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Baroness Park of Monmouth: I shall withdraw the amendment, particularly in view of the lateness of the hour. But I am deeply disappointed by the Minister's response. I had hoped he would say that the Government would take steps to change the compensation laws. That may be what he meant when he suggested that Sir Kenneth Bloomfield may recommend it. I hope that that means that the Government would listen to him favourably. But it seems to me that it would not be asking too much to have that assurance given to us because this is an important issue. We are totally debarred from advancing the interests of the families because of the other issues involved in the Bill. That no one should benefit but the evil ones seems to me quite wrong. I hope that the Minister will be able to ensure that we have a positive statement of support from the Government on the issue of compensation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I regard Clause 4 as the core of this extraordinary measure. It is made all the more alarming by the remarks of the Northern Ireland Minister, Mr. Ingram, in another place. When asked about the dangers of setting an undesirable precedent, in response to a question from one of his own Back-Benchers, the Minister said:

    "there are no such things as absolutes. We are dealing with a sensitive and difficult subject which we must address in the best way available to us. As for setting precedents, the Bill deals with a specific set of circumstances and it is not for me to determine".--[Official Report, Commons, 10/5/99; col. 38.] He went on to say that he could not give an assurance that this Bill would not be built upon by others at some stage in the future.

We have already seen how Ministers have used non-traceability of weapons legislation as a precedent for this clause. Will this Bill in turn, which is much wider and more objectionable than the weapons model, be used as a means of doing the will of criminals and terrorists in the future?

In addition, I must draw attention to the absence of any safeguards against what one might call vexatious claims in regard to the location of remains. I know that terrorists' code-words are in fairly common use in contacts between certain authorities. I do not doubt that in the course of the secret bargaining between the aforementioned MI6 and Sinn Fein/IRA, some thought may have been given to the opportunity for cheating. For example, if the foundations of the waterfront building or a section of a busy motorway, as has been referred to earlier, are alleged to be the burial place of remains, will expensive explorations be initiated? Will the families involved be informed? It would seem to me to be the depth of cruelty for families to be given false information and then have to wait for a long time before they know whether the claim or the information can be substantiated.

Finally, in regard to identification of remains, will the Minister inform us--and I am sorry to bounce this on him--whether the testing of remains will include DNA testing? Unlike the general run of forensic investigation, DNA would provide the only certain means of convincing families that the remains were really those of their own loved one.

Viscount Cranborne: I rise briefly to ask a question additional to those which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has posed. Will the Minister tell the Committee what would be the position of the commission and, indeed, the instructions to the commission were it to turn out, as a result of forensic testing, that the information and forensic tests would put the authorities in a position to clear an innocent person who had already been convicted? Is there enough latitude in the Bill to permit that or would a vow of silence be maintained on that matter?

Lord Monson: Perhaps I may put one question to the Minister before he replies to my noble friend and to the noble Viscount. Clause 4 prohibits the families of victims from carrying out or commissioning forensic tests to ascertain whether, for example, their loved ones

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had been tortured or where they were imprisoned before being murdered. Let us suppose that one or more of those families, after the Bill becomes law, says in effect, "To hell with the Act. We will go ahead with our investigations whatever the Act may say". Will they be committing a criminal offence? I imagine not, because no penalties are laid down in the Bill and I cannot recall ever coming across a criminal offence where no penalties for transgression are specified? Perhaps the Minister will tell me either whether I am correct in my assumption or whether I am mistaken and if so, exactly how I am so mistaken.

Lord Fitt: The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, has brought to the notice of the Committee a question which is disturbing many people in Northern Ireland. This Bill is referred to as the Location of Victims' Remains Bill. I understand that at the beginning, it was suggested that it should be called the Location of Bodies Bill. Where are those bodies going to be? As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, said, they may be under a stretch of motorway or a major building. In fact, the noble Lord will know that in today's press in Northern Ireland, rumours are circulating that a major road outside the city of Belfast has been built on some of those bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, has quite rightly referred to the fact that the location of the bodies may be pointed out by the IRA, and it may be an extremely inaccessible location. Will the Government bear the expense of shifting whatever needs to be shifted or using whatever machinery is necessary to bring those bodies from where they are at present to give them back to their loved ones?

One can readily understand that if the IRA, the terrorists, brutally tortured their victims and killed them, they will not be very concerned about giving them a decent burial, even by IRA standards. They will want to get rid of the bodies, particularly at the time they committed the murders. In those circumstances, the terrorists were hoping that the bodies would never be found.

The families of those victims will be greatly distressed by the fact that they are unsure whether or not the bodies or bones, or whatever the remains may be, belong to their loved ones--those who have been murdered. It is only right that the Government should acquiesce in the requests which have been made that DNA testing should be carried out; that the remains which have been located should be identified as such to the families who have fought for so long to have those bodies identified.

7.30 p.m.

Earl Attlee: I shall be brief. Unfortunately, I shall have to be content with the Question that Clause 4 stands part of the Bill. Opposing the Question would wreck the Bill and, despite our distaste for it, we are not prepared to do that.

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The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, mentioned DNA testing. I would be very unhappy if the Minister could not assure the Committee that DNA testing will be undertaken. As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, stated, that is a reliable test and may be the only one available.

Lord Dubs: As with Clause 3, this provision is an essential element of the Bill to ensure that information is forthcoming to the commission. The starting point for these limited protections is, as I have said on other occasions, that no one should be disadvantaged by giving information to the commission.

The construction of the clause is similar to the equivalent provision in the decommissioning legislation, but it may help noble Lords to read it in the following way. Subsection (2) provides that forensic testing for the purpose of the inquest is allowed. The inquest test may determine the identity of the deceased; how, when and where he died. That would also deal with the question of DNA testing. If thought appropriate--it would be the coroner's decision--the coroner could subject the remains to DNA testing for the limited purposes of establishing who the deceased was and, as I have stated, how, when and where he died.

Subsection (1) provides that testing for other purposes is not allowed. The other purposes are then listed at paragraphs (a) to (f). Subsection (3), however, allows an item to be tested to determine whether it can be safely removed. The reasons for that are clear.

In an earlier debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, tabled an amendment which provided me with an opportunity to confirm that the inquest findings will be available to the families and that there is no bar on the use of those findings in civil proceedings. At the end of the debate the noble Baroness asked whether the Government would give an undertaking as regards giving effect to the findings of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield in his review of compensation arrangements. The noble Baroness will be aware that governments cannot commit themselves in advance of a review to giving effect to the outcome of such review. Sir Kenneth Bloomfield is proceeding in good faith. We are pleased that he should be doing so, but I do not believe I can go further than that as regards the possible outcome of his inquiry.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I thank the Minister for giving way. I perfectly understand his comments. However, I should very much like to hear a powerful statement from the Minister that the Government intend to urge that it should be so.

Lord Dubs: I am reluctant to do that for the following simple reason. If Sir Kenneth Bloomfield has been asked independently to review the compensation arrangements, it would not be helpful if in the middle of the review I make announcements intended to influence him. It would surely be discourteous to him, at the very least, to be given a remit and then to have his position undermined by statements made by me from the Dispatch Box. It is a discourtesy which I do not wish to enter into.

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There was some concern in another place that while Clause 3 of the Bill enables a defendant to adduce evidence in criminal proceedings, Clause 4 does not allow the defendant to commission forensic testing in his defence. I referred to this issue at Second Reading, but should like to take this opportunity to reinforce the fact that conducting forensic tests may throw up intelligence or information which would be disadvantageous to those giving information to the commission. Allowing forensic testing other than for the purpose of the inquest could result in no information being provided. Clause 4 is one of the key provisions of the Bill. Without it, the fact is that information is unlikely to reach the commission and the suffering of the families will continue.

I have been asked one or two specific questions. I have dealt with the question of DNA testing. If there is difficulty about finding where the bodies are, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, or, indeed, whether the commission has been given misleading information about the location of the bodies, the commission will have to come to a view as to how to handle that. Clearly, if the information appears to the commission to be misleading, it will not want to take further action. However, that is for the commission to decide.

There might be a cost of recovery. The sad fact is that we simply do not know where the bodies are. People have suspicions, and rumours, unfortunately, abound. However, the precise purpose of the Bill is to establish where the bodies are. Each case will have to be considered to determine the problems and costs involved in attempting to recover the bodies. To give a blanket answer would not be helpful. It is up to the commission to take that work further in the light of the information that it has.

Another aspect concerns informing the families. It is my understanding that it is the wish of the families to be informed of where the remains might be, once information comes to the commission. From the point of view of the families, I understand that that would be preferable to not carrying out a search. The families accept that they might have to wait for the results and that there could be disappointments in the process, but they want to be involved in this from the start. That is information given to us by the families. If it is their wish to be informed, even if some of the information may then be rather difficult for them to deal with emotionally, I do not believe it is appropriate for anyone to deny them that information. Of course there can be difficulties, given the examples quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. The commission would have to use its discretion and be sensitive in such circumstances, as I am sure it would be. Having disposed of those arguments, I beg to move.

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