Amendment 17

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Lord Hain:

Moved by Lord Hain

17: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—“Victims’ payments(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations establish a scheme under the law of Northern Ireland which provides for one or more payments to be made to, or in respect of, a person who has sustained an injury as a result of a Troubles-related incident.(2) The first regulations under subsection (1) must be made before the end of January 2020 and come into force before the end of May 2020.(3) Regulations under subsection (1) must make provision as to the eligibility criteria for payments under the scheme which may, in particular, relate to—(a) the nature or extent of a person’s injury;(b) how, when or where the injury was sustained;(c) residence or nationality;(d) whether or not a person has been convicted of an offence.(4) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the reimbursement of costs incurred by a person in connection with an application under the scheme (whether or not the application is successful).(5) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, make provision—(a) for determining the amount of any payment;(b) for payments to be made in respect of past periods (including periods before this Act was passed);(c) for payments to be reduced or repaid (in whole or in part) in specified circumstances;(d) about the treatment under other legislation (for example social security legislation) of payments under the scheme.(6) Regulations under subsection (1) must make provision of the kind mentioned in subsection (5)(b) so as to ensure that where—(a) a person is eligible under the scheme as the result of an injury sustained by that person before the scheme comes into force, and(b) the person makes an application within a period specified in the regulations (which must not be less than the period of two years beginning with the day on which the scheme comes into force), the person is entitled to a payment to reflect the amount that the person would have received had the scheme been in force since the making of the Stormont House Agreement.(7) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, make provision about—(a) the administration of the scheme (including provision establishing a body or conferring functions on an existing body);(b) the funding of the scheme by money from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland (whether by virtue of grant funding from a Northern Ireland department, the appropriation of money by an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly or otherwise);(c) the sharing of information between public authorities for the purposes of the scheme;(d) evidential matters;(e) the procedure for the making and deciding of applications (including provision imposing time limits);(f) appeals and reviews;(g) information, advice or assistance in relation to the scheme or payments under it.(8) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision conferring a discretion on a person.(9) Regulations under subsection (1)—(a) may include provision amending, repealing or revoking any provision made by an Act of Parliament or Northern Ireland legislation, and(b) in so far as made in reliance on section (Regulations: procedure and supplementary 2)(4), may also include provision amending or repealing provision made by an Act or Measure of the National Assembly for Wales or an Act of the Scottish Parliament.(10) In making the first regulations under this section the Secretary of State must have regard to any advice given by the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland.(11) In this section—“injury” means any illness or injury (whether physical or mental);“the Stormont House Agreement” means the agreement made between parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland on 23 December 2014;“Troubles-related incident” means an incident involving an act of violence or force carried out in Ireland, the United Kingdom or anywhere in Europe for a reason related to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland or to political or sectarian hostility between people there.”

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, I think the Minister has demonstrated the patience of Job with the House this evening and I commend him for that; we are enormously indebted to him.

In moving Amendment 17, I will speak to associated Amendments 18 and 23 in my name and those of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Bruce, to whom I am most grateful. I thank the Minister and his officials for working with us to enable these amendments to be accepted by the Government and to establish, for the very first time, a system of payments for a pension which severely injured victims of Northern Ireland terrorism should have had a very long time ago.

My understanding is that the crucial words,

“through no fault of their own”,

that were in my original amendment in Committee on Monday cannot appear on the face of the Bill, on the advice of parliamentary counsel, because they are not sufficiently legally precise. For the avoidance of any doubt, I ask the Minister to confirm for the record that the intent and purpose of,

“through no fault of their own”,

remains in the Bill as amended, especially in Section 3(d), covering whether or not an applicant has a conviction for an offence. Will he also confirm that it is his intention that the regulations and the eligibility assessment procedure to come will abide by the “no fault of their own” principle, which I think was supported right across the House? Can he also further confirm that “offence” means a terrorism-related or serious criminal offence, not some unrelated minor or summary offence that could have happened, for example, long ago in youth?

Those of us who have had the privilege to meet the remarkable men and women who, despite the most horrendous injuries imaginable, have reconstructed their lives, will know just how important this breakthrough is. I thank your Lordships’ House for the steadfast way in which the principle has been supported over the last 18 months or so. I understand that the mechanisms to deliver the pension will take some time to set up, but the date for it to be operational—May 2020—has to be the very last date. Will the Minister confirm that heaven and earth will be moved to make payments as quickly as possible? These individuals are no longer young, and some could possibly even pass before 2020.

This modest but essential measure is long overdue, and it is right that the Government have recognised that by agreeing payments to be backdated to December 2014, and through the Stormont House agreement on these matters, meaning that many recipients could be due many thousands of pounds; at least they have that to look forward to. I was heartened that the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, spoke positively about the proposal in the debate on Monday. I trust that his colleagues in the other place will follow his lead. Indeed, if working devolution is to be restored before 21 October, I hope there will be no attempt by anyone or any party, on whatever pretext, to try to overturn what we have done here in this Parliament. That would be unthinkable when Parliament—and before that, Stormont—have together, completely and shamefully, failed these people for so many years. At long last, we are today bringing some relief and justice to people who have suffered for so long.

In concluding, when I spoke to my amendments on Monday, I said that we are a civilised society and we do not turn people away from services that they need provided; for example, by the NHS and the Victims & Survivors Service in Northern Ireland. However, this pension is not a service; it is a recognition of the horrific harm done to men and women through no fault of their own. They have endured, and continue to endure, almost unimaginable pain and suffering through no fault of their own. They do not ask for sympathy, let alone pity; they ask for our recognition for what they have gone through, and help to live independent lives with dignity. I am glad that we can play our part in making that a reality by agreeing this amendment this evening.

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

My Lords, as a signatory to this amendment, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on the work he has done on this and on taking this opportunity to bring it to a conclusion—and, I hope, by negotiation with the Minister to have a clause that will be acceptable.

I want to back up what he has asked the Minister to say on the record about the “no fault of their own” determination. A ministerial statement on it would be enormously valuable and I know that the Minister understands that. I think it would unite the House. This is one amendment where everybody has recognised that we have waited far too long and that these people, many of whom have died, and their dependants really need this. This is one situation where perhaps one thing that nobody wanted to happen—namely, this legislation—has nevertheless opened a window to do another which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, should have been done a long time ago.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench

My Lords, my name is also on this amendment. I could keep the House sitting for hours to tell your Lordships of people I know who have suffered terrible injuries to mind, body and spirit. I simply want to back up the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and hope that the Minister will give the assurances we have asked for.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, as the fourth name on the amendment I pay my tribute not just to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who has led this campaign with real, dogged determination, but to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. We have worked together with other colleagues and we all are extremely grateful to the Minister, who has met us on a number of occasions. He has listened carefully and, far more importantly, acted.

It is crucial that in every piece of literature distributed, and in every announcement made, those words,

“through no fault of their own”,

are emphasised time and again. So long as that is done, I am confident that we will maintain the unanimity we have so far enjoyed. We have had two long and quite difficult days. There is no one who is happy about the suspension of devolution or about the hurried manner in which we have to deal with this legislation. But there has been one bright, shining light: this amendment and the Minister’s response. We should all be extremely grateful and thank him most warmly.

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

My Lords, I once again listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, as he introduced this amendment. On reading it, I was rather alarmed that the words,

“through no fault of their own”,

which were evident in our previous debate and which he has repeated, were missing. I would certainly not accept that anyone who was injured through fault of their own—in other words, terrorists—should be allowed to receive a pension. That would be not only an insult but an absolute shame. I know that it would certainly be deeply hurtful to those across the community who have been terrorised and injured through terrorist activity.

I will therefore listen carefully to what the Minister says in response to this, because that was the proviso which meant so much to me when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on the previous occasion. He pointed out that the pension was a recognition of the great harm done to men and women through no fault of their own. We need to keep that right in front of us, so that there is no misunderstanding as regards any judgment that may follow or any judicial review that is done, with people saying, “What did the House mean by this determination?”.

As far as the other place is concerned, I think the noble Lord is long enough in public life to know that my deputy leader and colleagues in another place will carefully scrutinise the Minister’s words and then, no doubt, vote accordingly.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on his persistence. I come back to the point that a number of victims appeared in the local press in Northern Ireland today and one theme went right across. Yes, they would welcome recognition through a pension—we often forget that a lot of these people have been unable to earn a proper living and provide for their retirement because of their disabilities, physical and mental—however, they would all be horrified if the people down the road who caused those injuries were to get a benefit out of this process.

I am not a lawyer but I understand that one of the critical things when people take the Government to court over a piece of legislation is what the intention of Parliament was when the debate was being held. The Minister can clarify that, of course, because his statements will be part of the evidence in any case. I also ask him to give some thought to the use of terminology in the criminal injuries compensation legislation in this part of the United Kingdom. I believe that the word “blameless” appears in that legislation, so it is the eligibility, together with the fact that mental health is to be taken into account, as well as physical injuries. That is much more difficult, because the service availability to provide that kind of backup and assessment is in short supply, as we heard repeatedly earlier today. We do not want people with genuinely severe mental health problems to feel that they are second-class citizens in all this, so that has to be taken into account. The key thing is to ensure that it is blameless; that people cannot then find some loophole to climb in and get money, which would be rewarding them for their evil deeds.

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 am very happy to speak on this and I will get right to the point. I am very happy to confirm for the record that the intent and purpose of,

“through no fault of their own”,

is the principal criterion by which we will ensure that victims secure their pension. We will also ensure that all eligibility criteria procedures abide by the “no fault of their own” principle. I hope that these words will stand alongside any interpretation of the Bill as it passes from our House to the other place. I recognise the “blameless” comment as well: we need to recognise that concept that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, put into the discussion. This is to ensure that those who have suffered through no fault of their own, not by their own hand, and who are survivors of a difficult and troubled time, are able to secure a pension now. That pension will be backdated to December 2014, so I hope that for some there will be a serious lump sum. I hope that that money can do some good.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for bringing this before us, for pushing it and for keeping us on track all the way through. I think noble Lords who have been part of those discussions will agree that it is through his leadership that we are where we are today. I would not normally do this, but it is also important that I praise one of my officials, Chris Atkinson. He has been instrumental in helping move this matter forward: without him, we would not be where we are today, and I put on record, from all of us who have been involved, how critical he was to securing success. On that basis, I am very happy to accept the amendment.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

In thanking the Minister, I also thank his official, Chris Atkinson. I also place on record what is, I am sure, the view of the whole House that the WAVE Trauma Centre, which has campaigned for this for 10 years, deserves to be acknowledged for what has been magnificent persistence: I think we should pay tribute to it.

Amendment 17 agreed.