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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 29 October 2008

[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]

Victims of Terrorism (Compensation)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Blizzard.]

9.30 am

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab): I am grateful to have the opportunity to debate this important subject and I am pleased to do so under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock.

I have had the honour of being a Member of Parliament for more than 21 years. During that period, I have spoken in many debates on a large number of issues. Uniquely on this occasion, however, it is an extremely humbling experience to speak on this subject and I am acutely aware of the sensitivities of the families who have lost loved ones due to the acts of terrorists, irrespective of whether their loved one was a member of the armed forces, the emergency services, the police, or whether they were on holiday, at work or going to work.

The pain of losing a loved one is both physically and mentally traumatic. Life for the living is changed for ever. For those who survive a terrorist attack, including many with the most horrific injuries, their courage and determination are such that I find words inadequate to describe my personal admiration for them all.

I am absolutely sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that, whatever the outcome of today’s debate, there is an overriding patriotic case for establishing a fund to compensate fellow citizens and their families who become victims of overseas terrorism.

As a constituency MP, I have seen and heard at first hand the suffering, both mental and physical, of innocent victims who are placed on the front line by the perpetrators of terrorist acts. They are not volunteers or conscripts. They are all innocent men, women and children who are abused by the vilest and most cowardly of acts.

As a Cabinet Minister, I was confronted by the realities of terrorism and, for a period, I was appointed a member of the Cabinet Sub-Committee that brought together Ministers and Departments across Whitehall to consider the plight of British citizens who are victims of overseas terrorism and to consider the Bill presented by my noble Friend Lord Brennan in another place on 20 April 2007, the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill.

In paying tribute to Lord Brennan and his continuing efforts on this matter, I would like to quote his opening statement in support of his Bill in the House of Lords:


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For me in the Foreign Office, it was just another Monday morning when I was asked by the current Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), who was then the Foreign Secretary, to attend a Cabinet Sub-Committee meeting on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to consider the Government’s response to Lord Brennan’s initiative of trying to establish a fund for victims of overseas terrorism.

I will be frank with the House: my brief from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was first to oppose the extension of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995 to take account of overseas incidents and, secondly, to oppose any Bill proposed in another place on the grounds that the issues were technically too difficult. Being a person of independent thought, it took me all of five seconds to put the brief in my red box and leave it there.

I knew from my constituency experience that it was a national scandal that nothing had yet been done to assist our citizens—our innocent citizens—who were devastated by terrorist incidents abroad. At that meeting, I argued strongly that there should be equality of treatment for all British victims of terrorism wherever they are attacked in the world.

Victims of terrorism overseas were highly unlikely to receive any compensation through existing schemes or insurance schemes, or from the Government in the countries where such attacks have taken place. Although European Union member states and a handful of other countries do compensate foreign nationals, to my knowledge at that time there was no evidence that any British victims of overseas terrorist attacks had been compensated by the state in which the attack had occurred.

I understand that, in the past 10 years, British citizens have been killed or injured in numerous terrorist attacks across the globe: in Afghanistan; Bangladesh; Egypt; Greece; Bali, in Indonesia; Israel; Iraq; Jordan; the Maldives; Pakistan; Qatar; Russia; Saudi Arabia; Sri Lanka; Spain; Thailand; Turkey; the United States, and in other countries. Sadly, by the Government’s best estimates, 190 of our fellow British citizens have died and another 156 have been injured as a result of terrorist incidents abroad.

During the Cabinet Sub-Committee meeting, I set out from my own memory what the Government had done or had committed to do—quite rightly in my view—in furtherance of its counter-terrorism policies. The Government’s counter-terrorism strategy is based on a number of distinct strands, which can be summed up in four words: prevent, pursue, protect, prepare. The Government have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on increasing funding in a range of areas: more than £85 million was given to the NHS to counter bio-terrorism; £56 million was given to the fire service for decontamination programmes; a further £132 million was given to the fire service for search and rescue equipment; £49 million was given to the Metropolitan police, and £12 million was given to other national police forces.

The Government have also tightened port, airport and border security; speeded up extradition processes; frozen the assets of international terrorist organisations; increased joint working and intelligence sharing internationally; increased the size of the Security Service, so that it can analyse and act on more information; introduced exercise programmes to deal with terrorism
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scenarios; established chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear resilience programmes; and allocated millions of pounds to equip acute hospitals and the ambulance service against terrorist attacks

Absolutely nothing is left to chance in this wide-ranging programme of investment, restructuring, change of ethos, partnership working and pre-incident and post-incident planning. Sadly, from their perspective a terrorist only has to get it right once; as a country, we have to get it right all the time.

In identifying ways of protecting the UK, however, we are in danger of forgetting the victims of terrorist attacks. Surely, action to assist victims of overseas terrorism is the last piece in this jigsaw of measures that the Government have so wisely invested in.

I agree with the views expressed by Amnesty International that victims of such attacks must have the rights to justice, truth and reparation; that states must not neglect the needs and rights of victims, and must move beyond rhetoric that shows solidarity with victims and ensures in law that the victims are protected, including providing dedicated resources, without discrimination, in recognition of their mental and physical suffering; and that we must understand that no citizen can plan for an attack or, in practice, have the means, either financially or organisationally, to remedy their predicament if they become an innocent victim of a terrorism attack.

At this point, I want to pay a genuine tribute to my right hon. Friend, the Minister. I have known her for more than 20 years and I worked with her for a period when she was a mental health commissioner. For 11 years, we were ministerial colleagues and members of the Cabinet. Above all, however, it is in her role as the Minister with responsibility for humanitarian assistance that I genuinely admire her most. This is a role she has undertaken since the appalling attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001. I have listened to her in Cabinet meetings and in small groups, speaking with passion, compassion, empathy, love and understanding of the most grievous of situations faced by families of the victims and survivors of terrible incidents in London, the United States, Bali, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, among others. I know that she is deeply committed to the cause of British victims of terrorist incidents and I know that she particularly feels that there is an absolute need for both formal recognition and sympathy from the Government for all those who are victims of these attacks, whether the tragedy has been of a domestic nature or one that has happened overseas. I know that equality of treatment for victims is my right hon. Friend the Minister’s personal aim and I genuinely hope that the debate today will assist her in achieving that goal, which she and Lord Brennan have so assiduously campaigned for inside and outside Government.

As I stated earlier, during my time in Government, I was exposed to the reality of the effects of terrorist acts on numerous occasions. The plane attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 raised the profile of terrorism and brought to the world’s attention the horrific nature of such attacks on people who are completely innocent. Sadly, I was in office as Minister without Portfolio during the Sharm el-Sheikh terror bombings in Egypt in July 2005. In that tragic incident, 88 people were killed, the majority of them Egyptian citizens, and
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more than 200 other people were wounded by the blasts. 13 British citizens died in the attacks. It was the worst terrorist incident in Egypt’s history. But it, like all overseas terrorist attacks, returned to the house in the street, village or city where the victims came from. Sharm el-Sheikh came to my town, Ashton-in-Makerfield. A matter of hours after the terrible atrocity, Sharm el-Sheikh was on the lips of every person in my community.

My constituents John Green and his son were in one of the hotels hit by the bombers on that fateful day. Mr. Green and his son were on holiday, enjoying the summer sunshine on the Egyptian coast. On the night of the bombing, Mr. Green and his son decided to retire to bed, as they had a father-and-son trip planned for early the next day and wanted to get some well-earned sleep. Not long after retiring, a truck bomb blasted through the reception area of Mr. Green’s hotel, killing many innocent people. Some of those killed were his friends who had been socialising with him only an hour or so before the blast. After the bomb went off, guests were evacuated from the hotel. Mr. Green sheltered his son’s eyes from the horror of the surrounding scene, which was caused by the huge blast. Then, he bravely went back in to the hotel, trying to help blast survivors to get out and receive medical attention. What he saw when he returned to the hotel is far too horrific for me to describe in this Chamber. The images still haunt him to this day.

Mr. Green and his son were helped by the Red Cross and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to return home to Ashton-in-Makerfield. But that is where the help ended. Mr. Green quickly discovered that his insurance scheme did not cover terrorist incidents, and that he was not eligible for any compensation from his insurance company or from the Government. This distressed him a great deal. Worse still, being self-employed, there was no mechanism for him to take sick or compassionate leave, so, despite suffering from extreme trauma, as his child was, he had to return to work straight away. To keep his family income going, he returned to work when he should have been recuperating from his horrific experience. There was nothing else he could do, and that is utterly and completely unacceptable—in all circumstances.

The help that Mr. Green was given in Egypt was excellent in terms of the care and the understanding that he received from Government officials and Red Cross workers. But, he believes it to be a national shame that on his return to the United Kingdom, there was no financial aid to ensure that he and his son could maintain their lives while they tried to come to terms with what they had seen, and to put their shattered lives back together.

Trevor and Jill Lakin’s 28-year-old son, Jeremy, from London, was killed in the bomb blast in Sharm el-Sheikh, along with his girlfriend, Annalie Vickers. His parents have been emotionally devastated by their deaths, as have his two brothers, and neither Jill nor Trevor has returned to full-time work. Their insurers paid for the repatriation of the bodies, and Trevor and Jill’s original travel expenses to Egypt were paid by the tour operator and insurers, but, because of the terrorism exclusion clause in their son’s travel policies, there was compensation neither for his loss of life, nor for his girlfriend’s. I pay tribute to Trevor Lakin, who has assiduously campaigned on behalf of other victims. I understand that he was
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present at an event organised by the Minister’s office earlier this month to promote engagement between Government and the insurance industry on the establishment of a compensation scheme.

Another case involves Glenn and Ian Shadbolt, from Midhurst, West Sussex. Glenn was badly injured in the Sharm el-Sheik attack on 23 July 2005, and, as he was in critical condition, he was flown to Cairo. After three days he was flown to London, where his wounds were found to be badly infected, and he required seven and a half hours of emergency surgery. Glenn suffered chest, arms, face, neck and eye injuries. He was transferred to Moorfields eye hospital for a further four and a half hours of surgery on his eyes. He has since lost the sight of his right eye, and he spent three weeks in London hospitals.

No financial aid was given to Glenn’s parents, who had to provide themselves with accommodation in London. Glenn also lost all his belongings and has not received any insurance payment. He has used all his savings and is now in debt, with little hope of being able to repay the loans. Glenn continues to have glass removed from his body as it gradually comes to the surface. Sadly, there are many more cases, and I want to apologise because in the limited time available, I am not able to outline other victims’ cases, all of whose losses have been extremely grievous.

Trying to understand grief and loss is very difficult for people who have not experienced that situation. I thank the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) for coming to today’s debate, as I know from his experiences how difficult this issue must be for him. I lost a child—not through terrorist activity, but I lost a child—so I know what it is like to focus on the life lost, but at the same time to try to cope with the loss of the life that was to come. We can try as hard as we can to cope with the death, or the reality of the death, but all that was to come—all our hopes and aspirations—has been wiped out, too. The friendship and companionship; the experience of simply growing up with one’s child and helping them to be the best that they can be; the loving relationships; the possibility of grandchildren; the birthdays and holidays yet to come; the opportunity just to be there for each other; hearing their voice and feeling their touch; their smell, their laugh and their smile—all are lost, and lost for ever. Hope is replaced by simple hopelessness—the feeling of being powerless to change anything. All those feelings are the feelings of the survivors, but, in addition, they find that they are rejected by their own nation, simply because the loss that they suffered was in a place far away from the shores of their homeland.

In all circumstances, that cannot be right. It is indefensible and needs to change. The Bill of my noble Friend Lord Brennan sought to make provision, first, for advice and assistance to victims of acts of terrorism taking place outside the United Kingdom and, secondly, for arrangements under which insurance is made available to individuals in respect of risks against injury resulting from acts of terrorism taking place outside the United Kingdom. It was an eight-clause Bill, dealing with issues such as advice and assistance, arrangements with insurers, overseas terrorism awards scheme, the basis on which compensation would be calculated, how to claim
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the awards, reviews and appeals procedures, and the relationship between the criminal injuries compensation scheme and the potential overseas terrorism awards scheme.

Lord Brennan’s Bill sought to address many questions of principle, and he eloquently raised many of the issues that I shall speak about today. He highlighted the importance of travel insurance, the need for a focus on consumer awareness of travel insurance policies, and ensuring that policies that offer cover in the event of a terrorist attack are available. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister agrees with that, and I am sure that she will set out her views in response to the debate.

Lord Brennan further proposed the principle of the Government reinsuring terrorism risks. This practice exists and is well known to the Government in relation to terrorism and terrorist attacks. For example, following the IRA bombings in the City of London, the Pool Reinsurance Company scheme was established, which, over the years, has grown significantly and is designed to be used in the event of terrorist attacks on buildings in the City of London. Without tempting fate, the threat of IRA attacks has receded owing to the changing political landscape in Ireland. However, al-Qaeda and other terrorists have, no doubt, a miserly, fanatical and dangerous eye on the City of London, its citizens, its workers and its infrastructure. Although the funds do not belong to the Government, there is a direct relationship. The Government helped to put the scheme in place and they act as the guarantor of last resort. As a consequence, the Treasury receives income from the interest that the Pool Re scheme generates from its £1.6 billion of assets. If the Minister knows, perhaps she will tell us about the interest income that the Treasury receives from that £1.6 billion investment. If she does not, perhaps she will write to me.

I believe that there is sufficient good will and wriggle-room to engage the City and the Treasury in finding a way of deploying some of those resources to assist our hard-working citizens, who become the front-line victims of fanatical terrorists. Unfortunately, without Government support, my noble Friend’s Bill could not find a passage from the House of Lords to this place, so, sadly, it did not make it on to the statute book.

It is not for me to steal my right hon. Friend the Minister’s thunder, but no doubt she will outline all that the Government have done since our meeting on 30 January, and, in particular, her efforts since my noble Friend’s Bill was proposed in the House of Lords on 20 April 2007. However, her esteemed efforts have so far failed to secure Treasury agreement—even in principle—to the establishment of a compensation fund. To assist the process, following the meeting that I had with her and her officials on 30 January, which included the head of the consular crisis group and the deputy head of the humanitarian assistance unit, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on 19 February.

In my letter I asked the Treasury to agree a mechanism that would, I hoped, create a fund similar to the one managed by the Home Office for victims of terrorism in the United Kingdom, and to include a commitment in the then upcoming Budget to create a fund to compensate British citizens who become victims of overseas terrorism. Unfortunately, I was advised that the work of the
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humanitarian assistance unit and Treasury officials had not yet been concluded, and that therefore at that point the Government could not


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