Since taking office, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have met the political parties and other interest groups to discuss the issue of dealing with the past, but there is no consensus. I shall meet the parties again in the coming weeks.
My hon. Friend is quite right to comment on the HET, whose satisfaction levels have been extraordinarily high, with some 90% of families being either satisfied or very satisfied. I last spoke to the Chief Constable about this a few weeks ago and he was confident that on his current track the HET would complete on time.
As I said in my opening answer, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have met the local parties and numerous groups around Northern Ireland since we came to power, seeking a way forward on the issue of the past. We do not own the past, however. We can help facilitate, but ultimately the solution is very much in local hands and depends on local groups and local parties reaching consensus. Sadly, we have so far not found consensus.
Further to that helpful answer, back in November the Secretary of State said that he would meet parties to move the issue forward. Does he agree that bilateral discussions are no substitute for multilateral discussions, and will he tell us when he will make progress on bringing all the parties together to discuss this matter?
That is a very helpful question. There was a debate in the Assembly that asked me to call for talks, so I consulted the Speaker of the Assembly and decided to write to each party individually. I am not convinced that a great summit with satellite camera vans outside Hillsborough is the answer. The issue needs to be discussed soberly, quietly and privately to see whether I can find a way forward. I do not own the past—the solution must come from local politicians themselves. [Interruption.]
Does the Secretary of State accept that part of the problem in dealing with the past and trying to get the parties around the table is that one party was party to the major problem of the past—the Provisional IRA. It will not own up to the part it played in creating the past—rather, it tries to deem everyone equal, innocent and guilty alike.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and he touches on the problem of arriving at uniform consensus. We were elected on a platform of no more costly and open-ended inquiries, because we do not like the asymmetry of applying an extraordinary intensity of effort and expense to a very small number of cases. That is why I am trying to find a broader approach, working with all local parties.