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Payment Scheme for Victims of the Troubles

Volume 687: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2021

What recent representations he has received on funding for the payment scheme for victims of the troubles. (910925)

From recent engagement with victims’ groups, their overriding concern is that the scheme be open for applications as quickly as possible. We share that objective, and I will continue to work with the Executive’s delivery of this scheme. We must make sure progress is not diverted by any red herrings. This is a devolved matter, and devolved matters are funded from the block grant. The Executive need to step up and fund this scheme. The Department of Finance in the Northern Ireland Executive needs to step forward and to get the independent fiscal council organised to provide that independent advice and scrutiny to help them on these budgetary matters.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Eighteen months ago, I was proud to play my part in finally delivering the payment to victims who had campaigned for decades for redress for the unimaginable suffering they endured during the troubles. The fact that it still has not been delivered, though, should shame us all. So does the Secretary of State agree that failing to deliver on these promises to victims will do immense damage to trust, and when will he act to ensure that those promises are kept in Northern Ireland?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate—being, as he outlined, part of the process—we are all proud to have got this moving forward. He is absolutely right: I think there is a moral as well as a legal and an ethical duty to ensure that the victims are able to access that programme of work. I know the work is ongoing to do that. In the Department of Justice, the Minister there is passionate and determined about that, as is the First Minister. One of the frustrations I had in 2020, I have to say, was the fact that it took a court case to get the Deputy First Minister to even designate a Department. That simply was not good enough. The Department of Finance now needs to ensure that it does not play games with victims and their pensions and payments, and that that money is made available to the Department of Justice to get on and deliver this programme.

May I first, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, echo my right hon. Friend’s opening comments this morning? I welcome, too, as he has, the movement on the historical institutional abuse payments, but he will be aware that there are other issues with regard to legacy remaining outstanding and long overdue. I know he is consulting on these at the moment. Can he give a commitment that that consultation will have concluded, any draft legislation will be published and a route plan to delivery will be in the public domain by the time the House rises for the summer recess-?

To my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee, I have to say that this is to the huge credit of the Committee and the work it has done. The recent piece of work it has done looking into legacy has been immensely helpful. There have been some very useful contributions in that. He is quite right: we are engaging widely on this issue at the moment. Obviously, this was delayed, as we were all—across both the Irish Government and the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and of course in communities—focused on covid over the course of last year, but that work is now ongoing, and I certainly intend and hope to be able to fulfil the timeline that he has just set me as a target.

May I join the Secretary of State in sending the best wishes of the whole House to the former Secretary of State and to the Minister, Edwin Poots?

Victims of the troubles have been badly treated in the last year in particular and are fast losing confidence in whether we will all deliver on the promises we made to them in this House. The troubles pension was legislated for in Westminster, it applies to victims across the UK and beyond, and we simply cannot wash our hands of our responsibility, so will the Secretary of State urgently meet with the relevant Ministers in the Executive to discuss meeting the upfront costs of the scheme, which he must accept are not reasonable to be funded out of the block grant, and ensure that the pension too many have waited decades for will finally be delivered?

I am sure the hon. Lady will be aware that I meet with Executive Ministers on a regular basis, whether the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister or indeed the Justice Minister, who is taking this work programme forward, and who I have to say is doing a very good piece of work. She is still, as of the last conversation I had with her, on target to have the administrative structure in place—I think her intention is by the spring, or late March—in order to allow victims to apply for the scheme. She has also been very proactive as the owner of this portfolio in engaging with victims’ groups both directly and, as I am sure we have all seen, on social media, so I think they are very much aware of the work she is doing to get this progressed. I have said to her that I will continue to give her my full support. The UK Government have shown our support through not just the approximately £15 billion of block grant but the £918 million uplift that we secured through the spending review. I look forward to seeing the details as the Executive are able to work through exactly what they think this scheme will cost. It is a priority for the Executive—it is clearly a part of “New Decade, New Approach.” It is a devolved matter. I look forward to seeing exactly what the Department of Finance in the Northern Ireland Executive is putting into this priority to deliver it for those victims, as is required.

I am sure the Justice Minister and other Ministers who have been pursuing a meeting with the Secretary of State on this issue for some time will be pleased to hear that he has now committed to that.

Another issue of confidence for victims is the delay in the publication of the Shawcross report, which the Secretary of State’s Government commissioned, into compensation for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terror. Why are the Government refusing to publish this report and fulfil their promises of compensation for victims?

First, I would just correct the hon. Lady: what I actually said was that I have been talking to the Justice Minister—I spoke to her just a few weeks ago—and she raises the victims’ payments issue quite widely on a regular basis. Obviously, I talk to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister very regularly—often more than once a week—on a range of issues, including this one.

We recognise the very sensitive issues that are raised in the scoping report Mr Shawcross has produced. Ministers are now carefully considering the internal scoping report in order to ensure that we can do justice to the important and sensitive issues that it covers and to give due respect to the victims it is working for. We as a Government are working hard to ensure that across these issues we are doing everything we can to make sure that the victims get the support that they need.