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Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Volume 805: debated on Tuesday 8 September 2020

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for their interest and contributions thus far in the progress of the Bill. Noble Lords on all sides of the House have eloquently demonstrated the effects that these non-disclosure cases have on victims’ families, and have raised a number of important issues in the parliamentary stages prior to today’s Third Reading. I particularly want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for their positive engagement on mental capacity and how it is addressed in these proposals. The points they raised in Committee were of some significance, and I think I am confident in saying that their concerns have now been addressed after helpful engagement with the Parole Board.

Issues have also been raised regarding provisions for victims tracing and contact. In this regard, I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for her contribution to the debate. Her amendment will be taken to the other place, and I look forward to our discussions on this matter when the Bill returns to this House. It is the intention of my noble and learned friend Lord Keen to meet the noble Baroness outside these proceedings to discuss her amendment and its effect on the Bill in more detail.

The importance of the Bill cannot be underestimated. Although narrow in scope, it has the potential to bring considerable comfort and reassurance to families who have endured unimaginable distress. I therefore hope that the Bill progresses quickly through the other place, and I look forward to discussing it further upon its return to this House.

The following Members have indicated their wish to speak: Baroness Barker and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. I first call the noble Baroness, Lady Barker.

My Lords, I do not normally take part in Bills of this type on this sort of subject, but it has been a great privilege to do so this time. Let me put on record my thanks and that of others to Mrs Marie McCourt, Helen McCourt’s mother, who is responsible in effect for the Bill coming to this place. She has worked tirelessly and with great dignity, not just on her own behalf but on behalf of the small number of families who find themselves in this most awful position. Mrs McCourt was very generous with her time and gave me an understanding of why the Bill is necessary. I pay tribute to the Opposition Front Bench for the collaborative way in which they worked with us, particularly to bring about the amendment which will strengthen the requirement on the criminal justice system actively to keep up-to-date records of victims and families.

The one thing this Bill cannot do is bring about a situation in which every family will have the justice that they seek because it cannot compel people to bring forward information about where victims are buried. However, we have done our very best in this House to take these measures as far as we can and I sincerely hope that as a result of that the number of people who find themselves in the dreadful position where they do not know what has happened to their relatives becomes smaller and smaller.

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I know that she spoke to Marie McCourt and informed her of the earlier stages of the debate. We are dealing with families in the most unimaginably tragic situation and Marie McCourt has shown tremendous endurance over decades to get this legislation on the statute book and for recognition of the turmoil that families in that position go through.

My noble friend Lady Kennedy has been very active in this matter, and I would like to put on record my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, who has been very receptive to the amendment that will be considered in another place and who has had a follow-up meeting to consider other matters that may be taken further. We are grateful to him and for the cross-party approach that this Bill has seen in this House.

As was mentioned by the Minister, other aspects of mental capacity were investigated further, if I can put it like that, at earlier stages of the Bill by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others. The Parole Board will have to take a very difficult decision when looking at the reason why this information has been withheld, whether it is because of mental capacity, vindictiveness or as a power play. These are very difficult decisions for the Parole Board to make but it is right that victims’ families are fully informed about the process that the Parole Board is going through and that there are active and statutorily based steps for the Parole Board to make sure that those families are properly informed. I thank the Minister for supporting this legislation.

I thank the noble Lords who have spoken. I too express my great sympathy for Marie McCourt, who has fought a tireless campaign over a number of years to see justice done for her daughter Helen.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with an amendment.

Sitting suspended.