Asset Freezing (Compensation) Bill [HL] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord Ahmad of WimbledonMain Page: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Conservative)
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My Lords, I join the so far unanimous voices of all who have spoken in this House and am grateful to the two additional noble Lords who have spoken in the gap. In particular, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Reid who identified just why the Government need to address this issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, is of course to be greatly applauded for his persistence with regard to this issue. His previous Bill is now extended in this Bill, which makes it clear what exactly ought to be achieved. The previous Bill of course fell foul of those practices in the Commons which result in the exhaustion of time. An awful lot of Members of Parliament and others—I count myself, as a former Member of Parliament, in this category—have suffered the loss of a Bill directed towards an unexceptionable cause when the waywardness of parliamentary procedure sees that the Bill does not progress as it deserves. Most of us at that point, I think, give up on the endeavours. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, is greatly to be congratulated on the fact that he has persisted with these issues and brought this Bill before the House. He may begin to think that he somewhat resembles Sisyphus, who constantly had a burden to bear and roll up the hill, but Sisyphus was never successful, of course. We hope that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, will be successful with this measure or, at the very least, if the Bill itself cannot be commended, that the Minister will indicate that the Government will take progressive action to give effect to its most crucial propositions.
We have no doubt about the justice of this cause and wish the Bill well. A considerable number of Members in the House of Commons support this issue. The constituency of my honourable friend Jim Fitzpatrick includes Canary Wharf, which featured in one of the horror stories of a period when not just Northern Ireland but the great cities of Manchester and Birmingham suffered attacks. London suffered several attacks during that period—enough to present difficulties in sustaining certain aspects of normal life in the capital, not least because of the threats to public transport. When my honourable friend Jim Fitzpatrick pursues these issues in the Commons, he represents his constituents in a way which they have the right to expect. Noble Lords from Northern Ireland have reflected exactly that consideration with regard to the people they used to represent in the Commons. We have become acquainted through all this with that dreaded word “Semtex”, which I think very few of us knew anything about until the Libyan Government began to obtain supplies of it from the Czech authorities and then began to disseminate it, in particular to the IRA in Northern Ireland.
Other Governments have made more progress on this issue than ours. We all recognise that the law is different in other countries. The Americans can take executive action that is not open to the British Government to pursue in the same way. The Government have now had several years’ opportunity to devote real thought to this issue, given the pressure from noble Lords and Members in the other place. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will indicate that the Government will come up with some constructive proposals.
I recognise that the Minister has drawn the short straw. Having to respond to the first debate on a Friday is bad enough. However, having to do so when he has a fairly thin case to deploy, or has had in the past, is an even more onerous burden. However, he is a competent and capable Minister whom we all respect. I know that he will have pressed his civil servants to ensure that he has an element of constructiveness in his response today. I do not think that the House will take kindly to a repeat of the forestalling by government which has gone on in the past in response to the arguments put forward on these issues. The Government need to give us some encouragement. I am not expecting the Minister to say that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, will sail through both Houses without contention. I am not even going to ask the Minister to say that it is bound to succeed. All I am asking him to say is that the Government have a duty to respond to the Bill’s demands for constructive action.
My Lords, I too thank those who participated in today’s debate. I want to go over a few points. My noble friend Lord Rogan referred to Semtex and the escalation of the campaign, and the fact that citizens from other countries have achieved compensation. I acknowledge that that was salt in the wound to many victims.
I appreciated the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan. I understand the technical points he made about the letters, but of all the things that have happened over the years, the production of pieces of paper in a court, the existence of which was not known to anybody outwith the Government of the day and the terrorists who held them, was a big shock, to put it mildly. The truth is that someone charged with four counts of murder and contributing to an explosion in this country—the first person to be brought before the courts between 1982 and 2014 on this matter—was able to leave the court a free man. You can look at all the technicalities that surround it, but that is what happened. It was a shock to the core for many people.
We know that mistakes were made, perhaps at police level—I accept that. But the fact is that pieces of paper existed that were not known about. Through my involvement in the negotiations I am well aware that the on-the-runs was a very sensitive issue. It was a matter that could not be left hanging in the wind. Nevertheless, people were shocked by the way this was done and by the fact that some of the people in possession of these letters were the same people hounding members of the security forces who were acting on our behalf. They were having their cake and eating it. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, also mentioned the imbalance, which is at the core of why people are so upset.
I am well aware of the personal experiences of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell—my late aunt and uncle lived across the road from where he lives. Very few people would get under their vehicle like a mechanic in a garage to search for a device, but he was so conscientious. I thank God that he and his family escaped.