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Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Conservative, Staffordshire Moorlands 2:22 pm, 5th November 2019

May I say, Madam Deputy Speaker, what a privilege it is to have you in the Chair for this debate? I know that you have such humanity and that you will be touched by this debate and all that you have heard. I know, too, that you will be pleased that you were chairing this particular debate.

I also thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his incredibly moving and powerful speech. I congratulate him on our being here today. I also join you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and everyone in this House in saying that Stephen Pound made one of his finest speeches. It is his last speech, which is a great shame to so many of us who know just how he has worked for his constituents, for the people of Northern Ireland as a shadow Minister, and also for this House, because he is a true parliamentarian and will be desperately missed.

We stand here today just before we go into an election. We are going into an election because politics is broken, yet here we can prove that it is not broken. Here, we can prove that we can come together and do something. We can deliver something that is right for people who have been through the most agonising, dreadful experiences— experiences that no person, and particularly no child, should ever suffer. We have a chance to make that right today. I trust and know that we will come together, that we will pass this Bill and that, by this evening, this Bill will have Royal Assent, and then we can get on with delivering redress for those victims. They need it, they deserve it, and it needs to happen as soon as possible.

One of the privileges of the job that I used to do, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does now, and that my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire and others have done, is to realise that, very often, we are in the presence of people who have suffered the most incredible, dreadful experiences. Northern Ireland is like no other part of the United Kingdom for having put people through experiences that no one should ever have to go through. I, as Secretary of State, spent time listening to people who had been through horrendous experiences in the troubles and who had been treated in a way that nobody should be treated, and listening to people who were victims of historical institutional abuse. As Secretary of State, or any Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, one cannot fail to be touched by that and to be determined to do everything possible to help those victims. I was absolutely determined that we should do that, and I am so proud that we have got here today, but it had to be done in a way that was sustainable and robust. Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could just wave a magic wand and make it all right. We have to go through the proper processes, because we must make sure that this redress scheme and the measures that are put in place will be robust, will not be challenged and will be delivered—and delivered as quickly as possible for the victims.

That is why it was a matter of the most enormous regret that the Hart report was delivered at the point that the Executive collapsed. Had the Executive not collapsed, we would have had ministerial direction to know what Ministers thought of the recommendations. We would have had something to work with. In fact, had the Executive been there, they could have delivered interim payments without the need for primary legislation. They could have delivered so many of these things so much sooner, but they were unable to do so, which is why we had to go through a long consultation process that victims felt was delaying matters and making them worse. It was not doing so; it was there to give a robust legal framework so that we could deliver this scheme.

I want to pay tribute, as my right hon. Friend did, to the six parties. Earlier this year, when we were starting on a talks process, we got all the parties from Northern Ireland in one room and used that opportunity to get them to talk about this matter, so that we could have a united position from them. Although we may still not have an Executive, it will be those politicians and those parties that will have to administer this scheme as Ministers. Therefore, it was absolutely right that it was they who helped to draft this legislation. If that had not been done, and we had used the normal primary legislation route in this place, it would have taken far, far longer, which would have meant that victims had to wait longer.

I have to say to the parties in Northern Ireland that this really needs to be a wake-up call. Yes, we are putting this Bill through here today—I know the hurdles that my right hon. Friend has had to go over and how he has had to jump over obstacles and everything else to get this Bill here today. I know full well what he has come up against, trying to get matters such as this through the collective responsibility of Government, but he should not have had to do that, because there are politicians in Northern Ireland who are elected to do this work. This needs to be the wake-up call. They should put their differences aside. I know that they want to go back into Government and do the right thing by the people of Northern Ireland. This is their opportunity. Please, I say to them, do the right thing for those people.

Finally, I just want to talk about the victims, many of whom I can see today. I know that we should not refer to those in the Gallery, but I will, because those victims are there. I had the honour and privilege of meeting them. I sat through meetings in which they told me about their experiences. There is nothing more humbling than listening to people telling you what they have been through—especially when it is something that they should never have had to go through. This is a Bill for them. This is something that we are delivering in this broken Parliament for people for whom we should be standing up. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on this Bill and I will wholeheartedly support it here today.