Response to the Saville Enquiry in the House of Commons - 15th June 2010
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. As he said, it is more than 12 years since the then Prime Minister Tony Blair set up the Saville inquiry to establish the truth of what happened on what became known as Bloody Sunday. For the 14 families whose loved ones were killed, for the 13 who were injured, for the soldiers and their families, for all those whose lives would never be the same again, the report has been long-awaited. We all recognise how painful this has been, and the Prime Minister has been clear today. He said that there is no ambiguity, that it was wrong; he has apologised and we join him in his apology.
I also join the Prime Minister in thanking Lord Saville and all those whose work contributed to the report. The report speaks for itself and it speaks powerfully.
I remind the House of what Tony Blair said on the day that the House agreed to establish the Saville inquiry. He said that Bloody Sunday was a day we have all wished "had never happened" and that it was "a tragic day" for everyone. I reiterate his tribute to the dignity of the bereaved families, whose campaign was about searching for the truth. He rightly reminded the House of the thousands of lives that have been lost in Northern Ireland. May I restate our sincere admiration for our security forces' response to terrorism in Northern Ireland? Many lost their lives. Nothing in today's report can or should diminish their record of service. They have been outstanding.
The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the Saville inquiry was necessary to establish the truth and to redress the inadequacy of Lord Widgery's inquiry, which served only to deepen the sense of grievance, added to the pain of the families of those who died and were injured, outraged the community and prolonged the uncertainty hanging over the soldiers. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for reminding the House that the setting up of the Saville inquiry played a necessary part in the peace process. Does the Prime Minister agree that, notwithstanding the considerable cost of this inquiry, its value cannot be overestimated in both seeking the truth and facilitating the peace process? Does he believe that Saville has now established the truth?
How the Government handle the report is of great importance, so I thank the Prime Minister for committing to seek a full day's parliamentary debate on it. Will he consider allowing for a period of time between the debate in each House, so that what is said in this House may be considered before the debate in the Lords? When will he be in a position to say what, if any, action will be taken in Government as a result of the findings of the Saville report? What will be the decision-making process, and will the process be as transparent as possible?
The Prime Minister must recognise that some will no doubt raise the possibility of prosecutions. The prosecution process is independent, but has he been asked to consider the question of immunity from prosecution if we are instead to take things forward by a wider process of reconciliation? Is the time now right to move towards a process for reconciliation, building on the work of the Consultative Group on the Past, chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley? Can there now be a comprehensive process of reconciliation to address the legacy issue of the troubles, such as that proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does the Prime Minister agree that that is what is now necessary?
The peace process is a great achievement by the people of Northern Ireland as well as by politicians. It is a process built on the value of fairness, equality, truth and justice. This House has played its part, not least in agreeing to the Saville inquiry. The Belfast agreement, the St Andrews agreement and, of course, this year's Hillsborough castle agreement are all great milestones on the path to a lasting peace. Does the Prime Minister agree that the completion of devolution just a few weeks ago is relatively new and fragile and still requires great care? Our response to Saville must be as measured as it is proportionate. We have sought the truth; now we must have understanding and reconciliation.
May I conclude by expressing the hope that while people will never forget what happened on that day, this report will help them find a way of living with the past and looking to the future?