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The Prime Minister: Yes, I agree with all those points and particularly with what the right hon. Gentleman said in respect of the difficulties facing young soldiers in those circumstances, and in respect of the actions of ruthless terrorists over a number of years. The fact that there is to be an inquiry should not in any shape or form be taken as an indication of any diminution of our total condemnation of those terrorist acts and our belief that those who are responsible for them should show the remorse, apology and contrition necessary. I agree with that entirely.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's point, of course there are difficulties with reopening an inquiry after this length of time, but I am personally satisfied that it is the right thing to do. In the circumstances--although there can be all sorts of debate about whether the balance of advantage politically lies in this or that direction--if the evidence is there and is compelling, and I believe it is, it should be done.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle): May I express my very deep appreciation to the Prime Minister for his statement? He is very right when he underlines the terrible tragedy that that day was. I know something about it, having been the only public representative on those streets on that day. It is therefore right and proper--this is an objective that no reasonable person should oppose or could oppose--that the full truth be established about what happened on that day.

May I also thank the Prime Minister for his recognition of the enormous dignity of the families of the victims of that day in their pursuit of that objective--the truth? Let us now hope that the steps he is putting in place will finally produce the full truth and be a major part of the healing process in our divided community.

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. His work in campaigning for this is especially worthy of remark, as he is one of the people who have always believed in a peaceful solution to the problems of Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I am sorry to have to say to the Prime Minister that I think that the hope expressed by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) that this will be part of the healing process is likely to be misplaced. Opening old wounds like this is likely to do more harm than good.

The basic facts of the situation are known and not open to dispute. An arrest operation went wrong. The arrest operation was directed at rioters engaged in sustained rioting after an illegal republican parade. It was a pity to hear the mealy-mouthed language that the Prime Minister used about that.

I also have to point out to the Prime Minister that mistakes by the security forces have happened frequently over the years. There have been many cases where the security forces have fired on and killed innocent civilians. There have also been cases where the security forces have fired on and killed other members of the security forces. When such mistakes occur, the fault lies less with the men who have been placed in difficult circumstances than with those who have created them.

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We are in favour of the truth, too. We would like the truth to come out about many things. There will be widespread scepticism about new witnesses. There will also be questions about selectivity in dealing with this incident and not others.

We have heard that the Irish Prime Minister has pressed for the inquiry. Will our Prime Minister ask him to look into the actions of his party when it connived at the creation, funding and arming of the Provisional IRA? Does the Prime Minister realise that there will be those who will use this inquiry to denigrate our armed forces? The relatives may not seek revenge, but others do.

Finally, I thank the Prime Minister for his reference to the victims of terrorism and, in particular, for his reference to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Does he agree that it is a pity that the Northern Ireland Office removed the reference to the security forces from the terms of reference of the Bloomfield inquiry into victims?

The Prime Minister: May I say to the right hon. Gentleman, in respect of the circumstances, that one of the difficulties is that it cannot be said--to deal directly with his point--that this is a situation in which those who were killed were engaged in illegal activity. It cannot be said, because the Widgery report itself--this is one of the reasons why I think it is important that we reconsider what happened--makes it clear in respect of many of those who were shot and killed that there is no suggestion that they were acting illegally. I went through the report myself in a great deal of detail.

In respect of the four people who were killed in the Glenfada Park flats, let me quote from Lord Widgery's conclusions on evidence. He says:

That is actually in the Widgery report. This is not a set of circumstances in which one can say that there is a necessary correlation between any illegal activity that day and the people who were killed. That is one of the reasons why it is important to consider the evidence.

In respect of what the right hon. Gentleman said about terrorists and the actions of terrorists, I entirely agree, but we do not need an inquiry into Warrenpoint, Enniskillen, Hyde park and Warrington. We know who was responsible. Those were appalling acts of savagery and violence, and we condemn them. The people responsible for them should be punished to the full extent of the law.

What is important, however, is that we make sure that, in respect of matters where there has been fresh evidence given and where we have considered that carefully and come to the conclusion that that evidence genuinely warrants looking at these matters again, it would be wrong, no matter what the inconvenience or the political advantage in pushing it away, not to act according to the evidence. That is what I did, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept that I did that on the basis of a serious examination of the report, the new evidence that had been submitted and a careful analysis of where it might lead. I believe that the best way of dealing with the matter is to have a proper objective reconsideration, without any preconditions as to what the outcome may be, so that the truth can be established and told.

Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup): I thank the Prime Minister for telling me last night that he was

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going to make his announcement today. I do not think that it is appropriate at this stage to carry on discussions and arguments about what in fact happened; for that, we must now await the new report.

On the right hon. Gentleman's remark that Lord Widgery produced his report quickly, I would say only that that was the demand of the House of Commons. The event took place on the Sunday; the Home Secretary announced on the Monday that the commission would be set up; and I announced the commission here on the Tuesday. The general demand was that the matter should be dealt with speedily, because members of the forces change rapidly and the House also wanted the quickest possible answers to the questions. That is the explanation.

I shall readily agree to the commission seeing any of our papers, if it so wishes. The Widgery commission saw the greater number of them--whatever it asked for, it saw. However, if there are still others that the new commission wants to see, I shall readily agree.

The Prime Minister concluded by expressing the hope that this commission will see the end of the matter. I sincerely share that hope--but it is a hope.

The Prime Minister: I do not dissent from any of that--it is a hope. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the circumstances in which Lord Widgery was asked to perform his task, although that obviously had certain consequences, which I also described in my statement, as to the evaluation of the evidence. In respect of what he said about his own co-operation, I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The proposal that the Prime Minister has made has the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. I do not believe that he is being mealy-mouthed; this is a courageous decision, not least because some of the conclusions may be painful and even disturbing. I commend his remarks about the young men and women of the security services: I and many other hon. Members have seen their qualities at first hand, and anyone who has done so could not but be impressed by their maturity and bravery.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the inquiry should not become part of the peace process or a substitute for it, but should be seen as a confidence-building measure to assist the progress of that process? Does he further agree that to try to arrive at the truth after 25 years is a Herculean and probably unprecedented task, and that the tribunal will therefore require all the help it can get? Rather than deal with the question of immunity on the basis of individual cases, would it not be right to establish in principle and in advance that those who give evidence freely and frankly before the tribunal will be given immunity from subsequent civil or criminal proceedings?

The Prime Minister: On the last point, there are rules set out in the 1921 Act in respect of that matter, and it is open to the tribunal to request immunity, which the Attorney-General would be able to give. It is also the right of any people appearing in front of the tribunal not to give evidence that incriminates themselves. We certainly do not see this as an exercise in recrimination--the more help that we are given in establishing the truth, the better, so I shall certainly take on board the hon. and learned Gentleman's point.

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It is true that there is a 26-year time gap, but much of the process will consist of evaluating evidence that is already there and can be re-evaluated, together with the new evidence that has now been passed on to us. As for its not being part of the peace process or peace talks, that is absolutely right--it stands on its own in the end. There are arguments both ways politically and we have given careful consideration to the issues, but I hope that the House will accept from me that the decision was made because, having gone through the Widgery tribunal, having looked at all the evidence and also at some of the findings of fact made by Widgery and finally having looked at the conclusions, it seemed to me absolutely clear on the evidence that there was material that demanded fresh reconsideration. That is especially true given that it had already, in a sense, been accepted by the British Government, in the 1992 statement, that those who were killed were innocent of any illegal intent.

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