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20 Feb 2008 : Column 337

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I am advised that the Bloody Sunday inquiry has so far cost £181 million and that approximately half of that has been spent on legal services.

Mr. Howarth: The Secretary of State should be ashamed to put that grotesque figure before the House. Is it not the case that nothing better demonstrates the Prime Minister’s twisted sense of priorities than the farce of the Saville inquiry, which is now threatening to outrun “The Mousetrap”? Would it not have been better to have spent this nearly £200 million on giving our armed forces the equipment they need, rather than lining the pockets of lawyers?

Mr. Woodward: I understand the excitement that the hon. Gentleman wishes to generate on this issue, but a little less heat and little more light would be appropriate. First of all, it is essential to separate the cost of this inquiry from its value. The decision to hold the inquiry was absolutely critical to engaging Northern Ireland on the peaceful, prosperous and stable path on which it now lies. Costs are, of course, an issue, which is why the Government introduced the Inquiries Act 2005 and why new inquiries are being held under that Act. The Saville inquiry was established under terms before the Inquiry Act, and although we have done what we can to try to control costs, those costs are a matter for the inquiry rather than for the Government, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. He should be careful not to twist the facts and distort the issue, which runs the risk of trampling on the sensitivities of the families who lost their loved ones.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): I totally agree with the Secretary of State that it is important to try to get— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the hon. Gentleman speak.

Mr. Davies: It is important to try to reach an agreed view of the facts, if that is at all possible, but saying that this inquiry has up to now been conducted in a time-consuming, leisurely and unbusinesslike fashion would surely be an understatement. Will the Government introduce some new disciplines—financial disciplines—that those concerned will understand to ensure a greater degree of urgency and focus as the inquiry proceeds?

Mr. Woodward: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to distinguish the value of the inquiry from the cost. Members are also right to want to ask questions about the cost of the legal claims behind the inquiry. However, the legislation establishing the Bloody Sunday inquiry gives the Government no statutory powers to control costs. We have done what we can. We introduced rates for counsel and solicitors in 2004, and I have made representations to Lord Saville, but I am afraid that this remains a matter for him and for the inquiry.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Secretary of State talks about value. He has told the House that more than £181 million has been spent on the inquiry. Has he considered two points? First, the inquiry will not bring closure. Relatives have already said that they want prosecutions to follow the expenditure of that £181 million. Secondly, the inquiry
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will not bring back to life the loved ones—more than 2,000 people—of relatives who have already not seen closure. That issue remains unresolved.

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As he says, this process will not bring closure of the issues raised; it will simply produce a conclusion to an inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday. As for all the families who have lost loved ones, it must be said that it is unrealistic to imagine that there will be an inquiry about the people—up to 4,000—who were murdered during the course of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The work done by the consultation group on the past, chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, is extremely important in helping us to establish whether we can find a way of dealing with the past that does not involve spending hundreds of millions of pounds on inquiries. Those inquiries have mattered until now, and of course they matter to those who have lost loved ones, but we do not think that they will bring closure to all the families who have suffered such terrible tragedy.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does the Secretary of State recognise the compound hurt of Bloody Sunday, caused not just by the deaths that day but by the travesty of the Widgery tribunal, which erected lies on stilts and interned the memory of innocent people without truth? The reliance of so many people on Widgery as the true verdict on what happened that day is what necessitated a new inquiry. Can the Secretary of State tell us by how much the legal costs were inflated by the chicane of legal challenges to the Saville inquiry from the military and related interests, and will he tell us what consideration he—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The supplementary question is far too long.

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need to establish the Saville inquiry, and the important role that it has played over the last few years in building confidence in all communities that the justice system will be fair and ensure parity across the board. This is a sensitive issue and I cannot give him answers to his specific legal questions, but he may wish to write to Lord Saville himself.

South Armagh

6. Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the security situation in south Armagh. [186574]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The security situation in south Armagh is being transformed. Police today operate without military support and enjoy unprecedented co-operation from the local community, especially with Sinn Fein joining both the Policing Board and district policing partnerships.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does the Secretary of State agree that in spite of those welcome developments and the increasing co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana there are
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still real worries in south Armagh? Is he not disturbed, as I am, that no one has yet been arrested for the murder of Paul Quinn?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman is right about the concern that exists in south Armagh, throughout Northern Ireland and throughout the whole United Kingdom, and indeed in the Republic of Ireland, about the murder of Paul Quinn. We all want to see those responsible for that murder brought to justice. However, let me repeat to him what the district commander of south Armagh told my hon. Friend the Minister of State this morning during a conversation about the issue. The situation in south Armagh is improving. The communities are showing a greater engagement with the police in helping with all inquiries. Let me give just one example: the fact that today we see the police being invited into schools in Crossmaglen is a huge step forward. Notwithstanding the savage, brutal murder of Paul Quinn, we must not lose sight of the progress that is being made.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): The Independent Monitoring Commission and the Chief Constable have acknowledged that the dissident republican groups in south Armagh and throughout Northern Ireland pose a major threat. We send troops across the world with a determined goal of crushing terrorism. When will the Government do that in Northern Ireland? Are we consigned to another 30 years of this activity because of a dissident threat from republicanism?

Mr. Woodward: This Government are absolutely determined to bear down on terrorism wherever it happens. We continue to bear down on all paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, and we will work closely with the police forces in Northern Ireland and in the Republic to ensure that those who pose a threat—it is a small but none the less significant threat—to the lives of ordinary people will be dealt with. We will bring them to justice as soon as we can.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [186507] Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 20 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Corporal Damian Lawrence of 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday evening. We owe him, and others who have lost their lives, a deep debt of gratitude.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

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Miss Begg: I am sure the whole House will wish to add their condolences to those of the Prime Minister.

The fact that Labour Members welcome the decision to bring Northern Rock into public ownership may not come as a surprise. It was the right decision at the right time. However, given that the public purse is now to bear the risk of Northern Rock, can my right hon. Friend give my constituents the guarantee that when Northern Rock goes back into private ownership all the returns will come back to the taxpayer?

The Prime Minister: Yes, the benefits will return to the taxpayer. I welcome the chance to explain the background to how we will deal with the long-term interests of the taxpayer. Our first decision on Northern Rock was to ensure the stability of the economy, to prevent the problems at Northern Rock from spreading to the rest of the economy in a period of global financial turbulence—that has been achieved. Our second decision was to protect depositors—that has been achieved. Our third decision was to protect the long-term interests of the taxpayer. That is why it was right to invite bids from all quarters, to examine them thoroughly and to make the right decision on the basis of the long-term interests of taxpayers. That is why we will return Northern Rock from temporary public ownership to the private sector only when we can get the best deal for the taxpayer. Stability is our watchword. The interests of taxpayers will come first.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): First, may I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Damian Lawrence, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday? He died serving our country. May I also take the opportunity to wish the Prime Minister a happy 57th birthday? [Interruption.] Enough of that.

In January last year, the Government were sent details of 4,000 dangerous foreign criminals and for an entire year they did absolutely nothing with that information. Can the Prime Minister explain how such a catastrophic failure to protect the public took place?

The Prime Minister: The Attorney-General has asked the Crown Prosecution Service to conduct an inquiry into this matter. A request was made by the Dutch authorities for us to look through our DNA records. Some 4,000 names were put to us by the Dutch, and 11 cases have been discovered as a result of the investigation. The inquiry will cover all the details of what happened. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that it was possible for the Dutch to ask us to look at our DNA records only because we are keeping full DNA records. The Conservatives opposed that legislation.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister tells us that there is an inquiry, but there always is an inquiry with this Government—frequently it is a police inquiry. The Prime Minister is somehow pretending that the fact that 4,000 details were left on a civil servant’s desk for a year was a triumph of Government policy. I must ask some simple questions. He has told us about 11 criminals who have committed crimes in Britain this year. Can he tell us what crimes they committed?

The Prime Minister: The crimes, as I understand it, were assault and non-payment of fines. Those are the crimes that have been identified. The full report will reveal the final details, but I must ask the right hon.
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Gentleman again whether he now supports DNA being kept by the Government. The Conservatives voted against the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Dutch would not have asked us for those details had we not had the DNA, but the right hon. Gentleman was against that measure.

Mr. Cameron: As ever, the Prime Minister is completely wrong. The first DNA legislation was passed when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary and I was working for him. I seem to remember— [ Interruption. ] Let us be clear: if the Government had acted on the information, crimes could have been prevented. As the Prime Minister said, some of those crimes were serious violent assaults. Why are the Government so incompetent when it comes to processing information about criminals? They failed to deport the foreign criminals; they failed to process the details of 30,000 British citizens who committed crimes overseas; and now we know that information about serious crimes sat on a desk in Whitehall for a year and nothing was done. Should not people conclude that this incompetent Government simply cannot keep them safe?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong about the deportation of foreign criminals. Two years ago, only 1,500 were deported. Last year, as a result of the action that we have taken, 4,200 were deported. We are now signing agreements with Jamaica and Nigeria, and I have raised the matter with China and Vietnam, so that we can deport foreign criminals. No records of the deportation of foreign criminals were kept under the Conservatives; we have deported 4,200.

I come back to the central question. We have tightened up the law on DNA and that is why the Dutch authorities want the information from us. The right hon. Gentleman opposed that legislation. Has he now changed his mind?

Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend create a badge of honour for the women Spitfire pilots of the second world war and their male colleagues in the Air Transport Auxiliary, who came from 28 countries to ferry more than 300,000 aircraft to front-line airfields during this country’s direst hour of need?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has mounted a successful campaign to raise the issue of the women Spitfire pilots in particular. We now have medals for those people who are veterans of the war and for those who served in the Land Army. It is right in my view that we have recognition for the women Spitfire pilots who did so much to protect and defend the Royal Air Force and other military services, and we will go ahead with his proposal for a medal for those people.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I wish to add my own expressions of condolence and sympathy to the family and friends of Corporal Damian Lawrence.

This being the Prime Minister’s birthday, I welcome his belated acceptance of the advice from the Liberal Democrats that the temporary nationalisation of Northern Rock was the only workable option available
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to him, although he now seems to be jeopardising the interests of British taxpayers all over again by hiving off the bank’s best assets elsewhere. Will he now admit that if he had acted sooner he could have saved the taxpayer the tens of millions of pounds frittered away on bidders’ costs and prevented the untold damage done to this country’s reputation as a world financial centre?

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition for their best wishes on my birthday.

I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the question of Northern Rock, which the Leader of the Opposition was reticent to raise, given that his party has six policies on the issue and has now decided on the worst possible option. As far as the Liberal Democrats’ policy is concerned, we were right to look at all possible options and we were right to invite private buyers to make offers. Because we will be subject to legal action, we were right to look in detail at every possible bid, and we were right to draw the conclusion, after considering every possible bid, that the temporary public ownership of Northern Rock was the best way forward. As far as Granite is concerned, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it will not affect the sale of Northern Rock to a private buyer.

Mr. Clegg: Well, we might agree about the economically illiterate proposals from the Conservative party, but we disagree on why it took the Prime Minister so long to act on Northern Rock. Will he now agree to act in following our lead more urgently on another issue—namely, the scandalous profiteering by UK energy companies at a time when 25,000 people are predicted to die from the cold this winter alone? Does he realise those companies stand to make a £9 billion windfall profit from the European emissions trading scheme? Does he agree that that excess profit, equivalent to about £360 for every British family in this country, should be handed back to the neediest customers through lower energy prices?

The Prime Minister: I stress to the right hon. Gentleman that we were right to look at all possible options for Northern Rock before we took the decision that we did. If we had not done that, we would be subject to even greater legal action for not looking rigorously at all options. As far as energy is concerned, let me say that we are looking at the advice of the director general of Ofgem on that very matter. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that it was the Labour Government who introduced the winter allowance, which is helping thousands of elderly people. It was the Labour Government who raised it to £300 for the over- 80s. It was the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party who opposed the winter allowance.

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