House of Commons
Wednesday 12 December 2012
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Patrick Finucane Review
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report, dated 12 December 2012, of the Patrick Finucane Review.—(Mark Lancaster.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I held constructive meetings with senior politicians and officials in India last month. We agreed the move to a new relationship based on technical assistance rather than financial aid grants. I announced this in my written ministerial statement of 9 November.
That is precisely the transition that I believe we are walking towards with India. Our trade with India has grown in recent years, with exports to India growing by more than 20% in 2010. Our development relationship needs to match the changing and successful India we see today, and that is precisely what we are doing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, our development relationship with India needs to match the India of today and the future rather than the India of yesterday, which means we can reprioritise our portfolio of development spend on countries where we believe we can still make a difference. Without that assistance from the UK, we would not be able to see change on the ground.
We currently have an aid programme of around £270 million a year. After we complete our transition to technical assistance, we expect to spend approximately just under £30 million from 2015 onwards, to help the Indian Government to get the most out of the £50 billion a year they spend on things such as health and education.
I appreciate that the Secretary of State has negotiated the changed arrangement with the Indian Government and the state governments, but does she not acknowledge that India still has more poor people than sub-Saharan Africa? Is she prepared to consider not only technical assistance, but perhaps changing the relationship to soft loans, so that India can accelerate poverty reduction using the substantial pro-poor measures it is already adopting?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that our relationship with India will go beyond technical assistance. It will include us helping with investments in small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly in rural and poorer areas of India, so that we not only help them to get the most out of India’s development spend, but drive economic development too.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
I am extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in eastern DRC. Some 130,000 people in and around Goma have been displaced by the recent violence. Elsewhere in DRC, armed group activity continues to displace large numbers of people, and attacks on civilians are common. There are now 2.4 million displaced people in DRC, up from 1.7 million at the end of 2011. The hon. Lady might be aware that last month I announced an additional £18 million to address humanitarian needs in DRC.
The Secretary of State will be aware that when NGOs had to evacuate their personnel from eastern DRC, priests remained. Churches were often the only source of support for the victims of violence. Will she undertake to work with those churches in the distribution of aid to ensure that it gets to those who are most in need?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I have had the opportunity to meet many of the organisations working on the ground, particularly in eastern DRC, to protect and help civilians. They have a range of needs, from security and medical assistance to food and shelter. She is right to flag up the fact that, in many cases, when people are at risk of violence, the place they go is their local church. We are working on the ground wherever we can to ensure that we do our bit to improve the situation.
It is important that we take all the steps we can to apprehend all those people who have been involved in atrocities in that region. There is no doubt that achieving stability in the DRC needs a political solution, but such a solution has to mean that people who have committed offences do not have impunity.
13. Recent reports from the BBC have shown that the increase in violence in the eastern DRC is sparking fears of the resurgence of civil war. What actions is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that a peace process is formulated? What conversations has she had with the Home Secretary about returnees from Britain to the DRC while this conflict goes on? (133033)
As a Government, we have a number of discussions with leaders in that region. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to the Presidents of the DRC, Uganda and, indeed, Rwanda. I spoke to Baroness Valerie Amos only on Monday about how we can work together to tackle the humanitarian situation. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, over time, we need to see some real progress on the ground.
There are worrying reports from NGOs operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo that the M23 is talking about imposing taxes on NGOs working in the area, effectively diverting humanitarian resources from the affected populations to the M23. What can the Government do alongside international partners to try to protect the humanitarian space?
If the situation the hon. Gentleman described were to arise, it would obviously be totally unacceptable. We are providing humanitarian assistance in order to get to the people on the ground who need our help. We are working not just with the UN, but with a range of NGOs, as I said, to make a difference on the ground. The issue needs to be tackled not just by us working on the ground with humanitarian support, but politically. I can assure him that my colleagues in the Foreign Office raise all those sorts of issues with leaders in the region on a very regular basis.
Development Spending Target
The Government are committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance from 2013 and thereafter. The Department’s budget after the 2012 autumn statement adjustment is sufficient to meet this commitment, along with planned official development assistance from other Government Departments.
The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that the Government will introduce legislation to make this a legal requirement as soon as parliamentary time allows. As evidence of good faith, the hon. Gentleman should notice that we are behaving as if the legislation were already in place, and we will meet the 0.7% commitment.
The effect is to reduce the immediate planned budget by £804 million—a reduction of about £2 billion since the original spending review period. We will, of course, make adjustments to make sure that our spending within those reduced figures retains the value for money that we see as such a high priority.
In his first answer, the Minister made reference to the contributions of other Departments. For the sake of clarity and for the benefit of those of us who think 0.7% is on the high side, will he confirm that the Foreign Office will make a significant contribution, given that so much of its work can be said to contribute to development?
In 2011, £958 million of the total of just over £8.5 billion came from other Government Departments and other areas outside DFID, such as debt relief and gift aid. DFID’s contribution to UK official development assistance is set to stay at approximately 90% in 2013 and 2014.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Government’s commitment to move towards 0.7%, and express the view that, providing we are doing it, we do not really need to enshrine it in legislation. He will know that many of our constituents are not yet persuaded that every single pound we spend is value for money. What more can he do to reassure our constituents that this excellent British aid does not end up in Swiss bank accounts, but meets the needs of people in real poverty?
I assure my hon. Friend—and the whole House—that every day we as Ministers, and all who work in DFID, do our utmost to secure value for money. Although my hon. Friend thinks that it may not be necessary because we are already moving towards the 0.7% target, legislation serves as an example to the rest of the world and, I hope, as a weapon for us to use in order to persuade other countries to follow suit.
There is continuing concern throughout the United Kingdom about the level of waste as we make progress towards our 0.7% target. Can the Minister assure us that every possible objective will be met in efforts to minimise waste, and to ensure that the target, if it is met, benefits those who are most in need?
Absolutely. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question, because it illustrates the determination with which we seek value for money and take every possible opportunity to eliminate waste so that we can focus our taxpayers’ resources on the poorest people in the world, who are in such genuine need.
Sustainable Development Goals
We are working internationally to secure a single set of development goals for the period after 2015. We want to build on the millennium development goals, finishing the job by eliminating poverty but also incorporating the sustainable development priorities that were agreed at Rio+20 in June.
Will the Department support the Prime Minister in his role as co-chair of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development framework in order to guarantee integration and coherence between this process and the sustainable development goals, with the aim of putting environmental sustainability at the heart of the framework?
My hon. Friend raises a critical issue, that of ensuring that coherence and integration exist between the sustainable development goals and the post-2015 millennium development goals. I assure him that my Department is doing just that. Across Government, we have a single structure and approach to managing our engagement with both the high-level panel and the SDGs. The Prime Minister’s envoy is a senior DFID official, and is responsible for both those things.
The GLOBE climate legislation initiative will be launched in the Foreign Office on 14 and 15 January, and will bring together legislators from 33 countries to discuss national action on climate change. Does the Minister agree that further national action is necessary, and that we should follow the example of countries such as Mexico, which has passed legislation, and China, which plans to do so, in order to establish the conditions that will allow international agreement in 2015?
We already have legislation in the form of the Climate Change Act 2008, but it is crucial for all of us, in all countries, to work together in moving towards sustainable development goals. As I said earlier, climate change is absolutely critical to the reduction of poverty, and all countries need to ensure that they are working on that.
In Copenhagen the developed world agreed to establish a $100 billion fund to help developing countries to cope with the effects of climate change, but, despite further calls for urgent action at the Doha summit, only a fraction of that funding has been delivered. What progress does the Minister think the United Kingdom Government have made in showing international leadership on this important issue?
That is obviously one of our priorities, and we have taken a lead. I think that DFID is a world leader in terms of its development agenda. Doha was not a complete failure, although the outcome was disappointing; some small steps forward were made. Climate change is critical, and it is a priority for the Government.
The Government’s policy is set out in our position paper called “Towards zero infections”. We will continue to support the fund as it implements key reforms. It is critical to achieving the millennium development goals, we have invested heavily in it, and we want it to succeed.
I welcome the Government’s support for the election of the excellent Mark Dybul as new executive director of the global fund. Given that next year will be a replenishment year for the global fund, will the Minister use her G8 discussions to leverage additional funding from other countries and announce further UK funding for the fund?
I certainly hope that will be the case. One of our roles is, indeed, to leverage more funds across the board into the global fund. As the hon. Gentleman says, a replenishment year is coming up, and we will do all we can to make sure funds are replenished from everyone.
Does the Minister agree that Britain’s agricultural science and our leadership in plant and animal genetics offer huge opportunities for us to help the developing world to deal with its emerging food nutrition challenges? I welcome the Government’s launch last month of an agricultural science strategy.
Departmental Value for Money
I am determined to ensure that every pound we spend has the maximum impact in reducing poverty, and we are looking at the following: where we spend our money, including in which countries; what we spend our money on, focusing on what works and working collaboratively with other partners; and how we spend that money better, for example by getting better value from suppliers and from multilateral aid organisations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Is she aware of a recent report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which suggests that the EU aid budget—to which her Department, and the UK taxpayer, contribute £1.4 billion a year—lacks an effective oversight regime, and will she therefore consider removing the discretionary element of our contribution to it if the Government cannot secure strong assurances that the money is being spent effectively on the ground?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am already pressing the EU on that issue. In fact, one of my first trips in my role as Secretary of State for International Development was to meet EU Commissioners, and I have been back to Brussels since to continue those discussions. I hope we can make progress on this matter, but, as my hon. Friend points out, if we do not, I have choices about where our multilateral aid goes.
The Secretary of State has made great play of the fact that her accountancy background will help her deliver better value for money and greater transparency than her predecessor, so why will she not publish the findings of her Department’s review of the vast amounts of DFID money being paid to private consultants? How many consultants are there? How much are they being paid? Do they have to compete in fair and open tendering processes? What assessment is made of the results they deliver? Publish the findings, Secretary of State.
We are getting on with improving how we work with suppliers. I met our top suppliers only a couple of weeks ago at DFID, and they told me it was the first time they had been invited in en masse to talk to the Secretary of State about how we can work more strategically with them to get better value for taxpayers’ money. I therefore suspect that I do not need to take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman about getting better value for money.
Although DFID does not have a bilateral aid programme in the Gambia, the UK continues to support the Gambia through our share of contributions to multilateral organisations. The European Development Fund disbursed €27.69 million in 2011, of which €25.36 million was spent in the sector of “economic infrastructure and services”.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The shape of the Gambia is a colonial relic based on how far a boat could travel up the river and how far shots could be fired from each side. There is very little significant river traffic at present. Will the Minister look at investing and providing a boat that will enable the up-country areas to develop at the same rate as the coastal areas?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He rightly says that the Gambia’s shape is such that the river is the main road, if I may put it like that. The UK has supported the Gambia groundnut river transport fleet through the EU funding. Between 2008 and 2010, £1.1 million was spent on rehabilitating three tugboats to enable the river fleet to operate effectively and efficiently. Since 2010, EU funding has been going towards a road infrastructure to assist the boat. [Interruption]
Order. Far too many noisy private conversations are taking place in the Chamber. I happen to know that Members of Parliament from other countries are observing our proceedings, and we ought to set a good example. Let us have a bit of order for Mr James Gray.
In the course of carrying out my departmental responsibilities, I have announced to the House that I have moved to a new relationship with India; announced decisions on Uganda and Rwanda; announced humanitarian assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; travelled to India; been to Brussels to meet the EU Commissioners; and co-chaired a global partnership meeting in the UK. Of course, a couple of weekends ago I had my first chance to visit Afghanistan to see the work my Department is doing out there.
Those of us who strongly support Britain’s moral and strategic duty to get money through to the poorest and most needy people in the world are none the less concerned that on occasion that money can be diverted to improper purposes in one way or another. Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of getting the money through to the most needy people in the world is by making use of non-governmental organisations, thereby avoiding passing the money to corrupt dictators?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that many of our NGOs do excellent work, often in very challenging circumstances. He will be pleased to know that we now provide budget support only in countries where we are completely satisfied that the funding will be used for its intended purposes—when it is not, we stop, as has been seen. Just 6% of the Department’s bilateral aid budget is provided in the form of general budget support.
I wish to declare an interest: I have just returned from a visit to Burma with the Burma Campaign UK, where I had the privilege of meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, whose courageous leadership is a source of inspiration and hope for a better future, and I saw for myself the challenges that ethnic communities continue to face. Will DFID Ministers work with the Foreign Secretary to apply maximum pressure to the Burmese Government to protect the Rohingya community from violence, create an urgent and transparent process to establish their citizenship rights, and begin a serious political dialogue with all ethnic communities? [Interruption.]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), who has responsibility for Burma, will visit Rakhine state this coming Friday and Saturday, when he will see the situation at first hand and meet senior Burmese Ministers. The Burmese Government have founded an independent commission to investigate the situation in Rakhine state. The UK is very closely engaged with all parties to push for greater humanitarian access and a longer-term political settlement, including on citizenship.
T2. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, under a Conservative Government. Does the Minister agree that the work it does is extremely valuable in building democracies and is a good use of taxpayers’ money? (133037)
I do. The work that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy does is extremely valuable in helping to promote democratic governance around the world. I know that the WFD is also working to strengthen further the value for money it provides to the taxpayer, and to change and modernise, and I fully support that work.
T4. Will the Minister outline what discussions her Department has had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on ensuring that small businesses, including fair trade businesses from developing countries, are able to be supported? (133041)
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that issue. I am determined to ensure that we provide fair aid, but I think that fair trade is incredibly important, too. We are discussing with BIS how we can work more effectively with that Department in developing our trade links, and I think that fair trade is an excellent way in which we can see the shift from aid to trade take place.
T3. Given the austerity measures being implemented domestically, what assurances can the Secretary of State give me that international aid is provided only to those countries and projects where genuine need has been clearly established, as opposed to countries that can and should be doing more to help themselves? (133040)
I think my hon. Friend will have seen from some of the decisions I have taken in the short time I have been in this role that I am determined to ensure that our spend on behalf of the taxpayer goes where it can make the biggest difference. Whether we are dealing with countries that are better placed to help themselves, such as India, or countries where we are concerned about how our aid money is being spent by the Government, such as Uganda, we are prepared to take decisions and we will see improved value for money over time.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the economic and business situations in Tamworth. He is absolutely right that this morning’s figures show the largest quarterly fall in youth employment on record, with 72,000 fewer people unemployed this quarter. Obviously, there is no room for complacency—far too many people are still long-term unemployed—but we can see from the figures that 40,000 more people are in work, vacancies are up, unemployment is down by 82,000, the claimant count is down and there are more than 1 million extra private sector jobs under this Government.
Today’s fall in unemployment and rise in employment are welcome. Part of the challenge remains the stubbornly high level of long-term unemployment. Does the Prime Minister agree that that remains of fundamental importance not just to the people who are out of work but to the country as a whole?
I absolutely agree—I mentioned it in my first answer—that long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high. The good news about today’s figures is that long-term youth unemployment is down by 10,000 this quarter, which is encouraging. Obviously, long-term unemployment among others is still a problem. That is why the Work programme and getting it right are so important. It has got 200,000 people into work, but clearly there is more to do. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s tone, not least because he said on 18 January that
“over the next year, unemployment will get worse, not better, under his policies.”—[Official Report, 18 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 739.]
Perhaps he would like to withdraw that.
I am glad that the Prime Minister recognises that long-term unemployment is still a challenge. I want to ask him about the people who are doing the right thing and finding work. Last week in his autumn statement, the Chancellor decided to cut tax credits and benefits. He said it was the shirkers—the people with the curtains drawn—who would be affected. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many of those hit are in work?
The fact is this—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] I will answer it. Welfare needs to be controlled and everyone who is on tax credits will be affected by these changes. We have to get on top of the welfare bill. That is why we are restricting the increase in out-of-work benefits and it is also why we are restricting in-work benefits. What we have also done is increase the personal allowance, because on this side of the House we believe in cutting people’s taxes when they are in work.
The Prime Minister is raising the taxes of people in work. Of course, he did not answer the question. Despite the impression given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the answer is that more than 60% of those affected are in work. That means the factory worker on the night shift, the carer who looks after elderly people around the clock and the cleaner who cleans the Chancellor’s office while his curtains are still drawn and he is still in bed. The Chancellor calls them scroungers. What does the Prime Minister call them?
The right hon. Gentleman just said that we are not cutting taxes for people in work. Someone on the minimum wage who works full time will see their income tax bill cut by one half under this Government. The fact is, under this Government, we are saying to working people, “You can earn another £3,000 before you even start paying income tax.” That is why we have taken 2 million people out of tax altogether. He should welcome that, because this is the party for people who work; his is the party for unlimited welfare.
Of course, as we might expect, the Prime Minister is just wrong on the detail. The Institute for Fiscal Studies table says quite clearly that, on average, working families are £534 a year worse off as a result of his measures. I notice that he wants to get away from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last week. We know what the Chancellor was trying to do: he was trying to play divide and rule. He said that his changes were all about people
“living a life on benefits”—[Official Report, 5 December 2012; Vol. 544, c. 877.]
“still asleep” while their neighbours go out to work. It turned out that it was just not true. It is a tax on strivers. Will the Prime Minister now admit that the Chancellor got it wrong and that the majority of people hit are working people?
The right hon. Gentleman says that we have not got the detail right. We know his approach to detail. It is to take a 2,000-page report and accept it without reading it. That is his approach to detail. Specifically on the Institute for Fiscal—[Interruption.] I am surprised that the shadow Chancellor is shouting again this week, because we learned last week that like bullies all over the world, he can dish it out but he cannot take it. He never learns. The figures—[Interruption.]
To specifically answer the question from the Leader of the Opposition, he mentioned the figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but they do not include the personal allowance increase put through in the Budget, and they do not include the universal credit changes that come in next year and which will help the working poor more than anything. The fact he cannot get away from is that under this Government, we are lifting the personal allowance, we are taking millions out of tax, and we are standing up for those who work. He only stands up for those who claim.
I must say, I have heard everything when the boy from the Bullingdon club lectures people on bullying. Absolutely extraordinary. Have you wrecked a restaurant recently?
The Prime Minister does not want to talk about the facts, but let us give him another one. He is hitting working families, and the richest people in our society will get a massive tax cut next April—an average of £107,000 each for people earning over £1 million. Is he the only person left in the country who cannot see the fundamental injustice of giving huge tax cuts to the richest while punishing those in work on the lowest pay?
The tax take for the richest under this Government will be higher in every year than it was for any year when the right hon. Gentleman was in government. He has obviously got a short memory, because I explained to him last week that under his plans for the 50p tax rate, millionaires paid £7 billion less in tax than they did previously. The point of raising taxes is to pay for public services. We are raising more money for the rich, but where he is really so profoundly wrong is in the choice that he has decided to make. The facts are these: over the last five years, people in work have seen their incomes go up by 10%, and people out of work have seen their incomes go up by 20%. At a time when people accept a pay freeze we should not be massively increasing benefits, yet that is what he wants to do. A party that is not serious about controlling welfare is not serious about controlling the deficit either.
From the first part of his answer, it seems the Prime Minister is claiming to be Robin Hood; I really do not think that is going to work. He is not taking from the richest and giving to everybody else. Didn’t the Business Secretary give it away in what he said about the autumn statement? He said:
“what happened was some of their donors,”—
we know who he is talking about—
“very wealthy people, stamped their feet”,
so the Conservatives scrapped the mansion tax and went ahead with the 50p tax cut. They look after their friends—the people on their Christmas card list. Meanwhile, they hit people they never meet, and whose lives they will never understand.
The right hon. Gentleman’s donors put him where he is, pay him every year, and determine his policies. It is perfectly clear what the Labour party’s choice is: its choice is more benefits, paid for by more borrowing. It should listen to the former Labour Trade Minister, who said:
“you know what you call a system of government where what you do is say ‘Oh, we’re in trouble, we’ll go and borrow loads and give it to people’? It’s called Greece”.
That is what the Labour Trade Minister said. Labour is not serious about welfare; it is not serious about the deficit; it is not a serious party, and everyone can see it.
Will the Prime Minister join me and, I am sure, the whole House in sending our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who died this week; in urging anyone who wants to support the family to donate to the King Edward VII’s hospital’s memorial fund; and in urging the press to continue their largely good record of preserving the privacy of the family at a time of most terrible grief?
I am sure that the whole House, and indeed the whole country, will join my hon. Friend and me in paying tribute to this nurse, and in giving all our sympathies and condolences to her family. She clearly loved her job and her work, and cared deeply about the health of her patients, and what has happened is a complete tragedy. There will be many lessons that need to be learned, and I absolutely echo what my hon. Friend says about the press keeping their distance and allowing this family the time and space to grieve.
Q2. Does the Prime Minister still intend to introduce the snooper’s charter, euphemistically known as the communications data Bill? Does he realise that he and his Government will be spying on more people in Britain than all the press barons put together? Where did he get his advice and this idea from? Was it down at Wapping? Was it his friends down there—Rupert, Tony, and Rebekah? (133007)
I really believe that on this issue, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. This is a very important issue—I feel this very strongly, as Prime Minister—in which you have to take responsibility, first and foremost, for security, including national security, and people’s safety. The fact is that communications data—not the content of a telephone call, but the fact that a phone call took place—are used in every single terrorist case, and in almost every single serious crime case. The question in front of the House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, is simply this: because we currently have those data for fixed and mobile telephony, what are we going to do as telephony increasingly moves over the internet? We can stand here and do nothing, and not update the law; the consequence of doing that would be fewer crimes solved, and fewer terrorists brought to justice. I do not want to be the Prime Minister who puts the country into that position.
The point that we are making is that the extent of judicial review has massively increased in recent years, and we think that there is a need for some new rules to look at the extent, and indeed the costs, of judicial review, so that the costs are properly covered. In that way, we can maintain access to justice, but perhaps speed up the wheels of government a little.
Q3. Will the Prime Minister answer the question he was asked three times by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and dodged a few moments ago? Will he confirm that the majority of households that will be hit by the real-terms cut to benefits and tax credits are working households? (133008)
The point that I made is even bigger than that. Everyone on working tax credits will be affected by the fact that we are increasing them by only 1%, but we have to control welfare to deal with the massive deficit that we were left by the Opposition. There is a choice in politics. One can either control welfare bills or say no to a welfare cap, no to a housing benefit cap, no to the control of welfare—borrow, spend and build up our deficit, putting us straight back where we came from.
At the Liaison Committee yesterday the Prime Minister began by saying that the Government would accept crucial Lords amendments to make the Justice and Security Bill acceptable on secret courts, but he ended the session by appearing to say that he would not accept those amendments. Could he clarify which one it is?
What I said very clearly to the Committee yesterday is that we want the Bill to pass through Parliament, having listened to the Joint Committee and to all the excellent points made in the House of Lords. I am sure we will be listening even more carefully in the House of Commons. [Interruption.] I think the Leader of the Opposition is catching off the shadow Chancellor the disease of not being able to keep his mouth shut for longer than five seconds. We will listen carefully to the amendments. The fundamental choice is to make sure that those proceedings are available to judges, and it is judges who should make the decision.
We are making serious investments in renewable energy. We have set out a regime of subsidy that stretches right out to 2017 and beyond. That is why the renewable energy capacity of this country has doubled over the past two years under this Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government have had to deal with not only the catastrophic budget deficit that we inherited from the former Prime Minister but, as the figures reveal today, a tidal wave of immigration deliberately fostered by the Labour Government, and that concentrating on putting those two issues right is the most important task facing this Government for the delivery of security to the people of this country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that immigration was out of control under the previous Government. Net migration ran at more than 200,000 a year—that is 2 million across a decade. Under the sensible controls that we have put in place, net immigration has fallen by a quarter in recent years. What is interesting about this is that we can have proper control of immigration while also saying to the world, “Our universities are open to foreign students to come and study here, and as long as they have an English language qualification and a degree place at university, there is no limit on the numbers that can come.” That is our policy—controlling immigration, but making sure that the best and the brightest come to Britain.
Q5. Iceland, which had huge economic difficulties, rejected austerity and has, according to Bloomberg seen, a recovery driven by domestic demand. Unemployment is 2.4% lower than the UK, growth is 2.5% and properties have risen at 110% of value. Those with children and the unemployed have received the most support in Iceland. Will the Prime Minister be gracious enough, notwithstanding other issues, to congratulate Iceland on working hard to turn things around? Does he think there is anything he can learn from Iceland? (133010)
I, too, welcome the fall in youth unemployment, particularly in Hastings and Rye, where youth unemployment has fallen steadily for the past nine months and is at its lowest since May 2010. May I urge the Prime Minister to continue this Government’s investment in apprenticeships and the Youth Contract so that that can continue?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s point. We will continue not only with the apprenticeships, which have reached over 1 million under this Government, but with the Youth Contract, and particularly work experience, because what we are seeing is that a large number of people who do work experience find a job and come off benefits and find that it is a very good start to a working career. That is what we want to see.
Q6. On the day that unemployment in Scotland showed the largest fall in four years, is the Prime Minister as shocked as I am by reports in the Sunday Mail and the Daily Record this week that some jobcentre managers are actively encouraging employers to convert paid vacancies into unpaid work experience placements in order to satisfy Department for Work and Pensions targets? Will he condemn that practice and ensure that it ceases immediately? (133012)
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is that we want work experience places to be additional places, encouraging more young people to get at least a feel for work so that they have a chance of getting a job. It is good that he welcomes the fact that employment in Scotland is up 27,000 since the election and that unemployment has fallen by 19,000 this quarter, so we are making progress.
Q7. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the progress that has been made across the country in supporting adults with autism since the Autism Act 2009? Following the recent National Audit Office report, will he join me in encouraging his ministerial colleagues and local authorities across the country to accelerate that progress next year, when the adult autism strategy is due to be reviewed? (133013)
First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who was instrumental in getting the landmark Autism Act 2009 on to the statute book. The impact of the Act, I believe, continues right up to this day and beyond. We want all adults living with autism to be able to live fulfilling and rewarding lives within a society that properly accepts them. She is absolutely right that the review of the strategy is coming up next year, between March and October. It is vital that it is a proper cross-Government effort, and after her remarks I will make sure that it is dealt with in a proper and co-ordinated way.
Q8. The green investment bank is due to be given new borrowing powers in three years’ time. In view of the Chancellor’s abject failure to meet his borrowing target, because it was predicated on meeting the borrowing targets set by the Government, is the Prime Minister still committed to giving the bank borrowing powers and, if so, when? (133014)
First, let me make the point that this Government have set up a green investment bank within two years, whereas the Labour party did nothing about that for 13 years. Secondly, even at a time of fiscal difficulty because of the mess we were left, we put £3 billion into the green investment bank, so right now it does not need to borrow because it has the money to invest. I think that what is needed in green investment is that equity risk finance, and that is exactly what the green investment bank can provide.
My right hon. Friend goes to the summit tomorrow. Has he noticed in President Barroso’s blueprint for federalisation of Europe the following sentence: “The European Parliament, and only it, is the parliament for the EU, ensuring democratic legitimacy for the EU”? Does he agree with that or repudiate it, and what will he say to the other leaders at the summit tomorrow?
I agree with my hon. Friend on that one, not President Barroso, for this reason: it is the national parliaments that provide the real democratic legitimacy within the European Union. When we are discussing banking union, it is to this House that we should account. When we are discussing the European budget, it is to this House, which represents our taxpayers, that we should account. I always bear that in mind when I am negotiating, as I will be tomorrow at the European Council.
I would take that from the hon. Lady if her plans were not to borrow even more. The point is—[Interruption.] I know that the Labour party was desperately disappointed that the Office for Budget Responsibility predicted that borrowing would come down this year as well as last year, but that is the fact.
Q10. The Prime Minister has rightly said that we are locked in a global economic race. Does he share my concern that having the highest aviation taxes in the world makes it harder for business to compete and increases the cost of living? Will he ask the Treasury to conduct a full review of whether aviation taxes cost Britain more than they bring in? (133016)
I very much understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. Obviously, I get lobbied regularly by countries around the world, particularly Commonwealth countries, about air passenger duty. We do not have any plans to commission further research at this point because we have just completed a very thorough consultation. Despite the challenge of the budget deficit, we have limited the rise in APD to inflation over the period 2010-11 to 2012-13. As a result, APD rates have increased by only around £1 for the majority of passengers, but I bear in mind very carefully what he says.
Q11. The autumn statement did not include a forecast of child poverty as a result of the policies announced. Can the Prime Minister confirm that it will be published soon—I am sure that it was just an oversight—and could he tell the House whether he really believes that his policies will increase or reduce child poverty in Islington? (133017)
We want to see a genuine and lasting reduction in child poverty, and we need to have policies that not only address whether people are just above or just below the poverty line but actually address the causes of poverty—what it is that traps people in poverty. Of course, as the hon. Lady says, not enough money is part of it; not enough jobs is another, and that is why today’s news on unemployment is so welcome. We need to look at all the things that trap people in unemployment, which include drug and alcohol misuse and family breakdown, as well as, obviously, unemployment.
Q12. As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is a global leader in marine science engineering research. I very much welcome the initiative by the Government to spend more money on our science base. However, would he be willing to meet me, my fellow Plymouth Members of Parliament, and Plymouth businesses to discuss how Plymouth might become involved in the small cities super-broadband initiative, which will help us to rebalance our economy and attract private investment? (133018)
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend. I know that he stands up very strongly for Plymouth and for Plymouth’s economy. He rightly says that we made the decision right at the start of this Government to freeze the science budget rather than cut it, as so many other budgets were cut, and I am sure that that was the right answer. Since then, we have added money back into the science budget. On broadband, I will look carefully at what he says about city broadband. I am sure that he will be glad to know that Devon and Somerset have been allocated over £33 million to deliver superfast broadband. We are working very hard to make sure that all the plans are on track to deliver the superfast broadband that is important for cities but very important for rural areas as well.
The Prime Minister and Members of this House will be fully aware of the very serious threat posed to democracy by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. However, the police have stated that there is evidence of loyalist paramilitary involvement in some of the protests and violence in Northern Ireland this week, which included the sickening attempted murder of police officers who were protecting my constituency office. Will he take this opportunity to condemn this reprehensible assault on democracy from those who style themselves as loyal? Will he agree to meet me and my colleague David Ford, the Justice Minister for Northern Ireland, to discuss the very grave security situation that is developing?
First, I absolutely join the hon. Lady in condemning the violence that we have seen on the streets of Belfast. As she says, in no way are these people being loyal or standing up for Britishness. Violence is absolutely unjustified in those and in other circumstances. I completely agree with what she said about the sickening attack on the police officer. We should again pay tribute to the work that the Police Service of Northern Ireland do on behalf of us all. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our complete solidarity with the hon. Lady and her colleagues, who have themselves been threatened and intimidated over recent days. I am always happy to meet and talk with Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland.
Q13. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating two very young entrepreneurs in my constituency who have taken the initiative to start Cornish Gouda Co. and Team K fashion? Does he agree that this is just the sort of business initiative that we need to see? (133019)
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the entrepreneurs in her constituency. I am looking forward to tasting some Cornish Gouda cheese, although I probably should not for the sake of my weight. She is making an important point, which is that the start-up rate of new businesses in this country is at a record high. Because we need a rebalancing between the public sector and the private sector, we need this entrepreneurship to continue.
First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to the House of Commons and congratulate her on her recent by-election success? We have had to take difficult decisions about welfare—both in-work welfare and out-of-work welfare—so we have put a cap of 1% on all the working benefits, including the one that she has mentioned. Above all, I think that the right thing to do is to cut the taxes of people who are in work, rather than taking more in taxes and then redistributing it through tax credits. We on this side want to cut taxes on those who work. That is what we are doing and there will be more of it to come.
Q14. Over the past five years, benefits have risen twice as fast as salaries. Does the Prime Minister agree that, while we have a duty to the least well-off, it cannot be fair that people who are out of work enjoy bigger increases in their living standards than those who graft hard, day and night, to support themselves and their families? (133020)
My hon. Friend puts it extremely clearly. Many people in our country have seen a pay freeze year after year, yet welfare benefits have gone up year after year. So, in politics, we face a choice: do we go on putting those welfare benefits up, which does not help those who are in work and on a pay freeze, or do we take the tough and necessary decision? We have taken the tough and necessary decision. The only Labour welfare Minister that anyone took seriously was the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). He has said that Labour’s approach simply is not serious, and once again he is right.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and the UK Government on following the lead of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament by introducing equal marriage, minimum alcohol pricing and, previously, the smoking ban. Given that unemployment is now lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, will he follow the lead of the Scottish Government by introducing more shovel-ready measures to stimulate economic growth?
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that, because of the measures taken in the autumn statement, there is an extra £300 million for the Scottish Government to spend, and if they want to spend it on shovel-ready measures, they can. I am also happy that, when good policies are introduced in any part of the United Kingdom, we all have the opportunity to follow them.
Patrick Finucane Report
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Sir Desmond de Silva’s report on the nature and extent of state collusion in the murder of Patrick Finucane. The murder of Patrick Finucane in his home in North Belfast on Sunday l2 February 1989 was an appalling crime. He was shot 14 times as he sat down for dinner with his wife and three children. He died in front of them. His wife was injured, and Pat Finucane died in front of his family.
In the period since the murder, there have been three full criminal investigations carried out by the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Stevens. Taken together, they amount to the biggest criminal investigation in British history, led by the most senior police officer, and consisting of more than 1 million pages of documents and 12,000 witness statements obtained with full police powers. As a result of the third Stevens investigation, one of those responsible, Ken Barrett, was tried and convicted in 2004 for the murder of Patrick Finucane.
There was a further report by Judge Cory. Both Lord Stevens and Judge Cory made it clear that there was state collusion in the murder. This itself was a shocking conclusion, and I apologised to the family on behalf of the British Government when I met them last year. But despite these reports, some 23 years after the murder, there has still only been limited information put into the public domain. The whole country and beyond is entitled to know the extent and nature of the collusion, and the extent of the failure of our state and Government. That is why, last October, this Government asked Sir Desmond de Silva to conduct an independent review of the evidence to expose the truth as quickly as possible.
Sir Desmond has had full and unrestricted access to the Lord Stevens archive and to all Government papers. These include highly sensitive intelligence files and new and significant information that was not available to either Lord Stevens or Justice Cory, including Cabinet papers, minutes of meetings with Ministers and senior officials, and papers and guidance on agent handling. He has declassified key documents, including original intelligence material, and he has published them in volume 2 of his report today. The decision over what to publish was entirely his own—it was entirely a matter for Desmond de Silva. I believe that Sir Desmond’s report has now given us the fullest possible account of the murder of Patrick Finucane and the truth about state collusion. The extent of disclosure in today’s report is without precedent.
Nobody has more pride than me in the work of our armed forces, police and security services. I see at close hand just what they do to keep us safe. As Sir Desmond makes clear, he is looking at
“an extremely dark and violent time”
in Northern Ireland’s history. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the police and security forces that served in Northern Ireland, but we should be in no doubt that this report makes extremely difficult reading. The report sets out the extent of collusion in areas such as identifying, targeting and murdering Mr Finucane; supplying a weapon and facilitating its later disappearance; and deliberately obstructing subsequent investigations. It also answers questions about how high up the collusion went, including the role of Ministers at the time.
Sir Desmond is satisfied that there was not
“an over-arching State conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane”,
but while he rejects any state conspiracy, he does find frankly shocking levels of state collusion. Most importantly, Sir Desmond says he is
“left in significant doubt as to whether Patrick Finucane would have been murdered by the UDA”—
the Ulster Defence Association—
“in February 1989 had it not been for the different strands of involvement by elements of the State.”
He finds that
“a series of positive actions by employees of the State actively furthered and facilitated his murder”.
Sir Desmond cites five specific areas of collusion. First,
“there were extensive ‘leaks’ of security force information to the UDA and other loyalist paramilitary groups.”
“In 1985 the Security Service assessed that 85% of the UDA’s ‘intelligence’ originated from sources within the security forces.”
“satisfied that this proportion would have remained largely unchanged by…the time of Patrick Finucane’s murder.”
Secondly, there was a failure by the authorities to act on threat intelligence. Sir Desmond describes
“an extraordinary state of affairs…in which both the Army and the RUC SB”—
Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch—
“had prior notice of a series of planned UDA assassinations, yet nothing was done by the RUC to seek to prevent these attacks.”
When we read some of the specific cases in the report—page after page in chapter 7—it is really shocking that this happened in our country. In the case of Patrick Finucane, Sir Desmond says that
“it should have been clear to the RUC SB from the threat intelligence that…the UDA were about to mount an imminent attack”,
“it is clear that they took no action whatsoever to act on the threat intelligence.”
Thirdly, Sir Desmond confirms that employees of the state and state agents played “key roles” in the murder. He finds that
“two agents who were at the time in the pay of agencies of the State were involved”—
Brian Nelson and William Stobie—
“together with another who was to become an agent of the State after his involvement in that murder”.
It cannot be argued that these were rogue agents. Indeed, Sir Desmond concludes that Army informer Brian Nelson should
“properly be considered to be acting in a position equivalent to an employee of the Ministry of Defence.”
Although Nelson is found to have withheld information from his Army handlers,
“the Army must bear a degree of responsibility for Brian Nelson's targeting activity during 1987-89, including that of Patrick Finucane.”
Most shockingly of all, Sir Desmond says that
“on the balance of probabilities…an RUC officer or officers did propose Patrick Finucane…as a UDA target when speaking to a loyalist paramilitary.”
Fourthly, there was a failure to investigate and arrest key members of the West Belfast UDA over a long period of time. As I said earlier, Ken Barrett was eventually convicted of the murder. What is extraordinary is that back in 1991, instead of prosecuting him for murder as the RUC criminal investigation department wanted, the RUC special branch decided instead to recruit him as an agent.
Fifthly, this was all part of what Sir Desmond calls a wider
“relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice”
after the murder had taken place. Sir Desmond finds that
“senior Army officers deliberately lied to criminal investigators”
and that the RUC special branch
“were responsible for seriously obstructing the investigation.”
On the separate question of how certain Ministers were briefed, while Sir Desmond finds no political conspiracy, he is clear that Ministers were misled. He finds that
“the Army and Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials provided the Secretary of State for Defence with highly misleading and, in parts, factually inaccurate advice”
about the force research unit’s “handling of Brian Nelson.” On the comments made by Douglas Hogg, Sir Desmond agrees with Lord Stevens that the briefing he received from the RUC meant that he was “compromised”. However, Sir Desmond goes on to say that there is
“no basis for any claim that he intended his comments to provide a form of political encouragement for an attack on any solicitor.”
More broadly on the role of Ministers, Sir Desmond says that there is
“no evidence whatsoever to suggest that any Government Minister had foreknowledge of Patrick Finucane’s murder, nor that they were subsequently informed of any intelligence that any agency of the State had received about the threat to his life.”
He says that the then Attorney-General, Sir Patrick Mayhew, deserves
“significant credit for withstanding considerable political pressure designed to ensure that Brian Nelson was not prosecuted.”
As a result, of course, Nelson was prosecuted in 1992, following the first investigation by Lord Stevens.
The collusion demonstrated beyond any doubt by Sir Desmond, which included the involvement of state agencies in murder, is totally unacceptable. We do not defend our security forces, or the many who have served in them with great distinction, by trying to claim otherwise. Collusion should never, ever happen. So on behalf of the Government, and the whole country, let me say again to the Finucane family, I am deeply sorry.
It is vital that we learn the lessons of what went wrong, and for Government in particular to address Sir Desmond’s criticisms of a
“wilful and abject failure by successive Governments to provide the clear policy and legal framework necessary for agent-handling operations to take place effectively and within the law.”
Since 1989, many steps have been taken to improve the rules, procedures and oversight of intelligence work. There is now a proper legal basis for the security services, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has established a framework for the authorisation of the use and conduct of agents. In addition, the activities of individual agents are now clearly recorded, along with the parameters within which they must work. The Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Office of Surveillance Commissioners now regulate the use of agents and report publicly to this House. Taken together, those changes are designed to ensure that the failures of 1989 could not be made today.
Policing and security in Northern Ireland have been transformed, reflecting the progress that has been made in recent years. The force research unit and the special branch of the RUC have both gone, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland is today one of the most scrutinised police forces anywhere in the world. It is accountable to local Ministers and a local Policing Board. I believe that it commands widespread support across the whole community.
Through all those measures, this Government and our predecessors have shown a determination to do everything possible to ensure that no such collusion ever happens again. We will study Sir Desmond’s report in detail to see what further lessons can be learned. I have asked the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland and the Cabinet Secretary to report back to me on all the issues that arise from the report. I will publish their responses. Other organisations that are properly independent of Government, such as the police and prosecuting authorities, will want to read the report closely and consider their own responses.
Sir Desmond says that his conclusion
“should not be taken to impugn the reputation of the majority of RUC and UDR officers who served with distinction during what was an extraordinarily violent period”.
He goes on to say that
“it would be a serious mistake for this Report to be used to promote or reinforce a particular narrative of any of the groups involved in the Troubles in Northern Ireland.”
I am sure that those statements will have wide support in this House. We should never forget that over 3,500 people lost their lives and there were many terrible atrocities. Sir Desmond reminds us that the Provisional IRA
“was the single greatest source of violence during this period”,
and that a full account of the events of the late 1980s
“would reveal the full calculating brutality of that terrorist group.”
During the troubles over 300 RUC officers and 700 British military personnel were killed, with over 13,000 police and military injured. I pay tribute to them and to all those who defended democracy and the rule of law and created the conditions for the progress we have now seen. We must not take that progress for granted, as we have seen this week, and I pay tribute again to those in the PSNI who are once again in the front line today. We will not allow Northern Ireland to slip back to its bitter and bloody past.
The Finucane family suffered the most grievous lost in the most appalling way imaginable. I know they oppose this review process and I respect their views. However, I do respectfully disagree with them that a public inquiry would produce a fuller picture of what happened and what went wrong. Indeed, the history of public inquiries in Northern Ireland would suggest that had we gone down that route, we would not know now what we know today.
Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past 20 years but there is still more to do to build a genuinely shared future. One thing this Government can do to help is to face up honestly when things have gone wrong in the past. If we as a country want to uphold democracy and the rule of law, we must be prepared to be judged by the highest standards. We must also face up fully when we fall short. In showing once again that we are not afraid to do that, I hope that today’s report can contribute to moving Northern Ireland forward. In that spirit, I commend this statement to the House.
Let me first thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for the tone in which he delivered it. Let me also thank Sir Desmond de Silva for his work and how he went about his task. He has produced a serious and long report within the terms of reference he was set, and it will take time to absorb it. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s apology to the Finucane family; it is the right thing to do, and I am grateful to John Finucane for the conversation that I had with him.
Pat Finucane was a husband, father and brother who was murdered in his own home as he sat with his family on a Sunday evening. What makes it even worse is that 23 years after this appalling crime, his family are still searching for the truth with the utmost courage and dignity.
I agree with the Prime Minister that this report provides disturbing and uncomfortable reading for us all, because it makes it clear that there was collusion in murder and a cover-up, and furthermore that
“Agents of the State were involved in carrying out serious violations of human rights up to and including murder.”
Of course, as the Prime Minister said, this should not diminish the service of thousands of police officers, soldiers and security service personnel who are dedicated to protecting and serving people in Northern Ireland. They have my admiration and I am sure that of the whole House. They will be as appalled as we all are by the findings of the report today.
As we examine and assess the findings of this report and whether it is adequate—the Prime Minister thinks that it is—it is essential that we remember the background. An investigation into the murder of Pat Finucane in which the public had confidence was an important part of the peace process that began under Sir John Major and has continued since.
At Weston Park in 2001 both the Irish and British Governments agreed to appoint a judge of international standing to examine six cases in which there were serious allegations of collusion by the security forces. That applied in both jurisdictions—the UK and Ireland. It was agreed that in the event that a public inquiry was recommended in any of the cases, the relevant Government would implement that recommendation.
Judge Peter Cory was appointed and recommended that public inquiries were necessary in five separate cases. Three of those on the UK side have been completed and the one inquiry recommended on the Irish side is expected to report next year. The only outstanding case in which a public inquiry was recommended but has not taken place is that of Pat Finucane. The last Government could not reach consensus with the Finucane family on arrangements for such an inquiry, but towards the end of our time in office the Finucane family indicated that they would support a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, and a way forward had begun to be discussed. As the Prime Minister knows, the Opposition continue to believe that we should abide by the obligations under the Weston Park agreement. In that context, may I ask him four questions?
First, does the Prime Minister recognise the concern that the failure to hold a public inquiry is at odds with agreements that were an essential part of the peace process? Secondly, I believe it is right to say that Sir Desmond could not compel witnesses or cross-examine them in public and had to accept the assurances of state bodies that he had been given all relevant material. Does the Prime Minister therefore recognise the concern about the limits of what the de Silva inquiry could do compared with a full public inquiry?
Thirdly, the British and Irish Governments had been at one on this issue. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Irish Government about de Silva’s review and about what their position is likely to be today?
My fourth and final question takes me to the issue of public confidence. Continuing to build trust and confidence among the communities of Northern Ireland remains essential, as the Prime Minister said. The appalling violence that we have seen on the streets of Northern Ireland in recent days reminds us of that. Judge Cory said that a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane was needed because
“without public scrutiny doubts based solely on myth and suspicion will linger long, fester and spread their malignant infection throughout the Northern Ireland community.”
Notwithstanding the good work done by Sir Desmond de Silva, can the Prime Minister really say with confidence that the whole truth has been established in the case of Pat Finucane? How can we say that when it is dismissed by the family and many in Northern Ireland?
We must, as a United Kingdom, accept that our state sometimes did not meet the high standards that we set ourselves during the Northern Ireland conflict. Anyone reading the report will believe that it describes an appalling episode in our history. Those in all parts of the House share a belief that we must establish the full and tested truth about Pat Finucane’s murder, but the Opposition continue to believe that a public inquiry is necessary for his family and for Northern Ireland.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s response and the way in which he gave it. Let me say first that he is entirely right that we should take time to study and consider the report. There is a huge amount of detail in it, and lots of consequences may flow from it.
The right hon. Gentleman focused on the important question of whether there should be a public inquiry. I made the decision that it would not be right to have one for a number of reasons. First, if we look at the other inquiries that were started after the Weston Park agreement was reached—it is worth noting that that is now more than 10 years ago—we see that some of them took five or six years or longer and cost tens of millions of pounds, and I do not believe that they got closer to the truth than de Silva has in his excellent and full report. In fact, in the case of one of those inquiries, after six years and £30 million, the reaction of the family, which I can understand in some ways, was to ask for a further inquiry. To me, the real question is: what is the fastest way to get to the truth and the best way to lay out what happened and provide the security that that brings? I believe that the process we have been through is right.
On the Irish Government, I spoke this morning to Enda Kenny. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the position of the Taoiseach and the Irish Government has been in favour of a public inquiry, but I think they understand why we took our decision and respect the fact that we have been incredibly open and frank about what happened.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about the limits of this process compared with the public inquiry process, we have held nothing back. De Silva says in his report that he had full access to all the documents and everything he wanted, and that the decision to redact any names or information was taken by him. Of course, there is always the question of the public inquiry. We took our decision, and I said at the time of the last election that I did not think it was right to have further open-ended public inquiries following the enormous time and expense of the Saville inquiry, and I think that that remains the right position. We need to look at ways in which we can get to the truth and help people to move ahead in Northern Ireland, and this has been a good exercise in doing just that.
Obviously the last Government considered this matter, I am sure very carefully, but I would make the point that they had all the time between 2001 and 2010 to start the work of an inquiry and did not take that decision. I think that was partly because they understood, as we did, the problems, dangers and expense of open-ended inquiries.
In the end, what matters is getting to the truth, and I cannot think of many other countries anywhere in the world that would set out in so much detail and with so much clarity what went wrong. It pains me to read the report, because I am so proud of our country, our institutions such as the police and our security services and what they do to keep us safe. It is agony to read in the report what happened, but it is right that we publish it. We do not need a public inquiry with cross-examination to do that, we just need a Government who are bold enough to say, “Let’s unveil what happened, let’s publish it and then let’s see the consequences.”
I join the Prime Minister in condemning the collusion of some state agents in the murder of Mr Finucane. I, too, extend my sympathies to Mr Finucane’s family.
Does the Prime Minister agree that it is important to see this action in the context of the 1980s, which he has rightly described as a very dangerous time in Northern Ireland? Was it not extremely important, as it is now, that intelligence gathering took place, and that in general terms it saved many lives? Does he further agree that any leaks from the RUC that Sir Desmond has identified ought also to be seen in the right context, because the RUC at that time, like the PSNI this week, stood between Northern Ireland and the abyss?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to refer us back to what was happening in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and the atmosphere and pressures of that time, and to talk about the important work that agents do in countering terrorism. Of course, we should continue that work, properly regulated and dealt with, as I argued earlier. We have to be careful, though, because if we are proud of the health of our democracy, the rule of law and our system, we have to expect the highest standards when we look back. We cannot just say, “Well, bad things happened. Other people did bad things, we did bad things”. We have to be better than that, and that is what the report and our response should be about.
May I ask the Prime Minister which Ministers he intends to consult on the matter? He was right to point out the destruction that the Provisional IRA wreaked upon people’s lives in Northern Ireland, but there is no equivalence between what a terrorist organisation does and what a state does. It is important that the Attorney-General should be involved in looking carefully at the report, because there might well have to be prosecutions arising from it.
The right hon. Gentleman makes exactly the point that I was trying to make a moment ago. We cannot try to draw an equivalence between a state and a terrorist organisation. We have to have the highest standards, and it is right to ask that we live up to them.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s specific point about what others should do, it is important in our country that the prosecuting authorities and the police are independent and go where the evidence takes them. I am sure they will want to study the report carefully, because it has new information and new facts and makes some uncomfortable points about what parts of the RUC and other organisations did.
May I support the observation that the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) made about the need to consider whether prosecution is justified, which is a matter not for the Prime Minister but for the Attorney-General? In dealing with that, I have no doubt that the Attorney-General will show the same independence of mind and integrity that Sir Patrick Mayhew demonstrated in this case.
In the more than 25 years for which I have been a Member of this House, I cannot remember a statement from the Dispatch Box that has filled me with more revulsion and horror than the Prime Minister’s outlining of the events that happened. The violation of the Finucane family and the horror of the assassination were compounded by what we now know where deliberate attempts at obfuscation. If the report does anything, it surely points out the crucial fact that when dealing with terrorism, we must not descend to the terrorists’ level, because by doing so we lose the argument.
My right hon. and learned Friend puts the point incredibly clearly. There are some very shocking things in this report. What perhaps shocked me the most are some of the things that happened after the murder took place. The fact that someone who was effectively one of those responsible for the murder was then hired as an agent is truly shocking. The fact that the Army—it says here—did not co-operate properly with the Stevens inquiry, and effectively lied to it, is shocking. That is why it is so important that we lay this bare. The point my right hon. and learned Friend makes about never descending to that level is that whatever battle we are fighting against terror—and we are fighting battles against terror all the time—we have to maintain that we are at all times obeying the rule of law.
I thank the Prime Minister for his efforts and his statement, which is indeed very welcome. I welcome the report, given its limitations, in so far as it takes us a little further down the road towards truth. It provides some further chilling detail for this House about what many of us already know, but in my opinion it falls far short and does not go far enough. It helps that some of the frightening details have emerged in the report, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments about what happened after the murder. For me, that is significant, because it is only a continuation of some things that were done before the murder, which Sir Desmond was not able to confirm, and there was a deep conspiracy running through the elements that were involved.
There was failure, obstruction and general neglect of duty—the fact that the Army was not able to co-operate with Stevens; the fact that a Minister of this House was misled and misinformed prior to the murder, and made statements to this House. Indeed, my colleague Seamus Mallon, a former Member of this House, made reference to the very point, on the day that statement was made, that this would cost lives.
The report confirms that the UDA was steered and prompted to murder Pat Finucane by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch, which should have been performing the role of questioning and putting people in prison. The UDA gunman was coached as to who might be targeted for murder—two other lawyers were targeted as well. Police files were handed to the UDA for further murder operations, involving not just those three lawyers but further people.
I was very proud to stand with the Finucane family in those desperate times at Pat’s funeral, as they buried him. The Social Democratic and Labour party and I will stand with them today—and indeed into the future—because we support their demand for a full public inquiry. We feel that we have still got only half the truth out. This report confirms why Judge Cory was right, as the family were right, to demand an open, international, independent inquiry. There are people out there who should be held to account, even though it is 23 years too late. In the light of this report, I ask the Prime Minister to reconsider and agree to the family’s request for a full inquiry and prosecutions.
Beyond that, the Finucane report confirms the case for a comprehensive truth process, which we all need. The need for such a process grows more urgent by the day. I echo the words of other colleagues. We should not set our standards by the standards of the Provisional IRA or any loyalist group, so will the Prime Minister please reconsider and allow a full inquiry?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that he speaks with real knowledge, passion and interest on this issue. First, on how we have a process in Northern Ireland of getting to the truth in more of these cases, I commend the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. It has done good work, it can continue to do good work and we should continue to fund it so that it can do so.
On whether an inquiry would find out more, I would make two points. First, if we have an inquiry process, the whole process, as we saw with Saville, would start with an enormous discussion about who had anonymity and how the case would proceed. In the case of Saville, that went on for many years before the investigation started. If we look at other public inquiries, I would argue that some of them have got less close to the truth than this report.
I would make one further point, which is that the Stevens process was an investigation with the full powers of a criminal investigation. Now it is open to the authorities, if they want, to repeat that process. That combination of having had a criminal investigation—which made some progress and led to a prosecution—having had the fullest possible disclosure of all the documents and all the evidence, and then saying to the prosecuting and other authorities that it is up to them, if they believe there is further work that can be done, is the right approach. It is faster and more effective than either starting with a public inquiry process now or, had we or a previous Government done so a few years ago, having one that would only just be getting into gear now.
Speaking as someone who has been involved in both intelligence work and counter-intelligence work at this most difficult period, may I say that I was proud to stand alongside police officers and Army officers who did their work gallantly, properly and within the law? Will the Prime Minister please ensure that if there are cases for prosecutions of those who broke the law, they will be pursued unflinchingly?
I think the whole House and, indeed, the country—and many people in Northern Ireland—will have listened to someone who served in our forces, reached a senior rank in our forces, served in Northern Ireland and served in intelligence matters saying that as clearly as he has. That is extremely important. It is so important for our military, our Security Service and our police that serving and previous members say that what they did was done with honour, gallantry and in a way that was right. Their good name is besmirched by the terrible things we read in this report, so my hon. Friend is absolutely right that where there should be criminal investigations, there should be such investigations.
May I join the Prime Minister in extending an apology to the Finucane family, but may I also respectfully disagree with the conclusion he reaches from this report? My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) is entirely right to conclude that we should uphold the call for a full independent inquiry. I say respectfully to the Prime Minister that it might be difficult to establish the terms of reference for such a judicial inquiry, but that should never be confused with the need for such an inquiry to take place. It might be difficult, but that does not mean that we should not pursue justice.
This report is indeed shocking. If I may, I want to ask the Prime Minister about one of its findings. I share his full admiration for the security services and the forces that have undoubtedly saved many lives in Northern Ireland, but this report finds, in just one conclusion, that Ministers were misled about the flow of information from the security forces to loyalist paramilitaries. Far from, as Ministers were told at the time, there being just a few rogue individuals—a phrase known to this House on other matters—it turns out that Desmond de Silva finds that between 1987 and 1989 there were 287 instances of that flow of information, some of which compromised the most top-secret security information.
I am afraid that this report is just the beginning of a set of questions. It is not a set of answers. The Prime Minister’s statement was indeed grave. For the good reputation of the security forces, he would be wise to reconsider. They have been very badly damaged by the conclusions of this report. For their good reputation and for the Finucane family, will he reconsider having an inquiry?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s question and the way he puts it. Let me be clear: the reason for not having a full public inquiry is not that it would not be possible to establish the terms of reference. My view is that it is not the right approach, because I do not think it would achieve what we need to achieve. I do not necessarily think that a long, open-ended, very expensive inquiry would actually get further than what we have in this report, which has been an exercise in opening up government, the security services and the police to the maximum extent possible. Nothing has been held back, so I do not think we will get further. Of course, a public inquiry would put a stay on any potential prosecution while it was under way. We are not having a public inquiry because I do not believe it is the right approach; I think this report is the right approach—and as I say, I cannot think of any other country in the world that would open itself up in the way that we have quite rightly done so.
The point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about Ministers being misled is absolutely right. That is why I said in my statement that the Cabinet Secretary is one of the people who will report back to me about lessons that need to be learned or problems that still need to be uncovered or dealt with. That is important. The only point I would make to the right hon. Gentleman about the role of the security services is that things have changed fundamentally since 1989. In 1987 and ’88, it was still a time when Ministers at this Dispatch Box did not even admit that we had a Security Service. It is now on a statutory basis—it is properly regulated and under the law—there are information commissioners who have to examine what is done and ministerial permission is properly sought in all the proper ways. The situation is totally transformed. That does not mean that there are not lessons to be learned, however, which is why the Defence Secretary, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary will all be reading this report carefully and reporting back to me, and I will make those reports public.
I, like my good friend the hon. and gallant Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), was an intelligence officer in Northern Ireland. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the identities of those people from all sides who gave information to the security forces—I had well over 100 people giving information to me, albeit sometimes indirectly—will be kept secret, because it would be devastating if such information were ever to get out?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the process of writing these reports, the author has to consider carefully article 2—the right to life of all those people contained in the report. It was Sir Desmond de Silva’s decision about who to identify and who not to identify. It is important to bear it in mind that although there are occasions where someone is not identified in the report because of that article 2 consideration, there are also occasions where someone cannot be identified because the report cannot be sure about who was responsible for such and such an action. It needs to be read in that way.
When this review was announced to this House in October last year, I said that the murder of Pat Finucane was
“an atrocious, terrible, despicable crime.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 343.]
We repeat that today. Anyone guilty in any way of involvement in his murder needs to face justice. There should be no covering up or resiling from that. With reference to the fact that some 3,500 people were murdered in the course of the troubles, with over 1,000 of them being in the security forces, as the Prime Minister referenced, does he accept that he owes it and this House owes it to all the victims on all sides to ensure that all murders are fully investigated and that there is a sense of justice for all families, no matter on what side, who find themselves victims of terrorism?
Given the problems with public inquiries, not least the expense, does the Prime Minister accept that it is now clear that such inquiries do not provide closure—despite what has been said? We have seen that in Northern Ireland with the Bloody Sunday inquiry and other inquiries. The evidence is clear that they have had the effect in the minds of many of elevating certain crimes above other crimes where there have also been failings and which are equally heinous.
Finally, does the Prime Minister agree with me about the sight of Sinn Fein leaders hypocritically lecturing people today about human rights—leaders of Sinn Fein who have been deeply and intensely involved personally in murder and terrible terrorist crimes? People need to hear a clear message from the Prime Minister that wrongdoing on all sides will be punished, but that we will never succumb to the propaganda of elevating terrorists and equating them—no matter who they are—with the tens of thousands of decent ordinary people in the security forces who have protected life and limb during 30 to 40 years of terrible violence in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Making sure that others in Northern Ireland can find justice is, I think, the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. As I said, it should continue with its work. As to what the right hon. Gentleman says specifically about wrongdoing by the IRA, the report could not be clearer that it bears an enormous responsibility, as I read out in my statement, for an extremely bloodthirsty campaign and for a huge amount of the suffering caused. Sir Desmond de Silva could not be more frank about that, but that does not mean that we should not do what a proper democratic state under the rule of law does, which is to explain what went wrong and how we learn lessons from it.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Sir Desmond in his report finds that successive Governments failed to put in place proper guidelines for agents and their handlers, which resulted in agents participating in serious crime without adequate control by their handlers? Will he reassure the House that there are now proper guidelines and adequate controls?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. This is one of the report’s key findings for government: successive Governments, one after another, did not crack the problem of putting in place a legal basis for the security services and agent handling, or indeed provide guidance and processes. In my experience as Prime Minister for the last two and a half years, I believe that does now exist. We have the regulation of investigatory powers; we have intelligence commissioners and intercept commissioners; we have annual reports by the heads of the services; we have the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has given an enormous amount of access and information; and we have ministerial oversight by the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary of the two principal services. I think the situation is transformed. Even since I have been Prime Minister we have issued quite a lot of guidance—at the time of the Guantanamo detainees issue—to try to make sure that we deal with this problem properly. I am always open to further suggestions, but the situation has been transformed over the past 20 years.
Notwithstanding the disagreement over an inquiry, may I commend the Prime Minister for the searing honesty of his statement, which allows the whole House to express solidarity with the Finucane family who are with us today? What this report and the Prime Minister have revealed is even worse than I thought and was informed about as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The fact that special branch agents and members of the Army’s force research unit were involved and up to their necks in this murder is horrendous. Does the right hon. Gentleman think it right therefore that Colonel Gordon Kerr, commanding officer of the force research unit at the time, should have been promoted subsequently to brigadier?
First, let me echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Finucane family. They have carried out a very respectful, very legitimate and perfectly fair campaign, because they want justice for the appalling wrong done to Pat and the appalling way in which he was murdered. I had a meeting with them last year, and while, obviously, we did not agree about the outcome, I hope they can see that I was sincere in saying that I would open every door, I would open every part of Whitehall and do everything I could to try to get the fullest, truest picture of what happened as quickly as possible. I profoundly believe that that is the right approach, rather than a costly, lengthy public inquiry, which might not—may well not—get as far as this report.
On what the right hon. Gentleman says about the specific individual, much information about what individual people did is in that report. As I have said, it is now open for different authorities to take the steps that they find appropriate. I have specifically asked the Defence Secretary, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary to examine what is in the report and to give any lessons back directly to me, which I will then publish.
The Prime Minister has just made a brief reference to the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Does he agree with me that the proposal to give that Committee enhanced investigative powers under the forthcoming Justice and Security Bill ought to add further reassurance for the future of the power and ability of democratic bodies to investigate alleged past abuses?
The Intelligence and Security Committee does an important job. I found particularly our recent meeting extremely helpful and informative. The Committee is like a second set of eyes on the judgments of Ministers and others, and it has the access in order to question and call them to account. That is an important part of the picture; as important are the guidance and rules that we set for our security and intelligence services. Those were clearly wanting—they did not exist in this case—but they are now in place.
I acknowledge the sincerity of the Prime Minister’s statement and of the apology he gave, but does he accept that if Widgery had been followed by a review rather than by the Saville inquiry—for all the time and money it cost—the apology he gave in this House in June 2010 would not have carried the force that it did. Does he not accept that, if the family continue to believe that there are questions that remain unanswered, their campaign for a public inquiry will continue and one day will have to be met?
I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said, because I know that he was a dedicated Northern Ireland Minister. What I would say is that there is a difference between the two cases. This review followed the three Stevens investigations, which were extensive police investigations with full police powers. It seems to me that after those, what was lacking—as Stevens had talked about collusion and pointed to collusion—was a full revelation of the extent of that collusion, and I think that that is what this report provides.
If there is a need for follow-up, in terms of, for instance, a policing or a prosecution, it is now open to those agencies to arrange that. If we went into a long inquiry process, it would all have to be put off until the future, with no guarantee that we would get any further than the massive amount of detail and disclosure that is included in this report.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the public inquiry into the murder of Billy Wright took some six years and cost £30 million to administer, and that in the end the family and everyone else were extremely dissatisfied with the outcome? Does he not agree that it is far better to take action now on this report, to bring those responsible to justice, and to achieve closure for the family and all who mourn Pat Finucane’s loss?
Let me say first that no one would want to compare Pat Finucane to Billy Wright. The report states very clearly that there was no evidence that he was a member of the IRA. However, my hon. Friend has made an important point about what happened at the end of some of those other inquiries—and the Wright inquiry is an example—after six or seven years, and after tens of millions of pounds had been spent. The Wright inquiry did not actually find the answer to the question of how the murder had taken place, and at the end of it the family said that they wanted another inquiry. My point is that the fact that an inquiry is public does not mean that we get any further than we have in the full opening process that we have now undergone, and that is why I think that this is the right answer.
Today will be a very emotional and distressing day for the Finucane family. I know that they were viciously robbed of a father, a husband, a brother and a son, and my thoughts and prayers are very much with them at this very difficult time. They are also with those who serve Northern Ireland with integrity, and who will find the report painful reading.
The Prime Minister has outlined the changes in the security services and policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. However, Sir Desmond said in his report that there was a
“seriously disproportionate focus by the RUC on acting upon… intelligence that related to individuals… being targeted by republican paramilitary groups”,
as opposed to loyalist groups. Can the Prime Minister assure us categorically that such a disparity will never be permitted again, and that all terrorism will be treated with equal seriousness and diligence?
The Prime Minister also acknowledged that there were many other families who had lost their relatives at the hands of republican and loyalist terrorists, and to whom no inquiries had been granted. Those families are no nearer to knowing the truth about the death of their loved ones, despite the diligent work of the Historical Enquiries Team. Will the Prime Minister now commit himself to delivering a comprehensive process to address the past and its legacy—a process that can focus on truth, on justice and, crucially, on reconciliation?
The hon. Lady made an important point about the disparity between investigations of loyalist terrorism and investigations of republican terrorism. She should read the report carefully, because it contains some quite interesting figures relating to the number of loyalist murderers who have been brought to justice—and to some extent it is encouraging that that did happen—but I entirely agree with the thrust of her question, and that is why I think that the establishment of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been so important.
When I visited one of the PSNI’s training colleges some years ago, I was struck by the fact that the ethos of the organisation was all about trying to bring the community together and trying to police the community together, and by the fact that it focused on recruiting from right across the community. I think I can give an assurance that the danger of there being different levels of investigation of different parts of the community will not arise again.
I thank the Prime Minister for his robust, honest and heartfelt statement and apology. I also thank Sir Desmond for his report and the Police Service of Northern Ireland for their continuing excellent work, and associate myself and my colleagues with, in particular, the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) in expressing sympathy for and solidarity with the Finucane family.
Given that something deeply wrong was done on a regular basis by the state and agents of the state but there are now proper legal structures in which agents can work, will the Prime Minister assure us that in future no agents of the state or members of state institutions will work with the paramilitaries under cover, other than those whose actions have been authorised and have been reported to the authorities, and who are accountable to the relevant Committee of Parliament and to him?
I think that what my right hon. Friend is asking is that there should be no circumstances in which there are rogue agents. These things must be done within the law, within proper guidance and within proper procedures, as is entirely right. I can therefore give him the assurance for which he has asked.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and his apology, and I welcome the tone of his statement. Like him, I do not think that a full new independent public inquiry into this very tragic matter would serve any purpose for anyone, but does he agree that the way in which the Government and the country can accept its failings should serve as a lesson to other countries? Does he not think that the Irish Government might consider looking into some of the rumours, and actual evidence, of collusion between the Irish police over such terrible atrocities as the Kingsmill bombing?
I thank the hon. Lady for her support. I hope that others can see that we are holding back nothing, but opening up and showing what happened in all its unbelievable ghastliness. I hope that the Irish Government will appreciate that, while perhaps still believing that a different path should be taken.
The House may be interested to hear the figures relating to other inquiries. The Robert Hamill inquiry began in 2004 and was completed in April 2011, but its findings have not yet been published because of live criminal proceedings. The Rosemary Nelson inquiry report was published in May 2011. The Billy Wright inquiry cost £30.5 million, the Hamill inquiry £32.6 million, and the Nelson inquiry £46.5 million. Each of those inquiries overran significantly in terms of both time and money. The Wright and Hamill inquiries were both established under the Inquiries Act 2005, so the argument that somehow all this was sorted because of a new Inquiries Act does not really hold water.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is immensely painful to do, but I think the Government have shown that they are prepared to do it, and others must do the same in all parts. That, I think, is how we can come to terms with the past. I hear very clearly the remarks of Opposition Members about trying to create a single process, and obviously I listen to that, but in the end the best way of coming to terms with the past is to be open, frank, clear and transparent about what happened, and to apologise when that is appropriate.
I join others who have expressed condemnation of the murder of Pat Finucane. He was killed brutally in front of a devoted family, and I am deeply, deeply sorry about that. However, I must refute the widespread and unfair criticism of the RUC that I have heard in the House today.
The Prime Minister quoted Sir Desmond’s observation that nothing that he said should
“be taken to impugn the reputation of the majority of RUC…who served with distinction during what was an extraordinarily violent period”.
In the light of what Sir Desmond said, I ask the Prime Minister to take this opportunity to put on record his personal, sincere admiration for the extraordinary work done by RUC officers—men and women—of whom my late husband was enormously proud. He was Chief Constable at the time, and I am very sorry indeed that Pat Finucane died in such a brutal manner, but I should like the Prime Minister to pay warm tribute to the RUC, of whom my husband was so very proud.
I am happy to pay warm tribute to the RUC and the people who served in it, because they faced the most unbelievable pressure. They were dealing with the most unbelievably difficult set of circumstances. I know that the overwhelming majority of people in the Royal Ulster Constabulary served with bravery, with dedication, and with regard to the law and to truth; I know that the hon. Lady’s husband was one of those; and I know that in his report Desmond de Silva was very clear about the good work that the RUC did. That is why it is so painful to read about the bad things that happened in parts of the RUC. It is particularly striking that the RUC CID wanted to prosecute Barratt, who should originally have been prosecuted for the murder, but the Special Branch decided to recruit him. It is clear there were some very bad apples doing the wrong thing, but that does not impugn the reputation of the whole of the RUC that served our country with great dedication.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the statesman-like way he has presented this case. It cannot have been easy; indeed, I suspect it was incredibly difficult. I also pay tribute to the family, who must have gone through a very difficult time over the past 23 years, and I pay tribute, too, to the servicemen and women who did their job in a legal manner, especially the Royal Marines, as I know they lost a number of lives in Northern Ireland. If there were a review, how long does my right hon. Friend think it would take?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about those who served and those who continue to serve, including the Royal Marines. One cannot say exactly how long a public inquiry would take, but as we have learnt from experience, an enormous amount of ground clearing work would need to be done before it could even get going—the process of everyone hiring lawyers and trying to work out who is going to have anonymity and so forth. I came to office having made a promise that we were not going to have further costly open-ended inquiries. I have looked at the evidence in this case, and I have met the family, and I have seen that there is nothing the Government are holding back. I could see a stronger case for an inquiry if there was an open question about whether we were prepared to admit there was a problem with the MOD; we are. Was there a problem with parts of the RUC? There was. Were Ministers misled? I can say yes, they were. There is no argument that we are holding back on, so what matters is getting to the truth with the greatest disclosure, and I do not think that that requires an inquiry.
The Prime Minister must realise that many of us find it hard to leave these matters simply to the interpretations and inferences Desmond de Silva has drawn from the dreadful evidence his inquiry has produced. We are dealing with a situation where terrorism took on the form of paramilitarism and military intelligence took on the form of para-terrorism. That is what was happening. In Special Branch, the force research unit and the secret services, there was a culture of anything goes but nobody knows—and following Desmond de Silva’s report we are still being asked to accept that nobody knows. Our predecessor Social Democratic and Labour party MPs told the Ministers of the time that that was what was going on. That is why we said we needed a new beginning to policing and we needed Special Branch to go, yet in all that time we were denounced, denigrated and dismissed. The one good thing about the Prime Minister’s statement today is that others in this House can no longer be in denial about what was happening.
There were so many levels and layers of collusion—all the deadly dereliction and the deviance and the dark deployment—but we are being asked to agree that it all adds up to there being no co-ordination. The Prime Minister must know that if we are to get to the bottom of this, we have to get to the top of it, but Desmond de Silva is trying to tell us, “No, there was no top.”
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, the campaign he has fought and the points he has made. He and his predecessors in the SDLP were right about what went wrong, and this report shows that they were right. It shows the extent to which we are prepared to open up and be clear about what happened. As for the organisations he mentions, the FRU has gone, and the RUC Special Branch has gone, so the question now is whether there is anything else to discover that this report has not discovered but a public inquiry would, and I do not believe there is.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about how high this went, Sir Desmond de Silva is absolutely clear that Ministers were misled and briefings were given that should not have been given, but he does not find that there was a ministerial conspiracy or ministerial order for the murder of Pat Finucane. That is very important. We now have a true picture and it is for others, including the police and the prosecuting authorities, to work out whether there is anything more that can be done.
My right hon. Friend’s statement was full of shocking and shameful revelations. Notwithstanding the dignity and good work of the vast majority of our security services in the past, can he confirm that the oversight, scrutiny and accountability of our intelligence services today is completely different?
I am happy to give that assurance. I would not stand here and say it is perfect in every way. There are always improvements that we can make to the arrangements, which is why we have an Intelligence and Security Committee that scrutinises what is done and an Intelligence Services Commissioner who looks into the work that is done, but the situation has been transformed. When we read this report and think about what happened and what these agents were doing, it appears that that was a completely different world, where there does not seem to have been rules, processes, the rule of law, consideration of human rights or ministerial oversight. There were not those things that there are now.
I have not got that information to hand, but the advice to Ministers is covered in the report. I think one of the report’s key findings on ministerial action is to do with whether Nelson should have been prosecuted. It is argued that the advice to Ministers was misleading, and as a result a decision was made to hold a Shawcross process, which is when the Attorney-General asks Ministers for advice on whether a prosecution should go ahead. The key point is that, as de Silva says, Paddy Mayhew as Attorney-General demonstrated his independence—and, indeed, good judgment—and said a prosecution should go ahead.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I think the report has done that. As Desmond de Silva makes clear in the introduction to the report, he was given access to all the papers he wanted to see in every part of Government, including Cabinet papers and intelligence papers. I must not put words in his mouth, but he was not left saying that a further inquiry was necessary. He was left saying, “I got all the information I needed to set out the fullest possible picture I could.”
Coming from a family that knows the pain caused by the murder of loved ones, I understand the pain experienced by the Finucane family, but in the light of the demands by Enda Kenny for a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane, has the Prime Minister made representations to the Irish Government to hold a public inquiry into collusion between previous Governments of the Irish Republic and the IRA, including the arming of the Provisional IRA and inflicting 30 years of murder and mayhem on the people of Northern Ireland? Should an apology not be forthcoming from the Irish Republic, and should all those guilty of murder not face the full rigours of the law, irrespective of who they are and what position they hold, whether in the Dail or Stormont?
Every organisation—every Government—has to face up to its own history and explain what it did and why. The British Government get all sorts of criticism, but I do not think anyone can criticise us for not being incredibly open about what happened. I would also say that British-Irish relations are better today than probably at any time in the last 25 years. Getting to the truth about the past really matters, of course, but so, too, does trying to secure a peaceful future for Northern Ireland, and those relations are very important for that, and I want to build on them.
I have met the family of Pat Finucane here in Parliament and I pay tribute to them for the dignity with which they have conducted themselves in their quest for justice. Public inquiries do not have to be over-long and over-expensive, as the Baha Mousa inquiry shows. If after reading the de Silva report the family of Pat Finucane still request a public inquiry, will the Prime Minister listen to their request?
I myself met the Finucane family and I will always listen to what they say, but I have to say that I think that what we have done—we have taken a very open approach, putting all the information out there in public—is the right approach and is the best way to get to the truth of what happened.
The hon. Gentleman says that public inquiries do not necessarily take a long time. I refer him to the fact that the other inquiries set up after 2004 ended up costing tens of millions of pounds. The Baha Mousa inquiry was about one individual and a number of hours spent in custody, whereas this is about an issue that has had the biggest police investigation in British history—involving three separate sets of investigations and millions of documents. There would be no concept of a short inquiry for this; it would be multi-year, multi-million pound, with absolutely no guarantee that it would get closer to the truth than this extremely open and truthful document we have in front of us.
The review has now been completed, the Prime Minister has, again, come to the Dispatch Box and apologised, and, yes, the murder has to be condemned. However, may I remind the Prime Minister that there are those of us on these Benches, including my own family, who have lost loved ones to the provos over the past 25 years? My family lost four of its members, but no review and no public inquiry was offered to them. When are we going to see equality for all families?
Many people in this House have suffered loss because of terrorists. I remember the first Member of Parliament who ever represented me, Airey Neave, and I think of Ian Gow, for whom I once had the huge privilege of writing a speech when I was a junior researcher. I remember going to have a drink with him in this House and getting to know him a little, and then reading one day that he had been murdered by the IRA. We cannot have an inquiry into every one of those murders; we have to find a way of trying to come to terms with the past. People have suffered dreadfully, but we have to find a way of moving ahead in Northern Ireland, which the people of Northern Ireland have done, and I believe it is our job to encourage that.
I thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House with this statement. Nevertheless, this remains a paper review. He has asked a number of his Departments to look at various issues and open up Whitehall to questions, so may I ask him to think again about a public inquiry? There is a Treasury Solicitor’s Department—a Government Department—which can co-ordinate a public inquiry very simply and cheaply, along the lines of the Baha Mousa inquiry. May I also ask the Prime Minister to meet the family today to ask them whether they think this paper review seeks the truth about the death of Pat Finucane?
I would not describe this simply as a “paper review”; Desmond de Silva did meet some people and conducted interviews. The hon. Lady should also remember that it was a review based on the fact that there had been the largest criminal investigation in British history, which had interviewed everybody and had the documentation. Alongside that—all the access to the Stevens material—Desmond de Silva also had access to all the intelligence and other material in Whitehall. On that basis, I think it is a very complete piece of work.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I stand solidly and squarely with Geraldine Finucane, her two sons and daughter, and the wider Finucane family. I recognise that many people and many families, not least Members of this House, from Northern Ireland have also suffered as a result of more than 30 years of the troubles. Does the Prime Minister not now consider, in view of de Silva’s report, which indicated very high levels of state collusion, that there is a need for an international public inquiry that will address issues of collusion and complicity? We in the Social Democratic and Labour party—our current three Members and our predecessors—always recognised and acknowledged the deep levels of collusion in Northern Ireland that resulted in murders right across the community, whether on the loyalist or on the republican side. For that reason, we now need an international public inquiry, to investigate not only Pat Finucane’s murder but all the other murders that were a result of state collusion and state complicity.
This report is about state collusion and state complicity. I cannot think of a country anywhere else in the world that would have revealed in more detail, with no holds barred and no documents held back, the full extent of that collusion, and stood up, put its hand up and said, “This is what went wrong. This is what we apologise for. This is how we will make sure it never takes place again.” I recommend that the hon. Lady look at paragraph 113, where de Silva talks about his “Lessons for the future” and states:
“It is essential that the involvement of agents in serious criminal offences can always be reviewed and investigated and that allegations of collusion with terrorist groups are rigorously pursued. Perhaps the most obvious and significant lesson of all, however, is that it should not take over 23 years to properly examine, unravel and publish a full account of collusion in the murder of a solicitor that took place in the United Kingdom.”
I believe that Desmond de Silva is saying that that is what has been done; that is what has been laid bare. It has not taken a public inquiry; it has taken a Government to open up everything and say, “Let’s get the truth out. And here it is.”
If the Lawrence and Hillsborough families have taught us anything, it is that the families will not go away until they see justice in their terms. In an Adjournment debate I sought in 1999, I read into the record statements made in 1989 by an Under-Secretary at the Home Office. He had said that “a number of solicitors” were “unduly sympathetic” to the cause of the IRA, adding that these statements were made on the basis of “advice” and “guidance” from people “dealing with the matters”. Pat Finucane was murdered three and a half weeks later. The inquiry has said that there is no basis for any claim that the then Under-Secretary intended his comments to provide a form of political encouragement for any attack on any solicitor, but these words were certainly unwise and they contributed to a climate in which solicitors were made vulnerable—not only Pat Finucane, but Rosemary Nelson. Because these were statements by a Government Minister, does the Prime Minister’s apology extend to an apology for those expressions by the then Under-Secretary?
Let me first respond to the hon. Gentleman’s point about Hillsborough. There was a public inquiry and an inquest, but they were, in effect, faulty. It took an act by Government, with the Bishop of Liverpool, to lay open all the information. The families have thus been able to see the truth and, hopefully, they will be able to get that new inquest. I would argue that in this case that is what has happened: there was this full police investigation, but instead of having a public inquiry we have opened up and given all the information that is necessary.
On Douglas Hogg, I ask the hon. Gentleman to read the report carefully. It finds that Douglas Hogg was briefed in a way that he should not have been briefed, that that compromised him and that therefore what he said was unfortunate. But the report does not find that he in any way encouraged the action that took place or in any way knew about it. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to read the report very carefully in that regard.
There has of course been widespread condemnation of the murder of Pat Finucane and of all the others in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister alluded to trying to get at the truth of this issue. Does he accept that after a series of inquiries, reviews and reports that have cost tens of millions of pounds, if not hundreds of millions, into a small number of totally and utterly regrettable and unacceptable incidents, the problem that we have in this House is the credibility gap, because others out there caused the violence in the first instance and have never apologised, have never reviewed and have never reported? They have never said sorry for the activities that they carried out, which ensured that others responded to their activities. Will the Prime Minister indicate that they should open up and say sorry for what they have done—for 30 years of murder?
Everyone has to face up to what they did and what they got wrong. It is up to those people responsible for violence, for terror, for murder to do that; they should apologise for what they did. But let me repeat: we should not put ourselves in this House, in government and in a state that believes in the rule of law, democracy and human rights, on a level with those organisations. We expect higher standards and when we get it wrong, we need to explain and completely open up in the way that we have done today.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and I agree with his decision not to have a public inquiry. The Prime Minister is aware of the hurt that runs very deep among the whole of Northern Ireland—among people on both sides. Hurt is not just on one side of the community; it is universal and we all have it. I am thinking of the Darkley gospel hall massacre, when people worshipping God on a Sunday night were killed by republicans; the people killed—burnt to a cinder—and injured by republicans at the La Mon restaurant; the people who were killed and injured by republicans at the Abercorn restaurant as they were enjoying a meal; the Ballydugan killing by republicans of four Ulster Defence Regiment men, three of whom I knew personally. Some £191 million has been set aside for the Bloody Sunday inquiry into the deaths of 13 people. The Prime Minister has mentioned the Historical Enquiries Team, whose budget is £38 million to carry out 3,487 inquiries into murders. What steps has he taken to help the HET do more and get answers for people who have lost loved ones?
We continue to fund the Historical Enquiries team. I think it does good work and it should continue to do that. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point that whatever terrible event we are discussing, people will always bring up other terrible events and quite rightly say, “Well, what about an inquiry into that? What information can we find out about it?” What is different in this case is that it highlights the appalling level of collusion there was and brings to the surface, effectively, not just one appalling murder but a series of appalling steps that were being taken and that need to be addressed.
As we kick over the charred embers of Ulster’s past, an appalling and awful picture emerges, but today we are seeing only one tiny part of that. The Prime Minister is utterly correct to make it clear that there should not be a public inquiry into this matter, first because it would be wasteful, and secondly because if he grants a public inquiry in this case he knows that a chorus of hundreds of people from before Patrick Finucane was murdered and hundreds of people from after Patrick Finucane was murdered will ask, “Why not my relative? Why not me?” The Prime Minister is right to hold fast to that view and should not be swayed.
I also agree with the points made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) and ask the Prime Minister to respond to them directly. They made it clear that there is more than a shred of evidence that the Republic of Ireland’s Government armed the Provisional IRA and that there should be an investigation into that and honesty about it so that we can see the whole picture.
My constituents are sick and tired of a one-sided narrative of revisionism that says that the Provisional IRA were actually quite good and the troops and police were quite bad. That, in the current circumstances in Northern Ireland, is bloody stupid—and I mean literally bloody. It will send a signal to my constituents that people have to push, kick, throw and petrol bomb to get what they want, and not abide by the law. We are trying to tell them all to abide by the law.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about my decision not to hold a further public inquiry. Let me be clear again that that is not because the Government want somehow to hide or run away from the truth. We could not have marched further, faster or more clearly towards the truth than we have by publishing this document today. As for his point about republican terrorism, let me read to him from paragraph 117 of the report’s executive summary, where de Silva states:
“I have no doubt, however, that PIRA was the single greatest source of violence during this period and that a holistic account of events of the late 1980s in Northern Ireland would reveal the full calculating brutality of that terrorist group.”
That is the point that he makes and he is right to make it.
I thank the Prime Minister and colleagues.
Multinational Motor Manufacturing Companies (Duty of Care to Former Employees) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Geraint Davies, supported by Stephen Metcalfe, Mrs Siân C. James, Martin Caton, Mike Freer, Nia Griffiths, Jonathan Edwards, Dr Hywel Francis and Mr John Whittingdale presented a Bill to require multinational motor manufacturing companies to provide a duty of care to former employees in respect of pension provision.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 February 2013, and to be printed (Bill 107).
Lords Spiritual Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Frank Field presented a Bill to make provision for filling vacancies among Lords Spiritual sitting and voting as Lords of Parliament.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 January 2013, and to be printed (Bill 108).
Planning Act 2008 (Amendment)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Planning Act 2008 to exempt planning applications for onshore wind farms producing 50 megawatts or more; to provide that they be referred for decision to local planning authorities; and for connected purposes.
I am pleased to report that County Durham has played more than its part in the development of renewable energy. The equivalent of 70% of the county’s household electricity comes from renewable sources; what is more, the equivalent of 27% of the county’s energy needs are already supplied from renewable sources, only 3% off the 2020 target of 30%. Some 68% of the renewable energy generated comes from wind energy. In total, 193 MW of renewable energy is either operational or approved, 132 MW from wind. A further 109 MW is in planning, all of it from wind energy. That is one of the best records of any local authority area in England.
I want to see further renewable energy development in the county, but as far as wind farm development is concerned, I believe the landscape in the county is near or at full capacity. If it is allowed to continue, the cumulative impact on the landscape will become severe. The county now hosts 17 operational wind farms, a further six have been permitted but are not yet operational, and another 13 are in planning. At present, County Durham has 70 commercial-scale turbines and a total of 155 turbines of various sizes. Another 72 turbines of all sizes are in planning, without counting the 24 turbines E.ON would like to build at the Isles in my constituency, which, on a good day, would generate 63.5 MW of electricity.
It is apparent that my Bill is not born out of any sense of nimbyism, because Durham has done its bit. The county understands the need for a good energy mix and has played its part. Today in Durham, the sheer size of the turbines is starting to place a burden on the landscape that I do not believe was envisaged by the legislators when the policy was devised to ensure that local people, through their planning authority, could not say no to a wind farm proposal if the energy generated exceeded 50 MW. Instead, the decision lies with the Secretary of State, through the Planning Inspectorate.
The Isles wind farm proposed for my constituency exceeds the 50 MW threshold and must therefore be referred to the Planning Inspectorate because it is deemed a nationally significant infrastructure project. The county council will merely be consulted. The national significance of the Isles wind farm is not its physical size but the energy it produces. According to E.ON, on a good day it would produce sufficient energy for towns such as Newton Aycliffe and Sedgefield in my constituency. Newton Aycliffe and Sedgefield are great places to live, but is a wind farm that can generate sufficient energy for them an infrastructure project that warrants national significance? I think not. For me, Hartlepool nuclear power station, which is about 10 or 12 miles from Sedgefield and generates 1,190 MW of electricity, is an infrastructure project of national significance.
This is why I believe that onshore wind farms, especially in areas where there are many of them, should be exempt from the 50 MW threshold and that the planning decision on whether they should be built should lie with the local planning authority. If the Isles wind farm gets the go-ahead, local people will be left with a wind farm that covers 12.5 square miles and hosts 24 wind turbines, seven of which will be 126.5 metres high, whereas the other 17 will be 100 metres high. That is in an area that is designated as able to accommodate only four turbines. It would be the largest array of turbines as part of a network of wind farms on the Tees valley plain, including those already operational at Butterwick and the Walkway, as well as those which have received consent at Moor House farm, Lambs Hill and Red Gap farm but have yet to be built.
The Isles wind farm is not a power generating station of national significance, but it is an imposition on local people. Their views should be listened to and the decision on any approval for such a wind farm should be made locally. But where exactly did the 50 MW threshold come from? The figure is enshrined in the Planning Act 2008, in a spirit of consistency since the same figure was used in the Electricity Act 1989. That Act is now almost a quarter of a century old and wind farm technology has moved on.
In fact, during the debates on the 1989 Act, wind farms did not take centre stage. The Government wanted to create a new tranche of renewable energy capacity, but hydro was mentioned rather than wind. In 1994, when Durham county council wrote “Renewable energy in County Durham”, the first strategy document of its kind to be prepared by a local authority, the average wind turbine generated 300 to 400 kW and had a tip height of 40 to 50 metres. By 2001, the wind farm at Tow Law in County Durham was furnished with the latest turbines, which generated 750 kW and stood 71 metres high. The technology has moved on apace, but so has the size of the turbines, from 40 to 50 metres at the end of the 1990s to well over 100 metres today. Some of the turbines destined for the Isles will be 126.5 metres high—six times the height of the Angel of the North or almost twice the height of Durham cathedral. Consequently, the Government should look at increasing the 50 MW threshold.
The threshold is used by utility companies to their advantage because they can design a wind farm to exceed the 50 MW threshold, taking the planning decision out of the hands of local planning authorities. E.ON’s proposal for the Isles is a case in point. Its original proposal was for 10 turbines, but it was withdrawn because it knew that in all likelihood Durham County Council would turn down the application because it was following an Arup report on wind farm landscape impact, which said that the Isles could not take more than four turbines. E.ON withdrew the application, and introduced a new proposal for 45 wind turbines, but has settled on a wind farm of 24 turbines after taking planning restraints into consideration.
To achieve that, however, E.ON has performed all kinds of contortions. The area allocated for the wind farm is huge, but to avoid conservation areas it is designed to stand in two clusters about 2 km apart, each with its own substation. Looking at the map, people would think there were two distinct wind farms, not one. I have pointed that out to E.ON, which told me that as the wind turbines appear within the area designated for the wind farm, it is one wind farm. On that basis, E.ON should draw a red line around the whole of County Durham and have done. E.ON’s approach is cynical and takes for granted the good nature of the people of County Durham.
Durham has led the way in the pursuit of a cleaner and sustainable environment, and Durham county council is to be congratulated. I am not against wind farms, and accept the need for a strong energy mix. Durham county council and the county have done their bit, and we are proud of it. The possibility of a huge wind farm in an area that has proved that it is not averse to accepting wind farms is a step too far, which is why the threshold figure of 50 MW should be withdrawn for onshore wind farms, or at least increased significantly, as they do not provide infrastructure of national importance when compared with nuclear power stations, for example.
County Durham’s industrial heritage is one of coal mining. Those days have gone, and the slag heaps that once scarred the landscape have been removed. Yes, a wind turbine is more elegant than the pit heaps I grew up with, but with the pit heaps came thousands of jobs. What we are experiencing in County Durham today is the re-industrialisation of the landscape without the jobs. What we face in County Durham is massive utility companies being cynical in their approach by attempting to impose on the landscape wind farms which are not really of national importance.
Exempting wind farms from the 50 MW planning threshold, especially in locations where wind farms already dominate and are close to communities, will ensure that other parts of the country, which need to play their part in developing renewable energy, including wind power, are not taken for granted.
Question put and agreed to.
That Phil Wilson, Pat Glass, Tom Blenkinsop, Grahame M. Morris, Natascha Engel, Angela Smith, Ian Lavery, Mrs Mary Glindon and Mr Richard Bacon present the Bill.
Phil Wilson accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March 2013, and to be printed (Bill 109).
[12th Allotted Day]