Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement.
The murder of Patrick Finucane on 12 February 1989 in front of his family was an appalling crime that has caused tremendous suffering. It occurred during a difficult and dark period in this nation’s history, which brought untold pain to many families across the United Kingdom and, indeed, Ireland.
Northern Ireland has made massive strides since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement to create a vibrant, inclusive and forward-looking future. However, the legacy of the troubles for many still hangs like a shadow over society. This Government are determined to work hand in hand with the people of Northern Ireland from all communities, with victims and survivors, and with our Irish partners. We want to find a way to bring truth and reconciliation where there is currently hurt, and where too many people continue to suffer due to the absence of information about the circumstances of the deaths of their loved ones.
It is plain that the levels of collusion in the Finucane case, made clear by previous investigations, are totally unacceptable. Former Prime Minister David Cameron rightly apologised publicly in 2012, and I unreservedly repeat that apology today. I also acknowledge that an apology cannot undo history, and nor can it alleviate the years of pain that the Finucane family have felt. It is none the less right that this Government acknowledge that, at the height of the troubles, actions were taken that fell far short of what can and should be expected.
The murder of Patrick Finucane has been the subject of a considerable number of investigations and reviews, including the Stevens 3 investigation and the de Silva review. These investigations led to the conviction of Ken Barrett, a loyalist terrorist who pled guilty to the murder.
In February 2019, the Supreme Court made a declaration that the state had not discharged its obligation to conduct an article 2-compliant investigation into the death of Mr Finucane. That judgment specifically set out that it is for the state to decide what form of investigation, if indeed any is now feasible, is required in order to meet that requirement. It did not order a public inquiry, but in considering all the options open to me to meet the state’s obligations under article 2, I have considered whether a public inquiry would be the most appropriate step to address the specific findings of the courts at this time.
I have, this afternoon, spoken to the Finucane family. I advised them of my decision not to establish a public inquiry at this time. Our public statement, published this afternoon, set out the considered rationale for this decision, which I will now explain directly to the House.
In reaching its conclusion, the Supreme Court identified a number of issues with previous investigations in this case. First, there was no identification of the officers within the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service who failed to warn Patrick Finucane of known threats to his life in 1981 and 1985, together with the circumstances in which these failures occurred. Secondly, there was no identification of the RUC officers who, as Desmond de Silva said, probably did propose Mr Finucane as a target for loyalist terrorists in December 1988. Thirdly, there was no identification of the police source who provided intelligence about Patrick Finucane to Ken Barrett.
The Supreme Court identified these shortcomings and other failures of process, but it did not render the previous reviews and investigations, which resulted in significant findings and information being released into the public domain, null and void. The work conducted by, and the findings of, those previous independent investigations and reviews remain valid. The state’s article 2 obligations can be met through a series of processes taken by independent authorities on the initiative of the state, which, cumulatively, can establish the facts and identify the perpetrators and hold them to account where sufficient evidence exists.
In June 2019, an independent review of previous investigations was commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley). The first purpose of this review was to gain a clear understanding of what investigative steps had already been taken to identify all individuals of concern. Its second purpose was to understand the actions taken as part of previous investigations in respect of these individuals. The review was conducted by independent counsel from Northern Ireland. It highlighted that steps had in fact been taken during previous investigations which had not been considered by the Supreme Court but which were relevant to the issues it identified. For example, it found that a number of officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army’s force research unit had been interviewed as part of the Stevens investigation, and that Stevens accepted that there was no direct breach of policy by any individual officer at the time. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) stated in 2011, accepting that collusion occurred is not sufficient in itself.
The Government recognise the need to ensure sufficient levels of public scrutiny of critical investigations and their results. I am today publishing further information that was considered by the independent counsel in their review since the Supreme Court judgment, some of which has not previously been released into the public domain. That includes information pertaining to a Police Service of Northern Ireland review conducted in 2015.
As set out in the 2015 police review, a number of issues were referred to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in 2016, and also remain subject to investigation. In addition, the legacy investigation branch of the PSNI informed my Department on 2 November 2020 that Patrick Finucane’s case is shortly due to undergo a process of review in accordance with the priorities set out in its case sequencing model. The Chief Constable confirmed that that is expected to begin early in the new year.
To be clear, this is a purely operational police matter. The UK Government, rightly, have no role whatsoever in determining how or when the police deal with their outstanding legacy case load. However, the fact that a decision on a police review is due shortly is an important development and was a factor in determining the next steps in this case. Critically, a review would consider whether further investigative steps could be taken in this case and whether the PSNI should do this—these were key elements of the Supreme Court judgment. It is, quite properly, for the Chief Constable of the PSNI to determine the precise scope and format of any review, in accordance with their own priorities and review procedures, and the police have indicated that they expect that any review would need to be conducted independently of the PSNI. Such a process, in addition to the ongoing investigations being conducted by the police ombudsman, can play an important role in addressing the issues identified by the Supreme Court. I want to be clear: I am not taking the possibility of a public inquiry off the table at this stage. It is important that we allow the PSNI and police ombudsman processes to move forward, and that we avoid the risk of prejudicing any emerging conclusions from their work. I will then consider all options available to me to meet the Government’s obligations.
I assure the House that this decision has been taken following careful consideration of the facts, the findings of the Supreme Court judgment, the outcome of the independent counsel review and the United Kingdom’s obligations under article 2 of the European convention on human rights. This Government have demonstrated that when the public interest requires it, we will establish public inquiries to look at any potential failings by government or state bodies, as, for example, we have done in the case of the Manchester bombing. In this instance, I believe it is in the public interest to allow the police and ombudsman processes to proceed before taking any decision on whether the state’s article 2 obligations have been discharged or whether further steps are required.
This case, it has to be said, is, sadly, just one example of the violence and tragedy experienced by so many individuals and families across Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom and indeed Ireland during the troubles. That is why, as a Government, we remain committed to dealing with the legacy of the past in its entirety. We are determined to get this right, working closely with communities. This is vital, so that society in Northern Ireland can look beyond its divisive past and towards a shared future. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. First, may I pay tribute, on behalf of my party, to the widow of Pat Finucane, Geraldine, and her whole family? As with so many victims I have met, the dignity, determination and strength they have shown in the face of horror unimaginable to many of us in this House is humbling, and I know how difficult today has been for them.
The murder of Pat Finucane in 1989, gunned down in front of his young family in his kitchen by loyalist paramilitaries, involved shocking levels of state collusion. It is welcome to hear the Secretary of State repeat former Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology, but he is right: it is not enough. There has never been an adequate investigation into Pat Finucane’s murder and Supreme Court justice Lord Kerr has said that previous investigations have had profound “shortcomings” that
“have hampered, if not indeed prevented, the uncovering of the truth about this murder.”
That this crime could happen at all in our country is shocking, and that it has never been investigated to a lawful standard is unjustifiable. We have to ask ourselves, as we do with all legacy issues from the troubles: do we accept a lesser standard of justice for citizens in Northern Ireland than we would if this terrible crime had happened in our own constituencies? The Secretary of State references the Manchester inquiry. Do victims in Northern Ireland not deserve the same transparency and justice?
I have listened carefully to the Secretary of State, but the decision he has taken today will be a desperate disappointment to the Finucanes, and I struggle to see how he can make the case that it prevents him from remaining in breach of his human rights obligations, as the Supreme Court found last year. Indeed, an initial reading suggests that it is at odds with some of the central conclusions the Supreme Court reached. He says that through a series of processes the state can cumulatively meet its article 2 obligations. That was the same argument made by Sir James Eadie for the Government, who said that although the de Silva review had not been article 2 compliant, previous investigations, taken together, meant it was. It is of fundamental importance that the House is aware that Lord Kerr rejected that argument in the Supreme Court case last year. Furthermore, he said that the legal standard had not been met because:
“Sir Desmond did not have power to compel the attendance of witnesses. Those who did meet him were not subject to testing by way of challenging probes as to the veracity and accuracy of their evidence.”
If Sir Desmond had been able to compel witnesses and had had the opportunity to probe their accounts, it may have led to the identification of those in the police and the security services involved in the targeting of Mr Finucane.
It appears that nothing the Secretary of State has announced today will make up for these most fundamental shortcomings in previous reviews, and the family have described his approach as farcical. Is he not concerned that all this does is leave him open to further legal challenge and to being back here in a few months’ or years’ time? Waiting for a legacy investigation branch review, which the police themselves acknowledge they are not operationally independent enough to conduct, and an ombudsman’s review of existing evidence is simply delaying the inevitability of the only right and legal course of action. I note that he is not ruling out a full public inquiry in the future. Why does he not grasp this opportunity to deliver it now?
The troubles were a dark and violent time in our history. More than 3,000 civilians, soldiers and police officers lost their lives. Many have never received justice. The trauma of loss and grief from losing loved ones to such violence has been compounded by the prolonged failures of successive Governments to deliver the truth about what happened to them. That trauma echoes through the generations and is felt at a societal level in Northern Ireland. It is incumbent on the Secretary of State urgently to bring forward legacy proposals that would deliver the truth for all victims. It remains the most significant outstanding element of the Good Friday agreement, 22 years on. However, I regret to say that the Secretary of State’s unilateral approach so far in dealing with legacy has been harmful and hurtful to victims across Northern Ireland. If we are finally to take responsibility in this House for helping Northern Ireland deal with the legacy of its past, then he must urgently engage with all communities, victims and of course our partners to the Good Friday agreement, the Irish Government. This was the essence of the Stormont House agreement, which his Government committed to legislating for just this year.
Today’s announcement is a painful setback for those who have campaigned for the truth for decades and in the faith that the Government are committed to reconciliation. I would strongly urge the Secretary of State, in the further difficult decisions that lie ahead, to remember the deep responsibility that he has to deliver the truth to all victims and to reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: we all should be working to find a holistic approach to the legacy issues for Northern Ireland. It is something we agreed to do and pledged to do as part of the new decade, new approach agreement that saw the return of Stormont this year. I think it is a hugely important piece of work, and it is something we owe to the next generation and the current generations of people across Northern Ireland of all communities. There are still, as she said, far too many families across societies in Northern Ireland who do not know what happened to members of their family and do not have the details of what happened during the troubles. We should all be working across parties and across society to look at how we can get that information so that families can have a way to reconciliation and information that allows that to happen. That is how we allow Northern Ireland to continue not just to build on the peace process, but to really look forward to a more prosperous and forward-looking future. That cannot change what happened in the past, but it does give families and people an opportunity to know more and to understand across all communities.
I have to say I differ from the hon. Lady in what she understands is our approach today, because it is quite the opposite. I have been clear and consistent all the way through that we want, and I want, to make sure that we are engaged not just across all political parties in Northern Ireland, but across civic society and in dealing with our partners in the Irish Government, to whom I speak regularly on these issues as well. We will continue to do that work. People were rightly focused over the last few months of this year on dealing with covid-19, but it is right that we start to move to talk to people about the future relating to the troubles of the past and how we move forward. We are doing that across civic society and across all parties, and we will be doing so.
I also differ from the hon. Lady in what seems to be her lack of confidence in the PSNI. The PSNI is independent. Its review and investigation is independent of Government, and I have confidence in its ability. We saw just this summer phenomenal work from the PSNI, with partners, on dealing with issues in Northern Ireland. I have absolute confidence that it will deal with this review in the right way and in a proper way. I support the opinion that the PSNI has outlined: that it will potentially seek to have an independent force work on this issue. We will support and help it on that, but that is a matter for the PSNI. I believe it is right that we allow this process and the police ombudsman process, which is equally independent, to happen and then to look at the findings from them, because until we know what comes from those reviews and investigations, it is too soon to know whether that would bring compliance with article 2. The hon. Lady seems to want to prejudge that, but we should let the police do their job.
The Secretary of State has announced a very difficult decision, which he will know is not without consequences. Like many with an interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland, my Committee is increasingly perplexed with regard to the Government’s current approach to legacy issues. In terms of dealing with legacy and building trust across the communities, what has he assessed the ramification of his announcement today to be, and is he prepared to publish an update in Hansard of his written ministerial statement of 20 March? The lacuna that the Government have created in dealing with legacy is causing enormous consternation on both sides of the community.
I would say to my hon. Friend, who chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, that shortly after the statement in March, when we discussed legacy issues with victims groups, they asked us to pause because the people they represent were facing the challenges of covid. I felt that that was the right thing to do, so we paused that engagement. Over the last few weeks, I have been talking to civic society, as I do regularly, and people across civic society and across the communities obviously have a huge interest in legacy.
The point I have made consistently since the written ministerial statement in March this year is that, to move forward on legacy and to move forward in Northern Ireland, we have to bring people together, and as my hon. Friend rightly says, people across communities have to be clear about what they need to look forward and get the information that can lead to reconciliation. It is right that we engage widely and deeply with civic society and victims groups, as well as political parties and our partners in the Irish Government, before we come back with proposals. I am determined to do that. We have a duty to do that—a duty to the people of Northern Ireland—but we want to do that in a methodical and proper way. I hope people will see that going through these investigations in a methodical and proper way plays a part in that.
We welcome the Secretary of State’s decision. Equally, we condemn the murder of Pat Finucane. On my 21st birthday, my friend and colleague Edgar Graham, a lawyer and lecturer at Queen’s University, was murdered by the Provisional IRA. There were people involved—not only the gunman, but others who gave information that led to his murder, pointing the finger towards Edgar’s movements and so on. Is it not the case that all innocent victims are entitled to access to justice and to truth, including the family of Edgar Graham, a young lawyer cut down in his prime, and that what we really need is not special attention to any one case but an holistic approach to legacy that enables all innocent victims to have access to truth and justice?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. That is why I specifically made the point in my opening remarks about dealing with the legacy in its entirety and recognising that a great number of people across communities have suffered loss and still do not have information or understanding of what happened to some of their family. We have to find a way through this. We have a duty to do everything we can to bring that information forward. That is why this week, we will publish further information on this case that has not yet been in the public domain. The more information we can bring out and secure for families and victims, the better for the future of Northern Ireland. It is right that we do that for everybody who was affected.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and support his decision. As he said, the murder of Pat Finucane was an appalling, shocking crime, and the involvement of the state, as documented by the de Silva review, was utterly unacceptable. However, I would urge my right hon. Friend, in his approach to legacy, not to let the appalling events of this case overshadow the reality that the vast majority of those who served in the police and armed services in Northern Ireland during the troubles did so with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism.
My right hon. Friend makes a strong point. I know how much time and effort she put into these issues when she was in my role as Secretary of State. She is absolutely right. As I have said, and as she and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) and former Prime Minister David Cameron have said, this case is an example of completely unacceptable behaviour that fell way below not just what we expect today but what we should have expected at any time. There is no escaping that fact, but this should equally not distract us from the fact that so many people so often give so much in the defence of our freedom, our safety and our security across the United Kingdom and have also done so in Northern Ireland, across the armed forces and through our services as well.
I absolutely do not thank the Secretary of State for that statement. The British state murdered Pat Finucane, and the Secretary of State has failed miserably to do right by his family today. Does he not realise that he is sending out a clear message to all victims? That message is: “If you want the truth about what happened to your loved ones, don’t come looking for it here.”
I am afraid that I would say quite the opposite. I am saying clearly that there is a process that we will go through and that we want to ensure that we abide by and meet our article 2 obligations. We will assess this again following the PSNI investigation and the police ombudsman’s work. That is a clear message about following proper due process and letting those investigations work through to see what information we can bring out. Ultimately, the aim of all the work we should be doing on the legacy is to ensure that we secure information for families who have been waiting for it for far too long.
I appreciate that these are very sensitive issues and that this was a difficult decision for my right hon. Friend to make. I was pleased to hear him say just now that the Government accept their obligations under article 2. Will he confirm that they also accept their obligations under section 6 of the Human Rights Act? I was a professional friend and colleague of the late Sir Desmond de Silva. Would my right hon. Friend accept that the difficulties with his inquiry were related not to any lack of professionalism or integrity on Sir Desmond’s part but to the procedural constraints that were placed upon him and that that was what caused the Supreme Court to find that, thus far, the article 2 obligations had not been met? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no such procedural constraints will be placed on the ongoing inquiries and investigations and that the Government will ensure that the article 2 obligations, as set out by the Supreme Court’s judgment, will be complied with fully and in a timely manner?
We are absolutely committed to our obligations under article 2. That is why I have said that I will reassess this, following the work by the PSNI and the police ombudsman. On the question of scope, as a police-led investigation, this obviously has different connotations and different powers from those that Desmond de Silva had, and that is quite right. This is a matter for the PSNI, which is independent of the Government, and it will be for the Chief Constable to outline the remit and the process of the review. As I said, he intends to start that early next year. In fact, he told me that he hoped it would start in January. The PSNI will be engaging with the Finucane family around that work, and we will ensure that it does so ahead of the work beginning in early 2021.
If I can accentuate the positive, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State says that the question of a future public inquiry is not yet off the table. However, I have to tell him that his reliance on police and ombudsman inquiries as a justification would have a lot more weight if the case were new or recent. But it is 31 years plus since Pat Finucane was murdered. We have had the apologies for collusion, but as others have said, that can never be enough. Surely, those who seek truth and closure in other cases would find that their case for the same closure that the Finucane family want through a public inquiry was enhanced not diminished by holding a public inquiry.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that every case is different and has to be assessed on its merits. That is how the judicial process and the police process work. It is right that we allow the police process to do its work. We have seen that evidence, including some evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, from Operation Kenova, is bringing out information and understanding that was not there about things that happened many decades ago. There are good examples of new bits of information and evidence and of how evidence can be assessed differently as techniques have changed, which recent work has shown, particularly Operation Kenova. That is positive, but we will assess the matter after the processes are completed so that we continue to ensure that we fulfil our article 2 obligations.
This is a very poor decision. It comes on top of sidelining the Stormont House agreement, which is the key to a comprehensive approach for all victims. But the Finucane case in particular raises serious questions about the rule of law, actions of the state and accountability. I strongly support the PSNI, but this approach turns back the clock in terms of investigations. How does it enable documents and witnesses to be compelled and how is it compatible with the independence required under article 2 of the European convention on human rights?
As I have outlined to the hon. Gentleman before, the principles of Stormont House are important. More widely, in looking at how we deal with legacy issues and the issues of the troubles, that ability for reconciliation and information is built on those Stormont House principles, and we must ensure that we deliver on that. In this particular case, I say to the hon. Gentleman that the PSNI is independent. It has already indicated that it expects and will seek to appoint an independent force to look at this. I support it in that, but it is a matter for the Chief Constable of the PSNI. Obviously, the PSNI has its own abilities in a police investigation, and it will set its remit for taking the case forward.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need to be clear about the difference between the PSNI process and the police ombudsman work. The independent Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland will look at the actions and the activities of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The PSNI will look at the case through the eyes of a police force. It is operationally independent of the Government, and as I said, it has indicated that it is likely to ask an independent force to take the case forward. I therefore believe that we can have confidence in the PSNI’s independence and in that of the process.
There can be no justification or reservation regarding the murder of Pat Finucane. However, unlike thousands of other wrong and unjustifiable murders, there have been investigations, people in court and people convicted of this murder. Thousands of other relatives had none of those outcomes. Does the Secretary of State agree that to properly deal with the past, we need to see the same unequivocal condemnation from across the House of the murder of Pat Finucane applied to all the other murders, including the terror campaign that was carried out by the organisation that Pat Finucane’s brothers, Seamus, John and Dermot, were part of for many years?
The hon. Gentleman has just highlighted the strength of feeling across communities on this issue, and understandably so. It is absolutely right that we are all clear that there are too many people from across Northern Ireland—and, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom—who lost people and who still do not have the information about and understanding of what happened in the way that they should. We must all work to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to get that information, with a pathway to reconciliation for people. Any life lost is one too many, and none of us should be doing anything other than respecting the people who lost people through the troubles in such tragic circumstances and often in a way that none of us today could ever excuse.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he set out for the House what he expects the timescales to be for these reviews? This has all gone on over an extended period. The family are clearly concerned. Indeed, everyone in this House will be concerned about the length of time for which this has been allowed to drag on. If he could give us a position on timescales, I think that would settle some of the issues of concern.
As always, my hon. Friend makes an accurate point. Owing to the independence of the PSNI, the exact timing of the process is a matter for it. As I said earlier, it is expecting to start in early 2021. I saw the Chief Constable about a week or 10 days ago, when he indicated to me that it could well start as early as January. The PSNI will be engaging with the family to seek their views on how they wish to engage with the process before that happens. The question how long the review will take to go forward is an operational matter for the PSNI. Operational matters—even if they are part of the review process in investigation cases—are a matter for the PSNI, which is operationally independent.
I very much regret the Secretary of State’s decision; it is the wrong one. I am sure that we will return to a public inquiry in the fullness of time. Does he accept the fact that the decision not to hold a public inquiry looks like the state still determined to protect the state? This was no failure by actors of the state; it was collusion by agents of the state. Of course, the reality is that we still need to find out how far that collusion went. Can the Secretary of State be specific: will the PSNI and ombudsman inquiry have access to the records of the security services? Without that, frankly, their own inquiries will not come to the conclusions that we need to be put into the public domain.
The hon. Gentleman has a long history of working on issues for Northern Ireland; it is good to see him today, even via video link. As the former Prime Minister David Cameron outlined and as I have reconfirmed today, the fact that we have apologised for the collusion that happened—the unacceptable levels—is in the public domain. That was a matter of record back in 2011, as we all know and have discussed a few times today. The operational independence of the PSNI means that this is a matter for the PSNI. They will assess the remit and how they take this case forward. I have confidence not only in their independence, but in their expertise and professionalism to do that in a proper way. It is after those reviews that we will fully assess where we are in terms of article 2 obligations, before making any further decisions, to ensure that we have completed them.
I broadly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Members on both sides of this House appreciate that he has one of the most difficult jobs in government and the weight of history on his shoulders. May I draw him on the article 2 obligations to which he alluded? Does he believe that this course of action fully discharged our obligations under article 2?
My hon. Friend asks a hugely important question, and the very straight answer to the House is that I cannot answer that yet; I do not know. I believe that these are the right next steps in terms of our article 2 obligations. As I have said, we will assess things after these processes have gone through. They could well be hugely important in the information they contribute, but the final decision on where we are with article 2 compliance will have to be taken after those processes have completed and we can assess what they have brought in terms of information and understanding of the case.
The Secretary of State rightly acknowledges that this was an appalling crime, but then continues that it was in a difficult and dark period in this nation’s history—a qualification that changes nothing, because no context is relevant here. It is not for the state or its agencies to uphold the rule of law when it is easy; indeed, the obligation may be seen to increase commensurately with any extenuating challenge in compliance. Almost 32 years later, there will still be no public inquiry ordered by the British state into its collusion in this crime. How does he expect Pat Finucane’s family to maintain confidence regarding this latest failure to secure justice through a public inquiry?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks back at my statement in Hansard later on, because he has misunderstood the point I was making. This was a dark time—that is a simple fact of the reality of the troubles. I am sure we are all pleased that the Good Friday/Belfast agreement has meant that we have been able to move forward from that period and develop a peace process that is leading to prosperity in Northern Ireland that we should be building on.
I have spoken to the Finucane family today. I understand and appreciate that they will be disappointed by the decision we have made today, because they clearly would like to see a public inquiry. The decision we have to make and the decision I have made is around what is in the public interest and what the right steps are in completing our obligations under article 2, as per the Supreme Court’s decisions.
The police investigation and the police ombudsman’s work in its investigation is an important part of that process. We have to see what comes through with that. I think it is right that we allow that methodical approach to happen without pre-judging what the outcomes of that may be or creating a dual piece of work that could prejudice the work of the police or the police ombudsman. That is the right way forward and the proper due process to follow.
Would I be right in concluding from my right hon. Friend’s statement that while a public inquiry has not been ruled out, at this stage to proceed with one would not much advance the matter and, in fact, would become entangled with the PSNI review he has announced?
My hon. Friend asks a good question. It is right that with the PSNI taking forward this review and investigation and the police ombudsman doing its review and investigative work, it could be prejudicial to have another process running alongside. In terms of assessing whether the Government have fulfilled our article 2 obligations, we need to let these processes work through and then make that decision.
In 2012, Sir Desmond de Silva QC’s review found that
“a series of positive actions by employers of the State that actively furthered and facilitated his murder”,
yet even that review had serious shortcomings, as identified by the Supreme Court. At long last, the Government must hold a full public inquiry into the murder of lawyer Patrick Finucane, because in direct contravention of what the Secretary of State has just mentioned, the chief constable of the PSNI has said it is
“our view that there are currently no new lines of inquiry. We now need to decide if a further review is merited given all the previous investigations into this case.”
Why is the Secretary of State procrastinating and adding to the heartache and pain of the Finucane family?
I think I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s question several times already today. The simple fact is that on 2 November, the PSNI notified my Department of the investigative review process it will be starting in early 2021. I think he might be getting his timelines wrong in terms of what he is referring to, because it is not until that is completed that the PSNI can know whether there is anything new that will also inform our decision around our article 2 obligations. That is the right process. I trust the PSNI to do its job professionally.
I would like to see more focus on all the unsolved murders in Northern Ireland. I welcome the independent involvement of the legacy investigation branch into the murder of Patrick Finucane. However, can I be reassured by my right hon. Friend that the branch will be given sufficient resources, access to records and the time to determine what exactly happened on that fateful day 31 years ago?
On the budgetary issue, obviously the investigatory work that the PSNI is doing on cases, including this case coming forward, is part of its budgetary plan. I share my hon. Friend’s view that we must all be working to secure information for families right across the United Kingdom, and particularly those affected by the troubles in Northern Ireland, who do not yet have that information. He is absolutely right about that.
In this case, I will be happy to give the PSNI all the support it needs to go through this process in a proper, efficient way, while always respecting the fact that it is an independent, autonomous body. We have to respect its independence to do its work properly and professionally, as I know it will.
May I thank the Secretary of State for outlining what I believe was a fair and balanced response to the House today? I think he has very clearly dealt with the issues, and recognises that the complexity of our legacy and our past means that there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of families who equally have a sincere and earnest desire for truth and justice, and that all needs to be considered in the round.
However, if the Secretary of State is committed to informing us of his plans on legacy in the weeks to come, can I ask him sincerely to reconsider the position he has adopted: that the Northern Ireland Office and Her Majesty’s Government will not financially support victims’ pensions? It was his Government that extended the eligibility criteria last year, doing so in a way that increased the costs exponentially, and gave commitments in “New Decade, New Approach”. If the Secretary of State is sincere about dealing with legacy and supporting those who are victims of our troubled past, will he put his money where his mouth is and make sure that people get the support they so desperately need?
The hon. Gentleman makes a hugely important point, and I fully accept and agree with what he said in the first part of his question. I firmly believe that we have a duty to find a way forward on legacy that allows families to have an understanding, and to get that information and reconciliation for Northern Ireland, building on the peace and prosperity we have seen since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is a duty we should all take seriously, and we should do everything we can, working across civic society, to find a way forward that we can all come together and deliver on.
The hon. Gentleman also makes an important point about victims’ payments, which I will answer briefly, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you will allow me. I do think that victims have waited for far too long. I was hugely disappointed with how long it took to get even the designation of the Department arranged by the Northern Ireland Executive; I am as frustrated as others that that is not there. To be fair, I know that the Department of Justice and the Minister are working hard, along with the First Minister, to get this done as quickly as possible, and both are equally passionate about delivering for the victims.
Bearing in mind that the Northern Ireland Executive have had somewhere in the region of £20 billion this year, even as part of the £15 billion block grant, it is important that they work out what amount of that money they are putting into something that they—including the Deputy First Minister—say is a priority, to make sure that money gets to the victims who need it. I encourage the Department of Finance to pull together an independent fiscal council, as agreed under “New Decade, New Approach”, to get proper transparency about these finances, which will help budget in a way that will mean it can properly fund the Department of Justice, through the Executive, to deliver on this for victims.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he is fully convinced that the path forward he has set out today in his statement to this House fully discharges the Government’s duties and responsibilities towards meeting the Supreme Court’s statements about this case?
Yes, I think this is the right next step: for the police and the police ombudsman to do their work, so that we can then assess whether we have fully completed our obligations under article 2. Once those processes have finished, we will make that assessment and take any decisions we need to, because we are determined to make sure we deliver on those obligations.
Tens of millions—indeed, hundreds of millions—of pounds have already been spent on four investigations into the murder of Pat Finucane, whose family have well-documented terrorist links. One brother died while engaged in terrorist activity and two were captured while engaged in terrorist activity. Indeed, informers have alleged that Pat Finucane himself, for one reason or another, was the solicitor of choice for IRA terrorists when they were captured. The expenditure contrasts starkly with the derisory efforts that have been made to deal with the cases of thousands of people who were killed by the IRA, which have not been investigated and for which no one has been brought to justice.
It is a great pity that the Secretary of State has not today ruled out unequivocally the expenditure of more British taxpayers’ money on further investigation some time in the future. I think that many people in Northern Ireland would have had much more comfort had he done so.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We have a core judgment that outlines that we have not yet fulfilled the article 2 obligations. We are clear that we will seek to do that. This is the next step of the process. As I say, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the police ombudsman are independent in terms of coming to those conclusions and decisions. We will let them do their work. I agree with his point about people across Northern Ireland who have lost their lives, been injured or lost loved ones in the troubles. It is important that we all do all we can to get to the bottom of what happened. It was unacceptable and we should work together across parties, across civic society and with our partners in the Irish Government to get as much information as we can for those families, so that we can understand what happened and move forward into a period of reconciliation.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and specifically the decision not to proceed with a full public inquiry at this time for the reasons that he outlined. Does he agree that there is so much more we can do to help individuals in Northern Ireland on both sides of the community to heal the wounds from the past? The broad approach outlined in the legacy proposals can help to deliver that in a fair, consistent and clear manner.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. He is right that there is not just a duty on us, but a desire in all of us to give people the ability to reconcile and move forward. I have seen some of the really interesting work that has been submitted to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in its report on legacy. We will engage widely with civic society as well as political parties and our partners in the Irish Government to so that Northern Ireland can look forward, while never forgetting the past, to reconciliation, with information for survivors and victims at the heart of that.
I am appalled that the Secretary of State has failed to grant an independent public inquiry. What that means is that the UK, in effect, remains in breach of our international human rights obligations. The Finucane family and the wider community in Northern Ireland have been let down once again. With reference to any future criminal conduct authorisations arising from the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, does the Secretary of State agree that intelligence sources should never be offered blanket immunity from criminal or civil prosecutions?
I am afraid that I disagree with the hon. Lady about the process that we are going through. We are determined and focused on delivering on our article 2 obligations, as I have outlined. I would also suggest that she looks at the information that we will now be publishing. It has not been in the public domain before this stage, and it is an important part of the process, as is the work of the police ombudsman and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We thank people across society for the work they have done to keep this country safe at various times in our history.
I too thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I wish to extend my sympathy to those who grieve the loss of their father, husband, son and brother, but will the Secretary of State further outline whether the rationale used to exclude this case from public inquiry is the same as the criteria used to refuse requests for inquiries into the La Mon atrocity, for example, where 12 were killed and 30 were injured, including my constituent Billy McDowell and his late wife Lily, or the slaughter of the four Ulster Defence Regiment men, John Birch, Michael Adams, Steven Smart and Lance Corporal Bradley, at Ballydugan outside Downpatrick some 30 years ago? We need equality, and we want to see it.
The hon. Gentleman highlights, as have other colleagues this afternoon, some of the tragic circumstances and the importance of people across all communities, and us all, understanding the losses that have been seen across all communities. I would just say to him, as I have said, that every case has to be looked at on the merits of that individual case. In this particular case, as I say, I believe the next steps are the right ones: to allow the PSNI and the police ombudsman to do their work.
I, too, am thoroughly disappointed that the Secretary of State has not decided to grant a full public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. Concern over the Secretary of State’s approach to dealing with legacy is not limited to Opposition Members; the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said that the proposals in his March statement raised
“profound legal, ethical and human rights issues.”
Does he agree with that assessment? Will he commit to resetting his approach to dealing with legacy to win back the trust of victims and their families?
I do not agree with what the hon. Lady has outlined. The March statement was the start of a conversation, which, as I said, we obviously paused; victims groups particularly requested that we pause it while they were dealing with that first core wave of covid. My view has been, as I have said all along, that I want to engage with civic society, as well as political parties and our partners in the Irish Government, on legacy—on finding a way forward that we can then bring back. I find it interesting sometimes to read what people assume is our position when I have not outlined it yet. It is important that we engage and listen to the people of Northern Ireland rather than making assumptions.