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Northern Ireland: Trauma Victims

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 27 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to grant a pension to the severely injured victims of the Northern Ireland conflict represented by the WAVE Trauma Centre.

This is an important issue, which the UK Government take very seriously. That is why the Secretary of State requested updated and comprehensive advice from the victims’ commissioner, which we have recently received. The completion of that advice represents an important step in taking forward a pension for victims of the Troubles. The Northern Ireland Office is undertaking detailed work on the next steps, with factual input and support from the NICS.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his personal commitment to the several hundred people who, through absolutely no fault of their own, were so catastrophically damaged by Northern Ireland terrorist attacks and who, for a modest outlay, will have their lives transformed by being granted a weekly pension of £150. As he knows, there is cross-party support for an enabling Bill to go through this House in one day, like other Northern Ireland legislation. Will the Government promise to find time for this before the recess? After all, we are not exactly snowed under with Bills at the moment. He has met the severely injured—some, double amputees. For nearly 10 years they have dragged themselves to Stormont, when it was functioning, to argue their case but to no avail. Will the Government now act quickly to legislate to remedy this appalling injustice?

The noble Lord has been a passionate advocate on behalf of those who have suffered in the Troubles. I had an extraordinary experience in meeting some of the victims. The victims’ commissioner has given his advice; it raises a number of issues that we must work our way through as quickly and expeditiously as we can to make sure the legislation produced is right for the time. We are going through this now. The noble Lord knows that we are exploring every possible way to make sure we get this right. I cannot at this point give the commitment he would like, but I can assure him that there is no doubt in my mind that the Government remain utterly committed to delivering on this important issue.

As one of those who has met with my noble friend the Minister, I add my tributes for his hard work. Does he accept, however, that many of those who should have benefited have already died? Others will die in the course of this year. Speed really is of the essence. It will be important to get something through, if not by the end of July, certainly in the September sitting.

My noble friend makes an important point. He reminds us again that one of the issues drawn to our attention by the victims’ commissioner is how pension rights should be transferred in the sad situation where a victim has passed on. We must get that right as well, to ensure satisfaction for all affected—not only the victims but victims’ families. We will do all we can to move this matter forward.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is to be commended for his tenacity on this issue. He is obviously well versed in it, and the Minister has always been sympathetic. Time is extremely precious, however, and these people do not have time. Does he understand that for many people, however courteous his answers, they sound like a long drawn-out bureaucratic delay on an issue that has been around for years? There is cross-party support for this, it is affordable and there really is no reason for delay. It requires the Government to do something soon—something real—to benefit these people.

Urgency is important but so is getting this right. The noble Lord is right to draw to our attention how long this has gone on—far too long. I am under no illusion about that but the reality remains that the victims’ commissioner has presented to us issues that must be resolved, not least to ensure that all benefit from this moving forward. We can make progress and will do so as quickly as possible. Please do not believe that this is in some way an attempt to kick this into the long grass or anything like that. We need to make progress, and we need to make it now.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware of the long-standing campaign for justice and compensation by victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom. It has now been confirmed that £17 million in tax has been recovered by the Government on frozen assets in the past three years. Will the Minister ensure that the money is used to help the innocent victims of IRA terrorism and permit them to obtain some of the compensation they so rightly deserve?

The noble Lord brings to our attention something quite shocking to contemplate. It is important that the Government recognise that we should do something about this. I shall inquire further into how we will progress it and report back to the noble Lord and to the House as a whole.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very sympathetic response, but it does not yet do the job. I understand his point; like him, I am a former Victims Minister in Northern Ireland and met many of those who have day-to-day problems in coping with life. This would make a difference and offer recognition for the suffering they have experienced. If the issues raised by the commissioner are relatively minor—transfer of benefits from those who have already died while waiting for a pension is a relatively minor issue, which could be resolved in Committee—will the Minister agree to urgent talks across the House to see how we can resolve these issues? There is determination on all sides, which I accept the Minister shares, to move this along as quickly as possible. It is all very well saying that it is urgent, but this has been going on for some time.

The noble Baroness raises an important point. We have begun those cross-party discussions already; the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has been instrumental in bringing together a number of individuals from across the House. The minor issues can be resolved in a very straightforward way, but some are not quite as minor as we would like and will need a bit of time to get right. I hope we can make serious progress and deliver for the victims; that is the important thing not to lose sight of.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for his tireless work on this, and to my noble friend the Minister for his clear interest and the time he has put into trying to move this forward. However, if one of the delays relates to payments to the families of those who have passed away, would it not be possible to separate the issues by bringing forward legislation that will reach the people who are still alive and dealing later with the separate issue of transferring payments from those sadly no longer with us, so that we can respond to the sense of urgency and support that we feel around the House?

My noble friend raises an important point, but if we begin to try to parse the individuals themselves into different categories we will ultimately slow down the entire process. We are close to identifying each of the issues that will be resolved, and I believe we can make progress on that. To try to cleave off different groups at this stage would be a mistake. The important thing now is to deliver a comprehensive package. I believe we can do that, but we must do it correctly.