HC Deb 28 February 2001 vol 363 cc890-2
1. Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

If he will make a statement about Government programmes to support the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. [149948]

6. Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

If he will make a statement about Government programmes to support the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. [149953]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

A number of initiatives have been put in place which are in keeping with the recommendations of the Bloomfield report, "We Will Remember Them", including the establishment of the family trauma centre, funding for groups supporting victims and the establishment of the Northern Ireland memorial fund. Last Thursday, I announced another significant funding package of £12 million, including an additional £3 million to the Northern Ireland memorial fund over the next three years.

Mr. McCabe

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the practice whereby paramilitary organisations force people to relocate within Northern Ireland or, indeed, to leave the Province altogether. I do not wish to prejudge the findings of our inquiry, but will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do all that he can to end such disgraceful behaviour and to ensure that the plight of the victims is properly recognised?

Mr. Ingram

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because I welcome the Select Committee's investigation of the issue. The practice is one of the blights on the face of Northern Ireland. It represents a denial of the human rights and the civic dignity of every individual who is subject to such practices by paramilitary groups. The practice should stop immediately. Clearly, it is more easily stopped when all members of the community stand against it, and the report of the Northen Ireland Affairs Committee will help in understanding the issue. I am sure that report will point helpfully to a solution of the problem.

Mr. Salter

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the excellent work done by Victim Support (Northern Ireland) in providing help and support to nearly 40,000 victims of crime each and every year?

Mr. Ingram

I unreservedly support that work. I recently announced an extra £1.1 million over the next three years for Victim Support (Not thern Ireland). Those who carry out the work on behalf of Victim Support (Northern Ireland) do a very difficult and often thankless job. The additional money will hellp to provide an even better and more professional service for the victims of crime. I ask all hon. Members from Northern Ireland to encourage any of their constituents who are the victims of crime to avail themselves of the services provided by this worthwhile organisation.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I thank the Minister and welcome the £12 million grant that he has announced. Does he agree chat, for far too long, no proper assessment has been made of the rights and needs of the victims of terrorist violence? No amount of money can compensate the innocent for the suffering that they have endured. Will he assure me that, as the facts emerge, the Government will be prepared to reconsider the adequacy of the amount that he has announced?

Mr. Ingram

I agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. It was not until recently, with the publication of the Bloomfield report, that a proper assessment was made of the extent and nature of victimhood in Northern Ireland. The problem runs across the community. Thousands of families have been damaged in many different ways over the past 30 years. I also share his view that no amount of money can ever deal with the problem. However, we have made a start, and I thank him for welcoming our initiatives so far. Although he is not standing at the next general election, I look forward to continuing to receive representations from him. I know that he is very active in his own community, where he deals with some serious problems, and I recently talked to him about specific issues. The matter does not rest with what we have done so far.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Although I welcome the Minister's statement and the measures that he has taken, including the extra money, will he seriously consider the early victims of violence, who received a tiny amount of compensation? One woman lost her husband, who was a member of the Territorial Army, when he was murdered in South Armagh. She had five sons and the only compensation she received for them was £500 for each boy. There are similar examples throughout the Province. I make a plea—as I have before—that those early victims will be considered.

Mr. Ingram

For so long, the victims have been ignored and have sometimes been used for political advantage. Since we have tackled the issue, there has been a greater awareness of the extent and nature of the problem. The difficulty is knowing where to draw the line and by how much we should assist such people. For that reason, we have given substantial sums—£5 million to date—to the Northern Ireland memorial fund so that it can begin to consider both the depth of the problem and what help can be given to the early victims of the violence. However, it does not matter whether victims are early, intermediate or late; they are still victims of the violence and should be treated sympathetically.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

When will the Minister do something to help the pre-1982 police widows and their families who face a measly and arbitrary £1,000 for each year of widowhood and an unresolved tax status? They believe that they are forgotten families who are ignored by the Government—and it looks as though they are right. What is he going to do about them?

Mr. Ingram

I shall try to be gentle, but what did the hon. Gentleman's Government do about those victims? Nothing. We inherited a blank sheet from the previous Government. We have advanced the issue sympathetically and constructively. The Patten report referred to the situation pre-1982. We conducted an in-depth study under the chairmanship of John Steele, an eminent ex-civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office, and its recommendations are being considered by the Government. I should have hoped that the Conservatives welcomed that study and the progressive way in which we are dealing with the issue.