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Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill awaits Royal Assent

13 September 2023

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The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill  returned to the House of Lords for a second time for consideration of Commons amendments in 'ping pong', on Tuesday 12 September.

Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the bill it received Royal Assent on 18 September. The bill is now an Act of Parliament (law). 

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill seeks to address the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland through the creation of a new independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery (ICRIR). The commission will also look into limiting criminal investigations and legal proceedings, extending the prisoner release scheme and ensuring experiences and events are recorded, studied and memorialised.

Consideration of amendments

The bill was considered by the House of Lords between 5 July 2022 and 4 July 2023, before returning to the House of Commons. 

Members of the Lords considered a Commons reason for disagreeing to Lords amendments (changes) added during the first round of 'ping-pong' on the role family members should play in granting immunity.

After a debate on the floor of the House members accepted the Commons reason without a division (vote), so the Lords amendments will not become part of the bill.

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Explore further information

Read background on the bill in the House of Lords Library  Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill briefing.

What's happened so far?

Consideration of amendments day one: 5 September

Members of the Lords considered Commons reasons for disagreeing to Lords amendments (changes) on subjects including provision for reports relating to reviews of deaths and other harmful conduct during the Troubles.

Lords divisions 

There was one division(votes) on the proposed amendments to the bill. 

Granting and revoking immunity from procescution

This vote was on Motion B1, an alternative amendment to insert a new clause that grants the Chief Commissioner of the ICRIR powers to revoke or deny requests for immunity in specific circumstances. It also added further criteria for granting immunity.

Members voted 201 in favour and 190 against, so the change was made.

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Third reading: Tuesday 4 July

Third reading is a chance for members to make sure the eventual law is effective, workable and without loopholes.

Proposed changes

A number of government amendments to the bill were put forward ahead of third reading on topics including compensation and criminal proceedings in regard to interim custody orders.

Members also discussed the passage of the bill at the conclusion of its Lords stages.

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Report stage day two: Monday 26 June

Report stage is a further opportunity to closely scrutinise elements of the bill and make changes.

Members speaking on day one of report stage put forward amendments (PDF) (changes) to the bill.

Lords Divisions

There were four divisions (votes) on proposed changes to the bill.

Criminal justice standards of the ICRIR

The first vote was on amendment 31, which inserts a new clause that ensures any review conducted by the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) is investigated to criminal justice standards.

Members voted 203 in favour and 179 against, so the change was made. 

Removal of the prosecution immunity clause

The second vote was on amendment 66, which removes a clause from the Bill that would prevent a person from requesting immunity from prosecution as part of the ICRIR’s investigations of Troubles-related conduct.

Members voted 197 in favour and 185 against, so the change was made.

Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland

The third vote was on amendment 98A, which would insert a new clause that ensures that a public prosecution is conisdered as having begun when the file is passed to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. 

Members voted 183 in favour and 197 against, so the change was not made.

Future inquests and investigations 

The final vote was on amendment 110, which would remove a clause that prohibits all existing and future inquests, investigations and inquiries into the deaths resulting directly from The Troubles.

Members voted 181 in favour and 197 against, so the change was not made.

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What's happened so far?

Report stage day one: Wednesday 21 June

Members speaking on day one of report stage put forward amendments (PDF) (changes) to the bill, covering topics including:

  • the number and scope of commissioner roles within the ICRIR
  • a requirement for the ICRIR to produce a work plan for each financial year
  • annual reporting of the ICRIR.

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Committee stage day four: Thursday 11 May

Committee stage is the first chance to check the bill in detail and make changes.

Members speaking on the fourth and final day of committee stage put forward amendments (changes) to the bill, covering topics including:

  • criminal investigations of Troubles-related offences
  • preventing people who have been granted immunity from profiting from criminal conduct
  • the authorisation of interim custody orders under the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order 1972.

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Committee stage day three: Wednesday 29 March

Members speaking on day three of committee stage put forward amendments (PDF) (changes) to the bill on conditions for immunity from prosecution. 

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Committee stage day two: Tuesday 31 January

Proposed changes  

Members speaking on day two of committee stage put forward amendments (PDF) (changes) to the bill to be discussed. 

The amendments covered a range of subjects, including: 

  • independence of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission
  • conditions for granting immunity for certain offences
  • prosecution for terrorism related offences.

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Committee stage day one: Tuesday 24 January

Proposed changes 

Members speaking on day one of committee stage put forward amendments (PDF) (changes) to the bill to be discussed. 

The amendments covered a range of subjects, including: 

  • setting criteria for new investigations started by the ICRIR
  • the inclusion of victim impact statements in final reports
  • allowing the continuation of investigations such as Operation Denton.

Members also considered a motion put forward by Baroness O'Loan to pause the progress of the bill before third reading until the Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed a legislative consent motion.

Following a debate on the floor of the House, the motion was withdrawn.

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Second reading: Wednesday 23 November

Members discussed the main issues in the bill and drew attention to specific areas where they thought amendments (changes) were needed during second reading.

House of Lords raises concerns

Members highlighted issues around the bill, including in a motion to regret put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon. Members concerns included:

  • support of victims' and survivors' groups, Northern Ireland elected representatives and the wider community
  • involvement of the Northern Ireland Assembly
  • the consequences of legislating to end future prosecutions for murder and likelihood of convictions
  • whether the bill applies to crimes committed in England or Wales.

Government changes

In response to concerns, the minister outlined several changes the government will now make to the bill during its passage through the Lords. These include on criminal investigations, the independence of the commission, creating new offences for people who willingly mislead the commission and giving it the power to revoke immunity or shortened sentences.

Members speaking

Lord Caine (Conservative), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office, opened the debate and responded on behalf of the government.

Members speaking in the debate included:

  • Lord Bew (Crossbench), professor of Irish politics and chair of the Historical Advisory Panel for the Centenary of Northern Ireland Commemoration
  • Lord Cormack (Conservative), former chair of the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
  • Lord Eames (Crossbench), former co-chair of the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland and former Archbishop of Armagh
  • Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Labour), director of Co-operation Ireland and advisory board chair of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and former leader of the SDLP
  • Baroness Suttie (Liberal Democrats), former Lords Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Northern Ireland.

Two former Lord Mayors of Belfast - Lord Brown of Belmont (DUP) and Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP) - also took part in the debate.

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