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Northern Ireland: Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 13 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the request from the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to introduce measures to compensate the victims of Historical Institutional Abuse, as recommended by the Report of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in January 2017.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service wrote to the Secretary of State on 2 May, providing her with the historical institutional abuse consultation report, draft legislation and a document that set out the key issues that require ministerial decision. The Secretary of State asked the Northern Ireland political parties to consider these important policy questions and to seek a consensus. She has now received their recommendations and will consider them as a matter of urgency. She is determined to do everything in her power to ensure the victims and survivors get the redress they deserve as quickly as possible.

The Minister will be aware that, in addition to the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, as he said, all parties at Stormont have asked his right honourable friend to legislate to implement the Hart report, which came out in January 2017. Since this Parliament is effectively lying idle for the next six weeks, could I implore my noble friend to prevail on the Secretary of State to immediately introduce this legislation on humanitarian grounds? Why should these victims suffer all over again because of unnecessary delay? Thirty-one victims have died since the report was published in January 2017. Why should any more go to their graves without receiving justice?

The noble Lord makes an important point. This is about victims and redress. The issue we face is that the original draft diverges significantly from the consensus reached by the political parties. This will therefore take time to redraft. That is what is being taken forward right now in Northern Ireland by the authorities. Once that is done, it will return to us and we will take it through both Houses as expeditiously as possible.

My Lords, this all sounds a little delaying. I trust the noble Lord’s judgment implicitly on this, but it is over two years since the inquiry report. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that this delay comes at a very high price for the people of Northern Ireland and the survivors of abuse. Obviously, the preferred option would be a devolved Administration, but I put on record again, because this is not the only example like this, that the Government are not doing enough to ensure the devolved institutions are up and running. I have said that perhaps if the noble Lord was Secretary of State we might see greater progress, which we would welcome. The political parties all blame each other for it not happening. Meanwhile, we have cases such as this where people are dying and struggling through lack of action. There is a moral duty to act. The noble Lord said that work is ongoing. Can he give a commitment to bring back that legislation to this House in this parliamentary Session before any Prorogation, whenever that might be?

The challenge we face is that, had the political parties in reaching their consensus broadly affirmed the Hart report and all its elements, we could have been taking it forward right now. Unfortunately, there were 13 substantive areas of change that the political parties wished to take forward. These require some time. I cannot give the commitment the noble Baroness would like to hear, but I can say that once we work through those things with the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland we will take it forward as quickly as this House and the other place will allow.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, is to be credited for his persistence on this issue. I concur with him that neither this House nor the other is preoccupied at the moment. I hear what the Minister says, but people have waited far too long. There is time to do things quickly and effectively when all the political parties are on side. Will he take that on board? Northern Ireland needs a positive gesture right now. Is this not the right time to deliver this, and not delay it any further?

The important thing to stress is that, were we in receipt of the draft legislation, this House could take it forward very quickly indeed, but we are not. The challenge right now is for the authorities in Northern Ireland that are responsible for this to work through each of the aspects raised by the political parties, to ensure that this can be brought forward in draft. The moment it arrives here we will be able to take this forward very quickly indeed.

Would my noble friend accept that there are other victims too? We have discussed in this House those who were brutally treated during the Troubles, many of whom were maimed. Many have died in the last few years. They deserve the same sort of recompense; my noble friend has acknowledged that on the Floor of this House. Will he try to bring legislation that includes them as well?

I would not wish to see these two elements entwined, because they are quite distinct. However, the issue to which my noble friend refers is very important. I have given an assurance before and repeat today that we must make progress on victims’ pensions. He has my word that we will take that forward as quickly as we possibly can.

My Lords, I certainly agree with the Minister when he says that these are two separate, different issues, which are both extremely important. From his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, do I take it that the settled position of the Government is that, since all the obstacles are out of the way and all the political parties are on board, they will now take the necessary action, bearing in mind that some of the institutions have a big role to play here and must not be allowed to get away scot free? I urge the Government to give a clear, unambiguous, unequivocal reply that they will take this issue forward and that this is their settled position, irrespective of what is happening in Northern Ireland and since all the political parties in Northern Ireland agree that it should be taken forward.

Is the Minister telling us that the only reason we are not able to consider this is because of a delay in drafting the legislation? The Minister knows that I have great respect for him. Could he not go back to the officials to say that this House, indeed the whole Parliament, is ready to consider this legislation and put a rocket under them so that it comes here as quickly as possible?

My Lords, the victims of these crimes and their relatives are grieving. The grief is deep. They simply cannot understand why the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has not taken a decision more quickly. There must be no more delays. I welcome the Minister’s comments today that he will expedite this matter so that it is dealt with in the quickest possible time.

We can afford no more delays, so the moment we have this material here, we will move it forward quickly. We will see that justice is served and redress is achieved.