Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): As Amendment No. 2 is also being spoken to, I must point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 3.

Lord Vivian: I apologise to the Committee for not attending the Second Reading of this Bill; it was impossible for me to do so. However, I have read the report of the debate carefully and, though I have sympathy with the bereaved families, I agree completely with many noble Lords that this is a repugnant Bill of appeasement giving amnesty to Sinn Fein/IRA murderers.

I support this amendment because it applies pressure to the IRA and should force the murderers to show that by 30th June they genuinely wish to reveal the locations of the victims that they have executed. I do not agree with the Minister and his reasons for not imposing a time limit for the disclosure of information. This amendment overcomes his arguments. If this amendment is put to a Division, I shall vote for it.

Lord Chalfont: As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said in his typically moderate and thoughtful speech in moving this amendment, we must avoid making Second Reading speeches at this stage. I find it difficult to do so because, at Second Reading, one thing struck me very forcibly, and it was this. On nine separate occasions in the Second Reading debate this Bill was referred to with revulsion and contempt. The kind of words that were used were "shoddy", "odious", "offensive", "cynical", "sordid", "disgusting", "obscene" and, finally, "an insult to Parliament". Legislation which attracts that type of language is not run-of-the-mill legislation. It is something at which we must look much more closely.

However, we gave the Bill its Second Reading and must go on from there. Perhaps I might mention my reasons for intervening in this debate at this stage. My main reason is that for the greater part of my active life since the war I have been, in one guise or another, engaged in counter-terrorist operations. I fought terrorism in the Middle East, Africa, Malaya and in Cyprus as well as in Northern Ireland. I learnt many lessons in those operations, but the most important lesson I learnt, and I learnt it on almost every occasion, was that it is almost always a mistake to bargain with or make concessions to terrorists. All we will get in response are demands for more concessions, time wasted and a cynical and almost contemptuous attitude coming from the other side.

It is no good asking terrorists who set about this kind of operation for political ends to compromise. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said in the Second Reading debate, the object of terrorism is to terrorise, not to compromise. I am sure nobody in this Chamber

24 May 1999 : Column 644

accepts that puerile, school-debating society line of thought which says that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. That is rubbish and we should all recognise it as such. Freedom fighters do not murder, mutilate, maim and torture. Terrorists do, and then they have the insolence to speak of execution and interrogation instead of murder and torture.

That is the reason I support this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said at Second Reading: six months is more than long enough for them to deliver what we must take as their promises. It is much more than long enough. The information which they need to supply to fulfil their side of the bargain is already available, and there is no reason why there should be any great delay.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, stated, whether one describes the Bill as odious, shoddy, cynical or whatever else one might like to call it, there should be a deadline to force these people to deliver on their promises; otherwise, as they might say, "The deal is off". There are no guarantees yet. The hopes of the families have been raised, in a cynical and cruel way, and unless we are prepared to set a deadline the Provisional IRA will have every reason to prolong matters. It has no sympathy with the families. This is not a gesture of humanity or compassion; it is something which it thinks is in its own interests. We must ensure that it is not in its interests.

I support the amendment very strongly. If the occasion arises and the noble Viscount goes in to the Division Lobby, I shall certainly be with him.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Fitt: Over the past few months noble Lords will have been aware of protest meetings that have taken place in relation to the General Pinochet case. One of the banners that I saw every time I left this House read, "Justice for the Disappeared". Whatever the arguments that relate to the situation in Chile, I had no idea then that we would be standing in this House, talking about the "disappeared" much nearer to home.

People who have voted for me at successive elections have been taken out of their homes and been brutally and viciously murdered and then buried by their murderers. The Bill contains no justice for the disappeared of Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, quoted what was said at Second Reading in the other place and in this House. I stated on that occasion that it was very difficult to find words in the English language adequately to convey my detestation of this legislation. This is not democratic legislation. We are flouting every concept of law and democracy in these islands by making this further appeasing concession to the most brutal murderers that I have seen in my lifetime in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has made repeated eccentric forays into Northern Ireland. He continually writes letters to all and sundry in Northern Ireland; in fact, he has written more letters than St. Paul. I did not hear the conclusion of his remarks because whenever he starts to make eccentric speeches in relation to Northern Ireland I switch off because I have heard them all over

24 May 1999 : Column 645

many years. The next day I saw in Hansard that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton had said in his concluding remarks:

    "There is perhaps a certain degree of self-indulgence among those speakers who have denounced the outrages and violence of the IRA and other terrorist bodies from the safety of this House".--[Official Report, 18/5/99; col. 181.] To whom was he referring? Was he referring to me? I have been harassed by the IRA. My home was burned. I had to have police protection over many, many years, because I denounced violence, not from this House but from where I was living on the Antrim Road in Belfast.

The majority of noble Lords from Northern Ireland who have spoken from this side of the House go home at the weekends. They live in Northern Ireland. They too denounced violence at Second Reading. I do not think they were doing so through any form of self-indulgence. They were speaking with the authority of their former constituents and of their experiences in Northern Ireland.

I go to Northern Ireland at weekends. I do not rest when I go there: I talk to people and go to their homes. They come to my home, and I talk to people on the telephone. The only people who are opposed to the Bill, and the only people who are opposed to the amendment, are those who are in association with terrorists. They are the people who have continuously terrorised people over the past 30 years. They will continue to do so with the help of the Government through the Bill.

In the other place, Dr. Norman Godman, in an intervention during a speech made by Douglas Hogg, said:

    "The right hon. and learned Gentleman claims that the clause offers an amnesty for killers. A friend in Northern Ireland suggested to me that that was an unintentional consequence of the clause".--[Official Report, Commons, 12/5/99; col. 349.] How can there be an "unintentional consequence" of a clause which grants amnesty to murderers in Northern Ireland?

I know that the Government are embarrassed by the Bill. I have carefully read the speeches made in the other place, and I can see that their hearts are not in the Bill. If that is so, why did they engage in some back-street dealing with people from the IRA? It was said that they had to act through intermediaries before they thought of drafting the Bill in conjunction with the Government of the Republic of Ireland and bringing it before this House.

Who were the intermediaries? Who made the first contact? Who discussed with the intermediaries what the intermediaries had said to the Provisional IRA? Did the Government consider the dreadful consequences of the Bill before bringing it before this democratic Parliament?

The Government can give only one answer. I resent it bitterly when any member of the Government, either in the other place or here, asks me what I would do. That is throwing down the gauntlet; it is saying to me that I do not want these bodies returned; that I am taking steps which will prevent the IRA identifying where the bodies are buried. In Belfast there are rumours that part of the M.1 is being dug up by contractors, supported by the police, because a body may be found there.

24 May 1999 : Column 646

What is to prevent the IRA saying, "There is Loch Neagh and there are bodies down there"? There is no guarantee that the IRA will at any time tell us where those bodies are. There is no guarantee that if the location of a body is given it will be the body the relatives are looking for. Why is there a restriction on autopsies and the post mortem examinations of those bodies? The whole thing is absolutely sickening and flies in the face of every decent concept that has ever been debated by noble Lords in relation to Northern Ireland.

I am certain that there are many noble Lords on both sides of the Committee who agree with the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--not because it has been spoken to by the noble Viscount or myself or others, but because they have read the reports and studied the Bill; they have analysed what it means and its consequences. They then have to make up their minds whether or not to support the amendment.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is a member of the Conservative Party. Both he and his ancestors have not been very helpful in matters concerning Northern Ireland or the island of Ireland. But I find no difficulty in associating myself with this amendment. Someone telephoned me this morning from Belfast. I said that the reason why the 30th June has been put into the amendment is due to the Prime Minister in another place. He is lecturing the elected representatives, for whom people went to the polling stations to vote, and telling them that they must find agreement by 30th June; otherwise, a threat of some description is there. If he can say that to the elected representatives, why cannot he and the Taoiseach in the Republic go to the intermediaries, or the IRA, and say, "We have set a date for 30th June. We think that those bodies should be returned by that date"?

The IRA has already stated in its own words that it knows where these bodies are buried and that it is prepared to say where they are buried provided--and this is the sickening thing--that we do not prosecute the people who murdered them and provided that we do not even look for their murderers. In other words, the IRA will give these bodies back but, in return, we are about to make one of the most disastrous concessions to this terrorist organisation that has ever been made in the history of this Parliament.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page