HC Deb 12 April 1984 vol 58 cc514-7
6. Mr. Wood

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to introduce legislation to increase the part played by reparation in the sentencing of offenders.

11. Mr. Gale

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he proposes to take for encouraging reparation by offenders to their victims.

17. Mr. Hayward

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any proposals for the victims of crime to receive greater attention within the criminal justice system.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

We plan to encourage and monitor experimental schemes for reparation by offenders to victims within existing powers. The experiments will show whether legislation is needed. We want also to enhance the ability of the criminal justice system to respond more generally to the needs of victims. My right hon. and learned Friend is examining various ways of achieving this objective.

Mr. Wood

Many of my constitutents feel that there should be much greater awareness of the suffering and loss of victims. Will my hon. Friend encourage the courts to take sufficient account of the opportunities within present laws to help the victims of crime?

Mr. Mellor

I warmly endorse my hon. Friend's comments. We believe that more should be done for those victims. We have increased the amount of money for victim support schemes. We believe that thought should be given to keeping victims more closely in touch with what is happening at trials. The courts possess many powers to ensure that victims are adequately compensated for offences committed against them. We have doubled the sums that magistrates can award from 1 May.

Mr. Gale

Will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to young offenders who are convicted of acts of violence and vandalism?

Mr. Mellor

We have to be cautious about reparation. There are some offences, especially those of violence, when only the normal penalties available to the courts will do. We believe that efforts by young people to make direct reparation to the persons they have harmed in acts of vandalism would be useful. Some acknowledgment on the part of the offender of the trouble that he has caused to the individual and society might lead to a greater awareness in his mind of his duties and obligations and the need not to behave irresponsibly.

Mr. Hayward

Will the general review include a review of the operation of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board? That might make a contribution to the overall review.

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend is right. My right hon. and learned Friend has announced that we want to take the opportunity during the lifetime of this Parliament to put the criminal injuries compensation scheme on a statutory footing. As a prelude to that we have set up an interdepartmental working group to study the way in which the scheme has operated in recent years. We shall shortly be inviting interested bodies to submit evidence so that we can go forward after a full review has been carried out.

Mr. Alex Carlile

As thousands are to be deprived of their right to claim from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board by the large increase in the lower limit, what steps will the Government take to ensure that the Judicial Studies Board brings to the attention of judges the importance of passing a sentence of compensation as a substantive sentence in cases where injuries have been significant but not severe?

Mr. Mellor

We want the judiciary to make use of its power to compensate. It has recently been reaffirmed once again that compensation should take priority over fines when means are limited. I think that the hon. Gentleman has been rather hard in his condemnation of the scheme. Much more money has been going into the scheme year on year, and more people are being dealt with. It is not right to suggest that the scheme is not playing a large part in properly compensating victims.

Mr. Corbett

Why have the Minister and his Department restricted the numbers who can seek compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board?

Mr. Mellor

The scheme has always had a lower limit, which has to be increased in line with inflation. That is a commonsense approach. It is important that there should be a lower limit, to keep the administration of the scheme speedy and to ensure that it focuses on those who suffer most from crimes of violence.

Mr. Ryman

Does the Minister agree that one of the difficulties faced by the victims of violent crime is that they often do not know their statutory rights unless they are specifically informed of them by the officer in charge of the case at the end of the trial, and are specifically told of their rights for claiming compensation? Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that victims of crime are told by the officer in charge of the case of their rights to apply for compensation?

Mr. Mellor

Part of the fresh review of the treatment of victims will be to ensure that victims are properly informed of their rights. Whether the police or others should do that is a matter for discussion. I think that the hon. Gentleman has made a valuable suggestion.

Mr. Alexander

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the present scope of the scheme in terms of the crimes that are covered by reparation in the sentencing of offenders? Will he remind the House more precisely of that scope?

Mr. Mellor

Reparation in the terms in which my right hon. and learned Friend was talking in his important speech a few weeks ago is not tied to any particular offence. It can take place immediately after the offence, before the decision to prosecute has been taken. That may determine whether it is in the public interest that a prosecution should go forward in a minor offence. Under their existing powers the courts can ensure that direct reparation takes place in any case by, for example, deferring sentence for six months to ensure that promises that are made to make reparation are kept. The sentence of the court can be made dependent on the honouring of that promise. The courts have that option as well as being able to make conventional compensation orders.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Minister aware that many of us who have argued for years for more concern to be shown to victims welcome the Home Secretary's recent conversion to that cause? May I draw to the Minister's attention the recent report by the all-party penal affairs group, called "New Deal for Victims" and commend it to him, as it formed the basis of the speech made some time ago by the Home Secretary? May I urge upon the Minister the need to convert his fine words about victims into specific and direct action?

Mr. Mellor

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman must couch what is really a welcome for all that we are doing in rather tendentious language, but even a half-hearted welcome is a step in the right direction. It is not true that we have only recently been converted, as our concern for victims has been a constant theme in our policy. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made his speech before the report of the all-party group was published.

It is a happy fact that the two groups are going along together and, in so far as that makes it more difficult for the hon. Gentleman to score cheap points, it is to be welcomed.