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House of Lords

Thursday, 29th June 2000.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Royal Ulster Constabulary

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will review the levels of compensation and pension paid to the families of Royal Ulster Constabulary members murdered before 1982.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, while Her Majesty's Government have every sympathy for the families of officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary murdered before or, indeed, after 1982, they do not, at this time, intend to review levels of compensation or pension then paid. However, noble Lords will wish to know that the report of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, commonly referred to as the Patten report, bears recommendations in respect of aid for widows and others in similar circumstances; for example, disabled officers. Those recommendations have been accepted by Her Majesty's Government and are being taken forward in discussions with widows' representatives that were initiated in May.

Lord Laird: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that widows and families of RUC officers have paid the highest possible price in defence of all citizens of the United Kingdom? Does he agree that it is both immoral and indefensible that particularly those widowed before 1982 should be required to live on the poverty line, with little recognition of their sacrifice and their plight, while the Government seem more intent on releasing and supporting those who committed the murders?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree that the widows and relatives of those RUC officers who have been murdered during the course of the Troubles have paid the highest price. We are second to none in our admiration of them. On the pensions, the position is that pre and post-1982 widows receive a pension of 50 per cent of the salary of their husbands at the time of their deaths. That is increased in line with inflation. Inevitably, as time has gone on, inflation has not kept pace with the increases in earnings of serving police officers. As I indicated in my Answer, the Patten report recognises that there is a problem and suggested the setting up of a fund. We accept that recommendation. In April or May next year a fund will be set up with assets in it. I cannot say that that will deal with all the problems, but it will make some contribution to them.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that he has answered the Question on

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pensions but not on compensation? I seem to remember that the Bloomfield report took evidence from the Disabled Police Officers Association that the level of compensation that police officers received for injuries incurred in the course of their duty was much less than they would have received if they had suffered an industrial injury. However, at that time they did not have the legal expertise or the power to support their case to acquire the sort of compensation that they should receive. Is the compensation being reviewed as well?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the fund that the Patten report recommended should be set up would not just deal with the position of widows but would also address the position of disabled officers. As I believe I made clear in my Answer, at the moment the Government have no plans to review either the level of compensation for those who are disabled or for widows.

Lord Elton: My Lords, can the Minister do something to relieve my ignorance, which may be shared by other noble Lords? Surely, a person who is murdered while he is a police officer stops qualifying for pension before the pension policy has matured. Therefore, is it not the case that the widow receives 50 per cent of a pension that is less than she would have received had the officer continued to work until the normal retirement date?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, that would depend on the age of the officer at the time of the murder. The widows receive 50 per cent of the earnings at the time, increased in line with inflation.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we are talking of only 80 pre-1982 widows. Naturally, over time that number will decrease. Will the Minister reconsider whether to look at some means, independent of Patten, whereby the pre-1982 widows' pensions can be augmented to a more equitable level compared with the pensions of the post-1982 widows, some of which are five times the pre-1982 level of pension?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, in terms of the level of pension, whether pre-1982 or post-1982, there is no difference in principle. The reason why the position worsens is that the earnings of the officers are increased only by inflation and not by any increases that have occurred to the officers' earnings. As a result, the longer the time since the death occurred, the less is the position of the widow. The year of 1982 is not a magic figure in that respect.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the right solution is to take care of anomalies in compassionate cases through the proposed foundation for the RUC?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, precisely how the Patten money--if I may call it that--is distributed

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is a matter for the commission. One issue that the Patten money will address is the penury of some of the widows.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that he fully understands that serious divisions exist in this matter? The widows of officers killed in the troubles pre-1972 received a gratuity of only twice salary, whereas those later and currently receive five times salary. Also, as I understand it, the pension for widows was reduced by the amount of the industrial death benefit.

The difference between those receiving a gratuity between 1969 and 1972 and those receiving it today is a factor of five. Can the Minister assure the House that under the new legislation, and in view of the Secretary of State's statement that there will be generous compensation factors for the force after Patten, those anomalies will be taken into due account in the process of passing the new Northern Ireland peace legislation.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to 1972. I believe the change occurred in 1982. The gratuity negotiated effectively across all of the UK, including Northern Ireland police associations, was five times for any death which occurred as a result of service, not just as the result of murder in the course of terrorist activities. It was increased from two times salary to five times in 1982.

The pension arrangements are the same both pre and post-1982. The Patten report does not specifically include anything about that. Separately, the Government indicated that they will set up the fund that Patten recommended and, as I indicated, the money should be available in the spring of next year. I cannot give any assurances in relation to precisely how that money will be spent. It is intended to address the distress and penury of the widows and disabled policemen.

Sri Lanka

3.14 p.m.

Lord Eden of Winton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are taking any action in relation to the situation in Sri Lanka.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the tragic situation in Sri Lanka and called upon the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to cease hostilities and begin negotiations immediately. We have held discussions with Norway, India, the United States, our EU partners and the Sri Lankan Government. We fully support Norway's efforts to facilitate peace talks. We have reminded both parties

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of their responsibility to ensure the safety of the civilian population in conflict zones, particularly the Jaffna peninsula.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is it not the case that all proposals so far put forward by the Sri Lankan Government have been rejected by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, greatly to the tragedy of the Tamil and Sinhalese people? Is there any scope here for a wider Commonwealth initiative alongside that of India to back up the efforts being made by Norway to find a solution? Will the British Government take action to stop organisations in this country from sending financial aid and other support to the Tamil separatists and insurgents? The longer they receive assistance of that kind, the longer the conflict will continue.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government are extremely concerned about that situation. We have spoken to our partners around the world in relation to this issue. The view is that Norway has been accepted by the parties as the appropriate negotiator during this period and we will give it our full support. Obviously, if and when it seems appropriate for a more active or different participation from any of our partners, ourselves or others in the Commonwealth, to take a greater lead, that will be given concrete consideration.

I share the noble Lord's concern about the terrorist groups who are allegedly giving support. That is something we condemn and we in this country are taking every opportunity to ensure the terrorists do not succeed. It is of significance that the Terrorism Bill will be passing through this House in due course.

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