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Crime and Security Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Pedicabs Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 18th January 2010.

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Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Labour, Makerfield 5:41 pm, 18th January 2010

My right hon. Friend knows very well that I never suggested that hon. Members were using my issue as a camouflage. I asked them, as I do my hon. Friends, to make a simple commitment. What I am saying to Members is absolutely clear: I am not playing footsie and asking people to make a trade-off. We cannot trade off the lives of fellow British citizens; we cannot trade off the consequences of Bali, Mumbai and all the other instances of terrorism, where British citizens have suffered grievously. My point is that this issue goes beyond the other aspects of the Bill. Its status as a vehicle for this issue is important, however, because the Government have for the past five years had to consider evidence from me and others and from the families concerned; and, in a very difficult situation, they have now responded positively.

Once again, I suggest that we establish a transparent scheme for the future with clear rules of engagement, if, sadly, British citizens again become victims of terrorist attacks in a far-off land; and, I suggest that those who have already suffered and continue to suffer-those who have been grievously injured, physically and mentally -be given the opportunity to receive compensation. The issue is about justice denied for 10 years. We should not allow people in the few weeks of the Bill's consideration to reach the point whereby, in their desire to amend it, they miscalculate the situation and allow the injustice to continue. That is my plea to all hon. Members.

When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary opened the debate, I was pleased to hear him recognise two points. He recognised that an act of terrorism is an attack on the nation state and, therefore, an entirely different crime from normal criminal activities-as dangerous and as difficult as they may be. As a consequence of that recognition, I believe that in all circumstances from now on the state has an overwhelming duty-a first duty-to protect, look after and defend its citizens, whatever the reason why they are not within the shores of the United Kingdom when that attack takes place. It could not have been right then, and would not be right now or in future, for the nation not to look after the interests of someone simply because they had a toenail over the white cliffs of Dover when they were attacked by a terrorist. That surely should never have been the case. Thankfully, following my right hon. Friend's statement today, it will not be the case in future.

My right hon. Friend also recognised something else, for which some of us have been arguing for some time. Many of the British citizens attacked in such incidents in the past decade have been attacked for one sole reason: they are British citizens. That became even more true in Mumbai, where British citizens were killed and maimed simply because they were British. Sadly, attacks-small or large-will take place in future, and I believe that those who carry them out will seek out citizens from particular nations, including ours, and will afflict and damage those citizens. Given those circumstances, it is so important to recognise that it is unacceptable for there to be a legal loophole through which victims of attacks overseas are treated differently from those who are attacked within our own borders. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend is putting that right.

My right hon. Friend also said that he would broadly mirror the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, in Committee if not tonight, give a clear indication of what exactly that means? I ask the question seriously. On 15 January, Ned Temko, a journalist who has followed with great knowledge and commitment the cause of victims of terrorism overseas, wrote this in The Guardian:

"Planned amendments going before the Commons on Monday will include a more generous scheme for future victims, along the lines of the settlement for victims of the 7/7 terror bombings in London."

The second part of the scheme relates to two other Departments, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Justice, so I shall not press my right hon. Friend to answer about it today. It is about how we will introduce a non-statutory scheme for those who have been damaged since 2002. I understand that there will be hardship payments, that the scheme will be limited to a certain period and that it will be ex gratia and non-statutory; it will not be a retrospective scheme according to the legal definition.

It will be interesting if we find out in Committee how different-or broadly similar-that part of the scheme will be from the scheme announced today for future victims. Will the eligibility for hardship payments be the same as that in the prospective scheme the Home Secretary announced today? I do not ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism to respond in detail today; I am giving him pointers for the Committee, to ensure that, in the days and weeks to come, victims and their families have a clearer understanding of what the scheme will look like and what they can expect.

I understand that hardship payments could be calculated according to the tariff of injuries in the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme and that no payments would be made to the families of those killed or for injuries that did not lead to an ongoing disability. Equally, no payments would be made for loss of earnings. That is in line with what the current criminal injuries compensation scheme delivers in the UK. However, it would help those concerned if they knew whether in future there would be consideration in respect of compensation for those who had lost their lives.

I understand that the Foreign Secretary will be responsible for designating who will be eligible for the hardship payments. So that things will not be held up, will the Foreign Secretary and appropriate Ministers meet representatives of the various groups to talk the issue through with them? In that way, victims' organisations would clearly understand precisely how applications can be made for injuries incurred in certain incidents and how they can refer cases to the Foreign Secretary for designation.

I am certain that in making the announcements today, the Government will have found resources from the appropriate legislation. I welcome that and thank them for it. I also thank the Home Secretary for the work he has done to bring together a complex issue to ensure that justice is at last won for victims. He has done so in a way that ensures that every part of Whitehall accepts that the state has an obligation to look after its citizens who are attacked abroad, and that the state recognises the ongoing needs of victims who have survived with horrific illnesses.

One thing about those who have survived is for sure: their ongoing daily courage and that of their families. It is a humbling experience to stand here and speak on behalf of people who do not have a voice to speak here-those who have lost their children, grandchildren, wives or husbands. It is difficult to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves in this Chamber, and who are now limbless or who suffer from mental illnesses.

A constituent of mine survived the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks, having gone back into the hotel time and again to help rescue survivors, not knowing whether there would be another bomb in a few moments. He has to live with the consequences of that for the rest of his life. He protected a young child who, only minutes before, had been talking with friends who moments later no longer existed. That is a humbling experience. Until today, it has been hard to put into words what those families have felt at the fact that no one would recognise-just recognise-the consequence of those terrorist attacks on them and how devastated their lives became. For many of their loved ones, there was no life at all.

I am certain that there will be disappointments about some of the restrictions in the scheme. Overall, however, I think people will accept that at last the House has the opportunity to recognise that our fellow citizens require protection. When that protection does not work and they become the victims of terror attacks, the one thing that should not concern them is an unwillingness or lack of ability on the part of their state to look after them and their families.

I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for this announcement today. A lot of hard work, effort, tears and sweat have gone into getting where we have reached. However, all that pales into insignificance when we consider what has happened to the families I have been discussing. Whatever else the House does with the rest of the Bill, I ask it not to jump off the cliff, as it were, by using tactics that leave those families devastated again.

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