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Bloody Sunday Inquiry

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 14 May 2008

So far, the cost of the inquiry has reached in excess of £182 million, but let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman. However concerned all hon. Members will be about such costs, we should be careful not to confuse the cost with the value and the huge importance of the inquiry.

Let me put it to the Secretary of State that there is no question of our confusing cost and value. We can spot the fact that the process is a huge waste of taxpayers’ money. Does he agree that if we had known at the beginning how much it would cost, particularly with legal fees, we would not have proceeded? The process has done a great deal of harm in Northern Ireland, not the good that we hoped.

Far be it from me to wish to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid that in this case I must. The inquiry has been essential in enabling us to reach the point in Northern Ireland where we can enjoy the peace, prosperity and devolution that we have witnessed and the remaining stages that I am confident will take place. As he rightly says, the inquiry has taken a lot longer and cost a huge amount more than we thought. However, that is why the Government introduced the Inquiries Act 2005—to control the cost of inquiries. Although I regret the spiralling legal costs, which we have tried to control, I in no way wish to confuse that with the value of the inquiry, which has been essential to the peace process.

The families of the Bloody Sunday victims share that frustration at the length and cost of the Saville inquiry, but understand better than others the reason for them. When the Secretary of State receives the report of the Saville inquiry, will he allow lawyers acting on behalf of the Government and military days and weeks to go through it before publication, and if so, what equal consideration will be extended to the families of the Bloody Sunday victims?

The hon. Gentleman has long made a sincere and deeply felt argument on behalf of the families who are affected by the inquiry. All hon. Members recognise that the issue is sensitive, especially for those families. My hon. Friend the Minister of State met the families only last month. We have committed ourselves to involving them in the arrangements for the publication of the report, which must be presented to the House first, and I will hold them uppermost in my mind.

One of the consequences of inquiries such as Saville is that they put enormous pressure on the resources of the police service. The Secretary of State has reduced the budget for the police service in the current year, and the Chief Constable has indicated that he is close to the tipping point in regard to his ability to deliver the necessary police input for these inquiries. Will the Secretary of State look again at increasing the budget in order to offset the cost of the PSNI’s role in these inquiries?

I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I must of course disagree with the idea that we have reduced the budget. The fact is that the PSNI will have a budget of nearly £1 billion for this year. That is an extremely large budget, and I am confident that every penny of it will be well spent. The PSNI has to spend a great deal of time dealing with the past, and it matters that it should do so. I believe that it is appropriately funded to do that work, despite the pressures that it faces. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to work with the Eames consultative group on the past, to see whether we can find other, more effective ways of dealing with some of the issues that are undoubtedly a legacy of the past.

I should like to associate Her Majesty’s official Opposition with the comments made by the Secretary of State on the disgraceful attack on Police Officer Crozier. We wish him a speedy recovery, and we pay tribute to the bravery of all PSNI officers. We also congratulate the passer-by who showed great courage in rescuing him.

The Saville inquiry was set up 10 years ago. It last took evidence in 2004, its costs are heading towards £200 million, of which nearly half has been paid to lawyers, and there is no sign of the report appearing. Does the Secretary of State really think that that is acceptable?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, because the Saville inquiry was set up before the Inquiries Act 2005, the Government are ultimately unable to control the legal costs involved, despite the constant pressure that we are bringing to bear on the inquiry to be cost-effective. However, for the families involved, and for the nationalist community, which was so unsettled by the way in which the matter had been dealt with historically, it was absolutely right that my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister committed the Government to conducting the inquiry. It has taken longer and cost more than we wanted it to, but at the end of the day we have to separate cost and value, and the value of this inquiry is incalculable.

That was an unsatisfactory reply, because it showed that the delay has been caused by the manner in which the Government set up the inquiry. Will the Secretary of State give the House a guarantee that no future historical inquiry will be as open-ended and extravagant as Saville, given his new remit under the Inquiries Act 2005?

It is perfectly clear that the Inquiries Act has set out precisely how any future inquiry should be conducted. The hon. Gentleman will also know that, in all the conversations that I have had about inquiries, I have insisted that any future inquiry would have to be held under the terms of the Act.