Lord Bruce of Bennachie debates involving the Northern Ireland Office during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Thu 14th Sep 2023
Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & Committee negatived & 3rd reading
Tue 12th Sep 2023
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments: Minutes of Proceedings
Tue 5th Sep 2023
Thu 11th May 2023
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings

Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I am grateful, as we are all, for the Minister’s presentation of this budget. We all recognise the need for it and agree to process it rapidly, because services in Northern Ireland depend on it. It is fair to say, however, that every speaker has identified that, in reality, it represents a shortfall.

As mentioned, there was a debate in the other House about how this almost looks like a punishment. The Secretary of State has denied that. We know, partly because of the financial mismanagement of government, that there is no money across the piece but, in this situation, why is Northern Ireland being squeezed harder than anywhere else, given the circumstances? Could the Minister explain why this is quite so tight, if it is not part of the pressure to get the Assembly back up and running?

The implications of this are, for example, that the other devolved bodies, Scotland and Wales, can negotiate pay agreements that do not appear possible in Northern Ireland, because the money is not there to fund them. This means that public sector workers in Northern Ireland will be disadvantaged relative to those in other parts of the United Kingdom if this settlement is not supplemented. Basic cash affordability needs to be addressed.

Looking at the summary of all the departments, with the exception of health and infrastructure, every single one is facing a cash cut. The real-terms cut across the piece averages 16%. The issue there is the expectation of problems for health and education. I am told that it means that no new school building programme will be followed. Although it is a very small department and the amount of money is small, the Authority for Utility Regulation is being cut by 40%, yet utility regulation is quite important. Could the Minister suggest why that is and what the implications are?

The contributions we have received have been interesting. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, went through all these points in detail and made a very clear case for why the pressures in Northern Ireland need to be addressed and, of course, why we need an Assembly up and running.

It slightly took my breath away when the noble Lord, Lord Browne, opened his speech by saying that he wished this budget was being presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly. He implied that it was almost anybody’s fault that that was not happening other than the DUP’s. I am hopeful because every single DUP contribution has said that the DUP wants this to happen. That is, perhaps, an early indication that we are getting to the point where it might happen and this will never happen again. I can look cheerfully across and say that if that is the implication, I welcome it and look forward to hearing it because this cannot continue.

On a more serious point, the argument for why an agreement cannot happen is to do with the protocol and the Windsor Framework. I think the way it is put is that a foreign power makes rules binding on Northern Ireland, on which Northern Ireland has no say. We used to have a say, because we used to be part of that foreign power and we were able to make decisions and representations through elected representatives. The DUP campaigned to end that and these are the consequences.

It is worth noting that this week Apple has introduced its new iPhone. It will have a new connection—no longer a lightning connector but a USB-C connector, in conformity with the rules adopted by the European Union. Apple is an American company. Apple and the American Government have absolutely no say in the formulation of those rules, but Apple—the biggest company in the world—has had to conform to them. That is the reality when you trade; you negotiate terms but you also have to accept terms.

The problems that I acknowledge still exist within the Windsor Framework need to be addressed; we had a debate about that earlier this week. A very good committee report suggested how they might be addressed, but I suggest that they do not justify the continued dysfunction of the Assembly. There are issues that need to be addressed but I contend that they should be addressed from inside, not outside, if they are to be resolved.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, basically said that the people of Northern Ireland are caught between the DUP and the Government. That is, I suppose, a practical fact. The challenge to the Minister—not the Minister here; to be fair, my challenge goes to other Ministers—concerns the initiatives that the Government are prepared to take to try to break the deadlock. They share some degree of blame for the impasse. It is not all the DUP’s fault; the Government have some responsibility for that and some responsibility for trying to resolve it. I think that was the point that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, wanted to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, gave us a very detailed exposé of the Holtham formula. Speaking from a Scottish perspective, the problem with that formula is that it represents—I know what he will say—a significant cut in the per capita allocation that Scotland currently enjoys. It is something that the SNP is unwilling to acknowledge but it is a fact. On the other hand, it probably genuinely addresses the need, as the noble Lord, Lord Weir, pointed out, not the desires. Northern Ireland needs more than it is being given just to stand still, never mind to catch up with the serious situation it faces. So I think we have to accept that we will pass this budget today—

Lord Weir of Ballyholme Portrait Lord Weir of Ballyholme (DUP)
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My Lords, I appreciate the point that the noble Lord has made in relation to the Scottish situation, but one advantage of the Holtham formula is that it is meant to provide a floor rather than a ceiling. From that point of view, it would not obviate a level of cutting funding for Scotland but ensure that areas such as Wales and Northern Ireland do not fall below a minimum.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I accept that. It is a perfectly fair point. For a long time, Wales has argued that the Barnett formula has not worked well for it, and it has not worked for Northern Ireland. The issue has not been the Barnett formula but historic spending. I speak not as a nationalist but in terms of Scottish representation. Any suggestion that the formula should cut back in Scotland would be politically unacceptable and pretty disruptive. I accept that what it offers is a framework for Wales and Northern Ireland to get fairer allocation than has been the case. Again, that is a responsibility for the UK Government to address. The devolved Administrations can ask for it, but it is up to the UK Government to determine whether they will do anything about it. But it has real validity.

As I said, we will pass this budget, and it will provide the immediate funds that are necessary, but it will leave Northern Ireland in a powerless situation where all the issues affecting the United Kingdom are significantly worse in Northern Ireland across the whole spectrum—every aspect of the public service, whether waiting lists or the general problem across infrastructure. I therefore ask the Minister: at what point, assuming there is a point, will the Government recognise that this needs to be addressed? As I said at the beginning, if it is not a punishment, is there nevertheless a reward at some point that can be secured? There needs to be.

My final point is the obvious plea for the Assembly and the Executive to be re-established, because it is just not acceptable that the people of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives are not meeting to debate these issues, make these recommendations, draw up their own budgets and, yes, make collective representation to the UK Government if they feel the overall funding level is not adequate. We are all weary of saying to the DUP to get back to the table and get back in, but we must say to them that this cannot go on and, if it does for very much longer, then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie says, the demand for reform will come louder and louder. I suggest that such reform would not be entirely comfortable to members of the DUP. I am trying to make a rational appeal, as it is in the DUP’s real interest. They have a better chance of having their concerns—which I accept are legitimate from their perspective in many cases—addressed if they address the democratic deficit than by sitting and making the sort of speeches that they have made: “We all wish there was an Assembly, but there is not, and it is somebody else’s fault”. That is not good enough. The DUP have it in their hands to get it right. If they do, then they can start to negotiate with other parties and the Government to say, “This budget is not enough; Northern Ireland deserves better”, and, collectively, they will get it. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that, at some point or other, if that happens, there is space to negotiate.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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It has been a long time—well over a year, as the Minister said—and I continue to say that I do not blame the Government for one second for trying to resolve what is a hugely difficult issue. Of course they were right to do so, but they do not have the answer.

My right honourable friend the new shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, Hilary Benn—I welcome him to his post and, incidentally, pay tribute to Peter Kyle, who did a great job over a couple of years—said in the Commons last week, quite rightly, that the Government have made changes that all of us welcome, including this House, but it simply is not enough.

The Minister mentioned the Divisions we have had in the last few weeks. Twice, this House—the majorities might not have been huge, but they were majorities nevertheless—has asked the House of Commons to look again at the central controversial issue of the Bill, which is conditional immunity. He is right, of course, that ultimately we have to give way to the elected House, but that does not alter the fact that this is a friendless Bill. In effect, it has no support in Northern Ireland at all. All my experience of Northern Ireland over the years is that, where there is no support for a Bill such as this, from all communities in Northern Ireland, it will not work. There should have been consensus.

The Government should put the Bill on hold—put it on ice, if you like. Wait until there is a restored Assembly and Executive. When we debate other issues affecting Northern Ireland on Thursday, we will perhaps hear that there has been progress on the possibility of restoration. The right place for this to be debated and discussed is Belfast, not London, so put it on hold. If that does not happen, a future Labour Government will undoubtedly repeal this legislation.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. I question the Minister on the wording of the Commons reason, which is very short:

“Giving family members a role in whether immunity should be granted or not would critically undermine the effectiveness of delivering on the principal aim of this legislation”.


Could the Minister explain what the principal aim of this legislation is? Many of us feel that the motivation underlying it is one of the reasons why it has attracted total opposition from all sections of the population and all the political parties in Northern Ireland.

This House was trying to ensure that families and victims have more say in the process. I absolutely concur with the Minister that he has extended his offices, to a very generous degree, with a desire to try to engage people. It is true that the Bill has been substantially improved from what it set out to be, but it does not satisfy anybody any more than it did at the beginning. Serious questions remain as to whether it accords with international human rights. We know that the Government believe it does, but others disagree. Sir Declan himself has said that he would welcome legal challenges. I referred to that the other day, as there is still a concern that the Bill may become an Act and then be subject to legislation or court action that could undermine its effectiveness.

That said, at this stage, we have exercised the debate and stated our view. The Commons has decided to persist and, in these circumstances, we are bound to accept its view.

Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) Regulations 2023

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Thursday 7th September 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I thank the Minister for his introduction and obviously wholly support him in what he is required to do. I have just a couple of issues to raise. We were having an informal discussion about one of them, but it would be useful if the Minister could put on the record just what the process is for the confirmation.

Secondly, there is rather a paucity of people present for this debate, including representatives from Northern Ireland, and that is the nub of our problem. The reality is that Ministers, including the noble Lord, should not have to be doing this. It is a total betrayal of the proper interests of the people of Northern Ireland that this is not being decided by their democratically elected politicians. The Minister even hinted at the fact that it is creating problems. There are vacancies which have not easily been filled and that is affecting the functions.

I wonder how many more times we can go through this process before this Government, or another Government, will have to initiate a change. To my mind—I will say this explicitly—the Democratic Unionist Party may be unionist but it is certainly not democratic, because the reality is that it is not representing the people of Northern Ireland and not even representing the people who voted for it. But it is denying the majority of the people of Northern Ireland effective governance and that is causing real hardship, real difficulty and real suffering.

Finally, the argument put forward is that they are not going to go back until their seven tests are met, yet those tests are entirely irreconcilable. They are not achievable. They are not actually possible. On that basis, we are left asking, “Is there any intention of them returning or any circumstances under which they will?” I know that the Minister has many conversations and dialogues, but I do not know whether he feels that we have any chance of getting the Executive and the Assembly back. We cannot go on doing this year in, year out, without addressing the problem and doing something about it. I know that that is not the subject of this debate—I absolutely support what the Minister is trying to do—but I would be grateful if he could briefly tell us about the process for appointments.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I, too, start by echoing those sentiments. Obviously, the solution is to get the Stormont Government and the Assembly up and running. In yesterday’s Oral Questions in the other place, this issue was specifically addressed. The Minister there responded to my right honourable friend Hilary Benn, who asked what plans there are and what conversations are being had, by saying that conversations with the DUP are constantly ongoing and that some progress is apparently being made. I hope that the Minister here can echo that positive side of things because the solution rests with getting the democratic institutions back up and running.

I turn to the specifics of the SI. I am sure that it is good practice and an ongoing practice for all relevant departments to do this but, certainly when we see that the specific urgent appointments include the Agricultural Wages Board and the Labour Relations Agency, I just want to be reassured that the practice of consulting properly with stakeholders, in particular with the trade unions concerned in Northern Ireland, is taking place.

With those few comments, I will leave it to the Minister to respond.

Police Service of Northern Ireland: Security and Data Protection Breach

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Tuesday 5th September 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Caine Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Caine) (Con)
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I am very grateful to the former Secretary of State for his comments and his questions. Of course, I share his concerns over the security breach that took place. I was in Northern Ireland a day or so after and I was fully briefed at the PSNI headquarters by the then chief constable, who, as the noble Lord reminded the House, handed in his resignation yesterday. I place on record my appreciation for his service and wish him well for the future.

Nobody underestimates the seriousness of the breach. The noble Lord referred to the number of self-referrals to the emergency threat management group, which is absolutely correct. I assure him that the PSNI and His Majesty’s Government take the safety, security and welfare of police officers and support staff as the very highest of priorities. The Government have been keeping in very close contact at official and ministerial level with the PSNI, and we have offered specialist assistance wherever we can.

On the noble Lord’s specific questions, as he rightly alludes to, there is no direct ministerial direction within the Department of Justice. As he knows, policing is a devolved issue and is the responsibility of the Department of Justice. There is no Minister there at the moment. A number of inquiries have been launched, in particular one by the Policing Board, whose results we hope to see in the autumn, possibly as early as October. Any assessment of that report will obviously have to wait until it has reached its conclusions and been published.

As far as finance is concerned, the noble Lord is aware that policing is a devolved issue, as I said. The Department of Justice has a budget of £1.2 billion. There are certain matters for which the Northern Ireland Office is responsible. It is too early to reach conclusions, but we will have to look at the findings of the various inquiries once they report.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for those clarifications to the noble Lord’s questions. Policing in Northern Ireland is always challenging and this very unfortunate release has made it even more so. We have lost the chief constable and replacement will also be challenging. Given what the Minister has said—namely, that policing and justice are devolved, although there is a role for the Northern Ireland Office—does that not reinforce the case for those people who are genuinely concerned about policing, and indeed all other services in Northern Ireland, to recognise that we cannot go on kicking things backwards and forwards between Westminster and a non-existent Assembly or Executive? This is just another case in which those who are blockading the re-establishment of the Assembly are preventing the resolution of the very issues that they are raising concern about in a proper fashion using the devolved Administration that was created for the purpose.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord. I pay tribute to the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which does an amazing job across the entire community, policing in a very difficult situation. Irrespective of the data breach, it faces pressures that are unknown to other police forces within the United Kingdom. Obviously, the breach has caused great anxiety. In respect of the thrust of the noble Lord’s questions, he is absolutely right: we need an Executive back in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible. We are doing everything we can to bring that about; that will obviously include the appointment of a Justice Minister within the department who could give political direction.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, these amendments are really an attempt to respond, in a way, to the way in which the Minister has engaged with this Bill. Before I speak to them, let me say that I am speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lady Suttie, who has been very engaged on this Bill but is unable to be here today. I know that she was appreciative of the engagement from the Minister; indeed, I have sat in on one or two of those meetings as well as these debates.

Many of these arguments have been rehearsed many times. We do not need to say them over and over again. I want to say only two or three brief things.

The heart of this Bill is an attempt to provide immunity, yet it was driven by a minority in the Conservative Party who really wanted to give immunity to one side only. It is not possible to do that without giving immunity to the other side. That is why nobody can support this Bill—because nobody can feel satisfied that they can secure justice in that environment.

A question has been raised about compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights and, indeed, the possibility of tests in the court. I have had the honour of serving as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and was a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. Most of the democratic members of the Council of Europe—all of them are democratic, in fact, which is why Russia is no longer there—recognised that the point of the convention and the existence of the court was to try to avoid matters going to court while recognising that the court was there for when failures had taken place. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, I therefore find it extraordinary that the Government and their representative in this context are saying, “Let’s test it in the courts”.

The question I have for the Minister, then, is this: if a case is taken to the ECHR and the court determines that this Bill is in contravention of the convention— all that will take time, of course; no doubt the measures that the Bill provides for will have been implemented and followed through by then—what will the impact be? Will it mean all the decisions taken under this legislation being invalidated? In the meantime, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, said, many inquests that are currently nearing progression, at least to a point where they could continue, will have been abandoned. I suggest that this Government or their successor would find themselves in an extraordinarily difficult situation, which would also be difficult to remedy because so much damage would have been done.

All of us in this House, apart from on the Conservative Benches, are quite clear that this Bill should not go ahead. However, the Minister should acknowledge, as we have in turn acknowledged of him, that there has been genuine engagement to try to move the Bill to the least damaging place, if you like—even though we all agree that it should not be here at all. These amendments are designed to be helpful and in that spirit. Frankly, it would do the Government a lot of good if they were prepared to accept them because it would show that the good will goes in both directions. I certainly make it clear that, if a Division is called on either of these amendments, we on these Benches will support it.

I hope that he will forgive me for saying so but the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, made what was a short intervention for him. However, it was so passionate in terms of his dismay and hurt, as he put it. I think many of us know how uncomfortable the Minister must be when almost anybody and everybody who has been involved in this matter in Northern Ireland says, “This is wrong. This should not be happening”. I do not think that the Bill will stand the test of time as anything other than a dishonourable and disreputable course of action by a British Government.

At this stage, I want to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. The Bill is supposed to provide reconciliation. As has been said on many occasions, it does not do that, but the noble Lord’s speech demonstrated that it not only does not provide reconciliation but aggravates grievance, which is the exact opposite of its intention and that is extremely disappointing.

The amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Murphy, are constructive and helpful. In particular, the point about the Kenova process has been well respected by everybody. Given the necessary resources, it could have led to progress; the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is commendable for that reason. The right of victims to be consulted properly, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, seeks, is also essential. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, the victims are at the heart of the problem, yet they are the people who have been most ignored by this legislation.

In that context, I hope that the House will be prepared to support these amendments, which means that we will of course be back here debating them again in the not-too-distant future.

Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I do not support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who seems to be attempting to turn the ICRIR and its reviews into the sum of all the existing legacy reinvestigations that have already happened, by the PSNI, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and by Operation Kenova under Jon Boutcher. His amendment is complicated but would effectively mean that the new arrangements would be no different from what went before, and that the time required and the funding involved would be limitless, as I have said in the past. Given that to date we have already spent some £2 billion on Troubles reinvestigations, for little resultant value, if we are honest, this is not an attractive prospect.

The amendment also attempts to bind the ICRIR to the international standards required by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. I thought that the Government had already dealt with that aspect in a very late amendment by invoking the Human Rights Act. That Act has a domestic UK effect which is exactly appropriate for the ICRIR, rather than it having to respond to the political machinations of the court’s enforcing body—the committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

In the earlier stages of this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others, presented the Kenova process as a model for the ICRIR. That option seems to have disappeared from today’s amendment. I am not quite sure why the name has been removed. However, it is important to look a little at the background and history. The noble Lord knows that he played a very important role in an earlier stage of legacy policy, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between 2005 and 2007. In July 2005, seven years after the Belfast agreement, the IRA, in its words, “dumped arms”. A few months later, the Government responded with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. This proposed an alternative justice system, outside the existing institutions, to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.

Government Ministers have not mentioned this precedent for their current Bill, but they could well have cited this attempt to further the process, conducted by then Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell on behalf of the Government, and by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on behalf of Sinn Féin and the IRA. The political situation in 2005-6 was not unlike that prevailing during the course of this Bill. The then Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was opposed by all local parties except Sinn Féin. However, Clause 1 of the 2005 Bill referred to offences

“in connection with terrorism and the affairs of Northern Ireland (whether committed for terrorist purposes or not)”.

This meant that the amnesty provisions—and it was an amnesty, which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was very honest about in his speech—could extend to the security forces. Immediately, in the other place in December 2005, Mark Durkan, the leader of the SDLP, asserted that the Bloody Sunday soldiers, still being inquired into by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, could benefit from the Bill. Sinn Féin immediately withdrew its support for the Bill and, in January 200,6 the noble Lord, Lord Hain, dropped the Bill. However, it is important to remember that the Republicans—the IRA/Sinn Féin—did not lose out. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had been working on the on-the-runs scheme, which would soon move into its Operation Rapid phase, with comfort letters being issued to several hundred IRA men, as the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has said.

Now, 20 years on, this Bill with its many imperfections sets out what the Government believe is a new model for addressing the legacy of the Troubles, something that—everyone is now being honest—was not considered back in 1998, and which the local political parties have not been able to agree on since. I therefore oppose this amendment, as it brings us back to where we started and is not moving us forward in any way, no matter what we think of the Bill.

I want to mention the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen. I am pleased that I was signature to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, in his amendment, which did not get put to the vote. This amendment, picked up by Labour’s Front Bench, is beginning again to put the victim at the centre of the whole issue. I feel that, if the person who is the victim has gone through the whole process of listening to someone who has come forward and given what they say is the truth, and everyone has listened and a great deal of time has been invested, and in the end the victim—the person who has really suffered—is prepared to accept that that person can have immunity, we can live that. I am disappointed that the Government have not moved a little bit on that, because some sensible suggestions were made in Committee, particularly by the noble and right reverend Lord. I hope that today perhaps they will come back and look at that.

Overall, this legacy Bill is—and I hate to use this expression—a dog’s breakfast. It has been cobbled together in a way that tries to please everyone and is ending up pleasing absolutely nobody. The Government are determined to put it through, which is why I have, in the past, supported certain amendments that would make it slightly better. I think that is all we can do at this stage, but I certainly do not think that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is moving us forward in any way.

Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB)
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My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Godson, and Amendment 174B, to enshrine in law the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure the production of an independent public history of the Troubles. I came as a boy, accompanying my late father, General Bilimoria, when he was a lieutenant colonel attached to the British Army at the School of Infantry in Warminster. Even as a young boy, I can remember the high security, the fear under which everyone lived, and the sad stories of people we knew and heard about on a regular basis. Fast forward to when I came to London as a student in the late 1980s, and then when I started my business: we lived under this fear, on a constant basis, and we witnessed the atrocities and tragedies that took place right until 1998 and the Good Friday agreement.

Successive Governments—of all political parties, to be fair—have sought to maintain peace during the Troubles, and at what a price. It is important that we record and acknowledge the history of those awful and terrible years, and the Government correctly regard a public history as playing an important role in addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past. However, I hope the Minister will acknowledge that there is no mention of it in the Bill. It could in theory be managed through the Cabinet Office’s official history programme, but to my understanding that programme has been in a state of limbo in recent years. It is also insufficiently resourced to produce an official history on the Troubles—a topic that is going to be vast and require a huge amount of work from leading historians with substantial research support.

If the Government intend that the public history should support other academic research support programmes proposed by the Bill, we should note that these are to be concluded within seven years. Unless this public history is properly resourced through the Bill’s memorialisation programme, it is unlikely to be able to add meaningful value to other memorialisation activities within this timeframe.

We require an authoritative history to be produced in good time and to act as an absolute gold standard, and that this thoroughly informed history be communicated to the public, being both affordable and available to everyone who wants to read it. Additionally, it is a matter of equal concern to Ireland as well.

It is crucial that we support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Godson, for an additional clause in Part 4 after Clause 46, and I encourage the Government to accept this change.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, this has been an interesting debate; there is clearly a desire to have an objective record of a dark and troubled time, but it is a hugely sensitive issue that is going to present major challenges.

I absolutely agree that any history that glorifies terrorism or violence has no validity and can have no place. As the noble Lord, Lord Swire, said, people have looked at different examples such as in South Africa, and the genocide memorial in Rwanda is shocking and stunning and creates an impact. We also have to recognise that we have talked about the Troubles as a defined period, as if they just ended and the Good Friday agreement started, but we know that the divisions have not gone away. You even see in the Republic of Ireland newly elected representatives shouting, “Up the Ra”, so we are still in very difficult times.

I hear the call for an objective history, but I wonder how easy it would be to produce one and to ensure that it reflects the balance. I am not suggesting that it should not be tried, but we should not underestimate the challenges involved. At the end of the day, what would be the purpose of this history? The only fundamental purpose seems to be to ensure that, right across all sections of the community, it leads to a cry of “Never again”.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting and thoughtful debate. For 17 years before I entered the House of Commons I taught history, and I thought that it had prepared me for the various jobs that I eventually had to do. When I became Minister of State in Northern Ireland, helping to negotiate the Good Friday agreement, I realised that it had not prepared me at all for what was up against me. Month after month, virtually every day, was occupied by a history lesson, which I was not teaching but which came from the different participants in the talks—of course, there were very different versions of what had happened over the last 30 or 40 years before then.

Teaching history had also not prepared me for the extent to which—as has been touched on a number of times in this debate—almost every single family in Northern Ireland was affected by violence in some form or another, either by people or their relatives being killed or by physical or mental injury. It struck me when I went back to Belfast a couple of weeks ago for the commemoration proceedings that, within 24 hours of getting there, I talked to two middle-aged men about their own history. In both cases, coincidentally, their fathers had been murdered. One had been murdered by the IRA, and the other had been murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. That was a coincidence; I did not seek it out. It just happened. It is the background of that communal history among people from all communities in Northern Ireland which makes this task immensely difficult. I am not saying that it should not be attempted, because I think it should be, but it will not be an easy task. It should be done by ensuring that there is as much impartiality and diversity as possible, which is a difficult combination to get together, so that it is written. The sensitivity behind this is enormous.

I make a very brief reference to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and what I thought was a very good speech in terms of her reference to the gay community in Northern Ireland and how it suffered in a different way. There is particular resonance in my own constituency’s history because my immediate predecessor as Member of Parliament for Pontypool was Leo Abse, who in 1967 was responsible for the legislation which decriminalised homosexuality in Great Britain. Many people never realised that it was not replicated in Northern Ireland; it took many years before that was to happen. So, I think that this should be part of the history project as well.

When the Minister winds up, I am sure he will give us some good thoughts on what we should do about an official history. He might suggest the odd historian or two—there are one or two in here who might be very good at it—but at the same time he must understand that these matters, important as they are, have to be dealt with using the utmost sensitivity.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Baroness O'Loan Portrait Baroness O'Loan (CB)
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My Lords, with respect, I am not sure why these measures are described as incentives. Certainly, the victims and survivors whom I met yesterday did not regard them in any way as incentives, and it does not seem to me or them that those who hold information that may be of use to the ICRIR and do not provide it in accordance with the notice under Clause 14 are likely to be incentivised by an increase in the possible fine from £1,000 to £5,000. I will simply say that I do not see this as providing any incentive to someone to provide information if they are reluctant to do so. Bearing in mind that the information may reveal that the person or organisation they represent may have done something that relates to, or constitutes part of, a Troubles-related offence, that reputational issue, with all its potential consequential damage, could be a compelling reason not to disclose information. I think the changes made by Amendments 168 to 170 are not of great significance because they seem to apply to a very limited subset of people.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I want briefly to ask the Minister how he feels people should be incentivised and whether this is the case in the Bill. The reality, as we have heard in previous debates, is that in many cases the consequences of not co-operating are nothing. If you do not co-operate, nothing happens. If the risk of co-operating is increased from £1,000 to £5,000, it is neither here nor there. Would the Minister explain why making that change would significantly affect the number of people who co-operate? Does he accept that victims are somewhat concerned that there is a desire to incentivise certain people to come forward and not others? It will do nothing to ensure that they get the information, knowledge or understanding that they need.

I know that the Minister is trying to reassure people that he is balancing the needs of victims with the concerns of veterans. The danger is that he ends up satisfying neither and alienating both. To what extent does he feel that this contributes constructively to the effective working of the commission?

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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These are reasonably sensible amendments, but they go only so far. The points made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, are valid and we look forward to the Minister’s reply. If these amendments came to a vote, it is highly unlikely that we would oppose them. It was quite good that the Minister had, for example on Amendment 84, listened to the victims’ commissioner. We look forward to his reply.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, first, I join others in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Weir, his maiden speech and his participation in the House. I am absolutely certain that we will hear a great deal more from him, with his detailed knowledge of Northern Ireland, and I think that the House will appreciate the contributions he can make. So I bid him welcome.

All of us are saying that we do not like the Bill or where we are, but we have to support it. However, we are all also saying that not only are elections not a solution but they will not be a resolution. So, in a sense, it is a very odd situation, where elections are not the issue of democracy; it is delivery that people are looking for. Most people would argue that all the indications suggest that an election would not bring about a very significantly different result, so we would not be any better off.

Nobody can be in any doubt whatsoever that the DUP, and indeed other unionists, are highly exercised by and oppose the protocol; they believe that it has to be either removed or dramatically altered. That is clearly understood; it would be very difficult to listen to this debate and not appreciate that. Frankly, I find it unacceptable that this is an argument that Northern Ireland politicians—Northern Ireland Assembly Members—cannot resolve because they have no power over it whatsoever. Not being there does not get us anywhere near a resolution of their perfectly legitimate concerns, but it leaves the people of Northern Ireland without effective governance. The DUP should be prepared to accept that their argument about the protocol, legitimate as it is, should not really justify not making the democratic process in Northern Ireland function.

The other thing I wanted to say—

Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
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I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to speak very briefly. He says that the protocol and going back into the Assembly are completely separate, but does he not understand that a DUP Minister, or another Minister, has to implement the protocol in lots of ways? Would he want to do that: implement something if he really did not agree with it?

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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Frankly, Ministers have to do that all the time; we see them having to explain themselves in the House. The point that the noble Baroness is making is perfectly valid in the sense that Governments have to implement the laws under which they operate. However, the challenge I put back to her is that the people of Northern Ireland need to have their day-to-day problems addressed, and that is not happening. The question is: how legitimate is it to put those everyday issues which matter to the people of Northern Ireland above or below the needs of the protocol? I am not arguing that the protocol is not an issue; I am suggesting that it is not a justification for being where we are.

The Minister, in his introduction, explained that this is not a situation he relishes or wished to be in. We all understand that, but I am slightly concerned about the deadlines. The first deadline is this Thursday, and the second is 19 January. It has been said by numerous speakers in this debate that there is very little evidence of an active negotiation to try to get some kind of resolution. So my concern is that, by the time we get to 19 January, the Minister will come back and say that he will have to introduce another Bill to extend it even further. We need to know where the active process of trying to address these issues is. There does not seem to be enough urgency or engagement to try to secure an outcome.

In that context, I say in passing that the talk about penalties and salaries, again, does not change anything; it has been done before. It has been argued, of course, that the overwhelming majority of Members of the Assembly wish to be there, yet they are going to have their salaries cut, in spite of the fact that they are not the cause of the Assembly not meeting. The Government say that any kind of discrimination would be legally very difficult.

Before continuing, I make it clear—I have it on record; I just checked it myself—that I have consistently criticised Sinn Féin for their refusal to deliver the Assembly. So I certainly do not take sides on this: no party should stop democracy functioning, as I said at the time.

We have a situation where there are a growing number of people in Northern Ireland who regard some of these debates, important as they are, as much less important than the cost of living crisis, the energy crisis and the fundamentals of day-to-day life which are not being adequately addressed by their representatives. The fact that the cash to help for fuel bills is being delayed has already been mentioned. I do not know whether it is because of intransigence, but I believe that had we had an Assembly, this probably would have been addressed on the same terms and timescale as everywhere else in the UK. This is really fundamental: of the people who are desperately worried about whether they can afford to heat their house—coming from Scotland, I know how cold it can be in the north—and are worried about their energy bills and the cost of living, I wonder how many of them say, “Please resolve this political issue”, rather than, “Please sort out my energy bill and help me with the cost of living; why aren’t our local politicians doing that?”

We have debated the outcome of the protocol in the protocol Bill; therefore, I do not wish to take more than a minute on this subject. The DUP keeps talking about the conditions that have to be met, but, as far as I can see, they are asking for irreconcilable conditions—that there should be no border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and no border on the island. We had that when we were in the EU, but now that we are out of the EU, I do not see how it is possible to have no border, given where we are at. I accept that Boris Johnson signed this in a hurry for political reasons in an election, called it “getting Brexit done” and an “oven-ready” deal—it was none of those things—and knew perfectly well that it did not do what he claimed it did. He has absolutely dumped us in this; he has left us with this mess. Nevertheless, resolving it will require some degree of checks of balances. The questions are: how limited can they be, how acceptable can they be, and can they be done in a way that makes life practically constructive for the Northern Ireland economy and the people of Northern Ireland?

There is a more fundamental difficulty: Northern Ireland, being in the single market, is inevitably subject to EU rules which, because we are not a member of the EU, we no longer have a part in shaping. I am not sure how we can resolve that, because that is the deal that we have signed. If we simply suspended the protocol, which is what the legislation wants to give the Government the power to do, we would not just be suspending the protocol; we would be tearing up our treaty on exit from the EU. The whole of the UK economy would then be in a very parlous state, being not only outside the EU but in economic conflict with it.

What concerns me is the way people can say, “We have to have this, this and this”, without recognising the inherent contradictions in those supposed conditions. For example, when the DUP says that it had a mandate at the last election and will have a mandate if there is another election, it is not a mandate that is within the DUP’s power to deliver. That is really the point that it needs to address.

We now have legislation—clearly, we cannot carry on past the deadlines without legislation—but this cannot go on indefinitely. People are suffering, which is why the extra powers in the Bill are necessary to ensure that the basic day-to-day decisions that are urgently needed will happen, but not in circumstances that are democratically accountable or even properly transparent.

If power-sharing means anything, it absolutely requires a degree of consent, but it also requires co-operation and compromise. If that is not forthcoming, it does not function and it is not democratic. If the DUP is absolutely uncompromising in its unconditional refusal to accept some degree of compromise—I agree that it is entitled to ask about the negotiations so it can see what is going on—and is not prepared to accept that, what would it accept? If it is nothing that can be delivered by the UK Government or the EU, it will have to recognise that reforms that are compatible with the way Northern Ireland is governed and with the Good Friday agreement would become irresistible. That is something it needs to consider.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Moved by
1: Clause 2, page 1, line 15, leave out “19 January 2023” and insert “a date set out in regulations by the Secretary of State”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment gives the Secretary of State discretion to set a later deadline for the filling of Ministerial offices.
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to move the amendment in my name. My noble friend Lady Suttie would have been here, but she is recovering from Covid, so the Committee is stuck with me for the duration. I am glad to say that she is well on the way to recovery.

This amendment was tabled by our Alliance Party colleague in the other place. The feeling, which has been expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Godson, is that the timescale is tight to the point of being unrealistic. If the Minister honestly believes that we could get a scenario where, let us be clear, the DUP would be willing to engage and come back because there was sufficient progress by 19 January, nobody would be more pleased than me, these Benches and probably the whole House, but if not, it will mean that the Government have to come back and introduce another Bill. I genuinely think that it would be helpful for the Government if they gave themselves the space not to have to do that.

The only other thing we want to say is that while all this is going on, whether now or subsequent to 19 January, what information will the Government make available in the public domain on decisions that have been taken in Northern Ireland by civil servants for people to be aware of them? What information are the Government prepared to share in broad terms about negotiations that may be taking place and whether all-party talks could be initiated?

The purpose of this amendment is to create the space for the Government to get where we all want them to go on the basis that the deadline seems unrealistically tight. I beg to move.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand the reasoning behind this amendment. We touched on it in the debate a couple of hours ago with regard to the deadline. It is very tight. I cannot honestly think we will actually achieve much between now and then because of the Christmas period.

I hope we will, but one of the problems that these negotiations face is that there is more than one government department dealing with them. If the Foreign Secretary and his team are dealing with it, then the Northern Ireland Secretary and his team are dealing with it from only a secondary point of view, whereas in reality they are equally important. Could the Minister enlighten us not only in response to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, about the deadline, but about the nature—not the detail—of the negotiations? If we have a Foreign Office team looking at the protocol here and the Northern Ireland Office team looking at the situation in Northern Ireland there, do they meet? Do they talk to each other? Are they in direct communication with each other about the implications in those negotiations?

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Caine Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Caine) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie. I echo what he said about his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. She texted me this morning; she is apparently on the mend and we hope to see her back in her place very soon.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, which was also discussed in the other place, would, of course, remove the end of the second six-week extension to the Executive formation period. As the noble Lord set out, this would essentially amount to an indefinite extension. As my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office said in the other place, and as I said at Second Reading in the wind-up, it is not and never has been the intention of this legislation to create an indefinite or undefined extension period for Executive formation. In our view, that would be neither democratic nor fair.

The House will recall that, earlier this year, Parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Act 2022, which I took through this House. That legislation amended the period for forming an Executive after an Assembly election as applied by the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Given the Government’s desire to allow space for progress in talks with the European Union on the protocol, this Bill creates a short, straightforward and defined extension to that Executive formation period, which builds on the defined six-week period set out in the Act to which I have just referred. In our view, we cannot simply dispense with that legislation at the earliest possible opportunity; it is legislation that, I remind the House, was contained in commitments made in the New Decade, New Approach document of January 2020.

I am deeply aware that the previous political impasse in Northern Ireland dragged on for three years. I have previously in your Lordships’ House described that period as a particularly frustrating time in my life—something that is shared by a number of colleagues who are sitting behind me on the Democratic Unionist Party Benches and, indeed, by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. We are determined that that period, which dragged on for three years, cannot happen again. Indeed, it is what the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Act and New Decade, New Approach sought to prevent. We are clear that, given the present challenges, Northern Ireland needs locally elected and accountable Ministers as soon as possible. As we have heard throughout proceedings today, the measures in this Bill are a temporary stopgap, and we cannot allow a situation where that remains indefinitely the case.

Regarding the noble Lord’s other points, I will reflect on what he said. Some of the issues to which he and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, referred are not directly matters for me. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, that, of course, the Northern Ireland Office liaises with the Foreign Office. As we promised to do in Committee on the protocol Bill, I will take away the comments of both noble Lords to see if there is a way that we can give more information to your Lordships’ House as the discussions proceed. On that basis, I would urge the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I thank the Minister for that response. I understand it, and I genuinely wish him well: that is a very tight timescale and I hope he can be successful. I repeat that I will be surprised if we are not back here before the end of January, but I appreciate his response, particularly about trying to keep us informed. I know he said that in good faith, and we look forward to hearing how he might be able to do that. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, with that interesting comparison because everybody has said that the one thing the Bill does not do is promote reconciliation. We certainly need to have a debate about what would promote reconciliation.

I join others in showing appreciation to the Minister for his opening speech. I think we all genuinely appreciated his sincerity. When he said that the Bill is challenging for us and for him, it was pretty obvious that there was a very sincere situation. He has our sympathy, which is perhaps not what he wants, but I believe he will get engagement. What we will get at the end of it is obviously yet to be determined, but it is important to put that mark down.

Another thing that has been said is that the term “Troubles” is euphemistic. It is a terrible understatement for what was a bloody conflict. It convulsed Ireland and Northern Ireland for 30 years and has left, as we now appreciate, a tragic and very complicated legacy. It is also worth saying that while none of us who live on the mainland can possibly appreciate what it did to the communities in Northern Ireland—we have heard so much about that and all appreciate the contributions made—it has left deep scars across the whole of the United Kingdom. This is not just because of the atrocities committed in Great Britain. In so many meetings over many years just as a local MP, I heard the sense of inadequacy, guilt and despair at the conflict and the inability to bring it to an end. I think that affected people right across the UK; we were just so used to news bulletins about another bombing or shooting, and we wanted it to stop.

The Good Friday/Belfast agreement laid down hope for the whole of the UK, as well as the island of Ireland. The question now is: will we be able to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that agreement with a process of reconciliation and a functioning Executive and Assembly? That would attract well-wishers from across the world. Right now it does not look likely and if not that, what?

Reference has been made to the Stormont House agreement. I recognise that the Ulster Unionist Party said that it did not support the agreement but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, I hope it did not reject the basic principles: any legacy solution should promote reconciliation and uphold the rule of law; it should acknowledge and address the suffering of victims; it should facilitate the pursuit of justice and be human rights-compliant. That is surely not a point of contention.

The other thing we are all concerned about is the switch in the Government’s position. At the 2017 general election, the Government said:

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


That was said by Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State at that time, but we have had an election since and the world has changed. The Minister has been here throughout that and will of course have his own appreciation of that change and development.

I think all of us accept the views of some that the uncertainty over possible prosecutions of service and security personnel causes stress and anxiety—of course it does. But surely that does not justify setting aside human rights issues and the rule of law; it cannot do so. We have to recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, did, that the security forces did an incredible job, took huge casualties, were brave, saved lives and kept the peace, but some of them clearly did not conform. In fact, it is in the interests of the overwhelming majority who performed absolutely professionally that those who did not should not be given absolution.

It is important to say that this is not simply a domestic issue: it affects our reputation as a nation and an upholder of human rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said. We uphold human rights and the rule of law, but this has been seriously damaged by the conduct of this increasingly discredited Government who, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, now think that law should just be taken into account, rather than respected and followed.

I was a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—its political wing, if you like —and I am concerned when I hear debates within certain sections of the Conservative Party calling for Britain to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, alongside Belarus and Russia, the only non-members of that organisation. I am glad that Dominic Raab said that he does not think that useful, but that was not a robust defence of our membership, nevertheless. The idea that we should do that is unconscionable, and a dying Government with no mandate have no right even to consider it.

The problem, which has been mentioned, is that all of this should be happening in a debate among the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, who need to make an honest assessment of the role. We are here because they are not there, and that simply has to stop.

The Minister said that he has had many meetings recently, and I believe him; he probably listened and engaged sincerely and genuinely. But the fact is that the stakeholders are all saying that they have not been properly consulted and certainly have not been listened to, perhaps apart from in their engagement with the Minister. So we have to recognise that the Bill is supported by no one in Northern Ireland. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, that it is not good enough to say that, because they all have different motives, the fact that they are united against it is not valid. For a Government to pursue a Bill that no one in Northern Ireland supports shows total contempt for devolution, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. It is unacceptable.

Lord Bew Portrait Lord Bew (CB)
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I absolutely take the point the noble Lord is making, but some polling suggests that significant groups on both sides of the community do want to draw a line under this dispute, to use that horrible phrase. I am not suggesting that it is a majority, but you cannot deduce from the political parties their hostility. Do not forget what I said about Denis Bradley. The parties are playing a game whereby they apparently offer justice to people, but realistically there is no chance of justice. So you cannot deduce anything from the parties’ positions. Some of the polling is more mediated, and there is the position of the veterans’ groups, which has been referred to.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I do not for a minute dispute that people have different motives for their objections, and they may have motives that I do not like or respect. But it is indisputable that no political party in Northern Ireland supports the Bill, yet the Government say they are determined to legislate against the wishes of all of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. I repeat: those elected representatives should be sitting in Northern Ireland—

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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More importantly, all of the victims’ groups are opposed to the Bill. It is quite difficult to get them to agree on anything, but they agree in their opposition to the Bill.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, which is obviously important —it was my final point. The most important thing of all is that the victims should determine the shape of whatever legislation we come up with. They are the people who need to know and be consulted.

This is a distasteful point to make, but the Bill is being driven by a wing of the Conservative Party that wants to protect service personnel from prosecution, which does not help the victims in any way. I plead with the Minister and I look him straight in the eye, because I believe that he will relate to this. Whatever he comes up with—he says that he wants to amend the Bill substantially, and he will have to—it has to be something that the victims recognise and that addresses their real issues and their desire for hope and justice. He has to reconcile the rule of law, human rights and the needs of victims; that is a huge challenge. I believe that he genuinely wants to try to do it, and he deserves support and help to do so, but clearly, if he cannot, the Bill can go no further.