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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: The noble Lord, Lord Cope, was kind enough to indicate that I had moved in his direction. I think the attitude being taken by the Conservative Benches in this Chamber is a great deal more careful and--if I dare say so--responsible than that taken some weeks ago in another place. We can see where the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and his colleagues are coming from. However, I am afraid that that is as far as my politeness goes. I find myself in unfortunate company because I do not agree with any of the amendments in this group, apart from my own. The groupings list states that,
I shall first discuss my amendment, Amendment No. 14. I want to make it absolutely clear to the Committee that the point of this amendment is not in any way to make the conditions either easier or more difficult to fulfil. The point of it is quite different. If my amendment were accepted, page 2, line 34, would state,
The point of that amendment is that subsection (9) as it is presently worded seems to imply that considerations (a), (b), (c) and (d) are objective facts which are easily understood and easily agreed by everyone. That cannot possibly be the case. Each of them is a matter of difficult and sensitive judgment, even more so--I support this in the Bill--when it is a matter of trying to judge them in combination to see whether, in combination, the Secretary of State should take the view that he or she has to take. The first aim is to transfer a spurious objectivity that these are objective facts in the real world to the realm in which they properly belong, which is as matters of judgment that someone has to make. Who is that someone? Clearly it is the Secretary of State who has to make the judgment. That brings me to the second purpose of my amendment; namely, that he or she should do so on the basis of the evidence available to him.
I think earlier in the debate someone talked in this context about the crucial role of the security services. It is quite apparent that on each of these considerations the advice of the chief constable in particular, but also of other security authorities, will be crucial for the Secretary of State to make these judgments. I prefer a
I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Cope, feels that that is a good thing in itself--I welcome that--but it is not meant to be a halfway house to the other amendments, which I fear fail the test I set from these Benches at the beginning of the debate, which is that they should not seek to build on the Good Friday Agreement additional linkages, conditions and tests. I do not think that that is appropriate.
I oppose Amendment No. 18. I think that the insertion of the word "and" turns (a), (b), (c) and (d) into separate conditions, each of which has to be separately met in order for the Secretary of State to arrive at conclusions. That clearly is not the purpose of the Good Friday Agreement which is that when the considerations are taken as a whole and taken together that judgment should be arrived at. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot support that amendment in particular. I do not in practice support the others in the group.
I urge the Government to think hard about Amendment No. 14 in my name, and particularly about the discrepancy between subsection (8) and subsection (9). In subsection (8) we find the Secretary of State having to specify organisations which "he believes" fulfil certain conditions. However, in subsection (9) the situation has reverted to the limbo I mentioned. In subsection (9) the Secretary of State has to take into account whether an organisation "is" fulfilling certain conditions. Who works that out? Whose conclusion is it, and on what evidence is it reached? It is that I should like clarified.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I very much regret that I was not able to be present at Second Reading because of an engagement in Northern Ireland. I have, of course, read with great care the Official Report. I was not in the least surprised to find in virtually every speech expressions of great distaste for this Bill, and in some cases for the necessity for this Bill. In one or two instances there were expressions of rather more than distaste. The reason for that is too obvious to need stating again tonight.
The prospect of terrorist prisoners being relieved of the greater part, in some instances, of what courts have held to be their just deserts is something which revolts my heart, as it has revolted the hearts of many others in this Chamber. I have seen too many of the victims and I have seen too many of the scenes at which they became victims. There was a time last week when Amendments Nos. 13 and 15 carried my name in support. In case anyone has noticed that that is no longer the case, I thought I should offer a few words of explanation. I am afraid it is something which will not
In almost every speech at Second Reading it was stated that the agreement is a most historic and momentous achievement. I think it a most hopeful achievement. There was a recognition that the agreement has to be sustained, even though, of course, it contains aspects which are distasteful. The importance of Her Majesty's Government not amending it unilaterally was recognised. Like it or not, in some respects I too believe that the agreement has to be given every reasonable chance to work. The agreement is immensely hopeful as an achievement. I wish that it had been tougher on the question that we have been discussing, and more specific in relation to what is required of the Secretary of State when assessing whether an organisation has or has not established, is or is not maintaining, a ceasefire. However, I have to face the fact that it is not.
My distaste for the Bill led me at first to want to support Amendments Nos. 13 and 15. I thought that I properly should do so. However, I admit that I have changed my mind. I recognise that there are two ways of looking at the matter; it is not black and white. I do not want any terrorist organisation or future supporter of any terrorist organisation to be given any unnecessary advantage. They have too many as it is. It is important that the Bill is not amended in any way that can plausibly be argued to take it beyond the text, or the spirit deriving from the text, of the agreement.
I confess to having adopted successively each of the two ways of looking at the problem. However, for the reason that I have tried to explain, I do not feel able to support Amendments Nos. 13 and 15. I support Amendment No. 18, for the reasons advanced in support of it by my noble friend Lord Cope. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that I have no problem at all with Amendment No. 14.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: We are grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for his explanation. He speaks as one of Her Majesty's counsel learned in the law, and a recent Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have listened with great respect to all the views that he has expressed so clearly.
However, it is rather a pity that, from the very first day that we read the Bill, and even before it appeared in another place right through the harsher debates in another place, and unfortunately last week at Second Reading in this House and all day today, there has been an implication that somehow or other those of us who dare to table amendments and speak to them are against the agreement and are wreckers of the agreement, that we are determined to pull down the whole edifice.
I, being an old hand at all of these matters, take a rather wider view. A party conference provides a broad brush steer for the party concerned. A party manifesto, particularly an election manifesto, is slightly more definitive. But that, too, is only policy-making in outline. It does not become legislation until it passes through both Houses here and receives Royal Assent. There is a misunderstanding about our desire to improve the Bill. That is why we are here, both in this House and in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, got it right when he said that we seek to put in place the devices and various arrangements outlined--but no more than outlined--in the Good Friday Agreement. Not everyone may be aware of the fact that matters were only broadly agreed in the Good Friday arrangement.
I do not know whether many noble Lords saw the interview given by the chairman of the talks, Senator Mitchell, who did a very good job generally throughout all the tortuous discussions. The BBC in Northern Ireland broadcast a lengthy interview given by Senator Mitchell for television transmission. The interviewer said to him: "Senator, was it touch and go to the very end on Good Friday?". Mr. Mitchell looked very relaxed, smiled broadly and said, "Oh yes, it was. The final draft of the document was circulated in the late afternoon on Good Friday. I had a telephone call from David Trimble, who asked for more time to enable his team to consider recent alterations that afternoon". He said, again with a broad grin,
That is why I say with great regret that I viewed the Bill when it appeared as I would any other Bill coming before this House or, in earlier days, the other House; namely, as a draft Bill designed to be debated, amended, improved, and all the rest. I cannot understand why there appears to be a degree of resentment in some quarters and a curious misunderstanding that those of us who seek to improve the Bill, as we would any other legislation, are stepping outside the bounds into forbidden territory and attempting to go against or to damage the agreement. The agreement was, after all, not signed by anyone. It seemed to have been assented to
I have got that off my chest and shall now come to the amendment. As it stands, subsection (9) is utterly unconvincing. It would be a bit of an insult to the Secretary of State to retain the form of words in the subsection:
Amendment No. 13, in particular, is designed not to damage the agreement but to strengthen the authority of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in dealing with this most vital issue of all. If we do not do that, I am afraid that the entire release scheme will descend into farce, and confidence thus lost will never be regained.
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