I know that the House will join me in condemning the despicable shooting of a police officer in north Belfast on Sunday 22 January. Our thoughts are with the injured officer, who remains in hospital, his family and colleagues.
My officials and I have regular discussions with the Justice Minister, the Chief Constable, and partners as we work to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure.
My right hon. Friend will have the support of the whole House when he speaks so warmly of the police officer who was so brutally attacked only recently. I know the Secretary of State is working closely with the intelligence services, the military and the police to ensure security in the region. Will he please tell me a little more about what he is doing to take forward the security of an important part of the United Kingdom?
I commend the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Security Service and other agencies to keep Northern Ireland safe. The level of threat in Northern Ireland is severe, as that appalling incident underlines. I will continue to work with all partners to secure the safe Northern Ireland we want. I spoke to the Chief Constable on that issue only this morning. [Interruption.]
Order. May I gently remind the House—[Interruption.] Order. We are discussing the security situation in Northern Ireland—a matter of enormous importance and gravity. Perhaps we can respond accordingly.
I agree entirely with a number of the points the hon. Gentleman has made. This was an utterly despicable act and an attack on the whole community, and should be seen as such. The Chief Constable has made those points about people feeling confident in coming forward. There is an ongoing investigation—it is very live—and we are looking through our approach to confronting paramilitarism to see that people have confidence to come forward to give evidence. That is clearly work that needs to continue.
My hon. Friend will wish to know that we have a severe level of threat in Northern Ireland from terrorism. The appalling attack we saw on a young, brave police officer just in the past fortnight underlines the nature of that threat and the fact that there are those in Northern Ireland who would wish to commit acts of violence against the police, members of our armed forces and prison officers. We must be vigilant against that threat.
Does the hon. Member for South Down wish to contribute on this question?
No, the next one.
Well, we might not get there. We will see.
May I join in the condemnation of the deplorable attack on the police officer? May I also use this occasion to pay a quick tribute to my constituent and opponent, and now fellow former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, for the calibre and tenure of his service in our democratic institutions? I wish him well in his personal battle.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that, in meeting Executive Ministers, he would be meeting Ministers who have taken a pledge to uphold the rule of law, based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts? Will he meet that same benchmark and remove the comments he has previously made—
Order. Enough! We have got the gist.
I am very clear on upholding the rule of law and seeing that we support our agencies, which have that independence to pursue evidence where they see it. Indeed, there is a very live ongoing investigation to get to the bottom of that appalling act and hold those responsible to account—it was an appalling act against a brave PSNI officer who was doing his duty, upholding the law and protecting the community.
Is not the job faced by the police in Northern Ireland to keep people safe made harder by the tendencies of the Northern Ireland courts to let terrorists out on bail, sometimes only weeks after an original arrest?
There are important issues that need to be examined and addressed in relation to the criminal justice system. Bail is one part of that, as are sentencing and the time it takes for cases to proceed. We will continue to work with the Executive to see that progress can be made.
In dealing with—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady can scarcely be heard by anybody, let alone the Minister.
Thank you; that is very kind of you, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful indeed.
In dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State will recognise how important it is that the Northern Ireland Office sends a very clear message that the rule of law prevails in Northern Ireland, so will he kindly take this opportunity to put on the record his full confidence in the independence and integrity of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, and indeed the Director of Public Prosecutions?
I am very happy to do so in very clear and unequivocal terms: it is essential that we uphold the rule of law without fear or favour, and I absolutely support the work of the police and all those who are responsible for taking that forward and seeing that those who are committing the acts that we are discussing this morning are held to account and brought to justice.
On Monday, I met a woman whose mother was killed 46 years ago and who asked me to ask the Secretary of State whether he understood that there can be no real peace unless we deal with the past. To that end and as a start, will the right hon. Gentleman commit to raise with the Irish Government the need to ensure the fullest possible public access to the papers relating to the Kingsmill murders and to deliver an effective route by which the families of those who lost loved ones at Ballymurphy can reach some form of closure?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and his message about the raw pain and emotion that continue to be felt by so many of those who were affected by the troubles is one that I equally recognise. It is important that we can make progress in relation to the Stormont House legacy bodies. We will continue to make representations to the Irish Government on a range of issues, and I note the specific point that he raises with me this morning.