11 January 2006

UUP and Tories link up to work on OTR bill

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
11 January 2006

The Government's battle to get OTR legislation through Parliament faced another hurdle today after the UUP and Conservatives formally agreed to work together on the bill in the House of Lords.

The legislation, which would spare Troubles offenders from going to jail, will face its toughest test in the Lords.

As a MORI opinion poll for the Belfast Telegraph showed the depth of public opposition - nearly two out of three people find the legislation unacceptable - peers began preparing for a significant fight over the plans.

The Government's majority will get it through the Commons, but opposition parties could muster enough votes to stall it in the Lords.

Secretary of State Peter Hain is preparing to amend the legislation before the bill gets its third reading in the Commons.

They are expected to introduce measures that would require offenders to appear before the special tribunal considering their case.

The Government may also put a time limit on the legislation, which would encourage people to come forward and admit offences if they want to remove the threat of jail.

If there was no time limit, they could wait until they were caught.

The Ulster Unionists and Conservatives agreed a "collective approach" on the bill after UUP leader Sir Reg Empey and other senior party members met Lord Strathclyde, the Conservative leader in the Lords yesterday.

"We had a very positive meeting," Sir Reg said afterwards.

"We reached complete agreement on how we felt matters should be handled and we agreed to work very closely together in forming any amendments and other action that may be required.

"We intend to share ideas and take a collective approach to the Bill that we both believe is a rotten piece of legislation.

"This will be the first of many meetings on our joint strategy on the OTR Bill," he added.

"I am optimistic of attracting cross-bench and Liberal Democrat support in the coming days in order to fight this legislation."

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