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Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan): I am not entirely sure whether my right hon. Friend is aware that seven of his Back-Bench Members of Parliament were in Northern Ireland on Monday and Tuesday; as secretary of the departmental Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, I was happy to arrange that visit.

Our final round of talks on Tuesday afternoon, in the guildhall in Derry, was with the families and the victims of Bloody Sunday. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all my colleagues who were there, on behalf of the families of Bloody Sunday and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), when I say that we thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today.

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his support.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): Does the Prime Minister agree that Bloody Sunday should also be seen as the tragic climax of a sequence of events that started some time before January 1972, and that many people and organisations helped to shape those events? Will the inquiry's terms of reference enable the tribunal to consider relevant background factors before 30 January?

The Prime Minister: The tribunal's inquiry is into the events of the actual day itself, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, of course, it is right for us to consider--no doubt it is something that the tribunal will have in mind when it comes to consider what happened on that day--the events that led up to it. There had been an extraordinary amount of violence, and many killings and murders had been carried out by terrorist organisations--in particular, the IRA. Of course all these things helped shape the context in which the events of that day took place. None the less, the tribunal will focus specifically on the events of that day and on the responses that were made, which is right and proper, but I have no doubt at all that it will have in mind the context in which those events happened.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster): The Prime Minister is to be commended for this decision, and he deserves the full support of the House for it. Is he all too well aware that certain historical events in Ireland--often very sad events--have polarised and symbolised the opinion of many of the Irish towards the British, and that

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we must get over those to secure the peace? Does he further agree that this is not about retribution or recrimination, but about implementing the even-handed treatment of all the people of Northern Ireland, without which we cannot secure the peace that they deserve?

The Prime Minister: That is right. Of course there are many polarised views. When we are presented with conflicting claims--some people calling for an inquiry; some people saying that it is not the right thing to do--the only way out of that situation is to examine the evidence and see whether it is justified on its merits. I believe, for the reasons that I have given, that it is.

It has not been a difficult decision. Indeed, I have been very closely personally involved with that decision; that is one of the reasons why I made today's statement myself. I have no doubt at all that, on the evidence, it is the right decision.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): The Prime Minister has made it clear why Bloody Sunday is entirely different from the Bloody Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays that Ulster has endured; he said that it is different because the state's own authorities were concerned in it. If that is so, on the other side, the state's own authorities--the Dublin authorities and leading members of the Dublin Government--were involved in bringing about the Provisional IRA, and many of the terrorist acts that the Prime Minister is condemning were done by the Provisional IRA. Indeed, a member of the talks process today, who sits there presiding over his own party--Gerry Adams--was responsible for the terrible calamity of Bloody Friday in Belfast.

Therefore, as the Irish Government have joined in pushing for this inquiry, I would ask the Prime Minister to join now in pushing for an inquiry to look into the state's involvement, in the south, in producing the IRA, which has done such terrible deeds.

The Prime Minister: First, of course we received representations from the Irish Government, but the decision was our decision, and it was taken on the basis of the evidence. Secondly, in relation to the Provisional IRA and the events in which it was involved, the hon. Gentleman mentioned Bloody Friday, in which, some six months after the events of Bloody Sunday, 11 people were killed and 130 injured in Belfast. We know who was responsible for that and we can condemn them. We do not need an inquiry to condemn it; we know who was responsible. The Provisional IRA was responsible, and we condemn it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): My constituency is not far from Birmingham, where so many innocent people were murdered in November 1974. Is there not all the difference in the world between a Government in a democracy, who should always make sure that the rule of law is upheld, and terrorist organisations that, by their very existence, defy the rule of law? That is the answer to those on the Opposition Benches who speak of all the victims of violence. The important difference is between those who might have been terribly wrong, as quite likely they were on Bloody Sunday, and the victims of terrorist violence, which we have always condemned in the House.

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I hope that the time will come when, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, there will be a memorial to all the victims of violence. We have a memorial in Birmingham to those whom I mentioned. Let all the victims be remembered.

The Prime Minister: I agree. All the victims should be remembered. I agree also with my hon. Friend's initial point, that we do not operate according to the standards of terrorist organisations. We operate according to the standards of the rule of law. That is why it is important always, in any circumstances where doubts are raised, that we lay those doubts to rest.

Let me make it clear once again: this is an inquiry into the facts, not a prejudgment of the facts. We shall inquire into what happened on that day. It is one of the best answers of democracy to the terrorists to say that when allegations are made against us, we are prepared to look at them. We have nothing to fear from a proper inquiry. We are prepared to uphold the rule of law. Terrorist organisations do not do that, which is precisely why they are terrorists and why we support the rule of law. If that distinction can be made, it is the distinction between the path of democracy and the path of violence.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I know from my 10 years' experience as a Law Officer in Northern Ireland and from the opportunity for discussion with people of good will on both sides that there is a genuine residue of anxiety not only about the events of that day, but about the inquiry that had to follow so swiftly. Lord Widgery is held in great regard, but there remain anxieties about that inquiry.

I believe that the Prime Minister is right to set up a fresh inquiry, but would he re-emphasise to the House that the armed forces are always placed in the most difficult position; that the object of the inquiry must be to get at the truth, not to go for recrimination and not to go for prosecution; and that any request by the tribunal to the Attorney-General for immunity could properly be considered sympathetically?

The Prime Minister: I agree with all of that. It is not for me to make the Attorney-General's decisions for him, but I know that he will give the matter proper consideration when requests for immunity are made. I agree entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the difficult position in which the armed forces are placed. That is why I went out of my way in my statement to put on the record our support and admiration for the work that they do.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's comment about the genuine residue of anxiety is right--in part, for the reason that I gave earlier. There has been much debate about the Widgery conclusions, but, even in relation to the Widgery tribunal's findings of fact, it is clear that, in respect of many of those who were killed that day, there is no suggestion that they were involved in unlawful activity. That is why there is a residue of anxiety. People ask whether, if it is accepted that innocent people were killed, it is not right to establish the truth of what happened.

I agree with those who said earlier that we should not prejudge the outcome. We have set up the inquiry under a highly respected Law Lord, an extremely able man.

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There will be two good people with him. That tribunal of three will genuinely inquire into the facts. It will be for them to establish the facts, which I am sure they will do impartially.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I was a member of the delegation of Labour Members who visited Derry on Tuesday of this week when we met some of the relatives of the victims of Bloody Sunday who have been campaigning for justice for more than a quarter of a century and who put forward a strong case for some form of international independent inquiry?

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that some of the representatives of the Unionist community whom we met expressed no objections whatever to such an inquiry and, therefore, it is important that the inquiry is seen to be a search for truth and justice, which surely is in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, whatever their political or religious beliefs?

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