House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Alan Sandall, David Weir, Committee Clerks
attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 109:
Northern Ireland Grand Committee
Tuesday 18 November 2008
[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]
The Chairman: I am sure that all hon. Members are familiar with todays procedure. We have half an hour for oral questions, and will then move on to the main debate. We are likely to have a Division in the House during our proceedings, and if there is one, I will adjourn the Committee for 15 minutes. If there is an immediate second vote, I will adjourn it for 30 minutes, and so on.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked
1. Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): When he expects the Saville inquiry to publish its report; and if he will make a statement. 
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I warmly welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. I am sure that the whole Committee will want to join me in welcoming todays announcement by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland that the parties have come to an agreement to enable two things to happen. First, the Executive will again meet regularly and, secondly, arrangements will be put in place for the discharge of policing and justice functions by the Assembly. I am sure that the Committee will welcome that development, and the prospect of full and effective Government in Northern Ireland. As Minister of State for Northern Ireland, and on behalf of the Secretary of State, I pledge our full support to assist in any practical way that we can.
In reply to the question, Lord Saville has announced that he expects to deliver his report in autumn next year. That delay is disappointing, particularly for the families of those who lost their lives.
Mark Durkan: May I join the Minister in welcoming todays development that will see the Northern Ireland Executive meeting again after 22 weeks of failing to do so, and in wishing every encouragement for the Executive as they take forward a heavy agenda? I pledge my partys fullest co-operation in ensuring that we find a clear, complete and timely pathway to the devolution of justice and policing.
I thank the Minister for his answer and for recognising just how frustrating the latest delay, or sense of delay, is for the families. He has met them, so can he offer any further assurance that when the Government receive the report they will not delay its publication, but will show them full and equal consideration in their holding of the report before publication?
Paul Goggins: I warmly welcome my hon. Friends remarks about todays announcements. Back in April, I met the families and their representatives, and last week I spoke again to John Kelly on their behalf. I assured him that the Secretary of State would meet him and other representatives of the families early in the new year. At that meeting, we will discuss again some of the detail of how we might handle the reports publication. The report will be made to the Secretary of State, and he must first report to Parliament, which established the inquiry in the first place, but it is important that the families are not disadvantaged by the process of publication. They need to be able to comment, as everyone else will want to do, when it is published. Although we still have to work out the detail of that, the families have our assurance on that, and it will be repeated at the Secretary of States meeting in the new year.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): In relation to the Saville inquiry and the other ongoing inquiries, according to parliamentary replies that I have received in recent months the total cost for all the inquiries exceeds £3 million each and every month. Given the credit crunch in Northern Ireland and everywhere else in the United Kingdom, does the Minister agree that the time is fast approaching when we will have to draw a line under these inquiries and ensure that the resources are deployed where they can derive most benefit for the people of Northern Ireland?
Paul Goggins: Of course some inquiries into past events have been important for building confidence in the peace process, and we should not underestimate that. Indeed, the Saville inquiry is a case in point. It was important for the peace process that it was undertaken, but the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that huge amounts of money are involved. Under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Government moved to ensure that we have greater control over expenditure on inquiries. Every pound that is spent looking back into the past is a pound that is not being spent on the present or the future. I am sure that, as we move forward, the people and the politicians of Northern Ireland will want to focus on the path ahead and ensure that every available resource is spent on that.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): May I add my words of welcome on todays announcement to those of the Minister and express the hope that smooth progress will be made? To have a process is more important than to have a rigid timetable.
On the Saville inquiry, does the Minister agree that his comment that the further delay is disappointing is an understatement? Does he agree with the recent unanimous report of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs that there should be no more inquiries unless the parties in Northern Ireland collectively want to have them?
Paul Goggins: I welcome the hon. Gentlemans comments on todays announcement. He refers to a process. Of course, a process will enable confidence to be further strengthened, which is important, both in terms of the wider politics and policing.
I am not usually accused of underestimating in terms of my political comments or of being understated, but the hon. Gentleman has made his views clear. It is important that any future public inquiry into any aspect of life in Northern Ireland would have to have the assent of politicians in Northern Ireland, because that would be the only practical way to proceed. There have been occasions, even in the past few months, when Ministers in the devolved Administration have considered a public inquiry into other relevant events. That may be necessary, at some point, but of course those Ministers and the Assembly would need to be involved.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I reiterate concern not just about the delay to the Saville inquiry, but the enormous cost, which, as the Minister said, could be spent on other things? Will he confirm whether the Secretary of State met, or attempted to meet, Lord Saville to discuss the cost of the inquiry?
Paul Goggins: There have been discussions between Northern Ireland Office officials and the secretariat of the Saville inquiry to see what reductions in cost can be achieved over the period ahead, for the rest of the life of the inquiry. For example, we are considering a package of measures that would include the planned closure of the inquirys office in Derry[Hon. Members: Londonderry!] Derry this time, Londonderry next time. In any event, the important point is that the costs of that office will be scaled back and reduced. Other staffing costs will also be reduced. The Government are acting to ensure the minimum costs for the rest of the life of the inquiry. It is important that the inquiry is able to finish its job, not least, as my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle said, from the point of view of the needs of the families involved.
Part-time Police Reserve
2. Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): What progress he has made in considering an appropriate form of recognition for the part-time police reserve in Northern Ireland. 
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I have been giving this issue careful consideration for some time. As agreed at a meeting earlier this year with representatives of the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Association part-time officers welfare group, I have sought additional information from the Government Actuarys Department and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and I will consider a further report within the next few weeks.
Mr. Donaldson: I thank the Minister for his response. He wrote to me earlier this week along similar lines. Does he acknowledge that the part-time reserve lost a high number of its members53 part-time reservists killed on duty, 6 part-time officers killed off-duty and a further 13 former part-time reservists murdered after they had left the forcein proportion to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its sacrifice during the troubles? That is a significant proportion of the more than 300 RUC officers who were murdered during the course of the troubles, yet the Patten report failed to recognise the contribution of those part-time officers and, to date,
Paul Goggins: I certainly join the right hon. Gentleman in acknowledging the tremendous service and sacrifice that part-time officers have demonstrated over many difficult years in Northern Ireland. As he says, some of them paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives. I have given careful consideration to the matter. Clearly, there is a financial implication to any decision to reward financially the service that has been given. There are also other complexities in relation to the administration of any schemefor example, the costs to an individual of belonging to a pension scheme. Some of our calculations indicate that the costs of belonging to such a scheme might exceed the amount people would receive back from it. There are a range of complicating factors.
I have promised Ross Hussey, who represents the group that I met earlier in the year, that once I have all the information and am in the process of considering it, I will want to meet him and his colleagues againno doubt I shall also meet the right hon. Gentleman in due course. We are giving the matter careful consideration. It is important that a long-standing issue like this is properly resolved and that all the facts are properly considered.
3. Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the policing budget for Northern Ireland in 2008-09; and if he will make a statement. 
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|Prepared 19 November 2008