Funeral Expenses

Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 12th May 1999.

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'.—The Secretary of State shall pay the cost of the funeral of any person which arises from the work of the Commission.'.—[Mr. Öpik.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr.Öpik:

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The First Deputy Chairman:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 2—Compensation for families of victims

'.—Families of persons whose remains are located through the work of the Commission shall be eligible for compensation under existing schemes operated by the Secretary of State.'.

Mr. Öpik:

The debate is slightly different from the earlier one, which seemed to be about technical details. The new clauses arise primarily from discussions with my noble Friend Lord Redesdale, who has taken time to approach families of "The Disappeared", to assess their current circumstances and how the Bill might impact on them.

Under existing legislation, it is clear that victims and families of victims can claim compensation for up to three years after what we may call "the incident"; that is, not the date of death, but the date of the incident. It is an important distinction.

The families of these victims have been unable to claim compensation because they do not have even the remains of their relatives. Essentially, their deaths are still technically unconfirmed as no bodies have been recovered.

It is fair to argue that the families of those victims have suffered rather more than many families in the troubles, and that is saying something. As well as suffering the loss of their relatives, they have been unable to bury them and to grieve for them properly. As I said during Second Reading, they have literally been robbed of the opportunity to grieve, to put the issue behind them and to move forward.

In that context, payments towards the cost of funerals will not bring back the victims of those terrible atrocities, or alleviate any of the pain and anguish that the families have suffered in the past 20 years, but they will go a long way towards giving the families some peace of mind that their relatives will be given a decent and proper burial, without the worry of the financial implications, which can be substantial.

I tabled new clause 2 to enable families of "The Disappeared" to access the money that they will be denied due to the three-year rule. I have some indication that, from a legal perspective, there may be significant difficulties in providing that compensation. If that is the case, I will be grateful for clarification from the Minister. Will he describe as best he can the restrictions and obstacles to enabling the compensation to be available?

Even if that is the case, I will ask the Government to explore the options. It seems that the families of the victims are effectively being punished twice: on account of what happened to their family member; and on account of the limitations that are technically built into the compensation programme, which deny them the opportunity of compensation because more than three years have passed since the disappearance.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments about new clause 2. I hope that he can give some good news and at the very least explain, or give some reassurance, that the Government take the question of compensation seriously.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Has the hon. Gentleman considered the conflict with other legislation? Those who have disposed of and murdered these people have often claimed that it was because they had breached terrorist regulations. As I understand it, there is legislation in place that says that no compensation is payable to those who have been party to terrorism. Has the hon. Gentleman considered that? Is that one reason why he has tabled the new clause?

Mr. Öpik:

The hon. Gentleman is right to bring up that matter, because I suspect that it is one of the complications involved in setting up a compensation programme. That is why I am asking the Minister to comment. I do not have a legal background, and I have not been able to determine the specific issues of compensation. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer us some clarification.

I hope that the Government will go along with the context of new clause l, as it would be tremendously helpful to the families of "The Disappeared" not to have to worry about the big financial burden that a funeral entails. The families have suffered far too much already, and an act of good will, whereby the Government agree to bear the cost of the funerals, would show both compassion and empathy.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

I support the new clauses in principle. To his credit, the hon. Gentleman has raised some important issues. Despite what the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) said about the alleged terrorist involvement of some of the victims, I would have thought that most of them were entirely innocent. I am thinking about two of the families that I met. I would like confirmation from my right hon. Friend the Minister that some help would be given to families on low incomes.

I think that the Northern Ireland Department of Health and Social Services would be amenable to applications for assistance, but would that be confined to those on the state pension or income support? The plea of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) should be given a sympathetic hearing.

I think that access to compensation should be as straightforward as possible and there should not be the usual lengthy legal delays.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood my point. I do not think that every victim was involved in terrorism, but I am aware that claims have been made by the perpetrators that some of them were. I have been involved over the years in fighting on behalf of victims and I know what the law says and how some people have been victimised again by the law.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

The hon. Gentleman is to be complimented on his assiduous campaigning on behalf of the families. The last people whose claims I would believe about some of the victims' involvement in terrorism are members of the IRA. I know that one 20-year-old victim who was alleged to be involved had a mental age of about eight or 10, according to his doctors, so I would treat such claims with scepticism.

Compensation should not be delayed and we should certainly consider helping victims' families, and especially those on low incomes, with funeral expenses.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

The new clauses are interesting and I hope that the Government will take them on board and try to be helpful. Whether we like it or not, the Compensation Agency is bound by the law and has no discretion whatever. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) drew attention to the existing schemes. I am not sure when the first of the victims disappeared. We have no way of knowing the date of the death caused by the earliest murder—I do not like the term killing, because these were cold-blooded murders, and we should say so bluntly.

Ministers will be aware that the compensation legislation was updated and greatly improved in 1978. I remember clearly that the relevant order was one of the few to be withdrawn and rewritten, not least because Mr. Enoch Powell was a prominent member of the party at the time and was deeply involved in the arguments on the subject. A scheme was developed that, despite the demerits that it is said to have, has many merits and has been very useful to many people over the years.

My only significant reservation about the compensation scheme is that people get a lump sum. Sometimes it is a large sum that they are unable to handle and they dissipate it and are left with nothing. Members of the armed forces and the police get most of their compensation in the form of a pension scheme, which is index-linked and gives them a continuing income over a long period. That is a much better system and perhaps it should have been considered for others. Perhaps we should consider that principle right across the law on compensation for injuries.

I am concerned about the time scale. If the individuals were killed at an early stage, it would be possible to argue that their fate became known only at a late stage, within the time frame that would allow a claim for compensation for murder to be made, but even in those favourable circumstances, that claim might have to be made under the pre-1978 legislation, which was not very good. A long time has elapsed, but some of those individuals might well have been the breadwinners for relatives who are now elderly. There is a real problem.

We will still be left with a difficulty in regard to those whose bodies are not recovered. I do not know what on earth the Government can do about it if we start paying compensation in respect of those whose bodies are recovered, but have to refuse it in respect of those whose bodies are not. The remains may be completely irretrievable, as we have discussed.

It appears that most—perhaps all—of the folk who were murdered by the IRA did not have any involvement in terrorism, but some of them may have had, and if that emerges, the relatives will be refused compensation. The same would apply if people had been involved in working for the security forces. Will any cognisance be taken of that? The security forces' records should surely contain that information, if nothing else.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has raised an interesting point, and I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I have much sympathy with the idea of helping with funeral costs. Let me explain how we have handled the matter. I explained earlier about the inter-agency approach and the need to consider all the ways in which we can deal with the sensitivities and ensure maximum protection and support for the families. We have been actively considering how to provide support after the bodies are returned to the families for burial.

I am in a difficulty, because I have an understanding that the matter will be resolved, but I am not in a position to say exactly how. We may be in a better position to say precisely how the issue has been resolved, to the satisfaction of everyone in the House and of the families, when the Bill is in another place. That deals specifically with the funeral and burial costs, and I am hopeful that the issue will be resolved shortly.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) showed a good knowledge of the compensation system, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). They know the complexities of the legislation, although it has been refined and improved over the years, in 1988 and 1991, to give more flexibility to the payment of compensation in lump sums. Because it was likely that hon. Members would raise the issue, I sought authoritative legal advice, which was that the families of persons whose remains were recovered would not fall within the compensation scheme because of the three-year limit. I could go into further detail, but that would be turgid and I ask hon. Members to accept my assurances on the issue. Having said that, the legal advice is just one opinion and others could reach a different conclusion. However, I believe that the advice is robust.

We must consider whether to put specific provision for compensation into the Bill, as new clause 2 seeks to do. However, that would affect the underlying principles of the compensation scheme, and we must remember that many people, going back some years, still feel dissatisfied with the compensation that they received. For that reason, we asked Sir Kenneth Bloomfield to undertake a detailed examination of the compensation scheme and its fitness for its purpose. The review should be ready soon. I had hoped that it would be available even sooner, but Sir Kenneth and those advising him have been given an extension of time because of the complexities of the scheme. However, I do not wish to raise false hopes that the review will produce answers to all the problems with the compensation scheme. At least we have shown a willingness to get to grips with the issue and examine ways to deal with it.

I concluded that to introduce a one-off approach in the Bill could pre-empt Sir Kenneth's report and might not be the best way to deal with the issue. It could also be unfair to the large community of victims who already feel aggrieved. We have to be careful with such sensitivities. We are considering the issue of compensation, but new clause 2 would not be helpful. The families of "The Disappeared" victims have experienced unique circumstances, but the prime motive behind the Bill is the recovery of the remains so that the families can give their loved ones proper burials. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire to withdraw his new clause.

Mr. Öpik:

I am satisfied with that reply. The Minister has responded positively to the important question of funeral expenses and I accept his response in good faith. After hearing the Minister's comments and the contributions from other hon. Members, I am even more convinced that the compensation scheme is very complicated. I still hope that the Government will take serious steps—I believe that the Minister said that they would—to explore how to ensure that the particular nature of the suffering of the families of the disappeared victims does not mean that they are excluded from the compensation scheme.

The Minister is right not to wish to make a complicated system more so with piecemeal solutions, and I hope that a strategic solution to the whole issue can be found, notwithstanding the hope that the situation will be resolved by new peace in Northern Ireland. If the Minister can devise a solution for the funeral expenses problem, he will make a big statement about the Government's genuine commitment to try to ease the suffering of the families. The Minister has given me the assurances that I was seeking and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, with an amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 7:47 pm, 12th May 1999

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a detailed examination of the Bill today. Only a few amendments were tabled, but we had a wide-ranging debate from which we have all learned something. We also had a useful debate on Second Reading.

The Government's position is clear: we want to end the suffering of the families of "The Disappeared". We fully recognise that some right hon. and hon. Members, who are equally concerned about the families, have worries about the protections in the Bill. Some hon. Members are also concerned about the Bill in case no information comes forward and we are duped by those who have promised to provide information. However, we examined that point in considerable detail and discussed at whose door the blame would lie.

Those hon. Members who are critical of the Bill see it as a risk not worth taking. In answering the points raised by the amendments that were tabled, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have had to strike a delicate balance in reaching judgments on the totality of the Bill. We have tried to supply the facilities and the mechanisms to ensure that if any information is provided, we can act on it.

The issue is complex and sets new precedents. On Second Reading, we accepted that—as with the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997—the Bill does not sit comfortably alongside other aspects of the upholding of the normal rule of law. However, the circumstances are unique and we are taking a risk to try to alleviate the suffering of the families that has gone on for far too long.

I also want to point out the Bill's limitations. In many ways it is wide ranging, but it has its limiting aspects. It does not provide an amnesty, or immunity from prosecution. Others may use those words, but that is not what the Bill is about. The protections in the Bill are specific and are triggered only when relevant information is given to the commission. The protections do not set a precedent, but the Bill provides the families with perhaps their only chance of burying their loved ones with dignity. The Government believe that the opportunity for the families to enjoy that basic human right is of immeasurable value when compared with accepting the measures set out in the Bill.

There is a risk, of course, that those with the information will decide not to come forward. I cannot guarantee that they will come forward, as has been said repeatedly. However, once the mechanism for providing information is in place, the responsibility for choosing to ignore it will be theirs, and theirs alone. That would be a heavy responsibility. If they ignore the mechanism that the Bill puts in place, they will show that they have no humanity and no concern for the families or for the society that they purport to be helping to move to a peaceful environment.

By passing the Bill this evening, the House has provided an opportunity to bring this painful episode to a close. I hope that the House of Lords will give it a passage as speedy and sympathetic—and a scrutiny as close—as it received in the Chamber today. That will help people to understand the measure, and its importance.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell 7:51 pm, 12th May 1999

Conservative Members have never hidden the fact that we find it obnoxious and outrageous that there should ever be a need for a Bill such as this. It is a permanent blot on Irish history that grieving relatives have not been able to bury their dead properly because of the actions of terrorists. The fact that the IRA and other terrorist groups did not have the common humanity to tell the authorities—even anonymously—where the bodies were gives us an insight into their mindset. That information would have put to rest the minds of those grieving relatives.

The balance is a difficult one to strike, but I agree with the Minister that the views and sensitivities of the victims' relatives are paramount, and more important than legislation which, in other circumstance, no hon. Member would want to be passed in this House.

In addition, I echo and understand what the Minister said about his inability to guarantee that the terrorist organisations that committed these vile murders will come forward with the appropriate information to the commission. I deeply agree with him that they should: it will be yet another disgrace if they do not. I hope, for the sake of the victims' relatives—whose agonies none of us can begin to imagine—that at last their grief can come to an end.

In conclusion, I hope that the paramilitaries and their political associates will not use the Bill as a bargaining ploy to be turned to their political advantage in talks, now or in the future. I do not think that the House or the people of Northern Ireland would ever forgive them if they did. I hope that the evidence and information are brought forward in a proper and correct way.

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott Labour, Wigan 7:54 pm, 12th May 1999

First, I apologise to the House for my absence during most of the debate, but my party's Whips saw fit to put me on several Committees considering statutory instruments today, so I have been like a yo-yo, in and out of the Chamber in the fulfilment of my other functions.

As the House will know, for a long time I was Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland. I spent much time there, and still do. While I was the Opposition spokesman on these matters, both terrorist organisations were involved in a full-scale war, with each other and with the people of Northern Ireland.

I do not claim any monopoly on feeling deeply about the pain and suffering of families who had lost loved ones. My feelings were shared by many other Labour Members, and especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). All hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have expressed their genuine and specific points of view and concerns.

From time to time, I recall two appalling atrocities in Northern Ireland. The first took place in a fish shop in the Shankill road, and the second at the Rising Sun bar at Graysteel. I visited both scenes—unsung, and without the presence of television cameras—to talk to the victims and their relatives. At Graysteel, my arrival was a moment of special poignancy. It was a cold November day, with the wind blowing over the Foyle. The bar was boarded up, and I wanted to pay my personal respects to the families who had lost loved ones in that appalling Hallowe'en night atrocity.

A gentleman came around the corner, and asked if I was all right. When I said that I was fine, and that I had come to pay my respects, he invited me into the bar for a cup of tea. That gentleman owned the bar, and was present when the terrorists came in and shot their victims in cold blood. They murdered that man's 80-year-old father in front of him.

There is a finality about the fate of the victims of atrocities such as that, in that their loved ones and families can give them a decent, Christian burial. The families will never forget, and their love for their relatives will continue for their rest of their lives, but there is a finality when burials are done properly.

However, the people who are the subject of the Bill do not know where their loved ones lie. They have not known that for perhaps a quarter of a century. If the Bill gives us an opportunity to try to find the remains of people who suffered at the hands of terrorism, and to restore those remains to their families so that they can be given a decent, Christian burial, I have no problems in supporting it tonight.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South 7:58 pm, 12th May 1999

I hesitate to follow the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), as in one sense he looked back to the past, in which he had some involvement. I began by being very conscious of what the inability to bury the dead means to people. I was a young lad during the war and we got word after Calais that that was the last place that my uncle was seen. My aunt, who had five children, lived through the war hoping that he would return, but my uncle's name is on the Dunkirk memorial. So I have no difficulty in understanding the concerns of the bereaved, nor their desire to bury their loved ones.

From my experience in Northern Ireland, I also know what it means to bury a lovely young woman, who could be identified only by her wedding ring. She was one of the victims of the atrocity at the Le Mon hotel. I could continue, but tonight we are seeking to achieve something.

The Government have been pushed into doing something that the terrorists, if they had been treading the path of peace, would have done long since. We should make it abundantly plain that the culprits at the bar of justice are the perpetrators of crimes. It is time that the whole community put more pressure on them to reveal the places where bodies have been buried.

As an Ulster Scot—what our American cousins call Scotch-Irish—I was interested to hear the Minister dismiss the amount of money being spent on vain searches, because I thought that he looked after the bawbees and that the House was responsible for financial expenditure. We have had both terrorist war and economic war, and I am convinced that further attempts will be made to isolate and disturb the economy by giving false information. I hope that I am wrong, but, if false information is given, we must indict those who offer it.

I have every sympathy with those who believe that they are entitled to compensation. In my experience, genuine victims—innocent people not involved in any way—have suffered most. I think of a family in my congregation who were put out of their home. The Housing Executive rehoused them, but the compensation that they received for the home that they had owned was just £10.

I can think of other cases, and I hope that the Minister will bear in mind not only compensation to help to bury people, as requested by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), but compensation to people who live in houses that were built over where some bodies lie, if the information that we have received is correct. They should receive compensation for the new houses that they will need. We dare not add to the burdens of people who have genuinely sought to make some sort of life through these tragic years.

I feel distaste that the High Court of Parliament has—again—been called on to set aside the normal rules of law and justice to satisfy those who claim that they want justice. That is my difficulty in supporting the Bill. However, because I know that the Whips will see the Bill through, I urge the House to double its efforts to help the victims of atrocities who have continued to grieve for their lost ones. We cannot allow the terrorists and their spokespeople to continue to run rings around us or to play ducks and drakes with us. There will be no understanding and peace if we do not win the battle for the bereaved.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde 8:04 pm, 12th May 1999

I compliment the Minister on bringing the Bill before the House. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) talked of the High Court of Parliament putting aside the rule of law. However, as the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said, our paramount concern is with the families of the victims. The legitimacy of laws passed in this place relies on our having a paramount concern for ordinary individuals over the rules and reservations to which the hon. Member for Belfast, South has referred.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have sincere reservations, but I hope that they do not transform into outright opposition to the Bill's passage.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

The hon. Gentleman has been in the House throughout the debate and will therefore have heard at least one criticism by a Minister of people who did not vote against the Bill on an earlier occasion. We must be held accountable by the people whom we represent.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

I know that the hon. Gentleman's reservations are sincere and profound. However, I hope, equally sincerely, that he and his hon. Friends will not vote against the Bill. I understand his reservations, and I have voiced some of my own. I have indeed been in the Chamber for almost every minute of the Bill's proceedings, but, following my meeting with two families in the House, all my reservations and doubts were dispelled by their pleas and their profound need to put to rest their loved ones with a Christian funeral service and burial.

Finding the remains and performing the ritual of burying loved ones will not stop the grieving. Grief continues throughout life, as the hon. Member for Belfast, South and all of us know. However, as I know from the cases of people who have been lost at sea and whose bodies have been recovered months after they were drowned, the return of the loved one's body for Christian burial and internment in sanctified ground brings some peace of mind. The two ladies whom I met made that plea to me and to the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), who was also at the meeting. In responding positively to that plea, we will bring a touch of comfort and consolation to the families of victims.

I have absolutely no trust in the terrorists or their spokespersons. I have always said that it is obscene that they call themselves freedom fighters. There cannot be freedom fighters in the mature parliamentary democracy in which we have the luck to live. I trust them not one iota, but if only two or three families are given the supreme consolation of being able to have a funeral service or requiem mass for their loved ones, the Bill will have achieved all that the Government set out to achieve.

That is why I stand four-square with the Ministers on the passing of the Bill and am only too pleased to compliment the ministerial team on bringing forward a Bill that the Opposition have described as obnoxious, obscene, distasteful and disgusting. I do not see it in that way. I have reservations, but the object is to bring peace of mind to a small number of ordinary people. We cannot aim any higher than bringing such peace of mind to the people whom I have met.

Again, I hope that the sincerely held reservations of other hon. Members do not transform themselves into opposition to the Bill.

Mr. Öpik:

We have had a forensic and legalistic Committee stage debate. Now, as I step back for the Third Reading debate, I can appreciate the human approach that we have taken tonight.

If the House were a person, it is a person whom I would like to meet because we have had the same debate that people have when they have been terribly wronged by someone else and we have decided to take the compassionate route forward. We have heard about bitterness and doubts about whether the other side will respond in kind, just as we feel those things when we argue with another person. However, at the end of the day, we have said that we are going to have faith in seeing the best in people and take a risk. We might get ripped off, but it is worth the risk. The human compassionate benefit of taking it is so great that it is worth being disappointed if we are wrong.

We might be wrong. It may be naive to think that the Bill will work. I feel optimistic. I surprise myself by saying this, but I assume that, if we go this far in extending the gesture of good faith, it may evoke some spark of humanity or decency in people whom we have conventionally written off as barbarians. It is a living experiment. Either they will respond in kind and we will find the remains of the people who were killed and taken from their families—in which case we were right to take the risk—or we will not—in which case we must learn from it and behave differently next time.

I came to the House very much in the spirit that I feel now. We have been human in being willing to do something for relatively few people, but it is a big statement that the House is willing to spend much time to right the grievous wrongs of acts of terrorism. I am proud of our debate and of the fact that we could discuss the matter rationally. Time will tell whether the outcome will justify this as the right thing to do. As a politician who ended up here partly because of what I experienced growing up in Northern Ireland, I am sure that we are right to show that we can make empathic decisions that affect other humans. I hope that people who read this debate, or hear bits on the radio or television, will consider that there may be something in the way in which our democracy operates that gives us some hope in respect of our politicians.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone 8:12 pm, 12th May 1999

I and my Unionist colleagues will, of course, oppose the Bill. I understand the feelings of those who have lost loved ones and whose relatives were brutally murdered by the IRA and buried in unknown graves. Over the years, there has been pressure on the organisations concerned to say where those people were buried. As a result of that pressure, the IRA claims to have set up an investigation team that has identified the whereabouts of nine bodies. It seems to me that public pressure has forced the IRA to go that far. We must remember that many of the victims belonged to the nationalist community and that the pressure comes from that community. If that pressure continues, the IRA will eventually have to say where the bodies are. This Bill again lets the IRA off the hook.

The IRA will not announce where the bodies are because it wants to be told that, if any evidence is got from the bodies, its members will not be charged or have that evidence used against them in a court of law. They should not be allowed to get away with that because it is not right in a democratic country to amend the criminal law to let such people off the hook. The IRA has only to issue a statement giving the location of the bodies. The security forces and other authorities could then deal with the situation as they normally would. There is no necessity for a Bill.

The Bill is ill-considered and not fully thought out. The relatives of those who have been murdered will be given less information in the event of the bodies being discovered than they would have got if the normal course of events took place. The Bill is therefore unnecessary.

I also oppose the Bill because it sets up another all-Ireland implementation body. One member of the commission will be appointed by the United Kingdom and the second by the Republic of Ireland. Why is that necessary? It seems that there is a possibility that a body will be found in the Republic of Ireland. There is sufficient law in the Republic of Ireland, and sufficient communication between it and the United Kingdom, adequately to deal with that without setting up another cross-border implementation body.

For those of us who are Unionists, this is another clear example of how the Government are not committed, as they should be, to the Union. In Northern Ireland, we have de facto joint authority. Almost any decision of importance must be agreed by Dublin, which has to have its nose in almost everything in Northern Ireland. For all those reasons, I believe that the Bill should not pass. My party will oppose Third Reading.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry 8:18 pm, 12th May 1999

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will recall that I used clear, sharp language on Monday night when I spoke on this Bill. I have heard nothing from that moment to this to cause me to alter my opinion.

We are told about family grief. We have all had that as a result of deaths, some tragic, some natural. Those of us who represent Northern Ireland—none more than the last speaker, who represents the town of Omagh—have seen the consequences of the butchery of bombs, thugs and murderers at close quarters. I will not rehearse the tragedies that I have attended, but there were many. Many good men, decent women and children were killed, and no one ever brought to book for it. Because of the area in which I live and my close relations with the Roman Catholic community, I well understand the importance that they attach to the last rites and the necessity to bury the deceased in sanctified ground. I am also aware that the Bill is a consequence of a deal done with the IRA, which played on the grief of the victims' families.

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said earlier that, when members of the IRA behaved in such and such a way, they had no humanity. People could not get inside their minds. However, the truth is that members of terrorist organisations do not exist in the normal democratic world; they exist in a world and in a mental state that they create and that is a consequence of the actions that they undertake. They believe themselves to be a legitimate army and that they are acting for a righteous cause. They believe that the end justifies the means. They do not adhere to those normal thought processes that most people in this House and in this country would apply to political situations. As far as members of those organisations are concerned, the majority has no right to be wrong and has no right to disagree with them.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) takes a keen interest in these matters. He knows Northern Ireland well. I point out to him and to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) that the Bill may be built on good intentions, but we know what they say about the road to hell—it is paved with them. The Bill falls firmly and squarely into that category, because the Government have allowed emotion to overrule logic. Hard cases make bad law, and that is so in this case. We are undermining the rule of law. We are giving in to the demands of murderous thugs who have used the common decency of citizens as a weapon, and who have used the normal democratic procedures of this House as a weapon against the House itself.

This type of legislation is abhorrent to me, because we are allowing the IRA to call the tune, so that its members can exact for themselves the maximum benefit from this whole affair. We are allowing the IRA to call the tune with no danger to its members past or present. Avoiding injury or damage to, or capture of, its members is, of course, always the first priority for a terrorist organisation. The measure will also allow members of the IRA to believe that they can use ruthlessness on every occasion to obtain their way.

If the IRA really wanted to tell people where those graves were, all that it need do is to go out at night and put a little stake on the graves, if they are in a field. It knows where the graves are. It would be easy to do that if the bodies were recoverable. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) drew attention to the fact that bodies could be under a house, or in the foundations of a house. How could one recover a body if that were the case? What would happen if the Government knocked the house down and there was no body?

The whole matter is open to endless ramifications and to endless exhibitions of evil. Do not worry—those guys will dream it up and they will use it. If we pass this Bill, we shall do no good to justice. Indeed, we shall do great damage to the whole concept of justice and punishment for evils committed. We shall do no good to the democratic principles that we claim to uphold. Responsibility in this matter rests solely with the terrorist organisations; it rests solely with the IRA—not with us and not with the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) said, pressure would have worked in this instance.

This case is not the same as the weapons issue. The IRA cannot give up its weapons; it is committed to holding them. Without weapons, the IRA is only another political party. Its members have no desire to be members of only another political party; they see themselves as part of something far greater, something that is beyond the concept of a political party. They see themselves as an army, controlling a political front organisation. They are part of a terrorist organisation controlling what is supposed to be a political organisation, but which is, in practice, only an arm of the terrorism that they have carried out and inflicted on us for three decades.

To apply the thinking about the IRA giving up its weapons and to say that it will do so on exactly the same footing as the bodies is wrong. Its members cannot give up the weapons because they need them to impose their will; they do not need the bodies. The fact that the bodies are out there and the fact that the IRA is under pressure from its own community is damaging to the IRA. My hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone lives in an area that is similar to my own in some ways. He is aware that there are many folk around us with that turn of mind. We can speak with greater authority on their thinking processes than most Members of the House.

I agree with my hon. Friend that, eventually, pressure from their own community, their own relations, church members and their nationalist political establishment will force members of the IRA to reveal, at some time, where the available bodies are buried. We have not put pressure on them; we have let them off the hook and we shall allow them, through the Bill, to claim that they are reacting to public pressure and that they are acting out of the goodness of their heart. However, they will have forced the British to let them off the hook and they will be believed within their own community. It is for that reason, among the other more gut reactions that I articulated during Second Reading, that I must vote against the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 324, Noes 5.

Division No. 172][8.26 pm
AYES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Ainger, NickCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
Allen, Graham(NE Fife)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryCampbell-Savours, Dale
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCann, Jamie
Ashton, JoeCaplin, Ivor
Atherton, Ms CandyCasale, Roger
Atkins, CharlotteCaton, Martin
Banks, TonyCawsey, Ian
Barnes, HarryChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Barron, KevinChaytor, David
Bayley, HughClapham, Michael
Beard, NigelClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretClark, Dr Lynda
Begg, Miss Anne(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Beith, Rt Hon A JClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Bennett, Andrew FClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Benton, JoeClelland, David
Bermingham, GeraldClwyd, Ann
Berry, RogerCoaker, Vernon
Betts, CliveCoffey, Ms Ann
Blackman, LizColeman, Iain
Blears, Ms HazelColman, Tony
Blizzard, BobCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Boateng, PaulCorbett, Robin
Borrow, DavidCorston, Ms Jean
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Cotter, Brian
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cousins, Jim
Bradshaw, BenCrausby, David
Brinton, Mrs HelenCummings, John
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Cunliffe, Lawrence
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Browne, Desmond(Copeland)
Buck, Ms KarenCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Burden, RichardDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Burgon, ColinDarvill, Keith
Burnett, JohnDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Butler, Mrs ChristineDavidson, Ian
Byers, Rt Hon StephenDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dawson, HiltonJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dean, Mrs JanetJones, Ms Jenny
Denham, John(Wolverh'ton SW)
Dismore, AndrewJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dobbin, JimJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Donohoe, Brian HJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Doran, FrankKeeble, Ms Sally
Dowd, JimKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Drew, David Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Drown, Ms JuliaKeetch, Paul
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKemp, Fraser
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Khabra, Piara S
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Kidney, David
Edwards, HuwKilfoyle, Peter
Efford, CliveKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Ellman, Mrs LouiseKingham, Ms Tess
Ennis, JeffKirkwood, Archy
Fearn, RonnieKumar, Dr Ashok
Field, Rt Hon FrankLadyman, Dr Stephen
Fisher, MarkLaxton, Bob
Fitzpatrick, JimLepper, David
Fitzsimons, LornaLevitt, Tom
Flint, CarolineLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Follett, BarbaraLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Fyfe, MariaLinton, Martin
Gapes, MikeLivingstone, Ken
Gardiner, BarryLivsey, Richard
George, Andrew (St Ives)Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)Lock, David
Gerrard, NeilLove, Andrew
Gibson, Dr IanMcAvoy, Thomas
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMcCartney, Rt Hon Ian
Godman. Dr Norman A(Makerfield)
Godsiff, RogerMcDonagh, Siobhain
Goggins, PaulMacdonald, Calum
Gordon, Mrs EileenMcDonnell, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)McGuire, Mrs Anne
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McIsaac, Shona
Grocott, BruceMackinlay, Andrew
Gunnell, JohnMaclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Hain, PeterMcNamara, Kevin
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Mactaggart, Fiona
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)McWilliam, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hancock, MikeMallaber, Judy
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Harvey, NickMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Heal, Mrs SylviaMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Healey, JohnMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hepburn, StephenMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Heppell, JohnMartlew, Eric
Hill, KeithMaxton, John
Hinchliffe, DavidMeale, Alan
Hood, JimmyMerron, Gillian
Hoon, GeoffreyMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hope, PhilMilburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hopkins, KelvinMiller, Andrew
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Mitchell, Austin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Howells, Dr KimMoran, Ms Margaret
Hoyle, LindsayMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Morley, Elliot
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Mudie, George
Humble, Mrs JoanMullin, Chris
Illsley, EricMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Norris, Dan
Jamieson, DavidO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jenkins, BrianOlner, Bill
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Öpik, Lembit
Johnson, Miss MelanieOrgan, Mrs Diana
(Welwyn Hatfield)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, IanSquire, Ms Rachel
Perham, Ms LindaStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Pickthall, ColinSteinberg, Gerry
Pike, Peter LStevenson, George
Plaskitt, JamesStewart, David (Inverness E)
Pond, ChrisStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pope, GregStinchcombe, Paul
Pound, StephenStoate, Dr Howard
Powell, Sir RaymondStott, Roger
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Stringer, Graham
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Primarolo, Dawn(Dewsbury)
Prosser, GwynTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Purchase, KenTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceTemple-Morris, Peter
Quinn, LawrieThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Rapson, SydTipping, Paddy
Raynsford, NickTodd, Mark
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Tonge, Dr Jenny
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Touhig, Don
Robertson, Rt Hon GeorgeTrickett, Jon
(Hamilton S)Truswell, Paul
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker, JeffTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Roy, FrankTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Ruane, ChrisTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ruddock, JoanTyler, Paul
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Vaz, Keith
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Ward, Ms Claire
Ryan, Ms JoanWareing, Robert N
Sanders, AdrianWatts, David
Sarwar, MohammadWebb, Steve
Savidge, MalcolmWhitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sawford, PhilWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Shaw, JonathanWills, Michael
Sheerrnan, BarryWinnick, David
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Skinner, DennisWise, Audrey
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Wood, Mike
Smith, Miss GeraldineWoolas, Phil
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)Worthington, Tony
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Snape, PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Soley, CliveJane Kennedy and
Southworth, Ms HelenMr. David Hanson.
NOES
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasTellers for the Noes:
Maginnis, Ken>
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Mr. William Thompson and
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D(Strangford)Rev. Martin Smyth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.