have powers to demand information as of right but must justify each request as reasonable. That does not happen in normal criminal investigations. Yet untrammelled access to information is fundamental to the conduct of criminal investigations, and it has frequently only been the determination of judges, coroners, lawyers and litigants which has resulted in the disclosure of relevant and important information which should have been disclosed as a matter of course. Even in that situation, the police and the MoD have frequently said that they cannot produce the material because they do not have the resources to do so.

The answer to this situation cannot be to close down the justice system; rather, as Patten recommended, policing must be delivered in the context of a coherent and co-operative justice system. We do not have that in Northern Ireland. For example, the Kenova investigation submitted some 33 files from 2019 onwards, but no decisions have been made by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland because it does not have access to the lawyers it needs.

The Secretary of State and the Minister keep reiterating that resources must be found within the Northern Ireland budget, yet what happened in Northern Ireland over the years of the Troubles was not the responsibility of paramilitaries alone. Agents of the state also played their part. In my 2007 report on the case of the murder of Raymond McCord Junior and associated matters, I said:

“it has emerged that all of the informants at the centre of this investigation were members of the UVF. There was no effective strategic management of these informants, and as a consequence

That was accepted by the chief constable at the time and by the Secretary of State. In many other cases, there were similar findings. It is these situations, for which the state had responsibility, which demonstrate what happened and show the responsibility of the state for some of it. That is why I would argue that the Government have, at the very least, a moral duty to support those engaged in the pursuit of justice and truth and not to impede their search for it through passing this Bill—for that is what this Bill in its final form will do.

Your Lordships have discussed at length the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights in the context of investigation and pondered the Government’s commitments under the Good Friday agreement. The Minister’s Motion A does not make the Bill compliant with the ECHR or the Good Friday agreement. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, would at least impose an obligation for any regulations made by the Secretary of State in this context to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and be subject, as he so articulately said, to the affirmative procedure.

The conditional immunity scheme, despite the Government’s amendments and others tabled by noble Lords, remains in breach of the Government’s obligations under the Good Friday agreement to provide people with access to the courts and remedies for breaches of the convention. That fact is profoundly important.

Victims’ groups such as the Truth and Justice Movement regard this Bill as destroying their democratic and human right to truth and justice. Nobody, not even the Government, thinks that this Bill will provide truth and justice, let alone reconciliation. The Secretary of State has repeatedly acknowledged the problems with the Bill, most recently stating:

“This Government believes that the conditional immunity provisions will be key in helping to generate the greatest volume of information, in the quickest possible time”.

There is no evidence to demonstrate that immunity will have this effect and it is well known that former paramilitaries involved in murder really have no incentive to tell all. All they have to do is sit out the five years within which cases may be brought for review. Even when information is provided, it is rarely the whole truth. On some occasions, information that has been provided has been demonstrated to be untrue.

The conditional immunity scheme which the Minister is again promoting, and which we are debating, would result in impunity for serious human rights violations and the unilateral shutting down of avenues to justice for victims and would give rise to questions about the ability of the independent commission for information recovery to deliver outcomes that would meet human rights standards.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, seeks by his amendment to provide the victims of the Troubles and the close family members of those who died with the right to be asked for their consent to a grant of immunity. It states that the chief commissioner must be satisfied

“the close family member has given consent for the granting of immunity and no objections have been raised by any other close family member within three months of the consent being given”.


“if no consent has been given by that close family member within three months or an objection has been raised by any other close family member” within three months, the chief commissioner can decide that

“it is nevertheless in the public interest to proceed with the granting of immunity”, regardless of the views of the family. This modest amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, seeks to put victims at the centre of the process of granting immunity. It is qualified by an overriding right of the ICRIR chief commissioner to determine that, even when victims do not want immunity granted to a perpetrator, the views of the victims can be overridden in the public interest.

One of the problems of the current system is that judicial review has repeatedly been necessary to challenge decisions made by public authorities involved in dealing with legacy. Judicial reviews cost a lot of money. They take a long time to be resolved in our underresourced legal system, and they cause immense further distress to victims. If approved, the Secretary of State’s amendment will simply lead to more judicial reviews. Rather than solve the problem, it will add to it.

Your Lordships were right to remove Clause 18 from the Bill. The other place has—as it is entitled to do—overridden your Lordships. This amendment, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, will at least qualify the operation of Clause 18 by inserting some recognition of the fact that any process which ignores the views of victims simply has the capacity to cause them even more suffering, rather than to promote reconciliation.

As the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Hain, said, the Bill is fatally flawed. It deprives people across the United Kingdom who suffered so grievously during the Troubles of their fundamental rights under the Good Friday agreement, the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. If and when it is passed, it will lead to lengthy and complex litigation—something welcomed by the former Lord Chief Justice, Declan Morgan. This is not the way to promote reconciliation in a divided society. In the event of a Division, I will support the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Murphy.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench

My Lords, I once more find myself speaking as earnestly as I can in support of the sentiments of two former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland—two men who undertook those tasks at times of division, suffering and what I can only term injustice for so many people in Northern Ireland. Given the fact that two men who had that experience have voiced sentiments in your Lordships’ House this afternoon and spoken in terms of their experience, I cannot understand why His Majesty’s Government do not understand that there are those outside this Chamber and this Mother of Parliaments who cannot understand why their voices are being ignored.

Yes, there have been attempts to bring the concept of victimhood into the legislation that is proposed, and yes, the Government can claim that they have made efforts, but, in God’s name, I ask your Lordships to consider the overall impetus of what changes have been made to try to recognise the needs of victims and their families, and of those who, in years to come, when they read what has been said, attempted and failed to be produced, will find it incredulous to understand that the Mother of Parliaments has ignored their crying.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, was kind enough to refer to the efforts I made on Report, and before that, to try to bring the sentiments he has expressed in his amendment before the House. I do not want to go over that again, except to say that, at the back of my mind as I listen to this final debate on these issues, I cannot come to any peace of mind that future generations will not condemn us for not recognising the human cost—yes, the human, emotional and spiritual cost—we are putting before the people of Northern Ireland. I cannot find words strong enough to express my personal hurt and ongoing dismay. The opportunity is being given to His Majesty’s Government, not to wreck the Bill but to make it better, stronger and, above all, more amenable to those who are the subject, or should be the subject, of our concern—namely, the victims.

There will be much discussion about the technicalities and what we are proposing to do, but I make this appeal to the House. Please hear the voices of those who have condemned what is happening and have made the simple human plea, “Please remember we have carried the hurt, pain and loss over the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and you have the opportunity now to do something about it”. Please do not miss the opportunity.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 4:30, 5 Medi 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, on this very difficult and vexatious issue that impacts most families not only in Northern Ireland and Ireland but across the wider UK. Many people have been impacted by the untimely and summary death of a family member as a result of the Troubles. Therefore, very clearly, the victims should be central to the Bill—as this House has said; it was articulated by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. However, I am sorry to say that the victims are not central to the Bill. This is probably an issue of expedience on the part of the Government to deal with this issue—and that is totally unacceptable. I will support both amendments in the names of my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Murphy, if they choose to put them to Divisions.

It is interesting to note that we are joined today in the Public Gallery by some of the representatives of victims from Northern Ireland, including Raymond McCord, to whom the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, referred, and his colleagues. They have direct experience. They have told the Government, the Irish Government, the European Union and political parties in Northern Ireland, this House and the other place, that the Bill will not meet the needs of victims and that victims will be undermined.

On Monday of last week, 28 August, Sir Declan Morgan gave an interview to the Irish News, to which my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Murphy already referred. When I bought my copy of the Irish News last Monday morning, I was immediately struck by heading, “Legacy Body Chair Welcomes Any Legal Challenges”. I would like to tell him that there will be legal challenges; they will come not only from the victims’ groups but, probably, from the Irish Government and other bodies in the European Union. The European Commissioner has already highlighted the issues around immunity. There is no doubt that the Bill, as it exists, will impede justice and truth; it will relegate victims, not to the second division but to the eighth or ninth division.

I implore the Government at this late hour to support the amendments in the names of my noble colleagues. If that is not possible, I beg them to stop the Bill and to stop further hurt in an already divided society that has seen so much over the last number of weeks in relation to policing, to victims and to the Bill and legacy. Those were two thorny issues that came out of the Good Friday agreement which required resolution. We thought that the policing issue was resolved but now it appears that a greater investment in the structures is required to ensure that there is proper retention, proper recruitment and a return to 50:50 recruitment, and that police officers and civilian staff are properly protected. However, victims also need to be protected.

In his wind-up, will the Minister demonstrate to this House how the Bill will be human rights compliant? I note that Sir Declan Morgan has said that he is committed to ensuring that the commission is human rights compliant. From his interview, I would deduce that Sir Declan is probably now querying whether the Bill, if enacted, will be human rights compliant, and whether it will comply with the ECHR. I know where I stand. I stand with the victims of the Troubles on all sides; whether their loved ones were executed by paramilitaries or by state forces, victims come first in all of this.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP

My Lords, we return to this issue of legacy, almost certainly for the last time in this House as far as the Bill is concerned but certainly not for the last time in this or the other place—and possibly sooner than expected.

I have no difficulty in supporting the amendments brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, which represent an improvement on what is currently before the House. We all know and acknowledge, and it has been said across all sides of the House, that all the amendments, including the ones brought forward by the Government during the passage of the Bill, do not and cannot rectify the fundamental flaw at the heart of the Bill, which is that it provides immunity from prosecution to terrorists. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said so passionately and eloquently, what will future generations think of this mother of Parliaments, which was prepared to do such a thing to innocent families?

Nevertheless, some important work has been done to try to mitigate some of the worst aspects of this wretched piece of legislation, although I regret that, despite our best efforts, the glorification of terrorism has still not been adequately addressed in the Government’s amendments. Again, week after week, in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic, we see Sinn Féin, and the person who wants to be the First Minister of Northern Ireland, supporting and glorifying the bloodshed and terrorism that the IRA committed. They were not the only ones to engage in terrorism but they are the ones that are most to the fore in glorifying it, much to the trauma, pain and hurt of their victims.

The Government have brought forward a number of amendments, some of which had been originally tabled in the other place by my party colleagues, especially Gavin Robinson. I think of the repeal of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which the Minister referred to, as well as the increase in fines. It is also beneficial to the Bill that there is now the ability to revoke immunity should it be obtained through deception or lies. Again, that was tabled in the other place by my party colleagues. The Government committed in the other place to delivering that change in this House, and it is good that that was done.

I am glad that in these amendments, both in the other place and here, a lot of heavy lifting has been done by colleagues over many hours—in opposition parties, as well as by colleagues on our Benches—in an attempt to improve what is fundamentally flawed during long, what appeared sometimes to be interminable, debates, often with few outside those who were really interested present.

It has been argued by some that because of previous betrayals of victims and the previous setting aside over many years of the principle of justice in various ways, we should now somehow not be too hard on this Bill. People have referred to the on-the-runs legislation, to letters of comfort handed out to terrorists, to republicans, via Sinn Féin, and indeed to many other things that happened to the hurt of victims under both Labour and Conservative Governments.

But, my Lords, that is not something that victims say to us today. I am glad that our party in and outside Parliament, and many others, stood with innocent victims and opposed those previous obnoxious steps which were taken to appease terrorists and their supporters at that time. We opposed them then, just as we oppose this legislation, not out of any idea of populism but as a matter of principle. We have been consistent in that.

Indeed, we opposed one of the greatest betrayals of victims, when those guilty of some of the most heinous crimes imaginable, including mass murder, were given early release in 1998—something that to this day traumatises many victims, as they will tell you if you speak to them, and which was cheered on by those who should have known better, and indeed did know better at the time.

It is right as we finish these debates in this House to call out some of those people who purport to stand on the side of victims. We hear about all the political parties which are opposed to this legislation, and that is right, but Sinn Féin purports to talk about victims, victims’ rights and justice, and it is the greatest perpetrator of murder, which still to this day glorifies and defends it. It cannot speak for victims, and its cynicism and opportunism should be called out. Nor can the Irish Government, for that matter, who for many decades harboured terrorist fugitives from Northern Ireland and refused to extradite them there for justice. Whatever about the issues in the Bill—and we are opposed to it—it ill becomes the Irish Government in particular to complain. Even to this day, they refuse to co-operate properly in regard to allegations of collusion between the Garda Siochana and IRA terrorists in relation to a number of incidents in the Irish Republic and refuse to instigate a public inquiry in relation to the Omagh atrocity.

All along, we have believed, as other noble Lords and Baronesses have said, that the victims should be listened to. It is their crying that should be taken account of. If the evidence justifies it, terrorists should not be able to hide or escape justice by having the ability to invoke some kind of immunity or amnesty—conditional or otherwise.

In closing, I want to pay tribute to those innocent victims. I think of the delegation which came to Westminster in late January of this year. Among them was Pam Morrison from County Fermanagh, who will be known to many from Northern Ireland, whose three brothers, the Graham brothers, were all brutally murdered by the IRA one by one between 1981 and 1985. She also lost her sister, serving with the UDR: four brothers and sisters. Pam pleaded with the Government to listen. They have refused, but I have no doubt that we will hear her voice again, and we will all return to this subject soon.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:45, 5 Medi 2023

My Lords, these amendments are really an attempt to respond, in a way, to the way in which the Minister has engaged with this Bill. Before I speak to them, let me say that I am speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lady Suttie, who has been very engaged on this Bill but is unable to be here today. I know that she was appreciative of the engagement from the Minister; indeed, I have sat in on one or two of those meetings as well as these debates.

Many of these arguments have been rehearsed many times. We do not need to say them over and over again. I want to say only two or three brief things.

The heart of this Bill is an attempt to provide immunity, yet it was driven by a minority in the Conservative Party who really wanted to give immunity to one side only. It is not possible to do that without giving immunity to the other side. That is why nobody can support this Bill—because nobody can feel satisfied that they can secure justice in that environment.

A question has been raised about compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights and, indeed, the possibility of tests in the court. I have had the honour of serving as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and was a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. Most of the democratic members of the Council of Europe—all of them are democratic, in fact, which is why Russia is no longer there—recognised that the point of the convention and the existence of the court was to try to avoid matters going to court while recognising that the court was there for when failures had taken place. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, I therefore find it extraordinary that the Government and their representative in this context are saying, “Let’s test it in the courts”.

The question I have for the Minister, then, is this: if a case is taken to the ECHR and the court determines that this Bill is in contravention of the convention— all that will take time, of course; no doubt the measures that the Bill provides for will have been implemented and followed through by then—what will the impact be? Will it mean all the decisions taken under this legislation being invalidated? In the meantime, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, said, many inquests that are currently nearing progression, at least to a point where they could continue, will have been abandoned. I suggest that this Government or their successor would find themselves in an extraordinarily difficult situation, which would also be difficult to remedy because so much damage would have been done.

All of us in this House, apart from on the Conservative Benches, are quite clear that this Bill should not go ahead. However, the Minister should acknowledge, as we have in turn acknowledged of him, that there has been genuine engagement to try to move the Bill to the least damaging place, if you like—even though we all agree that it should not be here at all. These amendments are designed to be helpful and in that spirit. Frankly, it would do the Government a lot of good if they were prepared to accept them because it would show that the good will goes in both directions. I certainly make it clear that, if a Division is called on either of these amendments, we on these Benches will support it.

I hope that he will forgive me for saying so but the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, made what was a short intervention for him. However, it was so passionate in terms of his dismay and hurt, as he put it. I think many of us know how uncomfortable the Minister must be when almost anybody and everybody who has been involved in this matter in Northern Ireland says, “This is wrong. This should not be happening”. I do not think that the Bill will stand the test of time as anything other than a dishonourable and disreputable course of action by a British Government.

At this stage, I want to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. The Bill is supposed to provide reconciliation. As has been said on many occasions, it does not do that, but the noble Lord’s speech demonstrated that it not only does not provide reconciliation but aggravates grievance, which is the exact opposite of its intention and that is extremely disappointing.

The amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Murphy, are constructive and helpful. In particular, the point about the Kenova process has been well respected by everybody. Given the necessary resources, it could have led to progress; the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is commendable for that reason. The right of victims to be consulted properly, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, seeks, is also essential. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, the victims are at the heart of the problem, yet they are the people who have been most ignored by this legislation.

In that context, I hope that the House will be prepared to support these amendments, which means that we will of course be back here debating them again in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated

My Lords, I do not support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who seems to be attempting to turn the ICRIR and its reviews into the sum of all the existing legacy reinvestigations that have already happened, by the PSNI, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and by Operation Kenova under Jon Boutcher. His amendment is complicated but would effectively mean that the new arrangements would be no different from what went before, and that the time required and the funding involved would be limitless, as I have said in the past. Given that to date we have already spent some £2 billion on Troubles reinvestigations, for little resultant value, if we are honest, this is not an attractive prospect.

The amendment also attempts to bind the ICRIR to the international standards required by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. I thought that the Government had already dealt with that aspect in a very late amendment by invoking the Human Rights Act. That Act has a domestic UK effect which is exactly appropriate for the ICRIR, rather than it having to respond to the political machinations of the court’s enforcing body—the committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

In the earlier stages of this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others, presented the Kenova process as a model for the ICRIR. That option seems to have disappeared from today’s amendment. I am not quite sure why the name has been removed. However, it is important to look a little at the background and history. The noble Lord knows that he played a very important role in an earlier stage of legacy policy, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between 2005 and 2007. In July 2005, seven years after the Belfast agreement, the IRA, in its words, “dumped arms”. A few months later, the Government responded with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. This proposed an alternative justice system, outside the existing institutions, to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.

Government Ministers have not mentioned this precedent for their current Bill, but they could well have cited this attempt to further the process, conducted by then Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell on behalf of the Government, and by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on behalf of Sinn Féin and the IRA. The political situation in 2005-6 was not unlike that prevailing during the course of this Bill. The then Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was opposed by all local parties except Sinn Féin. However, Clause 1 of the 2005 Bill referred to offences

“in connection with terrorism and the affairs of Northern Ireland (whether committed for terrorist purposes or not)”.

This meant that the amnesty provisions—and it was an amnesty, which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was very honest about in his speech—could extend to the security forces. Immediately, in the other place in December 2005, Mark Durkan, the leader of the SDLP, asserted that the Bloody Sunday soldiers, still being inquired into by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, could benefit from the Bill. Sinn Féin immediately withdrew its support for the Bill and, in January 200,6 the noble Lord, Lord Hain, dropped the Bill. However, it is important to remember that the Republicans—the IRA/Sinn Féin—did not lose out. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had been working on the on-the-runs scheme, which would soon move into its Operation Rapid phase, with comfort letters being issued to several hundred IRA men, as the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has said.

Now, 20 years on, this Bill with its many imperfections sets out what the Government believe is a new model for addressing the legacy of the Troubles, something that—everyone is now being honest—was not considered back in 1998, and which the local political parties have not been able to agree on since. I therefore oppose this amendment, as it brings us back to where we started and is not moving us forward in any way, no matter what we think of the Bill.

I want to mention the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen. I am pleased that I was signature to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, in his amendment, which did not get put to the vote. This amendment, picked up by Labour’s Front Bench, is beginning again to put the victim at the centre of the whole issue. I feel that, if the person who is the victim has gone through the whole process of listening to someone who has come forward and given what they say is the truth, and everyone has listened and a great deal of time has been invested, and in the end the victim—the person who has really suffered—is prepared to accept that that person can have immunity, we can live that. I am disappointed that the Government have not moved a little bit on that, because some sensible suggestions were made in Committee, particularly by the noble and right reverend Lord. I hope that today perhaps they will come back and look at that.

Overall, this legacy Bill is—and I hate to use this expression—a dog’s breakfast. It has been cobbled together in a way that tries to please everyone and is ending up pleasing absolutely nobody. The Government are determined to put it through, which is why I have, in the past, supported certain amendments that would make it slightly better. I think that is all we can do at this stage, but I certainly do not think that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is moving us forward in any way.

Photo of Lord Weir of Ballyholme Lord Weir of Ballyholme DUP

My Lords, I rise to deal particularly with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and support, in as far as it goes, the good intentions of his amendment. I say “as far as it goes”, because I think the noble Lord himself would be the first to admit the limitations that can be brought forward at this stage of any amendment. There have been, throughout this process, as my noble friend Lord Dodds highlighted, from all sides of this Chamber, attempts to mitigate and ameliorate this Bill. I am glad that at least some of those have been successful, and I think we should acknowledge where improvements have been made. It is undoubtedly the case that, despite of all that, we are left with a Bill that is unsalvageable and insupportable and which perverts the course of justice to the detriment of victims.

Nevertheless, as a House, I think we are left with no alternative but to seize, where possible, any opportunity to make any improvements that we can, however small. I support in particular the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, because it seeks to put the rights of victims much closer to the heart of this Bill, irrespective of what community those victims come from, irrespective of whether they come from Northern Ireland or are external to Northern Ireland, and irrespective of what organisation has been responsible for making them victims. It is right that the ultimate focus should be on victims.

When dealing with Northern Ireland, there are two glib but dangerous lies that are often told. First, it is said that collectively there is guilt for what has happened —that we are, in some shape or form, all perpetrators. That is fundamentally wrong. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, from whatever community, were never involved in nor supported violence. They got on with their day-to-day lives. If there is acceptance of the idea that, in some way, there is a collective guilt, it gives credence to the notion that there was no alternative to violence. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland pursued that alternative—the democratic alternative—and the violence was imposed by tiny minorities on both sides, and victims suffered as a result of it.

The second lie that is often told in Northern Ireland is that somehow collectively in our society we are all victims. There are many—indeed, there are some in this House—who have suffered that victimhood at first hand, and there are far too many victims in Northern Ireland, but we are not all victims. For my part, I was fortunate enough to grow up in as relative normality as I could. I was not a victim. I cannot and do not claim victimhood, which is one of the reasons why I am particularly disturbed by this legislation, because it seeks to impose on others a system that denies them their opportunities.

The principal reason why I was not a victim in Northern Ireland was because of the brave work of the men and women of our security forces in keeping us safe. I particularly want to highlight the brave women of the security forces, because they are sometimes forgotten. In particular, this month represents the 50th anniversary of the formation and first enlistment of the UDR Greenfinches. I think they were the first units in the British Army to serve alongside men on the front line. Four of the Greenfinches—Eva Martin, Jean Leggett, Ann Hearst and Heather Kerrigan—paid the ultimate sacrifice for protecting ordinary citizens like me against terrorism. That is a very good reason why we cannot throw justice out of the window.

The reality is that if we accept this Bill—I appreciate that, from the point of view of this House, there may be a limited amount that we can do—we accept the notion of a codification of the perversion of justice. It would take away victims’ right to have any prospect of justice. There will be those who say that, given the passage of time, it is unlikely that there will be many convictions in Northern Ireland. There are practical barriers to getting a conviction, but there is a fundamental difference between saying that and saying, “We are taking away your right or your opportunity to ever have justice”. That is something that I do not believe we are entitled to do. Indeed, we also would be saying to those victims, from whatever source they come, “Your relative, or you yourself, are a lesser person than others”, because we would be applying a different standard of justice than we apply in any other crime. We must acknowledge that what happened throughout the Troubles was a crime.

It is worse than that, because not only are we throwing away the concept of justice and besmirching victims, but there is not even any countervailing benefit on the other side. In opposing the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, the Minister said in his opening remarks, “Of course, if this was to be accepted, it would effectively kill off the benefits of the system and we would not have this information flowing”. I say with deep regret—it is something that they can still rectify—that if the Irish Government, who are refusing to have an inquiry into Omagh and, despite countless attempts from the victims’ families, have still not provided all the information that they hold on, for example, the Kingsmill massacre, are not providing that flow of information, what chance is there of the paramilitary organisations opening up their books to say, “Here is what happened in the past”? We are perverting the course of justice to sell fool’s gold to people, because if we are raising any level of expectation among families, and if we seriously believe, that they will get the answers and details as to why their relatives were killed by terrorist organisations, we are living in a fool’s paradise. The reality is that we will have traded in justice for no material benefit whatever. That is why the Bill is fundamentally flawed, but why there is at least a step of mitigation in the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Murphy.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Ceidwadwyr 5:00, 5 Medi 2023

My Lords, I rise briefly on a very sad day. There is no Minister in His Majesty’s Government who has a better command and understanding of his brief than my noble friend Lord Caine. He is rightly respected and admired in Northern Ireland and, I think, in all parts of your Lordships’ House. He was clearly extremely unhappy about the Bill in its original form. He has clearly tried very hard indeed to improve it, and to some small degree it has been improved. But the speech that really should dominate this debate when it comes to be talked about in the future is the extremely powerful and moving speech of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames.

In my time as the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, I got to know and love Northern Ireland, and I came to respect a number of people, including the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, but none more than the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who was rightly held in fond affection throughout Northern Ireland, was looked up to, and did so much, particularly with the commission that he and Denis Bradley chaired. What he said today was an eloquent endorsement of the point made from the Opposition Front Bench by a much-respected former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. He effectively said that this Bill is unimprovable.

I missed some of the debates on the Bill for domestic reasons, which many Members of your Lordships’ House are aware of, but I did speak at the beginning on a number of occasions. Although it has been before your Lordships’ House for over a year, it is still, frankly, an unacceptable Bill, because it does not command any support outside the Government, and quite a number of us on the Conservative Benches in both Houses are very unhappy about it.

There was a degree of impeccable logic in the speech of my noble friend Lord Hailsham. There is a case for a statute of limitations; it is a clear, unambiguous answer. It is equally clear—the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, recognised this in his speech—that that would not command support either at the moment.

It is incumbent upon the Government, in view of the widespread concern, anxiety and deep unhappiness, to pause this Bill. We have a new Session of Parliament opening on 7 November, just a little over two months ahead. We have a fairly frenetic week this week and next week, and a few days after, and then we break for the so-called Conference Recess. We come back for about 10 days. There will be no further opportunity for detailed examination of this Bill, and we cannot play indefinite ping-pong. I am one of those who is frequently on record as saying that of course the will of the other place, as the elected House, must prevail in the end.

It would be doing a service, to the people of Northern Ireland in particular, to pause on this. However, one service deserves another, and I revert to a point I made during Questions earlier this afternoon. It is incumbent upon political leaders in Northern Ireland to come together and have an Assembly and an Executive, because the ultimate verdict on the Bill should be given in Northern Ireland itself after a close re-examination of all the alternatives, including a statute of limitations. This is not a Bill that should go on to the statute book in the fag end of this Session. With every possible tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Caine, and I genuinely mean what I said, I beg him to have urgent conversations with the Secretary of State and to press the pause button.

Photo of Lord Caine Lord Caine Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am, as ever, extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate on these amendments. I will attempt to be very brief. I had not planned to make a long wind-up speech. I will reply to just one or two points, if I may.

In his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, referred to the long history of attempts to deal with legacy issues. In 1998, it was, of course, put into the “too difficult” drawer. There have been subsequent attempts, none of which have come to a successful resolution. I refer to the valiant efforts of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his work with Denis Bradley. As noble Lords know, I was involved in the 2014 Stormont House agreement which, despite all of our best efforts, never managed to make it on to the statute book, and the level of consensus that we thought we had achieved at the time very quickly evaporated. There have been many attempts and many failures around legacy over the years.

This legislation, as I made clear in my opening remarks, sets out a different approach. The overall objective is very straightforward. It is to try to get for victims and survivors of the Troubles more information about what happened to loved ones in a far shorter time than is possible under existing mechanisms in a context in which, unfortunately for many, the prospect of prosecutions and convictions is going to be vanishingly rare.

I acknowledged as far back as Second Reading that I totally understand and acknowledge the feelings of many victims and survivors. I have met so many over the years, especially over the course of the past year, and for many the emotion, grief and anguish are as raw today as they were whenever the particular incident that caused their loved ones to be lost actually occurred. I referred in my Second Reading speech last November to my friend Ian Gow. Only last week, I dug out the letter that Ian sent to me on 4 June 1990, looking forward to lunch in the Strangers’ Dining Room on 11 June, just a matter of weeks before he was brutally murdered by the Provisional IRA—so I am acutely aware of the victims of terrorism.

However, I say to noble Lords that, if we are to pause this Bill or to refer it to the Assembly, all we are really doing is setting ourselves up for a further significant delay in providing answers to victims and survivors of the Troubles. The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and my noble friend Lord Cormack—I am very grateful for and touched by my noble friend’s generous words towards me—talked about referring this back to the Assembly. I think I said in the past that it was always the assumption, going back to the Haass/O’Sullivan talks in 2013, that these matters would be dealt with in the Assembly after the Stormont House agreement, which largely covered devolved issues. Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, then Deputy First Minister and First Minister respectively, came to the then Secretary of State and said, “Secretary of State, these issues are all far too difficult for us to deal with in the Assembly. Please could you take all the legislation through Westminster?” That is when we ended up unsuccessfully trying to convert the Stormont House agreement into legislation through this House. So I do not necessarily agree with the noble Lord that the answer is to refer this back to the Assembly.

I dealt in my opening remarks with the Government’s objections to the two amendments; I do not intend to add to those remarks. The subsequent debate has to some extent taken on the nature of another Second Reading debate, in that a number of issues have been raised that have been debated extensively throughout the past year. So, once again, with the greatest respect to the House, I do not intend to go over all those points again; we have debated them exhaustively.

I will comment on just one point, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. He referred to what might happen in the event of a case in Europe. I can only say what I have said many times at this Dispatch Box: the Government are confident that the legislation is compatible with our international obligations, not least as a result of the amendments that we have brought forward on Report. I know that others disagree. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, has made her views very clear; we respectfully disagree on this issue.

There is one correction that I would like to make. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, referred to Sir Declan Morgan, the chief commissioner designate, as “the Government’s representative”. That is not quite the accurate description. As I stressed in my opening comments, one thing we have sought to do throughout the passage of this Bill through your Lordships’ House is strengthen and bolster the independence of the commission. In the interviews to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred, Sir Declan has already shown that he will be a fiercely independent chair of the commission.

I give way—with reluctance, I am afraid.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 5:15, 5 Medi 2023

I thank the Minister for taking my intervention. In that same article in the Irish News there was a subheading which indicated that the staff to assist Sir Declan would come from the Northern Ireland Office. Can the Minister confirm that this is correct and, if so, how will it address the issue of independence of the commission?

Photo of Lord Caine Lord Caine Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

There are officials from the Northern Ireland Office assisting with the establishment of the body, but the staffing of the body will be entirely for the commission itself; it is not a matter for the Northern Ireland Office. The legislation is not yet passed, so the commission will not formally come into being until next year. All that is happening is that officials from my department are helping with the establishment during that transition phase.

As I said, this has taken on something of a Second Reading debate. We have heard many points rehearsed extensively. Therefore, I conclude by asking noble Lords not to insist on Motions A1 and B1 but instead to agree with the Commons amendments in lieu under Motions A, B and C, and pass this Bill; that is the clear will of the elected House of Commons. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Llafur

My Lords, I want to thank especially the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie, for their fulsome support for my amendment. In the circumstances, I reluctantly beg leave to withdraw Motion A1.

Motion A1 withdrawn.

Motion A agreed.