Amendment 21

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Lord Hain:

Moved by Lord Hain

21: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—“Pension for victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to give effect to a pension for those severely injured through no fault of their own during the period known as the Northern Ireland Troubles, in line with advice requested by the Secretary of State and submitted in May 2019 from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, and to provide that those who qualify for the pension should receive it back-dated to 23 December 2014, being the date of signing of the Stormont House Agreement.(2) Regulations under this section must be in force no later than 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 21, which stands in my name and the names of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Bruce. I am grateful for their support.

I shall first speak briefly about the context which has dominated this debate. In 2007, when we negotiated the deal that brought Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness into power together, I said that I was the last direct-rule Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I now very much fear that that was wrong and that we are hurtling towards direct rule. I fear that greatly because the current situation has shown how difficult it is to get the Assembly up and running with a functioning Executive once it has been suspended. With direct rule, that becomes doubly difficult. I say to my friends in the DUP—and they are my friends, because I worked very closely with them as Secretary of State and have done so since—that I hope that they are taking note of what is happening in de facto parliamentary direct rule. A lot of things that are coming through are things they are not happy about. That is the consequence of the Assembly being suspended. It is not only one party—Sinn Féin—that is at fault. It is not only one party. Yes, it is at fault, and it is being uncompromising on some issues and details—but, I am afraid, so are my friends in the DUP. This is not just one party blocking the whole thing. I think there should be honesty about that. The consequences are here to be seen in issues that the DUP is deeply unhappy about.

In passing, I will say that, once again in the debates on this Bill, we are seeing the absence of a nationalist political voice in this House. Half the community does not have a political voice in your Lordships’ House. There is no modern Gerry Fitt, as it were. I know he was criticised by many of his followers for taking his seat here, but it was an important voice to hear. I know that will be agreed by unionist Members. I hope that, in considering future appointments to this House, the Government, perhaps in consultation with the independent Appointments Commission, will take note of that, because this cannot continue—especially if direct rule comes, as I very much fear it might.

I recognise that, as drafted, Amendment 21 is likely to require a money resolution in the House of Commons—or at least an amendment on Report to incorporate funding from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, which I hope the Government will agree to. I have spoken many times in your Lordships’ House on the urgent need to provide a pension for those who were severely injured through no fault of their own—I repeat, “through no fault of their own”, which is written into the text—as a result of Troubles-related incidents.

I, and I know those who have been campaigning, especially in the WAVE Trauma Centre, which I commend, for the pension for nearly a decade, have been greatly heartened and encouraged by the wide cross-party support in this House for this proposal: from the former Secretaries of State the noble Lord, Lord King, and my noble friends Lord Reid and Lord Murphy; from former Victims’ Ministers who served in Northern Ireland, my noble friends Lord Browne and Lady Smith of Basildon; from the distinguished former chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack; from the noble Baroness, Lady Altman; from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for the Liberal Democrats; and, from the Cross Benches, from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and the noble Lord, Lord Bew. I am also grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, who, to use a colloquialism, gets it. I thank him for the detailed conversations we have had on this, as well as for his support of and direct engagement with the severely injured victims. It has been much appreciated.

Now is the time for action. I urge the Government not to divide the House but to accept this amendment with not only a firm and binding commitment to legislate but with the timeframe attached to other measures coming from the other place and set out in my amendment. The date for this will be 21 October 2019, unless an Executive has been formed in Northern Ireland by then.

There are few Northern Ireland legacy issues that come before us that do not have some element of contention, and this is no exception. The toxic issue, which prevented this measure being passed at Stormont years ago when the Assembly and the Executive were functioning, was who would qualify for this pension. Will the few republicans or loyalists who were injured by their own hand—for example, when planting a bomb that exploded prematurely—benefit from a pension for the severely injured?

Of course, it is for the Government to frame the details of the legislation by regulation. However, I want to make it absolutely clear, as is explicitly set out in my amendment, that I am proposing and asking for the support of this House for a pension for those severely injured through no fault of their own. I can think of few more perverse cruelties than for a widow who lost her husband in a terrorist incident, received barely enough compensation to bury him and had to raise a family in the most difficult financial circumstances, to discover that the person who planted that bomb—who survived but was injured—was to receive a special pension from the state 30 or 40 years later. That would be shocking.

I am well aware of the definition of “victim” set out in the 2006 order. This was raised in the other place. It was passed when I was Secretary of State. One of the aims of that order was to ensure that everyone impacted by the Troubles would have access to the services that they and their families would need, regardless of their circumstances. We provide those services through the National Health Service and the Victims and Survivors Service, and we will do through a mental trauma service in the future. That is as it should be. We are a civilised society and we do not turn people away from services.

However, this pension is a very different matter. It is not a service but a recognition of the great harm done to men and women through no fault of their own. To those who repeatedly told me when I was Secretary of State that there must not be a hierarchy of victims, I say: there already is. Those who had their lives catastrophically and permanently damaged through no fault of their own by the actions of others are right at the bottom of that category—that ladder, as it were.

They are not asking for much—around £150 weekly, backdated to the all-party Stormont House agreement of 23 December 2014 covering such matters. It would cost a few million pounds annually, which is peanuts in terms of the total Northern Ireland budget.

I will remind your Lordships of the harrowing story of one such severely injured victim. Peter was shot in 1979—when he was 26 years old—by a loyalist gunman who came to the wrong address. His father arrived at the scene, thought his son Peter had been killed and dropped dead on the spot from a massive heart attack. Peter has been wheelchair bound ever since and survives on benefits. He is now aged 67. He had to watch his childhood sweetheart—the love of his life—drink herself to death by the age of 51 because she opened the door to the gunman and never forgave herself.

He was asked what difference a modest pension would make to his life. He said: “I could get the grass cut. I could replace a slate on the roof. I could get someone in for a bit of extra cleaning. That would make all the difference in the world to me”. We can help Peter and the relatively small number of others who are suffering so much. If that cannot or will not be done by the Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland for whatever reason, we must do it here—and without delay.

I urge the Minister to accept this amendment, or at least by Wednesday, on Report, to bring a technically improved version. I am happy to agree it if at all possible, provided that we deliver this pension and deliver it soon, as every month that passes means that some of the severely injured could pass, too. Stormont, Parliament and the Government have prevaricated on this for far too long. We must act now, at long last.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench 10:00 pm, 15th July 2019

My Lords, I am honoured to add my name to this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I speak from years of experience, working with people who carry in their mind and body the scars of our Troubles. I will be very brief. If this Bill achieves nothing more than opening the door to some relief for these unfortunate fellow citizens, we will have achieved an abundance. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has referred to one case; I could repeat dozens of them. I simply say to the House and to the Minister that this is a reform that is passionately and greatly needed in Northern Ireland. I urge the House to accept it.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted to add my voice, and pay tribute not only to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who has been indefatigable in the way he has led this campaign, but to my noble friend Lord Duncan, who has been most receptive when we have met with him and talked about it. I agreed very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said at the beginning of his remarks. I will emphasise just two points. It is incumbent on all politicians in Northern Ireland to realise—Christians above all must realise this—that no one is perfect. We are all sinners. Whatever party we are talking of is never wholly in the right. It is crucial that this is recognised in Northern Ireland by Sinn Féin, the DUP and all parties, and that they come together to make sure that the Assembly meets and the Executive is formed. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, was right to stress that point.

He was also right to stress that we have no nationalist voice now—no moderate nationalist voice—in either House of Parliament. Throughout my time in the other place, there were always at least one or two SDLP Members. In my time as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Alasdair McDonnell was one of the most supportive members of the committee. Whether on organised crime, the prison service or the Omagh bombing, all our reports were unanimous, and Alasdair McDonnell played a very constructive and important part in that. It would be very good to have a moderate nationalist voice in your Lordships’ House. As far as the other House is concerned, of course, they have to get themselves elected. It is one of the sad facts of life that those nationalists who are elected draw the money but do not play a part. That is up to them, but it would be very good to have a moderate nationalist voice in Parliament again.

I conclude by emphasising how crucial it is that action is taken—and this week. We need to know that this will happen. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, many of those who would have been eligible are no more; they have died. In the course of this calendar year, between now and the end of the year, more will die. Many are suffering great privation and hardship, live in constant pain and are constantly haunted by the memory of the bestial act that deprived them of limbs and, to a degree, of liberty—because you do not have complete freedom if you have been so badly injured mentally, physically or both. So I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to assure your Lordships’ House tonight that, on Wednesday, we will have a workable, acceptable amendment. I am delighted to give this my support.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland)

My Lords, I had no hesitation in signing the amendment, and was proud to do so. Like everybody else, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for the deep persistence and commitment that he manifests every time he speaks on this subject. It is somewhat disturbing to think that it is 21 years since the Troubles ended: these people have suffered for decades. Although there is consensus across the piece that the pensions should be delivered, it still has not happened. This is a point at which we can set down a mark of real commitment to recognise, while those people can still benefit, that we can do something about this.

Our debates today should give Northern Ireland politicians real cause for reflection. Increasingly, this House is discussing any and every issue relating to the people of Northern Ireland, because there is no Assembly or Executive to do it. They should be asking themselves, “Why aren’t we delivering this pension? Why aren’t we delivering better healthcare? Why aren’t we doing it?”. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that the things that appear to divide them do not seem, to us living on this side, to be the issues that the people of Northern Ireland want to unite them—such as dealing with the day-to-day issues and compensating people for their past suffering.

The amendment is simple, crisp and clear. If it is deficient in terms of a money resolution, the Government have the capacity to do something about that, and I hope they will feel able to do so. I commend the Minister, because every time this issue has been raised he has demonstrated total commitment, understanding and engagement—and frustration, perhaps, that the technical difficulties seem to get in the way. I hope that he has been able to cut through them and can give us a positive answer now.

Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench

My Lords, I want to add a brief word to what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others have said. Unfortunately, many of us have seen, met, worked with and tried to help people whose lives have been shattered by bomb and bullet. I thank the Minister because I understand that he is considering this idea: I am sure the Government will find the money to pay these pensions to such a very small number of people. I want us to remember, particularly, the children. There are many children living in this situation—second generation, perhaps, from the actual victim of the shooting or bombing—and they may well act as a carer for their grandfather, uncle or father. That is a very difficult life, and they are subjected to the risk of transgenerational trauma, of which there is a significant incidence in Northern Ireland. A pension would allow for a carer, which might set some of those children free.

Photo of Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown DUP

My Lords, in his introductory remarks the noble Lord, Lord Hain, talked about the Assembly. I say to him simply that he knows that there is one party that had three red lines before it would enter the Executive. No other party put down red lines; it was one party and one party alone. Every other party in the Northern Ireland Assembly was willing, and is willing, without red lines, to enter that Assembly and deal with the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has already mentioned. Across the Committee, many Members have expressed not only appreciation but support.

I wonder how many people in the Committee know what it is to be in the family of an innocent victim. I stand in this House not to express somebody else’s pain—although as a Minister, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Eames, went to home after home. Hundreds, even thousands, of families have experienced the anguish and pain.

Last weekend, on the evening of 12 July, I entered the home of a couple in their late 70s, both seriously ill. A boulder was thrown through their window into their bedroom on 12 July in broad daylight, and they were terrorised. Tonight they cannot sleep. In actual fact it took them back 20 years, because 20 years ago that same couple were, like a group of other Protestant families in Beatrice Villas in Bellaghy, forced out of their home by the IRA. They had to leave that home 20 years ago and now, 20 years on, with one of them in their late 70s and one 80, they are faced with that terror again.

I think of two young people, 16 and 21, a brother and a sister, my own loved ones, who left on a journey to show an engagement ring that the young lady had got that day. She and he were blown to bits. A mother died at 43 with a broken heart. Yes, I know that pain.

I think of another home where a father was waiting for his wife to bring home some of the things that were necessary to build their house. While he was waiting, a terrorist knocked at the door and said, “Are you Derek?”. Then they opened up their AK-47 and shot him to bits. Yes, there is agony and pain. It is real.

That is why it was vital that I found the noble Lord’s phrase,

“severely injured through no fault of their own”, in the amendment. It would be so hurtful to think that any person who was out to act as a terrorist, taking away some other innocent life or destroying some other innocent family, could enjoy the rewards of a pension. I am delighted that the noble Lord has said that clearly, and I trust that that will be heard in Northern Ireland. I trust also that that means even the families of those terrorists do not claim that they are in this provision.

There are many innocent victims living under great hardship. It is about time—it is long overdue—that they got this reward, this pension, to help them, with many of them in their latter days.

Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 10:15 pm, 15th July 2019

My Lords, I support with as much strength as I can the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and his colleagues in speaking to it. He has argued the case with unparalleled eloquence and persistence. I add my thanks to the Minister for the care that he has constantly given to this matter.

I want to pick up on a point mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Cormack: the absence of nationalist representation in our Parliament. I completely accept that that has been given sharper relief by the absence of the SDLP from the other place. I am chair of the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and I am well aware of the problem. He is aware of how complicated and difficult it is and of the pressures involved in sorting it out, but I wanted to reassure him that I am well aware of this complex and difficult problem. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that I understand that it is thrown into sharper relief by the absence of the SDLP from the other place.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on his persistence in this matter. I am also encouraged that the Minister said last week at Second Reading that there would be no risk of a person receiving a pension if an act was carried out by his or her own hand. The criminal injuries legislation, if applied to this, would ensure that that did not happen. However, there is perhaps a risk with people’s relatives. Whatever we do, let us be absolutely clear that the language of the legislation clearly reflects Parliament’s intention; otherwise, somebody will JR the thing and the whole process will become discredited. That is my major worry. With that qualification, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I rise very briefly to endorse and thank my noble friend Lord Hain and his supporters for bringing this forward. As he mentioned, of all the posts I ever had in government, my role as a victims Minister in Northern Ireland was the one that stayed with me and affected me the most. The euphemistically named Troubles left a legacy of not just physical pain but mental pain and anguish that affects later generations and both sides of the community, as we have heard. A lot of people were caught up in things that they knew nothing about. I remember talking to one man about his experiences. Every year, a paper would print a photograph of a bus that had been wrecked in a bombing. His father had died on that bus, yet nobody thought of the pain it caused him to see that photograph printed on the anniversary year after year.

This is not just about the financial need people are in. It also gives recognition to those victims and survivors who will receive a pension and those who will not but who recognise how important it is that the suffering and trauma experienced by victims over many years has been recognised. This is also about health. Many have not undertaken the employment they could have done, which had a financial knock-on effect. This is long overdue. I am sure there is more that can be done over time for those who have survived, but I think this is a really important step. I am encouraged that we are all anticipating a very positive response from the Minister.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

My Lords, I believe I can give that positive response. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has given a great deal of leadership. A number of Members of your Lordships’ House have worked very hard on this matter, as have members of my team in the Northern Ireland Office. The noble Lord and I discussed earlier some technical improvements that need to be made, which I believe we can make tomorrow. The noble Lord has also raised the question of a money resolution and a consolidated fund. I believe we can address that.

I was privileged to meet a number of the survivors from the WAVE Trauma group. I recognise what they have been through. I thank the noble Lords here who have given that commitment to ensure that their voices have not been lost or forgotten. Every day we lose from here on in is one day too many. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hain, will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very positive response and all those who have contributed to the debate, including the noble Lord, Lord McCrea. I am happy to withdraw this amendment and table a revised version tomorrow, which I hope will be acceptable to the whole House, including the Government.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.

Amendment 22 not moved.