Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I apologise for not having taken part in or been present during the earlier stages of the Bill. Part of the reason was that I was in Northern Ireland at the time. It seems to me that the noble Lord has somewhat overstated his case on the amendment, but I leave that for the Government to reply to.

I seek reassurance from the Minister that former terrorists who used to belong to organisations but who have clearly broken their links with their old organisations while in prison--I can think of a good many people in HMP Maghaberry and perhaps a few elsewhere who have done so--will still be eligible for release, even though the Secretary of State is not fully satisfied with the organisation to which they used to belong. If the Minister finds that a little complicated and would prefer to write to me, I shall be quite happy.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, whereas I was happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on his previous amendment, I fear that I cannot on this one. It is not that I find the wording of line 35 satisfactory. I fear that there is not sufficient clarity about who makes the decision on (a), (b), (c) and (d) and upon what evidence he or she makes it. I still have that acute reservation. The amendment strikes at a fundamental piece of architecture of the Good Friday agreement by which the Secretary of State is required to take into account those four various considerations in arriving at a judgment.

As the Minister knows, I should like greater clarity about how the Secretary of State arrives at a view on each of those four considerations, but it is taking those four considerations as a whole and balancing them as a matter of judgment in the account that she takes that is crucial to the Good Friday agreement. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is trying to do, but I believe that in this respect it would strike at the delicate agreement constructed a month ago.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I, too, share the anxiety over the lack of clarity, especially of the conditions and of subsection (8) in its entirety. Like the noble Lord, Lord Holme, I would welcome clarification on those points. I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. I regard the amendment and the explanation he gave for submitting it as a positive suggestion designed to have a positive effect.

16 Jul 1998 : Column 404

In the current situation, and the situation as it is likely to obtain for some considerable time, the amendment suggested would remove ambiguity and the impression of weakness. The impression of weakness always greatly encourages evil doers of all sorts.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, the potential the Bill has for causing unease and unrest in Northern Ireland if it is thought that there is any fudging of the conditions under which early releases will take place may not be understood. Anything in the wording that suggests that it could be fudged should be cleared up. That applies to the previous amendment and the one before it, which in my view added clarity.

In this case I cannot understand why "to satisfy himself" would be contrary to the Belfast agreement. I should have thought that it was in order. To "take into account" is a phrase of little meaning. How does one "take into account?" I find that dubious. "Satisfy himself" makes sense. I look at the amendment in the broader sense also. If there is, and there will be, certain contention about the releases, the thought that there is room for fudging would be most unsatisfactory.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said. There are times when fudging is better than clarity. In a delicate situation, there are a number of aspects to be considered which cannot all be put on the face of the Bill. One needs a great deal of understanding, common sense and delicacy. This is the time, when the situation is so delicate, when we should leave well alone, and leave the Bill as it is.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the amendment is intended to change the nature of the test that the Secretary of State must apply in determining whether an organisation is a "terrorist organisation" for the purpose of the Bill. It changes the nature of the test. Although there is only a small change in the wording, it is significant.

Clause 3(9) incorporates those matters, referred to by the Prime Minister in his Balmoral speech, which were intended to clarify how the Government would determine whether an organisation had established and maintained a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. In his speech the Prime Minister referred to the four matters he identified as factors to be taken account of. He did not, as the amendment would do, make each of the factors a separate test to be satisfied. He said:

    "These factors provide evidence upon which to base an overall judgment--a judgment which will necessarily become more onerous over time".

He also said:

    "We are not setting new preconditions or barriers. On the contrary we want as many people as possible to use the Agreement as their bridge across to an exclusively democratic path".

The Prime Minister was careful to stick closely to the terms of the agreement, and so should we. The Government have clearly said that they will not accept any amendment which would depart from the terms of the Good Friday agreement. The amendment would do so, and for that reason the Government are resistant to it.

16 Jul 1998 : Column 405

I should like however to clarify one or two other points which were raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about terrorists who had broken their links with the organisations to which they had previously belonged. Yes, any person who is not a supporter of a terrorist organisation and who otherwise meets the conditions in Clause 3 is eligible for release under the terms of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, talked about the fudging of the conditions. A complete and unequivocal ceasefire means not a sham or a tactical ceasefire, but a proper ceasefire. We are in no way seeking to fudge that point. As to the substance of the amendment, I can only repeat that I believe, and the Government believe, that it would depart from the terms of the Good Friday agreement. It would depart from the terms of the commitment given by the Prime Minister by way of explaining how the Good Friday agreement would operate. As such, I believe that it would be wrong in principle for the House to accept it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I agree with the Minister that the amendment makes a definite change to the way in which the criteria are to be applied. That is obviously its purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, suggested that I had overstated the case. I plead guilty to that in the sense that the amendment is not as strong as I would have wished, and, indeed, as some of the amendments we moved in Committee.

The amendment is, as I explained, an attempt to persuade the Minister to move in my direction. In that it has failed, whether I was overstating or understating it. I failed to move the Minister in my direction. He emphasised once again the agreement, but I emphasise once again that it seems to me that it is the whole agreement that matters. Decommissioning is equally part of the agreement, with the prisoner release part of the agreement. All of it should move in parallel. However, I have not persuaded the Minister that that is the case at this point. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne): My Lords, I should point out that if Amendment No. 6 is agreed to I shall be unable to call Amendment No. 7.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 40, leave out ("committed").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has tabled Amendment No. 7 which is the same as one which your Lordships' House considered in Committee. At that time I undertook to reflect further on the matter and said that I would bring forward a further amendment myself if that would be helpful. That I have done in the form of Amendment No. 6.

Both amendments would have the effect of extending the scope of Clause 3(9)(c). The effect of that amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, would be to require the Secretary of State to take account of whether an organisation was involved in

16 Jul 1998 : Column 406

directing or promoting acts of violence planned by other organisations as well as acts of violence committed by other organisations.

The amendment in my name achieves a similar effect but by a slightly different means; that is, by removing the requirement that an act of violence has been committed by another organisation. Now the focus is on the activity of the organisation that is under scrutiny, not the proxy organisation. The question is whether the organisation under scrutiny is engaged in directing or promoting acts of violence by other organisations. That could include general support through financial assistance as well as assistance with particular acts of violence which are planned or committed. As such, my amendment covers a wider range of activity than the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The Government consider that their amendment fully reflects the commitment given by the Prime Minister in his Balmoral speech and that it remains faithful to the Good Friday agreement.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for his help in drawing attention to this matter. I hope that he will agree that the Government's amendment is wider in its scope than the amendment in his name. Therefore, I hope that he will feel able to support the Government amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page