I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to get to the truth and provide justice. With regard to her earlier points, questions arising from the deaths of the victims at Ballymurphy are a matter for the coroner and should be directed to her office.
My Lords, if something is wrong, it is wrong. What happened in Ballymurphy in 1971 was wrong. My noble friend is aware that, in that year, 171 people were killed in Northern Ireland, including 60 members of the security forces. I suspect that there was no closure or truth for the vast majority of them. Should the Government now provide resources to the existing, established and acceptable security forces so that, if fresh evidence is available, they can pursue it, rather than spending hundreds of millions of pounds on setting up new organisations that will take up to 15 years just to complete their case work?
I take note of my noble friend’s points about the 171 people who were killed that year. Today, our focus should be on the Ballymurphy victims, but my noble friend makes a wider point, which is that, looking ahead, we must also focus on all victims of the Troubles. The Government are clear that any system to deal with the legacy of the past must be fair, proportionate and focused on reconciliation to deliver for all those affected by the Troubles.
The noble Baroness makes a very important and specific point about education. It is appalling that there are reports of teenagers coming on to the streets when, in fact, they should be going back to school—schools have opened—and then back home. I applaud the achievements of the community leaders, who are working extremely hard in the various parts of Northern Ireland where there has been unrest to encourage these pupils to go home and to stop adults encouraging them.
I join others in saying how deeply disappointing it is that, 23 years later, we are witnessing unjustifiable violence on the streets. However, Her Majesty’s Government have responsibilities with regard to the agreement, and I contend that, in fact, they themselves have set an example and have broken it by changing the economic status of Northern Ireland without either consultation or consent contained in the terms of the protocol. Will the noble Viscount encourage his right honourable friend in the other place to hold all-party discussions? Trying to do deals behind closed doors with a limited number of parties has not worked in the past, and the same mistakes are being repeated time and again.
I am listening to the noble Lord’s experience and knowledge. As he will know, the Belfast agreement provided a foundation for growth and a framework for peace. I reassure him that my right honourable friend in the other place, Brandon Lewis, has been working extremely hard. He has met the five parties and other community leaders to help the Northern Ireland Executive to resolve these matters.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that payments are made to victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland under the Victims’ Payment Scheme; and what discussions they have had with the Northern Ireland Executive about the delivery of the Scheme.
My Lords, the Secretary of State has made clear the high priority that he places on having the victims’ payment scheme open and receiving applications as soon as possible. He has committed to continuing to engage with Executive Ministers to this end. Officials also continue to support the Northern Ireland Executive on delivery of the scheme, which victims have waited too long for. The UK Government have always been clear that the devolved funding settlement means that the Executive is funded through the block grant, together with its own revenue-raising capabilities, to deliver its statutory responsibilities, including this scheme.
My Lords, on Monday, the Sinn Féin Finance Minister at Stormont produced a draft budget for the next financial year. In that budget, there was nil provision for payment of these pensions. I know that Sinn Féin is opposed to this scheme and had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts, but the main people we must focus on are the victims, whose trauma has been exacerbated throughout the struggle over the payment of these pensions. They have had to go to court once already; they may very well have to do so again. The situation is intolerable.
Having passed the legislation to ensure that these people are recompensed for these life-changing events over many years, surely we have a national responsibility to ensure that this pension is paid, and paid on time. Applications are due to start in March, yet there is no provision and no agreement. We are playing political football here. Can the Minister assure the House that these pensions will be paid in the next financial year; that applications will be accepted in March; and that this nonsense will come to an end before more people are traumatised?
I acknowledge the experience of my noble friend and all the time he has spent dealing with Northern Irish matters. I assure the House that this decision has been taken following very careful consideration of the facts, the findings of the Supreme Court judgment, the outcome of the independent counsel review, and the UK’s obligations under Article 2. It is important to remember that the Supreme Court judgment did not mandate a public inquiry, as I said earlier, and it specifically set out that it is for the state to decide.
On another question that he raised, there is no doubt that the collusion identified in this case is, as I said earlier, totally unacceptable. But we must also be clear about the high standards that almost all those who serve in our Armed Forces adhere to, performing in incredibly difficult circumstances to protect this country. So many people from both the Armed Forces and the security services giveso much to protecting us, in Northern Ireland and across the UK. Finally, we agree that finding a way forward on legacy that works for all victims is a priority.
My Lords, the issue that runs through this particular case and the differing opinions about it is one of double standards. The vast majority of victims have no lobby groups working on their behalf and their cases are barely mentioned. In this particular case, there was collusion; that has been admitted. Why is it that this collusion is clearly an issue for the Irish Government, when the fact that, in the 1970s, senior Cabinet Ministers were involved in the creation, financing, equipping and training of the Provisional IRA is never mentioned? Other legal figures were killed in Northern Ireland, including several elected members of my own party, such as Edgar Graham, Robert Bradford and a number of councillors. There appears to be a different stream for people with big political connections, in the United States in particular, and the rest—the majority—of the victims, who are left to stew in their juice. Why is there no focus on the involvement of the Irish Government, and an apology sought from them as well as from our own?
I have said it before and I will say it again: collusion is totally unacceptable, and this was made clear by David Cameron back in 2012. We believe that the way forward is to allow the independent reviews of the PSNI and the ombudsman to follow their course. To perhaps reassure the noble Lord, as the Secretary of State said on Monday, some new information is being published today from two sources—the 2015 PSNI review, or the de Silva report, and the government-commissioned review by the independent counsel. The new information will, we hope, through the independent reviews, lead to some progress. It includes the failure to identify RUC security services and secret intelligence services officers who failed to warn Patrick Finucane of threats to his life, and the failure to identify RUC officers who probably proposed Patrick Finucane as a target, and I could go on. This is part of the decision to allow these two independent reviews to run their course.
The noble Baroness is correct, and I reiterate that the unit in No. 10 is looking to see what more can be done—and there is more that needs to be done—to promote the value of the union. Of course, the noble Baroness will be aware that, in 2021, we mark the 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, which paved the way for the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it today, so it is a golden opportunity to step up our progress on this front.
My Lords, my noble friend referred to supermarkets. Is he aware that the managing director of Sainsbury’s and directors of Marks & Spencer indicated last week that up to 15% of food product lines may not be available in Northern Ireland after 1 January? How is that consistent with the wretched protocol that is supposed to be helping us? It is a serious threat to the economy of Northern Ireland. Would he agree that that announcement from those supermarkets is a matter of grave concern?
We do not agree that Northern Ireland businesses will be disadvantaged as the United Kingdom diverges from EU rules. The system provides the underlying framework for the whole UK internal market, including Northern Ireland, while respecting the UK’s obligations under the protocol. I understand the nature of the noble Lord’s question, but reassurances have been given. Perhaps we need to give him further reassurances.
That allows me to say, in response to my noble friend’s question, that the focus is on looking ahead, not back, and on information recovery and reconciliation. Those two things should be at the heart of the revised legacy system, not looking back.
Can my noble friend tell the House whether he or his colleagues have had discussions with the newly appointed Northern Ireland veterans’ commissioner? Furthermore, is it now government policy that the historical inquiries unit proposed in the Stormont House agreement will not be established?
It is not clear how many meetings will be held each year, but suffice it to say that with the last one held in July and one coming up shortly, they will be frequent enough. The joint board has no specific powers of statutory underpinning; it is a discursive forum to facilitate close working between the UK Government and the Executive. Finally, the assessment is that the NDNA has proved vital in light of the pandemic. It is fair to say that it has worked well due to the commitment and leadership of the Northern Ireland political leaders.
Will my noble friend ensure that at future meetings of this body attempts will be made to ensure that the people in the devolved regions—not only in Northern Ireland—understand the sources of funds for public services? It is not clear in the devolved regions where the money is coming from and, specifically, how much additional money comes to the regions from Parliament, as opposed to money raised locally.
My noble friend makes a very good point about the accountability of funds. He will know that part of the establishment of the joint board is setting up a fiscal council tasked with assessing and reporting on the sustainability of the finances and spending proposals. As he said, it is important to put the funding for Northern Ireland in the context of funding for the other devolved Administrations.
I will certainly take that back to the Northern Ireland Office and speak to my noble friend about it offline. The PSNI works tirelessly to prevent crime and harm to individuals, including journalists, and it is important to bring those responsible before the courts. It has and must have our fullest possible support.
My Lords, the noble Viscount said that we had to take a long-term, thoughtful approach to these matters. It is now 22 years since the Belfast agreement was ratified by referendum, yet every single one of the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, plus a few that have developed since, are still functioning. Surely that demonstrates the need for an absolutely fresh start regarding tackling this paramilitary violence.
I stick by my lines: it is a long-term matter, and I am sure that the noble Lord will agree. We have worked with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure a clear, strategic approach: long-term intervention, building confidence in the justice system, tackling criminal activity, and building capacity to support transition. There is no complacency. We need to move as fast as we can, but that is the strategy.
The noble Lord is right to point out matters on the definition. Of course, it is up to the independent board—it will and must be formed as soon as a department has been designated for it—to take the definitions forward, and it will be up to it to decide the eligibility of those who apply for payments.
Will my noble friend accept that this is a standard Sinn Féin negotiating tactic? Will he give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that nobody who was injured by their own hand will benefit from this scheme and, if the stalemate continues in Belfast, will his department step in and administer the scheme themselves? These people have been subject to the most outrageous abuse and delay.
The noble Lord is right in so many ways, but neither the Northern Ireland Office nor the UK Government will step in, because this is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. That is why these urgent talks, led by the Secretary of State and including all parties, are being conducted to take this matter forward.
Yes, of course. I acknowledge the noble Baroness’s role in past matters dealing with victims. She will know that I am giving as much reassurance as I possibly can. This is being dealt with now, as a matter of urgency. I say again: it is not just disappointing but very frustrating for all concerned, particularly the victims, that these payments have been delayed.
My noble friend will be aware that the blame for this lies with the Northern Ireland Executive Office. On 24 February, it failed to appoint a department or board, and concealed this fact from victims until just over a week ago. Sinn Féin is trying to link the payments to include those injured by their own hand. That is the reality. Will the Government guarantee that if this obfuscation continues, Westminster will take over responsibility and make appropriate deductions from the block grant as required to ensure that the scheme proceeds immediately?
The noble Lord is right in that, as I said earlier, we are developing an integrated test-and-trace programme. The details are rather sparse at the moment and conversations continue. It could be app, web or phone-based. I reiterate that this is a key way of helping us to work more closely together on getting out of this virus.
Were the Government aware that the Republic was going to impose a 14-day quarantine period on travellers from Britain when the UK Government had decided not to impose one on travellers from the Republic? What does the Minister think of the implications of this decision for the operation of the common travel area and the free movement of people within these islands?
The operation of the common travel area and free movement are vital. For those who fly into Ireland from outside the EU, there is a 14-day quarantine and people doing that will be advised to fill in a form so that addresses are known. People need to take responsibility, having come in. As I say, the common travel area is absolutely non-negotiable and should remain as is.
The protocol is a practical solution to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it makes clear that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the UK and its internal market. That includes guaranteeing, and putting that guarantee into legislation by the end of this year, unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the UK market, as we have always made unequivocally clear that we would do.
My noble friend will be aware that Ministers have repeatedly assured the House that no checks will take place on goods moving to or from Northern Ireland after transition. There is a widespread feeling that Members have been consistently misled. Will my noble friend tell the House whose regulations customs officers will be enforcing at these border control posts, what sanctions will apply for non-compliance and under which legal jurisdiction this process is being conducted? Will he commit to facilitating a debate in this House so that we can examine this issue which is of unparalleled economic and constitutional significance?
I will have to refer to the Chief Whip about whether there will be a debate, but moving quickly on to one of the questions that the noble Lord asked, we have always been clear that there will be requirements for checks on live animals and agri-foods, building on what already happens at Larne and Belfast, as the noble Lord will know. We want to work with Northern Ireland businesses and the Executive to ensure that new administrative procedures are streamlined and efficient. We want to ensure an optimum flow of trade.