Saville Inquiry

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 11:30 am, 20th February 2008

How much the Saville inquiry has cost to date; and what proportion of that expenditure has been on legal services.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I am advised that the Bloody Sunday inquiry has so far cost £181 million and that approximately half of that has been spent on legal services.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Secretary of State should be ashamed to put that grotesque figure before the House. Is it not the case that nothing better demonstrates the Prime Minister's twisted sense of priorities than the farce of the Saville inquiry, which is now threatening to outrun "The Mousetrap"? Would it not have been better to have spent this nearly £200 million on giving our armed forces the equipment they need, rather than lining the pockets of lawyers?

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I understand the excitement that the hon. Gentleman wishes to generate on this issue, but a little less heat and little more light would be appropriate. First of all, it is essential to separate the cost of this inquiry from its value. The decision to hold the inquiry was absolutely critical to engaging Northern Ireland on the peaceful, prosperous and stable path on which it now lies. Costs are, of course, an issue, which is why the Government introduced the Inquiries Act 2005 and why new inquiries are being held under that Act. The Saville inquiry was established under terms before the Inquiry Act, and although we have done what we can to try to control costs, those costs are a matter for the inquiry rather than for the Government, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. He should be careful not to twist the facts and distort the issue, which runs the risk of trampling on the sensitivities of the families who lost their loved ones.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Labour, Grantham and Stamford

I totally agree with the Secretary of State that it is important to try to get— [Interruption.]

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Labour, Grantham and Stamford

It is important to try to reach an agreed view of the facts, if that is at all possible, but saying that this inquiry has up to now been conducted in a time-consuming, leisurely and unbusinesslike fashion would surely be an understatement. Will the Government introduce some new disciplines—financial disciplines—that those concerned will understand to ensure a greater degree of urgency and focus as the inquiry proceeds?

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to distinguish the value of the inquiry from the cost. Members are also right to want to ask questions about the cost of the legal claims behind the inquiry. However, the legislation establishing the Bloody Sunday inquiry gives the Government no statutory powers to control costs. We have done what we can. We introduced rates for counsel and solicitors in 2004, and I have made representations to Lord Saville, but I am afraid that this remains a matter for him and for the inquiry.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Secretary of State talks about value. He has told the House that more than £181 million has been spent on the inquiry. Has he considered two points? First, the inquiry will not bring closure. Relatives have already said that they want prosecutions to follow the expenditure of that £181 million. Secondly, the inquiry will not bring back to life the loved ones—more than 2,000 people—of relatives who have already not seen closure. That issue remains unresolved.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As he says, this process will not bring closure of the issues raised; it will simply produce a conclusion to an inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday. As for all the families who have lost loved ones, it must be said that it is unrealistic to imagine that there will be an inquiry about the people—up to 4,000—who were murdered during the course of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The work done by the consultation group on the past, chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, is extremely important in helping us to establish whether we can find a way of dealing with the past that does not involve spending hundreds of millions of pounds on inquiries. Those inquiries have mattered until now, and of course they matter to those who have lost loved ones, but we do not think that they will bring closure to all the families who have suffered such terrible tragedy.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

Does the Secretary of State recognise the compound hurt of Bloody Sunday, caused not just by the deaths that day but by the travesty of the Widgery tribunal, which erected lies on stilts and interned the memory of innocent people without truth? The reliance of so many people on Widgery as the true verdict on what happened that day is what necessitated a new inquiry. Can the Secretary of State tell us by how much the legal costs were inflated by the chicane of legal challenges to the Saville inquiry from the military and related interests, and will he tell us what consideration he—

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need to establish the Saville inquiry, and the important role that it has played over the last few years in building confidence in all communities that the justice system will be fair and ensure parity across the board. This is a sensitive issue and I cannot give him answers to his specific legal questions, but he may wish to write to Lord Saville himself.