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Public Inquiries

Volume 512: debated on Wednesday 30 June 2010

4. What his policy is on holding further public inquiries into events involving deaths which took place during the troubles in Northern Ireland. (4207)

I reaffirm the statement made to this House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 15 June, where he reassured the House that there would be

“no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 741.]

May I, too, congratulate my next-door neighbour from just over the border in Shropshire on his appointment as the Secretary of State? Does he agree that the Saville inquiry, no matter how long it took, marked a watershed in the troubled history of Northern Ireland? While respecting the families’ legitimate rights still to grieve, it is important to look to the future. All the Governments of the past 30 years should be congratulated on their efforts toward reconciliation in Northern Ireland, but will he outline what specific initiatives the new Government will take to secure peace in Northern Ireland?

I am most grateful for my neighbour’s kind comments. He is absolutely right that Northern Ireland needs to look ahead, but the people of Northern Ireland need to work together, and solutions for dealing with the past and looking ahead must be agreed among those who lead the country at local level. We cannot have solutions being imposed from above.

I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister of State on assuming their posts. In the Prime Minister’s statement on Saville, he said that he wanted to

“reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 741.]

We know that that was also the Secretary of State’s position in opposition, so we were a little intrigued to hear from the Prime Minister in the same statement that we

“should look at each case on its merits.” —[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 744]

So—a straight answer here will do—does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he may have been a little rash, in opposition, definitively to rule out future inquiries, whatever the case? A yes or no will do.

I am most grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his comments. I do not want to turn this into a love-in, but I compliment him on delivering the final stage of devolution. That was his great achievement as the Secretary of State. It is important, in considering that past, that we do not shut out any possible solutions. The Prime Minister said last week in his statement that the Historical Enquiries Team is doing good work, has support across the community and achieves very high satisfaction levels: 86% of those who have had HET reports were satisfied with its performance. For the time being, that is the route ahead, but we cannot impose a solution from above.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentions the HET, which he will know was established as part of a process and is not, of course, the process. It is looking at 3,268 unsolved killings, but after five years it is still working on the 1970s. It is not an inquiry, it is not an inquest and it is not a police investigation. We know that all families want the truth, so will he be straight with those families, including the family of the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), and admit that now Saville has been published, there is a responsibility on the Government to come forward with a fully funded, comprehensive process to establish and discover the truth and bring reconciliation for all families?

We have a process through the HET that is achieving very high levels of satisfaction—of the families who have had a report, 95% credited it for professionalism and 86% for performance. That is working. Before we go further, we need to work with local politicians. As I keep repeating, there is no role for us, as the national Government, to impose. I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to comments made by David Ford this week.

“We cannot have a Saville-type inquiry for all the tragedies of the past, but the fundamental matter of dealing with the past is something which has to be dealt with collectively by the Executive.”