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Viscount Brookeborough: The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, touched on a subject that I wish to mention. The matter that galls so many of us in Northern Ireland--and, I suspect, here--is that the Bill as drafted is not so much a government Bill but has come about perhaps at the instigation of the IRA. That is why it contains conditions and that is why the IRA was after appeasement. It is difficult for us to accept the terms and conditions of the appeasement, as it appears to us.
I support Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. As far as I am concerned, this is a matter of principle. Why should we conform to an IRA timetable? We have conformed to an IRA timetable for the past 30 years. The IRA has dictated everything. The incidents that we are discussing have been committed by terrorists. I cannot think of a good reason for us to continue to conform to their timetable. If this Bill is to succeed--I may be one of the doubters in this respect--it must be implemented for the sake of the families concerned. The speedy resolution of the issue of the "disappeared" is all important. If, as we are told, PIRA now feels humanitarian responsibility
People are pretending that perhaps PIRA cannot remember where it put the bodies. That is inconceivable and ridiculous. What about the other bodies without the time-scale in the Bill? Will they drip-feed names and locations, each time gaining more appeasement? If the Bill goes through, we can give real protection to the families by inserting a time limit, so that we achieve that which the Government aim to achieve. I am sure that relatives in Northern Ireland will be eternally grateful to us for doing that.
An indication of what might happen appeared in an article in a Northern Ireland paper last Wednesday, headlined, "French dig fails to find remains". It was INLA who said where the remains of a body were to be found in France, yet it was not found. So the quicker that we get on with this, the better. If it is to be, let us have a time limit now.
Lord Shepherd: I rise to sound a warning note. It is many years since I was involved in Northern Ireland affairs, but like all noble Lords I have watched with great anxiety and horror the events of the many years since a Labour government--remember that, a Labour government--put soldiers into Northern Ireland. Ironically, if my memory is correct, that was done to protect the Catholics from the Protestants. The British forces have paid a very heavy price there.
Like many noble Lords, I have been heartened by the great progress that has been made in Northern Ireland in recent months. Like affairs in many other parts of the world, there is no easy or quick solution, but one has a feeling that, slowly but progressively, advances are being made. Perhaps the most significant among them has been the general welcome throughout the Northern Ireland community for what has been achieved by the British Government, British Parliament, Irish Government and Irish Parliament.
I have no criticism of noble Lords who moved the amendment and support it, but I wonder how it will be seen in Northern Ireland if the Committee has its way, as I suspect it might, if inevitably we are led into a Division. That could only send one message--that we are divided on what is seen as an important gesture. Nobody would suggest that the Government have acted other than in the best interests of the women and families who have lost their loved ones. However, suppose that the Committee passes the amendment. Do your Lordships really believe that the Government would accept it in another place? Do your Lordships believe that the Government, with their majority, would allow such an amendment to remain in the Bill? If that happens, what are your Lordships going to do? I suspect that you would use the wise judgment of this House over many years--that if the other place makes a judgment on anything that we may have done, we accept it. Therefore, the Bill will be as it has come to the Committee now, without the amendment. I hope that your Lordships will take my view that, as a result, damage will have been done in Northern Ireland.
I ask the Committee whether it is worth the candle. Is it really worth the risk? This House has expressed its views sufficiently to know that most of us acknowledge that the Government are acting to the best of their abilities for a small group of people. We do not wish to do damage--certainly not to a Bill that is connected with Northern Ireland. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, will give close thought to the potential damage that would be done if his amendment secured a majority in the Committee this evening. I ask him whether it would be worth it.
Lord Glentoran: With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the decision to bring the British Army into Northern Ireland in support of the police and the Roman Catholics on that dreadful day was one of the worst that they made. It led to Bloody Sunday, when the soldiers did not know which way to face. Those same soldiers will be paying the price again because of another bad decision by the present Labour Party.
Back to today's Bill. I spoke my mind clearly on Second Reading. I did not like the Bill for all the reasons that many noble Lords have stated. I said that our role in this House is to do our best to improve government legislation, and today's debate is in the process of doing that. Having been cynical about the Government's motive for introducing the Bill in the first place, and having accepted the Minister's word that it is nothing but sincere and helpful, I sincerely believe that the Bill will become really useful to the families of those victims only if it has a time limit.
My Amendment No. 3 will probably fall, so I am speaking now. I felt that six months was a practical time to set up the commission, run the show for a while and see whether our cynicism was justified and the IRA were going to play true to form. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has introduced an amendment
I am saying now to the Government, "You've said that you are sincere. You've said that this Bill is directed at the welfare of the families. You've intimated by that that the Bill is not politically motivated." I say to them, "Be on your mettle; do not again give way to the IRA; have the courage of your convictions; set the deadline and let us see what is delivered".
Lord Tebbit: I, too, should express my regrets that I was not here last week for the Second Reading of the Bill. I was abroad and unable to get back. Had I been here, the list of pejorative adjectives from the speech today of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, would have been rather longer and perhaps somewhat more harsh.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the amendment should be approved. The idea that your Lordships should not enact an amendment to a Bill merely because it is possible or likely that the other place might vote it down is one of the more extraordinary constitutional theories. After all, we know that this assembly will be made into a poodle before very long, but we are not yet a poodle which has not even got the guts to bark. That was a most extraordinary argument.
If the Bill goes through, it is right that the IRA should be given a window of opportunity--and it should know when that window will close; otherwise it will string it out; there will be another concession or two, something more that it will want, and something more that it will get. In the meantime, the families of the victims--we all understand their feelings and have the greatest sympathy for them--will, like this place, like Her Majesty's Government, be strung along once again by the IRA. If the IRA was not interested in stringing us along, we would have seen a surrender of arms by now. We have seen no evidence of any willingness. Indeed, we are told constantly by the IRA and its representatives that it has no intention of giving up any arms, only the intention of stringing us along.
The worst thing about the Bill is, of course, that it is a demonstration of the power of the IRA to extract concessions from the Government. That demonstration of power will be heeded in Northern Ireland. People will be once again reminded of who is in charge of the so-called "peace process"--not Her Majesty's Ministers, but the friends of Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, implied--I am not sure whether he meant to say it--that he believed that perhaps it was even more important that murderers were convicted of their crimes than that the bodies of their victims should be recovered. That is a perfectly plausible proposition. It would not be thought extraordinary by anyone--unless it was made in the context of Northern Ireland. It is only in that context that it is believed it is more important in the interests of justice and peace that the remains of a murder victim should be recovered than that his murderer should be brought to justice.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, when I read the report of the Second Reading debate, I noticed how often the critics of the Bill were asked "Well, what would you do?" It is perfectly simple. The matter could have arisen during the talks which became the Belfast agreement. It could perfectly well have been signalled to the IRA that, as it has owned up to knowing where the remains are, there would be a slow-down in the release from gaol of criminal terrorists unless it revealed where the remains were. But, of course, at every stage the Government have thrown away or given to the IRA every bargaining lever they possessed.
Viscount Slim: Having reflected since our previous debate on the matter--the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has said what I was about to say--I believe that the Bill will be only the start of concessions. I do not go along with a number of noble Lords who have said that if the terrorists do not deliver they will lose face and be embarrassed. In my experience, terrorists never get embarrassed; terrorists use failure with great cunning and great viciousness and throw it back at democracy. I often wonder how much more punishment democracy has to take. A terrorist displays great cheek and viciousness when he has been slightly or completely wrong-footed. We can expect no niceties or anything like that if terrorists do not deliver one body, all the bodies, or even information about the bodies.
There are many great lawyers in your Lordships' House. I am not a lawyer, but I do not see that the Government have the power to break our hard rules on criminal and terrorist investigation--such as forensic examination and DNA profiling--and suddenly to exempt terrorists from such investigation. Will the Government exempt other criminals next?
I find that the Bill is unsuitable. I am only slightly heartened by the speech of the noble Viscount. I consider his amendment to be a wise, sensible and moderate one, as many noble Lords have said, and I support it. However, I find it difficult still to support the Bill.
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