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"was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury",
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman rightly speaks with great power and emotion about how people on all sides in Northern Ireland have suffered, and people in the community that he represents have suffered particularly badly. Some horrific things have happened to people completely unconnected with politics-people who are innocent on every single level-and there is nothing that you can do to explain to someone who lost a loved one in that way that there is any logic, fairness or sense in that loss. The hon. Gentleman asks how we try to achieve closure on such matters. There is no easy way, but we have the Historical Enquiries Team, which goes through case after case, and if it finds the evidence, prosecutions can take place.
I hope that the inquiry report published today will give some closure to those families from Londonderry, but one way for families who have suffered to gain more closure about the past is for terrorists or former terrorists to come forward and give information about those crimes. However, in the end, we have to move forward and we have to accept that dreadful things happened. We do not want to return to those days, and that
sometimes means-as he and I know-burying very painful memories about the past so that we can try to build a future.
David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister recall that in the last Stormont elections the single biggest issue by a long way for both sides of the community was water charges and rates? Does not that demonstrate that in many ways the majority of the people of Northern Ireland have already moved on from the troubles that dominated so much of the past? Is it not important that on a day like today, when emotions will understandably run high, we do not lose sight of the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland are today concerned about the same issues about which his constituents and my constituents are concerned? That is a good thing and it represents progress.
The Prime Minister: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the great prizes of the peace process would be for Northern Ireland to experience politics in the same way as the rest of us in the United Kingdom where it is about knocking on doors and talking about the health service, schools and water rates. That is what politics should be about, and there is a chance of that happening. It was great to go to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister without the normal security paraphernalia that previous visits involved, so we are making progress. That is what politics in Northern Ireland should become. The more that happens, the more people will find it unthinkable to go back to the days that came before.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Thirty-eight years is too long for any bereaved family to wait for justice and today's report is a historic step on the long road to permanent peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Does the Prime Minister agree that today's report will be welcomed by the families who have campaigned for so long for justice for the 13 men and boys who died on that day?
The Prime Minister: I hope that the families will welcome the report, and I know that they are gathered in Derry today. I know that they will have been watching our proceedings and will have read the report-they had access to it in advance of its publication. As I have said, nothing that anyone can write or say will bring back those who were killed, but I was very struck by a remark by one of the relatives, quoted in a newspaper this morning, that the truth can help to set you free. If you have been living with something for 38 years without any answers, the answers do not end the grief, but they do give you a chance to learn what happened and therefore bring some closure to those dreadful events.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP):
Following the eloquent contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), one wishes that on a day such as today the House had time to hear the names of everybody who died in tragic circumstances in Northern Ireland. It has been said that this report could lead to closure and cleansing, but it is difficult to see how that could happen if this report is used as a springboard for more years of agitation about prosecutions over events that happened 38 years ago. If
there are prosecutions, presumably they might include prosecution for the possession of illegal firearms, for example.
Would it not be a true testament to all this if the Prime Minister were to announce today that the HET, which he has mentioned on several occasions, will be given anything like the same level of funding given to this inquiry? The HET has been grossly underfunded compared to this inquiry. The thousands of other victims who demand justice are looking to the HET and other such forums to achieve it. Will he today guarantee that the same emphasis will be given to those victims as has been given to innocent people otherwise?
The Prime Minister: I hope that the report will not be used as a springboard for further inquiries or action. It is supposed to help by delivering the truth and helping to achieve closure-that is what it should be about. The hon. Gentleman asked about the Historical Enquiries Team, the funding of which, as he knows, is about £34 million-much less than the cost of the Saville inquiry. However, I think that everyone accepts that the cost of that inquiry was huge-£100 million was spent on lawyers alone. While acknowledging, as I have done, that it is a full, clear and unequivocal-and, in that respect, a good-report, I am sure that even the former Government would have recognised that lessons needed to be learned about cost control. That is why there was the Inquiries Act 2005 to replace the 1921 arrangements. The issue of the HET is now a devolved issue, and I would add that in opposition we supported the generous funding settlement for the devolved Administration to cover such areas.
Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Speaking as someone of Northern Irish heritage and representing a constituency with large numbers of the Irish diaspora, I welcome the publication-finally-and clarity of the Saville report. I also thank the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) for the moving way in which they addressed the House today. However, although the report has clarity, does the Prime Minister agree that there are times when truth and justice do not necessarily go together?
The Prime Minister: I echo what the hon. Lady said about the Members who have spoken today. On truth and justice going together, without wanting to write a whole essay, it seems to me that a very important part of the justice that people in Northern Ireland seek is having the truth about what happened out in the open. People in the city of Londonderry want that transparency and accountability, and many Democratic Unionist Members want the same for their constituents who have suffered in the same way. Having the truth out about what happened does not bring back relatives and loved-ones, but it at least enables people to understand what happened; and it enables prosecutions to be brought forward, if that is the right thing to do. However, I repeat that it must be for independent prosecuting authorities to take those decisions-we must not get into a situation where politicians nudge the prosecuting authorities in one direction or another in that sort of way.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Like the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), I hope that this is the end of a matter that has bedevilled and poisoned Northern Ireland's politics for so long. However, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity and dismiss completely, from the Dispatch Box, claims by commentators that this inquiry has been a war crimes tribunal, and that the people in the dock have been the British citizens of Northern Ireland? Such a shameful slur on us citizens is intolerable and wrong, and serves only to perpetuate that poison through the veins of the body politic in Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, can the Prime Minister be less ambiguous on the matter of future inquiries? He said in his statement that there will be no more costly inquiries, but in answer to the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), he said that he cannot rule out all inquiries. Which is it to be? If we cannot rule out all inquiries, there are 211 RUC officers who have been murdered and their killers have never been brought to justice, and there has been no inquiry into those murders. Indeed, more than 3,000 people killed in Northern Ireland have not yet had justice. What is it going to be?
The Prime Minister: First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place in the House. He is right: this is not, as he said, a war crimes tribunal-that would be an appalling thing to say-but an inquiry into what happened. It is an inquiry to get to the truth of the events of that day and the events surrounding it. I meant what I said about no more costly open-minded inquiries. We should not have more open-ended and costly inquiries. I want to support the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. That is the right way to go about things. Of course, we can never say never about any other form of inquiry, however big or small, but my strong intention is to use the Historical Enquiries Team process to get to the bottom of the events of the past. That is the right way to go about things.
I know that this is probably unparliamentary, but may I welcome the other Ian Paisley, who is in the Gallery and whom we remember so fondly sitting in this House? Let me just say this. Everyone has had to take big risks for peace in Northern Ireland, and no more so than the Big Man, as they like to call him. We should all recognise that people in this process have known so many victims of terrorism and so much suffering, and everyone has had to take risks and make movements in order to bring the peace process about, and that will continue to be true. Even today, as we remember the painful memories of the past, we still have to say, "Yes, I remember those things-I don't forget them for a second-but that doesn't mean we don't work together for a shared future for Northern Ireland."
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):
I wish particularly to thank the Prime Minister for his frank apology on behalf of the Government and the people of this country. I think that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) will accept that that will in some way be a salve for the people in the Bloody Sunday incident and the families of the dead. However, does the Prime Minister accept that unless people can see the names and know the people who carried out the acts, for many of the families there may not be a way of putting the incident behind them, as I found out from
my contact with the families of those who were killed in McGurk's bar? I hope that he will consider that, not in terms of what will happen with the prosecutions or anything else, but because people must know who carried out those acts.
Finally, will the Prime Minister look in the longer term at the role of the intelligence forces in possibly preconditioning people in the armed forces for what happened on Bloody Sunday? Those dark forces are clearly at work in the British Army, and we must not allow them to hide.
The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's description of "dark forces" in the armed forces. The report is clear that there was no conspiracy-there was no premeditation, there was no plan, and it is not right to say that there was. He should read the summary of the report and what it says about not just the politicians, but the senior officers who were involved. That is important.
Let me address the hon. Gentleman's other point. As for the anonymity of the soldiers, that was part of the Saville process and what was agreed in order that the evidence should be given and the truth should be got at. Let me say this about apologies, because I know that some people are-in some ways, I think, rightly-cynical about politicians standing up and apologising for things that happened when they were five years old. I do not do so in any way lightly; it just seems to me that it is clear that what happened was wrong-that what the soldiers did was wrong-and that the Government should take responsibility. The Government of that day are no longer around, so it falls to the Government of this day to make that apology. I do not believe in casting back into history and endlessly doing that, but on this occasion it is absolutely clear that it is the right thing to do.
Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): As a former soldier who served in Northern Ireland, I found today's statement a difficult one to listen to. Listening to it was nearly as difficult as watching mass murderers leave prison free or watching some very interesting people come to power in Northern Ireland, but those are all things that we did to facilitate peace and reconciliation. There is a possibility of revenge taking over from justice in this case, so we must ensure that we get the balance right and continue to pursue peace and reconciliation.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. Today's statement is a difficult statement: it was a difficult statement to make and a difficult statement to listen to, because it contains some uncomfortable truths for people who, like me, are deeply patriotic, love the British Army, love what it stands for, revere what it has done down the ages and have seen what it does in Afghanistan. It is incredibly painful to say what has been said today, but we do not serve the Army if we do not say it.
I mentioned Ian Gow, who was the first MP I ever worked for. I also think of Airey Neave, the first MP to represent me, who was blown up in the precincts of this Palace by Irish terrorists. This is incredibly painful, but my hon. Friend is right: we have to make these leaps in order to make the peace process work. I think that former soldiers will understand that the service they gave in Northern Ireland is worth more now that they
can see peace and peaceful progress. In a way, that is what it was all about, difficult as it was. I had Martin McGuinness sitting opposite me at the Cabinet table in No. 10 Downing street; it was difficult, but it was right, because peace is so much better than the alternatives.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the statements that they have made today and, indeed, for the apologies that they have given on behalf of the present Government and of the Opposition? The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that there cannot be costly inquiries of this kind in the future, but does he also agree that there can be no more whitewashes such as Widgery, when inquiries into these incidents take place? Finally, does he agree that it is essential for all of us, as politicians and leaders, in responding to the inquiry, to pursue truth and reconciliation rather than blame and recrimination?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right about the inquiries. Standing back from it all, however, I would say that we can take some pride-as can the former Government-in the fact that, in the end, the British state has gone to huge lengths to get to the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday, and that an earlier report from an earlier inquiry has effectively been laid aside and replaced by a much fuller and clearer one. Not many states in the world would do that, and I think that we should see it as a sign of strength that we have done it.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): May I also thank the Prime Minister for the painful honesty of his statement? I salute him for that. In respect of the families, he is absolutely right to talk about issues of redress being for another time. However, this is a very raw day for the families. Will he assure the House that he, his Government and the Northern Ireland Office are doing everything possible to provide advice, assistance and access to those friends, families and neighbours who have never forgotten what happened in 1972 but who are today being reminded almost unbearably of it?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It has been a difficult day for the families; it has been a difficult 38 years for them. We thought very carefully about this, and we wanted to build on the arrangements that were put in place by the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) when he was Northern Ireland Secretary to ensure that the families could see the report some hours in advance of its publication today, and in a way in which all their needs would properly be met, because this is an incredibly stressful document for them to read. I pay tribute to the former Northern Ireland Secretary for what he did to put those arrangements in place, and to my right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for what he has done to build on them, as well as for meeting the families, as he has done, and for offering to meet them again in the future, which he will also do.
Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op):
I welcome the Prime Minister's statement and, particularly, his commitment to a day's debate on the report in the autumn. May I urge him and his Cabinet
colleagues, between now and the autumn, to encourage everyone to consider the report, and the issues that it raises for all communities, reflectively and with maturity, so that we can get the benefit of all the efforts that have gone into producing it?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I can do that. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which is that people will want to study the report in detail. The scale of it is enormous. I have brought in only one of the eight or ten volumes-
The Prime Minister: This is just one of the 10 volumes that have been published today. People will want to take time to read them. In a way, I am sorry that the debate is not until the autumn, but it is probably right to give the Government, the families and others time to assess what is in the report and to come back with sensible proposals, where necessary, on how to deal with them.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you aware that the report that we have just discussed is not available to Members of the House? Would it not be appropriate, if we are to have a proper debate on the matter, to have full copies of the report distributed to us?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for airing the concern that he and others might feel on this matter. I think that the House is aware of the special conditions that have obtained in relation to this report and of the arrangements made for advance sight under controlled conditions for it to be read. I certainly think it important-I hope this helps the hon. Gentleman-that all Members should have sufficient time to study the report fully before a debate takes place. Even though the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, he has taken the opportunity to raise this point of order in a very timely way in the presence of senior people who, I feel sure, will have taken note of what he has said.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hesitate and only tentatively raise this point of order with you, but it has previously been the practice in the House that where a statement is made, hon. Members wishing to ask questions about it should be present at the beginning and rising throughout that statement, and preference is then usually given to those who are. Has there been any change to existing practice on that?
Mr Speaker: There has been no change, and I would want to say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not want to travel down that route. If I were an uncharitable and ungenerous fellow and of an unusually suspicious frame of mind, none of which things is true, I would think that the hon. Gentleman was challenging the judgment of the Chair as to whom to call.
Mr Speaker: As I am none of those things, however, and because the hon. Gentleman shakes his head in disavowal, I am happy to accept that that is not so. I look very carefully to see who is trying to contribute, and, as I think the record shows, I try, subject to limitations of time, to accommodate everybody who wishes to do so. It is probably worth saying that this statement ran longer than I would ordinarily allow a statement to run, but I think that colleagues will appreciate that there were very special reasons for doing so today.
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