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3.46 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. On behalf of the Opposition, I can say that if genuine and fresh evidence has now been submitted, evidence which the Law Officers advise is significant enough to warrant an inquiry, we shall accept the Prime Minister's judgment that an inquiry should take place.

Inevitably, as was clear from the tone of part of the Statement, there is a danger that a changed conclusion could be seen as an indictment of Lord Widgery. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the inquiry will be conscious of that danger? Can the noble Lord say when he will be in a position to announce the names of the other two members of the inquiry?

As far as immunity from prosecution is concerned, the Statement acknowledged that the families of the dead do not necessarily want prosecutions. Can the noble Lord say whether that wish will be taken into account when the report is available to the Government?

I welcome the fact that the Government agree with my right honourable friend the Member for Huntingdon, Mr. Major, when he was Prime Minister, when he said that those who died on Bloody Sunday were innocent victims of the Troubles.

Is the noble Lord aware that we on this side of the House welcome the decision, contrary to much speculation before the delivery of the Statement, not to make an apology before the inquiry reports?

Would the noble Lord agree that those of us who have never served in the Armed Forces should be very careful indeed before trying to second-guess, with the benefit of 25 years' hindsight, the actions of a 19 year-old soldier under fire on the streets of Londonderry?

Does the noble Lord accept that the Provisional IRA and, indeed, many other terrorist organisations in all parts of the world regularly try to provoke ill-considered reaction from young soldiers, and that those of us who have for many years studied terrorism and have had a very close association on both sides of terrorist wars in the past 30 years are well aware that that is a perfectly usual ploy among terrorist organisations? Can the noble Lord assure the House that the inquiry will take that matter into account as well?

I should like to associate this side of the House with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord about our Armed Forces. Will he go further and agree with me that no other army in the world could have shown such a degree of discipline in Northern Ireland, in all ranks,

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as the British Army has since 1969? After all, myths are potent in all politics. Perhaps in Irish politics myths are more potent than in most places. Does the noble Lord agree that the inquiry should guard against the dangers of its conclusions being used as a weapon by one side against the majority in the Province?

As the Statement makes clear, more than 3,000 people have died in the present troubles, most of them at the hands of terrorists. Does the noble Lord agree that in our hope for peace it would be both right and helpful to have an apology, or at the very least some sign of contrition, from those terrorist gangs and their apologists for all the havoc that they have initiated in pursuit of their political aims--political aims that we in this country tend to try to pursue through peaceful means?

3.52 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, from these Benches I also thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. When dealing with Northern Ireland it is an axiom that it is far better to dwell on the future than rake over the problems of the past, but this is a clear exception to that. I welcome the balanced, fair and extremely careful Statement made by the Prime Minister to which it is very difficult to take exception. My hope, which has been confirmed by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is that it will command the broad support of the House in all quarters.

The Statement sets out very clearly why there is new evidence to be assessed. I do not take that in any way as a reflection on the report of Lord Widgery so long ago at the end of an inquiry lasting 11 weeks. There is a widespread perception, right or wrong, that events went wrong on 30th January 1972. While that perception persists it is a factor which makes reconciliation in Northern Ireland more difficult.

I also pay tribute to what our Armed Forces have done in Northern Ireland in very difficult circumstances over so many years. I am sure that whatever the outcome of the inquiry there will be no disposition to start a witch hunt. In particular, the reference to soldiers aged 19 is wholly appropriate. From my experience of visits made many years ago I was very impressed by the extraordinary restraint shown by young men in very difficult circumstances where their lives and the lives of their colleagues were at stake. We must now wait for the outcome of this inquiry. I welcome the form that it will take and hope that it will put this matter finally to rest.

In those circumstances I should like to ask the Leader of the House only one question. I am sure all noble Lords agree that in accordance with the requirements of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 the report should be freely available and that evidence should be taken in public as far as possible. However we all know that there is an especial problem relating to the

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protection of witnesses in Northern Ireland, and I shall be grateful if the noble Lord can give the House an assurance on that particular count.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks of both the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

I say at the outset that this is not a criticism of Lord Widgery. He was faced with a request from the Prime Minister of the day to conduct an urgent inquiry into this matter. I believe that the request was made the day after Bloody Sunday. He sat for 11 weeks and on the evidence available to him came up with a report. I re-read it yesterday. It is the kind of report that one would expect from the Lord Chief Justice, as he then was. It is very careful and analytical. The fact may be that he did not have access to all of the evidence, for which no conceivable blame can be laid at Lord Widgery's door. Your Lordships will have noted that the basis for this fresh inquiry is that there is new evidence which was not available to Lord Widgery and that in the view of the Government it is right that it should be considered by a fresh tribunal.

The noble Viscount asked me when the other members of the tribunal would be appointed. We felt that given the importance of this matter we should report to Parliament before confirming the appointment of the other two members, especially as their appointment would involve consultation with other governments. I cannot give a firm date. I can only say to the House that having launched the inquiry we are anxious that it should sail as soon as possible. I echo the remarks of the noble Viscount about the behaviour of the British Army in Northern Ireland. I was very briefly a Minister at the Ministry of Defence in 1969-70 and had an opportunity to visit the British Army. Those who saw the way it did its job could not fail to have been impressed. I echo many of the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount. He invited me to say that no other country in the world could have done better. My instinct is to agree with that proposition, although perhaps I would not be as comprehensively firm as he has been.

I was asked about the public nature of the tribunal. The Act requires that the tribunal should as far as possible sit in public. That is our expectation. However, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, recognises that there are special circumstances in Northern Ireland. We hope that the inquiry will sit in public as much as it possibly can, but that is essentially a matter for the tribunal itself. The Statement makes clear that the report will be made public. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, invites me to repeat that, and I do so.

One other point emerges from the remarks of the noble Viscount. This process is totally separate from the peace process. It would be very dangerous to import consideration as to what is happening in the peace process into this tribunal, or vice versa. It seems to me that they are entirely separate. We have taken this step because we believe that there is new evidence that should be considered. In some ways the proposition is fairly basic and I hope that the House will support it.

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3.58 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, everyone must agree that the confused events of 30 years ago in Londonderry were horrible and deeply tragic, like so many events in and connected with Northern Ireland both before and since. Can the noble Lord inform the House whether a tribunal of inquiry established under the Act of 1921 has ever been asked to investigate events as long ago as this? What is the longest period of delay, interval or lapse of time with which any such tribunal has been asked to cope? Can the noble Lord foresee that, 26 years on, there is probably a grave risk of injustice to individuals who will be compelled, by the tribunal's remarkable inquisitorial powers under the Act, to attempt to defend themselves as best they may against allegations that they will no longer be able to counter because of the enormous lapse of time, which I believe to be unprecedented?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I have no idea whether this is the longest gap between an event and the setting up of a tribunal to investigate it. I shall endeavour to ascertain the information and make it available to the noble and learned Lord. On the second point, I do not believe that this process carries a grave risk of injustice, to use the words of the noble and learned Lord. There is a feeling that the truth has not come out and there is also a feeling, certainly on this side of the House, that it is time that it did. I do not know of any other sensible and rational way to resolve that problem other than to do what the Government propose.

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