Amendment to the Motion

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill - Second Reading – in the House of Lords at 4:32 pm on 23rd November 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Smith of Basildon:

Moved by Baroness Smith of Basildon

At the end to insert “but that this House regrets that the provisions contained in the bill do not command the confidence or support of groups and organisations representing the interests of victims and survivors of the Troubles, of Northern Ireland elected representatives, or of the wider community, including communities across the United Kingdom affected by the bill.”

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues) 4:52 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, to be helpful, I intend to speak to the Bill and my amendment at the same time rather than have two debates, and I do not intend to move to a Division on my amendment. I apologise to the House; I will have to leave the Chamber; the previous business started slightly later than anticipated and I have another engagement, but I will be back as soon as I can.

I am grateful to the Minister. Like other noble Lords, I am trying to register the late announcement of some possible changes to the Bill by the Government, but in the last Queen’s Speech the Government committed to bringing forward legislation to address the legacy of the past. They said then that that would provide better outcomes for victims, survivors and their families, giving veterans the protection that they deserve and focusing on information recovery and reconciliation. As the Minister indicated in his speech today, we all know that these issues are complex, sensitive and deeply emotional.

Your Lordships’ House is as one in condemning terrorism from whatever quarter, and we concur with the noble Lord on that. As a party we are proud of the role that we played in securing the Good Friday agreement. But in the 30-plus years before that agreement, the euphemistically named Troubles—which I always find an uncomfortable term—saw more than 3,500 people lose their lives, with thousands more injured and maimed. No community was immune. The scars on physical and mental health remain evident throughout Northern Ireland and beyond, as this impacted on communities outside Northern Ireland. It is worth noting that this week is the anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings, when 21 people were killed, 182 were injured, and six men wrongly convicted of those bombings served 16 years in prison before their convictions were quashed —so much suffering.

When I spoke in the Queen’s Speech debate in May, I made specific appeal to the Government about this legislation. It is not possible as Leader of the Opposition when speaking in the Queen’s Speech debate to refer to all proposed Bills, but I declared a particular interest in this one, as a former Northern Ireland Victims Minister, succeeding my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, and appointed by my noble friend Lord Murphy, who was then the Secretary of State.

I said then of the legislation:

“I appeal to the Government: please understand that this needs support from the widest possible coalition.”—[Official Report, 10/5/22; col. 13.]

It is for that reason that I have tabled the amendment in my name today. The Bill as it currently stands does not have the support of the widest possible coalition. In fact, it is opposed by the widest possible coalition. That is quite an achievement; I think this is the only issue on which the Government have been able to unite every single political party in Northern Ireland, but it is deeply unfortunate that they have all been united against the Bill. The Government recognised the need for wider consensus in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, even going so far as to say that any UK Parliament legislation must have the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I would be interested to know whether that commitment still stands.

So many of those affected by this Bill have come together to share with us their reasons for opposition, and how they would be impacted. I am sure they have listened to the noble Lord’s words very carefully. Noble lords may have seen an article in today’s Daily Telegraph, regarding a letter to the Prime Minister from Andy and Martha Seaman and Michael O’Hare. As a bereaved military family, and a victim of the Armed Forces, they have come together to express their concerns about the Bill, and in their letter say that it is not too late to do the right thing and scrap it.

I understand that that must be deeply disappointing to Ministers, but it was clear when this was debated in the other place that the consultation and the engagement with those affected was inadequate. I listened to what the noble Lord said about the additional meetings he has had since that time, and look forward to hearing more about those as the Bill progresses through Committee.

My noble friend Lord Murphy and I are grateful for the meetings we had with the Secretary of State and the Minister, who even though he had to join via Zoom, was nonetheless engaged. At that meeting, we asked that the Bill be withdrawn for further consultation and engagement. They were not willing to do that, but both said they were open to significant amendments, and that the Bill was now paused.

I am grateful for what the Minister said at the end of his speech, but I am disappointed that, since that meeting, we have had no response on what steps Ministers were willing to take. It would have been helpful to have had some response prior to this debate, to get a sense of what the Government intend. We want to work with the Government only on something that is workable. It would have been helpful had there been some engagement with those of us participating today—a briefing, a letter or something—and I regret that has not happened.

The Secretary of State has already said that he is open to significant changes. It would be helpful to know from the Minister whether the changes he has outlined, which we will take time to reflect on, are the limit of what the Government are looking at—he is indicating that that is not the case—or whether they would be prepared to listen to other suggestions as well. We have already been approached about the scheduling of the Bill, and it seems that the Government are going at some pace, with Committee indicated to be during the train strike week, which may not be the best arrangement.

Seeking to pass legislation that has no support from the political parties in Northern Ireland, or any party here apart from the governing party, is not the best way to deal with this issue. I am not going to suggest to the Minister that this is easy, nor that it should be put in the ‘too difficult’ box and only paid lip service to. I commend the Minister; we know of his personal commitment and he indicated, very honestly I thought, how difficult this Bill is for him, and we appreciate that there have been so many attempts to address this over many years. I pay huge tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and to the great Denis Bradley, who I thought were both courageous and powerful in the work they undertook. That report still stands the test of time, thanks to the effort, commitment and care that went into it.

In the Stormont House agreement, dealing with legacy issues was a key part of several rounds of talks between the then British government, the Irish Government and the political parties. The Minister seemed to dismiss that at the time, but the overarching principles of that agreement still stand as being some way to look to this issue:

“promoting reconciliation … upholding the rule of law … acknowledging and addressing the suffering of victims and survivors … facilitating the pursuit of justice and information recovery … is human rights compliant; and is balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.”

It is hard to see why those principles should not underline anything when looking forward.

The Government said in response to their consultation that

“new ways to address the legacy of the past will only succeed if the institutions can command broad support and trust from the community.”

At that time, they said that they remain

“fully committed to the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and it is essential that our work continues.”

Is the Minister saying that the Government are not now committed to the principles of the Stormont House agreement? I was unclear from his comments. It seemed he was saying that the Government do not now respect those principles and it is hard to see how this legislation fits in with them.

I will underline some specific areas of concern. Some of what the Minister said addresses some of these issues, but I am not 100% certain. First, on Clause 18 —the immunity test—in the Government’s response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the NIO said:

“Immunity must be granted where certain conditions are met, including that the person has provided a truthful account of their involvement in the death or incident resulting in serious injury.”

Those “certain conditions” are very limited, at present, to just two: one is an offence for which there could be a criminal investigation or prosecution, and the second that immunity is asked for. I listened carefully to the noble Lord’s comments and he seemed to be proposing something to address the issue of someone not telling the truth. He did not seem to be making a change to the conditions or to the fact that immunity had to be granted, but he might be able to respond on that in his wind-up.

I agree with the Minister about the less than snappy title of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

From my time as Victims Minister, I concur with the noble Lord’s comments: there were times when the emotions really cut through and I have very vivid memories of some discussions and conversations I had. So often, I heard that families and survivors want to know the truth. Truth can be painful and difficult, as noble Lords in the Chamber recognise, but, for many, that process of investigation was essential to fully understand what had happened.

It was not flagged up previously that the Bill has made a fundamental change from investigation to review. Can the Minister say if this implies a far less rigorous process of understanding? That is one of the great concerns that people have. Alongside those measures is a proposal to, in effect, cut off civil cases and inquests, which adds to families’ suspicion that it will be much harder to obtain the information that ensures that the truth is heard.

I am glad the Minister said something about the ECHR, because just saying that the Bill is compliant does not make it compliant. I think he implied that he will bring forward measures to ensure that it is compliant, and I am sure he will work with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to ensure that that is the case, because it said it is “gravely concerned” about the current draft.

As the Bill progresses, we will hear more of the detail, but we may need to look at the depth and breadth of where the opposition comes from and how it can be addressed. From my time in Northern Ireland, I was struck, when talking to those who lived through that period, by how the pain and memories do not just fade away, over time. Many still experience what I might describe as the aftershocks from what happened to them, their loved ones, friends, co-workers, neighbours and the community as a whole. As those of us who attended some briefings for victims in your Lordships’ House were told, so often that damage is passed on to and through future generations. That means that all sides have to acknowledge and be accountable for their actions.

When Brandon Lewis spoke at the Second Reading of the Bill in the other place, he was passionate about the protection of veterans from the RUC, the Armed Forces and the Security Service. So many served with honour, courage and great distinction. Hundreds lost their lives.

A particularly sharp memory I have is from meeting a group of RUC widows. While impressed by their dignity, I was shocked by how little support they felt they had and how difficult their lives and their families’ lives had been. The acts of terrorism, the killings, reached into every corner of Northern Ireland and beyond its shores: from those RUC widows to the families of those killed at Ballymurphy—it was not until the coroner’s report 50 years later that their killings were officially found to be “without justification”—from organised attacks of terrorism to random acts of violence, and from the accounts of great courage to those who lived in fear, and the trauma of the families of the disappeared, it is not hard to understand why a legacy of pain, hurt and mistrust remains.

I fully understand the frustration of Ministers who feel that they have created a way forward, only to find that they have not taken people with them and that few agree. Passing the Bill without significant amendment might create a structure that will establish the new commission, but unless it has the understanding and support of those who have a direct interest, it will not make any difference. The tragedy is then that the legacy of the past will linger on.

We want to play our part in addressing the issue—to reflect and hear more about the proposed amendments the Minister has suggested today and discuss them with him. But until those very real concerns raised are taken on board and addressed in legislation, and until there is real work with those impacted, any legislation will just be words on a page. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Suttie Baroness Suttie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:06 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, I echo the sentiments of the Minister about the recent escalation of tensions and the attempted murder of two police officers in County Tyrone last Thursday. There is never any place for violence or terror in resolving the issues of the past. The current increase in tension, however, does demonstrate the fragility of the peace achieved since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, nearly 25 years ago. It also serves to remind us that this is a process that requires constant care and attention: it is not something that can, or ever should, be taken for granted. The process of reconciliation and dealing with the legacy of the past is not something that can be achieved through legislation alone. It is vital to allow people to feel that the events of the past are recognised and acknowledged. We need to acknowledge that the time available for this to happen is becoming short.

As Ian Jeffers, the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, put it so aptly in a letter to the Telegraph earlier this week:

“As a civilised, just society we owe it to victims, survivors and their families to support them and find a shared way that we can address the legacy of our past.”

That brings me to the Bill we are debating this afternoon. I welcome the Minister’s tone and approach in his Second Reading speech. It was a very personal speech—indeed, an emotional speech—and that is to be welcomed. The Minister knows that so many people feel uncomfortable about—indeed, strongly oppose—several of the key elements in the Bill. Some have suggested that its very title is wrong, as it achieves so little in terms of bringing about reconciliation.

In the conversations that I—and I am sure many other noble Lords—have had with victims and their families, it is the removal of the hope of seeing justice that the Bill represents that has been so devastating to so many of them. There are many points I could make about the Bill, but I shall limit myself to five key areas where I believe that substantial amendments should be made.

The first, of course, is compliance with Article 2 of the ECHR. As the Joint Committee on Human Rights states in its summary:

“Our concerns reflect a view that despite the good intent, the operation of the bill as drafted would come into conflict with the government’s legal obligations and as such, risk frustrating the intended objectives.

We have serious doubts that this Bill as drafted is compatible with Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

I very much share the assessment of the JCHR that the conditional immunity scheme is likely to breach the UK’s obligations under Articles 2 and 3. We urge the Government to remove Clause 18 from the Bill, or at least significantly amend it. I am sure we shall return to these issues in much greater depth in Committee but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I would be grateful if the Minister could, in his concluding remarks, say a little more about how the Government intend to amend the Bill in Committee to ensure that it is Article 2-compliant.

A second substantial area of concern is that of the clear lack of consent for this Bill, as currently drafted, by key stakeholders. The parties in Northern Ireland, the victims groups, some of the victims, human rights organisations as well as wider society in Northern Ireland have all expressed very grave concerns about the Bill. The Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, has stated that the has stated the “strength of opposition” risks undermining the Bill’s stated aims of dealing with the past and promoting reconciliation.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also said, there has also been a general lack of consultation with key stakeholders prior to the drafting of the Bill. Given the complexities of these issues, this is precisely the kind of legislation that would have benefited from some form of pre-legislative scrutiny, perhaps particularly at a time when, tragically, there remains no functioning Assembly or Executive in Northern Ireland.

I know that the Minister has had many recent meetings with victims and other groups. Again, I am grateful for his reporting on that. He is very aware of their concerns about the Bill, so would he agree that continuing with it unamended because of a Conservative Party manifesto commitment would be unhelpful at this time of heightened tensions in Northern Ireland?

A third area of concern, which has also been highlighted by the Constitution Committee, is the very substantial increase in regulating powers that the Bill grants to the Secretary of State, and the subsequent concerns that this will have regarding the genuine independence of the ICRIR.

A fourth area of concern is something that the Minister touched on, which is the use of language. Throughout the Bill, the terms “review” and “investigation” are used interchangeably. These two terms have a distinctly different impact on the legal process. It is welcome that he has indicated that he will consider bringing forward amendments in this regard but, again, I would like a little more information on that if possible in his concluding remarks.

Finally and most importantly, the fifth area of serious concern is that, although the Bill claims to be victim focused, it is clear that this is very far from the case. In particular, the closing down of civil cases and inquests, as proposed by the Bill, has caused huge concern and upset to the victims. The victims I have spoken to all say that what they want is the truth and justice, through information and acknowledgement. What they do not want is the removal of that hope.

I therefore ask the Minister, who, with all of his experience, understands the complexity of the situation so well—I believe that he is someone who listens and will stick to his word of speaking to us all and moving forward together on amendments—to take on board the strength of feeling that he will hear on behalf of the victims and their families in the debate. They have already waited so long already. Surely the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement is the time to give them back that hope.

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 5:13 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, I respectfully support the last two speeches from the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I rise with a certain degree of concern that I have no experience of Northern Ireland; many of my colleagues on the Cross Benches will speak on these issues. I do, though, have some experience of terrorism and terrorism offences in England.

Although I deeply sympathise with the Minister’s personal position—who can avoid being sympathetic with him?—and I share everything he said about the courage, dedication, commitment and the years of service we have received from the security forces, I am just a little worried that we do not fully appreciate what the Bill actually amounts to. We are being asked to legislate that men and women who are guilty of murder should be exempted from prosecution. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, they will literally be getting away, or will have got away, with murder. They will have got away with some of the most deliberate and cold-blooded killings that we have known in this country.

We cannot avoid that that is the consequence of this Bill. Before we enact it, we really need to know whether we are prepared to create an environment in which laws that betray the families of the victims, the victims themselves and society’s desire for peace and abhorrence of killings, among others, should be ignored.

The Title of the Bill is very misleading. I will not identify every word that is misleading, but the Title contains “Northern Ireland Troubles”, the Explanatory Notes say,

“prepared by the Northern Ireland Office”, and Clause 1 is

“related to Northern Ireland affairs”.

It would be unacceptable anyway if it was so limited, but I have read it and I think this is a correct analysis: it applies to troubles associated with the Troubles in Northern Ireland that manifested themselves in this country.

That means, for instance, the IRA’s attempt to blow up the British Cabinet, in which many received catastrophic injuries and many died. If fresh evidence emerged demonstrating that two people who had not previously been suspected were involved in that dreadful offence, the Bill would apply to them. The Bill, and the exemption from prosecution if they went through the processes, would mean that they would not be prosecuted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the Birmingham case and the number of casualties there. If further evidence emerged demonstrating that A and B, or Z and Y, were involved in those killings, is it really right that through this Bill we should provide a means by which, although there is a very good case against them, they too should escape prosecution? These are the issues with which we are dealing.

However much we address the issue in general terms about the necessity of eventually achieving a peaceful outcome and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, these offences matter greatly to people here in England. I have one question for the Minister, apart from all the other questions that have been asked. How will this new commission, which is what I shall call it for today’s purposes, investigate offences committed in England or Wales?

Beyond the difficulties of the Bill, there is a certain illogicality that troubles me too. It applies to murder but not rape or a serious sexual offence. Rape is a foul crime—so is murder. Let us take an example. I do not know whether this ever happened, but it might have. A man decides to rape the daughter of a member of Sinn Féin as an act of revenge to counter some murderous Sinn Féin atrocity. The rape is associated with the Troubles. He could be prosecuted for the rape—the exemption provisions would not apply—but the Sinn Féin people responsible for the atrocity would be able to seek the exemption. To take the example a little further, if having raped this unfortunate girl the man then used a knife to kill her, we could have the absurd situation arising in which he could be prosecuted for the rape but seek exemption for the murder. If that is what the Bill means, there is an absurdity about it that has to be recognised. I am not offering a solution to it; I am simply pointing out the logical problem with some parts of the Bill.

I am also concerned that we are allowing ourselves to put overmuch emphasis on the length of time that this all goes back. Not very long ago it was proposed, and enacted by this Parliament, that any of those who served in Nazi concentration camps who could be proved to have been involved in those horrors could be prosecuted here. We saw men in their late 80s and early 90s being tried. There is no limitation provision in our criminal justice system. Of course, there are safeguards for those who are charged with offences committed long ago. There is an abuse of process argument that the defendant is too old even to comprehend what is going on, or that there would be witnesses who have died. All that is a well-understood part of our criminal justice system.

To the extent that this legislation is concerned with those who served in Northern Ireland as part of the security forces who are alleged to have committed violent offences of their own, juries perfectly well understand that in the heat of battle, as for some of them it must have seemed, there is no time for detached reflection. Mistakes are made and things are done that are not intended. You can rely on a jury to try to appreciate this—they usually do, and they would be very sympathetic with a young man faced with some of the problems that faced some of our young men in Northern Ireland—and to return a true verdict according to the evidence.

We need to understand what the Bill actually proposes. That may be fine, and Parliament may decide that it will enact the Bill, but it must do so knowing what it will be enacting.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP 5:21 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, I start by remembering the thousands of innocent victims of terrorism who died or were injured in the decades of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and elsewhere—ordinary people going about their everyday lives who were cut down by terrible violence—the families and loved ones left behind to grieve and the survivors left with life-changing injuries. We should not forget the heroic efforts and sacrifice, as have been mentioned, of the tens of thousands of people in the security forces without whom many more innocent people would have died at the hands of terrorists. Hundreds of police officers and soldiers laid down their lives in serving the cause of peace and security.

Just recently the Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill, in remarks that have sickened victims and all right-thinking people, stated that there had been no alternative to all this wanton carnage and bloodshed. Terrorism was never justified. There was always an alternative to murder and the destruction of the livelihoods, hopes and dreams of generations of people in Northern Ireland, no matter who they were or what background they came from.

One would think that in speaking of victims today there would be at least a degree of reflection or self-examination on the part of those who spoke for terrorists during the Troubles and who now apologise for them even 25 years later, but no. Virtually every day we are subjected to the glorification of violence and the eulogising of terrorist murderers by leading Sinn Féin figures. This is happening in 2022, 25 years after the Belfast agreement, not in 1972. Fifty years on and still the innocent victims are being traumatised.

There are many valid criticisms that can be made of this deeply flawed Bill. Many of the innocent victims of terrorism whom I have spoken about feel deeply aggrieved, and understandably so, but their anguish is compounded by the sight of these apologists for terrorism pretending to defend victims’ rights in their attacks on the Bill. The victim-makers who slaughtered thousands of people over 30 years are busy whitewashing their own crimes, selectively singling out certain crimes for condemnation while celebrating their own violence. They have actively encouraged the now toxic atmosphere where many nationalists feel it is okay to chant “Up the Ra”, even in the face of IRA victims. These people do not speak for victims.

The criticism of the legislation which we have heard here today and from outside the House is widespread. This is not the first piece of legislation which has done victims a grave injustice. They have already had to endure seeing people who were convicted of some of the most brutal and heinous crimes given early release after serving only two years in jail. That was and remains a terrible injustice for many victims. It was, of course, opposed by some of us at the time but many in the other place and in your Lordships’ House who now vehemently oppose this piece of legislation vigorously backed that injustice. In my view, many of those people who were released after two years literally got away with murder.

A previous Government secretly handed out letters of comfort to IRA terrorists on the run. It is estimated that about 300 such letters were given out. One was famously used by John Downey to escape prosecution. There would be no harm if this Bill included a provision that these letters could not be used to evade future prosecution. We are assured that this is the case, but a specific provision to make it absolutely clear and certain would be helpful to victims. Some 365 royal pardons have been handed out over the years to people convicted of terrorist-related offences. It would be good to know exactly who received these letters of comfort and the royal pardons. In his reply, maybe the Minister can agree to furnish us with all the details. The 2006 definition of a victim is widely felt by innocent victims to be defective in including the perpetrators of violence. A move to bring forward a proper, up-to-date definition would be helpful to victims.

We have heard the concerns of the Irish Government about the Bill. For decades, they allowed their territory to be a safe haven for IRA terrorists who crossed the border. If there had only been the same desire over the years to put victims first and at the centre of our concerns, both here and in the Irish Republic, perhaps we would not find ourselves in this place, facing this piece of legislation. The cause of justice should never be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. No matter how difficult or challenging the situation, people should have the right to expect that, if there is evidence, all possible avenues of investigation will be explored.

I fully accept the argument about the current one-sided nature of the approach to legacy. People are tired of it. Soldiers and police are being harried and harassed into court. It is coupled with an industrial-scale propaganda effort to besmirch and denigrate the Army, the UDR, the RUC and the PSNI. We have had large, costly inquiries into Bloody Sunday and many others against the state. There has been no inquiry into the Enniskillen and Teebane atrocities, La Mon or Narrow Water or into the role of leading republican politicians in terrorist acts.

The approach taken by this Bill is wrong and an affront to justice. It would extinguish the flame of justice for countless families. It would draw a moral equivalence between terrorists intent on bloodshed and those who served our communities with dedication and professionalism. The way to address legitimate concerns about vexatious investigations against veterans who served in Northern Ireland is not simply to impose a wholesale restriction on historical investigations or prosecutions. It is to restore balance, ensure that investigative activity is proportionate and bring an end to the growing culture of politically motivated actions against those who served in uniform. Closing down routes to justice arbitrarily would not be tolerated for hate crimes or gang crimes in Great Britain. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, it has not been tolerated in relation to war criminals. It should not be deemed acceptable in relation to victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the United Kingdom.

As we consider this legislation going forward in your Lordships’ House, changes need to be made to tackle some of the worst excesses of the Bill. It has to be said that even if accepted, those changes will fall short of making its overriding aims justifiable or honourable.

I welcome what the Minister has said today about his willingness to be open to considering some changes, and about there being no incentive in the Bill as drafted for perpetrators to come forward or any material consequences for their failing to engage. In fact, the Bill incentivises not engaging. Under the current arrangements, people can be convicted and serve two years, but under the Bill, if a person stays quiet and does not co-operate, under Schedule 11 there will be no possibility or prospect of any kind of prison, whether they engage in the process, seek immunity, tell the truth or do nothing. I welcome what the Minister said about looking at that again, and I look forward to examining the detail.

We need to look at the issue of people who have evaded prosecution in this jurisdiction and fled elsewhere. For them to be eligible for immunity under the framework of the Bill is perverse. It would encourage offenders to return to Northern Ireland to live out their final days, in close proximity to those they terrorised, because there is no stipulation that anyone previously subject to a warrant, arrest or charge and who subsequently fled Northern Ireland would be prohibited from claiming immunity.

There are a significant number of active PPS files under threat from the sunset clause on criminal enforcement proposed by the Bill. This has undermined previous decisions by the Government to establish far-reaching investigations into Troubles-related activity, including Operation Kenova. Those files need to be processed and should be allowed to take their course.

There needs to be something to deal with the glorification of terrorism. As I mentioned earlier, right across the entire community in Northern Ireland people are tired of and sickened by the continuing glorification of violence by Sinn Féin. I know that the Veterans Commissioner has raised this with the Government and pointed out the great hurt felt by many who served in the security forces, and by innocent victims. There needs to be something that deals with this open and public display of glorification, the commemoration of murder, in Northern Ireland in the 21st century. To expect people to continue to put up with this, given that we are now almost 25 years on from the Belfast agreement, is something the Government have to address. I welcome what the Minister said about a mechanism for revoking immunity where individuals are proven later to have lied or not co-operated properly with the commission.

There are many issues here, and I am sure that we will go into many more of them in detail in Committee—the definition of a Troubles-related offence, the investigation review and so on. However, the fundamental point is that innocent victims must continue to have hope and the prospect of justice. That is all they seek, and it would be wrong for this House, and Parliament, to take that away from them.

Photo of Lord Godson Lord Godson Conservative 5:33 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn. I remember well that I was with him on the night when the IRA attempted to assassinate him. He was visiting his sick son, who is no longer with us, in hospital. I think of that night, and I know that the whole House will join me in appreciating the full force of his analysis and the sentiments he just expressed.

I also express appreciation for the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Caine, and for the longevity of his commitment to and interest in these matters. How appreciated it is that in these times, the Minister still uses the word “terrorist”, because it is not present throughout all the discourse on this subject in this era, including in the media, including the BBC. That goes to the heart of my remarks today.

In this context, I welcome that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, also used the T-word—terrorists. Again, it seems important that we retain some moral boundaries, because they are not always visible in discussion of these matters, as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

I support the principle of the Bill, not least because of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment in the last general election. I will particularly focus my remarks on Part 4, the section on “Memorialising the Troubles”. In May this year, when the Bill was introduced in the Commons under the then Secretary of State, he stated that it would launch

“A major new oral history initiative”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/5/22; col. 185.]

It was hailed as one of the most “ambitious and comprehensive” approaches to oral history that has ever been attempted in such situations. It sought to draw on “international models” and concentrate on collating “lived experiences and testimony” and setting them within the appropriate historical context. Putting that into effect, Part 4, on “Memorialising the Troubles”, is designed to provide a pathway for societal healing and perhaps even, we hope, reconciliation. But, as we all know, in the context of Northern Ireland, the Troubles are being refought the whole time through the rewriting of history.

Commendable as the proposals for an oral history are—like many others, I welcome that this history will be guided by international best practice—it is possible that it will also be politicised and enrolled in an ongoing effort to retell the history of the Troubles from an anti-state perspective. I note that the Bill and Explanatory Notes state that one of the purposes here is to ensure that groups that have not had a sufficient voice in telling their history of the Troubles have a greater say. It is a great irony that the British state has been one of the most disfranchised groups. Perhaps it has disfranchised itself in this respect, in terms of an official history, but I will go on to say more about that later.

Thus, history is one of those battlegrounds that are often described as the fulcrum of culture wars and the politics of identity. This has of course been prominent in Northern Ireland for many decades, including during the Troubles, but it has come increasingly to the fore, as other noble Lords and noble Baronesses have noted. This may have been referred to in another place, but the notable recent poll by LucidTalk stated that 65% of those from the republican nationalist community now believe that

“violent resistance to British rule during the Troubles” was the only option, with a mere 25% disagreeing. This is of course utterly at variance with where that nationalist community was for much of the Troubles, hence the fact that Sinn Féin did not become the majority party within the nationalist community until 2003. A precedent is the sad and unfortunate recent episode of the Irish women’s football team making pro-IRA chants.

All of these developments in historical narratives will make the task of restoring the institutions in Northern Ireland harder, as an ever more rancid grievance culture comes to the fore. As I say, the mistelling of history is damaging to communal relations, making reconciliation and the building of social solidarity harder. The promotion of these relentless historical grievances continues to embitter the communal mood and makes the restoration of those institutions harder.

In particular, I draw attention to Part 4, particularly the bits that have been criticised for being governed by the Secretary of State, for it gives a central role to the United Kingdom research and innovation councils, specifically the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Research cited previously by Dr Cillian McGrattan of Ulster University demonstrates how funding from these councils has

“fostered and supported an effective monopoly in Northern Ireland as regards the policy area of dealing with the past for many years.”

The funding councils have financially supported and promoted the work of a small group of “transitional” academics at Queen’s University Belfast. A significant part of this group includes academics who are also directors of the Committee on the Administration of JusticeCAJ—a lobby group that is focused overwhelmingly on state-perpetrated violence and abuse. These academics have also come together with key CAJ staff to form what is known as the Model Bill Team to campaign against the Bill.

I wish to give now—this why the T-word seemed to me so important earlier—a taste of the CAJ’s position from the introduction to its annual report reflecting on its own origins at a conference in 1981. It describes 1981, perhaps one of the key years of the Troubles as

“one of the worst years of the Troubles, with 117 people dying, 10 of them on hunger strike and seven through being hit by plastic bullets. Many of the others were victims of armed groups of various kinds”; in other words, there was no use of the T-word for terrorism; rather, a euphemistic reference to victims of armed groups of various kinds.

I mention this, of course, because the definitive work on the Troubles—Lost Lives, by David McKittrick, Brian Feeney and others—notes that 18 Protestants and 33 Catholic civilians were killed. Some of the latter were killed by republicans as suspected informers. Twenty-two RUC officers and RUC Reserve officers were killed, along with 24 Army and Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers. Six republican paramilitaries were killed and 10 died on hunger strike; three loyalist paramilitaries were killed and a further two others died. More than half the dead—64 people—were killed by republican paramilitaries, 14 by loyalist paramilitaries. The Army and the UDR killed 14 people and the Royal Ulster Constabulary three. This is hardly the picture presented by CAJ’s annual report. It demonstrates a failure to contextualise the relevant facts. Contextualising within the historical context is, however, one of the key aims that the then Secretary of State set out in the House of Commons in May.

The CAJ report goes on to say:

“Most shocking of all are the proposals for a total amnesty in regard to the Troubles, which are contained within the government’s Command Paper on legacy (published in July 2021). These would not only provide for an end to prosecutions, but also ban all recourse to law of any kind in relation to Troubles ‘incidents’. We have yet to see any draft legislation, but the Government’s clear intention is to provide for total impunity for state agents, completely contrary to the rule of law.”

This annual report by the CAJ effaces the crimes of loyalist and republican terrorists and their role in policing the ethno-religious divides and oppressing and terrorising entire communities, particularly working-class communities. The focus of the Committee on the Administration of Justice—and its central concern—is on anything it sees as state violence. What is alarming in the context of the Bill is that UK funding through the UK’s research and innovation councils has focused on a group of academics who form a large part of the executive of this organisation and who are working so closely with that organisation through their joint work on the Model Bill Team.

The funding councils are thus being given a major role in the funding of “Memorialising the Troubles”, the title of Part 4 of the Bill. This is problematic, given their role over the last 15 years in funding just one group of researchers with over £3.5 million of research funding, and creating what Dr Cillian McGrattan has called

“a monopolistic capture of legacy ideology and policy within Northern Ireland.”

Not only are non-violent unionist and nationalist voices and their collective memory downplayed but the voices of those who were oppressed and manipulated by the terrorist gangs in their own neighbourhoods are unlikely to be sought, although they are, of course, among the most affected of the communities here.

Given these problems, it seems to me that Part 4 of the Bill risks being placed and built on insecure foundations, and the devil is very much in the detail here. I note some of the attempts in the legislation before us to ensure balance, but it does need to be pointed out—given the contested nature of so much of this history and the issues associated with the current research programmes funded by the funding councils—that in this context, they are simply not good enough.

There is nothing to stop the entire exercise being divorced from the historical record and being used to rewrite history, to shape views and attitudes as a means to a political end, one that might well turn out to be far removed from the reconciliation that the Good Friday/Belfast agreement envisages. One of the problems here may be that the Economic and Social Research Council and the Humanities and Arts Research Council require research to make impacts beyond academia, including disseminating their findings through third parties and engaging with stakeholders. There is a danger that academic research engages through one ideological and community relationship alone, but can still point to high levels of engagement, dissemination and impact. That is unlikely to provide robust academic work, let alone to progress reconciliation.

With this ideologically driven monopoly already established in the field of legacy in Northern Ireland, this problem is now made all the greater. The relevant legislation here should ensure that those funders who helped to create and sustain that monopoly are also now required to exercise a degree of judgment that has, it seems, so far been singly missing and that they can properly be held to account now for doing so. The existing monopoly and ideology around remembrance needs to be robustly challenged in this House at this stage of the Bill and beyond. Experience to date suggests that this exercise may well not deliver what the Minister intends.

As I say, I support the Bill in principle, but I urge the Minister to look closely at strengthening Part 4 to ensure that government funding and UK taxpayers’ money goes into projects that will support reconciliation and not drive sectarianism and support extreme or politicised interpretations of Northern Ireland’s history. I am reminded of the exchange between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the White House on the night before the President resigned. Kissinger said to him, “What will be the verdict of history on us?” Nixon replied, “It all depends on who writes the history.” That is at the very heart of our deliberations today.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 5:47 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, I was 11 in 1969, when the Troubles started. I lived in an area of Downpatrick in County Down which was largely unscathed by terrorist violence. However, that changed in 1994, just before the ceasefires, when six of my neighbours were brutally murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. None of those people was ever involved in any political act, apart from voting, and none ever espoused violence. Whenever I visited those families, one little boy said to his granda and his mum after the murder of his father and his uncle that night, “Am I now daddy?” I found those words terribly evocative, but to me they bring back what this is all about: the violence, the terrorism and the dirty war, which I totally reject, had an enormous impact on ordinary families throughout the island of Ireland and also here in Britain, and we must never forget. We must never go back to those days.

The Minister referred to the violence of the last six or seven days in Strabane and Derry. Those acts of violence are also wrong and those people should be getting off all our backs and leaving us to live in peace and harmony. For those reasons, we need the restoration of political institutions, but this legacy Bill is not fit for purpose and should be scrapped. There was an alternative, and I have heard the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, refer to that. Yes, there was an alternative. I was part of that alternative in terms of democratic Irish nationalism and as a member of the SDLP, and very proud to be so, because we espoused non-violence and respect for political difference and we rejected all forms of violence. We wanted to see the three sets of relationships addressed in the Good Friday agreement.

The Bill is not supported by victims, international organisations representing victims’ groups, political parties in Northern Ireland or wider society and it is contrary to the provisions in the Stormont House agreement, in which the Minister was deeply involved.

Closing off criminal investigations and reviews such as Kenova, civil cases, inquests and police complaints relating to the Troubles will deny justice to victims and families. I have only just learned today that the police review of the Loughinisland case, to which I referred earlier, cannot continue because there is insufficient money in the legacy branch of the PSNI to do that work. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to the need to fund the PPS, and that is critical to allow the Kenova cases to come forward, because they deal with investigation and review. The replacement proposed in the Bill, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, is entirely inadequate and will be too closely controlled by Westminster. The provisions granting immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related incidents will see people who have committed the worst acts imaginable granted irrevocable immunity in return for partial and self-serving testimony that may already be entirely in the public domain.

The Bill stands to breach the UK’s obligations under Article 2, the right to life, and Article 3, freedom from torture, of the ECHR, and threatens the Good Friday agreement’s requirement for complete incorporation of the European Commission. Undoubtedly, addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past demands great care and sensitivity, but it is not served by the Bill, which is unworkable, undemocratic and in breach of our international obligations. Victims and families right across the community, some of whom I know and some of whom we have all met—I am thinking of Mr Raymond McCord’s video, shown in 1 Parliament Street some weeks ago—deserve truth and justice, but the Bill will not provide for that. I believe there is a deliberate attempt to cut down truth and justice for other means and ideas.

I have talked to various people and we are faced with the worst of outcomes—an outcome that benefits and best serves state and paramilitary-vested interests, whatever the claims to the contrary. They have a shared interest and common agenda. This has been a fundamental fault line in legacy discussions over the years, as the Minister will be aware, having been involved in many of those discussions. State and paramilitary elites, both republican and loyalist, do not seriously wish to comprehensively address the past, or would do so on self-serving terms, and do not intend to offer forthright answers to searching questions. That is what motivates this obscene legislation and I believe it should be totally cancelled.

It is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. A recent joint report by Houses of this Parliament decried this legislation and recent developments at the Council of Europe support these concerns. The Council of Europe has the responsibility to support and safeguard implementation of the ECHR. In a decision of September 2022, the Council of Ministers expressed its ongoing risk concerns regarding the UK’s departure from the Stormont House agreement to the present Bill, and stated that any legislation must be in full compliance with investigative duties under the ECHR. I ask the Minister: how will that issue be addressed? The Council of Ministers also expressed serious concern about the lack of formal public consultation on the Bill, ECHR compatibility and the “minimal support” for, and public confidence in, the Bill in Northern Ireland. The Swiss Government state that the UK should ensure that the Northern Ireland Troubles Bill is in line with the Stormont House agreement and the necessary means are provided to carry out independent and impartial investigations.

Reference has already been made to the Committee on the Administration of Justice, which has been working in this area in Northern Ireland for many decades, and the Model Bill Team, which is based between the CAJ and Queen’s University Belfast. One of those working on it is a neighbour of mine and I know her very well; I think she is a person who will believe in truth and justice. Amnesty International and the international rights and solidarity committee, formerly known as British Irish Rights Watch, have indicated that the Bill is unacceptable.

In abandoning the Stormont House agreement, the Government are in breach of commitments in the UK-Ireland New Decade, New Approach agreement that restored power-sharing in 2020. As far as I know, the Irish Government were never consulted about the Command Paper and the Secretary of State’s Statement of 18 March 2020. What about the co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement, the British and Irish Governments? Surely, in very sensitive matters such as legacy and victims, they should have been involved.

New Decade, New Approach committed to legislating for the Stormont House agreement within 100 days. It is now three years later. The Bill also conflicts with the Good Friday agreement over both the duties to ensure incorporation of the ECHR in Northern Ireland law, with direct access to the courts and remedies for breaches, and the framework for the devolution of justice. I cannot stress clearly enough that victims need access to truth and justice. The PPS in Northern Ireland needs to be adequately resourced. The legacy branch of the PSNI needs to be adequately resourced to carry out the outstanding inquiries required. We need issues to do with state collusion and the use of agents, which led to so many deaths of innocent people, to be fully investigated. I am aware of many reports from the Police Ombudsman’s office, not least that into Loughinisland, which show levels of state collusion. There is consensus within the human rights community that the legacy Bill is not fit and, in some instances, they say it is unamendable. It is definitely not compatible with international human rights standards.

I take no great delight in saying that I honestly feel that the Bill should be scrapped and scrapped now. We should revert to the Stormont House agreement and involve all parties in discussions to deal with these very vexatious issues to do with legacy and victims. In my mind, violence and terrorism were never, ever justified. The killing and maiming of people and the destruction of property, in the name of a cause, were never, ever justified. I say to the Government that what they are trying to do—to grant immunity from prosecution to certain groups, such as veterans who may or may not have committed illegalities and serious crimes—is wrong. In that vein, the Bill should be abandoned and scrapped.

Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench 5:59 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, whose stand on terrorism and violence, and what she has done for many years, I admire very much. I do not necessarily come to the same conclusions as her on everything, but she is fully aware of that.

I appreciate, from Northern Ireland’s point of view, the amount of effort that is going into trying to do something about the legacy, especially from the Government Front Bench, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the Liberal Democrat Benches. We must all be grateful for the amount of effort they are putting into this. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, went into the depths of the trauma, and I would like to follow up a little bit on that.

I declare an interest: my wife and I were both in the home-based security forces in Northern Ireland, and my wife looked after the families of those who were suffering from terrorism. We also host a veterans’ mental welfare charity at our home.

Whatever you think about the Bill, it is giving a form of indemnity to people, and we should look at why we are here. Is this setting a precedent in Ireland? It is actually not, because in August 1923, the Republic had an indemnity Act for its own forces and then an amnesty for all prisoners in 1924. In 1961—this is a relatively little-known fact—there was an amnesty in Northern Ireland, passed by the Northern Ireland Government when my grandfather was Prime Minister, for those people who were involved in what was called the “50s trouble”. This is not a precedent way out on its own.

We have to note how and why we got here. We are here because the state and society have failed to convict terrorist criminals over the period of the Troubles. If that had been possible, we would not be here at all. First, we had internment, which failed—as we are all fully aware of—for a lot of reasons. That was a disaster. Secondly, we had the Diplock courts, where we could not run trials with juries because of intimidation, so the trials were decided by one judge, or three judges on appeal. Although Sinn Féin and the terrorists, and the so-called loyalist terrorists, objected to Diplock courts, by their very nature they were slightly less unfriendly to them, because a jury convicts beyond all reasonable doubt, but the judges had to write down why that person was guilty. For those people who say—it has been said here before—that the Diplock court convictions were roughly level with other types of courts and so on, that may be so. However, I am fully aware of some of the particular cases which arose from Fermanagh, and the police and the investigators could not bring them forward because they knew that they would fail in a Diplock court. That was a slight appeasement to the terrorists.

We have heard about letters of comfort. I believe that when the Government, who were talking to Sinn Féin/IRA, got the list of people, they then checked with Northern Ireland investigators whether they had evidence to bring to court. They quite clearly did not, otherwise they would have done so by then. However, their reply went something along the lines of, “Currently we do not”. In the Chinese whispers, “currently” got lost, yet we are all fully aware that forensic science moves on, and convictions and cases—even more civilian-type cases, if you like—suddenly get new evidence, which comes from new forensics and various other things. So, this was an omission that was simply not acceptable, but it happened.

On the decommissioning of weapons, the terrorists decommissioned the weapons they wanted—presumably the ones with the most forensic traces on them—and got rid of them. That was an elimination of evidence.

We then have—it was not brought out for them—in this country, as compared with most modern countries, inadmissible evidence, which comes from telephonic and intercepted sources. We have discussed this in other Bills. As a result, we have quite a good idea of information, which is not evidence, that adds up to the fact that people had actually committed these crimes. However, that evidence is inadmissible.

Then, of course, we also had the release of prisoners.

People may think that the terrorists were discriminate —no, they were not. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has already mentioned the number of people who were killed from both communities. When I was in the regular Army in Belfast, we had come-ons the whole time, where somebody left a device—whether it was a proper device or a hoax—and then a cordon was put in while the real bomb was some distance away. Most of them were IRA, I have to say, and because of the nature of Belfast, the chances of Roman Catholics from west Belfast going past them were incredibly high—and they did go past, and the terrorists never turned a hair. Then, of course, they had to disappear. We should not give much credibility to these terrorists, I am sorry to say.

Under the Bill, the commission must grant immunity on three conditions, which your Lordships are all aware of—I am not going to waste time going through them—but apparently this is unpopular and unacceptable to all parties. Somebody with a certain amount of intelligence said to me the other day, “Don’t you think that that’s not very true? This is a smokescreen by Sinn Féin.” Public relations-wise, Sinn Féin has to continue to hope that some members of the security forces will be brought to court for things that they should not have done. That is what its PR position is. However, Sinn Féin is very practical about this, and the numbers of terrorists we are talking about—I admit that there were loyalist ones as well—far outnumbers those people; we are talking about a multiple of 100, 200 or 300. However, the Bill is here and it will probably go through—QED, Sinn Féin gets what it ultimately wants: a clean sheet for all those people.

So, we must be aware of the effects of the Bill in giving immunity. Is the bar on this evidence going to be high enough? If somebody admits to driving a car and being part of an incident—there were sometimes 20 or 30 people, especially on border incidents—are they going to be obligated to give the other names? Where do we go from there? This is going to rattle down the thing. I cannot see how somebody making an admission of what they did could avoid giving the names of their fellow conspirators. What is going to happen here?

What we really have to look at are the ordinary people and the families, and what it was like. I will focus on the families of security forces, prison officers—people who contracted for the Government. We lived with constant tension and threat every minute. We had bomb detectors on our cars and alarm rockets on our houses. We were armed at all times, whether it was going out to dinner, going to church, or whatever. Some of our houses were seriously targeted, where SAS or covert people were even put into them. It may sound funny, because it is more like “Yes Minister”, but there were gas mask drills for the families. It went to that extent.

These were serious times. Down with us, a policeman was being covered by the very best of soldiers, but they were withdrawn when the threat had supposedly gone down, and he was shot the next night. We did pattern of life studies for all our soldiers and everybody we connected with so that they could be covered. The bin lorry, with two soldiers on it, was covered 24 hours a day by a plain clothes patrol. They were called “pixies” by some. Bus drivers were also covered—it was everybody who had a routine. From my point of view, when I was lambing ewes at three in the morning, there would always be a police car somewhere locally for the same reason. That is what people were living under, and it did not produce anything other than an awful lot of stress.

Soldiers, victims and the community suffer from intergenerational trauma. We have heard about that, but we should look at it. Perhaps overidentification with victims causes trauma—the term used is vicarious traumatisation—among people who are so close to the victim. It is not just families; it is also friends. If one of your friends came to the attention of terrorists, it would affect you too. So, this goes much wider than just the victims. According to Children in Need, PTSD in parents translates into very much higher rates of ADHD in children. We have instances in our charity where the trauma has gone down to grandchildren—this is serious. People also say that when parents are stressed, babies and children lack bonding in their formative years because their parents are not smiling. This is serious stuff. It is not just the victim but an ever-increasing cascade of traumatised people. It is vast.

There was a study published in the National Library of Medicine in Maryland on its intergenerational effects. It says:

“Intergenerational transmission of memory is a process by which biographical knowledge contributes to the construction of collective memory— which we have been talking about—

“(representation of a shared past).”

Participants were children from Croatia and were asked to recall the 10 most important events that occurred in one of their parents’ lives. Approximately two-thirds of people from eastern Croatia, where there was more conflict, and one-half of people from western Croatia, where there was slightly less violence, reported war-related events from their parents’ lives. War-related memories impacted the second generation’s identity to a greater extent than non-war-related ones, so it is totally out of proportion with all this violence.

From our area, I knew three brothers who were soldiers. Jimmy was ambushed when he was going to work on a school bus in the morning. Luckily, he was only wounded. He was then shot months later in Derrylin on a school bus, in among all the children. Ronnie was shot delivering vegetables for a shop, about eight months or a year later. Cecil had married across the community and was killed on the doorstep when visiting his wife’s family in Donagh. Their sister Hilary who joined up—and the ladies were not the fighting part—was killed in a hit and run accident while serving her country on a VCP. Look at the trauma and look at where it all goes.

Then, of course, you have Enniskillen and the Omagh bombing and enough said about them—but there is never enough said about them. Therefore, the effect of the Bill is to give terrorists a get out of jail free card while yet again doing little or nothing for terrorists’ victims, their wider families and their friends. The mental trauma continues. Why are people, especially Sinn Féin, allowed to glorify terrorism? We have heard about it almost daily. This is psychologically induced, perpetuated trauma, which is an issue and an effect. It is also far too commonly believed that knowing more will help give closure to the victims. I am not suggesting that it may not help but, when I talk to the bereaved and injured, they say this will not give closure. What they want is some form of accountability for what has happened.

There is virtually no glorification of the successes of security forces by themselves or by the peaceful majority. That does not happen and would be totally unacceptable among our peaceful communities on both sides of the religious divide. I would just ask that when we talk about the hurt and lasting feeling of injustice, people understand that it is not a skin-deep protest. This is real and the grief is normally dealt with privately—and most people like to deal with it privately—but it becomes public when tormented by glorification of terrorism and the constant appeasement of those groups.

I hope we will see that this Bill might work with amendments that will come through and I thank the Government for being prepared to accept them.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:13 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, I find it a special privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. Next April will mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast agreement. I say “mark” rather than “celebrate” because, from my own perspective as someone who was there on Good Friday 1998 when that deal was done, a wish to celebrate was not in the forefront of my mind.

There was a feeling of great relief. There is no question about that. After almost 30 years of death and destruction, was this really the end of the violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland? No one knew for sure but, in the immortal words of my late noble friend Lord Trimble, it was about giving the people of Northern Ireland a chance. David Trimble was right about that and I do not regret for one moment what he did to help the citizens of Northern Ireland. Indeed, I am very proud of that.

However, reaching agreement that day did not come without an incredible amount of pain, particularly for those individuals and families who lost loved ones over the previous three decades, or who suffered life-changing injuries. I lost many friends, as did other noble Lords taking part in the debate. As an Ulster Unionist, I thought of the Reverend Robert Bradford, the Member for Belfast South in another place, gunned down by the IRA in 1981 at Finaghy Community Centre, along with the caretaker Kenneth Campbell. I also recalled the vicious murder of Edgar Graham, a rising star of the Ulster Unionist Party, shot dead by the IRA in 1983 in the precincts of Queen’s University, where he was a law lecturer. I could go on and on.

The main problem for me with the Belfast agreement, as it was for most law-abiding people across the political divide, was the early release of terrorist prisoners. It was a bitter pill to swallow but one which we hoped would lead to a much better, healthier future for everyone living in Northern Ireland. That is why I find this Bill so distasteful and why I shall be opposing its passage in the Division Lobby.

Back in 1998, I had been around long enough to know that the Belfast agreement could not ultimately be the end of the story. In the Ulster Unionist Party we knew there would be twists and turns as well as inevitable betrayals from the United Kingdom Government to this day. The issuing of on-the-run letters and secret royal pardons to terrorists certainly falls into that category. Introducing this Bill, which is opposed by all Northern Ireland’s political parties and His Majesty’s Official Opposition, does so too.

As your Lordships will be fully aware, more than 3,600 people lost their lives in the Troubles: 90% of the killings were at the bloody hands of terrorist groups—two-thirds by republicans and a third by loyalists. Some 10% of the Troubles-related deaths were attributable to the Army and the police, which, in stark contrast to the terrorists, operated within the law and had to justify their actions. His Majesty’s Government holds detailed records of who within the security forces was deployed in Northern Ireland, when and where, and what they did. The republican and loyalist terrorist groups have no such paperwork. This inevitably leads to a distorted process that focuses on the security forces alone, coupled with a parallel Sinn Féin/IRA campaign to rewrite history and whitewash the crimes of the brutal terrorist killers.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, alluded to, we have witnessed graphic evidence of this in the past few weeks with Sinn Féin/IRA vice-president Michelle O’Neill claiming that there was no alternative to the IRA’s campaign of cold-blooded murder and Sinn Féin/IRA president Mary Lou McDonald arguing that there is no comparison between the Provos and gangland criminals. Both could not be more wrong, and their attempts to romanticise the actions of IRA killers have real-world consequences, particularly in the minds of young people with no first-hand experience of what Sinn Féin/IRA—or indeed loyalist terrorists—did. As the noble Lord, Lord Godson, mentioned, a video recently shared on social media of the Republic of Ireland women’s football team singing “Ooh ah up the Ra” after a victory was one disturbingly awful example of what can indeed happen.

Have I understood the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, correctly? She felt that the Irish Government should be consulted and she was totally correct. In the context of a discussion about legacy, there is often a lack of focus on one key actor throughout the Troubles: the Irish Republic. We hear a great deal of noise from across the border about what His Majesty’s Government must do, what they must reveal from their files and so on. However, many people in Northern Ireland would like to know more about the files held by the Dublin Government—and there is no shortage of questions that demand an answer.

For example, did the Garda Siochana agents in the IRA know in advance of numerous high-profile terrorist attacks, and when did they pass this information on to their handlers? What knowledge did the Irish security forces have about IRA training camps in the Republic, and what action was taken to eradicate them? What operations were launched to intercept the importation of terrorist weapons into Irish ports and, if not stopped there, to halt their journey and stop their use in the murder of innocent citizens in Northern Ireland and Great Britain? Why, for so many years, did the Irish Republic allow itself to become a safe haven for IRA terrorists escaping back across the border after carrying out numerous attacks on targets in Northern Ireland? How much intelligence was there about the network of IRA safe houses south of the border? Why was there such reluctance to extradite terrorist suspects to Northern Ireland?

I could go on and on. Put simply, we must never forget that, when it comes to resolving legacy issues, the silence from Dublin continues to be somewhat deafening. Perhaps the Minister could update us in his response about any discussions that His Majesty’s Government are having with the Irish Government about receiving answers to these questions.

On the substance of the Bill before us, it is important to place on record that the Ulster Unionist Party did not support the legacy arrangements contained in the Stormont House agreement of 2014, believing them to be imbalanced. Victims want truth and justice. Some want both; others focus on one. Justice means different things to different people. The terrorists have already had their amnesty. They sleep in their beds at night knowing that they have got away with it—got away with murder. They have their comfort letters. They know the outcry that Sinn Féin/IRA will generate if any “good Republicans” or “friends of the peace process” are questioned, let alone charged.

What we now see is an attempt to go after the police and the Army—sometimes 50 years after the event—aided and abetted by Northern Ireland’s well-financed and self-appointed guardians of human rights, who claim a desire to hold the state to account but have little interest in the abuses perpetrated by the terrorists. I pay tribute to the bravery and restraint of those who served in uniform in Northern Ireland, such the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. They stood between the terrorists and the terrorised. They defeated the IRA’s terror campaign.

The Ulster Unionist Party believes that those who broke the law should be held accountable to the law, no matter who they are—terrorists, police officers, soldiers, civilians or politicians. We have always opposed the idea of an amnesty. Victims and their families have a right to retain the hope that, one day, they may get justice even though they realise that, with the passage of time, that prospect becomes ever more difficult.

I shall vote against this misguided legislation receiving a Second Reading.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 6:23 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, it is an honour and something of a burden to follow three distinguished Members from Northern Ireland: the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Of course, I cannot begin to claim the detailed knowledge that they have, but I was with Airey Neave the night before he was assassinated. I knew very well Robert Bradford, who had an office next to mine in the Norman Shaw building and was murdered at his surgery. When she was acting as a secretary for me, my wife shared an office with Ian Gow’s secretary; I shall never forget when I received the news of his death.

I got to know Northern Ireland well when I had the honour of chairing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place. We had a true all-party committee, with four parties from Northern Ireland represented, only one other Tory and seven Labour Members. We worked together. All our reports were unanimous. I enjoyed the confidence of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, when he was Secretary of State, and that of his successor, Shaun Woodward. From time to time, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, would ring up and discuss Northern Ireland affairs. I not only got to know the Province but grew to love it and its wonderful countryside, its quite remarkable people—in both communities and, at its best, with one community.

In 2006, we published a well-received and unanimous report on organised crime in Northern Ireland. I learned so much from the evidence, all of which had to be taken in camera; it was, I think, unique for a Select Committee to have all its sessions in camera because those people who came to speak would not otherwise have been able to open up in the way they did. We heard some terrible and grisly stories from them. When we published the report, which we did in Armagh with a special session, we had to get the permission of the chief constable, Sir Hugh Orde, because all previous reports had been published in Belfast, mostly in Stormont. However, he was very encouraging and helpful.

I then had the great privilege of getting to know one of the most remarkable men in Northern Ireland in recent years, who is deservedly a member of the Order of Merit and a Member of your Lordships’ House. I am of course referring to the right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, a former Primate of All Ireland, who, along with Denis Bradley, produced that remarkable report; I had the great privilege of being able to discuss it with both of them. He did a great service to Northern Ireland.

The other vivid memory that I have of terrorism and crime was addressing a meeting in Crossmaglen village hall. I was told that I was the first Conservative politician to do such a thing since 1906, but it was because a brave couple—the Quinns—came to see me; I then introduced them to my committee. The murder of that young boy, Paul Quinn, was one of the most dastardly murders in the Troubles.

So I approach this Bill as one who has some knowledge of, and a great deal of concern for, one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom; indeed, I want it to remain so. However, we must face up to the fact that legacy can be both a poison and paralysis, and can become a cancer in the body politic. I pay great tribute to my noble friend Lord Caine, who made what I thought was a very moving and powerful introductory speech. It was one of the most honest speeches I have heard from a Minister on the Front Bench in either House because he actually said to your Lordships, “I don’t much care for this Bill. I’m troubled by it. I shall be bringing in some amendments.” We should all reserve our final verdict. I say that to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan; I know why he said what he said, but let us give the man a chance. Let us see what the amendments are like. There are other amendments, some of which I have signed, which are to be tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Let us try and see what we can do with this Bill.

We must remember that there will come a time, and it is fast approaching, when almost everybody involved in the Troubles, in whatever capacity, will advance into real old age and within a decade or so, a very large number of them will be dead. We have to ask ourselves the question—it is a painful one, but it would be dishonest if we did not ask it in this debate—is the proper answer a statute of limitations? We have to be very careful to distinguish between those who died in the course of duty and the innocent civilians who were murdered by terrorists, and the terrorists themselves, who sometimes lost their own lives, mostly by accident—they did not go in for self-immolation. We have to face up to these questions as we debate this Bill in Committee.

I was one of those who, in another place, spoke out and voted against the War Crimes Bill, which was rejected in your Lordships’ House, one of the main arguments being that as time passed by, memories faded. Let us be honest: they sometimes become distorted as well. Therefore, I did not think it right, in the 1990s, to be passing a Bill dealing with crimes committed in the 1940s. Of course, very few people have come to trial. There have been a few in Europe, but nobody has been sentenced in this country.

These are painful questions that we have to face up to. But I want to end on a note of hope that is my most remarkable memory of my time as chairman of that committee. Ian Paisley and I entered the House of Commons on the same day. I got to know him perfectly well. I liked him, though I did not agree with him on many things. At the service to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the death of Sir Thomas More, I was the steward who escorted Ian Paisley out of the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft when he got up to protest.

When he became First Minister, he asked me to see him. The Secretary of State made his study available at Hillsborough. When I went in, he said, “I want you to know something. Martin McGuiness has a spiritual dimension.” You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather; but he meant it. When Ian Paisley stood down as First Minister, I had the honour to be at the dinner at Hillsborough, hosted by the Secretary of State and attended by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Taoiseach. The panegyric to Ian Paisley—for it was nothing less—was delivered by Martin McGuiness, to his “friend and mentor”. As we all know, they were known as the Chuckle Brothers in the popular press. If those two men could come together in that way, then we need people of stature to come together now. We need Stormont reactivating. We need an Executive that will look after the affairs of Northern Ireland for its people, rather than refusing to do so because of a disagreement on a wholly different political issue.

I very much hope that in Committee, we can come to an agreement across your Lordships’ House, send back to the Commons a Bill that is much better than the one it sent to us, and move forward; and that, at the same time, those who have been elected to Stormont can realise the proper obligations of the elected, come together for the people of Northern Ireland and work together for them, both Executive and Members of the Assembly. This is the challenge. We must see that it is achieved if we possibly can. All those of us who care about the future of the United Kingdom in general, and the future of Northern Ireland in particular, have a duty in this.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 6:36 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, it is always a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, whose care and concern for Northern Ireland has always been exemplary. I thank and commend the Minister for the last part of his speech, which I hope signifies a complete rewrite of this Bill, not just tinkering amendments. To his great credit, he was pretty transparent that it would not have been his Bill; obviously, it was drawn up by others higher up the government ladder. It needs rewriting completely if it is to pass this House.

I ask the Minister when he replies to answer this question on the record. Did I understand him correctly in saying that the only way immunity can be revoked under this Bill is if the perpetrator lied, not if evidence is uncovered showing that the perpetrator was guilty of, let us say, murder? I would be grateful if he could clarify that.

The word “Reconciliation” appears in the title of this Bill, and there is a cruel irony in that, because it is not about reconciliation and, if enacted, would not aid reconciliation. In essence, it is saying to victims and survivors of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, “What happened to you and your loved ones no longer matters”, and to the perpetrators of some of the most horrific crimes imaginable, “What you did no longer matters”.

What is set out in this Bill is utterly shameful, and I cannot support it. I will give your Lordships a worked example. On 10 August 1996, John Molloy had nearly reached his home in north Belfast when he was confronted by a group of young men and women. He was repeatedly stabbed in a frenzied attack and was left to bleed to death on the pavement. He was just 18 years old. Can the Minister explain to the House and, more importantly, to John’s still grieving parents, Linda and Pat, what precisely the difference is between the sectarian murder of John in Belfast and a racist murder in Leeds?

My right honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State raised this case in the other place but got no direct response. I hope that the Minister, who cares deeply about Northern Ireland, will respond tonight. Saying that Northern Ireland is a place apart just will not wash. It seems that with the protocol, Northern Ireland must be as British as Finchley, but when it comes to the life of a young man in Belfast, the Government’s legacy proposals in this Bill put Northern Ireland closer to Pinochet’s Chile.

This Bill, if passed in its current form, would offer the thug who murdered John the chance to seek a kind of legal absolution—indeed, it would encourage it. All that is required under this Bill as it stands is for the perpetrator to tell the story of that night to the best of their “knowledge and belief”. “I murdered him because he was a Catholic”—and that will be it. The perpetrator will be free to walk up to Linda and Pat Molloy and laugh in their faces. Perpetrators can boast about it to their friends and the world at large if they so wish, because Clause 18(14) of this Bill says that once granted, immunity cannot be revoked except, possibly, if a lie is discovered, no matter what they do subsequently. Are the Government seriously asking this House to sign up to that? Will we really sink so low, just because the Commons did so when the Government rammed it through, in the name of so-called reconciliation?

When the noble Lord responds to the debate, perhaps he could also explain to the House what comfort he thinks this process will bring to the Molloy family, or to the families of those murdered because they were Protestant while singing hymns in the Darkley Pentecostal Church in 1983; or to Jean Caldwell, whose husband Cecil was blown up by the IRA along with seven workmates at Teebane in January 1992. The Bill puts the interests of the perpetrators over the needs of victims and survivors at every turn. Perpetrators are given choices denied to victims and survivors. If any come forward, they will control the narrative: it will be their version of events, “to the best of” their “knowledge and belief”, as the Bill specifies.

The Bill is sold as protecting veterans and other servants of the state from investigation and potential prosecution where their actions have resulted in deaths which are contested. I should like to make some observations on that. The first concerns the number of references from the Government Back Benches in the other place to “vexatious prosecutions”. I am not a lawyer but I am not aware of that as a legal concept. Perhaps they mean “malicious prosecutions”. In any event, I have yet to hear anyone from the Government Front Bench take issue with it. In which case, when the Minister responds, will he tell the House which part of the Northern Ireland criminal justice system the Government hold responsible for these “vexatious prosecutions”? Is it the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service, the judiciary or a combination of all three? Perhaps he could tell the House how many vexatious prosecutions there have been in Northern Ireland since 2010.

My second observation is on the line of attack—again, particularly from some elements on the Government Back Benches in the other place and expressed at Second Reading—that anyone opposed to this legislation is therefore hostile to those who have served and those who continue to serve in the Armed Forces. That is specious nonsense—indeed, worse: a vile calumny. Those of us who had the privilege to serve as Ministers in Northern Ireland, as my noble friends Lord Murphy and Lady Smith did, had the privilege of doing so under the close protection of the RUC, then the PSNI and the Metropolitan Police. We were always aware that those officers would be prepared to put their lives in danger to protect ours. We worked with successive chief constables and we fully recognise and salute the role of the police, who, often in the direst of circumstances, served to uphold the rule of law and protect the people of Northern Ireland.

Equally, former Secretaries of State for Defence and distinguished noble and gallant Lords who served at the highest level in the Armed Forces know first-hand of the professionalism and bravery of those we put on the front line in Northern Ireland. That is not to say, however, that they could do no wrong. The unqualified Bloody Sunday apology made by then Prime Minister David Cameron, for the behaviour of soldiers that terrible day, underlined that. The Minister explained his role in drafting it. If the authors of the Bill have their way, Lord Widgery’s cover-up inquiry—for that is what it was—would have been the final word on Bloody Sunday. Those killed in Ballymurphy, including a priest and a mother of eight children, would have remained a gunman and a gunwoman. The truth that emerged through that inquest would have remained hidden and the reputations of innocents been trashed forever.

Those who argue the veterans’ case also stress two other points. First, they do not want equivalence with those who brought murder and mayhem to the streets of Northern Ireland, to our cities here and beyond. The Bill does not differentiate because, as much as the Government might want to, they know it cannot.

Secondly, they say that if someone in uniform has broken the law, they must be held to account. Who can argue against that? It is what those who serve with honour want and deserve, but the Bill does not deliver that. It is specifically designed to close down all routes to justice and accountability, including civil proceedings and inquests. As the Bill stands, there will be no proper criminal justice investigations, merely reviews into the balance of probabilities standard. We must presume that a Bill coming before us has been drafted with great care. We must presume that the words used express precisely what the Government intend to be enacted —and we all know the difference between investigation and review.

To say that this could lead to the prosecution of anyone who refuses to take advantage of the immunity process—in effect, an amnesty—is disingenuous at best. A Director of Public Prosecutions could not put a case before the court on the basis of a balance of probabilities review. The effect of this legislation will be to make some of the most heinous crimes simply disappear. It is an insult to victims and survivors and an affront to the rule of law, which, as parliamentarians, we are all committed to uphold. Among other things, it will create the bizarre and absurd situation whereby someone applying for a job with an unspent conviction for shoplifting would be required to tell his or her potential employer but a self-confessed mass murderer would not. As the Bill stands, once the low-bar immunity is granted, it cannot be revoked, even if it subsequently transpires that the perpetrator has misled the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, or indeed has re-engaged with a proscribed organisation.

There are so many fundamental flaws in this legislation that it may be that, as the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Alyson Kilpatrick, told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, it is not capable of being amended. As she told the committee in a devastating critique of the Bill:

“It is clearly in breach of the Human Rights Act” and it is

“not going to be possible to remedy this Bill, certainly not without very significant redrafting such that it would change the whole nature of the Bill.”

I am flatly opposed to the Bill and, given the opportunity, will vote to kill it. Meanwhile, any amendments proposed must fundamentally address the perpetrator, victim and survivor imbalance in this legislation currently before us.

I have heard it said that throughout the peace process, compromises on the rule of law were made and that this is simply another one. The Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill of 2005-06, which I introduced as Secretary of State, has been cited as one example. There is no doubt that it was difficult and controversial legislation, but it came nowhere near to granting the amnesty that this current legacy Bill explicitly does. Anyone who went through the offences Bill process would have had to appear in a special court. They would have emerged with a criminal record. They would have been required to submit fingerprints and DNA samples to the police and, crucially, any benefits they gained could have been revoked if they committed further crimes.

The last Labour Government worked towards the goal of inclusive power-sharing in Northern Ireland, including the devolution of policing and justice powers. We achieved the first part in 2007, when I was Secretary of State, and completed the process in 2010 under my successor. This legislation attacks that settlement to reassert the primacy of the Secretary of State—something else wrong with it. The chief constable will be instructed by the Secretary of State which cases can and cannot be investigated. The courts will be told which cases they can and cannot try. The Northern Ireland Justice Minister, the Northern Ireland judicial system and the Northern Ireland Policing Board, all central to the devolution settlement, will be overridden by the Secretary of State. Whether this is an intended or unintended consequence, it is a massively retrograde step by any measure. Indeed, the powers of the Secretary of State to control the whole legacy process run right through the Bill and that is deeply concerning.

My thinking on legacy matters has evolved over the last number of years. Those of us who have grappled with them know that these are difficult matters. The Minister has tried to grapple with them honestly as best he could over many years. In 2018, I and other noble Lords with a close interest in Northern Ireland, including the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who signed the letter, wrote to the then Secretary of State about pre-Good Friday agreement prosecutions. I believed then, as I do now, that there was little to be gained by devoting precious police resources to cases where there was little prospect of a successful prosecution.

The Historical Enquiries Team completed work on 1,615 cases involving more than 2,000 deaths, yet only three resulted in prosecutions and convictions for murder. I still believe that the PSNI should be focused on keeping the population of Northern Ireland safe in the here and now and into the future, rather than precious police resources being diverted to legacy cases. I have put these points to the Minister in terms of the amendments that I, with cross-party support, intend to table tomorrow.

A key point is that there is now an alternative to the less than satisfactory arrangements we have been criticising. Operation Kenova, headed by former Chief Constable Boutcher, is a working model of the way to deal with legacy that provides the information that many victims and survivors desperately want, and at the same time leaves open the route to justice where the evidence reaches the necessary threshold. For the last two years, more than 30 files referred by Kenova have been sitting with the under-resourced Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and he was quite right to do so.

It is quite wrong, however, for Secretaries of State to criticise Kenova for failing to deliver any prosecutions when they knew full well that none had been put before the courts by the PPS, because it is under-resourced. Kenova, under the leadership of former Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, has widespread support from the families who work with it. It is a model that can be upscaled and at a lower cost than current strategies, and it would release the PSNI from the burden of legacy cases. As I said, I will be tabling amendments to try to introduce this into the Bill. I hope the Minister will accept them, because I think they will create a consensus around the Bill that is palpably lacking.

Photo of Lord Hogan-Howe Lord Hogan-Howe Crossbench

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for the opportunity to intervene. It was merely on his point about Operation Kenova which, as he said, has gained widespread support. It included four investigations and one review. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, mentioned Operation Denton, which I believe is reviewing 93 incidents and 127 murders. Whatever happens with this Bill, it seems important that that review continues and is not interrupted by what the Bill delivers. The prospect of that being stopped would be a terrible thing for all the families who believe that progress is being made because of Chief Constable Jon Boutcher’s good work.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I am grateful for the intervention, particularly as the noble Lord has long experience of policing, and he makes telling points. In short, Kenova is the way in which we can get consensus in this House to proceed with the Bill, heavily amended. I have suggested some amendments that have cross-party support. The Minister has seen them privately and, if the issues are only technical, I am willing to discuss them with him to try to reach agreement.

In conclusion, we frequently refer in this House to the need to develop consensus in Northern Ireland on a range of issues, not least on dealing with the legacy of violence. With this Bill, the Government have contrived to create a consensus: it is opposed by every political party in Northern Ireland and by all victims groups. When the 2006 offences Bill faced that kind of opposition, I withdrew it. The Government should follow that example with this ill-conceived Bill. They must think again before they do irreparable damage to victims and survivors who have suffered so much already.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench 6:53 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, it will not surprise the House, bearing in mind that Peers from Northern Ireland have lived through and experienced the events that have been referred to by virtually every speaker, that this is an extremely emotional occasion for me. The years of my adult life have almost totally been lived out in the years of the Troubles, and the jobs I tried to do all centred on people. They centred on the bereaved, the injured, the devastated, on those who committed terrible deeds and on those who were encouraged eventually to find a better route.

I have listened carefully to each speech tonight and have tried to put together the jigsaw of people referred to in my mind. Then I looked around the Chamber and saw many of my fellow Peers who do not live in Northern Ireland but who have taken the trouble to identify with our lives and experiences. I thank them for that. Then I looked across and saw the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Murphy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. In each case, memories flooded back of working with those with responsibilities for the government of Northern Ireland, as they had, and I am grateful.

At this moment, however, I think most of the houses in which I have stood, the bedsides besides which I have knelt and the families, particularly the young people, whose futures were devastated by the Troubles. So I make no apology for being personal in what I will say. It will not take long, for virtually everything that I feel needs to be said about this Bill has been said, and by people of such expertise as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge—lawyers, people with human emotions, politicians from Northern Ireland and people who have endured some of the emotional stress of these past years.

When I heard the title the Government had chosen for this Bill, I was encouraged, as “reconciliation” has now found some structure in legislation. Then I read the proposed Bill and began to ask whether all the years of work and in seeking agreement were useless. Were all the tears shed and pains shared useless and unproductive? I could find nothing in the Bill that would increase the human expectation or realisation of true reconciliation; rather, it will add to the hurt and uncertainty, and to the dismal prospect of that hurt being endured for generation after generation.

My next reaction was to scrap the Bill totally, as it will not serve any useful purpose. I have sympathy with Members of the House who said, “Start from scratch. Start again”. But my memory goes back to Denis Bradley and me, and the Consultative Group on the Past, which made the first attempt to deal with legacy. We made many mistakes. We learned as we went along and society made its judgment, because we were at the wrong time. Society was not ready to look at its legacy. But, as I listen and read what has happened since, how many aspects of that report continue to surface? Put different labels on it, use different words, but the thoughts are there. There must have been something that was worth saying.

That led me to my second conclusion: we do not need to scrap the Bill totally but, as it goes through this House, must give it the sort of scrutiny that leaves no stone unturned so that we get to what is needed for the Northern Ireland of the future. That will mean questions about the work of the proposed commission, about its control and the control of it. It will raise questions about whether Westminster will be too involved and exercise too much control that could be exercised in Northern Ireland. It will ask questions of jurisprudence, which has not been mentioned tonight. My memory goes back to many years ago, when I tried to teach jurisprudence to reluctant law students. If there is one memory I have of those days, it is the knowledge that there is a sense in which the definition of justice is what must emerge at the end of any process dealing with legacy, wherever it is. I honestly believe that the Bill in its present form is totally guilty of running a horse—and, dare I say it, a hearse—through the nature of justice.

I believe that we must look at the Bill and not totally scrap it but take it to pieces and see which Lego bricks should remain. Many things have been said tonight about ways in which we can improve our approach. To conclude these brief remarks, I believe that the new legislation we seek must be centred on the victims, and on the suffering of the people who suffered most in our Troubles—above all recognising their claim to justice and to a better future—and on a generation of young people who deserve far more than my generation has been able to offer them. If we cannot do that, we need to move away from looking at the disaster on the decks of the “Titanic” and have a look at what caused the iceberg.

Finally, I say this to the Minister. I think we are getting a sense tonight of what he personally has gone through and is going through regarding this Bill. He deserves genuine tribute for his honesty in his introduction to this session. I say this to him: he knows Northern Ireland; he knows what we are like; and he knows where we have come from. I beg of him, in the face of his colleagues and those who wish this Bill to continue, to pause, and have the courage to say some of the things that he has heard said tonight, and realise that there is a future but it is a different sort of Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated 7:04 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, there are many parts of this Bill that I find not just problematic but actually quite dangerous. There are also some parts of it that I agree with, and I am very pleased indeed that the Minister made it clear that he was prepared to look at a number of amendments. There is probably no other Minister with his knowledge and background that could actually succeed in making something out of this Bill, if that is what your Lordships’ House decides.

It is important to look at how we got here. The Stormont House agreement of 2014 has been mentioned before, but let us not forget that not every party in Northern Ireland supported that agreement and it is not an international agreement, despite what some nationalists have been trying to claim. The Stormont House agreement’s 200-page document—which included the new non-crime crime of historic police misconduct, to be directed at retired George Cross RUC officers—is a draft that is now nearly a decade old. I am pleased that it has been dropped and superseded by this Bill, even with all its problems.

The second thing in this history was the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment, as has been mentioned, which read:

“we will introduce new legislation to tackle the vexatious legal claims that undermine our Armed Forces and further incorporate the Armed Forces Covenant into law.”

We saw that legislation enacted in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021, but crucially it omitted Operation Banner veterans who served in Northern Ireland. The result has been the continuing prosecutions of soldiers for alleged crimes committed in the 1970s, some 50 years ago. More are possible, following the papers submitted by Operation Kenova to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. So we see that lawfare, in its many forms, has continued unabated.

It is worth reminding your Lordships that, as some have already made mention of, some 300,000 Army and police served in Northern Ireland during those years, 1,000 of whom were murdered. Their ECHR Article 2 right to life, which we hear so much about, was colossally violated.

I proposed an amendment in April 2021 that the overseas Bill’s effect should depend on a report being made on

“progress made towards equal treatment of veterans of operations in Northern Ireland since 1969”.

In reply, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, said only that Northern Ireland was “a different issue”, while adding

“we will not allow our brave service personnel who served in Northern Ireland to be forgotten.”—[

The noble Baroness said very little else on that, but let us be clear that the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act was not an amnesty. It introduced several new evidential hurdles before a prosecution could be mounted when there had been a previous investigation and if no compelling new evidence was available. It insisted that the public interest in finality was paramount.

That Act was a far better vehicle than this Bill, which has had unworkable—or more precisely, never likely to be worked—immunity arrangements tacked on. They corrupt the law and need to be improved. We all need to be honest: the law has already been corrupted by the many amnesties and mini-amnesties deemed politically necessary in the 25 years since the Belfast agreement.

The question of compelling and credible new evidence is one where this Bill fails badly, and strong amendment is needed to Clause 11, titled “Requests for reviews: general provision”. Unless narrowed to include a phrase such as “compelling new evidence”, it means that the new investigation body, the ICRIR, simply becomes a one-stop shop for nationalist and other lawyers, who have now given themselves the grand title of legacy practitioners. It will replace, and perhaps even streamline, the current options of fresh inquests, civil suits and compensation claims—1,000 of which are now in the Belfast courts, as I heard in an answer to a Question—plus PSNI and Police Ombudsman reinvestigations.

The third way that we have got here is, of course, the understandable desire of bereaved families for access to the details of their relative’s death, the documentation available and memorialisation. Crucially, they also want justice, which is, I am afraid, in terms of convictions of terrorists, no longer deemed likely. This was even stated by police investigators, such as Jon Boutcher of Operation Kenova.

People also talk about truth. We know that prosecutions, other than those of soldiers, will not happen after such a passage of time. Terrorists in particular cannot be brought to court because evidence sufficient to convict is not there. The IRA kept no paper records, and recently harvested DNA alone will not suffice. Millions of pages of state documents are promised and that is welcome, but they are only part of the truth and will need assessment by lawyers and historians. Here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Godson. We hope these will not just be the monopoly group of Queen’s University academics, currently funded by UK research councils to the tune of £4 million, who seem to concentrate entirely on anti-state issues rather than real victims of terrorism.

The Government should be much more up front about the fact that human rights law—the ECHR and the Human Rights Act—will necessitate the removal of large portions of text, especially from MI5 files that refer to individuals, both good and bad. Unconvicted killers cannot be named, nor must informants be, so amendments will need to be tabled, which I hope the Government can accept, to strengthen the Bill’s human rights dimensions in terms of the neglected safeguards in the ECHR—those on the right to a fair trial and the right to a reputation. Too many people think the phrase “Article 2 compliance” covers the whole convention, but there are 18 articles that we need to comply with, especially Articles 6, 8, 10 and 17. I know that the Minister said that he wanted to put Article 2 into law. We should look at the other articles as well.

To look at one county in Northern Ireland, Fermanagh, which the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, knows very well, 115 people were killed during the Troubles, over 90% of whose deaths were caused by the IRA. Sixty-five of the dead were members of the security forces and 40 were civilians. There were only five killings by loyalists and two murders by rogue soldiers; in other words, our security forces, at colossal cost to themselves, protected both sections of the community. I fear that not many legacy practitioners will draw attention to that noble achievement or the contrast in numbers.

Another group that upheld justice was our judges and magistrates, who took a terrible toll in death and injuries as a result. We rarely hear their names: Martin McBirney, Judge Rory Conaghan, Lord Justice Gibson and his wife Cecily, Tom Travers and his daughter Mary, Judge William Doyle, William Staunton, and Judge Eoin Higgins, who was targeted, with Robin and Maureen Hanna, and their six year-old son David, instead being murdered. Their Article 2 right to life was drastically breached.

I will say another few words about amnesty, because there has been some slight hypocrisy about that in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, mentioned a few of the amnesty agreements, but in the Belfast agreement and since a series of amnesties were put into legislation or operated administratively. Most happened under the premiership of Tony Blair and three Labour Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland: the noble Lords, Lord Mandelson and Lord Reid, and most notably the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who I am sorry is not in his place at the moment. As he mentioned, he tried to put through the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill 2005. That never made it into law because it was scuppered by Sinn Féin, which decided that it would not support it because it would give amnesty to soldiers as well as terrorists.

Just for the record, these part-amnesties were all agreed with the Irish Government, who are now making great play about this Bill: the Belfast agreement and the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, with its early release of hundreds of terrorist prisoners after two years served in jail; immunity from prosecution, called an amnesty in law, for evidence discovered on the decommissioning of terrorist weapons; the request in 1999 by Bertie Ahern for the UK to discontinue current and future extradition proceedings, acceded to by Tony Blair and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson; royal prerogative of mercy grants, issued silently in hundreds of cases and whose paperwork, I discovered, when I asked questions, had oddly gone missing; immunities regarding the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday, and the Hamill, Nelson, Wright, and Breen/Buchanan inquiries; immunities regarding evidence recovered from the bodies of the disappeared; and the so called on-the-runs, which have been mentioned already, a secret administrative scheme only for IRA members supposedly hiding in the Irish Republic, which operated contrary to the advice of the Attorney-General. At least 187 IRA men were granted OTR letters of comfort promising no prosecution, John Downey being the most famous one. I hope none of those are now in the mandatory coalition Government that the people in Northern Ireland were forced to endure.

Above all, we have to push back against the rewriting of history through the development of this moral equivalence between those who died defending our country, who saved lives in border areas out in the dark in the middle of the night, protecting people at the expense of their own lives, and those who set out deliberately to murder. The Government should change the definition of a victim. It is absolutely disgraceful that, in Northern Ireland, the definition of a victim, unlike in Great Britain, treats the bomber, if he injured himself, as a victim. How can we have such a moral compass to support amnesty for murder?

I will just mention Aileen Quinton, a very brave woman whose mother was murdered by terrorists, blown up at the war memorial on Remembrance Sunday 1987. She is now a volunteer with SEFF, one of the excellent victims’ groups. She wrote to tell me:

“Of course it is wrong that veterans who have been guilty of nothing but brave service are hounded but that is no excuse for putting them into the same bracket as the very few who have disgraced the uniform. No one should be subjected to unfair persecution and hounding but that is an argument for protecting the innocent and not letting off the guilty. Some innocent men get accused of rape and that is dreadful but that is no excuse for a blanket amnesty for rape.”

She mentions the Graham family, who have already been mentioned: three brothers and one sister, picked off one by one. After each murder, the others continued to serve in the Ulster Defence Regiment, standing by the law until they were slaughtered by the IRA. The sister was killed in a hit and run at a checkpoint when she was on duty as a UDR Greenfinch. If the forces of law and order could not save them from terrorists, the least they should expect is that they would seek proper lawful justice for their deaths.

I have one final thought for all your Lordships from Aileen:

“I did not become a terrorist when my mother was murdered. Now my government is more or less telling me that I should have. Far from leaving no stone unturned to bring her murderers to justice, my government is cementing those stones down unturned.”

If we are really going to move on, we need to accept that there is opposition across the board to this Bill in Northern Ireland but that it comes from very different angles. The idea that everyone is against it for the same reason is just not true. The difficulty that we have in your Lordships’ House is in recognising and separating what is genuine opposition and what is opposition for opposition’s sake to continue the sort of lawfare that many people in Northern Ireland seem to want, just to attack the state forces. I am very keen to see that amendments strengthen the Bill to ensure that we do not allow the innocent victim to be ignored at the expense of those people who just want to attack our state forces.

Photo of Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Conservative 7:19 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, I do not stand before your Lordships as someone from Northern Ireland and I have never been a victim of terrorism, but I care very much about Northern Ireland’s place and people. I am very concerned about the way in which Northern Ireland is too often treated as somehow outside the mainstream of UK politics, as if only people from Northern Ireland may speak about the situation in the Province.

Secondly, there may be a little cynicism in my remarks about the Bill, but they in no way reflect my opinion of my noble friend the Minister and his commitment and expertise. Already today we have heard his commitment to listen to noble Lords and the people of Northern Ireland, and to try his very best to improve the Bill.

James Hughes wrote a chapter entitled “Reconstruction Without Reconciliation: Is Northern Ireland a ‘Model’?” in the 2015 academic book After Civil War. While we may have a model reconstruction and end of violence, I am afraid that on reconciliation we are on less sure territory. After almost 25 years of trying to grapple with this issue, we are now faced with a Bill that, at first sight, seems far from creating the consensus that Northern Ireland requires around such sensitive issues.

However, despite its flaws the Bill can be worked on. It would have been far more satisfactory if it had evolved as part of the long process, as we have already heard this evening, going back to prisoner release in 1998; the work by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, on the Consultative Group on the Past in 2009; the Stormont agreement; and even the New Decade, New Approach agreement of 2019. One starts to wonder whether, when such good work was being done by Ministers who are now Members of this place and the other place and people on the ground in Northern Ireland, there was—I think my noble friend Lord Cormack obliquely referred to this—a feeling within Whitehall generally that this problem would go away through time and that legislation to address it was not necessary.

However, we have had to respect and recognise the significant change that has taken place since 2019, first of all in the response to the Command Paper in 2021. The slow burn of codified and state-sanctioned reconciliation that should have been the natural path from the Belfast/Good Friday agreement was a necessary symptom of that agreement. It is unfortunate—but the reality—that the fundamental political structures of Northern Ireland were more easily addressed in 1997 and 1998 than the reconciliation necessary to deal with ongoing legacy issues. That is not in any way to criticise the way in which an end to the Troubles was sought or the bravery shown by all those involved, but it did leave a need for further structure, thought and work.

The kind of instrumental reconciliation that was carried out in Northern Ireland, bringing both sides of the political elite together, was the necessary step before the socio-emotional reconciliation of finding peace that then needed to follow. It is not a reflection on those who have sought to do so that it has taken 20 years for us to get here.

It has been extremely disappointing, and has contributed greatly to the negative press the Bill has suffered, that all too often it has been seen as a Bill driven by a debate outwith Northern Ireland—a debate about veterans and the internals of the Conservative Party over the last two years, rather than what was best for the people of Northern Ireland and the veterans who served there. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, this is not to say that the rights of veterans of our armed services should not be protected and respected, but it seems to me that it will be the judgment of many in Northern Ireland that the Bill has come about only because of a media debate in Great Britain that had nothing to do with Northern Ireland.

The Government had the opportunity to build far more upon the foundations of the previous attempts in 2009, 2015 and 2019, to which I have alluded. In each of their arguments, they created a degree of consensus around certain elements and went some way, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, just said, to there being different elements that can be pulled together.

However, given that this Bill is now the vehicle, it is incumbent upon us to ensure we have a Bill that gives more confidence to the victims of the Troubles and, for those who wish it, a means to get to the truth. There are now opportunities to do that, but significant changes to the Bill will be required. I am slightly more optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that we will be able to achieve these.

I recognise that the answer to some of these suggested changes may well be that the independent commission, or whatever the name ends up being, requires more resource, but to deliver what it says on the tin, we will need to be willing to meet the challenges of victims, or else the Bill will be a meaningless act. In fact, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said, it could be counterproductive.

I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister responded to and further reflected on the following reasonable demands from victims’ groups, beyond those he mentioned in his opening remarks. First, in Clause 1 there should be a broader definition of harm to allow a greater range of victims to come forward to make use of the independent commission, and to reflect the experience of Northern Ireland society as widely as possible. This new definition would reflect the UK Parliament order and definition of victims as of 2006, including those who have suffered psychological as well as physical harm.

Secondly, victims must feel part of the process, and I support calls for them to be able to respond to draft reports from the commission before actions are taken. I welcome my noble friend’s commitment to looking at stronger penalties for those who choose not to co-operate or to lie to the commission, and I look forward to those coming forward in Committee.

Victims must not have equivalence with perpetrators in this process but should be the dominant voice as we move towards reconciliation. When it has completed its progress, the Bill must clearly differentiate between victim and perpetrator; I fear that it does not at the moment. I will leave it to noble, and indeed learned, Lords to opine on the Bill’s compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. Again, I hear my noble friend the Minister’s commitment to look at the robustness of the process to ensure that concerns over rights to life and remedy are properly addressed.

We must also be realistic about the concerns and lack of co-operation with and community support for both the Historical Enquiries Team and subsequent PSNI initiatives. If this new independent commission is to be effective and to have public confidence, we need every single assurance over its membership and the independence of its members. If it is to have a lifespan of five years, what assurances will my noble friend give that it will be properly resourced to ensure that victims’ requests for investigation are not timed out?

I welcome the change in the Bill from the original Command Paper, making immunity at least conditional. I recognise that many in this Chamber and the other place are concerned about any immunity evading justice. I see the earned immunity as important in ensuring that there is a process through which all can be judged and have an opportunity to make a choice. Yes, the reality is that from the early release scheme onwards, and its further extension through this Bill, we have probably come to the end of the road for imprisonment for pre-1998 offences. This is very difficult for many of us to accept, but it is a clear evolution of previous positions and it is probably correct that it be incorporated in the Bill.

It is clear from all that has come before that there is still a desire in Northern Ireland for a formal process of reconciliation. The Bill may not have come about for the correct reasons or been a natural successor to the other attempts that have taken place, but it is the Bill we have. This process must not become the traditional zero-sum game of any one side feeling dominance over a process or being able to be portrayed as such.

If the Bill is about legacy and reconciliation, it is important that its clauses reflect a well-resourced plan to bring about reconciliation and deal with the painful legacy of the Troubles. To do so successfully, it must have at its heart a victim-focused and Northern Ireland-focused process intent on truth.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 7:30 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, it is a privilege—and a coincidence, which I will explain—that I should rise to speak after the noble Lord, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning. I am very pleased that his opening remarks made the case for those of us who are not Northern Irish, or indeed Irish, although I have extended family in Northern Ireland, to contribute to these debates.

I shall explain why that is particularly the case for both him and me. For those who do not know the geography of Ayrshire, Kilwinning is a really important railway hub. It is the point at which the train from Glasgow to Ayrshire splits and goes north and south all the way down to Stranraer, where it is a gateway to Northern Ireland. As it goes north, it comes to a town called Stevenston. I was born and grew up in Stevenston and was educated in Kilwinning.

Interesting as all that is, the important point here is that the demography of that part of Ayrshire is the mirror image of Northern Ireland. It is not the only part of Scotland that is the mirror image of Northern Ireland in that sense, but it is a part of Scotland that, through all of my young life and, I am sure, much of the noble Lord’s life, there was persistent cross-fertilisation between that part of Scotland and Northern Ireland—not all of it positive and enhancing, I have to say; quite a lot of it criminal; and at times, I have no doubt, some of it terrorist.

So, far from saying that we are entitled to participate in this debate, I think we both have a duty and a responsibility to participate in it, and we should declare an interest. If the legacy issue for Northern Ireland can be dealt with and reconciliation achieved, that will be reflected in our communities, which will be massively enhanced by that having been achieved. There are victims of the Troubles in the communities that we grew up in who are not counted in any of the arithmetic we have been discussing today. I do not intend to speak for victims; there are people in this debate much better qualified to do that than I am.

I respect and admire the Minister for a number of reasons. His honesty and the way that he introduced the Bill are only a part of it. I admire him for his persistent contribution to finding a way to deal with these and other issues for Northern Ireland. He merits our support, and nothing that I say—and I will be significantly critical on one theme of the Bill—is in any sense a criticism of him.

I was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office for a period and had responsibility for victims and criminal justice matters, so I do not underestimate the difficulty or complexity of what the Government are faced with, but I do not think the Bill is the answer. I wholly adopt an element of my noble friend Lord Hain’s speech and that of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames: this needs to be substantially reworked. Others have made the same point. The willingness of the Government to rework it may or may not produce a workable piece of legislation; the jury is out in respect of that.

I pay tribute to those planning to table and support amendments that seek to palliate some of the problematic provisions of this legislation; indeed, I may do so myself. I am minded to table amendments that will deal with one part of it, though not nearly the most challenging part. Those amendments that have been proposed by the Law Society of Scotland, whose consistent advice about legislation in this House has been of the highest quality over the time that I have been here. They will deal with the Bill’s provisions to the extent that they limit the Lord Advocate’s constitutional position as the head of the system of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland, as set out in the Scotland Act 1998. The system of criminal prosecution and civil liabilities are matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament. In my view, the Bill’s provisions engage the legislative consent convention, the Sewel convention, and therefore require the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

To the extent that I have the capacity to do so, it is my intention to participate where I can and where I think I can make a contribution to the debates on other amendments, both in Committee and on Report. However, in these remarks I shall focus on those faults of the Bill that are intrinsic to it and which cannot be removed without making it a wholly different, and not guaranteed to be better, piece of legislation. I therefore support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, because it encapsulates many of those.

I regret that I have to say this but it would be difficult even for the most Panglossian optimist to contest the view that the UK’s reputation for adherence to international law has been degraded by the actions of successive Governments since the Brexit referendum. The Secretary of State has declared his belief that the Bill is compatible with our obligations under the ECHR, but others have raised significant doubts as to whether that is the case. For example, the European Commissioner for Human Rights and two UN special rapporteurs in relevant areas have raised concerns that the legislation threatens a de facto breach of our obligations. Nearer home, the JCHR and the Select Committee on the Constitution—the latter in a commendably short and accessible five-page report—persuasively explain why the Bill, as drafted,

“is unlikely to comply with the Convention”.

The aggregate of this convincing cacophony of concern is that the measures set out either are incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the ECHR or create a risk of incompatibility. Either way, the effect of the Bill will ultimately be more litigation before our courts or, if the present Government deploy their overwhelming majority in the other place to secure the Bill of Rights, before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, because applicants who will then not be able to enforce their rights domestically will be more likely to take their cases to the ECHR. That will be directly contrary to the UK Government’s ambition to bring an end to litigation; in my view, it will significantly increase the possibility of it.

Of particular concern is the fact that the new ICRIR will be given wide discretion in deciding whether actions should be referred for prosecution and in setting time limits for future criminal and civil actions. In addition, by creating a limited immunity scheme, potentially barring certain civil claims and affecting existing and potential future inquests, the Bill potentially undermines the rights of victims in significant ways.

I think we all received the same email yesterday from the Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner. In it, he urged me—as I read it—

“to keep the victims, survivors, and their families at the front of your mind.”

Earlier in the letter, he explained:

“Since the Bill started its passage through Parliament on 17 May I have met with many victims and survivors including the Commission’s own Forum, to fully understand how or indeed if, the Bill could work for them. The cold reality is that no-one I have met believes that the Bill is going to help heal or reconcile.”

That environment is not likely to bring us to one of the fundamental objectives that the Government have set themselves here—of bringing an end to this litigation —and which other noble Lords have spoken in great detail about the necessity of achieving.

Article 2 of the ECHR requires that:

“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.”

In that light, it is incumbent on the Government to explain how the proposals for the ICRIR, which is created to recover information about a death or serious injury but does not provide any legal remedy, are compatible with their ECHR obligations under Article 2.

This is a point that I do not think anyone else has made, but it is an important and serious one that we should make in the current conditions: while the risk of the UK breaching its obligations under international law is serious in and of itself, it is perhaps exceeded in seriousness by the fact that it compromises our ability beyond these shores to challenge other nations when far more serious and fundamental breaches occur.

Those hostile to human rights in authoritarian states are watching. So too are human rights defenders in other states who substantially depend on us. How will we be able to insist that, for instance, Russian commanders are held accountable for atrocities in Ukraine? We are presently and properly investing millions of pounds in collecting the evidence of those very possibilities. The retort is dismally predictable. How can we insist upon accountability under the rule of law when we have exempted potential offenders of our own from just that mechanism?

If accountability is to mean anything, this basic principle must be maintained: that crimes, when proven, are punished and that victims receive justice. While I sympathise with the desire to draw a line under the Troubles and focus on reconciliation, it is an uncomfortable and regrettable truth that justice cannot conform to a politically expedient timetable. More than 1,000 killings remain unsolved. Although I accept that the chances of prosecution diminish with every passing year, the granting of immunity in exchange for information will be seen by many—nay, all—victims as an attempt to achieve present harmony at the price of their past and enduring distress.

Greater unity in Northern Ireland is desirable, although I suspect that unifying the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin in disapproval of this measure is not quite the spur to unity that the Government had in mind. How can imposing a set of measures that have attracted disapproval from all communities and shades of political opinion possibly heal the fractures that remain in Northern Ireland?

I applaud those who are seeking to amend this legislation and to improve it, but I have fundamental concerns about the direction of travel represented by the Bill. In her foreword to the 2018 consultation document, Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, the then Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, wrote:

“We … continue to believe that any approach to the past must be fully consistent with the rule of law. Conservatives in government have consistently said that we will not introduce amnesties or immunities from prosecution.”

What has changed in the four years since to cause this Conservative Government to jettison what was apparently an immutable principle in favour of this new approach? The answer is clear: either it is not a fixed principle practised by Conservatives in government, or this legislation does not do what it appears to do. I look forward to the Minister clarifying which of these two interpretations is correct.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 7:42 pm, 23rd November 2022

My Lords, this debate will adjourn and resume not before 8.15 pm, to allow us to move on to Report and Third Reading of the Counsellors of State Bill.