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Saville Inquiry

Volume 486: debated on Wednesday 21 January 2009

1. When he expects the Saville inquiry to make its final report; and what consideration he has given to bringing the inquiry to a conclusion. (248299)

Lord Saville informed me last November that he expects to submit his inquiry report this autumn. As I have made clear to Lord Saville, to the families involved and to the House, we are deeply disappointed by the continued delay in publication. However, I remind the House that it is in the interests of everyone that the independent inquiry works first and foremost to establish the truth of the events of that tragic day.

Given that the inquiry has now spent nearly £200 million and that a number of QCs have become millionaires on the back of it, what does the Secretary of State think will be achieved between now and the autumn that has not yet been achieved?

Because its contents remain a matter for the independent inquiry, I have no idea what will be achieved in relation to those contents. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am concerned about the costs. As a result, working with the inquiry, I have now arranged for the office in Northern Ireland to be closed, the size and costs of the accommodation in London to be significantly reduced and the IT contracts to be renegotiated. We will therefore make savings of about 20 per cent. of what would have been spent in the remaining months.

May I ask my right hon. Friend about any lessons that could be learned from the tragedy that the Saville inquiry is investigating? Is there any read-across to the inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson into the Omagh bombing, a statement on which was made this morning? That statement seems to have exonerated GCHQ from any of the allegations made by the BBC, among others. It seems that if there was any malpractice or any problems, they were more on the Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch front, and those issues were largely addressed by the 2001 reorganisation. Does my right hon. Friend agree about that?

I thank my right hon. Friend for providing me with the opportunity to make that read-across from Lord Saville’s work to the Omagh report, and I commend Sir Peter Gibson for the thorough and exhaustive way in which he has approached the task of considering lessons to be learned from the sharing of intercept material on the day, and around the time, of the Omagh bombing.

I ask the House to note that I have placed in the Library today not only my written statement but Sir Peter’s summary report and a response to it by the Chief Constable. I thank Sir Peter for his comprehensive work. It is difficult to make a direct read-across to Lord Saville, except to say that for those involved, it is important to produce material as quickly as we can.

May I echo what the Secretary of State has just said and add my thanks to Sir Peter for reporting so expeditiously? Does that not point to a lesson for the future? Does he agree that, as the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs recently stated, no further major inquiries should be launched unless there is a unanimous desire for them among the parties in Northern Ireland?

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Select Committee on its recent report, which rightly raised a number of these issues? It may be helpful if I inform right hon. and hon. Members that next week we expect Lord Eames and Denis Bradley’s Consultative Group on the Past to publish its report on the way forward. The Government look forward to that and will be studying its proposals carefully.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if members of the Conservative party are presenting themselves as being worthy of government, they should show better grace and reflection on the issue of the Saville inquiry, rather than constantly go on about the cost? They should show some consideration for the families and their quest for truth and for the vindication of the innocence of their loved ones, as well for as the wider fundamental issues that will hopefully be addressed in the report. Does he accept that many of us would have wanted an oral statement on the Gibson review, so that we could have shown our concern and consideration for the needs and rights of the Omagh families?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and share his view of the importance of the work that is being done on the Saville inquiry. I remind the House that when the former Prime Minister established that independent inquiry, he said that it would have to be conducted

“without any preconditions as to what the outcome may be, so that the truth can be established and told.”—[Official Report, 29 January 1998; Vol. 305, c. 505.]

I should perhaps also tell the hon. Gentleman that my office is making arrangements to meet representatives concerned with those terrible events in Londonderry that day, so that we can talk through with them the arrangements for publication in the autumn.

The Secretary of State has referred twice to getting at the truth. Given the exceptional difficulty, if not impossibility, of doing that in all the inquiries, and given that the inquiry industry in Northern Ireland is blossoming to the extent of costing £60 million a year, does he accept that it is time to call a halt to investigating the past and instead to look to the future?

I am sure that many hon. Members share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the amount of money involved. However, I caution against the use of the pejorative description of an “inquiry industry” simply because, although some may regard it as an industry, for the families affected, the victims and those whose lives have been destroyed by the troubles, it is essential to find ways to get at the truth. There may be better ways of doing that in future. If we can find ways that provide better value for the taxpayer, we have a duty to do that. However, first and foremost, we have a duty to do all that we can to provide justice for families, and for victims who needlessly lost their lives during the troubles.

The Secretary of State has referred to the families, but not to the former soldiers, some of whom are my constituents. For 11 years, they have had the threat hanging over their heads. I spoke to some of them this morning. They did their duty by their country but they feel that the Government have not done their duty by them. Will the Secretary of State please at least send a message to them that he understands their concerns and those of their families and do something to reassure them that the matter will be brought to a speedy conclusion? They are now in their 70s and some have already died. 1 Para has a reunion next month—please give its members a positive message.

The hon. Gentleman has been unstinting in his advocacy for the work of the security forces. I again put on record my admiration for the way in which our security forces have responded over many years to terrorism in Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly, there are lessons for us all to learn from mistakes that may have been made, but the support of the Government and the House for our armed forces has been and remains unshakeable.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the concern that some of those to whom he spoke expressed. It is a matter of parity that, just as I am prepared to meet families from Derry to discuss arrangements for publication, if he would like to bring a delegation to meet me to discuss that, I would be more than happy to meet with it.