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Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Clause 5: Full disclosure to the ICRIR

Amendment 37

Moved by

37: Clause 5, page 4, line 37, leave out “reasonably”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and the new Clause after Clause 5 in the name of Baroness O’Loan give the ICRIR the right to require information, documents and other material from all the organisations listed in the definition of “relevant authority”, other than the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ, without justification of the reasonableness of any request.

My Lords, the amendments in this group deal with the requirements in Clause 5 to provide full disclosure of information to the ICRIR. They are intended to assist the ICRIR in its work and are quite simple, but slightly technical.

In normal circumstances, the Police Ombudsman and many other public policing authorities with criminal investigation powers are entitled to require information to be supplied by relevant authorities such as those in Clause 54, where a whole list of police organisations is given. The ones from which there is no power to require information are the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. Clause 5 as drafted imposes a requirement that any request for information must be reasonable. That is an unnecessary restriction, as the purposes for which the information will be required are the statutory functions of investigation. If the essential amendments providing for investigation, review and immunity are accepted, this information, which will be sought by the ICRIR, will be that required for the purposes of investigation, review and immunity.

The effect of my amendments is to take that composite group in Clause 54 of relevant authorities and divide it into two: relevant authorities and special relevant authorities. Relevant authorities will have to supply information. There will be one category of relevant authority, which will be under the obligation to provide information as provided for in Clause 5, as amended by Amendments 37 and 39. That will include all the authorities listed in Clause 54 except the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service and GCHQ. I suggest that the House remove them from the list by accepting Amendment 191. Through Amendment 197, a new category of “Special relevant authority” would be created into which the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ would be inserted.

Imposing a requirement of reasonableness on the process of making requests for information, which can be very complicated, imposes an unnecessary hurdle. When I was Police Ombudsman, I had complete power to require information, and it was delivered. There were a few early hiccups in the process, but everyone settled into it. When I was doing the non-statutory review of the Daniel Morgan inquiry for the Home Secretary, I had no power to require information and we had endless arguments about which information should and should not be required. Those arguments cost a lot of money and took a lot of time.

If the Bill is passed as drafted, there would need to be a process for determining reasonableness and a determination as to who other than a court might determine what is reasonable. This would lead to disputes and the matter ultimately would end up in court, particularly if a relevant authority is reluctant to disclose information about, for example, the handling of an informant or the way in which physical evidence was managed. To impose the restriction of a requirement of reasonableness, which will be assessed, on the ICRIR, would impact on the perception and reality of its independence and powers. For this reason, Amendment 37 simply excludes “reasonably” from Clause 5(1). That would make it consistent with current law as it applies, for example, to the Police Ombudsman and the police. It would apply to all the authorities listed as relevant authorities, as I said, except the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ.

Amendment 39 adds to the list of those required to provide reasonable assistance to facilitate the effective use of information, documents and other material. When one gets information from policing organisations, the way in which it has previously been handled can often be very helpful, particularly if it is on a digitised account such as the HOLMES investigation accounts. If there is a requirement, as there is in Clause 5, to provide reasonable assistance, the policing organisation supplying the material would also have to provide assistance to access those databases, et cetera.

The reason I suggest that other organisations should be included under Amendment 39 is that some of the criminal offences the ICRIR will investigate or review relate to events such as the bombings in Hyde Park, Manchester, London, et cetera, which were not investigated by the PSNI but by other police forces. The clause as it stands requires only the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman to provide assistance, but I suggest to your Lordships that all the other policing organisations should be under a similar obligation. Without this amendment, those providing information as relevant authorities would not be under the same obligation as, say, the PSNI to assist in the effective use of the information. Amendment 39 is therefore designed to assist the ICRIR in conducting its investigations.

Because we have to deal with GCHQ, the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service, Amendment 197 suggests a new category of “special relevant authority” in which those three organisations would sit. They would be required to supply information if the request by the ICRIR was reasonable. I would prefer that they had to provide it without a reasonableness requirement, but I understand that noble Lords might be reluctant to impose an obligation on the security services to provide information. This would enable those agencies to protect national security, which is their function. To give effect to that new special category of three organisations for which there would be a reasonableness requirement, a new clause, Clause 5A, would be required. That is provided by Amendment 40.

Amendment 185 is very simple: it would include the director-general of the NCA in the list of chief officers of police for the purposes of the Bill, to enable them to assist the ICRIR. It may be that the National Crime Agency will not have material relevant to the ICRIR, but it is distinctly possible that it will. It is important that it be empowered to provide information.

Finally, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, which relates to the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations under Clause 31 about biometric materials and raises the level of procedure required for such regulations to the affirmative procedure. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 145 in my name, and I also support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. Amendment 145 is quite different from most of the other amendments put forward to the Bill. I am aware that it might sound a bit geeky, but much legislation brought forward by His Majesty’s Government seems to include sweeping powers for Secretaries of State in whichever department. This Bill does not have quite as many egregious cases of Henry VIII clauses but with Clause 31, about retention of biometric material, there is some concern that the Secretary of State can make regulations for which there would be very little scrutiny and by which, potentially, individuals’ rights are interfered with.

I am grateful to Rights and Security International for a briefing on this matter where it raises concerns about individuals’ rights under the Human Rights Act and the ECHR. In particular, apart from moving from negative to affirmative assent, I would be grateful if the Minister could consider specifying an upper limit on the retention of data. At the moment, the legislation simply talks about a “reasonable” amount of time. That seems fairly non-specific. Can the Minister clarify to the Committee what is really intended by this clause and whether it might be possible to bring forward a government amendment to ensure that people’s right are not unduly affected by sweeping powers to retain data? Can he also clarify that there is no intention for data collected to be circulated more widely than for very specific purposes? At the moment, that is not clear in the clause.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for bringing forward these amendments, which I think are very helpful. However, she said earlier—the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referenced it as well—that while many in your Lordships’ House, perhaps everyone, think that this Bill is not fit for purpose and should not be brought, there is an obligation on us to do what we can to improve legislation. That is our role, and I think her amendments today and the way in which she has spoken to them illustrate that sharply.

They are a very helpful amendments because surely at the heart of any investigation is access to information. I was struck by the noble Baroness’s comment about there not being clarity if there is a test or qualification about getting that information, as it can take longer, be more expensive and does not do the job that this clause is probably intended to do.

As we know from other Troubles-related investigations, relevant information can be held by different authorities and different agencies. One of the things that the commission—I say that to save having to go through the initials and stumble over them—will have to do is access that information quickly if it is to gain as complete a picture as possible. I will be interested to hear what the noble Lord has to say and hope that he will view the amendments sympathetically when he comes to respond.

I understand the reasons the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has put forward the amendments about the affirmative resolution. I think there is a general issue about government regulations; they seem to be heavily weighted. If we were to look at a chart of how many decisions are made or how much legislation can be done by secondary legislation, I think we would see quite a sharp incline in recent years. It is not a big leap from a negative to an affirmative procedure; it just guarantees that it will come before both Houses. But these are quite big issues. If something cannot be in the Bill, and if there are reasons why it has to be done by regulation, then it seems perfectly reasonable to have the affirmative procedure. Will that be enough, given that, as we all know, statutory instruments are an adequate of way of legislating when everything is set out first in the primary legislation? As I understand it, this is about looking at individual cases. I hope the Minister can give some reassurances on that. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, has done the Committee a service by bringing forward these amendments today.

My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have put forward these amendments. In responding, I am conscious of the experience in these matters of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, both in her role as police ombudsman and in the subsequent investigations and reviews that she has carried out.

The noble Baroness’s Amendments 37, 40, 191 and 197 aim to redefine the disclosure requirements of certain relevant authorities by, as she pointed out, creating a new tier of “special relevant authority”. This would mean that any authorities left in the “relevant authority” category, such as the ombudsman or the chief constable of the PSNI, would be required to disclose all material to the ICRIR regardless of whether or not it is reasonably required, while certain other agencies, such as MI5 and MI6—the Secret Intelligence Service—would be able to rely on the provisions as drafted, being required to provide information only where reasonably required.

The Government’s view is that the amendments are unnecessary, as we are clear that the disclosure provisions in the Bill already go further than ever before in statute in terms of putting relevant authorities under a duty to disclose information if it is reasonably required by the commission for its investigations.

I thank the Minister for giving way; I know that it is late. I just want to let him know that, as police ombudsman, I had a power to require information. There was no requirement of reasonableness in the requests; clearly, the requests were reasonable, but there was no requirement for them to be so. This is a new requirement.

I totally accept what the noble Baroness says about her experience as police ombudsman; I think that it has been less straightforward in the case of information from other bodies over the years. That is why the Government have placed this obligation on bodies to disclose information, which goes further than ever before. Indeed, the provisions directly mirror those included in the draft legislation to give effect to the 2014 Stormont House agreement, so they have been around for some time, certainly in draft form.

The noble Baroness will be aware that “reasonableness” is not a term created or policed by the Government. It is widely used and understood; it is included in other legislation, such as the Finance Act 2008; and it has a specific purpose in terms of creating obligations on others to provide information. The law requires all public bodies to exercise their powers reasonably and proportionately. It is open to authorities to challenge an assessment of reasonableness, of course, but our expectation is that the ICRIR would request the information only if it were reasonably required for the purposes of discharging its functions, so any challenge would be likely to fail if the commission followed this practice. Ultimately, it will be for the courts to decide whether the commission has acted reasonably in any case.

On Amendments 39 and 185, which would add to the list of individuals who may be required to assist the commission in handling information that they have disclosed under Clause 5, the Government are confident that all relevant individuals are already listed in the legislation. However, I am happy to take that away and look at the clause again.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, pointed out, Amendment 145 in her name—I welcome her to our debates—would require regulations regarding the retention of biometric material under Clause 31 to be made by the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. I assure her that the Government take their international obligations in this area—and in other areas, I hasten to add—very seriously. We are confident that our approach to the retention of legacy biometrics, if I can use that term, is compliant with the relevant European Court of Human Rights rulings in this area.

To remain compliant at all times, the commission will need to carry out regular, periodic reviews of the data that it retains for the purposes of its investigations, as set out in Clause 31(2)(a). This will of necessity involve the commission making decisions regarding the deletion or retention of certain data based on strict proportionality criteria that we will outline in secondary legislation. We feel that the negative procedure will provide an appropriate level of scrutiny for a power such as this, that is very limited in scope in the sense that it exists solely to ensure ECHR compliance in this area through the appropriate management of biometric material retained by the commission. The regulation-making power ensures that the commission retains only a limited category of biometric material in prescribed circumstances, for a limited purpose and a limited amount of time, after which it will fall for deletion.

The power allows only relevant biometrics to be retained and used by the commission to ensure there can be effective Article 2 investigations, while also ensuring compatibility with the provisions of Article 8 relating to the right to a private life. It also allows for biometric data no longer needed by the commission to be deleted, again to ensure ECHR compliance. So, in our view the power is proportionate and does not, for example, enable the commission to take new biometric data from individuals, but if the noble Baroness still has concerns about this, again, I am very happy to sit down with her. On that basis, I urge her to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 37 withdrawn.

Amendments 38 and 39 not moved.

Clause 5 agreed.

Amendment 40 not moved.

Clause 6: Operational powers of ICRIR officers

Amendment 41 not moved.

Clause 6 agreed.

Schedule 2: Operational powers of ICRIR officers

Amendment 42 not moved.

Schedule 2 agreed.

Clause 7: Admissibility of material in criminal proceedings

Amendments 43 and 44 not moved.

Clause 7 agreed.

Clause 8: Admissibility of material in civil proceedings

Amendment 45 not moved.

Clause 8 agreed.

Clause 9: Requests for reviews of deaths

Amendments 46 to 52 not moved.

Clause 9 agreed.

Schedule 3 agreed.

Clause 10: Requests for reviews of other harmful conduct forming part of the Troubles

Amendments 53 and 54 not moved.

Clause 10 agreed.

Clause 11: Requests for reviews: general provision

Amendments 55 to 65 not moved.

Clause 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Reviews in connection with requests for immunity from prosecution

Amendments 66 and 67 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Clause 13: Conduct of reviews

Amendments 68 to 81 not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Supply of information

Amendments 82 and 83 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Schedule 4: Supply of Information: enforcement

Amendment 84

Moved by

84: Schedule 4, page 64, line 39, leave out “£1,000” and insert “£5,000”

Member’s explanatory statement

This increases the maximum penalty for failure to comply with an information notice under section 14 from £1,000 to £5,000.

My Lords, I plan to be brief. At the introduction, the Bill made provision for amendments to the early release scheme under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, with the effect that a person convicted of a Troubles-related offence could, in future, apply for immediate release from prison, regardless of the amount of time served, thus removing even the current two-year minimum requirement. This reflected a focus on reconciliation. But a number of Members in the other place, as the Bill was going through, questioned the rationale behind this approach, arguing that it would not encourage people who may have information to come forward and provide it in seeking immunity. This is a very fair and reasonable challenge, and one which was also raised by a number of interested groups and parties during the engagement that I have been extensively carrying out since the summer. I have therefore carefully reflected on this, and I am pleased to bring forward an amendment that will address this issue and, in the Government’s view, strengthen the Bill. Under these amendments, only certain categories of people will be eligible for the early release scheme in future. These are people who were convicted before the establishment of the Bill’s conditional immunity scheme as well as people who were convicted after it but following a prosecution that began before.

The amendments achieve our objectives by amending the definition of “qualifying offence” to exclude convictions other than those under these two categories. The rationale for excluding those convicted after the establishment of the scheme, following a prosecution initiated by the commission, is that such individuals will have had the opportunity to engage with the commission and to provide a full and truthful account of their involvement in exchange for immunity. In future, those individuals will be liable to serve their full prison sentence if convicted, subject to normal rules around release on licence. For those still able to apply to the early release scheme, the minimum two-year requirement—the so-called accelerated release scheme—will continue to apply.

This approach gives us a better chance of maximising the amount of information we obtain from people who engage with the commission, through ensuring that those who choose not to engage with it and are subsequently convicted would be liable to serve their full sentence. To further strengthen the incentives to engage, I am also tabling an amendment that would increase the financial penalty for failing without reasonable excuse to comply with a request for information from £1,000 to up to £5,000.

I contend that these amendments significantly strengthen the Bill. They provide clear incentives to co-operate with the commission and clear sanctions for those who do not co-operate and might subsequently be convicted. I beg to move.

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

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

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

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

I am grateful to those who took part in this short debate. By way of a brief response, I disagree on the point about incentives. I have spoken to a number of victims’ groups and political parties that, while they might not like other parts of the Bill, have no issue with this and think it a sensible strengthening of the incentives to co-operate and the disincentives not to.

Having reflected on the earlier versions of the Bill, the Government think it right and proportionate that somebody who chooses not to co-operate with the commission on an investigation, if they are subsequently prosecuted and convicted in the normal way, should face and be liable to a full sentence. In many of the circumstances covered by this legislation, such as the Troubles-related offences, that could mean a sentence of life imprisonment. As a matter of common sense, that would be a stronger incentive to co-operate than an individual perhaps serving two years or no sentence at all. This is a sensible and proportionate change to the Bill which should genuinely encourage people to co-operate. If they do not co-operate, they do so in the knowledge that, if someone comes knocking on their door and they are convicted, they are liable for a lengthy prison term. I withdraw the amendment for now.

Amendment 84 withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed.

Amendment 85 not moved.

Clause 15: Production of reports on the findings of reviews

Amendments 86 to 93 not moved.

Amendment 94

Moved by

94: Clause 15, page 13, line 33, at end insert—

“(c) allow those persons to submit, for inclusion in the final report, a victim impact statement which sets out the physical, emotional, social or financial impact upon them of the matters contained in the report.(4A) The ICRIR must produce guidance on the support available to assist in drafting the statement in subsection (4)(c) and suggested matters for inclusion.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is intended to give victims and survivors a voice within the ICRIR process by providing the opportunity to set out the impact upon them of the matters contained in the ICRIR report.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 94 and 95, tabled in my name and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. The Minister will recognise that these amendments are from the victims’ commissioner and that they seek to focus the Bill more on the needs of victims. The amendments aim to give victims and survivors a greater voice within the new commission process by allowing those victims who want to do so to submit an impact assessment to be included in the final report. These statements would allow victims to set out in detail the physical, emotional, social or financial impact that the matters contained in the report have had on their lives.

The second section of each of these amendments would require the ICRIR to provide guidance on the support that should be made available to the victims to produce these statements. These seem to me to be fairly straightforward and reasonable amendments, and a relatively small set to add to the Bill. These changes would provide at least some additional support for victims in the process. I hope the Minister might feel able to concede this. I would be very happy to discuss them in more detail between now and Report. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am very pleased to have been a signatory to these amendments and to assist the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in dealing with the needs of victims. The need for these amendments became very apparent last night, when we were talking to the victims associated with SEFF. As we have already explained, many of them experienced undue suffering and terrible hardship as a result of the summary execution of their loved ones, whether they were members of the security forces or ordinary members of the community.

The victims’ commissioner and his commission are absolutely correct in their assertion, based on feedback from members of the Victims and Survivors Forum and victims themselves: it is important that they can tell their story and the impact of that immediate and summary loss on them, their families and their wider community. That is vitally important and should be permitted. I make a plea to the Minister to give due consideration to these amendments. Maybe the Government would consider coming back on Report and inserting them in the Bill.

My Lords, I support the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, which provide for the inclusion of victim impact assessments, which are now part of normal criminal justice processes, in the consideration of a final report on a review or an investigation.

I cannot help noticing that the word “victims” appears but twice in the Bill. One is in Clause 49, which states that the designated persons are to be appointed by the Secretary of State under Clause 50 if he

“is satisfied that the person would make a significant contribution to the performance of the functions which are imposed by sections 43, 44 and 46”,

in Part 4, “Memorialising the Troubles”. Clause 50 states:

“When deciding whether to designate a person, the Secretary of State must have regard to whether the person is supported by different communities in Northern Ireland and will act independently of the influence of any other persons.”

Questions must arise here. Do they have to be supported by different communities? What are different communities? Are we back to sectarian headcounts? The legislation provides that:

“The designated persons must use their best endeavours to establish an advisory forum consisting of other persons”—

simply “use their best endeavours”, not just establish it—including

“persons who represent the views of victims and survivors of events and conduct forming part of the Troubles”.

The only other reference to victims appears in paragraph 5 of Schedule 11, which relates to the situation in which a person asks the Secretary of State for information about any application which may have been made for release under the sentences Act by a person who is serving a sentence of imprisonment for at least five years or for life. Two fairly insignificant changes are made to the information to be provided to the victim about the convicted person. In a Bill that the Government have presented as being designed to bring reconciliation to Northern Ireland, these minor but very important amendments would do something to promote the interests of victims.

My Lords, I too want to give some support to this amendment because it touches on what we were crying out for in earlier debates, which is a small but significant voice for victims. As I tried to say this afternoon, these are real people who would perceive in some ways the legislation as it stands as being tilted against the victimhood that they had suffered. I want to see some more thought given to what that means, but I support the pith and substance of what is involved.

I too support Amendments 94 and 96 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, but I shall speak briefly to the amendment that I have tabled, Amendment 166. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Blair and Lord Hogan-Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, most strikingly.

For many interested parties, the starting point for any legacy case should be to find the truth of what happened to the families affected. Families want to be heard and acknowledged and they want a robust and independent investigation to find the truth, and that is what Operation Kenova does very effectively and why it is so popular. Victims and families are realistic about the prospects of bringing the culprits to justice. Many families and victims for a variety of reasons do not want criminal prosecutions; they want to discover the truth. The Minister referred to that indirectly. The reasons for not wanting a prosecution include toxic residual attitudes within the communities towards the Troubles and towards the prosecution of paramilitaries or the security forces. The culpability of the various terrorist groups involved, the unwanted media and public attention that the legacy cases attract, especially where the state might have failed its citizens, and the time that legacy cases take to prosecute all cause strong reactions. These reactions and issues can lead to the intimidation and further traumatising of victims and bereaved families. Therefore, their views must be considered by the Police Service of Northern Ireland when taking prosecution decisions.

The voice of those most seriously affected—victims and the bereaved families—was not considered when the Good Friday agreement resulted in paramilitaries being released, paramilitary weapons being decommissioned beyond forensic examination and those involved in violence being allowed into power sharing. These were undoubtedly important and necessary elements that thankfully brought peace, but we must now allow victims to have at least a voice in the prosecutor deciding the direction of their case. These decisions can have serious consequences for victims and families. This can be provided for through a new codification of the public interest test for legacy cases that permits the opinion of the victim and the family to be considered by the prosecutor. That is what Amendment 166 seeks to achieve, and I hope the Government will consider supporting it.

My Lords, I think we have to be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, who has pointed out something very significant. I suspect many have not noticed it but, with her forensic mind, she has drawn our attention to the fact that “victim” is mentioned only twice in the Bill. That has concerned my party for quite some time. We have always contended —I know it has been said by others—that this Bill should have victims at its heart and soul. That is what it should be about.

It has to be remembered that more than 3,000 people were killed. I do not cast them all as victims because there were those who were caught in their own explosions and blew themselves to pieces, so judgment was swift there, but I include all innocent victims from whatever side—I care little about it—of the community they may have come. However, I am firmly of the opinion, as are others, that this Bill is not amendable. Maybe we would have done this House, the Minister and everybody else more justice if we had not put in any amendments and had said, “This is just not doable.”

I see that even the Minister’s own Back-Benchers have, to all intents and purposes, forsaken him. He cannot just blame the Opposition, the Lib Dems, the Cross-Benchers or the DUP—and we often get blamed for everything. He will have to blame his own side for not coming in and covering his back this evening; but I do not lay the blame at his feet. I believe that he is here with some degree of reluctance. He has been asked to steer a Bill in which I do not think he has great confidence; having listened to everybody this evening, I think he will go home with even less.

I certainly support the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. As I said earlier, we owe her a debt for pointing out very clearly that “victim” is mentioned twice; I do not think we need to hear much more.

My Lords, having had a long debate, we are now moving at pace. These are interesting amendments. Just as the immunity debate went to the heart of the Bill, in many ways this one does as well. Although we have not seen victims mentioned much in the Bill, it is entitled the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, and if victims are not at the heart of what we do here, it is hard to see how reconciliation follows. That is what prompted the amendments before us today.

I have said before in this place that one of the most profound experiences I had was as victims and survivors Minister for Northern Ireland, which I did for about two and a half years. There is not a homogenous design whereby you can say, “Victims want this.” Different people have had different experiences, and different things have happened to them in different ways. There is not one experience whereby everyone can say, “Yes, that is how I feel; this is what I want.” They are looking for different things, and that is what makes this so complex and these amendments so important.

As has been noted, some will be saying, “We want justice. We know who is responsible. There should be action.” Others say, “I just need to know the truth. I want to know what happened”, because the agony of not knowing is so great. In some cases, knowing what happened creates additional agony. I remember a discussion where the truth for one individual was going to be awful. They wanted it and needed it, but it was not a pleasant experience for them in any way at all. Others just want acknowledgement that this is what they and their families went through. When we are talking about victims and survivors, one thing that was brought home to us all by those we met during the process of this Bill is that the trauma of what happened can survive several generations. It is not just the individual who has been through the experience of the Troubles; the family can be affected, whether financially, emotionally or physically.

This group of amendments is really helpful and goes to the heart of what the Bill should be about. Possibly the biggest failure of the Government is not recognising that. There have been a lot of warm words for the Minister, and they are well deserved, but he is there to support the Government in defending this Bill and he may be disappointed that only one member of his party is behind him to offer support. We have all been there; it can be a lonely experience on the Front Bench in those circumstances—although I am not sure I have ever been in quite the same circumstances. That is why, if he cannot say tonight that he will accept these amendments, it would do the Government well if he can say what he will bring forward to address the issues that have been raised.

My noble friends Lord Murphy and Lady Ritchie have signed these amendments, which allow family members to provide a victim impact statement as part of the review process. Without that, this will be one of the biggest failures of the Bill—and we have mentioned many tonight.

The Bill allows family members to refer cases and make general representations, but it is not clear what the family member gains from that process. If, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, has proposed, the Bill explicitly allows statements and for the proper resourcing of that process, that would go some way towards some resolution of that issue. It would not go the whole way; I think the Bill is so badly drafted and ill-conceived that it cannot address all the issues. The noble Lord made the point that has been made many times today in every part of the Bill: we would not start from here, but as Members of this House we have a duty to do what we can and fulfil our role—though I have been struck by how many of the individuals and organisations that I have spoken to have said they almost feel they are compromising their own integrity by bringing forward and suggesting amendments and changes to us.

I commend my noble friend Lord Hain on the different approach that he has taken. It is not one that I had considered before and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on it. My noble friend is suggesting that we amend the code for prosecutors, and he talks about how that could be done: it would take account of

“the likelihood of the accused re-offending … the time elapsed since the offence … the volume and seriousness of the crime, and … the character and behaviour of the accused since offending.”

The code would have to

“ensure that the views, interests and well-being of victims, and of the families of deceased victims, are considered when determining whether criminal proceedings should be instituted for a Troubles-related offence.”

I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that tonight. If he cannot give any satisfaction then I hope he will agree to have further meetings so that we can progress it. It seems to me that this is one of the biggest failings of the Bill, and it is what has caused so much upset and unhappiness among those who will be affected by this legislation.

I am grateful to noble Lords. When the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and my noble friend Lord Morrow were referring to the lack of members of my own party sitting behind me tonight, I could not help but reflect on the famous poster, with which noble Lords behind me at least will be very familiar, from the period of the third home rule Bill, with the caption:

“Deserted! Well—I can stand alone.”

Maybe, like Ulster in 1912, I have no choice.

I appreciate the sentiments behind these amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to the fact that victims groups are not a homogenous group of people. People are looking for different things. She referred to her time as victims Minister. As I have said before, I have probably met more groups over many decades than any person, certainly any politician, who does not live in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday was the 51st anniversary of the events of Bloody Sunday. I vividly recall that, a few weeks after David Cameron responded to the Saville inquiry in June 2010, I went with the then Secretary of State to the City Hotel in Derry, where we met members of the Bloody Sunday families. It will not be any surprise that they did not all speak with one voice. Some of them thought that what had happened with Saville and David Cameron’s response was fantastic: “We can now move on and get on with the rest of our lives”. Others said to us, “It was fantastic, we really appreciate it, but now we want to see the next phase of this, which is prosecutions”. I have referred to the later time when it came to taking a decision on that. Another group—by far the smallest—said to us, “Well, the Saville inquiry did not finger Edward Heath, Brian Faulkner or the military top brass and so on, therefore it’s a whitewash and, 12 years and £200 million later, we need another inquiry”. So I was struck that, even on an issue such as that, where most people suggest that the Government got it right in June 2010, not everybody was satisfied and people wanted different outcomes.

Speaking of outcomes, one of the objectives of the Bill is to deliver better outcomes for those most affected by the Troubles. I point out in passing that the Government passed legislation to introduce the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme. I totally acknowledge the role of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in ensuring that that legislation was passed. It is not true to say that we as a Government have totally ignored victims. We legislated in this Parliament to introduce a scheme over which there had been disagreement for many years, and no agreement. We got it through with the help of the noble Lord, Lord Hain; I think we can take some credit for that.

Moreover, the proactive amendments I have tabled reflect the significant engagement we have had and, on my part, a genuine attempt to address some of the concerns raised by victims and survivors. I acknowledge the sentiment behind Amendment 166 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the desire to make the legislation more victim centred. I am prepared to consider this further, and I will sit down with the noble Lord and discuss his amendments. I am naturally sympathetic to his objectives, as I am to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie.

The current drafting of the Bill does not prevent a victim or survivor submitting an impact statement, nor does it prevent the commission publishing one. However, I recognise the purpose of this amendment and as with Amendment 166, I am very sympathetic to it and happy to talk to the noble Baroness, and to continue talking to the victims’ commissioner to see if there is a way to take these matters forward at a later stage. On that note, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment for now, and I am confident we will return to these issues in due course.

My Lords, this has been a very positive and indeed united short debate, and I thank all noble Lords who participated. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, for signing my amendment. Like others, I was very struck by the fact that there are only two references in the Bill to victims. The Minister might want to take that away and think about it.

I was also very struck by the phrase used by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He said that these amendments would be a small but significant step forward in giving a greater voice to victims. It is very welcome that the Minister is making positive noises, and I look forward to speaking to him before Report and perhaps continuing a conversation with Ian Jeffers, the victims’ commissioner, about how they could reflect victims’ views as transferred to him. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 94 withdrawn.

Amendments 95 to 103 not moved.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16: Issuing and publication of reports

Amendments 104 to 108 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17: Reports: general provision

Amendments 109 to 111 not moved.

Clause 17 agreed.

Clause 18: Immunity from prosecution

Amendments 112 to 115 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.34 pm.