La Mon House Hotel Bombing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 13th February 2003.

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Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 6:22 pm, 13th February 2003

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the invitation. I am sure that she will understand that, because of my present responsibilities, my diary is very full. I will have to check what I intend to do this Sunday, but she can rest assured that, if it is at all possible, I will try to be there. However, I have to spend some time with my own family; I know that the hon. Lady will appreciate that, as she has a family herself. If I am unable to be there, it will be for pressing reasons, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will pass on my regards to the people who will be present. My thoughts will be with them on Sunday afternoon.

On the principal call that the hon. Lady made, I will have to disappoint her. I was not the author of the letter to which she referred. However, my fellow Minister who penned that letter gave the appropriate response at this time to the request for a public inquiry. Having listened carefully to the hon. Lady, I say to her with the greatest respect that the Government have no plans to establish a public inquiry into the tragedy at La Mon House. However, I understand the arguments that she made. In particular, I understand the reference that she made to the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

In the two minutes remaining, I want to set out in greater detail what was said in that letter. I know that the hon. Lady is a great supporter of our police force, the public prosecution system and the legal system. She holds them up, as I do, as examples of how crime should be pursued. It is because we take such pride in the police and the court system throughout the United Kingdom that we must make every effort to ensure that nothing detracts from the highest standards of behaviour in our police forces and in the administration of justice. There must be nothing questionable in their actions, nothing indefensible in their behaviour, nothing iniquitous and nothing base. That pride in the police and security forces has caused the Government to agree to investigate cases where allegations have been made against them—those very few cases where there has been cause for concern about their actions. We want to trust them; we have to trust them. We must therefore ensure that we are able to trust them. Our police and security forces must be whiter than white. That is why we have these inquiries. They are not designed to punish the police or to make comparisons between the police, the security forces and the other victims of crime. We have a different structure for dealing with such cases. The police investigate, and as the hon. Lady said, the police file is still open.

If there is additional information and evidence at this remove from the incident, it should be examined by the police. We should not set up inquiries which compete with the police investigations and which somehow suggest that there is something that the police could have done at the time. We know full well that that was not the case. Indeed, at the time, about 100 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were devoted and deployed to the investigation. As the hon. Lady has pointed out, 25 people were arrested, including Gerry Adams. One man was successfully prosecuted and he was given 12 life sentences for the manslaughter of those who died. As the hon. Lady will know, he served more than 15 years in jail.

It is because we rely on that structure to investigate and to prosecute that the Government do not draw the comparisons that the hon. Lady asks us to do. We do not say the same things about the police force as we say about terrorists. We rightly treat terrorists as criminals and look to the police to investigate them and the courts to punish them. Therefore, we entrust the investigation of the bombing at the Le Mon House hotel to the police.

The hon. Lady made an implication that, in my respectful submission, is not fair. I do not believe that it would be fair to the men and women of the RUC or the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who have served and who have continued to serve the people of Northern Ireland so bravely, to have them treated in the same way as we treat the other investigations that we carry out. Conversely, it would not be fair to grant to the terrorists the concern that we give to the security forces and to their standards.

I deeply regret that that is my response to the hon. Lady. We should not forget the frightful deaths at Le Mon. The House is grateful to her for giving us the opportunity to consider the issue today.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Seven o'clock.