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Viscount Slim: My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House whether the appointment of the committee of judges was a purely political decision, taken by politicians, or whether the military advice of the Chief of the Defence Staff was sought in this matter?
Very often history shows that such inquiries can lead to castigation of the military to appease the political motives of a government or political party of the time. I have some experience in such matters and I think that hindsight 20 or 30 years later is a very dangerous thing with which to judge.
Many noble Lords have great military experience at this level, but in the other place I regret to say that there are those with no experience of military operations like this and therefore a hue and cry would ensue and the military could be most unfairly damaged.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I do not dissent from the noble Lord's remarks: of course the matter has to be sensitively, appropriately and delicately handled, and that is precisely why we have appointed a Law Lord to chair the tribunal. I would have thought that his objectivity and experience are unimpeachable.
I was disappointed to hear the noble Lord accuse this Government of setting up the inquiry for political motives. I can only tell the noble Lord that that is not so; it is being set up to look at new evidence. If the
In regard to the people who gave advice to the Government, I regret that it is one of those realms of government policy which, even after the Freedom of Information Act is passed, will of necessity have to remain hidden.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's Statement and the reference he made to the conduct of our services. My worst moment as a Member of the other place was persuading a lady, who is now dead, not to have the coffin of her 19 year-old son, who was in the Parachute Regiment, opened. Will the noble Lord accept that regret could well be expressed from all quarters?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if the conduct, competence or judgment of a member of the Armed Forces is liable to be impugned--and this does happen in these inquiries--will he be able to be legally represented? I ask the question because some problems arose during the Scott Inquiry which greatly upset my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon.
Lord Richard: My Lords, the answer is yes. It is a matter for the tribunal. During the Widgery Tribunal, certain interested groups, for example, families, had proper legal representation. The power exists for the tribunal to allow that.
Lord Hurd of Westmore: My Lords, will the Leader of the House accept that one of the most important parts of his answer today was the assurance that this process, resulting from the Prime Minister's Statement, is quite separate from the peace process? We have all heard and read in recent days that such a statement would be made, perhaps accompanied by an apology--there has not been and I welcome that--and how helpful it would be to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the peace process. Can the noble Lord repeat his assurance? Is it not most important that history should not be used as a tool or pawn in a political or diplomatic process, however important that process may be?
Lord Richard: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. This process is totally separate from the peace process and should remain so. An inquiry which will inevitably take some months to come to a conclusion can only have a peripheral effect upon the discussions that are taking place.
There has been a growing view, not just on one side of the community in Northern Ireland but right across the community, that many things happened on that day that were unsatisfactory, not least that young soldiers were put into a policing situation for which they were not trained.
In every conflict there are events that take on a significance beyond their own because they appear to stand for all sorts of things. There have been many incidents over the last years where inquiries might be necessary, particularly in the case of terrorist atrocities where apologies are more than due. We should not delude ourselves at this time, when we are struggling with the difficulty of finding a settlement and reconciling as many of our people as we can, that recognition of this matter should be addressed properly and legally; but it is also a constructive demonstration of the concern in this country to make things right for the future and to do things in a proper way, for we cannot change the past.
Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with deep personal feeling and commitment. His knowledge of events in Northern Ireland is considerable. I am glad that he sees the announcement of this tribunal as something that may bring the parties together, which is clearly one of the hopes of the Government.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend recollect that last year at the request of the then Lord Chancellor the Council on Tribunals tendered advice as to the future conduct of ministerial inquiries? Can he assure noble Lords that that advice will be very much in the minds of those who have the conduct of this inquiry?
Lord Richard: My Lords, I hear what my noble and learned friend has said. I hope that the memorandum will be very much in the minds of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, and the other members of the inquiry because I have to confess that they are not very much in my mind at this particular moment. I will have to look to see whether there is anything in that memorandum which contradicts or amplifies anything I have said this afternoon and, if there is, I will contact my noble and learned friend.
Lord Elton: My Lords, would the noble Lord have as much difficulty as I would in recollecting in precise and forswearable terms any events on any day in 1972 in which he took part which were of importance? Are there not going to be two orders of evidence presented to this inquiry: evidence which rests on records made at or near the time, and evidence which rests on recollection at the time of the inquiry?
I have the greatest respect for the legal profession, but I should have no confidence in my recollections of any such event at such a distance in time. It seems to me therefore not at all impossible that there will be no definitive conclusion of the inquiry, and all that it will be able to produce will be a balance of probabilities. In those circumstances, will the noble Lord assure us that thought is already being given to how the Government will react to the findings when they are made known, because that will be nearly as important as the findings themselves?
Lord Richard: My Lords, I do not believe that at this stage the Government are giving a great deal of thought--certainly I am not--as to how we shall present the findings of an inquiry that we have just set up. We have not yet passed the necessary resolution in Parliament to do so. The noble Lord is right in the sense that we do not know the precise nature of the evidence that will be put before the tribunal; we do not know how that evidence will stand up to being tested; we do not know how much of it will be recollection which may be flawed; and I do not know how much will be contemporaneous documentary evidence. All sorts of issues have to be considered. The question is not what the inquiry will look like when it finishes, but whether it is worth starting the process. The Government have concluded that they should.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I have to ask the noble Lord, with some cynicism, whether he agrees that this may be yet another tactical error in the Government's recent handling of Northern Ireland affairs. The admission that the noble Lord has just made that the Government have not yet thought about how they will handle this sensitive, delicate, and, as the noble Lord has admitted, unknown material that will be put before the inquiry is frightening. Does the noble Lord agree that as this is a public inquiry, Dublin and the IRA will take the evidence piece by piece and use it as presented, against the better results that might be achieved by Her Majesty's Government in their negotiations for peace? Does the noble Lord accept and understand that many people in Northern Ireland, as was stated in the press that I read this morning, will put down the fact that there is to be an inquiry to pressure from Dublin? I consider this to be a serious tactical error. I ask the Government to consider seriously how they will handle the evidence and the conclusions, because I believe that serious problems will arise.
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