Bid to fast-track historical abuse compensation law backed by peers

Peers have backed a move aimed at pushing through a law to compensate victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland before Parliament dissolves.

The backbench bid by former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain (pictured) to fast-track the long-awaited legislation ahead of an election secured cross-party support in the House of Lords.

The measure, to ensure the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill completes its remaining stages in the upper chamber on Thursday, was passed by peers without vote.

The Government, which had signalled its opposition to the fast-track move, backed down in the face of a likely defeat.

The hope is that the House of Commons will follow suit and also rush it through before Parliament breaks.

Speaking afterwards, Lord Hain told the PA news agency: “We have rescued the Bill here. It will go through the Lords on Thursday. There’s no reason the Commons should not follow suit.”

The draft legislation establishes a Redress Board to administer a compensation scheme and creates a Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse to promote the interests of victims.

The changes recommended by a Stormont-commissioned inquiry into historic institutional abuse in the region, chaired by the late Sir Anthony Hart, have been on ice for over two and a half years due to the collapse of the devolved institutions.

Lord Hain told peers said the Bill had completed its Lords second reading with “unanimity”.

He said: “I believe the victims of historical institutional abuse… need redress. There’s no argument about the principle.”

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey said: “How cruel it would be having got to this stage to steal away, yet again, another opportunity to do justice to these people who have suffered an enormous amount of abuse.

“I see it as a humanitarian issue. It is not a political issue. There’s no politics in this because everybody agrees.”

Tory peer Lord Cormack, who as an MP served as chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, called for Parliament to end “on a note of constructive compassion towards those who have suffered for so long in Northern Ireland”.

Democratic Unionist Party peer Lord Hay of Ballyore said: “There’s total unity of purpose in getting this Bill on the statute book.

“If this Bill falls because of a general election there will be great hurt out there from the victims.”

Amid dramatic scenes in the Lords, Labour swiftly switch its controversial position of abstaining on Lord Hain’s proposal to supporting it, after it was indicated that that there could be enough parliamentary time.

Lords Chief Whip Lord Ashton of Hyde said: “The Government takes very seriously the issue the Bill seeks to address and is fully committed to delivering the compensation scheme.”

But he said as a result of the move for an election “parliamentary time is now very limited”.

He said: “Unfortunately, I am informed there is simply not enough time for the Bill to pass through both Houses before dissolution on November 6.”

As such he could not agree with Lord Hain’s proposal “on the grounds of practicality”.

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