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‘(1) The Secretary of State may appoint a person or persons to prepare an analysis of findings, issues, patterns or lessons from various reports in particular events of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
(2) The Secretary of State may exercise this power in consultation or conjunction with another statutory body.
(3) The reports from which an analysis or narrative might be drawn will include those by—
(a) a body established to investigate, review and report on matters in Northern Ireland’s burdened past in terms, and with standards, which comply with Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights;
(b) the Historical Enquiries Team;
(c) the Police Ombudsman;
(d) Public Inquiry;
(e) an independent panel; or
(f) other review mechanisms.
(4) If the Secretary of State appoints a person or persons to prepare a narrative analysis under this section, any existing provision prohibiting publication of the material to be analysed shall, subject to subsection (5) below, not apply for the purposes of this section.
(5) No personal information shall be included in the analysis as published without the permission of the person concerned or, if they are dead, of their relatives.
This Clause would allow reports to be commissioned on aspects of Northern Ireland’s troubled past, drawing on findings in reports by given mechanisms which have investigated or considered particular cases or events. Those mechanisms could include any new body created with particular regard to Article 2 ECHR compliance.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss
New clause 3—Annual report an activity relating to Northern Ireland’s past
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall lay a report before Parliament in respect of each year as soon as possible after the end of the year to which it relates.
(2) The Secretary of State may appoint a person or persons to produce the report required under subsection (1).
(3) A report laid under subsection (1) shall contain in relation to the year to which it applies—
(a) a summary of the work of any body established to investigate, review or report on matters in Northern Ireland’s burdened past in terms and with standards which comply with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
(c) a summary of the work of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland insofar as it relates to Northern Ireland’s past;
(d) a summary of the work of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victim’s remains;
(e) a summary of the work of other public bodies which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, relates to Northern Ireland’s past;
(f) a summary of findings of any inquiry, review or panel which has reported on particular events in Northern Ireland’s past;
(g) a summary of responses made by Her Majesty’s Government or any other Government or body to any of the work covered by the report; and
(h) a clear indication where the findings of any work summarised in the report contradict remarks recorded in the Official Report of the House of Commons or House of Lords, especially by a Minister of the Crown.
(4) After a report under subsection (1) has been laid before Parliament the Secretary of State shall provide a statement to Parliament which shall contain references to—
(a) independent legal assessment of the compliance of the work covered by the report with Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights;
(b) the progress made during the year in dealing with Northern Ireland’s past;
(c) any apologies that have been given by any Government or public body in relation to the work summarised in the report;
(d) any apologies that have been given by any Government or public body in the context of any other reports, revelations or admissions which relate to Northern Ireland’s past; and
(e) any other relevant issues or concerns as they relate to Northern Ireland’s past.
(5) Any existing provision prohibiting publication of the material to be summarised under subsection (2)(a) shall, subject to subsection (6) below, not apply for the purposes of this section.
(6) No personal information shall be included in the report as laid before Parliament without the permission of the person concerned or, if they are dead, of their relatives.’.
This Clause would allow for a new Article 2 compliant mechanism to investigate past events. This could replace the Historical Enquiries Team and Police Ombudsman’s respective roles on the past. It provides an annual report on all work on the past accompanied by a ministerial statement addressing certain matters.
I should explain to the House that new clause 1 expands on an amendment I tabled in Committee— in the Public Bill Committee upstairs, rather than in Committee of the whole House. The point of the new clause is to afford the House an opportunity to consider whether some of the work undertaken on the past in Northern Ireland could be consolidated and could have its value advertised and added to by creating the capacity for the Secretary of State to commission a report or reports by a person or persons on various groups or classes of cases, on events in a particular locality or period, or on the activities of a particularly paramilitary group within a particular period of time.
We are suggesting that a class report, based on other reports and findings that have already been produced—whether by the Historical Enquiries Team, established inquiries or independent panels, or even by reviews that might be established in the future—would be necessary because at the minute we have a fairly inadequate arrangement whereby if the HET reports on a case the report is given to the family concerned and treated as though it is the property of the family. It is published only if the family chooses to publish it and only in the manner the family chooses.
When there have been issues with some of the HET’s work, not least when it has investigated what have been called “Army deaths”, that situation has meant that although the HET has done some good work over a number of years, which has been valuable to the families, many families have not felt that they could discharge the burden of publishing the work. Of course, other families have been able to publish that work or to turn to the assistance of others to have it published. In recent times, a powerful compilation examining different HET reports has been produced by the Pat Finucane Centre, resulting in a book called “Lethal Allies.” It draws on the HET reports on a number of cases, on Ministry of Defence files and on other papers in the national archive to set out more of the circumstances behind a certain group of murders—the up to 120 murders conducted by the Glenanne gang. That powerful book has been able to draw on HET reports simply because those families gave the reports to the Pat Finucane Centre and entrusted it with that work. That points towards a wider gap in the provisions on the past, not least those that the Secretary of State would preside over in the public interest and in the name of the wider political process.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have enormous regard, in full flow, but is he speaking on behalf of a small group of families whose loved ones’ murder the HET has investigated, or is he speaking on behalf of the majority of those families, they having asked him to make this change?
In no way could I claim to be speaking for a majority of all the families whose cases have been investigated by the HET, but I have met many of the families, and I appreciate the very different experiences that they report to me. Some families are unhappy about how the HET investigated their case, and what it was able, or not able, to find; other people were particularly satisfied, and have taken consolation and a sense of closure from what the HET has been able to do for them. The point is that many families feel that there may be an unequal process in relation to the past, and they are coming at that from different points of view and experiences. The new clause tries to ensure that our approach to the past, not least in terms of the HET, is more holistic.
The Historical Enquiries Team has been seriously compromised by a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary that found that the HET’s conduct of investigations of what are called “Army deaths” was so unequal and off-standard as to be illegal. That has put a serious question mark over the future of the HET’s discharging of its investigative role. Many of us believe that there is a need to replace the HET with a new body that is clearly compliant with article 2 of the European convention on human rights, and that if such a new body were created, the role relating to historical investigations that attaches to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland could devolve to that new body; we see the possibility of that article 2 compliant body taking over both the HET’s role in investigating the past, and the police ombudsman’s role in investigating complaints about past police conduct. Whether or not that new body is created, there needs to be an ability to draw on the good work already done by the HET in a lot of cases—work that currently is not celebrated, or shared in a meaningful way with the wider public.
Will the hon. Gentleman indicate to the House whether the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Matt Baggott, has in recent weeks made it evident that he has any intention of replacing the HET and has lost confidence in it? That certainly was not the information that he gave to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs two or three weeks ago.
I am not speaking for the Chief Constable; I am speaking to the new clause. I have said that many of us believe that the HET has been seriously injured, and that the viability of it serving its purpose in future, and its reliability, have been fundamentally wounded. I know that many people on the Northern Ireland Policing Board have that view as well. As to whether the Chief Constable has come to that view, we will have to see. The new clause does not legislate for a new body; it simply allows us to ensure that if a new body were created, that would not negate good work already done by the HET, and good work done, and sound reports produced, by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
The new clause would ensure that reports can be commissioned not just on individual cases and events, but on evident lessons or patterns in findings relating to different cases and events. Anne Cadwallader, on behalf of the Pat Finucane Centre, has been able to bring out glaring and compelling points relating to the Glenanne gang and its work: the connections between many different killings; the repeated use of various weapons; the likely involvement of some people; and issues of collusion and complicity in all that. That approach should be available for other cases, too. It is not just about being able to tell that narrative about the activities of loyalist paramilitaries; there are compelling narratives that need to be told about the activities of Republican paramilitaries as well.
The new clause has been tabled while talks are under way with Haass and so on, and there is a process that deals with issues from the past. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the new clause puts the cart before the horse, or does he think that it complies with that general process?
I believe that it is entirely compatible with the Haass process. I have no wish to pre-empt—and I would not ask the House to vote to pre-empt—what may or may not come of the Haass process. However, the House has responsibility in relation to the past, as it was the main chamber of accountability for many years in relation to Northern Ireland’s troubled past. It is not enough for us to say that we do not want to address the past as we consider the Bill because the Haass process will do that. It is right and proper for parties in Westminster and the Chamber to reflect on some aspects of the past.
The new clause tries to say, first, that it is not the case that nothing has been done in relation to the past. However, it is clear that not enough has been done, and that not enough has been done with some of the good work that has been done on the past, not least some of the good work by the HET. Although I accept many of the criticisms of the HET, I cannot ignore the fact that I have heard directly from families who have been helped by what the HET has been able to do in their case. I believe, however, that the wider process and the wider community could be helped if we drew together some of the lessons and compelling findings that the HET has been able to share with families. Not all of those findings have been shared with the wider public, and not all of them have been shared equally.
Before the hon. Gentleman responded to the intervention from Naomi Long, he was speaking about the need for a complete record that involved a spotlight not just on one set of paramilitaries but on all of them. How will his proposal ensure that an analysis or narrative drawing on the various reports that have been cited gives a complete picture of the many hundreds of deaths in which the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary groups were involved? How will we get the right proportion in the overall picture, and a proper investigation or analysis of the role, for instance, of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein’s current leaders in the disappearance of Jean McConville and others? How is all of that included on the basis of the list of reports that he cited?
First, the new clause does not seek to introduce an omnibus report in relation to all the events of Northern Ireland’s burdened past. It is not one received version that looks at all the tragedies and atrocities in Northern Ireland’s troubled history. The new clause would create the ability or capacity for the Secretary of State to commission reports on different classes, groups or possible groups of crimes. Just as many people have found the book, “Lethal Allies”, a compelling drawing together of a number of different reports, plus other evidence relating to the work of a network of loyalist activity over a period of six years, so there could well be room to say that we need a report that draws together HET and any other findings on the work of the IRA in a given area or over a given period, or of the Irish National Liberation Army, or of loyalist paramilitaries in other areas, so that people who were victims know that their experiences were not isolated cases in which they were victimised and bereaved but were part of a network or pattern at a particular time. That narrative should be brought out and should be available to people.
Is there not a confusion in what the hon. Gentleman has presented to the House? On the one hand, he tells us that there is a report about the HET and its fairness and ability to investigate collusion and so on which puts a question mark over it. On the other hand, he brings out the virtues of the HET, which somehow aids a “powerful” book, so-called, whenever it comes to security force collusion.
The HET has done some good work, but it has also done some work of very questionable quality. No less an authority than Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has found the HET’s work wanting in relation to the investigation of Army deaths, how they were investigated and how witnesses and potential witnesses were treated in that situation. It was a damning indictment by HMIC that the HET’s standard of performance in relation to a certain class of cases was illegal. That is not my finding, but accepting and recognising it and its seriousness does not lead me to rubbish cases in which the HET has done some good work and been able to marshal firm evidence that was of significance to families—evidence that was not shared with those families by anybody except the HET before now.
First of all, I am not creating a class of good HET reports or bad HET reports. I am not saying that the Secretary of State must commission reports in relation to every single death on the basis of HET reports. My aim is to make good a deficiency in the work of the HET to date: its work counts solely as the private property of families, unless the families themselves choose to publish it. There is no formality in this House, for instance, whereby the Government may make an apology to a family on the back of an HET report. The Government up till now have treated that apology as a private matter, not a matter for the parliamentary record. An apology was duly given by the Ministry of Defence after a family had shared with it an HET report, but we had to go to the bother of an Adjournment debate, which I called, to get that apology voiced on the record. That shows that there is a problem in how HET reports are treated.
This is not just a point that we in the SDLP have come up with. Others have addressed it as well. There are victims groups who say that this is one of the deficiencies in relation to the HET. There is a question mark not only over the quality of the HET’s work, but over what the rest of us are doing with the HET’s work and whether the rest of us are interested in it. In the Haass talks the parties are meant to be addressing what is to be done about the past and what is being done, and it is important to acknowledge that some good work that has been done may not have been valued enough and is not well enough advertised or circulated. The measure is an attempt to improve that.
When we talk about a level playing field with other parties, and all parties being included in the collusion issue, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be a further investigation into the Garda Siochana and the allegations made about collusion there? We talk about apologies. Is it not time that we got a proper apology from the Irish Government and their part in the troubles many years ago?
I have no resistance to any inquiries about any allegations of collusion that there might be against Garda Siochana or anybody else. In relation to the point that is often made by the DUP about the possible involvement of members of the Irish Government in arming the Provisional IRA initially, I have no problem with an investigation of that or anything else. I point out that members of the Irish Government were sacked at the time and former Ministers stood trial alongside others, so it is not as though the issue passed without moment at the time.
The Berry papers brought those issues out again, in much the same way as the Pat Finucane Centre was able to find in the national archives in Kew many documents that provide a strong back-light on the murderous machinations of the Glenanne gang. In Irish Government records, including the Berry papers, which were perused by significant elements of the media some years ago, there is also significant back-lighting of what happened in and around the arms trial.
I want to return to the point of new clause 1, which is not to prescribe that there shall be one sweeping narrative in relation to all issues in the past, or to refuse any, but to say that where there have been various investigations or reports, whether by a public inquiry, the HET, the police ombudsman, or any other investigative means—the Ballymurphy families, for example, are talking about having something like the Hillsborough independent panel look at their case—if there were common strands to be brought out in relation to different cases, the Secretary of State could commission a report that would do that.
I understand the merit in the proposal, but is the HET, for example, the right basis for the kind of reports that the hon. Gentleman seeks? The purpose of the investigation, for example of the HET, is to look at the matter with a view to the prosecution of those guilty of those offences. The understanding and the narrative that forms the backdrop to those events are not necessarily the job of the HET, but are a more complex mix. I want to probe whether the hon. Gentleman believes that those are the right bases for this kind of narrative-building report.
I believe that they potentially are. If one has been privileged to have a HET report shared with one by a family, one has only to read it to see that it may be pointing less towards any possible prosecution, than bringing out significant information about the background events and circumstances. The first time that many families found out that their loved ones were murdered by the same weapons was when they read the HET reports that dealt with murders by the Glenanne gang. No one ever told them that before. They were never told that as a result of RUC investigations or any other revelations, or comments or observations made by Ministers about the nature or network of crimes or murders. None of that information was ever shared with those families until they received it from the HET, and until the Pat Finucane Centre literally brought them together as victims of the same weapons.
I seek clarification on the issue of the HET inquires. As an elected representative during the last couple of years I have made four, perhaps five, referrals on behalf of individuals to the HET. The HET has replied, but they are confidential, private, individual issues. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that they should be made known to everyone, even though the families themselves want them kept secret?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to subsection (5):
“No personal information shall be included in the analysis as published without the permission of the person concerned or, if they are dead, of their relatives.”
One of the issues at the moment with the HET—too much of this debate is focusing purely on the HET—is that it is limited in that it cannot make its reports public. Many of us assumed that that was a statutory restriction on the HET, but it turns out that it is not. The clause allows germane facts that can point to the wider pattern and help to fill in the wider narrative in relation to forces, whether paramilitary or anybody else, who carried out murders and series of crimes. Where that wider narrative is brought out it would not be at the expense of publishing any information that is in the HET report that has previously been regarded as private, for whatever reason of sensitivity. But the wider narrative lesson should be able to be drawn out by a wider report.
Again, I make the point that there has been a significant response to the book “Lethal Allies”, including in Armagh and Tyrone. The Glenanne gang carried out its nefarious sectarian murder campaign against innocent Catholics. Remember that only one of the 120 whom it killed had any link whatever with the provisional republican movement. The people whom it killed were members of my party, the SDLP, people who were in the Gaelic Athletic Association, people who had bought property who were setting up in business. That is why they were targeted. Those who were specifically targeted and shot in their workplace or in their homes, as opposed to those who were more randomly killed by bombs, were all people of the ilk that I have described.
It was not only those forces that were involved in a sectarian campaign in Tyrone and Armagh and other places; so too, I believe, were the IRA and many others. That is the belief of many of the IRA’s victims in those places in those years.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because we are moving into a very sensitive area. There seems to be a hierarchy of victims. Will he tell me why Robert McLernon, at 16 years of age, and Rachel McLernon, at 21 years of age, on the day she was engaged to be married, were targeted by the IRA? Should we not know that? Who is going to tell us that?
I absolutely believe that, in so far as anybody can tell us, we should know that. If there is ever an HET report that could tell us that, we should be told, rather than someone saying, “Oh no, it’s an HET report, so it’s the private property of the family.” The onus should not be entirely upon the family to make good that report.
The HET produced a very significant report on the Kingsmill massacre, but I do not believe that it received as much attention as it deserved. Its import was not fully registered in this House, or indeed in other places, and I believe that it should have been. Of course, the Kingsmill massacre is not the only evidence that discounts the cosy claim that has been made in the past for the IRA, and is still made to date, even on behalf of Sinn Fein, that there was nothing sectarian about the IRA campaign and that only loyalist paramilitaries carried out campaigns with an eye to a sectarian agenda. That is quite clear from a number of events, and not only those carried out by the IRA, but arguably those carried out by other republican paramilitaries at the time, when it was or was not the IRA, or when another flag of convenience was being flown, for example in the Darkley massacre.
I do not believe that it is only in relation to the murders of the Glenanne gang that we could benefit from a clear account based on sound findings from other inquiries. Remember that the power that new clause 1 would give the Secretary of State is to commission a report that draws on the findings of other bodies, not to set up a new investigative mechanism or some new roving or roaming inquiry into everything and anything. It would take the value and significance of what has already been found by other competent inquiries and investigations, so it would take what is already there in reports and marshal it together to draw value, and not just for the victims, but for wider society. I hope that idea will commend itself to the parties as they consider these and other issues in the Haass talks.
That is to do with the fact that we cannot pre-empt what other review mechanisms might come out of the Haass talks. Other review mechanisms could cover a variant of something like the de Silva report, in which people basically examine what is on the record in various archives. Of course, those archives need not be just in the UK, because, as we heard earlier in relation to the southern Irish dimension, there could be significant records in the south. There are also different forms and models of inquiries available in the south. Some of those inquiries that have looked at some of these issues might have relevant findings that could be drawn into a wider report that the Secretary of State might commission others to do.
We have left it very open as to who might be commissioned to do those reports. The Secretary of State will not necessarily appoint civil servants. The Secretary of State might appoint other competent and credible people, be they academics or those from other groups, or indeed groups who have worked with victims and would be very trusted to draw together the narrative from certain reports in ways that would be seen to bring out the salient truth, and not only for the victims, but for the wider community and future generations.
New clause 3 provides for the idea that in future the Secretary of State could present an annual report to Parliament that summarises all the ongoing work by various bodies in relation to the complaints about the past during that year, whether those bodies are the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the HET, if we still have it, or the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains. It also relates to whether, as I believe, there should be a new article 2-compliant mechanism to investigate the past. Other bodies may undertake work that touches on facts of the past. Of course, those bodies could be outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.
In the new clause, the hon. Gentleman refers to the Historical Enquiries Team, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and various other inquiries and inquests. Will he kindly take this opportunity to put on the record his genuine appreciation of all the retired police officers, members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and members of the armed services who, time beyond number, have willingly and freely given up their time to co-operate with the police ombudsman, the HET and various other inquiries and inquests?
I have no problem acknowledging where there has been very good and sound co-operation with the HET and with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. However, both have put it on record that they have not universally found that co-operation on the part of every single person they have sought to interview.
I further note that the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association recently issued its own qualifications in relation to its future co-operation with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, regarding the latter’s report on a murder that happened in my constituency in the late 1980s. I question the terms in which the retired police officers have voiced their position. Indeed, the statement the association has issued adds to the questions about that event and the background to that murder. Two innocent civilians were allowed to die when, after 10 o’clock mass, they went to inquire after a neighbour they had not seen for some time, so there were questions about whether he was at his flat. When they did so, purely out of their good nature, they became the victims of a booby-trap bomb that was in the block of flats, having been planted by the IRA, who are absolutely the culprits in this—let nobody else say anything different. It is clear from the police ombudsman’s report that the police—the security forces—were aware that the bomb was there. They made sure they did not go near it, but it was left and civilians died. I regret that the retired police officers have chosen this particular report on which to voice a strangely couched position in relation to the police ombudsman.
Here and now is not the place or the time to open a debate on the particular event that the hon. Gentleman refers to, although he has gone into a bit of detail on it. I merely point out that the retired police officers would say that one side of the story is told but theirs is not always told in the same depth or to the same extent in the circumstances of the time. Does he agree that retired police officers who served in the RUC are in a uniquely invidious position, because unlike others they do not have all the legal back-up and wherewithal to support them, and many of them are getting on in age, yet an onerous task has been put on them with all these inquiries and so on? These issues need to be recognised.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point that gives rise to questions as to what other support should be available as a way of assuring people when they are co-operating with inquiries. Perhaps that would also encourage more people to co-operate in future, given that we have experience of times past when some did not, and we now have a signal that fewer would in future.
New clause 3 provides for whatever work goes on in the future in relation to the past; it is not prescribing what work should go on. It states that, whatever different channels are used to review and report on the past, it would be right and proper for this House, year on year, to receive an annual report that reflects the work that has gone on and for that report to be accompanied by a statement by the Secretary of State that refers to whether there is independent legal advice to show that all that work is compliant with article 2 of the European convention on human rights and addresses other salient matters.
While I understand the merit of what the hon. Gentleman is proposing, is there not a huge danger of such a process creating a free-for-all for lawyers, with ultimately only lawyers benefiting from it?
No, there would be no free-for-all for lawyers in my proposal, because it would not add any new form of investigation relating to the past. The new clause basically says that whatever different strands are dealing with complaints about the past, whether it be the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains, the HET or any successor body, the police ombudsman, or any other inquiries or panels—and whatever their work is—this House would receive an annual report showing what had been done in that year. It would also address article 2 compliance, because that is a serious issue that has arisen in relation to the HET, and other matters.
One issue the annual report could address is whether the reports of that year show new findings and put new light on events that were previously the subject of very different accounts in Parliament. We know that Ministers reported very differently to Parliament about a lot of these events, compared with the evidence now available from HET reports and Government papers that have emerged from the archives, thanks to the work of the Pat Finucane Centre and others. The annual report, with the statement from the Secretary of State, could be a parliamentary point of record for any apologies that have been issued by anybody in Government, and not only the British Government. Any apology by any public body or any Government in respect of findings or reports would be recorded, rather than being left as though it is just a matter of private correspondence between a victim’s family and a Government Department, which is the Government’s current position. The Government say that if they issue an apology on the back of something in an HET report or anything else, they do not see it as being up to them to record it or to acknowledge it in Parliament in any way. If the Government are iffy about doing that in every single instance, an annual report that reflected on work on the past and responses to it would provide a way for them to do it.
It would be very important for this House, as its encouragement to the parties in the Haass talks, to say, “Yes, we know that on the issue of the past there is a huge responsibility on the parties to come to an agreement and an understanding on how better to deal with it. More honestly addressing the serious events of Northern Ireland’s past is not the job of the Northern Ireland parties alone; there is a serious and particular role for the British Government and for this House, which held Northern Ireland under direct rule for so many years and heard so many accounts and versions of events that may now have to be addressed differently in the light of what reports find.”
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that what he is proposing smacks entirely of a one-sided report, account and interpretation of the past? The vast majority of murders throughout the 30 years of mayhem in Northern Ireland were committed by the IRA. Who, exactly, is going to stand in this House and apologise for the murder by the IRA of innocent victims in their hundreds?
Unfortunately, I do not know who will do that. If families have received apologies from the British Government or the Ministry of Defence, there is no reason why they should not be recorded in this House. Remember, many people lost loved ones and saw those deaths misreported and mis-accounted for in this House and in other places, and that is one reason why we need to reflect that. If apologies have been given in response to any reports on or inquiries into the past—whether the HET, the ombudsman or any of the other channels provided for on a non-pre-emptive basis in the new clause—there is no reason why they should not be properly recorded.
That would add to the indictment of the IRA, which has either not apologised or has offered mealy-mouthed, generic apologies. Those who speak to those apologies on behalf of the IRA still try to have the rest of us receive them under the pretence that the IRA campaign was somehow a clean campaign compared with the loyalist death squads, or under the pretence that the IRA only targeted people in uniform in the heat of battle or direct confrontation. The IRA killed many people by murdering them down lonely lanes, by shooting them in the back, by shooting them as they came out of their workplace and by shooting them as they came from their place of worship. It would then say that there was nothing sectarian in its campaign. Apparently, the loyalist campaign and collusion by members of the security forces was sectarian, but the IRA campaign was meant to be clean and sectarian-free. We know, and not just from IRA victims, that that is simply not so, and we need to have that spelled out in wider narrative accounts. New clause 3 aims to ensure that that can happen, and that we are not denied the means to draw together that wider narrative based on other reports that might emerge in relation to investigations of particular cases or events.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way so often. He will be aware of the phrase, “Victors write history.” Is he not in danger of handing the historiography of the troubles to a group that he would not even agree with?
No. The new clause is aimed precisely at preventing that. In the absence of anything wider, people are getting away with their own gable wall histories. They are getting away with their own pretences about the nefarious character of violence during the troubles being attached to one side and not the other. Equally, we still sometimes get the nonsense from some spokes- persons within sections of Unionism that the loyalist campaign existed only as a response to republican violence, and that it needs to be understood in that context. As far as I am concerned, all the violence was wrong. None of it could be justified, and none of it could be justified by the violence or excesses of anybody else. What the IRA did, did not justify what the loyalists did. What the loyalists or security forces did, did not justify what the IRA did either.
It is important that we are able to bring those sorts of narratives out. If reports are available from the various mechanisms to deal with the past, they should be sourced and reported on in the way I talked about—on a class basis, which can straddle a number of years and localities, as under new clause 1—or through future annual reports to this House. Such reports would provide an assurance that the past is being dealt with by due standards and is receiving a due response from those in Government and in other public bodies who should be responding to it. I make no pretence to claim that either of the new clauses would directly burden paramilitary organisations with compliance with giving evidence or the truth. However, the new clauses would be a lot better at addressing the truth and being open to all dimensions of Northern Ireland’s difficult past than some other partial proposals.
I remind hon. Members that back in 2005, this House saw what was probably the worst piece of proposed legislation: the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. It attempted to set up an entirely secret tribunal whereby people could go in, unbeknownst to the relevant victims, and claim complete indemnity and immunity from anything in the past. Not only would the issuing of certificates have been secret; the then Government proposed a clause through which an added seal of secrecy could have been imposed by the Secretary of State. The only person who could have gone to prison in connection with any crime committed in the past would have been a relative or a reporter who reported or alleged that somebody had benefited from a certificate relating to their particular victimisation. Potentially, only the victims, or people who were reporting in sympathy with the victims, could have ended up in jail—not anybody else.
I do not pretend that the two new clauses are perfect, and nor are they complete. I do not want to pre-empt what might come out of the Haass process, but they are offered as honest contributions, recognising that more could be done with what is already being done in relation to the past. Whatever happens with Haass, this House has a continuing responsibility to address the past and to acknowledge its responsibilities during that past.
I listened carefully to Mark Durkan. New clause 1 is new in the sense that it is a proposal that has come before us at relatively late notice. I am not being unkind to the hon. Gentleman—he tabled the new clauses properly in the context of the Bill—but this proposal has not received much consultation or discussion, or indeed any elucidation heretofore in any forum of which I am aware. It is certainly worthy of consideration and debate, but I am not sure whether we want to take it on board and include it in the Bill today.
I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that in Committee I proposed a shorter version of new clause 1 that focused entirely on the HET. By sheer coincidence, it rhymed with a significant article in the
Belfast Telegraph that week, which pointed out that nothing joins up the work of the HET in individual cases and that something needed to do so.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for explaining that, and I understand that. It is indicative that this came to him only relatively recently and prompted him to table the new clause. There are a lot of ideas out there, many conflicting, in relation to the past. There are many good ideas coming from many different sources, which is one reason the Haass process is important—he will be taking all of them on board. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will put forward this idea as part of that process. It would be somewhat at odds with the Haass process if we were to pass new clause 1 and new clause 3, because it would seem that the House was legislating in advance of any agreement or full-scale negotiations. It is another contribution and the proper way forward might be to feed it into the Haass process and to seek other people’s views on it. I am not sure whether it is right to push it today in the House.
I see this as a constructive proposal, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is the potential for it to become another partial solution that addresses part of the past, and is therefore not the comprehensive solution we seek?
I will deal with the point about partiality and a holistic approach in a moment, but I want to make some points about new clause 1, having had a reasonably cursory look at the details and having listened to the hon. Member for Foyle.
On the proposal for the Secretary of State to
“appoint a person or persons to prepare an analysis of findings, issues, patterns or lessons”, it seems to me that one man’s analysis is another man’s prejudiced point of view that comes with political baggage. I can see all sorts of difficulties in finding someone or some people who would be acceptable right across the board, whom everybody would say was fair, and whom people would trust enough to permit them to do the analysis and be broadly content with whatever they came up with. I think that is a recipe for further contention and arguments about the past. Even very detailed judicial and other investigations over many years, costing lots of money, have not drawn a line under anything for the relatives, and certainly have not done so for the public. One wonders how far the proposal would take us and what its purpose is, because it might provoke more hurt on behalf of others, or more contention, strife and difficulties.
My other point, which has just been mentioned by Naomi Long, is about the problem of partiality. I asked the hon. Member for Foyle about the list of reports from which an analysis or a narrative might be drawn, and he kindly said that the “other new mechanisms” under subsection (3)(f) of new clause 1 might include what comes out of Haass, a de Silva-type review of archives or investigations in other jurisdictions. However, if those are added to reports from the other bodies mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e), we would have a list of official investigations that will inevitably and invariably result—this is one problem of current investigations into the past—in a preponderance of evidence coming out, issues arising or events being investigated that involve members of the security forces. That is because members of the security forces and the authorities keep records, which are the means through which such matters can be investigated.
In that list of reports, I fail to see any real analysis or narrative that would include any great in-depth investigation of any paramilitary murders, whether loyalist or republican. That is just the reality of all reports that we have seen up to now. It is one reason we hear reasonable people on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland say time and again, and I have a lot of sympathy with the view: “All this concentration on the past is one-sided and is designed to rewrite history, because all we see is a massive concentration on the 10% of deaths”—every death is regrettable, so I make no issue about the sorrow of the relatives of those killed—“in which members of the security forces were involved.”
That fact has to be remembered. I want to put on the record the fact that 3,530 deaths are attributable to the troubles, euphemistically called, that Northern Ireland went through. Even to state that figure brings home to us the terrible tragedy and devastation inflicted on Northern Ireland over the years: more than 3,500 deaths, with many hundreds of deaths in some years. Some 297 of those deaths involved the Army and low hundreds involved members of the police, but more than 1,700 were the responsibility of the Provisional IRA. We do not, however, see a proportional concentration by the press and the media or by investigations and anything else into that category of deaths. There were also 500, 600 or 700 deaths at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries, which is equally abhorrent and wrong. The vast majority of deaths in Northern Ireland were the responsibility of illegal paramilitary organisations. Where is the balance in the hon. Gentleman’s proposal, and where will the concentration be that can lead to closure for people who have suffered from the deaths that occurred at the hands of the Provisional IRA and others?
There are many such examples in Northern Ireland, but a prime one would be in Castlederg. For the people of Castlederg, a good example is that 28 out of the 29 murders are unsolved murders by the Provisional IRA.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Castlederg was very much in the news this summer. We all need to be very sensitive in dealing with the past, but a party whose Members do not take their seats in this House, Sinn Fein, organised a celebratory parade through Castlederg, at which the speaker was Gerry Kelly, a leading Sinn Fein Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That was seen as deeply hurtful by relatives who lost loved ones in Castlederg.
Yet we are lectured about the need to move forward. We do need to move forward in Northern Ireland, but everybody needs to move forward. Republicans and Sinn Fein—and, indeed, loyalists—cannot have it both ways: they cannot say that they are willing to move forward, but then eulogise the terrorist activities in which they engaged in the past. They cannot make a false distinction between the sordid activities of so-called dissidents today, which they say are intolerable and unacceptable, and exactly the same behaviour 30, 20 or 10 years ago, which they say was perfectly acceptable because it was by the Provisional IRA. It was all unacceptable and totally needless: it was all about inflicting pain and suffering on innocent people.
I understand what the hon. Member for Foyle is seeking to do through new clause 3, but I have concerns about the overall impression left by laying reports before Parliament. Paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (4) mention
“apologies that have been given by any Government or public body”.
The only reference to apologies is therefore in relation to Governments or public bodies. I understand what the hon. Gentleman has said, but that points up the difficulty here, because the clear impression that would go out is that nobody is laying reports of apologies for the 1,700 deaths by the Provisional IRA and the hundreds by loyalist paramilitaries. They would not get the same kind of attention or concentration. That issue is very live and raw in Northern Ireland today, and it needs to be addressed.
The proposals therefore have some merits in some respects, but they are flawed for the reasons that I have set out. They should be fed into the Haass process, but the House should not take them forward tonight.
We want to bring some clarity to the issue of victims and the past. There are various issues that relate to the troubles, as they are euphemistically called, which took place over 30-odd years in Northern Ireland and during which many people right across the community lost their lives. The SDLP wants to underscore the fact that murder was wrong and that those who perpetrated it were wrong to do so and were culpable in doing so. There are issues with the past that relate to victims, flags and emblems. All those matters are rightly being addressed by Richard Haass in the current talks process, which is due to be completed by the end of December. We look forward to those findings.
It is opportune that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle has tabled the new clauses and particularly new clause 1, which relates to patterns and lessons from reports on aspects of the past. One of the critical cases happened in my constituency. I do not highlight it because six men were murdered by loyalists, but simply to illustrate a point. A police inquiry was carried out by the RUC in which the families were not really involved. They were never really asked for their opinions or asked about what happened on that night. They were always searching for the truth. There was a police ombudsman’s report into the police investigation. Both were found wanting. The police ombudsman’s report was contested because what it suggested was tantamount to collusion, but it did not say that.
That report required there to be a further police investigation, which is still ongoing. The police are fact checking what they have put in their voluminous report. The senior police officers who have undertaken the investigation have told me that forensics show that some of the weapons that were used on the night of
The hon. Lady touches on a point that I had intended to raise with Mark Durkan. At the end of an Historical Enquiries Team review of a case, it is not necessarily a closed case, but could still be an open case in which new information could lead to prosecution. Is there a risk that publishing detailed reports that imply patterns could prejudice the outcome of future prosecutions? Would that not have to be carefully managed?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I do not necessarily disagree with her, but I will proceed with the point I am making.
Senior police officers have highlighted the fact that various weapons that were used in the Loughinisland incident were probably used in other incidents. That has precipitated further analysis and fact checking to establish who or what group may have perpetrated that dastardly crime. I am sure that there are patterns of activity in other incidents throughout the 35 years.
The RUC did not discuss the case adequately and left all six families, some of whom are directly related to me, feeling very unfulfilled. I think that that would be the best way of describing it. If the matter had been adequately addressed at the time and prosecutions had been forthcoming, we might not be in the place we are in now.
“appoint a person or persons to prepare an analysis of findings, issues, patterns or lessons”.
In the case that I am describing, the police have said that there are patterns and lessons. The best way to deal with such matters is for somebody to document them. I believe that that is true right across the board and right across the community. I am sure that there are many similar incidents.
Given that the Minister was formerly at the Ministry of Defence, perhaps he could provide some elucidation on the Ministry of Defence files that have been held in Derbyshire and which the Historical Enquiries Team alleges it was not aware of until June or July of this year. The contents of those files could have been helpful in bringing prosecutions and in providing elucidation.
I thank the Minister for his helpful intervention. I have received some parliamentary answers on this issue, so it is on the record. However, I am still not satisfied because I know that those files are available. I simply want to know why they were not pursued, given that they might have been helpful in bringing prosecutions. Perhaps he could pursue that with Ministers in the MOD.
In summary, the new clause is eminently sensible at this time. It could inform the debate.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady will take this opportunity to address a valid point that was made by Mr Dodds. How do she and her colleagues propose that the Secretary of State would appoint the person or persons who would prepare such an analysis? What criteria would be used? Would it be done by a man or a woman? Would the person be an international figure? Who do she and her colleagues have in mind?
We would be happy to provide some information on that. It could be an individual, a range of individuals or a range of bodies.
Suffice it to say that we believe that this device is required in order to inform because patterns have emerged in various cases, such as in the weapons that were used, that suggest who might have been involved in carrying out murders. It is good to learn those lessons and to have them documented. The compendium of work by Anne Cadwallader, which was published several weeks ago, suggests that such a device is urgently required.
“The Secretary of State may appoint a person or persons to prepare an analysis of findings, issues, patterns or lessons from various reports in particular events of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.”
Let us be honest in saying that the past is a difficult subject. It is rightly called “Northern Ireland’s troubled past”.
If we are to ask someone
“to prepare an analysis of findings, issues, patterns or lessons from various reports”, these reports must already have been issued, but the HET reports concern only a small number of those who suffered. Why, then, should we ask someone to collate those reports and not take into account all the families? The murder of any individual is very personal and the pain very real, and the death of any loved one is as important as any on whom a report has been issued. I genuinely believe, therefore, that a collation of these reports would be skewed, given that only a small percentage of cases have been reported on.
We and many families are searching for the truth, but how will we ever get it? It seems only to come from one side. We have the records of the Army and others, but what about the vast majority of murders committed in Northern Ireland by members of paramilitary organisations on which there are no records? What about the truth for those families? I have said it before and will say it again: we have Gerry Adams standing up and saying, “I’ve never been a member of the IRA”. We know that is the biggest lie. And that brings me to another point. Let us not have a selective revelation of the archives. Why should we have only the Army or MOD records? The Loughinisland and other tragedies should never have happened and deserve to be unreservedly condemned, but why should we have only those files? I can assure the House that the Army also has records on McGuinness, so why are the hon. Members for Foyle and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) not asking for the archives on Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams? The Army has those records. I know that one of the files disappeared, but it has those records on the “Fisherman”. The files are there on these people.
Surely we do not have to wait for the revelation of the Boston tapes; let us have the records now. If we want the Army and MOD files, let us be open and honest about all these files. My loved ones and the loved ones of other innocent victims of Northern Ireland’s troubled past equally desire truth and justice, but they cannot see those records or know who is responsible. To this day, the police have not talked to us about our loved ones. Bob Stewart, who has left, was surprised that the police had not gone to see the families of Loughinisland, but the family of Robert and Rachel did not get many visits either telling them how their loved ones were brutally done to death one night as they travelled along the road. They were not, and never had been, members of the security forces. If we want the archives opened, therefore, let us have them completely opened, let us have the whole truth and nothing but the truth, not simply the MOD files on soldiers or other members of the security forces. I have heard it peddled so often, but I have not heard those people saying, “Let’s have the files on the likes of McGuinness. Let’s have them opened and on the table as well.” That has never been mentioned. If we really want the truth, we must have those files. If they are to be opened—if that is what is wanted—let us not cherry-pick; let us have the whole truth.
I lived in a community where many members of the security forces were brutally murdered. I do not know about proof of collusion, but I know that the vast majority of police officers, whether in the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve, and members of the Army in Northern Ireland served with distinction and great bravery in the face of a merciless foe. Let us never forget their bravery every time they donned their uniform or went out, even with their children. I think of a young banker and part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment in Magherafelt who went out one morning to get his car from the garage to take his child to school and was blown to bits. Let us not forget the sacrifice. This is the troubled past. All these archives need to be opened.
Even with a commitment to opening up all the files, would not most of them show only what the security forces did, because there are not the files on what the terrorists did? Indeed, many of them, including the current Sinn Fein president, deny ever having been involved in terrorism?
I accept that many of the atrocities carried out by members of the IRA are not in the files, but there are files on McGuinness and Adams, and it is about time they were brought out, if we are to have this openness we talk about.
The apologies, too, are selective. We have had apologies in the House, but they have been selective. Where was the Government’s apology to the people of Teebane? People might say, “Well, the Government didn’t let it happen”, but yes they did. Successive Governments of this United Kingdom allowed the Provisional IRA to carry out its atrocities. They could have stopped it on many occasions, but what did they do? They wined and dined its members and took them into the places of power, instead of bringing them to justice. If we are to have apologies, therefore, I do not want selective apologies; I want apologies to the families of La Mon, Teebane, Castlederg. I represented that constituency when those people were killed, and I would take Members to visit a little graveyard outside the town of Castlederg— 30 mph speed limit—because proportionally more members of the security forces lie there than in any other part of this United Kingdom. But who really cares? They were just members of the RUC and UDR along the border. They were just ordinary families.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we have a pup’s chance of getting an apology from the Provisional IRA? The MLA for Belfast North, Mr Gerry Kelly, shot a man in the face when escaping from Her Majesty’s prison Maze, but not only does he deny it, he has now authored a book in which he makes no apology and shows no shame for organising an escape from the prison. What are the chances of ever getting an apology from that type of scurrilous individual?
One thing about that man from north Belfast: he knows who shot that prison officer and so he should be making a revelation.
I heard more about the Glenanne gang, but let us be quite clear. If we are going to have the record of the troubled past and if we want to appoint a person to prepare an analysis of the findings, issues, patterns and lessons from previous reports, there are an awful lot of gangs that were around in Northern Ireland, and I can assure hon. Members that they brought a lot of grief to a lot of families and homes whose lives will never, ever be put together again. We had 30 years of terrorism— 30 years of appeasement by those in authority.
I thank my hon. Friend for the impassioned speech he is making on behalf of us all inside and outside this House. He talks about the contribution of the security forces. When four UDR men were killed in Ballydugan outside Downpatrick, 12 people were brought in for questioning, yet none was made accountable for that crime. I knew three of those four men who gave their lives for the Province—as, indeed, did many others. That is an example of sacrifice and no accountability for those who committed the crime.
We could tell that story over and over again; all I am saying is that I do not want a partial telling of the story. When it comes to the story of the tragedy of the 30 years of trouble in Northern Ireland, I am certainly not willing to allow the provos or the Shinners to rewrite the history. I would say this to Mark Durkan: remember, there is no excuse for any paramilitary act or for taking the life of another person. Let us remember that the Provisional IRA started a campaign of murder against an innocent, law-abiding people. The only sin we were guilty of was that we wanted to be British. We wanted to remain a part of this United Kingdom, and the only good thing—on which I will finish—is this. Thank God we won, because we are still British and the Union flag is still flying—I trust it will be brought back for every other building, as well as those on which it is flying now. Thank God they did not beat us, they did not beat the ordinary people of the Province and we are still a part of this United Kingdom.
It is good to have this rare opportunity to debate Northern Ireland matters on the Floor of the House. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Mr Robathan to his role as Minister of State and wish him well on behalf of all Members. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is unable to be here, but I am sure she has important matters to deal with that require her attendance elsewhere.
I have said that we will work in a bipartisan way with the Government where we agree. For the most part, the proposals in the Bill are common sense and consistent with devolutionary principles, which is why they have our support. Our only disappointment is that they are relatively minor matters when considering the scale of the challenges currently facing Northern Ireland, whether about the past or building a shared future.
Before turning to specific elements of the Bill, I would like to use this first parliamentary opportunity to pay tribute to Eddie McGrady, who sadly passed away last week. He was a tireless campaigner for social justice and peace who was held in high regard by many Members in all parts of this House. Our thoughts and prayers are with Eddie McGrady’s family and friends at this difficult time.
I would also like to take this opportunity to condemn in the strongest possible terms the petrol bomb attack on the Alliance party office in east Belfast over the weekend.
That is very generous of the hon. Gentleman. Eddie McGrady earned tremendous respect, not only in all parts of this House, but across the divides in Northern Ireland. He genuinely believed in peace and condemned the use of violence at every opportunity. Perhaps most of all, he will be remembered for being a great fighter for social justice and fairness.
I thank my hon. Friend and Dr McCrea for their tributes. As the successor to Mr McGrady in South Down, I thank them both for their kind remarks, which I will pass on to all our colleagues but most of all to his family, who are grieving. My predecessor was a person of certain distinction and certain political intellect, and somebody whose political representation stretched right across the community.
I agree with the hon. Lady. I know from my attendance at the SDLP conference only a couple of weeks ago of the high affection and respect in which
Eddie McGrady was held by the party, too. He will be a great loss to all who knew him.
I would not like this opportunity to pass without saying that when I was first elected in 2001, I was then an Ulster Unionist, and Eddie McGrady was a marvellous friend. At the end of a lengthy debate, he and his then colleague Seamus Mallon—both brilliant parliamentarians and very fine gentlemen indeed—would often ask me to join them for supper. It was a spontaneous act of kindness, which was the mark of the man. At Eddie McGrady’s requiem mass in Downpatrick on Thursday, there really was standing room only, which was a tribute from right across the board and the political spectrum in Northern Ireland. We wanted to pay tribute, because rarely do we see that kind of parliamentarian and politician in Northern Ireland. He was of the old school and a gentleman in every sense.
I hope that the sincere words that have been uttered in all parts of the House will be some comfort to Eddie McGrady’s family and friends at this difficult time. Indeed, perhaps we can ensure that those words are relayed to them from this House.
If I may make some progress, let me again condemn in the strongest possible terms the petrol bomb attack on the Alliance party office in east Belfast over the weekend. All Members of this House will want to express their support and concern for Naomi Long, the Alliance MLAs and their staff. A first principle of any democracy is that elected representatives should be able to speak and vote free of intimidation or the fear of violence. That is why, irrespective of political differences, we should take every opportunity to express our solidarity with the hon. Lady, who frankly has suffered intolerable attacks in recent times. It is not good enough for politicians, either in Westminster or Stormont, to remain silent in the face of such an affront to democracy. They should turn up the volume in making it clear that such intimidation and violence are entirely unacceptable and can never be justified. It is also essential that the Police Service of Northern Ireland continues to do all in its power to prevent such attacks and bring those responsible to justice.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and, in her absence, the Secretary of State for contacting me over the weekend about the events that took place, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister for phoning today. I pay tribute to the police officers who attended the scene on the evening. Without their swift response and the actions they took, the situation could have been much more serious. As it is, the damage to the property was rather minimal. However, nothing that happens at that office will deflect me from doing the job that I was elected to do here on behalf of the people of my constituency.
The hon. Lady’s courage is truly inspirational. She speaks up without fear or favour. Whether Members agree with her or not, the fact that she shows that courage should be an inspiration to all of us who have the privilege of participating in the political process.
Over the past month I have had the privilege of visiting Northern Ireland twice and have been fortunate enough to meet business people, civil society groups, athletic associations and representatives of inter-governmental bodies, as well as religious and political leaders. It was a privilege to attend the Ulster Unionist party conference in Belfast and the SDLP conference in Armagh. I look forward to attending the DUP conference this coming weekend and to paying a further visit before Christmas to Stormont and the UK’s city of culture, Derry/Londonderry. I have already learnt that Northern Ireland is an amazing place, home to people of tremendous courage and aspiration—a place that has been transformed over the past two decades by the peace process. Despite that remarkable progress, we know that significant challenges remain on security, the economy, building a shared future and, crucially in the context of new clauses 1 and 3, dealing with the past.
I have been particularly moved—and, I should say, troubled—by my meetings with the families of victims of violence. It is clear to me that not only their search for truth and justice, but the scale and depth of the trauma that continues to afflict so many people and communities in Northern Ireland is not sufficiently understood or recognised by outsiders. That is one major reason why the Haass talks are so crucial. As I promised during the recent DUP Opposition day debate on the past, I will make a formal submission on behalf of my party to Ambassador Haass in the next few days, and that submission will be put in the public domain.
Turning to the two new clauses I mentioned and, briefly, to other elements of the Bill, our position on political donations has been clear both when we were in government and now we are in opposition. We support greater transparency on political donations in Northern Ireland and it is a testimony to the progress made by all political parties that we are able to move towards this reality.
I share the view of Mr Donaldson, who has well made the point in the past that Northern Ireland politicians, serving both at Stormont and at Westminster, made an important contribution to the peace process. However, we agree that now is the time to end the practice of double-jobbing. It is right that this provision applies both to the Assembly and to the Dáil Éireann to maintain parity. As suggested by DUP Members, there is also a valid case for reducing the number of members of the Legislative Assembly, and we believe that this should be done on equal basis across constituencies, with a continued coupling with Westminster constituencies.
Order. I appreciate that the hon. Member has recently taken up his post. He has now made a few general remarks, but I would prefer it if he would come on to deal with the new clauses. Perhaps he was about to do so as I interrupted him.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have a long track record of obeying your instructions in a variety of contexts, and shall do so again.
Dealing specifically with new clause 3, I ask the Minister to look sympathetically at the proposal that the Secretary of State should provide an annual report to the House on the work of the various organisations that deal with the past. As the current Haass talks highlight, dealing with the past in a serious and meaningful way is essential if the people of Northern Ireland are to make progress on building a shared future. While it is right that dealing with any processes relating to the past are led by the Northern Ireland Executive, there must be full and consistent engagement by the UK and Republic of Ireland Governments both because of their central role in the troubles and because likely solutions will require their active participation and their legislative and financial support.
Although we broadly support the Bill, as I said at the beginning of my contribution, it is somewhat disappointing in its lack of ambition. It fails to do anything that will support economic growth or create opportunities for young people, which in my view are the greatest challenges Northern Ireland faces. While those issues are primarily the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government have a key role to play.
As the Minister will be aware, unemployment in Northern Ireland remains above the UK average, with almost one in four young people out of work. Too many communities are struggling with the corrosive cycle of poor educational attainment, worklessness and inter-generational deprivation. That is on top of a cost of living crisis in which prices are rising and wages are falling.
In conclusion, the Bill is necessary and, broadly speaking, deserves the support of the House. However, there are far bigger issues facing Northern Ireland that require the full engagement of the Government working with the Irish Government to support the Northern Ireland Executive. I hope this Government will start to show the leadership that is so essential at this crucial time for peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me a second time. Before he concludes, would he address some of the criticisms made by Mark Durkan for whom, I repeat, I have enormous regard, even though I have not agreed with half of what he has said this evening? While Mr Lewis is considering new clauses 1 to 3, would he particularly address the hon. Gentleman’s criticisms of the Historical Enquiries Team?
At Madam Deputy Speaker’s urging, I was bringing my remarks to a conclusion, but I will address the specific point that the hon. Lady mentions. We will deal with the issue in our response to Ambassador Haass, which the hon. Lady asked me to put in the public domain; we shall do so in the next few days. My view is that, on the whole and in many cases, the work of the Historical Enquiries Team has been effective and has delivered some level of justice to victims. I think we should applaud that and draw attention to it at every opportunity. However, some serious and legitimate concerns have been raised about elements of the HET’s work, which must be seriously considered. There are also questions about the criteria applied to the investigations, the independence of the HET, its capacity to do its job, and the HET’s ability to carry out its functions given the limited resources available to the PSNI.
Haass therefore provides an important opportunity not only to review and recognise the successes of the HET, but to reflect in the context of any new framework that is developed on some of the weaknesses and to try to put them right. We need a balanced and a measured approach to the HET. In speaking to victims, it has brought truth to a number of them—there is no question about that—but we know that independent evaluation has raised some serious and legitimate concerns. In the role that Ambassador Haass is fulfilling in the all-party talks, it is very important to get the balance right. Options would include a reformed HET or a replacement body to build on the successes of the HET, but there must be some structure to deliver truth and justice for the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. We need a balanced and sensible view of the HET’s successes, reform of the HET and of any future replacement body.
Despite the hurt they have experienced, many people in Northern Ireland wish to put that hurt behind them. Often without invitation from the people concerned, the HET reopened the sores and the wounds. Indeed, rather than help the situation, it has made it worse for those people. We need to give careful consideration to simply saying that we need another body to replicate what the HET did, without any reference to the wishes of the victims.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The first and overriding principle in any discussion about truth and justice has to be putting the victims centre stage. We know that victims have very different needs and very different wants. Some victims make it clear that they simply want truth. Others want justice, and others simply want to get on with their lives. Any process must therefore appropriately reflect the fact that we must start from the perspective of the needs and wants of victims. It is incredibly difficult to get that right, because there are such competing and different views of what people want, but the overriding principle has to be the needs of victims—not lumped together in a collective way, because the needs of every individual victim, treated sensitively wherever possible, must take centre stage.
Having spoken to victims, I still believe that there remain so many outstanding cases for which we have neither truth nor justice, but if we were to close down the process at this stage, we would not be doing right by the families and relatives of the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. The question is how to reconcile all those competing pressures and extremely difficult challenges and come up with a system that enjoys maximum support in all communities in Northern Ireland. I certainly think there is a strong case for the importance of truth recovery, which has been mentioned in the past, and there is still a lot of work to be done around it. That, however, cannot be an alternative to justice for many people. It is vital to get the balance right.
This is a crucial time for peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and let me say to the new Minister in particular that it is a particularly important time for the Government to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary there. It is not a time for disengagement on the part of the United Kingdom Government; it is incredibly important at this stage for them to work in partnership with the Government of the Republic of Ireland.
I believe that new clauses 1 and 3 have a great deal of merit. However, I also believe that it would be wrong to prejudge the Haass process or to straitjacket the ambassador at this stage, and if the House were forced to express a view on what is proposed by my hon. Friend Mark Durkan, that would be the impact of tonight’s proceedings. I therefore urge my hon. Friend not to press the motion to a Division at this stage, but rather to see the points that he has made in his new clauses as a vital contribution to the debate, and a vital submission to the all-party talks.
Let me first repeat an apology that I am sure you have already received, Madam Deputy Speaker, from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is currently on ministerial duty in the United States of America. Let me also echo the condolences and sympathy that have been expressed for the family of Eddie McGrady. I knew him a little, and took part in debates with him. I would say of him, overall, that he was a particularly decent man. I may have disagreed with him on various issues, but he certainly stood up for his constituents, and stood up for what he believed in in Ireland. He was both decent and courteous. I wish that we could say that about every Member of Parliament, but I am not sure that people will.
Let me also say that I deplore the petrol bomb attack on the constituency offices of Naomi Long, who represents the Alliance party. As others have said, such acts have no place in the democratic process. This was a very worrying incident, and I hope very much that we shall not see more such incidents.
I used to take a great deal of interest in Northern Ireland affairs, but this is the first time that I have spoken in a Northern Ireland debate for eight years. I have been otherwise detained elsewhere—and I think that that is more or less the right description. I believe that I made my last speech about Northern Ireland during a debate on what Mark Durkan described in his opening speech as one of the worst pieces of legislation ever brought before the House, namely the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. I dug out my speech the other day, and I stand by every word of it. The Bill was indeed a disgraceful piece of legislation, and—as a result of pressure from all sides—it was rightly dropped by the last Administration.
I understand that the issues raised by new clauses 1 and 3 were considered in Committee, and that the hon. Member for Foyle initiated those discussions as well. I appreciate that his party would like more to be done to address legacy issues, and I sympathise with that to a large extent. Like him and, I think, all Members of Parliament, we want to see a way forward that commands the support of all parts of the community and all parties in Northern Ireland, but it was not evident from the interventions on his speech that there was support for this particular way forward.
Much of the responsibility for dealing with legacy issues is now devolved, and it is right for us to allow the local parties—which are, of course, represented here—to work towards an agreement on dealing with the past. I welcome the initiative that is being taken by the main local political parties in Northern Ireland to address the issue of dealing with the past through the all-party group chaired by Richard Haass. We have heard a certain amount about that today, and I agree with Mr Lewis that we must not pre-empt, or in any way undermine, what is being done by Richard Haass. The Government support the efforts that are being made, and hope that progress can be made. As a House and as a nation, we should await the outcome of the talks, and Dr Haass’s report.
A great deal has been said about the Historical Enquiries Team. We should be clear about the fact that its work and the work of the police ombudsman are not the responsibilities of UK Ministers. Those bodies are accountable to the devolved institutions, and a carefully negotiated framework exists in relation to accountability of policing. There are already mechanisms for reporting on the work of the bodies that are the responsibility of the devolved Administration; creating a further mechanism is likely to incur unnecessary expense, and would also duplicate the work of other bodies.
Let me say in relation to new clause 3 that the Secretary of State already reports to Parliament by way of parliamentary questions and the Northern Ireland Office’s annual report regarding the work for which she is responsible. That does not provide for everything that the hon. Member for Foyle wants, but the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee does examine the annual report.
We cannot agree to the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers to exclude certain material from publication when it is in the interests of national security—or some other important public interest, such as the protection of life and safety—for that to be done. The Government therefore cannot support the new clauses, and, although I listened with interest to what was said by the hon. Member for Foyle, I ask him to withdraw his motion.
A number of points have been made about both new clauses, and I accept the spirit in which many of those points were made. I could readily rebut the detail, but I shall desist from doing so.
Let me take this opportunity of acknowledging the warm tributes that have been paid to Eddie McGrady, with whom I served in the House and whose election campaign I managed in 1987, when he unseated Enoch Powell. He served all his constituents, and indeed the wider community in Northern Ireland, well, and he was clearly held in high honour. He was also a man of much greater humour than his public persona may often have allowed him to express, but he was absolutely dedicated to the sanctity of life and the solidarity of community on a totally inclusive basis. The parity of esteem of which he always spoke was something that he himself clearly enjoyed across the political divide.
Important issues have been raised. I said at the outset that I did not wish to divide the House, or to do anything that could possibly be seen as pre-empting the Haass process. However, I think that the House must face up to its responsibilities in relation to the past, both now and in the future. It is in that spirit that I tabled the new clauses, and it is in that spirit that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.