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Legacy Issues

Volume 604: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2016

The cross-party talks in 2014 and 2015 have brought us closer than ever to a consensus on the best way to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past. I will work with the Northern Ireland parties, representatives of victims and survivors and the Irish Government to try to build the support needed to enable legislation to be brought forward to establish the bodies envisaged in the Stormont House agreement.

Former Eastbourne MP Ian Gow, who was murdered by the Provisional IRA, was remembered last year at a public speaking competition organised in my constituency to remember and celebrate his life and legacy, his courage and his conviction. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking with schools in Northern Ireland to deal with the legacy of the past and bring about change in community relations?

My hon. Friend’s predecessor was a great parliamentarian, and I am sure the whole House will join her in thinking sadly of the atrocity that led to his death. The UK Government strongly support the programmes in Northern Ireland designed to build a shared society, many of which impact on schools and colleges. As a way of addressing the remaining difficulties, it is vital that we do all we can to break down past divisions so that sectarianism becomes entirely a thing of the past in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State will be aware that, sadly, there was no agreement on how to move the legacy issue forward, but money has been set aside, particularly for the proposed historical investigations unit. We have 3,000 unsolved murders in Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State at least make some of that extra resource available to the PSNI’s legacy unit to enable it to re-examine some of the pressing cases? People are getting older and they deserve justice.

As the right hon. Gentleman points out, the UK Government have committed significant sums to support dealing with the legacy of the past as we have in relation to shared society projects, to which I referred earlier. Our starting point is that the £150 million for bodies to deal with the past is intended for new bodies such as the historical investigations unit or the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, but we remain open to a dialogue with the Executive on whether it would be possible to use any of those moneys in advance of those new bodies being set up. It is vital that they are set up.

Will my right hon. Friend update us on what is happening to Soldier J and other former soldiers who were involved in the events in Londonderry on 30 January 1972, and tell us whether they continue to face prosecution? Let me impress it on my right hon. Friend that this is not simply a matter for the judicial authorities; it is a matter for her, and it is a matter of public policy for it is contrary to the interests of natural justice that men who have served their country should still, 44 years on, be facing possible prosecution.

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend’s grave concerns about this case. He will appreciate, however, that matters relating to police investigations and prosecutions are taken independently of Government and independently of politicians. My understanding is that that investigation continues.

Referring to the Secretary of State’s earlier answer, I have to say that it is all very well—I do not for a minute doubt her good intentions; nor would any other Member—but when will we actually hear some dates and some details? When will the legislation she mentions be brought to the Floor of the House, particularly in respect of those aspects of fresh start where there is agreement? How long must the victims continue to wait?

We hope to bring forward legislation fairly soon on those aspects of the fresh start and Stormont House agreements that have been agreed. The timing is less certain in respect of the legacy bodies because we were not able to build the consensus necessary for legislation. We did, however, close the gap on many issues. A key issue still to resolve is how the veto relating to national security will operate. I am determined to work with all sides to find a way forward. We have to protect our national security interests, but we will do all we can to ensure that that veto is exercised fairly in all circumstances.

As well as asking the Secretary of State to recalibrate her fixation on the national security issues, may I also ask her to consider using the current delay at least to allow for qualitative pre-legislative scrutiny of what will be sensitive legislation when it comes forward?

It is important to use this period constructively to engage with victims groups in particular. I had very useful discussions with the Victims’ Commissioner and with the Victims and Survivors Forum. We will consider in due course whether publication of documentation is appropriate. It is vital that we press ahead and build consensus to get these bodies set up and running.