HC Deb 14 February 1991 vol 185 cc984-6
3. Mr. McGrady

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures he proposes to introduce to compensate those persons who have suffered damage or loss, either in their businesses or occupations, as a result of security measures taken against terrorism.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

There is provision under section 28 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 19'18 for the payment of compensation where, under the Act, "any real or personal property is taken, occupied, destroyed or damaged, or any other act is done interfering with private rights of property".

Mr. McGrady

I thank the Minister for his answer, but surely he can inform the House more adequately that there is no provision for compensation for people who suffer loss of business, loss of jobs or loss of homes because of legitimate and proper security measures. The only way to get compensation is to suffer direct damage as a result of explosion or other terrorist activity. Surely the people who are in the front line and subject to economic and social deprivation because of the necessary buildings and fortifications which destroy businesses are entitled to be compensated for their losses on behalf of the community.

Dr. Mawhinney

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that the problem is one of security and caused by the activity of paramilitaries who engage in terrorist activity at the expense of the whole community. The community pays a price for that. I accept that there is genuine hardship in some cases. Ex gratia payments are available to some people in Northern Ireland, depending on the circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind he might contemplate some of those activities.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Is the Minister aware that there are four men in Maghaberry prison who lost their jobs because of terrorism? They also require compensation. Will he compensate those men—known as the Armagh Four—with a retrial?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a matter for me. He also knows that these are matters which are presently under review.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the Minister agree that every citizen in Northern Ireland has, directly or indirectly, suffered loss and damage at the hands of terrorists? Does he accept, or is he aware of, the perception that there are occasions when the terrorist is compensated rather more generously than the victim? Does he agree that all hon. Members and those of us who serve on councils have a duty to support the forces of the Crown in eradicating terrorism from whatever quarter it comes?

Dr. Mawhinney

I agree wholeheartedly with the first and last points made by the right hon. Gentleman. As for the second point, I should be sad if such a perception existed. The right hon. Gentleman knows that anyone who claims compensation in Northern Ireland is treated under the law without any particular favour, and certainly with no particular bias towards those who may in some way have been involved in terrorist activity.

Mr. Allason

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best measures against terrorism would be the introduction of video cameras during interrogation? That would increase the chances of conviction because it would be more difficult for the suspects to withdraw the confessions that they had made before the camera. As that measure has been recommended by Lord Colville, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a satisfactory measure to take now?

Dr. Mawhinney

The matter referred to by my hon. Friend was a matter of considerable debate when Standing Committee B was considering the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. My hon. Friend may find the arguments deployed in that debate of some interest.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Will the Minister remind his hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) that that hon. Gentleman was himself a member of that Committee and actually voted against the proposal to introduce video recordings in such cases?

Does the Minister accept that he told the Committee that schemes existed for making ex gratia payments in such areas? Does he further accept that that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs and that what we really require is a statutory scheme so that every claim can be treated on its merits and every settlement can be seen to be fair?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman will remember that we debated the matter at some length in Committee. He advanced certain arguments, and so did I. I made it clear that the Government, with some reluctance, had reached the view that it was not possible to take the steps urged on us in Committee. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I also said that I would reflect on what had been said in Committee—without any commitment—and that we would consider the arguments that had been deployed. I am happy to reaffirm that, without any commitment, we will certainly reflect further on those arguments.

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