Issue of sum out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending 31 March 2019 and appropriation of that sum

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 9th July 2018.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 9:15 pm, 9th July 2018

I am of course happy to discuss the matter again with my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that the language and terminology that are used are incredibly important in this debate. With a statute of limitations, we tested this with political parties, victims groups, veterans groups and others in Northern Ireland. To be legal, there would have to be a statute of limitations on both sides, and it would have to include a proper process of reconciliation. We were unable to find representative bodies that were able to accept that as a conclusion. It would therefore have been misleading to put it as an alternative approach in the consultation document—I make it clear that this is on a specific consultation on setting up the institutions agreed at the Stormont House talks.

As set out in the Conservative party manifestos at the last two general elections, the Government believe that the proposed new legacy bodies provide a better way forward than the current mechanisms. They will address the legacy of the past in ways that are fair, balanced and proportionate and that do not unfairly focus on former members of the armed forces and the RUC. As I have said, we are now consulting on those bodies, and the consultation runs until 10 September. I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members with an interest in these matters to make their views known in the consultation. The House has my full assurance that all representations on this matter will be properly and carefully considered. As our manifesto at the last election stated clearly, any approach to the past must be fully consistent with the rule of law.

Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary answered a question from my hon. Friend Sir Henry Bellingham by confirming that the Ministry of Defence has set up a dedicated team to look specifically at how this matter is addressed. We all want to make sure that those brave heroes who gave so much to defend us are treated properly with dignity and respect. It is right that the Ministry of Defence should look at this for the armed forces across the whole United Kingdom, not just in the Northern Ireland context.

The ongoing consultation is one reason why the Government are unable to accept the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks. First, it would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation. Secondly, the Government do not believe this Bill is the right vehicle for such amendments. This is a Budget Bill designed to ensure that the necessary funding is available to ensure the continued delivery of public service in Northern Ireland. That touches on the point made by Lady Hermon about the independence of the judiciary. When we start looking at how the amendment would work and how the direction would happen, we see that it would impinge on the independence of the judiciary. Again, I am very nervous about starting to make such decisions in this House, although I well understand the sentiment behind the amendment and why my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks has posed the question.

Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, the Government cannot accept the amendment because it would undermine the rule of law. The effect of the amendment would be to remove the ability of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland to prosecute former soldiers for the next 12 months, even when new evidence came to light which the original investigation could not have considered and that the prosecution believed could lead to a conviction. Again, that goes to the point made by the hon. Member for North Down. This would significantly undermine the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and the exercise of the statutory functions of that office. Decisions made by the DPP are rightly based on available evidence, and it would be manifestly wrong for financial considerations to influence decision making, as proposed in the amendment. Although ultimately it would be for the courts to decide, the likelihood is that these amendments would be incompatible with our obligations under article 2. As such, should the amendment be made, I would be unable as Secretary of State to certify the Bill as compatible with convention rights for introduction to the other place.