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Lord Monson: As my name is to Amendment No. 3, perhaps I may say a brief word about it and the other two amendments in the group. In order to forestall any claims to the contrary, I should say, first, that none of the amendments in any way contravenes the Good Friday agreement. Secondly, if the terrorist organisations are sincere in their resolve to reveal the location of their victims' bodies, it is not necessary that the Act should remain operative for more than six months at the most. If, on the other hand, the terrorist organisations are insincere, it is not justifiable that the Act should remain operative for more than six months. Surely the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Shepherd, would concede that point.
In theory, Amendment No. 1 is perhaps preferable to Amendment No. 3. Whether it is preferable in practice, I am not quite so sure; possibly the time-scale is fractionally tight. However, if the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, decides to press his amendment to a Division, I shall certainly follow him into the Division Lobby.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I expressed my abhorrence of the Bill at Second Reading and I do not propose to do so again, especially as I have three amendments down for debate later. However, I strongly support Amendment No. 1 because I believe that the IRA has the information. It started thinking about this in 1997. It said in September 1998 that it already had a great deal of information and was setting up a unit to get more. So there is little doubt that it has the information. Therefore, I see no reason why we should not set a time limit and force it to come to the point. I shall support the amendment if there is a Division.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: It is very difficult for those of us born and brought up in Northern Ireland to express or to explain to others just how strongly we feel about the Bill, although the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a very good attempt. I am not sufficiently articulate to improve on what he said. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has suddenly eased my mind. I now understand why I feel so strongly about it. This is an IRA Bill. This is not a government Bill. I have no doubt that it was the IRA's demand on the Government to have these concessions, a most dreadful thing to consider, as so well expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim.
No matter how hard we try, I doubt that we shall reject the Bill. It will go through. However, if it is to go through, this period should be over in the shortest possible time. What are we talking about? The IRA says that it knows the location of the remains of nine people. How long would it take to hand over that information? One day. If it knows, why cannot this be done in one day? If we allow until 30th June, that is more than enough time. I strongly support the amendment.
Lord Craig of Radley: I support the amendment in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. When I originally saw Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 I wondered whether 30th June was pushing too hard on a door. I was not able to take part at Second Reading but I share the distaste and discomfort which many noble Lords feel about the Bill. When it came to thinking about the date I was very much persuaded by what the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said in relation to the use of 30th June by the Prime Minister with regard to putting a deadline to discussions that are now going on. If the Government are prepared to put a deadline of that nature to elected Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, there is every good reason why the Government should not balk at putting a deadline on the Bill. The Bill lacks that more than anything else. It lacks a good many other things, but not to have a deadline leaves the people who could string along the victims'
Earl Attlee: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cranborne for introducing the amendment so ably supported by the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Fitt, and others. I listened with interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. However, as many noble Lords will agree, we in this House are quite entitled to give our considered view on any Bill except a money Bill. Huge majorities do not necessarily equate to great wisdom or even to considered decisions.
As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said, 30th June is a rather steep test. I wish I could speak to relatives tomorrow and say, "We have passed an amendment that will let you know where you stand by 30th June." But perhaps 12 weeks might be more appropriate. The point is that we want to see the legislation working. We want to see results. The critical point is that terrorists either have the information that they are ready to give to the commission or they do not. That information could be handed over almost on the day the commission is up and running. If we obtain information on the nine, it would be appropriate to let the Bill run on to cover the possibility that more victims may be located.
Amendment No. 1 meets the Minister's likely criticism of Amendment No. 2. Amendment No. 2 would preclude the location of future remains. All the amendments meet the need of avoiding relatives and families being strung along. If the Minister is minded to accept an amendment in this group, I would suggest that Amendment No. 1 is the best one. Amendment No. 2 has the advantage that no action will be required. Clause 2 and the commission will be extinguished automatically without the need to involve Parliament again. There would be no difficult decision for the Minister to make or for Parliament to make.
My noble friend Lord Glentoran and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke to Amendment No. 3. It has the advantage that the Government cannot be strung along and be forced into extending Clause 2 by order when it is said at that time that information is just about to be released to the commission. We have only to consider how often we have to extend the Northern Ireland decommissioning order to know that that is the case. Unfortunately, I have to work from the position that I assume the Minister has information or intelligence that leads him to believe that the Bill will work as drafted. I believe that to be unlikely. However, if the amendment is taken to a vote, I shall abstain because interference with the Bill may make it unworkable and could be a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Lord Dubs: In the course of this debate a number of your Lordships made points about the general principles underlying the Bill. Although I do not want to trespass for more than a minute or two on the time of the Committee in dealing with those points, I feel it would be discourteous if I were to ignore them altogether. It might also seem that the Government did not wish to rebut some of the points that were made.
The Government have one single motive for bringing forward the Bill--and that is to lessen the pain and agony of those families whose loved ones have been murdered and whose bodies have never been found. That is our sole and single motive on the Bill. The origins of the Bill lie not in any demands or threats from the IRA or any other paramilitary organisation. The origins of the Bill lie in the pain and agony of the families and their constant requests over many years that the bodies of their loved ones should be identified and revealed. Indeed, I remember it was nearly two years ago that my noble friend Lord Fitt made an impassioned speech to this House, stressing how important it was for something to be done to help the families concerned find the remains of their loved ones. I am sure it was not the first time that my noble--
Viscount Brookeborough: I thank the Minister for giving way. He said that the only reason for the Bill was a humanitarian one for the families. I accept what he says. However, he may remember that at Second Reading I pointed out that there had been a newspaper article to the effect that the revelation came after the IRA leadership announced that it would not reveal the location of the secret graves unless it received an amnesty. I am not arguing about the word "amnesty", but it was clear that it wanted immunity in return for the information about the graves. That was the only reason for the Bill. If it solely wished to come forward with the information, and if it was not after immunity, it could do so without a Bill. Why is the Bill here? The Bill is all about what it gets out of it. If I may refer to col. 189--
Lord Shepherd: The noble Viscount has intervened, and I think it is the custom that when a noble Lord is making a point he makes it briefly. Noble Lords should not seek to argue with the Minister or with anybody else.
Lord Dubs: I am most grateful. I was simply trying to make clear why the Government had brought the Bill forward, and the motive is to lessen the pain and agony of the families. It is perfectly clear that the IRA indicated--it was not done directly to the Government--that it would be prepared to reveal information about the nine bodies if through that process the individuals bringing that information
There is no question of the perpetrators of these crimes being granted immunity from prosecution. It is simply in relation to one piece of evidence--evidence that will be found as a result of information indicating where the bodies were. That evidence, and only that evidence, could not be used as a basis for prosecution. Any other evidence that might be forthcoming would result in charges being brought and therefore prosecutions following. That is the origin of the Bill and it was the pressure, and the very vocal pressure, from the families which made everybody realise just how much those families were suffering, and that is why the Bill was brought forward--
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