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Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

Consideration of Lords amendments

Clause 13

Conduct of reviews

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 20.

Lords amendment 44, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (c) to the words so restored to the Bill.

Lords amendments 1 to 19, 21 to 43, 45 to 118 and 120 to 129.

Lords amendment 119, and Government consequential amendment (a) to Lords amendment 119.

I am delighted to speak to this Bill following its year-long passage through the other place. I pay tribute to Lord Caine for his expert stewardship of the Bill in that place, as well as to all the Opposition spokespeople for their patience and engagement on the Bill.

Hon. and right hon. Members will know all too well that the legacy of the troubles remains one of the outstanding issues since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement was reached in 1998. As a Government, we have sought to make a realistic assessment of what we can do to best deliver for those affected by the troubles over a quarter of a century after that agreement and well over 50 years since the troubles began. I recognise, and I know the House recognises, that this is a hugely difficult task. That is reflected in the many valiant attempts made to address this issue since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement all those years ago. It is also incumbent on us to ensure that any process for dealing with the past focuses on measures that can deliver positive outcomes for as many of those directly affected by the troubles as possible, as well as for society in Northern Ireland as a whole. We maintain that the Bill before us is the best way of doing that.

The Bill contains finely balanced political and moral choices that are uncomfortable for many, but we should be honest about what we can realistically deliver for people in Northern Ireland, in circumstances where the prospects of achieving justice in the traditional sense are so vanishingly small. The Bill seeks to deliver an approach that focuses on what can practically be achieved to deliver better outcomes for all those who suffered, including those who served, and it aims to help society look forward together to a more shared future.

The Bill left the House of Commons over a year ago. In that time, my ministerial colleagues and I have held more than 100 meetings with victims groups, veterans groups, Northern Ireland political parties, the Opposition, the Irish Government, academics, US interlocutors and Members of both Houses, in an effort to make meaningful changes to improve the Bill. As a result of that extensive engagement, the Government have brought forward a significant package of amendments that provide greater assurance regarding compliance with our international obligations; enhance the independence of the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery—I will call that by its catchy nickname, ICRIR, from here on—provide a much greater focus on the interests of victims and families; and strengthen provisions related to the process of granting immunity from prosecution to those who engage meaningfully with the commission, while keeping open the possibility of prosecution for those who fail to do so.

Let me run through the Government’s Lord amendments thematically, as well as our responses to Lords amendments 20 and 44. First there is conditional immunity and incentives to co-operate with the ICRIR. As I said from the outset, the aim of the Bill is to provide more information to more people than is possible under current mechanisms, and we will do that by creating an effective information recovery process. The commission will conduct reviews with the primary purpose of providing answers to those who want them, and will grant immunity from prosecution only if individuals provide an account that is true to the best of their knowledge and belief.

I know that is challenging for many, but conditional immunity is a crucial aspect of the information recovery process. The Government believe it is the best mechanism by which we can generate the greatest volume of information in the quickest possible time, to pass on to families and victims who have been waiting for so long. That is why the Government cannot accept Lords amendment 44, which seeks to remove clause 18 and conditional immunity from the Bill.

As many Members of the House will know, there is a significant precedent regarding limited immunities and amnesties in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, following periods of violence. That includes, following the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, an amnesty for the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, and limited immunity for individuals who share information about the location of victims’ remains. If we look back further, the newly created Irish state legislated three times between 1923 and 1924 for amnesties, dispensing with civil and criminal liability for violence for UK state forces, republicans and Free State forces.

Through Government amendments, we are making the conditional immunity process more robust. That includes amendments to clause 18 in my name, which were agreed in the other place but fell when the clause was removed from the Bill. The commission is already required to consider all relevant information that it holds when forming a view on the truth of a person’s account, as part of their application for immunity, including information obtained through a related review. Through Lords amendment 49, we are strengthening that provision by placing the commission under a positive duty, requiring it to take “reasonable steps” to secure information relevant to that assessment.

The Government are further strengthening the immunity provisions by introducing circumstances under which immunity may be revoked, or may not be granted. I have restored Lords amendment 60, which makes it clear that where a person applying for immunity is subject to an ongoing prosecution, immunity may not be granted if there is a risk that it might prejudice that ongoing prosecution. Through Lords amendment 63 we are creating a new criminal offence for those who wilfully or recklessly choose to mislead the commission when providing information. Individuals who are granted immunity will automatically lose it if they are convicted of such an offence.

Can the Secretary of State confirm to the House how many ongoing IRA trials are taking place vis-à-vis how many ongoing trials against members of the security services are taking place?

I do not have those figures with me, but I will get them from my officials and give them to the hon. Gentleman when, with the leave of the House, I reply to the debate later.

Building on what I was just outlining, Lords amendment 62 ensures that a grant of immunity must be revoked if an individual is subsequently convicted of terrorism offences or offences connected to terrorism committed after the immunity has been granted. That includes offences relating to fundraising, involvement in terrorist fundraising arrangements and the encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications. The offender will also be precluded from obtaining immunity for offences within the scope of the revoked grant.

We are also disapplying the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 for future convictions. That means that individuals who choose not to engage fully with the commission and are not granted immunity, but who are subsequently convicted of an offence, will not be able to apply for early release and will be liable to serve a full sentence. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for raising that issue before the Bill left the Commons this time last year. Alongside that, having listened to suggestions in the debates in this House, we are increasing the financial penalty for non-compliance with the commission from up to £1,000 to up to £5,000, which is in line with the asks during this Bill’s passage.

The Secretary of State said that it has taken a year for the Bill to go through the House of Lords—I and others campaigned for four years for the Bill even to be introduced in the first place. I fear that some of the Government’s own amendments introduced in the other place have had the effect of swinging the pendulum too far—I admit it is a delicate balance—against our veterans who served in Operation Banner in Northern Ireland. Specifically, the Bill now gives the independent commission extremely wide and latitudinal powers to decide whether a veteran should still be investigated, even despite the Bill’s so-called double-jeopardy provisions. The decision still ultimately lies with the commission. It also has great latitude in deciding whether a veteran has complied with an investigation, which would then allow them immunity. They would not get it if the commission ruled they had not complied. Can the Secretary of State absolutely assure me in his heart of hearts that we are not institutionalising the mechanism for a republican lawyer fest, which would be totally contrary to the whole point of bringing in the Bill in the first place?

I am a great believer in short and honest answers to such questions, and the answer is yes.

I now turn to the conduct of reviews by the commission and, in particular, Lords amendment 20, which establishes minimum standards for reviews conducted by the ICRIR to ensure that conduct is investigated to criminal justice standards, along the lines of Operation Kenova.

The right hon. Gentleman really does have to be pithier than he was in his last intervention. By their very nature, interventions should be short.

I thank the Secretary of State for that clear answer, but could he just with a couple of sentences pithily explain why he is so confident that he is right?

I will turn to elements of this later in my speech, but I referred earlier to the importance of the conditional immunity clause. I think what my right hon. Friend will hear in the course of this debate is how many people think the pendulum has swung in this delicate balance, as he has put it, too far in the opposite direction to the way he believes it has swung.

The Secretary of State will be aware that it was back in April 2017 that the then Defence Committee first recommended drawing a line with a statute of limitations coupled with a truth recovery process. We recognised that the process had to be for everyone or for no one. Does he accept that there is a risk of having overcomplicated the process, and is any remedy likely to be available if, in putting this into practice, it is found that service personnel are not being sufficiently protected for ongoing prosecutions?

There is obviously no statute of limitations. The Bill has moved on and, as I said, I would like to think it has been improved a great deal. But it will be an independent body that allows for these things to happen. That is vital both in dealing with the issues of the past, as my right hon. Friend outlined, and in helping all victims perhaps to get some information about the circumstances by which they lost loved ones or others.

We recently held the memorial concert for the Deal marine musicians who were murdered by the IRA bomb in Deal in 1989. No one has ever been brought to justice for that. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the process will apply across the whole of the United Kingdom? What information can we hope might come forward that has not already done so in more than 30 years?

In answer to my hon. Friend’s first question, I confirm the geographical jurisdiction. On her second question, it rather depends on the evidence that might be held by individuals or organisations. I know that the case she raised has been subject to a number of past investigations, and there is limited information in the public domain.

The Secretary of State mentioned the issue of all the victims. The justice that many victims want is quite clear to me and to others on the Opposition side of the Chamber. I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) has said that even if there was only a candle of light of a possibility for justice some day, we would all want to see that—I want to see that for all the people I know. The Secretary of State will remember how, last time we spoke on this, I named every one of those people who we really feel justice is not there for. Whenever he talks about justice for all, I do not see it, and my people do not see it. Where is it?

It is contained within the Bill and within the independence of the commission, which will be able to conduct criminal investigations when the families ask it to do so. I have met numerous families in my time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and there is a complete range of views as to what people want when it comes to seeking information about what happened to their loved ones. I know, as I mentioned at the top of my speech, that the Bill will not satisfy everybody. However, lots of time has passed—the hon. Gentleman will know that better than most—and there is now a dwindling opportunity for investigations leading to criminal prosecutions. People do need to have information, if it can possibly be found.

Fifty-one years ago, my cousin Kenneth Smyth was murdered—[Interruption.] Kenneth Smyth was murdered. His friend Daniel McCormick, a Roman Catholic, was also murdered. Fifty-one years later, there is no justice for my family and no justice for Daniel McCormick’s family. And there is no justice for the four Ulster Defence Regiment men murdered in Ballydugan, or for the young lad Stuart Montgomery, also murdered. Our pain is still here; our pain is still raw. Our people grieve; my constituents grieve. The Secretary of State says that they will have justice, but we cannot see justice.

The people who killed my cousin—three of them—ran across the border and got sanctuary in the Republic of Ireland. Two of them are dead and one is still living. There was no justice. Nine people were involved in the murder of those four UDR men, and one of them is dead today—it was in the paper this week—Colum Marks, an IRA commander. He is in hell, burning—the best place for him. Where is the justice for my family and for my constituents? I do not see it. The Secretary of State says we are going to have it. No, we are not. I do not see it at all.

First, I completely recognise the emotion with which the hon. Gentleman has expressed his views. He knows that I have met a huge number of people who have reflected with passion on the people they have lost. I cannot put myself in the hon. Gentleman’s shoes—I would not try to—and nor can I right the wrongs of something that happened 51 years ago. The hon. Gentleman’s family have gone without justice or much information for 51 years. He knows that, unlike him, there are families across the piece, some of whom are his constituents, who have not had any information about the circumstances in which they lost loved ones during the course of the troubles.

This Bill is definitely not perfect. But after 51 years, should people choose to use the powers of the independent commission in this legislation, they might just able to get some information that allows them to remember their loved ones in the appropriate way. My heart goes out to the hon. Gentleman. I know that this is an imperfect Bill for him, but it might just work for some others. This piece of legislation is a difficult balancing act.

I was talking about Lords amendment 20, which raises a number of important issues that have been addressed by Government amendments tabled in the other place and for Commons consideration. We cannot accept any amendment that seeks to make every review a criminal investigation. The legislation rightly ensures that the independent commission, via the commissioner for investigations, has the flexibility to determine if and when it is appropriate to utilise police powers during the course of its review.

A one-size-fits-all approach requiring criminal investigation in all cases would remove such flexibility and significantly increase the likely time to complete reviews, further delaying the provision of information for many families. I point to a case raised with me in oral questions only a few weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton), should anyone not believe that such investigation is useful. Further, in cases where the investigative duty under article 2 or 3 of the convention applies, a criminal investigation may not be sufficient means of discharging that duty. That is because there may have been failings by the state that contributed to a death, but which were not themselves criminal in nature.

Lords amendment 20 also seeks to introduce a reference to compliance with the European convention on human rights. As a public authority, for the purposes of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the ICRIR and its commissioners are required to be compatible with convention rights within the meaning of the Act when exercising their functions under the Bill. Government Lords amendments 19 and 22 expressly confirm that the commissioner for investigations must comply with obligations imposed by the Human Rights Act when exercising operational control over the conduct of reviews and others functions,.

Lords amendment 20 references gathering as much information as possible and exploring all evidential opportunities. The commissioner for investigations is required to ensure not only that a review is carried out when a valid request is received, but that each review looks into all the circumstances of the death or incident -in question, including but not limited to criminal activity. Furthermore, as I set out, Lords amendment 49 will place the commission under a positive duty to take reasonable steps to secure information for that assessment.

To strengthen further our commitment around the conducting of reviews, I have tabled amendments in lieu of Lords amendment 20, which seek to clarify that the duties of the commissioner for investigations when looking into the circumstances of a death or serious injury apply regardless of whether a criminal investigation forms part of the review. They also place a duty on the chief commissioner to provide, where possible, answers to questions posed as part of a request for a review.

Sinn Féin has always argued that, because in the early years of the troubles fatal shootings by armed forces personnel were investigated by the Royal Military Police, and only after a few years was that transferred to the RUC, those investigations were not article 2 compliant. As the Government have deliberately strengthened the role of article 2, via their own amendments, does that mean in practice that every single fatality prior to 1972 is likely to be reinvestigated in order to be article 2 compliant?

I will happily explain a bit later, when I have finished what I am saying.

Turning now to the role of victims and families, through our extensive engagement with stakeholders we have sought to make the Bill more victims-centred. To achieve that, I am placing the commission, when exercising its functions, under a duty to have regard to the general interests of persons affected by troubles-related deaths and serious injury. The Bill will also make it clear that in exercising its functions, the commission’s principal objective is to promote reconciliation. That is a crucial overarching principle that will embed the need to promote reconciliation in everything the ICRIR does when carrying out its work.

The commission will also be placed under a new duty to offer victims and their families the opportunity to submit personal impact statements, setting out how they have been affected by a troubles-related death or serious injury. The statements must be published if the person making the statement so wishes, subject to limited exceptions that ensure no individuals are put at risk and that the Government’s duty to keep people safe and secure is upheld. We tabled the amendment as a direct result of engagement with the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland, who maintained it was crucial that victims had a voice in this process. We agree.

The Government fully recognise the need for the commission to have credibility, expertise and legitimacy so that effective investigations can be carried out and information provided to families as soon as possible. On 11 May, I announced the intended appointment of the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan KC, as chief commissioner-designate, having obtained input from the Lord Chief Justices of Northern Ireland, and England and Wales, and the Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland, all of whom I would like to thank publicly. To allay further concerns around the integrity and independence of the immunity process, the Government’s Lords amendments place a duty on the commission to produce guidance that is related to determining a request for immunity. That will replace the power that previously rested with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

There are also amendments relating to oral history and memorialisation. We are, I am afraid, never going to agree in Northern Ireland on a common narrative about the past, but we can aim to put in place structures to help all in society, including future generations, have a better understanding of the past, with the overarching aim of enabling people to move forwards. Therefore, our memorialisation strategy will seek to build consensus around inclusive new initiatives to commemorate those lost in the troubles and seek to ensure that lessons of the past are not forgotten. I fully understand concerns raised regarding the need to prevent the glorification of terrorism in relation to the memorialisation strategy and other measures in part 4. As a result, we have added an overarching requirement to clause 48 so that designated persons must have regard to the need to ensure that the way in which the troubles-related work programme is carried out promotes reconciliation, anti-sectarianism and non-recurrence.

We also amended the Bill to broaden the requirement to consult the First Minister and Deputy First Minister with a duty to consult organisations that are experienced in reconciliation and anti-sectarianism, and to consult relevant Northern Ireland Departments before deciding on a response to each recommendation in the memorialisation strategy. We added an additional requirement in clause 50 that the Secretary of State must consult organisations that have an expertise in reconciliation and anti-sectarianism before designating persons for the purposes of this part of the Bill.

There are also Government amendments relating to interim custody orders. We have made the amendments in response to concerns raised by Members of both Houses over the 2020 Supreme Court ruling concerning the validity of the interim custody orders made under the troubles-era internment legislation. To be clear, it has always been the Government’s understanding that interim custody orders made by Ministers of the Crown under powers conferred on the Secretary of State were perfectly valid. In order to restore clarity around the legal position and to make sure that no one is inappropriately advantaged by a different interpretation of the law on a technicality, the Government tabled amendments that retrospectively validate all interim custody orders made under article 4 of the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, as well as paragraph 11 of section 1 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973. That has the effect of confirming that a person’s detention under an ICO was not unlawful simply because it had been authorised by a junior Minister rather than by the Secretary of State personally.

The Secretary of State has made an important point about the R v. Adams case and the disregarding of the Carltona principle by the Supreme Court in 2020, and he is right to affirm the Government’s view that the signing of warrants by a Minister of the Crown was always a lawful act, but why has this taken three years, and why did the amendments originate from the Back Benches rather than the Government? Is the Secretary of State right to describe them as Government amendments? For a great many people in Northern Ireland who thought that this was a welcome step during Bill’s passage, it came rather late.

Well, perhaps it is a case of better late than never. These are Government amendments, but I am the first to admit that amazingly good ideas sometimes emerge from the Back Benches of both Houses of Parliament.

The amendments could also prohibit certain types of legal proceedings—including civil cases, applications for compensation as a result of miscarriages of justice and appeals against conviction, which rely on the 2020 ruling—from being brought or continued. To align with the other prohibitions in the Bill, the continuation of pending claims and appeals in scope would be prohibited immediately from commencement. There is a specific exemption in the Bill for certain types of ongoing criminal appeals, where leave to appeal has already been granted or where there has been a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission by the time of the Bill’s commencement. The exception would not allow for the payment of compensation flowing from the reversal of such convictions, and I want to make it clear that the amendment would not lead to the reinstatement of convictions that had already been reversed.

There are other amendments relating to criminal justice outcomes. The Government’s primary focus has always been on establishing one effective legacy body seeking to provide better outcomes for families. We also want to ensure that organisations such as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the judiciary are able to concentrate their capabilities on more present-day issues.

It remains our view that the independent commission, when established, should be the sole body responsible for troubles-related cases, but we are also mindful of the concerns raised about the ending of the ongoing processes, especially given the current legislative timetable and the expected timeframe for the commission’s becoming fully operational. Our amendments would therefore ensure that ongoing criminal investigations, ombudsman investigations, the consideration of prosecution decisions, coronial inquests, and the publication of reports will continue until 1 May 2024, when the commission will become fully operational. We hope that the additional time provided will allow such cases to conclude their work, while ensuring a smooth transition between the ending of the current mechanisms and the commission’s taking on full responsibility for outstanding legacy cases.

Does the Secretary of State recognise the huge concern felt by families who do not think it is practical to expect all inquests to be completed by next spring? Some have not even begun, and it is feared that a two-tier approach will emerge. Owing to a number of factors, some cases scheduled by the former Lord Chief Justice will have started and may well finish, while others have not even had a chance to start. Notwithstanding what the Secretary of State has said, people do not believe that the new process will have the rigour of an inquest.

Our amendment provides until 1 May 2024 for inquests to conclude. Since the Bill’s introduction, expeditious case management of inquests in order to reach “an advanced stage” has resulted in the overloading of a system that was already struggling under incredible pressure, causing delay and frustration. We hope that the amendment will ensure that resources will now be focused on completing those inquests that have a realistic prospect of conclusion in the next year. The Government expect troubles-related cases that do not conclude via the coronial process by 1 May 2024 to be transferred to the fully operational ICRIR, led by Sir Declan Morgan as chief commissioner-designate, through the use of provisions already contained in the Bill, and I believe that those provisions will allow him to maintain the relevant level of investigation.

The Secretary of State is very kind and generous to give way. Before he concludes, would he care to mention any response to the Irish Government threat that they intend to take His Majesty’s Government to court on these matters? How does he view that threat, and what has been the response back to the Irish Government, given their own dire record of dealing with legacy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. There have been a number of quite forthright conversations between the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and myself on this matter. Obviously anything could be tested in legal action as we move forward, but I believe that the Bill is article 2-compliant. I do not see that as negative, because there are five elements to article 2 compliance—independence, capability of leading to the identification and punishment of perpetrators, prompt and reasonably expeditious, involvement of next of kin, and a degree of public scrutiny, which I think are all included in this. So I think we are in a strong place to resist any such potential charges, and I would like to think that means that we can happily move on together.

I have been waiting patiently for the Secretary of State to answer the question that I asked him earlier about the interrelationship between article 2 and pre-1972 investigations. I am sure he meant to answer the question before he sat down. He has very few bits of paper left. Could he now please give a direct answer to my question about the interrelationship between the two?

I think my hon. Friend will remember that I gave him a direct answer and he wanted something that was a bit longer. I have just given him something that is a bit longer that identified why there is article 2 compliance, and we believe—[Interruption.] I did directly, which I think is the best way of dealing with this.

The ICRIR has always, as a public body, needed to comply with all its duties under the Human Rights Act. We have made it clearer, on the face of the Bill, that the commissioner for investigations must comply with those duties when carrying out their reviews. It is a very straightforward—it generally is a straightforward—answer to a straightforward question, and I hope that my hon. Friend, when he reads Hansard, will see that his questions have been answered threefold in what I have said.

There you go; we beg to differ.

Finally, through these amendments the term “the relevant day” has been removed from the Bill, so a consequential amendment (a) to Lords amendment 119 in my name simply seeks to remove the power to define the relevant date.

I am very confident that the Government’s legacy Bill provides the framework that will enable the independent commission, established by the Bill, to deliver effective legacy mechanisms for families and victims, whilst complying with our international obligations. When the Bill becomes law the delivery of those mechanisms will be led by Sir Declan Morgan KC, currently chief commissioner-designate of the independent commission. Sir Declan is also an individual of the highest calibre, with a track record of delivery on legacy issues, and I know that he will approach the task with the rigour, integrity and professionalism required.

The challenge before us is immensely difficult, but it is also clear. If we are to place the legacy of the troubles in the rear-view mirror and to help all in society to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation, we must try to do things differently.

The Bill has managed to unite all Northern Ireland parties in opposition to it. The word “reconciliation” may be in its title, but victims say that it is traumatising. Both the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Law Society of Northern Ireland have criticised it. The Labour party has voted against it at every stage. That is because it benefits terrorists more than their victims.

Anyone doubting that should read the BBC front page today, and the story about Louie Johnston, who was just seven years old when his Royal Ulster Constabulary officer father David Johnston was shot by the IRA. Louie has asked MPs to show empathy with his family today and not force through this Bill.

Lords amendment 44 addresses the flaw at the centre of this Bill, by removing the immunity clause. The Government must not put immunity back in. It is not a wrecking amendment, as the independent commission would have a better chance of winning people over without it.

I listened with interest to the Secretary of State’s recent speech to the Institute for Government. He told a story about meeting three RUC widows, and how all three wanted different things in relation to their husband’s death. He said that, if he were a member of the public, he would side with the widow who wanted justice above all else. He suggested that conditional immunity in exchange for information would satisfy two of the three widows, and he said this is progress on legacy.

I was intrigued to hear the Leader of the Opposition publicly state last week that, if he were to become Prime Minister, he would repeal this Act. This surprised me for a variety of reasons, and I wonder if the shadow Minister might indulge me for a second. Am I right in thinking that public protestation means Labour has no intention of drawing a line under legacy issues in Northern Ireland and moving on? And does it mean that Labour has no wish to stop vexatious complaints being made against British servicemen?

Labour believes in a more consensual way forward. We believe that, in the past, there has been agreement that drew more consensus. This Government published a Bill that had broad agreement in Northern Ireland and was deemed human rights compliant, yet they jettisoned the Bill after gaining all that consensus and chose a different way forward. We believe the way forward lies in the origins of that draft legislation, and we believe there is a way forward that takes into account the learning since.

The hon. Gentleman mentions vexatious litigation against former servicepeople in the Northern Ireland context. Perhaps he could give an example of vexatious litigation where someone is currently being prosecuted or pursued as a result?

Okay. I will move on.

The Secretary of State has clearly been trying to do his best with a Bill he inherited from one of his predecessors, but this Bill will slam shut the doors to justice. It is now well over a year since the Bill was published. In that time, Ministers have had ample opportunity to consult. The Secretary of State outlined dozens of meetings, and he has had the chance to consult and listen to victims, their representatives and local Northern Irish politicians. That is ample opportunity to win the people over to the Government’s approach, yet nobody has been won over—no politician, no victim, no international partner, no one.

Immunity from prosecution for murder would work only if it had popular support in Northern Ireland. It does not. The Government have underestimated the strength of feeling among victims. I have been asked by some victims to put their views on the record. On 10 August 1996, John Molloy had nearly reached his home in north Belfast when he was confronted by a group of young men and women. John was Catholic. He was repeatedly stabbed in a frenzied attack and was left to bleed to death on the pavement. He was just 18 years old. John’s still-grieving parents, Pat and Linda, want to know how offering his killers immunity will aid them in reconciliation? We are trying to heal divisions but this Bill is damaging.

Take the case of Cecil Caldwell, a 37-year-old construction worker who was travelling in a minibus from Omagh, where he and his colleagues had been repairing an Army base. A roadside bomb was detonated, killing eight of the 14 people on the bus. As the dead and dying lay on the road, their pay packets were stolen. A simple, dignified monument was erected at the site, and it is regularly vandalised. Cecil’s wife, Jean, does not want this legislation. She has asked whether the Government have any idea of what victims have gone through. If the Bill is not an aid to victims such as her, what is the point?

Clearly, the Government are also conflicted. In the other place, amendments were introduced to stop Gerry Adams receiving compensation, following a Supreme Court ruling in 2020. We support the upholding of the Carltona principle and that amendment. However, there is a disconnect between the horror the Government feel at the idea of giving Gerry Adams compensation and the potential implication of the immunity clause we are debating. I want to explore that in a hypothetical.

Gerry Adams has, of course, always denied being a member of the IRA, but he is currently being sued in the High Court by victims of the IRA in a civil case. Not only will this Bill halt any similar cases, but the immunity provisions remain open to Gerry Adams if he were ever to need them. Immunity is worth a lot more than compensation. In this hypothetical, should Gerry Adams seek to avail himself of immunity, nothing in this Bill could prevent it, and the people supporting the Bill would be the very first ones on their feet screaming for emergency measures to prevent it from happening.

Even if we choose to ignore the moral problems of this policy, there is also doubt about it on the Government’s own terms. Members need not take my word for it, because this is the view that Sir Declan Morgan gave to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last year. The House will know that Sir Declan has been named as the chief commissioner of the independent body. He said:

“The only group who will go for immunity are those who have been the subject of investigations, brought in for questioning and it looks like there is a viable case. It seems to me like that is a vanishingly small number of people.

Again, the question then arises of why you would put immunity in place for such a small number of people in the circumstances. You must be able to justify that. That presents a challenge.”

I do not have reason to believe that Sir Declan’s views on the number of people who will go for immunity have changed since his appointment.

Immunity cannot be justified when the rest of the Bill shuts processes down which have worked for some victims.

I was going to make that clear in my comments. I thank the shadow Secretary of State for what he is saying. I understand entirely what motivates my colleagues on the other side of the House who served in the armed forces; I had the honour of serving in the Ulster Defence Regiment. But here is the problem for me: for all those whom we are seeking to protect from prosecution, there are countless others who put on a uniform of the Crown, in the armed forces and in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and were murdered in cold blood by terrorists and whose families will not now have the opportunity of justice. I cannot look those people in the eye. Louie Johnston is one of my constituents, and the shadow Secretary of State referred to him. I recall having just been elected a Member of Parliament in 1997 and the news coming through about the murder of his father, Constable David Johnston, and of Constable John Graham in Lurgan. Louie was in my office recently and the current system is not delivering for him—we do need change. We need a system that can deliver, but surely it is the victims who should have the choice. Surely it should be down to the families to choose whether they want to pursue justice or information. When we deny them that route and we take away the access to justice, we diminish the prospect of achieving the second objective of this Bill, which is reconciliation.

The right hon. Member makes his point passionately, with great erudition and personal experience as the representative of the Lagan Valley. There is very little I can add to the insight that he has just given the House. We in this place have striven in recent years to give extra rights to victims. Indeed, the Victims and Prisoners Bill is passing through the House—I believe it has just passed Committee stage. In England and Wales, we are passing legislation that gives more rights to victims. Only in Northern Ireland are we doing something that disempowers victims and puts in place a set of institutions that will make it immeasurably more difficult for victims to get the reconciliation that they so desperately deserve, so I have complete sympathy with the right hon. Member.

Let me address an intervention from the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who asked about the number of prosecutions currently under way regarding veterans and terrorists in the times of the troubles. To the best of my knowledge, two cases are outstanding and ongoing relating to veterans—soldier B and soldier F —but there are 32 case files currently with prosecutors in Northern Ireland relating to acts of terror. Those 32 cases are not being pushed forward because prosecutors lack the resources, which they have repeatedly asked Government for, to pursue those prosecutions. Those resources are not forthcoming, but there are a lot of cases that could be moved forward that we are not resourced to progress right now.

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for emphasising that point, because it highlights the folly of the decision taken by some people in this House to support this legislation because it will protect “our boys”. The fact of the matter is that the only ongoing cases that have any likely prospect of getting to trial are cases against “our boys”. None of the cases against terrorists will ever be able to get to court and, more importantly, the immunity provisions will exclude former security personnel from benefiting from them. Members should think again about why they are supporting those measures.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. These are very difficult issues and of course I understand why people want to speak in support of people who have served in our armed forces. I feel this intensely and strongly myself, coming from a family where one of my parents—my father—served in our armed forces.

I will come to the issue again later in my speech, but I will go into it in some detail now. The only recent case against a member of our armed forces is that of David Holden, a member of the Grenadier Guards, and it is worth reflecting on the judge’s summing up in that particular case. Paragraph 105 of the judgment says:

“Instead, according to his frankly incoherent evidence, he put his right hand on the pistol grip which somehow resulted in his finger slipping onto the trigger and doing so with the significant pressure required to fire the weapon. I do not believe that evidence. I conclude that it is a deliberately false account of what happened.”

Paragraph 120 says:

“To summarise the conclusions above I find that it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that…the defendant lied repeatedly to the police.”

If this case had come to light after the Bill had passed, prosecution would not have been possible. I do not believe for a second that this case and the person responsible—David Holden—reflect the values that we expect from those who serve in our armed forces, and that the vast majority of people who serve in our armed forces expect from their fellow members.

After five years, the Bill provides a general amnesty for anyone and everyone, as the independent body will wind up. All other investigations, inquests and civil cases will be shut down. It is clear that the Government have chosen immunity to satisfy some on their own Benches. They say veterans face “a witch hunt” in Northern Ireland; that is the phrase used by the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis). I do not believe that that is the way that we should frame or explain the reconciliation challenge of Northern Ireland. The vast majority of our soldiers served with distinction in the most difficult of circumstances. There can be no equivalence drawn between their actions and those of terrorists, but that is precisely what this Bill does. Where standards were not upheld, it is important that there is accountability. There have been a total of six military personnel charged with offences related to the troubles, two of which cases are currently ongoing. What has changed since this Bill’s inception is that there has now been a conviction of the former Grenadier Guardsman, David Holden, for the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie. We cannot ignore the fact that this Bill is designed to stop the outcome that the McAnespie family finally achieved.

I also wish to put it on the record that veterans are victims too. The IRA shot Private Tony Harrison five times in the back while he was sitting on the sofa at his fiancée’s home in east Belfast in 1991. His family have been clear that they do not want immunity for his killers. I would be a lot more sympathetic with the Government if their approach had been to try to secure justice for more, not fewer, people.

This Bill will affect the entire United Kingdom and our reputation abroad. The families of the 21 victims of the IRA Birmingham pub bombing have been clear that they do not want immunity to be on offer. In November, the chief constable of West Midlands police confirmed that files had been passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service. Immunity will be open to that suspect if this Bill passes before a decision is made. Voting down Lords amendment 44 could shut off justice for families who have waited 50 years, right at their moment of greatest hope. There is still time for the Government to pause and reconsider this approach, just as the Irish Government have formally requested. The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement is the moment to reflect on the power of consensus. To pass this Bill with immunity would be to fly in the face of everything that we know about progress in Northern Ireland; it should not happen.

I do not intend to spend long on my feet, as I have made all the points that I would seek to make on this Bill at previous stages. It is also important that we get to hear as many voices as possible from Northern Ireland.

I will make just two points: first, that reconciliation is something that is achieved, not imposed; and, secondly, to hold fast the principle that, where there is a sufficiency of evidence and an independent prosecutor decides that it is in the public interest, a prosecution should be able to go ahead. That is why the SNP continues to oppose the Bill, notwithstanding the amendments that are on the table today. I echo the point made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) that, without that ability to pursue justice, reconciliation becomes less likely.

I appreciate very much the steps that the ministerial team—this iteration of it—have made in seeking to address the concerns that have been raised, but that fundamental point of principle about denying prosecutions, and therefore in our view justice, remains. That is why my party will support Lords amendment 44 this afternoon.

We also support Lords amendment 20. We think that Operation Kenova sets the gold standard for the investigative processes that should be carried out, and particularly the commitment by the Government to pursue all evidential opportunities. The Secretary of State has been keen to stress that he is offering great assurances on ECHR compliance. I have to say that we remain without the assurances that we need, and if Lords amendment 20 were to be put to the vote tonight, the SNP would certainly support it.

We have seven Members who wish to speak. I will impose a seven-minute time limit to make sure that everybody gets in.

I appreciate the brevity with which the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) spoke, and the fact that Members from all parties representing Northern Ireland will have the opportunity to speak. I thank the Secretary of State for at least engaging in the debate in a way that is constructive, non-combative and as compassionate as possible, as I believe he has this afternoon. That has been markedly absent from some previous debates on the Bill that were not led by him.

The Secretary of State was right that different victims have different approaches. Victims are frustrated with the continuous obnoxious attitude that it is information that they need. For some that is undoubtedly true, but many others know exactly who perpetrated acts of violence against their family. They know exactly which neighbours in their community are responsible for taking the lives of their loved ones. It is not an answer that they seek; it is justice.

I thank the Secretary of State and the Government for accepting many of the amendments that we tabled last year. He mentioned the repeal of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 provisions, and wrongly credited one of his colleagues; that was an amendment tabled by my colleagues and me. The increase in fines is also beneficial to the Bill. The ability to revoke immunity should somebody obtain it through deception, deceit and lies is good—that provision was tabled in the House of Commons. The Government committed to deliver it in the House of Lords, and we are grateful that they did so. The Government also made a commitment on the amendment to clause 21(4) that we tabled in the Commons, and they delivered on it in the Lords.

All those amendments are beneficial, but none of them removes the irredeemable quality of the Bill. I have heard people, particularly in the other place, describe our position as populist, and refer, as the Secretary of State did, to previous efforts. Let me be clear: colleagues who predate my time in this House—colleagues in my party and in other parties represented here—stood against on-the-runs legislation as something that was immoral under the Labour Government, and actively opposed the Conservative Government when it was shown that they had been providing letters of comfort to terrorists. We did so because the Government’s position was immoral.

Today, we say that the Bill is irredeemable not because we are populist on this issue, but because we are principled on it. The quest for justice, be it from last week, last year or 50 years ago, is as important for those affected by the vagaries of terrorism today as it was at the time of their loss. We do not believe that the Government have gone far enough on the provisions regarding the glorification of terrorism. The Bill is about bringing communities together and resolving the issues of the past, not absolving individuals of their crimes and ignoring the memory and hurt of victims.

As I mentioned, I was pleased that the Government resolved the compensation issue related to the Adams case. I am sorry to say that, although they have taken steps to consider some of the aspects of investigations that touch on criminality, and have moved some way in their position in response to Lords amendment 20, for us they have not moved far enough. Whether the Bill and the Government’s actions are compatible with their obligations under the European convention on human rights will ultimately be a matter for the courts, but it does not pass our smell test for what we believe is righteous or just.

That is why we will vote against the Government when it comes to Lords amendment 44. We will vote against the ability to offer immunity to terrorists and to ensure that they never face justice for their crimes, and subsequently to give them the ability to talk openly and freely about their exploits, as those who have already been convicted do. We do not need a crystal ball to guess that people who are unencumbered by the justice system will have the freedom not only to share their experience, but to torment their victims and their victims’ loved ones further. That is the true reality of what will happen, because glorification of terrorism has not been satisfactorily addressed in the Government’s amendments.

The Government continually chide Northern Ireland parties for not reaching agreement on issues that have plagued our society for decades, yet in 2016 we had agreement on Stormont House arrangements. That was not easy. It was fraught with difficulty and there were many compromises by all parties contained within those proposals. Yet it was an agreement that we reached and that the Government disregarded. Seven years later, we are still struggling to comprehend and understand the approach that the Government are taking.

For the victims in my community and the victims throughout Northern Ireland, who know exactly what happened but want the Government to stand with them in their pursuit of the rule of law and of consequences for criminal acts and for removing life, this Bill and these amendments do not go far enough to satisfy their very human and very just quest, in which we continue to support them.

Unlike some of the people who have been involved in this debate more recently, who have left the Chamber of course, we care about the victims and we want to put the victims at the heart of all this.

I have been working on this issue for about 20 years. I know many of those victims. They are not people who want to live in the past; they are people who want a better future. But unless we deal with this issue, they will never be able to have the reconciled future that they crave. The Bill is a licence for impunity and a signal to other countries that they can murder their own citizens and get away with it, but mostly it is legislation written in very dark corners of the British establishment to ensure that light is not shone into those corners.

The Secretary of State tells us he has had a lot of meetings and I am sure he has. He has met victims’ groups, human rights groups, the United States Administration and European politicians, and he has met all of us. I would love to know whether he came away from any one of those meetings with the impression that people actually wanted this Bill. As the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) said, we do have an agreement: not only are we agreed that we are opposed to the Bill, but we are agreed that Stormont House is the way to carry out this process. To pretend that we have all been fighting over this issue for the last seven or eight years is just nonsense.

Moreover, the pretence that the Bill is about allowing people to get to the truth is quite easily debunked. I remember the Bloody Sunday inquiry. The soldiers were offered immunity within that inquiry and they lied through their teeth; if hon. Members do not believe me, they should read the Saville report. One after another, they lied through their teeth. The notion that, if we give people immunity, they will all of a sudden come and tell us all they know is just not practical or realistic. I do not believe victims will engage in that process.

I also want to say something about the nonsense that we have all these vexatious prosecutions. Nobody has ever pointed one out to me. There are no vexatious prosecutions. I would love someone to tell me exactly how many British soldiers served time as a result of what they did in Northern Ireland. It would not take very long to count them.

We are disappointed that Lords amendment 20 is being opposed by the Government. Operation Kenova, run by Jon Boutcher, has been lauded around the world and is internationally respected as a good approach to dealing with these issues. It has family approval. Families are bought into the investigation and the outcomes they desire. It proves the point that, if we want to get to the truth, we have to investigate. Time after time, whether it is the Government or paramilitary organisations, they have proven to us that they will not give the truth just because we ask nicely.

To support the hon. Member’s point about the work of Jon Boutcher and his team in Op Kenova, he will be aware that, as a result of their rigorous investigative process, a number of files have now been passed to the Public Prosecution Service, including—I am careful about what I say here, Mr Deputy Speaker—potential prosecutions against members of illegal, proscribed terrorist organisations, yet we have had no outcome to that process from the PPS. Given that this legislation is coming down the road, one wonders why there does not appear to be sufficient progress being made in following through on the work of Jon Boutcher’s team and moving on those potential prosecutions.

The right hon. Member is absolutely right. The families involved—we do have to be careful—in those investigations are largely very happy about the way in which Jon Boutcher’s team have dealt with them. But, of course, some people—a lot of people—do not want the truth to get out: people in the British Government, people in paramilitary organisations, and some people who were in both of those things at the same time. They do not want the truth to come out because they are very worried that the glorified version of their history actually turns out to be a dirty little war.

Stephen McConomy was 11 years old when he was shot in the back of the head at very close range by a British soldier firing a plastic bullet in Derry in 1982. His brother Emmet, who has been fighting for justice ever since, says that the “real winners” of this legislation are the perpetrators of violence, and he is absolutely right. Some of the files in Stephen’s case will not be opened until 2071, almost 100 years after Stephen’s murder.

James Miller, whose grandfather David Miller was killed by the IRA’s horrific bomb in Claudy in 1972, said:

“I describe it as the family having a sore, and that sore is there all the time—it’s open and we just want that sore to heal.”

James went on:

“They are just closing the whole process down…for a reason…. A lot of stuff may come out that will make the government look bad.”

That is what this is about. I have been dealing with this for 20 years. Although we work tirelessly on this—lots of people did in political parties in Northern Ireland—I have always believed that the dark forces within the state will do all they can to prevent the full truth of what happened from coming out. Some people say that they oppose the Bill because it creates a moral equivalence between the British Army and paramilitary organisations. That is not why I oppose it. I oppose it because it benefits murderers, whether or not they were wearing a uniform. That is a fairly simple principle to stand by.

What we are talking about here is much more important than has been mentioned. We are talking about how we can build a future together—a reconciled future for our people. Some of my colleagues here want that to be within the United Kingdom; I want it to be within a new united Ireland. But I know that, to get to that place, we cannot keep glorifying the ugliness and horribleness of the past.

Whatever the future brings, we still have to come together as a community, but the Bill gives cover to those who are putting Ulster Volunteer Force flags up lampposts or singing “Up the ‘Ra” in pubs. I appeal to anybody who thinks that that is a good way to bring society back together again to talk to some of the victims I speak to regularly, many of whom I know very well. All those things hurt them. Although the rest of us have been allowed to move on and build a life as a result of the peace process, they are still stuck, and not because they want to be. They are more future-focused than anybody I have ever met, because they do not want their grandchildren to stay stuck having to deal with the mess that they have been left.

I wish that we did not have to be in this Chamber. I am glad that the Labour party has committed to repealing the Bill once it is law but, in reality, between now and the new Labour Government, a lot of people could have little letters that they can bandy about because they will have got away with destroying lives and families, and this British Government are giving them a blank cheque to do it.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood). I want to speak in favour of the Lords amendments, particularly amendment 44, relating to immunity.

Towns and villages in St Helens—like those in your constituency, Mr Deputy Speaker—have strong and historic links to the Army, particularly the Cheshire and Lancashire Regiments. I have a significant, active and very supportive armed forces community locally, and I hope that veterans and their families would say in return that I have always respected, represented and worked hard for them. But I am also honest with them when we talk about the issues in this Bill or about Northern Ireland more generally, because there are not legions of veterans being paraded before the courts. There are no vexatious complaints. There is no witch hunt. It is a myth, and it is a dangerous and disingenuous one.

I want to be honest with the House and with myself too. I sometimes think we should just draw a line under this whole thing—that it would be the easiest thing to do—and then I realise how selfish of me that is. I say to myself, “How dare you be so selfish?” and I ask myself, “Easy for who?” I remind myself that I have no authority, politically, legally and, most of all, morally, to tell anybody to forget, to move on and to put it all behind them—none of us do. What I have learned is that, while legacy is spoken of as something historical, it is not just history; it is something lived by the victims and their families in the present, every day.

I have spoken before in this House of things that were done where I grew up in South Armagh, the place I love and am so proud to be from: Kingsmills and the Reaveys—too much and too many. There is the realisation for me that, even now, as Christy Moore sang in “North and South”,

“There is no feeling so alone

As when the one you’re hurting is your own.”

We can all point to those cases that are beyond tears because of their awfulness, their brutality and the sheer human cost, but it is those that we do not often recall and that are only remembered by those who knew and loved them that are affected by the Bill—like Martin Rowland, who was 26 when he was shot dead on 5 October 1979, his body left on the Quarter Road in Camlough. He is remembered by locals as a quiet, inoffensive fella. His family said at the time,

“He was an enemy to no man.”

No one ever got any answers about why he was murdered, never mind who killed him, although it is widely suspected that there was a strong element of collusion between loyalists and Crown forces. Martin’s sister and brothers are dead now. Does that mean he should be forgotten or that he does not deserve the truth?

I told my father, Pat, who knew Martin, that I intended to mention him, and he was pleased, but he—a lifelong Republican and former Sinn Féin councillor—said,

“there was also a UDR man from Bessbrook shot dead… that morning. It would be disrespectful to mention one neighbour without mentioning another.”

So I rang my friend Danny Kennedy, a former Minister and deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist party, who told me about George Hawthorne, a 37-year-old father of three who had left the UDR the year before and was murdered on his way to work as a forklift driver at the timber yard in Newry. His wife, sadly deceased, worked with my mother in the furniture shop in the village. They were quiet, civil people. Should that be forgotten or dismissed? I do not tell these tales together to be self-righteous or to tick the dreaded what-aboutery box. I tell them to illustrate that this stuff is complicated, it is personal, and it still affects us all, because it happened to all of us or to people we know and people we love.

When I take my kids to South Armagh now from St Helens, they take great joy in winding up their uncle and their granda as we travel from the airport in Belfast by cheering when they see a Union flag flying in some of my hon. Friends’ constituencies. You do not have to look very hard at this time of year—there is constant noise all the way down the motorway. They say, “Look, dad, there’s our flag. They’re welcoming us home,” because kids are great.

When we pop in for a cupán tae—a cup of tea—in McCooey’s in Newry, or I see my friend Michael O’Hare in Whitecross, the conversation often turns to Majella O’Hare and what a great girl she was. They talk about her as if she were here today—playing out the front, happy and without a care in the world, like my two—but she was 12 years old when she was shot by a soldier of the Parachute Regiment in 1976. In 2011, the Government apologised for her unjustifiable killing. That was welcome, but what is it worth if this Bill becomes law, and how can there be any justice or peace for her family when the files relating to her death have been closed until 2065? The O’Hare family—like almost every family, survivor and victims group—oppose the Bill. That speaks more about it than I ever could.

When I was a cub doing my A-levels, I worked the late shift doing the taxi radios in Camlough. One night, after we finished, me and one of the aul-timers—one of the drivers—had a late drink in the Lough Inn. He started to talk about when the village had high walls and gates around the pubs, because it had been blown up so often, and about all the various altercations and disturbances, about the policemen and the soldiers, about the Gaelic Athletic Association members and the locals who had been shot or killed, and about Raymond McCreesh and the hunger strike. As little more than a schoolboy at the time—and as Richard Moore from Derry said on the telly recently—I thought he was talking about a film, or that it was like cowboys and Indians. I said to him, “It must have been dead exciting.” He gently put his glass down, looked me dead in the eye and said, “You’re lucky you weren’t about.” It was as simple as that.

I am lucky that I was not about then. But I am about now, and we are about now. We owe it to the people who were about then to ensure that they get to remember their loved ones and find out the truth about what happened to them, and have the justice and the peace that they deserve and that we, in this place of all places, should demand.

The Secretary of State said that immunity will be blocked if there is an ongoing process. Of course, in all likelihood, the only trials that will actually take place—that are in process at the minute and could take place—are those against members or former members of the security services. No IRA alleged terrorists are about to face trial or are up for trial, and at present it is unlikely that they will be. Therefore, Government Members who think that, by supporting the Bill, they are supporting the security personnel and protecting them from prosecution are wildly mistaken.

Some republicans will not let this issue go. There have been a couple of comments tonight, from Members on both the Front Bench and the Back Benches, suggesting that no vexatious cases are ongoing. Actually, vindictive and vexatious cases are ongoing, and I want to put one before the House tonight. Colum Marks was lawfully shot dead by an RUC officer in an action justified by the police, the Army and those involved because he was about to murder and maim in Downpatrick. It is very unfortunate that that was the action that had to be taken.

The officer who took part in that operation has now faced three trials. He was most recently cleared by the Director of Public Prosecutions with the words that this was a lawful killing, not only in his self-defence but in the defence of the state and the people living in Downpatrick. Was that the end of it? No, there is now going to be another trial—another attempt to drag that officer, known as Officer B, before the courts. That is vindictive. That officer has long since retired. He has another family and is trying to live his life, yet this continues to hang over him. We have a certain shameful snake-oil salesman of a legal practitioner saying that he is going to take this person—this “RUC murderer”—back to court on behalf of the Marks family. That is vindictive and it is ongoing, and those matters do offend.

Can I ask the hon. Gentleman to be very careful in his language? The last time that solicitors were named in this House, we ended up in a very bad and dangerous place. I would just ask him to be very careful about his language, because we can never go back to those days, and people in this House should not be giving licence for that.

I thank the hon. Member for that, but he should be very clear that I did not actually mention solicitors. I said a legal practitioner, because they are not a solicitor. He wants to draw that out, as he has done by his comment, but he will now see that it is someone very specific. People will be able to look up the website of that person, who makes snake-oil sales in this case in that particular way, and it is wrong because such a person should recognise the outcome of the justice process.

In the Republic of Ireland there is no legacy equivalent. In the Republic of Ireland there is no equivalent for the right to access historical legal papers. There is no equivalent in the Republic of Ireland for ombudsman inquiries into Garda Siochana activity. In the Republic of Ireland there were requests by this state for 116 warrants for extradition to bring known terrorists back over the border to face prosecution in our courts, but only eight of those warrants were ever pursued and delivered on. More importantly, in the Republic of Ireland the possession of weapons in Northern Ireland is not regarded as a criminal offence and is not regarded as a terrorist offence. The possession of weapons in Northern Ireland, according to the Republic of Ireland, is a political offence, and people cannot face prosecution for a political offence.

I think Members can see some of the problems. The idea that we have a view from another state that all that is happening here should be dragged to court somewhere else by us on some sort of high moral ground is absolutely shameful. The Republic of Ireland has threatened His Majesty’s Government to take them to court on this issue, and they should have a good, hard, long look at themselves, because if this issue of legacy is going to be resolved, it will have to be resolved by both the north and the south, as well as by the United Kingdom Government, properly looking at this issue and resolving it.

I would go so far as to say that the Republic of Ireland actually has a duty to address these issues. Do Members want to know how many murders have a cross-border element to them? Of the 3,700-odd terrorist offences, or the almost 3,700 dead, almost 600 have a cross-border element. My hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned his own personal circumstances and the cases involving his family, where the terrorists fled back over the border. That is where weapon hoards were stored, and where the Republic of Ireland gave sanctuary to those people who were involved in almost 600 murders—of Roman Catholics and Protestants—in Northern Ireland. Remember that there were more Roman Catholics murdered by the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland than there were Roman Catholics who were done to death by any other organisation, including the state. It is important to remember that the biggest group of people who get off the hook here is the Provisional IRA, and we should be guarding strongly against that.

I want to put on the record the comments of Senator Michael McDowell, the former Justice Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Once again, the Senator has made it clear that, in the Republic of Ireland—he wrote this in The Irish Times

“the Irish Government of which I was a member took the decision that further investigation and prosecution by An Garda Siochana of such historic offences was no longer warranted or justified by reason of the greater interest in ending the Provisional campaign and all other political violence in Northern Ireland.”

Of the Irish Government, he concludes:

“And so, as far as this state was concerned, a line was drawn across the page of historic Provisional IRA criminality in Northern Ireland.”

If Members want to look for immunity from justice, look no further than 60 or 70 miles from where I live, which is across the border in the Republic of Ireland, where they granted immunity.

Of course, in relation to the Government here, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) made comments about the on-the-run letters and about the decision by those who support the Belfast agreement to let the prisoners out of jail, and all of those things turned justice on its head. I think we have to recognise that this is not going to be an easy fix. But I can tell you one thing, Mr Deputy Speaker: what the Government are proposing today will not satisfy people on the Government Back Benches and it will not satisfy the victims in Northern Ireland. I would appeal to the Government to think again.

I will start by putting on the record my appreciation for the efforts of the Government, in particular Lord Caine, over the past year, in trying to improve the Bill with the amendments that were tabled in the House of Lords. It is, however, a matter of regret—this will probably be a common theme across the Northern Ireland parties—that the Bill remains fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. Even at this eleventh hour, it is important that we say to the Government—that is what we hear from most stakeholders in Northern Ireland—that they should withdraw the Bill. It is not wanted, and it is not going to work and achieve what the Government think it will. Even at this stage, I urge a rethink. Do not take the Bill over the line and end up with a situation where we have something that will not deliver for anybody in that regard.

The Bill is not fit for purpose in the sense that it is not compliant with article 2 of the European convention on human rights. It does not have the support and confidence of stakeholders in Northern Ireland, whether that is the political parties—it is rare that we are so united, but we are on this point—the different victims groups, whose voices are particularly to be listened to; or the views of virtually every independent expert, such as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which has a statutory role to give its views on such matters. They are all deeply concerned about the Bill and do not believe it will deliver or that it is legally competent.

I want particularly to focus on immunity, as that is one of the core areas of debate, and on the Government amendments, which I will shortly be opposing. The concept of immunity is seen as being fundamentally unjust by victims. Most victims appreciate that they are unlikely to see their day in court and a successful prosecution of the culprits who took away their loved ones, but they do not want to have that hope extinguished. As long as there is hope, people are clinging on to that. That is the real fear, and it is on that pivot that people become particularly emotional. That is at the heart of the comments that the Government are hearing from victims across the political spectrum.

The concept of immunity is also seen as a de facto amnesty, which has its own implications. First, it goes against emerging caselaw at European level, but it also carries certain connotations that will weigh heavy on certain people. Let me frame this for a moment from the point of view of some people who have worked in the police, the Army and other security services over the past decades. I want to start by reflecting that the vast majority of people who served did so with honour, and with the intent of upholding the rule of law and protecting the entire community. There is a clear distinction between them and the terrorist, in that the former did not set out to do harm but rather to protect the community, whereas every day the mission of the terrorist was to do harm. That is a clear distinction.

The concept of immunity, particularly for those who were based in Northern Ireland, almost reinvents the whole nature of their service. They say, “We don’t need immunity because we didn’t do anything wrong. Why are we given this abstract concept? Where our colleagues did wrong, they should face justice because that is the rule of law, and the justice system is among many other values that they were serving.” This process turns that entirely on its head, and almost puts them at the level of the terrorist. That said, justice should be blind, and where there are issues to be followed through, whatever legacy mechanisms we have in place, that should proceed without favour to anyone.

That brings me to a wider point about the genesis of the Bill, and this is a fundamental reason why there is this lack of confidence. The Government cannot escape from the rationale set out at the beginning and the need to protect certain elements who are clamouring for protection against vexatious claims, who I think were generally more GB-based than in Northern Ireland as such. We have the comments from the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis) when he was introducing the Bill and its pretext of giving protection to veterans who had served, in particular in the Army. Again, I stress that many other veterans do not want that protection.

I am also concerned that the concept of immunity will not work, because we may find that few people apply for it, whether that is perpetrators seeking it or families having the confidence to come forward and bring cases to the commission. We need to reflect heavily on the concept of immunity. It has poisoned the approach to legacy, above and beyond the broader concern around article 2 compliance.

I stress again to the Government that, even at the eleventh hour, they should please rethink this Bill. There is a different way of doing it. We have not had a chance to consider properly the Stormont House agreement. The Northern Ireland Office did a consultation on it many years ago, and there was a basis for taking it forward, but the Government did a handbrake turn back in 2021 and looked at doing things entirely differently. I ask please that that process be given a chance. It holds the confidence not just of the political parties, but of the vast majority of the victims in Northern Ireland.

I rise to oppose this legislation in the strongest possible terms and to speak on behalf of the many innocent victims of terror in Northern Ireland, for whom this Bill has caused great distress and anguish. As I was leaving Northern Ireland this morning, the real-life story—it has already been mentioned in this place—of Louie Johnston was booming out on the radio. Louie was the son of a police officer murdered in my constituency. Louie was seven years old when his daddy was killed by IRA criminals because he wore the uniform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I encourage all Members to google Louie’s news article today and see the picture of him walking behind his dad’s coffin, a broken child. It was one of the most powerful pictures of the troubles. His dad, David Johnston, along with his RUC colleague, John Graham, were shot dead while on foot patrol in Lurgan. When he was told of his father’s death, he said, “Why would anyone want to kill my daddy?” He asked today for us to show some empathy, and he asked whether we believe it is morally right to take away his avenue to justice. It is on those comments that I make my remarks today.

It speaks volumes that not one victims’ group endorses this legislation. It is a sad reflection that this Government today choose to ignore Louie’s call and the calls of the many who represent innocent victims. This House, I trust, will forgive me for labouring the point about the hurt and the lasting legacy of the troubles on their lives. They have physical and emotional scars that will never heal, and those are made worse when people sound out or imply that it is time to move on and draw a line in the sand. They feel that is code for, “Forget about the victims, and forget about what happened.”

Does my hon. Friend also think that we are talking not just about the legacy of the past and the hurt that that has caused, but about the impression left on young people today when they see that the state will grant immunity to people who have carried out some of the most horrible crimes, deeming that to be okay? In other words, someone can commit a crime, and if the political circumstances or whatever are right, there can be no consequences. Does that not eat at the very moral core of society?

My right hon. Friend makes such a valid point on the impact the Bill will have on young people and their outlook on these issues. It is unacceptable and does not sit well in our society. Victims in Northern Ireland have already suffered and have to endure the fact that, because of the Belfast agreement, they can meet the perpetrators of some of these acts walking down the street or in the supermarket. They live with the continual flaunting and glorification of terrorism by someone who claims to be the First Minister for all and who has said there was no alternative. Indeed, the Member for Belfast North (John Finucane)—a Member of this House—recently showed his true colours in that regard as well. In the face of all the sickening actions, the taunting and the re-traumatising, I applaud the fortitude, dedication and determination of innocent victims to fight for such basic concepts as truth and justice. Sadly, those concepts are lost in the Bill.

The other place has sought to make this imperfect Bill less imperfect. I welcome some of the amendments. It is of deep regret that the Government propose to disagree with Lords amendment 44 in relation to immunity. The amendment would have removed from the Bill provisions allowing immunity from trouble-related crimes, which the Democratic Unionist party, and I believe the majority of people in Northern Ireland, support. In my discussions about the Bill with victims’ groups in recent months, I have heard how immunity is what causes the most grievous hurt. Why? It is because it closes the door, erodes victims’ access to redress and draws a moral—or should I say immoral—equivalence between blood-thirsty terrorists and public servants. Quite frankly, it weakens our entire criminal justice system throughout the world. I find it most remarkable that the Government should endorse such a move. The decision is repugnant not just for its perversion of justice, which we in the UK claim to value, but for the trauma and hurt that it inflicts on innocent victims.

I turn to the motion to disagree with Lords amendment 20. Every family deserves the ultimate hope of a full and fair investigation into the circumstances of a loved one’s death. Such an investigation should be subject to the highest standards. The amendment would have established minimum criminal justice standards for a review along the lines of Operation Kenova following expressed fears of watered-down investigations. The commissioner should be under a duty to ensure that an article 2-compliant investigation either has been carried out or will be carried out. Is that too much to ask? It is difficult to come to any conclusions other than that the commissioner for investigations will be able only to comply with obligations imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998 to the extent dictated by the authority and resources granted to that office holder under the Act. The restriction of criminal enforcement actions is such that even if the independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery refers all conduct to the Public Prosecution Service, much of that material will be admissible. Compliance with fundamental rights needs to be a cross-cutting safeguard in how troubles cases are dealt with. Irrespective of whether an investigation is at least partially the granting of immunity to perpetrators, its value is diminished.

The Government, by erasing the other place’s amendment to the Bill, simply fail to acknowledge the rights of victims in terms of the standards of an investigation. However, that is only one part of the jigsaw. For victims, it is equally important to have their day in court and the prospect of conviction and custodial sentences to grant some form of closure as it is to have a proper investigation. The Bill fails in those respects.

The Government’s objection to Lords amendment 20 will remove the requirement for a Kenova-standard investigation from the Bill. The Government, through their amendment, seem to want to provide an assurance, irrespective of whether a commissioner decides a criminal investigation is to take place as part of a review, that all the circumstances of a death, including potential offences, will be looked into. I am sorry, but there would appear to be a huge gulf between carrying out a historical investigation that gathers and explores as much information as possible in relation to a death or harmful conduct and the Government’s suggestion simply to look into that.

We oppose the Bill because we believe in justice and in holding fast to hope for those who paid the biggest price for our troubled past. The Bill will lead not to reconciliation but to greater distress, distrust and disillusionment among victims that they matter to this Government. We stand with those victims.

I am pleased to speak in this debate and to put forward the desires of the people of Strangford in this place, and also my own family. [Interruption.] Sometimes when you are at the end your emotions get you, and they have got me today. Fifty years ago, my cousin was murdered. He was the light of our family, a good man with a good heart who loved his family and his community. My aunt was robbed of the opportunity to see him have the joy of his own children and grandchildren, and I was robbed of my childhood hero and friend. [Interruption.] The perpetrators were never brought to justice—all three of them.

Order. I invite the hon. Gentleman to have a glass of water and compose himself. When you are ready, Mr Shannon.

Kenneth took us shooting when we were small. I remember him well; he instilled a love of the countryside in me. I named my first son Jamie Kenneth after him. Jamie is 35 years old, and he has that same love of the countryside. My cousin Kenneth lives through him. Three people were responsible for his murder. Two of them are dead. One of them was never made accountable. Where is the justice for Kenneth and our family?

Where is the justice for Lexie Cummings, murdered by the IRA in Strabane? His murderer escaped across the border, a prominent member of Sinn Féin and a former mayor of a council in Donegal. Where is the justice for the four UDR men murdered in Ballydugan—John Birch, Michael Adams, Steven Smart and John Bradley? I knew three of those boys—lovely young boys who loved their country and their families. Where is the justice for those four young men? Where is the justice for Louis Robinson, a detective kidnapped at the border at South Armagh, tortured, beaten up and murdered by the IRA? No one was ever made accountable. There is no justice for Louis Robinson and his family.

My hon. Friend has just highlighted a number of individuals who potentially will never see justice. If the Bill goes through, the perpetrators can go out and glorify some of the actions they have been involved in. Unfortunately, this is a process of rewriting history.

When I think of my cousin Kenneth Smyth, I think of Daniel McCormick, a Roman Catholic. They were best friends and both served in the UDR, but Daniel left. He was murdered by the IRA. No one was ever made accountable. Stuart Montgomery was a young boy of 18 years old who joined the RUC. His daddy was so proud of him. He went to Pomeroy—three weeks in uniform—and was blown up by the IRA. No one was ever made accountable. Where is the justice for Stuart Montgomery and his family?

Where is the justice for Winston Donnell, the first UDR man murdered by the IRA up in County Tyrone? No one was ever made accountable. They left his family with broken hearts, bereft of a son. Where is the justice for Raymond McCord? Every one of us here knows Raymond. He will be watching on TV. His son was murdered by the UVF. Where is the justice for Raymond McCord? I mention all those people because I think it is important that we have them on the record. Senator Barnhill was murdered by the IRA in County Tyrone on the same day as my cousin Kenneth and Daniel McCormick. Again, where is the justice? I have named some of the people involved over the period of time. Those investigations and that quest for justice—we do not see it.

I understand the Government’s aim. I see how almost all the cases, investigations and money spent appear to be on less than 10% of the murders, while the 90% are left as a part of history. My party grasps well the rationale behind that. The DUP has been clear and remains clear that the vilification of our serving soldiers, UDR members and RUC members must stop. The rewriting of history to make it acceptable for the IRA and UVF to carry out their atrocities must end. There was never and will never be an excuse for the slaughter and maiming of anyone who wore a uniform.

The DUP is clear on that, but we are also clear on the fact that for the families—all the families I have named and all the families everyone else here has named—their loss means so much. It is for that reason that I cannot accept the Government’s proposals and that my party is unable to accept them either. The DUP MPs and all the MPs from Northern Ireland voted against the Bill in the House of Commons. In the Lords, our Members tabled amendments that were not selected. We do so not to be obstructive, but to fully honour the commitments we gave to the innocents—those who seek justice and those whom we have all spoken of. Our hearts break when we think of them.

For this reason, we cannot vote with the Government in their refusal of Lords amendment 20, which seeks to require that the reviews carried out by the new body, the independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery, should be thorough, of an adequate standard, and in line with our international obligations. It is hard to see how such a prospect could be argued against, yet the Government are not accepting that. My party leader has been very clear and I reiterate it again: only criminal trials can bring murderers to justice. Every one of us wants justice: justice for our people, justice for all those who have lost their lives. That is why we strongly oppose an amnesty and have voted against it at every turn. Lords amendment 44 should be accepted by the Government. Without it, the Bill fails to deliver justice, the very justice we yearn for. The DUP still believes that all innocent victims—all innocent victims—of the troubles have the right to justice.

DUP Members find themselves in a situation where we agree that the politicisation of the troubles must end, but we cannot see that the Bill will achieve that in the form it is in. Therefore, with a heavy heart, we cannot stand with the Government on the Bill. I ask that those who vote do so understanding the reasoning behind our stance. We do we oppose the ideal—we welcome the end to the victimisation of soldiers—but that must be done through proper handling, which this Bill is not. This is sweeping legislation that changes the definition of justice—the very justice that all of us in this House uphold when we swear our oath: justice for our people, justice for our families. The Bill prevents families having any hope of justice should investigations cease to be political and begin to be about hard facts alone.

We oppose what the Government are putting forward today. I do it for all the victims I have named, I do it for my constituents and I do it because it is the right thing to do. I am really, really disappointed—I really am. I am very sore and my people are sore about where we are. I think the Secretary of State grasps some of the pain we have—I think he does—but the Bill hurts us deeply, and I must register that.

With the leave of the House, I would like to answer a few of the points that have been raised.

First, I recognise the passion, the emotion and the very personal nature of many of the contributions today, including those from the hon. Members for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), for North Down (Stephen Farry), for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). As I said, I can never put myself in the shoes of the hon. Member for Strangford and nor would I want to. The question was raised by his party leader, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) about the choice in the Bill between justice and information. I believe the Bill delivers opportunities for both. The ICRIR allows for criminal investigations to take place, but it also allows for information to be gathered for those families who would be happy with just that. One reason for rejecting the amendment about the Kenova-style investigations is the fact that it rules out allowing for the full remit of reviews through to criminal investigations, which I would like to see.

I thank the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) for acknowledging that the Bill has been improved on its journey. The one thing of which I have no doubt is the principled position taken by him and by his party on the provisions relating to amnesties and immunities. That position has been well stated and has been constant throughout my political lifetime and before, and I completely understand it.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) talked about Stormont House. I am not quite as sure as he was that the search for consensus on this subject came together in Stormont House; in fact, I think that that consensus has eluded successive Governments. I seem to recall that one political party in Northern Ireland did not agree with Stormont House from the very start, namely the Ulster Unionists, and I am not entirely sure that all political parties on the Unionist side do so now. There may have been consensus on the principle of the idea, but I am led to believe that when it came to trying to deliver on the agreement, the First and Deputy First Ministers came to what was then Her Majesty’s Government and said, “This is all too difficult to do in Stormont: please do it in Westminster.”

That is an interesting take on the matter, given what I remember happening at the time. Yes, the Ulster Unionists had some reservations about the agreement, but all the other parties supported it. It was up to the British Government, along with the Irish Government, to implement it, and it is only because the British Government went off on their own—without the Irish Government—and undermined it by ignoring rather than implementing it that the Bill has ended up in this place. In my strong view, this is where the British Government have always wanted to take things.

Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, with the greatest respect, that he has his particular view of what happened following Stormont House, but I believe that history says something a bit different.

Herein lies the issue for us all. It is a question for the party opposite, and it is a question for all Members in this place: if not the Bill, then what? There is no agreement following Stormont House. Families have gone for years, for decades, without answers to what happened to their loved ones, and I believe that the Bill is the right way forward at this point. History has been revisited in many different ways when it comes to how agreements might have worked in the past.

May I just point out that “New Decade, New Approach”, which was authored by this Government through one of the Secretary of State’s predecessors, contains a specific commitment to implementing Stormont House? As recently as January 2020, it was the explicit policy of the Government to deliver it. It is there, in black and white, in “New Decade, New Approach”.

The hon. Gentleman is right, but that became unworkable and impractical because the political consensus simply was not there when it came to legislation.

The hon. Member for Foyle asked what would happen if someone lied to the ICRIR. Well, that person simply would not be granted immunity: he would lose that immunity as a result of the new offence in the Bill.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concise argument, but I can also think of no part of Northern Ireland’s history when we have managed to reach a point at which there is consensus on this issue. I believe that the ICRIR will have the ability both to carry out criminal investigations and to conduct reviews and get information for families, and that must be a step forward.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) asked about article 2. Let me make it clear that the Government amendments go no further than existing obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998, and that, specifically, they do not alter the material or temporal scope of those obligations as they apply to troubles-related cases, including those that he mentioned. I think I answered that in a slightly more concise way when he picked it up.

The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) mentioned a host of things, but I believe he misrepresented the Bill and a number of things in it. What he said about the perjury aspects of the Bill was straightforwardly wrong. Perjury provisions exist in the Bill. Anyone providing an account to the ICRIR when applying for immunity will have to provide an account that is truthful and if they do not, they will not get immunity.

May I start to conclude my comments by thanking my civil servants for all the work that they have done on the Bill, especially over the course of the past year. I would like to think that everybody recognises the huge amount of work that has gone on.

I am afraid I do not have the time.

I wish to close by reiterating that the Government have sought to make a realistic assessment of what we can best deliver for families, over a quarter of a century after the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and nearly 30 years since the first ceasefires and well over 50 years since the troubles began. I recognise that this is challenging for all those involved, but I am prepared to make this difficult decision to try and help Northern Ireland to take a step forward towards reconciliation. This Government will give people the accountability, acknowledgment and information they require to allow Northern Ireland to become a more reconciled society.

It is a matter for regret, though, that the Labour party would rather see veterans and victims treated the same as terrorists. During the Bill’s Second Reading, in May 2022, the hon. Member for Hove said:

“I have been very clear: I want to make sure that the rights of victims and veterans are equal to the rights of terrorists and people who committed crime in the era of the troubles”.—[Official Report, 24 May 2022; Vol. 715, c. 193.]

The Secretary of State is quoting from a response to an intervention from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), where I stated categorically, in the full extent of the reply, that the Bill gives more rights to terrorists than victims. That is what the full response says. What he read is out of context.

I would also quickly say to the Secretary of State that I did not mention perjury in my opening speech. Could he address the issues that I did raise in my speech—not the ones I did not?

I think I might have struck a nerve there. Today the Government will demonstrate that they are committed to getting victims—veterans are victims, as the hon. Gentleman says—the families and survivors answers, when Labour simply—

Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 20.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 20 disagreed to.

Clause 18

Immunity from prosecution

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 44.—(Chris Heaton-Harris.)

Lords amendment 44 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) to (c) made to the words so restored to the Bill.

Lords amendments 1 to 19, 21 to 43, 45 to 118, 120 to 129 and 119 agreed to.

Government consequential amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 119.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I recently asked the Minister for Immigration what the cost to the taxpayer was of painting over murals featuring cartoons designed to welcome lone child refugees at an immigration centre. The Minister replied, saying that there was no cost. To me, this answer does not seem to be possible, unless overstretched workers were redeployed from far more pressing duties and the Minister himself brought the paint in from home. Can I seek your advice on how I can get clarity on the accuracy of the Minister’s answer?

Order. The hon. Lady will be fully aware that all Members, including Ministers, are responsible for the words that they utter in this Chamber. The usual channels will have heard what she has had to say. If the Minister chooses to come to the House and make a comment or correct a statement then that is up to the Minister, but it is not a point of order for the Chair.