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House of Commons Hansard
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Victims of Terrorism (Pensions and Other Support)
02 May 2018
Volume 640

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about support for victims who have been severely injured or bereaved as a result of acts of terrorism by an unconnected person or organisation in the United Kingdom; to establish a review of pension support for such victims; to require that review to make proposals for additional support taking account of the effects on occupational pension provision for such victims; and for connected purposes.

It is an absolute privilege to present this ten-minute rule Bill on an issue that I, and my colleagues, care very deeply about and that I have been involved with for many years. It is particularly poignant that this month marks the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, an appalling act of terrorism that has touched, and continues to touch, so many hundreds of people in its brutal impact.

When a terrorist attack happens, it rightly unites our nation in shared revulsion and condemnation. The headlines show the appalling and shocking events. The voices of those hurt, the pictures of chaos and distress from the scene, and the stories of those lost are rightly given prominence across our media platforms. We stand united in grief, as the images of horror and destruction are shown on television screens, computers and newspapers. Thoughts, prayers and best wishes are sent. People post and change their social media profiles to images of solidarity. Yet how quickly after the headlines have faded the acuteness of the shock and horror dissipates for many; the rest of the world, it seems, moves on. But for those most deeply impacted, it is often the end of their world as they knew it. Their lives have been shattered. They continue to suffer the loss of a loved one, with a huge human-shaped gap in their lives: a loving child, spouse, sister or brother, mother or father, friend, gone in the most brutal of ways. Tears continue to fall long after the media frenzy has passed.

There are those whose journey begins only once the headlines change and the profile pictures revert—that long painful process of recovery from severe physical injuries. For others, the mental health pressures of the trauma they experienced or witnessed may take many years to manifest, blighting lives, relationships and hope. In Northern Ireland, we have been disproportionately impacted by terrorism. Those violent attacks and atrocities made victims from all religions, races, faiths and creeds. Compassion for their needs should be something that unites us all, regardless of political opinion and view, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with my colleagues in Northern Ireland, including the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), and with colleagues from across this House.

We have seen at first hand in Northern Ireland that the needs of victims often last a lifetime. I believe the United Kingdom should aspire to be the global leader in how we treat our victims of terrorism, which is why, in this Bill, I am calling for a comprehensive review of the support we give to all our victims of terrorism across the UK. The terrorism that impacted so significantly in Northern Ireland also destroyed lives across the United Kingdom, from London to Warrington, Birmingham and beyond. Nor is the issue of the victims of terrorism simply one of legacy; sadly, this is a continuing threat and reality. How we remember the wrongs of the past and support those who were hurt the most should be the very hallmark of what we are as a society. This is about compassion. Victims must not be forgotten. It is right and proper that their needs are addressed, and this work should be lead from the very top, from our Government. A comprehensive review leading to enhanced support and clear actions can make us a world leader in the care and support that we give.

There are a number of distinct issues that I want to touch on briefly, many of which are based on our experience in Northern Ireland, the first of which is the needs of the bereaved. In any atrocity, the families and loved ones should be treated with compassion and care. Timely information and support services should be provided as quickly as possible. The trauma and distress of losing a loved one in such a sudden and violent way brings about particular challenges. Counselling and bereavement services must be available where and when they are needed. Such a loss can also create a sudden change of family circumstances and financial hardship.

I have also had the opportunity to speak to those victims bereaved and injured as a result of Libyan-supplied Semtex. Much work has been done to try to secure support and compensation for victims. I strongly urge the Government to look afresh and urgently at the proposals seeking to support victims in need. I welcome the engagements so far, but now is the time for action. A review should look into not only the options of how to secure moneys from the Libyan Government, but how support can happen now, while those negotiations are ongoing.

Secondly, a review must examine the mental health legacy of terrorism and violent trauma, Over recent years, a number of key studies, particularly in Northern Ireland, have examined the profound impact of terrorism and violent trauma on mental health, which often does not manifest itself until many, many years later. Rates of self-harm, suicidal ideation, rates of suicide, substance abuse and family break-up are all considerably higher among those who suffered the trauma of terrorism. The review must look at how mental health supports can be put in place, both at community and NHS level, to identify and address trauma in victims, and build on the incredible work that organisations already do across the UK in this field.

Thirdly, the review should examine the impact of dealing with a terrorist attack—usually its aftermath—on our emergency services and first responders to the scene. Over recent decades, we have all become much more aware of the impacts of trauma on mental health. In Northern Ireland, during the worst of the terrorist campaign, there was limited support and help for the police officers, Army personnel, ambulance staff, firemen, nurses and doctors—those who are on the frontline in dealing with horrific injuries and multiple casualties. Many were left deeply traumatised, and for many post-traumatic stress disorder was not identified or did not manifest itself until many years later. I know that across this House we would all want to pay tribute to those brave men and women who work so valiantly, in incredibly difficult circumstances, to help and support the dying and injured. A review should examine how we can have a comprehensive and timely support service for our emergency services.

Lastly, I want to speak briefly about the particular needs of the physically disabled. In the Manchester Arena attack, more than 100 people were injured, some of those very severely. The headline figures are often about those who tragically lose their lives, but I believe we all underestimate the gravity of the injuries caused by these types of attacks. Over the years, tens of thousands of people across the United Kingdom have been left with serious traumatic injuries as a result of terrorism, and these victims are living with these injuries every day. The availability of severe pain management, rehabilitation support, prosthetics and other aids is critical throughout the decades that they have to live with the injuries. The review must also examine the proposal for the introduction of a special pension for the severely disabled across the United Kingdom.

Many victims of terrorism suffered from traumatic injury to limbs, particularly lower limbs. Although I welcome the fact that workplaces have increasingly become more accessible for those with mobility challenges, particularly wheelchair users, we should also recognise that that was not always the case. Many victims sustained these horrific lower-limb and other injuries relatively early in their working life. Most workplaces were not suitable for wheelchair access during those decades, and many had to leave work. That has created a very particular wrong, as those victims, who continue to suffer these terrible severe injuries, are dealing with the impact of ageing on those injuries, and they face older age without any occupational or work-related pension.

I pay tribute to the many victims who have worked so hard on this issue, raising its profile and meeting politicians across the various political parties to raise awareness about it.

I do not wish to dwell for long on the definition of victim issue, save to say that to me this is very straightforward. The terrorist, who drives a van into crowds of people, who wields the knife, who shoots to kill and plants the bomb, is not a victim, even if he is killed in doing so. To me, that is absolutely clear and right. That is why I have clearly referenced in the long title of this Bill,

“acts of terrorism by an unconnected person or organisation”.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government will listen and respond to the calls for a comprehensive review of support for victims of terrorism across the United Kingdom, and that there is continued wide support for my call for compassion and action to support all those brave victims from across this country, and to get the help they need and deserve.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Emma Little Pengelly, Kate Hoey, Andrew Bowie, Andrew Bridgen, Colin Clark, Faisal Rashid, Andrew Rosindell, Mr Laurence Robertson, Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson, Nigel Dodds, Ian Paisley and Gavin Robinson present the Bill.

Emma Little Pengelly accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed (Bill 204).