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Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 16 May 1996

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7.59 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office
(Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Prime Minister's carefully drafted article in today's Irish Times. We believe that it contributes to the creation of trust between the two Governments and also between both communities. Both communities in Northern Ireland can draw a measure of assurance from its wording.

Your Lordships will know that there have been no real obstacles in the House to the passage of the Bill which replaces the existing emergency legislation. That does not mean that the Bill has no defects as it stands. Regrettably, it has a number which were identified by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn in his speech from the Labour Front Bench in the course of the Second Reading debate on 21st March. The existence of emergency legislation is always a source of concern and a matter of regret.

I also wish to refer to the important Statement made yesterday on the flawed forensic tests carried out at the Sevenoaks laboratory which have come to light. The Statement adds to our concerns about the use of emergency legislation. Although there is no evidence just now to show that there are problems in other laboratories, the Statement is bound to raise doubts about procedures. Although the contamination issue does not stem directly from the provisions of this Bill, once again it is a reminder that the existence of emergency legislation demands constant vigilance against mistakes and errors.

One of our main regrets in connection with the Bill is that the Government felt unable to set up the inquiry under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, assisted by Mr. Justice Kerr, at least six months earlier, so that its findings could be considered by the Government and taken into account in framing the Bill now before us and informing the debate on the Bill. However, we look forward to the noble and learned Lord's report. The Labour Party has made a submission to the inquiry and that leads me naturally to ask the Minister whether she is able to give the House an indication of when it may expect to receive the noble and learned Lord's report.

Tonight at least, we have the satisfaction that this Bill, unlike its predecessor, will expire after two years. With those remarks, we give our support to the Bill.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support for the emergency provisions Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, made his concerns known at various stages of the Bill, but it was a delight to hear the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, praise the words of the Prime Minister this morning in the article on working towards peace, because that is the Government's aim. I know that we have the support of Shadow Ministers on the other Benches.

Now is the time when the IRA must make its choice either to let its political representatives take their place at the table armed only with their mandate or to continue to blight another generation with political violence that ultimately cannot succeed. If the IRA chooses the former path and makes clear its total and absolute commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the Mitchell Report, Sinn Fein may take its place at the table. The need for the emergency legislation will disappear, enabling the Government to remove it in due course. However, if the IRA chooses the latter course, then the Government will continue to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have the most effective legislation possible to ensure that terrorism, from whatever source, is countered and that those engaged in it are brought to justice.

I am pleased to be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that we look forward to the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, by the autumn. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.