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Commons Chamber

Volume 511: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2010

House of Commons

Tuesday 15 June 2010

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

City of Westminster Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

That so much of the Lords Message [10 June] as relates to the City of Westminster Bill [Lords] be now considered.—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)


To be considered on Thursday 24 June.

Bloody Sunday Inquiry


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report, dated 15 June 2010, of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, and of the Principal Conclusions and Overall Assessment, dated 15 June 2010, of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.—(Jeremy Wright.)

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Probation Service

For 2010-11, the budget for the probation trusts will be £850 million. Budgets for 2011-12 are not yet set, and will be done through the spending review process to take place later this year.

Last Sunday, on Sky News, the Justice Secretary said:

“let’s have fewer people in prison”,

and that there are

“some things we can do to stop people re-offending when they come out”.

Did he have the probation service in mind? Will the Minister give me a categorical assurance that there will be no cut in funding for the probation service, because it will be impossible to carry out that policy if there is?

It would be very nice if the country was in an economic position that allowed me to deliver such a categorical assurance to the hon. Gentleman but, as he knows perfectly well, I am afraid that I cannot do so. He also knows that part of the Ministry of Justice’s contribution to the £6 billion target was a £20 million reduction in the probation service’s budget. However, that budget had been added to by £26 million in mid-year by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who is now the shadow Justice Secretary.

Wakefield is home to two prisons: New Hall young offenders institution and women’s prison, and, of course, Wakefield prison, which houses some of the country’s most dangerous and prolific offenders. West Yorkshire probation service, and Wakefield in particular, do a tremendous job of keeping local people safe and monitoring those who are released from those prisons, who are some of the most difficult individuals in the country. Does the Minister agree that public protection is the No. 1 priority for the probation service and that any future funding arrangements must not put that at risk?

Of course public protection is an absolute priority. We inherited good MAPPA—multi-agency public protection arrangements—from the previous Administration to deal with the sort of offenders who are released from Wakefield. It is right that probation services and all other agencies that are involved in MAPPA are closely engaged in delivering public protection with regard to such offenders.

I have visited the probation service in Milton Keynes and pay tribute to its tremendous work. Under the previous Government, however, the number of staff at headquarters ballooned, while front-line staff numbers remained static or even reduced. Might this Government reverse that trend?

The previous Government refurbished the Ministry of Justice building at a cost of £130 million shortly before they announced redundancies, including to front-line managers, that saved £50 million. Can the Minister and his team say that this Government will have a better and more responsible set of priorities for spending in his Department?

I can guarantee that the probation service will not be led by the Ministry of Justice on any further refurbishments. I think that we have had enough refurbishments inside the Department for the time being and that we have an office that is perfectly fit for purpose.

I welcome the Minister to his post, which is an excellent job that I am sure he will enjoy. Will he confirm to the House that reoffending rates fell considerably under the Labour Government, not least because of the 70% increase in probation funding over those 13 years? Will he also clarify what I think he said—that the £870 million budget agreed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in October 2009 is now £850 million? What discussions has he held—and will he hold—with probation services about the impact of that £20 million cut?

As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, I have referred to the £20 million cut. The director of the National Offender Management Service and the regional offender managers will be doing their level best, in agreement with the probation trusts, to ensure that that reduction does not have an impact on services. However, we ought to remember that the budget settlement for the probation trusts that was agreed just more than a year ago was £844 million. That budget was being worked to during the transfer from probation boards to probation trusts, and that transfer was supposed to drive forward many efficiency savings to ensure that front-line services were delivered as efficiently as they should be.

Sentencing Policy

2. What timetable he has set for the completion of his Department’s review of sentencing policy. (2216)

We are conducting a comprehensive assessment of sentencing policy with a view to introducing more effective sentencing and rehabilitation policies. We will take the time to get it right, and will consult widely before bringing forward coherent plans for reform. We intend to bring forward proposals on sentencing and the rehabilitation of offenders after the House returns from recess in October.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the punishment, in being sent to prison, is the loss of freedom? Does he also agree that what is important is trying to reduce reoffending rates, and ensuring that when people are in prison, they undertake activities that mean that they are less likely to reoffend when they are released? Alternatively, we might have not so many people going to prison, but if they are to be punished in the community, that punishment should involve activities that help to reduce the chances of reoffending. It is reducing the reoffending rate that is so important.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We have inherited a disaster, in terms of the reoffending rate among short-sentence prisoners. I do not think that anyone would want to defend the reoffending rate in that category, which is somewhere between 60% and 70%. Prisoners in that category do not receive probation supervision, and if we do not engage them with the great army of auxiliaries in the third sector who want to help us with offender management, we will not be able to address offender behaviour in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.

Will the Minister undertake to read the excellent report drawn up on a cross-party basis by members of the Select Committee on Justice not long before Dissolution, which proposes a number of ways in which the large amount of resources that go into the criminal justice system could be focused more effectively on reducing reoffending?

Yes. The report is excellent, and it will inform the proposals that we bring forward when the House returns in October.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it adds insult to injury when a victim of crime, having seen the perpetrator sentenced, finds that the person is released halfway through their sentence? What steps will we take to reintroduce honesty in sentencing?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because plainly the proposals that were in the Conservative manifesto will inform the outcome of the sentencing review. I am quite sure that he will be satisfied with the outcome, and that we will have a great deal more honesty in sentencing at the end of the process than we have today.

Prison Capacity

We must provide prison places for those whom the courts judge should receive a custodial sentence. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), we intend to bring forward proposals on rehabilitation and sentencing after the House returns in October. Long-term decisions on prison capacity programmes will be taken in the light of the policy agreed at the end of the process.

On 30 January 2007, when asked whether we needed more prisons, the Prime Minister said, on the Jon Gaunt “talkSPORT” show:

“Yes…no doubt more prisons have got to be built.”

How does that fit with the Justice Secretary’s announcement this week that he would like to see fewer people in prison? Is this an example of Opposition rhetoric catching up with the Prime Minister, or is it yet another example of a policy disagreement between the Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary?

Absolutely not. I notice that the date to which the hon. Gentleman referred was in 2007, and there certainly has been a significant increase in the prison population between then and today. As far as the prison building programme is concerned, I draw attention to the evidence that the then Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor gave to the Committee referred to by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael). He said that the prison building programme, as it now stands, is an opportunity to upgrade and update our prison capacity to make it more fit for the purpose of addressing reoffending behaviour. If we are successful in bringing about a drop in prisoner numbers—I am quite sure that everyone in the House would like to see that—we may be able to release other parts of the estate.

In the context of capacity and overcrowding, what are the Minister’s views on short sentences, especially for women?

The evidence is that short custodial sentences are not working. They produce terrible reoffending rates. We do not have the capacity in the probation service to address people on licence, which is one reason why they do not have any supervision when they leave prison, and we are on the most dreadful merry-go-round. It is one of the glaring gaps in the way that we deal with offenders and reoffending behaviour, and the current Administration will do their level best to address the issue.

Libel Law

We are committed to reviewing the law on defamation to protect free speech, and are currently considering the issues involved. In that context, Lord McNally yesterday met Lord Lester of Herne Hill to discuss his private Member’s Bill on the subject, which was recently introduced in another place.

I am sure the Minister is aware of the case of Dr Simon Singh, who was famously sued by the British Chiropractic Association for his research. Although the case was unsuccessful, Mr Singh will recover only 70 per cent. of his £200,000 legal costs. Will the Government support Lord Lester’s private Member’s Bill to reform our libel system, which at present stifles scientific research?

We are considering Lord Lester’s private Member’s Bill. The issues involved in it are complex and of great breadth, so we will look at it carefully and respond at a later date.

Rape Defendants (Anonymity)

5. What evidence he took into account in deciding to bring forward proposals to extend anonymity to defendants in rape trials. (2220)

9. What evidence he took into account in deciding to propose to grant anonymity to defendants charged with rape. (2224)

11. What evidence was considered before the announcement of proposals to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases. (2226)

The proposal to grant anonymity to defendants in rape trials was included in the coalition agreement following negotiations between the two coalition partners. All the policy commitments made by the coalition Government were derived from the existing policy of one or both of the governing parties. The issue of anonymity for defendants in rape trials was adopted as party policy by the Liberal Democrat party while in opposition. It was also the subject of an extensive inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee, in its fifth report published on 24 June 2003.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his answer. His Minister has indicated that he believes the stigma associated with those accused of rape is so damaging that, uniquely, they need further protection through anonymity, but evidence shows that the public are far more hostile to paedophiles and murderers, so why, on the evidence, does he choose to extend anonymity to those accused of rape?

There are arguments on both sides of the question, and they have frequently come before the House over the years. The Government think it is right to have a reasonable debate on them. That is one of the arguments in favour of anonymity. The argument that I have always thought is the strongest for anonymity is in cases in which the victim has anonymity—when there are allegations by children against teachers and others, or allegations made by women or men in rape cases. Where the victim is allowed anonymity all the way through, there is a case, which the House has accepted on occasions in the past, for giving anonymity to the person who is accused. There are other arguments on both sides of the case. We are not likely to have early legislation on the matter. This was the principal subject of debate in 2003 when there was a Bill before the House, and it divided all three parties. It is not a matter for party political ideology. It is a question that the House as a whole should consider with care.

In my experience of working with sex offenders, it is extremely unusual for someone to offend on only one occasion. Publicising the name of the person accused often allows other women to come forward. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look seriously at this evidence, at research that has been done by the Home Office, and at research to which I have been directed, by the excellent criminology department at Sheffield university?

As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) reasonably said in the Adjournment debate, we are looking at evidence and seeing how many cases are multiple offenders, and in what particular cases that might have led to further complaints and detection, but I point out that 53%—I think that is the figure—of those accused in serious rape cases are known to the person making the accusation. They are usually ex-partners or ex-husbands. In those cases, where the person sometimes gets anonymity if they are the husband, not granting it might betray the identity of the complainant, and sometimes the person accused does not get anonymity, if they are the partner. There is a perfectly serious case to be made on both sides of the argument, and the coalition agreement has contemplated going back to anonymity. I had to look up which way I voted the last time the question was before the House. Other hon. Members would probably have to do the same. I voted in favour of anonymity then, but we are now listening to the arguments.

I have worked with victims of sexual violence and know how difficult it is for women to come forward and report offences. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that the issue is not about party politics; it is about protecting very vulnerable victims of crime. If the Government intend to press ahead with those proposals, will he outline how they intend to encourage women to report rape offences and what measures will be brought forward to drive up the conviction rate in rape cases, which remains significantly lower than it should be?

The Government are committed to providing up to 15 more rape crisis centres. I agree entirely with the hon. Lady that, obviously, nobody is questioning the long-standing decision that anonymity be given to all victims making allegations of rape. It is obviously important that everything possible be done to encourage more women who have suffered from that crime to come forward and seek the prosecution of the perpetrator.

I listened with great care to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State said about the mystery of where the policy came from, but can he enlighten the House as to why, over that weekend of negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party about the coalition agreement, the matter suddenly became a major priority when it had not been in either manifesto before? Will he also please tell us how many women were involved in those negotiations?

I was not involved in the negotiations, but the policy actually emerged from them. I remind the hon. Lady that the Liberal Democrat assembly voted in favour of the policy in 2006, but it did so against a background of considerable debate. People from all parts of this House decided to vote for anonymity in 2003, and we recently had a report from Baroness Stern, who I do not think supports anonymity but recommended that the matter be debated more extensively.

The one thing that I can say to the hon. Lady is that the idea that the proposal was a male decision to the exclusion of female sensitivity on the subject is, frankly, slightly wide of the mark. Nobody in the House denies that rape is a serious offence; nobody in the House wants to reduce the protection that is given to women who are threatened with it or experience it.

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the likelihood of rape victims coming forward of his policy to extend anonymity to defendants in rape trials. (2221)

15. What assessment he has made of the likely effect of his proposal to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases on the number of prosecution brought in such cases. (2230)

The Government totally support the anonymity of rape victims and regard rape as a very serious crime that should be prosecuted in all cases where sufficient evidence exists. There seems to be no reason, however, why a victim should be deterred from complaining because the name of the accused will not be immediately publicised. The Government are, however, prepared to consider all arguments on that or any other aspect of the issue.

The point is that the Justice Secretary has come before the House and talked about the proposal as if he were suggesting perhaps a Green Paper or a national debate, but it is in his programme of government, and I notice that his Front-Bench team is a Liberal-free zone. Does he feel, and will he now admit to the House, that basically he has been sold a pup?

No. I think that it is a serious issue, and, although I may not have initiated its appearance in the coalition agreement, the hon. Gentleman may gather that I am not averse to the House looking at it again. There are people who want us to do so, and we will have an opportunity, no doubt in due course, to put it to Members. I am not responsible for the whipping in the House, but I suspect that all three parties would rather prefer a fairly free vote on the issue, because I do not think that there is any consensus in any part of the House, unless I am suddenly told it is—[Interruption.] The Labour party is looking for new policies, I know, but I do not think that it has decided to make this issue the central plank of its much overdue reform.

We have said that we are attracted by the argument, and that we will debate it and consider all the arguments produced by Members from all parts of the House. The Prime Minister actually referred Members to the Home Affairs Committee on which he sat, which on an all-party basis recommended anonymity, at least until the time of charge, only a few years ago.

I am pleased to hear that there may be a free vote on this issue and that the Secretary of State has so little personal enthusiasm for the policy. Does he agree that the main problem in rape cases is the low conviction rate and the fact that rape victims are not believed? Rather than trying to create ways to provide those accused of rape with more protection, we should be looking at ways to make sure that women feel able to come forward and that we increase the conviction rate.

I hasten to repeat that I have no responsibility or control over the whipping arrangements of any of the political parties in the House. When I was operating as a Back Bencher, I took this sort of vote very seriously. I considered it seriously in 2003 and came down in favour of voting for anonymity. It is no good trying to sweep the issue from the field, and we are not going to do that.

The conviction rate among those charged with rape is 38%, which is lower than that for some other offences, but rape is different in many ways from more straightforward crimes such as theft. In rape cases, we are essentially relying on the frame of mind of one of the parties; something that is perfectly lawful and affectionate if the woman is consenting is a very serious criminal offence if she is not.

Juries are the best people to decide whether they believe one version or the other in what, in my very distant experience of such trials, can sometimes be difficult cases that are best left to juries. That is why I am urging that this is a serious issue, and the coalition agreement was right to raise it. We have expressed our current intention, but Members from all parties will want to listen to all the arguments on both sides and not just be driven away from considering them.

When the black cab driver John Worboys was charged with a string of sex attacks, more than 80 women felt that they could come forward and present themselves as victims. Anonymity for rape defendants would have prevented that from happening. Surely the Justice Secretary agrees that it is important that victims should feel able to come forward, not only to seek justice for themselves, but to strengthen the case for prosecution.

That could be a good argument, and we will look at it; evidence of that is, I think, one of the things that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said we would consider. We are trying to have a look at the Worboys case, which is always cited, to see how far the response to that was caused by publicity about the name of the accused person and how far it was a result of the police investigation into the nature of the rape. We can come back to that in later debate. It is not a conclusive argument. A very large number of rape cases do not involve multiple offenders; essentially, they often involve people who are well known to each other and have a history of a consensual sexual relationship.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that the appropriate counselling is available for victims coming forward? That counselling has recently been withdrawn in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). It is now provided by volunteers. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at ensuring that appropriate funding is put in place for that service?

I certainly will. I have already referred to our commitment to try to provide new rape crisis centres, preferably using the proceeds of crime when they are recovered from criminal offenders. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that we are long past the stage at which a woman complaining of rape is treated as if she were complaining about a handbag robbery. There is no doubt that all these cases have to be treated with considerable sensitivity because it is very difficult for a woman to bring herself to complain and not enough do so, even in the present climate of opinion.


8. What steps the Government plan to take to reduce reoffending by prisoners after release; and if he will make a statement. (2223)

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats?

The Government believe that more can be done to cut reoffending by overhauling the system of rehabilitation. We are exploring how sentencing and treatment for drug use can help offenders to come off drugs once and for all. We are also exploring how we can do more with independent providers, including the voluntary sector, to reduce reoffending.

I welcome the Minister and all his colleagues to the Front Bench to consider such an important subject. May I encourage them, as they work out the plans to deal with reoffending—as has been said, it is a serious issue, which the previous Government did not address adequately—to take the advice of people such as the previous governor of Brixton prison, who were clear that, if secure housing and continuing support to deal with addictions are provided when people are released, the chance of immediate reoffending, which often starts in days, is hugely reduced?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We must improve the multi-agency approach to tackling reoffending. That means bringing together the police, probation, prisons and local authorities, and ensuring that they work together more effectively. The key is to get offenders off drugs and into work, and, in particular, as he says, into housing. If we can do that, we have a chance of reducing the unacceptably high reoffending rates that we currently experience.

But how will the cuts that have just been announced to the future jobs fund, which provides employment for ex-offenders in my constituency—a third of a million pounds comes from Connexions and an equal sum from Positive Activities for Young People—contribute to reducing reoffending in Slough?

Clearly, the Opposition still have not grasped the scale of the fiscal deficit that the country faces or their responsibility for creating it. Reoffending costs the criminal justice system and wider society billions of pounds a year. If we can succeed in reducing reoffending and capture some of that money to invest in rehabilitation services through a payment-by-results model, which we proposed in our rehabilitation revolution, we have a chance of producing the rehabilitation services that the previous Government lamentably failed to provide.

Prison Building (Costs)

12. What assessment he has made of the balance of expenditure between (a) prison building and (b) community sentences and restorative justice schemes. (2227)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his unopposed re-election as Chair of the Justice Committee.

As I said in reply to earlier questions, our proposals for implementing the coalition agreement commitments on sentencing and rehabilitation will be presented after the House returns in October. Our future plans for, and the balance of expenditure between, custodial and community provision will need to be considered in the light of that, and restorative justice will feature strongly in that work, as will the work of the Justice Committee in its first report of 2009-10 on the case for justice reinvestment.

I thank the Under-Secretary for his kind words and congratulate him on taking office. Did he notice when he arrived at the Department that he was committed to a prison building programme, inherited from the previous Government, that cost more than £4 billion? It produced the highest incarceration rate in western Europe and pre-empted resources, which, if they were used to prevent crime, would save victims from suffering from crime in the first place.

My right hon. Friend will be glad to know that it did not entirely escape my attention. However, I draw his attention to the evidence that the then Justice Secretary gave to the Justice Committee in 2008. He pointed out that there was an opportunity to deliver the new prison places more cheaply on a revenue basis than the existing prison estate, and for them to be more fit for purpose in enabling the prison estate to address reoffending behaviour. The prison building programme per se is not, therefore, the problem but the number of offenders whom we have to sustain in custody. We need to examine the policies that drive those numbers.

May I add my welcome to the Under-Secretary? I also offer my congratulations to the Justice Secretary and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) on their 40th anniversary this week as Members of the House.

I think my hon. Friend means that it was shortly before the Chancellor was born.

Does the Under-Secretary acknowledge that there has been a sustained fall in crime from 1995 to date, and that the increase in prison places and the fact that more serious and violent offenders are now incarcerated has contributed to that fall?

Evidence on the effects of incarceration is mixed at best. We must take the political temperature out of the debate. Outbidding each other on how robust we will be in dealing with offenders probably does potential future victims no good. We must have policies that address future offending behaviour and consider the life cycle of potential and actual offenders so that we can support them effectively.

The whole House would agree that the fundamental test of an anti-crime policy is whether crime has fallen. With that in mind, will the Minister now acknowledge that crime fell consistently from 1995 and throughout the 1997 to 2010 Administration?

No, because the change in trend on crime was achieved by Michael Howard, the then Home Secretary, who delivered a robust policy that effected changes. He was the author of the change in policy, but there is a limit to continuing that process, as there must be to the rate of growth of incarceration. In the end, we cannot lock up everybody who might be a threat to someone, because in that way, the entire population would end up in prison. There is a logical end to that process, and we will do our level best to deliver more effective policies to ensure that there are fewer victims in future.

Prison Places

13. How many and what proportion of prison inmates are accommodated on a doubled-up basis; and if he will make a statement. (2228)

In 2009-10, the average number of prisoners sharing a cell designed for one was approximately 19,000, and there are more than 1,000 cases in which three prisoners are sharing a cell designed for two. That overcrowding is concentrated in male local prisons, where 47.6% of prisoners are held in overcrowded conditions.

Will the Minister comment on the fact that the previous Government’s mismanagement of the indeterminate public protection sentencing regime in many ways contributed to that overcrowding? That was brought to my attention by a prisoner in HMP Erlestoke in my constituency, who copied me in on a very good letter to Inside Time this month. Will the Minister tell the House what he will do to help to reform the IPP regime?

I notice that the previous Government had to reform the IPP arrangements in 2008, having introduced them in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We inherit a very serious problem with IPP prisoners. We have 6,000 IPP prisoners, well over 2,500 of whom have exceeded their tariff point. Many cannot get on courses because our prisons are wholly overcrowded and unable to address offending behaviour. That is not a defensible position.

In opposition, Conservative Members thought it was a good idea—in fact, they thought there was an extremely strong case—to build a new prison in north Wales. Is that still their view?

Does the Minister agree that there would be a lot less overcrowding in prisons were we to adopt the very sensible policy of sending back to secure detention in their countries of origin the 13% of our prison population who are foreign nationals?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will do our absolute level best to improve the position.

Pleural Plaques

Let me first recognise the hon. Gentleman’s relentless campaigning on compensation for pleural plaques sufferers. I recently answered two written parliamentary questions relating to pleural plaques, and Ministers have received a number of letters from hon. Members and their constituents.

I thank the Government for standing by the previous Government’s commitment to compensate past pleural plaques victims, but will the Minister go one step further, as Labour did when in office, and give a commitment that if any new medical evidence comes forward on the condition, the issue will be reopened?

The issue was considered extensively in the last Parliament. A public consultation was carried out, and authoritative medical reports were prepared by the chief medical officer and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. The Government consider that in the light of that evidence, it would not be appropriate to overturn the House of Lords 2007 judgment that the condition is not compensatable under the civil law of tort. However, of course, if the situation were to change, we would look at it again. If new medical evidence emerges that suggests that the existence of pleural plaques is an actionable cause and that the condition counts as compensatable damage, it will be open to claimants to pursue an action under the law of tort.

Rape Convictions

17. What the conviction rate was for cases of rape reported in Liverpool, Wavertree constituency in the last 12 months for which figures are available. (2232)

Conviction rates are based on the proportion of defendants proceeded against who were found guilty. I can tell the hon. Lady that 44 defendants were proceeded against in the Merseyside police force area in 2008 and 13 were found guilty, giving a conviction rate of 30%. Court proceedings data are not available at parliamentary constituency level.

As the Secretary of State has just highlighted, the conviction rate for rape in my constituency is already dangerously low. Can he give us a definitive answer as to why rape defendants should be afforded greater protection than defendants accused of other serious crimes?

There are some relevant arguments on both sides, and other arguments that—with respect—are less relevant. I do not think that the conviction rate for rape is affected by whether the defendant had anonymity up to the trial. Nor is a woman’s decision to complain affected by whether the man’s name will be published in the newspaper immediately. It is important to ensure that all cases of rape are reported by victims who are then treated properly and that cases in which the evidence is sufficient are prosecuted and convicted. I trust that that will be pursued in Merseyside. As I say, some 30% of those charged are convicted, and I shall not dilate further than I did earlier on the particular nature of rape allegations, which are rather different from the allegations of normal violent crime or theft—[Interruption.] No, the nature of the issue before the jury is very different in such cases. The best analogy is with other sexual offence complaints made against teachers and others, in which anonymity is given to the victim but not to the person accused, and some Members have argued for that to be reconsidered.

Prison Capacity

I thank the Minister for his response earlier and agree with the comments that he made. Does he agree that the successful reduction of reoffending levels requires a long-term focus rather than a series of short-term piecemeal proposals? The Labour Government had short-termism and failed.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am afraid that we have seen too much focus on the pursuing of political positions and influence by the media. What we have to do now is take advantage of the change in Administration, and the fact that we have a coalition Government, to try to take the political heat out of the issue, and achieve consensus on a long-term strategy to address reoffending.

The Justice Secretary is reported as saying that millions of pounds could be saved by jailing fewer offenders and slashing sentences. Does the Minister accept that our first duty is the protection of the public and that we must provide prison capacity accordingly?

Yes, but I do not entirely recognise the hon. Gentleman’s presentation of my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary’s comments over the weekend. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the first objective is public protection, and if we are to protect the public of tomorrow, so that there are fewer victims, we have to ensure that we have a justice service that will deliver a reduction in reoffending rates and can divert people from offending in the first place.

Victims of Crime

19. What steps he is taking to ensure that the interests of victims of crime are effectively represented in the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. (2234)

The coalition Government’s aim is to establish a criminal justice system that rebuilds public confidence in the system and ensures that our streets are safe. The rights and welfare of the victim are vital to this. The Government are dedicated to ensuring support for victims and witnesses. We want to involve voluntary sector victims groups more and harness their ideas and innovation to help us to improve support.

A constituent of mine, Jean Taylor, set up the charity, Families Fighting for Justice, after the murder of her son and daughter. Can the Minister assure her, and many others in similar situations, that these charities, which are filling the gaps in the justice system to provide support for victims of crime, will have sufficient transparency and lines of communication open to his Department in order to carry out their work?

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend of that. Charities and voluntary groups set up to promote the interests of victims are immensely important, and I would be delighted to meet the group concerned. Consistent with the proposals for a big society that we have been setting out for some time, we want to find ways to ensure that such groups have a voice, and give victims a voice, in the criminal justice system.

We are reviewing all these arrangements to promote the interests of victims. I welcome the appointment of the Victims Commissioner and the work she will embark upon. We are aware of the important work that the National Victims Service is planning to do.

Topical Questions

The Ministry of Justice is responsible for the entire justice system, including the courts, prisons and probation services. Over the past four weeks, since taking office, I have sought to look at the major issues facing the Department and have worked closely with my ministerial colleagues to identify policy objectives and where savings can be made, given the current economic circumstances. We are conducting a full assessment of sentencing and rehabilitation policy to ensure it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending, while ensuring good value for the taxpayer. We intend to concentrate on the needs of justice while ensuring that legal aid works efficiently and that taxpayers’ money is well spent. In addition, I would like to inform the House that the Prime Minister has asked me to be the Government’s anti-corruption champion.

I thank the Secretary of State for Justice for his answer, although he did not mention his Department’s responsibility for the British Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney. He will know that the previous Government were rather negative towards the loyal subjects in the Crown dependencies. Will he confirm that the new Conservative-led Government will be positive towards them and value their contribution to the British economy?

I recognise the important and very enjoyable responsibility I had for the Crown dependencies when I was Home Secretary, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government give a high priority to ensuring that the relationship with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is completely satisfactory. I am surprised that responsibility has found its way to the Justice Department—perhaps it was not considered carefully enough by the previous Government. I only raise the possibility that we will have a look at the allocation of responsibilities between Departments to find which allocation best suits both Her Majesty’s Government and the Governments of the Crown dependencies.

T2. Ministers have referred to the recommendation in the Stern report on false allegations of rape. What are their plans to address the other 22 recommendations in the report? (2241)

The recommendations were only made recently, but I agree that there is no point looking at one aspect of the subject without looking at the others. I think the whole House agrees that we should do everything possible to protect the victims of rape, to enable proper allegations to be brought and to enable justice to be done, so that those responsible for this serious crime are brought to justice. I only mentioned one aspect of Baroness Stern’s report, but the whole report is indeed important.

T5. A High Court judge, sitting on the board of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, recently told all MPs that they should be treated in exactly the same way as every other public servant. Will the Minister therefore consider publishing the travel and accommodation expenses and allowances of High Court judges so that we can find out whether we are indeed matched pound for pound with their lordships? (2244)

The Lord Chief Justice decided that, from the start of the new legal year in October 2009, the expenses claims of High Court judges and above should be recorded in such a way that they can be attributed to individual judges and published at regular intervals. The first set, covering October to the end of December 2009, was published in March, and the next set, covering January to Easter, is due to be published in July. Figures for the summer term will be published in the autumn.

T3. May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment? As a fellow Nottinghamshire MP, may I ask him to have a look at a problem that eluded his three predecessors, which is the creation of a community court in the city of Nottingham? People in Nottingham want the community court and people in the communities want it. However, it seems that the legal establishment in Nottingham does not want a community court. Will he use his good offices to make that wish come true in an area that is, as he knows, fighting crime very well? (2242)

I am aware of the operation of the community court up in Liverpool, which I have visited, and the community court in Red Hook in New York, which pioneered this system of community justice. They are indeed interesting, and we should look at their success carefully. I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any commitment on Nottingham, but we are interested in and aware of the importance of community courts.

T6. May I congratulate the Justice Secretary on his new position? Can he explain what the coalition Government’s position is on self-defence in the event of burglaries in one’s own home and the level to which we can defend our properties? I understand that we have undertaken a review of the position, and people would like clarification, following a number of Back-Bench Bills from Government Members. (2245)

I can tell my hon. Friend that we are reviewing the law and its interpretation carefully, and we will explore all the options before bringing forward proposals. We must ensure that the responsible citizen acting in self-defence or for the prevention of crime has the appropriate level of legal protection.

The previous Government were considering the question carefully, and we are still carefully considering our policy on the issue.

T7. What plans does the Justice Secretary have to reform drug rehabilitation in our prisons, so that we see fewer offenders languishing on methadone prescriptions than under the previous Government, and more going clean on abstinence-based programmes? (2246)

Clinical guidance for the treatment of heroin addicts in prison has been updated to reinforce the expectation that prisoners jailed for more than six months should not be maintained on methadone unless there are exceptional circumstances. We recognise that continuity of management of drug users is a key challenge. The work of Lord Patel’s prison drug treatment strategy review and last year’s review of the drug interventions programme will help us to strengthen arrangements between prisons and the community. However, I absolutely acknowledge my hon. Friend’s great concern about the issue.

T9. In a recent case, a Salford man had committed a rape and was bailed, but then committed a further rape, and the police believe that there are further victims of this man. Can the Secretary of State explain why the Government have committed in their coalition agreement to extending anonymity to such defendants before all the evidence is heard? Can he also say who will now be consulted for that evidence?[Official Report, 24 June 2010, Vol. 512, c. 1-2MC.] (2248)

With great respect, I find it very surprising that so many questions are being raised about a proposition that has been before the House, on and off, for the past 20 years and is not easily resolved. We will, of course, look at all arguments, including the experience of the case to which the hon. Lady has referred, but that is only one of the considerations to be taken into account. There will undoubtedly sometimes be cases where the publication of the name of the accused person gives rise to other people coming forward with well-founded complaints against that person. We will have to see whether there is any evidence that such cases are a significant proportion of the total cases of rape. We shall also have to consider the arguments on the other side, where a woman can make an anonymous complaint, the man can eventually be convicted, after going through a long and probably rather destructive ordeal, and the woman retains her anonymity as she walks away, with her ex-boyfriend or ex-husband left to live with the consequences.

T8. Given that it is a surprise to some of us that so many drugs enter our prisons every day through a variety of methods, what steps will this exciting new Government take to try to crack down on this abuse of Her Majesty’s prisons? (2247)

Plainly, this issue is not new, and there have already been reviews of how drugs get into prisons. We are going to examine this matter and, as I have said, it will be a priority of mine. I am minded to try to ensure that prisoners have the opportunity to get on to abstinence-based programmes successfully and safely, within the prison estate, and to ensure that they do not get knocked off course by the availability of illegal drugs in our prisons—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt. It is understandable that Ministers should look backwards at those questioning them, but they must face the House.

Seventeen-year-old Ashleigh Hall, who lived in my constituency, was murdered last year by Peter Chapman, who is now serving a life sentence. While in prison, Mr Chapman has been writing to Ashleigh Hall’s parents and family. Does the Minister think that that is acceptable?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing that to my attention. Perhaps she could write to me with the details of the case. Obviously, on the face of it, it sounds unacceptable, and I would be pleased to look into the matter.

T10. What is the legal aid funding allocation per head in England and Wales, and how does it compare with legal aid funding in other countries? (2249)

England and Wales have by far the most generous legal aid provision in the whole world. For example, Spain spends £2.55 a head, France spends £3.31, and Germany spends £4.69. Countries with a similar system, such as New Zealand, spend on average £8 a head, compared with £38 a head in England and Wales.

On the issue of pleural plaques, when does the Minister expect to make the first payments under the new compensation scheme?

The mechanics of the scheme are being consulted on, and we hope to start making payments towards the end of this month.

In his capacity as the new anti-corruption tsar, will the Justice Secretary have a word with Andy Coulson? Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade both admitted that they had paid police officers for information when running newspapers. They paid police officers; that is suborning a police officer. Will the Justice Secretary institute a review of the process whereby newspapers sometimes pay for information from police officers, and put a stop to it?

Personally, I think that this Government are going to give a very high priority to restoring and, I trust, maintaining this company’s reputation—[Laughter.]—this country’s reputation as one of the leading advocates of the elimination of corruption in trade and in Government contracts. We shall also ensure that the Bribery Act 2010, which we supported, is properly enforced, and that we are in the forefront of the people paying regard to this matter. With respect, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s question bears very closely on that. I would also say to him that making allegations against people who are not Members, under cover of parliamentary privilege, should be done with great caution. He should not accuse people of corruption in the course of putting a question to me on this subject.

Will the Justice Secretary acknowledge that, when our constituents are the victims of crime, they often need support and assistance to navigate the criminal justice service? Will he take this opportunity to, at the very least, ring-fence his Department’s expenditure on services for the victims of crime?

The Government will give priority to victims to exactly the extent that the House would expect. It should be in the forefront of all our minds when trying to protect the country against crime that the interests of victims should be paramount. My reflection on this hour of questioning is that it is no good for the Labour party to respond to every suggestion that there might be budget constraints as though that represents a threat to an essential service. The fact is that there is no money, and that is the fault of those in the Labour party. They will not be taken seriously again until they face up to the reality of the situation to which they have largely contributed, and start producing some realistic alternative policies to challenge those being put forward by the Government.

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether his Department is to review the current system of classification of controlled drugs—which has been called seriously into question in recent months—and particularly the role of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs?

We have been looking at practically every aspect of policy in our first weeks in office, but we are not rushing to readdress the categorisation of drugs and we are going to ensure that scientific advice on this subject is treated properly, objectively and in the public interest. Any views that my hon. Friend wishes to put forward on the workings of the present system will be carefully considered by myself and my team of Ministers.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the recent spectacle of Roy Whiting exploiting British taxpayers to demand a reduction in his sentence is an abuse of justice and an insult to the memory of Sarah Payne?

The important principle to establish here is judicial independence. I think we should therefore respect the decisions that judges come to on these matters.

Saville Inquiry

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement. Today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is publishing the report of the Saville inquiry—the tribunal set up by the previous Government to investigate the tragic events of 30 January 1972, a day more commonly known as “Bloody Sunday”. We have acted in good faith by publishing the tribunal’s findings as quickly as possible after the general election.

I am deeply patriotic; I never want to believe anything bad about our country; I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our Army, which I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear: there is no doubt; there is nothing equivocal; there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.

Lord Saville concludes that the soldiers of Support Company who went into the Bogside

“did so as a result of an order… which should have not been given”

by their commander. He finds that

“on balance the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army”

and that

“none of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm”.

He also finds that

“there was some firing by republican paramilitaries... but... none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties”,

and that

“in no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire”.

Lord Saville also finds that Support Company

“reacted by losing their self-control... forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training”

and acted with

“a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline”.

He finds that

“despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers… none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers”

and that many of the soldiers

“knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”.

What is more, Lord Saville says that some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying. The report refers to one person who was shot while

“crawling… away from the soldiers”

and mentions another who was shot, in all probability,

“when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground”.

And the report refers to a father who was

“hit and injured by Army gunfire after he had gone to… tend his son”.

For those looking for statements of innocence, Saville says:

“The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries”,

and, crucially, that

“none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting”.

For those people who were looking for the report to use terms like murder and unlawful killing, I remind the House that these judgments are not matters for a tribunal, or for us as politicians, to determine.

These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say, but we do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth. So there is no point in trying to soften, or equivocate about, what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.

I know that some people wonder whether, nearly 40 years on from an event, a Prime Minister needs to issue an apology. For someone of my generation, Bloody Sunday and the early 1970s are something that we feel we have learnt about rather than lived through. But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and with a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The Government are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the Government—indeed, on behalf of our country—I am deeply sorry.

Just as the report is clear that the actions of that day were unjustifiable, so too it is clear in some of its other findings. Those looking for premeditation, those looking for a plan, those even looking for a conspiracy involving senior politicians or senior members of the armed forces, will not find it in this report. Indeed, Lord Saville finds no evidence that the events of Bloody Sunday were premeditated. He concludes that the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments, and the Army, neither tolerated nor encouraged

“the use of unjustified lethal force”.

He makes no suggestion of a Government cover-up, and he credits the United Kingdom Government with working towards a peaceful political settlement in Northern Ireland.

The report also specifically deals with the actions of key individuals in the Army, in politics and beyond, including Major-General Ford, Brigadier MacLellan and Lieutenant-Colonel Wilford. In each case, the tribunal’s findings are clear. The report does the same for Martin McGuinness. It specifically finds that he was present and probably armed with a “sub-machine-gun”, but concludes

“we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.

While in no way justifying the events of 30 January 1972, we should acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday. Since 1969, the security situation in Northern Ireland had been declining significantly. Three days before Bloody Sunday, two officers in the Royal Ulster Constabulary—one a Catholic—were shot by the IRA in Londonderry, the first police officers killed in the city during the troubles. A third of the city of Derry had become a no-go area for the RUC and the Army, and in the end 1972 was to prove Northern Ireland’s bloodiest year by far, with nearly 500 people killed.

Let us also remember that Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service that the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007. That was known as Operation Banner, the longest continuous operation in British military history, which spanned 38 years and in which over 250,000 people served. Our armed forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible, and over 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives to that cause. Without their work, the peace process would not have happened. Of course some mistakes were undoubtedly made, but lessons were also learnt. Once again, I put on record the immense debt of gratitude that we all owe those who served in Northern Ireland.

I thank the tribunal for its work, and thank all those who displayed great courage in giving evidence. I also wish to acknowledge the grief of the families of those killed. They have pursued their long campaign over 38 years with great patience. Nothing can bring back those who were killed, but I hope that—as one relative has put it—the truth coming out can help to set people free.

John Major said that he was open to a new inquiry. Tony Blair then set it up. That was accepted by the then Leader of the Opposition. Of course, none of us anticipated that the Saville inquiry would take 12 years or cost almost £200 million. Our views on that are well documented. It is right to pursue the truth with vigour and thoroughness, but let me reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.

However, today is not about the controversies surrounding the process. It is about the substance, about what this report tells us. Everyone should have the chance to examine its complete findings, and that is why it is being published in full. Running to more than 5,000 pages, it is being published in 10 volumes. Naturally, it will take all of us some time to digest the report's full findings and understand all the implications. The House will have an opportunity for a full day's debate this autumn, and in the meantime the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence will report back to me on all the issues that arise from it.

This report and the inquiry itself demonstrate how a state should hold itself to account and how we should be determined at all times—no matter how difficult—to judge ourselves against the highest standards. Openness and frankness about the past, however painful, do not make us weaker; they make us stronger. That is one of the things that differentiates us from the terrorists. We should never forget that over 3,500 people, from every community, lost their lives in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority killed by terrorists. There were many terrible atrocities. Politically motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from, and it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to drag Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past. No Government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who continue to seek to destroy it, but nor will we hide from the truth that confronts us today. In the words of Lord Saville:

“What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Those are words we cannot and must not ignore, but I hope what this report can do is mark the moment when we come together, in this House and in the communities we represent; come together to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us; and come together to close this painful chapter on Northern Ireland's troubled past. That is not to say that we must ever forget or dismiss that past, but we must also move on. Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past 20 years and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland, to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future. It is with that determination that I commend this statement to the House.

May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? As he said, it is more than 12 years since the then Prime Minister Tony Blair set up the Saville inquiry to establish the truth of what happened on what became known as Bloody Sunday. For the 14 families whose loved ones were killed, for the 13 who were injured, for the soldiers and their families, for all those whose lives would never be the same again, the report has been long-awaited. We all recognise how painful this has been, and the Prime Minister has been clear today. He said that there is no ambiguity, that it was wrong; he has apologised and we join him in his apology.

I also join the Prime Minister in thanking Lord Saville and all those whose work contributed to the report. The report speaks for itself and it speaks powerfully.

I remind the House of what Tony Blair said on the day that the House agreed to establish the Saville inquiry. He said that Bloody Sunday was a day we have all wished “had never happened” and that it was “a tragic day” for everyone. I reiterate his tribute to the dignity of the bereaved families, whose campaign was about searching for the truth. He rightly reminded the House of the thousands of lives that have been lost in Northern Ireland. May I restate our sincere admiration for our security forces’ response to terrorism in Northern Ireland? Many lost their lives. Nothing in today’s report can or should diminish their record of service. They have been outstanding.

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the Saville inquiry was necessary to establish the truth and to redress the inadequacy of Lord Widgery’s inquiry, which served only to deepen the sense of grievance, added to the pain of the families of those who died and were injured, outraged the community and prolonged the uncertainty hanging over the soldiers. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for reminding the House that the setting up of the Saville inquiry played a necessary part in the peace process. Does the Prime Minister agree that, notwithstanding the considerable cost of this inquiry, its value cannot be overestimated in both seeking the truth and facilitating the peace process? Does he believe that Saville has now established the truth?

How the Government handle the report is of great importance, so I thank the Prime Minister for committing to seek a full day’s parliamentary debate on it. Will he consider allowing for a period of time between the debate in each House, so that what is said in this House may be considered before the debate in the Lords? When will he be in a position to say what, if any, action will be taken in Government as a result of the findings of the Saville report? What will be the decision-making process, and will the process be as transparent as possible?

The Prime Minister must recognise that some will no doubt raise the possibility of prosecutions. The prosecution process is independent, but has he been asked to consider the question of immunity from prosecution if we are instead to take things forward by a wider process of reconciliation? Is the time now right to move towards a process for reconciliation, building on the work of the Consultative Group on the Past, chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley? Can there now be a comprehensive process of reconciliation to address the legacy issue of the troubles, such as that proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does the Prime Minister agree that that is what is now necessary?

The peace process is a great achievement by the people of Northern Ireland as well as by politicians. It is a process built on the value of fairness, equality, truth and justice. This House has played its part, not least in agreeing to the Saville inquiry. The Belfast agreement, the St Andrews agreement and, of course, this year’s Hillsborough castle agreement are all great milestones on the path to a lasting peace. Does the Prime Minister agree that the completion of devolution just a few weeks ago is relatively new and fragile and still requires great care? Our response to Saville must be as measured as it is proportionate. We have sought the truth; now we must have understanding and reconciliation.

May I conclude by expressing the hope that while people will never forget what happened on that day, this report will help them find a way of living with the past and looking to the future?

May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for what she has said? I do not think there are any significant divisions between us on this vital issue and, as she said, how we respond to this matters: it matters for the peace process, it matters for the families and it matters for our country. She is right that the value of this is getting to the truth. Of course we can argue about the process, the time and the money, but that is secondary to the issue of the substance, and the substance is about getting to the truth on this issue. The right hon. and learned Lady raised a number of specific questions, and I shall try to deal with them.

The idea of leaving a period of time between the debates in the Commons and the Lords is very sensible, and I will ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to look at that—although, of course, we are not responsible for timings in the Lords. In terms of the action the Government should take, I should point out that this report is 5,000 pages long; as the right hon. and learned Lady has seen, it is the most enormous document, and it will take some time to go through all of it and identify all the points that need to be responded to. That will be led by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland. They will consider it and come to me with suggestions for what needs to be followed up, and I think we will have to see how others respond to this very full report too.

The right hon. and learned Lady raised the question of prosecution. She is right, of course, to say that these are decisions for the Director of Public Prosecutions to take in Northern Ireland and that should be entirely independent. On the issue of immunity, I am informed by the Advocate-General that the evidence given to the inquiry is subject to the undertaking given by the Attorney-General in February 1999

“that evidence given by witnesses to the Inquiry would not be used to the prejudice of that person in any criminal proceedings except proceedings where the witness is charged with giving false evidence.”

I think that is the right position.

The right hon. and learned Lady will know that we do not agree with some parts of the Eames-Bradley report, particularly the idea of universal recognition payments; we do not think it is right to treat terrorists and others in the same way. I think that it is right to use, as far as is possible, the Historical Enquiries Team to deal with the problems of the past and to avoid having more open-ended, highly costly inquiries, but of course we should look at each case on its merits. May I thank her again for the way in which she has responded to this important statement for Britain, for Northern Ireland and for a peaceful future for our country?

As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said, it is very important to have a measured and proportionate response to this report, both in this House and in Northern Ireland. Is it not, therefore, important that the leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the divide, show leadership in that respect? One thing that we do not want to do is see the Army return to the streets of Northern Ireland, and to avoid that situation coming about again we must have the correct response to this report. It will take time to digest, because it is 5,000 pages long and raises many issues. We have to look at this issue and the whole report, and we must do justice to it. That will take time and a reasoned approach.

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on being elected as the Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs? He has had a long interest in this part of our United Kingdom, and I know that he will do an excellent job. The point he makes is entirely right: how we respond to this as party leaders—this applies to all parties—will make a huge difference to the way that this is seen and understood. It is a highly charged and highly emotional issue, even 38 years on, and in our response we have to be responsible for what we say and how we say it. I think that it is important that everyone recognises that.

As the political development Minister in 1998, when this inquiry was started, I think that I was right in agreeing with it. Having listened to the Prime Minister’s statement, all of which I agree with, I believe that, despite the costs and the length of time, it was right for this report to come forward today, after all these years. Does the Prime Minister agree that the chief priority, still, for Northern Ireland is its peace process and that all parties in Northern Ireland must agree with that process and with the way we go forward? Will he undertake to take personal charge of ensuring that that peace process continues, despite what he rightly calls the “shocking” revelations of this report?

The right hon. Gentleman served with great distinction as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I know his commitment to the Province and to the peace process. He is right to say that the peace process still needs to be given our priority. I was keen to get to every part of the United Kingdom within the first 10 days or so of becoming Prime Minister, and I did go to Northern Ireland, where I met party leaders, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree, as a former Secretary of State, that it is important for us to give responsibility to our Secretaries of State and to ensure that, in the first instance, they are leading the process and making sure that the peace process moves forward—it is moving forward. It has been challenged many times over the past decade, and I am sure that today will be another fresh challenge. But I hope that the way that people respond to this report will make sure that, as I said in my statement, we can draw an end to this very painful chapter in Northern Ireland’s history.

Every soldier should be responsible for what actions he takes through the sight of a gun and every officer must bear responsibility for individual orders that they give, as must members of the IRA and other terrorist organisations. What steps will the Prime Minister take to make sure that the Saville inquiry report is used to draw a line under the past and ensure that peace remains in Northern Ireland, and is not used as a tool for propaganda by politicians to hit each other over the head with?

First, I know that my hon. Friend served in Northern Ireland in the Army, and I pay tribute to that. I think that how people respond will be a matter for them. I cannot stop people—as he put it —hitting themselves or indeed even each other over the head with this report. What I hope can happen as a result of today, given the clarity of the report and the lack of equivocation, is that whatever side of the arguments or whatever side people have been on, they will be able to draw a line under what happened and recognise that very bad things happened on that day; it was not justified and it was not justifiable, and there is no point quibbling or arguing with that. As I said, of course people in Northern Ireland will go on looking back to the past, because of the painful memories and also because of the information that has not yet come out, but at the same time as doing that it must be possible to look to the future. In my view, Northern Ireland has a very bright future.

May I thank the Prime Minister for his clear statement? From talking to representatives of the families a short while ago, I know that they would want to be associated with those thanks.

This is a day of huge moment and deep emotion in Derry. The people of my city did not just live through Bloody Sunday; they have lived with it since. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a day to receive and reflect on the clear verdicts of Saville, and not to pass party verdicts on Saville?

The key verdicts are:

“despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday”.

A further verdict is:

“none of the casualties…was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury.”

Of course, there is also the verdict that

“the British Army fired the first shots, these were not justified and none of the subsequent shots that killed or wounded”

anyone on Bloody Sunday “was justified.” In rejecting so much of the soldiers’ submissions and false accounts, the report highlights where victims were shot in the back or while crawling on the ground, or shot again when already wounded on the ground.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that each and every one of the victims—Bernard McGuigan, 41; Gerald Donaghey, 17; Hugh Gilmour, 17; John Duddy, 17; Gerard McKinney, 34; James Wray, 22; John Young, 17; Kevin McElhinney, 17; Michael Kelly, 17; Michael McDaid, 20; Patrick Doherty, 31; William McKinney, 27; William Nash, 19; and John Johnston, 59—are all absolutely and totally exonerated by today’s report, as are all the wounded? These men were cut down when they marched for justice on their own streets. On that civil rights march, they were protesting against internment without trial, but not only were their lives taken, but their innocent memory was then interned without truth by the travesty of the Widgery tribunal. Will the Prime Minister confirm clearly that the Widgery findings are now repudiated and binned, and that they should not be relied on by anyone as giving any verdict on that day?

Sadly, only one parent of the victims has survived to see this day and hear the Prime Minister’s open and full apology on the back of this important report. Lawrence McElhinney epitomises the dignity and determination of all the families who have struggled and strived to exonerate their loved ones and have the truth proclaimed.

Seamus Heaney reflected the numbing shock of Bloody Sunday and its spur to the quest for justice for not only families but a city when he wrote:

“My heart besieged by anger, my mind a gap of danger,

I walked among their old haunts, the home ground where they bled;

And in the dirt lay justice, like an acorn in the winter

Till its oak would sprout in Derry where the thirteen men lay dead.”

The Bloody Sunday monument on Rossville street proclaims:

“Their epitaph is in the continuing struggle for democracy”.

If today, as I sincerely hope it does, offers a healing of history in Derry and Ireland, may we pray that it also speaks hope to those in other parts of the world who are burdened by injustice, conflict and the transgressions of unaccountable power?

The Prime Minister’s welcome statement and the statement that will be made by the families on the steps of the Guildhall will be the most significant records of this day on the back of the report that has been published. However, perhaps the most important and poignant words from today will not be heard here or on the airwaves. Relatives will stand at the graves of victims and their parents to tell of a travesty finally arrested, of innocence vindicated and of promises kept, and as they do so, they can invoke the civil rights anthem when they say, “We have overcome. We have overcome this day.”

The hon. Gentleman spoke with great power and great emotion on behalf of his constituents and his city, and I would like to pay tribute to the way in which he did that, and to the service that he has given to them. He spoke about the healing of history, and I hope and believe that he will be right. I know that he represents many of the families who lost loved ones that day, and he has always fought for them in a way that is honourable and right, and has always, in spite of all the difficulties, stood up for the peace process and for peaceful means.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions, he is right that the Widgery report is now fully superseded by the Saville report; this is the report with the facts, the details and the full explanation of what happened, and it should be accepted as such. In terms of the people who were killed on that day, they were innocent of anything that justified them being shot; that is quite clear from the report. Let me read it again:

“none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting.”

That is what Saville has found. I hope that that is some comfort to the families, and to the people in Londonderry who have suffered for so many years over the issue, and that, as the hon. Gentleman says, we can now draw a line, look to the future and build Northern Ireland as a prosperous part of the United Kingdom.

May I congratulate not only the Prime Minister but the Leader of the Opposition on their opening statements today, which, I have to say, were two of the most statesmanlike contributions I have heard on any subject in more than 13 years in this House?

On the question of possible prosecutions, may I draw to the House’s attention one fact? There was a sniper on the IRA side who killed something like two dozen British soldiers, but who was arrested only a relatively short time before the Good Friday agreement was concluded. As a result of that man’s conviction, he received a very long sentence, but served only a very short sentence. Should it not be borne in mind that that man, after all he did, is now out on the streets, a free man, before anybody starts calling for prosecutions of people, even though they did very wrong things a very long time ago?

May I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the statements by me and the Leader of the Opposition? I know that he cares deeply about this issue, too. What I would say to him about the very strong point that he makes is that the Good Friday agreement included clauses that were incredibly painful for people on all sides to cope with. The idea that someone who had murdered—and, as my hon. Friend said, murdered perhaps more than once—would serve only two years in prison was incredibly painful for people to understand, but these things had to be done to try to end the long-running conflict and to bring people to pursue their goals by peaceful means. That is what the peace process is about.

In terms of making a contrast between that and what soldiers have done, I am very clear that we should not try to draw an equivalence between what terrorists have done and what soldiers have done, because soldiers are operating under the law—operating for a Government. We should not draw equivalence. On the issue of prosecutions, I can only repeat what I said to the Leader of the Opposition, and I also make the point that it is important that I do not say anything today that would prejudice either a criminal prosecution or, indeed, a civil action, were one to be brought.

Let me end, again, on the point about the painful decisions that had to be made in the peace process. We all, particularly on the Conservative side of the House, know people who have been affected. The first person I ever wrote a speech for was Ian Gow, who was murdered by the IRA. It is incredibly painful and difficult for people to put behind them what happened in the past, but we have to if we are to make the peace process work.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and of course it will take some time fully to divulge the contents of the Saville inquiry. The events of 30 January will live with the surviving relatives for the rest of their lives. Thousands of other surviving relatives have had to do likewise. They have had no costly inquiries and no media interest, and there have been 10,000 other bloody days in Northern Ireland’s recent history. Murder and mayhem were caused by the Provisional IRA in the days, weeks and months before Bloody Sunday. Indeed, the two police officers whom the Prime Minister mentioned were murdered in the immediate vicinity of the march just three days before that march. I am glad the Prime Minister mentioned them today on the Floor of the House, because Lord Saville did not. That is an unfortunate and deeply regrettable omission.

We did not need a £200 million inquiry to establish that there was no premeditated plan to shoot civilians on that day. We did not need a report of such length to tell us that as a result of IRA actions before Bloody Sunday, parts of the city “lay in ruins”. Many have said that the difference between Bloody Sunday and the other atrocities that I have alluded to was that Bloody Sunday was carried out by state forces, whereas other murders were carried out by terrorists.

There has been no similar inquiry into the financing of the Provisional IRA at the inception of that organisation by another state—the Irish Republic. That Irish state acted as a midwife at the birth of an organisation responsible for murdering many thousands of UK citizens.

Soldiers answered questions in the course of the Saville inquiry. The 2IC of the Provisional IRA, Martin McGuinness, appears not to have answered questions. The public will want to know from today what he was doing with a Thompson sub-machine-gun on the day of Bloody Sunday. Does the Prime Minister agree that the sorry saga of the report is finally over and done with, and that we should look forward, rather than looking back?

I agree that we should look forward rather than back, and I hope the report will enable us to do that. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to refer, as I did in my statement, to the 1,000 members of the Army and security services who lost their lives during the troubles, and all that they did to try to keep Northern Ireland safe and secure. Of course he is right to refer to the many thousands of families who have lost loved ones through terrorism and who have not had an answer and have not had an inquiry into what happened to their loved ones. When it comes to answering questions, yes, it is important that IRA members and people who were responsible for things even now come forward and answer so that people can at least bury those whom they lost. Of course that is important.

I hope, as well, that the hon. Gentleman will understand that there is something about Bloody Sunday—about the fact that 13 people were shot by British Army soldiers and died on that day—that necessitated a proper inquiry. That is what the report today is about. Yes, we must come up with the answers to other people’s questions and yes, we have to go through with the historical inquiries team to try to settle those issues of the past, but let us not pretend that there is not something about that day, Bloody Sunday, that needed to be answered clearly in a way that can allow those families—all those people—to lay to rest what happened on that day.

I thank the Prime Minister for his courageous and honourable statement and, through him, Lord Saville for a very clear and unequivocal report which has, at last, answered the questions to which 27 families have been waiting for answers for so long. Does the Prime Minister agree that, given that the truth is the precondition of closure, justice and reconciliation, we now have the best possible way to move on because we have, at last, the truth about all those events on that terrible day?

Does the Prime Minister have any plans, when we have all had a chance to digest the report, to go to Northern Ireland and to Derry not just to express the solidarity of the whole House with the people there, and to confirm our support for the troops who for so long did honourable things in the name of the democratic Government, but to encourage the families of the bereaved and all those who, since that day in Derry and beyond, have worked so hard to make sure that Northern Ireland will never again have the terrible past that it had, but always have the prosperous democratic future which events such as Bloody Sunday made much more difficult, but which, in spite of adversity, so many people, including the women of Northern Ireland, did so much to achieve?

I certainly agree. This is about trying to heal the wounds of the past. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan)—the former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, who represents so many of the families in his constituency—put it, people in Londonderry have not just lived through it, but lived with it. That is the point, and that is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) makes.

In terms of going to Northern Ireland, I am keen that as Prime Minister I should visit Northern Ireland regularly, and as I said, I have already been there in the relatively early days of my being Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was in Londonderry two weeks ago and met the families, and he has plans to go back and do that again. I know that many people support Derry’s bid to be the European city of culture, and that is another part of the healing process in closing that painful chapter around the past.

I thank the Prime Minister for his very considered and thoughtful comments in respect of this particularly sensitive report. Since Bloody Sunday the families have had to live with not only the consequences of what unfolded in that short period, but the consequences of the many speculative reports and so on, which were produced following the events and which compounded their pain. So I am glad that, today, this report would seem to be a start in delivering for them the truth that they required and, I hope, the justice that they needed to be able to rebuild their lives.

The tragic events of that afternoon clearly and irrevocably changed the direction and course of the lives of people who were immediately affected by it, but it also cast a very long shadow over the society in which all of us live. Therefore I seek the Prime Minister’s assurances that, given how polarising the incident has been throughout politics and society in Northern Ireland, he will listen carefully to all the voices surrounding it, give people time to consider the content of the report fully and encourage them to take the time to read it in full before reaching conclusions on it. Can he also reassure us that he will deal with the Northern Ireland Executive and discuss with the Ministers there who have responsibility for individual victims how he intends to take forward the wider project of dealing with the legacy of the past?

First, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Lady on her election victory as the new Alliance MP for Belfast East? What she said was extremely sensible. The report is comprehensive and people should take time to study it, but it will take time for them to engage properly with all the information. Our key aim was to try to get it out as fast as we could in a reasonable way, to give the families and others advance sight of it and to try to publish it in one go properly. Mercifully, for a report as complicated and detailed as this, there have been relatively few leaks, and I hope that people can see it, read it and fully engage with it.

The hon. Lady says that people should read the report, but I also recommend the summary document, which is some 60 pages long and incredibly clear. That is why I reached my conclusion about there being no equivocation. When one reads the summary, whatever preconceived ideas one brings to the whole area and to what happened, one is given an incredibly clear sense of what happened and how wrong it was. I hope that, whatever side of the argument people come from, a report as clear as this will help them to come to terms with the past, because it puts matters beyond doubt. In that way, as I said, I think that the truth can help to free people from their preconceived ideas.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at the beginning of his statement that that period of the 1970s was something that people of his generation had learned about. In the period between 1971 and 1975, we lost more members of the British Army than we have during the past four years in Afghanistan, such was the bleakness of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

I was born in the Royal Victoria hospital on the Falls road in Belfast in the latter part of the year that the events unfolded in Derry/Londonderry, and the events in Northern Ireland at that time shaped very many of us. One of the great joys of returning to Northern Ireland today is talking to young people, in their teens, for whom even the most recent events of the troubles themselves are something that they study and do not remember. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if civic leaders and politicians in Northern Ireland take the lead of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), this could be a cleansing opportunity of historic proportions, whereby the process of normalisation in Northern Ireland can continue and young people will never have to go back to the dark days of the 1970s?

I hope that my hon. Friend is right. As I said, I think that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) spoke extremely clearly and passionately, and there should be a chance of working for a shared future. That is what we want in Northern Ireland.

The point that my hon. Friend makes is right. Every year—every month—that goes by with the peace process working and without a return to violence further embeds a culture in which we do things by political means and we get normal politics in Northern Ireland. That is what we should be aiming for, and it is certainly what we shall try to do.

The Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition both spoke with great sensitivity and balance this afternoon. In that spirit, does the Prime Minister agree that any action taken against former members of the armed services subsequent to the Saville report should be carried out in the interests of justice and not vengeance?

The short answer to that is yes. These matters should be determined independently by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the correct way. One of the things that should mark us out is that these things should happen only in the interests of justice and not in the interests of vengeance. I am sure that that is what will happen. I set out the position to the right hon. and learned Lady.

I should like to thank the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Lady for their measured contributions. On other days, soldiers who had been based at the Colchester garrison lost their lives in Northern Ireland. In 1987, I spent three days with 3rd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment on duty in Belfast and was full of admiration for their courage and bravery, because they faced the prospect of being shot at by fellow British citizens. I wonder whether the Prime Minister will confirm that awful though Bloody Sunday clearly was, more than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives during the years of the troubles?

My hon. Friend is right; over 1,000 people—from the security services, the Army, the police and other services—lost their lives. Also, 250,000 people served in the Army in Northern Ireland during Operation Banner. Those of us who have not served in the Army cannot possibly know how tough it must be to be on duty on the streets, faced with violence and the threats of violence. It is worth remembering what service those people all gave and what restraint, in almost every case, they showed.

I was speaking to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who served in Londonderry, in Derry, a year after Bloody Sunday. He rightly made the point to me that the pressures that we put on our often very young soldiers were huge, and we should pay tribute to all those who served for what they did. But it is not in their interests, and nor is it in our interests, to try to gloss over what happened on that dreadful day. The report enables us to face up to what happened and to accept what happened, and that is the best way of moving on and accounting for the past.

First of all, I thank the Prime Minister for bringing forward the very welcome statement on the Saville report today. I thank the members of the Opposition who brought the report to this point today.

Given the very personal tragedy of Bloody Sunday for the families of the bereaved and wounded and the major political implications that this serious incident had for the people of Derry, the wider community of Northern Ireland over the last 38 years and the wider island of Ireland, could the Prime Minister tell us about the parameters and context of the debate and the possible time scale of the assessment and report from the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland? Will he also give consideration to possible measures of redress for the families in Derry following the exoneration of the victims by the Saville report? In that debate, could wider consideration be given to the Ballymurphy families, who also experienced a lot of distress and pain because the Parachute Regiment, some five months earlier, was involved in those incidents, which resulted in the wounding, but above all the killing, of 10 people?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and congratulate her on becoming leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party and on her election as Member of Parliament for South Down. She asked several questions. First, on how long the Government’s assessment will take, the report is very long and detailed, and we want to take the summer to consider it and come back to the debate in the autumn, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can answer questions more fully and make announcements, if appropriate.

On redress, I do not think that today is the day to talk about such matters; today is the day to consider the report and take it all in. As the hon. Lady knows, perhaps better than anyone, the families have been involved in a search for the truth rather than for recompense or redress. However, all those issues need to be examined.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has meetings with the Ballymurphy families. The first port of call should be the historical inquiries team. It is doing good work, going through all the issues of the past and trying to settle them as best it can. We want to avoid other such open-ended, highly costly inquiries. We cannot rule out for ever that there will be no other form of inquiry, but let us allow the Historical Enquiries Team to do its very good work.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the balance that he has achieved in the statement. It is important to recognise not only the truths of the Saville inquiry, but the sacrifice and the grief of the forces, who played such an important part in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. May I suggest that if the inquiry and the report are to be a true marker in helping the healing process and the peace process to move forward, it is terribly important to keep that balance in one’s remarks and perspective about the sacrifice on both sides?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As I tried to say in my statement, we should pay tribute—I do so again—to the 250,000 of our fellow countrymen who served in Northern Ireland with great distinction, often in great personal danger. We should pay tribute to all those who were injured, who suffered and who lost their lives. It was incredibly tough and difficult work but necessary not just to maintain the rule of law, but to make possible what we have now: the peace process. It would not have happened without that service. However, we do the forces no service if we try to gloss over the dreadful events set out in the report. I am sure that serving and retired members of the armed forces, as well as people on the Benches behind me or, indeed, in front of me, who served in the armed forces, want the truth about the events to be out there. That is the right thing to do. We honour the British Army—we should put it at the front and centre of our national life and celebrate what it does—but we do it no service if we do not look properly and in detail at things when they go wrong.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and the previous Government for having the courage to establish the inquiry in the first place. Will he acknowledge that the inquiry came about only because of very brave campaigning for many years by Irish people, throughout Ireland and over here, who often got much press opprobrium for doing so? I am unclear about what happens next and whether there are to be further investigations or prosecutions of those who committed those acts of murder on the streets of Derry, or whether that will be left to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I realise that it is difficult for the Prime Minister to answer all that today, but does he expect to be able to give us clearer guidance in the debate in the autumn?

Let me try to answer the hon. Gentleman as clearly as I can. Prosecutions are a matter for the DPP, and that is right. We cannot have inquiry judges or politicians trying to order prosecutions. Indeed, we must be careful about what we say so that we do not prejudice any potential prosecutions. If it would help, I can repeat the Attorney-General’s clear advice about people not prejudicing their own potential proceedings.

On the campaign, yes, I pay tribute to people who campaigned because the report in some ways justifies itself to those who wanted a clear, truthful and accurate answer. In the report, they have something very clear and accurate that cannot be quibbled with.

Having read the summary report of Saville, the Prime Minister talks about it bringing out the truth, but is not the difficulty that we have the truth on one side but not the truth on the other? Of Martin McGuinness, the report states:

“The question remains as to what Martin McGuinness was doing”

that day. We do not know the truth about what Martin McGuinness and the IRA were doing that day, and the problem is that while we regret every death in Northern Ireland—they are all personal tragedies—we must not lose sight of the need for balance, as other hon. Members have said. I can well remember hearing the two explosions at Narrow Water close to my home in South Down when I was a child, when 18 members of the Parachute Regiment were cut down in cold blood by the Provisional IRA. No one was ever convicted of their murders. If we are to have the truth and a quest for justice, it should apply right across the board, and not just in a small nub.

Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that I absolutely want us to get to the truth on all of those dreadful murders. As I said, ought former paramilitaries to come forward and give information so that we can clear up murders and so that people can bury their loved ones properly? Yes, they should—absolutely. I can see members of the SDLP nodding at that.

As for Martin McGuinness, he must answer for himself on the evidence he gave to the inquiry. Let me read the relevant paragraph:

“In the end we were left in some doubt as to his movements on the day. Before the soldiers of Support Company went into the Bogside he was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, and though it is possible that he fired this weapon, there is insufficient evidence to make any finding on this, save that we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire.”

The right hon. Gentleman is right that in the end, we want the truth to come out about all the murders, and we want to know all the information, but in respect of the Government’s responsibility for bringing clarity on Bloody Sunday, I think Lord Saville has done us a service. I think people from all parts of Northern Ireland, from all parts of all communities, should welcome the fact that although we might not have clarity on everything that happened, we have clarity on one bad thing that did happen. Let us not make that a reason for not welcoming the clarity of what has been said today.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on the clarity with which he has set out, in his words today, the Government view on the publication of the Saville report. Does he agree that as this report is digested and looked at in great detail—difficult though that may be—across all communities in Northern Ireland, what really matters for the future of Northern Ireland and all its people in all its communities, is reconciliation, leaving the past behind and moving to a new and brighter future for Northern Ireland?

The hon. Lady is right that what we really want is reconciliation and working for a shared future, and everyone working across all communities to put the past behind them, but I think we all know that there is still some work to be done on the past, because loved ones remain unburied and murders remain unsolved. That is what the Historical Enquiries Team is there to do. We have to try to do those things at the same time. We must uncover and come to terms with what happened in the past in a way that can allow families to move on, but at the same time we must recognise that Northern Ireland’s shared future will be about economic growth and people working together, whatever tradition they come from.

I am sure the Prime Minister would not like to support a hierarchy of victimhood. On 17 January 1992, eight innocent civilian construction workers at Teebane were murdered by the Provisional IRA, and six others were seriously injured. On 9 April 1991, my cousin Derek was gunned down and his child was left to put his fingers into the holes where the blood was coming out to try to stop his father dying. On 7 February 1976, my two cousins were brutally murdered—one boy, 16, and his sister, 21, on the day she was engaged to be married. Therefore I say this to the Prime Minister: no one has ever been charged for any of those murders, and there have been no inquiries. Countless others, including 211 Royal Ulster Constabulary members, were also murdered. Saville says:


of the casualties

“was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury”,

but that could be said of Teebane, of Derek, of Robert and of Rachel. How do we get closure, how do we get justice, and how do we get the truth?

The hon. Gentleman rightly speaks with great power and emotion about how people on all sides in Northern Ireland have suffered, and people in the community that he represents have suffered particularly badly. Some horrific things have happened to people completely unconnected with politics—people who are innocent on every single level—and there is nothing that you can do to explain to someone who lost a loved one in that way that there is any logic, fairness or sense in that loss. The hon. Gentleman asks how we try to achieve closure on such matters. There is no easy way, but we have the Historical Enquiries Team, which goes through case after case, and if it finds the evidence, prosecutions can take place.

I hope that the inquiry report published today will give some closure to those families from Londonderry, but one way for families who have suffered to gain more closure about the past is for terrorists or former terrorists to come forward and give information about those crimes. However, in the end, we have to move forward and we have to accept that dreadful things happened. We do not want to return to those days, and that sometimes means—as he and I know—burying very painful memories about the past so that we can try to build a future.

Does the Prime Minister recall that in the last Stormont elections the single biggest issue by a long way for both sides of the community was water charges and rates? Does not that demonstrate that in many ways the majority of the people of Northern Ireland have already moved on from the troubles that dominated so much of the past? Is it not important that on a day like today, when emotions will understandably run high, we do not lose sight of the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland are today concerned about the same issues about which his constituents and my constituents are concerned? That is a good thing and it represents progress.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the great prizes of the peace process would be for Northern Ireland to experience politics in the same way as the rest of us in the United Kingdom where it is about knocking on doors and talking about the health service, schools and water rates. That is what politics should be about, and there is a chance of that happening. It was great to go to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister without the normal security paraphernalia that previous visits involved, so we are making progress. That is what politics in Northern Ireland should become. The more that happens, the more people will find it unthinkable to go back to the days that came before.

Thirty-eight years is too long for any bereaved family to wait for justice and today’s report is a historic step on the long road to permanent peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Does the Prime Minister agree that today’s report will be welcomed by the families who have campaigned for so long for justice for the 13 men and boys who died on that day?

I hope that the families will welcome the report, and I know that they are gathered in Derry today. I know that they will have been watching our proceedings and will have read the report—they had access to it in advance of its publication. As I have said, nothing that anyone can write or say will bring back those who were killed, but I was very struck by a remark by one of the relatives, quoted in a newspaper this morning, that the truth can help to set you free. If you have been living with something for 38 years without any answers, the answers do not end the grief, but they do give you a chance to learn what happened and therefore bring some closure to those dreadful events.

Following the eloquent contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), one wishes that on a day such as today the House had time to hear the names of everybody who died in tragic circumstances in Northern Ireland. It has been said that this report could lead to closure and cleansing, but it is difficult to see how that could happen if this report is used as a springboard for more years of agitation about prosecutions over events that happened 38 years ago. If there are prosecutions, presumably they might include prosecution for the possession of illegal firearms, for example.

Would it not be a true testament to all this if the Prime Minister were to announce today that the HET, which he has mentioned on several occasions, will be given anything like the same level of funding given to this inquiry? The HET has been grossly underfunded compared to this inquiry. The thousands of other victims who demand justice are looking to the HET and other such forums to achieve it. Will he today guarantee that the same emphasis will be given to those victims as has been given to innocent people otherwise?

I hope that the report will not be used as a springboard for further inquiries or action. It is supposed to help by delivering the truth and helping to achieve closure—that is what it should be about. The hon. Gentleman asked about the Historical Enquiries Team, the funding of which, as he knows, is about £34 million—much less than the cost of the Saville inquiry. However, I think that everyone accepts that the cost of that inquiry was huge—£100 million was spent on lawyers alone. While acknowledging, as I have done, that it is a full, clear and unequivocal—and, in that respect, a good—report, I am sure that even the former Government would have recognised that lessons needed to be learned about cost control. That is why there was the Inquiries Act 2005 to replace the 1921 arrangements. The issue of the HET is now a devolved issue, and I would add that in opposition we supported the generous funding settlement for the devolved Administration to cover such areas.

Speaking as someone of Northern Irish heritage and representing a constituency with large numbers of the Irish diaspora, I welcome the publication—finally—and clarity of the Saville report. I also thank the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) for the moving way in which they addressed the House today. However, although the report has clarity, does the Prime Minister agree that there are times when truth and justice do not necessarily go together?

I echo what the hon. Lady said about the Members who have spoken today. On truth and justice going together, without wanting to write a whole essay, it seems to me that a very important part of the justice that people in Northern Ireland seek is having the truth about what happened out in the open. People in the city of Londonderry want that transparency and accountability, and many Democratic Unionist Members want the same for their constituents who have suffered in the same way. Having the truth out about what happened does not bring back relatives and loved-ones, but it at least enables people to understand what happened; and it enables prosecutions to be brought forward, if that is the right thing to do. However, I repeat that it must be for independent prosecuting authorities to take those decisions—we must not get into a situation where politicians nudge the prosecuting authorities in one direction or another in that sort of way.

Like the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), I hope that this is the end of a matter that has bedevilled and poisoned Northern Ireland’s politics for so long. However, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity and dismiss completely, from the Dispatch Box, claims by commentators that this inquiry has been a war crimes tribunal, and that the people in the dock have been the British citizens of Northern Ireland? Such a shameful slur on us citizens is intolerable and wrong, and serves only to perpetuate that poison through the veins of the body politic in Northern Ireland.

Furthermore, can the Prime Minister be less ambiguous on the matter of future inquiries? He said in his statement that there will be no more costly inquiries, but in answer to the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), he said that he cannot rule out all inquiries. Which is it to be? If we cannot rule out all inquiries, there are 211 RUC officers who have been murdered and their killers have never been brought to justice, and there has been no inquiry into those murders. Indeed, more than 3,000 people killed in Northern Ireland have not yet had justice. What is it going to be?

First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place in the House. He is right: this is not, as he said, a war crimes tribunal—that would be an appalling thing to say—but an inquiry into what happened. It is an inquiry to get to the truth of the events of that day and the events surrounding it. I meant what I said about no more costly open-minded inquiries. We should not have more open-ended and costly inquiries. I want to support the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. That is the right way to go about things. Of course, we can never say never about any other form of inquiry, however big or small, but my strong intention is to use the Historical Enquiries Team process to get to the bottom of the events of the past. That is the right way to go about things.

I know that this is probably unparliamentary, but may I welcome the other Ian Paisley, who is in the Gallery and whom we remember so fondly sitting in this House? Let me just say this. Everyone has had to take big risks for peace in Northern Ireland, and no more so than the Big Man, as they like to call him. We should all recognise that people in this process have known so many victims of terrorism and so much suffering, and everyone has had to take risks and make movements in order to bring the peace process about, and that will continue to be true. Even today, as we remember the painful memories of the past, we still have to say, “Yes, I remember those things—I don’t forget them for a second—but that doesn’t mean we don’t work together for a shared future for Northern Ireland.”

I wish particularly to thank the Prime Minister for his frank apology on behalf of the Government and the people of this country. I think that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) will accept that that will in some way be a salve for the people in the Bloody Sunday incident and the families of the dead. However, does the Prime Minister accept that unless people can see the names and know the people who carried out the acts, for many of the families there may not be a way of putting the incident behind them, as I found out from my contact with the families of those who were killed in McGurk’s bar? I hope that he will consider that, not in terms of what will happen with the prosecutions or anything else, but because people must know who carried out those acts.

Finally, will the Prime Minister look in the longer term at the role of the intelligence forces in possibly preconditioning people in the armed forces for what happened on Bloody Sunday? Those dark forces are clearly at work in the British Army, and we must not allow them to hide.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s description of “dark forces” in the armed forces. The report is clear that there was no conspiracy—there was no premeditation, there was no plan, and it is not right to say that there was. He should read the summary of the report and what it says about not just the politicians, but the senior officers who were involved. That is important.

Let me address the hon. Gentleman’s other point. As for the anonymity of the soldiers, that was part of the Saville process and what was agreed in order that the evidence should be given and the truth should be got at. Let me say this about apologies, because I know that some people are—in some ways, I think, rightly—cynical about politicians standing up and apologising for things that happened when they were five years old. I do not do so in any way lightly; it just seems to me that it is clear that what happened was wrong—that what the soldiers did was wrong—and that the Government should take responsibility. The Government of that day are no longer around, so it falls to the Government of this day to make that apology. I do not believe in casting back into history and endlessly doing that, but on this occasion it is absolutely clear that it is the right thing to do.

As a former soldier who served in Northern Ireland, I found today’s statement a difficult one to listen to. Listening to it was nearly as difficult as watching mass murderers leave prison free or watching some very interesting people come to power in Northern Ireland, but those are all things that we did to facilitate peace and reconciliation. There is a possibility of revenge taking over from justice in this case, so we must ensure that we get the balance right and continue to pursue peace and reconciliation.

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. Today’s statement is a difficult statement: it was a difficult statement to make and a difficult statement to listen to, because it contains some uncomfortable truths for people who, like me, are deeply patriotic, love the British Army, love what it stands for, revere what it has done down the ages and have seen what it does in Afghanistan. It is incredibly painful to say what has been said today, but we do not serve the Army if we do not say it.

I mentioned Ian Gow, who was the first MP I ever worked for. I also think of Airey Neave, the first MP to represent me, who was blown up in the precincts of this Palace by Irish terrorists. This is incredibly painful, but my hon. Friend is right: we have to make these leaps in order to make the peace process work. I think that former soldiers will understand that the service they gave in Northern Ireland is worth more now that they can see peace and peaceful progress. In a way, that is what it was all about, difficult as it was. I had Martin McGuinness sitting opposite me at the Cabinet table in No. 10 Downing street; it was difficult, but it was right, because peace is so much better than the alternatives.

May I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the statements that they have made today and, indeed, for the apologies that they have given on behalf of the present Government and of the Opposition? The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that there cannot be costly inquiries of this kind in the future, but does he also agree that there can be no more whitewashes such as Widgery, when inquiries into these incidents take place? Finally, does he agree that it is essential for all of us, as politicians and leaders, in responding to the inquiry, to pursue truth and reconciliation rather than blame and recrimination?

The hon. Gentleman is right about the inquiries. Standing back from it all, however, I would say that we can take some pride—as can the former Government—in the fact that, in the end, the British state has gone to huge lengths to get to the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday, and that an earlier report from an earlier inquiry has effectively been laid aside and replaced by a much fuller and clearer one. Not many states in the world would do that, and I think that we should see it as a sign of strength that we have done it.

May I also thank the Prime Minister for the painful honesty of his statement? I salute him for that. In respect of the families, he is absolutely right to talk about issues of redress being for another time. However, this is a very raw day for the families. Will he assure the House that he, his Government and the Northern Ireland Office are doing everything possible to provide advice, assistance and access to those friends, families and neighbours who have never forgotten what happened in 1972 but who are today being reminded almost unbearably of it?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It has been a difficult day for the families; it has been a difficult 38 years for them. We thought very carefully about this, and we wanted to build on the arrangements that were put in place by the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) when he was Northern Ireland Secretary to ensure that the families could see the report some hours in advance of its publication today, and in a way in which all their needs would properly be met, because this is an incredibly stressful document for them to read. I pay tribute to the former Northern Ireland Secretary for what he did to put those arrangements in place, and to my right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for what he has done to build on them, as well as for meeting the families, as he has done, and for offering to meet them again in the future, which he will also do.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and, particularly, his commitment to a day’s debate on the report in the autumn. May I urge him and his Cabinet colleagues, between now and the autumn, to encourage everyone to consider the report, and the issues that it raises for all communities, reflectively and with maturity, so that we can get the benefit of all the efforts that have gone into producing it?

Yes, I can do that. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which is that people will want to study the report in detail. The scale of it is enormous. I have brought in only one of the eight or ten volumes—

This is just one of the 10 volumes that have been published today. People will want to take time to read them. In a way, I am sorry that the debate is not until the autumn, but it is probably right to give the Government, the families and others time to assess what is in the report and to come back with sensible proposals, where necessary, on how to deal with them.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you aware that the report that we have just discussed is not available to Members of the House? Would it not be appropriate, if we are to have a proper debate on the matter, to have full copies of the report distributed to us?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for airing the concern that he and others might feel on this matter. I think that the House is aware of the special conditions that have obtained in relation to this report and of the arrangements made for advance sight under controlled conditions for it to be read. I certainly think it important—I hope this helps the hon. Gentleman—that all Members should have sufficient time to study the report fully before a debate takes place. Even though the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, he has taken the opportunity to raise this point of order in a very timely way in the presence of senior people who, I feel sure, will have taken note of what he has said.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hesitate and only tentatively raise this point of order with you, but it has previously been the practice in the House that where a statement is made, hon. Members wishing to ask questions about it should be present at the beginning and rising throughout that statement, and preference is then usually given to those who are. Has there been any change to existing practice on that?

There has been no change, and I would want to say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not want to travel down that route. If I were an uncharitable and ungenerous fellow and of an unusually suspicious frame of mind, none of which things is true, I would think that the hon. Gentleman was challenging the judgment of the Chair as to whom to call.

As I am none of those things, however, and because the hon. Gentleman shakes his head in disavowal, I am happy to accept that that is not so. I look very carefully to see who is trying to contribute, and, as I think the record shows, I try, subject to limitations of time, to accommodate everybody who wishes to do so. It is probably worth saying that this statement ran longer than I would ordinarily allow a statement to run, but I think that colleagues will appreciate that there were very special reasons for doing so today.

Business of the House

I beg to move,

That, at today’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Sir George Young relating to Backbench Business Committee, Election of Backbench Business Committee, Backbench Business (Amendment of Standing Orders), Westminster Hall (Amendment of Standing Orders), Topical Debates (Amendments of Standing Orders), Pay for Chairs of Select Committees, Backbench Business Committee (Review), September Sittings, Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills), Deferred Divisions (Timing), Select Committees (Membership), Select Committees (Machinery of Government Change) and Sittings of the House not later than 9.30 pm; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

It is important that we facilitate finally reaching decisions on the large number of matters before us in the motions on the Order Paper today. That is the purpose of the motion—to enable us not to defer matters to another day, not to have matters continuing into the future.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are in a position today where we are discussing motions that will effectively exclude Plaid Cymru Members from being a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee and Scottish National party Members from being on the Scottish Affairs Committee. Additionally, there will be no room for those parties’ Back-Bench Members to sit on the Back-Bench business committee. What kind of motions are these? What is the point behind them? I urge the Minister to take them away and think them through, as these motions will not stand the test of time, and the people in Wales and Scotland will be furious when they find out.

I thank Mr Llwyd for his point of order, which is not a point of order. Sufficient amendments have been selected to allow him to make his points.

Of course, the sooner we can dispose of the business of the House motion, the sooner we can move on to the important debates on the membership of Select Committees.

I should like to welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I do not think I have had the opportunity to do so previously. The point I was making is that the motion will enable us to reach decisions on these matters tonight rather than at some time in the future. It seeks to balance the time we need for debate and the time we need to take decisions on some 14 motions on the Order Paper—and, of course, on the amendments to them that Mr Speaker has selected. It would be foolish of us to take up a great deal of time debating the business of the House motion at the expense of the important debates that I know the House is eager to move on to at the first opportunity.

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems that north-west England is now very well represented in the Chair, which is a very good thing.

I am astonished that the Leader of the House has tabled a programme motion relating to important changes in the business of the House, given that Conservative Members argued against programme motions on many occasions when in opposition. It seems that things change.

Has my hon. Friend noticed that many of the Members who used to stand up and say how awful such motions were do not appear to be taking part in today’s debate?

That is an interesting observation.

It was right that today we were given a considerable amount of time on the Floor of the House to discuss the statement on the Saville inquiry, but it also important for us now to have adequate time in which to debate changes in the business of the House. We have already heard a point of order indicating the seriousness with which one Member takes the issue.

During business questions last week the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), drew attention to the lack of consultation with the Opposition on the details of the changes before the motions were tabled. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House is aware that it has been customary for the Opposition to be given advance sight of proposals on House business. That happened throughout all the discussions on reform of the House and the Wright Committee, but it is a courtesy that the coalition Government seem now to have abandoned, and I regret that.

We want to move on. A large number of amendments have been tabled to the motions, and it is only right for us to have time to debate them fully.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

During the nine years that I have been in the House, I have listened to Conservative Members objecting to programme motions and guillotines as though they were the wicked invention of a terrible Labour Government. The business of the House motion lists the motions on today’s Order Paper:

“Backbench Business Committee, Election of Backbench Business Committee, Backbench Business (Amendment of Standing Orders),Westminster Hall (Amendment of Standing Orders), Topical Debates (Amendments of Standing Orders), Pay for Chairs of Select Committees, Backbench Business Committee (Review), September Sittings, Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills), Deferred Divisions (Timing), Select Committees (Membership), Select Committees (Machinery of Government Change) and Sittings of the House”.

I shall say more about the motion on September sittings later.

The changes that we are to debate will make a fundamental difference to the way in which the House operates not only in terms of the role of Back Benchers, but in terms of the representation of the minor parties in the House, and we should be given sufficient time in which to discuss these extensive motions. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) that it was wrong to tag such important House business on to a major statement about the Saville inquiry—on which, rightly, many Members wished to comment, in an emotive debate that showed the House at its best—and to try to rush it through.

Many of us have recently been on the receiving end of ill-thought-out and ill-informed reform. I am sure that if we had had more time to debate the proposals of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in detail, we would not have signed up to some of the craziness as a result of which all Members in all parts of the House are suffering.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s arguments—I think that I sometimes advanced them from that side of the House myself—but is he suggesting that he would like the House to sit through the night to make the necessary decisions in the early hours of the morning?