Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 24 March 2022.

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Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP 4:45, 24 March 2022

It is my great pleasure to move the Final Stage of my private Member's Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill.

Even though the Bill was introduced just over two weeks ago, I feel that the House has given it the priority, scrutiny and attention to detail that it undoubtedly deserves. I will not rehearse the contents of the Bill. What I will do once again, however, is note that its overriding intention is to give effect to part 1 of recommendation 4 in the truth recovery design panel's report, namely:

"The Truth Recovery Panel recommends immediate action by the Northern Ireland Executive, supported by the Northern Ireland Assembly, to create a statutory requirement on all relevant records holders to preserve and not destroy any information relating to Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries, Workhouses, adoption-related institutions and 'baby homes', and their policies and practices, including personal records. This requirement should extend to all State and non-State institutions and agencies, officials, representatives and professionals that serviced them."

So many women, girls and children, who are now adults, were failed in those institutions. Some suffered appalling abuse, gut-wrenching neglect and the cruellest form of shameful coldness imaginable. Those institutions took so much from so many. Children were removed from parents, and some children were robbed of their true identity.

The very least they deserve now is truth, and key to that will be the protection and retention of records, not just for the inquiry and investigation but for all women and children involved, who absolutely deserve the right to know that what information exists will be protected.

I am very pleased that the House has shown such a collective will and a desire to allow this important Bill to pass in the short time available. I thank the House first for granting accelerated passage, and then for the helpful contributions made by all Members across all parties in the Chamber. In particular, I thank Ms Dillon for her constructive engagement at Consideration Stage and Ms Bradshaw for doing so at today's Further Consideration Stage. As I mentioned earlier, I feel that the Bill is all the stronger following the detailed consideration that it has received.

I also take the opportunity to once again thank the Speaker's Office for effectively setting all Standing Order requirements to the side, and I thank the Business Committee and the Whips for allocating the time necessary. I also thank the Minister and his Department, especially the officials Eilís McDaniel and Julie Stephenson. Without them, I simply would not have been able to produce the Bill, so it is important that their huge contribution be placed on the record.

On this, the final item of business before the current Assembly mandate ends, I am absolutely honoured and hugely privileged to move the Final Stage of my private Member's Bill. The Bill belongs to the tens of thousands of victims who want nothing more than the truth. I hope that the Bill helps bring the day of truth closer for those seeking it. Sadly, many have died without learning the truth about their early life. Hopefully, their families will now get the truth that their loved ones were denied, and I hope that they take some comfort from that. I commend the Bill to the House.