HL Deb 07 January 2003 vol 642 cc880-2

3.6 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the cost of the Saville inquiry into the Bloody Sunday incident has yet exceeded £150 million; and, if not, whether both Houses of Parliament will be notified when it does.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, no. The total cost of the inquiry to government was £94.8 million up to the end of November 2002. It is estimated that the final cost will be £155 million, subject to the outcome of the judicial reviews of decisions on lawyers' costs. The costs of the inquiry have been made available and will continue to be provided to Members of either House on request.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Does he recall—I am sure he does—not just Bloody Sunday but bloody Friday all those years ago? Does he recall, as many of us do, the massacres at Warren Point or the murder of 20 civilians in 1974 on the M62? Looking back over the history of Northern Ireland does the Minister not agree that it has been filled with appalling atrocities, of which Bloody Sunday was one? It seems disproportionate that the huge sum mentioned by the noble and learned Lord should be spent on that inquiry on that incident, particularly as it is a second inquiry. Does he not think that men of peace in Northern Ireland and here should now think about better ways of spending such vast sums for the security and prosperity of the people of Northern Ireland, including the people of Derry?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it is a second inquiry but over many years serious questions have been raised about the adequacy of the first inquiry, and those questions remain unanswered. We are at a stage where a vast amount of evidence has been taken. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has given evidence and that Sir Edward Heath is shortly to give evidence. Now is not the moment to draw a close to this inquiry.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord be good enough to say whether or not the figure he quoted includes the expenses of the Ministry of Defence? If not, can he say what such figure amounts to? Is not the noble and learned Lord beginning to share the view that perhaps the only beneficiaries of this long drawn out and miserable inquiry will be those who seek every opportunity to deride and sneer at the Armed Forces of the Crown? Does he not think that they deserve better of us all than that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the figure I gave is the total figure as at the end of November of last year. The costs of the Ministry of Defence are included in that figure. They are £21 million. Those costs are rightly discharged if allegations are made against those who serve in Her Majesty's services. I know the noble Lord will agree that if allegations are made against those in the Armed Forces and others in public services they must be protected and have their interests looked after. That is the £21 million.

The noble Lord described the inquiry as slow and miserable. It is slow. In the nature of things it is hound to be. But these allegations—as I said when I replied to the noble Lord's question on similar lines—are most serious. They are allegations of state crime. If they are right, they should be exposed. If they are wrong, it should be demonstrated that they are wrong.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, is the Lord Privy Seal aware that following the recent allegations and revelations about the IRA bombing of Claudy in 1972—the same year as Bloody Sunday—there are growing demands across the community in Northern Ireland for a full inquiry into the Claudy atrocity? Are the Government likely to accede to that request? If not, why not?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, is quite right, there are serious allegations about the IRA and the alleged involvement of a Roman Catholic priest. The noble Lord will know, as I do, that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is being absolutely fearless in carrying out its own independent investigation, liasing, as it rightly should. with the relatives of those who were so cruelly murdered.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, this inquiry is now entering its sixth year. I confess to having spoken against its being set-up. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that if, after five years of diligent plodding and questioning, the truth has not been arrived at, it never will be? Does he further agree that we should have a short inquiry as to why so much money has been spent to achieve so little?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, as I said—obviously it is necessary to repeat myself—in answer to the question asked a short time ago by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, there are lessons to be learned about the structures of inquiries. I referred to the concern of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. There is a case for making inquiries much more inquisitorial. But the timetable of this inquiry, the nature of the evidence and the structures and procedures are essentially governed by statute and by the discretion of the chair of the inquiry, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville. Is it seriously being suggested that we should bring this inquiry to a halt at this moment? If it is, I would have to say that I profoundly disagree.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is some disparity between the sum that has been spent on the inquiry and the fact that the people of Omagh are still unable to secure a civil inquiry into what happened to them, which they have to pay for? Is it not possible that the Government might, whatever they decide to do about Bloody Sunday recognise that against that enormous figure it is extremely difficult to defend a position where nothing is done to find out the truth and bring to justice the people who committed the murders in Omagh?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I may be mistaken, but my understanding is that the relatives of those who were murdered in Omagh are taking civil action against the alleged perpetrators. That is a very effective way of getting at the truth because automatic discovery is available. I understand that that action is continuing. If I am mistaken, I shall give way to any of your Lordships who have better knowledge.