Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Lord Duncan of Springbank:

Moved by Lord Duncan of Springbank

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, this month the people of Northern Ireland saw the political impasse breach 1,000 days—1,000 days without a functioning Executive, and 1,000 days without progress in education, health, infrastructure and many other areas of devolved competence.

The impact of this impasse has been acutely felt—perhaps most of all by the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive established an independent inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland in 2012. The inquiry’s report was published the same month as the collapse of the Executive. As a consequence, the Northern Ireland Executive never considered the report and it was not laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The victims have been left hanging for seven long years. This wait must now come to an end. That is why the Government committed in July to introduce legislation in Westminster by the end of this year, and why today we have made a fresh commitment to implementing the legislation and ensuring that victims and survivors receive an initial “acknowledgement payment” as soon as possible following the Bill’s passage.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. I very much welcome this Bill and his urgency over it. Can he give the House any guidance as to how quickly this will get through? Many of us would support an accelerated programme, especially in view of the possible general election. It would be tragic for the victims of abuse if it were somehow to stall in a parliamentary logjam.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I welcome the noble Lord’s intervention so early in my speech, and I ask all those speaking today to speak in similar terms. With that assurance, I believe that I can move this forward very swiftly indeed. I believe that the usual channels will be consulted to that end, to ensure that we are not caught in the limbo of difficulty that might follow the announcement of a general election. I have no desire to see this carried over; I would much rather that it was done as quickly as possible.

I return now to the Bill. This legislation sets out the necessary legal framework to deliver two of the key recommendations from the historical institutional abuse report. The first is for a historical institutional abuse redress board to administer a publicly funded compensation scheme for victims in Northern Ireland. This will be a panel composed of a judicial member and two health and social care professionals. Appointments to the board will be made by the Lord Chief Justice and the Executive Office of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The second is for the creation of a statutory commissioner for survivors of institutional childhood abuse for Northern Ireland, who will act as an advocate for victims and survivors and support them in applying to the redress board.

As noble Lords will know, providing redress for the victims and survivors of such abuse in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter. The Government are acting on behalf of the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Northern Ireland parties to enact the legislation here at Westminster. Crucially, the Bill has been drafted by the Northern Ireland Civil Service at the request of, and based on a consensus reached by, all of the main Northern Ireland parties. Sadly, Westminster is simply the only available vehicle for the delivery of the Bill at this time.

I have spoken to colleagues across the House and, in reference to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I believe that the message has been received loud and clear, both in this House and in the other place. If noble Lords can give the assurances that I seek, I will be in a strong position to ensure that we are able to make very rapid progress indeed on the Bill.

In relation to the payments themselves and the speed with which they can be made, Clause 14 of the Bill contains provisions to allow the redress board to make an initial acknowledgement payment of £10,000 to eligible claimants before the full consideration of their claim. Clause 7 also allows the redress board to take a flexible case-management approach to claims, to ensure that those who are elderly or in severe ill-health are considered as a priority. That means those who are in the greatest need of redress will get their payments more quickly. Clause 6 allows claims to be made on behalf of a deceased person by their spouse or children. Crucially, the Secretary of State has tasked officials and the Northern Ireland Civil Service to look at options for implementing this legislation as soon as it becomes law. We cannot lose a single day on this matter.

Regarding the ability for applicants to request an oral hearing—an issue that I know certain noble Lords have raised—the Bill includes provisions for oral hearings, at the discretion of the redress board, where it is necessary in the interests of justice. The provision ensures that oral hearings are available when required but will not act as an unnecessary delay to those cases in which oral evidence is not required.

On the criteria that the redress board will consider, it will consider a number of factors—including, importantly, the duration of an applicant’s stay in the institution—when reaching a final compensation decision. Each application will be decided on its merits on a case- by-case basis. Finally, on the role of the commissioner, Clause 25 enables the commissioner to make representations to any person about matters concerning the interests of victims and survivors, including the redress board.

In conclusion, the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse have waited too long. Let us get this done. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 3:27 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, there is complete support for the Bill right across the House. It is very welcome, but it is of course shocking that we are talking about generations of abuse and decades of waiting for the potential to resolve what has happened. The range of abuse shown in the report covers the entire gamut, and obviously the legacy of abuse for those who have survived, and those who sadly did not survive, is clearly long-lasting. Siblings have been split up, sometimes never to see each other again, or perhaps only meeting very much later in life. Parents and children have lost touch, and people have suffered psychological and physical trauma that has made them handicapped for life and, in many cases, deprived of the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

I welcome one or two specific matters in the Bill. In particular, I was pleased to note the explicit role of the commissioner, which is not just to publicise the scheme and advise, support and give help to people in applying for it. It is much more than money that we are talking about here, and the role of the commissioner in both providing general counselling services for those who have suffered, who maybe have not had them up to the point when they present themselves, and providing practical help with literacy, numeracy, education, employment, training and opportunity—particularly for those who are not so far advanced in life, as we are talking about the later years covered by the Act—to have some chance to make some positive development, in spite of the abuse that they have experienced, is welcome. I hope that the commissioner will be really active in involving people in that.

My other point is about the finance, the speed and the timing. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify the position, both for me and for the benefit of those who may be taking advantage of the legislation. The specifics are that it will be financed out of the budget of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, which are of course not functioning. It will require consent across the board, and it will have to compete with other services for funding. Many noble Lords have mentioned funding. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, for example, has highlighted how seriously underfunded things such as health and education are. One can see a problem here, unless some of this money is ring-fenced. It would be a travesty if, having got the mechanisms in place, the funding was not really there to deliver the scale. After all, we are talking about the possibility of somebody getting an award of up to £100,000 in addition to the extra services that they may require. That is not an insignificant sum of money, so I would be grateful if, in winding up, the Minister could share: first, some indication of what money will be put in in the beginning to get the process started; and secondly, anything positive he can say about how we can ensure it will be funded. The last thing we want is to be back here in a few years’ time complaining that we set up a wonderful scheme but people found it was slow and tedious, and they did not really get the resolution they had hoped for. Let us be clear: many people have died and many failed to get the support and recognition they needed in the time that they had.

That said, along with all Members who have taken an interest in this subject, the final point I would make is that, in this context, Northern Ireland is leading the way, ironically. Credit is due to the Ministers, civil servants and parties for that, but we have to be realistic. This kind of abuse was not confined to Northern Ireland. We know it happened in Scotland, England, the Channel Islands and of course the Republic of Ireland; that is not our responsibility, but nevertheless there is a legacy there. That being the case, let us hope that this proves to be a beacon, if you like, of how it can be done and that it is taken up by the other components of the United Kingdom to deliver redress for all those who have suffered institutional abuse, not just those in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Lord Browne of Belmont Lord Browne of Belmont DUP 3:31 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, I welcome the Bill before your Lordships’ House and congratulate the Minister and officials on their efforts in preparing this legislation and moving forward quickly with this process. In these deeply fraught and uncertain times, when there are different views and opinions on a wide range of issues, I trust that there will be common ground and unanimity today in our efforts to deliver for victims of historical abuse. They have waited far too long.

I wish to take one moment to pay tribute to the work of the late Sir Anthony Hart, who chaired the inquiry which began this process. It investigated and revealed the depth and scale of the systemic abuse which was rife in our society. We must also acknowledge his expert team of officials, who worked efficiently and diligently during the Hart inquiry. The inquiry resulted in some key recommendations for redress, and that work was a vitally important step in the process of getting us to this point today.

For many victims of abuse, the Hart inquiry was the first time they had told their stories publicly. It must have been an incredibly challenging and difficult experience for them, and we should recognise that. After their bravery, many have been left without the much-needed assistance and support that they require. Sadly, a number of victims have since passed away without seeing any justice. It is therefore right and proper that their families should receive financial and mental health support, as families have suffered too.

Victims have shown great courage and bravery and extraordinary patience during their long campaign for redress. Lives have been destroyed, and some of their stories are harrowing. These victims have patiently continued to engage and interact respectfully with the Government and Members both here and in the other place. It is welcome that an interim advocate is in place. In reality, however, victims’ groups and families have done much of the work on their own for many years, without any additional funding or administrative support.

There is an understandable sense of frustration among victims and the wider public at the length of time this process has taken. Since the report and the initial findings three and a half years ago, this has been a long, uncertain process. This matter should have been addressed by a functioning Assembly, but, regrettably, the institutions were collapsed before a resolution could be found. For the victims who have suffered, this process was always about the truth. Regrettably, the report sat for too long before this process moved forward. The legislation is vital in getting some justice for those who have suffered. There is a huge amount of cross-community and cross-party support for progressing the Bill quickly. To do so would be an important step for the victims, who have waited long enough.

When one looks at international examples where similar schemes have been introduced, the institutions involved have taken responsibility and borne some of the considerable costs. One key example can be found in the National Redress Scheme in Australia. Through the Australian redress model, churches and other organisations responsible for institutional abuse opted in at an early stage to join the regular compensation scheme for victims. This was heralded by victim groups in Australia as a significant development. Also, in the Republic of Ireland, property owned by the responsible institutions has been expropriated. Can the Minister please confirm whether similar steps will be taken to adopt a group and institution opt-in approach to compensating victims, where costs would be contributed to by named institutions and groups involved? I would also be extremely grateful if he provided some clarity regarding the timetable for the rollout and introduction of the redress scheme.

These victims should be a top priority for Parliament. Many of them have lived for decades with mental and physical scars from childhood. This has been a long wait for justice. Today, we have an opportunity to stand up for them. We must progress this legislation, here in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. If Parliament can pass other measures relating to Northern Ireland in short order, as it has, surely it can swiftly pass this highly important legislation. Given the circumstances, the sooner we progress this, the sooner the redress scheme will be up and running for the victims. My party and I fully support the Bill.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 3:36 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that I have been a frequent critic of Northern Ireland legislation coming to this House under accelerated passage, given that, in some cases, we knew a year in advance that it needed to be done at a particular time. However, like other speakers, I believe that there is an opportunity here not only for the use of that process, but to ensure, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who is not in his place, that this legislation does not get caught up in any possible wash-up or changed and therefore lost. Our minds must be focused on the victims and their families, who would be dealt a cruel card if, having come to this stage, it was all snatched away again at the very last minute. I hope that, using the usual channels, it will be possible for the Minister and his right honourable friend in the other place to ensure that this legislation is dealt with. I believe that is the wish of the House and I am certain that it is the wish of all the political parties in Northern Ireland, and in this House.

Sadly, Sir Tony died earlier this year and has not seen the rollout of his recommendations. That is a shame but, to support the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I have absolutely no doubt about the role of some the institutions that were involved and the need for them to take some responsibility. They and their insurers should not be allowed simply to get away in the smoke with the taxpayer taking up all the liability. I believe that the Minister and the Secretary of State have got that message.

It is sad that Stormont is not in a position to deal with this, but there we are. Parliament now has a responsibility to fill the vacuum and ensure that this is done. There are very few occasions when there is unanimity at home in Northern Ireland. Indeed, by the look of things around here, there is very little opportunity for unanimity here as well. However, the fact remains that this is an opportunity for that to happen. Let us make it happen and do something for the victims. Let them feel that they have been heard at last, and that the system is for once working for them, not against them. I support the Second Reading of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 3:39 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, I shall certainly not disturb the unanimity, but may I say that it is heartening to note that the Secretary of State is following our proceedings? We hope that this will give added impetus to a very important Bill. It is a scandal that it has taken so long. It is very sad that it is over two years since the Hart report was published, and that Sir Anthony is no longer able to see what we are seeking to achieve on his behalf.

The biggest scandal of all is that this matter, which affects a number of extremely vulnerable people in Northern Ireland, has not been debated in full in the Assembly because the Assembly has not sat in the period since the publication of the report that is the foundation of this Bill. I pay unreserved compliments to my noble friend Lord Duncan, who has been indefatigable. Earlier this afternoon, he welcomed my suggestion that it would be very good if the Prime Minister went to Stormont and summoned all the Members of the Assembly there. As he has styled himself Minister for the union, let him tell them how keenly he feels for the union, and how important it is that they cast aside their differences and come together as an Assembly, with an Executive, to exercise the power that this Parliament has conferred on them. It is extremely important that this should happen; it is disgraceful that it has taken so long.

When my noble friend introduced the Bill, he made a very powerful, short speech, in which he said that he wanted to feel that he had the support of your Lordships in all parts of the House. I think he now knows that he has that support. I hope he and the Secretary of State will ensure that the Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes an Act of Parliament before any election day. There is a will for this to be done. There is unanimity in this House and in Northern Ireland, and it is crucial that we act.

Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Chair, Finance Committee (Lords) 3:42 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, like all other speakers, I am entirely supportive of this Bill, and believe that we need to get on with it.

I have some questions, which I hope that the Minister can answer at the end of the debate. All the evidence about child abuse, whether physical, sexual or emotional, is that it is much more prevalent than people imagine. Revelations about past cases often lead to more people coming forward. The new abuse redress board and commissioner will likely shine a light on the tips of many new icebergs. Exposing the whole edifice of historical institutional abuse is a process which will take years, not months. Collecting the evidence will be a long and complex task, requiring detailed research and investigation. Yet the Bill is rather vague on how the board and the commissioner will be funded in the long term. I entirely agree with the points made by my noble friend earlier, but what is the Government’s estimate of the funding required to ensure that the board and the commissioner can function properly? Can he confirm that they will be given resources equal to the task of meeting the needs of the victims?

Clause 23 enables the commissioner to appoint an advisory board of victims of historical abuse. This strikes me as essential, but it is equally critical that the advisory board is diverse and properly representative of the different groups of victims. The House should consider whether such a requirement should be hardwired into the Bill. Clause 21 sets out the process of appointment of the commissioner, which is left in the hands of the Northern Ireland Executive Office, which will also have to approve the annual budget. Can the Minister reflect on how we ensure that these two provisions do not undermine the independence of the commissioner in carrying out their work? We have to ensure that the commissioner is well resourced, well advised and able to operate without fear or favour.

Meanwhile, a successful commissioner and a successful compensation scheme will be judged by the breadth of victims who seek to secure remedies and by the perceived fairness of the decisions taken in these cases. Can the Minister therefore look at the Bill’s provisions on who can make claims, and when they can be made? This is about two things. First, the Bill says that the claim must be made within five years of the scheme being advertised. It strikes me that because of the likelihood of one set of victims coming forward leading to another set being revealed, and because many of the victims are now in Australia, this might be too tight a timescale. How was the five-year position arrived at, and will the Minister look favourably at allowing claims for a longer period, perhaps at the commissioner’s discretion?

Secondly, the Bill accepts in principle that where a victim is deceased, a partner with whom they have cohabited should be able to claim on behalf of the estate; but it stipulates that the cohabiting partner must have lived with them immediately before their death. It is always difficult to legislate around family life, but has the Minister considered the possibility that some cohabiting partners may have lived with somebody for the majority of their lives—decades, perhaps—but for one reason or another had not in the days immediately before their partner’s death? Should the cumulative time together not be a factor in these difficult cases?

Finally, I want us to consider the role of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the impact its recommendations should have on the Government and on the commissioner’s work. Can we have some reassurance that the commissioner will draw on the huge body of evidence collected by this inquiry and, in turn, that the Government will look again at the strong case for mandatory reporting?

Getting the Bill done and getting it right could scarcely be of greater importance. Out there await, tragically, thousands of people whose lives have been wrecked by abuse in their childhoods: people who told the Truth Project that they felt safer in police cells than at home; people who said they tried to tell social workers about what had happened to them but had never been believed; and people who have said that the lasting damage inflicted on them by rapists and abusers leads them to a daily dilemma between living with what happens in their heads and killing themselves. We owe those thousands of people whatever measure of justice we can now attain for them after decades of being ignored.

Photo of Lord Caine Lord Caine Conservative 3:47 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, as has been made clear during the debate so far, this is hugely important legislation for a great many people in Northern Ireland, in particular those many young and vulnerable people who suffered at the hands of those who they should have been able to trust, whether in state-run or other institutions. I therefore have no hesitation at all in giving the Bill my fullest possible support. I know that it has cross-party backing from political parties across the community in Northern Ireland. My great regret, however, along with that of many other Members of this House, is that it has taken us so long to arrive at this moment. I will say a bit more about that shortly.

I commend the previous Northern Ireland Executive, under Peter Robinson and the late Martin McGuinness, for establishing the inquiry under Sir Anthony Hart in 2011-12. I echo my noble friend Lord Empey in paying tribute to Sir Anthony. I am by instinct not naturally drawn towards public inquiries but the Hart inquiry was widely regarded as a model of how a public inquiry should be run—in this case, efficiently, forensically and with great authority, along with compassion and deep sensitivity. Along with the former Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, I last met Sir Anthony at Hillsborough in May of this year to try to chart a way forward. At that meeting, one could not have been other than impressed by the sense of duty he had towards those who had suffered, his determination to do right by them and his frustration that, over two years after the publication of his report, the recommendations had still not been implemented. As my noble friend Lord Empey said, Sir Anthony sadly passed away in July. I hope that this legislation will be a worthy legacy of a kind and decent man.

Most of all, we should have nothing but admiration and support for the victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland, who have campaigned over the years with such determination, resilience and enormous courage. Their dignity, composure and bravery has been quite remarkable. That it has taken so long for this legislation to give redress to be introduced is unforgivable. As one who served in the Northern Ireland Office throughout this period, I am profoundly sorry for that. It is on those delays that I wish to very briefly comment.

As has been pointed out, the Hart report was delivered to the Executive in January 2017, a short while before the Executive fell. The Executive therefore had no opportunity to consider properly its recommendations. As a result, like so many other pressing matters in Northern Ireland, it fell into a kind of limbo, awaiting the re-establishment of devolved government.

I am a very strong supporter of the Belfast agreement and believe that we should do everything possible to uphold the devolution settlement. It was therefore understandable that, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Stormont, Westminster did not immediately rush in and some time was given to see whether the devolved institutions could be re-established. But we should not have left it as long as we did. Indeed, I felt that sometimes the issue was deliberately used by some as a form of leverage on the Northern Ireland parties to go back into government. Just as infuriating were the arguments put forward by some that, by acting in Westminster, we might somehow create a dangerous precedent. That was just wrong.

As I have said on many occasions, when people are suffering and seeking redress—whether it be the victims of historical abuse or victims of the Troubles awaiting some form of payment—they really do not care whether an issue is reserved or devolved. They rightly just want government action, particularly when there is no Assembly or the immediate prospect of its return.

I welcome the fact that the Northern Ireland Civil Service, under the leadership of David Sterling, was able to draft legislation. I am pleased to see the current Secretary of State here, following our proceedings, and pleased that his predecessor, Karen Bradley, was able to take this forward with the local parties. She was unfairly accused of stalling the legislation earlier this year and was subjected to vicious and totally unjustified media attacks. I can testify that nobody was more frustrated with the delays, or more determined to achieve the right outcomes for victims, than she was. However, she was keen to ensure that the legislation had the widest possible support, so that once it was brought before either Westminster or Stormont it could proceed apace, with little or no amendment. I strongly hope that that is the case with this Bill that the Government have now introduced. People have waited for far too long and the last thing they want is a protracted parliamentary process.

If there is a general election, and this legislation falls as a result, I hope that there can be some kind of cross-party agreement that, whatever the outcome, the Bill will be quickly brought back and fast-tracked through both Houses of Parliament. The victims deserve nothing less.

For many people in Northern Ireland, this legislation has come too late, and I totally understand and share the frustration and anger over the delays. The key now is to get on with it, and as quickly as possible, so that victims can receive the redress they both expect and deserve. I am pleased to support this Bill.

Photo of Lord Hay of Ballyore Lord Hay of Ballyore DUP 3:53 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, like other Members of this House, I support the Bill before us this afternoon. I welcome the fact that the Minister is very aware of the urgency in dealing with this issue. There is unanimity around the House on trying to get this Bill over the line sooner rather than later. Some of these victims have lived for over 70 years with the abuse they suffered at the hands of these institutions. Some 30 victims have already died, and every day more are dying. It is very important that this House deals with this.

There was relief after agreement was reached by the main Northern Ireland political parties that the issue be dealt with here at Westminster. Some noble Lords have mentioned the Assembly and the Executive. Sad to say, this issue should have been dealt with by our local devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, when the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, asked his Question, I have continually questioned the process which the Government and the parties have been involved in for almost three years and which has not delivered devolution for Northern Ireland. We all question that process.

For the survivors, this about much more than monetary compensation; that is secondary to an apology from the state and the institutions responsible. This package enables them to move on with their lives in a better way and includes appropriate healthcare and support for the future. As some noble Lords have already said, the chair of the inquiry, Sir Anthony Hart, recommended compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abused survivors. It is sad that Sir Anthony did not live to see the victims get their compensation. I would go further: for years, he was the only voice that many victims had to highlight their plight.

I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the Minister and his officials, and to David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and his officials, in getting the Bill thus far. It is their work that has enabled this issue to be dealt with in this House this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Browne spoke about the responsibility of the institutions and the contribution they need to make to the victims. He gave examples from across the world—of institutions in Australia, Canada, America and the Republic of Ireland having taken on this responsibility. I hope the Minister can give the House some commitment that the institutions will pay their contribution to the victims.

I understand that some 500 victims have come forward so far; I am told that there are about 2,500 victims altogether. What steps can the Government take to identify the victims who have not yet come forward to the inquiry?

Once again, I welcome the Second Reading of this Bill. I hope that it can be processed very quickly and become law sooner rather than later.

Photo of Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown DUP 3:58 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, in September 2011 the Northern Ireland Executive announced that there would be an investigation and inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995. That announcement was welcomed, and the inquiry allowed the voices of those who were so grievously abused over many decades finally to be heard. Sir Anthony Hart, who was commissioned to chair the inquiry, was one of the most respected and distinguished judges of our time. The final report was published in January 2017 and, although it was debated on the floor of the Northern Ireland Assembly, it was never actioned, because of unnecessary political events that intervened. Although an election was held on 2 March 2017, Sinn Féin remained unwilling to permit the Executive to be formed and the Assembly to function.

However, six Stormont party leaders wrote to the then Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, asking her to legislate to compensate victims of historical institutional abuse. She decided to make the HIA payment an item for the Stormont talks. Sadly, that did not resolve the matter. She has since departed her post—we thank her for her service—but the present Secretary of State, Mr Smith, promised the HIA victims that he would progress the legislation with urgent priority. For more than a decade, campaigners have lobbied for compensation for victims of abuse in children’s homes. The inquiry exposed serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse over decades in children’s homes under the control of religious orders, charities and the state, and up to this moment justice has been denied. Many of the victims are now elderly, some are in poor health and others have passed away carrying the scars of their experiences to the grave.

Although the late Sir Anthony Hart pleaded with politicians to act on his recommendations and provide financial, social and educational support as a matter of urgency, it is only now that we have this legislation before your Lordships’ House. Action is urgently required and we must not allow anything—including a possible election—to hinder the passage of the Bill. Let us collectively determine to get this done, and let this deep injustice be rectified without delay. Indeed, our so doing will be a timely and lasting tribute to the late Sir Anthony, of whom it was said, “It was Sir Anthony who believed in victims. It was Anthony who delivered the truth when others failed”.

I do not believe that we should allow an election to intervene. Therefore, I ask the Minister three simple things: first, to assure us that accelerated passage will be used to progress the Bill; secondly, that the finances and funds are available to make the initial payments and the payments made whenever the final awards are made; and lastly, that the institutions responsible for this abuse are made to take responsibility not only in words, but by contributing to the funds to be distributed.

I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for their commitment to getting this matter resolved, and I wholeheartedly support the Bill’s Second Reading.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat 4:02 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the Minister not only for bringing this legislation to your Lordships’ House but for taking the trouble to make clear to many of us in advance his personal wish, on behalf of the Government, to see the Bill go through as quickly as possible. It is very clear that all noble Lords are of one mind on this matter, and I do not intend to detain the House for any length of time. I mark what the noble Lord, Lord Caine, said in paying tribute to the First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, and Sir Anthony Hart, for their contributions to making this report possible. It is a matter of distress to us all, most importantly to the victims and their families, that it has taken so long, but we are moving forward and that, at least, is positive.

I also note what the noble Lord, Lord Hay, said about victims and about money. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, knows very well the dangers of money being mentioned in terms of adverse events and experiences that people have had, and how it can do damage to a report if people get the wrong sense of it. However, it is clear that this report is not setting some arbitrary limit; it is trying to move as quickly as possible for those whose time is shorter, and then the rest can be dealt with later. That is a positive way forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Hay, also mentioned the victims. I want to flag up, from my experience as a psychiatrist in Northern Ireland, that while we think about those who have been abused as the victims—and they absolutely are—the consequences go way beyond this. When one of my colleagues, James Gilligan, a psychiatrist on the eastern seaboard of the United States, did work in prisons and institutions for the criminally insane, he discovered that the overwhelming majority of those who engaged in dangerous psychotic violence had themselves experienced some kind of abuse or violence. So many of the families and others with whom victims will have come into contact will have found themselves adversely affected because, while some victims end up working to protect others from any abuse, a substantial percentage become abusers of others. The consequences of all this are absolutely enormous—much greater than we know.

In that respect, I also want to note something mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie at the start of this debate; he said that, in a sense, in this whole tragic business Northern Ireland is taking a lead, and that the rest of the United Kingdom ought to pay attention. I remember learning as a young psychiatrist that there was an Egyptian psychiatrist in Northern Ireland who published a paper at the end of the 1950s in which he identified instances of sexual abuse in Northern Ireland. A number of people read this and said, “Well, we’re not too surprised about that happening in Northern Ireland, but of course it doesn’t happen over on this side of the water”. Not long after that, they began to discover that it was happening here in an enormous way. That has gone on to open up over the years in a catastrophic fashion. I wish to mark what my noble friend has said because it is entirely possible that this is the Northern Ireland instalment of something that may come to haunt people on this side of the water. We must be ready for that.

The financial consequences for Northern Ireland and beyond are extremely significant. The Minister will be aware that, in another completely different situation in Scotland, it is going to become apparent that public funds to pay for the amount of disadvantage that women have faced in employment practices there will be difficult to find. The consequences of that will be enormous, and it is quite possible that the financial consequences of this report will be much bigger than people imagine. So it should be for the victims, but that has knock-on consequences, as my noble friend pointed out.

No Bill is perfect, particularly one dealing with such a difficult situation. My noble friend Lady Doocey pointed out that there are issues to be raised, and I am sure the Minister will respond to them, but we should never, particularly in these circumstances, make the ideal the enemy of the good. We have to move forward with this as quickly as we possibly can.

It will be a very difficult and challenging business for those who work in the office of the commissioner. Dealing with these kinds of things will be a difficult process for the counsellors, therapists and civil servants who deal with the problems. They find themselves having to experience profound discomfort and difficulty. It be may wise for many of them to stay in the work for only a relatively short period because of the adverse consequences on their emotional lives of working with the degree of disturbance that they will experience in working on this.

However, I value the fact that the commissioner will be given responsibility not only for dealing with the mechanical, administrative and financial aspects but for ensuring that the victims receive the proper psychological, as well as social and physical, care that they desperately need. For many it will be only some kind of supportive assistance—the damage done is too great ever to be resolved—but at least there will be recognition of the pain and damage that they and their families have suffered. For that at least we should be grateful to the Minister and the Government, and for bringing this forward in what we all hope will be an accelerated passage.

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 4:08 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, just under 20 years ago it fell upon me as the then Secretary of State for Wales to make a Statement in the other place on the north Wales child abuse inquiry, which had been chaired by another distinguished judge, Sir Ronald Waterhouse. It uncovered the worst example at that point of institutional abuse known in our country and eventually led to 72 recommendations, including the appointment of a Children’s Commissioner for Wales, which were then echoed in every other part of our nation.

Today, unhappily, we are considering very similar events. I, with many other Members of your Lordships’ House, pay tribute to the late Sir Anthony Hart, for the tremendously difficult job that he and his colleagues undertook. They oversaw and reported on a total abandonment of trust between adults and young people, and the destruction of innocence and, sometimes literally, of lives. It is a tribute to the then Executive and Assembly that they decided to set up this inquiry in the first place. There is an idea that the institutions in Northern Ireland were not working properly, but this alone indicates that they were. Together, they looked at a serious problem and decided to institute an inquiry upon it. It is not in front of us today, but part of Sir Anthony’s recommendations included a proper full public apology—I gave one on behalf of the people of Wales two decades ago, and, obviously, it should be done again—and the erection of a memorial somewhere on the estate in Stormont. That would be a truly proper recognition of the suffering of all youngsters over all those years.

Today, however, the House is charged specifically with agreeing to the appointment of a commissioner for survivors of institutional child abuse, the establishment of the historical institutional abuse redress board, and a proper system for compensation of the victims of abuse. Of course, the Opposition entirely, wholly and fully support the Government on this Bill, but I ask the Minister to consider some issues with regard to the detail. He might be able to do it now or at a later stage—but not too late, as we have indicated in this debate.

There should perhaps be a look at an immediate acknowledgement payment of £10,000 to those who meet the criteria, followed by a larger redress payment when full details have been clarified. Some have argued that there should not be an upper limit of £80,000, or £100,000 in the Australian case, because there may be some truly exceptional cases which require more, although I understand the constraints on the public purse. The Bill should allow applicants for compensation to request an oral hearing if they desire it—I hope the Government can consider that matter—and should require the redress board to have due regard to the advice that is given to it by the commissioner himself or herself. Finally, the criteria regarding the severity of abuse should take into account the duration of the stay in what were undoubtedly harsh environments.

I entirely agree with all the points your Lordships have made with regard to telescoping the Bill, because we live in unusual and difficult times. On the one hand, of course we need to raise the points I just mentioned and others by way of scrutiny—frankly, we have not had enough scrutiny of Bills in Parliament over the last number of weeks. However, I very much take the point that if we are on the edge of the dissolution of Parliament and a general election, we do not want the Bill to fall. Therefore, the Opposition will absolutely agree with anything the Government can do to ensure its swift passage in this place and in the other place.

The other reason, as a number of your Lordships have mentioned, is that some of the victims to which this applies are now old men and women—as old as me, because they go up to over 70. It is important to realise that, because of ill health and so on, we should deal with these matters as swiftly as possible, not simply because of the progress of the Bill but because some people might die before they can be compensated. We owe it to them and to society in Northern Ireland, as well as in the United Kingdom, to pass this admirable Bill. As I say, the Government have our full support.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:14 pm, 28th October 2019

My Lords, it was remiss of me not to pay tribute to Sir Anthony Hart at the outset of my remarks, and I should like to correct that now. Without his labours in this area, we would not be where we are. We all owe him and his memory a debt of gratitude.

We can move this forward quickly. Now, more than ever, it is essential that we do so, depending on what happens in the other place—perhaps even later today. It would be a useful legacy of this Parliament to deliver on historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland; that would be an inherently good thing to do.

Specific points were raised, and I shall address them at the outset. On the question of the role of the institutions themselves, and sometimes their wider sponsoring bodies, we need to look at how they will be involved. That was one of the elements of the original report, and we will not lose sight of it. The Executive Office will indeed look at it very carefully.

On the question of adequate resourcing, we cannot move this forward without certainty of resource. That is a commitment that we can give here. The money will be met through the Northern Ireland block grant, it will be a statutory obligation and it will be entirely adequate to take this matter forward. The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, asked how much would be set aside for this. Although it is difficult to say without knowing the full number of victims who will come forward, current estimates of the cost are around £243 million, which will be found for this issue. But that cannot be a cap; it will depend on the number of individuals.

The noble Baroness asked a number of other questions which I shall take in turn. The five-year time limit was a direct recommendation of the Hart report—recommendation 90—and agreed by all parties in Northern Ireland. It is important to note, however, that there is no limit on for how long the redress board will function to process all the applications thereafter. However, she is right to point out that it is difficult to ensure that all victims can come forward. That is why one of the key roles and responsibilities of the incoming commissioner will be to use every resource at their disposal to ensure that they identify and promote opportunities for them to come forward. The commissioner must recognise that purpose. The noble Baroness’s more specific question about cohabitation is difficult because it touches on the wider question of family life. We have tried to ensure that the clauses as drafted broadly fit in line with other pieces of welfare legislation. We have tried to be straightforward—in simple terms, trying to ensure that we can do that which is expected under other legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked whether this will be adequately resourced. I should like to assure him that that is fully appreciated and understood. To do otherwise would be, frankly, remiss of us.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, raised a number of specific points and said that I might need longer to respond to them. I do not: I can respond to each of them right now, I believe. An immediate acknowledgement payment will be made. The individual themselves, if they are eligible, simply has to present their credentials and the money will be paid. Thereafter, a thorough investigation will necessarily take place, increased as appropriate, case by case. Yes, oral hearings will be possible, but not in every case—only where requested by the individuals. We would not want the process to be slowed down by the notion of automatic hearings, but we will in no way try to prevent them when necessary. Will the redress board listen and heed the commissioner? Yes, that is critical. That is the purpose of the commissioner; he must be able to express his views directly to the redress board.

On the wider question of the redress board touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, it is essential that the board is constituted in the most diverse and sensitive manner possible. For obvious reasons, this is a challenging area and we must ensure that the individuals have full confidence in the board’s composition, integrity and functionality.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, asked whether the duration of an individual’s stay in one of the institutions would be a factor. Yes, it will; it will not be the only factor, but it will be taken into account as the consideration goes forward. On the question of an upper limit, at present it is set at £80,000, which can be adjusted on the basis of inflation. This helps us to try to encapsulate the overall costs, but I appreciate his point and I do not doubt that this issue will be revisited at some point in the future. I hope that the noble Lord accepts these responses as being adequate for his purposes, but if not, I will be very happy to write to him to provide the full clarification that may be required before we meet again. I do not want there to be any suggestion that our ultimate progress will be interrupted.

Perhaps I may bring the debate to a relatively straightforward conclusion. I think that there is unanimity in the House on this matter and that I have given adequate responses to all the questions which have been asked. On that basis, I believe that we can move forward using the expedited procedures to try to ensure that we bring together all the elements for the series of stages as quickly as we can. I will be in touch with noble Lords through the usual channels to determine how that shall be so, but it will be done as quickly as humanly possible. For obvious reasons, I would like the matter to be taken care of before the entanglements of any impending or future election. It is right that this is done now, and now we must pass the completed Bill down to the other place as quickly as we can so that it, too, can act with the same expedition as this House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.