19 Nov 2008 : Column 217

19 Nov 2008 : Column 217

House of Commons

Wednesday 19 November 2008

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Private Business

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No.2) Bill [ Lords]



Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [ Lords]



Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

Broads Authority Bill


Ordered ,

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Saville Inquiry

1. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What his most recent estimate is of the cost of the Saville inquiry; and if he will make a statement. [235738]

19 Nov 2008 : Column 218

4. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): How much has been spent on the Saville inquiry to date; and how much has been spent on (a) solicitors and (b) counsel. [235742]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The cost of the inquiry to date is £185 million. Almost £100 million has been spent on legal costs. I am informed that £41 million has been spent on solicitors and £54 million on counsel for interested parties and the Ministry of Defence.

Tony Baldry: It is good news that self-rule in Northern Ireland is back on track and that Northern Ireland is able to move forward, but does not the Saville inquiry drag Northern Ireland backwards? It was not part of the Good Friday agreement—it was a deal cobbled together between Blair and Sinn Fein. When will Northern Ireland be able to move forward instead of being constantly drawn back to revisit its history?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman raises a question that several hon. Members have raised. He is right to ask about the difference between being able to move forward and being held in the grip of the past. However, I remind him that the Saville inquiry was an essential part of building public confidence in both communities at the time that it was set up. It was envisaged that it would take two years, but it has taken more than 10. It was envisaged that it would cost some £11 million, and we are all staggered by the figure of £185 million. I share the disappointment of hon. Members that Lord Saville has written to me requesting a further year before he is able to publish, but I invite them to recognise that the greatest disappointment of all is felt by the families who have been through huge distress in the course of this inquiry and, like all of us, still seek the truth about that tragic day in 1972.

Mr. Howarth: Will the Secretary of State accept that if Lord Saville finds in favour of the Paras, some of whom are my constituents, he will be accused of a whitewash? If he finds against them, that will not be the end of the matter, because the nationalists will call for trials and compensation, further prolonging the dreadful state of affairs to which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) has alluded. Surely there can be no winners from this obscene waste of public money?

Mr. Woodward: We should all be careful about jumping to conclusions about what Lord Saville’s report will say. It is unfair and a mistake to describe this as an “obscene” inquiry, because at the time it was set up the then Prime Minister made it very clear that, since the original report on the events of 1972, there were new eyewitness accounts, new interpretations of ballistic material, new medical evidence and a substantial dossier gathered by the families—produced a year before the inquiry was set up. He also said that it was appropriate for public confidence to have a proper independent inquiry without any preconditions to the outcome, so that the truth could be established and told. None of us should be afraid of establishing the truth, and we should be prepared to work with the truth, not run away from it.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Does not the vast part of the legal bills date from challenges prior to the setting up of the inquiry? Can the Secretary of State assure me that the families directly affected will be given the support that they need?

19 Nov 2008 : Column 219

Mr. Woodward: My hon. Friend raises a number of very important points about legal costs, judicial reviews and funding for the families at the time of publication. It is important, in recognising the importance of establishing this inquiry for the sake of public confidence, that when the report is published it should be published fairly and everybody who is mentioned in it should be given adequate time to prepare for what might be said. Delays are one of the major reasons costs are incurred in such inquiries. Whether we are talking about Saville or any of the other reviews that have been established, every time there is a judicial review, those who are on retainers, who are in office buildings or who are leasing and renting equipment continue to be paid. Unfortunately, no work can be done on the inquiry while a judicial review, which can last many months, is under way.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): When the Saville inquiry was first announced, some of us warned that it would be a massive drain on public finance, that it could drag on and that the same politicians who asked for it would dismiss its findings. Is the Secretary of State in the least surprised that we were correct? Why has Lord Saville asked for the inquiry to be extended for a year?

Mr. Woodward rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The question about cost is legitimate—that is fine—but the matter of what Lord Saville seeks to do is sub judice and we should be careful about how we discuss it.

Mr. Woodward: I recognise that at the time concerns were expressed by the hon. Gentleman and his party about the inquiry. Again, I remind him of what the then Prime Minister said at the time about the importance of being prepared to examine the truth. I remind him that we should have nothing to fear from the emergence of the truth. I believe that the work that Lord Saville and the other judges have done on the inquiry will, when it is published, allow us truly to say that we have had an opportunity to revisit and re-examine—in so far as it will ever be possible, as it is now 36 years since the event itself—the tragic events of that day and to find a way to come to terms with those events, allowing Northern Ireland to move from the grip of the past into a future that I hope will continue to be peaceful and prosperous.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept—I shall not ask him to go into detail—that many of us find it incomprehensible that Lord Saville wants another year? Does he also agree with the recent unanimous recommendations made by the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs that no further inquiries should be established unless all the parties in Northern Ireland want them?

Mr. Woodward: I welcome the Chairman of the Select Committee’s interest in this matter. I want to put on the record my thanks to him and to his Committee for the exemplary work that they have done in looking not only into this matter but at the past and at how Northern Ireland might be able to deal with its past. It is extremely important that we have an independent group such as the Select Committee that can ask such questions.

19 Nov 2008 : Column 220

These public inquiries are an important part of seeking the truth. I would not want to anticipate whether it is appropriate to hold such inquiries. The value of the inquiries is in their independence, and while we should seek to control the unit costs, we should not seek to prevent the independence of the inquiry. Perhaps a lesson for the House might be that inquiries should be independent but that we should be very cautious about establishing them simply as a matter of course.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on the news that the Executive will be sitting on Thursday and on successive Thursdays until it clears the backlog. Her Majesty’s Opposition are pleased that politicians in Northern Ireland will be working for the people of Northern Ireland and using the institutions to their benefit.

On Saville, the relatives of the victims were dismayed last week to learn of a further delay to the inquiry. Many taxpayers will be astonished at the Secretary of State’s reply to me this week that the final cost will be £191 million. What powers does the Secretary of State have to bring the inquiry to a speedy conclusion?

Mr. Woodward: First, let us recognise the importance of yesterday’s historic announcement. I think that we will have an opportunity in a later question to refer to that.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment, but I say to all hon. Members that there is an important balance to be struck between maintaining an inquiry’s independence and compromising it. As Secretary of State, I of course have an interest in this matter, but I do not have the power to tell the judge to publish his report on such and such a date, precisely because it must be in the hands of an inquiry to determine when its work has come to an end.

The hon. Gentleman in effect quoted from the judge’s letter to the families, but he did not refer to the final part of that letter. I remind him that the judge pointed out that

Mr. Paterson: But to everyone outside the House, 10 years and £191 million seem incomprehensible. With due respect to the concept of the separation of powers, this is an inquiry and not a court case. Given the extraordinary length and cost, would the right hon. Gentleman consider legislating to fix a deadline and a limit on further expenditure?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but I suggest that he talk to some of his colleagues on the shadow Front Bench. When the Bill that became the Inquiries Act 2005 was going through the House, the shadow Solicitor-General was sitting where the hon. Gentleman is sitting now. He expressed concerns about the Bill’s original drafting, precisely because it

19 Nov 2008 : Column 221

Political and Economic Developments

2. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effects on the economy of Northern Ireland of the fact that the Northern Ireland Executive have not met recently. [235739]

5. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What assessment he has made of recent political developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [235743]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The agreement reached between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on the devolution of policing and justice is indeed historic because the arrangements have been made not by the two Governments but by the parties themselves. The immediate consequence of the agreement is that the Executive, who have not met since June, will now meet weekly. I am sure that the House will want to join me in congratulating the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on finding a way through the deadlock and putting in place an agreement that would facilitate the transfer of policing and justice powers.

Christopher Fraser: I welcome yesterday’s positive announcement about the Executive, but will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that businesses in Northern Ireland, like businesses in the rest of the UK, receive help with the burden of taxation without delay, a sympathetic deal from the banking industry and relief from over-regulation to see them through these turbulent economic times?

Mr. Woodward: Of course, many of these matters are now devolved but, that said, we absolutely recognise the need to help all parts of the UK through the downturn. Through the work that the Prime Minister is leading, we of course intend to make sure that Northern Ireland has its fair share of anything that we are able to do. As Secretary of State, I stand ready to meet and work with Ministers in Northern Ireland to ensure that we do all that we can to mitigate the effects of the downturn.

Mr. Bone: It is extremely good news that the Executive are going to meet tomorrow, but does the Secretary of State think that any lessons have been learned from the 152 days of deadlock so that it will not be repeated?

Mr. Woodward: I think that huge lessons can be learned, in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. This is about the importance of equality, respect and trust, and of building a relationship. During those very difficult months, the problem was that there was a breakdown of trust between the parties. Equally, however, in the past few weeks we have seen an extraordinary act of leadership by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. They have acted to establish trust so that they can work faithfully together to build an agreement. I believe that that understanding will serve as a firm foundation for complete devolution, and that it will ensure that Northern Ireland’s prosperity is guaranteed.

19 Nov 2008 : Column 222

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the astute way in which he supported the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in reaching this important agreement—a relief to me, as I promised to be the last direct rule Secretary of State. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the process will take time? It was envisaged not that there would be a big bang devolution of policing and justice, but that it would be phased. That will now occur speedily, and relatively soon there will be progress towards that objective.

Mr. Woodward: Once more, I take an opportunity to place on record not only our thanks, but, I think, the thanks of all politicians in Northern Ireland for the work of my right hon. Friend. He helped to steer the parties to the St. Andrews agreement, which allowed the two Governments to provide and reach a framework within which the institutions could be restored. On the basis of that agreement, it was possible yesterday to produce the historic agreement by the First and Deputy First Ministers that will allow devolution to be completed. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise, however, the need for all of us to continue to support the Government in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can. Even if there are setbacks in the months to come, we remain resolved, and the Prime Minister remains resolved, to provide every help we can to ensure the completion of devolution.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): May I assure my right hon. Friend that we are fully cognisant of the enormous contribution made by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to yesterday’s important agreement? However, we also pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend’s predecessor in forging that agreement, and in particular to my right hon. Friend’s personal success in pulling it off yesterday.

Mr. Woodward: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks and I will share them with my colleagues.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): One of the lessons of this week is that we should stand up to unacceptable demands by Sinn Fein, and we hope that everyone will learn that lesson. Does the Secretary of State agree that the economy can benefit from Northern Ireland, not only from the Executive meeting tomorrow but from their meeting regularly to discuss matters that are pre-eminent in the minds of the local community—business, the economy, health and sport? All those matters need to be dealt with now and on an ongoing basis. Policing and justice should be dealt with where my party has always said it should—in the Assembly on an ongoing basis, until we reach a conclusion of the matter.

Next Section Index Home Page