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Viscount Cranborne: I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I ask him this: what is it that is so different about the victims of IRA terrorism whose bodies have not been recovered and the victims of other criminal acts, as was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, at Second Reading? There was the murder of Suzy Lamplugh. What is so different about Irish "disappeared" from English "disappeared"?
Lord Dubs: What is different is that tragically there happen to be a rather large number of people in Northern Ireland who are grieving for their loved ones whose bodies have disappeared and have never been found. It is the scale of what has happened in Northern Ireland and the expressed wishes of the families that they should be helped in finding the bodies. That is what is different about Northern Ireland. That is not to say for one moment that I wish to suggest that the families of other people whose loved ones have disappeared are not also suffering. But the noble Viscount asked me a particular question, and that is the answer.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, put it clearly when he said that the IRA wished to rid itself of an embarrassment--an embarrassment which was manifest throughout Northern Ireland. One has only to read the newspapers, as I am sure your Lordships will have done, and listen to what was going on to see how much concern there was on the part of those families. And of course there are many more than nine. Nine was the number which the IRA came forward with in a statement, and two of those had not previously been recognised as being among the "disappeared". There may still be others.
One of your Lordships juxtaposed the importance of finding murderers and the importance of finding the bodies of those they had murdered. This was put to the House as an alternative. I do not believe it ought to be an alternative. However, if any prosecutions follow and if the evidence is there, we want to find and prosecute the people who have committed these murders, but not on the evidence that may be forthcoming as a result of this Bill. We are not in any way saying one is instead of the other: we are saying that both are important, and I have indicated how that might happen--
Lord Dubs: The noble Lord simply quotes what is in the Bill. We shall be coming on to forensic evidence later, but in terms of the principle, yes: because if we did not do that it would be most unlikely that the bodies would ever be found. That is the thinking behind the Bill. The motive is a humanitarian one.
I shall now continue with specific points on the amendment. I have made these remarks because of the general arguments that were put forward earlier. Clause 2 makes provision for the commission to remain in being until the Secretary of State, after consulting the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the Government of Ireland, makes an order appointing the day on which it should cease to have effect. The amendments seek to put some limits on the life of the commission: one month, four months, six months or a period to be determined by Parliament. That would mean that in one, four or six months' time, or at a date chosen by Parliament, the commission would no longer have a basis in domestic law. It would, however, continue to exist as an international body by virtue of the British/Irish agreement signed on 27th April and would still be underpinned by legislation in the Republic. However, it would be deprived of the provisions of the United Kingdom legislation relating to its status as a body corporate, the immunities which it would require and the financial provision for the Secretary of State.
This would create an anomaly and it is for this reason that the provision in Clause 2(1)(6) has been made: to enable action on winding up the commission to be taken in conjunction with the Irish Government, ensuring an agreed and co-ordinated approach to ending the existence of the commission in both jurisdictions. I can appreciate the desire for the commission to have a limited lifespan. I would clearly hope that information about the "disappeared" will come forward quickly, but I do not believe it would be helpful to set deadlines.
I very much hope that the commission will receive information before 30th June but, if it does not, I do not want to slam the door by closing down the commission. That would be seen by the families as the end of their last piece of hope to get information about their loved ones. I believe that we owe it to them to keep open the prospect of news for rather longer. Further, as drafted, the amendment would require the commission to be disbanded on 30th June, even if it had received information but no remains had been discovered by that date because the search was still under way. Clearly, that
A further point in considering deadlines is that we need to have regard to the range of cases with which we may be dealing. There is another issue. So far the debate has centred on bodies the whereabouts of which may be known to the IRA. But there are other paramilitary organisations: the INLA and others on the Republican side and a number on the Loyalist side. We are not dealing simply with bodies that have been buried or hidden by one organisation; there may be others. That is another reason why I believe that a tight deadline may make it unduly difficult for the whereabouts of the bodies to be made clear.
The commission is being set up to deal with information about any victim of violence within the meaning of the Bill who disappeared before the date of the Belfast agreement. The IRA list contains nine names. The names of other known "disappeared" have not been included. There could also be further "disappeared" whose names are not known to us. As I said earlier, the names of two people on the IRA list had not previously been known to the police as missing persons. We do not want to agree now to a closure date for the commission which could prove premature.
We recognise that Amendment No. 3 seeks to give Parliament the ability to vary the life of the commission if it considers that, in the light of experience, the suggested life of six months is not appropriate. This also runs the risk of action being taken unilaterally, leaving the commission in the anomalous position that I have already described. Given the international status of the body, it is necessary that its lifespan be agreed between the sovereign governments.
Article 3(2)(c) of the joint agreement between the governments requires the commission to report on its activities to both governments no later than one year after its establishment and annually thereafter. I believe that that is reasonable. However, in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, it is quite possible for the commission to report earlier if it so wishes. We expect the commission in its report to comment on its operation and workload, and it is that report which would trigger a decision by the two governments on the future of the commission.
I believe that it would be most unfortunate and wrong in principle if the House decided to pass one of these three amendments. It would not even do what many noble Lords are concerned about. I do not believe that it would lessen the pressure on the IRA or any other terrorist organisation; or maybe your Lordships think that it would increase the pressure. I do not believe that it will make that kind of difference but I do believe that the only ones to suffer will be the families who desperately await news of the victims.
Viscount Cranborne: I am most grateful to the Minister for his usual courtesy and reasonable tone in responding to the debate. I am sorry that I must disagree with him yet again. I have known the noble Lord on and off for 20 years and have always found
It is significant that the victims of, and experts on terrorism have been on this side of the argument. I would have said to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, if he had been here, that the very act of standing up in public in either House of Parliament had been proven to be a provocation to terrorism, because terrorists do not like people drawing attention to their methods. All of us have friends--I think particularly of Mr. Ian Gow--who have suffered as a result of attacking terrorism from the safety of a House of Parliament.
As the speech of the noble Lord the Minister progressed and interventions were made I concluded from what he said--I say it with the greatest respect to him--that under this Government a terrorist is given immunity if he murders nine or more people, but if someone is not a terrorist and murders nine or fewer, immunity is not given. One has only to say it to see that under this Government, sadly, it pays to be a terrorist.
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