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"It had to be remembered that we were in Northern Ireland fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war."
For many of us, that propaganda war was taken a bit too far with Widgery-a great deal too far. That did the British Army and the British Government of the time a tremendous injustice. If I could appeal for one thing, it would be this. Let us be honest and open, as hon. Members are today. Let us tell it as it is and as it was. Let us deal with the truth. The state should never allow itself or its agents, whether military or otherwise, to descend to the level of the paramilitary thuggery in Northern Ireland. That thuggery is not a justification for misbehaviour on the part of official organs of the state. They cannot somehow or other justify themselves by saying, "The thugs were out there behaving in a similar way." It is important that the state behaves within the law that it sets. That has worried me since I read the Widgery report, but let us move on.
The truth is that the 14 men and young boys who were murdered that day were innocent. That they were wrongfully killed is presented in a transparent and lucid way by Lord Saville. It is important that we now begin to heal the wounds that were created on that day. As I suggested, Widgery poured salt on to those wounds, but
the families and the rest of us have put that into the past. People will move forward with confidence now that the truth is established.
Some question the cost involved in finding the truth. Those questions are reasonable, particularly in today's difficult economic climate, and I fully understand that they are asked. It is incumbent on all of us who ask such questions to analyse how the costs were amplified. For me, the decision to relocate the inquiry to London in order to hear some testimony perhaps doubled-it at least significantly increased-the cost. A further multiplier was the continual obstruction, legal and otherwise, by Ministry of Defence lawyers and others acting on behalf of some of the witnesses. I say that with no malice: it was a factor in increasing the cost. The cost should not be laid at the feet of Lord Saville, who did his best in almost impossible circumstances. If some people had been prepared to tell the whole truth, the cost would have been cut probably by two thirds.
It is important to reiterate that Lord Saville's inquiry was necessitated by the sheer dishonesty of the Widgery tribunal-I cannot emphasise that enough. That deception added insult to the injury that families suffered and further poisoned relationships between the Irish Republic and Britain. It was a lesson in how things should not be done and, in future, we have to ensure that the relationships within these islands work dynamically and co-operatively to our mutual benefit.
The Saville inquiry was ultimately borne out of the events that unfolded in Derry. I have no intention of dissecting those or going into them in any detail. Nor do I want to second-guess Saville. I urge hon. Members to accept the findings. Regrettably, the Parachute Regiment had-in my opinion, although I understand that others may not agree-to some extent been running amok in west Belfast, inflicting gratuitous violence and death on innocent people for some months previously, especially in the early weeks of August 1971 at the time of internment, when 11 people were killed within 48 hours. Their victims included a Catholic priest, who was trying to tend to someone who had been shot and lay dying, and a mother who was out gathering food for her children's breakfast. There was no justification for many of those deaths and the families are justified in seeking the truth. They are not looking for a big scene: they are looking for clarity. Their brothers, fathers and mothers were described as gunmen, and that accusation has never been withdrawn.
The financial cost is important, but pales into insignificance when compared with the suffering of the families. Michael Kelly was 17 years old when he was killed on Bloody Sunday. The soldier who killed him tried to smear his name, claiming that Michael was in possession of a nail bomb. That lie was utterly refuted by Lord Saville. Michael's brother, John, captured the essence of the inquiry when he said that
"anyone attacking the inquiry is attacking the families. Michael was walking on a peaceful civil rights march when his life was taken from him...This is a non-political, purely civil rights issue."
Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con):
I reiterate my support for the Prime Minister's comments and the apology that he made back in June. At the time, I said that it was difficult for me, as an ex-soldier, to hear the words that
were said and their context. I watched the television that evening and I was shocked-it had quite an impact on me-by the response from the crowds in Londonderry, the huge relief that they felt and the applause that they gave the Prime Minister for his stance. That reinforced my view that the Prime Minister had made the right decision.
As a former soldier, I was one of the 250,000, but rather than being a gallant officer, I was a private. I have never been to Londonderry, but my views and opinions have been formed by the experiences that I went through. The IRA tried to shoot me on the New Lodge road, and tried to blow me up in a 16-round mortar attack in Bessbrook. That fossilised my view of the organisation.
I stood on a cordon in Newry when the bodies of those who were shot in Gibraltar were brought through from the south, and saw the huge response from the town. In the days following that, Milltown cemetery was attacked by a lunatic throwing grenades and shooting members of the congregation who were trying to bury their loved ones. That had a massive impact on me and my colleagues, as well as on the people and communities there. In the days after that, I was about to go on patrol when I saw what I discovered later to be two young corporals being dragged from their car. Later, I saw a video of them being executed on the ground in Springfield road. That was grossly horrific to watch.
We have talked about soldiers and some of the ways of interpreting what they did. I was out on patrol with a group of colleagues when we came across a Catholic fireman who had been shot in the head, chest and arm. We tried to save his life, but we failed. His only sin was to be a Catholic in a taxi in a Protestant area. We saw it as our job to try to save him; it was not a bolt-on. It was part of our role to try to save that person's life, and I was saddened that we did not.
Two members of my unit committed suicide while they were over there, and one lad lost his leg. My regiment, and those before and after, served with great honour and courage. I have worked with the Parachute Regiment, which is fantastic. It consists of men of great honour and courage, and goes back a long time. I had the privilege, as leader of the council, of offering the 4th Battalion the freedom of the city of Bradford just six months ago. It is a privilege to be in their presence. What was done on that day was wrong and horrific, and badly damaged its name, but I tell the House it is a good regiment with good people.
I am not sure whether what I have just said offers any comfort to the families who lost loved ones, and the people who were injured on that day, but I am trying to explain the context as I see it. I am sure that as many people as served in the Army saw the Saville report, and had the toe-curling experience as a soldier of hearing the Prime Minister's words.
Since leaving the Army, I have done a lot of photography, and I taught it at university. Because of my experiences, I have examined a lot of war photography, including Capa's photograph of D-day, the girl burnt by napalm in Vietnam, and the recent horrific photographs from Iraq of the abuse of prisoners. One that had a huge impact on me is that of Father Daly, a priest in the United Kingdom, begging for safe passage for injured people. What a terrible situation to have in our country.
The damage that was done by Bloody Sunday can be seen in an historical context. I was given a piece of paper when I first went over there. It talked about the Romans invading Britain. We had to understand our place, as we went into Northern Ireland, in the context of those few scraps of paper. Bloody Sunday was hugely damaging, and the responsibility on those individuals who failed is great, when we remember the damage that they did to the populace and to the country.
However, some individuals did try to find a different place. I pay tribute to John Hume, Lord Trimble and former President Clinton, as well as to the combatants who chose a different path. I experienced a sense of disbelief when I saw some of the players coming together to shake hands and try to find a solution. I honestly did not believe some of the imagery that I was seeing, because it was so heart-warming; it was a tremendous place to be. I remember watching people arguing the toss about water rates, and thinking how great it was that they were not trying to kill each other.
Having said all that, and having thought how wonderful it was that such a great effort had been made to find peace, I was at a meeting at the Tory party conference recently with Mr McGuinness and I felt absolute revulsion and anger when he walked into the room. So it is great for politicians it, but, that moment involved a huge journey and a massive leap for me. But as he spieled his spiel, and as the media and the Secretary of State challenged him, I realised that that was the place where we needed to be. That is why those Members should be in this Chamber, where they can be held to account. That is the politics of the future.
In a couple of weeks' time, we shall be celebrating and commemorating the lives of the individuals who have died. Another event that occurred when I was over there was the bomb at Enniskillen. I do not know how Gordon Wilson found the strength to say that he would not hold a grudge, and that he did not want to use "dirty" words at a time like that. That was tremendous. In answer to my own question about whether we should drag people back into inquiries, I believe that we need to grasp the moment now. The ground has been set for political debates about water rates, and this is not the moment to go back over all the issues of the 3,000-plus, including the 1,000-plus soldiers, who were killed, and of the brutal events that took place. We need to argue about water rates. We need to hold the Government to account about the comprehensive spending review. Those are the things that need to be sorted now. Northern Ireland needs to be a normal place, and that is the future that I want to see.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I wish to make a contribution to the debate. Much was said at the Bloody Sunday inquiry about how British paratroopers fought to control the streets of the "maiden city" of Londonderry. The inquiry lasted 12 years and cost almost £195 million, and I would like to focus on that, as well as on some of those who have not been mentioned in the Chamber today.
People ask whether the inquiry was cost effective, whether it lasted too long, whether its conclusion was honest and whether it delivered all the answers. The question that many people ask me is whether it will be
the last of the nationalists' demands for an inquiry. We suspect not. Was the Bloody Sunday inquiry value for money? Did it help Northern Ireland to move away from the past and to move forward? Should £195 million have been spent to prove what some people feel was turned into a political point?
I want to focus on the money for a moment. Some of those involved in the inquiry have consistently said that they could have earned more elsewhere. Indeed, one of the inquiry's leading defence barristers said of the criticism made against him that his earning of £4.8 million was unjust, as he could have earned up to three times that amount by doing work elsewhere. Many of us feel that that is untrue; we do not believe it.
Speaking as a Unionist, I am sick, sore and tired of being told that we must forget the past by those who refuse to forget it and of being told that we must move forward. I am all for moving forward-and fully, totally and absolutely support the political process in Northern Ireland. I am 100% behind that; I believe it is the correct way to go. It is good that those who were once involved in activities that are abhorrent to me and the Unionist people I represent have accepted that democracy and a democratic system are the way forward. That is what I want to see. I fully support that.
I want to be able to focus on the economy and jobs and on opportunities for my children, my grandchildren and everyone else's. The hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) is right that we should be focusing and it is good that we are able to. Some people, however, still want to hold on to the past and still want to bring up inquiries, talk about things of the past and spend even more money on stirring up and creating division.
Lord Saville spent some five years writing up his 5,000-word submission and report. At the same time, the information technology for the inquiry cost some £34 million. I would ask whether all these costs were absolutely necessary. Was it necessary for it to go on for such a long period? I understand that Lord Saville spent £175 each night on his hotel. For the record, I point out that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority allows us only £135 a night. I make that point as a small comparison, but it is worth making. The rent of the Guildhall in Londonderry was £500,000 a month. Where was all this money going? Was it absolutely necessary? Flights totalled up millions. Some aircraft companies made a small fortune out of people flying to and fro between Northern Ireland and the mainland.
What the inquiry did not do was deliver an apology to the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, particularly the Unionist people I represent, who daily faced death. It also failed to apologise to those who wore the Royal Ulster Constabulary uniform or the British Army uniform. I want to say clearly, honestly and frankly here today that the British Army needs to know that the politicians will support it wholeheartedly, both in word and deed. I do and I will, and many other Members will do the same.
Some Members have spoken about other incidents in Northern Ireland and it is worth focusing on some of them. Has there been any talk about having an inquiry into those who were burned alive La Mon? They were attending a dinner, but were brutally murdered. Has there been any talk about inquiring into a person-my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) referred to him-who has apparently
walked away from his past and joined the democratic process? According to the inquiry, this person said he was carrying a machine gun on the day of the incident. One thing I can tell anyone for sure-he certainly was not using it to shoot rabbits. Has there been an inquiry into the Remembrance day atrocity at Enniskillen, which the hon. Member for Keighley mentioned? No, there has not been. Has there been justice for those people? No there has not.
Have we seen justice for the people involved in the Darkley Hall massacre? For those who may not know what took place there, men, women and children were attending a church service. They were worshipping God, yet some were killed and some were injured. Has there been justice for them? I do not believe so. What about the 10 workmen murdered on their way back home after work at Kingsmill near Bessbrook in South Armagh? Can we have justice for them? I think we should. What of the four Ulster Defence Regiment men murdered outside Ballydugan, Downpatrick, three of whom I grew up with and one of whom I knew exceptionally well? Is there justice for them? Is there justice for my cousin, Kenneth Smyth, a former B-special man and UDR sergeant, and his Roman Catholic friend who were murdered by the IRA? I do not see it.
I hope you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I become agitated and perhaps a wee bit annoyed when I hear republicans ask for an inquiry into what happened at Ballymurphy when £195 million has just been spent on another inquiry. Is it necessary? Will it help us to move forward? Will it create a better future in Northern Ireland? Will it help communities to gel, to work together, and to focus on the things that matter-the things that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Keighley? I do not think that it will. Do we want another inquiry into Ballymurphy?
Dr Alasdair McDonnell: The families in Ballymurphy have asked for a withdrawal of the slur on their loved ones. By referring to some political activists who are exploiting them, the hon. Gentleman is distorting the facts. The families are just looking for the truth: the simple truth. If there is another way of getting the truth, let us have it.
Jim Shannon: I am all for getting the truth-I am the first person to put my hand up for that-but I want truth for other people as well. I want truth for the people at Darkley Hall, the people at La Mon, the people who were at Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday, and the people who were murdered at Ballydugan. I want the truth for all those people. If we are to have truth, we must have it for everyone, not just for selected people. The fact that this process seems to be trying to obtain the truth for selected people is what annoys me.
Let us be honest: that £195 million could have been spent on things that we should all like to see. It could have built schools, hospitals and bypasses. It could have paid for hundreds of operations, and enabled the elderly to be looked after. It could have provided services from which everyone could have benefited. The legacy that we have is a legacy of tears. I cry in my heart, and other
Members cry in their hearts, every day. We shall have that legacy with us all our lives: it will never leave us. When it comes to tears, when it comes to hurt, when it comes to pain, we have that as well.
I want to see the people whom I represent being looked after, and receiving an adequate response from the Government. I do not want to see barristers living off the fat of the land and receiving large wages as a result of inquiries. I never want to see another inquiry that drags up the past and, by its very nature, does not help us to move forward. I want to see a future for my children and grandchildren, and I want to see fairness for everyone in Northern Ireland. I want to see that happen for the Unionist people whom I represent, and it is my duty to say that in the Chamber today.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): I welcome the opportunity to speak, although I recognise that I do not possess as intimate a knowledge and involvement in Northern Irish politics, or the troubles, as some other speakers-including my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who spoke particularly movingly about his experience in Northern Ireland-and I therefore speak with some humility.
Any armed conflict that continues over many years and arrives at the point at which it has arrived in Northern Ireland-where it can be said that we are at least in the arena of peace-is likely to involve many significant and often critical events along the way. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) rightly reminded us of the turmoil, both political and in terms of the violence in Northern Ireland, that was occurring at the time of the beginning of the troubles and the establishment of the civil rights movement. We saw internment in 1971 and the creation of the Provisional IRA in 1970; in political terms, we saw the rise and false dawn of Sunningdale and its collapse early in 1974.
However, it seems to me that, for better or worse, there is no getting away from the fact that Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972, sits as a fatal day, a fatal moment in Northern Irish history. It was a recruiting sergeant for the provisional IRA, and, as was stressed by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), that in itself led to the inexorable rise of violence. I also believe that the publication of the Saville report on 15 June this year marked another of those critical moments in the journey towards peace, not just because the report pursued the truth for the individuals who lost their lives that day and their families, but because, as many Members have said, righting the wrongs of Widgery was such an important part of the mix. In my view, it has helped to restore confidence in British justice, not just here and on the island of Ireland but further afield. It is also a critical moment in the journey to peace because of the reconciliation it has brought between the various communities in the north of Ireland.
The hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) spoke of the response to the Prime Minister's statement from the Guildhall square in Londonderry. Who would ever have imagined that a British Prime Minister would have been applauded and cheered there at that time? The Prime Minister said that the actions of the soldiers
on that day were unjustified and unjustifiable, and the Taoiseach described his words as brave and honest. These are all important moments that we need to take into account when considering Saville.
The hon. Member for South Down said that we should consider the report with humility. That is a good word. In the debate on Saville in the other place, Lord Eames used the phrase "very sombre", explaining:
"I use the word sombre because I can think of no other appropriate word which would remove triumphalism, or any other equivalent word, from that occasion."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 13 October 2010; Vol. 721, c. 524.]
It is important that we go forward from Saville bearing in mind that no triumphalism should be associated with any aspect of either what happened on Bloody Sunday or as a consequence of the Saville report.
The report's conclusions were, in part, extremely damning. I do not intend to rehearse them now as many speakers have talked about the actions of the soldiers on the day, but some more sympathetic comments were also made which I think should be given an airing in this Chamber. Lord Saville said the acts on that day were the acts of some, not of all, and he commended the restraint shown by many soldiers. He also pointed out the difficulty in separating the rioters from the ordinary marchers and, as we have heard from the Secretary of State, he rejected the idea that there was some kind of intentional plot to set out to kill people that day. He noted, too, that there was paramilitary activity that day. Martin McGuinness was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, and it is probable that he fired his weapon.
"It is a well-known phenomenon that, particularly when under stress or when events are moving fast, people often erroneously come to believe that they are or might be hearing or seeing what they were expecting to hear or see."
It is important that we recognise, as some speakers have, the sacrifice and service of our security forces, intelligence services and the Royal Ulster Constabulary-and the Police Service of Northern Ireland today-for all they have done to try to bring peace and a better quality of life to Northern Ireland. More than 600 service personnel have died and more than 6,000 have been wounded since the troubles began. We owe them a very great deal.
I wish to talk briefly about the costs, an important topic about which we have, perhaps, not heard enough this afternoon. The figures speak for themselves: Saville has cost £191 million and taken 12 years even though we were initially told it might last for only two years. One reason for that is that the scope of the inquiry was very broad-a decision taken by Lord Saville himself, I believe. Also, all the details were drilled down into-every single soldier who fired every shot, and all the other evidence surrounding the incident-instead of a more general view being taken which might have come to just the same conclusions and made the whole process quicker.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): One of the criticisms rightly levelled at the Widgery inquiry and report was that the scope had been too narrow. Does my hon. Friend agree that Lord Saville was right to go into all of the circumstances surrounding the events of that dreadful Sunday?
Mel Stride: My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point, and I am certainly not here to defend the Widgery inquiry, which sat for just three weeks directly after Bloody Sunday and came out with what most of us now accept was a complete whitewash. However, there is a balance to be struck and on the point that my hon. and learned Friend raises, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, writing in The Guardian on 17 June, said:
"The overriding factor in the expansiveness of the oral hearings was a misjudgment about the nature and scope of public inquiries. The purpose of an inquiry is not primarily to apportion blame on any individual participant in the event under inquiry. Specifically, the tribunal positively may not determine civil or criminal liability; that is for the courts.
The aim is to find out what happened and how it happened, and to learn lessons."
We also need to take into account the fact that this happened 38 years ago; the interested-party status that was afforded to a number of people and the legal bills that went with that as a consequence of the wide scope; the various appeals from the Ministry of Defence; the fact that the case was not heard entirely in Londonderry-for a period of 13 months it was heard in London, which alone apparently had a price tag of £10 million-and the use of technology, with the virtual reality reconstruction of Londonderry as it was on that day. All that, bit by bit, incremented the cost to the level that we have heard.
I believe that there was an overarching dynamic at work on the costs, and we have heard about it from the Secretary of State and others. Given the history of Widgery, for the Saville inquiry to be seen as effective, valid and uncompromised it had to be left alone to do its work. The problem is that when that situation is arrived at, and with a judge who is not a business man, the control of the costs is let go. I shall quote one example in this regard. It is very important because, wherever the control of costs might be expected to have lain, the reality is that because of the sensitivities of the peace process and the historical context of Widgery, they inevitably could have lain only with Lord Saville and the tribunal.
"would you not accept that, if you have a process--an inquiry--that lasts 12 years and costs over £190 million, it is inevitable that there would have been efficiencies that could be applied--maybe only discovered with hindsight--that could have delivered the same quality of result but at less money and less time? And if you do accept that, what, with hindsight, would those changes have been that would have delivered it quicker and at less expense?
"I am not sure I can accept your premise"-
"I strongly suspect that you could have gone and got 10 quid a night off the hotel accommodation costs or something like that, or you might have been able to, but if you are talking about really substantial sums, I am not aware of anything, looking back, where we could...have done better."
That illustrates the point more powerfully than any other I could make that we had a judge in charge who was not a business man-of course we should never have expected him to have been that. He was a good judge, and he has produced a very thorough and detailed report, but he and his tribunal would never be expected to control costs.
I wish to talk briefly about future inquiries. As the Prime Minister has suggested, we have to draw a line under future inquiries of this nature. If we do not, we will get into the business of some kind of hierarchy of victimhood, involving those who should be given this kind of opportunity and those who should not. We must not go down that road. It is time for Northern Ireland to move on. It is time for Northern Ireland to start focusing on the big issues, such as the economy, rather than the past.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As the MP for Foyle, for the city of Derry, I welcome the fact that we are having this debate on the Saville report, as was promised. I appreciate the many contributions that we have heard. I do not agree with some of what has been said, but it is important that this House, having established the inquiry, should take the proper time to debate and reflect on the report.
It is important, even on this day, to remember that we are talking about an event that took the lives of 13 people on the day and one more later. We should remember them by name: Gerald Donaghey, 17; John Young, 17; Michael Kelly, 17; Kevin McElhinney, 17; Jack Duddy, 17; Hugh Gilmour, 17; William Nash, 19; Michael McDaid, 20; James Wray, 22; William McKinney, 26; Gerard McKinney, 35; Patrick Doherty, 32; Bernard McGuigan, 41; and John Johnston, 55, who died later.
We should also remember that people were injured that day-again, innocent people. They were Damien Donaghey, Michael Bridge, Alana Burke, Michael Quinn, Patrick O'Donnell, Patrick McDaid, Alexander Nash, Margaret Deery, Michael Bradley, Patrick Campbell, Joseph Mahon, Joseph Friel, Daniel Gillespie and Daniel McGowan.
When we talk about these events, it is important that we do not talk just about an inquiry and a process of reports. It is important that we remember other victims, as hon. Members have reminded us. It should be recalled that on 15 June the Bloody Sunday families, as well as celebrating the verdict in the Saville report of the innocence of their loved ones, and as well as celebrating the articulate and compelling apology that was given by the Prime Minister in the House, took time to remember all the victims of the troubles. They did not think just of themselves. They did not think that they were the only ones who had been denied justice and truth, or that they were the only ones who had suffered in the bitter troubles that we have gone through. That needs to be remembered, in case some of us in the political arena turn this, unfairly and falsely, into an occasion for "what-aboutery".
Many people have offered assessments of the Saville inquiry. I commend to Members an assessment of the Saville report-that is what it is called-produced last week by the International League for Human Rights. In particular, I commend the work of two respected human rights lawyers, Bob Muse and Jack Bray. Interestingly, back in 1972 the league did an assessment of the Widgery report as well. The assessments examined both in their time, and examined the evidence that was available then and now. They are not very long reports but they make compelling reading.
It is important for the House to remember that there are many other questions arising from the Saville report, so I join my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) in asking the Minister, when he replies, to tell us what has become of the report that was to be prepared by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Defence and given to the Prime Minister. Has that report been prepared? Are there other reports and will they be shared with the House and the wider public?
It is not enough for the present Government to say, "A lot of the questions that arise from Saville are not questions for us." People might say that the question of prosecutions will fall to the prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland-to the police and the Public Prosecution Service. There is also the issue of whether there are to be prosecutions here in relation to any perjury that may have been committed when the inquiry took evidence here in London.
The question of the inquests is now a devolved matter. Many years ago the inquests that took place could deliver only an open verdict. That was all they could do. Now, in the light of what has become available by means of the Saville report, the families are clear that they want to see that issue addressed. I know that that will have to be followed through other channels, not just here in the House.
I have listened carefully to what other Members said, and I noted that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) made the point that one of the problems with an inquiry into events so long ago was the difficulty of memories failing. I do not know whether, when he said that, he had in mind the case of General Sir Mike Jackson, who gave evidence twice at the inquiry. The first time he was in the witness box, in April 2003, he failed to mention that within hours of the shooting he was the person who wrote the account that became the received state version-effectively, the official version-of what happened. When he was back in October 2003, he agreed that he had provided such an account. He also said that he had written out the accounts of the shooting by the commander of 1 Para, Derek Wilford, of the commanders of each of the three companies deployed and of the battalion intelligence officer. He said that he wrote their accounts-that that was what he prepared-but in evidence, none of those officers remembered any such thing happening. The question arises whether he came up with the whole narrative himself. Was he the webmaster at the heart of a syndicated deceit that became the propaganda version-to use the words of the Prime Minister in his conversation with Lord Widgery-that went out through British
embassies and the British media on the night of Bloody Sunday and in the days after, and again in the Widgery tribunal?
What happened with Widgery and with that relentless misrepresentation of the events of Bloody Sunday, which involved not just the Army and the soldiers who were there on the day but all sorts of agents of the British Government and the British state, was that lies were erected on stilts and they strutted the world to crush the innocent name of the victims of Bloody Sunday, who died marching for justice in their own streets and offering no violence.
When lies are erected on stilts in that way, dismantling them unfortunately means that a judicial inquiry, a proper, thorough judicial inquiry, was needed. Given all the circumstances, that was going to take time and money. I wish it did not take as much money and that it did not take as long, and I know that many of the families do, too, so let us get some of these things into perspective.
Questions also arise for the Government regarding the Saville report. If they are taking full responsibility-we have heard that phrase used-what are the consequences of that responsibility? Is it just a case of the articulate apology in this Chamber that was so well received in the Guildhall square in Derry? Was that enough? Does that mean that it is over? Are there other questions to be asked?
What of the position of the Parachute Regiment? They were not just involved in Bloody Sunday; as other hon. Members have mentioned, there was Ballymurphy and Springhill. Let us remember that in September 1972 there was Shankill, where the paratroopers again killed two innocent Protestant men. In a poignant irony, one was called McKinnie and one was called Johnston-names that appear in the list of the innocent dead in Derry as well.
Is anybody going to look at what was going on with the Parachute Regiment and its use and deployment? Many of us, when we look at the Saville report, welcome the clear findings on the events of that day and the detailed findings on each and every one of the shootings that took place. We feel that Saville left other questions perhaps not fully accounted for. Should people have known what was going to happen as a consequence of the deployment of the paratroopers that day? If John Hume-and, as evidence now shows, officers of the British Army at the time-had serious worries about the paratroopers, given what had happened in Magilligan, should nobody in charge in government and no commanding officers have had any worries or anxieties about their deployment?
It is quite clear that the RUC senior officer in Derry at the time had serious qualms not just about the Paras being brought in but about the tactics and approach that were being used. His concerns were brushed aside. In the debate in the other place, one noble Lord suggested that part of the problem that day was that unfortunately the RUC local commander was not available as he had the day off. The concerns and position of the RUC commander, Frank Lagan, whom I knew personally, were dismissed on that day.
Wider questions should be asked about the thinking of the Government and others in command that day. People find it hard to believe that this aberration, as
some hon. Members have called it, just boiled down to a lack of fire discipline on the day by some squaddies and to the madness and irresponsibility of one officer, namely Colonel Wilford. Let us remember that in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday-little more than a year later-Colonel Wilford received an OBE in the Queen's honours list. I understand that there is an Honours Forfeiture Committee; is it considering the honour that was given to him? It came as a huge insult to people not just in Derry but throughout Ireland because they saw it as his reward for what had happened on Bloody Sunday-for the injustice and murder of that day and for the lies that were concocted and propagated thereafter. What is being done in that regard?
In the years after Bloody Sunday, the families of those victims, like so many of the grieving families of the troubles, received pretty insulting ex gratia payments. They were told in December 1974 that they would receive those very small amounts of money and negligible compensation was awarded in the name of so many of the young dead who were unemployed or who had no dependants. Those families had to suffer not only the level and terms of those payments, most of which they did not take themselves but passed on to charities or gave away because that is how they felt about them, but being caricatured, besmirched and traduced by a cartoon in a British newspaper- The Sun, I think. Because the news came on 18 December 1974, The Sun did a cartoon showing Santa with £250 notes coming out of his sack.
Let us remember what the Bloody Sunday families have been through. In trying to correct the injustice of that day, they have faced insults, injustice and indifference and they have put up with prevarication and provocation. Let us be clear that they have achieved something not only for themselves but for those who search and thirst for justice in other parts of the world where people face the violations of unaccountable power.
May I correct the suggestion by some hon. Members that Lord Saville's report deals only with the events of Bloody Sunday? It deals also with the context in which Bloody Sunday happened: there are nearly 1,000 pages dealing with events before and leading up to that day. It deals with other deaths, including the murder of the two policemen in the days before. I was at the funeral mass of one of those policemen on the day before Bloody Sunday. That morning, I heard Father Anthony Mulvey condemn the murder by the Provisional IRA; he condemned the IRA, its efforts and its effects not just for what it did to those policemen but for the threat it represented to everyone else. I then heard Father Mulvey again, on the Sunday night, condemn the murder by the paratroopers. He was right about the Provos and he was right about the Paras. Some of us have always held to that line and we welcome the fact that the Saville report has at least released many people from the burden of the wrong verdict on Bloody Sunday-but unfortunately not all.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Mr Deputy Speaker, may I thank you very much indeed for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate? I am not going to pretend for one moment that I am a great expert on Northern Ireland, but I am beginning to get better at it as I continue on the Northern Ireland Committee.
Before I go any further, however, may I pay tribute in my role as vice-chairman of the all-party group on the armed forces, with special responsibility for the Royal Marines, and as the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, to those Royal Marines and royal naval sailors who also ended up losing their lives during the troubles in Northern Ireland? They left behind families and wives who also needed, no doubt, to grieve, and it is important that we pay tribute to the service personnel who lost their lives during those times.
I shall try to keep my contribution brief. I had a great-grandfather who told me that he did not mind his congregation looking at their watches, it was when they started shaking them that he became quite concerned, so I shall try to ensure that nobody-I hope-shakes their watch during my speech.
I am pretty sure that Tony Blair did exactly the right thing in setting up the inquiry, and that Lord Saville has made an incredibly good job-a very thorough job-of the whole process. Most certainly, the people of Northern Ireland now have to try to move on, and I suspect that that means ensuring that they have a grieving process that they can work their way through, so that they can come out the other side. I hope very much that what happened during the inquiry has helped somewhat towards that. I suspect that the reason why it took a large amount of time and effort to ensure that the Saville inquiry was so thorough, and why it answered many of the questions that many people had, was that the previous inquiry, the Widgery inquiry, was such a botched job.
I shall concentrate on the process, because, although I do not know Northern Ireland particularly well, in my short time on the Northern Ireland Committee I have become quite concerned about how the process was gone through. The inquiry cost £190 million, a shed-load of money, and if we were not in difficult times and suffering as far as the public finances are concerned, that might not have been taken into consideration, but in places such as Plymouth, people will most certainly be very concerned about it. Others have spoken about that issue, however.
I am also concerned about the fact that when Lord Saville talked to the Committee during its investigation of his inquiry, he seemed to disregard the idea of having any budgetary control. He said that he needed to ensure that he did the job thoroughly and well, which he most certainly did, but he did not seem to grasp the issue of the public finances. I do not blame him, because that was not necessarily his job, but somewhere in the process a problem occurred, and we have to take cognisance of it and take action to ensure that something similar does not happen should we decide to undertake another public inquiry, whether it be on Northern Ireland, a train crash or a terrorist attack. We need to ensure that we learn from the process in a big way.
I was obviously not a Member when the inquiry was set up, so I come to the issue with a certain amount of hindsight, which is lucky for me, but the lesson that we have to learn is that the process has to be handled much better. I should like to ask a number of questions, and the Northern Ireland Committee might need to ask some more people to come along and have a conversation. Indeed, I may suggest to the Committee's Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), that we invite the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for
St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), to explain the process that he ended up going through and how that process occurred.
Was it right, for instance, for the Northern Ireland Office to be responsible for the process? Should it not have been the Lord Chancellor's department or the Department that was then responsible for justice? Perhaps they should have had a role. After all, they have to deal with judges and lawyers on a regular basis and find out whether they can do a financial deal. I am sure that many of the legal firms that were engaged in the process have done and will do a lot of work for the Government, so perhaps we need to make sure that they did not charge the full hourly rate.
We must then ensure that there is some form of budget and that the Public Accounts Committee has a regular report made to it about how everything is going so that there is much more of a spotlight on it. We had a conversation with someone from the Northern Ireland Office who said that they had invited Lord Saville to talk to them about the budgetary constraints and so on, and he was rather dismissive and said no, he was not going to do that because it could have impugned his independence. I was slightly concerned about that. We are talking about public money-money which, as taxpayers, we end up paying our taxes for. It is very important that there is greater accountability and transparency in this regard.
Furthermore, is it right and proper that a judge, who is part of the legal profession, should be responsible for recruiting these people and deciding who should be handling some of the legal issues? There has to be more transparency in that regard as well.
This has been a very useful debate, and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to take part in it. I am sure that there is more yet to be teased out in this whole process. I look forward to talking to those at the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that they have understood some of the lessons on having a greater ability to control how expenditure takes place and controlling the process so that it does not go on for 12 years and we do not spend some £190 million on it.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): This has been a good debate. We are dealing primarily with the Saville inquiry, which of course leads us on to Bloody Sunday. However, may I again remind hon. Members that in Northern Ireland, for a period heading on for 40 years, there has been Bloody Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday? With the greatest respect to right hon. and hon. Members of this House, apart from those who have served in the forces and those of us who live in Northern Ireland, they have absolutely no idea what it was like to live through the very worst of the troubles and the hell on earth that the population in Northern Ireland had to live through. It was horrific-absolutely horrific.
We know that a lot of families lost loved ones. In my own family, I lost four who were butchered by the provos. The only crime they had committed was that they had the guts to put on the uniform of the Crown forces. Because they did that, the provos took them out. They did not murder them-they butchered them. For
some families in Northern Ireland, the Saville report provided a form of conclusion that they sought. For many more families, it served only to perpetuate the ongoing denial of the truth about the deaths of loved ones. Many hundreds of families in Northern Ireland do not know, and are not allowed to know, the truth about the deaths of their loved ones. I shall move on to that later.
"The situation in Londonderry in January 1972 was serious. By this stage the nationalist community had largely turned against the soldiers...Parts of the city to the west of the Foyle lay in ruins, as the result of the activities of the IRA and of rioting young men (some members of the IRA or its junior wing)...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."
According to the Saville report, the nationalist community-that must mean the majority of the community in Londonderry-had turned against the Army, and that hostility had been translated into violence, wreckage and devastation. The IRA was active, and indeed it dominated a large part of the city. The report further points out that
"the armed violence had led to many casualties. There had been numerous clashes between the security forces and the IRA in which firearms had been used on both sides and in which the IRA had thrown nail and petrol bombs. Over the months and years before Bloody Sunday civilians, soldiers, policemen and IRA gunmen and bombers had been killed and wounded; and at least in Londonderry, in January 1972 the violence showed few signs of abating."
That provides some of the context around the events of that day. Now we have had the report, which has been welcomed by the families and by many politicians and political commentators. It has led to the Prime Minister's apology, but it has also had other outcomes. It has raised important questions regarding the role and behaviour of Martin McGuinness, who was a committed terrorist at that time. When he gave evidence to the tribunal, he refused to be open and full in his comments and preferred to fall back on his oath of allegiance to the Provisional IRA. We now need to know the truth about Martin McGuinness, not solely in relation to Bloody Sunday but in relation to Frank Hegarty, Patsy Gillespie, Father James Chesney and a host of other atrocities. We also need to know about Martin McGuinness's party colleague and fellow IRA commander, Gerry Adams.
The Saville report has also now created a fresh campaign and demand regarding events in Ballymurphy. It is clear that there is now to be an attempt to repeat the entire inquiry cycle all over again. Yet at the very time when that is going on, many people in Northern Ireland continue to live with their sorrow and loss, and with the bitter legacy of the long years of the troubles.
We have had an apology from the Prime Minister for the failings of that day in 1972, and if my recollection serves me right, there has also been an apology from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to Claudy. Yet all across this United Kingdom, whether it be in Aldershot, Birmingham, London, Warrington or all over Northern Ireland, many people-UK citizens-
have been abandoned for decades by successive UK Governments. The direct role played by the Irish Republic in the formation, training, financing and arming of the Provisional IRA is a matter of public record. It is a thorny issue, but it is fact. Yet successive UK governments have said nothing and done less than nothing.
Those who campaigned for the Saville Inquiry did so partly on the grounds that the involvement of the state set it apart from all other events and atrocities. However, here is a case in which the direct involvement of a neighbouring state led directly to the deaths of UK citizens, and the UK Government have simply sat on their hands.
Let me again make an appeal to the Government. If Bloody Sunday was different because of the involvement of the state, then so too were the deaths of many UK citizens because of the involvement of the Irish Republic. Without any cost to the UK Treasury, the new coalition Government could press for an inquiry in the Irish Republic. Yet both the Secretary of State and the Minister have yet to make that call. I have to ask why. Why is it that they will not demand the truth? If Bloody Sunday families deserve the truth, then so, too, do all of those other victims in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in the Chamber on such a significant and important matter. I have been moved by many of the speeches today. Hon. Members spoke about their personal experiences and their efforts in trying to bring about an end to the troubles. I was particularly moved by the contribution of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who spoke about the issues that have affected so many people in Derry.
No Member of this House could doubt the thoroughness and the lengths to which Lord Saville has gone to produce such a substantive inquiry into the incidents that happened on 30 January 1972. We have all been overwhelmed by the depth of the inquiry. However, we should not forget to put the incidents into the much wider context of the troubles that were happening beforehand and those that continued for an awful long time after.
I hope that the Saville inquiry will provide answers to many of the victims of that dreadful day, and by so doing, bring peace and closure for them. I am pleased that the inquiry has laid to rest some of the more outlandish and ridiculous accusations of British Government involvement.
We must not forget the price that has been paid by so many. The Prime Minister quite rightly accepted the role that the British armed forces played in the events that happened on 30 January. He took responsibility and acknowledged the Army's failings, and gave a full and true apology. I am proud and glad that our Prime Minister did that. I have always believed that where wrong is done, the person responsible should own up to it. I wish that many more people who have been involved in the conflict would also do the same.
We must not forget that more than 1,000 British service personnel and RUC officers laid down their lives to try to bring peace to Northern Ireland. We are-I am-ashamed of the incidents on 30 January 1972, but we cannot forget the sacrifice of so many. I urge all hon. Members, whatever their personal views, not to forget that sacrifice.
Let me consider cost. Perhaps it sounds a little cheap to talk about money when we have been considering people's lives, but we cannot ignore the fact that almost £200 million has been spent on the inquiry and that it dragged on for so long. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) said, the chairman, at the start of the inquiry, expected it to cost £11 million and to last for two years. That was either woefully optimistic or incredibly misleading.
Lord Saville did everything he could to get at the truth and to ensure that he prepared a thorough and proper report, but he was in charge of the inquiry and he must therefore accept responsibility for its management and for the fact that, under his guidance, it went from £11 million and two years to not 10 times but almost 20 times that amount. As a member of the Northern Ireland Committee, I was struck by almost a disconnect when we interviewed Lord Saville: he had to manage the inquiry, yet he seemed to feel no responsibility for protecting the public purse as well as getting at the truth. I think that he would almost have gone so far as to say that the two were incompatible. I do not believe that that is the case. I have the perhaps slightly old-fashioned view that any public servant has a responsibility for public money. Lord Saville unfortunately disregarded that somewhat as he went through the many years before reaching the inquiry's conclusion.
Much of the debate since the publication of the Bloody Sunday inquiry has focused on the cost and the length of time. However, we must not forget that it hopefully answered many questions for the many victims who suffered-unfortunately, 14 people died-as a result of Bloody Sunday. We must not lose sight of the fact that so many people paid such a horrendous price for peace. It is not just the responsibility of the Government to apologise for what has been done in the past, but that of all those who have done wrong and committed injustices.
An Irish friend once said to me, "The problem in Northern Ireland is that the Irish never forget and the British never remember." I do not know whether that is true, but it is incredibly important to look forward, not constantly backwards.
Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab):
Forty-eight hours after Bloody Sunday, I was on the ground in Derry with a team of lawyers from the then National Council for Civil Liberties, of which I became chairman. I have never been in a city so silent, traumatised by the death of its fathers, brothers and sons. The following Sunday, with 200,000 others, I marched in Newry. The march was characterised by total silence. Yet four years earlier in Northern Ireland, there were high hopes that a broad-based civil rights movement would end the second-class status of Catholics, and there were high hopes of tackling the problems of high unemployment and deprivation across the sectarian divide. If there was
high unemployment on the Falls road and in Strabane, Newry and Derry, so too was there high unemployment on the Shankill road, and in north and east Belfast. I remember the optimism of that time, but it tragically gave way. It was broken at Burntollet and shattered by the burning of 400 homes in the summer of 1969, which also saw the emergence of the Provisional IRA. A fire that was fuelled by the mistakes of successive British Governments put the British Army in an impossible situation.
I want to make this absolutely clear: I was, often including in the most difficult circumstances, an implacable opponent of the Provisional IRA. The Provisional IRA murdered hon. Members of this House, such as the admirable Airey Neave, a war hero who escaped from Colditz and who died a terrible death but yards from the Chamber, and Ian Gow. It also murdered workers from my union. The victims at Kingsmill, to whom others have referred, were members of the Transport and General Workers Union. Let me tell the House what happened. Their bus was stopped when they were going home after a late shift. They were ordered out. Hooded gunmen asked, "Is there a Catholic among you?" and the Protestant workers gathered around the Catholic to protect him-they would not surrender him. In the end, he stepped forward and was told to go down the road, and the provo gunmen mowed down those innocent Protestant workers.
I am a profound opponent of violence by the Provisional IRA. Let us not confuse that with the Saville inquiry. What happened on Bloody Sunday was a uniquely awful crime in the history of the troubles of Northern Ireland. The murder was made worse by a cover-up-a shameful whitewash-that caused bitterness for a generation. Only now, as a consequence of the Saville report, can Northern Ireland finally move on.
Profound lessons need to be learned, first by the Government. Our first duty is the security of our country, and there can be no truck with terrorism-there is no excuse for the bomb or the bullet. I think of the global situation. There was an intelligent exchange today between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who said the solution to the problem of Yemen being used as a base for terrorism was in part economic development. There are also lessons to be learned from our own country. We must always seek properly to strike the balance between security and liberty.
The second lesson is for the Army. We have today heard outstanding, moving testaments of all that is best in the British armed forces from the hon. Members for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). I know that from my own experience, because for 15 years, I was chairman of the defence trade unions. Three times a year, I would address seminars of senior representatives of the armed forces at Greenwich defence college. I was deeply impressed by the sophistication of the modern armed forces and their leadership, and by those who said time and again that they had learned terrible lessons from what happened in Northern Ireland, particularly from Bloody Sunday. It is to the great credit of the Army that it has done that. Rightly, it now deserves its worldwide reputation as the finest peacekeeping force on the globe, which it earned from Kosovo to Sierra Leone.
The third lesson that we can draw is that the cover-up makes the crime worse. Widgery caused enduring bitterness in Northern Ireland. I have to pay tribute to the Prime Minister. His statement in the summer was brave and right. He did not equivocate for a moment, which led to the deeply moving sight of the families in Derry saying that their sons, brothers and fathers were innocent. What happened that day was this House at its best, and it was a landmark contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
If painful lessons have been learned, it is also right that today we should celebrate remarkable achievements, including the triumph of the peace process and the historic accommodation of the two great traditions of Unionism and nationalism in Northern Ireland. I know from personal experience how tough that can be. Yes, there was remorse from people such as Gusty Spence from the Ulster Volunteer Force, and I remember talking to a shop steward from the old TGWU, a provo gunman who had served 14 years for killing two innocent Protestants and who was racked with remorse for what he had done. However, there are also enduring problems of division and the consequences of the troubles, both economic and social. We also face the threat of renewed terrorism in Northern Ireland, to which every Member of this House will stand in opposition.
The final lesson to learn is the need to stand by the people of Northern Ireland. The House is entitled to say to our friends from all political parties in Northern Ireland that there can be no looking back and no going back. The peace process is a remarkable achievement for the good of the people of Northern Ireland that successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, have worked hard to cement. Contributions from all political parties in Northern Ireland have made the point about the need for continuing public investment, and I strongly agree.
Ireland is truly the emerald isle. However, for two centuries it was racked by division and ruined by poverty. Generations of people left Ireland for economic exile. My father came here from County Cork to dig roads in 1939, and he was followed by my mother in 1940, who came to work in a hospital in London. My father and his brothers then joined the British Army to fight in the great war against fascism. Following those two centuries of division and poverty, we now have-if we can look beyond the immediate problems that confront the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland in particular-the prospect of the next generation finally seeing this great island move on to enduring peace and prosperity. That is an immense prize, and I like to believe that Saville and how it has been handled by this Parliament, will be a landmark in that process.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con):
I wish to associate myself not only with the statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made to the House earlier this year, but with those by both Front Benchers at the outset of this debate. The Saville report is a unique and valuable report, not only in the life of Northern Ireland, but in that of the whole United Kingdom. Like my right hon. Friend, I am deeply patriotic and I never want to believe anything bad about my country, but from the conclusions reached by Lord Saville and his colleagues, it is clear that something
went badly wrong on that Sunday in January 1972. It is my belief that the Prime Minister was entirely right to deliver an apology on behalf of the Government and the nation to the families of those who lost loved ones on that dreadful Sunday.
Where I perhaps part company with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and some hon. Members who have spoken in this debate is on the clarity that has been ascribed to some of the conclusions that the inquiry reached, at least in the minds of some people. I do not for one moment dispute the tribunal's findings, and they are clear; nor for one moment would I defend the indefensible. With one exception, the tribunal was clear. The firing by the British Army that day was entirely unjustified, and indeed contravened the rules of engagement applying at the time.
However, it is right for the House to bear in mind the fact that Lord Saville's deliberations with his colleagues and his conclusions took place a considerable time after the events with which he and the tribunal were concerned. He started three decades after those events, and he ended his task nearly 40 years after them. It was a tall order to ask any judge, even one of the standing of Lord Saville, who was so ably assisted by Mr Hoyt and Mr Toohey, to reach wholly unimpeachable conclusions on the events that underpin the tragedy that we are discussing this afternoon. It is more than a tall order to ask a judge to do so some 30 or 40 years after the events in question, often unassisted by evidence owing to the death of those who were present. When a judge in such an inquiry is assisted by evidence, that evidence will be less valuable than it would have been without the passage of time.
Mr Gregory Campbell: The hon. Gentleman is elaborating succinctly on the tall order of expecting a judge to remember clearly what happened so many years before, but is it not an equally tall order to expect all the witnesses to have a clear recollection of all the events of so long ago?
Stephen Phillips: Indeed it is, and perhaps I was expressing myself unclearly. The difficulty for anyone who presides over such an inquiry so long after the event is that when the evidence is oral-that was principally the evidence that was directly relevant to the matters that the tribunal had to consider-it is undoubtedly weakened by the passage of time. The oral evidence was less satisfactory than it would have been much closer to the events in question.
That brings me to Lord Widgery's report back in 1972. He was able to consider the events much closer to the time, but having read his report on several occasions and for this debate, I have always had, as I have today and as many hon. Members have, a feeling of considerable unease, even if it does not rise to the same level as that in the mind of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey).
The report was produced in a different era by a judge of a different mettle from Lord Saville, who had served in the Army during the second world war and who, in the 10 weeks available to him to deal with the matter, was deprived of much of the evidence that subsequently emerged. It is not my function on this or any other occasion to defend Lord Widgery, great judge as he was in many respects. I suspect that he was hindered by the
absence of evidence before him, and by his training, but I also suspect that he was hindered by his outlook. Constitutionally, it was impossible for judges at that time to accept that soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, like policemen, who gave evidence would not be telling the truth when they said that they were fired upon before they fired.
We shall never know the truth of who fired first, but even with the passage of time and having read the report in its entirety, I have little doubt, given the evidence that supports its conclusions, that Lord Saville came much closer to the truth, even on the balance of probabilities, in finding, as he clearly does, that the first shots were fired by the British Army. I suspect, however, that neither we in this House nor anyone else will ever know for sure who fired the first shot. I accept entirely, as do the whole House and the Government, the conclusions that Lord Saville reached, but I have regretted some of the things that have been said about them by some in Northern Ireland, whatever hurt and anguish they might have carried to this day as a result of the events of Bloody Sunday.
I want to say a little about the position in which 1 Para found itself in Derry on that day. The situation was, in a sense, unprecedented in modern British history, and that should not be forgotten when we consider the report and the motion on the Order Paper. It was a situation in part of the United Kingdom in which the civilian authorities had effectively lost control of a British city and had not the means to regain it, even if they had been willing to make the effort. The Official IRA and the Provisional IRA were both active in the area, and there was real concern that there might be violence between the communities on either side of the sectarian divide during the march planned for that day.
That was all taking place against a background of the nationalist anger directed at the Army and the Government that had previously given rise to the many other incidents of violence that Lord Saville dealt with in his report. Referring to the so-called Saturday matinées-the regular incidents of rioting that took place at the corner of Rossville street and William street, a junction known to British soldiers as "aggro corner"-the report said:
"We have little doubt that had the crowd isolated a soldier, it is likely that he would have been killed."
In this country, we expect a lot of our young soldiers. We expect their bravery, their loyalty and their obedience, and we are right to do so. Yet soldiers are no more superhuman than the rest of us, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) can tell us. The stress under which they must have found themselves day after day on the streets of Northern Ireland must not be forgotten or underestimated. Their lives were at risk, and no one should doubt that to have been the case. That said, however, following the Saville report, I cannot associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said earlier. If criminal acts were committed that day, the passage of time should not be seen to exculpate those responsible, and the course of the law will have to follow.
In a very real sense, given these facts, Bloody Sunday was a catastrophe waiting to happen. Whoever fired the first shot, and whatever actually happened on that day,
all sides involved in the troubles must shoulder some of the blame. This long-awaited report-perhaps too long-awaited, and certainly too expensive-offers the House, the people of Northern Ireland and the country the ability to draw a line under this awful chapter in our history. The truth is now out, and I hope that this opportunity will be taken, so that we can finally ensure that there is peace in Northern Ireland.
Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I should like to begin by thanking colleagues and Members of the House for their friendly comments and advice in the past few days since I took up this new job. It is a great privilege to be winding up in a debate of such historical importance.
We have heard many powerful contributions today, and a great deal of moving personal testimony that has reflected the experience of many Members present, as well as their constituents and comrades. As the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), said in their opening remarks, when the Prime Minister used the words "unjustified" and "unjustifiable" in respect of Bloody Sunday, he spoke for all Members here. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the inquiry is not just about the past; it is about the present and the future. We have heard that, although some question the eventual cost and time over-run of the Saville inquiry, in terms of what my right hon. Friend referred to as its value-its human value-Lord Saville and his team have done us all and the people of Northern Ireland a great service.
We have heard many first-class and moving contributions, and I think I have time to cover them all. The hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) who served in the Scots Guards reminded us that the tragedies of the troubles extended well beyond the day of Bloody Sunday itself. He counselled against having never-ending inquiries and referred to Claudy, Warrenpoint and Bloody Friday. He took the view that the Saville report should represent a line in the sand, whereby we recognise that wider injustices happened in Northern Ireland, but view them as "once and for all". Clearly, Labour Members see a question mark over that. The hon. Gentleman also stressed the rules of engagement for individual soldiers and the responsibility that each soldier has.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) was the Minister for Political Development at the Northern Ireland Office in 1988 and subsequently became a fine Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He made an immense personal contribution to peace in Northern Ireland. He said that the Saville inquiry was central to progress and agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston that there remains a palpable need for a Finucane inquiry, as recommended by the Cory report. My right hon. Friend also argued that the cost of future inquiries-notwithstanding the excellent work done by the Historical Enquiries Team-should be met by the UK Government, not the Northern Ireland Administration. He noted the powerful point that we cannot move into the future until we have dealt properly with the past.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I apologise for my late intervention; I wanted to speak earlier, but did not manage to catch Mr Speaker's eye. Does my hon. Friend agree that the role played by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) in Northern Ireland was exemplary? Does he also agree with my right hon. Friend that the Government should look seriously at the Eames-Bradley suggestions for proper inquiries to look back at past tragedies and outrages during the troubles? If we can gain the confidence of both communities and if this can be achieved without the expense of the Saville inquiry, we should view it as a worthy object to pursue?
Eric Joyce: I thank my hon. Friend and take note of what he says. I take pleasure in agreeing with his comments about our right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen. Much has been said during the debate about future inquiries. Labour Members recognise that there will be a demand for them, although we have to bear in mind the important cost implications. Of course, we think that the Government should come back to us on this issue. I think that many people take that general view. Although some want to move ahead without inquiries, Labour Members do not fully agree with that, although we understand the sentiment of the argument.
The Select Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), was the Opposition spokesman when the present Government were in opposition. He noted that many people assumed in the first instance that the Saville inquiry would take only a year or two. He also noted that the original assumption was that it would cost about £11 million, of which £1 million would be for lawyers. I do not know exactly how much of a lawyer we get for £1 million, but it was certainly not as much as proved necessary for the Saville inquiry. The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the eventual cost for lawyers as more than £100 million. He reminded us of the tragic dimension of the waste of human lives on all sides, and noted how wider lessons can be learned by other parts of the world. He referred to the visit last week by Rwandan politicians to his constituency and then to Belfast. I had the privilege of meeting those very same people. This is indicative of the fact that, at some stage, people can learn wider lessons from what happened in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) told the House about what I view, frankly, as a shocking experience; it is certainly outwith the experience of most Members, other than those representing Northern Ireland. He mentioned what happened through a Facebook site. He reminded us of some of the IRA's early victims, including the first soldier to die in Derry. The hon. Gentleman complained that Lord Saville did not fully contextualise the circumstances of the day. He told us that "murder, mayhem and terror" were "rife" and referred to the fact that two police officers were murdered only days before one was buried on the day of Bloody Sunday itself. He took the view that further inquiries would not lead to progress.
The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) praised the former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair for their role in establishing the inquiry. She welcomed the Prime Minister's statement of apology, which she described as a great comfort to the families, to people throughout Northern Ireland, and to people
in the south. I believe that it was also a comfort to people in Scotland, England and Wales. The hon. Lady mentioned other cases, including those of Rosemary Nelson, McGurk's bar and Ballymurphy, and called for the innocence of those killed unlawfully to be properly declared in future. She supported the call of many other Members for further inquiries where appropriate.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is probably the only Member who was serving in Northern Ireland at the time. He has a prestigious military record and has commanded a regiment, which is important in the context of today's debate. For that reason, his words bore a particular significance. He described the shortcomings of kit and training in the early years of British Army deployment in Northern Ireland. He praised his regimental colleagues, and said that Bloody Sunday was both a disgrace and an aberration. He rightly described it as a terrible failure at the level of battalion command.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) made the important point that justice would be seen and interpreted in different ways by different people. He counselled against measuring the success or otherwise of inquiries simply in terms of time or money.
The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)-like his hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham-has a long and prestigious military record, and, crucially, has also commanded a regiment. He had some specific comments to make about the commanding officer on Bloody Sunday. He made particular criticism of Colonel Derek Wilford, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, and referred to an interview that he conducted with him on the BBC's "Today" programme. I remember that interview very well. I believe it took place in 1999.
I recall the interview vividly. The hon. Member for Newark, who was working as a journalist on "Today", had persuaded Colonel Wilford to appear on the programme. It was staggering that, after all those years and after everyone's questions about Widgery, he did not regret anything for a moment. That was the most astonishing and disgraceful thing that one could possibly imagine, and it has stuck in my mind through the years. It is true that we did not know then what we know now, but it was a remarkable interview none the less, and I remember the hon. Member for Newark's part in it very well.
The hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) strongly welcomed the outcome of the report on behalf of all the families affected. He condemned the Widgery report as essentially part of a propaganda war. He also condemned those who had been guilty of paramilitary violence over the years. He criticised the Saville cost overrun, and, like other Members, referred particularly to lawyers' fees. He also echoed other Members in saying that something was amiss-I am putting it mildly-in respect of command and control in the Parachute Regiment. I believe that that is widely accepted today.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) made a moving speech describing his own experience of serving in Northern Ireland as a private soldier with the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. He reminded us of the sacrifice made by British Army troops over the years, and stressed that although Bloody Sunday besmirched the reputation of the Army, Support Company of the Parachute Regiment on that day did not represent the standards of the Army as a whole then or, in particular, since then. I think that we can all agree with that.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that he strongly supported the peace process, but criticised the cost of the inquiry. He felt that many would think the outcome a political gesture, and said that there had been no justice for the workmen killed at Bessbrook, or for his cousin, a serving UDR officer, and his colleague, who were killed on the same day and at the same time by the Provisional IRA. I think it fair to say that the essence of the hon. Gentleman's argument was that the inquiry process as a whole-including the Saville inquiry and any putative future inquiries-was one-sided by its very nature.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) read, memorably, a sombre roll-call of those who were injured and killed on Bloody Sunday, and asked what would happen in terms of follow-through in relation to issues such as possible perjury, other possible prosecutions, and lessons learned at the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministry of Defence. He specifically spoke about the Parachute Regiment at the time of Bloody Sunday. He said the Saville report left questions unanswered and he asked if Colonel Wilford could be stripped of his OBE. I have heard serving officers ask the same question, although it is not necessarily what everyone would want; different people have different opinions, and these events seem a long time ago now. I had understood until very recently-yesterday in fact-that Colonel Wilford had died. That was reported on the BBC, but apparently when he died he only went to Belgium. I have been to Belgium and it is not such a bad place. He is still alive and well therefore, and he can readily be stripped of his OBE if people think that is appropriate. That is a matter for others, however.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) noted the sacrifices made by British troops in Northern Ireland over the years, and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) felt lawyers should not charge full fees and we should keep down the costs of such inquiries. The hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) felt the Widgery inquiry had been profoundly weak because of Widgery's own experiences at the time and the assumptions he would have had and would have brought with him to his inquiry. He also praised the Saville inquiry unreservedly, apart from a technical reservation or two.
My right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston and others asked a number of questions. Those questions do not raise doubts about the great value of the Saville inquiry report; that goes without saying. I think we all agree about its great value; the families certainly do, as do the people of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. However, some important matters follow on from the report. Perhaps chief among them are questions about holding other inquiries, including on Finucane. I hope
the Minister will be able to say in his reply to the debate when progress will be made in coming to decisions on those matters.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Hugo Swire): This has been an extremely welcome and well-informed debate, which has honoured the commitment given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the House would have an opportunity to debate this important report in detail. I would like to start by recording my gratitude for the supportive words of the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), and the new shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), on the Government's response to this report. I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to his role, and in particular I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as shadow Minister, a post which I am sure he will enjoy very much.
It is important that we approach these very sensitive issues in a bipartisan manner, and I am sure we can rely on the Opposition spokesmen to continue to do so. Having said that, however, their words this afternoon might have carried greater generosity if they had acknowledged the work done in the peace process by John Major and the Conservative party. Next week is, of course, the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement.
The right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) raised the issue of prosecutions. I remind them that prosecutions are not a matter for government. It is for the independent prosecution authorities to consider such issues. It would be completely inappropriate for the Government to intervene by pressurising the prosecution service to provide a deadline. That would clearly compromise the independence of the process.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the lessons learned by the Army. As the Chief of the Defence Staff said in the light of Lord Saville's report, the way the Army is trained, the way it works and the way it operates have all changed significantly, and we should not forget that during the 38 years of Operation Banner in Northern Ireland the majority of the military who took part in that operation, often on several tours, did so with professionalism and restraint.
In response to comments by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Members for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Foyle, I can confirm that, having considered the views expressed in this debate and the debate in the other place, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence will shortly write to the Prime Minister on issues arising from the report. A copy of the letter will be placed in the Library of the House.
The right hon. Members for St Helens South and Whiston and for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West raised the
issue of dealing with the past. This Government promptly published the summary of responses to the Eames-Bradley report in July this year-if I may say so, that was perhaps in contrast to the previous Secretary of State, who now criticises us for inaction despite sitting on the responses for many months prior to the general election. I wish to put on the record my thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord Eames, to Denis Bradley and to the other members of the group.
Mr Woodward: Just for the record, I would advise the Minister to look a little more closely at the reasons why we did not publish the responses to the public consultation. We did not do so precisely because it was more sensible to await the publication of Lord Saville's report, as it would then be possible to make a sensible decision on how to proceed when one can hold the two together. If the Minister pleads for bipartisan support, he should avoid cheap political point scoring in this debate.
Mr Swire: The shadow Secretary of State is at least consistent in so much as he received the responses back in October 2009. I was perhaps trying to draw attention to the rapid progress we have made on many fronts since taking office, given that we were accused earlier in the debate of stalling on so many of these issues.
The Eames-Bradley report was a significant piece of work that has made an important contribution to the debate on dealing with the past. The responses to the report we published did, however, show the current lack of consensus on any wider process. But we have continued to listen to the views of victims and organisations from across the community to find a way forward. There is no question of the Government attempting to close down the past. We will continue to be measured and sensitive in our approach. As we continue to engage on the potential for wider mechanisms, we should also acknowledge the ongoing work to address the legacy of the past. I pay tribute in particular to the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, which has achieved very high satisfaction rates among families who have received reports. I say to the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) that it is not for the Government to alter the HET's remit.
The right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and the right hon. Member for Torfaen, himself a distinguished former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, raised the Finucane case. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be meeting the Finucane family very shortly, and it is right that we talk to the family in the first instance, before commenting publicly.
A number of hon. Members made important points about the distinguished service of the vast majority of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friends the Members for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), in a particularly passionate and moving speech, made their personal experiences come to life. They described the difficult and often frightening circumstances in which we asked our young soldiers-some very young-to serve, sometimes woefully underprepared, in Northern Ireland during the troubles. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), in a very good speech, was right to remind us of the tragic murders by terrorists of two Members of this House, Airey Neave and Ian Gow.
The Government are clear that Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the Army's service in Northern Ireland. We should not forget, and we will never forget, that more than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives, and many thousands more were injured, in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. I recently met a number of ex-servicemen and heard for myself their continuing trauma and suffering. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening statement and as was reiterated by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), we owe an immense debt of gratitude to all those who served in the security forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted the importance of bringing closure to the families of those killed by terrorists. The HET is investigating all 3,268 cases from the troubles, including the deaths of police officers and soldiers killed by terrorists. The Government strongly support the HET's important work and the vital work of community and victims' groups in providing help and support to the victims of the troubles.
A number of hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), the distinguished Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, on which I once had the honour to serve, and perhaps coincidentally, other members of his Committee, were critical of the cost of the report. Of course, as we heard this afternoon, no one could have anticipated that the inquiry would take 12 years or cost more than £191 million. Our views on that are by now well known and well documented.
The Government have been clear that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries, but on taking office we separated our views on the process from the substance of the report's findings. It was right that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took responsibility, on behalf of the Government, in responding to Lord Saville's clear and shocking findings.
The hon. Member for South Down mentioned public inquiries. The Government have been clear, as I said, that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries. This is not an issue solely about public finances. Selecting a small number of legacy cases to be the subject of public inquiries creates an uneven process that cannot adequately address the legacy of a conflict that resulted in more than 3,500 deaths.
With reference to the report, the state must always be determined to hold itself to account. We should never judge ourselves by the same standards as terrorists. The Government are clear that we do not uphold the honour of all those who served with such bravery and professionalism in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth or by defending the indefensible.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) spoke about the context of the events of Bloody Sunday. I was slightly perplexed by this point. I should point out to him that Lord Saville covers the events leading up to Bloody Sunday in great detail in volume 1 of the report. I recommend reading those chapters, if right hon. and hon. Members are not tempted to read the rest, because they provide the clearest insight to the events in Northern Ireland surrounding internment and the events on Bloody Sunday. That was well précised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips).
The hon. Members for East Londonderry, for Strangford and for Upper Bann (David Simpson) raised the conclusions relating to Martin McGuinness. It is for Mr McGuinness to answer questions about the findings relating to him. The report is clear in its conclusions about him. It specifically finds that he was present and probably armed with a
"we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire."
The Government are clear that there was never any justification for the brutal campaigns waged by terrorists. As the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said, there is no justification, nor can there be, for the actions of residual terrorist groups trying to drag Northern Ireland back to the past.
The hon. Members for South Down and for Strangford were among those who mentioned Ballymurphy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I met the Ballymurphy families last month. Their stories were powerful and moving, and we both expressed our sympathy for their loss. We continue to encourage the families to co-operate with the ongoing HET investigation into the case. The HET is completely independent of the Government. I understand that the families recently made representations to the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland on the re-opening of inquests.
The hon. Member for Foyle made a typically powerful, solemn and heartfelt speech in which he paid solemn tribute to those who were killed and injured on Bloody Sunday. I thank him again for his comments on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's statement and pay tribute to him for the support and encouragement that he has provided to the families over the years as a hard-working constituency MP.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct to point out the shocking conclusions in the report. Lord Saville's report speaks for itself. In relation to the hon. Gentleman's point about the victims, let me reiterate what Lord Saville concluded. He said that
"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."
The hon. Gentleman raised the matter of the removal of an honour given to Lieutenant Colonel Wilford. That would be a matter for the Ministry of Defence in the first instance and ultimately for the honours forfeiture committee, but I understand that honours are not normally rescinded unless the person concerned has been sentenced to imprisonment after conviction in a criminal court or formally censured by a regulatory body.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of compensation. I know that there are a range of different views among victims of the troubles about financial payments. I understand that the victims commissioners are conducting a wide examination of victims' needs and how best to address them, including the issue of compensation.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann raised the role of the Irish Government. The actions of the Irish Government are of course a matter for them, but I would draw hon. Members' attention to the Taoiseach's commitment to contribute to a reconciliation process. I welcome that commitment, as I do the very close relationship that we have with the Government in Dublin.
Mark Durkan: Will the Minister acknowledge that Irish Governments have successively, no matter what party was in government-not just the current Taoiseach but previous Taoisigh and Ministers for Foreign Affairs-provided particular support to the Bloody Sunday families? A dossier submitted by the Irish Government helped to lead to the establishment of the inquiry and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs has been particularly supportive. He is particularly in the thoughts of the families this week given the personal and family grief that he is going through, as he buried his young daughter yesterday.
Let me conclude by reiterating the Government's unambiguous position on this report. What happened on Bloody Sunday was unjustified and unjustifiable. The Government are deeply sorry for what happened. The wider challenge that we all face is to ensure that the past is dealt with in a sensitive manner that allows Northern Ireland to move forward to a genuinely shared future.
I am sure the whole House will join me in acknowledging the enormous strides forward that Northern Ireland has taken. As we look back on the terrible events of 38 years ago, we must be thankful that Northern Ireland is now a very different place, but, as some right hon. and hon. Members pointed out, challenges still remain. The Government are determined to play our part in helping to ensure that the future for Northern Ireland is one which is peaceful and based on trust and confidence across the community.
I hope that Lord Saville's report has, to use a quote adopted by the families, set the truth free. In doing so, it has helped to bring to a close a painful chapter in Northern Ireland's troubled past. Let me finish by reiterating the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister:
"Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past 20 years and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland, to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future."-[ Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 742.]
That this House has considered the matter of the Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I am delighted to have secured this debate on the effect on businesses of proposed changes in employment law. I am particularly delighted that it will be conducted under your chairmanship, Mr Speaker, as I still have my L-plates on: this is only my second speech to Parliament.
When I was a small business owner, dealing with employment law took more time than any other management responsibility-literally hundreds of hours. Since the election of the Labour Government in 1997, employment laws and regulations, ranging from enhanced maternity and paternity rights to the minimum wage, have been piled on to British business. For the employer, particularly for the many small to medium-sized businesses that create the majority of jobs in my constituency, that has meant major additional cost in both time and money. The intense focus on employee rights has ended up with the employer spending a huge amount of time ensuring that he is abiding by the law; it has made him wary of the consequences of even the most innocent error.
Under the previous Government the cumulative effect of employment law was to change the playing field fundamentally, leaving employers feeling defensive rather than confident about hiring people and managing their staff. I remember, a few years ago, having a quiet chat with a young member of my staff who had been playing on the internet for days on end. The following day, I had a call from her mother saying that if I did not follow correct disciplinary procedures the family barrister would be in touch. The quiet chat and the informal word of warning became formalised under Labour. Employment became a transaction.
"Exercising the right to work ultimately depends on getting the right balance in employment law. Having a multiplicity of employment rights won't amount to a great deal if you can't get a job in the first place."
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): Having employed people in the past, I know that there is often a real fear of taking on new staff because if one does not get it right first time, the consequences of trying to get rid of a member of staff can be costly to the business. Does my hon. Friend agree that this puts lots of small and medium-sized businesses off expanding?
Julian Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A close friend of mine is starting a new business and she told me the other day that her business adviser suggested she should hire people on short-term contracts to avoid the pitfalls of having permanent staff. At the key moment when we need hundreds of thousands of new jobs, the advice to a budding entrepreneur is to avoid permanent staff if they can.
According to the World Bank's "Doing Business" report, employing workers in the UK has become harder every year since 2007. The report shows that UK labour market flexibility has slipped down the international
league table from 17th in 2007 to 35th in 2010. The UK is now behind many European countries, including Switzerland and Denmark, as well as Australia, Canada, the United States and others, on labour market flexibility.
Even those figures do not take into account the effect on small businesses of the sheer worry about these burdens or of the realities of a world in which Britain will be under increasing pressure to compete for internationally mobile business jobs. Small business owners worry about this stuff. That is why they are good at what they do-because they are worriers. By putting so many worries and concerns around the key assets of their business-staff and people-Governments have forced them to spend less time on their businesses. Tom Bannister, who runs the Coniston hotel near Skipton, does not have an HR department, so each employment change that comes from this House takes him away from running his hotel and outdoor centre. We need hard-pressed owner-managers such as Tom to be lying in bed at night worrying about things like the spa development he is currently considering rather than whether they have dealt adequately with the "protected characteristics" of their employees as determined by the Equalities Act 2010.
Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Like my hon. Friend, I have a number of businesses in my constituency who have contacted me with similar concerns. They want to grow their businesses and create jobs, which is surely what we want in these difficult times, but if we continue to tie businesses down with red tape and bureaucracy, we will prevent that. It is important to get away from that approach.
Julian Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. It is not just small companies that are affected: the cumulative effect of the measures is also significant for bigger businesses. Before I came to the House I was a head-hunter who worked with some of the biggest companies in the world. I saw how easy it was to put a senior employee in an international location rather than in the UK. I have a long list of examples whereby, when it came to choosing between London, New York or Asia, London came last. The cost of managing and getting rid of staff often tipped the balance in favour of another location. That just happens without fanfare or fuss, and that is why, like our tax and immigration policies, our employment policy must be ruthlessly competitive. The competition that the UK faces is becoming intense. Over the next few years we desperately need people to take the risk, set up businesses, invest in existing ones and create jobs here in Britain.
Labour increased its depressing legacy of employment law in its dying days, with measures on agency workers, the Equalities Act 2010 and additional paternity leave. Each measure will have a major effect on British business. For example, the new dual discrimination laws, with limitless liability, mean that employers will have to focus even more on protecting themselves, and, with discrimination law changing so often and widening to include more and more employees, is it any wonder that entrepreneurs fear taking on their first member of staff?
Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con):
I concur entirely with what has been said. Like many others now in the Chamber, I ran a small business for a number of
years, but employment legislation is not the only thing holding back small businesses. In North Yorkshire, as my hon. Friend will be aware, the county council has stopped traders placing advertising boards outside their premises. We have just been through-
The second piece of legislation that we are going to acquire from Labour is the measure on additional paternity leave. The time spent learning about and then administering the process of additional paternity leave will have a huge impact. From early next year, rather than focusing on job creation, business will be administering how best to let dads go off. Business was not even consulted properly. In a recent written answer, the Government admitted that only 111 companies-111 throughout Britain-had been involved in the consultation on that policy. Why did Labour create those laws with such little consideration for the risk-takers whom they affect?
With all that legislation rolling over from the previous Government, we surely need a pause-a break-in employment law. The coalition is doing many positive things to create the conditions for growth, such as scrapping Labour's jobs tax, introducing the national insurance holiday for businesses in Yorkshire and outside the south-east, and cutting corporation tax, but at a time when we need to let business focus on growth, the coalition is pushing forward with more legislation on employment law.
Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the default retirement age removal is causing problems. In my constituency, many businesses, including Centrax, a very large employer, have come to me and said, "The challenge is that it will be harder to negotiate different packages for older workers." The budget for recruiting new young people will inevitably shrink, too, and businesses will incur legal costs when they have to justify a default retirement age for a particular job.
Julian Smith: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I have heard of similar examples. I spoke to the representatives of a local business last week, and they were frustrated because their poorly performing older manager, whom they assumed would retire next year, is digging in-potentially for life-following the announcement of this law.
Finally, the Government are considering whether to include small and medium-sized businesses in Labour's right-to-request-training laws, or repeal the law altogether. That law will create the crazy situation in which, even though most companies cover training in their employee
appraisals, employees will have the right to disregard the appraisal discussion and ask for a separate discussion on training. At a time when British businesses are being encouraged to create more jobs than ever, they will have to deal with the hefty employment legislation of the previous Government and several chunky pieces of legislation from the coalition, taking up the valuable time that they could be spending on creating more jobs and more wealth.
I have asked for this debate to urge the Minister to look again at these issues in light of the Government's forthcoming growth White Paper and the urgent need that we have for jobs in our country today. I am keen to receive from the Minister answers to a number of fairly detailed questions. First, what steps are the Government taking on their pledge in the coalition agreement to review employment and workplace laws for employers and employees? The decisions so far seem to have been employee-led. Secondly, why was the decision made to introduce additional paternity leave provided by the previous Government given that the coalition plans to consult and then introduce its own shared parental leave in this Parliament? Thirdly, when will the Minister confirm whether small and medium-sized enterprises are going to be exempted permanently from Labour's right-to-request-training legislation, and is he considering full repeal? Fourthly, why was the decision made to introduce flexible working for parents of children up to age 17 given that the Government are planning to offer flexible working to all employees during this Parliament?
Fifthly, I understand that the Institute of Directors has presented a case to the Minister saying that 90 to 95% of private sector companies would be exempted from the scope of the agency workers directive if the Government followed advice provided to the IOD by a senior member of the European Commission. Why have not the Government taken this dispensation? Will the Minister publish any advice that he has received that contradicts that received by the IOD? As Britain will now no longer have a default retirement age, unlike many other European countries, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that this does not result in a less competitive employment environment in Britain, and what offsetting measures is he considering to develop other mechanisms by which companies can manage out staff?
I apologise to the Minister for such a long list of questions, but I passionately believe that we need to address these issues. With limited fiscal levers to attract business in the UK, we can use competitive employment law to attract the growth that we need. I urge the Minister to lead the charge in playing his role in the Government's growth White Paper. He should commit today to a holiday from new employment law in 2011, pausing his plans for the sake of jobs. I also urge him to give British business light at the end of the tunnel by strengthening the Government's commitment to a thorough review of employment legislation and engaging all parts of business, and lots of businesses, in that review-they will be happy to help. We should consult companies of all shapes and sizes from all parts of the country. I am particularly able to supply some frank Yorkshire business people to engage in that process.
During the review, we need to ask some tough questions. For small businesses, what have been the cumulative effects of all these employment laws? How do we make it easier for small businesses to hire and to fire? How do we ensure that the "doers and grafters" of whom the Prime Minister spoke in his conference speech are freed up to take on staff? For larger companies, what is the impact of our employment regime on their costs? How do we ensure that we are truly competitive with other locations for global business? How negative are the effects of our employment law regime on attracting foreign investment?
A holiday from new employment law in 2011 should take pride of place in the Government's growth White Paper. I would be grateful for the Minister's support in my campaign to make this happen. Along with the other positive enterprise proposals from the coalition, grasping the employment law nettle will be a big boost for growth.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): I congratulate the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on securing this debate, which is very timely in the light of the ongoing debate on growth strategy. It gives me an opportunity to reassure him that since taking office as a Minister, I have spent quite a large amount of time on beginning the employment law review. I think he will understand that I am not able to give the details of that review until we publish the consultation document, which I expect to happen early in the new year. Obviously, we have to discuss this with colleagues around Government. When we do publish it, he will see that it is the first stage in reviewing employment law, but that we are tackling one of the key concerns of employers, particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises, in a balanced and pro-growth way.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that this Government have an absolute commitment to creating the best possible business environment, so that the UK economy can recover and grow and the private sector can prosper in the long term. We have made it very clear that private sector jobs are where we see the big growth happening as we tackle the budget deficit.
Mr Davey: I had the pleasure of meeting Lord Young in my office earlier this week to begin our work together. I said many things to him, but I did not say that when I was studying economics at night school at Birkbeck, I had the pleasure of studying under Professor Snower, who, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, developed the theory of insider-outsider analysis. That states that when we are thinking about employment creation, we should always remember the outsiders-the people who are unemployed. One of the great things about taking a more robust approach to employment law is that it will help job creation. That is good for businesses, of course, but it is also good for the unemployed. Those who are elected to this House to represent the unemployed must remember that ensuring that they have work is an important part of what this Government are about.
A flexible labour market that strikes the right balance between the rights of individuals and the needs of business is an essential part of our economic framework. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon rightly said that things have slipped in recent years, but we still compare favourably with our international competitors. However, more can be done, particularly given what has happened in recent years.
I am aware that many business people are wondering about possible changes to employment legislation. I offer them this reassurance: the coalition understands how tough it has been for them over the past two years, as companies of all sizes have had to fight their way from the deepest recession in 60 years. We will not do anything that makes that continuing task more difficult. We are certainly not in the business of weighing companies down with more regulation and higher costs.
Achieving lasting economic growth is a core priority in the years ahead, and that can come only from the private sector, so we want to make this country one of the best places in the world to start and expand a business. That means dismantling the barriers to growth and improving the regulatory and legal frameworks for business, including employment law.
Good workplace relations improve productivity and help businesses run more efficiently, which enables them to stay competitive and boosts long-term resilience. I am sure that as the hon. Gentleman runs a small business, he is very much aware of that. In our review of employment law, we are trying to see how we can offer maximum flexibility for employers and employees in a competitive business environment. We want to ensure that we have the balance right, so that employment laws do not inhibit businesses from growing.
As part of that review, we are reflecting on what business groups have said to us about the cost and complexity of employment legislation, including on resolving workplace disputes and the employment tribunal system. Where we can make legislation easier to understand, improve efficiency and reduce unnecessary burdens, we will. I am very keen to meet some businesses from the hon. Gentleman's constituency in due course. I have met a number of business representative organisations, which have given me an awful lot of ideas to mull over, and I assure him that we have been listening to them.
Getting people back into work and helping them stay there is at the heart of our plans for Britain's economic renewal. That is why we are committed to creating a more flexible employment system that allows people to balance their work and family commitments. Millions of people have responsibilities outside work, whether raising a family, caring for an elderly or sick partner or serving their community. If we help people manage their lives and stay in employment, we can avoid losing the skills, talents and energy of millions of people from the UK economy. There is good evidence from companies already operating flexible working patterns that they deliver real benefits to the bottom line. Those benefits include increased productivity because staff are focused on the job; lower turnover because workers feel valued by their employers; and reduced absenteeism because people can reorganise their day when the unexpected happens.
The coalition agreement raises the possibility of extending to all employees the right to request flexible working. I have been talking about the coalition agreement to
employers and their representative organisations. The hon. Gentleman asked why we had extended the practice to include parents with children up to the age of 18 before the wider review, on which we shall consult, and the wider implementation of the coalition policy. When we considered the matter, we found that the cost to business was nil. In fact, it made things simpler.
The way in which the previous Government introduced the right to request flexible working, with different rules for different employees, confused business. So, simplifying the system was just a small step. When we talked to businesses, they seemed to understand and appreciate that. Clearly, one reason why many business organisations are ready to engage in the debate about extending to all employees the right to request flexible working is that it would simplify the system. We want to do that in a way that responds to practical experience of that right to request.
During the recession, it was interesting to see-this also came out in some recent CBI evidence-that there was a greater acceptance of flexible working by employees. A number of firms found that their employees were more willing to take pay cuts and operate on reduced hours and so stay in work, thus keeping the business afloat. We saw a much better engagement at the work place. That is why a number of employers and their organisations are saying that flexible working is one of the better things that came out of the previous Government.
Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Does the Minister not agree that while the right to request flexible working is great for business, what inhibits them from implementing such things is the huge cost, the red tape and the bureaucracy that have been created around employment law? When I met two business men from my constituency today, I was alarmed to hear how a large corporate company-not a small and medium-sized enterprise or a sole trader-had instructed its managers to manage out people from the bottom of the business, because they were inflexible at times when they needed their work force to be flexible. Is the Minister aware of the practices that are starting to occur because of the huge cost of bureaucracy and burden on business?
Mr Davey: One of the objectives of the employment law review-I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see this when we publish it-is to try to begin to turn that tide. I hope, as I continue with my remarks, that the hon. Gentleman will begin to see that sense of direction.
In the coalition agreement, we have tried to ensure that we can assist families and employers to get the right balance between work and home. Quite rightly, child care is no longer seen as just the mother's responsibility. Fathers are playing an increasingly significant role in caring for their children, with more than 90% of fathers taking time off around the births. The hon. Gentleman will know how important that is for families and for the development of children. The Prime Minister is particularly keen to encourage such a practice.
We are planning to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave. The current system of 52 weeks 'maternity leave and two weeks' paternity leave is completely unbalanced and does not meet the needs of modern families. Additional paternity leave goes some way to providing parents with greater room for manoeuvre over how they balance their working and caring
responsibilities, but it still constrains parents' choices and reduces employers' flexibility. We believe that our proposals will be more welcome to employers because of the increased flexibility that they provide.
The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon asked why we were introducing the additional paternity leave now, when we plan to introduce shared parental leave later. That is a fair question, which I considered carefully. However, when we examined the matter, we noted that the regulatory regime was not quite as burdensome as he implied in his speech. Employers do not have to implement the system unless and until someone applies for additional paternity leave. The regulatory impact assessment that accompanies the measure suggests that that would affect under 1% of employers a year. Although that might be a burden on those employers, the way in which we propose to introduce the measure means that it will be relatively light, even for the small number of employers who have to use additional paternity leave before the shared parental system that we plan to bring in is introduced.
Another reason that weighed heavily on my decision to proceed with the measure is that its passage through the House and removing the regulation would entail some cost to businesses. However, more important, it will provide some serious lessons from employers who have to administer additional paternity leave, enabling us to get shared parental leave right. It is a sort of pilot, and without it, we would lose the lessons from it, creating a danger that, when we implemented shared parental leave, we would not do it in an optimal way. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that, although it was a difficult decision, it made sense for employers, and that is why we went ahead.
Julian Smith: I thank the Minister for his detailed response. Does that mean that he might buy my idea of a holiday in 2011 so that the pilot can happen and the new law is not introduced during a crucial period for British business?
Mr Davey: I can confirm that I want a holiday next year, but although I have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a holiday for employment law, it would be impossible. Under EU legal obligations, we must implement some employment law next year. For example, the agency workers regulations come into force in October 2011. We would contravene our obligations under EU law if we did not implement them. Of course, additional paternity leave also comes into effect.
Although we are committed to ensuring that we review employment laws and take businesses' considerations into account, as the hon. Gentleman said in his speech, some items are legacies from the previous Government. We had to think carefully about them, but our judgment was that we could not not introduce them.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the claim by the Institute of Directors that we are gold-plating the agency workers directive. I met representatives of the Institute of Directors and discussed the matter in detail. I asked for the reason why they thought that and for their legal advice. We fundamentally disagree with the organisation on the matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have no intention of gold-plating the agency workers regulations. We inherited them. He knows that the directive finds its
legal basis in the social partner agreement between the CBI and the TUC. He also knows that that agreement, to which the CBI signed up on behalf of British business, introduced a 12-week exemption. When I discussed with businesses how we could look at implementing the agency workers regulations, I asked whether, if the social partners did not like what we were doing, they would be prepared to risk losing the 12-week exemption. Businesses made it absolutely clear that the 12-week exemption was critical to them above anything else. We therefore decided that, to ensure that we did not lose the exemption that the CBI had won, we had to proceed to implement the agency workers regulations.
I had hoped, in discussions with the CBI and the TUC, that we could reach an agreement on ameliorating some of those regulations in a way that would benefit workers and employees as well as employers. I tried very hard to achieve that, but I was unfortunately unable to do so. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend that we worked very hard. If he reads my ministerial statement on the issue carefully, he will get the flavour of the frustration that I felt in being unable to go further, but as he said, we inherited that measure. We tried our best to ensure that it is not as damaging as it could otherwise be. We will now engage with employers and trade unions on the guidance for the implementation of the regulations, which is an important step.
Gavin Williamson: In a former life as a potter, I remember talking to my German colleagues who were porcelain manufacturers. They said that their Government, who were very enthusiastic to introduce regulations, would always sit down with them and talk about how they would minimise the effect of European regulations.
I should like to point out what a disgrace it is that Opposition Members care so little about creating jobs. We are dealing with their legacies. I urge the Minister to do all he can to resist the urge of the European Union to stifle our creativity in business.
Mr Davey: My hon. Friend is very prescient, because I was about to talk about the European dimension of employment law. As hon. Members know, that is the genesis of a lot of employment law in Britain. In particular, I wanted to focus on a short-term issue with which I am dealing. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon did not mention it, but it speaks very much to the thrust of his remarks.
What problems would British business and Britain face if the amendments to the pregnant workers directive passed in the European Parliament on 20 October were implemented? British MEPs from all parties voted against the amendments, but unfortunately and slightly unexpectedly, there was a small majority in favour of them. The amendments would impose considerable additional costs on many member states when their economies can least afford them. For the UK, the bill would be at least £2.4 billion a year, doubling current spending in that area. That is simply unacceptable. The European requirement for full pay during maternity leave that results from the European Parliament amendment is a red line for the Government. We will now work hard in the Council and with member states that share our views to oppose the Parliament's proposal. That may not give the hon. Gentleman the holiday he wants, but it will hopefully give him some reassurance that we will work hard to stop the system getting worse.
I should stress that the Government are committed to playing a strong and positive role with our European partners, so that we are equipped to deal with the challenges and opportunities thrown up by an increasingly open and competitive global economy, but the EU must adapt to those challenges and opportunities. The priority needs to be growth and global competitiveness, not introducing more employment regulation. In future, UK Ministers will get involved earlier and more strategically in EU policy development, and we will push to embed smart regulation within the policies of the European Commission, Parliament and Council.
By that, I mean that we want to ensure that proper impact assessments are made of new proposals for regulations by the Council, the Commission and the Parliament. No such assessments are made by the Council at the moment, despite an inter-institutional agreement in 2004; the Parliament's impact assessment are poor, to say the least; and the Commission's are only just improving. I am determined that we push hard on that, because the decision to try to stop over-burdensome regulation has already been taken by the EU but not implemented.
We will make it a priority to challenge restrictive practices and strive to ensure that the employment law framework is flexible, proportionate and based on the principle of subsidiarity. As I said, the framework needs to take into account the whole labour market-not only those who already have jobs, but people who are trying to get back into work. To do that effectively, it is important that we move beyond stale debates on issues such as the working time directive and the opt-out, and instead recognise, and respond to, the changing nature of work and the structural economic problems that exist across Europe. The Government will defend our opt-out, because we believe that it is an essential protection for many employers and employees throughout the country. However, the agenda of the working time directive is an agenda from the past, and we need to get real about the challenges facing Europe's economy. Against the backdrop of the problems facing Europe's economy, it is neither fair nor sensible to force people to work less than they would choose if the decision were left up to them. It is time that we all recognised that fact across Europe.
The EU has talked the language of better regulation for a few years now, but it has not been translated into action. We have to ensure that EU institutions put this into practice, take impact assessments more seriously and consider other smart regulatory options, including
effective screening of proposals for their impact on businesses to ensure that their growth is not stunted. Our job is to help companies start up and grow, by working with our partners in Europe and creating the right business conditions here at home.
On the issue of the default retirement age, which the hon. Gentleman raised-and which was raised with him in an intervention-it was a coalition agreement, entered into willingly and enthusiastically by both sides. We are now consulting on it and I urge him and businesses that are concerned about the abolition of the default retirement age, to respond to that consultation. We will listen, but when the Chancellor made his Budget statement earlier this year he said that we would go ahead with abolition. When we implement that, we want to ensure that we do so in a way that businesses find easy to manage, given the need to performance-manage employees. I sometimes get a little frustrated when businesses say that they use the default retirement age to get rid of people who, in their opinion, are not very good. That is not good management of staff and they should performance-manage more effectively. Many employers have campaigned for the abolition of the default retirement age, and no longer have one in their policy, because they believe in better performance-management of their staff. That is better for their businesses, because staff are more productive as a result. I will probably have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the default retirement age and pray in aid the Chancellor in support of my case.
A carefully calibrated framework of employment law, which balances the needs of employers with the rights of individuals, is an important part of the picture. As we work on the detail of our proposals in the months ahead, we will come up with a blueprint that gets that balance right. We are not about to make life more difficult for companies, especially small firms, still feeling the aftershocks of the worst recession in 60 years, so we will not tie them up in red tape or weigh them down with new regulations.
I recognise that we still have a way to go before we achieve our ambition of making Britain one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business, but we will get there, and we will do it by working in partnership with employers-getting our economy growing again to create jobs and secure prosperity in the years ahead.