Amendment 24

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Lord Morrow:

Moved by Lord Morrow

24: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—“Definition of Victim(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to change the definition of “victim” in Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 (S.I. 2006/2953 (N.I. 17)) to apply only to a person who is injured or affected wholly by the actions of another person.(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 Morrow Lord Morrow DUP

My Lords, I intend to be brief on this because I will keep before me what has been said in the debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I recognise that much of what was said compares with what I hope to say.

The definition of a victim has been a matter of great angst in Northern Ireland since its inception. Consideration of government proposals in the past has been coloured by the dissatisfaction people feel over an unfair definition of a victim. This has been a running sore for some 13 years. We have met many individual victims and several groups representing victims’ organisations. The victim definition is repeatedly raised with us as their key issue.

We consider the 2006 definition of a victim and survivor to be unacceptable, unfair and downright insulting. In our view, there is a clear distinction in law between a terrorist perpetrator and their innocent victim. To equate the two is morally wrong and totally indefensible. We have previously tabled legislative proposals to change the definition of a victim, but to no avail at this stage. We believe the Government should bring forward plans now to change the definition of a victim so that there is a clear distinction between perpetrators and victims. In any civilised society, it cannot be right that victims and perpetrators are treated as equals. We believe that this could improve the existing climate and context regarding consideration of the past and legacy proposals.

The Secretary of State wrote in the foreword of the legacy consultation document:

“A Conservative Government will reject any attempts to rewrite the history of the past that seeks to justify or legitimise republican or loyalist terrorism or which seeks to displace responsibility from the people who perpetrated acts of terrorism”.

A perpetrator of an unlawful act cannot at the same time be a victim of the act they have perpetrated. Someone who pulled a trigger or planted a bomb should not be treated in the same manner as their innocent victims. This matter is fundamental to victims’ views. In our engagement with a number of victims’ organisations, we have been struck by extremely powerful testimony illustrating the depth and rawness of hurt and insult they feel at their loved ones being placed in the same category as terrorist perpetrators.

The DUP has a proud record on victims and legacy issues. In government, we quadrupled funding for victims. We have stood against a rewriting of our history and efforts to introduce an amnesty. Current arrangements for dealing with the past are utterly unacceptable. There is a clear imbalance, and continuation of the status quo will lead to further rewriting of the narrative of the Troubles. Innocent victims are not seeing progress on investigations into the murder of their loved ones. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, I think the exchanges during the debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, have the seeds of a solution within them. I would be supportive of that. He made the distinction between the provision of services and pensions for people who have been victims, so we understand that there is an issue there, but the whole question of legacy is still unresolved. There are still proposals out there, including the historical inquiries unit and other ideas that have been brought forward, which could threaten and help to rewrite the history, as has been referred to. But I believe from the exchange we had earlier that we are close to a form of words to find an acceptable solution to all of this that everybody can be comfortable with and move forward on. I certainly hope that that can be achieved.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench 11:00 pm, 15th July 2019

My Lords, the question of the definition of a victim has bedevilled many efforts to deal with the legacy of the past. My mind goes back years to when Denis Bradley and I produced our report. We struggled way back then with the definition of who was a victim. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, just said, the exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, earlier on threw considerable light because until there is a definition of victim, not for Northern Ireland alone but across the United Kingdom, that is accepted and incorporated in legislation and used in political dialogue, we will continue to come up against the brick wall of this definition.

Therefore, I welcome what the Minister said in his exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, because in the work that we have already done on the disabled and the victims of the Troubles, as the Minister knows, we have found many new avenues of dealing with disability and legacy in these matters. I am very hopeful, as has been said already, that we are on the verge of getting an acceptable definition of a victim.

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 appreciate that the definition of a victim has bedevilled a number of people over a great number of years. I read with great interest the Eames-Bradley report, of which the noble and right reverend Lord is one author, Applying appropriate caveats to our earlier discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, regarding the victims’ pension, there are distinctions. None the less, if indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has said, these could perhaps be the seeds of a particular solution, we may be closer to a definition than has been the case for some time.

The Government have already accepted a reporting requirement to publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on whether the definition of “victim” in Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 should be revised to apply only to a person who is injured or affected wholly through the actions of another person. In addition, my honourable friend the Minister of State John Penrose committed in the Commons that Her Majesty’s Government recognise that the definition of a victim is something that a number of honourable and right honourable Members have campaigned on for a number of years, and commit to looking UK-wide at how we can make sure that victims are duly protected. That is a step in the right direction. We are closer than we have been before. Of course, there is still some way to go. I recognise that historically there have been challenges, which I noted earlier, and I am aware that the parties in Northern Ireland themselves have not always reached consensus on this particular approach. If we are indeed closer, I hope that we can make some progress and on that basis I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP

My Lords, when I introduced my amendment, I said that I would keep before me what was said during the earlier debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Having listened to what has been said, I will not press the amendment tonight. Rather, we will watch progress on this matter. But the Government should take note that this matter has to be dealt with. It will not go away. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 24 withdrawn.