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Lords Chamber

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 24 January 2023

House of Lords

Tuesday 24 January 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Durham.

Asylum Seekers: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran and Sudan


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what forecast they have made of the number of people from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, and Sudan who will travel to the United Kingdom via a safe route in order to seek asylum in 2023.

The United Kingdom welcomes vulnerable people in need of protection through our relocation and resettlement schemes. The number of people coming to the UK via safe and legal routes depends on many factors, including local authorities’ capacity to support them and the extent to which community sponsorship continues to thrive. There is no explicit provision within our Immigration Rules for someone to be allowed to travel here to seek asylum or temporary refuge.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. We know from the latest available numbers that between September 2021 and September 2022, only close to 1,400 people were resettled to the UK through the specific safe routes of resettlement. This figure is 75% lower than in 2019, and the number of family reunion visas issued is 36% below the pre-pandemic figure. As the Minister knows, all the countries referred to in my Question have an asylum grant rate of over 80%, with Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea sitting at over 97%. The number of individuals claiming asylum from these nations stood at more than 26,500. Now that the Government are deciding admissibility on the basis of arrival, will they establish further safe routes for high grant rate countries such as Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Iran, to reduce the need for asylum seekers to travel irregularly?

The principle is clear in the refugee convention that people claiming asylum need to be in the country in which they seek refuge, having come directly from that country. While we sympathise with people in many difficult situations around the world, we are not bound to consider asylum claims from the large numbers of people overseas who might like to come here.

My Lords, we learned from the Home Secretary and her team giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee that a hypothetical 16 year-old orphan from an African country such as Sudan or Eritrea fleeing war and religious persecution, with siblings legally in the United Kingdom, has no safe or legal route to seek refuge in the United Kingdom. Why has this happened?

As the noble Lord will have heard in my recent Answer, the principle is that you claim asylum in the first safe country you reach. The question Mr Loughton posed at the Home Affairs Select Committee is answered like this: depending on the country you are from, you could engage with the UNHCR; that would be a way of getting leave to enter the UK in order to put in an asylum claim, but clearly, there are some countries where that would not be possible.

My Lords, I am disappointed with the Minister’s negative reply. If we take one country alone, Afghanistan, have the Minister and the Government forgotten that thousands upon thousands of Afghans, in the 40 years of war, sided with and fought for Britain there? Why are they neglecting them now and going back on their earlier promises?

The Government certainly have not forgotten the people of Afghanistan. As the noble Lord will remember, Operation Pitting was the largest UK military evacuation since the Second World War, during which we evacuated about 15,000 individuals to the UK. In the year since the evacuation began on 14 August 2021, a further 6,000 arrived in the UK via neighbouring countries.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the Minister has said about the importance of addressing the right reverend Prelate’s Question about safe and legal routes, does he not accept that, with the UNHCR that he has just referenced saying that there are now between 75 million and 80 million people displaced in the world, this is a global problem that requires international solutions? Should the Government not be leading the way in drawing countries together to look at the root causes of the displacement, and trying to stop these terrible, perilous journeys in small boats, whether across the channel, the Aegean or the Mediterranean, leaving a trail of sorrow behind them?

There is much in what the noble Lord says. It is sadly the truth that we cannot help everyone, with worldwide displacement now standing at around 100 million, not merely 70 million as the noble Lord suggested. The Government continue to offer safe and legal routes for those in need of protection. Since 2015, we have resettled more than 28,000 refugees from regions of conflict and instability through the global UK resettlement scheme, community sponsorship and the mandate schemes, under which the UNHCR will refer the most vulnerable refugees from across the globe for resettlement to the UK.

My Lords, whatever the outcome of Operation Pitting, it did leave behind people who should have been included. Do the Government remain committed to helping the families of interpreters who work for British military personnel and political leaders visiting the country, including the former Prime Minister, who were unable to get out and who remain in terrible danger in Afghanistan?

The answer to the noble Viscount’s question is yes. The Afghan relocations and assistance policy, launched on 1 April 2021, offers relocation to eligible Afghan citizens who worked for or with the United Kingdom Government locally in Afghanistan. The ARAP recognises the service of eligible Afghan citizens and the risks arising to them and their dependent family members as a result of their work.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what provision in the refugee convention permits us to refuse to even consider someone who arrives on our shores seeking asylum?

My Lords, the asylum system is in chaos: 140,000 asylum seekers, and rising, are waiting for an initial decision; 90,000 have been waiting for over six months, and more than 40,000 for between one and three years. It is also reported that 725 claimants, of whom 155 are children, have been waiting over five years. How many of these cases apply to these five countries? Will the Minister join the Prime Minister in promising to clear the asylum backlog by the end of the year? It is action we need, not gimmicks.

The noble Lord is entirely right: it is action we need, and I can certainly recommit to the ambition, outlined by the Prime Minister in his statement, to clear the backlog. As to the various countries within the backlog, those statistics exist but I am afraid I do not have them to hand, so I will need to write to the noble Lord about them.

My Lords, can the Minister say something about the Government scheme for allowing direct applications from people in Syrian refugee camps? This is surely a far better route than the much more perilous one used by those trying to come here illegally.

I entirely agree with my noble friend and clearly, that is the purpose of the UK resettlement scheme. Perhaps it would assist if I outlined that between 2015 and September 2022, we offered a place to nearly 450,000 men, women and children seeking entry via safe and legal routes, including those from Syria but also those from Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong, as well as the family members of refugees.

My Lords, when the folk arrive here, they are given an ASPEN card, which did provide £35 a week for their subsistence. Has that gone up with inflation? What is the value now? Is it still £35, as it was 10 or 15 years ago, or has it gone up?

I can certainly provide detailed information on the asylum support provisions. Clearly, those in hotels have their accommodation provided for them and are provided with food and a small amount of money for expenditure on essentials. Those in dispersal accommodation receive a financial sum, which has changed with inflation. I will be able to provide the noble Lord with the precise statistics by letter; I am afraid this is quite a long way from the topic of the Question.

My Lords, the UK says that asylum seekers must go to the first safe country, but the United Nations commissioner for human rights says that that is incorrect. Would the Minister like to comment?

The Government’s position is clear: Article 31 requires that a person comes directly to the first safe country and is therefore obliged to claim in that country. Indeed, it is upon that principle that the European Union agreed the Dublin provisions about the return of asylum seekers to places where they made their first claim.

Universal Credit: Benefit Cap and Two Child Limit


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how many families in receipt of Universal Credit are subject simultaneously to the benefit cap and the two child limit.

My Lords, both policies aim to introduce fairness between households claiming benefits and taxpayers who support themselves solely through work. We estimate from published statistics that fewer than 30,000 households were impacted by both policies in April 2022, which is under 1% of households on universal credit. These families may benefit from additional financial help, such as the cost of living payment and discretionary housing payment, if they need additional support to meet rental costs.

My Lords, in the absence of official data hitherto, the Benefit Changes and Larger Families Project estimates that at least 110,000 children are being pushed deeper into poverty because their parents are caught by both the cap and the two-child limit. Evidence of the damaging effects strengthens the case for scrapping both policies, which are far from fair. At the very least, will the Government now undertake to publish regular data on the numbers affected and monitor the impact on children and their parents?

I am certainly aware of the larger families project. The latest published statistics on households on universal credit show that the majority of families—79%—on universal credit had fewer than three children, with 21% of universal credit households with children having three or more children. Having said that, it is important to note that there are a number of other initiatives where we can help families with more than two children if they get into difficulty.

My Lords, one of the major contributors to poverty is the absence of affordable housing. Shelter produced a really alarming report this week which showed a year-by-year reduction in the building of affordable housing over the past 12 years. Do the Government have a commitment to reverse that policy and to increase the number of affordable homes built every year so that people living in abject poverty—particularly those depending on universal credit—will at least be able to find an affordable home?

Absolutely. There are a number of initiatives on housing, which I am sure the noble Baroness will be aware of. One example is the discretionary housing payment, which can be paid to those entitled to housing benefit or the housing element of universal credit, particularly those who face a shortfall in meeting their housing costs. It is certainly a matter that I am aware of, and I know that my noble friend Lady Scott will be very much on top of that. We are working across government on this issue.

My Lords, can my noble friend reassure me that universal credit still makes work pay despite childcare costs when there is more than one child? Of course, an at-home parent conscientiously doing their own childcare in the early years is, in fact, working. What expectation is placed on claimants to work when parental care is their strong preference?

Yes, my noble friend makes an important point. I should say at the outset that the Government firmly believe that, where possible, it is in the best interests of children to be in working households. That is why the department has continually provided support to help move people into work. To further that, this sort of support in making people financially resilient by moving them into work and also ensuring that they are progressing in work is important; up to 85% of the registered childcare costs each month is paid regardless of the number of hours that they work, compared with 70% for tax credits.

My Lords, it is encouraging to see that the Government are keeping a check on the numbers of people being affected by these policies, but I was not quite sure whether I heard that work is being done to measure the impact of the policies on families. I can say, and it gives me no joy to say it, that from where I serve in the north of England—I am thinking particularly of Middlesbrough and Hull—I see the disturbing impact of an increase in poverty, child poverty and families in very difficult situations, not least with the cost of living crisis on top of all this. My simple, genuine and heartfelt question is: how would you explain this to a mum expecting her third child, or a family with three or four children who have been pushed into benefits over the past couple of years? They do not understand why this is happening but they are suffering as a consequence of it. How do we explain to them the rightness of this policy?

My Lords, first, we are very aware of the fact that some people are finding it particularly difficult at the moment—some very good points have been made about that. One of the issues to focus on, which we are doing, is childcare, which is a key enabler of employment for parents and has clear developmental benefits for children. Of course, the onus falls on the caseworkers in the jobcentres. Often they are very well trained, and they have to deal directly with these people who come with some heartfelt stories.

My Lords, can I give a specific example? The most reverend Primate has talked about the impact on individuals. The larger families study that the Minister mentioned interviewed parents who have been affected by this. It gives the example of a single mother who had experienced domestic abuse. She was given an exemption from the two-child limit under the rape clause because the child was conceived by rape, so she was then awarded an extra £237 a month. But then the benefit cap kicked in and she got only £30 a month of it. Because she struggled to provide for her children, she ended up returning to a violent relationship. I ask the Minister again: what does he think about the impact of these policies, not just their number?

The noble Baroness makes a good point because we should be aware of the impact, which is why we are working hard on a number of initiatives. As she will know, there are a number of fallbacks on top of this, particularly the provision of cost of living support worth over £37 billion for 2022-23, including £400 for the non-repayable discount to eligible households. However, it is more than this. I am in awe of people on the front, including those who work in the front line of the jobcentres, who work with the social workers, and indeed with the Church, to see through these very challenging issues for some families.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that larger families on benefits are doubly penalised by the Government’s policy, not only by losing support for third or subsequent children but also due to the lack of affordable childcare to enable them to work? Those families are, in effect, losing £2,935 a year.

I mentioned childcare costs before and it is important to support parents who have childcare needs. Of course, we have the child benefit but on top of that there are other support mechanisms to ensure that those who have children—particularly more than two, which is the subject of this Question—can survive and, in many cases, find the next meal.

My Lords, research has shown that the majority of children of single parents would be lifted above the poverty line if the absent fathers paid what they owe. For decades, the child maintenance system has let single mothers down, condemned children to poverty and let men get away with it. What is the Minister’s advice?

This is another important subject. The child maintenance system supports separated parents to agree their own family-based arrangements where it is possible. Where it is not possible, the child maintenance system steps in. It is incredibly important that the paying parent pays, and this is where the system is dealing with some extremely challenging issues in order that the receiving parent receives what they are due.

My Lords, all noble Lords will be pleased that it is a small number of families that are affected. Can the Minister inform us whether any of those families are also being affected by having to pay back money, such as aged debts, when they are on such limited income? It has always struck me as rather odd since when you get fined in a court, very careful consideration is given to your means to pay, and if you borrow money from the Government for your education, you are not asked to repay it until you are earning a fair sum of money. The poorest in our society are being asked to pay money back to the Government, so can the Minister provide us with information on that?

I will need to write to my noble friend about that issue. I am certain that this system allows for payback whenever possible, but I will certainly look into that.

Can the Minister tell us when the special rules, which have passed through Parliament, will come into force for people caring for a terminally ill person at home, given that the cost of care has gone up quite significantly and that if it is a young parent, some people can find themselves in such poverty that they have to go bankrupt?

I do not have any information to hand on the future of any legislation, but I will certainly follow up with the noble Baroness and let her know whatever I have.

Hospitality Industry


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the current economic situation on the hospitality industry.

My Lords, officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy use a range of data sources, including the ONS, Statista and IBISWorld, to assess the impact of the current economic situation on hospitality businesses. In addition, Ministers and officials work closely with hospitality businesses and the main trade bodies, including UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association, and the British Institute of Innkeeping, which provide us with valuable data on levels of trading and economic performance.

My Lords, the cost of living crisis is causing hardship not only to individuals and families but to the businesses that employ millions of people in the UK hospitality sector. Many of those businesses are on the brink of closure, not least due to food inflation and spiralling energy costs. Will the Government reverse their decision to reduce support for the sector in relation to energy bills and retain a permanent lower rate of 12.5% VAT? Will the Government also commit to updating their hospitality strategy, published in 2021, to ensure that the sector can meet the challenges that it now faces?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. We will certainly keep the hospitality strategy under review. It is worth recognising that we have offered considerable support to the sector, as we have to all businesses. I am afraid that we cannot continue to provide such levels of support. Nevertheless, support is available through business rates relief and other policies, and we continue to liaise closely with the sector.

My Lords, would it not be helpful to make an assessment of the impact on the livelihood of those who work in the hospitality sector of the damage caused by the strikes on the railways?

My noble friend makes an important point. The sector estimates that the railway strikes have cost it over £1 billion in lost revenue during the strike period, so they do have a significant impact.

My Lords, it is a mystery to most people why, if oil and gas prices are coming down, energy bills are still high. For hospitality and arts venues, these bills have increased massively in the last year. Is the Minister aware that, according to the Night Time Industries Association, for most of 2022 one venue closed every two days? The Government should, and can, do much more to help, particularly considering that some energy companies are making huge profits.

That depends on what the noble Earl defines as an energy company. Many of the energy retailers are making very little money—in fact, they are losing money. Nevertheless, the noble Earl makes an important point. We want to make sure that there is no price gouging going on. We are in regular contact with Ofgem officials, and I have met with them. One of my ministerial colleagues has met with the energy supply companies to make sure that they are also doing all they can to support these vulnerable businesses.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that one of the significant problems facing the hospitality industry has been the shortage of labour, a direct result of the Brexit of which he was such an enthusiastic supporter? What will the Government do to enable the hospitality industry to get suitable labour for the next season?

I am not sure that I would equate the two issues, but I am happy to debate this with the noble Lord some other time. There are some labour shortages in the hospitality sector, as there are in others. We want to get the message across that industry needs to invest in workers from this country, rather than relying just on immigration all the time.

My Lords, following up on that last question, would the Minister like to decide in the short term where he will get his workers from? If the industry contracts, there will be nowhere for them to go and we will all lose. Could he comment on that?

It is not necessarily the case that the industry is contracting: this year, revenues were ahead of where they were before the pandemic. There are some businesses closing and others are opening, and employment is up since before the pandemic.

My Lords, a few noble Lords have referred to the impact of Brexit. Can my noble friend the Minister assure us that, when it comes to future immigration policy, whether for the hospitality sector or others, we look not only to white Europe but to non-white, non-Europe, to make sure that we no longer have a racist immigration policy?

My noble friend makes an important point. We need to have a fair and balanced immigration policy, treating all parts of the world equally.

My Lords, I declare an interest, in that many thousands of workers in the hospitality industry are members of my union, Unite. As the Minister knows, new figures show that one in seven jobs in this sector are now completely unfilled. It is impeding businesses dramatically, to the tune of 16% of their revenues, and reducing productivity and potential profits—profits are falling by the wayside. Does the Minister therefore support the industry’s call to lower visa requirements, as other noble Lords have mentioned before, to help address the chronic staff shortages, reduce VAT to 10% for 12 months, as has been mentioned, and continue the energy support for at least the next 12 months.

I know that the Home Office keeps all visa policies under review. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I will leave the setting of VAT to the Chancellor, but I am sure he has heard the call that the noble Lord has made.

My Lords, will my noble friend look favourably on keeping the alcohol duties at their current levels while the hospitality industry continues to suffer due to the crisis we are currently experiencing?

Again, I know that the Chancellor keeps alcohol duty levels under constant review. I am sure that I am the same as all other noble Lords, who would love to see them reduced, but if you raise this with the Treasury, it will say that it has lots of demands for tax and duty reductions and not many people offering to increase others to make up for them.

My Lords, can we stress the scale and extent of the problem that we are discussing right now? Last month, 320 food services were forced to initiate corporate insolvency procedures, 41% more than in the same month in 2019, pre-Covid. Overall, in 2022, the hospitality sector contracted by 5%, with almost 5,000 venues closing, nine out of 10 of which were independent. This is incredibly damaging, not only to the wider economy, as well as the communities they serve, but particularly to all those who have lost their livelihoods. What urgent steps are the Government taking to help this vital sector recover and rebuild?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. Any business going under is regrettable and a tragedy for all those involved, but we must not exaggerate the problem. Following sharp decline throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, output has now recovered in the hospitality sector. In December 2022, it was about 8.5% above 2019 levels. We are continuing to offer support to the sector with energy bills and business rates relief.

My Lords, will the Government prioritise the expansion of the youth mobility scheme visa to our European neighbours? This would help enormously with the huge number of vacancies in the tourism sector, and it would also provide opportunities for British businesses in Europe.

As I said in reply to an earlier question, the Home Office keeps visa policies under constant review. Where there are demonstrable shortages of labour in certain sectors, I am sure that the Home Secretary and other Ministers will want to look closely at them.

My Lords, one of the problems affecting the tourism industry is the lack of tax-free shopping. We are sending people to France and Italy when they should be coming here, at a time when our hotels and hospitality industry need that business. Will the Minister commit to reconsidering that policy and looking at the effects of it?

Again, noble Lords are tempting me to go down the path of Treasury policy. I know that the Chancellor has heard many of the representations that were made to him about tax-free shopping. If he has anything to announce, I am sure we will hear about it in the Budget.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that although the unemployment figures are low, which is a good sign, there are still 1.5 million people who are claiming unemployment benefit. What can the Government do to really ensure that every effort is being made to get these people back to work?

My noble friend makes an important point, and it links in well with some of the other questions that we considered. Before we reach for the easy solution of immigration, we want to make sure that all opportunities are offered to people who are already in this country and that those who are unemployed and claiming benefits can get back into work. That would be a great thing, and we will do all we can to assist that process.

My Lords, the Minister answered the first Question by telling us about all the sources of economic information that his department collected on the hospitality industry. Subsequently, he has told us that he is concerned about the economic costs, and he quoted a precise figure of the costs of the transport disputes on the hospitality sector. What is his department’s assessment—plus or minus—of the economic effects of leaving the European Union?

The figure I quoted was based on anecdotal evidence that was given to us, but there are lots of different figures flying around for all sorts of different impacts. The biggest impact, of course, was from the Covid pandemic, and clearly energy price rises have had an impact. We keep all of these matters under review.

Levelling Up Fund


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the efficacy of the process for bidding to the Levelling Up Fund.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, across both rounds, the levelling-up fund has awarded £3.8 billion to 216 successful areas. This will deliver vital infrastructure projects across the UK. The competitive nature of the fund plays an important role in driving up the quality of the bids. Only the strongest bids were shortlisted. In the second round, we prioritised high-quality bids in places that had not previously received LUF investment. This has maximised the spread of the funding, recognising that lots of places are in need of investment.

My Lords, four days ago, Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, called for an end to the “broken begging bowl culture”. Can the Minister explain why the begging bowl is one of the preferred delivery arms when it comes to levelling up?

My Lords, it is not a begging bowl culture; it is that we have a finite amount of money to spend on capital projects across this country. The only fair and transparent way of finding the best bids to deliver the most for the United Kingdom has to be through a bidding process.

My Lords, some councils have spent millions on consultancy fees to make a bid for levelling-up funding. Some of those councils were unsuccessful and the consultancy firms were the winners. Does the Minister believe it is wise to get our communities to fight each other, where someone must lose?

My Lords, no, I do not, and I do not think it is necessary to employ expensive consultants to do the bidding. Local authorities know what is important in their areas and they have officers who can put forward bids. The Government will support them. It is a very clear and transparent process.

Does my noble friend accept that local authorities spend a great deal of time working out bids right across the board, instead of seeking to use that money in the way that is needed locally? Although I agree with her argument, there is widespread dissatisfaction among local authorities with the way that it works at the moment. Would it not be a good idea if the Government looked at whether there was a better way of doing it?

I agree with some of my noble friend’s views. If I remember rightly, I answered a similar question yesterday from my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and said that the Government are committed to reducing the complexities of local government funding, as set out in the levelling up White Paper.

My Lords, in response to a question earlier, the Minister said that the assessment was made by excluding those councils that had already received funding. Were those councils told before they spent huge sums of money to make bids that they would be excluded at the first step? Secondly, how many of the Government’s 139 council priority areas have not yet received any money?

I am afraid I cannot tell the noble Baroness; I have a list here, but I could not say how many have not had any funding. What I can say is that the officials dealing with this funding will discuss process issues in particular with local authorities before they put in bids.

My Lords, the Government claim that the bidding process is fair. Can the Minister explain to the House why Knowsley, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, received nothing, yet the Prime Minister’s area received £20 million for a park scheme?

My Lords, no, I cannot, except to say that one bid must have been better than another. I understand that unsuccessful applicants will be disappointed, but I am pleased to say that we have confirmed that there will be a third round of the fund. Further details will be set out in due course.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a bid at this stage to improve access to our ports would be timely and should almost speak for itself in obtaining favour?

My Lords, my noble friend is probably correct in that. I would encourage any ports that need better access to make them even better, particularly if they are freeports, to look at the third round of bidding.

My Lords, given that the Minister at least expressed some interest in the possibility of some kind of reconsideration of the process in response to the question from her noble friend, might it be in her mind to do so before the third round of levelling up?

No, my Lords. Anybody who knows anything about local government funding knows that this has been looked at by many Governments over many years, but we are committed, in the levelling up White Paper, to look at the complexity of this and to try to make it a better system.

My Lords, I put on record my appreciation of the fact that the Government have helped the slate quarrying communities of north-west Wales, but can the Minister clarify whether the fact that the money allocated to that and other schemes has to be used within two years means that it has to be committed within two years or actually has to be spent? If it is the latter, there could be problems in meeting the timescale because of some of the constraints on availability and factors within the economy.

First, I say congratulations to Wales on getting the highest amount per capita out of this round. I am sorry; I will have to get an answer to that. I do not know the detail of the agreement, but I will make sure I get an answer to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the Minister did not answer one specific question. Were the no-hopers, those who had received money before, warned in advance that they had no chance and spared the effort of putting in a bid?

My Lords, I am sure that once they put in an expression of interest for the bids—because it is in two rounds—they would have been told the rules for that second round of bidding.

Can my noble friend the Minister tell us what thinking there has been in her department about local government finance in the long term? Has there been any investigation of, for example, encouraging local authorities in the longer term to raise more of their own revenue locally, rather than constantly relying on central government? We have seen centralisation over successive Governments over the years.

My Lords, with some of the devolution deals that have been done, and will be done in future, that is one of the issues we are talking to local government about and encouraging it to do.

How many rounds can there be before the next election? It is unclear to me, local government and those who watch what government does. The third round popped up after the complaints about the second round so, for transparency, should we not have a specific date for the third round to ensure there is no manipulation of the date, configured to the next general election? It is a sensible point to raise, because the allegations will be repeated each time. What is to stop a fourth found at the very last minute? Can the Minister please explain the techniques used?

My Lords, I am very sorry, but I cannot explain the techniques. All I am aware of—we have made it very clear—is that there will be a third round. It is best to note that 45% of all the awards so far have gone to opposition councils.

My Lords, on 21 December last year, the Minister told me in a Written Answer that the bid on behalf of Marple community hub was being “assessed”. Well, it failed to make the grade. Will she undertake to publish the assessments of both the failed and the successful schemes so that, as she said, a fair and transparent process can be seen by all?

My Lords, no, I cannot agree to do that because I think we would need to talk to those local authorities before we put anything like that out in the public domain. It is transparent. You can see on GOV.UK exactly how decisions are made and the processes for giving those grants.

Northern Ireland Budget Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.

Bereavement Benefits (Remedial) Order 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 13 October 2022 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 17 January.

Motion agreed.

Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) (Amendment) Order 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Order laid before the House on 7 December 2022 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 17 January.

Motion agreed.

Prepayment Meters

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 23 January.

“The Government recognise the importance of protecting customers, including those on a prepayment meter. That is why this weekend, the Secretary of State set out a five-point plan on prepayment meters. He wrote to energy suppliers to call on them to take every step to support consumers in difficulty. The Government want much greater effort from suppliers to help consumers in payment difficulty, including offers of additional credit, debt forgiveness and tools such as debt advice. Suppliers have been asked to commit to stop moving households to a prepayment meter wherever possible, and to reveal the number of warrants they have applied for in recent months, as part of a drive to increase transparency around prepayment meter installations.

There are reports that the courts are handling batches of applications for warrants, so the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with Ofgem and the Ministry of Justice—I am pleased to have beside me the courts Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my honourable friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer—to ensure that the process by which suppliers bring such cases to court is fair and transparent and supports vulnerable customers.

The Government have urged suppliers to take action to increase the number of vouchers being redeemed under the Government’s energy bills support scheme. We have published a list of supplier redemption rates, showing who is best meeting their responsibilities and those who need to do more.

The Secretary of State has written to Ofgem, asking it to do more to ensure that suppliers protect vulnerable consumers, including by revisiting its approach to the enforcement of supplier compliance and through the urgent publication of the outcomes of recent investigations into vulnerable customers. I will meet energy suppliers, Ofgem, Energy UK and Citizens Advice later this week to discuss these matters further. Those actions come on top of the Government’s unprecedented cost of living support, including the £400 discount under the energy bills support scheme and the energy price guarantee, which will save a typical household—on top of that £400—£900 this winter, with equivalent support in Northern Ireland.

Finally, we are considering a new approach to consumer protection. The Government will work with consumer groups and industry to consider the best approach, including options such as social tariffs, as part of wider retail market reforms.”

My Lords, Citizens Advice has reported shocking stories of families having their homes forcibly entered and left disrupted after forced installation of prepayment meters, at a time when they are already anxious about the cost of energy and making ends meet, with no certainty of the situation improving. The Government are right to conduct a review, but how does the Minister justify allowing this practice to continue in the meantime?

Well, I say to the noble Baroness that the Government recognise the importance of protecting customers, including those on a prepayment meter. This weekend, the Secretary of State set out a five-point plan on prepayment meters. He wrote to energy suppliers, calling on them to take every possible step to support consumers in difficulty. The Government want to see much greater effort from suppliers to help consumers who have payment problems, including offers of additional credit, debt forgiveness or tools such as debt advice. It is worth bearing in mind that the licence conditions set out that forcible prepayment installation should happen only as the absolute last possible resort.

My Lords, there is an irony here when it comes to prepayments, in that those who are worst off have to pay more because prepayment customers pay heavier tariffs than those on direct debit or other means of payment. Surely, this is a fundamental unfairness and one that creates even greater fuel poverty. Should there not be regulations to equalise the costs to consumers?

I say to the noble Lord that prepayment customers do not pay higher tariffs than other customers. They pay slightly more because of the cost of servicing prepayment meters. It is an important distinction. If we were to equalise the cost, that would mean that other customers would pay more to service that, and many other customers in fuel poverty are on credit meters—so I am afraid that there is no easy answer to this problem.

My Lords, will my noble friend take back to his department the need not only to look at the forcible installation of prepayment meters but the installation of smart meters? An elderly gentleman I know, living alone, had a smart meter installed. He did not wish that, but it was forced on him. It was installed somewhere he could not see it. He had to climb on to a stepladder to operate it. Inadvertently, he had not paid his bill and he was cut off and left without heating, lighting, computing or a telephone for days and ended up calling an ambulance because his smart meter had let him down. Can my noble friend assure us that any investigation for vulnerable customers will include smart meter installation as well?

I say to my noble friend that I would like to hear more about that case, because I can see a number of potential problems with what she had to say. First, nobody is forced to accept a smart meter. I am the Minister responsible for smart meters and I know that it is the policy that is maintained. Secondly, if you have a smart meter, you do not need to look at the smart meter—that is the whole principle of it. You have a separate display unit, which will provide you with the information that you need. So I would be interested to hear more about that particular case if my noble friend would let me know.

My Lords, the Minister said that he was not aware of anyone who had been forced to have a smart meter, but, as far as I know, all new social housing tenants are being forced, whatever the methods are, to have smart meters. A number of families in the east London area have contacted me since these issues have been made public. They are saying that they are aware that the cost is considerably more than for their neighbours, who do not have them. Will the Minister ensure, whatever the review is, that the public are made aware that this is a more costly option and that they have the right to the option that is the most affordable for those who cannot afford these very expensive smart meters?

I am sorry, but the noble Baroness is absolutely wrong. First, nobody is forced to have a smart meter. Secondly, if you have a smart meter, you pay the same tariff. There is no difference in cost just because of the particular meter you have. Smart meters are, in my view, a great innovation and provide a lot of comfort and ease for consumers—but there is no difference in the tariffs between normal meters and smart meters.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that prepayment meters lose the option of the direct debit reduction, so those customers are actually paying a premium rate? Also, in Committee on the Energy Bill, I mooted the idea of a social tariff for the most vulnerable customers, which the Government are now looking at. Will my noble friend bring forward amendments on Report in that regard?

As I said, people pay slightly more for prepayment meters because of the cost to suppliers of servicing those customers. The issue of social tariffs is of course different. I have had this debate with my noble friend before. We had a system of social tariffs that was replaced by the warm home discount, which was found to be a better way of supporting vulnerable customers. But, of course, we will continue to look at the issues.

My Lords, I feel as though I have to state the blindingly obvious, which is that being asked to pay more for servicing a prepayment meter that you do not want is not fair. To anyone in the normal world, saying that the tariff is the same just makes the Minister sound like someone who does not understand the normal world. Ordinary people are paying more for a prepayment meter that they do not want but which is being imposed on them, and they are the people who have the least money. It is ludicrous.

The noble Baroness says I do not understand, but I have lived in properties with prepayment meters and I very much understand the issues. No one is forced to have a smart meter or a pre- payment meter, either, except in the limited circumstances that I have outlined, particularly for customers who are in levels of debt, and we have put in place a number of measures to try to reduce that as much as possible. I have outlined the steps that we are taking with suppliers to make sure that those are imposed on customers only in the last possible circumstances.

My Lords, the argument that the Minister has trotted out, that it costs more to sustain customers who are on prepayment meters and that is why they pay more, is of course based on the days—I remember writing about this 40 years ago—when people used to put coins in the machine and then somebody had to come and empty the box. That necessarily cost the suppliers more. Nowadays, however, people have to go and have their key recharged and pay in advance, so the companies are getting the money earlier than they do for everyone else on a credit meter. So why are these customers paying more?

I am well aware of how the system works. The fact remains that to put in place commissions to shops and others that sell the credit to service prepayment customers over those who pay via direct debit costs suppliers more. Under the licence conditions that have existed for many years, suppliers are permitted to recover what it costs to operate those particular customers.

My Lords, anybody who has been a constituency Member of Parliament knows that forcible entry into a home is a terrifying experience. The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, asked an extremely simple question: could this not be suspended until inquiries are complete? Why can the Minister not give an affirmative answer to that question?

Because none of these matters is simple. We have called on the suppliers to impose a voluntary moratorium, and we are working with them to try to implement that, but, of course, if we do that there are other options for suppliers, involving bailiffs and various other methods of collecting debt that are also not to be recommended. These are difficult issues that we have to deal with. To get a warrant requires a process through a magistrates’ court and, if a person wishes to object, they can go along and get their case heard by a magistrate.

My Lords, if the suppliers will not help, what are the Government going to do to help the people who cannot afford this?

The Government have put in place a considerable package of support, involving tens of billions of pounds of price support, which applies to prepayment customers as well as to others. Nobody denies that this is a difficult time, with energy prices being so expensive, but the noble and learned Baroness is well aware of the package of support that we have offered.

My Lords, the i newspaper has shown that thousands of cases are being put through magistrates’ courts without any proper assessment of the case at all, with no one having the opportunity to put their case. The Minister is doing a lot of urging of energy companies to do the right thing, but, if the imposition of prepayment meters on vulnerable households continues, at what point would the Government be willing to take effective action? How many people have to go cold before that point comes?

Warrants are put through in bulk only when they are not contested. People are informed of applications to courts and, if they wish to contest the application, they are entitled to a separate hearing and their arguments will be heard by the magistrate. That is how justice works in the UK.

Ministerial Appointments: Vetting and Managing Conflicts of Interest

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 23 January.

“To start with ministerial appointments, appointments made to His Majesty’s Government are a matter solely for the Prime Minister in line with his constitutional position as the Sovereign’s principal adviser and the head of the Government. It is for the Prime Minister to recommend individuals for appointment. In considering potential appointments, the Prime Minister may receive advice from the Civil Service on matters of propriety and potential conflicts of interest. The Civil Service has no role in approving or vetoing appointments as appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the advice that may be given during the appointments process.

It is critical that all Prime Ministers are able to receive advice in confidence. I would not want to do anything to erode that ability. Once an appointment is made, the process for the management of conflicts of interest and potential conflicts is clear and robust, and follows the processes set out in the Ministerial Code. It is the responsibility of all Ministers to ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their role and their private interests, financial or otherwise. That is ultimately incumbent on the individual and it is clearly set out in the Ministerial Code. Ministers should declare and manage potential conflicts of interest, working with their Permanent Secretary and the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. They are under an ongoing duty to further declare relevant changes to their interests.

Honourable Members will be aware that the Prime Minister has appointed Sir Laurie Magnus as his independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. Sir Laurie will be taking forward the work on the declaration of Ministers’ interests in line with his published terms of reference. As the Prime Minister confirmed this morning, the independent adviser will also be conducting an investigation to establish the facts surrounding the matters concerning my right honourable friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, Nadhim Zahawi, that have been subject to media reports over the weekend. I know that Sir Laurie will bring integrity and rigour to the role of independent adviser and the outcome of his work will be made public in due course.”

My Lords, it is vital that we get the terms of reference right on this investigation. Will it include Mr Zahawi’s use of legal threats to supress media reporting? Will the independent adviser examine why, according to the Information Commissioner’s investigation, Mr Zahawi deleted texts from his phone relating to Lex Greensill’s Covid loans application? Greensill Bank went on to lend seven times the loan limit to companies headed by Mr Sanjeev Gupta. A business associate of Mr Gupta also thanked the then BEIS Minister, Mr Zahawi, for his role in securing these loans. Does the Minister know if Mr Zahawi advised Greensill to put in multiple applications, and will this matter also be investigated?

My Lords, there are established procedures for the appointment of Ministers, and by Ministers, and these are followed. This was the purport of the question we are replying to, and we need to allow the process to run its course. As the noble Baroness suggests, the Prime Minister has appointed Sir Laurie Magnus, who is the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. As I said when I answered questions last year, the Prime Minister was then moving quickly to appoint the independent adviser. The terms of reference will give the independent adviser the opportunity to look into what he thinks needs to be looked into—having a look at the issues that have been raised and speculated on—and we have made clear that anyone in the Government should help the independent adviser with that process. On the point about the texts, the Information Commissioner has looked at that. He concluded his investigation on 18 January this year—so, last week—and he did not require any steps to be taken. He considered that BEIS had conducted sufficient searches for the relevant information.

My Lords, may I suggest to my noble friend that any public concern about ministerial interests will be greatly alleviated if the independent adviser could, of his own initiative, institute investigations?

The independent adviser, as my noble friend suggests, is appointed by the Prime Minister and it his constitutional position to be the ultimate arbiter of the Ministerial Code, and to decide whether a breach of the code has occurred upon the advice of the independent adviser. So it makes sense for the Prime Minister to be the ultimate decision-maker, but, of course, we have appointed Sir Laurie Magnus to take on this role and to look extremely carefully at the issues that have arisen and been reported on this week.

My Lords, the last Prime Minister but three made great play of the distinction between “people from somewhere” and “people from anywhere”. I thought, at the time, that the real people from anywhere were those who try to avoid paying their taxes and arrange their financial affairs somewhere else—in offshore financial centres and elsewhere. Could the Minister assure us that part of the questioning of the suitability of people for ministerial appointments should significantly include questions about offshore financial arrangements and tax avoidance?

There is an established procedure that anyone who is fortunate enough to be appointed a Minister goes through, and that includes a number of questions. Indeed, when candidates are put forward to HOLAC for the House of Lords, that is also the case. Tax is one of the areas of questioning but, in relation to today’s debate, clearly the independent adviser will be looking into these matters. It is clear that the Prime Minister became aware of media reports, but when the Minister without Portfolio was appointed, he was told that there were no outstanding issues. Obviously, the details of an individual’s tax affairs are confidential, but this is an important area of inquiry.

My Lords, we should never lose sight of the fact that we are talking about a truly remarkable person, whose life story is exceptional and who is an incredible example to all ethnic minorities in this country. Bearing this in mind, should we not await Sir Laurie’s report and not prejudge the issue?

I have to say that my noble friend is completely right. We must find out what the facts are; the independent adviser is looking into this. We need due process. That is why the Prime Minister is ensuring that we look at the actions that were taken. It is also why we have the independent adviser who has now been appointed, which I think has been welcomed right across the House.

My Lords, is it not the case that while officials may bring to the Prime Minister’s attention matters within their knowledge bearing on ministerial appointments, they must have regard to the laws governing personal privacy, including privacy on tax matters?

The noble Lord is right. The other point worth making is that, as a Minister, it is your personal responsibility to make it known to your Permanent Secretary and, if appropriate, to the independent adviser, what conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest you might have. This is a process that is gone through scrupulously, in my experience, when Ministers are appointed.

My Lords, transparency is the biggest antidote to sleaze, which revolves around money. The best way of dealing with this is to ensure that all Ministers publish their tax returns. That policy can be made without waiting for any report from the independent ethics adviser. What objections can the Minister have to that suggestion?

There is an issue of balance between privacy and the need to know—the transparency. I have often engaged with the noble Lord on these tax issues and the Prime Minister himself has said that he will publish his tax return, but moving to a different system raises quite a lot of issues of balance. I come back to my point about personal responsibility and explaining where there are these issues or might be conflicts of interest when you are a Minister, or if circumstances change.

Is it not the case that it is very important that any Prime Minister of the day has an independent ethics adviser and an independent Commissioner for Public Appointments? What is the point of having these officials doing those jobs unless they are allowed to get on with them—do the jobs they are paid and appointed to do—and avoid the speculation, which is completely unfounded until the facts are known?

I thank my noble friend. Sir Laurie Magnus is doing just that. He was appointed in December and now has an important case to look into. We need to give him time to look at the issues that have been raised and come to the Prime Minister with a summary of his findings, so that we can move forward. But we need to establish the facts because, unfortunately, everything you read in the newspapers is not always spot on.

My Lords, the Minister has laid great emphasis on due process, which we understand, and there is an inquiry going on, which we understand. Will she agree voluntarily to bring to the House a Statement once the outcome of this investigation is known?

Statements to the House are a matter for the usual channels. However, given the interest in this matter it is quite possible for noble Lords to raise Questions, and Statements are often made on important matters of the day. I cannot make a specific promise, of course, but I understand where the noble Viscount is coming from, and that the House wishes to know and to be kept informed.

My Lords, the Minister said, in reply to an earlier question, that it was a constitutional principle that the ultimate authority for the Ministerial Code lay with the Prime Minister, but in what way would it be unconstitutional for the Prime Minister to give the independent adviser the right to initiate his own investigations?

I think that that would change the set of balances that exists at the moment. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has been very clear on the importance of accountability, integrity and professionalism, and he reissued the code with his own words to encourage that. He has also asked the independent adviser to explore the issues surrounding this particular case and to report the findings to him. I do not think that we need to move as far as the noble Baroness is suggesting, but we need to come to the right answers on these issues. It really matters that people trust our system of parliamentary democracy.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Committee (1st Day)

Relevant documents: 9th and 20th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 5th Report from the Constitution Committee, 6th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights


Moved by

Moved by

At end insert “but that the House should not be invited to read the Bill a third time until the Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed a Legislative Consent Motion in respect of the Bill”.

My Lords, policing and justice were devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2009, years after other areas of governance. How to handle Northern Ireland’s legacy of pain has been a source of contention for decades, for reasons which are well known. Despite that, agreement was reached in principle in the Stormont House agreement of 2014, the terms of which were compliant with all international legal obligations and the rule of law, of which the UK is so proud. For a variety of reasons, the Northern Ireland Assembly has not yet legislated a way forward, although the content of the agreement is largely accepted in Northern Ireland. We do not have an Assembly at the moment, the reasons for which your Lordships are very well informed about. However, in July 2021, a Motion rejecting the proposals contained in the Government’s Command Paper on legacy, which led to the Bill now before your Lordships’ House, was passed without any dissent by the Northern Ireland Assembly; the Motion was accepted by the Assembly.

When the Government legislate on a matter which has been devolved, the Sewel convention—of course, it is only a convention—requires that the Government seek legislative consent from each devolved Administration affected by the legislation. There has been no legislative consent Motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly for the Bill we will discuss today. My amendment to the Government’s Motion is very simple: it requires that a legislative consent Motion be secured before the Bill goes to Third Reading.

The reasons for that are equally simple. The Bill has been rejected by every political party in Northern Ireland and by the churches, victims’ groups and other individuals, human rights organisations, the Northern Ireland victims’ commissioner, victims’ organisations—such as the cross-community group WAVE, which has done magnificent work to help those who have suffered so grievously during the Troubles—and veterans’ organisations. The Minister has himself admitted that he has not met anyone who actually wants it to be enacted; he has encountered constant opposition to the Bill. It has been seriously criticised by the chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, whose role is to advise government, because it is not compliant with the UK’s international legal obligations or with the fundamental precepts of the rule of law. There has been a total failure to consult victims and survivors properly and to respond meaningfully, even at this stage, to their very real objections and concerns.

The Government and the Bill have been seriously criticised by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, the Irish Government, the United States State Department and UN special rapporteurs, who warned that the Bill would place the UK in flagrant breach of its international human rights obligations. Last Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticised it in trenchant terms, and, again, Members of the US Congress wrote to the Prime Minister about this yesterday, I believe. The Bill deprives survivors and victims of the Troubles of their fundamental legal rights. The Government’s legal obligations under these measures are being set aside in the Bill.

The Supreme Court set out the ECHR obligations very simply in December 2021, in its judgment in relation to the application by McQuillan and others:

“As the State has a general duty under article 1 of the Convention to secure to everyone the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention, the combination of articles 1 and 2 requires by implication that there be some form of official investigation when individuals have been killed by the use of force … The essential purpose of such an investigation is two-fold. It is to secure the effective implementation of the domestic laws that protect the right to life; and, in cases involving State agents or bodies, it is to ensure their accountability for deaths occurring under their responsibility … A similar duty of investigation arises under article 3 of the Convention where there is a reasonable suspicion that a person has been subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment”.

Under the Bill, people will no longer be able to go to a coroner’s court for an inquest to determine where, when and how their loved ones died, even when inquests have already been scheduled—a cruel move. Inquests have been enormously important in unpicking the web of deception that has permeated so much of the proceedings of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. One example is the recent inquest into the deaths in Ballymurphy in August 1971. For decades, it was said that those who were killed there had been involved in terrorism, yet, in May 2021, 50 years after the event, it was found that the 10 people who died there on those fateful August days were unarmed civilians who had posed no threat. Nine were killed by members of the Parachute Regiment, but it was not possible to prove who had shot the 10th person dead. For over 1,000 years, inquests have enabled people, through a judicial process, to seek to know when, where and how people died. That will no longer be the case in Northern Ireland for those died between 1966 and 1998 if the Bill is passed.

During the Troubles, many cases were not investigated for a variety of reasons, and perpetrators were not prosecuted. Those reasons included the need to protect informants. It is fundamental and vital to protect those who assist the forces of law and order in protecting against atrocities. But, on many occasions, those same informants were involved in murder and the most serious of crimes, and they were allowed to continue to be involved in terrorism, both republican and loyalist. I have reported on many such cases. It seems impossible now, but it happened; people died, lives were wrecked and hearts were broken.

Now, in the Bill, the Government propose to remove the obligations that exist in law, domestic and international, and to deprive victims and survivors of proper investigation in the fullest sense and of any meaningful reconciliation. The Bill will also remove the right to bring civil actions for damages for injury and death resulting from the Troubles. Such actions have been critical in uncovering the truth about deaths and serious harm to people caused by terrorists, some of whom were state informants working with paramilitary groups such as the IRA and the UVF. Many such civil actions were settled in the courts and upheld. If the Bill passes, these actions will no longer be possible.

The Bill will introduce conditional immunity, which, to quote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking last week,

“would likely be at variance with the UK’s obligations under international human rights law to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute and punish those found responsible for serious human rights violations”.

This Bill has been rejected by virtually everyone. The Assembly has not had the opportunity to comment on its content; it comprises multiple breaches of the UK’s obligations under domestic and international law; and it does not have the consent of the people affected by its provisions—those whose loved ones died, or were seriously injured, in places such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Hyde Park, Warrenpoint, Enniskillen and so many other places. It will deprive the UK of its reputation as a state in which the rule of law is respected and upheld. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak very briefly to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, with which I am bound to say that I have very great sympathy, although for different reasons from those advanced by the noble Baroness. I would like the Assembly to consider the propriety of the linkage between what is, in effect, an amnesty and the establishment of and participation in the commission. I happen to think that those are wholly different issues and should not be linked.

As it happens, I am an agnostic on the question of the commission, but I am not an agnostic on the question of a statute of limitations—an amnesty. I feel very strongly in favour of it. There should be a statute of limitations to preclude prosecutions in respect of any crimes alleged to have been committed and connected with terrorism prior to the Good Friday agreement. There are a number of pragmatic reasons for that, which I am not going to trouble noble Lords with, but there is an essential concern that I have: I believe that it is offensive and a serious abuse of process for servicemen to be prosecuted for alleged offences while at the same time many people who have been, or are alleged to have been, involved in the commission of terrorist offences have been admitted to high political office. I find the letters of comfort offensive if servicemen are to be prosecuted. I look at Mr Martin McGuinness, who served as Deputy First Minister; it seems that he did participate in serious offences. Given all that, can it be right to prosecute servicemen, when in all probability their level of culpability is lower?

It is in my view an abuse of process to do so, and it is for that reason that I want to see a statute of limitations that covers all offences. I do not think that it is possible, in law or practice, to make a distinction between those who are alleged to have been terrorists and servicepeople. I do not think that that distinction is possible, so it has to be a general statute of limitations. I would like the Assembly to discuss this matter, although I am bound to say that I think that the outcome is likely to be different from that which I would wish.

My Lords, in producing this amendment, the noble Baroness is representing the widespread frustration that exists in Northern Ireland in the light of this proposed legislation. Speaking from my experience and years of service to Northern Ireland, I have never come across such widespread opposition to a proposal such as this as is the case today. A lot of that frustration, I have to say to His Majesty’s Government, is caused by their failure to produce the amendments to this legislation that they had promised. They made a solemn promise to this House and the other House that they would take very seriously the expressions of frustration that many of us had brought to the Floor of this House and to the other place. We are disappointed in the result and the failure to fulfil that promise.

The failure of this legislation to have at its heart the needs of survivors and victims and their families and loved ones is a total disaster. Because of the way this new commission is proposed to operate, many people in Northern Ireland are going to be denied justice and denied the opportunity to be heard. I speak from many years’ experience of pastoral service to the people of Northern Ireland when I say that this is nothing less than a tragedy.

It is for those reasons that so many of us have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Baroness has said. No one knows better than she does, from her public service, what the feelings of opposition amount to in Northern Ireland at the present time. I appeal to those noble Lords who have serious concerns, who do not live in Northern Ireland, who have not experienced what we have come through; I appeal to them to see the opposition to this legislation as a matter of right and wrong, for it is, I believe, verging on a moral issue.

My Lords, I want to say briefly why I support this amendment. I must declare an interest in that I am a military veteran who served for a long time in Northern Ireland and members of my family were in the police.

Veterans are, inevitably, really against the Bill, but I think one ought to accept that veterans are not just people like me and not just their families: they are our societies. If you take rural areas like where I come from, a village or a locality, those societies have become veterans of the Troubles. If you do not live there, you do not know how completely the lives of everybody who wanted peace were changed. It is not restricted to the brothers, sisters and parents who waited for their family members, whether they be police, prison officers or simply, like one of my soldiers, driving a lorry that was providing cement to build security posts. This is not a funny thing where people were in the Army or the police, now they are out of it and it is all finished: this is a whole society, and it really affects people. They are 100% against this, as are other victims who may not be totally related at that stage.

Imagine a small village. In one case, one of my soldiers drove a school bus. The noble Baroness, Lady Foster, is not here today, but she was a child on that bus. One of my soldiers drove it and he kept the bus at home: it was the most secure place. He searched under the bus every morning. His son helped him do so. They watched them do it. The place that was most difficult to search was behind the engine block on the other side. They put the bomb there. He got into his bus, he drove for a distance, he picked up children and the bomb went off. Luckily, the noble Baroness was towards the back. One of my other soldiers, plus one of the children and others who were on the bus, were injured. That child nearly lost its arm. But the next year, my soldier and his son committed suicide, because he had not searched the bus. So this is not just about veterans, but this Bill is seen as leaning the other way, and that is that.

It is an opportunity for Sinn Féin and the terrorists following, or whatever, to investigate the records that were kept by the police of every incident, through records of everything. But on the return side, there is not so much as a written note on a cigarette packet; that is how they planned their business, because at road checks, they could be searched, so they wrote it on little pieces of paper. Those are all gone. I ask Members of this House to remember that this is not something far away; this is part of the United Kingdom. It is whole societies that have been wrecked, and now this is putting the cap on the whole thing.

My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for tabling this amendment to the Motion to move into Committee. It provides us with the opportunity to once again ask the Government to consider very carefully how they wish to proceed, given the level of opposition that there is to this Bill, which has again been laid bare in the contributions that we have heard from those from Northern Ireland already this afternoon.

The Minister, about whose personal integrity I have no doubt whatever, is fronting for the Government on this issue, and he did give a commitment that the Government would take their time before proceeding, or would move very carefully and consider amendments —and some amendments have been forthcoming. But I would urge the Minister to think very carefully about what has been said already, and also what has been said over the previous months since the Bill was published.

We have been told repeatedly throughout the period of what is euphemistically called “the Troubles” that the victims should be at the centre of any process which is about legacy, truth recovery, justice and so on. It is very clear that victims have been treated abominably by this Bill and by this Government, and that is a terrible thing to have to say about a Government who are committed to the union—although their actions in recent times, both in the protocol and on this, would cause many unionists to doubt what exactly is now going on with the Conservative and Unionist Party. It is certainly not the case for all members of that party, and certainly not all parliamentarians, but at the centre there is something deeply and fundamentally wrong with how Northern Ireland is now being treated as part of this United Kingdom. This is one of the most egregious examples of where victims and their views are being set aside. There is universal opposition, yet this Government are intent on proceeding.

I appeal to the Government: listen to the victims. We heard the noble Baroness mention various organisations, institutions, foreign bodies, and all the rest of it, and I have respect for very many of them. However, I do make the point that some of these people now speaking out against this Bill supported, against the views of victims in Northern Ireland, the proposals to reduce the length of any sentence on conviction of the most heinous terrorist crimes, some of which we have heard about just now, to two years, and to allow those who have already served two years to walk free. Regardless of that, we should listen to the victims and, even now, pause, and urge the Government to withdraw and not move into Committee.

Victims have listened very carefully to the voices that have been raised in opposition to this Bill, and among the voices that have been raised are the voices of the victim-makers. We have the appalling situation where the representatives of terrorist organisations, who glorify and eulogise murder and the murderers—I am talking about Sinn Féin—have the audacity to come out and use this piece of legislation to bash the Government. Their support for victims is mock support: it is a pretence. Their agenda is completely different. They are pocketing the concession for their members, and those who carried out violence, then turning it to bash the Government.

So the Government cannot win on this. They are in the invidious position of doing something that has no support across the board. Therefore, I urge them to withdraw the Bill. They need to counter the twisted narrative of the Troubles that is out there, and to be more proactive in terms of the balance of the past. There is a widely shared view in Northern Ireland that there is an imbalanced process, where the story of the terrorists and their organisations is continually played out in the media. We have had some examples of that even this week—but where is the balance, with the countless thousands of families, their extended families and their communities and neighbours who were terrified daily by the threat of terrorists living among them, spying on them and betraying them at their work?

I do not advocate looking at Twitter too much, but I urge noble Lords to look at one that talks about “on this day” and an atrocity carried out by the IRA almost every day. It details the normal day-to-day activities of ordinary people going about their daily business—dropping their children at school, driving a bus, being in a bakery, carrying out a profession—who were murdered. They were cut down by terrorists who now claim that they have the right to talk about human rights and lecture everybody else about them. The Government are doing those people, their relatives and their kith and kin such a disservice. Therefore, I urge the Government and the Minister to think again at this stage.

My Lords, as a Member of this House coming from Northern Ireland, having represented a constituency in the other place, I—like others from Northern Ireland—have met many victims. The Troubles have imbued the lives of all of us from Northern Ireland because, in some way, we have been deeply affected, either by the deaths of loved ones or neighbours or by the destruction of property. All of that has left many victims searching for truth recovery and justice. The ordinary people I am talking about feel that the Bill robs them of their opportunity to access justice, investigations and inquests which they believe, quite rightly, is their right.

I agree that there should be a pause placed on the Bill and that the Government should go away and think again—and think in terms of the Stormont House agreement. We said this at Second Reading, but other things have happened since then. Other organisations in the human rights field have raised important considerations to be taken into account. The European Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the victims’ commissioner and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which has a statutory responsibility in all of these areas, have all highlighted the faults in the Bill and the fact that the very premise on which it is based—immunity from prosecution—goes against the very heart of what the UK democratic system should be about, and what we as Members of your Lordships’ House should be fighting for.

I can understand what the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, is talking about as a former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, and what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said, as he was part of the Eames-Bradley commission which looked into this area in detail with a microscope. There is no doubt that the deaths, injuries and massacres have caused immense pain, whether to members of the security forces or to people on whatever avenue of any political perspective or whatever location they came from on the island of Ireland, as well as here in Britain. People suffered pain and anxiety and were deeply affected.

I believe that the fulfilment of rights and the rule of law must be central to the legacy process. That goes to the very heart of the Bill; immunity from prosecutions and the prevention of civil actions will not deal with what was already agreed in the Stormont House agreement and will not bring peace, justice and reconciliation. I firmly ask the Minister, who was involved with Stormont House and many other agreements to do with victims and legacy in Northern Ireland, to go back to the drawing board and the Stormont House agreement. The Bill, with the amendments, and particularly the government amendments that we will deal with later, is an exercise in denying justice. It will breach the European Convention on Human Rights and threaten the Good Friday agreement. It is bad for justice, for human rights and for the thousands of people who lost loved ones, who were injured during the Troubles, or whose property was destroyed, and who have very bad memories of what happened to them, their families, their communities and their colleagues.

My Lords, at Second Reading I made clear my own distaste for the Bill and pleaded with the Government not to proceed to Committee or Report. Of course, it is open to the Government at any stage to pull the Bill and to suspend our proceedings. My noble friend’s amendment does not do that; it says that we will proceed with Committee in the normal way. However, it says that before giving the Bill a Third Reading—which is also open to us to decide as a House—we would have a chance to pause it in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames, my noble friend Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, have argued in our proceedings; it would be wise for this not to go on to the statute book. This would be a way to do that.

I was grateful to the Minister for the invitation he offered to Members of your Lordships’ House to attend one of his briefing sessions—I think everyone in this House admires the diligence which he applies to his duties. However, during that meeting I had to reiterate my view that it is unwise and unnecessary to proceed with a Bill that, as we have heard again today, has united all shades of opinion in Northern Ireland and beyond.

One of my own principal reasons for opposing further progress on the Bill at this time is that, as we have heard, it has not been laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is non-functioning, and so has not been considered by it. That contributes to the emasculation of power-sharing and devolution, and places in jeopardy one of the most important building blocks of the Good Friday agreement: the very formula which allows people from divergent and different parts of the community to live alongside one other and learn to honour and value each other’s traditions and experiences. Again, I plead with all sides that the Assembly be restored as soon as is humanly possible. Anything which smacks of victors or vanquished will lead to alienation and hostility, and potentially worse, which is why no effort should ever be spared to revive and restore the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I know that some would welcome the death of power-sharing and devolution and are ready to impose Westminster-baked solutions on Northern Ireland. That flies in the face of subsidiarity, is disrespectful of diversity and risks the gains which have been made. We need changes of heart and mind, not ill-considered legislation. For those reasons alone I support the amendment to the Motion that my noble friend has laid before your Lordships’ House.

Since Second Reading there have been, as the noble Baroness just told us, further developments. I have met with and heard from some of those who also have profound misgivings about the wisdom of a Bill which masquerades under the false colours of a title that claims it to be about the legacy and reconciliation of the Troubles. I met Grainne Teggart, the deputy director of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland. She has examined the government amendments and says that they

“fail to address the fundamental flaws with the Bill and do little more than tinker around the edges, so our earlier points on the failure to comply with ECHR obligations etc remain. The UK is isolated on the international stage, it is still not too late for them to do the right thing and drop the Bill. Our call remains for Government to abandon this legislation and commit to an agreed way forward”.

She and I were in agreement that the Bill should be considered first by the Assembly. She has also drawn my attention to the interventions at the end of last week by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a further US congressional call expressing grave concerns with the Bill.

In the meeting with the Minister, I echoed concerns raised by two of my noble and learned friends about the way in which the chief commissioner is to be appointed. I see from the Minister’s 17 January letter to all Peers that this has been addressed in part. However, the Minister will recall that I specifically raised the point about the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister being among those who must be consulted by the Secretary of State. They are not named in any list. Bypassing them is of a piece with bypassing the Assembly. Amnesty has expressed serious concerns with the Bill, saying it would institute a

“de facto amnesty for grave human rights violations”—

a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in his intervention earlier—and that the UK Government are

“removing all paths to justice”.

As amendments are considered, the House will want to take note of those detailed objections, but I simply draw attention to the concluding paragraph 58 of the Amnesty International submission this week, urging the House to reject a Bill that is not redeemable and to revert to the Stormont House agreement. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, would enable us to do that at Third Reading. Liberty also describes the Bill as “irredeemable” and says that some of the amendments will potentially make a bad Bill even worse. It says that the Bill will breach the convention and threaten the Good Friday agreement, and all for seemingly no real benefit, and that for the sake of the victims and families affected, the Government must now consider withdrawing it entirely.

I conclude with the latest position paper from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which expresses concern at the lack of broad community support. It has analysed the amendments that seek to ameliorate some of the worst provisions and strengthen safeguards—again, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Caine, for his genuine attempts to do that. However, in its conclusion, the commission says that the amendments

“do not address the NIHRC’s grave concerns raised in our initial advice regarding the immediate cessation of criminal investigations (other than those referred by the ICRIR”—

the independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery—

“to the prosecutor), police complaints, civil proceedings and inquests/inquiries linked to Troubles-related offences. Thus, the NIHRC’s previous concerns remain.”

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The Government should take that old proverb to heart and stop trying to defy the rules of political gravity. To proceed pell-mell by putting this contested Bill on to the statute book lacks wisdom and prudence. At the very minimum, it should be considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly whenever that is reconstituted and before this goes on to the statute book. This amendment would stop it in its tracks at Third Reading, when we would have carried out our constitutional duty of scrutinising the Bill which has been laid before us. That is why I urge noble Lords to support my noble friend’s amendment to the Motion.

My Lords, during my time as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place I came to know, respect and admire a lot of people, none more than the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan—a Roman Catholic of deep faith and a police ombudsman of utter impartiality—and the man who had been Primate of All Ireland, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who is respected and indeed loved by people throughout the island of Ireland. They have both made very powerful speeches today, and we should reflect very carefully on what they and others have said.

But we are dealing with thousands of human tragedies, and this terrible legacy, without the input of the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland. I want to make a plea to the party politicians in Northern Ireland: for goodness’ sake, come together and discuss. It is absurd not to because of one issue over the protocol, important as it is. They have not even discussed that. There is an Assembly, it has been elected, and an Executive could be appointed within 24 hours of its meeting. In my view, it is very important indeed that, before we go very much further forward with the Bill, the Assembly comes together and recognises its constitutional responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland to make its views known on all issues of importance to them.

Of course, the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, would allow this House to proceed, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said a moment or two ago. On balance, I think she is right to do that, because we have a constitutional duty too. But for the Bill to pass on to the statute book without a proper input from Northern Ireland would be, to put it very mildly, deeply unfortunate. So I hope that our friends and colleagues who have influence over the Members of the Assembly, as many do, will urge them to come together and discuss. Of course, they will not agree on everything. Of course, there will be vigorous debates on the protocol. But that is the purpose of a democratically elected body.

My noble friend the Minister’s behaviour has been exemplary: he listened carefully to all that was said on Second Reading, indicated his own discomfort with the Bill—I do not think that anybody could be comfortable with it—and promised to come back with some amendments. He has done that. He is an honourable man. He knows and cares more about Northern Ireland than most people who do not live there. He has spent much of his life there and has given much of his professional career to serving its people.

We have a good Minister, a decent man, with a bad Bill. I do not think that anybody disputes that. But I think that what the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, said was wise and sensible. We ought to resolve that this will not go on to the statute book until the Assembly in Northern Ireland has met. It must not continue to abdicate its responsibilities. It has a duty to the people who elected it, to serve them.

So, really, the substance of my brief remarks is to appeal across the Irish Sea, to a very beautiful part of the United Kingdom which I got to know well and love deeply: please do not continue to neglect your democratic responsibilities. Let us have your views on this Bill. I suspect that they will not be very different from most of ours.

My Lords, I realise that I run the risk of striking a discordant note in this afternoon’s debate, and I very much understand the widespread criticism of this Bill from virtually every quarter that has been identified. However, I choose to identify with the remarks made earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and take issue with just one of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, when, in the list of those opposing the Bill, she mentioned veterans.

Veterans are not a homogenous group; veterans come in very different categories. I feel that this debate would be lacking if someone did not speak for UK-based veterans who, for 38 years, served and did their duty, in the main, to the utmost of their ability. Yes, of course, there were tragedies, and errors were committed by the British Army. We know what they were, and I am not going to go into those; but the vast majority of soldiers, as we have debated in this Chamber before—I have had debates in my name making exactly these points over the years—did their duty to the best of their ability. Their voice must be heard.

We do not want, as a veteran group, to set ourselves against all the other powerful arguments against the Bill, but the voice that I speak for is the voice that has had enough of investigations being mounted on now quite elderly soldiers on the whim of evidence, often causing them a lot of fear and upset, some of them going to their grave with the allegations not fully investigated. If the Bill is intended by the Government to stop that process, it is a very blunt instrument to achieve a particular aim. On that basis, I would ask the Government to think again about the Bill, but if the Bill is lost, for all the very good reasons that people have been talking about, what must not be lost is some way for veterans who did their duty to be protected.

I am not going to personalise it; I am one of them. My colleagues and I, on the whole, did our best, serving to the best of our ability. There must be some protection for us. We tried to raise it in the context of the overseas operations Bill, but those protections were dismissed by the Government, who said we would come back to it in the Northern Ireland Bill. We are back now. If we lose this Bill, the vast majority of UK-based veterans—not all—will feel that they have been let down by the Government and that successive promises have been broken. That is the only point that I will make.

I agree with everything that the noble Lord has said. Would he agree that, at the end of the day, we are going to have to have a statute of limitations? It has to apply to all security personnel, but because of that, I am afraid that it has also to apply to those who are alleged to have been involved in terrorist activities.

I accept the noble Viscount’s point. I say simply that, if investigations are going to continue, and the rule of law is going to continue to be applied, I would seek for protocols to be put in place to protect the manner in which investigations were carried out and the way in which people who were required to take part in questioning were handled. I would want to ensure that their dignity, their respect, their age and their previous service were taken into due consideration. That is a minimum ask. That is a reasonable ask, and I speak on behalf of veterans who served their country in Northern Ireland over a very extended period.

I suggest that the noble Lord may have meant GB-based veterans and not UK-based veterans, since Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

I accept that point entirely. I meant people such as me who live in England—I am three-quarters English and one-quarter Welsh. It is people such as me whom I had in mind, fully accepting that veterans from Northern Ireland have a very different outlook on the whole matter—quite understandably—because they were living and working within their own homeland. I am talking about soldiers who were brought up elsewhere than in Northern Ireland. I apologise for poor use of our language.

My Lords, in supporting the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, I will not repeat the cogent and compelling case she put. While Secretary of State for Northern Ireland I tried to grapple with legacy issues, which are incredibly difficult. I was bruised by them, and I had to withdraw a Bill I introduced that had been in gestation prior to my appointment because it was opposed by everybody. That is what should happen to this Bill.

However, I would have liked to support the Bill for that very reason of having grappled with these issues. I would particularly have liked to support the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Caine, because of his commitment to Northern Ireland, his long service and the high regard in which we all hold him in this House. But the Bill is opposed by every political party in Northern Ireland, and by every victims group. They do not agree between themselves very often and they do not agree about the definition of a victim, but they agree in their total, unanimous opposition to the Bill.

Your Lordships’ House should take that into account, and, as I shall describe at some length in subsequent groupings, that there is an alternative. For the life of me, I do not know why the Government have not agreed to that alternative, which is Operation Kenova, under the leadership of former Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who is highly regarded for the way he handled this and very popular with all the victims for the truth recovery process he has managed in a consensual way, getting information that was not readily available in some cases, for reasons I will describe later. It also does not offer an amnesty, which is the most egregious part of the Bill. There is a working model. I do not understand why it is not adopted. I will move amendments, with all-party support, to try to get your Lordships’ House to back it on Report.

I ask the Minister to reconsider the Bill, not just tweak it in the way he has with the amendments he has brought forward, as he promised. If he had been the architect of the Bill, I think it would be very different and one we could all support. There is a different model, which I will describe. I hope that it will receive the support of your Lordships’ House. Meanwhile, I support the amendment.

My Lords, I also support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. I am the first to acknowledge that many sensible amendments have been put forward from all sides of the House; there are also some that I would not be quite so keen on, but no matter how good some of those amendments are, they do not and indeed cannot deal with the fundamental flaws in the Bill.

Similarly—and I speak after a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to find a way forward on legacy that is acceptable to everyone. Again, I am the first to acknowledge that, but I am completely convinced that the Bill before us is not that way forward.

The noble Baroness’s amendment goes to the heart of the process because it deals with the issue of democratic legitimacy and gives this House and Parliament an opportunity, if taken, to pause for thought. There are four good reasons why we need to pause.

First, as others have indicated, the Bill does not have a level of consensus within Northern Ireland among the political parties—indeed, quite the opposite. As someone who in a previous life served for 24 years in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and indeed for six of those as the Chief Whip of the largest party in the Assembly, I can say better than most that it is difficult at times to get a consensus within the Assembly. It is difficult to get a consensus in Northern Ireland. Indeed, in recent days on other issues there has been a level of debate as to what counts as sufficient consensus in Northern Ireland: is it a simple majority, or a cross-community majority? But one thing indicated by the proposer of the amendment is beyond doubt, as shown by the vote in 2021: every single party in Northern Ireland is opposed to this Bill. That is a complete consensus.

We may question in particular the bona fides of one of those parties, Sinn Féin, whose military wing inflicted violence for many years and was the biggest single contributor to deaths in Northern Ireland. But even leaving aside the fact that republicans were responsible for around 60% of the killings in Northern Ireland, nevertheless there is a complete consensus within all the parties in Northern Ireland that this is not the way forward.

Secondly, there is also a consensus among victims that this is not the way forward. As previously indicated, in the same way that veterans are not necessarily a homogeneous group with the same views on every subject, that is undoubtedly true of victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Indeed, not only do they often desire different outcomes and have different perspectives on the world, but even members of the same family of a victim of the Troubles sometimes have different views. So it is extremely rare that a consensus emerges, but it is difficult to find a single victim, let alone a single victim group, who is in favour of this as a way forward. If indeed victims are supposed to be at the centre of this, by proceeding pell-mell with this Bill we are not moving forward.

Thirdly, the Bill very clearly represents a denial of justice. When we look at the Troubles, two myths are sometimes perpetrated. They are quite lazy assumptions. The first is that everybody in Northern Ireland is a perpetrator. That is clearly not the case. The vast majority of people, from whatever side of the community, got on with their lives, tried to make progress in a democratic way and gave the lie to the idea that there was no alternative to violence.

The second myth is that everyone is Northern Ireland is also a victim. I was extremely fortunate: although I grew up throughout the entirety of the Troubles, I did not lose a family member or close friend to the Troubles. Indeed, I probably grew up in one of the safest parts of Northern Ireland. I was able to grow up in such safety because of the bravery of veterans throughout the United Kingdom, both soldiers and police officers, in keeping that peace in Northern Ireland. I cannot claim to be a victim, which makes me particularly reluctant as a Member of this House to impose a denial of justice on victims. I would be imposing that on other people.

There is no doubt that many victims out there do not seek a particular form of justice or a conviction. It is also the case—none of us should be naive, particularly in historical cases—that the opportunities for a trial and conviction to hold somebody directly accountable for the murder of your loved one are extremely remote. I believe the Bill is fundamentally flawed in that it provides the “solution” of simply snuffing out, and taking away from families that want justice, any opportunity to have their day in court. That is the third reason why this is fundamentally flawed.

There is a final reason why we need to look at this. Understandably, when we are dealing with legacy the focus is quite often on the past and the legacy of the past, but I do not believe the Bill provides reconciliation in the future. Indeed, I believe it provides a very dangerous pathway for the future.

Unfortunately, we have already seen a younger generation in Northern Ireland—sometimes fuelled particularly by comments from those who have been supportive of terrorism—effectively trying to rewrite history. It is not unique to Northern Ireland, but the glib mantra of some people is that there is no alternative to violence, and there is an attempt retrospectively to justify that level of violence. Let me make it absolutely clear: from whatever source, whether republican or loyalist, violence in Northern Ireland was never justified and never will be. But if we rewrite history by effectively whitewashing what happened and providing an amnesty, we are in danger of sending out a signal to the future that violence is an acceptable way forward. That is a very dangerous pathway and not one that any of us would intend to go down, but I think we are inadvertently going down it.

For all those reasons, this is an opportunity to think again and pause for thought. I therefore welcome the noble Baroness’s amendment. I believe it is a productive and balanced way forward, and I therefore urge the House to support it.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for the amendment and for what, if I may say so, was an incredibly powerful speech today. We have heard so many powerful speeches today from all sides of the House. I noted here that we have had speeches from Northern Ireland and not Northern Ireland. We have had the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Lord, Lord Hain—a former Northern Ireland Secretary—and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who made an incredibly powerful speech. Then there were the noble Lords, Lord Weir and Lord Alton, who also made speeches that made a very powerful case. We even heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, making a slightly different case but supporting, none the less, the aims of the amendment before us this afternoon.

As I said at Second Reading, the strength of opposition risks undermining the Bill’s stated intentions of dealing with the past and promoting reconciliation—“reconciliation” is in the very title of the Bill. But the Bill is not promoting reconciliation and is opposed by so many who have spoken today. It is for this reason that on these Benches we support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. A Bill of such sensitivity and consequence cannot and should not proceed without the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, who I thought also made a very powerful speech this afternoon, we need to listen to the victims and pause this Bill before Third Reading.

My Lords, it is rare that I speak in this House and say how disappointed I am to be here. But I think there was some optimism that, when we had the Second Reading, the Government would go away and, in thinking again, perhaps have that pause for discussions that we had hoped. I pay tribute to the Minister, because he did. This has taken longer to come back to us; the Bill has had quite a long gestation period to get to this point. But it is worth noting that the reason the noble Baroness has brought her amendment before us today is that, for all the engagement the Minister has undertaken and all the discussions that have been had, there has been no movement in the opposition to this Bill. It is not a lack of engagement that is causing the problem. It is not a lack of talking to people. It is perhaps a lack of listening and changing.

The noble Baroness’s amendment before us today is a very unusual one, so I hope the noble Lord recognises that it indicates the strength of feeling across this House and outside in Northern Ireland. I think it is a rare and dubious honour to have united every Northern Ireland voice in your Lordships’ House.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, have tried to deal with some of these issues themselves in the past, and no one is pretending that it is easy or that there is an easy solution. But what is essential is that victims, survivors and indeed veterans and others—anyone who has been associated with this time—have confidence in the process. This is what we are lacking today. I suppose the point—it is not necessarily a disagreement —is that we all know the views of the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the Northern Ireland Assembly were up and running and debated this tomorrow, it would not make any difference. It would still oppose the Bill, such is the strength of feeling. I was there for just a few days, the week before last, and in every single meeting we had with every single political party, and at every meeting afterwards, this was raised as an issue and there was no support.

It is appropriate that in Committee we should be clear about our approach to the Bill. The Minister has been generous with his time and we have had numerous discussions, but our position remains the same: we do not support the Bill. Indeed, at Third Reading in the other place we voted against it. That remains our position. The leader of our party has said he will repeal the Bill, such is his opposition to it. He does not say that to wipe the issue to one side; he says it in order to find a better and different way of trying to deal with some of these issues, recognising that most people want to find a process that works and that this difficult, complex and painful for so many.

We also recognise, as does the noble Baroness in her amendment, that we are a revising and scrutinising Chamber. We have an obligation to look at amendments, reflect on the issues and have those discussions.

I want to put on record our thanks and appreciation to the numerous individuals and organisations who have engaged across your Lordships’ House with briefings and information, shared their views and experiences with us and suggested amendments that might improve the Bill. I have to say that, in same way that the Minister has said he has been challenged by this, those who have engaged with us have also said how challenged they are. More than once it has been said to us that, even by suggesting amendments or improvements to the Bill, they feel that they are compromised in trying to seek amendments to legislation that they consider fundamentally flawed. I think that is a difficulty for everybody.

So we share the desire that there should be a process and that we should move forward and deal with the issues, but I have to say, as I have said numerous times, that we do not believe that the Bill is the right way forward, and it is disappointing. The Minister has brought forward some amendments, which we will debate over the course of Committee. I do not particularly object to them as they are, but they do not deal with the fundamental problems or go far enough.

Among the discussions we have had was on the question, “What would you do, then?” To be honest, I do not know. I have grappled with this issue, as did my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, who was the first Victims and Survivors Minister in Northern Ireland; I succeeded him in that role. You do not get to the endgame early on in the process. It is a difficult and complex issue, and it is only by continuing having difficult discussions that you can find a way forward. It is not just the political parties; it is the victims’ groups and individual victims and survivors who need to have their voices heard.

I think we need to proceed with the Bill. I would like to see us looking at amendments and sending them to the other place, but I have to say that there is a universal lack of confidence in the Bill. I do not criticise the Government for trying to find a way forward but, as the Minister has heard from around the House, there is little confidence that this is a way that will be helpful. There may be aspects of it that people can sign up to, but it needs much more discussion. As we move forward in Committee, we need far more thought. The Minister has always been willing to engage. Before the Bill even proceeds to Report, there should be engagement that leads to significant change, not just something that ticks a box. That is not what I am accusing him of, but it is how it is perceived by many.

So I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for the opportunity for this debate. There is always a tendency to feel that we might rehearse Second Reading arguments, but it is important that we restate at the beginning of the Bill how very sad we are that we are debating the Bill at this stage today. It needs more work and there is a willingness across the House to engage to find something better, and I hope that, as we proceed with the Bill, the Minister will understand that. If there are not significant amendments, there will be disappointment, and the issue will continue to be a difficulty that, until there is not necessarily a resolution but some way forward that commands confidence across Northern Ireland, will not work.

Well, my Lords, I said at Second Reading that I was well aware that this legislation had been met with far from universal acclamation, and, if I may say so, the last hour and seven minutes has reminded me of that in spades.

A number of noble Lords were kind enough to reference my role in this legislation. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Cormack and a former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I think one suggested that had it been my Bill it might have been slightly different. That may or may not be the case, but I tried to assure the House at Second Reading that I was committed to working with noble Lords on all sides and to continue engaging with groups outside Northern Ireland to see what could be done to improve the legislation in line with the proper constitutional functions of your Lordships’ House that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, reminded us of. That is what I have sought to do.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, in moving her amendment—I hope it was inadvertent—cast some doubt on the level of engagement, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, referred to it. I can only say that, since the end of July, I have done over 30 meetings—frankly, I have lost count—on legacy with political parties in Northern Ireland, Members of your Lordships’ House, victims’ groups and others. Those meetings have always been frank and candid, and I have sought to listen and take on board as many points as I can. I will continue that engagement and, indeed, I will be doing more such meetings in Northern Ireland next week. That has been a genuine attempt to fulfil the promises I made at Second Reading. Again in response to the noble and right reverend Lord, whom I hold in the highest regard—he is a man of great principle and has made a huge contribution in Northern Ireland over many decades—I say that I believe that the amendments I have brought forward are a reflection of the promises I gave at Second Reading. I am very happy to sit down, at any time, with the noble and right reverend Lord to go through those amendments, but we will be debating them anyway, I hope, at a later stage.

I understand the motive behind the noble Baroness’s amendment. I have long had sympathy with the notion that the Northern Ireland Assembly should have greater involvement in these matters. It was always the position, for many years, that addressing the legacy of the past should be owned and tackled primarily by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives. Some of us remember—it was not that long ago—10 years ago, when the Northern Ireland Executive invited Richard Haass, along with Meghan O’Sullivan, in the aftermath of the flags protest and difficulties over disputed parades, to address the issue of flags, parading and the past. That initiative was driven by the Northern Ireland Executive, supported by the parties in the Assembly. Unfortunately, as with other attempts to deal with these very difficult issues, that process did not find a consensus, and 12 months later, we found ourselves at Stormont House trying to deal with the same issues.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady O’Loan, referred to the Stormont House agreement. At the risk of repeating what I said at Second Reading, I was in the room, as it were, for all but a few hours—time off for good behaviour—for about 11 weeks of that entire process. The level of consensus reached there has always been exaggerated. I can well remember the spokesman for the noble Baroness’s former party, the SDLP, opposing just about every line on legacy—she is smiling because she knows to whom I refer—in that agreement as “a dilution” of Haass-O’Sullivan, which was itself a dilution of Eames-Bradley. So the SDLP was not exactly oversold on it. I do not see my noble friend, Lord Empey, in his place, but my noble friend, Lord Rogan, is there, and he will attest to the fact that the Ulster Unionist Party did not support the provisions in the Stormont House agreement. So, that is two out of five that opposed it, pretty well right from the outset. Over the years, the level of consensus fell away even further.

I point out to the Minister that, from my very deep recollection, the SDLP supported the Stormont House agreement.

As one who was in the room on 23 December 2014 when the final document was handed out, I think the approach of the former Member for Belfast South, Alasdair McDonnell, who was the leader of the party at the time—he might want to correct me if my recollection is faulty—was to say that they would look at it and give it a fair wind, but he made no commitments beyond that. As I say, the party’s spokesman was in a rather different position, but that might not be the first or last time that has been the case.

I also recall vividly that, after the Stormont House agreement was reached in late 2014, in early 2015 the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive came to the then Secretary of State and asked her whether the UK Government would take the legislation through this Parliament in Westminster to implement it, citing the enormous difficulties that would be encountered by trying to get it through the Assembly. That in part is why we are here; it went from something that it was envisaged would be dealt with in the Assembly to something that it was then requested we do here. It has, if I can put it like this, been a Westminster responsibility ever since. That is in part why the Government are bringing the Bill forward and why I stand here today.

Given that context, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others reminded us, we have been grappling with this—it was never dealt with in the 1998 agreement because it was too difficult then. Successive Governments have sought to deal with it; they have failed to achieve consensus and resolution has proved elusive, frankly, to Governments of both parties. But we are, in a sense, running out of time in that people are getting older—some are passing away—and the chance of getting information to victims and survivors becomes more difficult the longer time passes.

Perhaps I may briefly try to pick up one or two further comments from the debate. My noble friend Lord Hailsham referred to a statute of limitations, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. This provides me with an opportunity to remind the House that the Bill has changed considerably from the original Command Paper proposals. People have referred to the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2021—I think the noble Lord, Lord Weir of Ballyholme raised it—but that was on the proposals in the Command Paper rather than the Bill that we are dealing with. It has changed, and I am on record in this House as opposing a statute of limitations on this issue. My noble friend and I have discussed it before; he and I have different views, as I am opposed to it. If there were a statute of limitations in the Bill, I would not be here doing it. The Bill has changed so that the immunity provisions within it are conditional and must at least be earned. Where there is no co-operation with the new commission, the prosecution route remains open.

My friend, as I think I can call him, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to veterans being opposed. The exchange that he had with the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, probably drew out one of the points that I was going to make: that veterans are not a homogeneous group. I met the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement last week and it is very supportive of the Bill. Where I definitely agree with the noble Viscount and the noble Lord is that we should be proud of the record and service of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and our Armed Forces. As I have said in this House on many occasions, my view is that without their contribution, sacrifice and service there would have been no peace process in Northern Ireland. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and we should never forget that.

One or two noble Lords referred to the timetable of the Bill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said, rightly, that I have not exactly rushed this. I introduced the Bill in your Lordships’ House in July last year; it then took until to November for Second Reading. I have taken it slowly into Committee, and of course I hope—although it is slightly above my pay grade, looking at my noble friend the Deputy Chief Whip next to me—that we will not necessarily rush headlong into Report. As I said at Second Reading, I have never anticipated that the amendments that I bring forward for this amending stage of the Bill would necessarily be the end of the story.

To respond to comments from my noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn, I am looking at what more can be done at a later stage of the Bill’s passage that will explicitly meet more of the concerns of victims and survivors. Again, I am very happy to sit down with noble Lords at the appropriate time to discuss those proposals before we reach Report.

For the reasons I hope I have set out—and, again, I am grateful for the words of the noble Baroness—the Government cannot support the amendment to the Motion. I will make one final point. I said at Second Reading that I found this challenging; I make no attempt to conceal that, and neither will other people. But if, as some people are proposing, we simply withdraw, delay or start again, which I think is the position of the party opposite, we really risk spending at least another five years on the issue.

Forgive me, my Lords, but I wanted to clarify that our position has always been that this Bill should never have been brought forward in this form until it had commanded some support. That has not changed, so it is not a pause or delay if nothing has changed. If there is a fundamental problem with the Bill, we would rather it be pulled back. My noble friend Lord Murphy and I met the Secretary of State and the Minister himself to say, “Don’t proceed with this Bill; we will work with you to find a better way.”

I appreciate the noble Baroness’s tone and comments. The only point I was trying to make is that pausing or stopping the Bill, as some have suggested—or if it gets to the statute book and it were to be repealed by a Government of a different colour in 18 months’ time or so; although I do not predict that for one second—we risk, in those circumstances, prolonging this for at least another five years while there is consultation, attempts to reach consensus, which will probably never happen, and the need to draw up legislation, et cetera. During that period, as I have referenced before, more people will have passed away and more people’s memories will be defective, so the chances of getting information to people will be even more remote and the chances of prosecutions more so.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I actually agree with the last point he made. I think that we would all like to take this opportunity to resolve the issue, but it cannot be resolved in a way which antagonises everybody—that is the problem. I urge him again, as I have done in private, to look again at the Operation Kenova amendments; they provide a working model to deliver the Bill and they have universal support. I am open to technical tweaks and any discussions with the Minister to make those amendments more acceptable technically, but the substance is there to get a consensus on this for the first time in generations, if not ever.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Without prolonging this, I hope that we might get to those amendments this evening and have a proper discussion and debate on them. But I am grateful for the spirit of what he said.

In conclusion, the Government clearly cannot support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. I understand completely the motivations behind it, but, in the Government’s view, the Bill provides an opportunity to give more information to victims and survivors in a timely manner, and it is the Government’s view that it should proceed.

My Lords, I express my deep gratitude to everyone who spoke on the Bill today: noble Lords spoke with such eloquence and gravitas on these most sensitive issues. I thank the Minister for his response, and I hope he will understand that, despite all the nice things he said, I cannot accept much of what he said, particularly his comments on the Stormont House agreement. Things have moved on in the eight years since then, and we are now in a different place. All of us who were in Northern Ireland at the time of the Good Friday agreement had grave difficulty with things such as the release of prisoners. It was a difficult time, and people are trying to find ways that will enable everyone to engage in one process for dealing with the past.

The Government’s actions in bringing the Bill and continuing to push it are doing very serious damage to our reputation as a country. They are also doing huge damage and causing a lot of pain, grief and loss of trust in the United Kingdom Government among the people affected by the Bill. That is profoundly important, as noble Lords said.

I will say a word of reassurance on veterans to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. As I have said previously in this House, members of my family served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, so I know exactly that I do not intend, and that it is not the intention of any of us, to cause grief to veterans. Those who served honourably really have nothing to fear, and the statistics show that, but I will not delay your Lordships on that.

Finally, the people of Northern Ireland are united against the Bill. Your Lordships will have seen the extent of unity among those of us from Northern Ireland about the Bill. I do not intend to press my amendment to a Division today, but I ask the Government again to pause and even to dispense with the Bill and start again. There is no necessity or urgency to deal with this situation; there is a need to get it right. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.

Clause 1: Meaning of “the Troubles” and other key expressions

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 30 to 38

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is to probe whether the definition of “serious physical or mental harm” in the Bill is sufficiently broad to ensure all those who wish to avail themselves of the ICRIR’s services are able to.

My Lords, Amendment 1 is in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. For the record, I too thank the Minister for his willingness to engage in this process. I echo the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that he has been an exemplary Minister. I congratulate and thank him very much, and I appreciate that he gave up a large chunk of his summer holiday last year to engage in this process.

Indeed, it was in response to my request. So I think we in this Chamber all recognise that the Minister not only has engaged very actively but has a tremendous amount of personal experience on this. Because of this, he has a tremendous amount of doubt about some of the elements currently in the Bill.

It is very welcome that the Minister has made a commitment to use Committee to continue to listen and engage on these concerns, and to listen to the very strongly held views of the House, which reflect the wider concerns in Northern Ireland and beyond. It is in that spirit that I hope that he will listen to the debate today.

Amendment 1 seeks to probe whether the definition in the list of eight narrowly defined characteristics on page 2 of the Bill is sufficiently broad to ensure that all those who wish to use the ICRIR are in a position to be able to do so. The trouble always with producing such lists is that they often accidentally result in some people being excluded and could therefore risk seeing some victims being denied justice. While acknowledging that the list is actually broader than was contained in the Stormont House agreement, it should be noted that the Stormont House agreement allowed for alternative legal routes, such as civil cases and inquests. It is worth exploring in Committee whether a longer list, or a more flexible approach to a list, could be adopted. We would be very happy to discuss the possible wording with the Minister between now and Report.

The Minister will know that the Commission for Victims and Survivors has expressed particular concern about the need to demonstrate severe psychiatric damage. At the time when many of the atrocities took place, people did not always have access to mental health medical services, so the link between the incident and mental health may not be clear.

The Minister will be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has also expressed concern about the current list of eight characteristics producing arbitrary outcomes. As paragraph 73 of its report on the Bill states:

“For example, consider that there are two similar cases concerning torture but resulting in differing harms. The first case results in severe brain injury—this type of harm falls under the definition of a ‘serious offence’. Where immunity is not granted, the case may be prosecuted. The second case of torture results in severe damage to one or more organs—this type of harm does not fall under the definition of a ‘serious’ offence—there is, therefore, no possibility of a prosecution. It is not clear why these cases ought to be treated differently.”

To give another specific example, I would query the use of the terms under subsection (6)(e) and (f), which list the characteristics of “total blindness” or “total deafness”. Surely, partial blindness or partial deafness would still have a potentially very traumatic impact on a person’s life. I urge the Minister to examine this section of the Bill again to see whether it could be redrafted in a more flexible manner so that people are not accidentally excluded from access to the ICRIR. I am sure—or at least I hope—that this was not the original intention behind the drafting of this clause. I beg to move.

My Lords, as a signatory of Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, I am happy to support that amendment. In various discussions with the victims commissioner in Northern Ireland, he has raised this issue on behalf of victims and survivors. We have already referred to the fact that there is cross-party support, as well as support in the victims’ organisations and in the churches for the Bill to go back to the drawing board of the Stormont House agreement. The role of the House of Lords is clearly to review, scrutinise and try to improve legislation before returning it to the Commons. However, challenges remain, because this legislation is, I feel, irremediable, as it centres on immunity from prosecution and ending all judicial processes for victims, thus making the amendments to the Bill—from the Government—a tinkering process.

Amendment 1 is probing. It seeks to broaden the quite narrow definition within the Bill in relation to medical conditions. In fact, a more expansive approach would enable more people to avail of the ICRIR’s services, whereas a restrictive approach will limit the efficacy of the legislation. Within Stormont House, other legal routes—civil cases, inquests and criminal prosecutions—would have been retained. This amendment was favoured and promoted by the victims commission, particularly on its visit to both Houses last week.

Other amendments would require greater levels of transparency and accountability from those required to give information. In particular, I refer to Amendment 147 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain, which is really about Operation Denton, which he will deal with in quite a detailed way. The amendment refers to the fact that Operation Denton, which is dealing with the Glenanne murders, is so well progressed, and has developed such strong levels of trust and confidence from the families, that it will cause undue stress for those families and unnecessary delays to the findings being released for this inquiry to be passed to the ICRIR. It is therefore important that Operation Denton be allowed to complete its work. Will the Minister go back and explore further the need to keep Operation Denton? Its work will conclude in 2024 and it has already done vital work in the whole area of review by Jon Boutcher, supported by all of those families and victims who are involved in it—I am aware of that from having talked to some of them.

My Lords, first, I have a quick comment on the previous debate. Many noble Lords—in fact, nearly all—talked about the consensus in Northern Ireland opposing this legacy Bill. I just remind them that there may be consensus, but it is from very different points of view.

My Amendment 63, which is also in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Bew, Lord Godson and Lord Empey, is designed to narrow the criteria for a reinvestigation being started by the ICRIR. If the previous investigations listed in my amendment, such as by the HET or the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch, and the stated need for the provision of “compelling new evidence”—a phrase that I remind noble Lords was thought necessary and appropriate for the overseas operation Act—are not added to the Bill, I have a very depressing prediction to make to your Lordships’ House. I think the ICRIR will end up reinvestigating many—indeed, every one—of the nearly 4,000 deaths. The cost will be billions of pounds, not the budgeted £250 million, and the process will last not for five years but for a decade or more, because this is where judicially led enquiries go, especially when internationalised. If the ICRIR, as suggested in the Minister’s letter to noble Lords on 17 January, is obliged to act simply on allegations, that can be the only consequence.

Legacy practitioners—which is the new force in Northern Ireland, not the victims’ relatives as the Bill believes, I believe, naively—using the concept of collusion, or “collusive behaviours”, the version relied on now by the Police Ombudsman, can design a case to investigate every death. Collusion can be alleged in relation to all loyalist killings and, indeed, all republican ones, by virtue of the use of security force agents in both paramilitary groups, let alone alleged investigatory failings that Strasbourg complains of.

When I spoke at Second Reading of the overseas operations Bill, almost exactly two years ago on 20 January 2021, I said:

“Let us not forget that the only cases now involving veterans are ones pending in Northern Ireland, which concern events of 50 years ago or more. For that reason, we need to get on with a Northern Ireland equivalent law”.—[Official Report, 20/1/21; col. 1236.]

Of course, extending that Act to cover Operation Banner, as I suggested then, and others, would have dealt with the issue in hand, rather than this increasingly complex confection of ICRIR.

No murder case in England would ever see this level of reinvestigation, and certainly not of funding. Have we learned no lessons from the Iraq historical allegations, and solicitor Phil Shiner? Let us remember, as was mentioned earlier, that it is good to remind people of who actually died in the three decades of the Northern Ireland terrorist campaign. Nearly 4,000 persons died violently; 60% of the deaths were caused by republicans and 30% by loyalists. The state—police officers and soldiers—was responsible for approximately 10% of the killings. Very few of those state killings were unlawful, as the force used was not unreasonable, but all the republican and loyalist murders were most certainly unlawful.

The rewriting of history is about the complexity of the Troubles being distorted into a single concern with state killings, which of course republicans and their allies then use, slowly, case by case, to construct the narrative of the IRA being somehow a popular resistance force that had no alternative to killing. The Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe, when enforcing the ECHR judgments on the so-called McKerr line of cases, refers only to killings

“either during security force operations or in circumstances giving rise to suspicion of collusion in their deaths by security force personnel.”

So Strasbourg has effectively accepted a nationalist perspective on the matter for the past 20 years, and there has been no public challenge by our Government. Some 90% of victims’ families are thus being told by the human rights court that they do not really matter. They are not wanted in the world of lawfare; they are an embarrassment.

When ICRIR opens for business, I believe the following will happen: there will be a smattering of requests for reviews from very distressed relatives; the IRA Army Council will almost certainly not be tempted by the immunity opportunity; and loyalists may not know how to respond. The vast majority of requests will be from legacy practitioners, once again, who will demand rigorous reviews—in fact, new criminal investigations—of hundreds of cases on the flimsiest of allegations, unless curbed by our amendment. The Northern Ireland Office has to brace itself for the judicial reviews and civil suits that will keep on coming.

Legacy has been a poisoned chalice since the Belfast agreement, and it is worth remembering that the 1998 document never envisaged what has since happened. About victims it said simply:

“The achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence.”

The United Kingdom failed to deal with legacy, although we now have something close to peace. There has been no substitution; nobody has brought forward a real legacy plan since the Eames-Bradley report of 2009, which did have some elements of legacy. The only credible initiative was from former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde’s Historical Enquiries Team within the PSNI. But that was closed down because a radical academic, given access, misconstrued what was happening, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary joined in the unwarranted criticism of the PSNI and HET—I believe to the anger of Sir Hugh.

This amendment is designed to stop mission creep by the ICRIR. It needs to be accepted because, without a statutory mention that narrows access and prohibits repeat applications, the commission’s remit will grow, just as the police ombudsman’s did. We need finality and I hope that the Minister will respond in detail to my speech and those of other noble Lords on this very important issue.

My Lords, in his response to the previous debate on the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, I fear that the Minister may have misunderstood some of the phrases I used in my own remarks. I do not in the slightest attach any personal criticism to him for the failure of the amendments we asked for from the Government on a previous occasion. I hold him in the highest possible regard personally for all he has done for Northern Ireland, and I hope that that respect is, despite the remarks, mutual.

My Lords, I would not normally intervene, but I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his very kind words. If I did misunderstand him, that is my failing. I assure him that the admiration is indeed very mutual.

My Lords, turning to the amendment the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, has brought to the attention of the House, may I refer to just one aspect of what I believe is the almost impossible task that the commission will face? It is the question of contact, discussion and analysis of those who are involved in cases brought before it. It is not just a question of medical phraseology and limiting the field in which people could claim to have consequential difficulties because of the Troubles. From my experience over the years, I have seen that it is almost impossible to define and limit the consequences of the experience of people—families, relatives and neighbours—because mental scars are very hard to define, but they are vivid in their consequences for people’s lives.

Secondly, I support what the noble Baroness said in moving her amendment in terms of the difficulty of the construction we will eventually give to this commission. I know from experience—as do many Members of your Lordships’ House—how difficult it is when distinct definitions are not spelled out and people have their own approach to what they think was defined or underlined. If this part of the Bill is to proceed, I suggest to the Minister that a closer examination is needed of the definition of the commission’s role—how it is to be described, how it will relate to jurisprudence and how it will relate to the way in which individual cases are presented. There is, I believe, real opportunity for this concept of the new commission to proceed, and proceed in a positive way, but I still think that a great deal of preliminary thought is necessary at this stage.

My Lords, I will speak briefly first to Amendment 63, which seems to be based on the premise that if any investigation was carried out or any report written on a Troubles-related incident, that would be enough to take it off the desk of the commissioner for investigations, and that any request for an investigation must be rejected unless the family requesting it “has compelling new evidence”. However, we know that one of the genuine concerns of many victims and survivors is that the case of their loved one was never properly investigated in the first place. In many cases at the height of the Troubles, there were understandable security reasons why proper investigations by the then RUC simply were not possible. We also know that information was very often withheld from investigating teams.

Another source of huge frustration for families living with these painful cases is that they had, and still have, little or no contact with the investigators. They have no idea whether the investigations are active or have been shelved, and have had no updates or reports. The experience of Margaret was, I am afraid, not untypical. Her husband was abducted and held for three days by the Provisional IRA before he was shot and his body dumped on the street. She was visited by a young police officer and then heard nothing thereafter. Ten years later, her son-in-law was murdered by a loyalist gang. She was visited by the same officer, who was by then a detective. She heard nothing further about that case either. Your Lordships will also know that in the early 1970s, cases involving military personnel were not investigated by the police at all but were handled in-house by the Royal Military Police.

We cannot say that on the one hand that we want to ease the pain of victims of horrific crimes through an effective information recovery process and then, on the other, tell them that unless they uncover evidence that the state has failed so far to find, they must be satisfied with what they have.

There is a process that is working for families and is a model for how to deal with the legacy issue, and that is Operation Kenova. I and other noble Lords will be speaking at greater length on Kenova when further amendments are debated, notably in the next group. Many victims and survivors will be very suspicious of a process that seems have as its starting point mechanisms to shut down evidence finding and information gathering, and I am afraid that this Amendment 63 is badly flawed for that reason.

I accept part of what the noble Lord is saying about how the victims feel about what has happened in the past and the need to understand more. However, does he not agree that the reality is that for the people from the terrorist organisations who perpetrated these acts, there are no records, as was said earlier, and there is nothing that at this stage will ever lead to anyone ending up in court and being found guilty? Indeed, many of those people who were involved with some of these killings have in fact been given letters of freedom and have been given immunity.

The point I am making is that there were files, and Operation Kenova has had access to those files. They are held principally by the security services but, under very strict conditions and with trust, the investigation has been able to retrieve information on a sensible basis without compromising the work of the security services, and that has been of great comfort for victims. That is my point and my concern about the noble Baroness’s amendment.

I turn to my Amendment 147. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Hogan-Howe and Lord Blair, both distinguished former Metropolitan Police Commissioners, together with the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, a distinguished former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, for adding their names. The amendment is designed to ensure, as my noble friend Lady Ritchie has already argued, that the Bill does not prevent the continuation of the review into the Glenanne gang series, known as Operation Denton, which is expected to conclude and report in spring 2024—that is, after the Bill could have received Royal Assent.

What is known as the Glenanne gang series includes a significant number of murders and other terrorist offences committed in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland during the Troubles between around 1972 and 1978. The cases within the Glenanne gang series are connected by common features, such as individuals, weapons, areas or targets involved. In some of these cases, direct evidence has already demonstrated the collusion of police or security force personnel.

Various parties, including families, have significant concerns about the rigour and professionalism of previous investigations into these cases and have for many years sought a comprehensive, overarching, thematic analysis of the Glenanne series and the extent of any state collusion. On 5 July 2019, the Barnard judgment set out the requirement for an independent review of the activities of the Glenanne gang, a statutory requirement in accordance with Section 35(5) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 and Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The chief constable of the PSNI requested that the former chief constable of Bedfordshire Police, Jon Boutcher, carry out this review. It was named Operation Denton, commenced in February 2020 and is part of the cases being conducted under the umbrella of Operation Kenova.

To date, Operation Denton has identified 127 murders resulting from 93 separate incidents connected to this series. It has met and is supporting families of the victims. It has had success in securing the release of material from the Republic of Ireland through lobbying for and securing the introduction of secondary legislation by the Irish Government to ensure access to records held by the Garda to assist the review. It is anticipated that Operation Denton will conclude and report publicly and to families no later than spring 2024.

Operation Denton is so well progressed and has developed such strong levels of trust and confidence with the families that it would cause unnecessary delay to the review—and, crucially, undue stress to families, who have suffered grievously already—for this inquiry to be passed to the ICRIR. It is important therefore that Operation Denton be allowed to complete its work. I hope that the Minister, who I see is nodding, will confirm that in his reply to this group of amendments. The lawyers and NGOs supporting the Glenanne series’ victims and families have indicated that they will legally challenge any decision to stop Operation Denton and will not co-operate with the ICRIR, such is their confidence in the work currently being done.

In conclusion, it is almost certain that Operation Denton’s work will be completed and families informed of its findings before the ICRIR is open for referrals. I therefore very much hope that the Minister will give the Committee the assurance that I seek and the absolute assurance that the victims desire.

My Lords, I will deal first with Amendment 1. I support this probing amendment. That is not necessarily to make a judgment that what is in place at present is insufficient, but it is probing to establish whether what is placed in the legislation is comprehensive enough and whether it covers all the situations. There can be nothing worse than finding that there are inadvertent consequences and that, through a degree of misunderstanding or because we have not been exacting enough, some people are excluded wrongly, or perhaps even that the net is drawn too widely on other occasions. As I said, I draw no conclusions as to whether that is the case at present but I will listen with care to the answers given by the Minister on that.

To take the last point on Amendment 147, I have some sympathy for the case that the noble Lord put forward. However, I have some level of reservation. It is undoubtedly an investigation into one of the most horrendous series of murders that have taken place; they were horrific, and it is correct that they should be condemned. Where I have a little reservation in perhaps suggesting that the whole Bill is flawed is that if we start looking at individual operations, however well advanced, and singling them out for some level of exemption, that can create a concern that other areas of investigation into horrendous murders which are needed are not also covered. That is my concern about Amendment 147.

On Amendment 52, again, I look forward to what the Minister will say on that. I have some reservations about it. At the moment, there is a five-year period in which there is an opportunity for a request to be made. It is hard to see in genuine cases why a family would not make that within the five-year period, so I am not clear why this is necessary. Indeed, are we shifting the goalposts by making this entirely open-ended in terms of making the request? Therefore, at this stage I am certainly sceptical about that but I look forward to what will be said in connection with it.

I support the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, in Amendment 63. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, made the point that there is a concern about the inadequacy of some investigations. I take that very much on board. However, what the noble Baroness says is proportionate, fair and practical. I say that because Amendment 63 would take into account what previous investigations had taken place. Surely the aim of the investigations in review is to bring everything up to the same level. If work has already been done, that should be built on where necessary. We should not look to duplicate work; that is from a practical point of view because there is a danger of the level of funding becoming open-ended to the extent that it is simply unaffordable.

We also need equality of treatment. There would be a concern that if we simply disregarded an investigation —indeed, if we have investigation after investigation in some cases—then some high-profile cases in which people are able to shout the loudest may go to the front of the queue and get an additional level of investigation, rather than there being equality of treatment for victims.

Amendment 63 has been carefully worded. It does not say that a previous investigation would preclude a review or an investigation. It would place the onus on the Chief Commissioner to take account of what has happened before. In many cases, particularly in the early days of the Troubles, that investigation might well have been inadequate. What information is available should be a key factor in determining the level of work that must go into an individual case. What is there is balanced.

The proposed opposition to Clause 7 standing part of the Bill is also in this group. I again have considerable sympathy for what has been put forward. Undoubtedly, we must ensure that the net for what evidence is inadmissible to the courts is not thrown too wide. There is a concern that what is presently within Clause 7 is not fit for purpose and, at the very least, creates elements where clarity is needed. For example, it is not clear in what circumstances an applicant for immunity would provide information that is not connected with the application process. Perhaps the Minister can expand on this. Separately, Clause 7(3)(b) has the effect of making material that is later obtained “as a result” of material provided by the applicant inadmissible. That seems quite tenuous. We must ensure that the inadmissibility net is not any wider than it needs to be.

There are considerable concerns over Clause 7. I know that the Government are proposing some changes to it but again, there is a lack of clarity. For example, there is an interaction between admissibility of material, as mentioned in Clause 7, and Clause 23, on the provision of information to prosecutors. That needs to be clarified. If Clause 7 was to remain within the legislation, the Minister must clarify what impact Clause 23 has on Clause 7. Without such clarification, there would be a strong case at least for re-examination of what is in Clause 7, and perhaps for exclusion altogether.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 71 and 83, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. Amendment 83 is also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and my noble friend Lord Murphy of Torfaen. I am grateful to them for their support. I too have benefited from engagement on my amendments with not only the Minister but the Bill team and his private office, and I put on record my thanks and appreciation.

Amendment 71 requires that, as far as possible, ICRIR reviews be conducted in public, providing for transparency in the conduct of reviews by that body. Transparency is not only desirable in reconciliation but a necessary precondition for it to occur. Many of the reviews that the ICRIR will be charged with conducting will have decades of mutual suspicion to contend with. My amendment to Clause 13 attempts to bring greater transparency to those reviews where possible. It is not merely a question of procedural efficiency; it will make clear to those for whom we are seeking the truth that they can be as confident as possible that there is no thumb on the scales, that the review process can be trusted, and that those tasked with handling these hugely sensitive investigations are doing so without the pressure to conform to some predetermined narrative.

Clause 13(1) provides that:

“The Commissioner for Investigations has operational control over the conduct of reviews by the ICRIR, whether they have been … requested under section 9 or 10, or … decided on by the ICRIR under section 12.”

The amendment reflects what I have perceived to be a strongly held view that the reviews conducted by the commissioner should be transparent. Accordingly, the amendment is necessary. As I have had the benefit of engaging with the Minister and his office, I anticipate that in his response the Minster will explain that the commissioner already has this power to conduct reviews—or at least parts of them—in public where appropriate. I am afraid that this view is not universally held by experts in statutory interpretation with whom I have discussed the amendment.

In part, this interpretation is reinforced by the fact that there is a presumption in Section 18 of the Inquiries Act 2005, which is the basis of all statutory inquiries in this country, that members of the public can watch the inquiry, either in person or via broadcast. This section imposes duties on an inquiry as to the disclosure of documents and evidence to members of the public. The chair must take reasonable steps to secure that members of the public can view documents and records of evidence given to the inquiry.

The 2005 Act provides that the proceedings of an inquiry must be made public unless one of several circumstances apply. It sets out a substantial list of issues that must be considered. They are

“the extent to which any restriction on attendance, disclosure or publication might inhibit the allaying of public concern … any risk of harm or damage that could be avoided or reduced by any such restriction … any conditions as to confidentiality subject to which a person acquired information that he is to give, or has given, to the inquiry … the extent to which not imposing any … restriction would be likely … to cause delay or to impair the efficiency or effectiveness of the inquiry or … otherwise to result in additional cost”.

Amendment 83 would impose a duty to respond to questions posed by the commissioner for investigations on a person who, in the course of conducting a review, had been required to submit information under Clause 14. Clause 14 sets out various requirements for the supply of information which can be set by the commissioner for investigations. For example, subsection (2) provides that:

“The Commissioner for Investigations may by notice require a person to attend at a time and place stated in the notice … to provide information.”

However, there is no power to require such a person to respond to questions asked about the information provided. This is a gap in the powers of the commissioner that needs to be filled. Again, there is statutory provision in another important piece of legislation that does just that.

This amendment achieves the objective of making questions be asked. It is instructive to look at the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 in this regard. Schedule 5 to the Act deals with the powers of coroners, which include the power to require evidence to be given or produced, stating:

“A senior coroner may by notice require a person to attend at a time and place stated in the notice and”--


“to give evidence at an inquest.”

So why are these provisions necessary in other inquiry legislation but omitted from this Bill? What is the Minister’s explanation—and why, if he resists these amendments, does he think that the Bill will not need these powers?

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 147 from the noble Lord, Lord Hain. In passing, it might be worth mentioning that I am open-minded about whether this Bill should progress. I think that there are arguments both ways, and we have heard some powerful ones today, but it relies on the consent and support of those people most affected by it.

One thing that has struck me in the debate today is that certain groups of people have not been mentioned whom I am sure no one wanted to forget. It was not until the Minister responded that we talked about the RUC’s losses and about its involvement in some of these cases. As we consider the immunity that might be offered, I think that we all respect and support the military’s losses and involvement in these things. Of course, the RUC was directly involved, and its members did not return to barracks at the end of the day but went home to their children, their parents and many other people. I do not think that anybody is choosing to forget, but we ought to keep that in mind.

We also ought to keep in mind that, here in mainland UK, the people of Warrington, Manchester, Birmingham and London lost people. Their thoughts have to be borne in mind too. It is not a case of “This is predominantly a Northern Ireland Bill”. There are other people who must be considered too, and they have not been spoken of today.

I support Amendment 147 because I think that the progress made by Operation Kenova is very significant. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Weir, that we should be concerned that this might extend to a whole new group of investigations that might be extended. But we should have the reassurance that the number of investigations is quite discrete. A significant number of these are already with the DPP in Northern Ireland. They have been for quite a while, and there is a question about whether there are sufficient resources there and the skills necessary to make these decisions—none of which are easy, as we all know, but at least we have got to the point of a case going to a prosecutor to consider a charge. That is a very significant number.

There is also the outstanding case of Operation Denton, which has been investigated for a significant amount of time. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has already suggested, it is thought that there will be cases going to the DPP by the beginning of next year. There is no certainty about this, but that is a professional judgment which I think is not unreasonable. The main thing to consider there is that, obviously, the families and all those interested in the outcome of those investigations now have a trust and expectation: a trust in the investigation team, which has been hard won and can easily be lost, and also a trust in the process.

Of course, it may be that the Government have to decide that they will end these investigations and fold them within this proposal. I think we all understand that that is a real dilemma. But, for the families involved, and given all the hard work that has gone into this, it would be a terrible shame. Some of the previous investigations have not had the support that we heard described by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and that, from my experience, has been garnered in this case. It would be a shame if that hard work and trust were lost on this occasion.

My Lords, I support Amendment 1 in this group, from the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. She made the case with absolute clarity. No more needs to be said.

On Amendment 147, I reassert my declaration that I am a member of the international steering group advising on Operations Denton and Kenova. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Caine, said, a very long-overdue review of cases involving the Glenanne gang, which is reported to have involved loyalists, including members of the security forces, who carried out shooting and bombing attacks against Catholics and Irish nationalists in the 1970s. We know that there are some 127 victims.

I will address the comments made repeatedly that terrorists do not keep records and that the police and Army do. Having investigated many of these cases of alleged collusion, I can tell noble Lords categorically that those involved in collusion do not keep records: for example, of instructions to not investigate; to bring people in for questioning during an investigation, provide them with a cup of tea and some sandwiches, leave them in the room but not actually ask any questions, then release them, to protect them so that they have been investigated in the eyes of the general public; to perhaps lose evidence, which I have seen; or to contaminate physical evidence. None of this is recorded. That is why, where you can identify collusive activity of that kind, it is very usually impossible to bring a prosecution—and it is right that there should be no prosecution where there is no unbroken chain of evidence.

Denton has made very significant progress. It was reviewed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council in January 2021, which explained that Denton differs from Kenova in that it is being conducted as a review and not a criminal investigation at this time. This makes the approach by the operational team fundamentally different from that of Kenova, which is an investigation, from an evidential perspective. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, Denton is due to be finished next year. Former Chief Constable Boutcher will then report.

Considerable resources have gone into this review. Were the Bill to be passed without an amendment of this kind, Denton would not be completed by Chief Constable Boutcher and his team and would fall for review by the ICRIR. Given the progress already made, to bring in a new team in would professionally require a review of what has been done before. I know we say that we do not reinvestigate, but, in professional terms, if you pick up a case that somebody has been managing, you must examine it to make sure you are satisfied that all investigative opportunities have been explored. That would result in a huge and unnecessary waste of resources, and it would be particularly damaging to victims and survivors, who would be required to revisit yet again what they suffered and have been suffering.

Such is the difference between investigations and reviews that An Garda Síochána, who have been very helpful to Denton and Kenova, was unable to provide sensitive material to Denton. That material could have been provided under international agreements for police co-operation, were Denton an investigation. But, because Denton is a review and not an investigation, it could not be provided under the European police co-operation agreements, et cetera.

At the request of the Operation Denton steering group and Chief Constable Boutcher, the Irish Government have passed a statutory instrument. The effect of that is to allow them to pass sensitive material, which they could not otherwise pass, to Operation Denton. When I was engaged in discussions about that matter with the Irish Government and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, I was simultaneously considering this Bill. It was very odd to me that my Government in the United Kingdom were moving to close things down and the Irish Government were moving to open things up and be helpful.

So, given the complexity and extent of Operation Denton, I suggest to the Minister that it would clearly be in the public interest to permit Mr Boutcher and his team to complete the work in which they are engaged. I therefore support this amendment.

Amendment 52 in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, would remove the five-year rule contained in the Bill, which effectively introduces a limitation on prosecution that is inconsistent with the Good Friday agreement and our international legal obligations.

This work of dealing with the past is incremental. It requires consideration of victims’ needs. A five-year limitation period for the seeking of investigations or reviews would place huge pressure on people who may be suffering the consequences—for some, very severe mental health problems—of the incident in question. I know that noble Lords will think that five years is a very long period, but I assure them that, in investigation terms and for people dealing with the mental health problems that have arisen as a consequence of the Northern Ireland Troubles, to add the additional pressure of knowing that you have to be there before five years are up is difficult.

Noble Lords will also understand, I think, that it will take some time to grow confidence in these new ICRIR processes. In light of the international condemnation of the Bill as it stands, questions might rightly be asked about whether victims, survivors and their families will use the new processes. That is another reason for us to think about the need to amend the Bill very significantly.

Does the period when the ICRIR becomes operational include or exclude the period of finding premises, setting up an office, agreeing a budget, getting staff, establishing processes, providing training, and the Secretary of State drafting all his guidance, et cetera? We do not have limitation periods for criminality in this country, for very good reasons. If a person was murdered before 10 April 1998, under this Bill they will have only five years to seek an investigation. If they were murdered four months later—in the Omagh bomb, for example, or in any of the other atrocities—that limitation would not apply. It is arbitrary. How do the Government justify the introduction of a limitation for a very small subset of the victims of crime in the United Kingdom?

Amendment 83 to Clause 14 deals with the situation in which the commissioner is seeking information. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has said, as drafted the Bill would simply permit the commissioner to seek information documents and so on. The amendment is very simple and would allow the commissioner to take the obvious next step: to review the information and then ask questions about the information that has been received. It is a logical investigative step; it is what everyone does.

The opposition to Clause 7 standing part of the Bill is in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and will be dealt with shortly by one of those noble Lords. The clause would remove evidence from the courts. It is part of the wider set-up of an indemnity arrangement. It is not helpful and it is not consistent with the requirements of our international obligations.

I am very sorry to have to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, that I actually oppose her Amendment 63. Although it contains some very good observations, it would limit—and is intended to limit—the situations in which a commissioner might or should initiate an investigation, particularly where a family have had a previous investigation and have no new compelling evidence. We have heard discussion about the ability of the police, in many circumstances, to investigate, and the fact that, in the early days, investigations were a completely different kettle of fish from what they became in later years during the Troubles. In most cases, because cases have not been prosecuted, the family will not even know what evidence there is. They do not have powers to gather evidence as the police do, and they are often very afraid of going out to look for evidence. I know incredibly brave people, such as the son of Sergeant Joseph Campbell, who was murdered in Cushendall. He met and talked to people, even while on his deathbed, who were suspected to be involved in the murder to try to find out what happened. There are many people who are very afraid.

Amendment 63 does not take into account the fact that, when one investigates some cases, one encounters evidence that is relevant to other cases. It would not be compliant with the law to prevent the ICRIR from investigating simply because the victim or their family have no compelling new evidence. We should not change the law to make the commission reject requests, as proposed by this amendment. I will conclude my remarks at this point.

My Lords, I want to briefly comment on Amendment 52, which the noble Baroness raised, in relation to the five-year limit. When the Minister replies to this group of amendments, I hope he will respond to this point.

The Minister said in the previous debate that, if someone did not co-operate with an ICRIR investigation or review, a criminal route remains open—I think I am quoting him directly. But this amendment points to the fact that the Bill provides for a five-year limit: unless a case is brought to the commission within five years it cannot be brought, and the commission is the only body that can investigate Troubles-related crimes. Therefore, if somebody does not co-operate, after five years the body will continue to exist but it will not be able to take on or open any new investigations. How is it that a criminal route remains open, as there is no other body and the police will be prohibited from investigating? There is no other body that can do any investigations, so after five years, there is no criminal route open; it ends at that point. I would like an explanation as to what the Minister meant by his statement that a criminal route remains open if you do not co-operate. Under the Bill, after five years no further new investigations can be launched, nobody can make a complaint and there is nobody else who can do any investigations.

My Lords, this has been a deeply respectful debate. A number of issues have come to light, and it would be helpful if the Minister could respond to them. Some of the issues are quite complex. I am grateful particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for the experience that she brings to this.

I turn first to Amendment 1, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. This definition is something that the victims’ commissioner has raised with a number of Members of your Lordships’ House. The phrase “serious physical or mental harm” is really key here. Many of us have met victims who have suffered harm that is not always immediately evident. We have to look at this again, because there is no power for the definitions to be amended. Given the Government’s fondness for Sis—not that I am recommending this route—there possibly needs to be some discretion for the commission. We discussed this briefly with the Minister, and he is rightly wary of having a list, which can never be exhaustive, but this has to be revisited and looked at again. Some discretion might possibly be the way forward.

On the amendment of my noble friend Lord Hain, I do not know whether the Minister is considering opening this up. Operation Denton is due to report in spring next year—I know that is an elastic term in government announcements. We will come to our amendment on this later in proceedings, but to have this investigation running for so long and for it then to be ended by the Bill would clearly be the wrong thing to do. It seems a sensible process, and one that started in 2020, and the point made by my noble friend Lord Hain is well made. I would like to hear the Minister’s response to that so I can understand the timing.

There is no commencement time in this Bill. It would be helpful to know when, if the Bill were to conclude all its stages and become law, the Minister envisages that it would start. That is important in this context.

My noble friend Lord Browne talked about transparency. That is clear-cut: if we are to have confidence in a process, it needs to have transparency. I think it might be a mistake in the Government’s drafting that someone could be compelled to attend but not compelled to give evidence. That seems to be a bit of a loophole, and I hope that the Minister can come back with something positive on that. did

I turn to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey. I can see the point that she is trying to address, which was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Weir—that in repeated inquiries it is the people who shout the loudest who have more access to the various mechanisms in place—but it seems to me to be a very absolute point. If compelling new evidence was brought forward, in any circumstances and by anybody, surely there should be the option for the commission to consider that compelling new evidence.

I entirely agree with the point that the noble Baroness has made. However, to be fair to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, is that not why the amendment refers to “take into account”? That then would not preclude it being taken into account and a different approach being taken.

It may be. I do not have the amendment in front of me—I will look at it again later—but there seemed to be an absoluteness. I understand the principle, but I want to make sure that the detail and specifics of the amendment do what they intend to and not cut off options for—

Proposed new subsection (5B) inserted by that amendment says that the commissioner

“must consider whether the close family member … has compelling new evidence, and if not, must reject that request.”

That is helpful; I am grateful. It is “the close family member” as well.

A number of issues arise from the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and the question of Clause 7 standing part. Amendment 52 seeks to delete the five-year deadline from the start of the ICRIR’s operation—it is a nifty little acronym—for seeking reviews of Troubles-related deaths and offences. I can understand where the Government are coming from in saying that the process cannot be open-ended, but could the Minister say why they settled on five years? What consultation or views expressed led to five years? What assessment was made of the risk of people refusing to engage because they think that they can be timed out given the five-year cut-off? Did he receive any representations on that? Was it discussed? Was there a consultation, or was it plucked out of thin air? That is what I seek some clarity on.

I would be grateful for any guidance from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, but it seems to me that Clause 7 creates restrictions on the use of material against a person in criminal proceedings where that material is obtained by or provided to the ICRIR by that person, but it does not affect the use of material in proceedings brought against any other person. That seems to be a contradiction that needs to be addressed, and perhaps the Minister can clarify that. I have read the clause several times—that is why I was slightly delayed in getting up. It seems strange in the context of what the Government are trying to achieve.

The debate on this has again shown the respect that the Committee and this House have for victims, survivors and all those affected by the Bill. It also shows some of the tweaks and changes that will need to be made to address the particular concerns that have been raised today.

I am very grateful to noble Lords for their contributions on this group of amendments. I will start with Clause 7. As the Committee knows, the Government’s overriding objective is to put in place mechanisms that have the potential to deliver better outcomes for those most affected by the Troubles, particularly victims and survivors, while seeking to help society look forward. The Bill is designed to help achieve those objectives.

The primary focus of this legislation is effective information recovery. The commissioner will conduct investigations for the purposes of providing answers to those who seek them. Central to that is Clause 7, which creates restrictions on the use of material against a person in criminal proceedings where that material was obtained by or provided to the ICRIR—that acronym of which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, is so fond—by that person. This is very much in line with the approach for information recovery included in the Stormont House agreement in 2014 and is extremely important in avoiding the creation of a disincentive for people to come forward and provide information to the ICRIR. In the Stormont House agreement there were similar provisions on evidence given to the ICIR, as was. It is very much in line with previous approaches to this issue.

The clause does not affect the use of material in proceedings brought against any other person, so it would be possible for a witness to provide information about an individual who was involved in a death or serious injury and for that information to be used in any subsequent prosecution against that individual. Equally, the clause does not affect the use of material obtained by a designated ICRIR—I am just going to say “the commission”—officer, for example when exercising police powers. This would ensure that the content of an interview given by a suspect while under caution, as part of a criminal investigation, could be used in criminal proceedings in the normal way.

I hope that goes some way to addressing the concerns of my noble friend Lord Weir of Ballyholme in respect of Clauses 7 and 23. If not, I am more than happy to sit down with him with my officials and go through it in greater detail, well in advance of the next stage of the Bill.

The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, deals with the five-year limit. We believe that five years is a reasonable limit for families or survivors to request a review into a death or serious injury. This five-year limit will also apply to individuals who want to come forward and apply for immunity of their own volition. The time limit will ensure that individuals have sufficient time to consider their engagement with the commission, while rightly providing the body with sufficient certainty within which it will be best able effectively to manage its caseload and conclude its work in a timely manner.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Weir of Ballyholme that making this open-ended would be mistaken and risk prolonging the work of the body, perhaps indefinitely. The Stormont House agreement envisaged that the work of both the HIU and the ICIR—the information recovery body—would be wound up within five years: they would conduct all the investigations and information recovery processes within five years. This Bill says that families have five years in which to approach the new commission. Thereafter, the commission will be able to deal with the caseload for as long as it exists. This is going much further and being more generous than the Stormont House agreement.

I cannot remember who asked about preparatory work and the starting time for the five-year period, but it is from commencement of the commission. The five-year period begins with the coming into being of the actual body and does not start with the commencement of the Bill; it is from commencement of the operation of the body.

My noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn raised an important point. The family, the Secretary of State or the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland can refer cases within a five-year period. Once referred, there are no time restrictions on referring conduct to prosecutions, as long as the body remains in operation.

I turn to the amendment probing our definition of serious harm, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. The remit of cases that the commission will consider will clearly be wider than that of previously proposed bodies, including in the Stormont House agreement, which looked only at deaths. The commission will look not just at deaths but at serious injuries which occurred during the Troubles. A number of noble Lords referred to the concerns of the victims’ commissioner on this matter. I have met the victims’ commissioner twice in the past fortnight, so I am well aware of his views.

I turn back to the Bill. As set out in Clause 1, the detail of this definition is intended to help potential applicants to have a good sense as to whether their level of injury and therefore case would be accepted by the commission. Where an Article 3 procedural obligation arises in relation to a case not involving either death or harmful conduct causing

“serious physical or mental harm”

under Clause 1(6), the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has the power to request that the ICRIR carries out a review. One of the points brought out by the debate is the difficulty of drawing up comprehensive lists in this area. This is an honest attempt to be as comprehensive as possible. I take on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and the powerful points made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who made a very effective contribution. I will take this away and look at it again.

On the repetition of reviews that the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, sought to address in her amendment, Clause 11(7) says that