With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement. Today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is publishing the report of the Saville inquiry-the tribunal set up by the previous Government to investigate the tragic events of
I am deeply patriotic; I never want to believe anything bad about our country; I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our Army, which I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear: there is no doubt; there is nothing equivocal; there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.
Lord Saville concludes that the soldiers of Support Company who went into the Bogside
"did so as a result of an order... which should have not been given" by their commander. He finds that
"on balance the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army" and that
"none of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm".
He also finds that
"there was some firing by republican paramilitaries... but... none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties", and that
"in no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire".
Lord Saville also finds that Support Company
"reacted by losing their self-control... forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training" and acted with
"a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline".
He finds that
"despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers... none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers" and that many of the soldiers
"knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing".
What is more, Lord Saville says that some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying. The report refers to one person who was shot while
"crawling... away from the soldiers" and mentions another who was shot, in all probability,
"when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground".
And the report refers to a father who was
"hit and injured by Army gunfire after he had gone to... tend his son".
For those looking for statements of innocence, Saville says:
"The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries", and, crucially, that
"none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting".
For those people who were looking for the report to use terms like murder and unlawful killing, I remind the House that these judgments are not matters for a tribunal, or for us as politicians, to determine.
These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say, but we do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth. So there is no point in trying to soften, or equivocate about, what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal's authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.
I know that some people wonder whether, nearly 40 years on from an event, a Prime Minister needs to issue an apology. For someone of my generation, Bloody Sunday and the early 1970s are something that we feel we have learnt about rather than lived through. But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and with a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The Government are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the Government-indeed, on behalf of our country-I am deeply sorry.
Just as the report is clear that the actions of that day were unjustifiable, so too it is clear in some of its other findings. Those looking for premeditation, those looking for a plan, those even looking for a conspiracy involving senior politicians or senior members of the armed forces, will not find it in this report. Indeed, Lord Saville finds no evidence that the events of Bloody Sunday were premeditated. He concludes that the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments, and the Army, neither tolerated nor encouraged
"the use of unjustified lethal force".
He makes no suggestion of a Government cover-up, and he credits the United Kingdom Government with working towards a peaceful political settlement in Northern Ireland.
The report also specifically deals with the actions of key individuals in the Army, in politics and beyond, including Major-General Ford, Brigadier MacLellan and Lieutenant-Colonel Wilford. In each case, the tribunal's findings are clear. The report does the same for Martin McGuinness. It specifically finds that he was present and probably armed with a "sub-machine-gun", but concludes
"we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire".
While in no way justifying the events of
Let us also remember that Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service that the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007. That was known as Operation Banner, the longest continuous operation in British military history, which spanned 38 years and in which over 250,000 people served. Our armed forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible, and over 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives to that cause. Without their work, the peace process would not have happened. Of course some mistakes were undoubtedly made, but lessons were also learnt. Once again, I put on record the immense debt of gratitude that we all owe those who served in Northern Ireland.
I thank the tribunal for its work, and thank all those who displayed great courage in giving evidence. I also wish to acknowledge the grief of the families of those killed. They have pursued their long campaign over 38 years with great patience. Nothing can bring back those who were killed, but I hope that-as one relative has put it-the truth coming out can help to set people free.
John Major said that he was open to a new inquiry. Tony Blair then set it up. That was accepted by the then Leader of the Opposition. Of course, none of us anticipated that the Saville inquiry would take 12 years or cost almost £200 million. Our views on that are well documented. It is right to pursue the truth with vigour and thoroughness, but let me reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.
However, today is not about the controversies surrounding the process. It is about the substance, about what this report tells us. Everyone should have the chance to examine its complete findings, and that is why it is being published in full. Running to more than 5,000 pages, it is being published in 10 volumes. Naturally, it will take all of us some time to digest the report's full findings and understand all the implications. The House will have an opportunity for a full day's debate this autumn, and in the meantime the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence will report back to me on all the issues that arise from it.
This report and the inquiry itself demonstrate how a state should hold itself to account and how we should be determined at all times-no matter how difficult-to judge ourselves against the highest standards. Openness and frankness about the past, however painful, do not make us weaker; they make us stronger. That is one of the things that differentiates us from the terrorists. We should never forget that over 3,500 people, from every community, lost their lives in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority killed by terrorists. There were many terrible atrocities. Politically motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from, and it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to drag Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past. No Government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who continue to seek to destroy it, but nor will we hide from the truth that confronts us today. In the words of Lord Saville:
"What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland."
Those are words we cannot and must not ignore, but I hope what this report can do is mark the moment when we come together, in this House and in the communities we represent; come together to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us; and come together to close this painful chapter on Northern Ireland's troubled past. That is not to say that we must ever forget or dismiss that past, but we must also move on. Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past 20 years and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland, to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future. It is with that determination that I commend this statement to the House.
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May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? As he said, it is more than 12 years since the then Prime Minister Tony Blair set up the Saville inquiry to establish the truth of what happened on what became known as Bloody Sunday. For the 14 families whose loved ones were killed, for the 13 who were injured, for the soldiers and their families, for all those whose lives would never be the same again, the report has been long-awaited. We all recognise how painful this has been, and the Prime Minister has been clear today. He said that there is no ambiguity, that it was wrong; he has apologised and we join him in his apology.
I also join the Prime Minister in thanking Lord Saville and all those whose work contributed to the report. The report speaks for itself and it speaks powerfully.
I remind the House of what Tony Blair said on the day that the House agreed to establish the Saville inquiry. He said that Bloody Sunday was a day we have all wished "had never happened" and that it was "a tragic day" for everyone. I reiterate his tribute to the dignity of the bereaved families, whose campaign was about searching for the truth. He rightly reminded the House of the thousands of lives that have been lost in Northern Ireland. May I restate our sincere admiration for our security forces' response to terrorism in Northern Ireland? Many lost their lives. Nothing in today's report can or should diminish their record of service. They have been outstanding.
The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the Saville inquiry was necessary to establish the truth and to redress the inadequacy of Lord Widgery's inquiry, which served only to deepen the sense of grievance, added to the pain of the families of those who died and were injured, outraged the community and prolonged the uncertainty hanging over the soldiers. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for reminding the House that the setting up of the Saville inquiry played a necessary part in the peace process. Does the Prime Minister agree that, notwithstanding the considerable cost of this inquiry, its value cannot be overestimated in both seeking the truth and facilitating the peace process? Does he believe that Saville has now established the truth?
How the Government handle the report is of great importance, so I thank the Prime Minister for committing to seek a full day's parliamentary debate on it. Will he consider allowing for a period of time between the debate in each House, so that what is said in this House may be considered before the debate in the Lords? When will he be in a position to say what, if any, action will be taken in Government as a result of the findings of the Saville report? What will be the decision-making process, and will the process be as transparent as possible?
The Prime Minister must recognise that some will no doubt raise the possibility of prosecutions. The prosecution process is independent, but has he been asked to consider the question of immunity from prosecution if we are instead to take things forward by a wider process of reconciliation? Is the time now right to move towards a process for reconciliation, building on the work of the Consultative Group on the Past, chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley? Can there now be a comprehensive process of reconciliation to address the legacy issue of the troubles, such as that proposed by my right hon. Friend Mr Woodward when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does the Prime Minister agree that that is what is now necessary?
The peace process is a great achievement by the people of Northern Ireland as well as by politicians. It is a process built on the value of fairness, equality, truth and justice. This House has played its part, not least in agreeing to the Saville inquiry. The Belfast agreement, the St Andrews agreement and, of course, this year's Hillsborough castle agreement are all great milestones on the path to a lasting peace. Does the Prime Minister agree that the completion of devolution just a few weeks ago is relatively new and fragile and still requires great care? Our response to Saville must be as measured as it is proportionate. We have sought the truth; now we must have understanding and reconciliation.
May I conclude by expressing the hope that while people will never forget what happened on that day, this report will help them find a way of living with the past and looking to the future?
May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for what she has said? I do not think there are any significant divisions between us on this vital issue and, as she said, how we respond to this matters: it matters for the peace process, it matters for the families and it matters for our country. She is right that the value of this is getting to the truth. Of course we can argue about the process, the time and the money, but that is secondary to the issue of the substance, and the substance is about getting to the truth on this issue. The right hon. and learned Lady raised a number of specific questions, and I shall try to deal with them.
The idea of leaving a period of time between the debates in the Commons and the Lords is very sensible, and I will ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to look at that-although, of course, we are not responsible for timings in the Lords. In terms of the action the Government should take, I should point out that this report is 5,000 pages long; as the right hon. and learned Lady has seen, it is the most enormous document, and it will take some time to go through all of it and identify all the points that need to be responded to. That will be led by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland. They will consider it and come to me with suggestions for what needs to be followed up, and I think we will have to see how others respond to this very full report too.
The right hon. and learned Lady raised the question of prosecution. She is right, of course, to say that these are decisions for the Director of Public Prosecutions to take in Northern Ireland and that should be entirely independent. On the issue of immunity, I am informed by the Advocate-General that the evidence given to the inquiry is subject to the undertaking given by the Attorney-General in February 1999
"that evidence given by witnesses to the Inquiry would not be used to the prejudice of that person in any criminal proceedings except proceedings where the witness is charged with giving false evidence."
I think that is the right position.
The right hon. and learned Lady will know that we do not agree with some parts of the Eames-Bradley report, particularly the idea of universal recognition payments; we do not think it is right to treat terrorists and others in the same way. I think that it is right to use, as far as is possible, the Historical Enquiries Team to deal with the problems of the past and to avoid having more open-ended, highly costly inquiries, but of course we should look at each case on its merits. May I thank her again for the way in which she has responded to this important statement for Britain, for Northern Ireland and for a peaceful future for our country?
As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said, it is very important to have a measured and proportionate response to this report, both in this House and in Northern Ireland. Is it not, therefore, important that the leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the divide, show leadership in that respect? One thing that we do not want to do is see the Army return to the streets of Northern Ireland, and to avoid that situation coming about again we must have the correct response to this report. It will take time to digest, because it is 5,000 pages long and raises many issues. We have to look at this issue and the whole report, and we must do justice to it. That will take time and a reasoned approach.
First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on being elected as the Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs? He has had a long interest in this part of our United Kingdom, and I know that he will do an excellent job. The point he makes is entirely right: how we respond to this as party leaders-this applies to all parties-will make a huge difference to the way that this is seen and understood. It is a highly charged and highly emotional issue, even 38 years on, and in our response we have to be responsible for what we say and how we say it. I think that it is important that everyone recognises that.
As the political development Minister in 1998, when this inquiry was started, I think that I was right in agreeing with it. Having listened to the Prime Minister's statement, all of which I agree with, I believe that, despite the costs and the length of time, it was right for this report to come forward today, after all these years. Does the Prime Minister agree that the chief priority, still, for Northern Ireland is its peace process and that all parties in Northern Ireland must agree with that process and with the way we go forward? Will he undertake to take personal charge of ensuring that that peace process continues, despite what he rightly calls the "shocking" revelations of this report?
The right hon. Gentleman served with great distinction as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I know his commitment to the Province and to the peace process. He is right to say that the peace process still needs to be given our priority. I was keen to get to every part of the United Kingdom within the first 10 days or so of becoming Prime Minister, and I did go to Northern Ireland, where I met party leaders, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree, as a former Secretary of State, that it is important for us to give responsibility to our Secretaries of State and to ensure that, in the first instance, they are leading the process and making sure that the peace process moves forward-it is moving forward. It has been challenged many times over the past decade, and I am sure that today will be another fresh challenge. But I hope that the way that people respond to this report will make sure that, as I said in my statement, we can draw an end to this very painful chapter in Northern Ireland's history.
Every soldier should be responsible for what actions he takes through the sight of a gun and every officer must bear responsibility for individual orders that they give, as must members of the IRA and other terrorist organisations. What steps will the Prime Minister take to make sure that the Saville inquiry report is used to draw a line under the past and ensure that peace remains in Northern Ireland, and is not used as a tool for propaganda by politicians to hit each other over the head with?
First, I know that my hon. Friend served in Northern Ireland in the Army, and I pay tribute to that. I think that how people respond will be a matter for them. I cannot stop people-as he put it -hitting themselves or indeed even each other over the head with this report. What I hope can happen as a result of today, given the clarity of the report and the lack of equivocation, is that whatever side of the arguments or whatever side people have been on, they will be able to draw a line under what happened and recognise that very bad things happened on that day; it was not justified and it was not justifiable, and there is no point quibbling or arguing with that. As I said, of course people in Northern Ireland will go on looking back to the past, because of the painful memories and also because of the information that has not yet come out, but at the same time as doing that it must be possible to look to the future. In my view, Northern Ireland has a very bright future.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his clear statement? From talking to representatives of the families a short while ago, I know that they would want to be associated with those thanks.
This is a day of huge moment and deep emotion in Derry. The people of my city did not just live through Bloody Sunday; they have lived with it since. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a day to receive and reflect on the clear verdicts of Saville, and not to pass party verdicts on Saville?
The key verdicts are:
"despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday".
A further verdict is:
"none of the casualties...was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury."
Of course, there is also the verdict that
"the British Army fired the first shots, these were not justified and none of the subsequent shots that killed or wounded" anyone on Bloody Sunday "was justified." In rejecting so much of the soldiers' submissions and false accounts, the report highlights where victims were shot in the back or while crawling on the ground, or shot again when already wounded on the ground.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that each and every one of the victims-Bernard McGuigan, 41; Gerald Donaghey, 17; Hugh Gilmour, 17; John Duddy, 17; Gerard McKinney, 34; James Wray, 22; John Young, 17; Kevin McElhinney, 17; Michael Kelly, 17; Michael McDaid, 20; Patrick Doherty, 31; William McKinney, 27; William Nash, 19; and John Johnston, 59-are all absolutely and totally exonerated by today's report, as are all the wounded? These men were cut down when they marched for justice on their own streets. On that civil rights march, they were protesting against internment without trial, but not only were their lives taken, but their innocent memory was then interned without truth by the travesty of the Widgery tribunal. Will the Prime Minister confirm clearly that the Widgery findings are now repudiated and binned, and that they should not be relied on by anyone as giving any verdict on that day?
Sadly, only one parent of the victims has survived to see this day and hear the Prime Minister's open and full apology on the back of this important report. Lawrence McElhinney epitomises the dignity and determination of all the families who have struggled and strived to exonerate their loved ones and have the truth proclaimed.
Seamus Heaney reflected the numbing shock of Bloody Sunday and its spur to the quest for justice for not only families but a city when he wrote:
"My heart besieged by anger, my mind a gap of danger,
I walked among their old haunts, the home ground where they bled;
And in the dirt lay justice, like an acorn in the winter
Till its oak would sprout in Derry where the thirteen men lay dead."
The Bloody Sunday monument on Rossville street proclaims:
"Their epitaph is in the continuing struggle for democracy".
If today, as I sincerely hope it does, offers a healing of history in Derry and Ireland, may we pray that it also speaks hope to those in other parts of the world who are burdened by injustice, conflict and the transgressions of unaccountable power?
The Prime Minister's welcome statement and the statement that will be made by the families on the steps of the Guildhall will be the most significant records of this day on the back of the report that has been published. However, perhaps the most important and poignant words from today will not be heard here or on the airwaves. Relatives will stand at the graves of victims and their parents to tell of a travesty finally arrested, of innocence vindicated and of promises kept, and as they do so, they can invoke the civil rights anthem when they say, "We have overcome. We have overcome this day."
The hon. Gentleman spoke with great power and great emotion on behalf of his constituents and his city, and I would like to pay tribute to the way in which he did that, and to the service that he has given to them. He spoke about the healing of history, and I hope and believe that he will be right. I know that he represents many of the families who lost loved ones that day, and he has always fought for them in a way that is honourable and right, and has always, in spite of all the difficulties, stood up for the peace process and for peaceful means.
To answer the hon. Gentleman's specific questions, he is right that the Widgery report is now fully superseded by the Saville report; this is the report with the facts, the details and the full explanation of what happened, and it should be accepted as such. In terms of the people who were killed on that day, they were innocent of anything that justified them being shot; that is quite clear from the report. Let me read it again:
"none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting."
That is what Saville has found. I hope that that is some comfort to the families, and to the people in Londonderry who have suffered for so many years over the issue, and that, as the hon. Gentleman says, we can now draw a line, look to the future and build Northern Ireland as a prosperous part of the United Kingdom.
May I congratulate not only the Prime Minister but the Leader of the Opposition on their opening statements today, which, I have to say, were two of the most statesmanlike contributions I have heard on any subject in more than 13 years in this House?
On the question of possible prosecutions, may I draw to the House's attention one fact? There was a sniper on the IRA side who killed something like two dozen British soldiers, but who was arrested only a relatively short time before the Good Friday agreement was concluded. As a result of that man's conviction, he received a very long sentence, but served only a very short sentence. Should it not be borne in mind that that man, after all he did, is now out on the streets, a free man, before anybody starts calling for prosecutions of people, even though they did very wrong things a very long time ago?
May I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the statements by me and the Leader of the Opposition? I know that he cares deeply about this issue, too. What I would say to him about the very strong point that he makes is that the Good Friday agreement included clauses that were incredibly painful for people on all sides to cope with. The idea that someone who had murdered-and, as my hon. Friend said, murdered perhaps more than once-would serve only two years in prison was incredibly painful for people to understand, but these things had to be done to try to end the long-running conflict and to bring people to pursue their goals by peaceful means. That is what the peace process is about.
In terms of making a contrast between that and what soldiers have done, I am very clear that we should not try to draw an equivalence between what terrorists have done and what soldiers have done, because soldiers are operating under the law-operating for a Government. We should not draw equivalence. On the issue of prosecutions, I can only repeat what I said to the Leader of the Opposition, and I also make the point that it is important that I do not say anything today that would prejudice either a criminal prosecution or, indeed, a civil action, were one to be brought.
Let me end, again, on the point about the painful decisions that had to be made in the peace process. We all, particularly on the Conservative side of the House, know people who have been affected. The first person I ever wrote a speech for was Ian Gow, who was murdered by the IRA. It is incredibly painful and difficult for people to put behind them what happened in the past, but we have to if we are to make the peace process work.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and of course it will take some time fully to divulge the contents of the Saville inquiry. The events of
We did not need a £200 million inquiry to establish that there was no premeditated plan to shoot civilians on that day. We did not need a report of such length to tell us that as a result of IRA actions before Bloody Sunday, parts of the city "lay in ruins". Many have said that the difference between Bloody Sunday and the other atrocities that I have alluded to was that Bloody Sunday was carried out by state forces, whereas other murders were carried out by terrorists.
There has been no similar inquiry into the financing of the Provisional IRA at the inception of that organisation by another state-the Irish Republic. That Irish state acted as a midwife at the birth of an organisation responsible for murdering many thousands of UK citizens.
Soldiers answered questions in the course of the Saville inquiry. The 2IC of the Provisional IRA, Martin McGuinness, appears not to have answered questions. The public will want to know from today what he was doing with a Thompson sub-machine-gun on the day of Bloody Sunday. Does the Prime Minister agree that the sorry saga of the report is finally over and done with, and that we should look forward, rather than looking back?
I agree that we should look forward rather than back, and I hope the report will enable us to do that. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to refer, as I did in my statement, to the 1,000 members of the Army and security services who lost their lives during the troubles, and all that they did to try to keep Northern Ireland safe and secure. Of course he is right to refer to the many thousands of families who have lost loved ones through terrorism and who have not had an answer and have not had an inquiry into what happened to their loved ones. When it comes to answering questions, yes, it is important that IRA members and people who were responsible for things even now come forward and answer so that people can at least bury those whom they lost. Of course that is important.
I hope, as well, that the hon. Gentleman will understand that there is something about Bloody Sunday-about the fact that 13 people were shot by British Army soldiers and died on that day-that necessitated a proper inquiry. That is what the report today is about. Yes, we must come up with the answers to other people's questions and yes, we have to go through with the historical inquiries team to try to settle those issues of the past, but let us not pretend that there is not something about that day, Bloody Sunday, that needed to be answered clearly in a way that can allow those families-all those people-to lay to rest what happened on that day.
I thank the Prime Minister for his courageous and honourable statement and, through him, Lord Saville for a very clear and unequivocal report which has, at last, answered the questions to which 27 families have been waiting for answers for so long. Does the Prime Minister agree that, given that the truth is the precondition of closure, justice and reconciliation, we now have the best possible way to move on because we have, at last, the truth about all those events on that terrible day?
Does the Prime Minister have any plans, when we have all had a chance to digest the report, to go to Northern Ireland and to Derry not just to express the solidarity of the whole House with the people there, and to confirm our support for the troops who for so long did honourable things in the name of the democratic Government, but to encourage the families of the bereaved and all those who, since that day in Derry and beyond, have worked so hard to make sure that Northern Ireland will never again have the terrible past that it had, but always have the prosperous democratic future which events such as Bloody Sunday made much more difficult, but which, in spite of adversity, so many people, including the women of Northern Ireland, did so much to achieve?
I certainly agree. This is about trying to heal the wounds of the past. As Mark Durkan-the former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, who represents so many of the families in his constituency-put it, people in Londonderry have not just lived through it, but lived with it. That is the point, and that is the point that my hon. Friend Simon Hughes makes.
In terms of going to Northern Ireland, I am keen that as Prime Minister I should visit Northern Ireland regularly, and as I said, I have already been there in the relatively early days of my being Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was in Londonderry two weeks ago and met the families, and he has plans to go back and do that again. I know that many people support Derry's bid to be the European city of culture, and that is another part of the healing process in closing that painful chapter around the past.
I thank the Prime Minister for his very considered and thoughtful comments in respect of this particularly sensitive report. Since Bloody Sunday the families have had to live with not only the consequences of what unfolded in that short period, but the consequences of the many speculative reports and so on, which were produced following the events and which compounded their pain. So I am glad that, today, this report would seem to be a start in delivering for them the truth that they required and, I hope, the justice that they needed to be able to rebuild their lives.
The tragic events of that afternoon clearly and irrevocably changed the direction and course of the lives of people who were immediately affected by it, but it also cast a very long shadow over the society in which all of us live. Therefore I seek the Prime Minister's assurances that, given how polarising the incident has been throughout politics and society in Northern Ireland, he will listen carefully to all the voices surrounding it, give people time to consider the content of the report fully and encourage them to take the time to read it in full before reaching conclusions on it. Can he also reassure us that he will deal with the Northern Ireland Executive and discuss with the Ministers there who have responsibility for individual victims how he intends to take forward the wider project of dealing with the legacy of the past?
First, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Lady on her election victory as the new Alliance MP for Belfast East? What she said was extremely sensible. The report is comprehensive and people should take time to study it, but it will take time for them to engage properly with all the information. Our key aim was to try to get it out as fast as we could in a reasonable way, to give the families and others advance sight of it and to try to publish it in one go properly. Mercifully, for a report as complicated and detailed as this, there have been relatively few leaks, and I hope that people can see it, read it and fully engage with it.
The hon. Lady says that people should read the report, but I also recommend the summary document, which is some 60 pages long and incredibly clear. That is why I reached my conclusion about there being no equivocation. When one reads the summary, whatever preconceived ideas one brings to the whole area and to what happened, one is given an incredibly clear sense of what happened and how wrong it was. I hope that, whatever side of the argument people come from, a report as clear as this will help them to come to terms with the past, because it puts matters beyond doubt. In that way, as I said, I think that the truth can help to free people from their preconceived ideas.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at the beginning of his statement that that period of the 1970s was something that people of his generation had learned about. In the period between 1971 and 1975, we lost more members of the British Army than we have during the past four years in Afghanistan, such was the bleakness of the troubles in Northern Ireland.
I was born in the Royal Victoria hospital on the Falls road in Belfast in the latter part of the year that the events unfolded in Derry/Londonderry, and the events in Northern Ireland at that time shaped very many of us. One of the great joys of returning to Northern Ireland today is talking to young people, in their teens, for whom even the most recent events of the troubles themselves are something that they study and do not remember. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if civic leaders and politicians in Northern Ireland take the lead of Mark Durkan, this could be a cleansing opportunity of historic proportions, whereby the process of normalisation in Northern Ireland can continue and young people will never have to go back to the dark days of the 1970s?
I hope that my hon. Friend is right. As I said, I think that Mark Durkan spoke extremely clearly and passionately, and there should be a chance of working for a shared future. That is what we want in Northern Ireland.
The point that my hon. Friend makes is right. Every year-every month-that goes by with the peace process working and without a return to violence further embeds a culture in which we do things by political means and we get normal politics in Northern Ireland. That is what we should be aiming for, and it is certainly what we shall try to do.
The Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition both spoke with great sensitivity and balance this afternoon. In that spirit, does the Prime Minister agree that any action taken against former members of the armed services subsequent to the Saville report should be carried out in the interests of justice and not vengeance?
The short answer to that is yes. These matters should be determined independently by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the correct way. One of the things that should mark us out is that these things should happen only in the interests of justice and not in the interests of vengeance. I am sure that that is what will happen. I set out the position to the right hon. and learned Lady.
I should like to thank the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Lady for their measured contributions. On other days, soldiers who had been based at the Colchester garrison lost their lives in Northern Ireland. In 1987, I spent three days with 3rd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment on duty in Belfast and was full of admiration for their courage and bravery, because they faced the prospect of being shot at by fellow British citizens. I wonder whether the Prime Minister will confirm that awful though Bloody Sunday clearly was, more than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives during the years of the troubles?
My hon. Friend is right; over 1,000 people-from the security services, the Army, the police and other services-lost their lives. Also, 250,000 people served in the Army in Northern Ireland during Operation Banner. Those of us who have not served in the Army cannot possibly know how tough it must be to be on duty on the streets, faced with violence and the threats of violence. It is worth remembering what service those people all gave and what restraint, in almost every case, they showed.
I was speaking to my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith, who served in Londonderry, in Derry, a year after Bloody Sunday. He rightly made the point to me that the pressures that we put on our often very young soldiers were huge, and we should pay tribute to all those who served for what they did. But it is not in their interests, and nor is it in our interests, to try to gloss over what happened on that dreadful day. The report enables us to face up to what happened and to accept what happened, and that is the best way of moving on and accounting for the past.
Given the very personal tragedy of Bloody Sunday for the families of the bereaved and wounded and the major political implications that this serious incident had for the people of Derry, the wider community of Northern Ireland over the last 38 years and the wider island of Ireland, could the Prime Minister tell us about the parameters and context of the debate and the possible time scale of the assessment and report from the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland? Will he also give consideration to possible measures of redress for the families in Derry following the exoneration of the victims by the Saville report? In that debate, could wider consideration be given to the Ballymurphy families, who also experienced a lot of distress and pain because the Parachute Regiment, some five months earlier, was involved in those incidents, which resulted in the wounding, but above all the killing, of 10 people?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and congratulate her on becoming leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party and on her election as Member of Parliament for South Down. She asked several questions. First, on how long the Government's assessment will take, the report is very long and detailed, and we want to take the summer to consider it and come back to the debate in the autumn, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can answer questions more fully and make announcements, if appropriate.
On redress, I do not think that today is the day to talk about such matters; today is the day to consider the report and take it all in. As the hon. Lady knows, perhaps better than anyone, the families have been involved in a search for the truth rather than for recompense or redress. However, all those issues need to be examined.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has meetings with the Ballymurphy families. The first port of call should be the historical inquiries team. It is doing good work, going through all the issues of the past and trying to settle them as best it can. We want to avoid other such open-ended, highly costly inquiries. We cannot rule out for ever that there will be no other form of inquiry, but let us allow the Historical Enquiries Team to do its very good work.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the balance that he has achieved in the statement. It is important to recognise not only the truths of the Saville inquiry, but the sacrifice and the grief of the forces, who played such an important part in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. May I suggest that if the inquiry and the report are to be a true marker in helping the healing process and the peace process to move forward, it is terribly important to keep that balance in one's remarks and perspective about the sacrifice on both sides?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As I tried to say in my statement, we should pay tribute-I do so again-to the 250,000 of our fellow countrymen who served in Northern Ireland with great distinction, often in great personal danger. We should pay tribute to all those who were injured, who suffered and who lost their lives. It was incredibly tough and difficult work but necessary not just to maintain the rule of law, but to make possible what we have now: the peace process. It would not have happened without that service. However, we do the forces no service if we try to gloss over the dreadful events set out in the report. I am sure that serving and retired members of the armed forces, as well as people on the Benches behind me or, indeed, in front of me, who served in the armed forces, want the truth about the events to be out there. That is the right thing to do. We honour the British Army-we should put it at the front and centre of our national life and celebrate what it does-but we do it no service if we do not look properly and in detail at things when they go wrong.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and the previous Government for having the courage to establish the inquiry in the first place. Will he acknowledge that the inquiry came about only because of very brave campaigning for many years by Irish people, throughout Ireland and over here, who often got much press opprobrium for doing so? I am unclear about what happens next and whether there are to be further investigations or prosecutions of those who committed those acts of murder on the streets of Derry, or whether that will be left to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I realise that it is difficult for the Prime Minister to answer all that today, but does he expect to be able to give us clearer guidance in the debate in the autumn?
Let me try to answer the hon. Gentleman as clearly as I can. Prosecutions are a matter for the DPP, and that is right. We cannot have inquiry judges or politicians trying to order prosecutions. Indeed, we must be careful about what we say so that we do not prejudice any potential prosecutions. If it would help, I can repeat the Attorney-General's clear advice about people not prejudicing their own potential proceedings.
On the campaign, yes, I pay tribute to people who campaigned because the report in some ways justifies itself to those who wanted a clear, truthful and accurate answer. In the report, they have something very clear and accurate that cannot be quibbled with.
Having read the summary report of Saville, the Prime Minister talks about it bringing out the truth, but is not the difficulty that we have the truth on one side but not the truth on the other? Of Martin McGuinness, the report states:
"The question remains as to what Martin McGuinness was doing" that day. We do not know the truth about what Martin McGuinness and the IRA were doing that day, and the problem is that while we regret every death in Northern Ireland-they are all personal tragedies-we must not lose sight of the need for balance, as other hon. Members have said. I can well remember hearing the two explosions at Narrow Water close to my home in South Down when I was a child, when 18 members of the Parachute Regiment were cut down in cold blood by the Provisional IRA. No one was ever convicted of their murders. If we are to have the truth and a quest for justice, it should apply right across the board, and not just in a small nub.
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that I absolutely want us to get to the truth on all of those dreadful murders. As I said, ought former paramilitaries to come forward and give information so that we can clear up murders and so that people can bury their loved ones properly? Yes, they should-absolutely. I can see members of the SDLP nodding at that.
As for Martin McGuinness, he must answer for himself on the evidence he gave to the inquiry. Let me read the relevant paragraph:
"In the end we were left in some doubt as to his movements on the day. Before the soldiers of Support Company went into the Bogside he was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, and though it is possible that he fired this weapon, there is insufficient evidence to make any finding on this, save that we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire."
The right hon. Gentleman is right that in the end, we want the truth to come out about all the murders, and we want to know all the information, but in respect of the Government's responsibility for bringing clarity on Bloody Sunday, I think Lord Saville has done us a service. I think people from all parts of Northern Ireland, from all parts of all communities, should welcome the fact that although we might not have clarity on everything that happened, we have clarity on one bad thing that did happen. Let us not make that a reason for not welcoming the clarity of what has been said today.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the clarity with which he has set out, in his words today, the Government view on the publication of the Saville report. Does he agree that as this report is digested and looked at in great detail-difficult though that may be-across all communities in Northern Ireland, what really matters for the future of Northern Ireland and all its people in all its communities, is reconciliation, leaving the past behind and moving to a new and brighter future for Northern Ireland?
The hon. Lady is right that what we really want is reconciliation and working for a shared future, and everyone working across all communities to put the past behind them, but I think we all know that there is still some work to be done on the past, because loved ones remain unburied and murders remain unsolved. That is what the Historical Enquiries Team is there to do. We have to try to do those things at the same time. We must uncover and come to terms with what happened in the past in a way that can allow families to move on, but at the same time we must recognise that Northern Ireland's shared future will be about economic growth and people working together, whatever tradition they come from.
I am sure the Prime Minister would not like to support a hierarchy of victimhood. On
"None" of the casualties
"was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury", but that could be said of Teebane, of Derek, of Robert and of Rachel. How do we get closure, how do we get justice, and how do we get the truth?
The hon. Gentleman rightly speaks with great power and emotion about how people on all sides in Northern Ireland have suffered, and people in the community that he represents have suffered particularly badly. Some horrific things have happened to people completely unconnected with politics-people who are innocent on every single level-and there is nothing that you can do to explain to someone who lost a loved one in that way that there is any logic, fairness or sense in that loss. The hon. Gentleman asks how we try to achieve closure on such matters. There is no easy way, but we have the Historical Enquiries Team, which goes through case after case, and if it finds the evidence, prosecutions can take place.
I hope that the inquiry report published today will give some closure to those families from Londonderry, but one way for families who have suffered to gain more closure about the past is for terrorists or former terrorists to come forward and give information about those crimes. However, in the end, we have to move forward and we have to accept that dreadful things happened. We do not want to return to those days, and that sometimes means-as he and I know-burying very painful memories about the past so that we can try to build a future.
Does the Prime Minister recall that in the last Stormont elections the single biggest issue by a long way for both sides of the community was water charges and rates? Does not that demonstrate that in many ways the majority of the people of Northern Ireland have already moved on from the troubles that dominated so much of the past? Is it not important that on a day like today, when emotions will understandably run high, we do not lose sight of the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland are today concerned about the same issues about which his constituents and my constituents are concerned? That is a good thing and it represents progress.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the great prizes of the peace process would be for Northern Ireland to experience politics in the same way as the rest of us in the United Kingdom where it is about knocking on doors and talking about the health service, schools and water rates. That is what politics should be about, and there is a chance of that happening. It was great to go to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister without the normal security paraphernalia that previous visits involved, so we are making progress. That is what politics in Northern Ireland should become. The more that happens, the more people will find it unthinkable to go back to the days that came before.
Thirty-eight years is too long for any bereaved family to wait for justice and today's report is a historic step on the long road to permanent peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Does the Prime Minister agree that today's report will be welcomed by the families who have campaigned for so long for justice for the 13 men and boys who died on that day?
I hope that the families will welcome the report, and I know that they are gathered in Derry today. I know that they will have been watching our proceedings and will have read the report-they had access to it in advance of its publication. As I have said, nothing that anyone can write or say will bring back those who were killed, but I was very struck by a remark by one of the relatives, quoted in a newspaper this morning, that the truth can help to set you free. If you have been living with something for 38 years without any answers, the answers do not end the grief, but they do give you a chance to learn what happened and therefore bring some closure to those dreadful events.
Following the eloquent contribution from my hon. Friend Dr McCrea, one wishes that on a day such as today the House had time to hear the names of everybody who died in tragic circumstances in Northern Ireland. It has been said that this report could lead to closure and cleansing, but it is difficult to see how that could happen if this report is used as a springboard for more years of agitation about prosecutions over events that happened 38 years ago. If there are prosecutions, presumably they might include prosecution for the possession of illegal firearms, for example.
Would it not be a true testament to all this if the Prime Minister were to announce today that the HET, which he has mentioned on several occasions, will be given anything like the same level of funding given to this inquiry? The HET has been grossly underfunded compared to this inquiry. The thousands of other victims who demand justice are looking to the HET and other such forums to achieve it. Will he today guarantee that the same emphasis will be given to those victims as has been given to innocent people otherwise?
I hope that the report will not be used as a springboard for further inquiries or action. It is supposed to help by delivering the truth and helping to achieve closure-that is what it should be about. The hon. Gentleman asked about the Historical Enquiries Team, the funding of which, as he knows, is about £34 million-much less than the cost of the Saville inquiry. However, I think that everyone accepts that the cost of that inquiry was huge-£100 million was spent on lawyers alone. While acknowledging, as I have done, that it is a full, clear and unequivocal-and, in that respect, a good-report, I am sure that even the former Government would have recognised that lessons needed to be learned about cost control. That is why there was the Inquiries Act 2005 to replace the 1921 arrangements. The issue of the HET is now a devolved issue, and I would add that in opposition we supported the generous funding settlement for the devolved Administration to cover such areas.
Speaking as someone of Northern Irish heritage and representing a constituency with large numbers of the Irish diaspora, I welcome the publication-finally-and clarity of the Saville report. I also thank the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) for the moving way in which they addressed the House today. However, although the report has clarity, does the Prime Minister agree that there are times when truth and justice do not necessarily go together?
I echo what the hon. Lady said about the Members who have spoken today. On truth and justice going together, without wanting to write a whole essay, it seems to me that a very important part of the justice that people in Northern Ireland seek is having the truth about what happened out in the open. People in the city of Londonderry want that transparency and accountability, and many Democratic Unionist Members want the same for their constituents who have suffered in the same way. Having the truth out about what happened does not bring back relatives and loved-ones, but it at least enables people to understand what happened; and it enables prosecutions to be brought forward, if that is the right thing to do. However, I repeat that it must be for independent prosecuting authorities to take those decisions-we must not get into a situation where politicians nudge the prosecuting authorities in one direction or another in that sort of way.
Like Mark Durkan and my hon. Friend Mr Campbell, I hope that this is the end of a matter that has bedevilled and poisoned Northern Ireland's politics for so long. However, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity and dismiss completely, from the Dispatch Box, claims by commentators that this inquiry has been a war crimes tribunal, and that the people in the dock have been the British citizens of Northern Ireland? Such a shameful slur on us citizens is intolerable and wrong, and serves only to perpetuate that poison through the veins of the body politic in Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, can the Prime Minister be less ambiguous on the matter of future inquiries? He said in his statement that there will be no more costly inquiries, but in answer to Ms Ritchie, he said that he cannot rule out all inquiries. Which is it to be? If we cannot rule out all inquiries, there are 211 RUC officers who have been murdered and their killers have never been brought to justice, and there has been no inquiry into those murders. Indeed, more than 3,000 people killed in Northern Ireland have not yet had justice. What is it going to be?
First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place in the House. He is right: this is not, as he said, a war crimes tribunal-that would be an appalling thing to say-but an inquiry into what happened. It is an inquiry to get to the truth of the events of that day and the events surrounding it. I meant what I said about no more costly open-minded inquiries. We should not have more open-ended and costly inquiries. I want to support the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. That is the right way to go about things. Of course, we can never say never about any other form of inquiry, however big or small, but my strong intention is to use the Historical Enquiries Team process to get to the bottom of the events of the past. That is the right way to go about things.
I know that this is probably unparliamentary, but may I welcome the other Ian Paisley, who is in the Gallery and whom we remember so fondly sitting in this House? Let me just say this. Everyone has had to take big risks for peace in Northern Ireland, and no more so than the Big Man, as they like to call him. We should all recognise that people in this process have known so many victims of terrorism and so much suffering, and everyone has had to take risks and make movements in order to bring the peace process about, and that will continue to be true. Even today, as we remember the painful memories of the past, we still have to say, "Yes, I remember those things-I don't forget them for a second-but that doesn't mean we don't work together for a shared future for Northern Ireland."
I wish particularly to thank the Prime Minister for his frank apology on behalf of the Government and the people of this country. I think that Mark Durkan will accept that that will in some way be a salve for the people in the Bloody Sunday incident and the families of the dead. However, does the Prime Minister accept that unless people can see the names and know the people who carried out the acts, for many of the families there may not be a way of putting the incident behind them, as I found out from my contact with the families of those who were killed in McGurk's bar? I hope that he will consider that, not in terms of what will happen with the prosecutions or anything else, but because people must know who carried out those acts.
Finally, will the Prime Minister look in the longer term at the role of the intelligence forces in possibly preconditioning people in the armed forces for what happened on Bloody Sunday? Those dark forces are clearly at work in the British Army, and we must not allow them to hide.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's description of "dark forces" in the armed forces. The report is clear that there was no conspiracy-there was no premeditation, there was no plan, and it is not right to say that there was. He should read the summary of the report and what it says about not just the politicians, but the senior officers who were involved. That is important.
Let me address the hon. Gentleman's other point. As for the anonymity of the soldiers, that was part of the Saville process and what was agreed in order that the evidence should be given and the truth should be got at. Let me say this about apologies, because I know that some people are-in some ways, I think, rightly-cynical about politicians standing up and apologising for things that happened when they were five years old. I do not do so in any way lightly; it just seems to me that it is clear that what happened was wrong-that what the soldiers did was wrong-and that the Government should take responsibility. The Government of that day are no longer around, so it falls to the Government of this day to make that apology. I do not believe in casting back into history and endlessly doing that, but on this occasion it is absolutely clear that it is the right thing to do.
As a former soldier who served in Northern Ireland, I found today's statement a difficult one to listen to. Listening to it was nearly as difficult as watching mass murderers leave prison free or watching some very interesting people come to power in Northern Ireland, but those are all things that we did to facilitate peace and reconciliation. There is a possibility of revenge taking over from justice in this case, so we must ensure that we get the balance right and continue to pursue peace and reconciliation.
My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. Today's statement is a difficult statement: it was a difficult statement to make and a difficult statement to listen to, because it contains some uncomfortable truths for people who, like me, are deeply patriotic, love the British Army, love what it stands for, revere what it has done down the ages and have seen what it does in Afghanistan. It is incredibly painful to say what has been said today, but we do not serve the Army if we do not say it.
I mentioned Ian Gow, who was the first MP I ever worked for. I also think of Airey Neave, the first MP to represent me, who was blown up in the precincts of this Palace by Irish terrorists. This is incredibly painful, but my hon. Friend is right: we have to make these leaps in order to make the peace process work. I think that former soldiers will understand that the service they gave in Northern Ireland is worth more now that they can see peace and peaceful progress. In a way, that is what it was all about, difficult as it was. I had Martin McGuinness sitting opposite me at the Cabinet table in No. 10 Downing street; it was difficult, but it was right, because peace is so much better than the alternatives.
May I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the statements that they have made today and, indeed, for the apologies that they have given on behalf of the present Government and of the Opposition? The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that there cannot be costly inquiries of this kind in the future, but does he also agree that there can be no more whitewashes such as Widgery, when inquiries into these incidents take place? Finally, does he agree that it is essential for all of us, as politicians and leaders, in responding to the inquiry, to pursue truth and reconciliation rather than blame and recrimination?
The hon. Gentleman is right about the inquiries. Standing back from it all, however, I would say that we can take some pride-as can the former Government-in the fact that, in the end, the British state has gone to huge lengths to get to the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday, and that an earlier report from an earlier inquiry has effectively been laid aside and replaced by a much fuller and clearer one. Not many states in the world would do that, and I think that we should see it as a sign of strength that we have done it.
May I also thank the Prime Minister for the painful honesty of his statement? I salute him for that. In respect of the families, he is absolutely right to talk about issues of redress being for another time. However, this is a very raw day for the families. Will he assure the House that he, his Government and the Northern Ireland Office are doing everything possible to provide advice, assistance and access to those friends, families and neighbours who have never forgotten what happened in 1972 but who are today being reminded almost unbearably of it?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It has been a difficult day for the families; it has been a difficult 38 years for them. We thought very carefully about this, and we wanted to build on the arrangements that were put in place by Mr Woodward when he was Northern Ireland Secretary to ensure that the families could see the report some hours in advance of its publication today, and in a way in which all their needs would properly be met, because this is an incredibly stressful document for them to read. I pay tribute to the former Northern Ireland Secretary for what he did to put those arrangements in place, and to my right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for what he has done to build on them, as well as for meeting the families, as he has done, and for offering to meet them again in the future, which he will also do.
I welcome the Prime Minister's statement and, particularly, his commitment to a day's debate on the report in the autumn. May I urge him and his Cabinet colleagues, between now and the autumn, to encourage everyone to consider the report, and the issues that it raises for all communities, reflectively and with maturity, so that we can get the benefit of all the efforts that have gone into producing it?
Yes, I can do that. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which is that people will want to study the report in detail. The scale of it is enormous. I have brought in only one of the eight or ten volumes-
This is just one of the 10 volumes that have been published today. People will want to take time to read them. In a way, I am sorry that the debate is not until the autumn, but it is probably right to give the Government, the families and others time to assess what is in the report and to come back with sensible proposals, where necessary, on how to deal with them.