Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at on 14 December 2022.

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Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

What steps his Department is taking to engage with stakeholders on the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

What steps his Department is taking to engage with stakeholders on the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

What recent discussions he has had with (a) victims of Troubles-related offences and (b) community leaders on the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

On the Bill’s Second Reading in the other place, the Government announced their intention to introduce amendments in a number of key areas. These proposed changes reflect what we have heard from the significant engagement that has taken place with victims and survivors and their representatives, as well as community leaders and other stakeholders. As the Bill continues its passage, the Government will continue to engage constructively with all interested parties on their concerns, and how they might be addressed.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

Can the Secretary of State please confirm that the legacy Bill will be tightened up before it returns to this place, notably in respect of making sure that protagonists engage fully with the truth and reconciliation process, not assuming moral equivalence and the language of glorification?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I can give my hon. Friend assurances of that type. That is why we proposed the changes set out by my ministerial colleague on Second Reading in the other place, which include sanctions for those who refuse to co-operate with or wilfully mislead the information recovery process. We will continue to engage on those and other potential changes, and I assure him that we will do that before the Bill returns to the House.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

My constituent Edward Vaughan-Jones’s brother Robert, 2 Para, died at Warrenpoint in 1979. Some 43 years later, the family’s wounds have not healed due to repeated investigations and a lack of conclusion. Can my right hon. Friend outline when Mr Vaughan-Jones will receive a conclusive report on what happened to his brother so that he can finally have closure?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

What my hon. Friend has identified in this very sad case is that the current mechanisms for addressing the past in Northern Ireland are providing positive outcomes for very few people, with many, including the Vaughan-Jones family, waiting decades for answers about what happened to their loved ones and not getting anything. The Bill’s information recovery process will be supported by comprehensive investigative powers and full state disclosure, providing families with a fast route to as full an account as possible about what happened to their loved ones and, as she mentioned, closure, as far as that is possible, because that is what they deserve.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

It was good to see the Secretary of State visit the Omagh bombing memorial garden recently. Despite his intention to want to work closely with victims, he will know that there are still concerns being expressed by a range of victims’ representative groups and the victims’ and survivors’ commissioners, as well as by Jon Boutcher. Accepting the difficulties and complexities of this, can the Secretary of State say what he will do now to ensure he brings victims with him on this Bill?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his continued interest. This is my third question time as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and each time he has asked sensible and realistic questions on legacy. I will deal with the question, but any time he wants to have a briefing in the Department to get clarity on some of these things between question times, he would be more than welcome, because I know he cares a great deal about this particular subject. I can confirm that we are continuing to talk to all sorts of groups and individuals. Government amendments will be tabled in the other place that will confirm that the independent commission will be established by legislation to conduct criminal investigations, where it judges those appropriate, to ensure that individuals who knowingly or recklessly provide false information to the commission can be prosecuted and have their immunity revoked. That is among other such areas where we are trying to improve the Bill.