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Victims (Funding)

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

Since 1998, the Government have provided £36.4 million of help to victims. As part of her remit, Mrs. Bertha McDougall, the Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, is carrying out a review of how well current funding arrangements are addressing need. Her final report is due around the end of this year and I look forward to seeing her findings and recommendations, which will help to inform our consideration of any new funding arrangements.

The Minister will be aware that in a recently published report, Bertha McDougall stated that there was a

“lack of co-ordination, which had led to confusion, duplication of funding, gaps in funding, over-administration and an incomplete picture of provision.”

In advance of the interim commissioner’s final report, is there not a need to look further into how to end the duplication and to ensure that the money gets through to the people who need it most—the people who have suffered: the victims and the survivors—rather than be spent on administration? There should also be greater flexibility with respect to the Northern Ireland memorial fund. The funding should be geared towards meeting the specific needs of individual victims rather than provide generalised funding through grant arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman makes some very fair points. I congratulate Bertha McDougall on her work to date as interim commissioner. She is doing a sterling job in reviewing these issues. As the hon. Gentleman said, she has identified a lack of co-ordination, duplication of funding arrangements and the fact that, in some cases, bureaucracy is preventing victims, through no fault of their own, from receiving what is due to them. That is the very reason why we asked her to examine the issues and the very reason why she will make proposals in December. I greatly share the hon. Gentleman’s aspiration for a more focused and targeted approach to funding for victims and for people who need Government support, so that they receive it in a proper and effective way. I am confident that, once the review is complete, we will be in a position to take those matters forward.

I thank the Minister for the comments that he has already made on this important issue. Does he recognise that, as we look to political progress in the talks in Scotland and beyond, every stage of progress has brought mixed feelings for victims in Northern Ireland? They do not reject the language of moving on, but they fear that they are being left in some sort of forgottenhood. Does he recognise that the promises made to victims in the Good Friday agreement have not been upheld? The Government and all the parties can do more to deliver those promises. Will he encourage the formation of a forum for victims and survivors to do the business that the parties and Governments have failed to do in addressing the needs of victims on truth, remembrance and recognition?

Again, there is much in what my hon. Friend says that I genuinely share. Bertha McDougall, as the interim victims commissioner, is examining the possibility of bringing together individuals to look at some of the issues that deal with the past. What has happened in Northern Ireland over the past 35 years and the impact on victims and survivors has been devastating to their lives, cannot be moved on from and will always need to be remembered, but it needs to be put into a context where we offer support and accommodation to examine those issues in detail. We will very shortly introduce into the Commons an order to establish the victims commissioner permanently. We are committed to an expenditure of about £5 million a year on victims currently, and we have spent more than £36 million to date. I am certainly discussing the points that my hon. Friend mentions with the victims commissioner now, and I hope that we can make progress on them in the near future.

Has the Minister examined the Alliance party’s proposals for an international commission to define a strategy that deals not just with the past, but with the legacy of the past and the victims of what has happened in the past three and a half decades? Do the Government share my view and, indeed, that of the Alliance party that Northern Ireland must have a strategy to address its past if it is successfully to implement a vision for a shared future?

Yes, I have seen the Alliance proposal and I congratulate David Ford MLA on bringing those ideas to the table. I am also very encouraged that the Committee on the Preparation for Government in the Assembly has looked seriously at issues that relate to the past, and we certainly need to give careful thought to how we deal with such issues. I welcome the paper from the Alliance as a contribution to that debate. There is certainly the potential for some form of consultation on dealing with the past, and we continue to keep that under review. No doubt, that will be discussed as we head for Scotland today and over the next few days as well.

Since victims groups were probably the most strongly opposed to the Government’s abortive Bill to give an effective amnesty to on-the-run terrorists, will the Minister give us an assurance today that the Government will not agree to this week’s demand from Sinn Fein that that legislation now be reintroduced?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. He will know that the Government attempted to take action on this issue. That attempt was not successful. The Government withdrew the Bill, and I can assure him today that there is no prospect whatsoever of the Government reintroducing the legislation that was before the House last year.