On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In response to an oral question on 6 March, I made inaccurate comments regarding the actions of soldiers during the troubles. It is right that I address these remarks in the House today and correct the record.
What I said was wrong. It was deeply insensitive to the families who lost loved ones in incidents involving the security forces. I have apologised unreservedly for the offence and hurt that my words caused. Today, I repeat that apology both to the families and to Members of this House. The language that I used was wrong.
Last week, I met a number of those families. I am grateful to each of them for giving me the opportunity to apologise in person. Families from throughout Northern Ireland and from all parts of the community who suffered as a result of the troubles rightly want to see justice properly delivered. Where there is any evidence of wrongdoing, this should be pursued without fear or favour, whoever the perpetrators might be.
My position and the position of the Government is clear: we believe fundamentally in the rule of law. That is the principle that underpins our approach to dealing with legacy issues and it is one from which I will not depart. That is why I launched the public consultation on addressing the legacy of the troubles. We received over 17,000 responses to that legacy consultation and I am grateful to all who took the time to respond. We are rightly taking the appropriate time to consider all responses, some containing harrowing and deeply personal stories. I will set out the next steps shortly.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I regret that the Secretary of State has not made a statement to the House. I hope that in the coming days she will consider whether it would be right and proper to come before the House to make a full statement. One of the prime necessities for anybody in her role is that they have the confidence not just of the political parties and broader civil society in Northern Ireland, but of the victims’ families, because of the pain they have gone through for so many years.
It is now five years since the Stormont House agreement, which said that there would be a justice process for those families. Time has gone by, but it has still not been delivered to them and the Secretary of State must know that. She must also know that she has lost the confidence of at least some of the political parties and some of those very families. That makes her own position very difficult. She has to think about what that means not simply in terms of her credibility, but her capacity to do the job. I hope she is reflecting on her position and I hope she will come back to the House to make a fuller statement.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. The right hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the whole House, know that that is not a point of order for the Chair and therefore I will give no answer to the point, but I think the whole House is pleased that the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State have had an opportunity, however briefly, to air this important matter in the Chamber this evening. I thank them both for so doing.