The Westminster Debate on the Steven's Report

Staff from the PFC attended the debate along with members of the Finucane family and Pat Finucane¹s former legal partner Peter Madden.

Kevin Mc Namara MP, former Labour party spokesperson on the North, secured the debate. Given the context, a report from the most senior police officer in Britain which found that the security forces organised and co-ordinated death squads, it was surprising to discover that no other Labour MPs attended to show support for Kevin Mc Namara. No elected member of the SDLP was present.

Sylvia Hermon, Ulster Unionist MP for North Down, made the first intervention to raise the point that Geraldine Finucane, Pat¹s widow, had not co-operated with the Stevens Inquiry. For anyone interested in the Stevens Inquiry and the role of the Force Research Unit, MI5 and RUC Special Branch in death squads, by far the more intriguing question is the degree to which Sylvia Hermon¹s husband has co-operated with any of the three Stevens investigations to date. John Hermon, who was RUC Chief Constable (CC) from 1980 until the spring of 1989, would have a wealth of information regarding the dirty war that would surely interest any investigation. He was CC when Brian Nelson was recruited as a FRU agent, he was CC at a time when a number of those involved in the murder of Pat Finucane and others were active agents working on behalf of RUC Special Branch. He was CC when UDA man and Special Branch agent William Stobie passed vital information on to his handlers that would have prevented Pat Finucane¹s murder or at least would have led to their prosecution afterwards.

He was CC at a time when Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Douglas Hogg MP made his infamous intervention claiming that "some solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA." Pat Finucane was murdered within weeks. Hogg had been briefed by senior RUC officers and according to Stevens, the "Minister was compromised". Since leaving the RUC John Hermon has made a number of public statements about Pat Finucane which are false and deeply hurtful.

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 14 May 2003

[Mr. Edward O'hara in the Chair]

Stevens Inquiry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

9.30 am

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I am grateful that my request to the Speaker for such a debate was granted. The findings of Sir John Stevens - even in the form of an interim overview - represent the most damning indictment of the security services and, by implication, Government practice that I can recall. That being said, I am surprised and disturbed that it should require a Back Bencher, not even a right hon. Member, to bring such a matter before the House. In light of the grave findings and the report of Sir John Stevens, I am surprised that neither the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland nor the Secretary of State for Defence volunteered to make a statement to the House.

Nominally, the report is the third inquiry conducted by Sir John Stevens into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Taken together with Stevens 1 and 2, it is already the largest criminal investigation undertaken in the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to Sir John Stevens for his courage, tenacity and persistence in pursuing the inquiry. It has been a 14-year battle against formidable odds, and the odds have all been within the establishment. Even more so, I pay tribute to the family of Pat Finucane and to the families of all the victims of collusion, from whatever area they come. Their grief has been compounded by the cover-up and lies that they have come to expect. The tenacity of investigative journalists and the hard work of human rights non-governmental organisations have played a large part, but it has been the families of the victims who have refused to forget and who have kept alive the search for the truth.

Lady Hermon (North Down): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara : I had not thought that I had said anything startling so far.

Lady Hermon : The hon. Gentleman has paid tribute to Sir John Stevens, as he has to the family of Pat Finucane. Am I right in thinking that Pat Finucane's widow did not co-operate with the Stevens inquiry or have I misunderstood the position?

Mr. McNamara : I understand that that is the case. The reason for such a decision was that the family were not happy with the way that they had been treated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and investigative forces in the past. They considered that only a full and open public inquiry would reveal the truth about what happened.

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The Stevens report's stark message is that successive British Governments have sanctioned murder - that they have employed agents and given them a licence to kill. Agents have acted above the law, without the law and with impunity. While the interim overview and recommendations before us stop short of the full publication that the families of the victims are pressing for, Stevens proposes to allow criminal investigations and prosecutions to proceed, while putting into the public domain the gravity of his findings and the obstruction that he has encountered. I urge full publication as soon as possible.

I hope that the Government will announce that they accept the interim report in its entirety and will respond favourably to its immediate recommendations. Many of Stevens's proposals on bringing accountability to the intelligence-gathering process echo the thoughts of Her Majesty's inspector. Stevens's findings on the murder of Patrick Finucane are clear. It is not in the public interest for an independent inquiry to be further delayed. There is a need to restore confidence. I urge the Minister to bring forward the Government's agreement-in-principle commitment for a full inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, to be conducted by an international jurist of repute.

Stevens says that he has uncovered enough evidence to lead him to believe that the murders of Pat Finucane and Brian Adam Lambert could have been prevented from happening. He also believes that the RUC investigation of Pat Finucane's murder should have resulted in an early arrest and detection of his killers.

Stevens concludes that there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them. He says that collusion

"ranges from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder.

"The failure to keep records or the existence of contradictory accounts can often be perceived as evidence of concealment or malpractice. It limits the opportunity to rebut serious allegations. The absence of accountability allows the acts or omissions of individuals to go undetected. The withholding of information impedes the prevention of crime and the arrest of suspects. The unlawful involvement of agents in murder implies that the security forces sanction killings."

Stevens's three inquiries

"found all these elements of collusion to be present. The co-ordination, dissemination and sharing of intelligence were poor. Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes. Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned or protected. Crucial information was withheld from Senior Investigating Officers. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved."

Throughout his three inquiries, Stevens has operated from the premise that those involved in policing and security duties in Northern Ireland work within, and are subject to, the law. Where he has uncovered unlawful activities, he has attempted to assemble the evidence necessary to identify those responsible and bring about their successful prosecution.

At the centre of Stevens's investigation and allegations of dirty tricks and unlawful activities carried out by the British Army are the members and officers of the force research unit - the FRU - previously known as the forward reconnaissance unit, and before that the 14th intelligence company. The unit is now known as the

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joint services group and, according to Brigadier Arundell David Leahy, its methods of operation have not changed to any significant extent.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): The hon. Gentleman should get his facts straight. He has confused a series of wholly discrete organisations and has misused their titles. It would be a service to the debate if he got his facts straight.

Mr. McNamara : It would have been of service to the debate if the hon. Gentleman had given me the correct names. I would be quite happy to use them. He obviously knows more about it than I do.

Of Brian Nelson, who doubled as the head of intelligence for the loyalist Ulster Defence Association, Stevens says:

"It was only through the investigative efforts of my Enquiry team that I was able to identify and arrest the Army agent Brian Nelson in January 1990. When he was interviewed I discovered that he had been in possession of an 'intelligence dump'. This had been seized by his FRU handlers when my first Enquiry had begun, in September 1989. This crucial evidence had been concealed from my Enquiry team.

"There was a clear breach of security before the planned arrest of Nelson and other senior loyalists. Information was leaked to the loyalist paramilitaries and the press. This resulted in the operation being aborted. Nelson was advised by his FRU handlers to leave home the night before. A new date was set for the operation on account of the leak. The night before the new operation my Incident room was destroyed by fire. This incident, in my opinion, has never been adequately investigated and I believe it was a deliberate act of arson.

"During my first Enquiry I asked to examine particular documents but received written statements that they did not exist. My latest Enquiry team has now recovered all these documents. The dates recorded on them show that they all existed at the time of my first request."

Who was responsible for those lies?

Following three recent major disclosures by the Army and the Ministry of Defence, Stevens is now investigating whether the concealment of documents and information was sanctioned, and if so at what level. The Saville inquiry has heard evidence of discussion papers prepared by senior personnel in the security forces arguing for the adoption of tactics based on illegal use of lethal force through arbitrary killings and extra-judicial assassination. Orchestration of a flawed inquiry under Lord Justice Widgery and consequent failure to prosecute those responsible for the Bloody Sunday outrage sent a disturbing message to the security forces. Her Majesty's Government allowed the impression to remain that although the legal actions were damaging for propaganda purposes, the commission was protected by an informal system of impunity.

If it is tacitly understood that intelligence agencies may operate outside the rule of law, or that such behaviour is given an informal legitimacy through the failure to set lawful parameters, it is not structurally possible to hold the agencies or their employees and agents accountable without the intervention of an outside independent body. It now seems evident that the intelligence agencies have been engaged in running agents inside both loyalist and republican paramilitary

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groups and promoting, planning and participating in terrorist activities in order to achieve internally defined goals. Agencies have protected individuals from other paramilitaries and from investigation and prosecution by the police.

Police investigations have been prevented or undermined, sidetracked and sabotaged. Combatants and non-combatants alike have become victims of those practices and the failure to stop them. Police officers have lost their lives and their honest efforts have been thwarted. For successive Governments, the tactical assessment of the options for a military offensive against terrorism was flawed by compromised intelligence and undermined by its reliance on the unlawful activities of agencies.

I remain to be convinced that dirty tricks saved lives. Undoubtedly, undercover British agents prevented some loss of life, but too often the lack of political control meant that agents were averting their eyes from terrorist crime and ending up acting as judge, jury and executioner.

On 15 January 1990, I raised in the House the shooting dead of Peter Thompson, Eddie Hale and John Joseph McNeill in Whiterock, and the activities of British soldiers from 14 Intelligence Company during an attempted armed robbery. I will not go into the details; I asked questions about the activities of that unit. The Ministers responsible are now saying that they did not know about the activities of those units. The questions that I asked in the House are on the record. Some 13 years later the families of the victims of that incident still await justice.

I believe that intelligence agencies played a significant role in shaping the political geography of Northern Ireland and prevented the emergence of a political alternative for many years. Great strides have been made in addressing the shortcomings of the RUC by a process of police reform and the adoption of a model of accountable policing contained in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Such changes would have been unthinkable a decade ago. However, the intelligence agencies have so far been immune to change.

When Brian Nelson was first brought to court in June 1990 he faced 34 charges, including two counts of murder. It was admitted that he was an agent for military intelligence. There was, at the time, speculation that Nelson was threatening to expose the involvement of the Army in a large number of offences, including murder. When the trial began two years later, counsel for the Attorney-General, Brian Kerr QC, argued that after

"a rigorous examination of the interests of justice",

15 charges, including two murder charges, were to be dropped. Nelson then pleaded guilty to the remaining charges, including five counts of conspiracy to commit murder.

Following pleas for leniency from the then head of the FRU, Colonel - now Brigadier - Gordon Kerr, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Tom King, Nelson was sentenced to just 10 years in prison. He was freed in 1996 and died this year in somewhat suspicious circumstances; no one knows quite how or why.

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I was not happy when the Attorney-General took control of that prosecution and I was dubious about his reasons for deciding to drop charges. Those reasons remain undisclosed.

David Burnside (South Antrim): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara : No. With the greatest respect, I have a lot to go through. I have secured the debate and I have already given way twice, so I am trying to give other hon. Members opportunities to make their case.

I do not believe that impunity for serious offences committed by agents of the state can be in the public interest. Following the Stalker investigation into allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland[Interruption.]

David Burnside : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara : No. Chief constable Colin Sampson recommended that police officers should be prosecuted for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and for fabricating cover stories. The journalist Peter Taylor reported that Sampson also recommended that MI5 officers should face the same charge for destroying a copy of the missing audio tape recording of the shooting dead in a hay shed of 17-year old Michael Tighe, who mistakenly walked into an ambush set by the security forces. In that case, the Director of Public Prosecutions felt that there was sufficient evidence, but the then Attorney-General, Sir Patrick Mayhew, halted proceedings; he informed the House in January 1988 that there would be no prosecutions "in the public interest" and a nolle prosequi was entered. At that time, most of us who were involved in the issue thought that that only revolved around RUC officers. We had no idea that MI5 was involved in the destruction of evidence.

I believe that the activities of intelligence agencies must be governed by the rule of law and held politically accountable. Shortcomings and breakdowns in the system of accountability inevitably lead to political misjudgment and errors. Through interviews by my staff of a number of individuals who claim to have been undercover agents, I have discovered that there is a particularly blurred line between who is and who is not an agent; between who is a covert human intelligence source and who is simply assisting the security services. Individuals who feel that they have been expected to put their lives at risk will want to know that their information will be acted on; when they make personal and financial sacrifices, they expect protection and security. Without effective regulation, those people feel let down - they do not know where they stand and they have no legal means of redress. The insights that I have gained have been passed on through what I consider to be the appropriate channels. I have no means of knowing whether or not my advice was acted on.

Discovery of the truth behind controversial killings is part of the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, where the grief of victims has been compounded by unlawful acts that have apparently been condoned by those in authority. The interests of justice require that those who sanctioned such activities be identified and brought to justice. They must be removed from office

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and punished. The process of cleansing is also essential to the integrity of the intelligence agency. The passage of time and normalisation of the security situation alters a balance to be struck in determining the public interest. The fear that the identity of agents might become known and prejudice the effectiveness of ongoing intelligence-gathering operations must be significantly diminished in today's climate. The fear that cross-examination of police officers and Security Service agents might compromise intelligence-gathering methods must now be set against the need to establish whether those methods have included unlawful actions. If evidence exists for prosecution, it must be in the public interest to proceed.

Following an indication by Sir John Stevens that he wished to interview an FRU agent known as Stakeknife - I understand that there is now an alternative spelling - new and even more serious allegations concerning the activities of security services have come into the public domain. I do not want to distract attention from the findings of Stevens, which have been thoroughly investigated and are based on verifiable evidence. I am aware of the controversial nature of Stakeknife's allegations, and the extraordinary lengths to which the Ministry of Defence has gone in issuing gagging orders to prevent journalists from reporting them. I am aware that republicans regard the whole affair as yet another example of counter-intelligence propaganda.

However, in light of the naming of Freddie Scappaticci as Agent Stakeknife, I urge the Government to end uncertainty around his position and ensure that no impediments are placed in the way of his questioning by the Stevens inquiry. In particular, it is incumbent on my hon. Friend the Minister to state whether Stakeknife is in the custody of some of the agencies of Her Majesty's Government.

It is alleged that Stakeknife was a low-ranking Irish Republican Army volunteer, who was recruited to FRU in 1978. As a double agent, he was tasked with advancing himself in the paramilitary group, and he became head of the IRA internal security unit, the nutting squad. For that service, he was paid the salary of a then Cabinet Minister - £80,000 a year; monies were deposited into a bank account based in Gilbraltar. As head of the nutting squad, Agent Stakeknife would have been in charge of vetting all recruits to the IRA and seeking out British moles. If that were true, he would have been involved in kidnap, interrogation, torture and punishment. He would have taken part in anything up to 40 murders of suspected informers. He would be guilty of colluding in the murder of IRA volunteers, police officers, soldiers and civilians.

David Burnside : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara : No.

It is reported that Gregory Burns, John Dignam and Aidan Starrs were also FRU agents. Burns's girlfriend, Margaret Perry, discovered his double role and the three agents conspired to kill her. It is alleged that Stakeknife then killed the three agents, and all with the approval of his handlers. In a case already considered by the European Court of Human Rights, three IRA volunteers, Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean

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Savage were killed in 1988 by the SAS on the rock of Gibraltar. If, as is now alleged, Agent Stakeknife supplied the information that led to that ambush, his handlers could also have chosen to prevent the IRA action. Instead they permitted a summary execution. He is alleged to have been involved in the murder of Joseph Fenton in February 1989. Fenton was a Belfast estate agent who supplied safe houses for the IRA, but acted the good citizen by passing information to the police. Stakeknife had him killed.

Around the same time, the Irish police recruited a confidential informant in the IRA who passed valuable information to the Garda Siochana. If allegations concerning Stakeknife are correct, he was directly implicated in the murder of Tom Oliver, whose body was found in1991. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would inform us of whether there have been any discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic about that allegation, and if he would say what allegations had been made either way.

When the going got hot, and loyalist paramilitaries began to target Stakeknife, it is alleged that the FRU moved to protect him by setting up another Belfast man, Francisco Notarantonio. It planted false documents and persuaded the Ulster Defence Association that he, not the man identified as Stakeknife, was a leading figure in the IRA. If true, those allegations go to the heart of British involvement in unlawful actions in pursuit of British objectives in Northern Ireland. Also, if they are true, responsibility goes right to the top of Government, and they must be held accountable.

Files with information from Stakeknife would have been passed from the FRU to the Joint Irish Section - MI5 - and right up to the Cabinet, and possibly to three Prime Ministers: Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. Major and Mr. Blair. It is the job of MI5 to monitor Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch and military intelligence and report, independently of them, direct to Whitehall and the Government. In his preliminary conclusions, Sir John Stevens stated that he wants to question Agent Stakeknife and Brigadier Gordon Kerr, a former head of the FRU who is currently a British military attaché in Beijing. It is interesting to note that, despite Sir John Stevens's interim report, not a single person has been removed from their post or suspended as a result of the inquiry.

We are entitled to know how far up the obstructions to the inquiry went. The journalist John Ware has reported that the former RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, instructed the then commanding officer of Her Majesty's armed forces in Northern Ireland, Lieutenant-General Sir John Waters, not to provide Stevens with Army intelligence. It has also been reported that members of the Stevens inquiry team threatened Waters with arrest if he did not hand over the files in his possession. The cost of the Saville inquiry is frequently invoked as an argument against the public inquiries that everyone wants to be held into such terrible murders. I think that the cost of the inquiry is outrageous, but I am very clear about where responsibility lies: not with the families seeking the truth, but with those that covered up the truth in the first place, such as the Ministry of Defence; those that attempted to pervert the course of justice by the

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destruction of evidence, again the Ministry of Defence; and those who have fought a guerrilla campaign of evasion from the outset - once more, the Ministry of Defence.

Most of the answers to my questions and those raised by the Saville inquiry are in the Government's files. An internal trawl and political will could have saved millions of pounds. The Minister who is to reply to this debate on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office is doing so because the Chief Constable commissioned the report, but responsibility does not stop at the Northern Ireland Office. The Ministry of Defence must answer questions about the FRU and its predecessor and successor units. I repeat my earlier charge: it is the responsibility of MI5 to monitor RUC special branch and military intelligence and report independently of them direct to Whitehall and the Government. Prime Ministers and senior officials were in the picture, deliberately excluded from it, or given only rough generalisations.

The public have been kept in the dark for too long. I believe that the Government have colluded in the unlawful activities of their agents, and that the guilty must be called to account, however high up they are. Where there is sufficient evidence, they must be prosecuted and punished - no more nolle prosequis. It is clear that existing mechanisms for the oversight and scrutiny of the intelligence services have failed. A Committee of Members of this and the other House, appointed by the Prime Minister, meets in secret and has its reports vetted in advance of publication, and so cannot provide the accountability that we are entitled to demand.

When the Government themselves stand in the dock, what is the appropriate remedy? The charges made by Sir John Stevens are the most serious to be faced by any Government in Britain. They go right to the heart of our democracy. Our commitment to human rights, the rule of law and justice in Northern Ireland will count for nothing if we cannot address these matters openly and honestly.

9.53 am

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): May I congratulate those in the Ministry of Defence on being virtually the only people who can spell "Steak-knife" correctly? That in itself is significant, because it reminds us that journalists tend to hunt in packs. In the media, as in many other aspects of life, real independent thinking is not often evident.

I start with some basic principles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate: it addresses a matter that is topical, so it is good that it is being raised. However, I want to touch on some general principles, which it would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had focused on at the outset.

We are dealing with terrorist organisations and with conspiracies to commit some of the most appalling crimes that humanity has seen, which are designed to overthrow democratic Governments. The public have a right to expect that the authorities will take effective action to ensure that terrorism fails and that terrorists are made amenable to justice. To do that, obtaining intelligence is crucial: if Governments were to fail to endeavour to obtain intelligence, they would be culpable.

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Intelligence can be obtained in a number of ways, but it has been clear from time immemorial that one of the most effective ways is to penetrate the terrorist organisations either by using people who volunteer to join them in order to do so or, more often, by turning members of those organisations - that is frequently the only effective way to do that. If the public are to be protected and terrorism is to be defeated, there must be intelligence agencies that recruit and run agents, and their operations must be secret. In order to defend the public, that must be done and it must be done secretly: those are basic principles that we must never lose sight of.

There is a serious risk that those whose job it is to defeat terrorism may be so focused on the outcome that they begin to lose sight of legal and moral responsibilities and boundaries. Those boundaries are necessary, but some of them must be breached. The hon. Gentleman implied - although he might not have actually said - that there must be no criminal activity by agents, but, necessarily, there is such criminal activity. Being a member of a terrorist organisation is a crime. Therefore, agents for intelligence organisations are necessarily involved in the commission of crime. If those people are to remain members of such organisations, they will inevitably be involved in its activities.

The problem then becomes this: where should the line be drawn? I imagine that we would have no difficulty in saying that the line must be drawn at murder. There are plenty of novels in which intelligence agents commit murders and other crimes, but in the real world the line must be drawn at that. However, where else is it to be drawn, and how is it to be drawn?

We are dealing with a very murky area where the facts are often difficult to ascertain. In recruiting agents, one does not have a huge range of choice and some of the people who are recruited are not attractive characters. They would not have joined terrorist organisations in the first place if they were moral, upright citizens. If one is dealing with members of terrorist organisations who have been turned, one is necessarily dealing with flawed persons. That factor must be borne in mind. Whether those people accurately report their activities or intentions is also uncertain.

It would be nice if we were in a position to conduct a detailed forensic examination of everything that has happened, and I can understand people's saying that because of the difficulties in taking decisions in these matters we should know what has been done. However, I return to my point that secrecy is necessary. While the terrorism continues, too much publicity is prejudicial to the operation of the intelligence bodies - and, consequently, prejudicial to public safety. There are things that must remain secret. Of course there should be accountability and the hon. Gentleman's comments showed that there is a degree of that. Accountability is essential, because we have to trust some people. We tend to place our trust - rightly - in those who hold office and are accountable to the House, and to those who head the agencies concerned. However, I concede that there is a serious risk that people will become so carried away with their objective that they lose sight of where the boundaries should be set.

A lesson learned in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was that soldiers are, by their nature, training and culture, focused on winning, and in a war they have to win by

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whatever means available. However, policemen, by their training and culture, are focused on upholding the law; they know what the law is and what evidence is - much more so than any soldier would. That is why, in such a situation, we must uphold the principle of police primacy, but that was ignored in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. We are worried that Army intelligence may continue to be ignored in the present.

I wish to digress a little. Some hon. Members may have heard the story that I am about to tell. I first heard it many years ago. The hon. Member for Hull, North referred to the fire at Stevens's headquarters. He was using Carrickfergus police station as his base and a fire there destroyed important material contained in various filing cabinets. As a result of the fire, the offices were not available for use and he was relocated elsewhere. When I heard the story, it was said that he was moved to Musgrave police station in the centre of Belfast - that may or may not be accurate.

I heard that a difficulty arose because the Stevens inquiry officers had to use the same canteen as regular RUC members, and apparently the RUC members developed a habit of playing the jukebox whenever the inquiry officers were there. They played a song by Billy Joel entitled, "We Didn't Start the Fire". The incessant playing of the song so irritated the Stevens inquiry officers that a fight broke out. I mentioned the story because, as far as we can tell, the police officers were absolutely right. I say, "as far as we can tell", because we are relying on comments made by a person who was an agent and has since gone public. He said that the fire at the Carrickfergus police station was started by Army personnel, not by policemen.

I hope that the hon. Member for Hull, North will bear in mind that, at that time, allegations were made that it was the police who were responsible for the fire, and allegations continue to be made against the police. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of a mural that exists in Belfast, put up by republicans, referring to the Finucane case and various participants in it. It alleges that they were special branch agents. Of course, many of the persons that it mentions were not special branch agents. Mr. Nelson was not.

There is a tendency to focus on the police and to attack them - repeatedly and inaccurately. I see examples of that even in the summary of the Stevens inquiry, in which he makes reference to a British Irish Rights Watch report entitled "Deadly Intelligence - State involvement in loyalist murder in Northern Ireland", which includes allegations that the RUC incited the death of Mr. Finucane. I am happy to say that the next paragraph makes it clear that there was no evidence to support those allegations. Allegations are too often thrown around in the direction of the police, for which there is no justification.

The inquiry reports from Sir John Stevens are necessarily highly abbreviated, so it is extremely difficult for us to evaluate them. Their conclusion was that there has been collusion in both murders - those of Lambert and Finucane, which was evidenced in many ways by wilful failure to keep records. That in itself is not evidence of collusion. We need to know more about how that shows collusion. There may be more evidence in a full report from Sir John Stevens, which unfortunately he cannot provide because cases are ongoing and there is a need for secrecy. This report refers to "the absence

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of accountability". Again, we would need to know what that referred to in order to know whether it indicated collusion. The report also refers to

"the withholding of intelligence and evidence".

That might indeed be the case. The report goes through to

"the extreme of agents being involved in murder."

That is a very serious matter, and it would be important for us to know what material lay behind it. As far as the report is concerned, that material is not disclosed.

The paragraph referring to Nelson's involvement in the attack on Mr. Finucane states:

"It is not clear whether his role in the murder extended beyond passing a photograph".

With regard to Stobie's involvement in the case, the report states that the information that he provided

"principally concerned the collection of a firearm."

He

"supplied information of a murder being planned."

Again, there is no material here to demonstrate the collusion that is referred to. That evidence may be there. I would not be surprised if things had happened and things had gone wrong over the years. I would not be surprised at mistakes having been made. Whether deliberately or culpably, we do not know. I hope that we will know, that the full information will become available and that we will reach a point at which it is safe to put the full information in the public domain. Whether that point has arrived must be open to debate.

I must take exception to some of the terms used by the hon. Member for Hull, North. Perhaps he knows more than we do. He referred to Mr. Nelson dying in suspicious circumstances. I do not know what those circumstances were. I am not aware of any evidence about the death to demonstrate that the circumstances were suspicious. Perhaps it is just the fact of the death that the hon. Gentleman regards as suspicious.

Mr. McNamara : I should perhaps have used the word "mysterious", because none of us knows how Mr. Nelson died, why or whether there have been autopsies, and his family have not been properly informed.

Mr. Trimble : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has clarified matters in that way. Whether the death is mysterious, I do not know, because I do not know what information is available to the authorities in Florida. There may be no mystery. The mystery may be simply that the hon. Gentleman does not know the circumstances. He now describes the death as "mysterious"; previously he described it as "suspicious". The fact that those terms automatically occur to him in describing these matters indicates a certain cast of mind and a certain basic attitude on his part. That is the criticism that I was making of him: he appears to approach these matters from a particular angle.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Widgery inquiry as "flawed" and doubts whether dirty tricks saved lives. However, successive Chief Constables of the police in Northern Ireland, the General Officer Commanding and others have said that, in the latter years of the IRA's

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campaign, the security forces succeeded in foiling four out of five of the IRA's operations. Accounts such as the book entitled "Fifty Dead Men Walking" also tend to verify that. That book was written by a person who was a member of the Belfast brigade of the IRA, who became an informer and subsequently published a book detailing his activities and experiences. That account substantiates the security forces' claim that they were able to foil four out of five of the IRA's operations. In many cases, that was due to the information obtained by the use of agents, so in response to the suggestion that those activities did not save lives - I am not sure whether they justify the use of the phrase "dirty tricks" in any event - I say that such evidence as we have clearly points the other way.

That brings me back to the basic point: if we are to defeat terrorism, it will be necessary to obtain intelligence and to obtain it by getting people to join illegal organisations or by turning members of illegal organisations. That will inevitably involve criminality. Yes, there have to be guidelines and accountability, and when the guidelines are breached, there must be legal action; there was in the Nelson case. The hon. Gentleman referred to the allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy in the 1980s. There were criminal proceedings. Several police officers were charged with murder and tried. The judgments given by the courts can be read and examined in those matters too. The evidence is that there is monitoring and that the authorities intend to ensure that the law is adhered to in its essential fundamental points. Whether that is always done perfectly, we do not yet know. In an ideal situation we should know more. We have not reached that ideal situation.

I close by reflecting on the comments of the hon. Gentleman when he said that finding out about killings was a necessary part of the healing process of Northern Ireland. Yes, it is; but unfortunately the hon. Gentleman qualified that phrase by saying "controversial killings". It would be good if we had information about all killings and we bore it in mind that the vast majority of the killings were carried out by terrorist organisations and the republican movement. We should keep a degree of balance as we look at this difficult area.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara): Order. There is much interest in this debate. The first Front-Bench speaker must be called not later than 10.30. That may help those who are called to speak to gauge their contribution and thus enable as many to get in as possible.

10.11 am

Patrick Mercer (Newark): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate and making some clear points. I do not agree with all of them, but I am none the less grateful to him. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) on his clear exposition of the case.

The purpose of my short speech is to ask people to understand exactly what this campaign was about. This was not some James Bond escapade. It was not glamorous. It involved phrases like "nutting squad". A nutting squad is a squad of thugs that eventually shoots

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people through the head, having first shot them in the ankles, the knees, the elbows and so on. It is a form of torture culminating in execution. Another phrase is "romper rooms", which were rooms where gangs of thugs, of all political stripes, beat, tortured and occasionally quickly executed the lucky few. Their victims were criminals, perhaps, and innocent people certainly, who were involved in this dirty war.

My own involvement started in the early 1970s as a platoon commander with the Sherwood Foresters and culminated some 20-odd years later in another capacity. As a fresh-faced individual out of university I did not really understand what this was about. I can give a couple of quick illustrations. In Dungiven in County Londonderry in the 1970s I was told to respond to a tout who was on the run. I did not know what a tout was but our dogs eventually picked up the blood trail and found a 14-year-old boy who was bleeding not because of the beatings that he had received from the Provisional IRA, but because of the deep gashes that he had inflicted on himself while crossing barbed-wire fences.

The following year in Crossmaglen I had the dubious privilege of clearing a corpse of explosive that was left with its hands and ankles bound with wire and naked feet - the ultimate indignity. I remember watching a wife receive a telephone call to fetch her husband who had had an accident. The accident involved 77 rounds of Armalite ammunition being pumped through his body. Again, he was a tout. His wife was told to go and find the body as a warning to the rest of the community about touting.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann made it clear that the people who were asked to counter this style of war were policemen and soldiers. The policemen could possibly have been expected to handle this in a slightly different fashion. I fully endorse the right hon. Gentleman's comments about police primacy. As a former practitioner in the field, I know that it was difficult for soldiers to understand precisely what was required. I was told at one stage to lift - to arrest - 32 terrorists in the West Belfast sector who were on the run and who would be indicted once they had been captured. I could not understand why those people had not fled from the Belfast area, but they had stayed - I use the phrase carefully - within their ghettos. The fact that they did not wish to leave the water in which they swam made it extraordinarily difficult for either a born and bred policeman or someone like myself from the mainland to penetrate those deeply violent, thug-like organisations where an outsider, even an outsider from a different housing estate, stood no chance of survival. That is why we used agents.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann has made it clear that those agents were not plaster saints. I do not have time to go into any more detail than that. It was made very clear to us - visitors to that particularly ugly campaign - that we acted at all times within the law, because not to do so made us criminals and terrorists in our own right. That is why soldiers were arrested by policemen, and policemen were arrested by soldiers, when they overstepped the mark. It was not an easy line to understand, and I have no doubt that it was stepped over from time to time.

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However, I draw right hon. and hon. Members' attention to names such as Private Thane, Corporal Clegg, and Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. I am deliberately not talking about policemen. They were soldiers who were asked to be involved in that sort of campaign and who overstepped the mark. They were all been prosecuted, and dealt with in what to my mind is a thoroughly unsatisfactory fashion because they were being asked to carry out duties where the line is blurred.

Someone must defend the people that defend our democracy. Clearly, things have gone wrong. Policemen, soldiers and Ministers have got it wrong; they must be accountable. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to bear in mind that the peace process is not where it is today because of some benign intent, some benign understanding by thugs and terrorists, some conversion, some sudden ray of light falling into their lives revealing to them that they are wrong and evil. The peace process is where it is today because the IRA and Protestant paramilitary organisations have been shown that they will be militarily defeated if they continue down the road on which they are travelling. Let us be in no doubt about that. There has been a campaign, and a campaign is about killing people if necessary and deterring people because it has to be done. That is not the sort of campaign that we have just seen in Iraq; it is by definition a dirty campaign.

In conclusion, let us remember those men and women who have brought the campaign as far as it has come. As we hear the confused exposition from the hon. Member for Hull, North, let us remember how many gallantry decorations those organisations have won; how many lives those brave men and women have saved; how much violence they have deterred. Let us pay tribute to them, and hope that common sense will prevail and that public interest will dictate that no prosecution takes place.

10.19 am

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): I rise to speak on a very serious topic that has concentrated the minds of many people in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom for a considerable time.

Further to what the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) alluded to, I preface my remarks by saying that I think that all the law-abiding people in Northern Ireland would want to state that the law - upholding the law and the rule of law - must be paramount. That issue should be at the forefront of all our minds throughout any dirty tricks - any nasty, vicious, sectarian campaign of murder such as that which we have had to endure in Northern Ireland for the past 34 years.

The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) would have done his cause a greater service had he outlined the context in which the matters he wanted to address had occurred. As I said, the onset of a bloody conflict some 34 years ago was at its height in the early period, from 1969 to 1973. In one year, more than 400 people were murdered; in the House recently, comparisons have been drawn between the extent of violence then and now. The violence has got worse since the Belfast agreement was signed, but it bears no comparison whatever - even though it is worse now than in 1998 - with what it was in the early 1970s.

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The violence was virtually endemic between 1969 and 1973 and much of what the hon. Member for Hull, North has raised today had its origins and genesis in that time. The context in which we are talking about any activities that were either across the line or utterly reprehensible must be stated: it was at a time of endemic violence and continuous murder on a daily, if not hourly, basis on some occasions.

The hon. Gentleman alluded to the series of inquiries that have taken place; since that time there have been no comparable investigations and no comparable inquiries in the Irish Republic into the allegations of collusion between the Garda Siochana and/or the Irish army and the Provisional IRA that I am aware of, and I live closer to the border than most hon. Members do.

Despite that, we have the call by the hon. Gentleman -

Mr. Trimble : I am sorry to intrude on the hon. Gentleman, but I want to point out to him that of course he intended to say that there is evidence that some members of the Garda and some members of the Irish army had colluded. He was not of course suggesting that the organisations themselves had done so.

Mr. Campbell : No, I was not indeed. I was coming to the point about the numbers of people involved - allegedly - in Northern Ireland.

There have indeed been allegations for many years regarding a number of people in the Irish Republic and their alleged collusion with the Provisional IRA. In fact, as I understand it, Judge Cory is investigating at least one of those allegations, but the outcome of his investigations remains to be seen.

Those who have acted in a manner in which they should not have acted, those who have overstepped the mark and those who have engaged in acts - legal acts and acts whereby innocent people have died - lead us into a very serious moral dilemma. I have no difficulty in admitting that; it is a moral dilemma. We have heard hon. Members say whether we have a balancing act whereby in a dirty, vicious war agents are used, and some lives are saved and others taken. How do we, in a modern, civilised society, balance that loss against the gain? We must accept the context in which that is happening, and accept that those who engaged in the brutal, vicious, sectarian war in the first place are inevitably responsible for any agents that have to be recruited to get their war to cease.

I close by saying that the commendable bravery and courage of 99 per cent. of the police officers, the Army officers, and all those who have been in the front line against terrorism for 34 years must be taken into account when considering the alleged collusion or activities of an insignificant number of people who, for whatever reason, have broken the law. On this day, in these premises, when we recognise the courage and bravery of those who have received the highest award for bravery that the nation can offer, we would do well to recognise the courage and bravery of the many tens of thousands of officers who have stood in the front line in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom against terrorism.

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10.26 am

David Burnside (South Antrim): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate on Stevens, and on his long and distinguished career, the past two years of which I have observed in the House. Over the past 30 years, the hon. Gentleman has called for many inquiries. He will correct me if I am wrong in saying that he has never called for any inquiry into the activities of the Provisional IRA and their criminal and terrorist campaign against the state of Northern Ireland and the innocent people of Northern Ireland - Protestant and Catholic - over the past 30 years.

Mr. McNamara : I would have called for an inquiry into the actions of terrorists, who by their own actions condemn themselves. I have always supported the police and the security services in bringing them to justice, and I would always do so.

David Burnside : I am learning today, because my view of the hon. Gentleman's activities over the past 30 years is that they have involved serious concentration on undermining the security forces in Northern Ireland.

The Stevens inquiry has been taking place for a long time. I believe that it has been running for 14 years, which means - someone will no doubt correct me if I am wrong - that it started under the Thatcher and Major Governments. Fourteen years is probably far too long. I would appreciate it if the Minister could give us some guidance on how long it will take and how wide the terms of reference of the Stevens report will be. We read in the press, and in direct quotes from Sir John Stevens, that he will be investigating Stakeknife - so be it. However, may we know what the terms of reference of the report will be?

I, and many others in Northern Ireland, see in the findings of the Stevens report - the public findings, not the full report - many opinions and conclusions that are apparently not based on evidence. We have not yet seen the full report, and we want to know how long the inquiry will last.

There should be inquiries, internal inquiries, into theactivities of the security services - the Army and the police - if wrongs have been carried out and members of those forces have gone beyond the law and guidelines in the fight against terrorism. However, there is only one balance in Northern Ireland, and that is the balance of inquiries against the security services. Some £150 million has been allocated to the Bloody Sunday inquiry, and I predict that its conclusion will please neither those who called the inquiry nor the Parachute Regiment. The report will be inconclusive and a total waste of money. There has been no inquiry into the authorisation by Martin McGuinness, second-in-command of the Provisional IRA, of 24 murders of policemen, members of the RUC and the Army in 1972, and I doubt that there will be one.

We should try to draw a line under the past 34 years. Many Members have proposed looking at other conflicts around the world to see how we can achieve a balance. I would like an inquiry into the activities of the Provisional IRA and the foundation and activities of Fianna Fail, which forms the present Government in the Irish Republic and helped to found and finance the

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Provisional IRA. I would like an inquiry into Bloody Friday and the deaths of all the members of the RUC. I will not get one, and the law-abiding people will not get one. That is not the current balance, which is to undermine the security forces, Army and police.

If the Stevens inquiry continues to investigate Stakeknife, as it appears that it will, so be it. However, if the security services cannot handle and use informers and intelligence in the war against terrorism, terrorism will win. We are on dangerous ground in allowing the undermining of the intelligence services - both special branch and the police, and the Army intelligence agencies and units that have operated out of Lisburn for the past 30 years. We need guidelines and accountability, but we need intelligence that includes the use of informers. It concerns me that the balance is tipped one way.

Let us draw a line in the sand and have a truth commission. However, the problem with a truth commission is that everyone has to tell the truth. I look forward to having Martin McGuinness tell the truth about his activities in the past 34 years. I would also like to hear Gerry Adams, Stakeknife and Johnny Adair. Let them all come to a truth commission to explain why they did what they did and say, "We now believe it was wrong and unjustified. Let's bring it to an end." That is what the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland want, not another biased, pro-republican, pro-nationalist inquiry, which is the only thing that the hon. Member for Hull, North has campaigned for in this House for the past 30 years.

It is time to draw a line in the sand on the past 34 years and have some truth. We will not get it through what the hon. Gentleman has suggested today.

10.32 am

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate. However, I must say, with regret, that in many respects it has been an unsatisfactory exercise. I say that because almost every hon. Member who has contributed has done so from one particular perspective, and it is a matter of substantial regret that no one has been prepared to look at the totality of the situation.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) rightly spoke about the need for intelligence as part of what the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) referred to as a dirty war. No one disputes that, but that is not the only issue open for discussion. There is also the conduct of the Sir John Stevens inquiry and the manner in which it has been obstructed. I would have much more respect for the views of the hon. Member for Hull, North and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann if they looked at the totality of the situation. They demean their case by failing to do so. The issues are massive and the decision to investigate may not please everyone, but the basic position is that once the decision has been taken, it cannot be acceptable for obstruction by anyone to go unremarked.

This is an unsatisfactory forum. With the exception of the hon. Member for Hull, North, no hon. Member has had adequate time to develop their argument. The one person whom we really want to hear from on such occasions, and who is given 10 minutes at the end, is the

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Minister. Therefore, exceptionally, I do not intend to make any further contribution. I shall leave the rest of the time available to me to the Minister, in the hope that she might take more interventions and have a fuller debate during her speech than we have been able to have so far.

10.34 am

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): I endorse the congratulations to the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on securing the debate. I was rather taken with the self-sacrifice of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) of what might have been considered to be his own time. I shall try to match that.

Meanwhile, I was as impressed as ever by the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). It is a matter of fact that Sir John Stevens presented his latest report to the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland on 17 April. As the hon. Member for Hull, North reminded us, we have now had three Stevens inquiries. The first was set up under Lord Brooke when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 1989 and the third following a request from the then Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir Ronnie Flanagan. Therefore, it is a saga that has already lasted for some 14 years.

The events that prompted those three inquiries are the murder of solicitor Patrick Finucane in February 1989 and the allegations that members of the security forces colluded with so-called loyalist paramilitaries in his murder, and the murders of a number of other Roman Catholics. In recent days we have also read claims that in some of those cases members of the Army's force research unit directed loyalists towards certain targets in order to protect the identity and life of the agent known as Stakeknife. I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I say that I most emphatically do not wish to go down that road.

There are, however, two matters on which I wish to comment. The first relates to whether there should now be a public inquiry into the Finucane murder. The second is whether past or serving members of the armed forces should face criminal prosecutions for their part in certain anti-terrorist operations.

The Conservative party does not believe that a public inquiry is warranted. As I have said, there have been three Stevens inquiries over 14 years. The Finucane murder is also the subject of an investigation by the retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory. We are told that his inquiry has now been completed and that the contents are in a secure location in Canada. What purpose would another inquiry serve? After the excesses of the Saville inquiry, which has already cost over £100 million and could end up costing double that, do we really want to create yet another haemorrhage of legal expenses - a lawyers' orgy? If three inquiries by the most senior police officer in the country and a distinguished retired judge cannot establish the truth, how can we be confident that a public inquiry would yield any better results? Therefore, we believe that the latest Stevens report and the Cory report when published should represent closure on this matter.

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On the subject of prosecutions, our view is clear. It would be wholly wrong to put on trial past or serving members of the security forces - the Army or the RUC - for their part in the fight against terrorism at a time when more than 440 terrorists have benefited from the early release scheme established by the Belfast agreement; nor, however, do we believe that members of the security forces should benefit from arrangements of the type put in place for terrorists. That would introduce the concept of equivalence between the legitimate forces of the Crown and illegal terrorist organisations. That is morally repugnant to us and would rightly be resisted by the armed forces and members of the police.

What do we believe should happen? As a result of the latest Stevens inquiry, a number of case files are currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. He will obviously make an assessment in the normal way as to whether in each case there is a less than 50 per cent. chance of a successful prosecution. Yet there is another consideration. The DPP is ultimately responsible to the Attorney-General, who exercises a superintending role over him. It is for the Attorney-General to decide whether a prosecution would be in the public interest. Moreover, under the Shawcross convention, the Attorney-General has a duty to consult colleagues although he cannot take instruction from them. It is our hope that in these cases common sense will prevail and the public interest will dictate that prosecutions do not take place, as occurred in 1988 when Lord Mayhew of Twysden declined to prosecute following the Stalker/Sampson inquiries.

As other hon. Members have said, we are dealing here with very murky events. They should not, however, obscure the huge debt of gratitude that we all owe to the armed forces and the RUC. For over 30 years the overwhelming majority of their members carried out their duties with skill, great bravery and even-handed professionalism. They are deserving of our praise and our thanks. It would be a scandalous travesty if the actions of the few were used to tarnish the achievements and honour of the many.

10.40 am

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy) : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for securing the debate. It is a serious matter and one that I know is of concern to all hon. Members here this morning, including some who have not had an opportunity to speak, so I have listened with a great deal of interest to what has been said. There can be no mistaking the anxieties that have been expressed and the disquiet that lies behind many of the questions raised. I hope that I will be able to respond to those questions and address the concerns. I am grateful for the extended opportunity that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) has given me by being so generous with his time. I am grateful, too, to the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) for being so succinct.

It is right and proper that I commence my response by returning to the reasons for Sir John Stevens's third report. He begins the second chapter of his summary by outlining the events that he investigated. It is fitting that

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we remember that Patrick Finucane was murdered in front of his wife and three children in his home on Sunday 12 February 1989. He was 39 years old and he worked as a solicitor in Belfast. Sir John Stevens says in his report that Patrick Finucane was shot 14 times by two masked gunmen, who entered his house in the early evening.

I begin by saying unequivocally that the murder of Patrick Finucane was a tragedy and a crime. It was a tragedy not only for his family, whose grief is still palpable, but for the legal profession and the wider community in Northern Ireland. There can also be no doubt that it was a crime, and as a Government we have clear views on crime and those who perpetrate it. The Government take Patrick Finucane's death very seriously, as do the police. Indeed, Sir John Stevens concludes that Patrick Finucane's murder, and that of the young man Brian Lambert, could have been prevented. That is a matter of enormous regret.

If I may do so without embarrassing my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North, I shall respond to some of the comments that he made. A number of contributors to the debate have paid tribute to the work of the security services.

Mr. Carmichael : I listened with interest to what the Minister said about Sir John Stevens's remarks about the murder of Patrick Finucane. She will be aware that he goes on to say in paragraph 4.6:

"I also believe that the RUC investigation of Patrick Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers."

That has palpably not been the case. Does the Minister have any comment to make on that?

Jane Kennedy : Indeed: I shall come to that shortly. If I do not, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will draw my attention to it again later. Before I get into the detail, I want to respond to some of the comments made about the work of the security forces and the tributes paid to them, but in doing so, I shall make clear the context.

I do not share the views of hon. Members who have denigrated the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North. I pay tribute to the role that he has played and the tenacity with which he has followed the events, and spoken for and pressed Governments on human rights in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Indeed, he serves on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It is worth considering comments that he made in a debate on 11 July 2002 on a report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, again in the context of grave criticisms about allegations of intelligence agencies overstepping the grey line that the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) described. I will comment on his remarks in a moment. My hon. Friend said:

"I have made grave criticisms . . . however, I want to pay tribute to the many men and women in the security forces and intelligence agencies who have not behaved in the way I have described, but have acted with great bravery and dedication. They put their lives on the line because they believed that their work would allow others to live in safety. I pay tribute to them: the nation owes them a great deal." - [Official Report

I associate myself entirely with those comments. People who continue to do such important work deserve our support.

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In their fight against terrorism, the security forces use a variety of techniques, including the use of covert human intelligence sources, which is the phrase that we now use for the term "agent". We have always required the public authorities to act within established guidelines when using those sources. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 ensured that the guidelines set out by Parliament were compatible with the European convention on human rights. That Act has improved the structures for the management of informants and has ensured far greater accountability than there may have been in the past. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North made a very serious allegation to which I must respond: he alleged that Governments have sanctioned murder. Sir John Stevens does not conclude that successive Governments have sanctioned murder. The report voices many concerns and I accept that its findings must be acknowledged, but the allegation that Governments have sanctioned murder is not one of its findings. It is important that I state that for the record.

We are grateful for Sir John Stevens's efforts in conducting his investigation, just as we are grateful to the former Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, for asking Sir John to investigate. The police response - the Stevens inquiry - has been the largest investigation of its kind in the United Kingdom, and its findings are invaluable to us. Its effort to achieve prosecutions is admirable: we must remember that this third investigation, conducted by Sir John Stevens, has been a criminal investigation, and one that continues.

Sir John Stevens's recommendations for the future are vital, but there could be no one better than Hugh Orde to ensure that the report's recommendations are brought to bear on the reform of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We must remember Hugh Orde's familiarity with the detail of the Stevens investigation and his knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Patrick Finucane's death. His track record so far is of a Chief Constable who knows what he wants from a police force and how to achieve the best.

The Government's response is that those who are culpable in the affair must face justice. In the first instance, we look to the police investigation and to the criminal process, which must take priority. The investigation is continuing, as I said, and Sir John Stevens has made it clear that lines of inquiry are still being pursued and investigations are still being made. Files have been, and continue to be, sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which we welcome. Let no one be mistaken about the role of the DPP: he acts with total impartiality and integrity. He will consider all the allegations passed to him by the Stevens team, and he will apply the prosecutions test to those allegations without distinction. Whether or not he decides to prosecute in each case, he will be acting without fear or favour.

We hear the concerns of the relatives and others who are calling for a public inquiry - a call that was repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North this morning. That is why we appointed Judge Cory. He has the task of recommending what, if any, further action needs to be taken in this case and others. Judge Cory is on schedule to complete his work, and to report to both the British and Irish Governments on his six cases by autumn this year. However, let me make it clear that

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because of the priority given to the criminal justice process we are obliged by law to ensure that prosecutions are not prejudiced and that the criminal justice process is not damaged. We would have to ensure that no public inquiry cut across judicial proceedings.

Mr. Gregory Campbell : On the issue of Judge Cory and his investigations, the Minister will be aware of the information, which is in the public domain, that he indicated displeasure at the Stevens inquiry's outcome being in the public domain and said that that could jeopardise his own report. Has Judge Cory been in touch with Her Majesty's Government about his report and its connection with the Stevens revelations?

Jane Kennedy : Judge Cory is in regular touch with the British and Irish Governments about the work that he is undertaking. From time to time, he has expressed various anxieties and made representations to the Irish Government and to us. He continues in that dialogue but is content to continue with his work. We expect to receive his findings in the autumn of this year.

I have broadly set out the Government's position, but I shall try to reply to other issues that hon. Members have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North raised the question of a public inquiry, and I shall add one further comment to that. It remains the case that the possibility of holding a judicial inquiry into the Patrick Finucane case has not been ruled out. As I said, however, the criminal justice process must take its course. An inquiry now could undermine the prosecution process and damage the possibility of successful prosecutions. We look to Justice Peter Cory, who may make recommendations for further action. If he does, we will stand by our commitment to implement his recommendations.

On the Stevens report, it is important to remember that this is a criminal investigation. Sir John Stevens's report is to the Chief Constable, and it was our judgment when the summary was published that it was not for us to make a statement to the House. I note the comments that were made about the suitability of this forum for debating the process, but we have had an opportunity to explore some serious issues. I know that the matter will be returned to on future occasions. Indeed, Hugh Orde has said that it is one of his major concerns. He has committed himself to reporting on the implementation of his recommendations to the Policing Board at its meeting in early July, with an interim report to the board next month. He told the board last week that a good deal of the work envisaged by Sir John Stevens, and contained in his recommendations, was already in progress.

Hon. Members also made comments about Stakeknife. They will not be surprised to learn that I will not comment on intelligence matters. I will not confirm whether press speculation about the identity and actions of Stakeknife is accurate - regardless of how that name is spelt. I will not comment on Stakeknife's whereabouts, nor will I comment on media speculation about any arrangements for his safety. That is a blanket refusal to respond.

Mr. McNamara rose

Jane Kennedy : Before my hon. Friend intervenes - this may pre-empt his intervention - I will say this: it is

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for Sir John Stevens to decide whether he wishes to interview Stakeknife. The Government fully support him in his investigation, and we will do everything in our power to assist him.

Mr. McNamara : I take it that no impediments will be put before Sir John Stevens if he seeks to interrogate Stakeknife, if that agent exists?

Jane Kennedy : My hon. Friend can be reassured on that.

David Burnside : Does the Minister understand the concerns of those who are currently serving in Northern Ireland in both the intelligence services that are linked to the Army and the police special branch about the problem that they will face in future in handling informers in their traditional way? Does she understand that informers are now very nervous about co-operating with the security services, and that if intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland is weakened, that will put us on very dangerous ground?

Jane Kennedy : The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point.

The hon. Gentleman also asked earlier about the terms of reference of Sir John Stevens in his ongoing inquiries. He spells those out in the opening paragraphs of the published summary of his report.

Finally, I turn to the comments of the hon. - and gallant - Member for Newark. I am grateful to him for enlightening us with examples of his experiences when

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he served in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North commented on police primacy. I reassure hon. Members that in my dealings as Minister with responsibility for security with the armed forces and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, I have been consistently reassured that police primacy remains at the heart of the armed services' objectives in their work in Northern Ireland by all those who are engaged in that enormous task.

The hon. Member for Newark also described how those to whom we paid tribute earlier who do that difficult work are constantly trying to judge where the line is drawn. I am sure that he would be the first to acknowledge that those who are engaged in this work are deeply concerned when that line is crossed. They are bitterly disappointed when it is crossed accidentally, but because of the nature of the work that will occasionally happen, as he described. When it is crossed deliberately, the anger that is felt among the brave men and women who undertake this work is very real and deep. It is right and proper that those who cross that line deliberately are held accountable: when that line is crossed, serious consequences sometimes follow.

The security forces and all those who are engaged in this work are properly accountable. The framework within which they operate, as defined by the RIPA regulations, is now comprehensive. It is clear that we need to continue developing and constantly reviewing the way in which we conduct this work. I assure hon. Members that we will continue to do that, and that we will also continue to make the necessary effort to ensure that justice is done, in that case and in others. We uphold the law and the criminal justice system so, in the case of the murder of Patrick Finucane, we look first to the prosecution and conviction of those involved in that crime.