(Except clauses 1 to 9) - New Clause 2 - Analysis of PSNI Historical Enquiries Team material

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee 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, read the First time, and Question proposed (this day), That the clause be read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

I remind the Committee that with this we are considering 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)

It is a pleasure, Ms Clark, to resume under your chairmanship.

When we adjourned, I was telling the Committee about a case in my constituency that was investigated by the Historical Enquiries Team. Billy McGreanery was shot by a Grenadier Guard in September 1971. At the time, the Army stated that he was a gunman, and that version of events was spread by the authorities and was reflected in various parliamentary accounts and elsewhere. Billy’s family never accepted that, nor did those who were present with Billy that evening.

The HET found that the local Royal Ulster Constabulary commander, Frank Lagan, had recommended prosecution for murder. After examining the material from the investigation, he did not accept the soldier’s account. That position was subsequently endorsed by RUC headquarters, which passed the papers, with the recommendation for prosecution, to the prosecuting authorities.

The HET was able to establish that the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland ruled in respect of that case—it became a general ruling—that there could be no prosecution of soldiers for anything they did in the line of duty. That took on significance, because it happened only a couple of months before the events of Bloody Sunday.

While the case is significant because of those implications, the family had received the clear finding by the HET, which questioned the soldier who had been involved. The family shared the report with the Ministry of Defence, because the HET does not send reports to any Department, including the Northern Ireland Office and the MOD; it seemed to be the private property of the family.

The family subsequently received a letter from the Army’s chief of staff, offering an apology. They asked me to have that apology acknowledged by Ministers on the parliamentary record, but that was refused. We were told, “No, it is not policy to reflect such apologies in such instances,” and that there was no need for it to be on the parliamentary record, even though some of the previous—and false—versions of the case were on the official record, either here or at the Northern Ireland Parliament of the time.

I then had to apply for an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, whereupon the Minister for the Armed Forces vocalised the apology, and did so fulsomely, which was well appreciated by Billy McGreanery’s niece and nephew, who were present to hear it. That demonstrates the gap whereby the HET can do good work and make clear findings, which are sometimes a comfort and provide satisfaction to families, giving them a bit more  knowledge, and perhaps on the back of which they get some apology, but that does not seem to join up with anything more widely.

That is one example of why new clauses 2 and 6 are needed. We must do more in respect of the work with the HET. There are many issues, questions and concerns about its work. People question whether it has the necessary capacity and budget, and it is facing new budget strains because of decisions taken in the context of devolution.

Also, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary recently produced a pretty damning report that found that, while conducting cases involving the Army causing deaths, the HET adopts a different approach from that used in any other cases that it investigates. Indeed, HMIC said that the difference, which is obvious, is unlawful. The report also points out that no such case has been referred for consideration for prosecution, unlike other cases that the HET has investigated.

I hope that my new clauses, particularly new clause 6, take some account of the issues of concern. New clause 6 provides for the Secretary of State to make an annual statement, alongside a report, which they could have either their officials or a person or persons prepare. Part of the report would consider the work of the HET in that year, which would reflect the issues, points and patterns that had emerged. Accompanying the report would be a statement from the Secretary of State, which could include a comparison of the standards being exercised by the HET in various cases. Therefore, Parliament could receive from the Secretary of State assurances that concerns of the sort that are now markedly obvious were being taken account of and addressed.

However, not only for that reason is there merit in having an annual report and a statement from the Secretary of State, as those could also take account of findings from the police ombudsman as they related to the past, or indeed of any other investigation or inquiry. That could include, for instance, some of the lessons in the de Silva report or issues that emerge from other past reports or investigations, whether those were set up publicly and officially or semi-publicly. There is a proposal for a panel of inquiry on the Ballymurphy killings. The results and observations of any such inquiry could be picked up in the annual report commissioned by the Secretary of State.

I suggest in new clause 6 that the report reflecting on the work of the HET in a given year, and that of the police ombudsman in relation to the past, could give clear indications as to how previous events that were investigated were treated by Parliament, because many were the subject of quite different accounts on the parliamentary record from what is emerging in the context of those inquiries. It should not be for the families to get MPs to busk around and try to create a situation in which the record may be corrected.

During my Adjournment debate, the MOD said, “We will not do a written ministerial statement to record the fact that we have made an apology in given cases.” If people do not want to do that case by case at that level as those cases arise, we should at least have a device such as an annual report, with a statement from the Secretary of State, to reflect when such apologies have been made, even if by other Departments. That would put it on the record that an open Government apology had been made.

New clause 6 would not only give some better reflection of the work that is going on, but allow the Secretary of State to make a statement on other activities and the progress made in relation to the past. I hope that the Haass talks and other efforts might get us to a position where we can make more progress on those wider issues.

The scope of the report or reports that may be commissioned by the Secretary of State would be inclusive rather than exclusive. The Secretary of State could commission somebody—it might be the HET—to prepare the bones of the report on its work for the year. It might be the police ombudsman, or others, who is asked to prepare a report on their work for the year. That is not prescriptive or restrictive, but it would, I hope, be done by people who have the confidence of many of the people still burdened with the problems of the past.

New clause 2 provides for a different kind and style of report from the annual report. Alongside criticisms, we often hear people acknowledge that they have heard expressions of satisfaction and comfort from many families regarding what they have received from the HET. However, we do not seem to be able to turn that into anything of cumulative value. There is no collective or authoritative analysis of some of the patterns and issues that are more apparent in various HET reports.

There are some misgivings, of course. People say that reports from the HET on deaths caused by the state seem to get a lot more airplay and more media profile than HET reports on atrocities or murders by the IRA, for instance, and that those by loyalists get more media treatment because of the issue of collusion. There is no reason why the Secretary of State could not use the power that I envisage in new clause 2 to ask for someone to produce a report that draws together a lot of the cases that the HET has looked at, perhaps involving, specifically, the IRA in overall terms or in particular areas.

There are many victims of IRA violence who feel that their loved ones were shot not just because they were part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but because they were part-time members of the UDR who happened to be the first sons in farming families. That was seen as part of a land war with a sectarian dimension. In the HET report on the Kingsmill massacre, which I do not think has received sufficient acknowledgement or recognition even in the House, the inherently sectarian nature of that vicious violence was apparent. Many people try to tell me—particularly young people who did not live through the troubles—that loyalist violence was sectarian but IRA violence was not. It is as if the IRA somehow conducted a clean war—everybody else was in a dirty war, but the IRA was clean.

There is value in the work of the HET if, like me, people get the opportunity to see some of the individual reports, but nowhere are they put together as a resource and drawn upon to bring out some of those wider lessons and issues. The Secretary of State should be enabled to do that—to commission that sort of work—so that people can be made more aware of the broader value of the HET. We are all behind the pillar on so many different HET reports, but we should not join those taking the line that absolutely nothing is being done about the past or for any victims.

Notwithstanding the criticisms of some aspects of the work of the HET, if there is good work being done that is helpful to families, communities and society overall, we should be trying to capitalise on that value through a report, which would be available under new clause 2, if deemed appropriate, and an annual report, which would be available under new clause 6.

The report under new clause 2 would mean that the various annual reports and the reports that went into them could be translated into a more substantive record of value, interpretation and understanding. I can see limits in having only an annual report available. How would we build up the patterns, the body of evidence and the consideration? That is why I propose two different new clauses, which offer different styles and scope of report, but are all about ensuring due standards.

At this stage in the life of the HET, perhaps we ought to say that we have picked up on some of the issues, that we want to see the value of the good work that has been done and that we want to provide sufficient statutory underpinning and standards to ensure that that happens. That is what my two new clauses aim to do.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen 2:15 pm, 16th July 2013

It was a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in the Chamber last week, Ms Clark. It is also a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle. I have been following his speeches for 17 years and they are always significant and to the point in dealing with the deep problems that Northern Ireland has had for many decades.

I was interested in the characteristically powerful speech of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley this morning on the important issue of victims. My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle widened the debate by referring to how we deal with the past. It was a great tragedy that the Eames and Bradley report was marred by a single recommendation, because it contained some interesting ideas, as was mentioned earlier.

When I was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, one of my jobs was to try to cope with the issue of dealing with the past. I went, for example, to South Africa to see how the peace and reconciliation process worked there. I do not think that what it did could be picked up en bloc and applied to Northern Ireland, but there were lessons to be learned. Sir Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and I agreed that there should be a Historical Enquiries Team, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle referred. The past is not an easy issue, not least because dealing with it is costly; it must compete with the other important issues the Governments in Belfast and Westminster face. However, we cannot go forward without dealing with the past, as sensitive as it is.

I support new clause 6, but I am not convinced by new clause 2. New clause 6 is important because it keeps the issue boiling. I am not saying that we necessarily need to legislate for that, but in my view the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Executive have a duty to ensure that dealing with the past is an issue that is kept alive.

Reporting to Parliament every year on the activities of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Historical Enquiries Team, Government Departments, the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Executive with regard to this issue ensures that it is not forgotten. I am not suggesting for one second that the Minister or his colleagues believe that it should be forgotten. However, with all the pressures that are on the Government, such as spending, health, education and everything else that needs to be dealt with, including the problems in Northern Ireland over the past few days, it is easy to forget that it is still an important issue.

I do not know whether Richard Haass will have a remit to cover this issue—he is, incidentally, an extremely good man, who played a vital part in bringing about an agreement in Northern Ireland in the political and peace fields—but perhaps he can have a look at it. The issue of reporting, which my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle raised, is significant. There might be problems with new clause 2 because of the sensitive material that inevitably has to be used in those cases. However, I support the thrust of his argument, which is that we should not forget this issue, and Parliament should be kept aware of it either through a report or another mechanism.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

May I make unanimous our gratitude for your chairmanship this afternoon, Ms Clark? To hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen give us his unrivalled insight into the very heart of the matter—he is as proximate to it as it is possible to get—is a real privilege. I hope that we all appreciate it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle raised some extremely important points. None of us would doubt that he has raised issues of great significance. He raised them well, and he made his points extremely strongly. The confidentiality of documents, and the current prohibition of certain documents is an issue of intense sensitivity. Like many people, when the de Silva report was published, I was pleasantly surprised to see how little documentation had been redacted. I appreciate that the argument could be made that we did not see the whole story, but a great deal of information came out.

The Historical Enquiries Team—my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle quite rightly referred to this issue—has a problem with its widespread acceptance within Northern Ireland. I am sure that quite a few members of the Committee have done as I have and have actually visited the HET. One thing that is quite extraordinary—almost stunning—is seeing the warehoused documents stock. Although I do not wish in any way to criticise my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen or anyone else involved in the establishment of the HET, it may be that we drew the terms for it a little too widely.

One point that is always made to me when I visit is that cases do not have to be referred by the family concerned, or indeed by anyone. A classic example is the case of a farmer who died just outside Forkhill and had no living relatives; that case is being investigated by the HET even though no one has asked for that investigation. It is taking place simply because the HET is carrying out a comprehensive investigation of all the deaths during the troubles. Perhaps we drew the terms of reference a little too widely, but at the time we had no choice—we simply had to do that. However, it could  well be that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle has indicated a method of travel that could increase public confidence in the HET.

At present, given the sensitivity of the issue and some of the other aspects that have been referred to, the Opposition do not intend to vote for or against new clause 2; were there a vote, we would abstain. New clause 6, however, is a magnificently, exquisitely crafted, superbly jewelled and structured new clause—the Fabergé egg of new clauses—so all we need do is stand back and admire it. Her Majesty’s Opposition will be unequivocal in our support for new clause 6.

I was saddened to hear someone say on the Floor of the House a few hours ago that the Secretary of State was not rolling up her sleeves enough and getting stuck in. The comment was made by a Government Member that she spends all her time with her sleeves rolled up, getting stuck in. New clause 6, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, would give the opportunity or the platform—the bully pulpit—for her to come to the House once a year and list all the things she has rolled up her sleeves and achieved. That can only be a good thing. It would show that the urgency that everyone referred to is being translated into action. I cannot imagine anybody possibly objecting to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle has done not just the Committee but the House—and, ultimately, his constituents and the people of Northern Ireland—a great service by tabling new clause 6. It gives me great pleasure to say, on behalf of the Opposition, “We’re with you, people of Foyle, and will be supporting your MP on this one.”

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Follow that! We have had a sensible debate, informed by the extensive knowledge of the former Secretary of State who brought in the HET. As for the HET itself, I know the shadow Minister said that it was perhaps a bit looser than it should be, but we are where we are with it. We also have to say—I often do, and am often criticised for doing so—that we have to let devolution work in Northern Ireland. The HET is a devolved matter, to be resolved within the devolved Administration.

I think that this matter is something that Haass could look at. That is a sensible compromise. We went through full pre-legislative scrutiny in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The measures in the new clauses were not recommended by that Committee, unlike the measures in other clauses. I am afraid that I will therefore oppose new clause 2 and new clause 6, if it comes to it. It is important that the community comes together under Haass to look at this matter. If, as a result, we get agreement, the Government can move on that; however, we have to have community agreement.

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)

I welcome Members’ contributions on the new clauses. I can understand some of the reservations that have been expressed about new clause 2. On reflection, if such a power was given to the Secretary of State, it would allow her to commission various sorts of reports, such as reports that covered more than the work of one year, or that looked at particular types of cases. They could also extend to the work of the police ombudsman in so far as it relates to the past—an issue that is covered in new clause 6. It is an idea or concept that is there to  meet a gap; I do not think that it does so perfectly, but it was a genuine effort to try to solve the conundrum that is there because of the lacuna around the statutory authority for the HET and the other restrictions on how it works. We need to try to devise ways around that, and rather than trying to reinvent the wheel or create some completely new instrument, there is a way of harnessing more of the good that the HET already does in the sort of work that new clause 2 mentions.

New clause 6 is about recognising not just that there is value in the work that the HET undertakes, but that there are concerns about it. There are concerns that some of the findings that emerged from the HET, from the police ombudsman and from other inquiries perhaps need somewhere better to go with each other. In particular, there is a role for Parliament in this regard, because although the Minister says that these matters are now devolved, many of these issues in the past were not devolved. Many of the periods under report and the issues that would be the subject of investigation would have been the subject of very particular accounts during the years of direct rule, and those are now often seen to be very misleading accounts.

It is not just that incidents did not necessarily happen in the way that soldiers or policemen at the time said that they did, but that many assurances were given to the House at the time. Particular concerns and allegations from party colleagues of mine such as John Hume and Seamus Mallon were dismissing with “No, there is no collusion; all intelligence is fully shared and followed, and we intercept and intervene in all cases to protect life.” It is now clear that all the assurances that were given, including on the parliamentary record, were bunkum. Many insinuations were made against the character of my colleagues because of the concerns that they were raising about shoot-to-kill policies and other issues.

We cannot just say that, because the HET falls under the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which is devolved, it is not our problem as a Parliament. In many ways, it is here that the record should be set right. Parliament can also give the lead and encouragement to the parties trying to move forward in other ways in relation to the past. It can particularly help to make good the sense, which I still hear from many people, that there is an unevenness and an inequality in relation to the past. I referred to the fact that people are saying that the media seem to be more interested in headlining one type of case that emerges from an HET report than another. Parliament can ensure that it is not open to that accusation by ensuring that there is a reflective, comprehensive annual report, and that it is the job of the Secretary of State not just to table that report as a combined narrative but to address Parliament on the issue of whether all the due standards that Parliament and the public interest would require are being met.

I particularly appreciate the strong expression of support from my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen, as well as from the shadow Minister, in respect of new clause 6. I am always tempted to test any support that I can get from wherever I can get it. However, I am also mindful that I have not heard in this debate from other colleagues in the region, least of all from the Democratic Unionist party. If I sought a vote because of the support expressed by the Opposition, I would not want to create a situation in which the DUP felt, for whatever reason—perhaps because of a lack of  consideration and exchange between ourselves, or a lack of consultation with victim groups—compelled to vote tactically against the measure in a way that might prejudice its giving the idea a fairer wind and wider consideration in future.

I am hugely tempted, because it is not often that the hon. Member for Ealing North offers such profuse support for anything that I propose, least of all a new clause of this order. However, in an attempt to ensure that we build agreement and understanding, and avoid division or tit-for-tat tactics in relation to issues in the past, I have decided that discretion may be the better part of legislative initiative. I welcome the Minister’s indication that the Government are not opposed in principle to variants of my idea if they emerge from wider conversations, and I hope that he will encourage others as he has encouraged me. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.