Schedule 4A - Exempt Offences

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 4th July 2022.

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Votes in this debate

Manuscript amendment made: 4, page 66, line 26, leave out Schedule 4A.—(Conor Burns.)

This amendment leaves out the Schedule inserted on day 1 of Committee of the Whole House by New Schedule 1. It is replaced by New Clause 1.

Third Reading

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 9:00 pm, 4th July 2022

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

I mirror the comments of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend Conor Burns, in thanking our officials and all those with a role in bringing the Bill to this point. I particularly thank my right hon. Friend for his work in Committee.

This Bill will help the families of victims and the survivors of the troubles to get the answers they desperately seek, it will help Northern Ireland to look forward and it will deliver on our manifesto commitment to the veterans of our armed forces who served with such honour in Northern Ireland.

The establishment of a new independent information recovery commission capable of carrying out robust and effective investigations will provide as much information as possible to the families of victims as well as to the survivors of the troubles. Those who do not engage will remain indefinitely liable to prosecution. A major oral history initiative and memorialisation strategy will collectively remember those lost and ensure that the lessons of the past are never forgotten. It is important to understand where we come from when we make decisions about our future. I am grateful to the many stakeholders who have engaged with these proposals, and who have helped me, the Northern Ireland Office and my right hon. Friend to shape the Bill.

As has been said this afternoon, this is a difficult, complicated issue, and I recognise that it is still painful for so many. The Government have listened, and we are grateful for all the contributions made by Members of this House. I particularly recognise the heartfelt and powerful contributions that Jim Shannon has made throughout proceedings on the Bill. I thank all Members who have contributed with such dignity in Committee.

I hope colleagues are reassured by the commitments made from the Dispatch Box by my right hon. Friend, and by the manuscript amendments made on Report to ensure it will not be possible for the ICRIR to grant immunity for troubles-related sexual offences. This is an example of an improvement made in Committee that the whole House is able to get behind.

As a Government, we remain open to constructive dialogue with all stakeholders, both in this House—including the Opposition and all the Northern Ireland parties—and across Northern Ireland, as we prepare for the passage of the Bill in the other place. We are resolute in our commitment to providing legislation that does all it can to deliver for those impacted by the troubles. The troubles were a painful period of our history, and they are still painful for so many in Northern Ireland. This Bill delivers a way forward and delivers on our manifesto pledge. In that spirit, I commend this Bill to the House.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 9:03 pm, 4th July 2022

I echo the Secretary of State’s comments in congratulating everybody who has taken part in our debates and thanking them for their commitment to all stages of this Bill. We have had vigorous and sometimes difficult conversations, and we have heard some heartfelt explanations of how these issues have touched so many people’s lives.

However, the grinding reality is that, following Second Reading and the hours in Committee, the Bill still has no support from any Northern Ireland party, and it still has no support from any victims group in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, a statutory body established as part of the Good Friday agreement, says the Bill is still unlikely to be compliant with human rights law. How can Ministers bring forward a Bill that fails stakeholders so comprehensively?

The Opposition have been responsible in trying hard to propose workable solutions. I hope Ministers will acknowledge that even when, last Wednesday, the Government could not carry the Committee of the whole House on a key amendment, we acted responsibly and worked constructively to try to solve that challenge with the workable manuscript amendments that are now part of the Bill.

Even though we have done our best to improve the Bill, we cannot agree with it as it stands on Third Reading. Our concerns are simply fundamental. The amnesty that the Bill gives to those who committed crimes during the troubles is too easy to earn. Amnesty is set above investigations, and the investigations are downgraded to reviews. Most fundamentally of all, the Bill gives more rights to people who committed crime during the troubles than it does to their victims. For those reasons, we will be opposing it on Third Reading.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 9:05 pm, 4th July 2022

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I, too, thank everyone who was involved in the passage of the Bill, both those behind the scenes, such as the Clerks and the researchers who have kept everything moving, and everyone who has contributed to the debate on the Floor of the House. I was struck by what the Minister said just now—that he hoped that the passing of the Bill would help to put the dark, dark days firmly in the past. I certainly hope that as well, but from what we have heard in the House during proceedings on the Bill, and from what we have heard from the victims and their representatives, I fear that is a forlorn hope. I certainly commend the Minister for the amendments that he did feel able to accept, but I remain of the view that this Bill is wrong in principle and cannot be amended into acceptability. Fundamentally, the Bill lacks support across Northern Ireland and it will leave many feeling that justice has been denied, without the prospect of truth coming to the fore. Although I have no doubt that the Bill was well-intentioned, I do not believe it will live up to the hopes the Minister has for it. Sadly, it did not have to be like this.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons) 9:06 pm, 4th July 2022

On behalf of the DUP, I thank everyone who has taken part in our debates in Committee. As I did earlier, I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart), who have worked hard to hold this Bill to account, scrutinise it and table more than 20 amendments, four of which were taken to a Division. I thank them for their efforts. I echo the Secretary of State’s comments and thank my other colleagues, including my hon. Friend Jim Shannon, who spoke powerfully, as did others on this side of the House, about the impact this Bill will have on the victims and survivors of our troubled past.

The Bill is described as the “Legacy and Reconciliation” Bill. As I said in this House when the Secretary of State first introduced the concept of the Bill, my fear is that the path to reconciliation is not made easier when we dispense with justice. I pay tribute to both the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for the work they have done in reaching out to victims and survivors groups. I know that that engagement has taken place, and the Secretary of State has referred to it. However, the Government will have heard a very clear message from many of those victims and survivors that they do not feel that the proposals are consistent with their desire to pursue not just truth and information, but justice.

As someone who served in the armed forces during the troubles in Northern Ireland, I have much sympathy with Conservative Members in their desire to protect the veterans of our armed forces from prosecutions that have been brought late in the day, after previous investigations have taken place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East explained, we have been active on this issue and pressed hard to ensure that where article 2-compliant investigations have taken place, there is no need to reopen those cases. He explained it very well in his exchange with Johnny Mercer.

I say to the Government that our responsibility extends way beyond veterans, many of whom are themselves victims and survivors. It extends to the entire community in Northern Ireland—a community that was left traumatised by those 30-plus years of violence. I stand with the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for North Down (Stephen Farry) in this House in representing parties in Northern Ireland that recognise that achieving reconciliation—we all want to move towards reconciliation in Northern Ireland—requires healing. My fear is that if we proceed with this process, it may get more difficult for many, although not all, victims to achieve the healing they need to move towards the reconciliation that we desire for our society. Therefore, having tabled our amendments and the Government not having accepted them, we cannot support the Bill on Third Reading.

We want to see an outcome on legacy and we recognise the Government’s desire to move the process forward, but we disagree with the proposed method and process. Although it has some merits in terms of seeking information and truth from people about whose capacity to tell the truth we may be sceptical, the Bill fundamentally falls down when it comes to justice, as the hon. Member for Belfast East said clearly. It is our strong view that a legacy process that sets aside justice will make the journey to peace and reconciliation more difficult. What we need is a process that grapples with justice, takes it head-on and seeks to deal with it in a way that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland.

As we have said in respect of other matters in Northern Ireland, the Belfast agreement sought to introduce a new era in Northern Ireland that was based on consensus. Although I accept the criticism that has been made of all of us—that we have so far failed to take forward proposals that would bring about an outcome on legacy and put in place a process that commanded the support of people across the community—I do not believe that the consensus exists in Northern Ireland to support the measures proposed by the Government. As such, we will vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle 9:12 pm, 4th July 2022

While a few MPs have had to sit through a few hours of debate about this issue, many victims have had to sit through decades of trying to comfort their loved ones after what happened to them. Only last week, we saw victims in Derry achieving a modicum of truth through the inquest process. That victim, Kathleen Thompson—a mother of six—was murdered in 1971. Those victims and families got some truth last week through the current system, as imperfect as it is.

What we are doing today is utterly shameful. It is a whitewash on a grand scale. It is an opportunity for impunity and would not be allowed to stand in any other part of the United Kingdom. It says an awful lot about the state of this state that we are quietly and coldly walking through the Lobbies to bring this about today. I, for one, will never support immunity for the soldier who murdered 12-year-old Majella O’Hare—shot her on her way to chapel. Equally, I will never support immunity for the IRA team who blew up Patsy Gillespie and killed five soldiers in the city of Derry in the early ’90s. That is what we are doing.

Somebody has to tell people what is happening. The way this Government have voted today has given a licence for impunity for what happened in our part of the world over many decades. If anybody really believes that this legislation will bring about truth or reconciliation, they are lying to themselves and to the victims out there, who are deeply, deeply disappointed and dismayed today. I will absolutely vote against Third Reading.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down 9:14 pm, 4th July 2022

I join others in paying tribute to all the staff who have worked incredibly hard behind the scenes in processing this Bill.

I join my colleagues from two other parties in Northern Ireland to emphasise the simple point that the Bill does not have the support of the entire community in our region. Indeed, it does not have the support of victims’ groups themselves. Independent experts, including the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, have looked at the Bill and are very clear that it is not consistent with our human rights commitment and, in particular, with article 2 of the European convention on human rights.

I fear that this Bill will be a very expensive white elephant that will not be used by either victims or perpetrators, but it will make the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland that much harder. People are holding out for some sense of justice, even though achieving that is incredibly remote. We still have structures that are working, albeit in a very piecemeal manner. We can do far better than this. The process behind the Bill has been flawed, and, indeed, the Bill itself is unworkable and, in a broader sense, unamendable, and I fear that it will be counterproductive.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Division number 28 Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill — Schedule 4A - Exempt Offences

Aye: 281 MPs

No: 217 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 282, Noes 217.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.