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On-the-runs: Inquiry

Volume 582: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2014

3. When she plans to report to the House on her Department’s inquiry into the administrative scheme for on-the-runs. (904130)

While Lady Justice Hallett is making progress on her report, she has informed me that it will not be ready for publication until shortly after the 30 June deadline.

The Secretary of State will be aware of deep concern in Northern Ireland about revelations that a number of terrorist suspects were granted the royal prerogative of mercy—in other words, pardons— for serious terrorist crimes. Will the report on the on-the-runs include information about those who have been granted such so-called pardons?

It is an independent report so I do not know what it will contain, but given the concerns raised about the use of the royal prerogative of mercy, I expect that aspects of that issue will be covered in Lady Justice Hallett’s report. I emphasise that this Government have not used the RPM in Northern Ireland, and it was used by the previous Government on only 18 occasions. Sixteen of those involved terrorism, but in all cases it was used to shorten sentences, not to cancel the offence.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has spent two days in Belfast taking evidence for our on-the-runs inquiry, including from victims and relatives of victims who gave the most harrowing accounts of what had happened to their loved ones. Does the Secretary of State agree that whenever we decide about writing letters to suspects or issuing royal pardons, the views and needs of victims should be at the heart of those considerations? Does she further agree that that has not always been the case?

I agree on both those points. I know that many victims of terrorism would have been deeply hurt by the OTR issue, which is why I apologise to them on behalf of the Government. Future reports and investigations on such matters should put victims at their centre, as should any broader solution looking at the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.

In the past, security forces have used informers to help defeat terrorists. Does my right hon. Friend agree that issuing royal pardons to on-the-runs is a world apart from using royal pardons as a way of encouraging and using informers? Will she give an undertaking that the Government will not do anything to put at risk the use of informers in Northern Ireland?

It is not generally Government practice to comment on sensitive operational matters such as those, but I acknowledge that the use of informers is an important means of combating crime and terrorism.