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7 July London Bombings

Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

The issue that I am raising is not simply a London one. The dead and injured came from various parts of country. On that terrible day, for instance, a 13-year-old girl, Neema Begum, came up to London with her teacher from Walsall. She was to be presented with an award for public speaking in the Youth Parliament. Fortunately, the two were not directly involved, but as they walked from Euston station to Tavistock square, they heard the explosion on the bus that took a number of lives.

On Friday, it will of course be a year since the atrocities occurred on a day of murderous infamy that took the lives of 52 totally innocent people and left a number very seriously injured. It is difficult for normal people to understand the sheer evil, depravity and fanaticism of the four mass murderers. The evil that they did on 7 July last year will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.

I accept that, probably due to parliamentary, ministerial and public pressure, there has been less delay than usual by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in paying out on claims. However, that is little comfort for those who are still waiting for final awards, or even, in some instances, an interim payment. The Minister will be in a position to confirm or deny this, but it seems that a quarter of the claimants have so far not received anything at all from the CICA.

In a parliamentary reply, my hon. Friend the Minister told me that 319 awards have so far been made and that they amount to over £2 million. Of those 319 awards, 189 were final payments. I take this opportunity, four days before the first anniversary of the atrocities, to urge strongly that the remaining claims be finalised quickly. I hope that it will not be necessary to bring up this issue again in a year’s time. There is a need for urgency and speed and to overcome red tape, which is of course the main reason why I have raised this issue today.

The London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund was set up shortly after the atrocities. The Government have made a significant contribution to it and like everyone in the House, I welcome that. Nevertheless, the amounts to be paid by the CICA do not reflect the seriousness of the injuries suffered on 7 July.

In the reply to my written question, the Minister set out what is described as the tariff. For instance, the sum for the loss of one leg below the knee is £33,000, and for the loss of one leg above the knee it is £44,000. For the loss of both legs, or of both hands or arms, the sum is £110,000. I should point out that these amounts apply in all cases, and not only to the victims of the atrocities of 7/7. There is a current maximum upper limit of £500,000, which has not been increased since 1996. That upper limit needs to be looked at with some urgency, because in cases involving the most severe injuries—I will mention two such cases shortly—I very much doubt whether that capped sum of £500,000, assuming that it is paid, is sufficient.

It is unclear how many of those seriously injured on 7/7 will receive the maximum, or anywhere near it. I have been informed—I checked the figures with the Library as recently as today—that the highest sum so far paid to anyone who was very seriously injured who survived the atrocities is £152,000, and that only five people have received more than £100,000 from the CICA.

One person who was seriously injured—very seriously—is Martine Wright, who was on the Aldgate train. Her case has been much publicised. Both her legs were destroyed above the knee. So far, Miss Wright has received £100,000 as an interim payment. I know that, apart from the question of compensation, she is very keen for a public inquiry to take place; however, I shall not discuss that today as it is outside the terms of my Adjournment debate. None the less, receiving adequate money so that she can try to get her life together as far as possible is still a necessity. Yes, she has artificial legs, but as she has discovered, she cannot walk all the time. She often goes out in a wheelchair, and as she has stated in a newspaper article, she covers her lower body with a blanket because she does not want people to glance at her, which is perfectly understandable. If any of us suffered such horrifying injuries, we would feel the same. Just imagine the support that she needs in terms of alternative suitable accommodation and future earnings. She is in her early 30s and was an international marketing manager. It is not just her legs that have been badly damaged; in the process, so have many other aspects of her life. Lawyers have told her that it could take a long time for her final claim to be settled. That is unacceptable, and I hope that the Minister agrees with me.

Another claimant is Danny Biddle, who is in his 20s. He lost both legs and an eye in the Edgware road attack. I understand that, so far, he has received nearly £119,000. How long will it be before a final sum is paid to Mr. Biddle? The figure of £119,000 cannot possibly be anywhere near the amount that he is entitled to.

In some cases victims left behind a partner. One such case is that of Richard Gray, who was murdered on 7 July. He was an accountant. His widow, with two young children, is obviously keen to have an adequate sum so that they can survive financially.

I understand from the Library that the average amount paid out so far is £6,000. I know that there are complicated rules. I know the argument that public money cannot be handed out liberally. I understand that if there are rules in force, they apply in all cases. But the victims of 7/7 were the victims of a deliberate murderous attack on the state. To that extent, it could be argued that compensation for them falls into a different category.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), whose brother was murdered abroad, wants to make a short intervention. I shall make way for him in a moment.

In conclusion, on Friday we will again remember the dead. We will again express our determination to ensure that everything possible is done by the police and the security authorities to try to avoid another murderous attack anywhere in the United Kingdom. We will make it clear that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country, like the rest of us, deplore and loathe the mass murderers. I make a plea to the Minister. Hurry up, please. Try to finalise the settlements as quickly as possible. In so far as it is possible, let the sums be realistic.

I have quoted two cases, but there are other people who were seriously injured. The least we can do is try to help them with adequate compensation, so they can get the support that they require in order to rebuild their lives in every way possible. That is why I applied for the Adjournment debate today.

I thank the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) for allowing me to participate in this important debate, which is taking place at an apt time of the year. I shall keep my comments brief as I am keen to hear the Minister’s response to those important remarks, which I fully endorse. As the anniversary approaches, there are still claims for compensation which have not been sorted out.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I lost my brother in the Bali bombing. He was killed by the same organisations as hit us on 7 July, so I speak for those people and for the people I have spoken to who were involved in the Sharm el Sheikh tragedy. We did not get any compensation whatsoever. We did not get any insurance payment whatsoever. Why? Because insurance companies do not cover international terrorism abroad, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority does not operate outside UK jurisdiction.

Will the Minister please review the situation? We see what other countries do. They now provide adequate responses to look after their citizens while they are abroad. We do not find the UK doing that. I appreciate that the Chancellor made an important announcement in the Budget about providing £1 million towards a charitable fund, but we have heard about the sums being handed out, and £1 million is not nearly enough to cover the future atrocities that may unfortunately take place.

I do not expect any compensation. That is not why I am taking part in the debate. My tragedy has taken place. I am anticipating the events that, sadly, will happen. And they will happen. We have only to look at the size of the barriers surrounding the House of Commons to know that we still live in a very dangerous world.

It is wrong that we can receive compensation, poor though it may be, if we are on a Eurostar train that is attacked while it is parked in Waterloo station, but as soon as it leaves British soil we are not entitled to any compensation from the UK Government. A number of good things came out of Bali. We improved the website containing travel advice and we sorted out the emergency response teams that embassies provide. One remaining objective is to sort out the compensation that should be paid in parity to those affected by terrorism in the UK. Terrorism recognises no borders, and neither should the British Government’s help to support British citizens.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on securing this very important debate. I also offer my condolences to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) on the loss of his brother. I fully understand the issues that he raises, and I will touch on them later if I can. I thank them both for the spirit in which they made their contributions.

The question of help and support for the victims of the 7/7 bombings is very much in our minds as we approach the first anniversary of those dreadful events. My thoughts, and I am sure those of the whole House, go out to those who suffered a bereavement or an injury, whether physical, psychological, or emotional. As my hon. Friend says, none of us can forget those horrific events of last year. This timely debate gives me the opportunity to bring the House up to date with the facts on how we have been able help those who were injured or bereaved by the bombings. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is Minister for London, has joined me on the Front Bench for this important debate.

As my hon. Friend said, it is widely known that 52 innocent people were killed in the bombings and that more than 700 people were injured. The national health service, the police, local authorities, and the special assistance centre and telephone helpline established in the aftermath of the tragedy have each played a key role in offering support and help to those affected. We should never forget those who are committed to the emergency services for the work that they do, and did on that day.

The survivors and the bereaved were eligible for compensation from the criminal injuries compensation scheme, the statutory scheme that pays out compensation to victims of violent crime in Great Britain. Compensation claims are handled by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority—CICA—which, as hon. Members will be aware, is an executive non-departmental public body. The authority is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the scheme. It interprets the scheme’s rules and decides how much compensation claimants are entitled to according to its terms.

Ministers are precluded by law from getting involved in individual cases or from commenting on CICA’s handling of individual applications or its decisions in individual cases. However, CICA, in administering a statutory scheme, is bound by the terms of the scheme as set by Parliament. The authority has limited discretion in applying the rules in individual cases. In that respect, the scheme differs from, for example, the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund, which, as an independent charity established specifically to help 7/7 victims, was free to set its own rules and guidelines and can make charitable grants at the discretion of its trustees.

As I said, I cannot talk about individual cases. However, I can give the House some more general information about claims made to CICA and describe how it is dealing with claims from those who were more seriously injured, which is the issue of particular concern to my hon. Friend. At close of business on Friday 23 June, CICA had received 516 applications for compensation in respect of the 7/7 bombings. It had also received 12 applications related to the attempted bombings two weeks later on 21 July. However, I am not including information about the 21/7 incidents, because none of those victims sustained severe physical injury but have sought compensation only for the mental trauma they suffered. Of the 516 7/7 applications, 18 have been turned down, although some of the claimants have appealed against that decision. CICA has paid 370 awards totalling £2.3 million, comprising a mix of interim and final awards. In 217 cases, a final award has been accepted and paid, thereby bringing the case to a close.

As for serious cases, CICA has interpreted that as meaning cases where the claimant has lost an eye or a limb or has sustained severe burns or other injury of comparable severity. It has received 17 claims where the principal injury meets that definition of seriousness. According to CICA, in every serious case it has made substantial interim awards on account. In most instances, that interim award has been the tariff award for the most serious injury sustained. Therefore, in several cases the interim award has been well in excess of £100,000. CICA is not yet able to finalise these seriously injured cases, because they all involve claims for compensation additional to the basic tariff award for loss of earnings and special expenses. In all those cases, the final prognosis for recovery is not yet clear and CICA is not yet in a position to make a final assessment of the claim for financial loss.

Will my hon. Friend confirm, unless I am wrong, the figures that I cited, which showed that the highest sum paid so far is £152,000 and that only five people have received more than £100,000?

I published figures in my written answer to my hon. Friend, but I shall ensure that I put the exact detail in writing if they are different from the figures that he cited and those to which I referred.

Work remains to be done on the cases. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will, of course, aim to finalise the claims as quickly as it can. However, when that is likely to take some time, it will be ready and willing to make further substantial interim awards where possible.

The authority continues to receive applications at the rate of about 30 a month, and those newer applications account for most of the cases in which it has not yet been able to make an offer of compensation. There are also 11 bereavement cases, for which the authority has not yet received applications.

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I have looked at his written answer. At the time, I did not ask him the question that I just asked and it is not therefore covered. I understand that the issues are complex and I do not criticise my hon. Friend—he did not know what I might ask. Will he write to me in reply to the question that I asked a moment ago and place the response in the Library as quickly as possible?

I am happy to write to my hon. Friend. Clearly, I want to ensure that the fullest possible information is in the public domain and I shall therefore place a copy of the letter in the Library.

I said that there were 11 bereavement cases for which the authority had not yet received any applications. As I said earlier, the victims of 7/7 and those bereaved by the bombings also had financial support from the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund. The Mayor of London and the British Red Cross set it up in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. The Government donated £1 million to the fund in July 2005 and we announced last month that we were donating another £2.5 million to it, so that the trustees could give further assistance to the bereaved and injured of the 7 July London bombings.

Before that second Government donation, the fund had made more than 900 charitable grants, totalling more than £8 million, to more than 300 individuals. It now expects to be able to make another 200 to 300 charitable grants, and I believe that many such grants have already been made to those who were seriously injured or bereaved.

To complete the picture, I remind hon. Members that we also passed regulations in 2005 so that payments from the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund are disregarded for the purposes of assessing entitlement to means-tested state benefits. We have, of course, thought hard about what can be learned from these dreadful events. We had already been examining ways in which to improve the criminal injuries compensation scheme before the 7 July bombings. However, the events of 7 July obviously highlighted specific problems with the scheme, especially the process involved, the length of time taken, and the amount of the payments, particularly in the serious cases. That is why the Government made a donation of £3.5 million to the charitable fund, which has been able to make payments on a more flexible and quicker basis than a statutory scheme. We have learned lessons—for example, that there needs to be a clearer policy for making interim payments, and that discretion should be used when possible to allow practical common sense to prevail, within the rules of the scheme.

We know that the scheme in its current guise is not perfect. That is why we undertook a public consultation this year, with proposals for refocusing the scheme to increase amounts of compensation for those most seriously injured, while providing more immediate local help and practical support for those whose injuries were less serious. We will publish the results of that consultation exercise later this month and announce our plans for reforming the scheme before the summer recess.

Let me consider the points that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East made. One of the problems with the statutory scheme is that it was not designed for the sorts of events that happened in Bali or, indeed, those of 7/7. Supporting the charity was the best way in which to introduce some flexibility into the system. However, I know that the concern that the hon. Gentleman raised about terrorist tragedies throughout the world is widespread. Perhaps we can meet him and people who support his cause to ascertain what we can do in future to try to find the best way in which to provide immediate practical assistance to individuals at home and abroad. I undertake to consider that. Clearly, we are now living in a world that is more dangerous than ever before, and it is important that we address the situation by giving support to the people who need it as quickly as possible.

The CICA arrangements are in place, as I have said. I understand what my hon. Friend is saying: we should try to process these issues as swiftly as possible. I have tried to explain that that is what we want to do, despite the difficulties that we face in regard to the rules of the scheme. By supporting the charity fund, we have been able to provide some flexibility, however. We are looking at the future of the scheme and at what needs to be done. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my explanation. I will write to him on the issues that he has asked me about, and I hope that the House will understand what the Government are trying to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock.