Saville Inquiry

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th July 2009.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:30 am, 8th July 2009

What his most recent estimate is of the cost of the Saville inquiry.

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

The cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry to the end of May is £188 million, including legal costs incurred by the Ministry of Defence.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Opposition Whip (Commons)

Is the Secretary of State aware that legal costs are at just over £97 million, that the inquiry has lasted more than nine years, with 920 witnesses and 433 sitting days, and that the report is expected to be more than 4,000 pages long? Does he accept that for the good of the families and the armed forces, the process should be brought to an end swiftly? When will it be?

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

It is always interesting to hear Opposition Members talk about inquiries, and expressing concern about the cost and the length of this inquiry. That is why the Government wanted the Inquiries Act 2005 to control costs and the number of years an inquiry takes, and why the Government have been very sensitive to the issues of the Saville inquiry in relation to the families. We must never lose sight of the fact that although the cost of the inquiry is rightly a matter for the House, the value of the Saville inquiry has been inestimable in ensuring that the peace process is successful.

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

Is the Secretary of State aware of the consternation caused to the Bloody Sunday families by some recent words in the House, and can he offer any reassurance in that regard? Can he update us on what further consideration he is giving to the particular needs and rights of families in the context of the publication of the Saville report?

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

The inquiry is independent, of course, and as such, when it reports is a matter for Lord Saville. He has indicated to me that he still expects that to happen in autumn this year. We should record the fact that everyone in the House shares the hon. Gentleman's frustration at the amount of time the inquiry has taken, and everyone in the House is very sensitive to the families and to the soldiers who were involved in the inquiry. I am making sure—and I will, of course, conduct these discussions with you as well, Mr. Speaker—that when the time for publication comes, we will be very sensitive to the needs of those families and the soldiers.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The Secretary of State will know that the Select Committee is unanimously concerned about both the length and the cost. Can he give the House an assurance that if there ever has to be another major public inquiry, there will be tighter control over the legal costs?

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

The hon. Gentleman's work on inquiries, and that of his Committee, have been a very important contribution. It is a matter for the House to determine other inquiries and when they take place, but if we want independent inquiries, they must be just that. An independent inquiry will, I am afraid, have to be a process whose length we cannot control. In the end we can try and hold the inquiry accountable for costs, but independence must mean independence. If the hon. Gentleman's wish were to be granted, he would also have to accept some loss of independence, and that may not be what he would want.

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Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

On a day when there is renewed concern in Northern Ireland about the amount of money spent by Government on legal costs, does the Secretary of State agree that more needs to be done to cap the costs of legal representation in such cases, because astronomical sums of public money are going into lawyers' pockets? The public in Northern Ireland and across the country are rightly appalled at this level of expenditure. Can he give an assurance that it will be brought to an end?

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

The hon. Gentleman knows that that was one of the major purposes of the Inquiries Act 2005 and why we wanted other inquiries that are taking place to do so under the Act or to convert to the terms of the Act. Mr. Burns referred earlier to the almost £100 million that has been spent on the legal costs of the Saville inquiry. That is a genuine issue of real concern to the House, but we must recognise that those who advocate open and public inquiries also have to come to terms with the fact that many people who come before such inquiries will want legal representation. Although we will try to bear down on the costs of legal representation, as we have done through the Inquiries Act, we cannot deny people fair representation and justice.

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