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Northern Ireland: Consultative Group on the Past

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 5 February 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report by the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, the report launched last week is a complex one that makes 31 recommendations on some of the most difficult challenges facing Northern Ireland today. One of the recommendations has provoked an understandably strong reaction. Naturally, the Government will be taking time to reflect on all the proposals carefully and will be discussing them with a wide range of people before taking any decisions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that cautious Answer, but will she consider the situation if the proposed £12,000 payment to the families of terrorists was extended to the London Underground suicide bombers? Would the Minister, or indeed the Government, then be quite so ambivalent?

My Lords, the Government have a responsibility to consider all the recommendations. I stress that we are looking to achieve consensus on anything that we bring forward, and it is absolutely clear that there is no consensus on this point.

My Lords, I understand that the Historical Enquiries Team and the powers of the ombudsman to investigate the past will be transferred to the legacy commission. Will the noble Baroness tell us whether this commission will be funded properly for that job?

My Lords, what happens to the Historical Enquiries Team will, of course, flow from the recommendations. We are still considering those recommendations, and it would be inappropriate for me at this point to talk about things such as cost.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness look carefully at the novel proposals for what is called “information recovery”, which is part of the matter touched on by the noble Baroness speaking for the Liberal Democrats? This could require the production of documents and compel witnesses to attend and give evidence at what is, in effect, a trial held in secret, without a jury and without all the safeguards of our legal system. I suggest to the Minister that she should not wait for consultation but should just say that this proposal is not human rights-compliant.

My Lords, all the points raised by noble Lords this morning are extremely important. I am not saying that they will necessarily be consulted on, but the Government themselves need to reflect carefully before making any statements on these issues.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, whatever their intentions, consultative groups and public inquiries such as Saville, which is costing some £200 million and rising, imposed from outside our fledgling devolved Administration, constitute a huge irritation to the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, pose a threat to a community that is anxious to put the suffering of the past behind it?

My Lords, the area of inquiries is difficult. Those that are being undertaken will proceed as they are at present. I understand the points made by the noble Lord, but we have given undertakings and we must fulfil our obligations. On the matter of cost, it is deeply regrettable that the people who really seem to gain from such inquiries are the lawyers. You could say that the Government are learning an enormous amount about the cost of such inquiries.

My Lords, whatever view may be taken of some of the recommendations of this consultative group, was it not an act of almost heroic selflessness on the part of the group to accept the Government’s invitation in the first place?

Yes, my Lords, indeed it was. I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, a man whom I hold in great esteem. He had a very difficult task.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the many failings of this report is its inability to differentiate the guilty and the innocent?

My Lords, before the Government have given the report its proper and due consideration, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about failings.