HC Deb 18 March 1976 vol 907 cc1528-30
11. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the basis for compensation awards granted under the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968; and whether the working party set up to review the operation of the Act is ready to report.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. J. D. Concannon)

Everyone must have sympathy with the victims of violence and especially those who are injured in the execution of their duties in upholding law and order and wish to see the payment of appropirate compensation, but we cannot be unmindful of the cost to public funds.

The working party which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set up to review the present legislation on personal injuries compensation has now reached an advanced stage. Northern Ireland Office officials are in close consultation with those engaged on the review of the corresponding ex gratia scheme in Great Britain, following which we look forward to receiving a report.

Mr. Townsend

Does the Minister recall that I asked a similar Question over a year ago and received a similarly unsatisfactory Answer? Does he not feel that British Service men serving in Northern Ireland and their dependants have every reason to feel aggrieved that this report has been tossed about the trays of Whitehall for over a year? Has that not now become a scandal?

Mr. Concannon

I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman has said is true. No one wants this report out as quickly as possible more than I do. The members of the security forces and their dependants have the benefit of Service pensions, which specifically cover the risk of injury or death. Under the Act, at present these have to be taken into consideration.

Mr. Fitt

Will the Minister give the House some idea of what the total cost of claims has been? How many claims have been initiated since 1968 and how many of them relate to property, injured civilians, or those who have been killed?

Mr. Concannon

There have been 25,896 claims. The sum involved in personal claims which have now been paid is £20 million and about another £15 million is outstanding. As regards property, the sum is now £141 million with £48 million outstanding. The total is nearly £224 million.

Mr. Nelson

Is the Minister aware that many of my constituents feel deeply outraged that less than £6,000 should be paid in compensation to the widow and small daughter of a British corporal who was killed when fighting in Northern Ireland whereas up to £16,000 was paid in compensation to an IRA detainee who suffered during interrogation? When will he ensure that justice is done under the Compensation Act?

Mr. Concannon

There are two different methods of dealing with the situation. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend set up the working party. Of course, I am just as much aggrieved about events like this as anyone else. Not only the hon. Gentleman's constituents but mine are involved.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the Minister aware that it is not enough for him to say that this important report is at an advanced stage? As there has been a delay of over a year, will the hon. Gentleman please tell us an approximate date or a date beyond which this delay will not be allowed to continue?

Mr. Concannon

The matter has not been delayed. An extremely difficult situation is being discussed. The matter is at a very advanced stage. The working party has to report to my right hon. Friend and once that report is in the hands of my right hon. Friend, it will be dealt with.