The Northern Ireland Secretary has “breached the ministerial code” Labour has claimed, after the timetable for the delayed Bill aimed at ending all prosecutions related to the Troubles was briefed to the media.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle told the Commons that Brandon Lewis had “showed discourtesy” to MPs and the people of Northern Ireland for not bringing forward plans to deal with the legacy of the conflict last autumn as planned.
Raising a point of order in the Commons, Labour MP Mr Kyle said: “Back in July last year the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland released a command paper relating to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the legacy issues relating to such.
“In his statement to the House back then, he said and I quote, that he is ‘introducing legislation by the end of autumn’ … but no legislation came forward.”
He added: “At the last oral questions just before Christmas, I asked him where the legislation was and he replied, and again I quote, ‘we have not paused’.”
Mr Kyle said news website PoliticsHome had this week reported the Bill would be coming in “late spring or early summer” after a briefing from the Government.
The MP said: “This strikes me as a very clear breach of the ministerial code which is very clear in its intent that ministers should talk about legislation and how legislation is going to be handled in this place by talking to this place, either in an oral statement or a written statement, preferably an oral one so we can cross-examine it at this despatch box.”
Decisions about when to make written or oral statements are obviously for the Government rather than the Speaker, however as (Mr Kyle) will know the Speaker has made repeatedly clear that substantial policy announcements should be made first to this House
Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton
Addressing Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton, he added: “Can you confirm whether you have been informed, or Mr Speaker has been informed, about any intentions over this legislation?
“If not, I think it is a discourtesy to the Speaker, I think it is a discourtesy to this House, and to all people in Northern Ireland for whom anxiety has been provoked by talk of this legislation, it is certainly a discourtesy to them.”
Dame Rosie replied: “Decisions about when to make written or oral statements are obviously for the Government rather than the Speaker, however as he will know the Speaker has made repeatedly clear that substantial policy announcements should be made first to this House and I would expect that the Government would observe that in relation to this very important issue.
“With regard to breaches of the ministerial code, that would be something that if he wishes to raise that, that would be with the Cabinet Office.”
The Government is absolutely committed to addressing legacy issues comprehensively and fairly. This will include measures that focus on information recovery, so that families can know what happened to their loved ones, and which promote reconciliation, so all communities in Northern Ireland can move forward
Last week, a Government source told PoliticsHome that more time was needed to get the Bill right, and that it could be introduced in late spring or early summer.
A Government spokesman told the news website: “The Government is absolutely committed to addressing legacy issues comprehensively and fairly.
“This will include measures that focus on information recovery, so that families can know what happened to their loved ones, and which promote reconciliation, so all communities in Northern Ireland can move forward.”
In July, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced plans for a statute of limitations, which would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
In October, Mr Lewis said the Government intended to legislate on the plans “this autumn”, but faced harsh criticism in December when this did not happen, with Conservative MP Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) calling on him to resign.
Conservative former defence minister Johnny Mercer intends to raise the legacy of the Troubles in a debate on Thursday.