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Lord Merlyn-Rees: I agree with the purpose of the manuscript amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, which seeks to give anonymity to those who appear before a judicial inquiry. However, my concern is that governments have not yet intervened in Northern Ireland in the procedures followed by a judicial inquiry. I suspect that my noble friend will say that there is a great difference between the commission, where the rules can be laid down by Parliament, and
Lord Merlyn-Rees: I was coming to ways in which we could circumvent the provision. I am grateful for the noble Lord's comments. I should know that in the House of Lords there are others who are knowledgeable about this subject. I shall proceed. The purpose of the manuscript amendment is to provide a means whereby the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment can gain anonymity. I hope that my noble friend will describe to the Committee means by which anonymity can be provided for the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment in the inquiry into Bloody Sunday. So much flowed from Bloody Sunday; the parliament of Northern Ireland was ended by a Conservative government as a result of what happened in that and other incidents.
I ask my noble friend what he can offer us in this regard. What can he tell us can be done? Could rules which provide anonymity be laid down for the judicial inquiry? Even Amendment No. 13 provides that anyone can appeal to the commission to ask for informants' names to be disclosed. I would not walk around Northern Ireland for long if I had asked for such disclosure. We place those people in great danger also. That is the nature of Northern Ireland; it is a place apart, which is not to be confused with this part of the United Kingdom in this respect. Some 3,000 people have been killed over a period of 25 years. Governments of all persuasions have failed in one sense to overcome the problems in Northern Ireland. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will suggest means by which that can be done because such is the purpose of the amendment. People such as myself support it emotionally, even though we may not be able to support it in practical terms.
Some of us have emotions about this matter. My father was a private soldier in Dublin in 1916. When I was studying Irish affairs in school, my father said to me, "I realise what a mess the British Government made of it in 1916, by executing the mutineers"--or whatever is the correct word. Thirty or 40 years later on an airfield in Naples, when shelling or anti-aircraft fire was causing problems, and I considered that I had not joined the Royal Air Force to be in that sort of position, the Catholic padre said to me, "The Irish problem wouldn't have existed if it had not been for 1916". I said to the padre, "The last thing I'm worried about at the moment is what happened in Dublin in 1916".
Governments of all persuasions can make mistakes. I have always worked on that assumption. Holiness about Irish affairs ill becomes any politician on this side of the water. However, I believe that the principle, if not the precise amendment, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, should have the support of the Committee.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: What has been said thus far should convince all of us that when governments of any complexion institute inquiries, they ought to get right before they begin the ground rules of what might be called the "standing orders" for the protection of all concerned. I know that philosophy would not appeal to my noble and learned friends but, as a layman, that seems prudent and a necessity to me.
The main thrust of the Bill is to avoid publication of the identities of some who are murderers and who are known to be murderers, with the object of protecting terrorists from the due process of law. The purpose of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, which I am happy to support, is to preserve confidentiality with regard to the names and addresses of all witnesses giving evidence to an inquiry, thereby protecting such witnesses from assassination by terrorists. There is not a shadow of doubt that that would be the outcome unless we can avoid the trap into which the inquiry has got itself.
The noble Lord the Minister will probably maintain, rightly, that the present rules may not empower Her Majesty's Government to implement the amendment. In the past, governments have employed what one might call "fast-track" procedures. Shortly after I was honoured to enter your Lordships' House, it spent a great deal of time discussing and eventually approving the European Convention on Human Rights, which has a provision to remedy a defect within 48 hours. I respectfully suggest--as did the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees--that we would all support the Minister if he could give an undertaking that there is the possibility of providing, by some legal method, protection for those who will unfortunately be in the front line, whether they are proved innocent or guilty.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, about the likely consequences for witnesses who have given evidence without the benefit of anonymity in some circumstances. I endorse also the comments of my noble friend Lord Tebbit about the inevitable perception that will flow because of the contrast between the protection offered under the Bill and that withheld in the case of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. I add a small gloss: not only is anonymity to be withheld but the evidence that has to be given without the benefit of anonymity will in all circumstances have to be given in the city of Londonderry. It does not need the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, or other of your Lordships to know the dangers to which that will give rise.
I have always greatly regretted that it was said by all sides when the inquiry was announced, by way of justification, that it is essential to get at the truth. Most of your Lordships realise that one cannot get at the truth after eight years, let alone 28 years. What one can get
There will be a stark contrast between the carefully honed, beautifully dove-tailed statements in evidence which, if not instigated by the IRA, will at least have been rehearsed by the IRA. Those who are called to give evidence and who were in the Armed Forces--and that goes far beyond the Parachute Regiment--will have time and time again to say, "It is too long ago. I do not remember. Somebody who could vindicate what I say is dead or is not available". Day after day, the media will be drawing attention to that contrast. In the eyes of some of the media, it will be a question of whether or not British soldiers have proved themselves innocent--something impossible to do and which in our jurisdiction, fortunately, no one is called upon to do.
As the rationale of the immunity afforded under the Bill is that one cannot expect people to come forward and give information unless they are given anonymity, among other protections, similarly an enormously heavy burden rests upon the shoulders of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who we all so greatly respect in seeking to argue against the case that has been made.
It was perfectly possible--it remains perfectly possible--to instruct the tribunal that evidence shall be given with the benefit of anonymity. That instruction should have been given before and it could be given now. If that takes a bit of time, I would still support the amendment. It can be overturned in another place or be got rid of in some other way, if the necessary procedures to secure the same result can be achieved through the workings of ministerial channels.
Earl Attlee: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for moving the amendment with his usual clarity and vigour. His key point is that retired and serving members of Her Majesty's Forces and others will be exposed to unnecessary danger. That applies especially to persons who live in the Province in peace.
We need to make progress tonight, so I shall not weary the Committee with a detailed speech. I fear that the Minister will be unable to explain why, when giving information to inquiries and commissions, terrorists will enjoy anonymity while members of Her Majesty's Forces and others will not. The Minister will say that anonymity is essential if the commission is to obtain the information that it desires. Surely information is all that the Bloody Sunday inquiry requires as well. If my noble friend is minded to test the opinion of the Committee, I and my noble friends will support him.
Viscount Brookeborough: I support the amendment. Apart from the fact that evidence will be given, on the one hand, by soldiers and, on the other hand, by terrorists, there are other great differences between the two groups. The people who will come forward to give information about the bodies will be either murderers or associates of murderers who were involved in the killing of people and the disappearance of their bodies. They
The inquiry will be based on whether at the time a soldier reacted in circumstances in which he believed people's lives were under threat. It may be discovered that one or two soldiers over-reacted, but we cannot expose every soldier who took part in Bloody Sunday and who is alive today. We must give anonymity. I support the amendment.
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