All 18 contributions to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Wed 29th Jun 2022
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage: Committee of the whole House Day 1 & Committee stage
Mon 4th Jul 2022
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage: Committee of the whole House (day 2)
Tue 24th Jan 2023
Thu 11th May 2023
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings
Tue 18th Jul 2023
Tue 5th Sep 2023
Wed 6th Sep 2023
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords messageConsideration of Lords Message
Tue 12th Sep 2023
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments: Minutes of Proceedings

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading
Tuesday 24th May 2022

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Brandon Lewis Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Brandon Lewis)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The troubles represented a terrible period in Northern Ireland’s past and in these islands as a whole. They claimed the lives of some 3,500 people in Northern Ireland, across Great Britain and in Ireland. They left tens of thousands injured and they impacted all aspects of our society. Many across the whole of our country still bear the scars, both visible and invisible, today. That Northern Ireland in 2022 has come so far in so many ways is a testament to the spirit and strength of its people and to the vision, bravery and determination of those who forged the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It is also a testament to the sacrifice of those men and women who went out each morning to uphold democracy and save lives, rather than those who went out to take them.

Looking around today, I see many wonderful examples of a transformed, inclusive, peaceful Northern Ireland, yet despite this exceptional progress, the troubles continue to cast a shadow over all those impacted and over wider society. Community tensions and divisive politics can undermine stability. This legacy of the troubles is an issue that successive Governments have attempted but ultimately been unable to resolve, because it concerns one of the most complex, sensitive and difficult periods in our country’s history, but we cannot stand by and do nothing; we cannot let the status quo continue. To do that would be a dereliction of our duty to the people of Northern Ireland and to those who served their country during that dark period. It would be a dereliction of duty to families across the United Kingdom who still seek answers about what happened to their loved ones, in some cases more than 50 years ago.

This Government recognise the huge challenges involved in seeking to address Northern Ireland’s past. We have a responsibility to ensure that future generations do not suffer in the same way as those who have gone before them. With every year that goes by, the opportunity to obtain answers for those who lost loved ones in the troubles diminishes further. We have a responsibility to ensure that children can grow up together, be educated together and understand all aspects of our shared past—a past that, at times, was bitter, difficult and inordinately painful for everyone involved.

The current system is broken. It is delivering neither justice nor information to the vast majority of families. The lengthy, adversarial and complex legal processes do not offer the most effective route to information recovery, nor do they foster understanding, acknowledgment or reconciliation. Faith in the criminal justice model to deal with legacy cases has been undermined. The high standard of proof required to secure a successful prosecution, combined with the passage of time and the difficulty in securing sufficient evidence, means that victims and their families very rarely, if ever, obtain the outcome they seek from the process.

We need to be honest about the limitations of focusing on criminal justice as a means to secure truth and accountability in relation to what happened to those who were killed or injured. It is arguably cruel to perpetuate false hope while presenting no viable alternative to deliver the information that so many families and survivors seek. That is why we are introducing legislation that seeks to address this most difficult and sensitive of issues.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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The Secretary of State mentioned those who served in uniform. I remind him gently and kindly, but seriously as well, that my cousin Kenneth Smyth and his friend Daniel McCormick, both in the Ulster Defence Regiment, neither of whom were able to—excuse me. No IRA man was ever made accountable for their murders 51 years ago. Stuart Montgomery, a wee 20-year-old police officer was murdered outside Pomeroy—no IRA man was ever made accountable for his murder. John Birch, Steven Smart, John Bradley and Michael Adams, the four UDR men killed at Ballydugan, four men who served this country in uniform—no one was made accountable for their murders.

Secretary of State, you can understand the angst and the agony that I have on behalf of my constituents. I want to have the justice that they have been denied for over 50 years—in the case of the four UDR men, for 32 years this Sunday past. What are you doing to make sure that happens?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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The hon. Gentleman gives a powerful and clear outline of the difficulty and pain that people feel, as he has just shown, in this very complex and sensitive area. He makes that point better than almost anybody else could. He touches on the very challenge we face, as we have seen over the past few decades, with the failure of the current system to bring that accountability, understanding and truth for people. As I will outline over the next few minutes, through this legislation we want to achieve an outcome that means people get the truth, with which comes accountability. He is right to focus on that for his constituents.

Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab)
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Like the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I have met many victims of the violence and the loved ones of those who died. They still want the Stormont House agreement to be implemented. The Secretary of State has to account for this. The civil proceedings on the Ormeau Road events revealed a lot of detail, as did the Kingsmill and Ballymurphy inquests. They all revealed truths that had not been known. What the Secretary of State describes as an adversarial approach to seeking justice actually works. This will disappear and he has to account for that.

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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It is not going to disappear. What we are looking to do is to have a full, independent, investigative, article 2-compliant process. I will touch on that in the next few minutes.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I will just make a bit of progress and then take some more interventions.

Drawing its core principles from the important work and principles of Stormont House, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, this legislation focuses on effective and timely information recovery, and the answers and accountability that come with it, for both families and survivors, as well as aiding reconciliation and helping society move forward.

The Bill will deliver on our manifesto commitment to the veterans of our armed forces, security services and the Royal Ulster Constabulary by providing the men and women who served to protect life in Northern Ireland with the certainty they also deserve. Many of them, of course, are also victims, or friends and family of victims.

No longer will our veterans, the vast majority of whom served in Northern Ireland with distinction and honour, have to live in perpetual fear of getting a knock at the door for actions taken in the protection of the rule of law many decades ago. With this Bill, our veterans will have the certainty they deserve and we will fulfil our manifesto pledge to end the cycle of investigations that has plagued too many of them for too long.

I acknowledge the many hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), as well as my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who have campaigned tirelessly and with great dignity on this issue. Indeed, I recognise that many victims and veterans groups more widely across Northern Ireland and Great Britain have campaigned for a long time for better outcomes for victims and survivors.

We were clear when we published our Command Paper last July that we would listen to feedback with an open mind, and my team and I have done just that over the last 10 months. We have heard the pain and perspectives of people from all viewpoints and communities. During those conversations, we repeatedly had to confront the very painful reality that, with more than two thirds of troubles-related cases now 40 years old, the prospect of successful prosecutions is vanishingly small, which is why this legislation marks a definitive shift in focus by having information recovery for families at its core.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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In all candour, I do not envy the Secretary of State’s task. He describes it as painful, difficult and sensitive. All those words are absolutely correct, but this is not the first time we have been in this situation. Since the days of John Major and Tony Blair, the only way we have been able to make progress is to get everybody together to build consensus and then introduce legislation. It is surely already apparent from today’s debate that the Secretary of State does not have that consensus, so what does he hope to achieve by introducing this legislation?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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The right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. As I said, it is widely acknowledged that this is a very difficult and painful area on which there has not been consensus. There was not even full cross-party consensus on Stormont House. That is why there are times like this when, having listened to everybody—the political parties, the victims groups and the veterans groups—it is sometimes for us in Government to take those difficult decisions to find a way forward that can deliver a better outcome for people.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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I think I heard my name in the list the Secretary of State read out earlier.

As early as April 2017, the Select Committee on Defence recommended a statute of limitation combined with a truth recovery process. One reason we felt able to recommend this is that the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 meant that no one, no matter how many murders they had committed, could face a jail sentence of longer than two years, which meant being released in one year or 18 months at most. So there is no question of punishment fitting the crime, and there is no question of it not being the same for service personnel and terrorists—the Act has already established that—so the question is, what will stop the process, because the process of trying elderly veterans is the punishment, rather than the sentence.

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I am very aware that the Defence Committee has published two reports in this area, and they are well worth reading. They recognise the changes that mean the criminal justice system for these cases is not like the criminal justice system for other types of crime across the United Kingdom. The reality is that, after the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, we had the 1998 Act and decommissioning, among other things that I will touch on in a moment, and it means that we in Government are looking at what we can do, based on the reality of where we are, with a very difficult and imperfect situation that has developed through difficult decisions made in the past, to deliver a better outcome in the future.

It is also about understanding that, regrettably, a distorted narrative of the past has developed over time. This legislation will help to ensure that more victims and survivors, some 90% of whom are of course victims of terrorist violence, are able to obtain answers about those who caused it.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The person who killed Lexie Cummings, who was murdered in Strabane, escaped across the border with an on-the-run letter. Where is the justice for Lexie Cummings’ family, when his killer has an on-the-run letter, gets away with it and now has a prominent role in a political party across the border? Where is the justice, Secretary of State?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me just a few minutes, I will answer that very question very specifically.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
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I applaud the intent of the Bill and I want to see the end of the harassing of our veterans—people who have served this country well in uniform. My right hon. Friend talks of accountability a lot. Where is the accountability in the granting of immunity to people who have murdered or seriously maimed other people?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the things that has been clear in talking to victims groups, and obviously one of the challenges of this issue is that different people, even within the same family, can have very different views about what they see as a successful outcome for their family, in terms of finding a resolution, or information and understanding. With that information and understanding, as the Bill will outline, can come accountability. It is right that we have accountability, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, who was Chairman of the Defence Committee, outlined in his report, we cannot have justice in the sense of the punishment fitting the crime following what was done in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act. I will touch on that in a few moments.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend. May I ask him a linked question? Is not one of the problems that those who can be pursued through the courts tend to be those who were working on behalf of the Government, because there are records, which are well kept and in huge detail? There is little in the way of records on those who committed terrorist acts, on whichever side of the community. What, in general and specific terms, will happen to the letters of comfort that have caused such chaos in many of those cases?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My right hon. Friend makes the same point, and I will deal with that issue specifically in a few moments.

My message to victims and survivors, many of whom have engaged with us since we published the Command Paper last year, is that we have listened, and carefully. We understand that, no matter how small the prospect of a successful criminal justice outcome, that possibility is something that they do not want to see removed entirely, and I know that, despite the changes we have made, this legislation will none the less remain challenging for some.

I want to say directly to all those individuals and their families that I, and we as a Government, respect the personal tragedies that drive their determination to seek the truth and accountability for the losses that they have suffered. I share that determination. The Government are not asking and would never ask them to forget what they have been through in the name of reconciliation. This is about finding a way to obtain information and provide accountability more quickly and comprehensively than the current system can and in a way that aids reconciliation both for them and for the whole of Northern Ireland.

I am immensely grateful to the many people who have engaged with us, sharing their deeply moving experiences and helping us to understand the sheer frustration and hurt that they feel over the loss of loved ones. Every tragedy remains raw, as we have seen even this afternoon in this Chamber, with the pain of many as strong today as it was on the day it happened.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
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I have a question about engagement with the Command Paper. The Secretary of State will know that virtually every victims group and every political party had major concerns about that. With whom have the Secretary of State and his officials engaged on the details of the revised legislation? As far as I can see, not a single victims group in Northern Ireland has been engaged with on the details, never mind supports it. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which the Government have a statutory duty to consult, have not been engaged with. The political parties in Northern Ireland have not been engaged with. So who exactly have the Government engaged with on the Bill before us today specifically?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I do not recognise that description of events from the hon. Gentleman. There has been wide engagement on this, both with the political parties, including his own just last week, and with parties more widely.

The first part of the Bill provides that, for the purposes of this legislation, the period of the troubles is defined as beginning on 1 January 1966 and ending on 10 April 1998—the date of the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Part 2 provides for the establishment of a new independent commission for information recovery, tasked with carrying out robust, effective and thorough investigations into the deaths and injuries that occurred during the troubles, for the primary purpose of information recovery.

We recognise the importance of the new commission being able to deliver its functions with absolute independence. This will be crucial to gaining the trust of families, survivors and individuals who decide to engage in the information recovery process. That is why the UK Government will have absolutely no involvement in the commission’s decision-making process. The new commission will have all the necessary policing powers to conduct its own thorough investigations, including the ability to compel witnesses and test forensics. The body will be supported for the first time by a legal requirement for full disclosure from UK Government Departments, security services and arm’s length bodies to make sure that it can gather all the evidence that it needs to establish what happened in each case.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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I recognise that my right hon. Friend and the Government are doing their level best in good faith to deal with a sensitive and intractable situation. Does he recognise that the establishment of the Goldstone commission in South Africa, which is not an exact parallel but has similarities, was itself beset by considerable controversy at the beginning, but its ultimate success was largely due to the stature and integrity of Justice Richard Goldstone as its chair? He was a former Supreme Court judge of South Africa and a former prosecutor for the international tribunals in both Yugoslavia and Rwanda, so a man of impeccable integrity and independence. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that, when we look for someone to be the chief commissioner, that is exactly the sort of person we will seek—someone with experience in these jurisdictions, but not necessarily even from the UK jurisdiction? Having someone of that level of standing will be critical, will it not, for the credibility of the decisions that the commission will be entrusted with?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My hon. Friend is right in the example that he gives. I will reference another one later. Operation Kenova has been successfully led and was also regarded with some scepticism at the beginning. It has shown that a piece of work, if properly done by the right people, can gain credibility, acceptance and understanding. My hon. Friend gives a good outline of exactly how this can be taken forward in a successful way for people.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)
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I commend the Government for doing all they can to deal with this sensitive issue—as we have seen today. Having served in Northern Ireland for three tours, I quite understand where the sensitivity comes from. If this commission is going to find the truth, the likelihood is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) has said, that on the soldiers’ side the evidence is there but for terrorists on both sides of the divide, it is not. How are the victims going to get the peace that we all want them to have when the truth is unlikely ever to be found?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My hon. Friend makes a good and important point. He is quite right. One of the challenges is the point about balance that I made a few moments ago. As we go forward it is important, first, that records will be made available in a way that they have not been made before, going beyond what we have done before with a legal duty for the first time on Government Departments, agencies and bodies, which will mean that a whole range of information will be available for the commission to look at. Of course, if people come forward with information, particularly in a demand-led process, as I will outline in a few moments, it will provide an opportunity for people to seek the investigation of crimes by an investigatory body with the right kinds of powers. Those crimes were committed in the vast majority, as he has rightly outlined, by terrorists who went out to do harm in Northern Ireland.

We as a Government accept that, as part of this process, information will be released into the public domain that may well be uncomfortable for everyone. It is important that we as a Government acknowledge our shortcomings, as we have done previously in relation to that immensely challenging period. It is also important, as hon. Friends have said this afternoon, that others do the same. Some families have told us that they do not want to revisit the past, and we must respect that. The new commission will therefore be demand-led, taking forward investigations if requested to do so by survivors or the families of those who lost their lives. The Secretary of State will also be able to request a review, ensuring that the Government can fulfil their obligations under the European convention on human rights.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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The Secretary of State used an interesting phrase when he said that others must play their part. On the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we have heard evidence of hundreds of people being murdered along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but the terrorists having then fled to the safety of the Republic of Ireland for sanctuary and stayed there. What assistance, if any, has the Republic of Ireland given? Will any evidence that is gathered there never be made available to the commission in Northern Ireland? Will we therefore have a blindsided, one-sided process that does not allow the Republic of Ireland to be held to account for its covering over and hiding of terrorists for decades?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I know that the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues have previously raised cases with both me and the Irish Government. One thing that was outlined in the papers that were signed off and agreed by me and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Irish Government around a year ago was that the Irish Government also committed to bringing forward legislation in Ireland on information recovery, to deal with that very point.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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Where is it?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I have not seen it yet, but I hope we will soon see something from the Irish Government to ensure that in both jurisdictions we are working to make sure that people have as much access to information as possible.

Written reports of the commission’s findings will be provided to the families or survivors who request an investigation. The reports will also be made publicly available, to provide accountability by ensuring that wider society can access the commission’s findings and understand and acknowledge the events of the past.

After we published our Command Paper, many individuals and organisations told us that an unconditional statute of limitations for all troubles-related offences was just too painful to accept. They said that we must not close the door on the possibility of prosecutions, however remote the chances might be. We have also heard from those in our veterans community who are uncomfortable with any perceived moral equivalence between those who went out to protect life and uphold the rule of law and terrorists who were intent on causing harm. Of course, there never could be a moral equivalence of that type.

For the reasons I have just set out, we have adjusted our approach to make this a conditional model. To gain immunity, individuals must provide, if asked, an account to the new commission that is true to the best of their knowledge and belief. That condition draws parallels with aspects of the truth and reconciliation commission that was implemented in South Africa, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) outlined. The commission will require individuals to acknowledge their involvement in serious troubles-related incidents and to reveal what they know.

Let me turn to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and others. The provisions will also apply to individuals who have previously been provided with the so-called on-the-run letters, or letters of comfort. When issued, those letters confirmed whether or not an individual was wanted by the police, based on evidence held at that time. However, I want to be crystal clear that the letters have absolutely no legal standing and cannot be used to prevent prosecution under this new approach.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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On the OTR letters, some of us stated at the time, and have done since, that the only way that the people of Northern Ireland and across the UK will be able to understand and believe that the OTR letters are null and void is when a person in receipt of such a letter stands in a court of law and the judge says, “Irrelevant. The case will proceed.”

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. That is why I made the point I just made, which I will repeat because I want to be absolutely clear about this: these letters have no legal standing. They cannot and will not be accepted and they cannot be used to prevent prosecution under this new approach. The new body’s investigations will continue regardless of people holding those kind of letters.

--- Later in debate ---
Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I am just going to make a bit of progress.

It is crucial that people with the right level of expertise take the important decisions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst outlined. That is why a judge-led panel will make the decisions about whether immunity should be awarded, aided by guidance that we will publish prior to any such decisions being made.

The introduction of this legislation is firmly in the context of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the decisions taken as a result of that agreement in the name of peace and reconciliation, outlined by others this afternoon, that have already fundamentally altered the criminal justice model in Northern Ireland for troubles-related offences.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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Let me ask my right hon. Friend a specific question. If somebody who committed a terrorist act appears before the truth and reconciliation commission and, during that appearance, talks a lot about what happened and names names, including the name of somebody who was involved in such a crime with them but refuses to give evidence to the commission, will the courts use the evidence provided as part of the truth and reconciliation process to prosecute the individual who refuses to testify before the commission?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Yes. I will go further: as we will outline in guidance, people will not be able to benefit if they come forward at the last moment. They have to engage at the point when they are asked. The short answer to my right hon. Friend’s question is yes.

Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
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I welcome the fact that after four years and two general election manifestos, the Government have finally brought forward the Bill that they have been promising the House for so long, but will the Secretary of State reassure me and my colleagues on one very important point? There are suggestions that the reconciliation process could take five years or longer. Many of our veterans are in the autumn of their lives, many are in poor health and some may well pass away before we get to that point. Will the Secretary of State reassure me and the House that this legislation, which was advertised as bringing vexatious prosecutions to an end, will not actually institutionalise precisely that problem?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Yes, I can give that assurance. As will be shown throughout the Bill’s passage, we are absolutely determined that it does not institutionalise the kind of problem that we are seeking to resolve, as well as, obviously, looking to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. I can give my right hon. Friend that reassurance.

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I shall take one more intervention and then make a fair bit of progress.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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I thank the Secretary of State allowing this intervention. On the matter of the on-the-runs, can he confirm that Rita O’Hare is still wanted by the authorities for her deeds in respect of the murder of British personnel? Can he confirm that an elected representative in Northern Ireland holds an OTR letter?

--- Later in debate ---
Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am not going to comment on particular cases, but I will say again that the so-called on-the-run letters have no basis in law and will not prevent or play a part in the process that we are outlining in this Bill. If somebody is in possession of one of those letters, they will still be subject to this legislation and, potentially, to prosecution.

As I have outlined, as a country we have already fundamentally altered the criminal justice model in Northern Ireland for troubles-related offences. We have seen the early release of prisoners under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 and the process of secretly decommissioning weapons, and of course there is already an effective amnesty for those who provide information to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains. Although the Government believe that the difficult decisions taken at those points were absolutely right for the peace process, the overall approach to addressing legacy issues has not since been adjusted to reflect those very decisions.

We cannot simply pretend that things did not happen or that challenging compromises were not rightly made. As a result, the context in which we approach these issues is fundamentally different from that for any other crime across the country. The Bill strikes a balance between a focus on information recovery through an investigative process that is compliant with international obligations, and ensuring that those who choose not to engage will remain liable to prosecution, should the evidence exist. The provisions will apply to everyone equally.

Part 3 of the Bill details the impact of the proposals on ongoing and future proceedings within the current criminal, civil, inquest and police complaints systems. From the date the Bill comes into force, no other organisation in the UK, apart from the new information recovery commission, will be able to take forward a criminal investigation into a troubles-related incident.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
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Will my right hon. Friend give way on the criminal justice point?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Just a moment.

Any existing cases in which a decision has been taken to prosecute will be allowed to continue to their conclusion. Future prosecutions will remain a possibility for those involved in offences connected to a death or serious injury, if they do not actively come forward. We have listened to the concerns expressed, following the publication of our Command Paper, about active civil claims and inquests, which is why we no longer propose to bring them to an immediate end. Civil claims that had already been filed with the courts before the Bill was introduced will be allowed to continue, but new cases will be barred. Inquests that have reached an advanced stage by 1 May next year, or the date on which the new commission becomes operational, will continue. New and existing inquests that have not reached an advanced stage by that point will not continue in the coronial system, but may be referred to the judge-led commission for investigation.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way again. Will he help me on two matters? First, will he explain—this harks back to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith)—how he envisages the interaction between clause 7, which will set limitations on the admissibility of certain material in criminal prosecutions, and the provision in clause 22 on the commission’s power to refer material? By the sound of it, compelled testimony and other types of material will be excluded, in meeting what I take it will be the full code test that will be applied by the relevant prosecuting authority.

Secondly, has the Secretary of State assessed the risk of satellite litigation by means of legal challenges to the decisions of the commission to make referrals? How will such challenges be dealt with?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My hon. Friend, as ever, makes insightful points. We are cognisant of those things and will go through them in Committee and in the guidance that we will issue. That is why it is important, referring to his earlier point, that this is a judge-led commission, which involves very highly respected investigative individuals in the process.

While addressing the legacy of the past rightly focuses on those most directly affected, it is a sad fact that the troubles have touched the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland, and across the rest of these islands in different ways, including many of those born after the Belfast/Good Friday agreement was signed. It is therefore important that we think of reconciliation and remembering in a societal as well as in an individual context. That is why, under part 4 of the Bill, an expert-led memorialisation strategy will lay the groundwork for inclusive new structures and initiatives to commemorate the tragic events of the past—to help us all collectively remember those lost and ensure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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No, I will make some progress.

A major new oral history initiative will be launched. We will want to make this one of the most ambitious and comprehensive approaches to oral history that has ever been attempted, drawing on international models and concentrating on collating lived experiences and testimony and setting them within their appropriate historical context. The public, including academics and historians, will have access to more information than ever before. As well as opening up archives in a major digitisation project, rigorous new academic research commissions will allow for a fuller examination of the conflict than has ever been possible. This will be supported by a new official history, led by independent historians with unprecedented access to the UK documentary record. Consistent with the Stormont House agreement, these provisions will create opportunities for people from all backgrounds, particularly those who may not have been heard before, to share their experiences and perspectives relating to the troubles and to learn about those of others.

The legislation we are bringing forward will implement a legally robust and effective information recovery process that will provide answers to families, uphold our commitment to those who serve in Northern Ireland, and help society to look forward, while, importantly, also recognising that those who chose, or do choose, not to reveal what they know should remain indefinitely liable to the threat of prosecution. We must recognise that, notwithstanding the important changes that we have made to the proposals as set out in July last year, this legislation, I accept, will be very challenging for many.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) will hone in and focus on this in more detail in his contribution, but there is one point that I want to raise. One of the most difficult aspects of the Belfast agreement was the decision that, if someone was convicted of a terrorist-related offence, they would serve a maximum of two years in prison. Under the proposed Bill, that will now be reduced to zero tariff—no time spent in prison. Where is the incentive in all of this for someone to come forward and to co-operate in a possible prosecution process when they know that, at the end of the day, if they just hunker down for the next five years and say nothing, there is no downside for them because they will never go to prison anyway?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s point, and I know that it is one that he and his colleagues want to explore over the period ahead, and I look forward to discussing this with them. However, there is a very big difference here with somebody having a criminal prosecution. One thing that has been fed through to us, and one comment that has been made in a number of engagements with different groups and parties, is that it is not necessarily about somebody serving time in prison, which, as a number of colleagues have said this afternoon, no longer necessarily fits some of the heinous crimes that were committed by terrorists during that period. It is about that accountability that comes with a prosecution if one is successful. None the less, I do recognise the point that he has made.

Trust and confidence in the new commission will need to be earned through its actions. As the commendable work of Jon Boutcher and Operation Kenova has proven, this can be done and has been done successfully in that example. As the historic Belfast/ Good Friday agreement approaches its 25th anniversary, now is the moment to move forward in dealing with the terrible legacy left by the troubles, to find answers for families who seek it, to provide accountability for the wrongs done on all sides and, ultimately, to bring understanding to the next generation so that they can move forward in peace in a society that has reconciled itself with the horrors of its past.

This is a hugely significant step towards enabling true reconciliation. In order to enable society to look forward with confidence, letting the status quo continue is just not good enough. Compassion and commitment require honesty about these painful realities and about the difficult compromises that we have already had to make and that we need to make going forward. The moment has come for us all to face these head-on for the sake of the next generation.

The Northern Ireland Office has recently relocated to offices in the centre of Belfast, which is another sign of progress and something that would have perhaps seemed unthinkable 20 years ago. On the building opposite our entrance, there is a quote on the wall that colleagues will have seen as they walk past, or visit, that establishment. It reads:

“A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise. A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.”

That is our challenge: to see how we can provide families and society with a way to remember and reconcile, but also enable us to look forward and to focus on a better future for all. I commend the Bill to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for setting out the measures in the Bill. Since the Bill was deemed incoming, I have taken the approach of trying to find common ground, so that we can move forward; the people affected by the subject of this Bill deserve that. I have not at, any point, tried to tribalise or to party politicise the issues here. I wanted to put that on the record now because I will certainly be going on to criticise aspects of the Bill, but that is not what I set out to do in the first place. I thank the Secretary of State’s officials for briefing me on the contents of the Bill last week. Unfortunately, that was before the Bill was published, but I am grateful none the less.

We all agree in this House that we must find a way to resolve the outstanding legacy issues from the troubles. The conflict touched every family in Northern Ireland: more than 300,000 people lost their lives and tens of thousands were injured, and that was among a population of fewer than 2 million. A thousand of those killed were members of the security forces. Terrorist atrocities were also committed in British cities from Birmingham to Brighton.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con)
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The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have huge respect, has just misspoken. Three hundred thousand people did not die in the troubles. Three hundred thousand veterans served in Northern Ireland, and 3,500 people lost their lives. I am sure that he will welcome the chance to correct the record on that.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting the record. Three thousand and more lost their lives in the troubles, and I apologise to the House for getting a zero in the wrong place.

The Belfast/Good Friday agreement sets out that

“we must never forget those that have died or been injured and their families”.

In truth, though, victims and their families were left without a clear path to address their personal tragedies through the peace process. The Good Friday agreement was a staggering achievement, but is ambiguous as to how to eventually address the killings committed during the troubles. While this was necessary to reach an agreement to end the conflict, it left victims’ families wanting. In 2015, following years of failings, the five main political parties in Northern Ireland and the UK and Irish Governments signed the Stormont House agreement. The result of months of painstaking negotiations, it provided a comprehensive way forward on dealing with the past. Its centrepiece was the establishment of an independent Historical Investigations Unit, with full policing powers to work through, in chronological order, outstanding troubles-related cases, and a separate independent commission on information retrieval. Despite Stormont securing the support of all elected parties at the time in Northern Ireland, regrettably this Bill jettisons that approach.

Northern Ireland deserves to look forward to a bright future, rather than living in the shadow of its past. That can only happen when those who have lost loved ones no longer have to spend countless hours searching for answers. The UK Government have a critical role to play in building a brighter future by building trust and acting as an honest broker to find a way forward.

Unfortunately, the Bill does not provide victims’ families with a process they can trust. In fact, it deepens their pain and trauma. Its provisions would set up a new body, the independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery, to provide answers to families about what happened to their loved ones during the troubles. All criminal investigations, all inquests that are not at the very advanced stage and all civil actions would cease and be folded into the new body.

The Government argue that, due to the passage of time, we have a duty to empower that body to grant immunity to killers in return for information they have about their actions. There is still the possibility of prosecution for those who fail to provide an account of their actions to the commission, but the bar for immunity is set so low that it is hard to see prosecutions happening in practice. The commission must grant immunity if three conditions are met: the perpetrator requests immunity, they then give an account to the body that is true to the best of their knowledge and belief, and the conduct they describe would otherwise have exposed them to criminal investigation or prosecution.

I must be blunt. Such a low bar for attaining immunity is offensive to the families who have lost loved ones and, in many cases, waited decades for answers. I will illustrate that concern with an example. Raymond McCord was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in November 1997. His father joins us today in the Public Gallery. There was no coroner’s inquest into Raymond’s murder, no police investigation that involved or reported to his family and no public inquiry. Raymond Sr. went through two court cases to have information regarding his son’s death released. He won, but when he received all the information, he found out that of 303 pages, 296 were redacted. At the same time, his son’s gravestone has been repeatedly vandalised, an action clearly intended to deepen the pain felt by his family.

Across the House, we must consider today whether this Bill offers Raymond’s family as many new rights as it does his murderer. I do not believe it does. Under this legislation, Raymond’s murderer has the right to come forward and, should he tell a basic but realistic account of his crime, he must be given immunity from prosecution—an immunity that stands even if in future that account is proved to be false. He could even go on to write a book about it, and wave at the victims’ families in the street as they pass.

Those are the rights given to Raymond’s murderer, yet nothing in the Bill says that the independent commission must listen to victims, communicate with them or take measures to protect their dignity and health. Those seem pretty basic rights to me, but even that low threshold is not met. The situation I have outlined is not hypothetical. These are real fears that are frequently felt by victims and that cause crippling anxiety. We must be on their side.

Just as disturbingly, the Bill does not prohibit anyone who has committed or covered up acts of sexual violence during the conflict from seeking immunity. Máiría Cahill, who was the victim of years of sexual abuse at the hands of the IRA, has said:

“This bill is, quite simply, disgraceful. Government say they take sexual violence seriously. Yet they are prepared to grant amnesty to those accused of conflict related sexual offences either in NI or England. It is an affront to victims, to justice and is gross hypocrisy.”

Let us be clear what we are talking about here. This Bill could well lead to someone who has committed rape being given immunity from prosecution. None of us can even imagine the impact that such a thing would have on the victim.

I will return to that theme but, before I do, I will talk about how the Government have approached the Bill in the wider sense—namely, the staggering lack of consultation and care given to this incredibly sensitive issue in the way this new Bill was conceived, drafted and is now being legislated. For reference, in 2018 the Government ran a public consultation on the previous legacy proposals, which ran for 21 weeks and received 17,000 responses. That was the right way to handle the issue.

I agree with the words of this Government in 2018:

“In order to build consensus on workable proposals that have widespread support we must listen to the concerns of victims, survivors and other interested parties.”

In comparison, the process for this Bill, with its unprecedented policy of granting immunity for murder and serious violence, has lacked any meaningful consultation at all. The Government published the Bill a mere seven days ago. It is 90 pages long and, in the words of one victims’ group, “heavily legal”. Yet, regrettably, the Northern Ireland Office refused to give detailed briefings to victims’ groups until today’s debate. That has caused not only hurt but confusion about what the Bill is offering. It damages rather than builds trust.

There seems to be a dismissive attitude towards prelegislative scrutiny of the Bill. Let us take the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was set up by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement specifically to safeguard rights in Northern Ireland. Its advice on the Bill was not asked for, and yesterday it announced that it appears incompatible with our human rights commitments. It read the Bill at the same time last week that the rest of us did. Had it been consulted before—that is, after all, part of the purpose for which it was founded—the Bill could have avoided some of the stinging criticism it is currently receiving.

Similarly, the Bill will have material consequences for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the judiciary. Both currently manage legacy cases, yet neither seems to have been given advance notice that the Government were planning to strip them of their role with almost immediate effect. The Irish Government, our partners in the peace process and co-signatories to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, did not see the Bill until it was published. They have now said they cannot support it in its current form.

With the greatest of respect to the Secretary of State, consistent polling has shown that the UK Government are now the least trusted actor in Northern Ireland. Rushing these proposals into Parliament here in Westminster has already damaged the reconciliation we are all aiming for. I understand that the Secretary of State is trying his best to find a way forward, but any proposal to deal with legacy must have victims and communities in Northern Ireland at its heart.

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Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Lewis
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That is absolutely right. It is all about protecting innocent service personnel from the vexatious use of the legal process. As I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State, it is not the punishment, but the process; indeed, the process is the punishment.

In the Defence Committee’s inquiry, we were fortunate to discuss with four eminent professors the applicability of the statute of limitations. Of course, I do not attribute my views to any of them, but I record the then Committee’s gratitude to Professor Sands, Professor Rowe, Professor McEvoy and Professor Ekins. They made it very clear that any statute of limitations had to apply to everybody or to nobody; there could be no legislating for state impunity.

The professors also made it clear that international law required not a prosecution, but an adequate investigation, and that that requirement could be met by a truth recovery process. The one concession that I make to those who have been criticising the Bill is that the Government need to be absolutely sure that the truth recovery process that they propose will stand up to that test in international law.

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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indicated assent.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis
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I am glad to see the Secretary of State and the Minister of State nodding, because it is essential that the process stand up to the test.

As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson), we can do one of two things. We can do what the Opposition parties want, which is to go on investigating cases more or less ad infinitum with very few prosecutions and even fewer convictions, but with a miasma of fear percolating among people who know themselves innocent—particularly those who served with distinction in the armed forces, but feel the sword of vexatious legal persecution hanging over them. We can go on with that process in the almost certainly vain hope of convicting a few more murderers, or we can protect those people, but the only way to protect them is by protecting everyone.

That is what we did in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, so the Labour party, which introduced that Act, has no basis on which to criticise a Bill that proposes exactly the same thing, for the same reason: to put an end to this persecution and, perhaps, to increase the possibility that, through the truth recovery process, families will find out more about what happened to their loved ones. One thing is certain: the families are unlikely ever to see the people who killed their loved ones brought successfully to court. Those people are even less likely to be convicted, and even if they were, they would serve only a few months in jail.

Bereaved families are being asked to make a sacrifice, but they are being asked to make it on behalf of a huge number of former soldiers and others in the security forces who deserve to be protected from vexatious pursuit through the courts. That is what the Bill is intended to achieve.

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Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con)
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I have huge respect for many of my colleagues in this House, and I have listened intently to what has been said today on all sides on this issue, on a path that I have walked down for seven or eight years now, whether in relation to Iraq, Afghanistan or the unique intricacies of Northern Ireland. I have seen the difficulty with this issue laid bare today. I was the Minister who introduced the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 that brought to a close the Iraq historic allegations team. Everyone understands that if people see someone commit a crime they want them to go to prison. Everyone wants accountability. To pretend otherwise is a huge disservice to the victims and those who serve in the security forces. That is to approach the world and this whole problem—it has been approached this way for the past 25 years—not as it actually is but as we would like to see it. We would all like to see those things. We would all like to have seen decent investigations from back in the day that would withstand ECHR challenge now. We would all like families to genuinely have hope of an understanding of what went on and have answers to their problems, but there is nothing we can do about that now. There is nothing we can do. That is not my opinion; it has been tested to destruction in the courts and the justice system in Northern Ireland.

The process of testing that to destruction has destroyed the lives of some of our people who sacrificed the most for the freedoms and privileges that are enjoyed in that part of the United Kingdom today. I am afraid that colleagues in this space have to get real and stick to the truth and the facts. A number of comments that have been made today are, I am afraid, not true. I dearly love my friend the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who is on the Opposition Front Bench. He is a great friend of mine, but what he said about sexual offences is not true. The truth is written in the Bill, and Members can read it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) made an incredibly powerful speech, but he mentioned collusion. Collusion has never been proved—[Interruption.] Collusion has never been proved in a court of law. If anyone would like to challenge that, please do so now. The suggestion that it happened is incredibly offensive to those who went out there to try to sustain peace.

I urge colleagues to accept that there are no winners here. There are going to be no winners. There is no social media clip that they can send out to the people who vote for them that will suddenly make them think they are the best thing since sliced bread and ensure they get in at the next election. There are no winners in legacy. It is a mess. The whole thing is a disaster. But we have to do what we can to bring some sort of end, finality and truth to this process for the victims. That is what I want colleagues to focus on.

Some Opposition Members have consistently said in the press that people want individuals to get away with murder and all the rest of it. It is a total load of garbage. I have always been clear, from the outset, and I say it again, that all I have asked for is fairness. All this Government are looking to introduce is fairness to all sides. I have never argued for those who operated outside the law to be unaccountable—I argue the complete opposite, because it is a foundation of our society.

There are those who continue this argument. I go out to the trials in Northern Ireland and they ask why I do not engage with them. It is because they are deliberately propelling a false narrative for political ends. That has gone on for too long in Northern Ireland and failed too many people. I am afraid I will not be part of it. To those people I say again today, as I have said many times before, that uniform in particular is no place for those who cannot adhere to the standards set and maintained by the vast majority of those who serve in Britain’s armed forces. We can find that idea espoused most by the operators themselves.

As I have said, the core of the problem is that people see this issue not as it actually is—a complete mess in which the state has failed families and failed veterans—but as they want to see it and as they want their world to be. If they were totally honest with people, they would say, “Do you know what? You’re not going to get the evidence up to a criminal threshold that means we will convict someone for your son’s murder.” I will tell the House why they have not done that: because it requires a level or integrity and courage that has eluded so many politicians in Northern Ireland. That is the reality that is currently being tested to destruction every day in the courts. It is often said that it is not justice they seek but their version of justice. That is not my opinion; it has been proven a number of times—the evidence gathering was terrible.

If it was my family member, I would be leaping. I would be jumping up and down, absolutely furious if my brother, sister, father or mother had been killed in some of the situations investigated by the British state. The soldiers were not interviewed by the police, they spoke to the Royal Military Police and some of the statements were pre-written. It is a disgrace, and I accept that. People will get away with things they should not get away with. We can bemoan that all we like, make speeches and speak to our home crowd as much as we like, but it is never going to change. I tell you now, everybody knows that is true—the judges who serve on these cases, the prosecutors who promise convictions for bereaved and vulnerable families, the so-called community leaders who pump out this rhetoric without a care in the world for the damage they do to the families who are looking for answers.

Of course, for veterans this must end. They hound old men in courts over in Northern Ireland. Two weeks ago, I listened to what exactly the drills were for a GPMG—general purpose machine gun—weapons system at a particular moment in time 40 years ago. There was an old man on the stand and he simply had no recollection. It is a farce, and I tell you now: it looks appalling for Northern Ireland. It looks ridiculous for Northern Ireland, and it loses the credibility required to bring anybody along in the process. For people like me—who, I reiterate, are not protectors of those who break the law in uniform—it fatally weakens the cause.

Attitudes have changed. We cannot let history’s notoriously heavy hand be an impediment to reconciliation, peace and opportunities in Northern Ireland for the greater good. Truth about the past has an important role to play but, as I have said today and pointed out to individual Members, it is about the actual truth, not their version of the truth, and about all the uncomfortable, messy, bloody and disgraceful actions that occurred. It has to be the truth, not their version of the truth.

I wish to focus my remarks on two key groups: the families of the civilians who died and those who sought to uphold the law in the security services—I will come to the veterans in a moment. I am talking about the real people in this debate. They are not trying to get elected all the time. They are not saying ridiculous things in the Chamber like, “British soldiers went to my town to murder civilians”. They are not saying that sort of thing just to get social media clicks—[Interruption.] That is precisely what the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) said. That is exactly what he said, and it was an absolute disgrace. He is a disgrace to this House. These are real people, and they are not like that. They are real people without answers, without parents, without siblings and without loved ones, some of whom are under threat from almost interminable prosecutions.

I accept that the Bill needs work. The Government must overcompensate for the failures of the past, particularly on transparency. We cannot blanket rule out people finding out what happened to their loved ones because of national security. That has been the situation for too long, and the truth has not come out. Time has passed, and we are in this situation now. We must hand this over to the main protagonists, and chief among them are the team at Op Kenova led by Jon Boutcher. Time and again, I have said that the Government must bend over backwards to show what Boutcher is doing in that investigation, and that it should be lauded in all parts of this House. What he is doing requires really difficult skills, and it must be replicated in this commission, so that victims have confidence in what is being done.

I recognise that many Members have come out against the Bill, despite the fact that it has been in the public domain for only 48 to 72 hours, and I genuinely think that that is a mistake. This is an incredibly difficult space. We have probably a generational opportunity to get this right. Legacy is not an amateur sport. It is not about coming out and saying slogans and thinking that it will all go away—Members on the Conservative Benches have been as guilty of that as anybody else. It will not go away, and to imply otherwise is deeply misleading.

Critical to the success of this Bill is how it is handled by Ministers, and I encourage them in their endeavours. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for what he has done. When the Command Paper came out, it was clearly rejected—I was probably one of the few on these Benches to come out against it. But the Secretary of State has had the character to look at it and come back with more realistic and better proposals, and he should be commended for that.

Finally, I want to address the issue of veterans. The Good Friday agreement was an incredible piece of work, ending years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland. However, there is no doubt that the issue of veterans was left on the table, and there are some of us who will never accept that. We are not asking for favours; we are asking for fairness.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
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I thank the hon. Member for giving way. I know that he speaks passionately on behalf of many veterans, and I understand that. He spoke of the Government responding to his concerns. Does he agree that, when the Minister of State rises to respond to this debate later, what we want to hear is a willingness from the Government to consider carefully reasoned amendments to this Bill that take account of very real and genuine concerns that we have about this process?

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
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I agree with the right hon. Gentleman 100%. We have a job here to go down that route. It must be abundantly clear to families in particular that the powers in respect of information held by the security forces sit not with the Northern Ireland Office but with the commission, which has unfettered access to that material. Any evidence that exists must be allowed to have modern techniques applied to it, as is the case under Kenova, to ensure that the truest accounts—not a version of the truth, but the truest accounts—are given to the families. The commission must have the right to speak to anybody who is still alive and could shed light—the barman in Spain, for instance.

Finally, I do want to address the matter of veterans. This Chamber is not packed today. I tell Members now that there is no other country in the world that would treat its veterans like this. I totally get the emotion in people’s speeches—I genuinely do—but the way that this has carried on over the past 25 years is an absolute disgrace.

I promised veterans before I was in Government and when I was in Government that I would do whatever it took to help them—that I would not allow them to be left behind on the negotiating table, or to be left in that “too difficult” column, as has been the case for decades. Those decades have seen lives ruined and lives ended prematurely. The whole premise of a generation’s sacrifice in Northern Ireland has been questioned openly with almost no defence, save from a few hon. Members, some of whom are here today.

I never served in Northern Ireland and I have no relation to that wonderful part of the United Kingdom, but I know the institution that shaped me. While I know the UK’s armed forces will always have their challenging individuals, as any organisation does, and we must do better in holding them to account, the overwhelming sense is one of deep professionalism, humility, courage, integrity and self-sacrifice. Those values have been tested to destruction and beyond. I have personally seen men die in the upholding of those values.

In this journey, one of the most affecting testimonies I have heard—I realise I am going slightly over 10 minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker, but this is important.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Not slightly; you are well over, Mr Mercer.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
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Okay. I just want those soldiers’ voices to be heard at the end of this. We talked about the two-year limit and the pain that that has caused. Veterans are not stupid. We understand the need for difficult compromise. Peace must prevail and endure; that is ultimately why we sign up in the first place—to protect the peace. However, allowing veterans’ sacrifices to be used as pawns in this political settlement has to end. When I came to this place I could not believe the ease with which those sacrifices were trashed or the ease with which political leaders abandoned those veterans to their foes, who are now invited into government in Northern Ireland, with the full utility of the levers of state at their disposal. Never again must we allow them to rewrite history in their favour.

I say to veterans: the nation is deeply proud of your role in securing peace in Northern Ireland and profoundly grateful for your sacrifice. Whatever happens in the process of this Bill—I urge colleagues on both sides to work with Ministers and I urge Ministers to bend over backwards to get it through—I hope veterans begin to understand that there are some of us in this place who will do whatever it takes to get there in the end.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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I will point out one thing at the outset. I am sitting with colleagues from Northern Ireland around me, and while we rarely agree on much—I think they will agree with that—we agree on this. We come at it from different perspectives and we will make different types of speech, but we agree that this piece of legislation goes absolutely against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and against the interests of the victims in Northern Ireland. Nobody on these Benches is interested in social media clips or dipping in and out of an issue every couple of months. We have been doing this for a long time; we speak to every single victims group and we try our best to represent them. Some people in this House might not like that, but we will continue to do it.

I have great respect for the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), but he said that there is something in this Bill for everyone. I say this with great respect, but there is nothing in this Bill for the victims and those people who have been left behind by all the perpetrators who destroyed lives and families over many years.

I was interested to hear the comments of the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). He intimated that we have all been fighting with each other and we need the British Government to come in and sort out the problem for us. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what happened over many years and many centuries in Northern Ireland. The British Government are no neutral observer in what happened, and they cannot be allowed to make the decisions on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. We have already agreed how to resolve this issue: it is called the Stormont House agreement. As difficult as that is, as complicated as it has been, that is the only route that has buy-in from all the political parties and two Governments—at least, it used to have.

Before I came into this Chamber, I met for a cup of tea with a man called Michael O’Hare. His sister was called Majella, and she was 12 years old in 1976. She was walking with her friends to the chapel when she was shot twice in the back by a British Army Parachute Regiment member. Michael does not want an amnesty for anybody.

I was reminded of another case in my own constituency by the fantastic and heartfelt speech by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who talked about Patsy Gillespie. The IRA abducted Patsy Gillespie from his house, leaving his wife Kathleen and his family at home. Patsy worked in a British Army base. He was chained to a van full of explosives and forced to drive into that army base on the Buncrana Road in Derry. Patsy was killed along with five British soldiers. The people who carried that out will be freed from any concern as a result of this legislation.

I also wonder about the Ballymurphy families. In August 1971, 11 people were killed by the British Army—by the Parachute Regiment, again. Daniel Teggart was one of the victims. His daughter is called Alice Harper. This is what she had to say recently:

“We identified my daddy by his curly hair. Fourteen times they shot him. The next day they blackened his name and called him a gunman. Two years later, my brother Bernard, with a mental age of nine, was killed by the IRA. We want no amnesty for anyone.”

The Ballymurphy families would never have seen the truth that the world got to see about what happened in Ballymurphy if these proposals had been brought in before the result of that inquest.

We hear that the new system will provide truth for people. Well, Columba McVeigh was 17, from Donaghmore, County Tyrone. He was abducted and killed by the IRA and his body was disappeared. His body has still not been found, despite the fact that the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains allows for immunity in these cases. It would have allowed for the IRA to come forward and tell Columba’s family exactly where the body was buried. They have not done that—that is the point.

The idea that this legislation will bring truth to families is absolute nonsense. The pretence from this Government that the legislation is about victims or reconciliation is frankly an out and out lie. This is about politics and a manifesto commitment—about protecting the state, as it always is. It will protect every single perpetrator who committed those crimes in Northern Ireland. I cannot find anybody, apart from Government Members, who believe that this legislation is the way forward. The Queen’s University law school’s model Bill team describe it as unworkable and as breaching international law. Alyson Kilpatrick, the chief human rights commissioner in Northern Ireland, said:

“we are sure that this Bill is substantially, in fact almost certainly fatally, flawed.”

This is an overt attempt to close down access to truth and justice for the victims of our conflict. It rips up the Stormont House agreement—an agreement that people have bought into—and it does not have the support of the parties in Northern Ireland. It has absolutely no support from victims’ groups in Northern Ireland: many have told us in the past few days that they will boycott the processes if they become law.

Others have said that there is no such thing as collusion. I cannot believe that they are still saying that today, given the number of times the police ombudsman has uncovered the fact that there has been collusion in Northern Ireland between the state and paramilitary organisations.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Do you know what? I won’t.

The Bill is attempting to close down the police ombudsman’s opportunity to investigate issues of the past. I wonder why. It is also closing down access to the civil route for families. What happened last Tuesday? The Secretary of State announced that there would be no new civil cases after that day. Families who had been told that they were supposed to be at the centre of this were running around with their lawyers trying to get access to the courts before they closed that day. That is some way to treat the people who have suffered the most!

It is all right for the rest of us, who are still here and doing quite well out of the peace process. The people who have been left behind have been treated shoddily by this Government as recently as last week. People who have waited decades for an inquest and are now in the queue for one are being told that they will not have any opportunity to get the proper truth. If this is about truth, why are we afraid of inquests? I just do not understand it.

This legislation is riddled with Government overdrive and there is nothing independent about how the organisation will be constituted. There is no meaningful article 2 compliant investigation. Frankly, it is a recipe for impunity.

I have heard reference to Kenova. This Bill is not Kenova. It is nothing like Kenova. Kenova allowed proper judicial processes and proper investigation processes so that families and the rest of us could get access to the truth. South Africa, equally, it is not, and that argument has been well debunked.

The Government are telling us they want to see access to truth. Let me tell the House about two cases I know well. Paul Whitters was 15 years old in 1981. He was shot in the head by a police officer with a plastic bullet. Despite promises from this Government given to me, his file has been closed for a further number of years. Mr Deputy Speaker, do you know when that file will apparently be opened? In 2084. He was 15 years old. In the same year, 1981, the British Army fired a plastic bullet that killed Julie Livingstone, 14 years old, in Lenadoon, west Belfast. Her file will not be opened until 2062.

The Government are telling us that they want truth and access to reconciliation for victims, but every single thing they have done—whether this Bill, the Ballymurphy inquest or the Bloody Sunday inquiry—has been to protect the state, to deny access to truth and to deny access to justice for those people who do not have the same ability to protect themselves. I heard we have a new shiny headquarters in Belfast for the Northern Ireland Office. Victims were standing outside it today, protesting these proposals. They were also in Derry and at Downing Street, because they believe—to a man and woman, in my experience—that these proposals are absolutely wrong. Raymond McCord is in the Public Gallery. He has had to fight against the state and loyalist paramilitaries to try and find truth and justice for his son, Raymond.

The question is, do this Government really care about Raymond and all of those victims, or do they simply care about fulfilling a manifesto commitment, protecting the state and protecting paramilitary killers, because that is exactly what this piece of legislation will do if it is passed?

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. My brother William and I used to go down to my cousin Kenneth’s back in the ’60s. My cousin Kenneth was the one who took us shooting. We were introduced to country sports at a very early age, and it is something that I love today. I have introduced my son and my grandchild to it, as well. It is something that he instilled in us. They were different days in the ’60s than they are today and they were in the troubles. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East for intervening—I should have said that right away. I remember those days with a real fondness.

Kenneth Smyth and his Roman Catholic friend Daniel McCormick were murdered on 10 December 1971, some 50 and a half years ago. I remember that day like it was yesterday, and probably always will. I know it affected all our family up in Clady and Strabane, where we lived. Clady is a wee village outside Strabane. We have absolutely no doubt that the people who were involved in the murder of Kenneth and Daniel McCormick came from or were associated with that village. I could name the names, but I am not going to do so here. I do not think that it is important to do so, but I do feel that hurt.

Daniel McCormick left a wife and three young children. She got £3,500 from the Northern Ireland Office as compensation for the loss of her husband and the father to her children. How does that give us justice? It does not give me justice, and I do not think it gives anyone in this House justice. What I see unfortunately is legislation that does not take into consideration my position as a victim or that of Daniel McCormick’s wife and family.

The family dispersed almost immediately within months. My cousin Joseph went to America, where he has been all his life, with Mariam his wife and the children they have had. My aunt Isobel sold the farm. My grandmother grieved, as did my grandfather. My grandfather died of a broken heart. That is the story of the victims, whom we do not hear much about—but we should, because that is what is really important and that is what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the four from the Ulster Defence Regiment killed in Ballyduggan. I speak as a man who loved a chat with John Birch, who was born in Ballywalter and was one of the Ballyduggan Four. I was not there, but I was aware and was around at the time he was born. I remember Steven Smart from Newtownards very well. His dad Sammy and I were best mates and good friends. There was also Michael Adams, who worked in a butcher’s shop while I had the business and I knew him from there. He always knew that he was going to be a soldier and he joined the Territorials, which I was in at that time. I remember that well. Again, I had to fight back the tears when I learned that a 1,000-lb bomb at Ballydugan took his life and the life of Lance Corporal John Bradley, whose widow I spoke to recently. No one was ever held accountable for those victims. The IRA did that and got away. Members will understand what my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry said—if there is even a smidgen of possibility of holding them accountable, I want that for my constituents and for the victims I am speaking about.

I am the MP for the son of young John Birch, who came to see me and told me about the grandchildren who his dad would meet only in the next world. He asked me whether he could ever expect to learn who carried out the atrocity that robbed him of his childhood and his role model on that fateful day, 9 April some 32 years ago. This Bill does not give those four victims or their families and children justice, and it does not deliver for them, and I feel incredibly annoyed.

Stuart Montgomery—I knew his dad, Billy, very well; we were friends for many years—was two weeks out of the police training college and was killed by a bomb at Pomeroy along with another police constable. Nobody was ever held accountable. Justice? Not in this Bill. Not for Stuart Montgomery, and not for the others.

I mentioned Lexie Cummings earlier, who was shot by an IRA man when he was having lunch in his wee Mini car in Strabane. He was a member of the UDR. They got the fella, by the way, but the boys made a slight mistake in the summons that meant that when he came to court in Omagh it had to be rewritten. In that time, he got out of the court and on a bike and cleared off across the border. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry knows the story only too well. That guy is now a prominent politician with a Republican party in Donegal, so Members will understand why I feel sore and aggrieved.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have huge affection for the hon. Gentleman. I can see the emotion and the anguish written all over his face as he talks of his friends who have been victims in the conflict. He wants that 1% or 2% chance of justice, but I ask him with all humility, at what cost? I know that he also feels that aspects of the process are deeply unfair, so at what cost do we keep going down that rabbit hole to get the answers that I know he authentically, genuinely wants to find, but that some Conservative Members feel cannot be found?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is no price on justice. I am trying, perhaps haphazardly and not with the focus that I should, to put forward the case on behalf of the victims and to explain why the Bill does not deliver that. The seven people I have mentioned—the four UDR men, my cousin Kenneth, Daniel McCormick and Stuart Montgomery—served this country and wore the uniform that the hon. Gentleman wore. They do not have justice, and I feel annoyed.

I will mention some other examples. Abercorn was an IRA atrocity against innocents who were brutalised, murdered or maimed forever. In the Darkley Hall massacre, people who were worshipping God were murdered. Lastly, I think of La Mon because it is in my constituency. Other hon. Members have spoken well and encapsulated what I am trying to say in my raw broken form. People were burned alive in La Mon. They were members of the collie kennel club—they were not soldiers—but they were murdered, brutalised, destroyed. Their lives were changed forever. I remember that day well. Where is the justice for those victims in this legislation? I do not see it and it grieves me to think about it. The IRA commander who was in charge and responsible for the bomb at La Mon was a prominent member of Sinn Féin. He happens to be semi-retired, but he is still there.

I speak as someone who has watched investigation after investigation seem to focus on one narrative or one viewpoint—focused on 10% of the atrocities, and leaving the 90% wondering why their pain and sorrow meant less. I tell you what: the pain for my constituents is no less than anybody else’s pain, nor is mine either. Who has heard the cry of the ex-RUC, the ex-UDR or the ex-prison officer who has been retraumatised by investigations designed specifically to pursue them by republicans to justify the atrocities that were carried out? I speak as someone who understands very well the frustration of the ex-soldiers being called to discuss an event of 50 years ago, when they cannot remember their shopping list for last week. I understand that—I understand it very well.

I speak as someone in this Chamber who has lived through the troubles, and who has intimate knowledge of the pain and despair caused to so many in Northern Ireland, regardless of their religion or political affiliation. My cousin Kenneth served alongside his Roman Catholic friend—they were best friends; one was in the UDR and one had left—and the IRA killed more Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland than anybody else. So we understand the victims, given the way we feel, the pain and soreness we have, and how we are with the things in front of us. I believe this gives me the right to speak in the Chamber with some authority when I say that this Bill does not achieve its aims.

This Bill does not deliver justice, and it does not answer the anguish or grief of the families I speak for or whom I want to speak about. It does not draw a line under current cases. It does not offer justice to my cousin Shelley Gilfillan, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) knows extremely well. She is involved with a victims group up in West Tyrone. She has mourned her brother for 50 and a half years, as have so many others because their cases do not have a live investigation or a firm suspect who can be asked to give information in lieu of immunity. Those murderers are well covered with their on-the-run letters. The gunman who killed Lexie Cummings had an on-the-run letter, and he got across the border and had a new life. Lexie never had a life after he was murdered in Strabane all those years ago. So the House can understand why I just feel a wee bit angry and a wee bit annoyed on behalf of my constituents, and it is because of how they feel that this legislation, for them, does not deliver what it should.

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Conor Burns Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Conor Burns)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to respond to this debate on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. It has been a varied, informed and intensely emotional debate, which is only to be expected, given the subject of the Bill. Words matter—they matter more in Northern Ireland than in perhaps any other part of our United Kingdom. Across the House, we all have an obligation to use our words in a measured way when we deal with these very sensitive issues.

I pay tribute to the victims who have been with us in the Chamber today and to the countless others who are not with us today, or not with us any more at all. I also pay tribute to those who served with such courage and bravery in Her Majesty’s armed forces throughout the years of the troubles, during the sectarian violence that came from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. Above all, let me pay tribute to the people of Northern Ireland—to all the people of Northern Ireland, who always demonstrate such stoicism, generosity, hospitality and warmth, even in the most trying circumstances.

There is no doubt that the proposals that the Government are bringing forward today are controversial. I accept—as I accepted within my first week of returning to the Government when I was asked to go to the Northern Ireland Office—that there is widespread opposition to the proposals in the Bill. I noted at the time, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acknowledged, that while there was considerable opposition to these proposals, there was not, conversely, a consensus on what the parties in Northern Ireland would like us to do instead. I say to my friends in all parties—and to members of the parties that are not represented physically in this place, either because those people do not take their seats or because they did not gain election—that it would be within the ability of the devolved Government, the Assembly in Northern Ireland, to take these matters forward if that consensus emerged on the ground and if they wished to do it.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am encouraged by the consensual tone that my right hon. Friend is striking, and by his search for ways in which to widen the debate. In that spirit—given that he has heard from the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) and from the Democratic Unionist party of their strong desire for an extension of the Committee stage on the Floor of the House to allow that wider debate to be had and a wider range of amendments to be tabled—may I advise him to undertake to talk to the business managers about whether we can secure some extra time?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee, and I shall be saying something about his speech in a moment. We have heard concern expressed on both sides of the House about the amount of time that will be available in Committee. Both the Secretary of State and I are very open to the idea of expanding that, and conversations have already begun with business managers. Subject to their agreement, we would look to provide a little more time—

Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Gentleman bear with me while I give this commitment?

We would look to try and find more parliamentary time for consideration in Committee, in a spirit of being open to input from Members on both sides of the House. Now I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister.

Given that the period between First Reading and Second Reading was so short, and given that consultation was virtually non-existent, would Ministers be prepared to refer the Bill to the Select Committee, or some other forum, for prelegislative scrutiny? I think that that would move us on a little bit.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the timetabling of today’s Second Reading debate was agreed through the usual channels. I must say to him candidly that I do not agree with his points about a lack of engagement. There has been considerable engagement, much of which has been undertaken directly by the Secretary of State and me, often with groups who did not welcome that engagement being publicised. Much of it, of necessity, took place in private, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that in some of the meetings that I attended, the emotion was heard, and heard very clearly, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and me.

We are tackling this, and I think that my right hon. Friend deserves a measure of credit, because it is an intensely difficult and controversial area for any Government to get involved in. That is why successive Governments have left it alone. The fact that my right hon. Friend worked so diligently on these proposals—and, indeed, the flak that has been taken when we have missed deadlines in order to take the time to try to refine and improve the Bill that we were going to bring to the House today—show, I think, that we were listening. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister: the Government he leads will deliver shortly on the language and cultural commitments that they have undertaken.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I noted the Minister’s claim that the Government had engaged with various victims groups on a private basis. Indeed, there have been media reports that some, allegedly, said something privately that was different from what they have said in public. We all know the main victims groups in Northern Ireland, as do the Government. All of them have made their opposition to these proposals clear in public. Furthermore, they have made it very clear that what they say in public is exactly the same as what they say in private. How does the Minister explain this clear disjoint?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would describe the “clear disjoint” as not being a clear disjoint, because that was a journalist’s quote which does not reflect what was actually said. Let me also correct a little nuance. I did not say that we were engaging privately; I said that we were engaging in private. We were meeting people who had been victims of terrorism. I myself met victims from republican families in West Belfast—I do not think many Ministers have done this over the years—hosted by the Sinn Féin Member, the hon. Member for Belfast West (Paul Maskey), so it is not true to say that the Secretary of State and I and the member of our ministerial team in the other place—and, indeed, our officials, who have worked so hard on developing these proposals and to whom I pay tribute—have not been listening.

I just want to correct a few points of fact as we begin the closure of this debate. I say gently to the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), on his point about sexual offences that we are very clear that any offences from 1 January 1966 to 10 April 1998 that are not troubles-related can still be investigated by the PSNI and police forces in Great Britain. Troubles-related offences that are not linked to a death or serious injury will not be investigated by this body and will not be subject to the immunity provisions. Only serious and connected troubles-related offences that took place between those dates and that are related to a death or serious injury will be eligible for immunity.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a very serious issue and it would be great to clarify this. The model bill team on Queen’s University Belfast’s committee on the administration of justice, who are experts in this area, have said:

“Unusually for such an immunity scheme, there is no specific prohibition on certain kinds of crime, such as crimes of sexual violence. It would therefore appear that applicants who had been involved in rape and other crimes of sexual violence related to the Troubles, or indeed the covering up of such crimes within paramilitary or state organisations, would be entitled to apply for immunity under this bill.”

So this is not just about serious violence. If people who had committed serious violence and rape applied for immunity, would it apply in these circumstances? Let’s just clear this up.

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Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The direct answer to that is no. The proper place for us to test some of these questions will be in Committee, rather than on Second Reading, but I am absolutely clear, as is the Secretary of State, that that is not the intention of the Bill and it will not be a consequence of the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) made a powerful speech. I can tell him that the commissioner for investigations and designated officers will have the full sweep of police powers in pursuing their investigations and reviews. These are much greater than we have perhaps so far successfully explained. On the independence of the body, which my right hon. Friend also mentioned, the Secretary of State was clear in his opening speech that Her Majesty’s Government will have no role in the operational work of the body. I would welcome working with my right hon. Friend to find ways to make that clearer as we proceed to the Committee stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) raised a point about consideration of other information when considering whether to grant immunity. The judge-led immunity panel is under a duty to take into account other information in possession, and will therefore have to carefully assess conflicting evidence before deciding whether to apply immunity and whether the person applying for that immunity was in fact telling the truth.

The hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) referred to engagement. What is clear is that there is no widespread consensus on this. Even within families there are differences in how people want this to be treated. That is why the role of the families in engaging with this body will be incredibly important to the body exercising its discretion after its formation. The hon. Member was right to say that honest and effective information recovery would be better with the full co-operation of the Governments of the United Kingdom and of the Irish Republic. I have to say without being misunderstood that I do not think we will be requiring information from the Government of the Irish Republic for veterans.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), the Chairman of the Select Committee, talked about the appointment of commissioners. Other than the chief commissioner, the Government have been deliberately opaque in setting out who else should serve on that, and we are very open to ideas and would welcome them.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that there is nothing in the Bill that precludes somebody with international status, but who is not a UK citizen, from serving as a commissioner? That would add extra independence, rigour and experience, which would add value to the whole process.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he is absolutely right. There is nothing in the Bill that precludes an international person from serving on the body. In fact, it could well be warmly welcomed and add rigour to the body’s credibility, impartiality and independence.

Over the decades, a number of politicians in this House have taken courageous steps to build the peace and stability we enjoy in Northern Ireland today. It was started by Margaret Thatcher with the Anglo-Irish agreement, and John Major built it up. Tony Blair signed the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and David Cameron gave an incredible speech on the publication of the Saville report, which I was privileged to hear in the Chamber. That peace has been hard-fought and hard-won.

Since I rejoined Government in this role, I have visited multiple schools in Northern Ireland in Castlederg, Hillsborough, Armagh, Belfast, Bangor, Craigavon, Saintfield and Newtownards. People questioned why, when education is devolved, I was bothering with schools as a UK Government Minister. I pointed out that kids are not devolved, parents are not devolved and teachers are not devolved. The future of Northern Ireland is in those schools.

Two schools, in particular, stand out in my memory: St Brigid’s College in Derry, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle, and Antrim Grammar School. I visited Antrim Grammar having met a young man at a charity play for the centenary “Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100,” which the Northern Ireland Office had the privilege to fund partially. This young man, Chris Campbell, was going into his A-levels, and he was playing Mr Northern Ireland almost 25 years on from the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement—this young man was not even born when Northern Ireland knew the troubles. One line from the play stuck in my mind: “Being divided keeps us united.” When I returned to my primary school in north Belfast, Park Lodge, I was asked—

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hesitate to distract the Minister from his theatrical memories—he is doing very well—but I would like to take him back to the Bill for a split second. I mean no offence, of course.

If people do not choose to be in the reconciliation process, whatever one feels about tightening up how it works, is it feasible to adjust it so that, if they choose the courts or if the courts choose them, they go back to a full-life tariff for committing murder most foul, whoever they are?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is always a delight to be silenced by the quiet man. We will have to come back to those matters in Committee, but I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House and the Labour Front Bench are hearing, not least in our determination potentially to find more time to consider these matters in Committee, our openness to good ideas from both sides of the House that could improve the Bill.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister commit to having another look at the five-year pipeline of inquests so that the Government can assure anybody who has been promised an inquest that those inquests will actually go ahead?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is certainly something that we will happily take a look at. There is no proposal even in the Bill to bring down the curtain immediately on inquests that are under way. For the sake of finding consensus, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I would be more than happy to look at reasonable suggestions.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I of course welcome the Minister saying from the Dispatch Box that he will look at x, y and z. Does he understand and does the Northern Ireland Office understand that we have to go further and over-compensate for a past that has failed victims? Families do not have confidence and we must commit to a level of transparency and openness. I know that my right hon. Friends the Minister of State and Secretary of State want to do that, but we need to make that commitment from the Dispatch Box, because we have to bring these families with us.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with my hon. Friend that we have to build on the bits of the current framework that are working, but I accept as I know my hon. Friend will concede, that much of it is not working or delivering for victims.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A moment ago the Minister mentioned the word “consensus”. If in the Committee stage there is cross-party support from Northern Ireland on key changes to the Bill, will the Government commit to taking heed of the voices of those of us who represent the people of Northern Ireland?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that we are not at this moment negotiating another confidence and supply arrangement, I do not intend to write the right hon. Gentleman a blank cheque from this Dispatch Box, but I will say in the spirit of co-operation and consensus that, if agreement can be reached on ways in which the proposals can be improved, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I and the Government more widely will absolutely look at them.

Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, I am going to conclude.

The Northern Ireland that I was born into 50 years ago this year was a place with an atmosphere of violence and conflict that was powerful and overwhelming. Such was that society that when I moved to England to a little village in Hertfordshire called Wheathampstead I told my mother as an eight-year-old boy that I did not feel safe. When she asked me why, I said that the police did not have guns and the Army were not on the streets. That was the normalised Northern Ireland of those days. Thank God those days are behind us.

On the formation of the Northern Ireland Office, Willie Whitelaw was appointed Secretary of State. He went on his first evening in post to speak to a Conservative gathering in Harrow. It is recorded in his memoirs that he said to them:

“I am undertaking the most terrifying, difficult and awesome task. The solution…will only be found in the hearts and minds of men and women.”

Northern Ireland remains a society where facts are contested and divisions are entrenched. We cannot draw a line and we cannot move on. You cannot heal the hurt of human hearts, or the grief of bereaved parents and siblings, but we have a duty to try to find a way not to bequeath this entrenched division to future generations.

In a spirit of partnership, co-operation and compromise, let us head to the Bill Committee and use our collective judgment, knowledge and wisdom to improve the proposition that is before the House today. In that spirit, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

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18:38

Division 8

Ayes: 285


Conservative: 283

Noes: 208


Labour: 150
Scottish National Party: 34
Liberal Democrat: 10
Democratic Unionist Party: 7
Independent: 3
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Alba Party: 1

Bill read a Second time.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 73, in clause 2, page 3, line 11, leave out “one, two or”.

This amendment would require the ICRIR to comprise three other Commissioners, in addition to the Chief Commissioner and the Commissioner for Investigations. It is linked to an amendment to leave out paragraph 6 of Schedule 1.

Amendment 75, page 3, line 22, after “Troubles” insert

“sexual offences linked to conduct forming part of the Troubles”.

Amendment 74, page 3, line 25, at end insert—

“(4A) At least one Commissioner should have significant international experience or expertise.”

This amendment would include in the ICRIR’s functions referring Troubles-related sexual offences to prosecutors.

Amendment 76, page 3, line 41, at end insert

“and to the Northern Ireland Assembly and each House of Parliament”.

This amendment would require the ICRIR to provide a copy of its annual reports to Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Clause 2 stand part.

Amendment 91, in schedule 1, page 48, line 34, leave out paragraph 6.

This amendment would require the ICRIR to comprise three other Commissioners, in addition to the Chief Commissioner and the Commissioner for Investigations. It is linked to an amendment to Clause 2(3).

Amendment 113, page 48, line 37, at end insert—

‘(1A) The Secretary of State must convene the appointments panel before appointing the Commissioners.

(1B) In this Schedule “appointments panel” means—

(a) the Attorney General for Northern Ireland,

(b) a member of the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland,

(c) the person who is the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and

(d) a person with experience of managing major criminal investigations, appointed to the panel by the Northern Ireland Justice Minister.

(1C) The appointments panel must make a recommendation in relation to the appointment of a Commissioner.

(1D) Any such recommendation must be made with the agreement of all the members of the appointments panel.

(1E) The Secretary of State must act in accordance with the recommendation of the appointments panel in appointing a person to be a Commissioner.’

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to gain the approval of an appointments panel before appointing a commissioner.

Amendment 92, page 49, line 8, at end insert—

‘(4A) The term of office of a person appointed as a Commissioner under paragraph 7(1) must not begin before—

(a) the person has, in connection with the appointment, appeared before the relevant select committee of the House of Commons, and

(b) the House of Commons has approved the appointment by resolution no earlier than 10 sitting days after the person appeared before the relevant select committee of the House of Commons.

(4B) Sub-paragraph (4A) does not apply if the person is appointed as a Commissioner on an acting basis, pending a further appointment being made.

(4C) The reference to the relevant select committee of the House of Commons—

(a) includes the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee,

(b) if the name of a Committee is changed, is a reference to that Committee by its new name, and

(c) if the functions of those Committees (or substantially corresponding functions) become functions of a different Committee or Committees of the House of Commons, is to be treated as a reference to the Committee or Committees by which the functions are exercisable.

(4D) Any question arising under sub-paragraph (4C) is to be determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons.’

This amendment would require the appointment of Commissioners to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and approval.

That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

Clause 3 stand part.

Amendment 77, in clause 4, page 4, line 19, after “would” insert “reasonably”.

Amendment 78, page 4, line 21, after “would” insert “reasonably”.

Amendment 79, page 4, line 23, after “would” insert “reasonably”.

Clause 4 stand part.

Amendment 80, in clause 5, page 4, line 35, leave out “reasonably”.

This amendment would remove a limitation on the material which the Commissioner of Investigations may require a relevant authority to make available to the ICRIR.

Amendment 81, page 4, line 38, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

Amendment 82, page 5, line 1, leave out “, in the view of that authority, may” and insert “are”.

Clauses 5 and 6 stand part.

That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 7 and 8 stand part.

Amendment 83, in clause 9, page 7, line 43, leave out from “subsection (1)” to end of line 44.

This amendment would remove the condition of appropriateness for another family member to make a request for a review where there are no close family members of the deceased.

Clause 9 stand part.

That schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Clause 10 stand part.

Amendment 84, in clause 11, page 9, line 35, at end insert—

‘(3A) A request for a review may be re-submitted to accord with the form or manner required by the Commissioner for Investigations.’

Clauses 11 and 12 stand part.

Amendment 111, in clause 13, page 11, line 10, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Commissioner for Investigations must ensure that each review—

(a) has access to all information, documents and other material held by Government Agencies that may be reasonably required for the exercise of the review,

(b) establishes whether any forensic opportunities exist to identify those responsible for a potential Troubles-related offence,

(c) identifies and engages any potential witnesses, members of the security forces or other persons who may be able to assist in identifying who is responsible for the Troubles-related offence,

(d) is conducted with integrity and objectivity, conforming to nationally recognised standards,

(e) does not overlook any investigative opportunities, and

(f) identifies and shares investigative and organisational best practice.’

This amendment would ensure that any review conducted by the ICRIR is carried out in line with the standards for Operation Kenova, the investigation into activities linked to an alleged British Army agent, known as Stakeknife.

Amendment 112, page 11, line 15, at end insert—

‘(4A) When exercising the powers conferred by subsection (4), the Commissioner for Investigations must ensure that each review is carried out in a timely manner.’

See explanatory statement for Amendment 111.

Clauses 13 and 14 stand part.

Amendment 95, in schedule 4, page 62, line 39, leave out “£1,000” and insert “£5,000”.

This amendment would increase the penalty for failure to comply with a notice under section 14 requiring the supply of information to the Commissioner for Investigations.

That schedule 4 be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 17 stand part.

Amendment 96, in clause 18, page 16, line 10, leave out “A to C” and insert “A to D”.

This is a paving amendment for Amendment 98.

Amendment 97, page 16, line 30, at end insert—

‘(6) If Condition C is not met because P’s account is found by the panel to be not true to the best of P’s knowledge and belief, the Chief Commissioner must direct the Commissioner for Investigations to submit a prosecution file to the Public Prosecution Service for consideration and direction.’

This amendment is intended to reduce the risk of claimants deliberately misleading the panel.

Amendment 98, page 16, line 30, at end insert—

‘(6A) Condition D: P has not fled the jurisdiction of any court in the United Kingdom [or Ireland] after being arrested or charged or being the subject of a warrant issued in connection with any Troubles-related offence.’

This amendment is intended to prevent the grant of immunity to any person subject to active proceedings who has moved abroad to escape prosecution.

Amendment 99, page 16, line 31, leave out “A to C” and insert “A to D”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 98.

Amendment 85, page 16, line 37, after “offences” insert “excluding rape and other serious sexual offences”.

This amendment would exclude rape and other serious sexual offences from immunity from prosecution.

Amendment 100, page 16, line 38, leave out subsections (9) to (12).

This probing amendment is one of a series removing general immunity from the Bill.

Amendment 115, page 17, line 7, at end insert—

‘(12A) But certain offences of sexual violence listed in Schedule (Exempt offences) must not be treated as within the scope of immunity from prosecution.’

This amendment is linked to NS1.

Amendment 101, page 17, leave out lines 13 and 14.

This probing amendment is one of a series removing general immunity from the Bill.

Amendment 102, page 17, leave out lines 21 and 22.

This probing amendment is one of a series removing general immunity from the Bill.

Amendment 119, page 17, line 24, at end insert—

‘(16A) Nothing in this Act confers any immunity from prosecution (after immunity has been granted to P) if P commits an offence under section 1 (encouragement of terrorism) of the Terrorism Act 2006 or section (Offence of glorifying terrorism: Northern Ireland) of this Act.’

Clauses 18 and 19 stand part.

Amendment 86, in clause 20, page 19, line 1, leave out subsection (4).

This amendment is intended to remove the possibility of immunity being granted solely on the basis of a perpetrator’s claims made with no corroboration.

Amendment 105, page 19, leave out lines 23 and 24.

This probing amendment is one a series removing general immunity from the Bill.

Amendment 106, page 19, leave out lines 26 and 27.

This probing amendment is one a series removing general immunity from the Bill.

Clause 20 stand part.

Amendment 87, in clause 21, page 19, line 41, at end insert—

‘(2A) The same panel membership must hear the whole of an immunity request.’

Amendment 88, page 20, line 3, at end insert—

‘(3A) Where a panel has been reconstituted in accordance with subsection (3), the reconstituted panel must hear the whole immunity request afresh.’

Clauses 21 and 22 stand part.

Amendment 89, in clause 23, page 21, line 6, leave out “reasonable”.

Amendment 90, page 21, line 16, leave out paragraphs (4) and (5).

Clauses 23 to 25 stand part.

That schedule 5 be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.

That schedule 6 be the Sixth schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 26 and 27 stand part.

That schedule 7 be the Seventh schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 28 to 32 stand part.

New schedule 1—Exempt Offences—

‘1 The following offences are not to be treated as within the scope of immunity from prosecution (see section 18 (12A)).

2 An offence under any provision of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

3 An offence under section 1 of the Indecency with Children Act 1960 (indecent conduct towards child under 14).

4 An offence under section 54 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (inciting child under 16 to commit incest).

5 An offence under section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 (indecent photographs of children).

6 An offence under section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (possession of indecent photograph of a child).

7 An offence under any provision of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

8 An offence under section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (possession of extreme pornographic images).

9 An offence under section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (possession of prohibited images of children).

10 An offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress).

11 An offence under section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (human trafficking) committed with a view to exploitation that consists of or includes behaviour within section 3(3) of that Act (sexual exploitation).

12 An offence at common law of outraging public decency.

13 A reference in paragraphs 2 to 14 to an offence (“offence A”) includes—

(a) a reference to an attempt to commit offence A,

(b) a reference to a conspiracy to commit offence A,

(c) a reference to incitement to commit offence A,

(d) a reference to an offence under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 in relation to which offence A is the offence (or one of the offences) which the person intended or believed would be committed, and

(e) a reference to aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of offence A.’

This new schedule would exclude sexual offences from being granted immunity, and is linked to Amendment 115.

Conor Burns Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Conor Burns)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a humbling experience to come before the Committee to deal with the first of the two days in Committee of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

On Monday evening, I attended an event at Queen’s University Belfast hosted by the vice-chancellor Professor Ian Greer, where we heard video messages from President Clinton, Sir Tony Blair and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and we heard speeches from me and the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. We gathered to pay tribute to my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Trimble, to thank him for his career of service in Northern Ireland and to thank his wife Daphne for her support of him over all those years. In my remarks, I said that we thanked him for his courage to compromise, his conviction to lead and his audacity to dream. I reflected on how much Northern Ireland has changed over the years since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, of which he was such a key part.

The measure before the Committee is an attempt to try to continue the process of moving Northern Ireland on. I begin by genuinely and humbly saying that these measures are difficult, are a compromise and are contested. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has had the courage to grapple with this issue when many others in the years since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement simply decided that it was too difficult.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister quite rightly says that the proposals are contested, and he is accurate in that. Does he agree that the most important people in this equation—the innocent victims of many, many terrorist activities—are the ones who find the proposals most contestable, and they are totally and utterly opposed to them?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is on the fact that the victim must be absolutely at the heart of what we are trying to do. It is our contention that the measures are victim-centric, but they also acknowledge that the current system has not been delivering for victims as we think they deserve.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister of State mentioned that he was at Queen’s University. He will know that Edgar Graham was murdered just outside the university, and no one was ever held accountable for that crime. When it comes to settling things, my colleagues, my constituents and I want total accountability in the process. We want accountability for those who murdered Edgar Graham, who murdered the four Ulster Defence Regiment men—my constituents—at Ballydugan, who murdered my cousin Kenneth, who murdered Daniel McCormick and who murdered Lexie Cummings. Will the Minister of State tell me, the Committee and my constituents how there will be any accountability in the process when the people who did that are getting off scot-free and will never be held accountable? That is exactly what the legislation will do.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes that point. It is our responsibility to explain in greater detail how the legislation will help to recover information and get knowledge to families and those who are still grieving for profound and unimaginable losses. At the event on Monday, we heard from Professor Lord Bew, who spoke of many memories of hearing bombs and of people being murdered in the vicinity of Queen’s University. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has explained on multiple occasions, however, we are starting from a position where the current mechanisms are not delivering for victims. There was never going to be a perfect way to do that, but this is an attempt to try to get better processes in place.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is that not precisely the point of what the Government are trying to do—to act in the art of the possible? Everybody would like every single crime to be punished and all perpetrators to be held to account, but that process has been done to death over 25 years and it has not produced results for the victims.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the mechanisms currently in place were working and delivering, we would not be bringing this legislation before the House. As my right hon. Friend, who has joined me on the Front Bench, and I have acknowledged on multiple occasions, this is not a piece of legislation that we are heralding; it is an attempt to try to make things better in Northern Ireland by trying to bring a degree of information to those who simply want to know what happened to their loved ones.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will take a few more interventions and then explain, in the context of the Bill, what we are trying to do. I want to make as much time as possible available to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. I give way first to the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister says that he wants to put victims at the centre, that he wants to provide information and transparency, and all that. There were a number of victims on the estate last night. They were families of people—of children, actually—who were murdered during the conflict. One of those children was Julie Livingstone. She was 14 years old in Lenadoon in west Belfast in 1981, and she was shot by the British Army and killed. Her file has been closed until 2064. How can Julie Livingstone’s family believe this Government when they say they want to give accountability, truth and transparency?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The unimaginable tragedy and grief that people in Northern Ireland experienced is understood, as much as it is humanly capable of being understood by those who did not go through it. I am sorry that I could not attend the hon. Gentleman’s meeting last night. I received the email to my parliamentary email address; I was travelling back from Northern Ireland and did not return to Westminster in time to come. I would have been delighted and humbled to come and meet those people who came to Westminster, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have met victims’ families and victims groups across Northern Ireland in the process of getting the Bill to where it is.

One of the reasons why my right hon. Friend and I have taken the time that we have taken, as we have both said, is to get the Bill right, and to make sure that what we are proposing will work. The hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) is absolutely right that the test of the Bill will be when the information recovery body is up and running and functioning—when people can refer cases to it and when the British state transfers to it the documents that we have at our disposal. The test will be in the delivery of that body for victims and families.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is outlining to the Committee that he wants to get this right. It is a fundamental part of scrutiny in this House that the Committee is meeting on the Floor of the House today and will meet again on Monday, and that scores of amendments have been tabled to get this right. I had a meeting with the Secretary of State on Monday, and we discussed amendments. He knows from Second Reading that there is no consequence should somebody choose not to engage in this process, and for those who do engage, there is no consequence for lying. Those amendments are before the Committee today, and the Government can engage with them. Will they accept some of them? Is there any update from the meeting on Monday?

--- Later in debate ---
Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly valid point. I will build, if I may, on the points that I made in reply to the hon. Member for Foyle. We have deliberately taken time to get this right. The Bill has evolved from the Command Paper that was published in July 2021. We are determined to get this as right as we can and make sure that it delivers. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, and as I have said repeatedly, where we think amendments could improve the objectives of delivering for victims and increasing the attractiveness of engaging with the independent commission—and potentially making the sanction for not engaging stronger—we are absolutely up for that.

As the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) knows, the other day I was in the primary school that his son goes to. We were unveiling the shortlist for our platinum jubilee rug competition in alliance with Ulster Carpets. Our motivation is to make absolutely sure—as much as we can—that those young people grow up in a society that acknowledges a past but is no longer defined by something called “the past”. We believe that these proposals will edge Northern Ireland society further in that, I hope, noble ambition.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to the intervention by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), the Minister will know that I have expressed my support for the Bill, caveated by the fact that it is by no means perfect. It is far from perfect; it has lots of flaws, and we ought to iron some of them out. However, on Second Reading, I said quite categorically to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that one of the key issues that victims need to see settled is what happens to those who do not take part and those who are demonstrated to have lied to the commission. At present, they will get a two-year tariff even if they have committed the most heinous murders. Will we move to a position whereby those who play no part in the process, and those who are proven to have lied deliberately, lay themselves open to the normal criminal justice process and a full-life tariff for heinous crimes?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am incredibly grateful to my right hon. Friend. His contribution on Second Reading impacted powerfully on me and on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and we have been having discussions and deliberations internally about how, as we progress the Bill, we can address to his satisfaction some of the points that he makes, which are made sincerely and with conviction and are solid. We believe that his motivation, if carefully enacted, could improve the proposals that are before the Committee today.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) has just taken the words out of my mouth; I wanted to ask the question that he asked. As I understand it, if those who we want brought to book—terrorists, in particular—do not come and give evidence when asked to do so, they will still be subject to the full force of the law. However, at the moment, the most that anyone could be jailed for is two years. I, as well as many who served out there, the victims and those who have suffered, want those who are found guilty to go to jail for a very long time indeed.

--- Later in debate ---
Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend echoes the powerful words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). This is exactly what Parliament is for, and this is what Committee stage is for. We do not claim to have a monopoly on wisdom or righteousness in the Northern Ireland Office. We have some incredibly bright officials, who have supported my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the development of these proposals, but we also want to draw on the collective wisdom and insight of this House as we progress the legislation. I just say to my hon. Friend that I have no doubt that we will return to this and the Government will have more to say on it as the Bill progresses.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am conscious that I have not read a word of what I stood up to say, but I give way to the former Secretary of State.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Minister is aware, victims are incredibly upset and retraumatised by the Bill. Often, they feel uninvolved in the process. As well as consulting the House, what thought have the Government given to reigniting a discussion with victims during proceedings on the Bill?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There has been a significant amount of engagement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and me, and our officials, with victims groups, families and others, not just in Northern Ireland. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) will understand from his previous incarnation, a lot of that is not very visible. A lot of it is in private, at the request of some of the organisations and families. That consultation—that listening—is not an event; it is a process, and it is ongoing. In addition to listening to this House, we will listen to those who need to be our motivation for the Bill—the victim is at the heart of this legislation. I cannot pretend for a moment to my right hon. Friend that we would expect an outbreak of consensus among victims and families, because we are seeking to legislate in a contested space, on which there are very strongly held and deeply emotional sentiments. I have consistently been struck by the range of views on what victims and families want to happen. This is not a tax Bill where there is a right or wrong answer. It will be contested, but the Secretary of State and I and officials in the Northern Ireland Office will continue to engage as the Bill progresses through the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government welcome the motivation behind the amendments from the hon. Member for Belfast East. We are looking at how that motive could best be translated into the Bill. I do not agree with what the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said about the information recovery body. We talk about reviews and so on, but the body will have full police powers. We are not setting up some sort of seminar. If people do not engage with the body, it will be able to pass information to the prosecutorial services in Northern Ireland and people could go before the courts. This is about trying to find a mechanism to get information to victims and families about what went on.

By the way, another assumption that lies behind a lot of the debate about the Bill is that somehow just agents of the state will be looked at. It is worth remembering that the state holds much intelligence about other actors who were not acting on behalf of the state. That information will also be furnished to the body, which can make inquiries into that.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I give way to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), because he has not had a go yet.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is so generous; his days in Ballycastle served him well. He says that he wishes to improve the Bill, and we have to take that at face value. Many cross-party and cross-community amendments have been tabled from across the House and we want to test his sincerity. Will the Government accept amendment 115, for example? It states that

“certain offences of sexual violence listed in Schedule (Exempt offences) must not be treated as within the scope of immunity from prosecution.”

What is the argument against including that in the Bill?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I expect that we will turn to amendment 115 in greater detail throughout the afternoon and into the evening. It is our view, given the scope of the Bill, that sexual offences would not be within the scope of the panel. We do not believe that sexual offences can be defined as being troubles-related. A rape is a rape. It is not a republican rape or a loyalist rape; it is a crime—a hateful, heinous crime. It will absolutely be the right of the House to test that—

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would give me a second. It will absolutely be the right of this House and another place to test that. If the House comes to a conclusion that there needs to be greater clarification, the Government, the Secretary of State and I will listen incredibly closely, because that concern is clearly being expressed. We do not believe, however, that the Bill, as drafted, would see sexual offences fall under the competence or purview of the information recovery body to grant immunity in that space.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I give way to the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) is right to point to the cross-party nature of proposals. Amendment 85, in my name, addresses this issue, but amendment 115 really should be unarguable. I hear precisely what the Minister says—that the Government believe something—but he recognises the seriousness of the crime and there is a firm belief that sexual intimidation, sexual violence and rape were used as a tool of intimidation and criminality during the troubles. For the sake of clarity and the peace of mind of those who are concerned about this issue, I hope that the Government could move on it. That would provide peace of mind on a point of argument which, frankly, should not be an argument.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I listen very carefully to what my hon. Friend the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee says. The Secretary of State and I were again discussing this issue in detail yesterday, this morning and just now, as we have done many times in recent months. The Government’s view is that sexual offences would be outside the scope of the Bill. If we need to bring greater clarity to that, we are listening and we will find a way to do that, but we believe passionately and sincerely that that is not within the scope of the Bill before the Committee today.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am almost tempted to let you decide who should intervene, Dame Rosie, but I will let my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) come back in.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful. Let us be absolutely clear: nobody is doubting the sincerity on this issue of either the Minister or the Secretary of State—both are on the Front Bench today. However, belief and certainty are two entirely different things. Would it not be much better to have the provision in the Bill so that belief, certainty or whatever is immaterial? It would be in the Bill and be very clear for everybody to see. This is a very simple ask. I am not asking the Minister to do this today; I am asking for due consideration of the issue in the other place in order to provide certainty and peace of mind, which would not rely on belief or understanding of any Minister at any time. The face of the Bill is the place for the provision.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear clearly what my hon. Friend says. We will need to find a way to bring greater clarity to this issue. However, I restate our view that someone coming to the information recovery body and saying that they had committed rape would not be eligible for immunity from the body for that offence. If we need to find greater clarity on that, we will find a way to do that.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have letters in front of me to rape victims declaring that they are victims of troubles-related activity. Where do the Minister’s words leave victims who have received letters stating clearly that they are troubles-related victims, and how do they avoid their perpetrators being able to seek an amnesty?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I entirely understand my right hon. Friend’s point. This hinges on the definition of “troubles-related” in the Bill. It is our belief that it would not be in the scope of what we are proposing to the Committee.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps it would be helpful for me to put a case to the Minister. Let us say, for example, that somebody committed a terrorist offence, in the course of which they committed a sexual offence such as rape. They put themselves forward on the basis that they committed a terrorist attack, but the sexual offence is a criminal offence—it should be a criminal offence, not a terrorist offence. My point is that they would get cleared due to the fact that it was locked into the troubles, because it was committed at the same time. The individual who suffered rape would then have no recourse to the courts. Will my right hon. Friend take away a commitment to review the matter and come back categorically, if necessary on Report, with a way in which this issue can be specific, clear and obvious in the Bill?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am absolutely happy to give that explicit undertaking to my right hon. Friend and the Committee today. The fact of an offence having been committed during the period of the troubles does not make that offence troubles-related. That is key.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I respect the tone that my right hon. Friend is taking on this very sensitive subject, but we know that rape is often used as a weapon of war; it is a subject that we speak about more and more in this place. The Prime Minister recently endorsed from the Dispatch Box the view that rape as a weapon of war is equivalent to the use of chemical weapons in war—it is as serious as that. I understand that there is not a large number of legacy rape claims. Given the Minister’s very strong sentiments about the issue, is there anything to prohibit him from putting the provision in the Bill, just as a matter of simplicity, ease and clarity?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We think that the position is clear in the Bill. However, it is clear that the Committee does not totally think so, so I give the Committee the undertaking that I have given my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith): that we will return explicitly to this specific measure as the Bill progresses.

I would also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) that Northern Ireland was not at war; Northern Ireland suffered a grievous period of barbarism by terrorist groups. In that sense, the analogy of rape in war does not translate easily across.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for giving that commitment, but I think he understands very well what we are talking about. We do not need to theorise. We know of individual cases in which members of paramilitary organisations raped members of our community; the rape was investigated by paramilitary organisations and covered up; the victim was victimised further, abused and hounded out of their own community—and what happened then? The perpetrators were moved to other parts of Ireland to work within the community.

These are high-profile cases, which the Minister knows about and which would not have happened in the same way in Liverpool or Manchester. Paramilitary organisations exist in our communities and they coerce and control communities. People have been shifted around our country to rape whoever they want under the protection of the IRA and other organisations.

--- Later in debate ---
Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. I think that I am acknowledging the strength of feeling on the issue. I can keep saying the same thing over and over: we will take it away and return to it. We have two days to get the Bill through Committee, and then the other place will take a look at it.

The Secretary of State and I were discussing the issue as the hon. Gentleman was speaking. There is a very clear definition and understanding in the Bill of what “troubles-related” means. The panel will clearly be able to bring a degree of interpretation and flexibility to its approach to the individual circumstances, many of which are very complicated indeed. However, we will return to the issue and seek to give the House the greater assurance that the Committee clearly seeks.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As one of several Members across the House who served during the troubles and saw the losses incurred by both sides, I believe—as I think the Committee does—that the Minister is dealing with the issue sensitively at the Dispatch Box. I thank him for that.

I suggest to the Minister that the perfect should never be the enemy of the good. I am very sympathetic to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), and indeed to amendment 115, but I remind the Committee that since the Good Friday agreement there have been hardly any successful prosecutions on behalf of victims during the troubles. If the Bill can help us to move forward, as I think for a good number of families it will, that has to be a good thing even though we accept that it is not necessarily perfect.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, may I thank my hon. Friend at this Dispatch Box for his service in the forces? We acknowledge and thank all those who served in Northern Ireland, and we thank the families of those who gave their lives to uphold law and order and fight against the barbaric, evil terrorist campaign that Northern Ireland, and indeed Great Britain, endured over so many years.

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Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister’s sincerity in trying to deal with the issue shines through. I did his job in 2014; we came up with something, and it clearly has not worked. I have to tell him that I do not like this approach, because none of us likes bending justice—we once thought that that was an absolute, but that ship sailed in 1998. However, it is being underwritten by victims, as I think we need to acknowledge.

On the subject of serious sexual offences, I agree with the comments that have been made. I really appreciate the Minister’s statement that he will go away and look at the issue. Just to add to the ambiguity, may I draw his attention to the definition of “serious physical or mental harm” in clause 1(6), which lists “severe psychiatric damage” in paragraph (d)? Many of those who have been sexually abused will be suffering severe psychiatric damage. I think the Minister will have to consider that point and the ambiguity that it introduces in dealing with this subset of heinous crime.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend knows the subject incredibly well; he did the job with distinction and was widely liked and admired in Northern Ireland. He will understand the difficulty of grappling with some of this. As I said earlier, I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for having the courage to pick this up and have a go—there is a reason why Governments have not done a lot.

My right hon. Friend talks about bending justice. Seriously courageous decisions were taken to bring that dreadful period in the history of Northern Ireland and our United Kingdom to an end. People who had been convicted of the most appalling offences were released early. We are operating in a very contested space, but we are absolutely determined to do the right thing by those who need to be at the heart of the matter—those who suffered and those who lost their lives.

The Bill very clearly defines what a troubles-related offence is. It specifies that such an offence

“is ‘serious’ if the offence…is murder, manslaughter or culpable homicide…another offence that was committed by causing the death of a person, or”,

as my right hon. Friend says, if it

“was committed by causing a person to suffer serious physical or mental harm”.

Those are the definitions with which the information recovery body will have to engage to make very finely balanced judgments.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On amendment 115, may I refer to a role that I had in a previous life? My understanding is that the Opposition and the DUP are planning to press the amendment to a vote this evening. I am concerned for my hon. Friends, because voting against the exclusion of rape from the scope of immunity is not a place where they want to be. May I urge the Minister and the Whips Office to look before 7 o’clock at how the amendment can be accepted, even if it needs to be slightly amended later, so that no one in the Conservative party has to vote against the exclusion of rape?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have great admiration for my right hon. Friend, as he knows. He and I maintained a very warm dialogue when he was Chief Whip in extremely trying political circumstances. He was sitting alongside me when I gave the Committee the commitment that we will take this away and look at it, and will seek to give reassurance and comfort to Members that what we are saying about the provisions and definitions in the Bill is soundly based, and that if we need to consider mechanisms before the House gives final assent to the Bill, we will do that.

I can say to my right hon. Friend that I am confident that we can vote for this measure this evening before it leaves this place for scrutiny in the other place, and I am confident that his fears are not grounded. I will be listening for the rest of the afternoon, and we may want to say something later on, but I am paying very careful attention to the mood of the Committee on this issue.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) said? No one doubts the sincerity of the Minister. I would say to the shadow Secretary of State that we all know the processes whereby a write-round will have to take place. The Minister is in an invidious position, in that he cannot meet at the Dispatch Box the perfectly legitimate request made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). There is, I think, unity in the Committee on this issue.

It may be sensible for the shadow Secretary of State—who, I know, is an honourable and good man—not to press amendment 115 to a vote this evening, but with the absolute caveat that if the Government move away from, effectively, what the Minister has said at the Dispatch Box, an amendment will be tabled on Report, there will be a free-for-all, and the Government will be defeated.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened carefully to what the Chairman of the Select Committee has said. Ultimately, it will be up to the shadow Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team to decide what to do. I share my hon. Friend’s affection—

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Dame Rosie. For the sake of clarity and for the benefit of all Members, may I ask you to confirm that there will be a Report stage? I have listened to these exchanges, but given the timescale that we have for the Bill’s remaining stages on Monday—given that the second day of the Committee stage will end an hour before the moment of interruption—and given the likelihood of many Divisions, I expect that there will not even be time for a substantive Third Reading, let alone a Report stage.

Just in case people fall into the view that there will be enough time for a Report stage and the opportunity to table further amendments, I must express my view that that will not be the case on Monday. But I ask you, Dame Rosie, for clarification.

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Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is something that I suggest would lead to ping-pong, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, but, again, the scheduling is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for the business managers and the Government.

I have a feeling that the Minister has heard all the points that have been made, and I think we should probably return to the debate.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am conscious that I have taken a significant number of interventions so far this afternoon, so, if I may, I will make some progress and talk briefly about the actual content of the Bill—

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

However, I did promise to give way to the hon. Gentleman. Go on.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister. I did indicate my wish to intervene earlier.

The Minister will be aware of the victims involved in three cases: the Old Bailey bombing of 1973, the docklands bombing of 1996, and the Manchester bombing of 1996. Victims of those bombings are taking out an action against Gerry Adams—the man who said he was never a member of the IRA, although he clearly was. It is a civilian case and I know that the victims are seeking damages amounting to a nominal £1.

If it is proved that Gerry Adams was responsible for those cases as a commander of the IRA, will the Government make legal aid available to people who take action primarily against him, and also against the IRA and those who were responsible at that time? If the information is there and it is proven, can the Bill make that happen? Will legal aid be available to those people?

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Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
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The hon. Gentleman probably anticipated my reply before he asked the question. It would be inappropriate for me to comment from the Dispatch Box on something that is, or may be, before the courts. However, the hon. Gentleman has made his point powerfully, and he should address it to a Law Officer.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reason for my question is quite simple. I understand that the Bill debars that from happening. If that is so, can the Minister indicate to us on these Benches whether those people have any chance of justice in relation to those three events?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What we are talking about today is what is in the Bill, what the Bill will establish and how the body will work, and about the definitions, the powers, the functions, the independence, the appointment process and who will be on it. Those are the things we are discussing today and it will then be for that body to make determinations on cases, on individuals and on evidence that is presented to it—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Foyle is shouting at me from a sedentary position, but this is exactly what the Committee stage is for. It is an opportunity for us to explore these things and to take them on board.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No. I heard the hon. Gentleman clearly when he was sitting down; there is no need for him to stand up to say it again. I want to make a little progress. I am conscious that I have already been on my feet for nearly 45 minutes, and I want to give some time to the Committee.

Clauses 2 to 4, clause 6 and schedules 1 and 2 provide for the formation of the independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery as a body corporate consisting of a chief commissioner, a commissioner of investigations and up to three additional commissioners. We very much agree with the sentiment behind amendment 74, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, that it would be beneficial for one of the commissioners to have significant international experience or expertise. There is nothing in this legislation that would preclude that; indeed, that would be an ambition of the Government.

The functions of the commission will be, when requested, to carry out reviews into the deaths that resulted from conduct forming part of the troubles and, when requested, to carry out reviews of other harmful conduct, as defined in the Bill, forming part of the troubles. The term review in the Bill provides the commission with the scope to conduct the investigative process as it determines to be appropriate in each case, including the use of police powers where appropriate. Where there is an outstanding article 2 obligation, the body will be able to conduct a review to that standard. The body will produce reports on the findings of each of these reviews, determine whether to grant immunity from prosecution for serious or connected troubles-related offences, refer deaths that were caused by conduct forming part of the troubles and other harmful conduct forming part of the troubles to prosecutors, and produce an historical record of all other deaths that resulted from conduct forming part of the troubles.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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May I just check something? I am hoping that the Minister will be able to provide a positive confirmation. I have a constituent, a former serviceman, who was involved in an incident in 1980. He gave evidence then, and he gave evidence later in the decade. The matter was then closed. The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s historical investigations team then got back in contact with him in 2013 and 2018. My constituent feels that he has been hounded, despite the fact that he has been positively involved and engaged in any investigations process. So, for the many UK servicemen who are finding themselves unjustly, repeatedly and legally hounded—as they feel—which makes a parody of natural justice, what reassurance can the Minister give to my constituent and many others who are in the same boat?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer my hon. Friend to what I have said about the gratitude that this Government and the whole country feel towards those who served in Northern Ireland. There is no parity of esteem between what those who were upholding law and order and the Queen’s peace, or seeking to, in Northern Ireland did, and those who were waging a barbaric, evil, terrorist campaign against this country. Many of us on the Government Benches know colleagues who suffered grievously at the hands of those murderous thugs. I would say to my hon. Friend that if someone comes forward and engages in good faith with this body and gives an account of something that happened, and if the body accepts that, the person will be eligible for the immunity that this body can grant. The other thing I would say to him is that previous interactions with other bodies will transfer into this body, so someone who has already had a dialogue with different agencies will not be starting all over again.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituent has already had a dialogue and was told that the matter was closed, but the matter was then reopened even though he had already had that original dialogue. Does he then have to engage again, as an article of good faith, having already done so for many years, for something that happened 42 years ago?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If my hon. Friend’s constituent has previously engaged in those mechanisms and there is no live inquiry or investigation into him, he has no obligation. If he is not being investigated for anything and there is no threat of prosecution to him, he would not have to come forward to this body. He is living his life without blemish and hopefully enjoying a happy retirement, reflecting on his life of service to our United Kingdom.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend is putting victims at the centre of this process. Robert, the brother of my constituent Mr Vaughan-Jones, was killed at Warrenpoint some 40 years ago. My constituent has had 40 years of unanswered questions, and he and his family now just want to move on. They want closure. How will this process help Mr Vaughan-Jones and his family eventually receive that closure?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The central ambition of this legislation is to provide that closure.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

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Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Bear with me.

We have to be humble in acknowledging that the current mechanisms are not delivering. In many of these cases, after so many years, the chance of a successful conviction in a court of law—beyond reasonable doubt—is vanishingly unlikely. That is why, with this Bill, we are moving towards the principle of information recovery.

There are contested views on the right way to do this. Some people still want prosecution, some want information and some want an acknowledgement of what actually happened. We believe the bodies created by this Bill will help people in that ambition.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have not yet given way to an Alliance Member, but I will do so now.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way.

On people coming before the panel and not acting in good faith, will the Minister explain how the prospect of investigation or prosecution is anything more than purely theoretical? Given that anyone giving an account before the panel would not be under police caution, and therefore their statement could not be used in evidence, who exactly would start an investigation from first principles to take forward any prosecution by giving a file to the Public Prosecution Service?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and the Bill covers how the body will begin work and who can refer a case to it for review—the Secretary of State, a close relative of a victim or the victim themselves may all refer to the body.

On disclosure and how the commission is compelled to interact, we are empowering it to deliver its functions through full disclosure. As detailed in clause 5, the commission will have full access to relevant material by placing an obligation on authorities to provide information that the commission may reasonably require. The commissioner for investigations will be designated as having the powers and privileges of a constable, and they will be able to designate other ICRIR officers with the same powers and privileges when certain conditions are met, which will ensure that officers of the commission, where required, have access to the powers they need to carry out robust article 2-compliant investigations. The commission must ensure that, as far as practicable, its officers include individuals with experience of conducting criminal investigations in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax
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Will the Minister give way?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I need to make a little more progress, but I will come back to my hon. Friend towards the end. The Committee will then want to hear from other Members.

The Bill also places a duty on the commission not to do anything that would risk prejudicing or would prejudice the national security interests of the United Kingdom, that would risk putting or would put the life and safety of any person at risk, or that would risk having or would have a prejudicial impact on any active or prospective criminal proceedings in the United Kingdom. Members will recognise that these are standard but important protections. Reports will be produced and issued as soon as possible after a review has been carried out, unless the commissioner for investigations refers any conduct of individuals in the final report to a prosecutor.

Clauses 18 to 21 address immunity from prosecution. After we published our Command Paper in July 2021, many individuals and organisations told us that the unconditional statute of limitations for all troubles-related offences is too painful to accept and is not right. We also heard from those in the veterans community who feel uncomfortable with any perceived moral equivalence between those who went out to protect life and uphold the rule of law and the terrorists who were intent on causing harm. Based on what we heard, we adjusted the proposals in the Bill.

Clause 18 establishes that for someone to get immunity from prosecution for a troubles-related offence, that person must request immunity from the commission, provide an account that is true to the best of their “knowledge and belief” and in doing so disclose conduct that would be capable of exposing them to criminal investigation or prosecution. It makes it clear that it is possible for people to rely on previous statements and sets out how the commission can formulate an offer of immunity, and how an individual must be notified about the outcome of an application for immunity. In response to amendments 101 to 105, in making a decision on whether or not to grant immunity the panel must take into account any relevant information that holds or obtains as part of the investigation. That might include information that the commission has obtained as part of the investigation, either from disclosure from relevant authorities, or from biometrics or witness testimony from individuals who engage with the commission.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On this test of the veracity of the witness, will the material that the Minister referred to in his earlier comments—the intelligence material—be made available, completely and totally? Will it be retained afterwards, in case there is a civil trial, or will it be shredded and destroyed? What is going to happen to that great bank of material that he referred to, which could confirm whether a person is telling lies through their teeth or whether they are telling the truth?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman asks about an important point. Central within this legislation will be the passing over of the state’s information—the intelligence gathered in the course of the period of the troubles and held by the authorities. That will include information on members of the security forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and others. It will also include intelligence that has been gained and retained about terrorist organisations and individual actors within that. The panel will be able to see and make judgement on that. As I explained, there are protections, as there rightly are all the time for those of us who have to deal with this source material, for named individuals who might be at risk by that information coming into the public domain. However, we are of the view here that the widest possible disclosure is the way in which this body can gain credibility, acceptance and authority. It is only on the basis of that credibility, acceptance and authority that the body will have the ability—[Interruption.] There will be no destruction of evidence.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just ask the Minister to guarantee that. Many people are very concerned that this Bill may pass through these Houses of Parliament but will not stand the test of time when it comes to the courts, because some of us believe it is fundamentally illegal, never mind unjust. Will he give a guarantee that whatever happens in terms of disclosure—we can debate that all day—evidence will not be destroyed after that process is over? Will he guarantee that evidence will be maintained and retained?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The credibility of the body will be determined by its effectiveness and how quickly it can gain the trust of those who engage with it. People engaging with it—coming forward to it—will be a process that will be encouraged by seeing how the body actually works and delivers. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said previously, it is absolutely our determination to provide the body with the effective tools it needs to gain the confidence of victims. It is only in doing that that the body will be successful. If I may, I will return to the hon. Gentleman specifically on the evidence point later in the debate, because I do not want to say something from the Dispatch Box until I am certain it is the correct thing; I would rather delay the answer to that than give him an incorrect answer.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Dame Eleanor, I am conscious that I have been on my feet for more than an hour now and that Members from across the Committee will want to participate in this debate. I will take a couple more final interventions, however.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 18 clearly states:

“The ICRIR must grant a person…immunity from prosecution if conditions A to C are met.”

Condition C is that the person engages

“true to the best of”

their “knowledge and belief”. If it is later proven that the information that individual gave the process is false, will immunity be revoked?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which others have raised in the past. The position in the Bill is that immunity, once given, cannot be revoked. However, I hear the point he and others have made, and I am sure we will return to it later in the debate. This body will have significant latitude in testing an individual’s credibility and sincerity. I would hope that the engagement and professionalism of those appointed to serve on the panel will be such that such cases will rarely, if ever, arise.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for doing such a difficult job and doing it so well. Can I just clarify something in my own mind? If a soldier is freed from all the appalling hounding and so forth that they have been subjected to and there is then a demand for an inquest, which would be a legal procedure, would that trump the decision of this panel, or would that soldier be free from that point on? Could the panel’s decision be legally challenged by, for example, an inquest court? That worries many soldiers.

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Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are very clear on this, and the Bill sets out the timetable. Where an inquest is ongoing and has reached a substantive part of its deliberations, that inquest would carry on. New inquests can continue to be opened until the Bill is law and this body is enacted. Once this body is up and running, there would not be new inquests for these cases; this panel would then be the body that dealt with them.

I have one final point about a decision whether to grant immunity. The panel must also take into account any relevant information that it holds or obtains as part of the investigation. That might include information that the commission has obtained as part of its investigation, from disclosure, relevant authorities and so on. Before the ICRIR becomes operational the Secretary of State will publish guidance that sets out how the body should go about deciding whether the conditions for immunity are met when it considers an application for immunity. The Bill is clear that the panel must take that guidance into account when deciding whether an individual should be granted immunity, and we will develop that crucial guidance with key partners.

Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister closes on immunity, does he agree that language is crucial here? The word “amnesty” suggests wrongdoing in the first place and therefore cannot be applied to British soldiers, who were working to bring about peace.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and it has been said repeatedly by myself, the Secretary of State and other members of the Government that there is absolutely no moral equivalence between the actions of those who were in Northern Ireland to uphold the rule of law and those who were engaged in a terrorist campaign. I also agree—I hope I have demonstrated this to some degree today—that language is incredibly important when we are dealing with these highly contested, deeply emotional topics. Often the overriding thing that someone wants is their loved one back, and that is the one thing that none of us can give them. What we can try to do is give them the information and help them to find a way through these processes and a way to deal with and face up to the traumatic events in their past.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not wish to detain my right hon. Friend, but I was listening to what he said about inquests, and I am a little concerned or confused—or both—about how this process will work. If somebody goes to the commission, will it be public knowledge that they have gone there on the basis of a set of issues and have been clear about those issues, one of which may relate to a potential inquest? If that individual’s situation is not related to a particular area of crime, can that inquest still not go ahead because they have been in front of the commission? How do we actually define when an inquest cannot go ahead? Will the coroner know that? Who will have the information? My right hon. Friend’s statement was a bold one, but I am not quite sure I understand how the process will work.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The intention—

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The intention behind the Bill is to have this body as the one to which people will go to recover information and to find out the truth of what happened in the deaths of their loved ones or others. One driver for the creation of the independent information recovery body is that the current complex and competing legal frameworks and routes are not bringing things to a conclusion for people. We have to acknowledge, in humility, how long ago many of these things happened. For many of those who suffered, time is running out—they are becoming very elderly. It is the intention that this is the body and the process for people to go to, not competing inquests and other forms of legal remedy.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have two points to make before the Minister concludes. This issue of “review” and “investigation” is not just semantics. In the case of Operation Kenova, we have seen that when it has been asked to review cases, it has led to some limits on the information that it could receive, whereas if it had been asked to investigate a case, that has given it much more scope and much more access to material. Can the Minister clarify why we are unable to be use much firmer in the language in the Bill to make it clear that we are talking about investigations?

On the point about inquests, I intervened on the Minister in his closing remarks on Second Reading, and he committed to returning to the House with a revised commitment to look at the pipeline of inquests so that victims who have been promised an inquest can be absolutely certain that they will be heard as part of the programme of inquests that was agreed only a year ago. Can the Minister clarify what his thinking now is on that?

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the very specific question as to why the terminology is “review” rather than “investigate”, there may well be a legal reason for that. I have not actually asked that question—it is a very good question. What I have been interested to look at is the scope and the powers of the body. The fact that it will have full police powers, the ability to cross-examine people and to contest what is put to it, and the ability to see source material looks to me, as I have examined this, very much like investigations. There may be a reason for the choice of word, and I will return to my right hon. Friend if there is a technical reason, but it seems to me that, for all intents and purposes, the body can undertake investigations if it so determines.

On the point about the pipeline of inquests, I am happy to give that commitment again to my right hon. Friend. Nothing will change until this Bill becomes an Act, and that is a little way off. We will certainly want to have a look at those that are in the pipeline before the Bill kicks in. The panel would be appointed, and it would become the alternative mechanism to the inquest route.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think I have been reasonably generous in giving way, and I have been on my feet for well over an hour now. I am very interested to hear contributions from across the Committee for the remainder of this afternoon, and I can reply to points of detail and information when we conclude this evening’s debate. On that note, I commend this Bill to the Committee.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to you, Dame Eleanor, for calling me to speak. I listened carefully to the Minister’s expansive oration, and I am grateful to him for taking the time to make it. Obviously, the issue that is vexing the Committee the most relates our amendment 115, which I shall come to towards the end of my comments. I look forward to any debate around the amendment and hope that I can answer some of the questions that have arisen on it.

The test of a way forward on legacy issues is that it must provide more benefit for victims than for perpetrators of terror. Labour opposed the Bill on Second Reading because it fails that test. Today in Committee we are dealing with part 1 of the Bill, which defines the troubles, and part 2, which contains clauses on how the independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery will work.

As we consider this legislation, we cannot overstate the importance of the task before us. The legacy we are talking about is the deaths of more than 3,000 people during the troubles in Northern Ireland, across Great Britain and in Ireland, and thousands more who were injured. Among those were 722 service personnel who were killed by terrorist actions. I put on record once again that we cannot forget and we remain grateful for their service.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman mentions that victims are at the centre of this, and that is right, but I hear repeatedly that when that is said, veterans do not get mentioned. Can he clarify to the Committee and to me where veterans sit in this and where their concerns are based? Ultimately, that is why we are here. We have reached the point, 25 years down the line, where this process is not working and we must find a way of bringing fairness to it. Where do veterans sit in his thinking on what he would do in this process?

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, as always. We recognise that service personnel were victims too, including the 722 service personnel killed by terrorist actions during the troubles. I put on the record yet again that we cannot forget the service they provided. They must have justice. Many of them and their families remain without the justice they deserve.

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Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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I urge the hon. Member not to take the advice of just one or two members of Parliament from Northern Ireland. I suggest that he listens to all of them, and to every victims group and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, because there is unanimity. We are not freelancing to make political points; we are trying very hard to be constructive and to give voice to something that will deliver the justice that we need.

On that note, I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) is here, and I hope that his need to have a cup of tea at some point will not prevent him from waiting until I address some of the issues that he raised in his interventions. I know that our proceedings are lengthy.

I support amendments 97 and 98, which would raise the bar for immunity; that is something that concerns the Committee. We will also vote with parties that seek to remove clause 18 from the Bill, as there has been no compelling argument for how the proposed immunity will lead to new information.

For the Labour party, the Belfast/Good Friday agreement is one of our proudest political legacies. We did that with many other parties, working constructively through that process. We understand, deeply, that compromise is the only path to progress in Northern Ireland, but we have seen no sign from the Government that they are willing to listen to those who oppose this Bill. I remind the Committee that among the opponents are every one of the Northern Ireland parties, all victims groups and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which, incidentally, was established as part of the statutory outcomes of the Good Friday agreement.

The Government claim they are seeking to achieve reconciliation in Northern Ireland with this Bill, but the simple, inconvenient truth is that reconciliation cannot be imposed; it is built with painstaking effort, respect and an unwavering commitment to listen to all sides.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. All the parties in Northern Ireland oppose the Bill, and that is respected. I will speak later about the 25 years that have elapsed in which other and better ideas that might have brought happiness could have been implemented. We talk about Tony Blair, his Government and the 1998 agreement, which everybody recognises is a huge piece of work. Jonathan Powell, who had a huge part to play in that, endorses these plans. What, therefore, would the shadow Secretary of State say to Jonathan Powell?

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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I have spoken to Jonathan Powell, who is, of course, always worth listening to on such issues. The hon. Gentleman says that Jonathan Powell endorses the plans, but I do not think that he endorses the Bill wholesale; he has concerns too. Like Tony Blair and others who participated in the lead-up to and signing of the Good Friday agreement, he is desperately keen for progress. They also recognise that not everybody can be satisfied by the Bill, but I think that more people can be satisfied by it than is currently the case—that is what we aspire to.

Most importantly, the Government need to listen when people tell them that they have got it wrong. In recent weeks, Ministers have gone to great lengths to highlight the necessity of cross-community support in Northern Ireland when it comes to the protocol, yet the Bill has achieved cross-community opposition. The Government cannot have it both ways: either consent matters or it does not.

Since Second Reading, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has held evidence sessions. People whom the Government should have consulted on the Bill prior to its publication have had to say that, regrettably, it just does not work. That includes the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland victims commissioner. That would force most Governments to reconsider their proposals to address such a sensitive issue, and to look at amendments that could be brought forward to address any concerns. We have seen none of that, however. The Government’s reckless single-mindedness shows its face again.

The Government must be aware that the lack of real prelegislative scrutiny and consultation, and the Bill’s rushed journey from publication to Second Reading, undermines its ultimate aims. The process has damaged trust in the investigative body before it has even been established. Alyson Kilpatrick, the chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, does not believe that the Bill can be made compatible with our human rights commitments. On 7 June, she told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee:

“I am very sorry to say, because I want to be constructive, that I certainly cannot see a way in which this Bill can be made compatible when taken as a whole. One cannot simply pick out bits and pieces. You have to see it in the context of the whole Bill, what led up to it and the absence of any democratic accountability, public support or political support for it.”

I also put on the record the words of David Clements, whose father was an RUC reserve constable serving in the station at Ballygawley, County Tyrone, in 1985. He was off duty with a colleague and was opening the security gates when IRA gunmen stepped out from the shadows and shot both of them in the head. As David’s father lay dead, the gun was taken from his body. Three years later, three other men were murdered with it. David has actively supported victims and survivors over many years since his father’s murder. About the Bill, he said:

“No one was ever charged for my father’s murder—though I have some reasons to believe that at least some of those responsible for his death were later themselves killed in Troubles related shootings. I recognise that discovering the whole truth about my father’s murder and anyone ever being held to account may now be almost impossible, but what I find hard to swallow is for this process to legislate that slim hope into an…impossibility”.

There is a real fear among victims that the Bill will not deliver them information.

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Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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And we get to where we need to be. I am extremely grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s approach.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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I give way first to the Minister.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns
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I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State. I was very clear in what I said to the Committee earlier, and the Secretary of State was sat behind me when I said it. I want to reiterate the sincerity of what I said earlier—that we are where we are and we want to find a way to resolve this. There is some time to go before we get to the moment of interruption, and I am sure the usual channels are hearing our debate very clearly.

I certainly heard, sensed and felt the mood of the Committee. I do not think it would be in anyone’s interest if we divided the Committee tonight on this very serious and emotive subject, where we share an absolute ambition to achieve the same outcome. We are determined to find a way through, and I just reiterate that to the shadow Secretary of State.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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I am grateful for the Minister’s sentiments. After we listened to the esteemed and senior Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee—the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), who is from the Minister’s party—I think we got to where we should be aiming for. Other senior Members of this place are nodding along in agreement. In that spirit, I look forward to any conversations that we might have around this place after the Minister and I have finished our opening remarks.

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Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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I am grateful to the hon. Member.

This Committee stage highlights the fact that there is a strong body of opinion in Northern Ireland that this Bill is irredeemable, that it should not progress and that it has no support among politicians or victims’ groups in Northern Ireland. The SNP spokesperson right crystallised that opinion, and said that his party had decided not to participate in amendments.

I stand here as a member of a party that has tabled scores of amendments in the hope that we can get this Bill to a better place. But I recognise that, for many at home, this is not a comfortable place to be. Without reiterating the comments made on Second Reading, I say that this Bill, whether it will affect a small number of people or a large number, is a true corruption of justice. The very idea that, under schedule 11, as the hon. Member for Bracknell read out, somebody prosecuted for heinous terrorist offences would serve no time in prison whatsoever for a prosecution arising either because that person has chosen not to give any information to victims’ families and stays outside the process, or because they engage in the process in an untruthful and dishonest way, is an affront to justice.

Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
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How would the hon. Member describe the 1998 agreement that let murderers out having served two years? Would that be a corruption of justice? Would that be an affront to justice? And—

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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Absolutely. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Let me make this point: we are not going to get unanimity of opinion on that issue from people in Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist party did not support the Belfast agreement. One of the strong reasons was the corruption of justice and the denial of rights to victims who saw the perpetrators walk the streets.

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Johnny Mercer Portrait Johnny Mercer
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I am grateful to be called in this incredibly important debate. I had a speech prepared about the usual things that I have bored everyone about for many years, but instead I will address some critical points that have been advanced by hon. Members—particularly on the Opposition side of the Committee, but some on the Government side too—about their concerns with this legislation.

It is important to remember that those who oppose the Bill have genuinely good intentions, as has consistently been the case since the Bill was announced. I understand what has been said, particularly on the issue of rape, which is an incredibly difficult subject to legislate on. It is also difficult to talk about whether it should be on the face of the Bill. When I oversaw the passage of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021, we encountered that exact problem. Clearly, everyone finds the use of rape in war, Northern Ireland or wherever it may be completely abhorrent, but the issue is what it looks like politically if the Department does not put it on the face of the Bill. That is where it needs to do a bit of work. I understand why it has not done that, but in my experience it is worth having those conversations to see what can be done to ensure that hon. Members and those who will use the Bill are under absolutely no illusion as to its reach and extent.

The problem that the Department faces is that if rape and then sexual assault are on the face of the Bill, what makes up sexual assault and what was sexual assault in the period of the troubles? It becomes increasingly difficult to define those offences. It is important to have such debates, and I hope that the Government will work to change their position on the legalities of what is in the Bill so that people feel comfortable, but hon. Members should not demonise those who think, as I do, that the Bill should go through to the Lords as it is. We should talk about the amendments when it gets down to that process and send it through unamended today, even though there is a particular issue around this crime that we all agree is abhorrent.

I totally understand why the Northern Ireland parties oppose the Bill, and why the DUP opposed the Good Friday agreement. Nobody on the Government side of the Committee wants anybody who has committed an offence, whether they were in uniform or a paramilitary, to get away with that—nobody wants that at all. If people ask me what I want from the Bill, I say that I want justice, fairness, and anything that brings a degree of peace and an ability to live on past the troubles to come forward.

The problem is that we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we want it to be. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) said that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good, and that was raised as a bad thing, but that is what we are here to do. I totally understand where the Northern Ireland parties are coming from, and this has been an educational journey for me as well. We have had some pretty feisty debates in this place, and I totally understand where those on all sides in the debate are coming from in Northern Ireland. The only problem I have is that, as politicians, we have to be pragmatic and we have to work in the space of what is physically possible.

I would, I suppose, have more time or more understanding for the argument that we have to try these different things if we were not 24 years on from the Good Friday agreement, and individuals such as Dennis Hutchings, who did nothing wrong and was never convicted of any offence, are repeatedly dragged over to Northern Ireland—he eventually died in a hotel room on his own in Belfast—because we have not been pragmatists. We have all been idealists, because we all want the perfection of a clear result in relation to what was an incredibly difficult period in Northern Ireland, but it is just not possible to achieve that.