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Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con):
I have never liked tuition fees; I did not like them when the Labour party introduced them. My concern is for people going into our public services who will most likely be just
above the £21,000 threshold but will then be faced with having to pay down tens of thousands of pounds-worth of debt. What can we do to encourage the very best graduates to continue to go into our public services rather than to take the possible route of going for a dash for cash as they attempt to pay off these huge fees?
Mr Willetts: I hope that the careers advice and guidance function will be very important in this respect, because those are indeed very satisfying careers to which many young people aspire. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that, with the new threshold of £21,000, people in the circumstances he describes will face lower monthly repayments than they do under the current system.
Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Prior to the general election, the Government parties rubbished Labour's proposals to get more than 50% of young people into higher education. Now they are talking about widening access. What effect does the Minister think that the abolition of the education maintenance allowance will have on wider access, and what effect will the £6,000 to £9,000 cap have? Is it not a huge disincentive?
Mr Willetts: We believe in broadening access, but we do not believe in artificial targets for the number of people going to university. The 50% target was a suspiciously round number-it did not sound like a carefully thought through proposal. We believe that the number of people going to university should emerge as a consequence of the choices of those who have the aptitude to do so.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): The £150 million scholarship fund is great news for low-income students, but many young people tell me that they are unclear about what bursaries and scholarships are available to them. May I urge my right hon. Friend to promote this fund so that every young person is aware of the great opportunities that exist to get free education if they need it?
Mr Willetts: My hon. Friend is right. Some evaluations sadly show that bursaries, despite a large amount of money going into them, have not been very effective in broadening access to university. That is why we want to give universities much greater freedom to design schemes that actually work. A single £150 million national scholarship scheme is a great opportunity to communicate the fact that support will be available.
Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Many Members will have heard about the tripling of tuition fees this morning on Radio 4, and the Minister has given further details from the Dispatch Box. Given that these are the biggest changes to student funding in a generation, why does he believe that the Business Secretary has been struck mute today?
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con):
I welcome the Minister's statement as a constructive and progressive way forward. Will he clarify whether students
from my constituency who go to university in London will receive a London weighting with their maintenance grant?
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): Medical students face many extra years of learning and could end up with debts in excess of £70,000, enough to buy a small house in the north-east of England. We need many more home-grown doctors. What will the Government do to help reduce the burden on such students and encourage them?
Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one purpose of higher education is to equip our students for the workplace, and that by allowing the money to follow the students, we can put real pressure on universities and force them to up their game?
Mr Willetts: One of the big sources of frustration for students at the moment is that they do not feel that they get enough practical experience of the world of work while they are at university, and they do not think they are properly prepared for it. That is why we are asking all universities to produce a statement of what they are doing to ensure employability for their students. We want much more, and much more precise, information to be available in future so that prospective students can see the graduate employment prospects of individual courses at individual universities.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The Minister's boss said in the House when he last spoke on the matter that the reason why he and his colleagues had swallowed these proposals, and indeed their pledge, was the need to pay down the deficit within five years. If the change is about deficit reduction in such a short period, why is it necessary to invent a system that will burden several generations of students?
Mr Willetts: We have been completely frank with the House throughout in saying that of course there are public expenditure savings here, which are necessary because of the mess that we inherited from the previous Government. However, this is not simply a matter of saving public money. We are also using the challenge of doing that to propose what we believe is an improved and progressive system. We are delivering reform as well as saving public money.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I understand that there is now no target for the proportion of young people who go into higher education. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of young people do so today, and what his central estimate is of the proportion who will do so in 10 years' time, after the new scheme has come in?
Mr Willetts: Slightly over 40% of people now go to university. We envisage the absolute number of students remaining broadly flat, although we cannot be sure exactly. To ensure that the vocational route is available, we are also investing in 50,000 extra apprenticeships this year, rising to 75,000 by the end of the public expenditure period, as an alternative route into well paid work for many young people.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Minister is a very honest man. Does he genuinely believe that the next generation of middle England will be gainers rather than losers as a result of the debt that he is loading on to them?
Mr Willetts: I hope that the experience of young people at university will improve as a result of these reforms. Under successive Governments, we have ended up with a system that has sharp incentives for research but not comparable incentives to focus on teaching. These changes will lead universities to focus much more on the quality of the academic experience and the teaching that goes on at university, and young people will be the beneficiaries of that.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I am really concerned about the effect of these proposals on universities such as Bolton, which draw their students largely from poorer backgrounds. Specifically, has the Minister considered the effect of raising the fees so high on students from Islamic backgrounds, who for religious reasons are reluctant to take interest-bearing loans, or are prohibited from doing so?
Mr Willetts: We have indeed considered that carefully, and we are very happy to meet representatives from the Islamic community to discuss it with them further. Our belief is that the terms on which the money is being lent are so much more favourable than the commercial terms available in the market that they would not be covered by Islamic rules, but we are happy to discuss the matter further with the Islamic community.
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): The Minister has admitted that this is not simply about saving money and is in fact a fundamental and deeply ideological remodelling of our university system, with the withdrawal of public funding from the majority of courses and the introduction of a market in which the best courses will cost up to 50% more than the basic fee level proposed. There was no mandate for either governing party introducing those changes. We know about the worthless pledges that the Liberal Democrats made, but the Conservative party did not have anything about the changes in its manifesto. Is it right, therefore, that these proposals should be rushed through, or should we wait for a full debate when the White Paper is published, about what sort of higher education system we want?
Mr Willetts: Many of the proposals emerged from the report of an inquiry that the previous Government set up, which Labour Ministers endorsed. The previous Government set out the terms of reference, and I was consulted, which I appreciated. They were agreed and made public, and the proposals are within the terms of reference of the cross-party inquiry.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The bottom line is that for a three-year course, fees will cost £27,000. Adding on the costs of going to university, accommodation and so on, especially for students living away from home, the cost could be £45,000. That is double the average wage in my constituency and the cost of a small house. I passionately believe in choice and in the ability of every young person in my patch to choose the course that they want to study at the university of their choice. How will the Minister ensure that that choice is available to them, particularly as many of them might otherwise feel that they have to go to a university in Wales rather than having the freedom to go anywhere across the UK?
Mr Willetts: I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's figure of £45,000. The crucial point, which Members of all parties should get across, is that this is a graduate contribution scheme, and people will have to start paying back only if they are earning more than £21,000 a year, which I suspect is higher than median earnings in his constituency.
Mr Speaker: Order. I will let her off on this occasion, but let me just say to the hon. Lady, who is a new Member, that although she is not the only offender, Members really should not wait until virtually the end of a statement and then suddenly start popping up when I am about to move on. I will let her have her say today.
I have discovered that £19 million of bursary money was apparently not spent last year. Does the Minister believe that is correct, and will there be some way of preventing that appalling situation from ever happening again?
Mr Willetts: I was not aware of that specific sum of money, but I would be interested in looking into the matter further. There is certainly a wider problem that bursary spending does not appear to be influencing access and participation by prospective students. That is why we believe there should be initiatives by individual universities, and that their performance should be monitored externally. That will be a far more effective way of spreading participation and broadening access to our universities.
Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 15 September I raised with the Prime Minister the case of Sakineh Ashtiani. Reports suggest that she will be executed today. Almost 190 Members across parties have signed a letter to the President of Iran asking for her to be saved. Are you aware of an urgent statement by the Prime Minister in respect of discussions with the President to stop that barbaric execution?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The short answer is no, I am not aware of any intention on the part of either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on that matter. I appreciate the urgency of the situation that the hon. Lady has described, but my hands are tied. I say to her that she should as a matter of urgency, that is immediately after these exchanges, consult the Table Office about other opportunities to raise the matter sooner rather than later. If it can further help, although I appreciate that it may be too late-I hope not-she should look to Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next Tuesday, when she might seek to catch my eye.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to impose certain limits on consumer credit interest rates and charges; to establish a levy on credit and debit card providers to fund the provision of debt advice services; to give powers to local authorities to restrict the provision of premises for licensed consumer credit agencies within a local area; to make provision regarding the availability of certain financial services products at branches of the Post Office; to make other measures relating to the regulation of, and availability of advice on, consumer credit; and for connected purposes.
This Bill is intended to address the needs of the poorest consumers in Britain. In presenting this Bill to the House, I hope to show how the Government can and must do more to support those who face financial hardship as a direct result of this Government's Budget. Opposition Members have already set out their concerns about the spending review and the economic policies of this Government. We know that half a million people in the public sector will lose their jobs in the coming years. Experts predict that a further half a million or more jobs will be lost in the private sector as investment is wrung out of our economy.
Recent research from the university of Cambridge highlights the fact that personal debt is related to economic growth. As our economy stumbles under the weight of cuts, we know that more people will be forced to borrow to keep their families financially afloat. However, my Bill is not about public spending, but about a less widely publicised consequence of the Budget.
Loan sharks are now circling Britain's poorest families, watching them struggle financially and sensing a business opportunity. The chief executive of one of them has stated that as a direct consequence of the spending review, he expects to see a growth in his target market. Indeed, following 20 October, his share price has already risen 5%, dependent as it is on unemployment and poverty. Such companies offer loans to those for whom credit cards and banks are out of reach-mainly women, the low-paid and those with a poor credit history. Research suggests that approximately 6 million people in Britain are in that position, some 1.5 million of whom are currently indebted to these pay-day lenders.
My Bill reflects my experience of working in Walthamstow with the Movement for Change and local campaigners. It also supports work being done nationally by the Better Banking coalition, Compass and Citizens UK as well as other Labour MPs. We have seen first hand how this is a market without competition. Just six companies control 90% of the loans made, which means that they can set the terms of trade. Such companies make money by locking people into cycles of debt, with interest rates starting at around 272%, and rising up to 2,500% or more. If people miss a payment by a day, they incur a charge, on which interest is added, and then there are the administration fees and fines, on which more interest is added. If they get into problems, they can always borrow more, thus starting the cycle of debt again.
Debt destroys not just bank balances, but the lives of those who live with the fear of the bailiff or the panic of repossession hanging over their families. A recent survey
found that a third of British parents are arguing about debts with their partners, and suffering the stress of sleepless nights. I know that I do not need to tell hon. Members about these issues, because many of them, like me, will have had constituents asking them what to do about these problems.
The previous Government understood such problems well. They introduced the Consumer Credit Act 2006, took action on loan sharks and supported the development of credit unions in communities as an alternative source of loans and financial services. The new Government have announced a review of the provision of consumer credit, yet they commit only to action on store cards and credit cards, so they ignore millions of people in our country for whom access to those sources of credit is not available and for whom these companies are their only option.
Within a monopoly market that generates massive profits, it is vital that the Government make a clear pledge to intervene to protect the poorest consumers. Opposition Members believe that the ones who will end up shouldering the brunt of the comprehensive spending review need our help, and this Bill seeks to do just that.
First, the Bill proposes to regulate the total cost of borrowing. Mr Speaker, if I lend you £20 and say, "Pay me back next week and buy me a drink at the same time," depending on where we went for our pint, in practice that could be an annual interest rate of 2,000 or 3,000%. Thus, if we focus only on interest rates, we miss a trick. Capping only those, and, to the same extent, all types of loan, may prevent small-scale lending and leave some consumers with no choice but to go back to illegal loan sharks. It would also do nothing to address the impact of compound interest on the costs or late-repayment fees.
This Bill would give the Government powers to intervene where the total cost of borrowing is excessive, and also to regulate how much interest different financial products-be they credit cards, short-term emergency loans or hire-purchase agreements-can carry. Such forms of regulation have already been successfully implemented in places such as America and Canada. That is why it is disappointing that the UK Government have made no firm commitment to consider such regulation in the current credit review.
Secondly, this Bill seeks to impose a levy on those who sell credit to pay for debt counselling and advice services. Just as the drinks industry came together to recognise its responsibilities through instigating Drinkaware, so it is right that these companies do the same for those who get into financial difficulties. What I am talking about is specialist debt-management counselling. Counsellors can give one-on-one sessions to families to help them get back on their feet by negotiating with creditors, helping families to navigate what support they are entitled to and identifying how best they can live within their means.
I welcome the Government's continued support for the previous Administration's work on a levy on banks
for this matter, but I hope that they recognise the need both for financial advice services and advocacy and for the excellent and expert organisations, such as Consumer Credit Counselling Service, Citizens Advice and Christians Against Poverty.
Thirdly, the Bill aims to help local communities manage the presence of such organisations within their localities. My own local authority has been creative in using planning laws to manage the proliferation of fast-food outlets near our schools. This Bill would give local authorities clearer powers to regulate the numbers of credit-selling agencies operating within their locality, thus helping communities to choose how to manage the presence of such organisations in their neighbourhoods.
Finally, this Bill contains proposals to improve access to affordable credit, particularly through the credit unions, and I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Waltham Forest Community credit union that helps more than 4,000 people in my local area. Such proposals would build on the work done by the previous Administration to support the development of credit unions. The Bill requires the integration of the back-office technology of the Post Office network with the credit unions, so that many more people can access credit union services, including small loans, in any post office in the country at a much lower rate of interest than the legal loan sharks offer.
I have asked repeatedly for meetings with Ministers to discuss these proposals and seek their support. I know that they agree that tackling such problems is something that Governments should do-or at least many of their Front Bench did in 2005 when they signed an early-day motion calling for an interest rate ceiling. I hope now, in 2010, that I can help them to rediscover their consciences, and so I ask again for them to meet me and other campaigners to talk through the proposals in this Bill and how we can help the poorest consumers in Britain.
If the Government are intent on pushing their Budget on Britain, they will raise the number of families in our communities who are living with the daily misery of debt. They must therefore take responsibility for their actions. They must give the same consideration to the needs of those for whom the never-never is a fact of life as they do for those with an Amex card or a trust fund. I ask the House to support this Bill and help stop the legal loan sharks who now circle our local communities sensing blood.
That Stella Creasy, Tom Blenkinsop, Liz Kendall, Heidi Alexander, Mr Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell, Jon Cruddas, Yvonne Fovargue, Alex Cunningham, Sheila Gilmore, Natascha Engel and Fiona O'Donnell present the Bill.
That this House has considered the matter of the Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
This debate follows the publication of the report on 15 June and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's statement in this House in response. I should like to thank the tribunal for its report. I have read it in full, and it is clearly a remarkable piece of work.
Let me reiterate the Government's clear position on the report. Lord Saville's conclusions are shocking. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we do not honour all those members of the armed forces who bravely upheld the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.
"serious and widespread loss of fire discipline"
"as a result of an order...which should not have been given."
"despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers...none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers."
"knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing".
In some of the most shocking sections of the report, Lord Saville concludes that some of those killed or injured were fleeing or going to the assistance of others. The report says that Patrick Doherty was shot while
"crawling...away from the soldiers".
"hit and injured by Army gunfire after he had gone to...tend his son".
"when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground."
"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."
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. It is clear from the tribunal's unequivocal conclusions that some members of our armed forces acted wrongly.
Just as the report is clear in its conclusions on the unjustifiable actions that took place in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday, so, too, is it clear in its other findings. There is no suggestion in the report that there was any
premeditation or conspiracy by the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Government or senior members of the armed forces. Lord Saville said that there was no evidence that the authorities tolerated or encouraged
"the use of unjustified lethal force."
The process surrounding the report has been the subject of much controversy. None of us could have anticipated that the inquiry would take 12 years or cost nearly £192 million. Our views on that are well documented, but I firmly believe that it is right that our main focus now is not on the controversies surrounding the process, but on the substance of the report's conclusions.
Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I concur with my right hon. Friend's points. I have seen at first hand the sacrifice of our security forces when serving in Northern Ireland, and their excellent work in preventing a difficult situation from getting much worse. Does my right hon. Friend agree that he should do everything in his power to stop the report being used by one side against another? It is more important to move forward and make progress in the Province in future.
Mr Paterson: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, which I endorse. Lord Saville and his colleagues go to some length in the report to say that they do not pass judgment and that the inquiry was not a court of law. They were simply trying to establish the facts. My hon. Friend is right that we should use the facts in the report to see how we can move forward and look to a better future. I will deal with that later.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for taking a second intervention so quickly. Why on earth was the advice of the most senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officer in the Londonderry area, Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, ignored? Does the Secretary of State believe, or is there evidence to show, that if his wise counsel had been followed, the appalling events of that day could have been avoided?
Mr Paterson: The hon. Lady touches on one of the many terrible "what ifs". The report shows so many turns, where, if decisions had gone the other way, the event might not have happened. She refers to Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, who was the local senior RUC commander. She knows from her close family experience the huge debt that we owe all those in the RUC. Interestingly, Chief Superintendent Lagan said that, despite the ban on all parades and marches at that time, he thought that the march should go ahead all the way through to Guildhall square. He was overruled by Sir Graham Shillington in discussion, as the report states, with senior Army officers, who decided that it would be better if the march was turned down Rossville street. The hon. Lady touches on a poignant moment, when perhaps, if the advice had been taken, events could have been different. Of course, the advice could have been wrong. All we can do is accept the facts as they are presented by Lord Saville, and see what we can learn for the future.
We should reflect not just on the report, but on the reaction to Lord Saville's conclusions and the Prime Minister's statement. The whole House will have seen the memorable pictures broadcast around the world showing the response of the families and crowds in the
Guildhall square in Derry. The families of those killed and those injured had fought a long and determined campaign over 38 years to prove the innocence of their loved ones.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House wants to join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the families for the dignity and resilience that they have shown over so many years. I first met them officially to discuss the publication of the Saville report in April 2008-some two-and-a-half years ago. I promised them then that, although the report had to come to Parliament first, they would not be disadvantaged in gaining access to it or being able to comment on it on the day. I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for honouring the many complex arrangements that my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) and I drew up at the time to ensure that the families could have the benefit of as much access as possible to the report on the day. I thank him for honouring those commitments when he took up his position.
Mr Paterson: I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for his kind comments. I pay tribute to his work over the years as Minister of State for Northern Ireland. He is still fondly remembered by the people there for all his good work.
I would like to take the opportunity to record my gratitude for the hard work of my officials and the Department in successfully managing the report's publication. As the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) said, we built on some of the plans left by my predecessor. I met the families and discussed the matter in detail. The publication was a major international event, with 419 press passes issued for the Guildhall square alone. It is also right to draw hon. Members' attention to other responses to the report that received less coverage, but which are none the less important in illustrating the broad acceptance that Lord Saville's report received.
The leaders of the three main Protestant churches in Ireland made a symbolically important visit to the Bogside shortly after publication. The First Minister, Peter Robinson, publicly indicated his acceptance of Lord Saville's findings. Senior military figures, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, and the former Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, joined the Prime Minister in his apology for the events of Bloody Sunday.
I want to make it absolutely clear, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did, that Bloody Sunday was not the defining story of the Army's service in Northern Ireland. Between 1969 and 2007, more than 250,000 people served in Operation Banner-the longest continuous operation in British military history.
Our armed forces displayed immense courage, dedication and restraint in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. We should not forget that more than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives, and many thousands more were injured, for that cause. Nor should we forget that the security situation in Northern Ireland had been deteriorating steadily since 1969. As Lord Saville outlines in volume I of the
report, those who lost their lives included two RUC officers-Sergeant Peter Gilgunn and Constable David Montgomery were killed by the IRA three days before Bloody Sunday. They were the first police officers killed in the city during the troubles.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The point that the right hon. Gentleman is highlighting is extremely important. It is right to put on record our remembrance of, and gratitude for, the service and sacrifice of so many in the armed forces and police who served over the years in Northern Ireland and who continue to serve. That is why most of us are today wearing the poppy with pride.
May I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on this? Many people in Northern Ireland feel that while there is a very close focus on this one major incident, for the reasons he has outlined, they have received no justice and no attention for the murder of their loved one by the IRA or paramilitaries on all sides. They want to know what the Government will do to address that.
Mr Paterson: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for supporting my comments on the service of those in the security services. He is quite right that without them, the peace process would not have happened. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who served in Northern Ireland. I will turn to the problems of resolving the past in a few moments, but I should point out now that the Historical Enquiries Team is working its way through 3,268 cases, which is valuable work.
The hurt and suffering that victims of the troubles from all parts of the community continue to feel must be recognised and acknowledged. Finding a way of dealing with the painful legacy of the past is one of the great challenges facing Northern Ireland today, as the right hon. Gentleman says. Our approach to the conclusions of reviews and reports on individual cases is clear. Where wrongdoing or failings by the state are clearly identified, the Government will accept responsibility and apologise. We have demonstrated that in our rapid responses to this report, the police ombudsman's report on Claudy published in August, and to the Billy Wright inquiry report published in September.
More widely, there cannot, of course, be a Saville-type inquiry for each person killed during the troubles, but there are ongoing processes that are helping to provide some answers. As I just mentioned, the HET is investigating all 3,268 deaths during the troubles, including soldiers and police officers who lost their lives. The 86% satisfaction rate that the HET achieves among families who have received reports demonstrates the success it is having in helping to bring a measure of resolution.
The police ombudsman continues to investigate legacy cases and there are a number of ongoing inquests relating to deaths from the troubles. I welcome the very important work that the Northern Ireland Executive, the victims commissioners and many voluntary organisations are doing in providing health care and practical support to victims.
The future of those processes is in the hands of the devolved Administration, and for my part, I am fully supportive of the important and difficult work that the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains continues to carry out. The Government's views on new public inquiries are, of course, well known.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries. That policy is based not solely on financial calculation. Continuing to pick out selective cases to subject to a lengthy public inquiry is not a viable approach to dealing with the legacy of a conflict in which thousands of people from all parts of the community were killed.
Nor should we be under any illusion that public inquiries provide any guarantee of satisfaction for victims' families. The Billy Wright inquiry report showed that even an inquiry lasting six years and costing £30 million can be accused of not having answered critical questions. Many commentators pointed out that that report recorded the panel's regret that it had no explanation of how the guns used to murder Billy Wright were smuggled into the high security Maze prison.
Our position on new inquiries is clear, but we cannot simply shut down the past. I recognise that there are no easy answers. The previous Government's consultation on the Eames-Bradley report ended in October 2009, and this Government swiftly published the responses to that consultation in July this year. The responses clearly showed that there is little consensus currently on a wider mechanism to address the past, but we have not let that stop us continuing to listen to the views of people in Northern Ireland and to find a way forward.
My hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Minister and I have met victims groups, community organisations, academics and politicians from all parts of the community to move forward the debate on this important issue. We will continue to do so. Many different views have been expressed, but one clear theme emerges from those discussions and from the experience of existing mechanisms such as the HET-namely, the desire of the families of victims of the troubles to understand those traumatic events better. Helping families and wider society to achieve that greater understanding and closure is vital, however difficult it may be. It will require leadership from all those involved in the events of the past 40 years in Westminster, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
I plan to continue exploring ideas on the contentious issues of the past over the coming months. Our approach will remain measured, sensitive and realistic. Lord Saville's report closes a painful chapter in Northern Ireland's troubled history. In so doing, it makes an important contribution to helping Northern Ireland to move forward to a genuinely shared future.
Mr Shaun Woodward (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): First, I pay tribute to the men and women who were killed on 30 January 1972. While honouring them, I also want to pay tribute to those who were injured and, indeed, to all the families whose lives have been so painfully damaged by the events of Bloody Sunday. Few of us can ever begin to know the pain that they have endured, but on 15 June this year, we could all see from the relief and celebration on the streets of Derry the powerful impact of Lord Saville's inquiry, as the reputations of those whose lives were lost and those who were injured were fully exonerated.
When the Prime Minister gave his unreserved apology, he truly spoke for us all. For nearly four decades, despite enormous resistance from some, those brave
families have waged their campaign for justice. Their conduct and their dignity have been exemplary, both before and since publication of the inquiry. The inquiry stands in stark contrast to the travesty of truth in the Widgery report. The Saville report did what it was intended to do-it established the truth.
There are many lessons to be learned from Bloody Sunday, and many lessons for those who for too long clung to the Widgery report as truth revealed and justice served-for truth Widgery was not and, in the name of justice, Widgery gave none. For a generation to come, the inquiry that Lord Widgery was asked to conduct will be synonymous with whitewashing the truth-for, at best, its wholly inadequate terms of reference and for being conducted too quickly. Perhaps more damningly, is the greater indictment of all those who preferred to continue to cling ever more desperately to the wreckage of Lord Widgery's findings. They did so when the evidence increasingly suggested that his report was fundamentally flawed and misleading, and when its conclusions were increasingly shown to be unsafe and wrong.
The House owes a debt to all those who campaigned for the truth to be established, and I pay tribute to those in the then British Government, and the Irish and American Governments, who would not settle for what increasingly looked like a whitewash, and to all those who never gave up and who campaigned for new evidence to be considered.
Over the past few months great praise has rightly been given to the work and honesty of Lord Saville's inquiry. There was nothing inevitable about the inquiry. A few short years ago, in 1998, establishing such an inquiry was a bold and courageous step. Without that step, it would have been so much harder to have established the bona fides for a peace process to succeed. In the 5,000 pages of his report, Lord Saville has finally established the truth. Yes, there are undoubtedly rightful questions to be asked about the time taken to produce the report and indeed, at £200 million, its cost, but let those of us entrusted with authority never confuse the price of truth with the value of truth. What we learn from the inquiry is shocking truth.
Mr Dodds: On the issue of costs, the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State in charge of the Northern Ireland Office for part of the time when these costs were run up, as they were under his predecessors. Does he take any responsibility for the overrun of time and costs? Does he believe that the NIO could have done more to curtail costs and make the inquiry more efficient in terms of time, or does he believe that nothing could have been done?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government brought forward what would become the Inquiries Act 2005. The purpose of that was to try to control costs. The issue of Lord Saville's report touches on the crucial issue of the independence of inquiries. The House must seriously consider whether it would wish to compromise the independence of a judicial inquiry by saying, for example, that witnesses would not be allowed legal representation. That would have saved half the cost of Lord Saville's report, but would we have got the truth if legal representation had not been allowed? By the same token, if we were to say to judges in future
inquiries that we wanted to limit the number of witnesses and the amount of evidence that they could take, would that compromise their independence? It is a proper question for the right hon. Gentleman to ask and I take my share of responsibility for allowing this inquiry to go ahead as it did so that its independence was not compromised. That is why I make the careful distinction between the price and the value of the inquiry.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's explanation on that issue, but if the principles that he has outlined are followed in future inquiries-and there are already calls for inquiries on Murphy and other issues-the danger is that we could face huge bills in the future. Do not we need some means of curtailing costs and to put aside the argument that including any restriction will impinge on the independence of inquiries?
What we have learned from this inquiry is shocking truth, and it is all the more shocking because what Lord Saville uncovered-and we are speaking of uncovering-runs so counter to what we would all want to believe of our armed forces. Hon. Members may have a difficult dilemma this afternoon, because they may feel that they have to make a choice between being supportive of the British Army or of the families. That is a false choice. The Prime Minister was right to assert that Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service that more than 250,000 men and women of the British Army gave during the 38 years of Operation Banner. Their courage, dedication and commitment to public service for every community in Northern Ireland saved countless lives.
"we do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible."
"serious and widespread loss of fire discipline"
The Prime Minister informed the House on 15 June that decisions on what would happen next would be for the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. That was five months ago. In fairness to the families whose loved ones lost their lives, and to the soldiers named in Lord Saville's report, it is unfortunate that the Secretary of State has not been able to update the House today on progress on the issue of prosecution. When he was in opposition, the Secretary of State was quick to criticise the time taken by Lord Saville to produce his report. Can I gently remind him that he should hold himself to the same standards in government as he set for others when he was in opposition? Perhaps he will take an early opportunity to share with the House a progress report, not least for the families and for the soldiers.
"to digest the report's full findings and understand all the implications."
"report back...on all the issues that arise from it."
The Secretary of State will know that the implications of Saville go much further than the events of Bloody Sunday. They are not just relevant to the past of Northern Ireland, but to its present and to its future. The Prime Minister quoted from Lord Saville:
"What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed."
What now happens in how we respond to this report, and in how we deal with the legacy issues of the past, also has the capacity to strengthen the peace process. The Secretary of State referred earlier to the "what if" factors in the report. His response today is also one of those factors. He should recognise that he is holding a very precious object in his hands. If we handle this wrongly, it also has the capacity to weaken the peace process.
There are those who will watch genuinely to see how the British Government responds to Saville because they too have lost loved ones. They too still seek the truth. Their cause is genuine. Their loss is genuine. Their grief is all too real. But they still understandably seek justice for their loss. Those families respect the truth that this inquiry has revealed. But they too now will seek their truth. This inquiry may, in their eyes, have answered the questions of the families whose lives were devastated by Bloody Sunday, but their questions about their loss remain. Indeed their expectations have been heightened by this report.
For some, this is genuinely about reconciliation. For others-only a small number-this inquiry and others like it may become a means to keep old hatreds and antagonisms going. I recognise that. Most worrying, there are those-the so-called dissidents-whose only wish is to bring chaos and violence back to the streets of Northern Ireland, and who will watch very carefully how the British Government now respond to the Saville report. Those people wish to see how the grief of others can be exploited, and how justice can be turned to injustice. Their wish is to pervert the outcome and to twist the truth into a perverted logic that can be used to build community support for a violent struggle for the years ahead. The response of the Government today must ensure that this group have no opportunity, no chance to make cause from a grievance or a sense of justice denied. Likewise, the Government should ensure that the resources and means are available, should the buck be passed, to enable the Executive and the institutions of the political process in Northern Ireland to respond appropriately.
There are two essential issues here. The first is to ensure that how we handle the past is fair. The second is to ensure that the response is appropriate, adequate and proportionate. For as we think of the families affected
by Bloody Sunday, so too we must think of so many others whose lives were altered irrevocably by the troubles. Lord Saville may have offered the beginning of peace of mind to those affected by that terrible day, but what of others, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) asked. How can this process be fair for others? What of the other families of the more than 3,500 men, women and children who also lost their lives?
"How do we get closure, how do we get justice, and how do we get the truth?"
Justice cannot be the possession of one community, but not another. Justice can no more be the province of a nationalist than of a Unionist. The process must be felt to belong to all. The search for truth loses its value if it may be owned by one community, but not another. The Government must be very careful in how they tread.
"It is right to pursue the truth with vigour and thoroughness, but let me reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past."
"there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past"
is in my judgment rash, and it is a huge risk. It is a risk not just to the political process, but one that could yet shake the foundations of the peace process itself. The House will know the importance that Justice Cory attached to the inquiries that he recommended to the British and Irish Governments should be set up.
Given what the Prime Minister said in this House on 15 June and given the Secretary of State's comments in the House, where does this leave the Finucane inquiry to which the British Government committed themselves? The family were promised an inquiry. The House will recall that delay in its establishment was occasioned by a disagreement over such an inquiry proceeding under the terms of the 2005 Act. However, I made it clear when I was Secretary of State that if the difficulties continued once Lord Saville had published his report, we would as a matter of urgency make it clear how we would proceed.
Of course the cost of an inquiry would be relevant to weighing up the public interest, but the public interest would crucially also be weighed by the good faith established by the promise itself-faith that drew strength both from and to the stability of the political process and the stability of the peace process. The Secretary of State has kept us all waiting for nearly six months. He knows that he must be straight with Mr Finucane's family, the people of Northern Ireland and this House, and he must be straight with the Irish and American Governments. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that as recently as 2008, during the presidential elections, the then Senator Obama made very clear his unequivocal support for an independent judicial inquiry, as recommended by Judge Cory.
"demonstrate how a state should hold itself to account and how we should be determined at all times-no matter how difficult-to judge ourselves against the highest standards."
Perhaps the Secretary of State will explain and make it clear what has so changed that today the state need no longer hold itself to account on these issues? Indeed, if he has decided not to go ahead with an inquiry, when will he tell the House, and why the further delay? At the very least, will he take this opportunity to tell the House whether, as he promised, he has met Pat Finucane's family? It is, after all, several months since he said he would.
The peace process is built on trust and fairness. The institutions that have grown out of the peace process have many parents. The process is undoubtedly less than perfect-sometimes carefully planned, sometimes a response to circumstance, sometimes a mechanism to find a way forward when roadblocks lie ahead. Let us imagine that the Secretary of State has taken the decision that, regardless of circumstance, there will be no more inquiries, and let us give the benefit of the doubt about why he has not yet been able to convey that to Pat Finucane's family or to tell the families of those who lost loved ones at Balllymurphy, Omagh or Claudy that they will have no inquiry.
What are the Secretary of State's alternative proposals? What is the mechanism he truly proposes for them to seek the truth, to seek justice? We must all hope he understands that he cannot leave nothing in its place. Others have tried to tempt an answer from him. Let me again acknowledge the hon. Member for South Antrim, who I am sorry is not in his place today. Although I do not share his particular prescription, he asked the Secretary of State to consider whether he would use the resources of individual inquiries, and put them at the disposal of the Historical Enquiries Team. The Secretary of State replied that he was "absolutely right", but absolutely right about what? The Secretary of State may correct me, but I am not entirely sure that in saying that he was proposing to hand over the money, resources and additional funding that the British Government has used to fund judicial inquiries.
The House will rightly acknowledge the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. It is charged with examining the facts behind the deaths of more than 3,000 people in the troubles, and it has indeed done amazing work. It continues to bring closure to so many families who were denied for so many decades even the most basic information about how their loved ones may have died. But the Secretary of State must understand both what it is and what it is not, both what it has the means to do and what, given its limited resources, it cannot do. Its budget was set at £34 million over seven years to handle the 3,000-plus cases. That budget is virtually spent and it is half way through its case load, so it will need more money. However, its task and purpose are not to be compared, in any shape or form, with the work of a judicial inquiry.
Of course not every family wants a judicial inquiry, or a judicial-style tribunal. Indeed, most families-let us be frank-do not want any kind of inquiry. They simply want to leave the past where it is-in the past. They want an end, no more. Others just want the available facts, and, having been given them, they want
to bring closure to their loss. That is what the HET does so well, and why its £34 million is appropriate for the work that it was asked to do, although clearly it will need more.
Complex or multiple cases that are linked by circumstances and need investigation are hugely time-consuming and sometimes very difficult to investigate. Even with the resources of a fully funded legal inquiry, the truth may remain evasive. The Secretary of State gave the very good example of Billy Wright. The inquiry answered many questions, but it left some unanswered-not least, how were guns smuggled into a prison regarded at the time as having the highest security in the whole of Europe? Some may say the inability ultimately to provide satisfactory answers to these questions throws into doubt the integrity of the inquiry system itself. Again, however, we should be very careful of reaching such a conclusion. Sometimes we may not get answers, but that does not invalidate the reason for asking the questions, and it does not invalidate the creation of a process that allows those questions to be asked.
The Billy Wright inquiry was complex. Its work cost more than £30 million, much of it on legal fees. Perhaps-I say this to the right hon. Member for Belfast North-we could find ways of doing that without some of the cost, but if a judicial inquiry could not find the answers to the questions posed by Bill Wright's family, how would the HET have fared better? It is an institution whose overall budget is less than that spent by this single inquiry.
"I think that it is right to use, as far as possible, the Historical Enquires Team to deal with the problems of the past "-[ Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c.740-55.]
but perhaps the Secretary of State should be a little more candid with his right hon. Friend. Is he really wise to suggest to the Prime Minister that the HET is the appropriate vehicle, adequately resourced, to handle such a complex inquiry, and to ask the HET to take on the work of a Billy Wright investigation, or complex investigations into, for example, Pat Finucane's death or, as it touches on 1 Para, the death of those who died at Ballymurphy in August 1971? To ask that of the HET is, frankly, as burdensome and as impossible as it borders on being incredulous. With present resources, some things can be done, but some cannot. Even if resources were made available, some investigations, such as that into the death of Pat Finucane, could not be carried by a body such as the HET. Although it is fair and works impartially, it is clearly not as fully independent as a public inquiry, and it is not, as Justice Cory would want, international.
The HET is currently the subject of approval and admiration from all communities in Northern Ireland, but asking it to carry out such investigations might risk damaging its reputation in its other crucial and vital work. The Secretary of State must be very careful how he proceeds with changing the HET's remit, if that is what he proposes.
The Secretary of State must also be careful to avoid suspicion about his motives. We cannot maintain a peace process on the cheap. We all want to save money, but some savings risk being false economies, and some
are cleverly disguised, being more about passing on the bill while still expecting it to be drawn from someone else's cheque book and account. At present, it is the Government here in Westminster who pay for inquiries into the past. The funding for the HET comes directly from the Executive and the Northern Ireland block grant. Unless the Secretary of State specifically intends to make additional financial support available from Westminster to the HET, it is little short of disingenuous to ask it to take on these hugely onerous responsibilities, even if that were the right thing to do, without significant additional funding. Again I remind the Secretary of State that good faith is as vital in ensuring the peace today as it was in building its foundations.
So what are the Government to do if they wish to keep faith? The Secretary of State has at his disposal the advice and work of the Consultative Group on the Past. The work of Lord Eames and Denis Bradley was extremely important. Their different, but collective, experiences drawn from the years of the troubles made them absolutely the right people to co-chair the consultative group. However, although the Prime Minister referred to their work in his statement of 15 June, I fear that he was directed at only one part of their report. The Secretary of State will know that we share the view that the idea of universal recognition payments should be completely rejected, so that is not a reason to ignore their report. I remind him that it contains nearly 30 other proposals that are very much worth considering and developing.
The Secretary of State has described the impasse in which he finds himself, given the absence of a consensus in the public consultation to the report. I really think he is going to have to do better than that. Yes, it is difficult, but that is what government is all about: making difficult choices, being determined and taking responsibility for finding consensus, even when it eludes everyone else. Building the peace process in Northern Ireland was difficult. There was no consensus, no prescription for a peace process and no route map to a political process. That is the responsibility of the Government. Their job is to find consensus, not to despair or wave a white flag in a declaration of defeat. For it is now that Northern Ireland needs to develop a process for reconciliation. Just as it built a peace process, and then a political process, so now it must establish and develop a comprehensive reconciliation process to deal with the legacy issues. This does not have to be by judicial inquiry, but we cannot leave nothing in place of that. Of course, such a process, and such a determination, will meet opposition, and some of it will be truly genuine, truly felt and deeply sincere. We can respect that, but the job of the British Government, and the Secretary of State, is to help to build and nurture such a process.
Northern Ireland is devolved, but the problems of the past are not. They are not cast off simply because policing and justice have been devolved by this House. Northern Ireland is, after all, part of the Union, until it becomes otherwise by consent. It is our responsibility; it is part of the family. We cannot walk by on the other side of the street. For the past, we all bear the burdens of responsibility and accountability. For the future, we all bear the responsibility to ensure the success of the future shared.
This inquiry speaks not just to those whose lives were changed for ever by Bloody Sunday. The lessons today are for us all. As Lord Eames observed in another place,
it is a mark of real hope for the long term that the inquiry has been genuinely embraced, and embraced beyond sectarian lines. This hope is like a window: it is open now, but we should not presume that it will be open indefinitely. The duty of the Government now is to capture this hope, and use it as a resource to marshal and foster reconciliation. The past is not another country; it is as much our country. The past cannot be painted out of history; nor can it be wished away.
Saville reveals that the opportunity for reconciliation has truly come. Let the authors of this process be drawn from the communities of Northern Ireland, but let the Government give leadership. Out of the terrible loss and pain of these Derry families, let the Government seize the challenge. Let us not just say that we are sorry; let us mean that we are sorry. Let us provide the leadership, establish a due process for reconciliation, resource the present and meet the legacy of the past. We must take that next step and help to release Northern Ireland from the grip of its deeply troubled and continuingly painful past.
Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak so early in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a privilege to follow not only my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State but his predecessor in Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), who worked tirelessly to try to resolve the issues there. I want to contribute to the debate not because I was an adult or serving in the armed forces at the time of Bloody Sunday; I was not even one-year old at the time. In a sense, it is just a memory. However, I confronted its legacy on the streets of Northern Ireland as a platoon commander and as an intelligence officer in the 1990s. I witnessed the pressures as a platoon commander on the streets of west Belfast, and I also witnessed the embryonic stages of the peace process in 1994, under the Conservative Government of the time. That does not seem to be mentioned much these days, but it was an important turning point for Northern Ireland, because of the steps taken not only by the Government but by the Provisional IRA, which did not come easy to that organisation at the time.
I want to put the Bloody Sunday inquiry into context, because it is important to remember that there were deaths before Bloody Sunday. The troubles in Northern Ireland did not begin and end on 30 January 1972. There were 215 deaths during the troubles leading up to Bloody Sunday, and we cannot forget that there were violent deaths in the Irish civil war and the border campaigns of the 1950s. Violent deaths were characteristic of Ireland, not just in the north, for perhaps hundreds of years. We should not forget that they did not start and stop with Bloody Sunday.
I also want to remember the victims of Northern Ireland. There were 1,855 civilian deaths and 1,123 security forces deaths, of which 2,057 were caused by republican paramilitary groups, and 363 by British security forces,
as well as 1,000 by loyalist terror groups. All had a part to play in the troubles in Northern Ireland, and all had a part to play in the tragedies that have been left behind after those events.
I listened to the shadow Secretary of State's call for perhaps never-ending inquiries. We should not forget that the death of each of those victims is as important to their family members as those of the Bloody Sunday victims. Their loss and suffering count as much to them as Bloody Sunday counts to the media and to the wider strategic goals of the political parties in Northern Ireland. Many of those people might want an inquiry, although perhaps not a sophisticated, expensive one. They might not yet have all the answers. They might not know why their loved one was singled out to be murdered. They want to know why their innocent brother or sister went out shopping one day and did not come back. They want to know who perpetrated those atrocities, and why they have never been held to account.
There are plenty of famous atrocities-dare I link the two words?-in Northern Ireland that probably mean nothing to most people. Bloody Sunday is one of the most memorable ones to people outside the Northern Irish and Irish struggle bubble, but there was also Claudy, Bloody Friday and Warrenpoint. They are famous incidents that all Northern Ireland Members will never forget. It is a characteristic of the Irish troubles that we have these great tragic events throughout history, and it has gone on for many years.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The hon. Gentleman rightly refers to many of the landmark atrocities in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that four of them have a particular link: Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy, Springhill and Shankill? The link is that they were all perpetrated by the Parachute Regiment. Should not somebody be looking at that?
Mr Wallace: I recognise the hon. Gentleman's points. Regiments are always living things: they come and go; different leaders take over and different soldiers join. The Scots Guards, of which I was a member, is a very different regiment from the Scots Guards when it was founded in 1642-ironically, to go to Northern Ireland. Regiments come and go, and it is too easy to put a beret on the problem and say that it is all due to the Parachute Regiment. I know my own prejudices, but they are not factual prejudices. It is too easy to link the problem to one regiment or another. I say that it was mainly a problem of ethos-ethos in our politicians, who sometimes sent the wrong messages; ethos in paramilitary units, or even in political parties that often chose to manipulate the people they were supposed to represent.
As I said earlier, I was not serving in the armed forces on Bloody Sunday, as I was just one-year old, but I have met people on the streets of Northern Ireland who were inspired by it-inspired to defend their communities, inspired to take up arms or, indeed, inspired to enter into terrorist organisations. I have met people who were manipulated by what happened and manipulated by some political parties that used every atrocity to feed another atrocity. Murder begets murder; injustice begets injustice.
This inquiry is about one atrocity, but if it is about drawing a line in the sand, it is about saying that an injustice took place. People in the armed forces, particularly
its members on that day, are sorry for what they did. We as a Government are sorry about how we dealt with the troubles in the past. However, we must also remember that there were attacks after attacks after attacks. That is why we should put Bloody Sunday in context. The report says that paramilitary activities were taking place on that day. The official IRA fired the second shot and the Provisional IRA was active with weapons in the city on that day. That does not excuse at all or in any way the behaviour of the soldiers on that day, but we should not forget that, in the end, this was an environment into which many people came untrained, ill aware of what they were being asked to do and perhaps led by the wrong leaders. That might be a criticism that we can strongly lay at the door of the Parachute Regiment on that day.
It is not for me, nearly 40 years later, to judge individual soldiers. What we should not forget-this is why the activity of paramilitaries on that day does not detract from what is right or wrong-is that every soldier is responsible for what he or she does down the end of a barrel of a gun. It is their responsibility-the individual's responsibility and that of the junior ranks of local leaders-to realise that, in the end, their actions have consequences.
Having been a platoon commander in Iraq, I have been frightened. I know what it is like to sit behind barbed wire and concrete bunkers. It very quickly becomes "them and us". It is easy to dehumanise the community outside the front gate. It is very easy if you are spat at, shouted at and abused, to go back with your men, your soldiers and your team and describe the situation as them and us. That is not an excuse for a platoon commander, a company commander or a commanding officer to say, "All bets are off; all rules can be ignored". That is simply not right. We are there as officers and leaders of men to protect the weak, to uphold discipline and ensure decency on the street-irrespective of whether the communities are Catholic or Protestant. That is our job.
I could not go to Northern Ireland and undo history. That was not my job at 20 years of age. I was not going to allow myself to be blamed for history-something about which we need to be careful when it comes to the Saville inquiry. We cannot blame other generations and undo it as if it were an easy thing to do on "The X Factor", for example. I knew, however, that if I stood by decency on the streets and did what was right by the people I was there to protect, we would go some way to ensuring peace.
What is very important from my point of view is that we carried the yellow card, which set out the rules of engagement on the streets of Northern Ireland. It is a good document; it has been finessed over the years, but remains a good document. It is interesting that the Saville report clearly says that no soldier involved in the shootings on that day would have had the authority to open fire if they had followed the yellow card issued to them for dealing with the troubles even at that time. These are good rules of engagement: they are clear and fair and require every soldier to take aimed shots. We should not ignore or excuse the facts by claiming that the environment or the context detracts from the responsibility of our soldiers. It is also the case that the same does not detract from the responsibility of
paramilitaries. Every terrorist in Northern Ireland must take responsibility for what they did with a bomb, what they did with a rifle and what they did when they intimidated their communities.
I would like to pay tribute to the Social Democratic and Labour party in Northern Ireland, which throughout the troubles recognised the consequence of violence. Throughout it all, its members spoke up in communities where they themselves were intimidated by other republican parties that felt that they could use peace on the one hand, but could use violence on the other. We should not neglect to pay tribute to the parties that pursued peace on both sides throughout the peace agreement.
The real issue is the future. The former Secretary of State came to the Dispatch Box today to speak about the past. That is interesting, as when he was Secretary of State he rarely mentioned the Finucane or other inquiries and rarely raised issues about the past, which now seems to have come to the forefront. The real challenge is for the future and it revolves around whether we are going to move forward and accept devolution. Will Northern Ireland one day be prepared for a Sinn Fein First Minister? Other real questions are how to deal with dissidents and when we will say goodbye to the past.
We can argue about whether we should have one more inquiry, or two more, or four more, or five more or 10 more, but at the end of the day it will come down to three or four main points: paramilitaries killed innocent people; soldiers sometimes got involved in unlawful killings; and the innocent people of Northern Ireland suffered. How many more inquiries are just going to repeat the same points? The future is what counts-and that means peace, which is the only thing that will wash away the blood.
"Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the wounded and the bereaved, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland."
I think Members on both sides of the House would heartily agree with that. I pay tribute to Lord Saville and his colleagues for the thoroughness of their work on the inquiry. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the way in which they have presented the inquiry publicly in the House of Commons. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) who, together with his predecessor, John Hume, fought tirelessly for justice in this very important case. We all pay tribute, of course, to the families of the victims who were killed all those years ago.
In 1998, when the decision was taken to call this inquiry, I was the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office with responsibility for political development. I did not then and have not even for one second since had any regrets, as it was the right thing to do. It was right in the first instance because we wanted to see that justice was done and we wanted the truth to come out. Secondly, it was right because it was part of the wider political picture in dealing with the peace process at that time and since. I have not the slightest doubt that, had we not tackled the issue of Bloody Sunday as we did, there would not have been a successful peace process. I have no doubt at all in mind about that.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The right hon. Gentleman has, perhaps inadvertently, touched on some of the problems with the Saville report. Many in the Unionist community believe exactly what he has just said-that it was a political decision taken for political reasons with a premeditated outcome in mind that determined the announcement on Saville.
Paul Murphy: It depends what the hon. Gentleman means by political. I am not saying for a moment that it was a party political issue. I used the term "political" in the sense that it was part of the bigger picture to achieve peace. Both things together were important. Clearly, the nationalist community, the Irish Government, the American Government and people generally believed that we had to deal with this particular issue in the way that we did. That does not mean for one second that we did not have to deal with the other issues as well-I shall touch on them in a few moments-but Bloody Sunday was part of the problem.
There was a time some years later, after I had become Secretary of State, when I was troubled about the costs. At that time, it fell to me to deal with the direct government of Northern Ireland as well as the peace process, and £200 million is a great deal of money. Money was needed for hospitals, schools and other services to run a society in Northern Ireland, and of course those costs troubled me. They troubled me to such an extent that when some years later I agreed with the Canadian Judge Cory that there should be four public inquiries-into the cases of Wright, Hamill, Nelson and Finucane-we decided to use a different mechanism, through the 2005 Act and other Acts of Parliament, in the hope of making the process cheaper. In fact, the cost of those inquiries turned out to be £30-odd million.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) about Finucane. I gave an undertaking on behalf of the Government that there would be some form of judicial inquiry into the Finucane case. None of that means that we undervalue the loss of the lives of people who served in the armed forces, the security forces or the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Thousands upon thousands of members of the armed forces and the RUC died as a consequence of the troubles, and we must never forget the sacrifice that they made. However, the Army is an organ of the state. In a liberal democracy the state has a responsibility to ensure that the Army does the right thing, and that is why the Saville inquiry turned out as it did.
Sammy Wilson: Does the right hon. Gentleman not see where his argument is leading? It appears that, for political reasons and, he says, to advance the peace process, it was considered necessary to hold an inquiry into what had happened in Londonderry, but it was not considered necessary to hold an inquiry into the deaths of many RUC soldiers and innocent civilians who had been killed by terrorists.
Paul Murphy: All that took place over a period of 15 years or so. One of the purposes of the Historical Enquiries Team, in which I was involved, was to enable us to satisfy all parts of the community that we were dealing with the past.
Let me repeat that the primary purpose of the Bloody Sunday inquiry was to establish the truth: to find out what had happened, and whether the Army was culpable. The inquiry found that it was culpable. However, another purpose of the inquiry and, indeed, of Judge Cory's recommendations, was to maintain the process of bringing peace to Northern Ireland. Ensuring that the peace process continues is a noble cause, not an ignoble one, and if it means that we must deal with the past in whatever form, it is right and proper for that to happen.
The fact that 3,500 people have died over 30 years and tens of thousands have been injured in one way or another must be addressed, and the savagery and wickedness experienced by Northern Ireland in those 30 years was not confined to one side. How should that be dealt with? Let me draw the Secretary of State's attention to two issues. The first is cost. Of course these are difficult times, but, although this may seem a truism, Northern Ireland is a special case. When Senator George Mitchell concluded the Good Friday agreement on Good Friday 1998, he said that it was the beginning, not the end, of a process. He was right. Since then there have been tremendous developments, in which the DUP and other parties in Northern Ireland have played a huge part, but the process will not end overnight. We must have a system that involves spending money, because we must ensure that if the Northern Ireland Executive have to take on certain responsibilities, their funding must be adequate.
Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman said that the Army was an instrument of Government and must therefore be accountable. Individuals who were certainly active historically are now part of Government. Should they not now be accountable for their historical actions?
Paul Murphy: My right hon. Friend raised that issue with the Director of Public Prosecutions. If there are indications that those people must be prosecuted, that is not a matter for Government, but for an independent body. My point is that if there are any further developments on dealing with the past, the Northern Ireland Executive should not be asked to pay for it.
My second point is this. The Secretary of State mentioned the Eames-Bradley report. Mr Eames and Mr Bradley know perhaps better than anyone else of what happened in the past in Northern Ireland, and I think it unfortunate that the press dealt with only one recommendation in their report. There were other valuable recommendations on issues such as the legacy commission, the reconciliation forum and the role of the Churches, and the Government ought to consider them.
When I was Secretary of State, I went to South Africa to see whether the process of truth and reconciliation there could be applied to Northern Ireland. I concluded that it could not-that there could not be a one-size-fits-all solution, and that Northern Ireland must decide for itself how to deal with the past. However, I also concluded that if the problem was the absence of consensus, nothing would happen. We could not wait for a consensus, but we must seek one.
The position of the current Secretary of State is very different from mine, and that of my successors, when we had to deal with such matters as housing and education. He is in a position to work with the Executive to deal
with the issues that reflect the past. I have no doubt that a consensus can be reached, I have no doubt that we will have to deal with it, and I have no doubt that the Executive must address other huge, pressing issues, such as the problem of schools and of dealing with the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Northern Ireland budget. Those are vastly important issues which must exercise the minds of my right hon. Friends and others in Northern Ireland, but that does not mean that it is not possible to deal with the past as well.
I believe that we cannot face the future unless we deal with the past. The two must be dealt with in parallel. The issue is how they are dealt with, and how consensus is achieved so that people, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Unionist or nationalist, republican or loyalist, can ensure that we have a peaceful and a prosperous Northern Ireland.
Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). He ended his speech by drawing attention to the need to bring people together and to allow Northern Ireland to move on. Last night, he and I-along with one or two other Members, including the Secretary of State-attended a dinner held by the Integrated Education Fund, whose aim is to bring people together and educate them regardless of their religion. Like the right hon. Gentleman and many other Members, I fully endorse that aim, because the future must be important.
On 15 June, the Prime Minister said that the killings on Bloody Sunday were unjustified and unjustifiable, and the Secretary of State repeated that today. I know that the way in which the Prime Minister dealt with the report in his statement has brought closure to many, though not all, of the families involved. It has brought a degree of comfort, and a degree of solace. The Prime Minister should be congratulated on that. The fact that some of us may have questions to raise about the way in which the report was conducted does not in any way compromise the words of the Prime Minister: he spoke them, and he spoke them very effectively. However, some questions do remain about the way in which the report was conducted.
I have the privilege of being Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. One or two concerns have been expressed in the Committee, particularly about the time that it took for the report to be compiled and about the costs associated with it. It was estimated in the then Northern Ireland Office that the process might take a couple of years. Lord Saville referred to that when he appeared before the Committee on 13 October. In answer to a question about the time scale, he said:
"We did not have one. I am told that the Northern Ireland Office thought it might last a year or two, or something, but on what basis they made that estimate, I have no idea."
There was obviously something of a disjoin between the Northern Ireland Office and Lord Saville on that point. The prolonged time that it took to complete the report must have been very frustrating for the families and, indeed, the soldiers involved. A further problem is
that memories would have already faded by the time the inquiry began, and would have become even weaker by the time it ended.
There is also, of course, a great deal of concern about the cost. In reply to a question about setting limits for the number of hours the inquiry could sit or the amount per hour lawyers could be paid, Lord Saville said in evidence:
"I just do not see how you can, in advance, put down any sort of time or cost estimate",
"I do not see how you can"
set limits, yet limits were set. My point is that there seemed to be a lack of co-ordination between the Northern Ireland Office and Lord Saville, and a lack of control over some aspects of the inquiry.
The point could be made that if the inquiry were to be independent, it should have nothing to do with, and be in no way the responsibility of, the NIO, but it troubles me that it is reported that Lord Saville refused to meet the NIO permanent secretary to discuss the report, and I know that that troubles some Committee members as well.
The original estimated cost of the inquiry and then the report was £11 million, with lawyers fees estimated at £1 million, yet the overall costs were £191.4 million, with lawyers' fees of £100 million. I know that public contracts often run somewhat over-budget, but I think that is stretching that to the absolute limit. Again, I do not in any way wish to compromise the words of the Prime Minister on 15 June, but as taxpayers' money was involved here, we are entitled to ask these questions.
The fact that the process took so long poses certain questions about exactly how accurate some of the evidence given could have been. We all have memories of the past, and if we are remembering a particularly important incident, we will remember it very vividly, but when we look back-or when, perhaps, television extracts are replayed or we read a book on the subject-our memories might not be quite as things were. Therefore, the fact that the inquiry went on for so long will have resulted in something being taken away from the memories of the events.
It should also be noted that we are looking back at a different era-we are looking back to January 1972-and I want now to read out some comments by Lord Saville that have not been given a great deal of airing in previous debates. In paragraph 2.6 of chapter 2 of the summary, he says:
"Parts of the city to the west of the Foyle lay in ruins, as the result of the activities of the IRA...A large part of the nationalist area of the city was a 'no go' area, which was dominated by the IRA, where ordinary policing could not be conducted and where even the Army ventured only by using large numbers of soldiers."
"There had been numerous clashes between the security forces and the IRA in which firearms had been used on both sides".
Mr Gregory Campbell: The hon. Gentleman is accurately explaining what Lord Saville said in that section of the conclusion, but does the hon. Gentleman not share my amazement that, having come to that conclusion, Lord Saville did not investigate any of that destruction or any of the context that led to the events of 30 January?
Mr Robertson: I am quoting from the summary, but I am well aware that there is a mass of further information behind that summary, and I know that Lord Saville has looked into quite a lot of it. The particular point I have highlighted has troubled me, however.
I was in Londonderry about three years ago-the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) kindly welcomed me. I am not sure whether I have told him this, but on the next day I visited the police, who were doing an excellent job. At the end of our meeting, at about lunchtime, I asked whether it would be okay if I, as an Englishman, went into the Bogside Inn. The police froze for a moment, and then replied: "Only if you don't say anything." That was three years ago, when we had relative peace, so what must the circumstances and atmosphere have been like in January 1972?
Again, I am not trying to suggest that what the soldiers are accused of having done was right in any way, and I am not in any way trying to play down or underestimate the pain the families involved must have felt, but I think there is an issue here. It is very difficult to look back so far, partly because memories fade, and partly because we, in the safety of our lives, are judging the actions of people who must have been extremely frightened. I do not know how I would have felt in that situation; it is very difficult to assess that accurately.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) made a point about that background atmosphere and what created it. Again, I am not trying to excuse what was done but, as was said in our Committee, people who are or were paramilitaries refer to that period as the war. I wish they would not call it that, because there are casualties in wars, and quite often there are many innocent casualties. I do not know whether any paramilitary commanders had machine guns with them that day, or if they did, whether they used them, but if they did have machine guns that day, they share some of the responsibility for what happened.
We should pay tribute to Lord Saville for the detailed work he has carried out, and we should support the Prime Minister in what he has said, but I agree with what a number of Members have said so far: we must now look to move to the future. I have read through a lot of this report, and I also read through a lot of the Billy Wright report a few weeks ago, and what strikes me is the waste involved in paramilitary activity, with Catholics hating Protestants and Protestants hating Catholics. That literally wastes lives, and it wastes opportunities too. Some of that still exists. Recruitment to the police is still done on the basis of recruits' religion. I want Northern Ireland to move towards normal politics, but that is not normal politics.
We have to move to the future; we have to put the past behind us. There are serious questions about how we do that, however. Just last week, I welcomed a number of MPs from Rwanda to my constituency. We talked about how to reconcile the past with the future and they visited Belfast to discuss those issues. Last night, I had a meeting with two members of the families who were bereaved at Ballymurphy. All of that is very difficult and painful and I do not have an easy answer, but what I do know is that we have got to keep searching for those answers so that the present and future generations do not lose out in the way that past generations have.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Lord Saville and his team carried out public hearings beginning in March 2000, and the final witness was heard in January 2005. In total, 2,500 statements were taken, as a result of which 922 people were called to give direct evidence. Some 610 soldiers, 729 civilians, 30 journalists and photographers, 20 Government officials and 53 police officers gave evidence in some form. As we have heard on numerous occasions, the total cost was in excess of £191 million. Some of the families of those killed in Londonderry on 30 January 1972 have received some form of closure.
As I alluded to in my recent intervention, Saville concentrated almost exclusively on the events of the day in question. However, I and others have repeatedly stressed the need to examine the background and context of the events. After the Saville report was published in June, I spoke out saying it was simply not possible to declare the absolute truth about what happened some 30 years after the event. Because of what I said I was subjected to a vicious hate campaign, not least of which included a Facebook site where a number of contributors indicated that I should be shot dead; a Nazi poster showing a bullet hole through my forehead was put on the site. I went to the police and, that fact having become public knowledge, it was pleasing to see on Monday 21 June that hundreds of people who had signed up to supporting the aims of that site-wanting me murdered-had withdrawn their names within hours of the story breaking on that day. It would appear that supporting violence in secret is quite a good thing for some people but when it becomes public knowledge, they are not so keen. I understand from the police that the prosecution service is studying the evidence and that the police and prosecution service are deciding whether a prosecution is warranted-I await the outcome in due course.
Whatever is found about the attacks or the consequences, the truth about Saville, the context and the background must and will be told. Some try to insinuate that Bloody Sunday was the origin of the troubles, while others attempt to rewrite history by saying that if Bloody Sunday had not happened, the IRA would have been a footnote and a mere minor problem, but Northern Ireland was subjected to frequent attacks. The campaign between 1956 and 1962 was very fresh when the troubles, as they became known, broke out in 1968. Internment had been brought in just before Bloody Sunday to deal with the worsening problems. Widespread violence, right across Northern Ireland, was endemic.
Twenty-one people were murdered in three days of rioting in August 1971. On 10 August 1971, some six months before Bloody Sunday, Bombardier Paul Challenor became the first soldier to be killed by the Provisional IRA in Londonderry, when he was shot by a sniper close to the route of the fateful march on Bloody Sunday. A further six soldiers had been killed in Londonderry by mid-December 1971, five weeks before Bloody Sunday occurred. Almost 2,000 rounds were fired by the IRA at the British Army, which was patrolling the streets, and 211 explosions and 180 nail bombs were aimed at the Army, civilians and ordinary civilian properties, shops and homes in the vicinity, so Provisional IRA activity was rife before Bloody Sunday occurred. Thirty British soldiers were killed in the remaining months of 1971.
Both the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA had established no-go areas for the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary through the use of barricades. At the end of 1971, 29 barricades were in place to prevent access to parts of the Bogside where the march was to take place, 16 of which were impassable, even to the British Army's one-tonne armoured vehicles. IRA members openly mounted roadblocks in front of the media, and daily clashes occurred between nationalist youths and the British Army. Rioting and incendiary devices aimed at shops caused a then estimated total-this was 40 years ago-of £4 million-worth of damage to commercial property.
I say all this to lay out the context, which Lord Saville did not lay out-£191 million was spent and he did not lay out the context of why the soldiers were there in the first place. I shall tell hon. Members why they were there. The central element of any comprehensive investigation into the events is that the soldiers were going into an area that was extremely hostile and where they were likely to encounter violence. But did Lord Saville-did the report-indicate that that was the factual premise from which to conduct the investigation? No, I am afraid he did not.
The fact that the soldiers met with violence only reinforced their view that they were in for a heavy concentration of fire. Such a concerted level of terror was not unique to Londonderry; as I have said, it was endemic in other parts of Northern Ireland. The truth is that murder, mayhem and terror were rife. In the weeks before the day, there were nine separate bomb attacks on commercial premises, six separate shooting incidents and an 80-minute gun battle, and gelignite and nail bomb attacks were prevalent. Reference has been made to the despicable and cowardly murder of two policemen that then took place three days before the parade and on the very route of the parade. One was a Protestant and the other a Catholic, and one was buried on the day of Bloody Sunday.
It remains the case that we will probably never know the truth of all that transpired on that day. Lord Saville can give his conclusions, and the Front-Bench teams of the Government and the Opposition can concur with those, but we will never know the truth. One participant in the Saville inquiry revelled in the thought that he would not engage in open-ended dialogue about what he was doing in the run-up to Bloody Sunday or on that day. He said that he was the 2IC of the Provisional IRA on that day and in that era; he is now the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. I welcome his move away from violence and endorse the move towards embracing peace, but unfortunately he refused to go into any detail about his involvement in the IRA on that day. Lord Saville concluded that he "probably" had in his possession a machine gun on that day.
As has been alluded to in the debate, it would appear that some people are demanding prosecutions of soldiers who complied with the Saville inquiry and answered all the questions posed to them throughout the inquiry, but there does not appear to be the same eagerness or intensity of purpose to say that we should also look at the prosecution of someone who "probably" had a machine gun on that day. We have to ask what he was doing with the machine gun on that day. The conclusion is that we will never know.
Saville fell well short of analysing what happened before and during the events of that fateful day. We will not know the truth of all that happened. The one lesson that we can learn from the Saville report and the inquiry is that inquiries, however intense and however long, however protracted and however costly and expensive, seldom, if ever, bring progress towards the future. Let us move forward and not back to the past.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I shall make a brief contribution. In the Chamber today there are many experts on this subject, some of whom have spoken already and others who, I see, seek to contribute later. That is why I will keep my remarks brief.
The Saville inquiry was clearly necessary. There is no doubt about that. I do not have personal experience of what happened in Northern Ireland or of its history, but I recall as a teenager thinking that there was something about what happened on Bloody Sunday that I, as a British citizen, needed to be worried about in terms of the human rights implications. It was there-something that I was aware of as I was growing up-so I certainly believe that the inquiry was necessary.
In extremely difficult circumstances, the inquiry has done a very good job of finding out what happened on that day. A couple of months ago I went to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to try to corroborate a piece of information I had received when I was attending the G20 protest as a legal observer. Notwithstanding the level of CCTV coverage of that event, it was incredibly difficult to corroborate one piece of information I had received from a couple of demonstrators about the alleged activities of plain-clothes police officers in that demonstration.
That took place on 1 April 2009, with a considerable police presence, observers and CCTV coverage, and it was very difficult to pin down the information that I sought. The work that was done on events that happened many decades ago sets a standard for us in the UK and for other countries, indicating what a Government can do if they want to.
It was clearly right for the Secretary of State to reiterate the apology that has been given previously for what happened on that day. It was right also for him to recognise the sacrifice of many, many people who defended the lives of others in Northern Ireland, often at the cost of their own lives. Good progress has been made, but the work is clearly not yet complete.
I hope the Minister will respond to points made by the official spokesman for the Opposition, the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), on issues relating to public inquiries and his undertaking that there will be no others, and what the alternative will be. I hope also that the Minister will respond to the point about the funding for the Historical Enquiries Team. It has much more work to do and the funding issue needs to be addressed.
Coincidentally, today in Westminster Hall, I initiated a debate on consular services and the support available to British citizens when their loved ones are murdered or killed abroad. One thing that came out of that was the importance of ensuring that people had a clear understanding of the support they could get in such
cases, from which agencies and from which Departments. I hope that out of this tragic affair-not that we anticipate a similar event occurring ever again on the same scale, but there may be individual incidents-the process will at least have clarified what support should be available for people if ever they find themselves in similar circumstances again, or if new families find themselves in a similar situation in the near future.
Finally, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and others have spoken about reconciliation and the importance of moving the agenda forward. I know that the Government will provide leadership on reconciliation, and will engage with the devolved Administration to ensure that we move things forward in Northern Ireland. I am sure the Minister, the Opposition parties and the parties from Northern Ireland will want to work constructively on that in future months.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): On 30 January 1972, the day known as Bloody Sunday, I was 13 years old, growing up in Northern Ireland, when 13 men lost their lives on the streets of Derry, and another man subsequently died some time later from his injuries. I can still recall vividly the events of that day as they unfolded on TV screens.
I can also recall the major impact of those events on the political landscape not only of Northern Ireland but of the island of Ireland-how these events acted as a catalyst for further years of pointless violence, death, destruction and political sterility, as well as further creating deep fissures of sectarianism and division within our community.
I welcome this debate and the fact that the former Prime Minister, John Major, opened the way for the inquiry, that Prime Minister Blair announced the inquiry in 1998, that Lord Saville was appointed to undertake the inquiry, that it took place and that it reported the events of that day in such an analytical and humane way, thus repudiating the Widgery report and vindicating those who died. I welcome the fact that the current Prime Minister, in his statement to the House on 15 June, stated:
" What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable."
"what happened should never, ever have happened...The Government are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the Government-indeed, on behalf of our country-I am deeply sorry."-[ Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 739-40.]
There is no doubt that the Saville report and its findings, and the Prime Minister's statement, dealt with all this in a very sensitive way and helped to bring solace, relief, vindication and comfort to the families of the Bloody Sunday victims and their friends. We in the Social Democratic and Labour party are still looking for some answers, and I hope that today's debate and others will help to bring further closure and give answers to the people of Derry. There is no doubt that those people must be commended for being so joyous on 15 June as they showed their enjoyment in Guildhall square.
Saville's report and the statement from the Prime Minister were welcomed the length and breadth of Ireland in political institutions. My colleagues in the SDLP, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and his predecessor John Hume, along with the local community in Derry, campaigned for truth and justice for the victims of Bloody Sunday and other atrocities.
Questions now arise. Where do we go from here? There has been much positive debate today, and there have been other comments, too. I simply urge that we speak about these events with a certain level of humility and generosity. There have been various debates, including in the other place, as well as statements and questions in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dail Eireann. I believe that we need to seek full clarification from the Secretary of State regarding the deliberations with the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State for Defence, and I want to refer to the question I asked the Prime Minister on 15 June, reported in column 752 of Hansard.
I asked when the report would be made available and whether its contents would be made available to the House. The shadow Secretary of State has asked whether it would be made available in the Library, as there are questions that need to be answered. What levels of redress will be made available to the families? What methods or apparatus will be put in place to deal with all the outstanding cases that have been plagued by indecision and the need for truth and justice? Reference has already been made to Finucane, but what about Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill? Outstanding cases are being dealt with by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, such as those of McGurk's bar and the Loughinisland atrocity, in my constituency.
There is one overriding feature of all this. We are joined today in the Public Gallery by relatives of the families from Ballymurphy, who lost their loved ones in August 1971 after internment was announced. Those families lost loved ones, and the connection is that they were all shot by members of the Parachute Regiment. It is also believed-I put it like that-that some of those soldiers could have been involved in Bloody Sunday on the streets in Derry. Those families in Ballymurphy need truth. Ways must be found to relieve their immeasurable burden and grief. They require redress and compassion from the state; they require the stigma to be removed from them and for the innocence of the people who were killed to be declared. They require an inquiry to do that. I urge the Government to listen and to pay heed to their pleas. Mercy and compassion must be displayed. Many people in Northern Ireland and throughout the island and this country have lost loved ones because of what happened. Many families, not least my own, have been tinged by violence, destruction and death. A mechanism needs to be found to deal with all this in a very sensitive way.
We politicians-I mean all politicians, but particularly those who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland-need to build a truly shared, reconciled pluralistic society that has respect for political difference. It should have political institutions that are truly embedded and centred on the principles of partnership. The principles of social justice and equality should be allowed to prevail, thus enabling a new society to emerge and grow-a society in which violence and sectarianism are not allowed to
fester and in which they belong to the past. We want a society in which it is possible to learn from the past and not to live in it and in which it is possible to show respect and provide truth to those who have lost loved ones no matter which part of the community they come from or what their political affiliation. We must ensure that conditions are laid down in which violence of the kind perpetrated in this instance by officers of the state, as well as the violence perpetrated by paramilitarism and the dissidents whom we totally deplore and repudiate, is never allowed to reign again on the island of Ireland.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The events of 30 January 1972 are a hideous stain on the British Army's reputation. It was a bloody day and a catastrophe. No soldiers were killed but 14 civilians were. Let us be quite clear that it was a total failure of leadership by 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. I fully endorse the Prime Minister's profound apology and the Secretary of State's apology earlier today for what happened on Bloody Sunday. I was serving in the British Army at the time-as, I suspect, were a few other Members of the House-and I shall try to explain what we felt then. We in the British Army knew that a great wrong had been done; we did not need any Widgery or Saville to know that.
I was a young officer then. I joined my battalion, 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, in January 1970 and the first thing I was told was that I was going to Northern Ireland on operations-my own country. That came as a huge shock. I had been brought up by my father and gone to boarding school, with my father fundamentally serving his country abroad on operations. I had spent most of my time in the middle east, so hon. Members can imagine my shock when I was warned that I was going to Londonderry within a couple of weeks of arriving in my battalion.
We started our training immediately, but we did not know what to do. We watched parts 1 and 2 of the film, "Keeping the Peace," which was made by my battalion in the 1950s. We were being trained to go into Northern Ireland as though we were going into somewhere like Singapore, Palestine or Amritsar. It was dreadful. We did not know what we were doing. We practised dealing with riots at Weeton camp in Lancashire using formations that the British Army had so often used in the past. In the formation, we had snipers, cameramen, diarists and banner-men, and the banner that I was issued said, on one side "Anyone crossing the white line is liable to be shot" and on the other, "Disperse or we fire". We took that banner to Londonderry, but what was farcical was that the second language on it was Arabic. We sought guidance from an officer with 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment, Lieutenant Vince Hazlewood, and he suggested that we practise dispersing crowds by pushing concertina wire down the road. He said that this would work. It did not.
We deployed by car ferry to Belfast from Liverpool. I could not believe that. We were there with school trips and cars; it was just astonishing. When we got to Londonderry, we went to a place called HMS Sea Eagle, now Ebrington barracks, and from there we deployed into the city. We did small patrols of two
men-I often went out with two or three people-and we made absolutely certain that our rifles were pointing skywards. The idea of us opening fire at our own people was just out of line. Out of line.
When the riots came, we were totally surprised. We went down Rossville street and William street in a sort of box formation à la Malaya or Aden. Immediately, we realised that we had made a mistake. About one third of my platoon were hurt, either with broken legs or with burns from petrol bombs. Do you know what? My goodness, we were frightened. I have been under fire quite a lot since then, but I want to tell the House how fearful it was being on the streets in those days and not having an answer as to how to behave. People were banging planks against walls to make it sound like we were under fire.
We did not use CS gas, we certainly did not open fire and we were not even allowed to draw our batons. We took to putting newspaper down the front of our trousers in wads to try to stop our legs being broken by the incoming bricks. I was in 6 Platoon, and my fellow platoon commander, Nigel Hine, in 4 Platoon, was caught by the crowd and had his jaw broken in three places. He bandaged it up and kept going through the night. He was the first officer to receive the MBE for gallantry in Northern Ireland. We were grossly inadequately prepared, and I suspect that that continued all the way through the early '70s. We did our best, and the last thing that we wanted to do was to open fire. We had the yellow card, and we understood the rules of the yellow card absolutely.
The day of 30 January 1972 was a disgrace. It was also an aberration. One bad event can destroy thousands of good ones, and that was a bad event. Huge numbers of soldiers went through Northern Ireland. The House has already heard that 250,000 did so, and I pay great tribute to those who acted properly, did their duty and cared about the people of Northern Ireland. I remember them today, because more than 700 of them lost their lives-some of them, trying to protect people.
I end by simply saying, as so many Government and Opposition Members know, and as we knew at the time, that 30 January 1972 was an aberration. It should never have happened. It was a total failure of leadership, from battalion command down, and my goodness I hope that it never happens again. But I ask hon. Members, please to remember how well the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and all those concerned about what happened in Northern Ireland behaved right the way through the 38 years of the troubles.
Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important and significant debate and to be able to follow a number of very powerful contributions, most recently from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I commend the Government for ensuring that there is this opportunity to debate the Saville inquiry report, its consequences and the related issues-and also, importantly, to do so at this juncture, there having been some four and half to five months since its publication, a period which has given many people an opportunity to read, consider and reflect on its contents before we discuss it in detail.
The publication of the report was a significant event for all of us with an interest in, connection to, or direct involvement in issues relating to Northern Ireland. As other right hon. and hon. Members have made clear, the time and financial cost involved in the inquiry was considerable. As has been powerfully advocated by other Members-I am sure that others will do so later-many families of those who lost their lives on 30 January 1972, and indeed the family of the victim who died some time later in hospital, have expressed their relief at having received some kind of justice. I use the term "justice" very tentatively. As Lord Eames said in the debate on this issue in the other place, there can be widely differing interpretations of justice. For some, the very publication of truth is sufficient for them to be able to move on. For others, quite understandably, justice is a much more complex issue that may require the progress on prosecution to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred.
Many in this House, several of whom we have heard from this afternoon, have much greater personal experience and detailed knowledge of the events of January 1972 than I do. There are now many Members of this House, including me, who were not born at the time of those events. Our experience has perhaps been limited to the footage or photographs of Father Daly with which we are all so familiar. However, I think it is without question that the events of that day had an impact on all parts of the United Kingdom, directly and indirectly, for many years afterwards. That is why it is crucial to deal with the report in the right way.
"no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past."-[ Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 741.]
Given the time and financial cost involved, that call for an end to such inquiries appears, on the face of it, to be reasonable. However, it would be a mistake to measure the success-if I can use that term in this context-or otherwise of the inquiry purely on the basis of time and money, and a graver error still to use the experience of Saville to rule out any inquiries into other events to which we have heard reference. It is simply not possible to put a price on what the report has done, and will do, for the family of Jim Wray, who for years had a stain on his reputation. As one noble Lord put it in the debate in the other place, the report has allowed one victim's family to get a proper night's sleep for the first time in close to 30 years.
Removing suspicion from the events surrounding 30 January 1972, confirming the inadequacy of the Widgery report and providing the opportunity for many people to move on have all been results of the thorough and detailed nature of the Saville report, at least for some people. It has enabled all parts of the community in Derry to begin to take steps-perhaps tentative steps at first, but steps none the less-towards focusing on current issues of importance such as the economy, housing and education, which quite rightly preoccupy people and politics throughout the UK and beyond. We cannot put a price on that.
That is why a call to end future inquiries appears to many to be an injustice towards families of the people involved in Ballymurphy, Omagh and so on. The
opportunity to provide access to the truth, and to the hope and potential that that truth provides, is something that we must not give away lightly.
Many Members have spoken of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, and I am sure that Members will want to put on record their appreciation of the team's valuable work to seek answers in individual cases. However, it is not reasonable to expect it to provide all the answers. It has exhausted, or come close to exhausting, its budget, despite being only somewhere near to halfway through its case load. I am not convinced that it is the right body to deal comprehensively with the large-scale and complex issues arising from some of the incidents that have been referred to this afternoon.
My view is that the Saville inquiry was the right thing to have initiated, and I commend those involved in the detailed decisions that were taken before it could take place. However, despite the Government's positive and commendable response to the inquiry, particularly on 15 June, they have so far given scant detail about how exactly they intend to proceed. It is important that they do so, as I hope the Minister will in his closing remarks. I am sure that many people both here and elsewhere will be listening carefully to his words. The opportunity to cement devolution, and to anchor the lasting peace in Northern Ireland that so many people have worked so hard to promote for so many years, must not be lost.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex). He made an extremely perceptive speech, and, with respect, a modest one given his level of experience. It was extremely informative, and I am grateful to him.
I am surrounded by a clutch of hon. and gallant Members, and we heard an extremely powerful speech from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), a colleague and friend whom I have known for many years. I believe that he and I are the only two Members who have had the privilege of commanding infantry battalions. Before I come on to that, I thank the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell)-I am sorry that he is no longer in his place-for his speech, which put the whole Saville inquiry in context and was extremely important.
I suspect that the business of commanding a battalion is like no other. At one's hand are 600 or 700 men, who are impressionable and not necessarily easily led, but who are looking to one individual in the battalion not just to lead them but to set the tone for the battalion, and to ensure that things go right, but that when things go wrong they are dealt with.
Curiously, I ended up as the defence reporter for the "Today" programme. In 1999, my editor requested me to try to find Colonel Derek Wilford, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who had not had a chance to speak on the radio about what had happened on that morning in January 1972. I eventually tracked him down and asked him whether he would like to come on the radio and put the perspective of 1 Para across to the British public, and he did so. I do not know how many hon. Members here heard that interview, but his testimony was jaw-droppingly embarrassing. He ended up being sued by the brother of
one of the victims, who he suggested, quite clearly, was an active terrorist when he was not. It is interesting that the inquiry said that Colonel Wilford's failure
"to comply with his orders"
"in train the very thing his Brigadier had prohibited him from doing"
It would be very simple to damn the Parachute Regiment-heaven knows it has enough enemies-but it is a fine regiment with a record that is unblemished in so many ways. None the less, that day there was a failure of leadership from one man, who had months before failed to provide leadership in west Belfast.
Worse than that, this involved not the whole battalion, but one support company that took its directions from one misguided individual who believed that he had some God-given right to put straight the situation in Northern Ireland. As a result, the names of the British Army and, to a certain extent, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and all the security forces in Northern Ireland were tarnished by the actions of a small number of maverick soldiers, who got it wrong, behaved badly and who were badly led. When I joined my battalion in 1975 in Ballykelly, my commanding officer repeated an old aphorism. He said, "There are no good regiments and no bad regiments. There are just good officers and bad officers." How right he was.
I was extremely interested to hear the hon. Member for East Londonderry talk about the historical perspective. So far, he is the only hon. Member to have mentioned the broad spread of the history of violence in the island of Ireland. When I joined my regiment, I was conscious that the old Sherwood Foresters had been fighting in Ireland-or policing in Ireland-for two centuries.
Every time I go to the cemetery in Balderton outside Newark, I am conscious that three soldiers from the Sherwood Foresters, who were killed in Dublin in 1916, are buried there. Anybody who fails to understand the historical perspective of the 30 years of violence that we suffered in the latest set of troubles is, as Derek Wilford said, "horribly naive". How do we deal with that? If we accept that this is an aberration and that honourable men and women have had their names besmirched on both sides of the argument, how do we deal with it?
Having listened to the comments from the Opposition Benches, particularly from the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I suggest that if we are to proceed, we should do so even-handedly. We have to understand that there is a spirit of amnesty abroad. We cannot take out of retirement men who served 38 years ago and who were involved in this-for heaven's sake, many of them are dead. We cannot bring these men in front of courts and say to them, "You did wrong. You are now being prosecuted." We might have been able to do so 12 months or even 24 months after the incident-it might have been the right thing to do then-but we cannot do it now, particularly because in the interim we have had the Good Friday agreement, in which convicted terrorists, who have, in some cases, served their time, have had their sentences quashed or vastly reduced. There would be no justice in that, and it would be wrong in those circumstances for former soldiers now to be prosecuted, whatever the rights and wrongs.
We must not again have the length, cost and expense of first the Widgery inquiry and then the Saville inquiry. Great grief has been caused, particularly by the former inquiry, to the families of the dead and injured, who were besmirched for many years as being sympathetic to or even active in the republican cause. Soldiers' actions were lied about, and men were able to shield behind deceit because of the length of the inquiry.
The spirit of amnesty has been mentioned. In the past 38 years, the various inquiries have provided an opportunity for violence and confrontation every time they reached a crossing point. For example, in June, I listened with great interest to a Sinn Fein councillor from Londonderry, who told me that everything would be brightness, sunshine and quiet, that closure had been reached and that people could now be forgiven. I said, "You're wrong. This will beget violence." The next day, a 200 lb bomb was delivered outside Aughnacloy police station. It did not go off, but anybody who has failed to notice what is going on in Northern Ireland needs to have their eyes opened.
We are again involved in a campaign by Irish dissidents. It should come as no surprise to anybody who can open a history book-one could start from Wolf Tone or wherever one wishes. However, approximately every 25 years, there is another pulse of violence and we are in the middle-or perhaps at the start-of one now.
Inquiries such as those that we are discussing do not help. If we must inquire-if we are to use the Historical Enquiries Team-it must be done quickly, effectively and with the utmost application of justice.
In the past few days, we have been absorbed by the threat of being killed or injured by Islamist fundamentalists. However, I know that, exactly as the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has told us, we stand on the verge of another serious bout of bloodletting in the north, and the mainland will certainly be attacked.
If we are not to descend into another spiral of violence, we must learn the lessons of Bloody Sunday. We must ensure that our security services always operate within the letter of the law. Above and beyond everything else, we must ensure that justice and the rule of law are applied properly, quickly and effectively.
Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): I begin my brief contribution by extending a welcome to some of the family members of those who died on Bloody Sunday, and also to family members of those who died some months earlier in Ballymurphy. Their valiant efforts in the face of a great injustice have set the truth free. The courage and fortitude that they demonstrated to the world over many years as they fought for justice and truth are remarkable.
I commend and thank Lord Saville for his superb job in delivering an excellent report in difficult circumstances. He carried out his work admirably in those difficult circumstances. His conclusions are unambiguous and distinct. Any effort by any Member of this House to detract directly or indirectly from the integrity of Lord Saville's report does a great disservice to both themselves and the House.
I want to commend the remarks of the two Conservative Members who served in the Army for the honesty and integrity of their comments, which flesh out the discussion and do nothing to distract from Saville.
The most important and crucial aspect for me was the generous and unequivocal nature of the Prime Minister's bold and courageous statement and apology on the day that the report was published. That was a watershed. It was a tremendous statement, and it offered tremendous comfort to the families of those who were killed or injured and those who had suffered.
The understanding and sensitivity with which the Prime Minister treated this matter are a lesson for those who might wish to close their eyes and ignore the truth. We require truth, honesty and clarity in our relationships if they are to be worth while. Nowhere is that more necessary than in the relationship between the people of Britain and Ireland. Right hon. and hon. Members discussed some of the backdrop and spoke of the recurrent violence, but if we intend to break with the past and move forward to a stable and peaceful future, we must be honest and open in all such relationships, so that we can co-operate for mutual benefit.
We now have a political framework in place, but we did not have one in January 1972. Those of us who have a spirit of reconciliation and are mindful that ambiguity and lack of clarity creates space in which malevolence flourishes, are committed to ensuring that the circumstances of Northern Ireland in January 1972 never recur. Lord Saville's inquiry is a tremendous antidote to the malevolent and malign influences that are out there. In discussing Saville and supporting the relatives and families of those innocent people who were killed, in no way do I or any of my colleagues give any consolation, support or justification to the Provisional IRA or those who orchestrated violence over many years; nor do we support the various dissidents.
It is important in this House and other places of authority that the truth is recognised and worked at. Comment has been made on the backdrop of the Saville inquiry, but I was drawn by a note that was taken a few days after Bloody Sunday. The Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Widgery held a discussion, of which a minute was taken. The Prime Minister thought it right to draw a number of issues to the Lord Chief Justice's attention, including that
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