Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
Published date : 04 July, 2022
I will attempt to emulate previous speakers in trying to speak for the shortest possible period, although as I spoke for only 2 minutes and 40 seconds on day one, that might be something of a challenge given the interest in the amendments before us. Nevertheless, I will do my best.
I turn first to amendment 114 and new clause 2, which seek to prevent people from profiting from conduct for which they have been granted immunity. That seems to be, at the very least, the baseline outcome for which we should look from any such process. It is unconscionable at the best of times for people to profit in such a manner from crimes that they have committed, and particularly so when a status of immunity has been granted. On that basis, that amendment and new clause have the SNP’s support. As, indeed, does amendment 116, on keeping troubles-related inquests open.
I have been clear throughout that our preference is to allow historical inquiries to continue and for them to be properly resourced, not necessarily with any huge expectation of convictions but simply to allow a police-standard inquiry to continue and to keep hope alive. That seems to be at the heart of what many of the families of victims are seeking most from the process. Flawed though the legislation is in principle, it would be easy for it to resolve the situation of closing down not just investigations but promised investigations simply because of their order in the queue. It would be easy for the Minister to resolve that, so I hope that he will consider the amendment and incorporate that into the Bill.
I said on Second Reading that I thought the immunity process placed a pretty questionable obligation on those seeking immunity to tell the truth, and that requiring them to do so only to the best of their knowledge and belief is a considerable distance short of being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To that extent, the SNP very much supports new clause 5 to the effect that, were evidence later to come to light that someone granted immunity had failed to meet condition B in clause 18, that immunity would be revoked. I do not think that immunity, once granted, should always be forever if it was found to be achieved through someone acting in bad faith. Again, I accept that the bar for that would necessarily be high, but nevertheless that seems to be a baseline output from a Bill being driven by such principles.
I turn to new clause 4 and the aggravating factor of glorifying terrorism. I very much appreciate what it seeks to do—we would all deprecate any attempts to glorify terrorism—but I am less certain about how it might work in practice or how solid it is. However, I look forward to hearing speeches on that. We will listen carefully to the arguments.
Finally, I will briefly address some remarks to new clauses 6 and 7. New clause 6 would be a valuable addition to the Bill. I accept the Minister’s good faith on how the state would intend to open up its records, but it would place in legislation a duty of openness on the Government, not just on opening up files but on specifying those that have not been opened and giving some narrative on that. That would be a worthwhile addition to the Bill.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. To speak to his wider point, the right of access to judicial review is a fundamental right for any individual against an overreaching Executive or Government. It is only right that that route should remain open to people, notwithstanding the Bill. To incorporate that right in the Bill would provide a very important safeguard for people. I urge the Minister to ensure it is there, so that that right is not in question at any stage after the Bill is passed.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I, too, thank everyone who was involved in the passage of the Bill, both those behind the scenes, such as the Clerks and the researchers who have kept everything moving, and everyone who has contributed to the debate on the Floor of the House. I was struck by what the Minister said just now—that he hoped that the passing of the Bill would help to put the dark, dark days firmly in the past. I certainly hope that as well, but from what we have heard in the House during proceedings on the Bill, and from what we have heard from the victims and their representatives, I fear that is a forlorn hope. I certainly commend the Minister for the amendments that he did feel able to accept, but I remain of the view that this Bill is wrong in principle and cannot be amended into acceptability. Fundamentally, the Bill lacks support across Northern Ireland and it will leave many feeling that justice has been denied, without the prospect of truth coming to the fore. Although I have no doubt that the Bill was well-intentioned, I do not believe it will live up to the hopes the Minister has for it. Sadly, it did not have to be like this.
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