Clause 33 - No criminal investigations except through ICRIR reviews

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 4th July 2022.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 114, in clause 34, page 27, line 19, at end insert—

‘(2A) But enforcement action may be taken against P to prevent P from seeking to profit from their conduct in relation to that offence (see section (Grant of immunity: criminal memoirs etc).’

This paving amendment is linked to NC2 which is intended to prevent a person who is granted immunity under this Act from profiting from the from the conduct which they received immunity for.

Amendment 107, page 27, line 19, at end insert—

‘(3) But any sentencing decision in respect of a serious offence committed by P after 10 April 1998 may take into account the panel’s findings on any relevant serious Troubles-related offence committed by P’.

This amendment is intended to allow the offences for which immunity has been granted to be taken into account in sentencing for post-Trouble offences.

Clauses 34 to 36 stand part.

Amendment 121, in clause 37, page 28, line 11, at end insert ”,or

(d) a file relating to P in respect of an offence is submitted to the Public Prosecution Service.

‘(2A) But if no prosecution of P is directed on the basis of the file submitted to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, the case relating to P should be returned to the ICRIR for investigation in accordance with this Part.’

The purpose of this amendment is to treat as criminal enforcement action the passing of a file to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland.

Amendment 122, page 28, line 17, at end insert—

‘(3A) For the purposes of subsection (3), a criminal prosecution of P is to be treated as having begun when a file relating to the criminal investigation into P’s conduct has already been submitted to the Public Prosecution Service on or before the day that section 33 comes into force.

(3B) But if no prosecution of P is directed on the basis of the file submitted to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, the case relating to P should be returned to the ICRIR for investigation in accordance with this Part.’

The purpose of this amendment is to treat a public prosecution as having begun when the file is passed to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland.

Clause 37 stand part.

Clause 38 stand part.

That schedule 8 be the Eighth schedule to the Bill.

That schedule 9 be the Ninth schedule to the Bill.

Amendment 116, in clause 39, page 30, leave out lines 15 to 42.

This amendment would remove the provisions inserted into the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 that require the closure of existing Troubles related inquests in Northern Ireland.

Clause 39 stand part.

Amendment 117, in schedule 10, page 79, leave out lines 4 to 39.

This amendment would remove the provisions inserted into the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 that require the closure of existing Troubles related inquests in England.

Amendment 118, page 81, leave out from line 18 to line 16 on page 82.

This amendment would remove the provisions inserted into the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016 that require the closure of existing Troubles related inquests in Scotland.

That schedule 10 be the Tenth schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 40 and 41 stand part.

Amendment 108, in schedule 11,  page 83, line 20, at end insert—

‘(1A) In subsection (2)(a), replace “four” with “five”.

(1B) In subsection (2)(b), replace “four” with “five”.’

This is a paving amendment for Amendment 110.

Amendment 109, page 83, line 21, at end insert—

‘(6ZA) The fifth condition is that the prisoner has been fully cooperative in responding any request for information made under section 14 of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2022.’

This amendment is intended to add a fifth condition for prisoner release under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to ensure that prisoners who take part in the reconciliation process are not treated in the same way as those who do not.

That schedule 11 be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.

New clause 2—Grant of immunity: criminal memoirs etc—

‘(1) A person (P) who has been granted under section 18 immunity from prosecution for an offence may not seek to profit from their conduct in relation to that offence.

(2) The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 is amended as follows.

(3) In section 156 (Qualifying offenders), in sub-paragraph (3)(b)(i) at end add “or a citizen of Ireland who would qualify to be a United Kingdom national”.

(4) In section 159 (Relevant offences), after paragraph (1)(a) insert —

“(aa) a serious Troubles-related offence (see section 1 of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2022,”.

(5) The Secretary of State may, after consulting the First Minister and deputy First Minister if practicable, make regulations to prohibit the exploitation for profit of Troubles-related offences by any individual granted immunity under section 18.

(6) Regulations under subsection (5) may further amend the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and make any necessary provision to amend any relevant primary or secondary legislation.

(7) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative procedure.’

The intention of this new clause is to prevent a person who is granted immunity under this Act from profiting from the conduct which they received immunity for, by adapting the exploitation proceeds regime under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

New clause 3—Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998: repeal—

‘(1) The Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 is repealed at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make any necessary temporary, consequential or transitional provision in connection with the repeal of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.’

This new clause provides for the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to be repealed when Part 3 of this Bill comes into force.

New clause 5—Revocation of immunity (No. 2)—

‘(1) This section applies if a person (P) has been granted immunity from prosecution for the offence under section 18, but later evidence is submitted to the immunity requests panel established under section 21 which the panel considers to be conclusive evidence that the Condition B in section 18 was not met because P’s account was not true.

(2) This section applies if, after the immunity requests panel has ceased to operate, the Secretary of State considers that there is conclusive evidence that the Condition B in section 18 was not met because P’s account was not true.

(3) Where subsection (1) or (2) applies, the immunity of P under this Act is revoked.’

Clause 42 stand part.

Amendment 120, in clause 43, page 34, line 12, at end insert—

‘(3A) The designated persons have an overarching duty to ensure that no memorialisation activities glorify the commission or preparation of Troubles-related offences.’

Amendment 110, page 34, line 15, at end insert—

‘(3A) The designated persons must take into account the interests and concerns of victims of the Troubles in the preparation of the memorialisation strategy.

(3B) “Victims of the Troubles” do not include any person P who has received immunity under this Act and whose physical or mental harm was caused by Troubles-related conduct in which P participated unlawfully.’

This amendment is intended to ensure that only innocent victims are included as victims in the memorialisation strategy under this Act.

Clause 43 stand part.

Clause 44 stand part.

Amendment 41, in clause 45, page 35, line 22, leave out “of the period of operation of the ICRIR” and insert

“from the date on which this Act is passed”.

This drafting amendment removes a reference to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

Amendment 42, page 35, line 38, leave out subsection (5).

This amendment removes a reference to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

Amendment 43,page 36, line 6, leave out paragraph (a).

This amendment removes a reference to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

Amendment 44, page 36, line 8, leave out “the ICRIR reports and”.

This amendment removes a reference to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

Amendment 45, page 36, leave out lines 18 to 21.

This amendment removes a reference to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

Clause 45 stand part.

Clauses 46 to 48 stand part.

Amendment 93, in clause 49, page 37, line 43, leave out from “regulations” to end of line 15 on page 38 and insert

‘establish an independent panel of experts to make appointments for the purposes of this Part.

(1A) The independent panel of experts must include—

(a) representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive, the United Kingdom government and the government of Ireland,

(b) representatives of the British Academy, the Royal Irish Academy or other comparable learned societies, and

(c) a person of international standing with experience in or comparable to the post of special rapporteur on transitional justice for the United Nations.

(1B) When deciding whether to designate a person for the purposes of this Part, the panel must, in accordance with clear and transparent criteria, ensure that the individual has the necessary expertise in at least one of the following: oral history, academic research, archiving, trauma, gender studies and memorialisation.’

This amendment would remove the Secretary of State’s power to designate persons for the purposes of Part 4 of the Bill and instead provide for the appointment of an independent panel to designate persons for the purposes of this Part, while keeping the provision for financial and other resources to be supplied by the Secretary of State.

Clause 49 stand part.

Amendment 94, in clause 50, page 38, line 20, leave out from ”means” to end of line 21 and insert

‘persons designated by the independent panel established under section 49 (1);’

This amendment removes the definition of designated persons in Part 4 of the Bill as persons appointed by the Secretary of State and instead refers to appointments by an independent panel.

Clause 50 stand part.

New clause 4—Offence of glorifying terrorism: Northern Ireland—

‘(1) This section applies to a statement that is likely to be understood by a reasonable person as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to some or all of the members of the public in Northern Ireland, to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

(2) A person P commits an offence if—

(a) P publishes a statement to which this section applies or causes another to publish such a statement; and

(b) at the time P publishes it or causes it to be published, P—

(i) intends members of the public in Northern Ireland to be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate acts of terrorism; or

(ii) is reckless as to whether members of the public in Northern Ireland will be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate such acts.

(3) For the purposes of this section, the statements that are likely to be understood by a reasonable person as indirectly encouraging the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism include every statement which—

(a) glorifies the commission or preparation in the past of Troubles-related offences; and

(b) is a statement from which members of the public in Northern Ireland could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified is being glorified as conduct that should be emulated by them in existing circumstances.

(4) For the purposes of this section the questions how a statement is likely to be understood and what members of the public in Northern Ireland could reasonably be expected to infer from it must be determined having regard both—

(a) to the contents of the statement as a whole; and

(b) to the circumstances and manner of its publication.

(5) It is irrelevant for the purposes of subsections (1) to (3)—

(a) whether anything mentioned in those subsections relates to the commission, preparation or instigation of one or more particular acts of terrorism, of acts of terrorism of a particular description or of acts of terrorism generally; and

(b) whether any person is in fact encouraged or induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate any such act or Troubles-related offence.

(6) In proceedings for an offence under this section against a person P in whose case it is not proved that P intended the statement directly or indirectly to encourage or otherwise induce the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism it is a defence for P to show—

(a) that the statement neither expressed P’s views nor had P’s endorsement (whether by virtue of section 3 or otherwise); and

(b) that it was clear, in all the circumstances of the statement‘s publication, that it did not express P’s views and (apart from the possibility of P’s having been given and failed to comply with a notice under subsection (3) of that section) did not have P’s endorsement.

(7) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years, or to a fine, or to both;

(b) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(c) on summary conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.

(8) in considering sentencing for an offence under this section, the court will take into consideration as an aggravating factor any immunity granted to P under the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2022.’

This new clause, based on section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006, makes having received immunity under this Bill an aggravating factor in sentencing for the offence of glorifying terrorism.

New clause 6—Opening closed files—

‘(1) Every Minister of the Crown must review the status and classification of files held or sealed by the Department for which the Minister is responsible which relate to events which formed part of the Troubles with a view to ensuring that relevant information, is duly and truly accessible for the various purposes of information recovery, historical records, memorialisation and academic research provided for in this Act by those mandated to discharge those purposes.

(2) Classified government files for the purposes of this section relate to deaths, injuries, other public harms and miscarriages of justice which occurred as part, or in consequence, of the Troubles.

(3) No later than six months from the date on which this Act is passed, each Minister of the Crown must compile a list of such Troubles-related files which have been sealed from public disclosure for longer than standard periods, showing the previously specified date until which they were to remain closed and indicating, on the basis of the review referred to in subsection (1), how and when relevant information in those files will be available to bodies or persons undertaking work enabled or mandated under this Act.

(4) The list referred to in subsection (3) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

(5) A Minister of the Crown must make a statement to the House of Commons on steps being taken to ensure disclosure of such information in order to afford more truth to those bereaved or otherwise harmed by events related to the Troubles, fuller public awareness and understanding and to assist the cause of reconciliation.’

This new clause deals with opening closed files as a State step towards truth and reconciliation. The duties of the Minsters of the Crown apply to any Minister including the Prime Minister, any Secretary of State (including the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland) as well as to the Lord Chancellor and the Cabinet Office.

Amendment 46, in clause 51, page 39, line 12, leave out subsection (1).

This paving amendment would remove Schedule 12 which amends existing legislation in relation to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery and the limitation of legal proceedings.

Amendment 47, page 39, line 35, leave out paragraph (c).

This drafting amendment removes a provision which would be redundant if Clause 38 and Schedule 9 were removed from the Bill.

Amendment 48, page 39, line 35, leave out paragraph (d).

This amendment removes references to criminal investigations and inquests.

Clause 51 stand part.

That schedule 12 be the Twelfth schedule to the Bill.

Amendment 49, in clause 52, page 40, line 9, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Amendment 50,  page 40, line 11, leave out from “they” to “may” in line 16.

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Amendment 51,  page 40, line 11, leave out lines 21 to 28.

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Amendment 52, page 40, line 29, leave out from “procedure“” to second “the” in line 34.

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Amendment 53, page 40, line 37, leave out from “Parliament” to the end of subsection (4).

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Amendment 54, page 41, line 9, leave out subsections (6) and (7).

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Clause 52 stand part.

Amendment 55, in clause 53, page 41, line 20, leave out subsection (1).

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Clause 53 stand part.

Clause 54 stand part.

Amendment 56, in clause 55, page 46, line 18, leave out subsection (4).

This amendment removes provision relating to the repeal of the Coroners Act 1988.

Clause 55 stand part.

Amendment 57, in clause 56, page 46, line 24, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment would be consequential on the removal of Schedule 12 which amends existing legislation in relation to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery and the limitation of legal proceedings.

Amendment 58, page 47, line 32, leave out subsection (4).

This amendment removes provision which is not necessary for the operation of Part 4 of the Bill.

Clause 56 stand part.

Amendment 59, in clause 57, page 46, line 35, leave out “Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation)” and insert “(Memorialising the Troubles)”.

This amendment would change the short title applicable to an Act comprising only Parts 1, 4 and 5 of the Bill.

Clause 57 stand part.

New clause 7—Compatibility with Article 2 of ECHR

‘(1) Notwithstanding any other provisions of this Act, the exercise of powers, the performance of functions and the discharge of duties under this Act, including by bodies or offices created under this Act, may be subject to civil action and judicial review on grounds of incompatibility with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

(2) Recourse to civil action under this section shall be open to—

(a) a close family member of a person whose death was caused by conduct forming part of the Troubles; or

(b) if there are no close family members of the deceased, any family member of the deceased.

(3) The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission may—

(a) provide assistance to individuals or families who take civil action under this section; or

(b) bring court proceedings itself in respect of policies, practices and performances of relevant authorities with powers and functions under this Act in order to test their compatibility with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights or to vindicate that right or others under the European Convention.’

Amendment 72, in title, line 1, leave out from “by” to “providing”.

This amendment would change the long title applicable to an Act comprising only Parts 1, 4 and 5 of the Bill.

While we are in Committee of the whole House, Members should refer to me as Chair or Mr Evans, and not as Mr Deputy Speaker. I call the Minister.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 4:45 pm, 4th July 2022

Thank you, Mr Evans; we trust that it will not be too long before that is upgraded to “Sir Nigel”.

It is good to be here for the second full day of consideration in Committee of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. I am sure that the whole House is grateful to Members for how they dispatched the statement in what must be record time for a Prime Minister reporting on three international summits, to allow us extra time. I am particularly grateful for the pleasure that lies ahead.

I start by thanking the Committee for the tone of our engagement last week on controversial and emotional subjects; I hope that that tone will continue across the Committee this afternoon as our deliberations progress. I meant to say this properly last time, but I did not. Successive Governments have not engaged in this space, and I want to pay special tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for grappling with these contentious and emotional issues over the last couple of years. This is a Government Bill, but it is very much his Bill—he has steered it through. I also pay tribute to those in the Northern Ireland Office who have supported the work of Bill as it has progressed beyond the publication of the Command Paper last July.

We commence today’s proceedings with part 3 of the Bill, which covers investigations, legal proceedings and the release of prisoners. Clause 33 prevents criminal investigations into any troubles-related offence from being initiated or continued on or after the day on which the clause enters into force. That prohibition does not apply to the independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery. The clause ensures that the commission becomes the sole body able and responsible for conducting criminal investigations into troubles-related deaths and serious injuries.

Future prosecutions will remain a possibility for those involved in offences connected to a death or serious injury if they do not actively come forward to seek immunity or do not co-operate sufficiently with the information recovery process. New criminal investigations or prosecutions for troubles-related offences not connected to a death or serious injury will no longer be possible.

The clause places a duty on the heads of each police force in the United Kingdom to notify the Secretary of State of any criminal investigations of troubles-related offences that their force is carrying out on the day before the clause comes into force, enabling the Secretary of State to identify cases that trigger an obligation under articles 2 or 3 of the European convention on human rights, and ensure that those are referred to the commission for review.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister of State for setting the scene. There is one thing that concerns me and, I believe, many DUP Members, but which has not been mentioned very much in any of our debates or discussions about the Bill: the collusion involving the Garda Síochána in relation to the murders of some police officers on the border. There was also collusion involving not just the Garda Síochána but high-level members of the civil service who turned a blind eye to those who carried out the murders across the border. Can the Minister of State reassure me and other hon. Members that there will be accountability in the process for those in the Garda Síochána who were involved in collusion in the murder of Royal Ulster Constabulary and police officers in Northern Ireland, and for those in high levels of the civil service who were also involved in collusion? My cousin was murdered by the IRA, and the people responsible went across the border and lived a safe life there. If that is not collusion, I would like to know what is.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great emotion and personal connection to these events. I extend again, from this Dispatch Box, my sympathy to him and to all those in Northern Ireland, in Ireland and across these islands who felt the impact of the brutality and evil of events perpetrated in the name of Irish republicanism, and indeed some in the name of loyalism.

The hon. Gentleman mentions matters relating to the Government of the Republic of Ireland. That Government, on behalf of the Irish state, freely entered into commitments that they would have a process for information to be brought forward for people so that we could find out what happened. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the proposals in the Bill and the information recovery unit would absolutely be strengthened if the Government of the Republic of Ireland came forward with their own proposals, so that we could deal with the issues across the totality of these islands. I very much hope that the commitment that was undertaken will be delivered by the Irish Government in due course.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I will, but I will not do today what I did last Wednesday, which was to take about 40 interventions and detain the Committee for an hour. I want to set the scene for what our debate today will cover and the scope of the Bill’s clauses and amendments. However, I give way to the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

I am grateful. The Minister mentions that the Irish Government made commitments. I absolutely agree that they need to deliver on those commitments, but they were made in the context of the Stormont House agreement. The British Government made commitments as well, but they are now moving miles and miles away from the Stormont House agreement, stopping any opportunity for people to get access to truth and justice, despite what the Minister might say.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We believe that the commitment made by the Government of the Irish Republic was a stand-alone commitment to bring forward their own legislation to have a means of resolving some of the unresolved cases to the benefit of all, to aid the process of information recovery and reconciliation across the island of Ireland and the totality of these islands. We could rehearse—although I do not think that it would be particularly helpful, because the hon. Gentleman and I both know the arguments that would be deployed—why we have come to the conclusion that the process around Stormont House and the bodies that are in place will not, in our judgment, deliver what we seek, which is to help those who want to find out what happened to their loved ones. We have been open in saying that this is a movement beyond Stormont House, because the Government believe that this will be a better way of getting that information and trying to aid the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

The prohibition created by clause 33 will not apply to criminal investigations that are ongoing on the day when the legislation enters into force, where those investigations are being carried out for the purposes of a criminal prosecution commenced before that date. The police will continue to conduct such investigations until the related criminal prosecution has concluded.

Clauses 34, 35 and 36 set out, for those granted immunity, that no criminal enforcement action may be taken against the individual in respect of the serious or connected troubles-related offence or offences for which immunity has been granted, while those who committed crimes should not be able to obtain something for nothing. They will not mean that individuals have immunity for any other serious or connected troubles-related offences in which they may have been involved. Those who do not acknowledge their role in the troubles-related events and incidents will not be granted immunity, and will remain liable to prosecution should sufficient evidence exist or come to light. If immunity is not granted, criminal enforcement action could be taken in respect of the offence. If the commissioner for investigations thinks there is enough evidence that an offence has been committed, the ICRIR can refer a case directly to the relevant UK prosecutor. The ICRIR will be fully equipped with the necessary expertise and full policing powers so that it can carry out robust investigations for the primary purpose of information recovery, as well as being able to refer cases directly to prosecutors if there is evidence of an offence for which someone has not been granted immunity.

Clause 37 contains general and saving provisions applying to troubles-related criminal investigations and prosecutions. Clause 38 and schedules 8 and 9 state that any new civil claim brought on or after the date of the Bill’s introduction will be prohibited once the relevant clauses come into force, two months after Royal Assent. Troubles-related civil claims already filed with the courts before the date of the Bill’s introduction will be allowed to continue. We want to deliver a system that focuses on effective information recovery and reconciliation measures, getting as much information to as many families as possible.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

The Minister will know that if a prosecutor has not made a decision on a file prior to the enactment of this law, the prosecutions will not proceed. That has caused huge concern among the families who have engaged with Operation Kenova and the more than 30 live files that rest with the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. There is an amendment on the table tonight that would allow the Government to accept that the cases that are with the Public Prosecution Service could proceed irrespective of when that decision is taken. Can the Minister confirm that he wants to see a conclusion to the Operation Kenova process, and that he wants to see justice for the families who have engaged so honourably and thoughtfully throughout this time?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I completely understand why the hon. Gentleman has asked that question, and the view that he takes. I have acknowledged from this Dispatch Box, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that some of these decisions are finely balanced and difficult, but the Government want to see a single body dealing with the cases and with getting the information to families, and that will mean that at some point there must be a date on which we stop other processes and roll everything into this one body. I will talk about that in more detail a little later, but the point is that the powers that this body will have at its disposal will be greater than some of the powers available to other bodies—for example, inquests—and we think that this will be a better way of proceeding.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I commend my right hon. Friend for his stance. While everyone wants to see finality and an end to this process, some of these prosecutorial decisions have taken three to four years, during which time the people being investigated have died. My right hon. Friend has to draw a line somewhere. It is painful, of course, and we do not want to undo the work that has been done, but ultimately we need courage when it comes to reaching a finite point and getting these people investigated by a single body.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for what he has acknowledged. He has been in the position that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are in, that of a Minister making very finely balanced judgments. We believe that we have got those judgments right, and we are happy to explain the rationale for the decision-making process that we have undertaken. I acknowledge, as my hon. Friend has acknowledged, that this will be difficult for some people to accept, but there must be a point at which the new body becomes the sole body to deal with these matters.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Does the Minister accept that those who are engaged in the Kenova process want not information recovery but prosecutions? They want an outcome that will ensure that those who committed a crime are found guilty of committing a crime. Moving this to information recovery is not doing justice to those who, for many years, have engaged with the process hoping for an outcome. Will the Minister at least encourage the Public Prosecution Service to ensure that it makes a decision on these cases before the deadline on the Bill?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The right hon. Gentleman makes an entirely valid point. As I think the Committee acknowledged when we talked about these processes last week, there is not a consensus among the families or victims on a single route that they want to take. They want different things: many want prosecutions, many want just to know, and many want a wrong acknowledged. He makes an entirely fair point that I am sure will be heard outside this Chamber and that I know has already been strongly heard by different bodies, lawyers and families in Northern Ireland.

The body will be established after this Bill enters into force. We are only at Committee stage in this place, and the Bill will hopefully leave here this evening and go to the other place, where I am sure it will receive detailed and expert scrutiny. In the meantime, a lot of decisions can be made. The processes can carry on, and we have been very clear that processes that are in train by the time the Bill comes into force will continue. That is why we listened carefully after publishing the Command Paper last year, when we heard the strength of feeling about ending all ongoing inquests. That is why clause 39 sets out that inquests—inquiries in Scotland—that have reached an advanced stage by 31 May next year or by the date on which the ICRIR becomes operational, whichever comes first, will continue to their conclusion. The clause states:

“An inquest is ‘at an advanced stage’ if the inquest hearing to ascertain—

(a) who the deceased was, and

(b) how, when and where the deceased died, has begun before the relevant day.”

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

Can I ask the Minister to recognise that there is an in-built unfairness in this process of arbitrarily closing off some inquests while others will have an opportunity to come to an end? The order in which these inquests have been put together is not based on any rationale, and there is a sense of it being the luck of the draw. Does he not feel it would be better to allow all inquests to finish, even if that means working in parallel with other institutions, flawed though they may well be?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I say respectfully to the hon. Gentleman that in all these things there has to be a point at which we move to the new process. If we are establishing a new body and we believe that that new body is the right vehicle to bring information to the fore and to incentivise people to come forward, co-operate with it and hand over state information, we have to have such a point. I recognise the challenge of that, but I also recognise that there is an opportunity between now and that body being established for progress to be made. I also say to him that the existing inquests can be rolled into the new body and that their work can carry on in that sense. The new body, the ICRIR, will have more information than inquests do and will have comparable powers to compel witnesses, so it is the view of the Government that the new body will perform many of the same functions, but perhaps even better than the inquest process will. But on his point about the date, no, we have to have a point at which we move to the new process.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

It is worth pointing out that we have two days for what is supposed to be the Committee stage, and this is fundamental legislation that needs to be scrutinised. Does the Minister recognise that one of the key victories of the civil rights movement was getting rid of the Special Powers Act? The Act was introduced in 1922, and the architects of apartheid in South Africa looked upon it jealously and stated as much. One of the things they did was to close down access to inquests, but they did not go as far as this Bill, which this Government are just about to introduce in 2022. How in God’s name can that be right?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 5:00 pm, 4th July 2022

The Government’s view is that this body will have more information and more powers than the existing processes and will be able to conduct these reviews faster than the current mechanisms are delivering. I completely accept that there is a difference of opinion between the Government and Opposition Members. Our contention is contested, but the Bill outlines how we intend to proceed.

Part 4 addresses how the vital work of healing and reconciliation, in societal as well as individual terms, will be achieved. Clause 42 makes provision for a new major oral history initiative that, consistent with the Stormont House agreement, will encourage people from all backgrounds to share their experiences of the troubles and listen to the experiences of others. Building on the feedback raised during the Government’s legacy consultation and since, the Bill provides for the designation of expert organisations with the requisite experience and trust to deliver this work collaboratively, independent of Government, by working with existing groups and projects as far as possible.

Clause 42 requires any persons designated by the Secretary of State under part 4 to carry out a gap analysis of existing troubles-related oral history collections in Northern Ireland to identify under-represented groups and communities. As well as collecting new oral history records, particularly from those found to be historically under-represented, the designated organisations must seek to secure the long-term preservation of existing collections by making them more publicly accessible through new digital and physical resources.

To ensure the independence and trust that are vital to success in this area, it is right that a high degree of flexibility is afforded to these organisations in the implementation of this initiative, which is why clause 42 focuses on core objectives and leaves it to the designated organisations to outline key operational details in a published document. This oral history initiative will be complemented by the work of the ICRIR and by wider independent academic research that is underpinned by the Government’s unprecedented commitment to disclosure. Taken together, this will add to the public understanding of the troubles in a way that is both inclusive and contextualised.

Clause 43 provides for an expert-led memorialisation strategy to build consensus and lay the groundwork for inclusive new structures and initiatives to collectively remember those who have been lost and to ensure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten. Within 12 months of being commissioned by the Secretary of State, designated organisations must produce an evidence-based report to the Secretary of State that makes deliverable recommendations on the way forward, to which the Secretary of State must formally respond. As part of this work, designated organisations must consider relevant comparators and lessons from other countries, as well as how any new memorialisation activities will aim to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Clause 44 requires the Secretary of State to respond formally to the recommendations of the memorialisation strategy provided for by clause 43 within one year of receiving it from the designated organisations.

Clause 45 makes provision for new independent academic research into the troubles. As proposed in the Stormont House agreement, this thematic research and statistical analysis will use the ICRIR’s historical record and family reports as source material. In implementing this initiative, the persons designated by the Secretary of State must use their best endeavours to secure the involvement of all UK research councils to ensure the work is rigorous and to the highest academic standards. The independence of researchers carrying out this work is enshrined in subsection (3). Flexibility is also afforded to designated persons in establishing the terms of reference, although subsection (6) requires the research to include an analysis of gender perspectives during the troubles. The research must be concluded and a report presented to the Secretary of State before the end of the seventh year of the ICRIR’s period of operation.

Clause 46 sets out that annual reports are to be published by persons designated by the Secretary of State to carry out the oral history and memorialisation measures.

Clause 47 makes provision for certain requirements relating to the way in which the oral history and memorialisation measures set out in part 4 are implemented by persons designated by the Secretary of State. It is important that the oral history and memorialisation work takes into account the widest range of views possible, not least those of victims and survivors, who should be at the centre of this work.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

Is there not a danger of this process becoming rather hollow, particularly when the overall legacy institutions are not seen as legitimate across the wider community and therefore people do not take part in the processes? How can the various academics come to any rounded conclusions if they have only partial evidence with which to deal?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I am slightly confused by that question, given the Government’s commitment to hand over pretty much all the evidence—[Interruption.] I want to say something to the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party; by the way, I could say this to pretty much any section of political society in Northern Ireland. He says that they just do not believe us, but if everybody goes around telling them not to believe us, there is very little chance—[Interruption.] There is a reason, and I have just referred to it: the people who will be asked, tasked and made responsible for this will be independent of the Government. They will be given a huge degree of leeway in how they set this up, so that it gains the maximum possible public confidence and support.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

Unfortunately, the Minister was interrupted in mid flow. He was about to make the point that the Government will give all available evidence to the recovery body. Two children were killed by plastic bullets, and the evidence around that has been sealed for 45 years, but none of us can understand why national security should mean that that is the case. Will he give a direct answer on this? Will that information be available to the recovery body?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished parliamentarian and a former very effective Minister, and he was a police and crime commissioner for a time. He will understand that I cannot possibly comment on an individual case from the Dispatch Box—no Minister could refer directly to that specific example.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

No, I will not give way at this moment. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the information recovery body will be given more information than any other comparable body or current institution that is examining these cases.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

I have some sympathy with the Minister’s position, in so far as everyone wants to criticise the UK Government on the disclosure of information. Given that 90% of the deaths in Northern Ireland are attributable to paramilitary terrorist organisations who refuse to give any information about any of this stuff, I wish there was a bit more balance from some in calling for truth and honesty, when the leaders of some of those organisations are not even willing to say that they were members—never mind leaders—of them.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The right hon. Gentleman’s point will have great resonance across these islands and with many families whose loved ones were murdered or maimed by the Provisional IRA. Importantly, it will be an undertaking of the British state to pass over information about all incidents on which we have records. My hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) and for South Dorset (Richard Drax) have served in the armed forces and have campaigned vigorously on this, and they will know that it is absolutely the Government’s view that there was no moral equivalence whatsoever between those who were on the streets of Northern Ireland trying to uphold law and order against a brutal, barbaric and evil campaign of republican terrorism, and those who skulked in the shadows and bombed, shot, killed and maimed. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have to be careful in our language not to create any equivalence whatsoever.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The final thing I will say—then I will give way a couple more times—is that the information held by the state will be not only information about the actions of the state, but intelligence on other actors, whom the body could then ask to come forward.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

In the interests of balance, I am going to take an intervention from the leader of the SDLP.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

Let me take this opportunity to make it very clear that every single murder and every single crime that occurred during the troubles was absolutely and totally wrong—I do not care who did it—and that every single bit of truth, accountability and justice possible should be got at. Every single paramilitary organisation should be coming forward with information, but we know that there is lots of information on those paramilitary organisations, because the British Government have infiltrated them—and still infiltrate them—to the very highest levels. We all know that. The information is sitting in the files of the British Government.

As my friend Tony Lloyd, says, the reason that we do not trust the British Government is this: Julie Livingstone, Paul Whitters, the Bloody Sunday inquiry, the Ballymurphy inquest. At every single turn, the British Government have tried to stop information getting into the hands of the people trying to find out the truth, including victims, who were told that they were at the very centre of this legislation. I have made this point a number of times now: there is a reason we do not trust you. Why not support our new clause 6, which would put on the face of the Bill that this information should be released to the public?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman knows that in the Bill, a legal obligation is being placed on all agencies of the state to provide the body with all the information they have. That is unprecedented; it has not happened before. Given the levels of trust—I understand why he says what he does to the community that he represents in Derry and Foyle—the truth is that the success or otherwise of this provision will be in the actions and outcomes of the body, when it is up and running. It will get information, some of which we understand and know will be very uncomfortable for some people who have been in the apparatus of the British state over the years. A huge amount will also be very uncomfortable for terrorists, who may think that there will not be another knock on the door for them. The success, or otherwise, will be in the fact that the information is passed over, and the body will have independence to act to get that information out there and, hopefully, to get information to the families.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Just last week, it was reported in the Belfast Telegraph that victims’ campaigner Kenny Donaldson—he is well known to everyone in the House, including the Minister and Secretary of State—said that

“if immunity was granted in exchange for information, then terrorists would then be ‘emboldened to wax lyrical’ about their involvement in violence”.

In other words, they would change their whole process.

Unfortunately, what I do not see in this legislation is the victims. It seems that the perpetrators of those crimes are getting off scot-free. The victims are not. That being the case, this legislation does not take us forward in the way that it should. The Government should be bringing something forward that addresses all those issues, but I do not see that yet.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The current mechanisms are not delivering in a timely way. Time is running out, and we believe that the processes established under the Bill will help to get information to people. Central to the proposal is the fact that the individual who comes to the body, or is contacted by the body, has an obligation to co-operate fully and to give full disclosure. If that disclosure is not deemed by the body to be full or honestly engaged, the body has the absolute right to withhold immunity and pass information to the prosecutorial services throughout the UK.

If hon. Members go back and look at how the body will be constructed—at the expertise of the people who will be on it, at the fact that it will be led by someone from a judicial background, at the police powers of investigation that it will have, and at the fact that this will be the most complete information ever provided to anybody looking at these events—they will see that the chances of somebody coming forward and, in a sense, hoodwinking the commission is vanishingly unlikely. If people do not co-operate—if they withhold information or are not complete in what they tell the body—it is within the body’s rights and obligations to withhold immunity.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 5:15 pm, 4th July 2022

In the interests of getting balance in this whole memorialisation process, does the Minister not accept that already in the Bill there is a clear indication that balance will never be obtained? The records that are held are mostly held by the state. The records of state activities are going to be given to the researchers and the body to tell the story and so on. He has indicated that some of the intelligence on terrorist organisations will be given as well, but that in itself is incomplete and the terrorist organisations, we can be sure, are not going to play the same and give the same access as the Government are going to give in this whole process. Therefore, how can the Minister ever hope that this will be other than a one-sided process that will not produce a balance, but will be used and abused to rewrite the history of the troubles in favour of terrorists?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The right hon. Gentleman is, in a real sense, right to raise those concerns, but the way the process is being set up in the Bill provides more than a possibility that we can find a way of doing this in an inclusive sense—in a way that creates a complete picture of the troubles for future generations to understand—and that will certainly not involve the glorification of acts of terrorism. He is right—and he is right that I alluded to this—that the state holds not just significant information about what the state was responsible for, but significant intelligence-based information on the actions of others that may not ever have been acknowledged before. That will be part of the oral history—the official history, if you like—of the troubles.

Under clause 48, the cross-community, cross-sectoral advisory panel, which will consist of a range of organisations with a defined interest and expertise in this area, will include representation and voices from the victims’ sector. That should provide some reassurance that there will be voices in there making sure that this is not a one-sided account of the history of the troubles.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I will give way to Paul Girvan and then to Gavin Robinson. I will then finish, and then the Committee can consider the clauses in detail.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

On the last point, we have a difficulty in that many organisations have been set up to tell the story of victims and to fight on the victims’ side, but there are a large number of victims—I can talk personally, from a family point of view—who do not want to engage with anybody because they want to put this sad history behind them: unlike a lot of people who want to keep opening this up, they want to bury it. Where are those people’s views ever going to be heard? That is the difficulty that I have. Members of my own family will not engage with any victims’ groups. They do not want to be involved with them because they believe they all have an agenda and, for some, it is to rewrite history. We fear that this process will be used as an opportunity to rewrite history and to bring forward a narrative that will suit, primarily, in my case, a republican agenda, which will be spun by those who have a machine behind them set up to do that.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I entirely understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from and I entirely understand what he says about the range of views within victims’ groups, and even within individual families, about how they want to approach this. In a sense, there is no right or wrong thing to do here. These are matters of judgment, and the view that the Secretary of State and the Government have come to on how we proceed is that this gives a chance for a degree of reconciliation that is not delivered by the existing institutions.

For those who take the view that the hon. Gentleman describes and want to be cut off from the process and freed from thinking about it, often because what happened is so intensely painful to them that the pain of connecting to the events and to the losses is overpowering, we totally and utterly respect that. No one will be compelled to participate in an oral history or a remembrance of an event if they do not want to, but for those who do, it will be there. We will set it up as I have described, involving victims’ organisations and the cross-sectoral, cross-community advisory panel, to try to make it as inclusive and as embracing as it can possibly be.

Rather like the information recovery body itself, however, the success or otherwise of the memorialisation process will be judged only when it is up and running. It will be judged only when people can see what is happening and can make a judgment call on whether we have achieved, in the institutions we are creating, the objectives we set ourselves and the chance for greater reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

While the Minister took issue with the comment from Colum Eastwood, it proved his salvation, because it allowed him to completely ignore the point that Stephen Farry was making: irrespective of whether people believe the Minister or not, they will not engage in the process. We have seen victims’ groups say they will not engage in the process. We have seen organisations that represent republican terrorists indicate that they will not engage in the process.

As the Minister concludes his remarks, I say to him that on Wednesday he had the opportunity to accept an amendment that would have removed the pitifully low fine for non-engagement if notice was served—three days of the Minister’s wages—for something more substantive and meaningful, and he was against that amendment. He knows there is no encouragement or inducement to engage in this process. He knows there is no consequence for lying as a result of the process. He knows that, even if somebody stays outside the process and is prosecuted, the sentencing regime will be reduced from two years in prison to zero years in prison. On each and every one of those points there is an amendment that the Government could engage with to make sure that the process works, yet still they are against them all. Why?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman and the points he makes. What I will say to him from this Dispatch Box, from the Government Front Bench with the Secretary of State beside me, is that these points have been made incredibly powerfully by the hon. Gentleman on the Floor and reinforced by my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

The hon. Member for Belfast East is correct that the amendment on the fine for non-engagement was on the Order Paper last week. That question and the question on sentencing are things that—I think I am allowed to go this far—there are active conversations about internally. This is the Committee stage of the Bill, and the Bill will leave the Committee and will go to the other place. We are very carefully listening to the validity and strength of some of the arguments, but we must ensure that we get the Bill technically and legally right.

Mr Evans, you referred at the beginning to the fact that we will return later today to a manuscript amendment, at another stage of this Bill’s progress. That manuscript amendment is based on an amendment last week that we worked closely with the Opposition and other parties to get right, and we will table it tonight to achieve that. Just because we are not accepting an amendment as drafted this evening, or indeed last week, it does not necessarily mean that we have closed off interest in considering that in more detail to see if we can build on the ideas that the hon. Member for Belfast East has and improve the Bill further at a later stage.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

As we have heard, if a terrorist is convicted, they spend a maximum of two years in jail. As I understand it, if a terrorist does not come forward to this body and give information, they could still be investigated judicially. If there is sufficient evidence to bring a terrorist to court and they are found guilty, does that two-year jail term still apply, or can they be convicted for a proper length of time to account for their appalling crime?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The short answer to my county neighbour is yes. That is why we are reflecting very carefully on the points that the hon. Member for Belfast East, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, and others, have made as to whether that is the right way to proceed, or whether we might want to have another look at that whole area and the wider context of the Bill as it progresses through its remaining stages.

I have done less today than I did last week, which I think is a good thing for everybody, including me. I look forward to hearing the detailed debate during the afternoon and evening, and look forward to returning to respond on behalf of the Government to the Committee later today.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Could I ask anybody who intends to try to catch my eye to stand so that we can get an idea of numbers?

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible as well. We do not want to end up in the situation we did last Wednesday, where it took three hours before we heard a speech from a Northern Irish Member.

Today, we are going to scrutinise parts 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill, followed by the final stages. This is a major undertaking in such a small amount of time, particularly for legislation on such sensitive issues. The Government’s rushing the Bill through has only deepened mistrust in its proposals. Opposition amendments 114 and 116 highlight some of the gaps between the Government’s rhetoric and what the Bill actually delivers. I hope the Committee considers the amendments with the same generosity it did amendment 115 last Wednesday, and that once again we can find agreement on how to improve the Bill. The Opposition will be supporting other parties in their attempts to remove clause 39. We will also support new clauses 4 and 5, which are thoughtful attempts at improving how immunity works.

Our amendment 114 is based on exploitation proceeds orders from the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which stop criminals in our country profiting from their crimes, usually through books or memoirs. Our amendment would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to ensure that people given immunity cannot then profit from the actions that they have just admitted to. The test that Labour has set remains that this Bill needs to offer greater benefits to victims than it does to perpetrators of terror.

The Government have repeatedly told us that as a result of this Bill all victims might get—might get—information, yet perpetrators stand to benefit much more. If basic tests are met, they must be granted irrevocable immunity from prosecution. There are no conditions to that immunity. There is nothing stopping people from then using their immunity to write down their own history of their crimes and profit from them. What is more, only perpetrators have to give the immunity panel an account of events that is true to the best of their knowledge. No input from victims is required. Quite simply, the Bill hands perpetrators control over the narrative of their crimes. Indeed, once a perpetrator has been granted immunity, I cannot see any limits on what they can do with it. There is nothing to stop terrorists writing books and seeking to justify the mayhem and senseless killings that they have carried out. Undoubtedly, that would re-traumatise victims. This is not idle speculation but a concern that victims have raised with me directly.

Just after my appointment, I travelled to Northern Ireland and sat with Paul Gallagher. Paul was left in a wheelchair after a loyalist gun attack in 1994 when he was just 21 years old. Paul told me that it cut to the core when he learned that his shooting featured in a book about his attackers. It contains a first-hand account and justification of Paul’s shooting by the paramilitaries. No one asked for Paul’s consent, or his version of events. This Bill would not only allow perpetrators to live in freedom, but empower them to tell their own version of events in their own names, without fear of prosecution.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 5:30 pm, 4th July 2022

The hon. Member makes an important point, and the whole Committee will be united in agreeing with what he is saying. He is absolutely right. Can he clarify to those of us on the Government Benches where the balance is between the glorification of terrorism offence that exists in the Home Office legislation at the moment and what he would like to see added to this Bill to make sure, as I think everyone would accept, that none of what he is saying comes to pass?

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

There is previous and existing legislation relating to crimes, but when people have served their sentence, they are not given immunity afterwards. This Bill gives immunity from prosecution for crime, and therefore people can go on to tell their version of events without any repercussions in the law. That is what the amendment seeks to tackle. It is a real challenge that simply does not apply to other parts of the criminal justice system. The measure as it stands will enable people to draw a profit from the horror that they inflicted on the innocent lives of others. That the Bill will have these effects is truly chilling. Amendment 114 would mean that perpetrators of troubles-related offences do not enjoy benefits as a result of this Bill which do not exist for other criminals. This is a very low bar that this Bill needs to pass to ensure that it is not deepening divisions, instead of fostering reconciliation. I am glad that the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Simon Hoare has added his name to the amendment.

Our amendment 116 would remove the provisions into the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 that require the closure of existing troubles-related inquests in Northern Ireland. The Bill is meant to provide information for victims and promote reconciliation. One way in which victims have received information about what happened during the troubles is through inquests. Only last year, on 13 May 2021, did we have findings from the Ballymurphy inquest. In his statement to the House, the Secretary of State acknowledged the power of an inquest for families. He said that

“the desire of the families of victims to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones is strong, legitimate and right.”—[Official Report, 13 May 2021; Vol. 695, c.277-78.]

The campaign for justice in Ballymurphy has reminded us all of that, if we needed to be reminded at all.

On Second Reading, the former Secretary of State, Julian Smith asked the Government to look again at the Bill’s proposals on the closure of existing inquests. The Minister at the Dispatch Box, Conor Burns, confirmed that he would, but we have not seen anything from the Government about any amendments they are bringing forward on this matter. Indeed, it was not addressed in the speech that we have just heard from the Minister.

Our amendment would simply remove the clauses of the Bill that close existing inquests in Northern Ireland. There are not many. The total figure is likely to be fewer than 20. Last month, Sir Declan Morgan, a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, gave evidence to the Select Committee. He summed up why it is unjust to close existing inquests on the basis of whether they have reached an advanced stage by the time the Bill is enacted. For the benefit of those who are not keen followers of the Select Committee, Sir Declan developed the five-year plan for dealing with remaining legacy inquests. It had its first year in 2021 and has been disrupted by the pandemic. These inquests have already had funding confirmed.

Sir Declan told the Committee:

“Of the 56 inquests that comprise the legacy inquests, 20 have been heard so far…A further 10 are already identified as year three cases, which will get hearing dates, other things being equal, between the end of 2022 and 2023. That would leave standing, as it were, 21 inquests. Some of those inquests relate to multiple people. For instance, the Stalker/Sampson inquest relates to four people. That would leave 18 cases to be dealt with.”

What is the justification for ending those 18 cases, when other people who are part of the same five-year plan will have their inquest heard?

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

The shadow Secretary of State is making an excellent speech. He mentioned the Ballymurphy inquiry, which shows what can be achieved even after a long time. Some 50 years on, the families were provided with some truth and justice, and it was shown that the victims were not guilty of any wrongdoing. Does he share my concern that the commission will not be able to investigate in the same way and therefore, in future, families will be denied that same right to truth and justice, however long it might take?

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend makes the point incredibly powerfully and well. It is true that the information and justice that came out of that inquiry, and others, had a profound impact on the victims’ families.

We should also not forget how long those families campaigned to get the inquest in the first place, which is an essential part of it—some have campaigned and called on Ministers to deliver inquests for decades. Some of those inquests have been granted, so it would be incredibly painful for them to be cruelly snatched away now. This is a process that families have faith in, and as we well know, faith and trust in state practices in Northern Ireland is hard won.

Crucially, the cases are not separated on merit; they are in a list based on a range of practical factors, such as resource availability. Most families who are part of the five-year plan know each other and have supported each other’s efforts. It is cruel to allow some of the remaining inquests to continue, but close others based on the order in which they were due to proceed. At a time when the Government need to be reaching out to victims, such provisions only push them away.

Gareth McCord’s brother Raymond was beaten to death in 1997 by a loyalist gang. A pending inquest into Raymond’s death is one of those that might be closed by the legislation. Gareth wanted me to put on the record how that is affecting his family. He said:

“We are being punished for obeying the laws while those who murdered and maimed will be officially rewarded with an amnesty. Raymond would be 46 years old now. For nearly 25 years our family has suffered on all levels. Hearing this news that inquests are to be shut down I have no doubt will remove what kept us going.”

The Government must justify why closing existing inquests is worth the price that they are asking from victims and their families.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I pay tribute to both Front Benchers—the Minister and Peter Kyle—for the manner in which they have engaged with these subjects. I will not speak for long—we have been over much of this ground—but I will cover a couple of things that I heard in the speeches of Northern Ireland MPs last week, which were very good, and a couple of points that have been made today. I will then stay again and listen to all the points of Northern Ireland MPs.

My first point is about homogeneous views and veterans and families. Colum Eastwood mentioned that families involved in Kenova are not interested in criminal investigations and that they just want information. He is a good man and is not misleading the Committee— I accept 100% that that is what he believes—but I have spoken to other families who are not in that position. The problem is that if we present our personal experience as a homogeneous view, we will never get anywhere in this process.

I disagree with Dan Jarvis, who is a great friend and represents the same cohort as I do. He said that the military have deep concerns about the proposals, but in my experience, they welcome them, because they bring some conclusion. At the same time, however, he is right. I urge all hon. Members to engage in the debate conscious of the fact that none of those disparate groups, which all have different experiences of the conflict in Northern Ireland, has homogeneous views.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

Of course I will give way in a minute.

That is why this space is difficult for the Government, because there is no clearcut answer to what we are trying to do. Whatever we do, somebody with an absolutely righteous cause, who is absolutely right, will object to it. The difficulty for us as politicians is to try to act in the round. Although we all want the sort of justice that has been talked about, the net result of that is soldiers being in court cases like some of those I have sat through in the last couple of years.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

I am very grateful to the hon. Member; we are becoming good friends here now. I agree with him on the issue of homogeneous views. Of course, it is absolutely right that many families internally—within those families—have different views. I have not met too many who do not want to seek truth. I suppose the experience that we have, having dealt with so many of these cases—and the experience of Kenova, which he talks about—is that unless we properly investigate, put people under the cosh and do it properly, we are not going to get to the truth. I think in nearly every family’s experience, whether from a paramilitary organisation or the Government, truth does not come knocking at their door. It does not come willingly—it just does not happen—unless they are put under pressure. That is why removing the investigation and removing at least the possibility of criminal proceedings is also, in our strong view, removing the opportunity for many families to get any truth.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Member, and he is right in a lot of what he says in this space around investigations. I have repeatedly stated that I would like the Government, as they have done by introducing amendments today, to continue to be receptive to changes to the Bill as it goes to the Lords. It is not only about the issue mentioned there. The issue of sentencing has also been raised by those from one of the Northern Ireland parties. I think it is absolutely critical that if people choose not to engage in this process, there is a heavier burden and a heavier penalty for not engaging in this process than there currently is, and I would urge the Minister to take that away.

I want to tackle the narrative about collusion, which is an incredibly difficult term. It is a real touchstone for the security forces, and I understand why. The reality is that a lot of these young men and women who went to serve in Northern Ireland did not choose to go to Northern Ireland; it was somewhere they went as part of their duties. While collusive behaviours have been highlighted over the years—things that have caused immense pain to families, which I totally understand—collusion, as a stand-alone term, has never been proved in court.

I will tell the Committee why this is so difficult for members of the security forces. Conflict such as this is never clearcut. We cannot have an honest two-way debate about it in public, with clear rights and clear wrongs, because it is so messy—it is so messy—and that is not the operators’ fault. The operators were young men and women making incredibly difficult decisions around incredibly complex scenarios, with lots of different factors affecting the way they made those decisions.

I am afraid—as someone who has consistently asked for the Government to do a better job of holding their own people to account in the military—that I cannot honestly stand here and allow the collusion narrative to go through without challenge, because these men and women committed everything to try to restore peace in Northern Ireland, while there were those, who have been talked about, who got up in the morning and genuinely thought it was the right thing to do, to advance their political aims, to murder women and children—to murder women and children in the name of politics.

I recognise that Northern Ireland MPs accept that, but I would gently say to them that there is a reason why people feel the narrative has got out of control. The reason is that things have been mentioned about what took place, and of course the military kept loads of records—of course it did—so it was always going to be out of balance. People such as the IRA, Gerry Adams and all the rest of it, never kept records, so of course there is going to be an imbalance.

I would just urge people to think about the young men and women who went to serve there. They never went out there with the intention of ending up on the wrong side of the law or the wrong side of history. I have always accepted that things happened in Northern Ireland that should never have happened and were not investigated correctly, and families have suffered immense pain. However, we must never let this collusion narrative run away to the detriment of the service of those brave men and women in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

The hon. Gentleman has forwarded the argument about collusion a number of times, and I totally agree that we need the whole picture. If I accept that, will he accept that there are now very few people left who do not agree that there were collusive practices, that collusion was a thing, and that people who were being paid by the state murdered people in Northern Ireland? That is the whole point of the Kenova investigation.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 5:45 pm, 4th July 2022

This is an incredibly challenging place, and I will choose my words carefully. Were people who took public money involved in killings in Northern Ireland? The state undoubtedly ran agents on all sides of the conflict, but the truth is that collusion has never been proved in court. The hon. Gentleman can get frustrated with that, but that is the way the country works.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

You’re the only person left saying this.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I am not the only person left. That is the way the country works. There are other people who think that collusion existed every day. They are very loud, and they tell everybody about it every day. There is another side, a quiet side, who are getting older now, and who think, “Actually, there wasn’t collusion. We did our best in incredibly difficult circumstances, but there was no formal collusion. We did our best to bring peace to Northern Ireland.”

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

Let me ask the hon. Gentleman one simple question: there are countless examples, but has he ever heard of Stakeknife? He has quoted Kenova.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I am afraid I know the Stakeknife case intimately, which is why I said what I said at the beginning of these remarks. Obviously, I am not going to talk about individual cases, as that would be wrong. I totally understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from on this issue, but there is a difference in the English language between collusive behaviour and collusion proved in court. To go over that line is a disservice to those who served, but I am sure we will continue this conversation for many years to come.

There was another point about people not engaging with the information recovery body in Northern Ireland

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Before the hon. Gentleman moves away from the point about balance, he and I share the view that there must be a mechanism to ensure that the history of the troubles is not rewritten, and that those who stood up against terrorism are not made the equivalent of terrorists, or have their name blackened by the imbalance of information. On disclosure of information, the Bill lists state institutions that can be instructed and given guidance by the Secretary of State about the kind of information that ought to be provided. There is no equivalent—there cannot be—on the terrorist side, and that is where the imbalance will come from.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, but as he said, there cannot be an equivalent. So what do we do? The situation is grotesque. There are no winners here at all, but as he said, there cannot be that mechanism on the other side. All I would say to my hon. Friend—Northern Ireland Members probably do not consider me that these days, but they are my friends—is that while I totally understand why they go on to a narrative about “We must have justice for this particular murder, and that one”, which everyone agrees, they must also accept that the price of that is the experience of people such as Dennis Hutchings, who they have stood up and spoken against as well. The two things cannot co-compete in this space.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I am happy to give way in a moment.

At some point we have to decide where the balance lies. If we constantly go over this saying, “Justice, justice, we will get there in the end”—0.1% chance, and the experience of all these veterans going to court in Northern Ireland has been an absolute joke; I am sorry to say that it has reflected very poorly on everybody in Northern Ireland. These veterans are going through the last 10 or 11 years of their life under this, and dying alone in a hotel room in Belfast. It comes at a price, and my hon. Friends have to be honest about that price and whether it is one worth paying, for the majority view, in getting at the truth and trying to understand what happened at that time, and bringing some sort of peace to the families.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I would love to say that I am enjoying the hon. Member’s third Second Reading contribution. He knows full well—he sat on the Defence Committee, as did I—that the consequences and problems that we highlighted were repeated in investigation after investigation. The option was there for his Government to embrace the argument about what is required under article 2 of the ECHR and how the state has discharged that duty through a previous investigation, but his Government did not want to engage with that. They could have embraced that in a way that would have supported veterans and others. That is honesty. That is an honest position to hold, but his Government did not have the bottle to do it.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I was in the Government, and I left the Government. Look, lots of discussions on legacy have taken place over the years. I sat on the same Committee as the hon. Member, and he raises a fair point, but it comes back to the same argument. This is where we are now. If the Government will accept his amendments, they will do and, if not, they will not, but if that means that we do not engage in this process—this is the last chance—that would be a huge mistake.

The last time that happened—this is the problem with what the hon. Member just said—was with the Historical Enquiries Team. I sat in a court in Belfast on the murder of Joe McCann when Soldier A and Soldier C—two soldiers, one significantly older than the other—gave evidence. One of them had a reasonable memory—the other did not—and gave a cohesive account of what happened to the Historical Enquiries Team, under the auspices that it would not be used to prosecute him, in order to bring some peace to the McCann family. Five years later, he sat in court with that evidence being used against him. That is why this process is needed.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

They were prosecuted. Soldier A and Soldier C ended up in court in Northern Ireland—I was there—and the evidence that was attempted to be submitted was from the Historical Enquiries Team.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I will give way, because I am the only speaker on the Government side and I think that we want to have a debate. I do not want to bore anyone, though.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

The hon. Member knows that that prosecution collapsed, and rightly so. The court was hugely critical of how what was presented as new evidence had only a new cover letter on top of it—there was nothing new in the evidence—and there was a direction of no prosecution.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

That is my point: the fact that it got there and those two soldiers went through that process for nine years of their lives from 2005 to 2014. The wife of one the soldiers died during the process. That is why we need this process. A lot of this could have been done better over the years, but we are where we are.

I have a concern that people in Northern Ireland will not engage with the process and that victims and other groups will not come forward. That is a legitimate concern—I can see that campaigns will be run to try to get people not to engage. The only people who will lose out will be the families in Northern Ireland. For some time, they have been taken on journeys that, at times, were unfair on them. That is not a popular thing to repeat given the side of the argument that I come from, but some of the practices have been unfair on them.

Finally, I turn to glorification, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to listen to Opposition Front-Bench Members on that. I know that there are provisions in legislation—[Interruption.] Not about crime but specifically about the glorification of terrorism. We must be very careful that those cowards who got up in the morning to murder women and children for their political aims are given absolutely no opportunities to glorify what they did. We must double down and ensure that there is no gap in legislation where those people could take advantage of their crimes.

Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann

Will the hon. Member support the amendment on glorification this evening?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

As I understand it, conversations are ongoing about how that objective can be achieved—[Interruption.] No, it is not as simple as that. I have been a Minister and seen amendments that, on the face of it, looked like they would improve a Bill, but the reality is that certain things cannot be done because of how other legislation bumps up against them. Legislation must to be crafted in the correct way. As I understand it, Ministers are looking at that with the Opposition and they will ensure that there is no gap in the legislation that allows for terrorism to be glorified.

I have sat through all the speeches and every minute of the Bill’s passage, and I am afraid that I repeatedly hear things that are not true. We all have a responsibility to deal with this issue not as though we are speaking to our home crowd but as it actually is. If not, ultimately, the people who will lose out are families, victims and veterans. For me, they have always been at the heart of the debate, and I hope that we can continue to hold them there as we progress.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I will attempt to emulate previous speakers in trying to speak for the shortest possible period, although as I spoke for only 2 minutes and 40 seconds on day one, that might be something of a challenge given the interest in the amendments before us. Nevertheless, I will do my best.

I turn first to amendment 114 and new clause 2, which seek to prevent people from profiting from conduct for which they have been granted immunity. That seems to be, at the very least, the baseline outcome for which we should look from any such process. It is unconscionable at the best of times for people to profit in such a manner from crimes that they have committed, and particularly so when a status of immunity has been granted. On that basis, that amendment and new clause have the SNP’s support. As, indeed, does amendment 116, on keeping troubles-related inquests open.

I have been clear throughout that our preference is to allow historical inquiries to continue and for them to be properly resourced, not necessarily with any huge expectation of convictions but simply to allow a police-standard inquiry to continue and to keep hope alive. That seems to be at the heart of what many of the families of victims are seeking most from the process. Flawed though the legislation is in principle, it would be easy for it to resolve the situation of closing down not just investigations but promised investigations simply because of their order in the queue. It would be easy for the Minister to resolve that, so I hope that he will consider the amendment and incorporate that into the Bill.

I said on Second Reading that I thought the immunity process placed a pretty questionable obligation on those seeking immunity to tell the truth, and that requiring them to do so only to the best of their knowledge and belief is a considerable distance short of being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To that extent, the SNP very much supports new clause 5 to the effect that, were evidence later to come to light that someone granted immunity had failed to meet condition B in clause 18, that immunity would be revoked. I do not think that immunity, once granted, should always be forever if it was found to be achieved through someone acting in bad faith. Again, I accept that the bar for that would necessarily be high, but nevertheless that seems to be a baseline output from a Bill being driven by such principles.

I turn to new clause 4 and the aggravating factor of glorifying terrorism. I very much appreciate what it seeks to do—we would all deprecate any attempts to glorify terrorism—but I am less certain about how it might work in practice or how solid it is. However, I look forward to hearing speeches on that. We will listen carefully to the arguments.

Finally, I will briefly address some remarks to new clauses 6 and 7. New clause 6 would be a valuable addition to the Bill. I accept the Minister’s good faith on how the state would intend to open up its records, but it would place in legislation a duty of openness on the Government, not just on opening up files but on specifying those that have not been opened and giving some narrative on that. That would be a worthwhile addition to the Bill.

On new clause 7, the SNP has very considerable concerns about the Bill’s compliance with article 2 of the European convention on human rights. The SNP is also extremely sceptical, and I think with good reason, of the Government’s commitments to people’s individual civil rights whenever those rights come into conflict with matters the Government find to be politically inconvenient. Therefore, enshrining in the Bill the explicit right for individuals to take civil action, or to seek judicial review on the grounds of compliance with article 2 of the ECHR, would be a very important safeguard that people would welcome.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle 6:00 pm, 4th July 2022

I very much welcome what the hon. Gentleman is saying, particularly on judicial reviews and civil actions. I think he would agree that it is particularly egregious that the Government are seeking to close down the civil route for victims. The deadline for putting in new civil cases was the day the Bill was announced and published. For me, that was particularly difficult to take. Does he remember the example of when Michelle O’Neill, who was Deputy First Minister at the time, stopped and held up the opportunity for victims to get access to the victims’ pension? It was actually the judicial review process that got that position overturned and now, finally, victims have the opportunity to avail themselves of that. We have countless examples of where victims have used JR in civil cases to get a better result than they got from the Governments who are supposed to represent them.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. To speak to his wider point, the right of access to judicial review is a fundamental right for any individual against an overreaching Executive or Government. It is only right that that route should remain open to people, notwithstanding the Bill. To incorporate that right in the Bill would provide a very important safeguard for people. I urge the Minister to ensure it is there, so that that right is not in question at any stage after the Bill is passed.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

First of all, we understand how sensitive the whole issue of legacy is: we live with it every day in Northern Ireland. We get representations from our constituents about it and there are varying views, but the one thing the Government have to be aware of is just how much opposition there is to the proposals on the table tonight. We have tabled amendments that we believe would improve the Bill. Would they make us vote for the Bill? No, they would not. But at least they would improve the way the Bill operates for victims and how it addresses the unfairness that those who involved themselves in terrorism will now be able to walk away free.

If we look at the terms of the Bill and what victims get out of it, we can see why there is so much opposition to it. We welcome the fact that the Government have now accepted the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson on ensuring that those who were involved in sexual crimes do not use the cover of the troubles and their involvement in paramilitaries to be granted immunity, but there are other proposals that I believe are equally compelling, and the Government ought to look at them. First of all, from the victims’ point of view—this was mentioned in the last point made by the SNP spokesman, Richard Thomson—those who want to take civil actions can now no longer do so. Those were the only avenue open to many people. Indeed, in the case of the Omagh bomb and others, we saw how people were able to at least try to overcome the deficiencies in the police investigation. What is on offer for those who are victims?

Terrorists who co-operate and tell the truth, at the end of the day, after they have admitted their role, will walk away with no sentence at all—no time in jail. They are free; they are immune. Those who do not co-operate can still be subject to an investigation, but there will be no outcome at the end of it, other than if they are successfully prosecuted. Their crime will be highlighted but they will not pay any price for it.

For those who, laughingly, go into the process and tell lies, and hurt the victims more, there will be no sanction either. One amendment we have tabled will ensure, if the Government accept it, that those who knowingly lie in the process at least know there will be a sanction on them. It is a reasonable amendment, and the Government should accept it. Otherwise, there is no incentive for people to go into the process and tell the truth. The Government may well argue, “Why would you go into the process if you don’t intend to tell the truth?” The fact of the matter is that here are people who engaged in murder and terror for so many years. It may well be that simply to avoid the prosecution process, they are prepared to go in, hoping that nobody actually knows and has sufficient information to expose the lies they are telling. But if they knew there was always the chance that, having been caught in those lies, some sanction or penalty would be imposed on them, then we may well get at least some indication. They would know there was some penalty involved at the end of the day.

On the amendment on the glorification of terrorism, this is a big danger. We have seen it already with members of the IRA, some of whom are now MLAs in Northern Ireland. They committed crimes, escaped from prison with a prison officer killed and now go around boasting about it. It is how they pack people into their dinners for fundraising. They write about it in books and make money out of it. The real danger of the Bill is that once they have been granted immunity, they will be totally free to do that without any comeback at all and with no sanction imposed on them.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, particularly on those seeking elected office who have been convicted of horrendous crimes in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that the converse problem is that we have individuals in the justice system and so on who also have interests on different sides of the argument? They get to a different position, such as a prosecutorial position, and then make a decision based on that. So the whole system has the challenge of individuals within it who hold views on different sides of the debate, and that is why the Government have to act.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

I really do not understand the logic. The Government must act to deal with the hurt that victims have been caused, not increase that hurt in the ways I have outlined in my speech so far by making it possible for those who have involved themselves in terrorist activity to walk away with no prosecution. They can lie and still walk away with no prosecution, or they can engage and walk away with no prosecution, and at the same time not even leave a civil remedy open to the victims. Furthermore, once those people have been granted immunity, the Government are allowing them to make money out of it—or worse, allowing them to encourage another generation to engage in the same activities by boasting about what they did, why they did it and the outcome: “And by the way, you can walk away at the end of this process. Here am, able to tell my story and encourage other people to think that I did a good thing, and here has been no impact on me at all.” That is why the amendment about the glorification of terrorism is so important.

There are people who never even lived through the troubles who now think that nothing wrong was done during the murder campaign. Why is that? Because they go to events where they are told, “What we did was the right thing. We are proud of it!” Furthermore, even play parks are named after those who engaged in that. The lesson for children is that the terrorist, sectarian campaign was totally legitimate.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The prison officer who finally died as a result of the breakout from the Maze was one of my constituents. His wife still lives in my constituency, but his son is dead. The grief of such families has not in any way dissipated over those years. Yet prominent Sinn Féin MLAs and former IRA terrorists glorify those events as if they were part of a great “Roy of the Rovers” story. They were not: they involved the murder of innocent people, who gave their lives for this country. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the hurt, pain and soreness that my constituents in Strangford feel will last for all their lifetimes, until the day they die.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The problem is that we do not know how many other Gerry Kellys are there, lurking in the background, who have not yet faced prosecution or got over the whole legal process, been sentenced and had sanctions imposed on them. Once that has happened, of course, he thinks he can go and boast about it, but there are probably a whole plethora of people within the ranks of terrorist organisations who currently fear that if they did that they would be opening themselves up to prosecution. Once they have been granted immunity, of course, they will be free to do so.

I hope that the Government will accept a number of the amendments that have been put forward. I hope that they will not allow a situation to develop in which, having been granted immunity, the terrorist can rub the victim’s face in the dirt by boasting about their actions.

I still have huge concern that the Bill has the seeds of an unbalanced narrative about the troubles. I listened to what the Minister said, but the truth is that when it comes to that narrative, the main source of information—the Bill makes clear the range of public and Government bodies that will be given directives to reveal information—does not have the equivalent on the terrorists’ side. I accept that the Minister says that police intelligence can also be revealed, but the very fact that so many people were not prosecuted and so many thousands of murders were never solved is an indication that the intelligence that the police, Army and state hold about terrorist organisations is incomplete. They are not likely to complete it, yet there will be an obligation on the state to reveal what it knows about the activities of the security forces.

That will, I believe, lead to an imbalanced report of what happened and will leave the door open for the information to be exploited by those who, as we have seen, are masters of the manipulation of public information. That is another huge flaw in the Bill, and one that I think we will live to regret.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene, and I utterly agree with him about the narrative. What sickens me is the fact that when history records what happened—the troubles, all the murders and the terrorism—the narrative will be, in the end, “Well, the Government decided that we did nothing wrong.” That is what really worries me about the Bill. I will vote for it, but I will sup with a very long spoon.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 6:15 pm, 4th July 2022

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is quite right.

The Minister said that the Bill is not about equivalence between terrorists and those who bravely fought them in Northern Ireland, but the truth of the matter is that it is. The mechanism open to terrorists is the same as the one that those who were in the security forces have to use. There is equivalence here. No matter how the Government try to twist on this one, I believe that the Bill does a huge disservice not only to victims but to those who fought bravely and sacrificed in Northern Ireland—the very people who many Government Members have rightly sought to defend as constituents, and who have been unfairly dragged through the courts not once or twice but, in some cases, three times. Yet the mechanism open to them is the same as the one open to terrorists. That does those people a disservice.

The victims, the security forces and the people who suffered through the terrorism in Northern Ireland have all had a disservice done to them. If some of the amendments that we are debating were accepted, that at least might ameliorate some of the deficiencies, but it would not make the Bill acceptable.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I follow on from my right hon. Friend’s point about the frailties of the Bill. We have been consistent in our position that it is a corruption of justice. For me and my colleagues, one of the most disappointing things about the process is that here we are, on day 2 of Committee, and we should be discussing the merits of amendments that try to do what is in the best interests of people who have suffered through years of conflict in Northern Ireland, but all we get from the Government is that they cannot—or will not—accept amendments; they refuse.

I heard Johnny Mercer indicate his support for our new clause 3, which looks at sentencing issues, and I have heard warm support from Labour, the SNP and others around the Chamber about the merits of our amendments on glorification. Yet still there is this intransigence. We, the representatives democratically elected to come to this Chamber and make laws that actually work for the people we represent, are told that it is really not our business because the amendment might involve a write-around or bureaucracy, so we should just leave it all to the Lords.

What are we doing? What have these two days of scrutiny been for if our scrutiny amounts to nothing? It is even worse when people in the Chamber accept the very points that we are making but say, “Ah, but our hands are tied. It would be far better if Members of the House of Lords dealt with it.”

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I entirely agree. Please will the Government accept the amendment that would stop the glorification of terrorism? That glorification is wrong, and we should not agree to it. I urge the Government—my own side—to accept the amendment, because it makes absolute sense.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I am very pleased that I gave way to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I have appreciated all his contributions on Northern Ireland issues over the years.

The amendments that the Committee is considering were tabled in advance of the sitting last Wednesday. Discussions about legal applicability, drafting and getting it right could easily have occurred over the weekend, exactly as they did with respect to amendment 115, but I am sorry to say that there has been a lack of willingness to engage thoughtfully and productively with the amendments that have been tabled. It is no use telling us that addressing them cannot be done tonight and will have to be done in the other place, when we have demonstrated over the weekend that it is possible. From listening to the concerns of victims in Northern Ireland and those who represent veterans’ organisations, the police and the Army, we know that there are aspects of the Bill that we can improve—and yet, try as we might, all we face is stiff Government resistance.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

If some of the amendments are accepted, will my hon. Friend be minded to vote for the Bill?

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has listened to my contributions throughout these proceedings. We voted against the Bill on Second Reading because we believe that it is a corruption of justice. We will vote against it on Third Reading because the same corruption of justice will apply. The hon. Member represents a very bespoke view, or one-sided view, of the issues.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

It is not unfair; I think that it is absolutely appropriate. I do not say it as any criticism or to malign the hon. Gentleman. He and I take an interest in veterans’ issues: we have both served on the Select Committee on Defence, and he has been a Defence Minister and has served this country honourably.

I represent victims in my constituency. I represent people who have been blown up, bombed and maimed by their own neighbours in their own community. I represent families who walk the streets of Belfast and know that they are walking past the perpetrators who took their loved ones’ lives. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will therefore accept that when we say that the Bill is a corruption of justice, we mean it. When we table scores and scores of amendments, we are trying to make the Bill better, but that does not make it just.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

My hon. Friend says that I represent one side. I have never argued for anything other than fairness in this process; it is disingenuous to claim otherwise, and he knows that. I have only ever argued for fairness—and yes, that includes veterans who did the bidding of this House for the freedoms and privileges that Members on the Opposition Benches enjoy. Yes, I want fairness, but I have never been one-sided. I ask him to think again about that.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I listened to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he heard what I had to say in response. If he wants to ask me the same question again, I will give him exactly the same response. I am not impugning his character, but I hope that he can accept where we are coming from.

This corruption of justice can be made better, but that does not make it just. This corruption of justice before us tonight can be improved, but that will not unpick the ban on the coronial court system or unpick the ban on prosecutions in this country, and it will not change the fact that a victim would not be able to sue the perpetrator of their crime. That is all in the Bill, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the amendments that we have tabled can bring the Bill to a place where we can support it, he is sadly mistaken.

We have raised amendment 112 in earlier exchanges with the Minister. I understand his point about deadlines, but Operation Kenova and the Public Prosecution Service’s live cases need to proceed. If we were to have an engaged exchange, we would probably agree that the Public Prosecution Service needs to move on with its decision-making process. However, now that the Government have established Operation Kenova to look into the actions of Stakeknife—Freddie Scappaticci, the head of the IRA’s internal investigations unit and an agent of our state—and now that the Public Prosecution Service has 30, 32 or 33 live prosecutions, they need to be concluded. The amendment would allow a conclusion to that process even if the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Surely the Committee cannot be saying that through a process to look at legacy and reconciliation, we will just sweep Operation Kenova under the carpet. After all the years, all the evidence and all the engagement with victims and families, I hope we will not say that the Bill will conclude that process. If the Government are not minded to accept the amendment, I hope that it will be considered in the other place, and I truly hope that the Public Prosecution Service will get on with making a decision.

Amendment 107 is about the practical, simple ability for a court that is considering a conviction to take into account the fact that somebody has been granted immunity through the process. It seems to me very simple: if someone is granted immunity, they will stand before any subsequent court for any subsequent criminal activity and the courts will think that they have a clear record. Surely that cannot be our purpose. There should be a sentencing consequence for somebody who is now a repeat offender, albeit that they have immunity—somebody who has continued to engage in criminal activity post 1998. Should the courts not have access to that information? Should it not be available for the purposes of sentencing? The amendment says that it should.

Amendment 120, to which I hope the Minister will respond comprehensively in his closing speech, is connected to new clause 4. It specifically addresses the memorialisation project. How can we have a memorialisation project and a reconciliation project if there is no preclusion of glorification? The amendment would place a duty on the designated persons compiling the memorialisation project

“to ensure that no memorialisation activities glorify the commission or preparation of Troubles-related offences.”

What practical opposition could the Government have to that amendment? If they want the process to work and if they want it to be about reconciliation, surely they should impose on the people they are engaging to do the work a duty to preclude glorification.

I turn to amendment 110. The Northern Ireland Office and the Government have already accepted that an innocent victim is somebody who has not been harmed by their own hand. There are perpetrators of violence in Northern Ireland who have injured themselves while trying to kill others, but who purport to be innocent victims. We have gained significant traction with this argument; when it came to the troubles-related pension, the Northern Ireland Office accepted that an innocent victim is somebody who did not harm themselves and was not culpable for their own offence. Michelle O’Neill refused to allow the administration of the pension scheme, but the Northern Ireland Office accepted that interpretation of what an innocent victim is, so why is it not being replicated in the memorialisation project? It is simple—it is a rehearsal of a policy that the Government have already agreed—yet there seems to be some intransigent reluctance to accept it.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, but a lot of what he says supports the view that he is his own worst enemy when it comes to getting the Government to accept his points. I, my right hon. Friend Bob Stewart and others clearly do not want any glorification of terrorism, and so forth, but when my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson comes forward with arguments that are clearly on one side, that does not deal with the situation as it is—not as we would like it to be, but as it actually is, for example in making sure that the investigations the first time round into people such as Dennis Hutchings were correct. We have to deal with the situation as it is, not as we would want it to be for individuals.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I say to you, Mr Evans, that I have absolutely no idea what that intervention was about, what point the hon. Member was trying to make or whether it related to what I was saying or to his earlier contribution.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

What I am saying is that my hon. Friend is outlining individual cases and is putting across his outrage that they will not be reinvestigated ad infinitum. That is the point that he is making, and it is what he has said a number of times. Have I got that wrong? He has said it a number of times. My point is that if he continues down that byway while saying that the process should have been ECHR-compliant the first time round, we end up in a situation where the UK Government have to act unilaterally.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

The point that I was making was about the definition of “innocent victims” and the memorialisation project. The point that the hon. Gentleman is making relates to what he said during his own speech. He said that you cannot on the one hand say that there needs to be justice for victims, and on the other hand say that you stand with Dennis Hutchings. He either refuses to accept or fails to grasp a point that we have discussed over a number of years. There should be no repeated investigations when the state has discharged its article 2 compliance. It is as simple as that. The reason there is an investigation, the reason the coroner’s court looks at a case again, the reason a prosecutorial service considers evidence again, is that they are being told that there is new and compelling information. There is not.

We invited the Government—the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the Defence Committee, invited the Government—to consider the proposition that, when the article 2 duty has been complied with, the state has done its job, and there should be no repeat investigations. He will see the arguments once the Bill has passed its stages here—the hon. Gentleman can smile and smirk all he likes but he will see the challenges to this process that again are breaching article 2.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

No, I want the hon. Gentleman to listen, because he does not seem to understand the point. From 1973, when there was a change in investigations, when the military stopped investigating themselves and incidents were investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, those investigations were compliant. We asked the Government to accept that that was the basis on which we could move on in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman does not like that analysis—the one with which he agreed when he was a member of the Defence Committee—he could look at the Stormont House agreement that all the parties in Northern Ireland sat down and discussed and then accepted. So there is a second view.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

No, I will not give way at this point. When the hon. Gentleman stands up and says that there is no point in talking about what has been, and that this is all we have in front of us, I hope he genuinely recognises—and I say this not in fury but in sorrow—that this is not the way to deal effectively with the trauma of legacy and our past.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

My hon. Friend talks about compliance with the European convention on human rights. The critical point is that some of these specific allegations and prosecutions, which have been tested in court, came after 1973, and have been tested on the basis that those investigations were not ECHR-compliant. Conservative Members would love all of them to have been ECHR-compliant; the problem is that what my hon. Friend has just said—that from 1973 onwards they were all ECHR-compliant—has been proved in court to be untrue.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman failed to heed the necessity for the House to grasp the argument and to legislate on the basis of that argument: to legislate on the basis that, when an investigation has occurred in the past and was compliant at the time, we should move on. That is why we would have been legislating. There were some who did not like that because it would apply equally across the board, and the hon. Gentleman will remember that argument as well, but the Government never grasped it.

I am grateful for what Members have said about new clause 3, and I listened carefully to what the Minister said about it in his opening speech. He will recall from Second Reading that both Sir Iain Duncan Smith and I mentioned this proposition, which concerns sentencing. Members who had the patience to listen to all our contributions will have learned that the passing of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act meant that anyone who had been convicted previously was to serve only two years in jail, and that anyone who was subsequently convicted, but convicted of a pre-1998 offence, would only ever have to serve a maximum of two years. It did not matter how many people you shot, or how many people died as a result of your explosives; you would serve no more than two years in prison.

Buried in this Bill, in schedule 11, is the provision that those two years required to be served in jail should be reduced to zero. That would mean zero for anyone prosecuted after the passage of the Bill, irrespective of whether they refused to engage in this process or honestly offered victims’ families the truth. We have been told that we need to swallow this process so that victims get the truth, yet if someone engages in this process dishonestly, or refuses to engage at all, the maximum consequence will be zero time in jail. There is no consequence for snubbing families. There is no consequence for snubbing victims. There is no consequence for lying through your teeth, or avoiding the process altogether.

If we can accept that the run of this process is that those who engage honestly and honourably could be granted immunity, surely the opposite has to be that for those who refuse to give families the answers, those who refuse to help them with reconciliation, there should be a consequence. That is why we are saying, 25 years on from the 1998 Act, that it needs to go. If someone has been offered an open door and the prospect of immunity through this process and giving the truth, surely there must be a consequence for lying or abusing the families of those who lost their lives.

We never supported the Belfast agreement for this very reason. I know that that is not a view shared unanimously by Northern Ireland representatives, and it is not something that we need to fall out about this evening, but we did not support it, while others accepted it as a price worth paying. However, 25 years on, if people are not prepared to give, through this process, truth and justice to families who need it, and to be honest about it, there must be a judicial and sentencing consequence.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The last few moments have demonstrated the truth of what I have said on both days on which we have discussed these provisions: these are contested and very difficult proposals for some people in Northern Ireland and, indeed, throughout these islands.

I just want to emphasise to the hon. Gentleman what I said earlier, with the Secretary of State sitting next to me on the Front Bench, and to make two very brief points. The first is this. We believe that, when the body is created, the fact that it will be led by an experienced judicial-style figure and will be complemented with a team of people who are expert in investigations makes it highly improbable that someone could come forward with a false account, because it will also have access to the vastest array of information available to any body operating in this area hitherto. However, we accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about incentivisation for people to come forward and engage with the body, which is why I gave the undertaking earlier that we would look at the question of the financial penalty for non-engagement.

As for the question of why we are simply not accepting the amendments as they stand today, I think we demonstrated over the course of last week, and over the weekend, that when we think that the intent is sincere and it meets the objectives of the Government in the Bill, and also, critically, can command the greatest possible consensus across the House, the Secretary of State and I, and the Northern Ireland Office, will engage with Government lawyers to look at that. Let me make it absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman in relation to the specific amendment that he is currently discussing that we are committed to going away and talking to legal teams to see where we can achieve some movement. We want to have a constructive dialogue with parties across the House to see how we can address this as the Bill progresses.

I also understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about the other place, but we act as one Parliament, and the objective for the Government is to secure the right outcome wherever we may do it in the course of the Bill’s journey.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. I hope he accepts the point that I made earlier—that all the amendments that I am speaking to this evening were available last Wednesday, and that the same thrust and energy that were dedicated to amendment 115 could have been engaged in respect of a number of these as well. I recognise that that has not happened, but I hope that the fact that we are not focusing on them this evening does not mean that attention has been lost on the issue of the notice requiring the provision of information. These are not the same rigorous powers that the police have. There are no powers of arrest, for example. However, there is this notice, and provision for a fine of up to £1,000 if it is not complied with. A £1,000 fine is pitiful for someone who was an active terrorist, who tried to destroy peace and democracy in Northern Ireland, who has never engaged with truth and justice and who does not want to comply with this process. They could be fined up to £1,000—it really is so inconsequential.

There are amendments that were discussed throughout last Wednesday and this evening, and I hope the Government will engage with them. I have mentioned amendment 120, which would place a duty on people involved in memorialisation to ensure that there was no glorification. New clause 4 deals with those who are granted immunity and then go on to glorify terrorism. We accept that section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 provides an offence of glorification of terrorism, but that is not what the amendment proposes. The amendment not only replicates section 1 but indicates that, if someone had previously benefited from immunity through the ICRIR process, new clause 4 would make it an aggravating feature if they had immunity and then ultimately glorified terror.

We will support Labour’s amendment 114 on this, although we do not think this should be solely confined to profit. Labour Members like to focus on profit sometimes, and their amendment is very much focused on profit from glorification. There is more to this than just making money; it is about the ruining of lives and the retraumatising of individuals in whatever guise, and profiteering could be one of those.

I shall turn now to new clause 5. Mr Evans, you will note that I did not start my contribution by saying I was not going to say very much. I can be accused of many things, but hypocrisy is not one of them. New clause 5 deals with revoking immunity, and I want to thank other Opposition leaders and Members for indicating their support for this. It would be hugely controversial and hugely damaging to the reconciliation spirit of what is proposed in the memorialisation strategy if, having assessed somebody, we gave them immunity from prosecution for their heinous crimes, only for it ultimately to be shown that they had lied throughout the process. If there is no way to revoke immunity, the whole system will collapse. There will be a crisis of confidence in the system. There needs to be a mechanism, whether through the panel during the five years it is in operation or through the Secretary of State thereafter, whereby immunity can be revoked. In the same way, when people were released on licence after 1998, licences could be revoked. It would be anathema to anyone who believes in reconciliation to allow a situation where individuals were granted immunity for their heinous crimes on the basis of a subsequently demonstrated and proven lie.

I know that others will wish to contribute on the range of amendments that we have tabled. I have highlighted just seven of them this evening. We have had engagement from the Minister specifically on new clause 3. I am grateful and welcome that. I hope that he will have something more positive to say about new clauses 4 and 5 and some of our other amendments when he sums up the debate.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

It is a pleasure to follow Gavin Robinson. It is not often that the Alliance party and the DUP find agreement in this Chamber, particularly in the current context, but there was certainly a lot I would concur with in his remarks. I would also concur with a lot of the interventions from Colum Eastwood. There is an important lesson in that, which is that, despite everything else that is happening in Northern Ireland, there is at least a degree of unity across the Northern Ireland political parties in expressing significant concerns about this legislation.

Before getting to the other points I want to make, I want to start on a more positive note. The shadow Secretary of State, Peter Kyle, mentioned Paul Gallagher, who was shot and partially paralysed in a loyalist gun attack in 1994. I want to put on record our congratulations to Paul Gallagher on achieving his PhD at a ceremony at the weekend, not least because his research involves legacy. He has been both living it and researching it for almost 30 years.

The first point I want to make is about the word “reconciliation”, which appears in the long title of the Bill and is referenced throughout it. Reconciliation is very much in the DNA of the Alliance party; it is what we are fundamentally about. That said, we are concerned about the way in which the term “reconciliation” has been used in the Bill. Reconciliation was a core principle of the Stormont House agreement, and the implementation and reconciliation group was set up as a separate structure that was envisaged under Stormont House. Reconciliation was taken seriously in that process.

I think we have a problem if we are saying on a top-down basis that families should be reconciled and that this is the process by which they will be reconciled. That is a determination for them to make; they have to live the experience and feel the reconciliation and engage with it. There is no one single definition of what that reconciliation will mean. It might evolve organically in different ways, but there is a danger in our automatically assuming that because this Bill is about reconciliation, it will achieve it.

The Minister of State referred to the fact that some people—I do not know if he was referring to me, the hon. Member for Foyle or anyone else—were saying that it was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that families would not agree to engage with the process, and that we should be showing leadership in that regard. Let me be clear: as elected representatives from Northern Ireland, all we are doing is reflecting what we are hearing on the ground directly from those families. This is not something we are recommending to people directly; it is what they are saying to us. They are deeply concerned about the nature of the process itself.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 6:45 pm, 4th July 2022

On that point, I made the point strongly earlier that, whatever we say in this House or in the other place, and whatever is written in the media, the ultimate judgment on this body and its success will be how people engage with it and how it builds trust by the work that it does and the reviews and investigation processes that it undertakes. We believe that, over time, when people see how it is functioning and delivering and see that it is robustly and soundly based, it will win that public confidence. All I ask is for the space for it to be to created and allowed to begin that work.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

I will be generous in accepting what the Minister says about his intentions, but we have to be honest and say that the nature of how we got here has, in many respects, been extremely bad and flawed, which hampers that aspiration. Who knows, people may well engage with the process in due course, but at the moment there is a lot of suspicion around it and people do not feel that it will address the needs of their families.

That brings me to the wider concern around the use of the term “reconciliation” and how it could well be used to almost legitimise the process around immunity—or, as many people see it, a de facto amnesty. There is an expectation that down the line many measures in this legislation could be challenged through the courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the European Union, as we keep saying. The key piece of case law in this respect is Marguš v. Croatia. The broader lesson I take from European law, and wider international law, on this is that there is a general tendency to move away from the concept of immunity or amnesty. It might well have been in vogue at certain times in the 1980s or ’90s, but it is certainly not in vogue in the contemporary approach to the issue of justice in conflict societies or divided societies.

If there is to be a chance of immunity getting some degree of acceptance or being seen as legitimate, it would need at the very least to meet one of two tests: the process would either have to be agreed as part of an overarching peace process or agreed subsequently by the key stakeholders and other parties in the society. Where we have a Government unilaterally imposing an outcome on Northern Ireland, it is hard to see how either of those tests could be met if we found ourselves in a legal challenge down the line.

My second broad point relates to civil cases, which have been mentioned by other hon. Members. I am not going to labour this point, but I want to stress that the notion of an arbitrary cut-off is incredibly unjust, particularly when it is linked to the timing of the Bill’s First Reading. Many people simply did not have the opportunity to lodge the papers they were working on at the time. Some people were able to lodge papers and some solicitors were able to act very quickly, but others were not, which creates a hierarchy in what happens in those civil cases.

In a similar light, we have touched on the inquests themselves. These proposals go back to my dear friend the Lord Chief Justice back in 2016. The process was not fully formulated until 2019, but we now have the prospect of some cases being taken through to conclusion and others being arbitrarily dropped because they are not at a so-called advanced stage when this legislation becomes active. I think this will create a real sense of grievance among families, particularly when they have been given hope of seeing their loved one’s case go through that process.

Although the Minister referred to the ICRIR potentially providing a process that encompasses legacy inquests, the reality has to be clearly understood. The level of interrogation that will take place as the ICRIR looks towards the immunity process is nothing close to the coronial system’s interrogation of evidence. They are fundamentally different concepts, so the fear is that the interrogation will be lost.

The Minister referred to the six months, nine months or a year before the knife falls and said that people can get on with it, which belies the reality in two respects. First, there is not the resourcing to accelerate the process any faster. Obviously, we would like to see more resources, which is something the Government could deliver.

Secondly, we have to acknowledge that the Government have not always been as co-operative as perhaps they could have been—I put it as diplomatically as I can—in how these inquests were taken forward. People express frustration that the Ballymurphy inquest only reached its conclusion 50 years after the event, but there were many battles beneath the surface, particularly with the Ministry of Defence, on co-operation. Things could have happened a lot quicker. In that respect, there are still ongoing battles and disputes on full Government co-operation with these inquests. If they are genuine about accelerating the process, they should reflect on that.

Finally on inquests, beyond what has been set out by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, if this Bill is passed, any inquest anywhere in these islands in relation to what happened in the past will be cut off, but there may well be circumstances in which those inquiries should take place.

The oral history, memorialisation and academic research is an important aspect of the legacy process that perhaps does not get the same attention as others, but it has always been regarded as a core element. In some respects, it could stand on its own two feet but, in practice, it is tied to what happens with the other institutions as part of the wider legacy framework.

Although I certainly trust the academics who would or could be involved in this process to do a great job, we have to recognise that a number of hurdles will be set in their path. One of those hurdles is the power of the Secretary of State to make appointments. I believe the appointments should be delegated to another body so there is no perception of political interference.

There also has to be a concern that the evidence to the ICRIR will be piecemeal. There are fears about both ends of the process. First, there is a fear that the perpetrators themselves will not be incentivised to engage with the process until the knock on their door is about to happen and they feel a self-interest to do so. A very select group of people will come forward in that respect. Secondly, which families will engage with the process? Again, it may be a very select group, so the evidence base may be piecemeal. There are also issues with the documentary evidence that comes forward and whether it will be properly opened up. There is scepticism or cynicism about how effective that will be. Again, this evidence may well be partial and piecemeal.

It is worth sticking with this process, even if it is outside the Bill. We have to learn important lessons and listen to the practitioners from Northern Ireland, such as Dr Anna Bryson from Queen’s University Belfast and others, who have expressed concern about how this has been set up.

It is my intention to support both the amendments on which the Labour party seeks to divide the Committee, and both the DUP amendments, too.

Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann

The Government and the Committee are very aware of my party’s reasons for opposing this Bill, as so eloquently outlined by my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson and my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson.

This Bill, at its core, is about injustice, evading justice and denying justice, which makes it very, very wrong. Through amendment 107, we seek to ensure that those who engage with the panel and receive immunity will, at least, have their crime considered if they are in the dock for a post-1998 offence. Surely this is a fair ask. Surely this Committee and the Government acknowledge that, by not agreeing to this amendment, they would be erasing the past from our legal process.

If a terrorist is granted immunity for carrying out a murder and commits murder again, he or she ought to be considered for sentencing by the court in the knowledge that he or she has clearly shown neither rehabilitation nor regrets for the act of taking a life. He or she should therefore be sentenced as such.

New clause 4 and amendment 120 touch on the issue of glorification, and they would be a vital addition to this Bill. We tabled these amendments with victims at the forefront of our mind and because we desire a society in which glorification of terrorism is not seen as normal, and in which those who planted bombs and killed men, women and children are not venerated as some kind of heroes.

I sometimes wonder how many Members are aware of the perverse activity of some of our elected representatives in Northern Ireland and how they regularly glorify terrorism. If the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition attended the unveiling of a memorial to three terrorists, it would be headline news and would be raised in this House—there would be a media and press outcry, and their position would be untenable—yet in Northern Ireland the leader of Sinn Féin brazenly attends events celebrating IRA activity. It is a reflection on our society and our media that such activity, in the main, goes unmentioned and, more disturbingly, goes unchallenged.

If an MP from any other party named their constituency office after a terrorist, it would be dealt with by this House, but nothing was done when the Sinn Féin Member for South Down named his constituency office after IRA terrorists.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

I thank both my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson for their work on this Bill.

Does my hon. Friend Carla Lockhart agree that not only has the Member for South Down named his constituency office after IRA members from that part of Northern Ireland—I grew up there and know many of the families who lost loved ones as a result of the South Down Provisional IRA’s activities—but, even more concerning, this House funds that constituency office named after two IRA members who committed murder on a large scale in that constituency? Does my hon. Friend also find that objectionable?

Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann 7:00 pm, 4th July 2022

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention and agree entirely with what he is saying. It is abhorrent that this House funds an office that is a cold house to all members of the constituency that that individual represents. Every day, it retraumatises the victims of the terrorists after whom that office is named. I raised this point in this House in an Adjournment debate and have consistently raised it with Mr Speaker and a number of Ministers, asking them to take action. I will continue to do so until we have that dealt with appropriately. If we are to educate our future generations about the futility and evils of terrorism, we need to ensure it is never sanitised and never celebrated. That is why we ask Members to accept our amendment.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Amendment 107 is, of course, about addressing whether serious offences should be excluded, for example murders that occurred after 1998. Would it not be appalling if the people who murdered two soldiers at Massereene barracks in the South Antrim constituency and seriously wounded two civilians in the same gun attack walked away free if the case ever came again before a court? Surely that is not what this Bill should be doing.

Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is well made and has been noted.

New clause 4 seeks to ensure that terrorists receiving immunity cannot proceed to laud their evil activities; it is about ensuring that the book deals do not follow, and the fundraising tours and storytelling events cannot happen. Vitally, it is about protecting victims, for whom such events cause huge hurt and distress. The terrorists gave no thought to the victims and survivors before they made them such, and the activities of terrorists and their political proxies to this day show that they still have no regard for victims and the trauma they continue to inflict upon them. This Bill would be plunged to even deeper depths of moral despondency if it were to facilitate the further glorification of terrorism by those granted immunity in this process. I hope the Government will consider whether this is an outcome they would allow in England and, when they answer that question, act accordingly to amend this Bill to eradicate this extolling of evil in Northern Ireland.

Let me touch briefly on new clause 5, which stands in my name and those of my colleagues. The Bill is lacking in many areas, but it certainly lacks in the whole sphere of the revocation of immunity. It is vital that this Bill does provide for situations where new evidence emerges showing that condition B in clause 18 was not met because the terrorist has lied. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that such instances will occur, given the types of people we are dealing with. Let us not forget that for many years senior members of the IRA have denied ever being members of the IRA; the truth is very much secondary to the cause. The granting of immunity is in itself abhorrent, but just how abhorrent would it be if someone had been granted immunity on the back of a tall tale and then the appropriate mechanism was not in place to revoke that ill-gotten immunity on the back of new evidence? This must be addressed, and we ask that the Government consider it carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East covered our other amendments in his contribution, passionately setting out why we believe they can at least make the Bill more robust. I reiterate his remarks, especially on the need to cut off at the pass any idea that immunity will give terrorists a platform to revel in their deeds and inflict more pain on victims who are already hurting so much because of this Bill.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

Let me begin by saying that this is an astonishingly important Bill and this is an incredibly incompetent way for this House of Commons to deal with it: to have had two days, in which we have been unable to get into the detail of the Bill, is frankly no way to deal with legislation of this import. The Minister is making valiant attempts to move a little with the mood of the Committee, but he must realise that we have not had the opportunity to get into the level of detail that we ought to on a Bill of this import.

I establish that because, interestingly, people from every party represented from Northern Ireland have spoken, at one stage or another, strongly against what this Bill seeks to do and indeed against individual parts of the Bill. That reflects the mood not only of victims and victims’ groups—I have talked to many of those over the years—but the opinion across the piece of the north of Ireland. It is important that we establish that because one problem with that the position is that it plays into different parties’ existing concerns. We have heard DUP Members say that they see this as a get out of jail free card for those who committed acts of terrorism, and I understand why. Those from the nationalist community will see this, again, as simply another attempt to gloss over the action of the state and the collusion that took place. In that context, the real danger is that rather than being something that moves us towards reconciliation, the Bill will establishes in people the rectitude of their own views of the injustice of the situation. That is very, very dangerous.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying in relation to the nationalist community, but I am sure Colum Eastwood would agree that the sense of injustice on the part of that community is not just related to the state; there are many, many victims in the nationalist community of paramilitary terrorist organisations who are also looking for justice and who join other innocent victims in regarding this legislation as very harmful to them.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. I have spoken to many victims, from all quarters, and to hear the pain that still exists all these years on is a measure of the intensity of their grief. It is not just individual familial grief; it is about how communities are seeking to grapple with this, and that applies across the different communities. Bizarrely, there is a common bond that ties people together that goes way beyond individual families—it is societal. That is why this Bill is so inadequate and so dangerous, and that is the central issue we have to grapple with.

Let us look at some of the issues that have been raised today and pick up on the point about collusion, which touches on the role of the state. It would be seen as collusion were Operation Kenova now simply to be wiped from the face of the troubles, as the investigations under it have been so important in trying to establish truth, place it on the record and bring to prosecution those who were involved. In all quarters that would be seen as a form of state collusion. It would lead to the suspicions that already exist. We know that when Dr Michael Maguire was police ombudsman and he was looking at the investigation of what happened at Loughinisland, he discovered references on documents from the security services saying, “This is a slow waltz”; this was about slowing down the pace of investigation. All those things feed into the paranoia that collusion took place.

Then there was the Ormeau Road bombing, about which there is very little doubt. Again, the ombudsman was not provided with evidence by the PSNI; it came out through a civil case. The capacity of discovery through that court process meant that it was seen clearly that an agent of the state—I think it was Brian Nelson—provided weaponry to those who took part in those killings. The question of collusion is real. It does not go away because we skim over it through this new legislative framework.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

I will, although I am reluctant to, because the hon. Member has monopolised a lot of this debate.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I apologise, but we have to be fair. The hon. Member is talking about collusion. If we dealt with different groups all over the world, they would all have their views about what have been termed collusive behaviours. Unless we get to a point where we actually prove stuff in court, what have we become?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

If the hon. Member had listened to me, he would know that the reference I made—the case of the Ormeau Road killings—was precisely that: a civil court process that revealed that collusion had taken place. [Interruption.] Well, it was a court process that led to the discovery; I am not sure where we go beyond that.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

In the debate about the difference between murders that have occurred, and whether they have affected one section of the tribe in Northern Ireland or another section, I often remember often the words of John Hume, speaking from the Bench in front of us, when he once said that Irish Republicans killed more people in the name of Ireland and Irishness than all the other groups on our island put together. I think, whenever we get things into proportion, we see where the real killing fields were, and we should not allow any piece of legislation to distract us from getting those people to justice.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

I agree, particularly for this reason: killing is killing. We do not have a statute of limitations for murder more generally. It is hard to understand in this most brutal of backgrounds—when a whole society has been traumatised and continues to be—that we are now moving on. I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely. I refer to the issue of collusion not because the state is any more guilty than others, but because every murder deserves the same proper and complete investigation, and we will not see that under this Bill.

I will make a couple of other points. I am seriously concerned that the new independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery simply will not have the powers of an inquest or the capacity of civil cases. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is not intervening, but I think he is assuring me from a sedentary position, “Yes, it will.” Let me tell him this: if we go back nearly 20 years, the British Government—a Labour Government at the time, by the way—were taken before the European Court of Human Rights, and one of ways in which the Court concluded that our country’s actions were incompatible with article 2 of the European convention was on the inability of the process at the time to lead from investigation and inquest through to prosecution. That is a significant issue, because there is no capacity in which the new body can deliver that prosecutorial process. Therefore, in the same way we will be in default on our article 2 obligations here. That is a serious point about which we should be very worried.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

The hon. Member is making an important speech. I wonder whether he has heard that the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights has today said that the Bill

“raises serious questions about the extent to which the proposed mechanism…is compliant with ECHR standards on independent and effective investigations. The possibility to grant immunity…on a low evidentiary bar raises concerns that this could lead to impunity.”

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale 7:15 pm, 4th July 2022

The only thing that I would disagree with there is “could”; the reality is that it will lead to impunity for people from many different backgrounds. This is not where we ought to be at this stage in our society.

Although I clearly support my hon. Friend Peter Kyle in amendment 116, which is a serious attempt, I wish we could recognise that the inquest process provides something valuable. The five-year inquest process that the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Declan Morgan, laid out was a very time-limited, credible process that itself was originally frustrated by the refusal to provide the finance to make it work. Had that been done, we would be massively further on than we are today. If we look across the piece at the obfuscation, and the sometimes deliberate attempts in the past to stop the justice process taking place, we can see why people are cynical.

The Minister said to us some moments ago, “Give these new processes a chance to work.” There are two problems with that. First, the real danger is that wiping away the existing mechanisms will mean that there really is no chance of getting properly to the truth that he seeks, with good intent, to create. That is why it is so fundamentally difficult to accept this legislation. Were the inquest process—the continuation of that which Declan Morgan set out in his five-year plan—to be completed, it would go a long way in taking us away from that concern. Secondly, the fact that civil cases are taken out from day one—not day one when the Bill becomes law, but day one when the Bill is published—is quite astonishing. We claim that we do not have retrospective legislation, but this comes desperately close.

I hope the Minister will think about that, because I can see he is moving in the direction of wanting to offer some concessions, whether in the Lords or elsewhere. I agree with Sammy Wilson that even with those improvements, the Bill will still be bad legislation, and, as bad legislation, it will do nothing to move the reconciliation process further in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

I rise in support of the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend Peter Kyle.

As a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I have sat through countless evidence sessions and have heard evidence from victims’ groups across the communities, and what comes through above all else is a genuine desire for healing and reconciliation. People will naturally have different ideas about how we can get that, and it will be far from easy. However, there are common themes: people want justice, truth and closure. Those are the criteria against which we should measure the Bill, and, sadly, it is clear that it just does not measure up.

We have already debated how clause 18 will provide a virtually unconditional and completely irrevocable immunity for perpetrators of serious troubles-related crimes. Once immunity has been granted, any hope of justice for the victims vanishes. The review process under the ICRIR is completely inadequate and offers little hope of learning what truly happened to many victims, and much of what would be gathered would simply be the word of a murderer, who could gain immunity for the thinnest account possible. We cannot, as the Bill stands, have any confidence that this body will be fit for purpose.

Despite that, today we must now debate clauses that seek to end almost all other investigations into troubles-related crimes and force victims and their families to pin their hopes on the ICRIR as the only forum for investigation. One justification for that is that the current system of inquests and investigations is broken and offers little value, but that is simply not the case. Yes, those inquests and investigations might be imperfect. They can be slow, expensive and generally have little prospect of securing a prosecution, but there have been successes. These investigations have gathered enormous amounts of information that is of great comfort to the victims’ loved ones. As we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Hove, the Ballymurphy inquest demonstrates that perfectly. Joan Connolly, whose mother was wrongly declared an IRA gunwoman, spoke of

“the joy and the peace and the mixed emotions that my mummy has been declared an innocent woman.”

John Teggart, whose father was killed, said:

“We have corrected history today.”

That is the value of these inquests.

In her evidence to our Committee, Alyson Kilpatrick, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, was clear that while there may be concerns with the current system, it is at least underpinned by the rule of law and is largely working as it should. She pointed out that most victims are getting a lot from the current system and that, if we want it to be more successful, we could better fund the existing processes and allow them to work.

Sadly, rather than helping communities heal, part 3 of the Bill will do the opposite. Let us take the case of Patrick McVeigh. Patrick was 44 when he was gunned down by the military reaction force. He was an innocent civilian who was murdered in the street by agents of the British state. His daughter, Patricia, has said that

“truth and justice mean so much to us.”

The clauses that we are debating today could end his family’s hopes of an inquest. Similarly, the Denton review, which was scheduled to be completed in 2024, could now be prevented from finishing, leaving the 127 Denton families uncertain as to whether they will ever get justice.

It is my belief that the Bill cannot be fixed. However, I shall support amendments 116, 117, and 118 as they seek to protect the valuable inquests that are already under way. Similarly, I want to voice my support for amendment 114, which seeks to prevent a person who is granted immunity under this Bill from profiting from their crimes. From speaking to victims’ groups, I know that many are worried that their loved one’s killer will not only be granted immunity under the Bill, but, as we have heard, be able to write a book or exploit other ways to make a profit from someone else’s pain. Supporting amendment 114 would be a compassionate gesture from the Government, and I wholeheartedly urge them to make this concession, as they did on the issue of crimes of sexual violence.

Before I finish, I wish to register my opposition to clause 38, which, if allowed to stand, will retrospectively ban any civil action that was not begun before the First Reading of this Bill—a measure that makes a mockery of our legal system. As the human rights group Liberty has said:

“Another form of scrutiny cut off, another route to justice denied.”

I understand that the troubles are a difficult issue for any Government, and, indeed, it is an enormously difficult matter for the people of Ireland to deal with. However, although it is frustrating, it feels to me as if this Bill is the Government trying to force a conclusion with an incredibly blunt instrument. The healing process has not been prioritised as it should have been. We believe that this will only cause more hurt in the communities in Ireland, so I cannot support it.

Sadly, the Government seem intent on ripping up the rights of people in the UK—from our right to take industrial action to our right to protest, and now our human rights—and destroying the Good Friday agreement in the process.

Ministers should be ashamed that they are attempting to destroy the very backbone of the UK, and presiding over the destruction of our values and our access to truth and justice. Rather than giving families the answers that they have been waiting for for years, this Bill, in seeking to end almost all other investigations into troubles-related crimes, removes all possibility of them ever getting the full truth. Those who have unlawfully killed or committed torture will be handed immunity from prosecution in return for almost nothing. This is not a healing process. There is no justice, no accountability, and no closure for the victims of the troubles and their families.

I wish to end with the words of Alyson Kilpatrick, because they have stuck with me:

“When people say that things have been tried and failed, I struggle to see what has been tried. I see many things that have begun but not been allowed to complete”.

The Bill is being presented to us as a choice between this or nothing, but that is simply not the case. Let us work to improve the current system, or keep trying to find a better solution, because what is before us today will achieve little other than to let murderers sleep a little easier in their beds at night and ensure that their victims’ families get a little less rest.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I have spoken at some length on this matter. On the first occasion, I spoke about family members and illustrated the issues with the Bill. I have spoken in the past about those who have served alongside, and about the iniquities of a system that seems to let those who carried out the crimes get off scot-free. Tonight, I will do some of that again, but I also want to take an angle that perhaps I have not taken in the past, although I touched on it in an earlier intervention on the Minister of State. Members will know that I have spoken passionately on these matters, as all in this Chamber have done. The passion comes off the back of those we know, those who have given their lives and those who still seek justice across the Province.

I wish to make it abundantly clear that I am not speaking simply because I have been personally touched by the loss of loved ones and friends, although that is very important. I speak because I get phone calls to my office from serving personnel, highlighting the fact that matters are complex in Northern Ireland and extend further than many would think. Many Members have referred to the truth of the debate, but the IRA would not know the truth if it bit them on the end of their nose and hurt them. Indeed, they could not be hurt enough. The fact is that they have no morals and no understanding of the hurt they have inflicted on the people.

I have been asked to raise the question of whether this legislation extends to protecting those in the Irish Government who are accused of colluding to hide and protect murderers and bombers who sought to run and find refuge in the Republic of Ireland. I mentioned earlier that my cousin Kenneth Smyth and Daniel McCormick both served in the Ulster Defence Regiment, one as a serving member and the other as a part-timer. One was a Protestant and one was Catholic, but they were both murdered by the IRA. The people who carried out those murders ran across the border and took sanctuary there, and they were never made accountable for their crimes. You can understand, Mr Evans, why I feel quite aggrieved that this legacy Bill does not give us, as a family, the justice that we seek.

My right hon. Friend Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson has raised the matter of collusion on a number of occasions. Last Friday, a gentleman came into my office and asked me to raise it again in the House, and I am doing so today. When we think about the Garda Siochana, the RUC inspectors who were blown up on the border and the people who murdered in Northern Ireland and then ran across the border, it becomes clear why I want justice not just for those—for example, in the IRA—who perpetrated crimes, but for those who colluded with them in the Republic of Ireland and the Garda Siochana.

Some 25 years ago this November, Raymond McCord’s son was murdered by the UVF. I represented my party, the DUP, at a cross-community group of victims—I would say it was probably a unity of victims—and we remembered that Raymond has not had justice for his son, almost 25 years on. I have not had justice for my cousin Kenneth or Daniel McCormick, 50 and a half years on.

When we look at the Garda Síochána and the collusion with that police force, with high-ranking civil servants and with some political figures in the Republic of Ireland, we think about all the murders of the ex-UDR men, the RUC officers who owned farms along the borders in Fermanagh, in Londonderry, in Armagh and in South Down, who were murdered by the IRA in a genocidal campaign, not just because they served in the security forces, but because they happened to be landowners. Again, the genocidal campaign carried out was very clear; it was to target those people specifically and rid that area, as the IRA and republicans saw it, of those who were involved in serving our Queen and country in uniform, as I also did for 14 and a half years.

Hon. Members will understand, when those families left those farms, leaving their farmhouses in wreck and ruin, their machinery lying in the field and their land untilled for years, that I want justice on those people in the Garda Síochána and those in positions of power in the Republic of Ireland who gave sanctuary to those who carried out murders across all of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence) 7:30 pm, 4th July 2022

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is making a strong point. When he talks of people who committed crimes in Northern Ireland and fled our jurisdiction, he will know that on Wednesday amendment 98 was put before the Committee and tested by the Committee. He will also know that we said that for this legislation to allow somebody who ensured no justice for their victims to come home and retire with a level of dignity would be abhorrent. However, 271 Members of this House voted for that. What would he say to that?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I share my hon. Friend’s disappointment over the amendment that he put forward. It grieves me deep in my heart when I think of those things, and I thank him for reminding us all in this House—those who are here and those who are not—of what it means.

There is an undoubted element of apparent collusion of those who were then, and possibly are now, in power. The question must be put: will the Garda Síochána and the Republic of Ireland Government be under an obligation to finally do the right thing when it comes to the victims—both Protestants and Catholics, including my cousin Kenneth and his friend Daniel McCormick—and release the information they have regarding the murders, disappearances and the alleged active role of the security forces in the Republic of Ireland in protecting and giving sanctuary to perpetrators and murderers?

Many of those people have hidden there for years. The murder of Lexie Cummings is a supreme example of that, because the person who did it ran across the border and is now an accepted politician in a certain party in the Republic of Ireland and holds a fairly high position. How does the Bill address that disgraceful element of the troubles, which people are all too quick to forget?

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

My hon. Friend is making a strong point. Of course, the UK Government cannot legislate for matters in the jurisdiction of the Irish Republic. Nevertheless, he mentions a number of incidents of a cross-border nature. Many murders occurred in the border areas and those operations were carried out on a cross-border basis. I am reminded, looking at our right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Benches, of the incident at Narrow Water in Warrenpoint. I remember as a child sitting in my back garden and hearing the explosion at Narrow Water, because we lived not far from Warrenpoint. I remember the awful news coming through afterwards, and the failings in the Garda Síochána investigation to find, identify and prosecute the perpetrators of that horrendous act of murder against soldiers serving with Her Majesty’s forces. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that, whatever the UK Government do on legacy—and we do object to this particular approach—it must be balanced by the Irish Government bringing forward their proposals to deal with legacy cases on their side of the border?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am glad that that has now been put on record. In an earlier intervention on the Minister of State, I think there was some indication given that perhaps it is time that the Republic of Ireland looked at the role it had to play in legacy stuff. I’ll tell you what: there will be busy people down there looking after all the things they have been involved in, all the things they have disregarded and all the injustices they are responsible for. I look forward to that happening.

I am also minded, as others have said, of the glorification by some across Northern Ireland: the McCreesh play park in Newry is named after an IRA member and those in Gaelic Athletic Association clubs across the whole of Northern Ireland, while very few of them were involved, named their clubs after hunger strikers and IRA terrorists. Then they wonder why we get angry when we see those things happening. The issue of glorification needs to be sorted, because it will anger us all.

I mentioned in an intervention a recent piece quoting victim campaigner Kenny Donaldson in the Belfast Telegraph, but I will quote the paragraph in its totality this time. It reads:

“if immunity was granted in exchange for information, then terrorists would then be ‘emboldened to wax lyrical’ about their involvement in violence, which would be painted as ‘some form of romanticised resistance against tyranny’.”

Yes, they would glorify it—they would make it into almost a “Boy’s Own” story and make the rest of us, the normal people, sick as a dog when we think about it.

When my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson was speaking, I remembered James Ferris, who was injured in the Maze breakout and died as a result. His wife still lives in my constituency; James Ferris, his son and his family were among my constituents. Today there is just a wife left and the family are all away, but Mrs Ferris looks for the justice that was never given for the Maze breakout, and I do not see it.

At the same time, we have the glorification of what took place by certain high-level members of Sinn Féin and those who were at one time active in the IRA. I remember being made aware of something about a year ago, where ex-IRA members were going to bring themselves into a fantastic old boys’ club, where they could live and talk and have a drink and tell over the good times—their good times, when they were murdering people in these streets. Hon. Members will understand why we just get a wee bit annoyed by glorification. That is why amendments 107 and 120, put forward by our party, are so important.

I am aware of the abuse of the legal system and legal aid to rewrite the history of our Province. We need to stop the republican PR team from making it seem as though the La Mon bombing was only an atrocity because it did not kill the RUC men it was intended to kill, while the aim of killing the RUC men was legitimate, as they were evil, according to the republican IRA. Twelve innocent victims were murdered that night in La Mon.

Republicans often try to rewrite history, claiming that the Shankhill fish shop bombing was a mistake not because it took lives, but because the loyalists they had aimed at were not there—though the children, who were there every Saturday, were there whether or not the loyalists were upstairs. That cannot be excused because loyalists were bad and colluding with the army or whoever else.

The point I am trying to make, hopefully in a strong and firm way, is that those people carried out terrible atrocities against people across the whole United Kingdom, and particularly across the whole of Northern Ireland. Seeking to portray soldiers who made a difficult call and pulled the trigger as villains, and claiming that that makes it justifiable for three Scottish soldiers to be murdered in a honeytrap in north Belfast, is the aim of this relentless propaganda machine pushed by Sinn Féin, using publicly funded avenues and ably assisted by people in positions of authority. I understand that soldiers and service personnel await a knock on their door with dread as their PTSD has enabled them to block out days or weeks at a time and we pick at the scab of their healings. This needs to stop and I advocate for them, too. I understand this, and I can stand against it with my friends across the Chamber.

However, my issue is that good, honest people—my constituents in Strangford, the citizens of Belfast East, South Antrim, Lagan Valley, Upper Bann, East Antrim, North Down and everywhere else, including Foyle—want to know when justice is coming for them. They have waited their time for their investigation and are again treated as less worthy because they are not as good at PR as the shinners—as the IRA. They do not have a biased media slanted to producing documentaries based on supposition and connecting dots where there never were any, relying on the years that have passed and the deaths of witnesses to perpetrate a false narrative. They do not have the resources—my constituents and those across all of Northern Ireland—to push these cases. They have patiently waited for their time, over all these years—my family for 50 and a half years, for others longer and for others sometimes shorter—and now their time will never come, according to the Bill that we have before us tonight. That is disappointing. I speak for those people and family members among my constituents—the victims who are disregarded.

I understand probably more than most, with respect to everyone in the Chamber, the complexities of this awful predicament we are in. I thank right hon. and hon. Members across the Chamber for what they are doing, but this must be got right. There are hon. and gallant Members here who have served this country—have served Northern Ireland and I appreciate that very much. I see them on both sides of the Chamber tonight. I ask Members to agree the DUP amendments. My hon. Friends Gavin Robinson and for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) have taken the time to bring forward amendments—to engineer ideas to capture a way forward and not to bring forward legislation that does not help us. I would hope that tonight, by agreeing the DUP amendments, we will make the Bill better and more acceptable. I believe that we can protect service personnel without dousing the hope of victims. Let us send the Bill back for more work. Let us not put it through tonight unless the amendments that we, and other parties, have put forward can make sure that this is done in the right way. Let us get it right—not perfect, just right. Perfect is something that none of us in this Chamber are. Only one person is, probably, and that is the man up above, but nobody here. As that is the case, let us get it right, if not perfect.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I thank all hon. Members from across the Chamber who have participated in this second day of the Committee.

As was said at the outset on both days, these measures are contentious and contested, but I hope that all hon. Members who spoke will agree that two reasonable people can perfectly reasonably reach opposite conclusions based on the same set of facts without each surrendering their right to be considered a reasonable person. As I said earlier, these measures are the fruits of two years’ work by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. They are an attempt not to draw a line or move on, because we cannot draw lines or move on from the hurt, harm and distress that have been done to people over the years of the troubles in Northern Ireland, but to try to help Northern Ireland to move towards a place where it is a society that accepts a past but does not live in a present defined by something called “the past”.

As the two days have gone on, and the Government have rightly been subject to scrutiny on the detail of the Bill, certain facts are emerging about what is in the Bill that perhaps were not as clear to Members in all parts of the Committee as when we began. The body that will be set up has the very simple aim of helping families to obtain information as soon as possible. The ICRIR will have access to more information than inquests and comparable powers to compel witnesses. It will be led by a chief commissioner of high judicial standing who will be able to preside over the findings in a manner similar to a coroner. It will conduct investigations for the purposes of providing answers for those who want them. It will provide immunity to individuals in exchange—transactionally in exchange—for providing truthful information about their role in the troubles and showing a genuine willingness to co-operate with it. We believe that that will create the incentive. It is worth saying that all the incidents that took place after 10 April 1998 will remain the investigative responsibility of the relevant police force and all potential perpetrators will remain liable for prosecution should sufficient evidence exist.

The Bill does not prohibit investigations into those troubles-related incidents that might engage the UK’s obligations under the ECHR. We have included various measures to ensure that the body is equipped with the necessary powers to secure information and conduct through article 2-compliant investigations. We are confident that these measures fulfil our article 2 obligations. Individuals who wish to challenge a decision taken by ICRIR will be able to do so by means of a judicial review.

Turning to new clause 6, the Bill already includes a provision that goes further than ever before in statute in terms of requiring relevant authorities, including state bodies, to release any material to the ICRIR that they may reasonably require for the purposes of its investigations. On amendments 108 and 109 and new clause 3, the Government understand and sympathise with the principle that lies behind the new clause. We recognise the importance of ensuring that individuals are sufficiently incentivised to co-operate with the commission both financially and, potentially, in terms of sentencing, and that the removal of early release provisions for those who do not participate could indeed act as such an incentive. I reiterate to hon. Members who have raised this that we are willing to look at it, but it is vital that in considering any amendment of this nature we look at the potential legal implications, and I commit from the Front Bench, on behalf of the Secretary of State and myself, to doing so. The Government remain absolutely open to constructive dialogue with all parties about how this might be reasonably and appropriately addressed as the Bill continues its passage.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale 7:45 pm, 4th July 2022

I have a lot of sympathy with what Gavin Robinson is trying to achieve in his amendment. If I were to lie before a court in a murder case and that was discovered later on, I would of course be brought back with the charge of perjury. Is it not possible to look at whether the same concept can apply to the ICRIR?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Clause 20(2) makes very clear the obligations of the body to look at the totality of the information available to it, not solely to rely on the testimony—the account—of the individual who is appearing before it. As I just reiterated, it will be led by a judicially experienced figure. The team that that person will assemble will comprise people who are expert and professional and have had careers in investigation and information retrieval. They will be able to look at biometrics and other things as well. We therefore think it is highly unlikely that the commission could be duped by somebody who has come forward, particularly given that, as I said, there is an obligation in the Bill on institutions of the state to provide full information.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

The Minister is making a fair point, but it is not the right one for what we are considering. He is talking about the process of assessing the veracity of what is said, and neither I nor Tony Lloyd are saying it would be incapable of assessing the veracity of what is put forward. We are asking him to consider the consequence for lying. Just as people lie to judicial figures in every court throughout the land, what is the consequence for lying? It is not about whether the assessment of whether they are telling the truth is right, but what is done when somebody does lie.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The consequence for lying, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in the first instance is that if the body determines that the account is false, the body will not grant immunity. I was referring to the amendments he has tabled to incentivise people to come forward and participate with the process, both in terms of the sentencing and the financial stuff, and I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman that we have undertaken to take that away and look at it.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I think we need to make some progress. We have talked about this extensively, and the Bill will move now beyond this place to the other place, and then we will have an opportunity. [Interruption.] We do not need any facetious remarks from my hon. Friend Mr Liddell-Grainger. We are dealing with very serious matters indeed.

Colum Eastwood, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, said that unless we investigate properly, we will never get to the truth. The point is that the commission will have full police powers and will be able to carry out article 2 compliant investigations. It has the power to compel witnesses. In response to something else that was said, it has the power to arrest and detain under clause 6(3). It has the right to use biometrics, but the primary purpose of these investigations will be to get information to the families.

Amendment 114 and new clause 2, tabled by the shadow Secretary of State, Peter Kyle regard individuals profiting from the conduct for which they received immunity and the point around glorification. It is our view that the Terrorism Act 2006 already makes it illegal for the encouragement or glorification of terrorism, whether in the past, future or generally. Nothing in this Bill will prevent the prosecution of individuals deemed to have committed an offence under the 2006 Act, and it is incorrect to say that an individual gaining immunity through this body for a specific troubles-related event would then have immunity if they went on to commit a separate offence under the 2006 Act. It is very clear that section 1(3)(a) refers to any act that

“glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts”.

That is clearly an offence under the law of the land, unaffected by the legislation before the House tonight.

We have had two days of intense scrutiny of the legislation so far. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have shown a willingness, a determination and a desire from the Front Bench to engage with parties across Northern Ireland. I accept absolutely that there are deep reservations about the Bill, but we have been clear in legislating that we will listen, and we are open to constructive ideas that improve the potential for this Bill to have a positive impact on the people of Northern Ireland. I note that there was some criticism at the beginning that we were not giving sufficient time for scrutiny in Committee, and I note that we look likely not to use the allocated time in full tonight. I thank the Committee for the courtesy and intelligence of the debates we have had.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene. May I remind the House that actually, although we have not talked about it much, some of our soldiers who served in Northern Ireland, and who have repeatedly been dragged back to court, will sleep easier in their beds as a result of this Bill? Although I totally understand that people are really unhappy about aspects, that is one good thing about this Bill, which I fully support.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My right hon. and gallant Friend makes an important point, and it might be the appropriate point on which to conclude the Committee’s examination of the Bill today. Thousands of people, like my right hon. Friend, served on the streets of Northern Ireland. They served with honour, and we express our deep gratitude to all of them and to the families of those who lost their lives. They were there on the streets of Northern Ireland, trying to uphold law and order as the IRA and others waged a vicious, evil, indefensible campaign of terrorism within Northern Ireland and within our United Kingdom. I hope that the measures in this Bill, when this body is up and running, will help the people of Northern Ireland put those dark, dark days firmly in the past and point the way to a reconciled, inclusive Northern Ireland that is focused on the future and delivering for the young people of Northern Ireland that bright, generous, optimistic, reconciled future for Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.