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Un Covenant: Compensation And Ex Gratia Payments

Volume 431: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1982

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2.48 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government on what basis they contend that our obligations to comply with the requirements in Article 14(6) of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to provide "compensation according to law" in the cases there specified is met by providing ex gratia payments in some cases.

My Lords, the present Government, like their predecessors, take the view that the existing procedure, coupled with the right that an aggrieved person may have to bring a civil action, constitutes an adequate compliance with our obligations.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meanings of the words ex gratia are:

" of, or by favour, done as a favour and not under compulsion".
Then the dictionary states:
" especially implying the absence of any legal right ".
Does the noble Lord agree that those are the meanings of the words?

My Lords, I would not seek to join issue with the noble and learned Lord in the pages of the dictionary. But the point that I wish to make is that the effect of the existence of the ex gratia system of payments gives the necessary flexibility for dealing with a very wide range of circumstances which could give rise to a miscarriage of justice and that in practice no really meritorious case is rejected.

My Lords, is it not really very difficult to contend that we satisfied our obligations under this convenant of the United Nations, which we have ratified, to provide compensation according to law, by making ex gratia payments when the latter are not only inconsistent with the former but are their direct opposite?

My Lords, I would not accept that they were the direct opposite, and I feel that they discharge what the United Nations wished to achieve. My argument would be more difficult to sustain had not a senior Government official given evidence before the United Nations Committee on Human Rights in 1978 and 1979 on this and other matters, and had it not been the case that the committee has not reported unfavourably on the matter.