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Northern Ireland

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 11 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received concerning the payment of compensation to the dependants of members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who have lost their lives as a result of terrorist activities in Northern Ireland; and what replies he has sent.

Since the beginning of the year, I have received six representations about the payment of such compensation. In my replies, I explained how sizeable lump sums and pensions are paid to dependants, and how these payments have to be taken into account by the courts in assessing the compensation.

Despite the fact that he has had only six complaints, does the Minister not agree that there is widespread unease on this matter, in that under the existing 1968 legislation the amount of compensation payable is often pitifully small and in some cases almost nothing, that it is based on wholly inadequate criteria and that it often requires very distressing questionnaires to be completed by widows immediately after bereavement? What does the hon. Gentleman propose to do or to recommend his right hon. Friends to do to improve this rather scandalous situation?

I am aware that there is considerable feeling on this issue and, equally, that there have been what have been regarded as a number of offensive questions. But the operation of the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 is, as the House knows, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I shall most certainly draw to his attention what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Will the Minister ensure that whenever the announcement is made of sums of compensation, steps are taken to present them in the context of the full benefits to which there is entitlement, thus avoiding the widespread misunderstanding and unjustified indignation which arise from the apparent disparity between these and civilian awards?

I shall certainly give consideration to the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises. Whether it would be desirable in every case to say precisely just what compensation and benefit a widow should receive is something that we would have to consider. Clearly, that is, in effect, what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting. But I shall certainly consider this matter.

Will the Minister now carry out a thorough-going review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act to the extent that it affects Service men, as there is widespread dismay about the way in which Service widows are interrogated and about the sums concerned?

As I have already said, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and no doubt he will be apprised of all that has been said here this afternoon. I can give the assurance that some of the more offensive questions, or the questions which have been regarded as offensive, to dependants are under consideration at present.