Second Reading

Part of Crime and Security Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:56 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Labour 6:56 pm, 29th March 2010

My Lords, when I first came to the Bar, I thought of practising in the Chancery Division until a practitioner in it said to me, "Intellect is favoured; audibility is frowned upon". I hope that this evening I can ask for your Lordships' patience while I muster such resources in my intellect as I can to outweigh my reduced audibility.

Thus far, victims of terrorism abroad have not received compensation in this country. For those killed or injured by terrorism abroad, there has usually been no insurance-most insurance policies exclude liability for terrorist acts abroad. This means that bereaved families and seriously injured victims in a foreign land suffer severe emotional stress, as well as significant injury on many occasions. However, in this country such victims are compensated. This disparity was, and is, unjust. The Bill seeks to remedy that injustice-at least for the future, its starting date being January this year. It proposes a statutory scheme, the detail of which is to be approved by Parliament. We will then join those countries-seven or eight of them-that already provide such compensation. The French do it by a levy of a euro or two on every travel insurance policy. The Americans just do it out of national duty and honour.

When, three years ago, I introduced to your Lordships' House a Bill dealing with such compensation, noble Lords thought fit to pass it without opposition or Division. Since that time, we have had the Mumbai disaster, in which our people were either killed or injured. The necessity for this part of the Bill is obvious. The generosity of your Lordships towards me thus far for proposing it and working on this topic is misdirected. It should go to the victims and their families whose energies have been directed at achieving this change in the law; it should go to their lawyers-Jill Greenfield, Yasmin Lalljee and the pro bono unit at Lovells-it should include the right honourable Tessa Jowell, whose survival and success as a Minister is matched only by her endurance in having kept this topic on the Cabinet table for the past three years; and it should include the right honourable Ian McCartney, who, following the Bill in this House, took up the struggle and has done noble work. All of us in Parliament have, however, been mere mechanics looking for tools to rectify an injustice. Clauses 47 to 54 of and Schedule 2 to this Bill provide such a tool.

The statutory commencement under Clause 59 reassures me that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, may be wrong in saying there is no provision for introducing this compensation scheme. The power to produce such a scheme will come into law when this Bill becomes law. I cannot imagine any competent Minister running the risk of the political fiasco in which he would find himself if he had failed to enact the scheme and another disaster such as Mumbai occurred.

We have made provision for the future-we have done right by people-but what about the past? By adopting January 2010 as its commencement date in terms of relevant incidents, the Bill excludes the past-Bali in 2002, Turkey and Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005, Mumbai in 2008. One hopes it will stop, but reality suggests it will not. What do we do about the 44 dead and the less than 50 seriously injured from those past incidents? They are conscripts on the front line of terrorism without wanting to be so. Do we give them nothing or recognise our duty to them as our fellow citizens?

I mention this topic because the Minister in the other place thought it appropriate to do so in February when introducing the scheme by amendment to this Bill. The Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, has written to Ian McCartney and me, adopting the Minister's comments in the Commons about how the scheme might be adapted for the past. What have they suggested? When will we look after those from the past? It will be after the introduction of the scheme for the future. So be it. What will be the nature of the scheme? It will be an ex gratia scheme, which has two consequences. First, an ex gratia scheme represents that which is morally appropriate but for which there is no legal requirement; it is what we ought to do. Secondly, it does not involve any legal concept of retrospectivity; we can dismiss that consideration. What will the scheme provide? For the dead and their families-nothing. For those who were injured but have recovered-nothing. For those who suffered loss of earnings or medical expenses-nothing.

However, a payment-unidentified and undefined-may be made to those who have an ongoing disability. Will Pike, who tied sheets together so that he and his girlfriend could escape the gunfire from the hotel in Mumbai, suffered the break of those sheets-a fall to the ground and he sits in that wheelchair at the Bar of this House, permanently paralysed. We give him something, but not what he deserves.

If we asked the country what they thought of this, they would say, "Pay people involved in past incidents the same as you will in the future. They are small in number, the incidents are clearly defined and the cost might be a few million pounds. It's the right thing to do". Yet, in the outline scheme I have just given you, the full might of the machinery of the state has ground down to make sure that the victims get a few hundred thousand-maybe. Is that the right thing to do?

At the end of this particular Bill, at the end of this Parliament, I invite the Government of the day and the one who follow them to do the following: first, make no decision about the past until after the election; secondly, review this issue through the new Minister, whoever that might be; thirdly, listen to representations and recommendations by the victims and their families; and fourthly, listen to public opinion.

The Minister used words eloquently in describing the value of the scheme for the future, saying that it represented a "tangible expression of sympathy"; I agree. It represents help to those who need to rebuild their lives; I agree. Let us do it for the past as well as for the future. For once, let us do the right thing.