Amendment 26

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 11:15 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Baroness Smith of Basildon:

Moved by Baroness Smith of Basildon

26: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—“Historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland: regulations(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for a publicly funded compensation scheme under an HIA Redress Board, distinct from the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009, to be charged to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund.(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 this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each 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 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, given the lateness of the hour, I may not allow the Committee to enjoy my 15-minute contribution and will perhaps be slightly briefer. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, for his discussions with me on my amendment and for the consideration he has given to this issue. My amendment deals with the historical abuse inquiry and the recommendations made following that inquiry. I say at the beginning that, as we discussed earlier today, this is not the only inquiry where the absence of an Assembly has disadvantaged the people of Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord and other Members of the Committee will recall that I have raised the hyponatraemia inquiry on many occasions now. It was an inquiry that I set up as a Health Minister in Northern Ireland after the deaths of a number of young children. That inquiry reported many years later, yet no action will be taken until a proper Executive and Assembly are up and running. To me, that is a sad and terrible state of affairs for the families of those young children. That issue, and many we have heard about this evening, tell us about the impatience building up in Northern Ireland among those suffering the injustice of local politicians not dealing with their crucial issues.

I pay tribute to the late Sir Anthony Hart, who chaired the historical abuse inquiry. He died suddenly last week, not having seen the progress he would have liked to see on the recommendations he made. We are waiting to take action to implement his recommendations to compensate those subjected to terrible abuse in children’s homes where they had been placed by the state, so the state had a duty of care. Those homes were run by churches, by charities and by state institutions between 1922 and 1995. The very places where children should have been safe from harm are where they were abused.

My amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations providing for a publicly funded scheme. I know that funding has been one of the handicaps and difficulties for the Government, but the funded scheme would be charged to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund by 21 October 2019 unless the Northern Ireland Executive are formed first. It builds on the amendments in the House of Commons requiring the Secretary of State to report on progress made in preparing the legislation.

We have not gone into the detail; we do not think it right to do so at this stage. What I seek—I am optimistic about this after our discussions with the Minister—is an absolute commitment to get the scheme in place in legislation so that no more victims die before they get their justified compensation.

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

I support the noble Baroness’s amendment. We have discussed this subject several times, and we all recognise that recommendations are in place. The Minister will tell us that things have been added to them, which has complicated the settlement. We are talking about abuse going back to 1922—nearly 100 years ago—and continuing until as late as 1995.

Let us be clear: these abuses have not been confined to Northern Ireland. In the Republic, in Scotland, in England and in the Channel Islands abuses have been unearthed, and Sir Anthony Hart produced a very comprehensive report. When we read about the scale of the abuse it leaves us feeling very angry that people who should have been responsible were perpetrating those acts of abuse. I happened to read a novel last year by Christina McKenna called The Misremembered Man. It is a total fiction, but it is based entirely on the kind of abuse that young children experienced in Northern Ireland and makes a lively dramatic impact, as perhaps a stark factual report does not.

I say to the Minister: people have waited an awfully long time. Many have died and many have suffered. There has been a recommendation, and there are clearly additional things. If he can say something about the timescale on which he feels we can get to a point when action can be taken, the Committee will be very appreciative.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, this issue has been raised many times. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, may have deprived the House of 12 minutes of her prepared speech, but the parties in Belfast could still surprise us. It has perhaps been a depressing day listening to these debates, but there is always hope. I hope that they will surprise us and start to deal with this matter themselves. However, I have to say to the Minister that this is a bit like the carrot in front of the donkey: the closer we seem to get the more it keeps moving away, and it never gets to the point when something actually happens. I accept that the fact that there is money involved has its own implications, but I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us that this will happen, and happen on a realistic timescale. Sadly, Sir Anthony did not live to see this, but it would be a tribute to him if it could be introduced as soon as possible.

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 think we can make some progress this evening. I thank the noble Baroness for tabling her amendment. There is urgency. The last time the matter was discussed I said that the Government stood ready to move this through Westminster with a degree of urgency. The issue now, of course, is that Sir Anthony Hart’s recommendations have been considered by the parties, which have reached a consensus—but it differs from the original proposals in the Hart recommendations, so there needs to be some redrafting. We anticipate the redraft coming towards the Government in the next couple of weeks.

The route that the noble Baroness has chosen is one that might introduce a delay, and I do not think we need to do that. If she is willing, I will commit, in the absence of a sitting Assembly, to the Government introducing primary legislation on historical institutional abuse before the end of the year—which I believe would satisfy her requirements. On that basis, I ask her to withdraw her amendment.

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 am grateful to the Minister. On that basis, I am very happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 26 withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at 11.30 pm.