Before I invite the Minister to move Second Reading, I must announce Mr Speaker’s decision on certification for the purposes of
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It has been seven years since the Northern Ireland Executive established an independent inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. Today’s legislation is based on an inquiry and report, undertaken by Sir Anthony Hart, that occupied 223 days of hearings. The Hart report investigated 22 institutions, but it identified a further 65 institutions that came within its terms of reference. The draft legislation was subject to a 16-week consultation process in Northern Ireland.
Right across this House, and right across Northern Ireland, there will be a very warm welcome for the Government bringing forward this legislation to get it on the statute book before Dissolution. I thank everybody involved in this House, the Secretary of State and, most importantly, the campaigners for the day we have now reached.
The House is clearly united on seeing justice and doing right by those who have been abused and who have waiting too long for recognition and a form of restitution. I thank the Government for prioritising this Bill and for getting it through before Dissolution.
I particularly want to mention some of those with whom I have worked closely: Gerry McCann and others from the Rosetta Trust; Margaret McGuckin, who is in the Gallery and who has been working on this since 2008; and Anne Hunter, who is also in the Gallery and whose sister, Sadie, died at Nazareth House in 1974. Although we celebrate the Bill, it is bittersweet for those who were abused, physically and otherwise, and who cannot be here today to see the conclusion of something for which we have worked very hard.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I will return to some of those examples, but the fact that so many survivors and victims have died is one of the tragedies of this period.
I am enormously grateful for the priority the Secretary of State has given to this issue. He has shown real compassion for the victims of historical institutional abuse. In his opening remarks, he rightly mentioned the long inquiry held by Judge Hart, who did an enormous amount to give a voice to the victims of historical institutional abuse.
May I encourage the Secretary of State, after this Bill receives Royal Assent later today, to ensure that a copy of the Act and a copy of today’s Hansard are sent to Judge Hart’s widow? It is a great sadness to us all, and particularly to his family and to the victims who met him, that he did not live long enough to see this day. It would be a fitting tribute to have the Act and a copy of Hansard sent to his widow.
The hon. Lady makes a very positive and sensible suggestion, and I am happy to do that. We spoke to Lady Hart last night, and Sir Anthony was, I think, perplexed by the slowness of us all to get this done. I will follow up as the hon. Lady suggests.
The draft legislation was subject to a 16-week consultation process in Northern Ireland, and the Bill was drafted by the Northern Ireland civil service at the request of, and based on a consensus reached by, all six of the main Northern Ireland political parties.
The inquiry’s report was published in January 2017, the same month as the collapse of the Executive, so the Executive never considered the report and it was not laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is why, in July, the Government committed to introducing legislation by the end of the year, if the Executive were not restored, and it is why this was one of the first Bills in the Queen’s Speech.
This is the first Bill of its kind in the United Kingdom, with the results of inquiries in England and Wales and in Scotland yet to be completed. I hope this Bill will give some comfort and hope to victims of child abuse across our country.
Following the election announcement a week ago, there has been significant worry and concern from victims about how the Bill might progress. I thank the Prime Minister and Government business managers for facilitating the Bill today, and I thank Opposition business managers and Opposition spokesmen and women for coming to agreement and for working with us to ensure this Bill passes through both Houses before the election.
It is the true mark of the House that, when it comes to dealing with the most vulnerable in our society—those who suffered for a long time and who have waited a long time for justice—this House rises to the occasion. That sets an example we might send back home to Northern Ireland in calling for all the political parties to come together, to get back to Stormont and to get back to working on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland.
I could not agree more.
I thank my colleague Lord Duncan of Springbank, Lord Hain and other noble lords and baronesses for their work in the other place last week. Many Members in the Chamber today have played a role in making today’s debate happen, particularly DUP Members, Lady Hermon, the Chairman and members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and many, many more.
The desire and push from Northern Ireland has been significant. On Sunday night, a number of members of the Government received a letter from a Catholic priest who represents the diocese of Down and Connor, which was the location of two of the children’s homes at the centre of the inquiry. He said that it is
“a matter of deep personal shame for me and for the Diocese that both homes were found by the Inquiry to have fundamentally failed the children in their care, enabling regimes of horrific and systemic emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children, as well as neglect.
In the period before the Inquiry, I came to know some of the former residents of these homes and publicly supported them in their calls for justice and an Inquiry. Over the years of the Inquiry and since, I have watched as those who led this campaign and the hundreds of former children in care who took part in the Inquiry relived the horrors of their time in these institutions and the abuse they suffered there. As children, they arrived at these homes frightened, disorientated and with the simple hope of every child that the adults in their lives would respond to them with affection, understanding, tenderness and care. Instead, they were met so often with hard-hearted coldness, harsh regimes of sterile adult routine and lovelessness, as well as indescribable sexual and physical abuse. It is difficult to overstate the suffering that the former residents of these homes have endured and continue to endure as a result of their experience.”
On the final day of one of the most divided Parliaments in British political history, we can say, hand on heart, that we have all come together, worked together and pulled together to deliver this Bill.
It would be wrong if we did not pay tribute to the Secretary of State and his efforts to deliver this Bill. This has not been easy to achieve, and I know all the work done behind the scenes by my right hon. Friend Nigel Dodds, my party’s leader in Westminster, and by my right hon. Friend Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson, our Chief Whip, and others to cajole and get this over the line. It is a fitting tribute to the Secretary of State, on this last day of Parliament, that the Bill will come into law. On behalf of the victims, their groups and people like Marty, Margaret and Gerry who contact us regularly, I thank the Secretary of State.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. He was at his most tenacious over the weekend in trying to make this happen.
There are many more people to thank. Unfortunately, Sir Anthony Hart, who led the inquiry, passed away earlier this year, but through his widow, Lady Mary Hart, I thank him and his team for their tireless work. I thank the other inquiry members, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland civil service, Northern Ireland Office civil servants, the Executive Office, the leaders of the Northern Ireland political parties and my predecessors, my right hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). They have all played an important part in getting to today.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that sometimes in this House there is a feeling that Northern Ireland gets neglected or is a sideshow, but this measure today shows that the Government and Opposition knew that this was a hugely crucial issue to the people of Northern Ireland and that getting it to the House today and through this procedure is a mark of this House’s responsibility and care for Northern Ireland?
The hon. Lady is right on that. I hope that if we can get this through this afternoon, we will be able to toast success for not only the Bill and the victims, but Northern Ireland itself.
This legislation will provide the necessary legal framework to deliver two of the key recommendations from the historical institutional abuse report. The first is a historical institutional abuse redress board, to administer a publicly funded compensation scheme for victims in Northern Ireland. This will be a multidisciplinary panel of one judicial member and two health and social care professionals. There are estimated to be more than 5,000 people who could apply for redress. No matter what country they live in, I urge all victims and survivors to apply: whether you are part of a victims group or whether you have lived with their abuse silently for years, please make use of this redress scheme in this Bill.
The Secretary of State is right to indicate just how important that progress is today. In outlining the steps that victims will take—those from my constituency in Kincora boys’ home, and others from right across Northern Ireland and beyond—and in asking them to apply without delay, will he give us some sense of the timescales associated with the process? When we get Royal Assent for this legislation, how quickly will the panel be established and be in place not only to receive but to consider those applications for redress?
I will come on shortly to deal with that question. The second part of this Bill creates a statutory commissioner for survivors of institutional childhood abuse for Northern Ireland, who will act as an advocate for victims and survivors and support them in applying to the redress board. Whether in fighting for support services or in ensuring that payments are made as quickly and as fully as possible, the commissioner will play a key role in delivering for victims.
It is important not only that we have the commissioner in place, but that the moneys available for compensation will range from £10,000 to £80,000. I wish to make the point about the De La Salle Brothers and what happened in my constituency at Rubane House, outside Kircubbin, where institutional abuse, both physical and sexual, against some young boys took place over a period. Those young people are adults now but they are traumatised. How will the trauma, and the physical and emotional effect it has upon them, be taken into consideration whenever they apply to the commissioner for help?
I hope that one of the commissioner’s focuses will to be look at the services to support those who come forward. That will require money and organisation, but it will be a key part of the role for whoever takes on the position of commissioner.
I have just been asked about this, so let me say that one of the key concerns of parliamentarians and victims’ groups alike is the swift payment for victims and survivors after the passing of this legislation. Victims have already waited too long for redress, and as we have heard, many have died doing so. Our thoughts are with their families. Clause 14 contains provisions that allow the redress board to pay an initial acknowledgement payment of £10,000 to eligible victims before the full determination of the total compensation is payable. Clause 7 allows the redress board to take a flexible case-management approach to claims to ensure that those who are elderly or in severe ill health are considered as a priority. Those in greatest need of redress will get their payment more quickly. Clause 6 allows claims to be made on behalf of a deceased person by their spouse or children.
Other key aspects of the Bill that are important to victims and survivors include provisions that allow the redress board to convene oral hearings, but in a way that should not create an unnecessary delay for those cases in which oral evidence is not required; the ability of the redress board to determine the rate of compensation based on a number of factors, including the duration of stay in an institution; and the ability of the commissioner for survivors of institutional child abuse for Northern Ireland to make representations to any person, including to the redress board. I also wish to confirm to the House that my Department is working closely with the Northern Ireland civil service and David Sterling to ensure that there is adequate resource and capacity for this redress scheme, so that it can get going as urgently as possible.
I am pleased to hear about the possibility of streamlining this process. Is there any indication that any of these payments will be made within this current financial year, irrespective of the bureaucracy of the hearings that have to take place? I am talking about the interim payment of the £10,000.
We have begun a project management team between the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland civil service. I know that David Sterling and the Executive Office have spent time this week looking at how things can be accelerated, but I wish both to acknowledge the need to move quickly and to recognise the fact that this will take a bit of time. We need to get this legislation through, and then we need to get on with how we can press forward with this.
I want to pay tribute to the victims groups that I have engaged with over these past few months and that have engaged with my predecessors and other political leaders: Survivors North West, Survivors Together, the Rosetta Trust, and SAVIA—Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse. They have campaigned on behalf of the people they represent with strength and dignity. Many victims are old and ill. They have not only had their childhood and lives blighted, but they have had to wait, year after year, for the child abuse and what happened to them to be recognised.
At each meeting with the victims groups at Stormont House, I noticed that Jon McCourt from Survivors North West had a small battered copy of the Hart report laid on the table in front of him. There was huge hope and trust in that copy of the report that there might finally be acknowledgement of what he and his friends had had done to them as children. Jon has held that copy of the report close, gripping it tightly for three long years, meeting politician after politician, civil servant after civil servant—anyone who could make a difference in getting redress. The battered cover of Jon’s report, once blue, has now faded. That report contains the grimmest details of the twisted blows laid on the hope and innocence of the children taken into care in Northern Ireland at different times over much of the 20th century. It details how the Kincora hostel in Belfast was completely captured by three child abusers for the same number of decades, leaving them free to anally rape and masturbate at will those boys they were meant to protect.
The report details the impact of the child migrant scheme to Australia. Witness HIA 324 describes his experiences in his statement, as follows:
“My life in institutions has had a profound impact on me. I have always wondered what it would be like to have had a family—a mother and father and brothers and sisters. I never got the chance to find out because I was sent to Australia. We were exported to Australia like little baby convicts. It is hard to understand why they did it…
I still cannot get over the fact that I was taken away from a family I never got the chance to know. I was treated like an object, taken from one place to another…
I have a nightmare every night of my life. I relive my past and am happy when daylight comes.”
HIA 324 was born in 1938 and was 75 when he spoke those words to the inquiries team in Perth in 2013, but he died before he could sign his statement.
The Hart report highlights how the congregations that supported the four Sisters of Nazareth homes were well aware of the physical and emotional abuse happening in those homes, but did nothing to stop it. The report details how the Sisters of Nazareth would regularly conceal or ignore the presence of the sisters or brothers of those children in their care, hiding them from them. The report details the assault of girls in Nazareth House, with one case in which a girl had her head banged against white tiles for not washing properly. She recalled that there was blood all over the white tiles, and she suffered hearing problems afterwards.
The report details how the Norbertine Order, and then diocese after diocese, failed to stop Father Smyth, a known abuser, from travelling the length and breadth of Northern Ireland and Ireland, abusing hundreds of children. The report confirmed that at Rubane House, boys were sexually abused throughout the four decades that the home operated. It was not just sexual abuse; page after page of the report details the bullying, the use of Jeyes fluid and the confidence attacks on menstruating girls and on young children who wet their beds. The report outlines failure after failure by statutory authorities and the Government to ask the right questions, to show basic levels of care, or to follow up on the condition of those children sent thousands of miles away to Australia.
The Bill, which we hope to pass today, cannot undo the acts perpetrated on the victims, and it does not extend to the other areas of the UK that are currently being addressed by the child abuse inquiry here in London and a similar inquiry in Scotland, but it will show to Northern Ireland victims that action has been taken, and I hope that in a short time similar action can be taken, through legislation, for the rest of the UK.
I started off by thanking the number of colleagues who have helped to get this Bill delivered today, those who have worked on the Hart report and those who have worked to support this legislation, but this is not our Bill; it is the Bill of the victims and survivors, and of their representatives, some of whom are present today. For anyone involved at whatever stage, it has been a humbling experience to work with Northern Ireland victims and survivors who suffered child abuse while in care. The resilience and humanity of the victims should drive us all in our daily responsibility to every child, whether through our families, our work, our responsibilities or our communities.
Victims were let down not just by the perpetrators and institutions, but by the Churches, councils and Governments who were meant to look after them—standing by, ignoring, not checking, turning a blind eye. People knew at the time. The De La Salle Order set down guidelines for the physical layout of its buildings to ensure that behaviour could be observed at all times—for example, on how windows should be placed in doors to ensure clear sight of what was going on in rooms:
“The Brother Director shall be careful that the parlour doors have glazed panels without curtains in such a manner that the interior may be easily seen.”
The ultimate legacy of the Northern Ireland victims and all child abuse victims, from the Hart report and from the Bill, must be for us all to ensure that we do everything within our power to protect children.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child;
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Child abuse victims never had their full childhood and were then held hostage by the experiences that they had throughout their lives. I hope that the Bill goes some way towards providing Northern Ireland victims with redress, and for other victims throughout our country, I hope that their time for redress will come very soon. I commend the Bill to the House.
I have to say that this is not an easy day to be in the House—it is not an easy time to hear the Secretary of State’s words—and I pay wholehearted tribute to him for quite simply one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard in my 22 years on these Benches. He spoke from the heart and he spoke from a deep humanity. We have to pay tribute to him for those words, which were extraordinary and remarkable. Please God, may they provide a grain of comfort to some people who have suffered for so long.
It is also appropriate that we mention Sir Anthony Hart, who did an extraordinary amount of work. We must pay credit to him. I also pay credit to the Secretary of State’s predecessor, Karen Bradley, who is present. She dedicated a huge amount of energy to this issue, as did her team and the Secretary of State’s team. I also pay credit to the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland civil service for the amount of work that has been done. How painful and agonising it must have been for them to have had to work in these circumstances. For me, to read the words is almost unimaginable, yet those to whom they refer are suffering a hundred times more than any of us could ever be.
As the Secretary of State said, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister agreed the terms of reference back on
Today, we are undertaking a unique piece of legislation. There has never been a Bill like this on the Floor of the House—it has never happened in this way before. It is absolutely right and appropriate that we take extraordinary, unusual steps, because this is such an extraordinary occasion. We must place on record, here and now, our determination that this will never, ever happen again. Every one of us, be we lay, be religious, be we politicians—whomsoever we be, anyone of us who has any contact with children’s services must make absolutely sure and swear in our heart of hearts that we will never, ever walk by on the other side of the road. We should never, ever be those people who turned a blind eye, as we heard in the agonising statement from the priest that was read out earlier.
We cannot make it right—we cannot repair those broken hearts and broken bodies—but by doing what we will today, by offering some form of redress, some form of compensation, we will hopefully allow closure. We will hopefully be able to say that this House has heard. Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson spoke magnificently earlier about the way the House has risen. When we think of some of the activities that take place in this House, today’s statement shows in sharp relief some of the things that happen here that are less noble—that are often ignoble. Today, the House has risen to a higher standard. It is entirely appropriate that is on this occasion that we have risen.
There are many questions still to be asked. This is still a draining emotional occasion. We should pay tribute, once and for all, to the right hon. Secretary of State for the footwork he has shown. It is unheard of for legislation to come through in this way. As recently as last week, we heard that the Whips Office would not allow it and it was not going to happen, yet somehow, with the involvement of the Government, the Opposition, officials, civil servants and even the palace, the Bill has come to the House and will go through.
Let us thank Brendan McAllister, the interim advocate, for the work that he has done. Let us follow up on some of the interventions that have been made already by right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland parties, and let us take the opportunity to say that this is one of the rare occasions when the House comes together, regardless of our party and of any form of religious, political or social affiliation. We are as one in this House in swearing that this cannot happen again, this must not happen again and the victims must get redress, must get compensation, must get respect and, please God, must get closure on this.
The behaviour of politicians of all parties and of all communities in Northern Ireland has been exemplary. I know how difficult it is. I have met victims groups, as has the Secretary of State. To sit in a room opposite someone describing the most appalling nightmare—a nightmare that is hard for any human being to envisage—is an experience that none of us came into politics to undergo, yet it is right that we came into politics to resolve this horror and this agony. I cannot say enough about how impressed I was by the victims groups that I met. Their courage and bravery is astounding. I hope—I know—that all Members in this House feel the same way and say with one voice how much respect we have for them.
I hope that some of the technical questions that were asked earlier by right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland can be addressed. The question of the speed of the recompense payments is, of course, an issue to be resolved. It would be marvellous if some indication could be given to the victims before Christmas—it would be wonderful if they at least had some idea about what was happening. In addition, we would like to know when the staff will be in place for the redress board. It is important to say that we have to establish the bureaucracy, if it has not already been established.
I noticed that no additional resources were allocated in the recent Budget. Does that mean that they will actually come within the next financial year? Following the question from Paul Girvan, will they come from this year’s budget, or will there be some additional funding mechanism? Those are technical questions. In some ways, they are almost otiose in the context of what we have heard today. Technical questions, compensation and redress are important, but the single most important thing that we in this House do today is to pay credit and tribute to the victims, to their families and to their relatives, and to say that politics in the past may have let them down, but today, politics and this House will not let them down. We will respect them, we will cherish them and we will do everything—everything—we can to ensure that they finally receive the redress that they so deserve.
Order. It is very sad that Stephen Pound is leaving the House after today. I think that everyone present will agree with me that his last speech in this Chamber will be remembered as one of his best.
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.
I am so very glad that we are here today and that we are getting to the final stage of this process. It has been a battle throughout, not least for the many victims and survivors of this terrible abuse. It has even been a battle just to get this legislation through the House today, and I pay tribute to everybody who has worked incredibly hard to get us to this point. My colleagues and I, other parties, the victims and others across Northern Ireland have lobbied incredibly hard to get this legislation through, and I am really grateful and glad that we have been able to achieve that. At times we expressed frustration and anger that these provisions were potentially not going to go through the House, but the Secretary of State did his best and succeeded, and we see the evidence of that today. This Bill will go through the House in exceptional circumstances, with so many people across so many different elements of the system having worked to make this happen, and I am so very glad—not for us, but for the victims and survivors of this dreadful abuse.
I am glad that those who have suffered through this process will be able to see the genuine care and empathy of all Members who have spoken on the issue thus far. The Secretary of State made a wonderful speech that was very much from the heart, and we could see that. I hope that the victims and survivors get some comfort from the fact that many people care deeply about this issue. I also pay tribute to the shadow Minister, Stephen Pound. Once again, he made a beautiful and poignant speech that was truly from the heart. That will be picked up, heard and listened to by the victims and survivors, and I hope that it gives them some comfort.
The victims are very grateful for and conscious of the Bill’s progress today, and we hope that it will proceed apace. In addition, though, some have said to me that they are appreciative of and grateful for the empathy, support, sympathy and solidarity with them from across the community, as well as the concrete steps being taken today. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I absolutely agree with all that my hon. Friend has said.
I am so glad that this legislation for the victims and survivors of abuse is one of the last things that this House will have achieved in this Parliament. This is a Parliament that has been dominated by a small number of big issues, and we know very well what those are; I am not even going to say the word. Yet I know that Members from every single party right across this House and the elected representatives in Northern Ireland get into politics because they want to make change on these types of issues. They want to make changes on education, health and public services, and to address great wrongs and injustices. It is such a good thing that we are ending this Parliament on such an issue, and that the many hundreds and thousands of people who suffered appalling abuse, as the Secretary of State outlined, will finally get the last piece of this process: redress. But redress will not be closure. It will never undo the dreadful wrongs that happened to all those children in those settings.
The hon. Lady was instrumental in setting up the inquiry from the beginning. Let me make a point to her that always struck me when I was in the Home Office dealing with these matters for England and Wales, which is that to call this historical abuse is absolutely wrong. It is not historical; it is current and present. It is with the victims every single day.
Absolutely. I was involved in this process right from the start, seven years ago. I pay tribute to the right hon. Peter Robinson and the late Martin McGuinness, because I was present at the meeting when the victims and survivors came in and told us of the terrible, terrible experiences they went through, and both those men were genuinely moved. Who could not be moved by hearing those personal experiences and the terrible wrongs? But both of those men were very moved, and they worked together, and tasked me and some others to go away and try to drive this work forward. Throughout those seven years, civil servants at all levels, the late Judge Hart and all those who gave support and help were really motivated to get through the process and to do so swiftly, because they had heard the terrible things that had happened and had seen the injustice that they wanted to address.
I have to say that I am angry that it has taken this long to get to this point of redress. The inquiry was unusual in that the timeframe was put down in legislation. The late Judge Hart made it absolutely clear that, yes, he would request the extension that he was allowed by the legislation, but he would also meet the timeframes set out, so we always knew when the inquiry was going to report, because he made that clear. I and others made representations to those who pulled down the Assembly, asking them not to do so in order to allow the report to come forward, and I am genuinely angry that it happened. I am angry that we have had to wait for those years for the victims and survivors to get the redress they deserve and that we knew was coming.
But today is not a day about recriminations. In fact, this has been a good example of how the political parties can work together and the difference that they can make—not, perhaps, on the bigger issues that will always be challenging, but on these types of significant issues that are so meaningful to people’s lives.
I pay tribute to all the victims and survivors, who have been on this journey right from the start, including Margaret, Kate, Gerry and Jon McCourt, all of whom have been mentioned in this debate. They have done incredible work because they have represented not just themselves, but the many thousands of victims across Northern Ireland—in fact, across the world—who perhaps could not step forward. They were brave enough to do so no matter how difficult it was, and it must have been incredibly difficult for them to tell their own stories again and again and again to try to get the inquiry and the justice they deserved.
I have been involved in this process for seven years, so it is really good to see it come to an end today, but the victims and survivors have been involved for decades and decades before that. As I have said in the House many times, many of these children came from very challenging and difficult circumstances, and what they needed was love, protection and support. But when we read the report and listen to their experiences, we know that what they got was cruelty, depravity and harshness. That is appalling. Right from that very first meeting with Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, those who were in the room were absolutely struck that the right thing to do was to try to get justice for the victims. There is very broad consensus on that in every political party and right across this House.
I pay tribute to all the victims and survivors. This is not the end of their journey. They will continue with all the pain and suffering—the legacy of what happened to them. I hope that this redress and financial support—and what it symbolises—will be of some comfort, as well as a recognition of their hard and incredible work to stand up and address the terrible, terrible wrong that was done to them and many thousands of other children.
It would be a good idea for others to look at the last two pages of the historical institutional abuse inquiry report, which is available at hiainquiry.org. In those pages, Sir Anthony Hart—to whom tributes have properly been paid—set out the six points that he thought were the most important. It is now two years after he had hoped that the compensation payments would be made. Let us also remember the survivors who were over the age of 18 —people who he was not able to look at. I think there is unfinished business in this part of our kingdom. We have to remember that there will be further reports on the rest of the United Kingdom to come in time.
When the Secretary of State made his poignant remarks to the House today, he quoted from Corinthians on the views and perspective of a child—what children see. The beginning of that chapter says that faith is so powerful that it can move mountains, but without charity, compassion and love, it is nothing. This House today, through the actions of this Government that have been brought here, has demonstrated that through compassion it has been able to move bureaucratic mountains. It has been able to move those things that stood in the way, and it is not as nothing; today this House is something. It has done something incredibly powerful and incredibly important for victims across Northern Ireland, those here on the mainland, and, indeed, those who are located across the world as a result of the abuse that took place in these locations in Northern Ireland.
It is important that the Secretary of State is able to set out, and this legislation sets out, the schedule of when moneys will be paid, because that is a practical issue. It is also important that we make sure that help is given to the victims groups going forward from now on, because they have been brought to the top of the mountain. Today is, if I can use the word appropriately, an exciting day in that they have now achieved this, but there will then be the cliff edge of what happens next. Those victims groups will have to be wrapped in compassion, charity, help and assistance so that they can then move to the next phase of this, because it is not going to end very quickly. There will probably now be a process put in place, and it is important that practical help is given to take the groups through that to make sure that they can get the other end of this as quickly and expeditiously as possible. I hope that we will see that. I hope that we mark this very poignant and historic day with an appropriate mark of respect and an appropriate celebration that this House is not as nothing; it has achieved something today.
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I just want to come back on a few points that I was asked about. Before I do, may I thank my ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office? No Secretary of State could ask for better colleagues than the two on either side of me at the Dispatch Box today, who have also played an incredible part in trying to move this Bill forward.
Stephen Pound raised the issue of the financing of the scheme and the timetable. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, officials in the Executive Office are already working on the implementation programme. They aim to make shadow board appointments to work on policies, procedures and standards so that the board can start considering claims as soon as practicable after it is officially launched. Officials in the Executive Office are also working hard to ensure that the consideration of claims can begin as soon as practicable after the Bill becomes law, and exploring the possibility of opening up applications in advance of the establishment of the board. Obviously, we will all want to do whatever we can. In particular, the Government will do whatever we can to make sure that we play our part in moving things forward as quickly as possible.
The funding for the scheme comes from the block grant, but clearly we will be making sure that we do everything we can to support the Executive Office.
On the points about process, the Secretary of State is injecting a bit of positivity and we hope that this will progress quickly. On
I will do whatever I can, within the constraints of the purdah period, to update right hon. and hon. Members and the public.
My right hon. Friend Karen Bradley referred to the fact that this legislation is the most robust basis for the redress scheme and the commissioner. That is worth reiterating. It would not be on as sound a footing if we had not got what we hoped to get today, so she is absolutely right. She is also right to point to the fact that hopefully after the election we can get the Executive and the Assembly going, because that is the best place to do all NI legislation.
Emma Little Pengelly was very clear about how productive the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive had been around the time of the Hart report, and on other issues. That period gives us all hope that we will get back to a position where we will restore the Executive and the Assembly.
My hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley made an extremely valid point. It is something I was worrying about last night as I re-read parts of the report. There are many, many people of different ages—people who may not have been in care but may have been abused in other settings—who will no doubt be the subject of reports going forward.
I thank all colleagues for all their kind remarks, and again pay tribute to the victims groups who are sitting here today. They may have missed their current flights, but we have arranged for them to be able to go later. I hope we will all be able to celebrate with them shortly.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill considered in Committee.
[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]
Clauses 1 to 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
That was, I think, one of the shortest Committee stages in this Parliament’s history. Having been Government Chief Whip, I only wish that another policy area of this Government could have been covered so quickly.
As has been said during the course of this debate, in powerful speeches from Members across the House, this is a day for victims—the victims from Northern Ireland who are in the Public Gallery today, the victims from Northern Ireland who are sitting at home, and all victims of child abuse who have yet to have redress and a full acknowledgment of what they went through. I am extremely grateful to the House for all the support and for all the civil service support, and I think this is a very fitting way to finish this Parliament.
Let me join the Secretary of State in applauding the fact that the House has seen fit to move the Bill so swiftly through the House today. I want to place on record our thanks to my colleague Lord Hain and Lord Duncan, the Minister involved, because they were instrumental in ensuring that this House had the opportunity to move things forward.
I want to say to those with us today who are victims, representing many other victims, that this Bill would have been necessary had there only been one victim of this kind of abuse. We know that many thousands suffered—thousands more than will come under the ambit of the scheme, because many of them have already died, and we cannot offer anything by way of recognition or compensation to those people. But today we are saying to those who are with us that we recognise what took place, and it is a matter of real and profound shame to every one of us in this country. It is also a matter of anger, and we should use that anger to ensure that we are determined to do everything we can to insist that this cannot be the pattern for the future. We know that sexual abuse will take place in Northern Ireland and in the whole of the United Kingdom. This should impel us to do everything we can to protect our young people and those who are victims, because we have to learn the lessons of the past.
That is the triumph for those who have been through this campaign. They have campaigned for themselves and those they represent, but they have also campaigned on a much wider basis—they have campaigned for decency and justice for people across this land of ours. The real emotion that was rightly expressed by the Secretary of State, by my hon. Friend Stephen Pound and by others is not just about empathy. It is because we profoundly believe in the need to ensure that there is justice for those who have campaigned and those they campaigned for and, in the end, to set a different moral tone around this issue for the future. This is a good Bill, and I thank all our colleagues for making it possible to pass it today.
The Secretary of State referred to the fact that the Bill went through Committee very quickly; I do not think I have ever chaired such a quick Committee. That indicates the unity in the House around this Bill, and I know that if it were not for the special circumstances we are in, many more Members would have wanted to be here to show their support.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.