HL Deb 13 May 2003 vol 648 cc126-7

2.44 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will set up a judicial inquiry on the facts revealed in the Stevens report on the role of British officials in the murder in Northern Ireland of Roman Catholics by Protestant paramilitaries.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, the possibility of holding a judicial inquiry into Mr Finucane's case is not ruled out. However, the criminal justice process must take its course: an inquiry at present could undermine the prosecution process and damage the possibility of successful prosecutions. Decisions about prosecutions are, of course, for the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, who acts with total integrity and impartiality, as I can testify from my personal knowledge.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for that reply. Does he agree that the Stevens report is a deeply shocking and shaming document, detailing as it does the collusion of the security forces with paramilitaries in the murder of British citizens and that if that had happened in some far away South American country it would have caused the Government to have a fit of moral outrage?

Is it not regrettable that the report was published when Parliament was not sitting; that the Government made no Statement when Parliament resumed; and that the Leader of the House himself refused a PNQ on the issue? Will the Leader of the House recognise that it is not enough just to leave the matter to the DPP, because the serious question is how far up the chain of responsibility did knowledge of these events go and whether people who knew about these matters are in positions of responsibility today. And if the Government will not have an inquiry into those questions, how can the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continue to pontificate about human rights elsewhere in the world?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord attended to my Answer. First, the status of the Stevens report is that it is not a report to government. It is a report commissioned by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Secondly, I am glad that the noble Lord now seems to accept my stance when I dealt with Questions about Senator Pinochet that allegations of state crime ought to be fully investigated.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, of course the Stevens report reveals some disgraceful facts, but can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that any judicial inquiry will not prove a legal goldmine, as has happened elsewhere? Furthermore, will he give his view on the merits of having a truth and reconciliation commission in Northern Ireland?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and I have said on a number of occasions, we need to focus quite carefully on the form of any inquiry and the fact that it should not become simply a beanfeast for lawyers. As regards truth and reconciliation, that idea has not been ruled out and it is certainly worthy of further detailed consideration.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that the matter still has to go through the normal legal processes. But, bearing in mind the unfortunate flawed precedent of the Widgery report, would he not agree that a judicial inquiry under a sole British judge, however eminent, would not be regarded as credible in Northern Ireland at the present time? Do we not need to look at some form of international tribunal which will fall far short of the excesses of the Saville inquiry in terms of the expense and may well incorporate a truth and reconciliation element?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, as I believe your Lordships know, the distinguished retired Supreme Court judge from Canada, Judge Peter Corey, is presently looking at six distinct cases. The Governments of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom have agreed that they will attend to his recommendations and put them into effect. Of course, that will include the nature of the tribunal to which the noble Lord, Lord Smith, referred.