New Clause 2 - Analysis of PSNI Historical Enquiries Team material

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 16th July 2013.

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‘(1) If the Secretary of State appoints one or more persons to prepare an analysis of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, any existing provision prohibiting publication of the material to be analysed shall, subject to subsection (2) below, not apply for the purposes of this section.

(2) 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.’.—(Mark Durkan.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 6—Annual report on 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 relates—

(a) a summary of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team of the Northern Ireland Police;

(b) a summary of the work of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland insofar as it relates to Northern Ireland’s past;

(c) a summary of the work of other public bodies which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, relates to Northern Ireland’s past;

(d) 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

(e) 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) the comparative standard of enquiries conducted by the Historical Enquiries Team during that year;

(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; and

(d) 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.’.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Both new clauses touch on the Historical Enquiries Team, but obviously new clause 6 is more expansive in terms of dealing with issues from the past. It makes reference not just to the work of the Historical Enquiries Team but to the work of the police ombudsman as it relates to the past, and also in relation to any other reports of enquiries that relate to Northern Ireland’s past.

In March this year, I paid tribute to the role of the right hon. Member for Torfaen in relation to the Good Friday agreement and, of course, the 1998 Act. As Secretary of State, he played a decisive role in framing some of the commitments that were made towards having the Historical Enquiries Team. Clearly, it was an emerging issue for the police service in relation to issues of the past.

My party had sought to ensure that the police ombudsman was able to investigate complaints and issues from the past, and that was regularly done. However, there were many other issues from the past that were not directly about police conduct, or might have been about police conduct only in relation to investigating crimes committed by others.

The commitment was made to have a facility whereby historical inquiries could be conducted, under the authority and remit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It was designed to avoid creating any tension with the commitment that the PSNI was able to make or a situation in which many new recruits to the PSNI would find themselves investigating a lot of historical cases, as it was felt that that would create a lot of untoward difficulties. Everyone agreed that that situation needed to be avoided.

Not everybody was as vocal as I was, as a party leader at the time, in seeking that facility and trying to commend that argument to the Secretary of State; however, people did at least agree that if a facility was being created, it had to operate in a way that did not affect or detract from the working commitment of the PSNI for policing the present and the future. The arrangement settled on was the setting up of the Historical Enquiries Team. The right hon. Member for Torfaen made budget commitments in that regard and reached agreement with the then Chief Constable, Hugh Orde. The arrangements finally took shape in 2005.

At the time, perhaps for reasons similar to those that the Minister stated earlier, it was decided not to legislate for the Historical Enquiries Team as such. We have often heard about different norms that apply to its work, or that there are various strictures and restrictions about what it can and cannot do; however, as it turns out, there is not a statutory basis that touches specifically on the work of the team itself.

The new clauses would not seek to provide the whole statutory scheme that might apply to the Historical Enquiries Team; they would pick up some of the lessons, issues and frustrations that are out there, and would look to help to remedy those in future, by having a statutory standard to inform the work and the role of the Historical Enquiries Team, and indeed other investigations relating to Northern Ireland’s past.

During the course of an investigation, the Historical Enquiries Team develops a strong and committed relationship with the family of the victim in each particular case. The team notifies the family as the investigation progresses and talks to them prior to its report. When the report is made, it is made through that family—it is the property of the family.

Many of us were under the impression that there was some statutory basis for that or a statutory prohibition on the Historical Enquiries Team from publishing the report itself or handing it to anybody else. In fact, there is not, but it has been good practice, and I would not want a change in legislation to say that the HET should publish all reports and name people, regardless of the feelings of families. That is why both new clauses are qualified in that regard.

However, the current situation creates some difficulties. When a report is given to a family, that family then find the onus is on them to publish it. Some families find that harder to do because they are not sure that they necessarily want to expose themselves to the media in that way. Some have been able to use the offices of good organisations such as the Pat Finucane Centre and Relatives for Justice, but others find that they do not have access to that sort of assistance when it comes to publishing the report.

The current situation also creates a requirement on MPs, for instance, to try to advertise what has emerged in a report of the Historical Enquiries Team and to try to find some time in Parliament to reflect what has emerged, if we have been requested to do so by the family concerned. In my own constituency, I dealt with a case dating back to 1971: Billy McGreanery was shot by the Grenadier Guards in Derry in September 1971. It was stated that he was a gunman—that was the version given at the time.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.