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Public Inquiries

Volume 461: debated on Monday 11 June 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what his most recent estimate is of the cost to public funds to date of (a) the Saville Inquiry, (b) the Finucane Inquiry, (c) the Hamill Inquiry, (d) the Nelson Inquiry and (e) the Wright Inquiry; and if he will make a statement. (141573)

Figures for the expenditure on each inquiry since its establishment, which have been rounded, are set out in the following table. The Patrick Finucane Inquiry has not been established.

Total costs of inquiry expenditure to end April 2007 (£)

Robert Hamill Inquiry


Billy Wright Inquiry


Rosemary Nelson Inquiry


Bloody Sunday Inquiry1




1 Of this total cost (rounded) £142.6 million falls to the NIO, the remaining £38.2 million falls to the MOD

My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), said to the House on 1 April 2004, Official Report, column 757:

“I know that concern has been expressed in this House and elsewhere about the length and cost of some public inquiries. In particular, there are concerns about the cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry—£129.9 million to date, with a predicted final cost of £155 million. I understand that unhappiness, but setting up that inquiry was the right thing to do, and I commend the work of Lord Saville and his team. Having been established, the inquiry must run its course if it is to be fair to individuals and if the truth is to emerge. We will, of course, take all reasonable steps to control costs in the inquiries that I have announced today, including capping legal costs where appropriate. We will ensure that the inquiries have the maximum powers, as well as aiming for better, quicker inquiries. Even so, these inquiries will inevitably mean the commitment of significant resources. The Government recognise people’s desire to see public funds spent on delivering better public services and effective policing. I recognise public concern about further expenditure on inquiries into the past”.

Since the establishment of the Robert Hamill, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson inquiries, the Government have worked with the inquiries to put in place a number of measures to ensure that, while they have the resources necessary to fulfil their task, costs are kept to a reasonable level. The specific steps that have been taken are as follows:

agreeing a management statement that includes a financial memorandum with the inquiries. The management statement sets out the broad framework under which any public funds are paid to the inquiries including the conditions under which public funds are paid and how the inquiry accounts for its expenditure. My officials hold regular formal meetings with the Robert Hamill, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson inquiries to discuss their financial forecasts under the terms of these documents;

letting the inquiries make use of the Northern Ireland Office procurement division and have access to other procurement expertise in order to ensure that value for money is secured;

setting maximum hourly fees levels for publicly funded counsel and solicitors;

introducing a general 40 hour weekly cap on fees;

ensuring representation by counsel is limited only to interested parties or key witnesses whose evidence is in dispute;

making sure the scope of the legal work that may be undertaken at the public expense is circumscribed by the respective inquiry costs protocol and that all bills in respect of publicly funded legal assistance are subject to monthly scrutiny by the inquiry solicitor who is required to authorise disbursements in excess of £100.

The chairmen of the Billy Wright Inquiry and the Robert Hamill Inquiry separately asked me to convert their statutory basis for their inquiries to the Inquiries Act 2005 under section 15 of that Act. One consequence of my decision to grant their request for conversion is that the framework for the award by the chairman of costs in relation to legal representation set out in section 40 of that Act applies. I know that both chairmen take seriously their responsibilities in this regard, and the provision in section 17(3) of the Act that:

In making any decision as to the procedure or conduct of an inquiry, the chairman must act with fairness and with regard also to the need to avoid any unnecessary cost (whether to public funds or to witnesses or others).

In respect of the Billy Wright Inquiry I exercised my power on 25 October 2006 to make a notice of determination under section 40(4) of the Act and notified the House by means of a written statement, Official Report, columns 89-91WS.

I plan to make a notice of determination in respect of the Robert Hamill Inquiry in due course.