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The Prime Minister: Yes, it should be a search for truth, and I believe that many in the Unionist community will understand why it is necessary to have this inquiry. However, what those in the Unionist community will want us to do--which is why it is so important that we do so in the House--is to express our abhorrence at all the killings that there have been in Northern Ireland and our condemnation of the terrorists who engaged in those killings. That is a necessary part of reassuring them that this is not something that is done for one community or the other community; it is something done genuinely to get at the truth of what happened.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): Is the Prime Minister aware that I am somewhat disappointed that, having read the Widgery report, he did not set out very plainly to the House the background of the events? The Widgery report says that between August and February in that area nearly 3,000 shots were fired at the security forces and 456 nail bombs were thrown at them; that there were 225 explosions, mainly in commercial premises which belonged to Protestants, the end result of which was that they have largely disappeared from the west bank of the Foyle; that there was heavy and sustained rioting on that day; that the illegal march was part of the on-going effort made to overthrow the Government of Northern Ireland which the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), carried out three weeks later; and that the soldiers were there to uphold the rule of law, which, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, all democracies should uphold.

Will the Prime Minister give us a clear understanding that the tribunal will not only consider the evidence that has been produced by the Irish Government and people in Londonderry, but will consider and seek out all other evidence that was available at that time and not examined, because some of it might shed a somewhat different light on the events that the right hon. Gentleman has explained to the House today?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the tribunal will consider all relevant evidence, as it should do. In respect of the background of the events, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I said that earlier myself. Of course the

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background to the events was as he described, but the plain fact of the matter is, as I also pointed out earlier, that it is not in dispute that, even on the basis of the Widgery report, at least some of those who were killed were killed wrongly. Therefore, it is important to try to establish the truth.

The background will no doubt be part of the consideration that is given by the tribunal to what happened on that day. None the less, it is important, in circumstances where it is a matter of common ground that innocent people were killed on that day, that the truth is properly established. In the end, that is best for both sides of the community.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I offer my sincere compliments to my right hon. Friend on his remarkable decision to set up the tribunal. There is now an opportunity, perhaps a final opportunity, to uncover the truth of that awful day and bring this dreadful affair to an end. It would be appropriate if many of the sittings were held in Belfast. I also emphasise, if it needs to be emphasised, that Labour Members hold our armed services in high regard. Some of us have even served with the British Army.

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said at the end. The tribunal sittings will be a matter for the tribunal itself. In respect of the process, it is natural--I think that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), the former Prime Minister, implied this--that there are of course risks in such an undertaking as holding this inquiry; there are bound to be. The process will be difficult and painful at times--that is clear as well. What is plain to me is that the problems, the wounds, have not disappeared over 26 years. They are still there. The best chance to heal them is to have a proper reconsideration and to try to get at the truth once and for all.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I represent the home base of one of the most distinguished regiments in the British Army, the Parachute Regiment. Just a few weeks ago, the 1st battalion of the Parachute Regiment returned to Aldershot from yet another tour in Northern Ireland, which it carried out with great distinction and great sensitivity.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this is a two-sided business; that there were indeed casualties on that tragic day in 1972, but that, since 1969, no fewer than 43 members of the Parachute Regiment have lost their lives in trying to uphold the peace in this country, in these islands, and that six civilians and one Roman Catholic padre were killed in Aldershot, outside the officers mess, in a despicable retaliatory action by men whom he condemns but who will not be called to account by the inquiry that he is to set up?

The Prime Minister made great play of his and his Government's support and admiration for our armed forces, and I believe that to be sincere. I believe that he does recognise the particular difficulties faced by young men in having to make split-second decisions, but does he not recognise that his decision today in some sense threatens to put counter-terrorist operations at risk if the front-line soldier feels that he does not have the support of his political master, whose orders he carries out?--[Interruption.] These are questions which deserve

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answers. I represent men who are serving in Northern Ireland--[Hon. Members: "We all do."]--as do right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, and those men deserve an answer. The IRA will not be called to account in the inquiry that the Prime Minister will set up.

I conclude by reminding the Prime Minister:


Those are not my words but those of his predecessor, now Lord Callaghan.

The Prime Minister: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Whether these events should be revisited and whether it would have any effect on the way in which the armed forces operate on the ground weighed heavily with us. I agree entirely that they have to know that they have the support of their political masters, and they have it 100 per cent., but it would be a disservice to them to believe that they should have anything to fear from an inquiry that establishes the truth, where people accept that people were killed in circumstances in which they should not have been killed. Far from undermining support for our armed services, I believe that, by setting up the tribunal of inquiry under a highly respected Law Lord and establishing it in such a way that it can get at the truth, we underline the fact that, unlike the terrorists, we do not have anything to fear from inquiries into the truth.

The hon. Gentleman said that the IRA will not be called to account. Yes, they will be called to account. We do not need a tribunal to call them to account--we call them to account now. We call them to account every single time that any one of us speaks on these issues. We condemn absolutely and unequivocally what they have done and the terrorist murders that they have carried out.

Labour Members as well as Conservative Members have had constituents who were killed, murdered, in random acts of terrorism. That has happened on both sides of the community. We have seen in the past few weeks terrorists who have gone to a taxi rank and shot the taxi driver just on the basis that he happened to be a Catholic. All those people deserve our condemnation. It is precisely to show why we set higher standards than the terrorists that we say that it is right to have this inquiry.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): The seeds of the inquiry were contained in letters sent from the previous Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), saying that the victims were innocent, and, prior to that, in letters to the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and myself, saying that they were not guilty. In those circumstances, an inquiry was on the cards.

I was also with the group that met the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday in Derry on Tuesday. They said that there were two things that they did not want: first, they did not want an apology, because that would cut across and perhaps substitute for an investigation; and, secondly, that the inquiry should not be dealt with as a quid pro quo or a confidence-building measure but should take place entirely on the ground that it is the correct and just thing to do. I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's statement.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has a proud record of raising issues in relation to Northern Ireland in

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a particularly impartial and constructive way. I agree with both the points that he made. First, it would have been quite wrong if an apology cut across the investigation, and, secondly, the inquiry should be based on the evidence. It is based on the evidence, because, in a sense, that is why the matter has not gone away over 26 years. It might have gone away had the evidence been less clear, but it has not gone away precisely because the evidence is clear. There are matters that must be investigated and looked at.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): The new dialogue group has been asking for at least a partial reopening of Widgery. May I give unqualified support to the Prime Minister's decision, to his statement and to his answers to questions? I am sorry both that people died in Derry that day and that thousands have died in the years since. There is nothing that the Provisional IRA can do to make people in Great Britain want to split the Union, but we should warn the disloyalists who are killing Catholics after the murder of Billy Wright that they test the unity of the Kingdom far more.


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