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The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the Saville inquiry was necessary to establish the truth and to redress the inadequacy of Lord Widgery's inquiry, which served only to deepen the sense of grievance, added to the pain of the families of those who died and were injured, outraged the community and prolonged the uncertainty hanging over the soldiers. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for reminding the House that the setting up of the Saville inquiry played a necessary part in the peace process. Does the Prime Minister agree
that, notwithstanding the considerable cost of this inquiry, its value cannot be overestimated in both seeking the truth and facilitating the peace process? Does he believe that Saville has now established the truth?
How the Government handle the report is of great importance, so I thank the Prime Minister for committing to seek a full day's parliamentary debate on it. Will he consider allowing for a period of time between the debate in each House, so that what is said in this House may be considered before the debate in the Lords? When will he be in a position to say what, if any, action will be taken in Government as a result of the findings of the Saville report? What will be the decision-making process, and will the process be as transparent as possible?
The Prime Minister must recognise that some will no doubt raise the possibility of prosecutions. The prosecution process is independent, but has he been asked to consider the question of immunity from prosecution if we are instead to take things forward by a wider process of reconciliation? Is the time now right to move towards a process for reconciliation, building on the work of the Consultative Group on the Past, chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley? Can there now be a comprehensive process of reconciliation to address the legacy issue of the troubles, such as that proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does the Prime Minister agree that that is what is now necessary?
The peace process is a great achievement by the people of Northern Ireland as well as by politicians. It is a process built on the value of fairness, equality, truth and justice. This House has played its part, not least in agreeing to the Saville inquiry. The Belfast agreement, the St Andrews agreement and, of course, this year's Hillsborough castle agreement are all great milestones on the path to a lasting peace. Does the Prime Minister agree that the completion of devolution just a few weeks ago is relatively new and fragile and still requires great care? Our response to Saville must be as measured as it is proportionate. We have sought the truth; now we must have understanding and reconciliation.
The Prime Minister: May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for what she has said? I do not think there are any significant divisions between us on this vital issue and, as she said, how we respond to this matters: it matters for the peace process, it matters for the families and it matters for our country. She is right that the value of this is getting to the truth. Of course we can argue about the process, the time and the money, but that is secondary to the issue of the substance, and the substance is about getting to the truth on this issue. The right hon. and learned Lady raised a number of specific questions, and I shall try to deal with them.
The idea of leaving a period of time between the debates in the Commons and the Lords is very sensible, and I will ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to look at that-although, of course, we are not responsible for timings in the Lords. In terms of the action the Government should take, I should point out that this report is 5,000 pages long; as the right hon. and
learned Lady has seen, it is the most enormous document, and it will take some time to go through all of it and identify all the points that need to be responded to. That will be led by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland. They will consider it and come to me with suggestions for what needs to be followed up, and I think we will have to see how others respond to this very full report too.
The right hon. and learned Lady raised the question of prosecution. She is right, of course, to say that these are decisions for the Director of Public Prosecutions to take in Northern Ireland and that should be entirely independent. On the issue of immunity, I am informed by the Advocate-General that the evidence given to the inquiry is subject to the undertaking given by the Attorney-General in February 1999
"that evidence given by witnesses to the Inquiry would not be used to the prejudice of that person in any criminal proceedings except proceedings where the witness is charged with giving false evidence."
The right hon. and learned Lady will know that we do not agree with some parts of the Eames-Bradley report, particularly the idea of universal recognition payments; we do not think it is right to treat terrorists and others in the same way. I think that it is right to use, as far as is possible, the Historical Enquiries Team to deal with the problems of the past and to avoid having more open-ended, highly costly inquiries, but of course we should look at each case on its merits. May I thank her again for the way in which she has responded to this important statement for Britain, for Northern Ireland and for a peaceful future for our country?
Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said, it is very important to have a measured and proportionate response to this report, both in this House and in Northern Ireland. Is it not, therefore, important that the leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the divide, show leadership in that respect? One thing that we do not want to do is see the Army return to the streets of Northern Ireland, and to avoid that situation coming about again we must have the correct response to this report. It will take time to digest, because it is 5,000 pages long and raises many issues. We have to look at this issue and the whole report, and we must do justice to it. That will take time and a reasoned approach.
The Prime Minister: First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on being elected as the Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs? He has had a long interest in this part of our United Kingdom, and I know that he will do an excellent job. The point he makes is entirely right: how we respond to this as party leaders-this applies to all parties-will make a huge difference to the way that this is seen and understood. It is a highly charged and highly emotional issue, even 38 years on, and in our response we have to be responsible for what we say and how we say it. I think that it is important that everyone recognises that.
Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab):
As the political development Minister in 1998, when this inquiry was started, I think that I was right in agreeing with it.
Having listened to the Prime Minister's statement, all of which I agree with, I believe that, despite the costs and the length of time, it was right for this report to come forward today, after all these years. Does the Prime Minister agree that the chief priority, still, for Northern Ireland is its peace process and that all parties in Northern Ireland must agree with that process and with the way we go forward? Will he undertake to take personal charge of ensuring that that peace process continues, despite what he rightly calls the "shocking" revelations of this report?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman served with great distinction as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I know his commitment to the Province and to the peace process. He is right to say that the peace process still needs to be given our priority. I was keen to get to every part of the United Kingdom within the first 10 days or so of becoming Prime Minister, and I did go to Northern Ireland, where I met party leaders, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree, as a former Secretary of State, that it is important for us to give responsibility to our Secretaries of State and to ensure that, in the first instance, they are leading the process and making sure that the peace process moves forward-it is moving forward. It has been challenged many times over the past decade, and I am sure that today will be another fresh challenge. But I hope that the way that people respond to this report will make sure that, as I said in my statement, we can draw an end to this very painful chapter in Northern Ireland's history.
Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): Every soldier should be responsible for what actions he takes through the sight of a gun and every officer must bear responsibility for individual orders that they give, as must members of the IRA and other terrorist organisations. What steps will the Prime Minister take to make sure that the Saville inquiry report is used to draw a line under the past and ensure that peace remains in Northern Ireland, and is not used as a tool for propaganda by politicians to hit each other over the head with?
The Prime Minister: First, I know that my hon. Friend served in Northern Ireland in the Army, and I pay tribute to that. I think that how people respond will be a matter for them. I cannot stop people-as he put it -hitting themselves or indeed even each other over the head with this report. What I hope can happen as a result of today, given the clarity of the report and the lack of equivocation, is that whatever side of the arguments or whatever side people have been on, they will be able to draw a line under what happened and recognise that very bad things happened on that day; it was not justified and it was not justifiable, and there is no point quibbling or arguing with that. As I said, of course people in Northern Ireland will go on looking back to the past, because of the painful memories and also because of the information that has not yet come out, but at the same time as doing that it must be possible to look to the future. In my view, Northern Ireland has a very bright future.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): May I thank the Prime Minister for his clear statement? From talking to representatives of the families a short while ago, I know that they would want to be associated with those thanks.
This is a day of huge moment and deep emotion in Derry. The people of my city did not just live through Bloody Sunday; they have lived with it since. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a day to receive and reflect on the clear verdicts of Saville, and not to pass party verdicts on Saville?
"despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday".
"none of the casualties...was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury."
"the British Army fired the first shots, these were not justified and none of the subsequent shots that killed or wounded"
anyone on Bloody Sunday "was justified." In rejecting so much of the soldiers' submissions and false accounts, the report highlights where victims were shot in the back or while crawling on the ground, or shot again when already wounded on the ground.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that each and every one of the victims-Bernard McGuigan, 41; Gerald Donaghey, 17; Hugh Gilmour, 17; John Duddy, 17; Gerard McKinney, 34; James Wray, 22; John Young, 17; Kevin McElhinney, 17; Michael Kelly, 17; Michael McDaid, 20; Patrick Doherty, 31; William McKinney, 27; William Nash, 19; and John Johnston, 59-are all absolutely and totally exonerated by today's report, as are all the wounded? These men were cut down when they marched for justice on their own streets. On that civil rights march, they were protesting against internment without trial, but not only were their lives taken, but their innocent memory was then interned without truth by the travesty of the Widgery tribunal. Will the Prime Minister confirm clearly that the Widgery findings are now repudiated and binned, and that they should not be relied on by anyone as giving any verdict on that day?
Sadly, only one parent of the victims has survived to see this day and hear the Prime Minister's open and full apology on the back of this important report. Lawrence McElhinney epitomises the dignity and determination of all the families who have struggled and strived to exonerate their loved ones and have the truth proclaimed.
"My heart besieged by anger, my mind a gap of danger,
I walked among their old haunts, the home ground where they bled;
And in the dirt lay justice, like an acorn in the winter
Till its oak would sprout in Derry where the thirteen men lay dead."
"Their epitaph is in the continuing struggle for democracy".
If today, as I sincerely hope it does, offers a healing of history in Derry and Ireland, may we pray that it also
speaks hope to those in other parts of the world who are burdened by injustice, conflict and the transgressions of unaccountable power?
The Prime Minister's welcome statement and the statement that will be made by the families on the steps of the Guildhall will be the most significant records of this day on the back of the report that has been published. However, perhaps the most important and poignant words from today will not be heard here or on the airwaves. Relatives will stand at the graves of victims and their parents to tell of a travesty finally arrested, of innocence vindicated and of promises kept, and as they do so, they can invoke the civil rights anthem when they say, "We have overcome. We have overcome this day."
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman spoke with great power and great emotion on behalf of his constituents and his city, and I would like to pay tribute to the way in which he did that, and to the service that he has given to them. He spoke about the healing of history, and I hope and believe that he will be right. I know that he represents many of the families who lost loved ones that day, and he has always fought for them in a way that is honourable and right, and has always, in spite of all the difficulties, stood up for the peace process and for peaceful means.
To answer the hon. Gentleman's specific questions, he is right that the Widgery report is now fully superseded by the Saville report; this is the report with the facts, the details and the full explanation of what happened, and it should be accepted as such. In terms of the people who were killed on that day, they were innocent of anything that justified them being shot; that is quite clear from the report. Let me read it again:
"none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting."
That is what Saville has found. I hope that that is some comfort to the families, and to the people in Londonderry who have suffered for so many years over the issue, and that, as the hon. Gentleman says, we can now draw a line, look to the future and build Northern Ireland as a prosperous part of the United Kingdom.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May I congratulate not only the Prime Minister but the Leader of the Opposition on their opening statements today, which, I have to say, were two of the most statesmanlike contributions I have heard on any subject in more than 13 years in this House?
On the question of possible prosecutions, may I draw to the House's attention one fact? There was a sniper on the IRA side who killed something like two dozen British soldiers, but who was arrested only a relatively short time before the Good Friday agreement was concluded. As a result of that man's conviction, he received a very long sentence, but served only a very short sentence. Should it not be borne in mind that that man, after all he did, is now out on the streets, a free man, before anybody starts calling for prosecutions of people, even though they did very wrong things a very long time ago?
The Prime Minister:
May I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the statements by me and the Leader of the Opposition? I know that he cares deeply about this issue, too. What I would say to him about the very
strong point that he makes is that the Good Friday agreement included clauses that were incredibly painful for people on all sides to cope with. The idea that someone who had murdered-and, as my hon. Friend said, murdered perhaps more than once-would serve only two years in prison was incredibly painful for people to understand, but these things had to be done to try to end the long-running conflict and to bring people to pursue their goals by peaceful means. That is what the peace process is about.
In terms of making a contrast between that and what soldiers have done, I am very clear that we should not try to draw an equivalence between what terrorists have done and what soldiers have done, because soldiers are operating under the law-operating for a Government. We should not draw equivalence. On the issue of prosecutions, I can only repeat what I said to the Leader of the Opposition, and I also make the point that it is important that I do not say anything today that would prejudice either a criminal prosecution or, indeed, a civil action, were one to be brought.
Let me end, again, on the point about the painful decisions that had to be made in the peace process. We all, particularly on the Conservative side of the House, know people who have been affected. The first person I ever wrote a speech for was Ian Gow, who was murdered by the IRA. It is incredibly painful and difficult for people to put behind them what happened in the past, but we have to if we are to make the peace process work.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and of course it will take some time fully to divulge the contents of the Saville inquiry. The events of 30 January will live with the surviving relatives for the rest of their lives. Thousands of other surviving relatives have had to do likewise. They have had no costly inquiries and no media interest, and there have been 10,000 other bloody days in Northern Ireland's recent history. Murder and mayhem were caused by the Provisional IRA in the days, weeks and months before Bloody Sunday. Indeed, the two police officers whom the Prime Minister mentioned were murdered in the immediate vicinity of the march just three days before that march. I am glad the Prime Minister mentioned them today on the Floor of the House, because Lord Saville did not. That is an unfortunate and deeply regrettable omission.
We did not need a £200 million inquiry to establish that there was no premeditated plan to shoot civilians on that day. We did not need a report of such length to tell us that as a result of IRA actions before Bloody Sunday, parts of the city "lay in ruins". Many have said that the difference between Bloody Sunday and the other atrocities that I have alluded to was that Bloody Sunday was carried out by state forces, whereas other murders were carried out by terrorists.
There has been no similar inquiry into the financing of the Provisional IRA at the inception of that organisation by another state-the Irish Republic. That Irish state acted as a midwife at the birth of an organisation responsible for murdering many thousands of UK citizens.
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