I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of the Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
This debate follows the publication of the report on 15 June and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement in this House in response. I should like to thank the tribunal for its report. I have read it in full, and it is clearly a remarkable piece of work.
Let me reiterate the Government’s clear position on the report. Lord Saville’s conclusions are shocking. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we do not honour all those members of the armed forces who bravely upheld the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.
I am sure that hon. Members are familiar with many of the conclusions in the report, but I should put on record again some of the tribunal’s key findings. Lord Saville found a
“serious and widespread loss of fire discipline”
by members of support company of the Parachute Regiment who entered the Bogside,
“as a result of an order...which should not have been given.”
He found 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.”
He also found that many of the soldiers
“knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”.
In some of the most shocking sections of the report, Lord Saville concludes that some of those killed or injured were fleeing or going to the assistance of others. The report says that Patrick Doherty was shot while
“crawling…away from the soldiers”.
It refers to Alexander Nash, who was
“hit and injured by Army gunfire after he had gone to...tend his son”.
Lord Saville records that James Wray was shot, in all probability,
“when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground.”
For those looking for statements of innocence, the report is clear 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.”
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. It is clear from the tribunal’s unequivocal conclusions that some members of our armed forces acted wrongly.
I reiterate the Government’s apology for the events of that day. The Government are deeply sorry for what happened.
Just as the report is clear in its conclusions on the unjustifiable actions that took place in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday, so, too, is it clear in its other findings. There is no suggestion in the report that there was any premeditation or conspiracy by the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Government or senior members of the armed forces. Lord Saville said that there was no evidence that the authorities tolerated or encouraged
“the use of unjustified lethal force.”
The process surrounding the report has been the subject of much controversy. None of us could have anticipated that the inquiry would take 12 years or cost nearly £192 million. Our views on that are well documented, but I firmly believe that it is right that our main focus now is not on the controversies surrounding the process, but on the substance of the report’s conclusions.
I concur with my right hon. Friend’s points. I have seen at first hand the sacrifice of our security forces when serving in Northern Ireland, and their excellent work in preventing a difficult situation from getting much worse. Does my right hon. Friend agree that he should do everything in his power to stop the report being used by one side against another? It is more important to move forward and make progress in the Province in future.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, which I endorse. Lord Saville and his colleagues go to some length in the report to say that they do not pass judgment and that the inquiry was not a court of law. They were simply trying to establish the facts. My hon. Friend is right that we should use the facts in the report to see how we can move forward and look to a better future. I will deal with that later.
I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for taking a second intervention so quickly. Why on earth was the advice of the most senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officer in the Londonderry area, Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, ignored? Does the Secretary of State believe, or is there evidence to show, that if his wise counsel had been followed, the appalling events of that day could have been avoided?
The hon. Lady touches on one of the many terrible “what ifs”. The report shows so many turns, where, if decisions had gone the other way, the event might not have happened. She refers to Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, who was the local senior RUC commander. She knows from her close family experience the huge debt that we owe all those in the RUC. Interestingly, Chief Superintendent Lagan said that, despite the ban on all parades and marches at that time, he thought that the march should go ahead all the way through to Guildhall square. He was overruled by Sir Graham Shillington in discussion, as the report states, with senior Army officers, who decided that it would be better if the march was turned down Rossville street. The hon. Lady touches on a poignant moment, when perhaps, if the advice had been taken, events could have been different. Of course, the advice could have been wrong. All we can do is accept the facts as they are presented by Lord Saville, and see what we can learn for the future.
We should reflect not just on the report, but on the reaction to Lord Saville’s conclusions and the Prime Minister’s statement. The whole House will have seen the memorable pictures broadcast around the world showing the response of the families and crowds in the Guildhall square in Derry. The families of those killed and those injured had fought a long and determined campaign over 38 years to prove the innocence of their loved ones.
I am sure that the whole House wants to join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the families for the dignity and resilience that they have shown over so many years. I first met them officially to discuss the publication of the Saville report in April 2008—some two-and-a-half years ago. I promised them then that, although the report had to come to Parliament first, they would not be disadvantaged in gaining access to it or being able to comment on it on the day. I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for honouring the many complex arrangements that my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) and I drew up at the time to ensure that the families could have the benefit of as much access as possible to the report on the day. I thank him for honouring those commitments when he took up his position.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for his kind comments. I pay tribute to his work over the years as Minister of State for Northern Ireland. He is still fondly remembered by the people there for all his good work.
I would like to take the opportunity to record my gratitude for the hard work of my officials and the Department in successfully managing the report’s publication. As the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) said, we built on some of the plans left by my predecessor. I met the families and discussed the matter in detail. The publication was a major international event, with 419 press passes issued for the Guildhall square alone. It is also right to draw hon. Members’ attention to other responses to the report that received less coverage, but which are none the less important in illustrating the broad acceptance that Lord Saville’s report received.
The leaders of the three main Protestant churches in Ireland made a symbolically important visit to the Bogside shortly after publication. The First Minister, Peter Robinson, publicly indicated his acceptance of Lord Saville’s findings. Senior military figures, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, and the former Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, joined the Prime Minister in his apology for the events of Bloody Sunday.
I want to make it absolutely clear, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did, that Bloody Sunday was not the defining story of the Army’s service in Northern Ireland. Between 1969 and 2007, more than 250,000 people served in Operation Banner—the longest continuous operation in British military history.
Our armed forces displayed immense courage, dedication and restraint in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. We should not forget that more than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives, and many thousands more were injured, for that cause. Nor should we forget that the security situation in Northern Ireland had been deteriorating steadily since 1969. As Lord Saville outlines in volume I of the report, those who lost their lives included two RUC officers—Sergeant Peter Gilgunn and Constable David Montgomery were killed by the IRA three days before Bloody Sunday. They were the first police officers killed in the city during the troubles.
The point that the right hon. Gentleman is highlighting is extremely important. It is right to put on record our remembrance of, and gratitude for, the service and sacrifice of so many in the armed forces and police who served over the years in Northern Ireland and who continue to serve. That is why most of us are today wearing the poppy with pride.
May I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on this? Many people in Northern Ireland feel that while there is a very close focus on this one major incident, for the reasons he has outlined, they have received no justice and no attention for the murder of their loved one by the IRA or paramilitaries on all sides. They want to know what the Government will do to address that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for supporting my comments on the service of those in the security services. He is quite right that without them, the peace process would not have happened. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who served in Northern Ireland. I will turn to the problems of resolving the past in a few moments, but I should point out now that the Historical Enquiries Team is working its way through 3,268 cases, which is valuable work.
The hurt and suffering that victims of the troubles from all parts of the community continue to feel must be recognised and acknowledged. Finding a way of dealing with the painful legacy of the past is one of the great challenges facing Northern Ireland today, as the right hon. Gentleman says. Our approach to the conclusions of reviews and reports on individual cases is clear. Where wrongdoing or failings by the state are clearly identified, the Government will accept responsibility and apologise. We have demonstrated that in our rapid responses to this report, the police ombudsman’s report on Claudy published in August, and to the Billy Wright inquiry report published in September.
More widely, there cannot, of course, be a Saville-type inquiry for each person killed during the troubles, but there are ongoing processes that are helping to provide some answers. As I just mentioned, the HET is investigating all 3,268 deaths during the troubles, including soldiers and police officers who lost their lives. The 86% satisfaction rate that the HET achieves among families who have received reports demonstrates the success it is having in helping to bring a measure of resolution.
The police ombudsman continues to investigate legacy cases and there are a number of ongoing inquests relating to deaths from the troubles. I welcome the very important work that the Northern Ireland Executive, the victims commissioners and many voluntary organisations are doing in providing health care and practical support to victims.
The future of those processes is in the hands of the devolved Administration, and for my part, I am fully supportive of the important and difficult work that the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains continues to carry out. The Government’s views on new public inquiries are, of course, well known. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries. That policy is based not solely on financial calculation. Continuing to pick out selective cases to subject to a lengthy public inquiry is not a viable approach to dealing with the legacy of a conflict in which thousands of people from all parts of the community were killed.
Nor should we be under any illusion that public inquiries provide any guarantee of satisfaction for victims’ families. The Billy Wright inquiry report showed that even an inquiry lasting six years and costing £30 million can be accused of not having answered critical questions. Many commentators pointed out that that report recorded the panel’s regret that it had no explanation of how the guns used to murder Billy Wright were smuggled into the high security Maze prison.
Our position on new inquiries is clear, but we cannot simply shut down the past. I recognise that there are no easy answers. The previous Government’s consultation on the Eames-Bradley report ended in October 2009, and this Government swiftly published the responses to that consultation in July this year. The responses clearly showed that there is little consensus currently on a wider mechanism to address the past, but we have not let that stop us continuing to listen to the views of people in Northern Ireland and to find a way forward.
My hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Minister and I have met victims groups, community organisations, academics and politicians from all parts of the community to move forward the debate on this important issue. We will continue to do so. Many different views have been expressed, but one clear theme emerges from those discussions and from the experience of existing mechanisms such as the HET—namely, the desire of the families of victims of the troubles to understand those traumatic events better. Helping families and wider society to achieve that greater understanding and closure is vital, however difficult it may be. It will require leadership from all those involved in the events of the past 40 years in Westminster, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
I plan to continue exploring ideas on the contentious issues of the past over the coming months. Our approach will remain measured, sensitive and realistic. Lord Saville’s report closes a painful chapter in Northern Ireland’s troubled history. In so doing, it makes an important contribution to helping Northern Ireland to move forward to a genuinely shared future.
First, I pay tribute to the men and women who were killed on 30 January 1972. While honouring them, I also want to pay tribute to those who were injured and, indeed, to all the families whose lives have been so painfully damaged by the events of Bloody Sunday. Few of us can ever begin to know the pain that they have endured, but on 15 June this year, we could all see from the relief and celebration on the streets of Derry the powerful impact of Lord Saville’s inquiry, as the reputations of those whose lives were lost and those who were injured were fully exonerated.
When the Prime Minister gave his unreserved apology, he truly spoke for us all. For nearly four decades, despite enormous resistance from some, those brave families have waged their campaign for justice. Their conduct and their dignity have been exemplary, both before and since publication of the inquiry. The inquiry stands in stark contrast to the travesty of truth in the Widgery report. The Saville report did what it was intended to do—it established the truth.
There are many lessons to be learned from Bloody Sunday, and many lessons for those who for too long clung to the Widgery report as truth revealed and justice served—for truth Widgery was not and, in the name of justice, Widgery gave none. For a generation to come, the inquiry that Lord Widgery was asked to conduct will be synonymous with whitewashing the truth—for, at best, its wholly inadequate terms of reference and for being conducted too quickly. Perhaps more damningly, is the greater indictment of all those who preferred to continue to cling ever more desperately to the wreckage of Lord Widgery’s findings. They did so when the evidence increasingly suggested that his report was fundamentally flawed and misleading, and when its conclusions were increasingly shown to be unsafe and wrong.
The House owes a debt to all those who campaigned for the truth to be established, and I pay tribute to those in the then British Government, and the Irish and American Governments, who would not settle for what increasingly looked like a whitewash, and to all those who never gave up and who campaigned for new evidence to be considered.
Over the past few months great praise has rightly been given to the work and honesty of Lord Saville’s inquiry. There was nothing inevitable about the inquiry. A few short years ago, in 1998, establishing such an inquiry was a bold and courageous step. Without that step, it would have been so much harder to have established the bona fides for a peace process to succeed. In the 5,000 pages of his report, Lord Saville has finally established the truth. Yes, there are undoubtedly rightful questions to be asked about the time taken to produce the report and indeed, at £200 million, its cost, but let those of us entrusted with authority never confuse the price of truth with the value of truth. What we learn from the inquiry is shocking truth.
On the issue of costs, the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State in charge of the Northern Ireland Office for part of the time when these costs were run up, as they were under his predecessors. Does he take any responsibility for the overrun of time and costs? Does he believe that the NIO could have done more to curtail costs and make the inquiry more efficient in terms of time, or does he believe that nothing could have been done?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government brought forward what would become the Inquiries Act 2005. The purpose of that was to try to control costs. The issue of Lord Saville’s report touches on the crucial issue of the independence of inquiries. The House must seriously consider whether it would wish to compromise the independence of a judicial inquiry by saying, for example, that witnesses would not be allowed legal representation. That would have saved half the cost of Lord Saville’s report, but would we have got the truth if legal representation had not been allowed? By the same token, if we were to say to judges in future inquiries that we wanted to limit the number of witnesses and the amount of evidence that they could take, would that compromise their independence? It is a proper question for the right hon. Gentleman to ask and I take my share of responsibility for allowing this inquiry to go ahead as it did so that its independence was not compromised. That is why I make the careful distinction between the price and the value of the inquiry.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s explanation on that issue, but if the principles that he has outlined are followed in future inquiries—and there are already calls for inquiries on Murphy and other issues—the danger is that we could face huge bills in the future. Do not we need some means of curtailing costs and to put aside the argument that including any restriction will impinge on the independence of inquiries?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point and I may address it specifically a little later in my remarks.
What we have learned from this inquiry is shocking truth, and it is all the more shocking because what Lord Saville uncovered—and we are speaking of uncovering—runs so counter to what we would all want to believe of our armed forces. Hon. Members may have a difficult dilemma this afternoon, because they may feel that they have to make a choice between being supportive of the British Army or of the families. That is a false choice. The Prime Minister was right to assert that Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service that more than 250,000 men and women of the British Army gave during the 38 years of Operation Banner. Their courage, dedication and commitment to public service for every community in Northern Ireland saved countless lives.
However, as the Secretary of State said, the Prime Minister was equally right to say that
“we do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.”
What happened on Bloody Sunday was and remains indefensible. With no ambiguity, we know that the consequences of an order, which should not have been given, was the
“serious and widespread loss of fire discipline”
by members of Support Company of the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, who entered the Bogside.
The Prime Minister informed the House on 15 June that decisions on what would happen next would be for the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. That was five months ago. In fairness to the families whose loved ones lost their lives, and to the soldiers named in Lord Saville’s report, it is unfortunate that the Secretary of State has not been able to update the House today on progress on the issue of prosecution. When he was in opposition, the Secretary of State was quick to criticise the time taken by Lord Saville to produce his report. Can I gently remind him that he should hold himself to the same standards in government as he set for others when he was in opposition? Perhaps he will take an early opportunity to share with the House a progress report, not least for the families and for the soldiers.
The Prime Minister also told the House on 15 June that he would want to take some time
“to digest the report’s full findings and understand all the implications.”
He told the House that he would ask the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and Defence to
“report back…on all the issues that arise from it.”
Given that five months have now elapsed, would the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Defence now agree to place their reports in the Library, if they have been concluded?
The Secretary of State will know that the implications of Saville go much further than the events of Bloody Sunday. They are not just relevant to the past of Northern Ireland, but to its present and to its future. The Prime Minister quoted from 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.”
What now happens in how we respond to this report, and in how we deal with the legacy issues of the past, also has the capacity to strengthen the peace process. The Secretary of State referred earlier to the “what if” factors in the report. His response today is also one of those factors. He should recognise that he is holding a very precious object in his hands. If we handle this wrongly, it also has the capacity to weaken the peace process.
There are those who will watch genuinely to see how the British Government responds to Saville because they too have lost loved ones. They too still seek the truth. Their cause is genuine. Their loss is genuine. Their grief is all too real. But they still understandably seek justice for their loss. Those families respect the truth that this inquiry has revealed. But they too now will seek their truth. This inquiry may, in their eyes, have answered the questions of the families whose lives were devastated by Bloody Sunday, but their questions about their loss remain. Indeed their expectations have been heightened by this report.
For some, this is genuinely about reconciliation. For others—only a small number—this inquiry and others like it may become a means to keep old hatreds and antagonisms going. I recognise that. Most worrying, there are those—the so-called dissidents—whose only wish is to bring chaos and violence back to the streets of Northern Ireland, and who will watch very carefully how the British Government now respond to the Saville report. Those people wish to see how the grief of others can be exploited, and how justice can be turned to injustice. Their wish is to pervert the outcome and to twist the truth into a perverted logic that can be used to build community support for a violent struggle for the years ahead. The response of the Government today must ensure that this group have no opportunity, no chance to make cause from a grievance or a sense of justice denied. Likewise, the Government should ensure that the resources and means are available, should the buck be passed, to enable the Executive and the institutions of the political process in Northern Ireland to respond appropriately.
There are two essential issues here. The first is to ensure that how we handle the past is fair. The second is to ensure that the response is appropriate, adequate and proportionate. For as we think of the families affected by Bloody Sunday, so too we must think of so many others whose lives were altered irrevocably by the troubles. Lord Saville may have offered the beginning of peace of mind to those affected by that terrible day, but what of others, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) asked. How can this process be fair for others? What of the other families of the more than 3,500 men, women and children who also lost their lives?
One example—and I am sure that all hon. Members will have been moved each time they have heard it—comes from the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), who asked:
“How do we get closure, how do we get justice, and how do we get the truth?”
Justice cannot be the possession of one community, but not another. Justice can no more be the province of a nationalist than of a Unionist. The process must be felt to belong to all. The search for truth loses its value if it may be owned by one community, but not another. The Government must be very careful in how they tread.
The Prime Minister said:
“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.”
I understand what led the Prime Minister to these remarks. Indeed, the whole House shares the concern about the cost of the inquiry, but to state unequivocally that
“there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past”
is in my judgment rash, and it is a huge risk. It is a risk not just to the political process, but one that could yet shake the foundations of the peace process itself. The House will know the importance that Justice Cory attached to the inquiries that he recommended to the British and Irish Governments should be set up.
Given what the Prime Minister said in this House on 15 June and given the Secretary of State’s comments in the House, where does this leave the Finucane inquiry to which the British Government committed themselves? The family were promised an inquiry. The House will recall that delay in its establishment was occasioned by a disagreement over such an inquiry proceeding under the terms of the 2005 Act. However, I made it clear when I was Secretary of State that if the difficulties continued once Lord Saville had published his report, we would as a matter of urgency make it clear how we would proceed.
Of course the cost of an inquiry would be relevant to weighing up the public interest, but the public interest would crucially also be weighed by the good faith established by the promise itself—faith that drew strength both from and to the stability of the political process and the stability of the peace process. The Secretary of State has kept us all waiting for nearly six months. He knows that he must be straight with Mr Finucane’s family, the people of Northern Ireland and this House, and he must be straight with the Irish and American Governments. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that as recently as 2008, during the presidential elections, the then Senator Obama made very clear his unequivocal support for an independent judicial inquiry, as recommended by Judge Cory.
In the words of the Prime Minister about Lord Saville’s report, these inquiries
“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.”
Perhaps the Secretary of State will explain and make it clear what has so changed that today the state need no longer hold itself to account on these issues? Indeed, if he has decided not to go ahead with an inquiry, when will he tell the House, and why the further delay? At the very least, will he take this opportunity to tell the House whether, as he promised, he has met Pat Finucane’s family? It is, after all, several months since he said he would.
The peace process is built on trust and fairness. The institutions that have grown out of the peace process have many parents. The process is undoubtedly less than perfect—sometimes carefully planned, sometimes a response to circumstance, sometimes a mechanism to find a way forward when roadblocks lie ahead. Let us imagine that the Secretary of State has taken the decision that, regardless of circumstance, there will be no more inquiries, and let us give the benefit of the doubt about why he has not yet been able to convey that to Pat Finucane’s family or to tell the families of those who lost loved ones at Balllymurphy, Omagh or Claudy that they will have no inquiry.
What are the Secretary of State’s alternative proposals? What is the mechanism he truly proposes for them to seek the truth, to seek justice? We must all hope he understands that he cannot leave nothing in its place. Others have tried to tempt an answer from him. Let me again acknowledge the hon. Member for South Antrim, who I am sorry is not in his place today. Although I do not share his particular prescription, he asked the Secretary of State to consider whether he would use the resources of individual inquiries, and put them at the disposal of the Historical Enquiries Team. The Secretary of State replied that he was “absolutely right”, but absolutely right about what? The Secretary of State may correct me, but I am not entirely sure that in saying that he was proposing to hand over the money, resources and additional funding that the British Government has used to fund judicial inquiries.
The House will rightly acknowledge the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. It is charged with examining the facts behind the deaths of more than 3,000 people in the troubles, and it has indeed done amazing work. It continues to bring closure to so many families who were denied for so many decades even the most basic information about how their loved ones may have died. But the Secretary of State must understand both what it is and what it is not, both what it has the means to do and what, given its limited resources, it cannot do. Its budget was set at £34 million over seven years to handle the 3,000-plus cases. That budget is virtually spent and it is half way through its case load, so it will need more money. However, its task and purpose are not to be compared, in any shape or form, with the work of a judicial inquiry.
Of course not every family wants a judicial inquiry, or a judicial-style tribunal. Indeed, most families—let us be frank—do not want any kind of inquiry. They simply want to leave the past where it is—in the past. They want an end, no more. Others just want the available facts, and, having been given them, they want to bring closure to their loss. That is what the HET does so well, and why its £34 million is appropriate for the work that it was asked to do, although clearly it will need more.
Complex or multiple cases that are linked by circumstances and need investigation are hugely time-consuming and sometimes very difficult to investigate. Even with the resources of a fully funded legal inquiry, the truth may remain evasive. The Secretary of State gave the very good example of Billy Wright. The inquiry answered many questions, but it left some unanswered—not least, how were guns smuggled into a prison regarded at the time as having the highest security in the whole of Europe? Some may say the inability ultimately to provide satisfactory answers to these questions throws into doubt the integrity of the inquiry system itself. Again, however, we should be very careful of reaching such a conclusion. Sometimes we may not get answers, but that does not invalidate the reason for asking the questions, and it does not invalidate the creation of a process that allows those questions to be asked.
The Billy Wright inquiry was complex. Its work cost more than £30 million, much of it on legal fees. Perhaps—I say this to the right hon. Member for Belfast North—we could find ways of doing that without some of the cost, but if a judicial inquiry could not find the answers to the questions posed by Bill Wright’s family, how would the HET have fared better? It is an institution whose overall budget is less than that spent by this single inquiry.
I do not question the Prime Minister’s motives when he told the House on 15 June
“I think that it is right to use, as far as possible, the Historical Enquires Team to deal with the problems of the past”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c.740-55.]
but perhaps the Secretary of State should be a little more candid with his right hon. Friend. Is he really wise to suggest to the Prime Minister that the HET is the appropriate vehicle, adequately resourced, to handle such a complex inquiry, and to ask the HET to take on the work of a Billy Wright investigation, or complex investigations into, for example, Pat Finucane’s death or, as it touches on 1 Para, the death of those who died at Ballymurphy in August 1971? To ask that of the HET is, frankly, as burdensome and as impossible as it borders on being incredulous. With present resources, some things can be done, but some cannot. Even if resources were made available, some investigations, such as that into the death of Pat Finucane, could not be carried by a body such as the HET. Although it is fair and works impartially, it is clearly not as fully independent as a public inquiry, and it is not, as Justice Cory would want, international.
The HET is currently the subject of approval and admiration from all communities in Northern Ireland, but asking it to carry out such investigations might risk damaging its reputation in its other crucial and vital work. The Secretary of State must be very careful how he proceeds with changing the HET’s remit, if that is what he proposes.
The Secretary of State must also be careful to avoid suspicion about his motives. We cannot maintain a peace process on the cheap. We all want to save money, but some savings risk being false economies, and some are cleverly disguised, being more about passing on the bill while still expecting it to be drawn from someone else’s cheque book and account. At present, it is the Government here in Westminster who pay for inquiries into the past. The funding for the HET comes directly from the Executive and the Northern Ireland block grant. Unless the Secretary of State specifically intends to make additional financial support available from Westminster to the HET, it is little short of disingenuous to ask it to take on these hugely onerous responsibilities, even if that were the right thing to do, without significant additional funding. Again I remind the Secretary of State that good faith is as vital in ensuring the peace today as it was in building its foundations.
So what are the Government to do if they wish to keep faith? The Secretary of State has at his disposal the advice and work of the Consultative Group on the Past. The work of Lord Eames and Denis Bradley was extremely important. Their different, but collective, experiences drawn from the years of the troubles made them absolutely the right people to co-chair the consultative group. However, although the Prime Minister referred to their work in his statement of 15 June, I fear that he was directed at only one part of their report. The Secretary of State will know that we share the view that the idea of universal recognition payments should be completely rejected, so that is not a reason to ignore their report. I remind him that it contains nearly 30 other proposals that are very much worth considering and developing.
The Secretary of State has described the impasse in which he finds himself, given the absence of a consensus in the public consultation to the report. I really think he is going to have to do better than that. Yes, it is difficult, but that is what government is all about: making difficult choices, being determined and taking responsibility for finding consensus, even when it eludes everyone else. Building the peace process in Northern Ireland was difficult. There was no consensus, no prescription for a peace process and no route map to a political process. That is the responsibility of the Government. Their job is to find consensus, not to despair or wave a white flag in a declaration of defeat. For it is now that Northern Ireland needs to develop a process for reconciliation. Just as it built a peace process, and then a political process, so now it must establish and develop a comprehensive reconciliation process to deal with the legacy issues. This does not have to be by judicial inquiry, but we cannot leave nothing in place of that. Of course, such a process, and such a determination, will meet opposition, and some of it will be truly genuine, truly felt and deeply sincere. We can respect that, but the job of the British Government, and the Secretary of State, is to help to build and nurture such a process.
Northern Ireland is devolved, but the problems of the past are not. They are not cast off simply because policing and justice have been devolved by this House. Northern Ireland is, after all, part of the Union, until it becomes otherwise by consent. It is our responsibility; it is part of the family. We cannot walk by on the other side of the street. For the past, we all bear the burdens of responsibility and accountability. For the future, we all bear the responsibility to ensure the success of the future shared.
This inquiry speaks not just to those whose lives were changed for ever by Bloody Sunday. The lessons today are for us all. As Lord Eames observed in another place, it is a mark of real hope for the long term that the inquiry has been genuinely embraced, and embraced beyond sectarian lines. This hope is like a window: it is open now, but we should not presume that it will be open indefinitely. The duty of the Government now is to capture this hope, and use it as a resource to marshal and foster reconciliation. The past is not another country; it is as much our country. The past cannot be painted out of history; nor can it be wished away.
Saville reveals that the opportunity for reconciliation has truly come. Let the authors of this process be drawn from the communities of Northern Ireland, but let the Government give leadership. Out of the terrible loss and pain of these Derry families, let the Government seize the challenge. Let us not just say that we are sorry; let us mean that we are sorry. Let us provide the leadership, establish a due process for reconciliation, resource the present and meet the legacy of the past. We must take that next step and help to release Northern Ireland from the grip of its deeply troubled and continuingly painful past.
Thank you for calling me to speak so early in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a privilege to follow not only my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State but his predecessor in Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), who worked tirelessly to try to resolve the issues there. I want to contribute to the debate not because I was an adult or serving in the armed forces at the time of Bloody Sunday; I was not even one-year old at the time. In a sense, it is just a memory. However, I confronted its legacy on the streets of Northern Ireland as a platoon commander and as an intelligence officer in the 1990s. I witnessed the pressures as a platoon commander on the streets of west Belfast, and I also witnessed the embryonic stages of the peace process in 1994, under the Conservative Government of the time. That does not seem to be mentioned much these days, but it was an important turning point for Northern Ireland, because of the steps taken not only by the Government but by the Provisional IRA, which did not come easy to that organisation at the time.
I want to put the Bloody Sunday inquiry into context, because it is important to remember that there were deaths before Bloody Sunday. The troubles in Northern Ireland did not begin and end on 30 January 1972. There were 215 deaths during the troubles leading up to Bloody Sunday, and we cannot forget that there were violent deaths in the Irish civil war and the border campaigns of the 1950s. Violent deaths were characteristic of Ireland, not just in the north, for perhaps hundreds of years. We should not forget that they did not start and stop with Bloody Sunday.
I also want to remember the victims of Northern Ireland. There were 1,855 civilian deaths and 1,123 security forces deaths, of which 2,057 were caused by republican paramilitary groups, and 363 by British security forces, as well as 1,000 by loyalist terror groups. All had a part to play in the troubles in Northern Ireland, and all had a part to play in the tragedies that have been left behind after those events.
I listened to the shadow Secretary of State’s call for perhaps never-ending inquiries. We should not forget that the death of each of those victims is as important to their family members as those of the Bloody Sunday victims. Their loss and suffering count as much to them as Bloody Sunday counts to the media and to the wider strategic goals of the political parties in Northern Ireland. Many of those people might want an inquiry, although perhaps not a sophisticated, expensive one. They might not yet have all the answers. They might not know why their loved one was singled out to be murdered. They want to know why their innocent brother or sister went out shopping one day and did not come back. They want to know who perpetrated those atrocities, and why they have never been held to account.
There are plenty of famous atrocities—dare I link the two words?—in Northern Ireland that probably mean nothing to most people. Bloody Sunday is one of the most memorable ones to people outside the Northern Irish and Irish struggle bubble, but there was also Claudy, Bloody Friday and Warrenpoint. They are famous incidents that all Northern Ireland Members will never forget. It is a characteristic of the Irish troubles that we have these great tragic events throughout history, and it has gone on for many years.
The hon. Gentleman rightly refers to many of the landmark atrocities in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that four of them have a particular link: Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy, Springhill and Shankill? The link is that they were all perpetrated by the Parachute Regiment. Should not somebody be looking at that?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s points. Regiments are always living things: they come and go; different leaders take over and different soldiers join. The Scots Guards, of which I was a member, is a very different regiment from the Scots Guards when it was founded in 1642—ironically, to go to Northern Ireland. Regiments come and go, and it is too easy to put a beret on the problem and say that it is all due to the Parachute Regiment. I know my own prejudices, but they are not factual prejudices. It is too easy to link the problem to one regiment or another. I say that it was mainly a problem of ethos—ethos in our politicians, who sometimes sent the wrong messages; ethos in paramilitary units, or even in political parties that often chose to manipulate the people they were supposed to represent.
As I said earlier, I was not serving in the armed forces on Bloody Sunday, as I was just one-year old, but I have met people on the streets of Northern Ireland who were inspired by it—inspired to defend their communities, inspired to take up arms or, indeed, inspired to enter into terrorist organisations. I have met people who were manipulated by what happened and manipulated by some political parties that used every atrocity to feed another atrocity. Murder begets murder; injustice begets injustice.
This inquiry is about one atrocity, but if it is about drawing a line in the sand, it is about saying that an injustice took place. People in the armed forces, particularly its members on that day, are sorry for what they did. We as a Government are sorry about how we dealt with the troubles in the past. However, we must also remember that there were attacks after attacks after attacks. That is why we should put Bloody Sunday in context. The report says that paramilitary activities were taking place on that day. The official IRA fired the second shot and the Provisional IRA was active with weapons in the city on that day. That does not excuse at all or in any way the behaviour of the soldiers on that day, but we should not forget that, in the end, this was an environment into which many people came untrained, ill aware of what they were being asked to do and perhaps led by the wrong leaders. That might be a criticism that we can strongly lay at the door of the Parachute Regiment on that day.
It is not for me, nearly 40 years later, to judge individual soldiers. What we should not forget—this is why the activity of paramilitaries on that day does not detract from what is right or wrong—is that every soldier is responsible for what he or she does down the end of a barrel of a gun. It is their responsibility—the individual’s responsibility and that of the junior ranks of local leaders—to realise that, in the end, their actions have consequences.
Having been a platoon commander in Iraq, I have been frightened. I know what it is like to sit behind barbed wire and concrete bunkers. It very quickly becomes “them and us”. It is easy to dehumanise the community outside the front gate. It is very easy if you are spat at, shouted at and abused, to go back with your men, your soldiers and your team and describe the situation as them and us. That is not an excuse for a platoon commander, a company commander or a commanding officer to say, “All bets are off; all rules can be ignored”. That is simply not right. We are there as officers and leaders of men to protect the weak, to uphold discipline and ensure decency on the street—irrespective of whether the communities are Catholic or Protestant. That is our job.
I could not go to Northern Ireland and undo history. That was not my job at 20 years of age. I was not going to allow myself to be blamed for history—something about which we need to be careful when it comes to the Saville inquiry. We cannot blame other generations and undo it as if it were an easy thing to do on “The X Factor”, for example. I knew, however, that if I stood by decency on the streets and did what was right by the people I was there to protect, we would go some way to ensuring peace.
What is very important from my point of view is that we carried the yellow card, which set out the rules of engagement on the streets of Northern Ireland. It is a good document; it has been finessed over the years, but remains a good document. It is interesting that the Saville report clearly says that no soldier involved in the shootings on that day would have had the authority to open fire if they had followed the yellow card issued to them for dealing with the troubles even at that time. These are good rules of engagement: they are clear and fair and require every soldier to take aimed shots. We should not ignore or excuse the facts by claiming that the environment or the context detracts from the responsibility of our soldiers. It is also the case that the same does not detract from the responsibility of paramilitaries. Every terrorist in Northern Ireland must take responsibility for what they did with a bomb, what they did with a rifle and what they did when they intimidated their communities.
I would like to pay tribute to the Social Democratic and Labour party in Northern Ireland, which throughout the troubles recognised the consequence of violence. Throughout it all, its members spoke up in communities where they themselves were intimidated by other republican parties that felt that they could use peace on the one hand, but could use violence on the other. We should not neglect to pay tribute to the parties that pursued peace on both sides throughout the peace agreement.
The real issue is the future. The former Secretary of State came to the Dispatch Box today to speak about the past. That is interesting, as when he was Secretary of State he rarely mentioned the Finucane or other inquiries and rarely raised issues about the past, which now seems to have come to the forefront. The real challenge is for the future and it revolves around whether we are going to move forward and accept devolution. Will Northern Ireland one day be prepared for a Sinn Fein First Minister? Other real questions are how to deal with dissidents and when we will say goodbye to the past.
We can argue about whether we should have one more inquiry, or two more, or four more, or five more or 10 more, but at the end of the day it will come down to three or four main points: paramilitaries killed innocent people; soldiers sometimes got involved in unlawful killings; and the innocent people of Northern Ireland suffered. How many more inquiries are just going to repeat the same points? The future is what counts—and that means peace, which is the only thing that will wash away the blood.
Lord Saville’s final sentence is:
“Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the wounded and the bereaved, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.”
I think Members on both sides of the House would heartily agree with that. I pay tribute to Lord Saville and his colleagues for the thoroughness of their work on the inquiry. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the way in which they have presented the inquiry publicly in the House of Commons. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) who, together with his predecessor, John Hume, fought tirelessly for justice in this very important case. We all pay tribute, of course, to the families of the victims who were killed all those years ago.
In 1998, when the decision was taken to call this inquiry, I was the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office with responsibility for political development. I did not then and have not even for one second since had any regrets, as it was the right thing to do. It was right in the first instance because we wanted to see that justice was done and we wanted the truth to come out. Secondly, it was right because it was part of the wider political picture in dealing with the peace process at that time and since. I have not the slightest doubt that, had we not tackled the issue of Bloody Sunday as we did, there would not have been a successful peace process. I have no doubt at all in mind about that.
The right hon. Gentleman has, perhaps inadvertently, touched on some of the problems with the Saville report. Many in the Unionist community believe exactly what he has just said—that it was a political decision taken for political reasons with a premeditated outcome in mind that determined the announcement on Saville.
It depends what the hon. Gentleman means by political. I am not saying for a moment that it was a party political issue. I used the term “political” in the sense that it was part of the bigger picture to achieve peace. Both things together were important. Clearly, the nationalist community, the Irish Government, the American Government and people generally believed that we had to deal with this particular issue in the way that we did. That does not mean for one second that we did not have to deal with the other issues as well—I shall touch on them in a few moments—but Bloody Sunday was part of the problem.
There was a time some years later, after I had become Secretary of State, when I was troubled about the costs. At that time, it fell to me to deal with the direct government of Northern Ireland as well as the peace process, and £200 million is a great deal of money. Money was needed for hospitals, schools and other services to run a society in Northern Ireland, and of course those costs troubled me. They troubled me to such an extent that when some years later I agreed with the Canadian Judge Cory that there should be four public inquiries—into the cases of Wright, Hamill, Nelson and Finucane—we decided to use a different mechanism, through the 2005 Act and other Acts of Parliament, in the hope of making the process cheaper. In fact, the cost of those inquiries turned out to be £30-odd million.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) about Finucane. I gave an undertaking on behalf of the Government that there would be some form of judicial inquiry into the Finucane case. None of that means that we undervalue the loss of the lives of people who served in the armed forces, the security forces or the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Thousands upon thousands of members of the armed forces and the RUC died as a consequence of the troubles, and we must never forget the sacrifice that they made. However, the Army is an organ of the state. In a liberal democracy the state has a responsibility to ensure that the Army does the right thing, and that is why the Saville inquiry turned out as it did.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not see where his argument is leading? It appears that, for political reasons and, he says, to advance the peace process, it was considered necessary to hold an inquiry into what had happened in Londonderry, but it was not considered necessary to hold an inquiry into the deaths of many RUC soldiers and innocent civilians who had been killed by terrorists.
All that took place over a period of 15 years or so. One of the purposes of the Historical Enquiries Team, in which I was involved, was to enable us to satisfy all parts of the community that we were dealing with the past.
Let me repeat that the primary purpose of the Bloody Sunday inquiry was to establish the truth: to find out what had happened, and whether the Army was culpable. The inquiry found that it was culpable. However, another purpose of the inquiry and, indeed, of Judge Cory’s recommendations, was to maintain the process of bringing peace to Northern Ireland. Ensuring that the peace process continues is a noble cause, not an ignoble one, and if it means that we must deal with the past in whatever form, it is right and proper for that to happen.
The fact that 3,500 people have died over 30 years and tens of thousands have been injured in one way or another must be addressed, and the savagery and wickedness experienced by Northern Ireland in those 30 years was not confined to one side. How should that be dealt with? Let me draw the Secretary of State’s attention to two issues. The first is cost. Of course these are difficult times, but, although this may seem a truism, Northern Ireland is a special case. When Senator George Mitchell concluded the Good Friday agreement on Good Friday 1998, he said that it was the beginning, not the end, of a process. He was right. Since then there have been tremendous developments, in which the DUP and other parties in Northern Ireland have played a huge part, but the process will not end overnight. We must have a system that involves spending money, because we must ensure that if the Northern Ireland Executive have to take on certain responsibilities, their funding must be adequate.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Army was an instrument of Government and must therefore be accountable. Individuals who were certainly active historically are now part of Government. Should they not now be accountable for their historical actions?
My right hon. Friend raised that issue with the Director of Public Prosecutions. If there are indications that those people must be prosecuted, that is not a matter for Government, but for an independent body. My point is that if there are any further developments on dealing with the past, the Northern Ireland Executive should not be asked to pay for it.
My second point is this. The Secretary of State mentioned the Eames-Bradley report. Mr Eames and Mr Bradley know perhaps better than anyone else of what happened in the past in Northern Ireland, and I think it unfortunate that the press dealt with only one recommendation in their report. There were other valuable recommendations on issues such as the legacy commission, the reconciliation forum and the role of the Churches, and the Government ought to consider them.
When I was Secretary of State, I went to South Africa to see whether the process of truth and reconciliation there could be applied to Northern Ireland. I concluded that it could not—that there could not be a one-size-fits-all solution, and that Northern Ireland must decide for itself how to deal with the past. However, I also concluded that if the problem was the absence of consensus, nothing would happen. We could not wait for a consensus, but we must seek one.
The position of the current Secretary of State is very different from mine, and that of my successors, when we had to deal with such matters as housing and education. He is in a position to work with the Executive to deal with the issues that reflect the past. I have no doubt that a consensus can be reached, I have no doubt that we will have to deal with it, and I have no doubt that the Executive must address other huge, pressing issues, such as the problem of schools and of dealing with the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Northern Ireland budget. Those are vastly important issues which must exercise the minds of my right hon. Friends and others in Northern Ireland, but that does not mean that it is not possible to deal with the past as well.
I believe that we cannot face the future unless we deal with the past. The two must be dealt with in parallel. The issue is how they are dealt with, and how consensus is achieved so that people, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Unionist or nationalist, republican or loyalist, can ensure that we have a peaceful and a prosperous Northern Ireland.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). He ended his speech by drawing attention to the need to bring people together and to allow Northern Ireland to move on. Last night, he and I—along with one or two other Members, including the Secretary of State—attended a dinner held by the Integrated Education Fund, whose aim is to bring people together and educate them regardless of their religion. Like the right hon. Gentleman and many other Members, I fully endorse that aim, because the future must be important.
On 15 June, the Prime Minister said that the killings on Bloody Sunday were unjustified and unjustifiable, and the Secretary of State repeated that today. I know that the way in which the Prime Minister dealt with the report in his statement has brought closure to many, though not all, of the families involved. It has brought a degree of comfort, and a degree of solace. The Prime Minister should be congratulated on that. The fact that some of us may have questions to raise about the way in which the report was conducted does not in any way compromise the words of the Prime Minister: he spoke them, and he spoke them very effectively. However, some questions do remain about the way in which the report was conducted.
I have the privilege of being Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. One or two concerns have been expressed in the Committee, particularly about the time that it took for the report to be compiled and about the costs associated with it. It was estimated in the then Northern Ireland Office that the process might take a couple of years. Lord Saville referred to that when he appeared before the Committee on 13 October. In answer to a question about the time scale, he said:
“We did not have one. I am told that the Northern Ireland Office thought it might last a year or two, or something, but on what basis they made that estimate, I have no idea.”
There was obviously something of a disjoin between the Northern Ireland Office and Lord Saville on that point. The prolonged time that it took to complete the report must have been very frustrating for the families and, indeed, the soldiers involved. A further problem is that memories would have already faded by the time the inquiry began, and would have become even weaker by the time it ended.
There is also, of course, a great deal of concern about the cost. In reply to a question about setting limits for the number of hours the inquiry could sit or the amount per hour lawyers could be paid, Lord Saville said in evidence:
“I just do not see how you can, in advance, put down any sort of time or cost estimate”,
but the Government at the time did that. He also said:
“I do not see how you can”
set limits, yet limits were set. My point is that there seemed to be a lack of co-ordination between the Northern Ireland Office and Lord Saville, and a lack of control over some aspects of the inquiry.
The point could be made that if the inquiry were to be independent, it should have nothing to do with, and be in no way the responsibility of, the NIO, but it troubles me that it is reported that Lord Saville refused to meet the NIO permanent secretary to discuss the report, and I know that that troubles some Committee members as well.
The original estimated cost of the inquiry and then the report was £11 million, with lawyers fees estimated at £1 million, yet the overall costs were £191.4 million, with lawyers’ fees of £100 million. I know that public contracts often run somewhat over-budget, but I think that is stretching that to the absolute limit. Again, I do not in any way wish to compromise the words of the Prime Minister on 15 June, but as taxpayers’ money was involved here, we are entitled to ask these questions.
The fact that the process took so long poses certain questions about exactly how accurate some of the evidence given could have been. We all have memories of the past, and if we are remembering a particularly important incident, we will remember it very vividly, but when we look back—or when, perhaps, television extracts are replayed or we read a book on the subject—our memories might not be quite as things were. Therefore, the fact that the inquiry went on for so long will have resulted in something being taken away from the memories of the events.
It should also be noted that we are looking back at a different era—we are looking back to January 1972—and I want now to read out some comments by Lord Saville that have not been given a great deal of airing in previous debates. In paragraph 2.6 of chapter 2 of the summary, he says:
“Parts of the city to the west of the Foyle lay in ruins, as the result of the activities of the IRA…A large part of the nationalist area of the city was a ‘no go’ area, which was dominated by the IRA, where ordinary policing could not be conducted and where even the Army ventured only by using large numbers of soldiers.”
In paragraph 2.7 he says:
“There had been numerous clashes between the security forces and the IRA in which firearms had been used on both sides”.
That is the background to the events.
The hon. Gentleman is accurately explaining what Lord Saville said in that section of the conclusion, but does the hon. Gentleman not share my amazement that, having come to that conclusion, Lord Saville did not investigate any of that destruction or any of the context that led to the events of 30 January?
I am quoting from the summary, but I am well aware that there is a mass of further information behind that summary, and I know that Lord Saville has looked into quite a lot of it. The particular point I have highlighted has troubled me, however.
I was in Londonderry about three years ago—the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) kindly welcomed me. I am not sure whether I have told him this, but on the next day I visited the police, who were doing an excellent job. At the end of our meeting, at about lunchtime, I asked whether it would be okay if I, as an Englishman, went into the Bogside Inn. The police froze for a moment, and then replied: “Only if you don’t say anything.” That was three years ago, when we had relative peace, so what must the circumstances and atmosphere have been like in January 1972?
Again, I am not trying to suggest that what the soldiers are accused of having done was right in any way, and I am not in any way trying to play down or underestimate the pain the families involved must have felt, but I think there is an issue here. It is very difficult to look back so far, partly because memories fade, and partly because we, in the safety of our lives, are judging the actions of people who must have been extremely frightened. I do not know how I would have felt in that situation; it is very difficult to assess that accurately.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) made a point about that background atmosphere and what created it. Again, I am not trying to excuse what was done but, as was said in our Committee, people who are or were paramilitaries refer to that period as the war. I wish they would not call it that, because there are casualties in wars, and quite often there are many innocent casualties. I do not know whether any paramilitary commanders had machine guns with them that day, or if they did, whether they used them, but if they did have machine guns that day, they share some of the responsibility for what happened.
We should pay tribute to Lord Saville for the detailed work he has carried out, and we should support the Prime Minister in what he has said, but I agree with what a number of Members have said so far: we must now look to move to the future. I have read through a lot of this report, and I also read through a lot of the Billy Wright report a few weeks ago, and what strikes me is the waste involved in paramilitary activity, with Catholics hating Protestants and Protestants hating Catholics. That literally wastes lives, and it wastes opportunities too. Some of that still exists. Recruitment to the police is still done on the basis of recruits’ religion. I want Northern Ireland to move towards normal politics, but that is not normal politics.
We have to move to the future; we have to put the past behind us. There are serious questions about how we do that, however. Just last week, I welcomed a number of MPs from Rwanda to my constituency. We talked about how to reconcile the past with the future and they visited Belfast to discuss those issues. Last night, I had a meeting with two members of the families who were bereaved at Ballymurphy. All of that is very difficult and painful and I do not have an easy answer, but what I do know is that we have got to keep searching for those answers so that the present and future generations do not lose out in the way that past generations have.
Lord Saville and his team carried out public hearings beginning in March 2000, and the final witness was heard in January 2005. In total, 2,500 statements were taken, as a result of which 922 people were called to give direct evidence. Some 610 soldiers, 729 civilians, 30 journalists and photographers, 20 Government officials and 53 police officers gave evidence in some form. As we have heard on numerous occasions, the total cost was in excess of £191 million. Some of the families of those killed in Londonderry on 30 January 1972 have received some form of closure.
As I alluded to in my recent intervention, Saville concentrated almost exclusively on the events of the day in question. However, I and others have repeatedly stressed the need to examine the background and context of the events. After the Saville report was published in June, I spoke out saying it was simply not possible to declare the absolute truth about what happened some 30 years after the event. Because of what I said I was subjected to a vicious hate campaign, not least of which included a Facebook site where a number of contributors indicated that I should be shot dead; a Nazi poster showing a bullet hole through my forehead was put on the site. I went to the police and, that fact having become public knowledge, it was pleasing to see on Monday 21 June that hundreds of people who had signed up to supporting the aims of that site—wanting me murdered—had withdrawn their names within hours of the story breaking on that day. It would appear that supporting violence in secret is quite a good thing for some people but when it becomes public knowledge, they are not so keen. I understand from the police that the prosecution service is studying the evidence and that the police and prosecution service are deciding whether a prosecution is warranted—I await the outcome in due course.
Whatever is found about the attacks or the consequences, the truth about Saville, the context and the background must and will be told. Some try to insinuate that Bloody Sunday was the origin of the troubles, while others attempt to rewrite history by saying that if Bloody Sunday had not happened, the IRA would have been a footnote and a mere minor problem, but Northern Ireland was subjected to frequent attacks. The campaign between 1956 and 1962 was very fresh when the troubles, as they became known, broke out in 1968. Internment had been brought in just before Bloody Sunday to deal with the worsening problems. Widespread violence, right across Northern Ireland, was endemic.
Twenty-one people were murdered in three days of rioting in August 1971. On 10 August 1971, some six months before Bloody Sunday, Bombardier Paul Challenor became the first soldier to be killed by the Provisional IRA in Londonderry, when he was shot by a sniper close to the route of the fateful march on Bloody Sunday. A further six soldiers had been killed in Londonderry by mid-December 1971, five weeks before Bloody Sunday occurred. Almost 2,000 rounds were fired by the IRA at the British Army, which was patrolling the streets, and 211 explosions and 180 nail bombs were aimed at the Army, civilians and ordinary civilian properties, shops and homes in the vicinity, so Provisional IRA activity was rife before Bloody Sunday occurred. Thirty British soldiers were killed in the remaining months of 1971.
Both the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA had established no-go areas for the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary through the use of barricades. At the end of 1971, 29 barricades were in place to prevent access to parts of the Bogside where the march was to take place, 16 of which were impassable, even to the British Army’s one-tonne armoured vehicles. IRA members openly mounted roadblocks in front of the media, and daily clashes occurred between nationalist youths and the British Army. Rioting and incendiary devices aimed at shops caused a then estimated total—this was 40 years ago—of £4 million-worth of damage to commercial property.
I say all this to lay out the context, which Lord Saville did not lay out—£191 million was spent and he did not lay out the context of why the soldiers were there in the first place. I shall tell hon. Members why they were there. The central element of any comprehensive investigation into the events is that the soldiers were going into an area that was extremely hostile and where they were likely to encounter violence. But did Lord Saville—did the report—indicate that that was the factual premise from which to conduct the investigation? No, I am afraid he did not.
The fact that the soldiers met with violence only reinforced their view that they were in for a heavy concentration of fire. Such a concerted level of terror was not unique to Londonderry; as I have said, it was endemic in other parts of Northern Ireland. The truth is that murder, mayhem and terror were rife. In the weeks before the day, there were nine separate bomb attacks on commercial premises, six separate shooting incidents and an 80-minute gun battle, and gelignite and nail bomb attacks were prevalent. Reference has been made to the despicable and cowardly murder of two policemen that then took place three days before the parade and on the very route of the parade. One was a Protestant and the other a Catholic, and one was buried on the day of Bloody Sunday.
It remains the case that we will probably never know the truth of all that transpired on that day. Lord Saville can give his conclusions, and the Front-Bench teams of the Government and the Opposition can concur with those, but we will never know the truth. One participant in the Saville inquiry revelled in the thought that he would not engage in open-ended dialogue about what he was doing in the run-up to Bloody Sunday or on that day. He said that he was the 2IC of the Provisional IRA on that day and in that era; he is now the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. I welcome his move away from violence and endorse the move towards embracing peace, but unfortunately he refused to go into any detail about his involvement in the IRA on that day. Lord Saville concluded that he “probably” had in his possession a machine gun on that day.
As has been alluded to in the debate, it would appear that some people are demanding prosecutions of soldiers who complied with the Saville inquiry and answered all the questions posed to them throughout the inquiry, but there does not appear to be the same eagerness or intensity of purpose to say that we should also look at the prosecution of someone who “probably” had a machine gun on that day. We have to ask what he was doing with the machine gun on that day. The conclusion is that we will never know.
Saville fell well short of analysing what happened before and during the events of that fateful day. We will not know the truth of all that happened. The one lesson that we can learn from the Saville report and the inquiry is that inquiries, however intense and however long, however protracted and however costly and expensive, seldom, if ever, bring progress towards the future. Let us move forward and not back to the past.
I shall make a brief contribution. In the Chamber today there are many experts on this subject, some of whom have spoken already and others who, I see, seek to contribute later. That is why I will keep my remarks brief.
The Saville inquiry was clearly necessary. There is no doubt about that. I do not have personal experience of what happened in Northern Ireland or of its history, but I recall as a teenager thinking that there was something about what happened on Bloody Sunday that I, as a British citizen, needed to be worried about in terms of the human rights implications. It was there—something that I was aware of as I was growing up—so I certainly believe that the inquiry was necessary.
In extremely difficult circumstances, the inquiry has done a very good job of finding out what happened on that day. A couple of months ago I went to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to try to corroborate a piece of information I had received when I was attending the G20 protest as a legal observer. Notwithstanding the level of CCTV coverage of that event, it was incredibly difficult to corroborate one piece of information I had received from a couple of demonstrators about the alleged activities of plain-clothes police officers in that demonstration.
That took place on 1 April 2009, with a considerable police presence, observers and CCTV coverage, and it was very difficult to pin down the information that I sought. The work that was done on events that happened many decades ago sets a standard for us in the UK and for other countries, indicating what a Government can do if they want to.
It was clearly right for the Secretary of State to reiterate the apology that has been given previously for what happened on that day. It was right also for him to recognise the sacrifice of many, many people who defended the lives of others in Northern Ireland, often at the cost of their own lives. Good progress has been made, but the work is clearly not yet complete.
I hope the Minister will respond to points made by the official spokesman for the Opposition, the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), on issues relating to public inquiries and his undertaking that there will be no others, and what the alternative will be. I hope also that the Minister will respond to the point about the funding for the Historical Enquiries Team. It has much more work to do and the funding issue needs to be addressed.
Coincidentally, today in Westminster Hall, I initiated a debate on consular services and the support available to British citizens when their loved ones are murdered or killed abroad. One thing that came out of that was the importance of ensuring that people had a clear understanding of the support they could get in such cases, from which agencies and from which Departments. I hope that out of this tragic affair—not that we anticipate a similar event occurring ever again on the same scale, but there may be individual incidents—the process will at least have clarified what support should be available for people if ever they find themselves in similar circumstances again, or if new families find themselves in a similar situation in the near future.
Finally, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and others have spoken about reconciliation and the importance of moving the agenda forward. I know that the Government will provide leadership on reconciliation, and will engage with the devolved Administration to ensure that we move things forward in Northern Ireland. I am sure the Minister, the Opposition parties and the parties from Northern Ireland will want to work constructively on that in future months.
On 30 January 1972, the day known as Bloody Sunday, I was 13 years old, growing up in Northern Ireland, when 13 men lost their lives on the streets of Derry, and another man subsequently died some time later from his injuries. I can still recall vividly the events of that day as they unfolded on TV screens.
I can also recall the major impact of those events on the political landscape not only of Northern Ireland but of the island of Ireland—how these events acted as a catalyst for further years of pointless violence, death, destruction and political sterility, as well as further creating deep fissures of sectarianism and division within our community.
I welcome this debate and the fact that the former Prime Minister, John Major, opened the way for the inquiry, that Prime Minister Blair announced the inquiry in 1998, that Lord Saville was appointed to undertake the inquiry, that it took place and that it reported the events of that day in such an analytical and humane way, thus repudiating the Widgery report and vindicating those who died. I welcome the fact that the current Prime Minister, in his statement to the House on 15 June, stated:
“ What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable.”
He also said, “It was wrong.” He added that
“what happened should never, ever have happened…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.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 739-40.]
I further note that that was echoed today by the Secretary of State.
There is no doubt that the Saville report and its findings, and the Prime Minister’s statement, dealt with all this in a very sensitive way and helped to bring solace, relief, vindication and comfort to the families of the Bloody Sunday victims and their friends. We in the Social Democratic and Labour party are still looking for some answers, and I hope that today’s debate and others will help to bring further closure and give answers to the people of Derry. There is no doubt that those people must be commended for being so joyous on 15 June as they showed their enjoyment in Guildhall square.
Saville’s report and the statement from the Prime Minister were welcomed the length and breadth of Ireland in political institutions. My colleagues in the SDLP, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and his predecessor John Hume, along with the local community in Derry, campaigned for truth and justice for the victims of Bloody Sunday and other atrocities.
Questions now arise. Where do we go from here? There has been much positive debate today, and there have been other comments, too. I simply urge that we speak about these events with a certain level of humility and generosity. There have been various debates, including in the other place, as well as statements and questions in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dail Eireann. I believe that we need to seek full clarification from the Secretary of State regarding the deliberations with the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State for Defence, and I want to refer to the question I asked the Prime Minister on 15 June, reported in column 752 of Hansard.
I asked when the report would be made available and whether its contents would be made available to the House. The shadow Secretary of State has asked whether it would be made available in the Library, as there are questions that need to be answered. What levels of redress will be made available to the families? What methods or apparatus will be put in place to deal with all the outstanding cases that have been plagued by indecision and the need for truth and justice? Reference has already been made to Finucane, but what about Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill? Outstanding cases are being dealt with by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, such as those of McGurk’s bar and the Loughinisland atrocity, in my constituency.
There is one overriding feature of all this. We are joined today in the Public Gallery by relatives of the families from Ballymurphy, who lost their loved ones in August 1971 after internment was announced. Those families lost loved ones, and the connection is that they were all shot by members of the Parachute Regiment. It is also believed—I put it like that—that some of those soldiers could have been involved in Bloody Sunday on the streets in Derry. Those families in Ballymurphy need truth. Ways must be found to relieve their immeasurable burden and grief. They require redress and compassion from the state; they require the stigma to be removed from them and for the innocence of the people who were killed to be declared. They require an inquiry to do that. I urge the Government to listen and to pay heed to their pleas. Mercy and compassion must be displayed. Many people in Northern Ireland and throughout the island and this country have lost loved ones because of what happened. Many families, not least my own, have been tinged by violence, destruction and death. A mechanism needs to be found to deal with all this in a very sensitive way.
We politicians—I mean all politicians, but particularly those who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland—need to build a truly shared, reconciled pluralistic society that has respect for political difference. It should have political institutions that are truly embedded and centred on the principles of partnership. The principles of social justice and equality should be allowed to prevail, thus enabling a new society to emerge and grow—a society in which violence and sectarianism are not allowed to fester and in which they belong to the past. We want a society in which it is possible to learn from the past and not to live in it and in which it is possible to show respect and provide truth to those who have lost loved ones no matter which part of the community they come from or what their political affiliation. We must ensure that conditions are laid down in which violence of the kind perpetrated in this instance by officers of the state, as well as the violence perpetrated by paramilitarism and the dissidents whom we totally deplore and repudiate, is never allowed to reign again on the island of Ireland.
The events of 30 January 1972 are a hideous stain on the British Army’s reputation. It was a bloody day and a catastrophe. No soldiers were killed but 14 civilians were. Let us be quite clear that it was a total failure of leadership by 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. I fully endorse the Prime Minister’s profound apology and the Secretary of State’s apology earlier today for what happened on Bloody Sunday. I was serving in the British Army at the time—as, I suspect, were a few other Members of the House—and I shall try to explain what we felt then. We in the British Army knew that a great wrong had been done; we did not need any Widgery or Saville to know that.
I was a young officer then. I joined my battalion, 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, in January 1970 and the first thing I was told was that I was going to Northern Ireland on operations—my own country. That came as a huge shock. I had been brought up by my father and gone to boarding school, with my father fundamentally serving his country abroad on operations. I had spent most of my time in the middle east, so hon. Members can imagine my shock when I was warned that I was going to Londonderry within a couple of weeks of arriving in my battalion.
We started our training immediately, but we did not know what to do. We watched parts 1 and 2 of the film, “Keeping the Peace,” which was made by my battalion in the 1950s. We were being trained to go into Northern Ireland as though we were going into somewhere like Singapore, Palestine or Amritsar. It was dreadful. We did not know what we were doing. We practised dealing with riots at Weeton camp in Lancashire using formations that the British Army had so often used in the past. In the formation, we had snipers, cameramen, diarists and banner-men, and the banner that I was issued said, on one side “Anyone crossing the white line is liable to be shot” and on the other, “Disperse or we fire”. We took that banner to Londonderry, but what was farcical was that the second language on it was Arabic. We sought guidance from an officer with 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment, Lieutenant Vince Hazlewood, and he suggested that we practise dispersing crowds by pushing concertina wire down the road. He said that this would work. It did not.
We deployed by car ferry to Belfast from Liverpool. I could not believe that. We were there with school trips and cars; it was just astonishing. When we got to Londonderry, we went to a place called HMS Sea Eagle, now Ebrington barracks, and from there we deployed into the city. We did small patrols of two men—I often went out with two or three people—and we made absolutely certain that our rifles were pointing skywards. The idea of us opening fire at our own people was just out of line. Out of line.
When the riots came, we were totally surprised. We went down Rossville street and William street in a sort of box formation à la Malaya or Aden. Immediately, we realised that we had made a mistake. About one third of my platoon were hurt, either with broken legs or with burns from petrol bombs. Do you know what? My goodness, we were frightened. I have been under fire quite a lot since then, but I want to tell the House how fearful it was being on the streets in those days and not having an answer as to how to behave. People were banging planks against walls to make it sound like we were under fire.
We did not use CS gas, we certainly did not open fire and we were not even allowed to draw our batons. We took to putting newspaper down the front of our trousers in wads to try to stop our legs being broken by the incoming bricks. I was in 6 Platoon, and my fellow platoon commander, Nigel Hine, in 4 Platoon, was caught by the crowd and had his jaw broken in three places. He bandaged it up and kept going through the night. He was the first officer to receive the MBE for gallantry in Northern Ireland. We were grossly inadequately prepared, and I suspect that that continued all the way through the early ’70s. We did our best, and the last thing that we wanted to do was to open fire. We had the yellow card, and we understood the rules of the yellow card absolutely.
The day of 30 January 1972 was a disgrace. It was also an aberration. One bad event can destroy thousands of good ones, and that was a bad event. Huge numbers of soldiers went through Northern Ireland. The House has already heard that 250,000 did so, and I pay great tribute to those who acted properly, did their duty and cared about the people of Northern Ireland. I remember them today, because more than 700 of them lost their lives—some of them, trying to protect people.
I end by simply saying, as so many Government and Opposition Members know, and as we knew at the time, that 30 January 1972 was an aberration. It should never have happened. It was a total failure of leadership, from battalion command down, and my goodness I hope that it never happens again. But I ask hon. Members, please to remember how well the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and all those concerned about what happened in Northern Ireland behaved right the way through the 38 years of the troubles.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important and significant debate and to be able to follow a number of very powerful contributions, most recently from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I commend the Government for ensuring that there is this opportunity to debate the Saville inquiry report, its consequences and the related issues—and also, importantly, to do so at this juncture, there having been some four and half to five months since its publication, a period which has given many people an opportunity to read, consider and reflect on its contents before we discuss it in detail.
The publication of the report was a significant event for all of us with an interest in, connection to, or direct involvement in issues relating to Northern Ireland. As other right hon. and hon. Members have made clear, the time and financial cost involved in the inquiry was considerable. As has been powerfully advocated by other Members—I am sure that others will do so later—many families of those who lost their lives on 30 January 1972, and indeed the family of the victim who died some time later in hospital, have expressed their relief at having received some kind of justice. I use the term “justice” very tentatively. As Lord Eames said in the debate on this issue in the other place, there can be widely differing interpretations of justice. For some, the very publication of truth is sufficient for them to be able to move on. For others, quite understandably, justice is a much more complex issue that may require the progress on prosecution to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred.
Many in this House, several of whom we have heard from this afternoon, have much greater personal experience and detailed knowledge of the events of January 1972 than I do. There are now many Members of this House, including me, who were not born at the time of those events. Our experience has perhaps been limited to the footage or photographs of Father Daly with which we are all so familiar. However, I think it is without question that the events of that day had an impact on all parts of the United Kingdom, directly and indirectly, for many years afterwards. That is why it is crucial to deal with the report in the right way.
I understand and appreciate the reticence of many right hon. and hon. Members for there to be, in the words of the Prime Minister,
“no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 741.]
Given the time and financial cost involved, that call for an end to such inquiries appears, on the face of it, to be reasonable. However, it would be a mistake to measure the success—if I can use that term in this context—or otherwise of the inquiry purely on the basis of time and money, and a graver error still to use the experience of Saville to rule out any inquiries into other events to which we have heard reference. It is simply not possible to put a price on what the report has done, and will do, for the family of Jim Wray, who for years had a stain on his reputation. As one noble Lord put it in the debate in the other place, the report has allowed one victim’s family to get a proper night’s sleep for the first time in close to 30 years.
Removing suspicion from the events surrounding 30 January 1972, confirming the inadequacy of the Widgery report and providing the opportunity for many people to move on have all been results of the thorough and detailed nature of the Saville report, at least for some people. It has enabled all parts of the community in Derry to begin to take steps—perhaps tentative steps at first, but steps none the less—towards focusing on current issues of importance such as the economy, housing and education, which quite rightly preoccupy people and politics throughout the UK and beyond. We cannot put a price on that.
That is why a call to end future inquiries appears to many to be an injustice towards families of the people involved in Ballymurphy, Omagh and so on. The opportunity to provide access to the truth, and to the hope and potential that that truth provides, is something that we must not give away lightly.
Many Members have spoken of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, and I am sure that Members will want to put on record their appreciation of the team’s valuable work to seek answers in individual cases. However, it is not reasonable to expect it to provide all the answers. It has exhausted, or come close to exhausting, its budget, despite being only somewhere near to halfway through its case load. I am not convinced that it is the right body to deal comprehensively with the large-scale and complex issues arising from some of the incidents that have been referred to this afternoon.
My view is that the Saville inquiry was the right thing to have initiated, and I commend those involved in the detailed decisions that were taken before it could take place. However, despite the Government’s positive and commendable response to the inquiry, particularly on 15 June, they have so far given scant detail about how exactly they intend to proceed. It is important that they do so, as I hope the Minister will in his closing remarks. I am sure that many people both here and elsewhere will be listening carefully to his words. The opportunity to cement devolution, and to anchor the lasting peace in Northern Ireland that so many people have worked so hard to promote for so many years, must not be lost.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex). He made an extremely perceptive speech, and, with respect, a modest one given his level of experience. It was extremely informative, and I am grateful to him.
I am surrounded by a clutch of hon. and gallant Members, and we heard an extremely powerful speech from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), a colleague and friend whom I have known for many years. I believe that he and I are the only two Members who have had the privilege of commanding infantry battalions. Before I come on to that, I thank the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell)—I am sorry that he is no longer in his place—for his speech, which put the whole Saville inquiry in context and was extremely important.
I suspect that the business of commanding a battalion is like no other. At one’s hand are 600 or 700 men, who are impressionable and not necessarily easily led, but who are looking to one individual in the battalion not just to lead them but to set the tone for the battalion, and to ensure that things go right, but that when things go wrong they are dealt with.
Curiously, I ended up as the defence reporter for the “Today” programme. In 1999, my editor requested me to try to find Colonel Derek Wilford, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who had not had a chance to speak on the radio about what had happened on that morning in January 1972. I eventually tracked him down and asked him whether he would like to come on the radio and put the perspective of 1 Para across to the British public, and he did so. I do not know how many hon. Members here heard that interview, but his testimony was jaw-droppingly embarrassing. He ended up being sued by the brother of one of the victims, who he suggested, quite clearly, was an active terrorist when he was not. It is interesting that the inquiry said that Colonel Wilford’s failure
“to comply with his orders”
“in train the very thing his Brigadier had prohibited him from doing”
and could not be justified. Colonel Wilford should not have launched an incursion into the Bogside.
It would be very simple to damn the Parachute Regiment—heaven knows it has enough enemies—but it is a fine regiment with a record that is unblemished in so many ways. None the less, that day there was a failure of leadership from one man, who had months before failed to provide leadership in west Belfast.
Worse than that, this involved not the whole battalion, but one support company that took its directions from one misguided individual who believed that he had some God-given right to put straight the situation in Northern Ireland. As a result, the names of the British Army and, to a certain extent, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and all the security forces in Northern Ireland were tarnished by the actions of a small number of maverick soldiers, who got it wrong, behaved badly and who were badly led. When I joined my battalion in 1975 in Ballykelly, my commanding officer repeated an old aphorism. He said, “There are no good regiments and no bad regiments. There are just good officers and bad officers.” How right he was.
I was extremely interested to hear the hon. Member for East Londonderry talk about the historical perspective. So far, he is the only hon. Member to have mentioned the broad spread of the history of violence in the island of Ireland. When I joined my regiment, I was conscious that the old Sherwood Foresters had been fighting in Ireland—or policing in Ireland—for two centuries.
Every time I go to the cemetery in Balderton outside Newark, I am conscious that three soldiers from the Sherwood Foresters, who were killed in Dublin in 1916, are buried there. Anybody who fails to understand the historical perspective of the 30 years of violence that we suffered in the latest set of troubles is, as Derek Wilford said, “horribly naive”. How do we deal with that? If we accept that this is an aberration and that honourable men and women have had their names besmirched on both sides of the argument, how do we deal with it?
Having listened to the comments from the Opposition Benches, particularly from the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I suggest that if we are to proceed, we should do so even-handedly. We have to understand that there is a spirit of amnesty abroad. We cannot take out of retirement men who served 38 years ago and who were involved in this—for heaven’s sake, many of them are dead. We cannot bring these men in front of courts and say to them, “You did wrong. You are now being prosecuted.” We might have been able to do so 12 months or even 24 months after the incident—it might have been the right thing to do then—but we cannot do it now, particularly because in the interim we have had the Good Friday agreement, in which convicted terrorists, who have, in some cases, served their time, have had their sentences quashed or vastly reduced. There would be no justice in that, and it would be wrong in those circumstances for former soldiers now to be prosecuted, whatever the rights and wrongs.
We must not again have the length, cost and expense of first the Widgery inquiry and then the Saville inquiry. Great grief has been caused, particularly by the former inquiry, to the families of the dead and injured, who were besmirched for many years as being sympathetic to or even active in the republican cause. Soldiers’ actions were lied about, and men were able to shield behind deceit because of the length of the inquiry.
The spirit of amnesty has been mentioned. In the past 38 years, the various inquiries have provided an opportunity for violence and confrontation every time they reached a crossing point. For example, in June, I listened with great interest to a Sinn Fein councillor from Londonderry, who told me that everything would be brightness, sunshine and quiet, that closure had been reached and that people could now be forgiven. I said, “You’re wrong. This will beget violence.” The next day, a 200 lb bomb was delivered outside Aughnacloy police station. It did not go off, but anybody who has failed to notice what is going on in Northern Ireland needs to have their eyes opened.
We are again involved in a campaign by Irish dissidents. It should come as no surprise to anybody who can open a history book—one could start from Wolf Tone or wherever one wishes. However, approximately every 25 years, there is another pulse of violence and we are in the middle—or perhaps at the start—of one now.
Inquiries such as those that we are discussing do not help. If we must inquire—if we are to use the Historical Enquiries Team—it must be done quickly, effectively and with the utmost application of justice.
In the past few days, we have been absorbed by the threat of being killed or injured by Islamist fundamentalists. However, I know that, exactly as the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has told us, we stand on the verge of another serious bout of bloodletting in the north, and the mainland will certainly be attacked.
If we are not to descend into another spiral of violence, we must learn the lessons of Bloody Sunday. We must ensure that our security services always operate within the letter of the law. Above and beyond everything else, we must ensure that justice and the rule of law are applied properly, quickly and effectively.
I begin my brief contribution by extending a welcome to some of the family members of those who died on Bloody Sunday, and also to family members of those who died some months earlier in Ballymurphy. Their valiant efforts in the face of a great injustice have set the truth free. The courage and fortitude that they demonstrated to the world over many years as they fought for justice and truth are remarkable.
I commend and thank Lord Saville for his superb job in delivering an excellent report in difficult circumstances. He carried out his work admirably in those difficult circumstances. His conclusions are unambiguous and distinct. Any effort by any Member of this House to detract directly or indirectly from the integrity of Lord Saville’s report does a great disservice to both themselves and the House.
I want to commend the remarks of the two Conservative Members who served in the Army for the honesty and integrity of their comments, which flesh out the discussion and do nothing to distract from Saville.
The most important and crucial aspect for me was the generous and unequivocal nature of the Prime Minister’s bold and courageous statement and apology on the day that the report was published. That was a watershed. It was a tremendous statement, and it offered tremendous comfort to the families of those who were killed or injured and those who had suffered.
The understanding and sensitivity with which the Prime Minister treated this matter are a lesson for those who might wish to close their eyes and ignore the truth. We require truth, honesty and clarity in our relationships if they are to be worth while. Nowhere is that more necessary than in the relationship between the people of Britain and Ireland. Right hon. and hon. Members discussed some of the backdrop and spoke of the recurrent violence, but if we intend to break with the past and move forward to a stable and peaceful future, we must be honest and open in all such relationships, so that we can co-operate for mutual benefit.
We now have a political framework in place, but we did not have one in January 1972. Those of us who have a spirit of reconciliation and are mindful that ambiguity and lack of clarity creates space in which malevolence flourishes, are committed to ensuring that the circumstances of Northern Ireland in January 1972 never recur. Lord Saville’s inquiry is a tremendous antidote to the malevolent and malign influences that are out there. In discussing Saville and supporting the relatives and families of those innocent people who were killed, in no way do I or any of my colleagues give any consolation, support or justification to the Provisional IRA or those who orchestrated violence over many years; nor do we support the various dissidents.
It is important in this House and other places of authority that the truth is recognised and worked at. Comment has been made on the backdrop of the Saville inquiry, but I was drawn by a note that was taken a few days after Bloody Sunday. The Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Widgery held a discussion, of which a minute was taken. The Prime Minister thought it right to draw a number of issues to the Lord Chief Justice’s attention, including that
“It had to be remembered that we were in Northern Ireland fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war.”
For many of us, that propaganda war was taken a bit too far with Widgery—a great deal too far. That did the British Army and the British Government of the time a tremendous injustice. If I could appeal for one thing, it would be this. Let us be honest and open, as hon. Members are today. Let us tell it as it is and as it was. Let us deal with the truth. The state should never allow itself or its agents, whether military or otherwise, to descend to the level of the paramilitary thuggery in Northern Ireland. That thuggery is not a justification for misbehaviour on the part of official organs of the state. They cannot somehow or other justify themselves by saying, “The thugs were out there behaving in a similar way.” It is important that the state behaves within the law that it sets. That has worried me since I read the Widgery report, but let us move on.
The truth is that the 14 men and young boys who were murdered that day were innocent. That they were wrongfully killed is presented in a transparent and lucid way by Lord Saville. It is important that we now begin to heal the wounds that were created on that day. As I suggested, Widgery poured salt on to those wounds, but the families and the rest of us have put that into the past. People will move forward with confidence now that the truth is established.
Some question the cost involved in finding the truth. Those questions are reasonable, particularly in today’s difficult economic climate, and I fully understand that they are asked. It is incumbent on all of us who ask such questions to analyse how the costs were amplified. For me, the decision to relocate the inquiry to London in order to hear some testimony perhaps doubled—it at least significantly increased—the cost. A further multiplier was the continual obstruction, legal and otherwise, by Ministry of Defence lawyers and others acting on behalf of some of the witnesses. I say that with no malice: it was a factor in increasing the cost. The cost should not be laid at the feet of Lord Saville, who did his best in almost impossible circumstances. If some people had been prepared to tell the whole truth, the cost would have been cut probably by two thirds.
It is important to reiterate that Lord Saville’s inquiry was necessitated by the sheer dishonesty of the Widgery tribunal—I cannot emphasise that enough. That deception added insult to the injury that families suffered and further poisoned relationships between the Irish Republic and Britain. It was a lesson in how things should not be done and, in future, we have to ensure that the relationships within these islands work dynamically and co-operatively to our mutual benefit.
The Saville inquiry was ultimately borne out of the events that unfolded in Derry. I have no intention of dissecting those or going into them in any detail. Nor do I want to second-guess Saville. I urge hon. Members to accept the findings. Regrettably, the Parachute Regiment had—in my opinion, although I understand that others may not agree—to some extent been running amok in west Belfast, inflicting gratuitous violence and death on innocent people for some months previously, especially in the early weeks of August 1971 at the time of internment, when 11 people were killed within 48 hours. Their victims included a Catholic priest, who was trying to tend to someone who had been shot and lay dying, and a mother who was out gathering food for her children’s breakfast. There was no justification for many of those deaths and the families are justified in seeking the truth. They are not looking for a big scene: they are looking for clarity. Their brothers, fathers and mothers were described as gunmen, and that accusation has never been withdrawn.
The financial cost is important, but pales into insignificance when compared with the suffering of the families. Michael Kelly was 17 years old when he was killed on Bloody Sunday. The soldier who killed him tried to smear his name, claiming that Michael was in possession of a nail bomb. That lie was utterly refuted by Lord Saville. Michael’s brother, John, captured the essence of the inquiry when he said that
“anyone attacking the inquiry is attacking the families. Michael was walking on a peaceful civil rights march when his life was taken from him…This is a non-political, purely civil rights issue.”
I reiterate my support for the Prime Minister’s comments and the apology that he made back in June. At the time, I said that it was difficult for me, as an ex-soldier, to hear the words that were said and their context. I watched the television that evening and I was shocked—it had quite an impact on me—by the response from the crowds in Londonderry, the huge relief that they felt and the applause that they gave the Prime Minister for his stance. That reinforced my view that the Prime Minister had made the right decision.
As a former soldier, I was one of the 250,000, but rather than being a gallant officer, I was a private. I have never been to Londonderry, but my views and opinions have been formed by the experiences that I went through. The IRA tried to shoot me on the New Lodge road, and tried to blow me up in a 16-round mortar attack in Bessbrook. That fossilised my view of the organisation.
I stood on a cordon in Newry when the bodies of those who were shot in Gibraltar were brought through from the south, and saw the huge response from the town. In the days following that, Milltown cemetery was attacked by a lunatic throwing grenades and shooting members of the congregation who were trying to bury their loved ones. That had a massive impact on me and my colleagues, as well as on the people and communities there. In the days after that, I was about to go on patrol when I saw what I discovered later to be two young corporals being dragged from their car. Later, I saw a video of them being executed on the ground in Springfield road. That was grossly horrific to watch.
We have talked about soldiers and some of the ways of interpreting what they did. I was out on patrol with a group of colleagues when we came across a Catholic fireman who had been shot in the head, chest and arm. We tried to save his life, but we failed. His only sin was to be a Catholic in a taxi in a Protestant area. We saw it as our job to try to save him; it was not a bolt-on. It was part of our role to try to save that person’s life, and I was saddened that we did not.
Two members of my unit committed suicide while they were over there, and one lad lost his leg. My regiment, and those before and after, served with great honour and courage. I have worked with the Parachute Regiment, which is fantastic. It consists of men of great honour and courage, and goes back a long time. I had the privilege, as leader of the council, of offering the 4th Battalion the freedom of the city of Bradford just six months ago. It is a privilege to be in their presence. What was done on that day was wrong and horrific, and badly damaged its name, but I tell the House it is a good regiment with good people.
I am not sure whether what I have just said offers any comfort to the families who lost loved ones, and the people who were injured on that day, but I am trying to explain the context as I see it. I am sure that as many people as served in the Army saw the Saville report, and had the toe-curling experience as a soldier of hearing the Prime Minister’s words.
Since leaving the Army, I have done a lot of photography, and I taught it at university. Because of my experiences, I have examined a lot of war photography, including Capa’s photograph of D-day, the girl burnt by napalm in Vietnam, and the recent horrific photographs from Iraq of the abuse of prisoners. One that had a huge impact on me is that of Father Daly, a priest in the United Kingdom, begging for safe passage for injured people. What a terrible situation to have in our country.
The damage that was done by Bloody Sunday can be seen in an historical context. I was given a piece of paper when I first went over there. It talked about the Romans invading Britain. We had to understand our place, as we went into Northern Ireland, in the context of those few scraps of paper. Bloody Sunday was hugely damaging, and the responsibility on those individuals who failed is great, when we remember the damage that they did to the populace and to the country.
However, some individuals did try to find a different place. I pay tribute to John Hume, Lord Trimble and former President Clinton, as well as to the combatants who chose a different path. I experienced a sense of disbelief when I saw some of the players coming together to shake hands and try to find a solution. I honestly did not believe some of the imagery that I was seeing, because it was so heart-warming; it was a tremendous place to be. I remember watching people arguing the toss about water rates, and thinking how great it was that they were not trying to kill each other.
Having said all that, and having thought how wonderful it was that such a great effort had been made to find peace, I was at a meeting at the Tory party conference recently with Mr McGuinness and I felt absolute revulsion and anger when he walked into the room. So it is great for politicians it, but, that moment involved a huge journey and a massive leap for me. But as he spieled his spiel, and as the media and the Secretary of State challenged him, I realised that that was the place where we needed to be. That is why those Members should be in this Chamber, where they can be held to account. That is the politics of the future.
In a couple of weeks’ time, we shall be celebrating and commemorating the lives of the individuals who have died. Another event that occurred when I was over there was the bomb at Enniskillen. I do not know how Gordon Wilson found the strength to say that he would not hold a grudge, and that he did not want to use “dirty” words at a time like that. That was tremendous. In answer to my own question about whether we should drag people back into inquiries, I believe that we need to grasp the moment now. The ground has been set for political debates about water rates, and this is not the moment to go back over all the issues of the 3,000-plus, including the 1,000-plus soldiers, who were killed, and of the brutal events that took place. We need to argue about water rates. We need to hold the Government to account about the comprehensive spending review. Those are the things that need to be sorted now. Northern Ireland needs to be a normal place, and that is the future that I want to see.
I wish to make a contribution to the debate. Much was said at the Bloody Sunday inquiry about how British paratroopers fought to control the streets of the “maiden city” of Londonderry. The inquiry lasted 12 years and cost almost £195 million, and I would like to focus on that, as well as on some of those who have not been mentioned in the Chamber today.
People ask whether the inquiry was cost effective, whether it lasted too long, whether its conclusion was honest and whether it delivered all the answers. The question that many people ask me is whether it will be the last of the nationalists’ demands for an inquiry. We suspect not. Was the Bloody Sunday inquiry value for money? Did it help Northern Ireland to move away from the past and to move forward? Should £195 million have been spent to prove what some people feel was turned into a political point?
I want to focus on the money for a moment. Some of those involved in the inquiry have consistently said that they could have earned more elsewhere. Indeed, one of the inquiry’s leading defence barristers said of the criticism made against him that his earning of £4.8 million was unjust, as he could have earned up to three times that amount by doing work elsewhere. Many of us feel that that is untrue; we do not believe it.
Speaking as a Unionist, I am sick, sore and tired of being told that we must forget the past by those who refuse to forget it and of being told that we must move forward. I am all for moving forward—and fully, totally and absolutely support the political process in Northern Ireland. I am 100% behind that; I believe it is the correct way to go. It is good that those who were once involved in activities that are abhorrent to me and the Unionist people I represent have accepted that democracy and a democratic system are the way forward. That is what I want to see. I fully support that.
I want to be able to focus on the economy and jobs and on opportunities for my children, my grandchildren and everyone else’s. The hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) is right that we should be focusing and it is good that we are able to. Some people, however, still want to hold on to the past and still want to bring up inquiries, talk about things of the past and spend even more money on stirring up and creating division.
Lord Saville spent some five years writing up his 5,000-word submission and report. At the same time, the information technology for the inquiry cost some £34 million. I would ask whether all these costs were absolutely necessary. Was it necessary for it to go on for such a long period? I understand that Lord Saville spent £175 each night on his hotel. For the record, I point out that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority allows us only £135 a night. I make that point as a small comparison, but it is worth making. The rent of the Guildhall in Londonderry was £500,000 a month. Where was all this money going? Was it absolutely necessary? Flights totalled up millions. Some aircraft companies made a small fortune out of people flying to and fro between Northern Ireland and the mainland.
What the inquiry did not do was deliver an apology to the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, particularly the Unionist people I represent, who daily faced death. It also failed to apologise to those who wore the Royal Ulster Constabulary uniform or the British Army uniform. I want to say clearly, honestly and frankly here today that the British Army needs to know that the politicians will support it wholeheartedly, both in word and deed. I do and I will, and many other Members will do the same.
Some Members have spoken about other incidents in Northern Ireland and it is worth focusing on some of them. Has there been any talk about having an inquiry into those who were burned alive La Mon? They were attending a dinner, but were brutally murdered. Has there been any talk about inquiring into a person—my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) referred to him—who has apparently walked away from his past and joined the democratic process? According to the inquiry, this person said he was carrying a machine gun on the day of the incident. One thing I can tell anyone for sure—he certainly was not using it to shoot rabbits. Has there been an inquiry into the Remembrance day atrocity at Enniskillen, which the hon. Member for Keighley mentioned? No, there has not been. Has there been justice for those people? No there has not.
Have we seen justice for the people involved in the Darkley Hall massacre? For those who may not know what took place there, men, women and children were attending a church service. They were worshipping God, yet some were killed and some were injured. Has there been justice for them? I do not believe so. What about the 10 workmen murdered on their way back home after work at Kingsmill near Bessbrook in South Armagh? Can we have justice for them? I think we should. What of the four Ulster Defence Regiment men murdered outside Ballydugan, Downpatrick, three of whom I grew up with and one of whom I knew exceptionally well? Is there justice for them? Is there justice for my cousin, Kenneth Smyth, a former B-special man and UDR sergeant, and his Roman Catholic friend who were murdered by the IRA? I do not see it.
I commend the good work done by the Historical Enquiries Team and I commend how it is trying to help people come to terms with their past. It is good that that is being done.
I hope you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I become agitated and perhaps a wee bit annoyed when I hear republicans ask for an inquiry into what happened at Ballymurphy when £195 million has just been spent on another inquiry. Is it necessary? Will it help us to move forward? Will it create a better future in Northern Ireland? Will it help communities to gel, to work together, and to focus on the things that matter—the things that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Keighley? I do not think that it will. Do we want another inquiry into Ballymurphy?
The families in Ballymurphy have asked for a withdrawal of the slur on their loved ones. By referring to some political activists who are exploiting them, the hon. Gentleman is distorting the facts. The families are just looking for the truth: the simple truth. If there is another way of getting the truth, let us have it.
I am all for getting the truth—I am the first person to put my hand up for that—but I want truth for other people as well. I want truth for the people at Darkley Hall, the people at La Mon, the people who were at Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday, and the people who were murdered at Ballydugan. I want the truth for all those people. If we are to have truth, we must have it for everyone, not just for selected people. The fact that this process seems to be trying to obtain the truth for selected people is what annoys me.
Let us be honest: that £195 million could have been spent on things that we should all like to see. It could have built schools, hospitals and bypasses. It could have paid for hundreds of operations, and enabled the elderly to be looked after. It could have provided services from which everyone could have benefited. The legacy that we have is a legacy of tears. I cry in my heart, and other Members cry in their hearts, every day. We shall have that legacy with us all our lives: it will never leave us. When it comes to tears, when it comes to hurt, when it comes to pain, we have that as well.
I want to see the people whom I represent being looked after, and receiving an adequate response from the Government. I do not want to see barristers living off the fat of the land and receiving large wages as a result of inquiries. I never want to see another inquiry that drags up the past and, by its very nature, does not help us to move forward. I want to see a future for my children and grandchildren, and I want to see fairness for everyone in Northern Ireland. I want to see that happen for the Unionist people whom I represent, and it is my duty to say that in the Chamber today.
I welcome the opportunity to speak, although I recognise that I do not possess as intimate a knowledge and involvement in Northern Irish politics, or the troubles, as some other speakers—including my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who spoke particularly movingly about his experience in Northern Ireland—and I therefore speak with some humility.
Any armed conflict that continues over many years and arrives at the point at which it has arrived in Northern Ireland—where it can be said that we are at least in the arena of peace—is likely to involve many significant and often critical events along the way. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) rightly reminded us of the turmoil, both political and in terms of the violence in Northern Ireland, that was occurring at the time of the beginning of the troubles and the establishment of the civil rights movement. We saw internment in 1971 and the creation of the Provisional IRA in 1970; in political terms, we saw the rise and false dawn of Sunningdale and its collapse early in 1974.
However, it seems to me that, for better or worse, there is no getting away from the fact that Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972, sits as a fatal day, a fatal moment in Northern Irish history. It was a recruiting sergeant for the provisional IRA, and, as was stressed by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), that in itself led to the inexorable rise of violence. I also believe that the publication of the Saville report on 15 June this year marked another of those critical moments in the journey towards peace, not just because the report pursued the truth for the individuals who lost their lives that day and their families, but because, as many Members have said, righting the wrongs of Widgery was such an important part of the mix. In my view, it has helped to restore confidence in British justice, not just here and on the island of Ireland but further afield. It is also a critical moment in the journey to peace because of the reconciliation it has brought between the various communities in the north of Ireland.
The hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) spoke of the response to the Prime Minister’s statement from the Guildhall square in Londonderry. Who would ever have imagined that a British Prime Minister would have been applauded and cheered there at that time? The Prime Minister said that the actions of the soldiers on that day were unjustified and unjustifiable, and the Taoiseach described his words as brave and honest. These are all important moments that we need to take into account when considering Saville.
The hon. Member for South Down said that we should consider the report with humility. That is a good word. In the debate on Saville in the other place, Lord Eames used the phrase “very sombre”, explaining:
“I use the word sombre because I can think of no other appropriate word which would remove triumphalism, or any other equivalent word, from that occasion.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 October 2010; Vol. 721, c. 524.]
It is important that we go forward from Saville bearing in mind that no triumphalism should be associated with any aspect of either what happened on Bloody Sunday or as a consequence of the Saville report.
The report’s conclusions were, in part, extremely damning. I do not intend to rehearse them now as many speakers have talked about the actions of the soldiers on the day, but some more sympathetic comments were also made which I think should be given an airing in this Chamber. Lord Saville said the acts on that day were the acts of some, not of all, and he commended the restraint shown by many soldiers. He also pointed out the difficulty in separating the rioters from the ordinary marchers and, as we have heard from the Secretary of State, he rejected the idea that there was some kind of intentional plot to set out to kill people that day. He noted, too, that there was paramilitary activity that day. Martin McGuinness was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, and it is probable that he fired his weapon.
I have read the Saville report—not every word, but a substantial portion of it—and the following extract is one of the most poignant and important passages:
“It is a well-known phenomenon that, particularly when under stress or when events are moving fast, people often erroneously come to believe that they are or might be hearing or seeing what they were expecting to hear or see.”
I am very thankful that I have never been a young man of 19 with my finger on the trigger of a gun and having to take a split-second decision as to whether a failure to fire might cost me my life.
It is important that we recognise, as some speakers have, the sacrifice and service of our security forces, intelligence services and the Royal Ulster Constabulary—and the Police Service of Northern Ireland today—for all they have done to try to bring peace and a better quality of life to Northern Ireland. More than 600 service personnel have died and more than 6,000 have been wounded since the troubles began. We owe them a very great deal.
I wish to talk briefly about the costs, an important topic about which we have, perhaps, not heard enough this afternoon. The figures speak for themselves: Saville has cost £191 million and taken 12 years even though we were initially told it might last for only two years. One reason for that is that the scope of the inquiry was very broad—a decision taken by Lord Saville himself, I believe. Also, all the details were drilled down into—every single soldier who fired every shot, and all the other evidence surrounding the incident—instead of a more general view being taken which might have come to just the same conclusions and made the whole process quicker.
One of the criticisms rightly levelled at the Widgery inquiry and report was that the scope had been too narrow. Does my hon. Friend agree that Lord Saville was right to go into all of the circumstances surrounding the events of that dreadful Sunday?
My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point, and I am certainly not here to defend the Widgery inquiry, which sat for just three weeks directly after Bloody Sunday and came out with what most of us now accept was a complete whitewash. However, there is a balance to be struck and on the point that my hon. and learned Friend raises, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, writing in The Guardian on 17 June, said:
“The overriding factor in the expansiveness of the oral hearings was a misjudgment about the nature and scope of public inquiries. The purpose of an inquiry is not primarily to apportion blame on any individual participant in the event under inquiry. Specifically, the tribunal positively may not determine civil or criminal liability; that is for the courts.
The aim is to find out what happened and how it happened, and to learn lessons.”
So one aspect that we need to examine closely is the scope that Saville chose.
We also need to take into account the fact that this happened 38 years ago; the interested-party status that was afforded to a number of people and the legal bills that went with that as a consequence of the wide scope; the various appeals from the Ministry of Defence; the fact that the case was not heard entirely in Londonderry—for a period of 13 months it was heard in London, which alone apparently had a price tag of £10 million—and the use of technology, with the virtual reality reconstruction of Londonderry as it was on that day. All that, bit by bit, incremented the cost to the level that we have heard.
I believe that there was an overarching dynamic at work on the costs, and we have heard about it from the Secretary of State and others. Given the history of Widgery, for the Saville inquiry to be seen as effective, valid and uncompromised it had to be left alone to do its work. The problem is that when that situation is arrived at, and with a judge who is not a business man, the control of the costs is let go. I shall quote one example in this regard. It is very important because, wherever the control of costs might be expected to have lain, the reality is that because of the sensitivities of the peace process and the historical context of Widgery, they inevitably could have lain only with Lord Saville and the tribunal.
I shall quote part of the question that I asked Lord Saville during the Select Committee hearing. I asked:
“would you not accept that, if you have a process––an inquiry––that lasts 12 years and costs over £190 million, it is inevitable that there would have been efficiencies that could be applied––maybe only discovered with hindsight––that could have delivered the same quality of result but at less money and less time? And if you do accept that, what, with hindsight, would those changes have been that would have delivered it quicker and at less expense?
“I am not sure I can accept your premise”—
that being the idea that something could have been saved. He continued:
“I strongly suspect that you could have gone and got 10 quid a night off the hotel accommodation costs or something like that, or you might have been able to, but if you are talking about really substantial sums, I am not aware of anything, looking back, where we could…have done better.”
That illustrates the point more powerfully than any other I could make that we had a judge in charge who was not a business man—of course we should never have expected him to have been that. He was a good judge, and he has produced a very thorough and detailed report, but he and his tribunal would never be expected to control costs.
I wish to talk briefly about future inquiries. As the Prime Minister has suggested, we have to draw a line under future inquiries of this nature. If we do not, we will get into the business of some kind of hierarchy of victimhood, involving those who should be given this kind of opportunity and those who should not. We must not go down that road. It is time for Northern Ireland to move on. It is time for Northern Ireland to start focusing on the big issues, such as the economy, rather than the past.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As the MP for Foyle, for the city of Derry, I welcome the fact that we are having this debate on the Saville report, as was promised. I appreciate the many contributions that we have heard. I do not agree with some of what has been said, but it is important that this House, having established the inquiry, should take the proper time to debate and reflect on the report.
It is important, even on this day, to remember that we are talking about an event that took the lives of 13 people on the day and one more later. We should remember them by name: Gerald Donaghey, 17; John Young, 17; Michael Kelly, 17; Kevin McElhinney, 17; Jack Duddy, 17; Hugh Gilmour, 17; William Nash, 19; Michael McDaid, 20; James Wray, 22; William McKinney, 26; Gerard McKinney, 35; Patrick Doherty, 32; Bernard McGuigan, 41; and John Johnston, 55, who died later.
We should also remember that people were injured that day—again, innocent people. They were Damien Donaghey, Michael Bridge, Alana Burke, Michael Quinn, Patrick O’Donnell, Patrick McDaid, Alexander Nash, Margaret Deery, Michael Bradley, Patrick Campbell, Joseph Mahon, Joseph Friel, Daniel Gillespie and Daniel McGowan.
When we talk about these events, it is important that we do not talk just about an inquiry and a process of reports. It is important that we remember other victims, as hon. Members have reminded us. It should be recalled that on 15 June the Bloody Sunday families, as well as celebrating the verdict in the Saville report of the innocence of their loved ones, and as well as celebrating the articulate and compelling apology that was given by the Prime Minister in the House, took time to remember all the victims of the troubles. They did not think just of themselves. They did not think that they were the only ones who had been denied justice and truth, or that they were the only ones who had suffered in the bitter troubles that we have gone through. That needs to be remembered, in case some of us in the political arena turn this, unfairly and falsely, into an occasion for “what-aboutery”.
Many people have offered assessments of the Saville inquiry. I commend to Members an assessment of the Saville report—that is what it is called—produced last week by the International League for Human Rights. In particular, I commend the work of two respected human rights lawyers, Bob Muse and Jack Bray. Interestingly, back in 1972 the league did an assessment of the Widgery report as well. The assessments examined both in their time, and examined the evidence that was available then and now. They are not very long reports but they make compelling reading.
It is important for the House to remember that there are many other questions arising from the Saville report, so I join my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) in asking the Minister, when he replies, to tell us what has become of the report that was to be prepared by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Defence and given to the Prime Minister. Has that report been prepared? Are there other reports and will they be shared with the House and the wider public?
It is not enough for the present Government to say, “A lot of the questions that arise from Saville are not questions for us.” People might say that the question of prosecutions will fall to the prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland—to the police and the Public Prosecution Service. There is also the issue of whether there are to be prosecutions here in relation to any perjury that may have been committed when the inquiry took evidence here in London.
The question of the inquests is now a devolved matter. Many years ago the inquests that took place could deliver only an open verdict. That was all they could do. Now, in the light of what has become available by means of the Saville report, the families are clear that they want to see that issue addressed. I know that that will have to be followed through other channels, not just here in the House.
I have listened carefully to what other Members said, and I noted that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) made the point that one of the problems with an inquiry into events so long ago was the difficulty of memories failing. I do not know whether, when he said that, he had in mind the case of General Sir Mike Jackson, who gave evidence twice at the inquiry. The first time he was in the witness box, in April 2003, he failed to mention that within hours of the shooting he was the person who wrote the account that became the received state version—effectively, the official version—of what happened. When he was back in October 2003, he agreed that he had provided such an account. He also said that he had written out the accounts of the shooting by the commander of 1 Para, Derek Wilford, of the commanders of each of the three companies deployed and of the battalion intelligence officer. He said that he wrote their accounts—that that was what he prepared—but in evidence, none of those officers remembered any such thing happening. The question arises whether he came up with the whole narrative himself. Was he the webmaster at the heart of a syndicated deceit that became the propaganda version—to use the words of the Prime Minister in his conversation with Lord Widgery—that went out through British embassies and the British media on the night of Bloody Sunday and in the days after, and again in the Widgery tribunal?
What happened with Widgery and with that relentless misrepresentation of the events of Bloody Sunday, which involved not just the Army and the soldiers who were there on the day but all sorts of agents of the British Government and the British state, was that lies were erected on stilts and they strutted the world to crush the innocent name of the victims of Bloody Sunday, who died marching for justice in their own streets and offering no violence.
When lies are erected on stilts in that way, dismantling them unfortunately means that a judicial inquiry, a proper, thorough judicial inquiry, was needed. Given all the circumstances, that was going to take time and money. I wish it did not take as much money and that it did not take as long, and I know that many of the families do, too, so let us get some of these things into perspective.
Questions also arise for the Government regarding the Saville report. If they are taking full responsibility—we have heard that phrase used—what are the consequences of that responsibility? Is it just a case of the articulate apology in this Chamber that was so well received in the Guildhall square in Derry? Was that enough? Does that mean that it is over? Are there other questions to be asked?
What of the position of the Parachute Regiment? They were not just involved in Bloody Sunday; as other hon. Members have mentioned, there was Ballymurphy and Springhill. Let us remember that in September 1972 there was Shankill, where the paratroopers again killed two innocent Protestant men. In a poignant irony, one was called McKinnie and one was called Johnston—names that appear in the list of the innocent dead in Derry as well.
Is anybody going to look at what was going on with the Parachute Regiment and its use and deployment? Many of us, when we look at the Saville report, welcome the clear findings on the events of that day and the detailed findings on each and every one of the shootings that took place. We feel that Saville left other questions perhaps not fully accounted for. Should people have known what was going to happen as a consequence of the deployment of the paratroopers that day? If John Hume—and, as evidence now shows, officers of the British Army at the time—had serious worries about the paratroopers, given what had happened in Magilligan, should nobody in charge in government and no commanding officers have had any worries or anxieties about their deployment?
It is quite clear that the RUC senior officer in Derry at the time had serious qualms not just about the Paras being brought in but about the tactics and approach that were being used. His concerns were brushed aside. In the debate in the other place, one noble Lord suggested that part of the problem that day was that unfortunately the RUC local commander was not available as he had the day off. The concerns and position of the RUC commander, Frank Lagan, whom I knew personally, were dismissed on that day.
Wider questions should be asked about the thinking of the Government and others in command that day. People find it hard to believe that this aberration, as some hon. Members have called it, just boiled down to a lack of fire discipline on the day by some squaddies and to the madness and irresponsibility of one officer, namely Colonel Wilford. Let us remember that in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday—little more than a year later—Colonel Wilford received an OBE in the Queen’s honours list. I understand that there is an Honours Forfeiture Committee; is it considering the honour that was given to him? It came as a huge insult to people not just in Derry but throughout Ireland because they saw it as his reward for what had happened on Bloody Sunday—for the injustice and murder of that day and for the lies that were concocted and propagated thereafter. What is being done in that regard?
In the years after Bloody Sunday, the families of those victims, like so many of the grieving families of the troubles, received pretty insulting ex gratia payments. They were told in December 1974 that they would receive those very small amounts of money and negligible compensation was awarded in the name of so many of the young dead who were unemployed or who had no dependants. Those families had to suffer not only the level and terms of those payments, most of which they did not take themselves but passed on to charities or gave away because that is how they felt about them, but being caricatured, besmirched and traduced by a cartoon in a British newspaper—The Sun, I think. Because the news came on 18 December 1974, The Sun did a cartoon showing Santa with £250 notes coming out of his sack.
Let us remember what the Bloody Sunday families have been through. In trying to correct the injustice of that day, they have faced insults, injustice and indifference and they have put up with prevarication and provocation. Let us be clear that they have achieved something not only for themselves but for those who search and thirst for justice in other parts of the world where people face the violations of unaccountable power.
May I correct the suggestion by some hon. Members that Lord Saville’s report deals only with the events of Bloody Sunday? It deals also with the context in which Bloody Sunday happened: there are nearly 1,000 pages dealing with events before and leading up to that day. It deals with other deaths, including the murder of the two policemen in the days before. I was at the funeral mass of one of those policemen on the day before Bloody Sunday. That morning, I heard Father Anthony Mulvey condemn the murder by the Provisional IRA; he condemned the IRA, its efforts and its effects not just for what it did to those policemen but for the threat it represented to everyone else. I then heard Father Mulvey again, on the Sunday night, condemn the murder by the paratroopers. He was right about the Provos and he was right about the Paras. Some of us have always held to that line and we welcome the fact that the Saville report has at least released many people from the burden of the wrong verdict on Bloody Sunday—but unfortunately not all.
Mr Deputy Speaker, may I thank you very much indeed for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate? I am not going to pretend for one moment that I am a great expert on Northern Ireland, but I am beginning to get better at it as I continue on the Northern Ireland Committee.
Before I go any further, however, may I pay tribute in my role as vice-chairman of the all-party group on the armed forces, with special responsibility for the Royal Marines, and as the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, to those Royal Marines and royal naval sailors who also ended up losing their lives during the troubles in Northern Ireland? They left behind families and wives who also needed, no doubt, to grieve, and it is important that we pay tribute to the service personnel who lost their lives during those times.
I shall try to keep my contribution brief. I had a great-grandfather who told me that he did not mind his congregation looking at their watches, it was when they started shaking them that he became quite concerned, so I shall try to ensure that nobody—I hope—shakes their watch during my speech.
I am pretty sure that Tony Blair did exactly the right thing in setting up the inquiry, and that Lord Saville has made an incredibly good job—a very thorough job—of the whole process. Most certainly, the people of Northern Ireland now have to try to move on, and I suspect that that means ensuring that they have a grieving process that they can work their way through, so that they can come out the other side. I hope very much that what happened during the inquiry has helped somewhat towards that. I suspect that the reason why it took a large amount of time and effort to ensure that the Saville inquiry was so thorough, and why it answered many of the questions that many people had, was that the previous inquiry, the Widgery inquiry, was such a botched job.
I shall concentrate on the process, because, although I do not know Northern Ireland particularly well, in my short time on the Northern Ireland Committee I have become quite concerned about how the process was gone through. The inquiry cost £190 million, a shed-load of money, and if we were not in difficult times and suffering as far as the public finances are concerned, that might not have been taken into consideration, but in places such as Plymouth, people will most certainly be very concerned about it. Others have spoken about that issue, however.
I am also concerned about the fact that when Lord Saville talked to the Committee during its investigation of his inquiry, he seemed to disregard the idea of having any budgetary control. He said that he needed to ensure that he did the job thoroughly and well, which he most certainly did, but he did not seem to grasp the issue of the public finances. I do not blame him, because that was not necessarily his job, but somewhere in the process a problem occurred, and we have to take cognisance of it and take action to ensure that something similar does not happen should we decide to undertake another public inquiry, whether it be on Northern Ireland, a train crash or a terrorist attack. We need to ensure that we learn from the process in a big way.
I was obviously not a Member when the inquiry was set up, so I come to the issue with a certain amount of hindsight, which is lucky for me, but the lesson that we have to learn is that the process has to be handled much better. I should like to ask a number of questions, and the Northern Ireland Committee might need to ask some more people to come along and have a conversation. Indeed, I may suggest to the Committee’s Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), that we invite the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), to explain the process that he ended up going through and how that process occurred.
Was it right, for instance, for the Northern Ireland Office to be responsible for the process? Should it not have been the Lord Chancellor’s department or the Department that was then responsible for justice? Perhaps they should have had a role. After all, they have to deal with judges and lawyers on a regular basis and find out whether they can do a financial deal. I am sure that many of the legal firms that were engaged in the process have done and will do a lot of work for the Government, so perhaps we need to make sure that they did not charge the full hourly rate.
We must then ensure that there is some form of budget and that the Public Accounts Committee has a regular report made to it about how everything is going so that there is much more of a spotlight on it. We had a conversation with someone from the Northern Ireland Office who said that they had invited Lord Saville to talk to them about the budgetary constraints and so on, and he was rather dismissive and said no, he was not going to do that because it could have impugned his independence. I was slightly concerned about that. We are talking about public money—money which, as taxpayers, we end up paying our taxes for. It is very important that there is greater accountability and transparency in this regard.
Furthermore, is it right and proper that a judge, who is part of the legal profession, should be responsible for recruiting these people and deciding who should be handling some of the legal issues? There has to be more transparency in that regard as well.
This has been a very useful debate, and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to take part in it. I am sure that there is more yet to be teased out in this whole process. I look forward to talking to those at the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that they have understood some of the lessons on having a greater ability to control how expenditure takes place and controlling the process so that it does not go on for 12 years and we do not spend some £190 million on it.
This has been a good debate. We are dealing primarily with the Saville inquiry, which of course leads us on to Bloody Sunday. However, may I again remind hon. Members that in Northern Ireland, for a period heading on for 40 years, there has been Bloody Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday? With the greatest respect to right hon. and hon. Members of this House, apart from those who have served in the forces and those of us who live in Northern Ireland, they have absolutely no idea what it was like to live through the very worst of the troubles and the hell on earth that the population in Northern Ireland had to live through. It was horrific—absolutely horrific.
We know that a lot of families lost loved ones. In my own family, I lost four who were butchered by the provos. The only crime they had committed was that they had the guts to put on the uniform of the Crown forces. Because they did that, the provos took them out. They did not murder them—they butchered them. For some families in Northern Ireland, the Saville report provided a form of conclusion that they sought. For many more families, it served only to perpetuate the ongoing denial of the truth about the deaths of loved ones. Many hundreds of families in Northern Ireland do not know, and are not allowed to know, the truth about the deaths of their loved ones. I shall move on to that later.
As the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said, the report itself points out:
“The situation in Londonderry in January 1972 was serious. By this stage the nationalist community had largely turned against the soldiers...Parts of the city to the west of the Foyle lay in ruins, as the result of the activities of the IRA and of rioting young men (some members of the IRA or its junior wing)...A large part of the nationalist area of the city was a ‘no go’ area, which was dominated by the IRA, where ordinary policing could not be conducted and where even the Army ventured only by using large numbers of soldiers.”
That in itself is very revealing.
According to the Saville report, the nationalist community—that must mean the majority of the community in Londonderry—had turned against the Army, and that hostility had been translated into violence, wreckage and devastation. The IRA was active, and indeed it dominated a large part of the city. The report further points out that
“the armed violence had led to many casualties. There had been numerous clashes between the security forces and the IRA in which firearms had been used on both sides and in which the IRA had thrown nail and petrol bombs. Over the months and years before Bloody Sunday civilians, soldiers, policemen and IRA gunmen and bombers had been killed and wounded; and at least in Londonderry, in January 1972 the violence showed few signs of abating.”
It also confirms that Martin McGuinness was pivotal in that orgy of economic and community destruction.
That provides some of the context around the events of that day. Now we have had the report, which has been welcomed by the families and by many politicians and political commentators. It has led to the Prime Minister’s apology, but it has also had other outcomes. It has raised important questions regarding the role and behaviour of Martin McGuinness, who was a committed terrorist at that time. When he gave evidence to the tribunal, he refused to be open and full in his comments and preferred to fall back on his oath of allegiance to the Provisional IRA. We now need to know the truth about Martin McGuinness, not solely in relation to Bloody Sunday but in relation to Frank Hegarty, Patsy Gillespie, Father James Chesney and a host of other atrocities. We also need to know about Martin McGuinness’s party colleague and fellow IRA commander, Gerry Adams.
The Saville report has also now created a fresh campaign and demand regarding events in Ballymurphy. It is clear that there is now to be an attempt to repeat the entire inquiry cycle all over again. Yet at the very time when that is going on, many people in Northern Ireland continue to live with their sorrow and loss, and with the bitter legacy of the long years of the troubles.
We have had an apology from the Prime Minister for the failings of that day in 1972, and if my recollection serves me right, there has also been an apology from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to Claudy. Yet all across this United Kingdom, whether it be in Aldershot, Birmingham, London, Warrington or all over Northern Ireland, many people—UK citizens— have been abandoned for decades by successive UK Governments. The direct role played by the Irish Republic in the formation, training, financing and arming of the Provisional IRA is a matter of public record. It is a thorny issue, but it is fact. Yet successive UK governments have said nothing and done less than nothing.
Those who campaigned for the Saville Inquiry did so partly on the grounds that the involvement of the state set it apart from all other events and atrocities. However, here is a case in which the direct involvement of a neighbouring state led directly to the deaths of UK citizens, and the UK Government have simply sat on their hands.
Let me again make an appeal to the Government. If Bloody Sunday was different because of the involvement of the state, then so too were the deaths of many UK citizens because of the involvement of the Irish Republic. Without any cost to the UK Treasury, the new coalition Government could press for an inquiry in the Irish Republic. Yet both the Secretary of State and the Minister have yet to make that call. I have to ask why. Why is it that they will not demand the truth? If Bloody Sunday families deserve the truth, then so, too, do all of those other victims in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.
If the Taoiseach was to come to the Dispatch Box in the Dail and apologise for the role that the Irish Republic played for all those years, it would start the healing process in Northern Ireland.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in the Chamber on such a significant and important matter. I have been moved by many of the speeches today. Hon. Members spoke about their personal experiences and their efforts in trying to bring about an end to the troubles. I was particularly moved by the contribution of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who spoke about the issues that have affected so many people in Derry.
No Member of this House could doubt the thoroughness and the lengths to which Lord Saville has gone to produce such a substantive inquiry into the incidents that happened on 30 January 1972. We have all been overwhelmed by the depth of the inquiry. However, we should not forget to put the incidents into the much wider context of the troubles that were happening beforehand and those that continued for an awful long time after.
I hope that the Saville inquiry will provide answers to many of the victims of that dreadful day, and by so doing, bring peace and closure for them. I am pleased that the inquiry has laid to rest some of the more outlandish and ridiculous accusations of British Government involvement.
We must not forget the price that has been paid by so many. The Prime Minister quite rightly accepted the role that the British armed forces played in the events that happened on 30 January. He took responsibility and acknowledged the Army’s failings, and gave a full and true apology. I am proud and glad that our Prime Minister did that. I have always believed that where wrong is done, the person responsible should own up to it. I wish that many more people who have been involved in the conflict would also do the same.
We must not forget that more than 1,000 British service personnel and RUC officers laid down their lives to try to bring peace to Northern Ireland. We are—I am—ashamed of the incidents on 30 January 1972, but we cannot forget the sacrifice of so many. I urge all hon. Members, whatever their personal views, not to forget that sacrifice.
Let me consider cost. Perhaps it sounds a little cheap to talk about money when we have been considering people’s lives, but we cannot ignore the fact that almost £200 million has been spent on the inquiry and that it dragged on for so long. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) said, the chairman, at the start of the inquiry, expected it to cost £11 million and to last for two years. That was either woefully optimistic or incredibly misleading.
Lord Saville did everything he could to get at the truth and to ensure that he prepared a thorough and proper report, but he was in charge of the inquiry and he must therefore accept responsibility for its management and for the fact that, under his guidance, it went from £11 million and two years to not 10 times but almost 20 times that amount. As a member of the Northern Ireland Committee, I was struck by almost a disconnect when we interviewed Lord Saville: he had to manage the inquiry, yet he seemed to feel no responsibility for protecting the public purse as well as getting at the truth. I think that he would almost have gone so far as to say that the two were incompatible. I do not believe that that is the case. I have the perhaps slightly old-fashioned view that any public servant has a responsibility for public money. Lord Saville unfortunately disregarded that somewhat as he went through the many years before reaching the inquiry’s conclusion.
Much of the debate since the publication of the Bloody Sunday inquiry has focused on the cost and the length of time. However, we must not forget that it hopefully answered many questions for the many victims who suffered—unfortunately, 14 people died—as a result of Bloody Sunday. We must not lose sight of the fact that so many people paid such a horrendous price for peace. It is not just the responsibility of the Government to apologise for what has been done in the past, but that of all those who have done wrong and committed injustices.
An Irish friend once said to me, “The problem in Northern Ireland is that the Irish never forget and the British never remember.” I do not know whether that is true, but it is incredibly important to look forward, not constantly backwards.
Forty-eight hours after Bloody Sunday, I was on the ground in Derry with a team of lawyers from the then National Council for Civil Liberties, of which I became chairman. I have never been in a city so silent, traumatised by the death of its fathers, brothers and sons. The following Sunday, with 200,000 others, I marched in Newry. The march was characterised by total silence. Yet four years earlier in Northern Ireland, there were high hopes that a broad-based civil rights movement would end the second-class status of Catholics, and there were high hopes of tackling the problems of high unemployment and deprivation across the sectarian divide. If there was high unemployment on the Falls road and in Strabane, Newry and Derry, so too was there high unemployment on the Shankill road, and in north and east Belfast. I remember the optimism of that time, but it tragically gave way. It was broken at Burntollet and shattered by the burning of 400 homes in the summer of 1969, which also saw the emergence of the Provisional IRA. A fire that was fuelled by the mistakes of successive British Governments put the British Army in an impossible situation.
I want to make this absolutely clear: I was, often including in the most difficult circumstances, an implacable opponent of the Provisional IRA. The Provisional IRA murdered hon. Members of this House, such as the admirable Airey Neave, a war hero who escaped from Colditz and who died a terrible death but yards from the Chamber, and Ian Gow. It also murdered workers from my union. The victims at Kingsmill, to whom others have referred, were members of the Transport and General Workers Union. Let me tell the House what happened. Their bus was stopped when they were going home after a late shift. They were ordered out. Hooded gunmen asked, “Is there a Catholic among you?” and the Protestant workers gathered around the Catholic to protect him—they would not surrender him. In the end, he stepped forward and was told to go down the road, and the provo gunmen mowed down those innocent Protestant workers.
I am a profound opponent of violence by the Provisional IRA. Let us not confuse that with the Saville inquiry. What happened on Bloody Sunday was a uniquely awful crime in the history of the troubles of Northern Ireland. The murder was made worse by a cover-up—a shameful whitewash—that caused bitterness for a generation. Only now, as a consequence of the Saville report, can Northern Ireland finally move on.
Profound lessons need to be learned, first by the Government. Our first duty is the security of our country, and there can be no truck with terrorism—there is no excuse for the bomb or the bullet. I think of the global situation. There was an intelligent exchange today between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who said the solution to the problem of Yemen being used as a base for terrorism was in part economic development. There are also lessons to be learned from our own country. We must always seek properly to strike the balance between security and liberty.
The second lesson is for the Army. We have today heard outstanding, moving testaments of all that is best in the British armed forces from the hon. Members for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). I know that from my own experience, because for 15 years, I was chairman of the defence trade unions. Three times a year, I would address seminars of senior representatives of the armed forces at Greenwich defence college. I was deeply impressed by the sophistication of the modern armed forces and their leadership, and by those who said time and again that they had learned terrible lessons from what happened in Northern Ireland, particularly from Bloody Sunday. It is to the great credit of the Army that it has done that. Rightly, it now deserves its worldwide reputation as the finest peacekeeping force on the globe, which it earned from Kosovo to Sierra Leone.
The third lesson that we can draw is that the cover-up makes the crime worse. Widgery caused enduring bitterness in Northern Ireland. I have to pay tribute to the Prime Minister. His statement in the summer was brave and right. He did not equivocate for a moment, which led to the deeply moving sight of the families in Derry saying that their sons, brothers and fathers were innocent. What happened that day was this House at its best, and it was a landmark contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
If painful lessons have been learned, it is also right that today we should celebrate remarkable achievements, including the triumph of the peace process and the historic accommodation of the two great traditions of Unionism and nationalism in Northern Ireland. I know from personal experience how tough that can be. Yes, there was remorse from people such as Gusty Spence from the Ulster Volunteer Force, and I remember talking to a shop steward from the old TGWU, a provo gunman who had served 14 years for killing two innocent Protestants and who was racked with remorse for what he had done. However, there are also enduring problems of division and the consequences of the troubles, both economic and social. We also face the threat of renewed terrorism in Northern Ireland, to which every Member of this House will stand in opposition.
The final lesson to learn is the need to stand by the people of Northern Ireland. The House is entitled to say to our friends from all political parties in Northern Ireland that there can be no looking back and no going back. The peace process is a remarkable achievement for the good of the people of Northern Ireland that successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, have worked hard to cement. Contributions from all political parties in Northern Ireland have made the point about the need for continuing public investment, and I strongly agree.
Ireland is truly the emerald isle. However, for two centuries it was racked by division and ruined by poverty. Generations of people left Ireland for economic exile. My father came here from County Cork to dig roads in 1939, and he was followed by my mother in 1940, who came to work in a hospital in London. My father and his brothers then joined the British Army to fight in the great war against fascism. Following those two centuries of division and poverty, we now have—if we can look beyond the immediate problems that confront the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland in particular—the prospect of the next generation finally seeing this great island move on to enduring peace and prosperity. That is an immense prize, and I like to believe that Saville and how it has been handled by this Parliament, will be a landmark in that process.
I wish to associate myself not only with the statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made to the House earlier this year, but with those by both Front Benchers at the outset of this debate. The Saville report is a unique and valuable report, not only in the life of Northern Ireland, but in that of the whole United Kingdom. Like my right hon. Friend, I am deeply patriotic and I never want to believe anything bad about my country, but from the conclusions reached by Lord Saville and his colleagues, it is clear that something went badly wrong on that Sunday in January 1972. It is my belief that the Prime Minister was entirely right to deliver an apology on behalf of the Government and the nation to the families of those who lost loved ones on that dreadful Sunday.
Where I perhaps part company with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and some hon. Members who have spoken in this debate is on the clarity that has been ascribed to some of the conclusions that the inquiry reached, at least in the minds of some people. I do not for one moment dispute the tribunal’s findings, and they are clear; nor for one moment would I defend the indefensible. With one exception, the tribunal was clear. The firing by the British Army that day was entirely unjustified, and indeed contravened the rules of engagement applying at the time.
However, it is right for the House to bear in mind the fact that Lord Saville’s deliberations with his colleagues and his conclusions took place a considerable time after the events with which he and the tribunal were concerned. He started three decades after those events, and he ended his task nearly 40 years after them. It was a tall order to ask any judge, even one of the standing of Lord Saville, who was so ably assisted by Mr Hoyt and Mr Toohey, to reach wholly unimpeachable conclusions on the events that underpin the tragedy that we are discussing this afternoon. It is more than a tall order to ask a judge to do so some 30 or 40 years after the events in question, often unassisted by evidence owing to the death of those who were present. When a judge in such an inquiry is assisted by evidence, that evidence will be less valuable than it would have been without the passage of time.
The hon. Gentleman is elaborating succinctly on the tall order of expecting a judge to remember clearly what happened so many years before, but is it not an equally tall order to expect all the witnesses to have a clear recollection of all the events of so long ago?
Indeed it is, and perhaps I was expressing myself unclearly. The difficulty for anyone who presides over such an inquiry so long after the event is that when the evidence is oral—that was principally the evidence that was directly relevant to the matters that the tribunal had to consider—it is undoubtedly weakened by the passage of time. The oral evidence was less satisfactory than it would have been much closer to the events in question.
That brings me to Lord Widgery’s report back in 1972. He was able to consider the events much closer to the time, but having read his report on several occasions and for this debate, I have always had, as I have today and as many hon. Members have, a feeling of considerable unease, even if it does not rise to the same level as that in the mind of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey).
The report was produced in a different era by a judge of a different mettle from Lord Saville, who had served in the Army during the second world war and who, in the 10 weeks available to him to deal with the matter, was deprived of much of the evidence that subsequently emerged. It is not my function on this or any other occasion to defend Lord Widgery, great judge as he was in many respects. I suspect that he was hindered by the absence of evidence before him, and by his training, but I also suspect that he was hindered by his outlook. Constitutionally, it was impossible for judges at that time to accept that soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, like policemen, who gave evidence would not be telling the truth when they said that they were fired upon before they fired.
We shall never know the truth of who fired first, but even with the passage of time and having read the report in its entirety, I have little doubt, given the evidence that supports its conclusions, that Lord Saville came much closer to the truth, even on the balance of probabilities, in finding, as he clearly does, that the first shots were fired by the British Army. I suspect, however, that neither we in this House nor anyone else will ever know for sure who fired the first shot. I accept entirely, as do the whole House and the Government, the conclusions that Lord Saville reached, but I have regretted some of the things that have been said about them by some in Northern Ireland, whatever hurt and anguish they might have carried to this day as a result of the events of Bloody Sunday.
I want to say a little about the position in which 1 Para found itself in Derry on that day. The situation was, in a sense, unprecedented in modern British history, and that should not be forgotten when we consider the report and the motion on the Order Paper. It was a situation in part of the United Kingdom in which the civilian authorities had effectively lost control of a British city and had not the means to regain it, even if they had been willing to make the effort. The Official IRA and the Provisional IRA were both active in the area, and there was real concern that there might be violence between the communities on either side of the sectarian divide during the march planned for that day.
That was all taking place against a background of the nationalist anger directed at the Army and the Government that had previously given rise to the many other incidents of violence that Lord Saville dealt with in his report. Referring to the so-called Saturday matinées—the regular incidents of rioting that took place at the corner of Rossville street and William street, a junction known to British soldiers as “aggro corner”—the report said:
“We have little doubt that had the crowd isolated a soldier, it is likely that he would have been killed.”
The British Army was facing such regular instances of rioting at the time in Derry and elsewhere in that part of the world.
In this country, we expect a lot of our young soldiers. We expect their bravery, their loyalty and their obedience, and we are right to do so. Yet soldiers are no more superhuman than the rest of us, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) can tell us. The stress under which they must have found themselves day after day on the streets of Northern Ireland must not be forgotten or underestimated. Their lives were at risk, and no one should doubt that to have been the case. That said, however, following the Saville report, I cannot associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said earlier. If criminal acts were committed that day, the passage of time should not be seen to exculpate those responsible, and the course of the law will have to follow.
In a very real sense, given these facts, Bloody Sunday was a catastrophe waiting to happen. Whoever fired the first shot, and whatever actually happened on that day, all sides involved in the troubles must shoulder some of the blame. This long-awaited report—perhaps too long-awaited, and certainly too expensive—offers the House, the people of Northern Ireland and the country the ability to draw a line under this awful chapter in our history. The truth is now out, and I hope that this opportunity will be taken, so that we can finally ensure that there is peace in Northern Ireland.
I should like to begin by thanking colleagues and Members of the House for their friendly comments and advice in the past few days since I took up this new job. It is a great privilege to be winding up in a debate of such historical importance.
We have heard many powerful contributions today, and a great deal of moving personal testimony that has reflected the experience of many Members present, as well as their constituents and comrades. As the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), said in their opening remarks, when the Prime Minister used the words “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” in respect of Bloody Sunday, he spoke for all Members here. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the inquiry is not just about the past; it is about the present and the future. We have heard that, although some question the eventual cost and time over-run of the Saville inquiry, in terms of what my right hon. Friend referred to as its value—its human value—Lord Saville and his team have done us all and the people of Northern Ireland a great service.
We have heard many first-class and moving contributions, and I think I have time to cover them all. The hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) who served in the Scots Guards reminded us that the tragedies of the troubles extended well beyond the day of Bloody Sunday itself. He counselled against having never-ending inquiries and referred to Claudy, Warrenpoint and Bloody Friday. He took the view that the Saville report should represent a line in the sand, whereby we recognise that wider injustices happened in Northern Ireland, but view them as “once and for all”. Clearly, Labour Members see a question mark over that. The hon. Gentleman also stressed the rules of engagement for individual soldiers and the responsibility that each soldier has.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) was the Minister for Political Development at the Northern Ireland Office in 1988 and subsequently became a fine Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He made an immense personal contribution to peace in Northern Ireland. He said that the Saville inquiry was central to progress and agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston that there remains a palpable need for a Finucane inquiry, as recommended by the Cory report. My right hon. Friend also argued that the cost of future inquiries—notwithstanding the excellent work done by the Historical Enquiries Team—should be met by the UK Government, not the Northern Ireland Administration. He noted the powerful point that we cannot move into the future until we have dealt properly with the past.
I apologise for my late intervention; I wanted to speak earlier, but did not manage to catch Mr Speaker’s eye. Does my hon. Friend agree that the role played by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) in Northern Ireland was exemplary? Does he also agree with my right hon. Friend that the Government should look seriously at the Eames-Bradley suggestions for proper inquiries to look back at past tragedies and outrages during the troubles? If we can gain the confidence of both communities and if this can be achieved without the expense of the Saville inquiry, we should view it as a worthy object to pursue?
I thank my hon. Friend and take note of what he says. I take pleasure in agreeing with his comments about our right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen. Much has been said during the debate about future inquiries. Labour Members recognise that there will be a demand for them, although we have to bear in mind the important cost implications. Of course, we think that the Government should come back to us on this issue. I think that many people take that general view. Although some want to move ahead without inquiries, Labour Members do not fully agree with that, although we understand the sentiment of the argument.
The Select Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), was the Opposition spokesman when the present Government were in opposition. He noted that many people assumed in the first instance that the Saville inquiry would take only a year or two. He also noted that the original assumption was that it would cost about £11 million, of which £1 million would be for lawyers. I do not know exactly how much of a lawyer we get for £1 million, but it was certainly not as much as proved necessary for the Saville inquiry. The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the eventual cost for lawyers as more than £100 million. He reminded us of the tragic dimension of the waste of human lives on all sides, and noted how wider lessons can be learned by other parts of the world. He referred to the visit last week by Rwandan politicians to his constituency and then to Belfast. I had the privilege of meeting those very same people. This is indicative of the fact that, at some stage, people can learn wider lessons from what happened in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) told the House about what I view, frankly, as a shocking experience; it is certainly outwith the experience of most Members, other than those representing Northern Ireland. He mentioned what happened through a Facebook site. He reminded us of some of the IRA’s early victims, including the first soldier to die in Derry. The hon. Gentleman complained that Lord Saville did not fully contextualise the circumstances of the day. He told us that “murder, mayhem and terror” were “rife” and referred to the fact that two police officers were murdered only days before one was buried on the day of Bloody Sunday itself. He took the view that further inquiries would not lead to progress.
The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) praised the former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair for their role in establishing the inquiry. She welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement of apology, which she described as a great comfort to the families, to people throughout Northern Ireland, and to people in the south. I believe that it was also a comfort to people in Scotland, England and Wales. The hon. Lady mentioned other cases, including those of Rosemary Nelson, McGurk’s bar and Ballymurphy, and called for the innocence of those killed unlawfully to be properly declared in future. She supported the call of many other Members for further inquiries where appropriate.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is probably the only Member who was serving in Northern Ireland at the time. He has a prestigious military record and has commanded a regiment, which is important in the context of today’s debate. For that reason, his words bore a particular significance. He described the shortcomings of kit and training in the early years of British Army deployment in Northern Ireland. He praised his regimental colleagues, and said that Bloody Sunday was both a disgrace and an aberration. He rightly described it as a terrible failure at the level of battalion command.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) made the important point that justice would be seen and interpreted in different ways by different people. He counselled against measuring the success or otherwise of inquiries simply in terms of time or money.
The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)—like his hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham—has a long and prestigious military record, and, crucially, has also commanded a regiment. He had some specific comments to make about the commanding officer on Bloody Sunday. He made particular criticism of Colonel Derek Wilford, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, and referred to an interview that he conducted with him on the BBC’s “Today” programme. I remember that interview very well. I believe it took place in 1999.
The hon. Gentleman is too young to remember it.
I think that I am slightly older than the hon. Gentleman, so that is very nice of him.
I recall the interview vividly. The hon. Member for Newark, who was working as a journalist on “Today”, had persuaded Colonel Wilford to appear on the programme. It was staggering that, after all those years and after everyone’s questions about Widgery, he did not regret anything for a moment. That was the most astonishing and disgraceful thing that one could possibly imagine, and it has stuck in my mind through the years. It is true that we did not know then what we know now, but it was a remarkable interview none the less, and I remember the hon. Member for Newark’s part in it very well.
The hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) strongly welcomed the outcome of the report on behalf of all the families affected. He condemned the Widgery report as essentially part of a propaganda war. He also condemned those who had been guilty of paramilitary violence over the years. He criticised the Saville cost overrun, and, like other Members, referred particularly to lawyers’ fees. He also echoed other Members in saying that something was amiss—I am putting it mildly—in respect of command and control in the Parachute Regiment. I believe that that is widely accepted today.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) made a moving speech describing his own experience of serving in Northern Ireland as a private soldier with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He reminded us of the sacrifice made by British Army troops over the years, and stressed that although Bloody Sunday besmirched the reputation of the Army, Support Company of the Parachute Regiment on that day did not represent the standards of the Army as a whole then or, in particular, since then. I think that we can all agree with that.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that he strongly supported the peace process, but criticised the cost of the inquiry. He felt that many would think the outcome a political gesture, and said that there had been no justice for the workmen killed at Bessbrook, or for his cousin, a serving UDR officer, and his colleague, who were killed on the same day and at the same time by the Provisional IRA. I think it fair to say that the essence of the hon. Gentleman’s argument was that the inquiry process as a whole—including the Saville inquiry and any putative future inquiries—was one-sided by its very nature.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) read, memorably, a sombre roll-call of those who were injured and killed on Bloody Sunday, and asked what would happen in terms of follow-through in relation to issues such as possible perjury, other possible prosecutions, and lessons learned at the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministry of Defence. He specifically spoke about the Parachute Regiment at the time of Bloody Sunday. He said the Saville report left questions unanswered and he asked if Colonel Wilford could be stripped of his OBE. I have heard serving officers ask the same question, although it is not necessarily what everyone would want; different people have different opinions, and these events seem a long time ago now. I had understood until very recently—yesterday in fact—that Colonel Wilford had died. That was reported on the BBC, but apparently when he died he only went to Belgium. I have been to Belgium and it is not such a bad place. He is still alive and well therefore, and he can readily be stripped of his OBE if people think that is appropriate. That is a matter for others, however.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) noted the sacrifices made by British troops in Northern Ireland over the years, and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) felt lawyers should not charge full fees and we should keep down the costs of such inquiries. The hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) felt the Widgery inquiry had been profoundly weak because of Widgery’s own experiences at the time and the assumptions he would have had and would have brought with him to his inquiry. He also praised the Saville inquiry unreservedly, apart from a technical reservation or two.
My right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston and others asked a number of questions. Those questions do not raise doubts about the great value of the Saville inquiry report; that goes without saying. I think we all agree about its great value; the families certainly do, as do the people of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. However, some important matters follow on from the report. Perhaps chief among them are questions about holding other inquiries, including on Finucane. I hope the Minister will be able to say in his reply to the debate when progress will be made in coming to decisions on those matters.
This has been an extremely welcome and well-informed debate, which has honoured the commitment given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the House would have an opportunity to debate this important report in detail. I would like to start by recording my gratitude for the supportive words of the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), and the new shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), on the Government’s response to this report. I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to his role, and in particular I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as shadow Minister, a post which I am sure he will enjoy very much.
It is important that we approach these very sensitive issues in a bipartisan manner, and I am sure we can rely on the Opposition spokesmen to continue to do so. Having said that, however, their words this afternoon might have carried greater generosity if they had acknowledged the work done in the peace process by John Major and the Conservative party. Next week is, of course, the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman as he did not speak in the debate and I must make progress.
The right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) raised the issue of prosecutions. I remind them that prosecutions are not a matter for government. It is for the independent prosecution authorities to consider such issues. It would be completely inappropriate for the Government to intervene by pressurising the prosecution service to provide a deadline. That would clearly compromise the independence of the process.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the lessons learned by the Army. As the Chief of the Defence Staff said in the light of Lord Saville’s report, the way the Army is trained, the way it works and the way it operates have all changed significantly, and we should not forget that during the 38 years of Operation Banner in Northern Ireland the majority of the military who took part in that operation, often on several tours, did so with professionalism and restraint.
In response to comments by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Members for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Foyle, I can confirm that, having considered the views expressed in this debate and the debate in the other place, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence will shortly write to the Prime Minister on issues arising from the report. A copy of the letter will be placed in the Library of the House.
The right hon. Members for St Helens South and Whiston and for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West raised the issue of dealing with the past. This Government promptly published the summary of responses to the Eames-Bradley report in July this year—if I may say so, that was perhaps in contrast to the previous Secretary of State, who now criticises us for inaction despite sitting on the responses for many months prior to the general election. I wish to put on the record my thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord Eames, to Denis Bradley and to the other members of the group.
Just for the record, I would advise the Minister to look a little more closely at the reasons why we did not publish the responses to the public consultation. We did not do so precisely because it was more sensible to await the publication of Lord Saville’s report, as it would then be possible to make a sensible decision on how to proceed when one can hold the two together. If the Minister pleads for bipartisan support, he should avoid cheap political point scoring in this debate.
The shadow Secretary of State is at least consistent in so much as he received the responses back in October 2009. I was perhaps trying to draw attention to the rapid progress we have made on many fronts since taking office, given that we were accused earlier in the debate of stalling on so many of these issues.
The Eames-Bradley report was a significant piece of work that has made an important contribution to the debate on dealing with the past. The responses to the report we published did, however, show the current lack of consensus on any wider process. But we have continued to listen to the views of victims and organisations from across the community to find a way forward. There is no question of the Government attempting to close down the past. We will continue to be measured and sensitive in our approach. As we continue to engage on the potential for wider mechanisms, we should also acknowledge the ongoing work to address the legacy of the past. I pay tribute in particular to the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, which has achieved very high satisfaction rates among families who have received reports. I say to the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) that it is not for the Government to alter the HET’s remit.
The right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and the right hon. Member for Torfaen, himself a distinguished former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, raised the Finucane case. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be meeting the Finucane family very shortly, and it is right that we talk to the family in the first instance, before commenting publicly.
A number of hon. Members made important points about the distinguished service of the vast majority of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friends the Members for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), in a particularly passionate and moving speech, made their personal experiences come to life. They described the difficult and often frightening circumstances in which we asked our young soldiers—some very young—to serve, sometimes woefully underprepared, in Northern Ireland during the troubles. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), in a very good speech, was right to remind us of the tragic murders by terrorists of two Members of this House, Airey Neave and Ian Gow.
The Government are clear that Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the Army’s service in Northern Ireland. We should not forget, and we will never forget, that more than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives, and many thousands more were injured, in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. I recently met a number of ex-servicemen and heard for myself their continuing trauma and suffering. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening statement and as was reiterated by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), we owe an immense debt of gratitude to all those who served in the security forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted the importance of bringing closure to the families of those killed by terrorists. The HET is investigating all 3,268 cases from the troubles, including the deaths of police officers and soldiers killed by terrorists. The Government strongly support the HET’s important work and the vital work of community and victims’ groups in providing help and support to the victims of the troubles.
A number of hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), the distinguished Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, on which I once had the honour to serve, and perhaps coincidentally, other members of his Committee, were critical of the cost of the report. Of course, as we heard this afternoon, no one could have anticipated that the inquiry would take 12 years or cost more than £191 million. Our views on that are by now well known and well documented.
The Government have been clear that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries, but on taking office we separated our views on the process from the substance of the report’s findings. It was right that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took responsibility, on behalf of the Government, in responding to Lord Saville’s clear and shocking findings.
The hon. Member for South Down mentioned public inquiries. The Government have been clear, as I said, that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries. This is not an issue solely about public finances. Selecting a small number of legacy cases to be the subject of public inquiries creates an uneven process that cannot adequately address the legacy of a conflict that resulted in more than 3,500 deaths.
With reference to the report, the state must always be determined to hold itself to account. We should never judge ourselves by the same standards as terrorists. The Government are clear that we do not uphold the honour of all those who served with such bravery and professionalism in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth or by defending the indefensible.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) spoke about the context of the events of Bloody Sunday. I was slightly perplexed by this point. I should point out to him that Lord Saville covers the events leading up to Bloody Sunday in great detail in volume 1 of the report. I recommend reading those chapters, if right hon. and hon. Members are not tempted to read the rest, because they provide the clearest insight to the events in Northern Ireland surrounding internment and the events on Bloody Sunday. That was well précised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips).
The hon. Members for East Londonderry, for Strangford and for Upper Bann (David Simpson) raised the conclusions relating to Martin McGuinness. It is for Mr McGuinness to answer questions about the findings relating to him. The report is clear in its conclusions about him. It specifically finds that he was present and probably armed with a
but states 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 Government are clear that there was never any justification for the brutal campaigns waged by terrorists. As the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said, there is no justification, nor can there be, for the actions of residual terrorist groups trying to drag Northern Ireland back to the past.
The hon. Members for South Down and for Strangford were among those who mentioned Ballymurphy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I met the Ballymurphy families last month. Their stories were powerful and moving, and we both expressed our sympathy for their loss. We continue to encourage the families to co-operate with the ongoing HET investigation into the case. The HET is completely independent of the Government. I understand that the families recently made representations to the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland on the re-opening of inquests.
The hon. Member for Foyle made a typically powerful, solemn and heartfelt speech in which he paid solemn tribute to those who were killed and injured on Bloody Sunday. I thank him again for his comments on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement and pay tribute to him for the support and encouragement that he has provided to the families over the years as a hard-working constituency MP.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct to point out the shocking conclusions in the report. Lord Saville’s report speaks for itself. In relation to the hon. Gentleman’s point about the victims, let me reiterate what Lord Saville concluded. He said 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.”
The hon. Gentleman raised the matter of the removal of an honour given to Lieutenant Colonel Wilford. That would be a matter for the Ministry of Defence in the first instance and ultimately for the honours forfeiture committee, but I understand that honours are not normally rescinded unless the person concerned has been sentenced to imprisonment after conviction in a criminal court or formally censured by a regulatory body.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of compensation. I know that there are a range of different views among victims of the troubles about financial payments. I understand that the victims commissioners are conducting a wide examination of victims’ needs and how best to address them, including the issue of compensation.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann raised the role of the Irish Government. The actions of the Irish Government are of course a matter for them, but I would draw hon. Members’ attention to the Taoiseach’s commitment to contribute to a reconciliation process. I welcome that commitment, as I do the very close relationship that we have with the Government in Dublin.
Will the Minister acknowledge that Irish Governments have successively, no matter what party was in government—not just the current Taoiseach but previous Taoisigh and Ministers for Foreign Affairs—provided particular support to the Bloody Sunday families? A dossier submitted by the Irish Government helped to lead to the establishment of the inquiry and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs has been particularly supportive. He is particularly in the thoughts of the families this week given the personal and family grief that he is going through, as he buried his young daughter yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and our heart goes out to him. The Secretary of State and I have written to him at this ghastly time.
Let me conclude by reiterating the Government’s unambiguous position on this report. What happened on Bloody Sunday was unjustified and unjustifiable. The Government are deeply sorry for what happened. The wider challenge that we all face is to ensure that the past is dealt with in a sensitive manner that allows Northern Ireland to move forward to a genuinely shared future.
I am sure the whole House will join me in acknowledging the enormous strides forward that Northern Ireland has taken. As we look back on the terrible events of 38 years ago, we must be thankful that Northern Ireland is now a very different place, but, as some right hon. and hon. Members pointed out, challenges still remain. The Government are determined to play our part in helping to ensure that the future for Northern Ireland is one which is peaceful and based on trust and confidence across the community.
I hope that Lord Saville’s report has, to use a quote adopted by the families, set the truth free. In doing so, it has helped to bring to a close a painful chapter in Northern Ireland’s troubled past. Let me finish by reiterating the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister:
“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.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 742.]
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of the Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.