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Historical Records

Volume 591: debated on Wednesday 28 January 2015

4. What steps she is taking to safeguard records relevant to the work of the Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, inquests, and other inquiries into the past. (907202)

The Northern Ireland Office takes responsibility for safeguarding its records very seriously and will continue to follow existing protocols.

The Secretary of State gave the commitments on behalf of the British Government in the Stormont House agreement to ensure that whenever the new mechanisms come into place all records will be given to them. What steps is she taking to make sure that all current records will still be available? She knows that there have been many cases where files or their contents have disappeared, to the dissatisfaction of those dealing with them. What steps is she taking to safeguard against that?

The Northern Ireland Office undertook a review of record keeping in the wake of the problems that occurred in relation to the cases involving the RPM—royal prerogative of mercy. We are satisfied that all necessary measures are in place to ensure that records will be available for transfer as appropriate, but we will also take steps to make sure that sensitive material is protected from onward disclosure by the institutions concerned.

In 1976, 10 innocent Protestant workmen were brutally slaughtered by the side of the road at Kingsmills. The Historical Enquiries Team report now reveals the chilling fact that a large number of the terrorists responsible included neighbours based in the village of Whitecross just over 1 mile from the scene of the atrocity and close to where many of the innocent victims lived. Does the Secretary of State not accept that it is sickening to think that these men were part of that murdering team, when the victims needed neighbours to be faithful most of all?

The Kingsmills tragedy was an appalling terrorist atrocity. I have met the families, and they have my deepest, deepest condolences. Every effort should continue to be made to bring to justice those responsible for this horrific episode in the troubles.

Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), I am sure that the whole House welcomes the new architecture proposed as a result of the Stormont House agreement. Will the Secretary of State give us some indication of the time scale and, crucially, say whether it will require legislation in this House? Frankly, the victims’ families have waited too long—they need answers and they need them now.

I am meeting the leaders of the Northern Ireland parties on Friday to agree an implementation plan on the Stormont House agreement. It is highly likely that we will need at least some legislation both in Westminster and in the Assembly. We will talk to the Northern Ireland Executive about the balance between the two to ensure that we get these institutions up and running as soon as possible, because current systems are not giving the right outcomes for victims, and that needs to change.