HC Deb 28 June 1988 vol 136 cc283-9

Amendments made: No. 113, in page 77, line 47 leave out 'his' and insert 'the' No. 114, in page 78, line 5, leave out 'his' and insert 'the'.— [Mr. John Patten.]

Mr. Worthington

I beg to move amendment No. 208, in page 78, line 14, leave out— '(1) Criminal convictions or unlawful conduct of the claimant'. After that performance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not know whether it is in order to suggest that we should lie down in a darkened room to recover.

The Bill proposes that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board may, if it thinks fit, refuse an award or award less than it would otherwise have awarded, either because of the criminal convictions of, or unlawful conduct by, the claimant, or because of conduct on his part that is connected with the injury. We do not have any quarrel with the part dealing with conduct of the claimant that led to the injury—clearly one should not benefit from the consequences of illegal actions—but we have considerable reservations about the fact that an award may be reduced or not made at all if the person making the claim has criminal convictions or, even worse, in that strange phrase, has been involved "at any time" in unspecified, unlimited unlawful conduct.

If the proposal becomes law it will mean that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board must take note of such conduct and that that must be brought to the board's attention by those servicing it. That is almost saying, "Look, when you make an award, you should take into account the behaviour of this person." I find that objectionable. Criminal injuries are events on their own. The proposal has elements of the 19th century poor law, with its definitions of the deserving poor and the undeserving poor.

In our view, there should be a sense of equality before the law. I know that we are not dealing with a court, but if one has suffered because of the criminal actions of another person or persons, that fact should be considered on its own. We should certainly not have the notion that a board, which is not a court of law, and which, in a sense, operates informally—I am not quarrelling with that in general terms—and from which there is no right of appeal at the moment, should, in closed session, be able to take into account and make judgments about a person's behaviour.

It is always difficult to imagine how a board might react to, or judge, a particular situation. Let us consider prostitution as an example. If someone has been convicted of soliciting for prostitution, I would be unhappy if, although that person might have been injured by the criminal acts of others, that person's previous behaviour were taken into account because that would be a blanket power and a vague rule. That fact should be taken into account in the Government's proposals for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. That proposal seems unnecessary, because it does have a validity of its own.

I should like to give in evidence the fact that the Scottish Association of Victims' Support Schemes has recently appointed a working party to look into the issue. Its work has been funded by the social work services group, which is a section of the Scottish Office. Therefore, it is a body of considerable standing and has representatives from the sheriffs' and procurator fiscals' departments. It has legal representatives and representatives from citizens advice bureaux, social work departments and the police. They are looking at the whole question of compensation for victims of crime in a Scottish context. The inquiry is not just about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, because there is also the issue of the compensation that might be awarded by a court. I do not quote from the publication produced by that body because throughout its extensive inquiries the point that I am raising was not raised by anybody in that forum. I repeat that it is a body with some official standing, looking at the way in which compensation is dealt with in a Scottish context.

As far as I am aware, no one thought to raise as a valid issue whether to take into account the claimant's previous criminal convictions or, even worse, the unlawful conduct of the person who had suffered when deciding whether compensation should be paid in a particular case. If someone has suffered, that should be considered on its own account as a separate issue. A measure of moral worthiness should not be brought into the matter because of previous acts that might have been committed recently or a long time ago.

We hope that the Government will accept this minor amendment to delete the requirement of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to take into account previous convictions or unlawful conduct, because it simply does not seem fair.

Mr. John Patten

There is quite a gap between the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and me on this issue. Amendment No. 208 would remove the board's discretion to take account of an applicant's criminal history or previous unlawful behaviour. That would be a significant departure from the terms of the present extra-statutory scheme that we are now putting into statutory form with the passage of the Bill through the House and the other place. For many years, that has allowed the board to reduce or withhold compensation from someone with a recent criminal history. Amendments to the earlier Bill, which fell at the election, amended the board's discretion by removing references to character and way of life, which are part of the present scheme. That, of course, is maintained in the Bill.

However, I do not believe that it would be right to further limit the board's discretion, so that it cannot take account of past criminal activities, for the following reasons. First, we should remember that the board disburses large amounts of taxpayers' money. Secondly, I do not believe that our constituents would take it kindly if we paid compensation from public funds to, for example, an habitually violent gang leader who is attacked by someone who had been injured by his gang or attacked by a member of a rival gang. To use the terms of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, that example has a validity of its own for maintaining the scheme.

The board takes seriously the responsibility of using its discretion to reduce or withhold awards only when there is justification. The grounds upon which it exercises its discretion are clearly set out in its statement issued to all applicants and to the advisers of all applicants. To my mind, the existing wording of the measure provides the board with a valuable safeguard against having to compensate those applicants whose record renders them, in the board's view, simply undeserving of full compensation from public funds. That is a valuable safeguard, and we should retain it.

Mr. Archer

I shall surprise the Minister by agreeing with him. I cannot wholly agree with my hon. Friends and support the amendment in its present form. The Minister is correct to say that the board should have the right to take into account such matters as previous convictions and unlawful conduct, but perhaps he can understand the anxieties expressed by Opposition Members.

The Bill states that the board may take into account any previous convictions or unlawful conduct, whether or not connected with the incident or injuries, whether or not in any way contributing to the injury, or even if it takes place after the injury has been sustained. I am sure that that cannot be what the Government intend to happen and, as the Minister will understand, that is not what happens at present.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does my right hon. and learned Friend consider that subsection (2)(b), which talks of conduct on his part connected with the injury", might be sufficient to cover those circumstances in which a person's conduct has led him to be involved in the gangland situation described by the Minister? Surely paragraph (a) is far too wide and does not go to the relevance of the claim whereas paragraph (b), which is acceptable to us all, provides that any conduct on the part of the person connected with the injury should rule that person out for an award or lead to a lesser award. Does not that cover all the circumstances that might be relevant?

9.30 pm
Mr. Archer

As always, I find my hon. Friend's logic compelling. I would have been happy with only paragraph (b). but I have an uneasy feeling that, if paragraph (a) were deleted—as the Minister has said, it is part of the non-statutory scheme—that might give rise to misunderstandings.

I would have hoped to produce a halfway house. I do not know whether it is too late in the progress of the Bill to do that procedurally. I am sure that such a move would not defeat us. After all, the Bill will have to return to another place. Perhaps "relevant and lawful conduct" and "relevant previous convictions" would make us all happy.

The argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has a great deal of force. We do not wish to distinguish between the good guys and dolls and the bad guys and dolls, the deserving and the undeserving. We want to distinguish between conduct that has contributed to the injury and conduct that has not.

Mr. Worthington

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) for his valuable contribution. I hope that the Minister will take some note of it. The Minister's defence of the clause was particularly unconvincing when he came heavily to depend on precedent. It is not relevant or useful to say that, because a provision has been in previous legislation, it should continue to appear in future legislation, unless the Minister is prepared to refer to the work of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and to say that the provision has proved to be necessary or useful. To say that it has been in legislation and that it must stay in it is a denial of the Minister's previous academic background of high distinction. In that respect, his reply was disappointing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West dealt extremely well with the Minister's example, which turned on subsection (2)(b), which refers to conduct on his part connected with the injury. The Minister placed before us the outlandish example of a gangland leader applying to the board for compensation. Surely that would be swept up by the clause. It is an endearing thought that the modern equivalent of one of the K ray twins should approach the board. A Minister who is on the ropes always goes for the worst case possible.

We did not have in mind that which the Minister put before the House. We were thinking of much humbler figures who at some stage in their past were involved in unlawful conduct. I note that the Minister did not pick that up. I am not clear what "unlawful conduct" would be picked up by the clause that would be distinct from criminal convictions. We were thinking of someone who might in the past have had some brush with the law and who found—there is no right of appeal in this instance —that in some unexplained way a secret body had had his award reduced or set aside entirely. How is that to be explained to that person? I assume that there is no explanation. That is unsatisfactory.

A person may have suffered criminal damage, having been hurt by the act of a criminal. The only relevant issue is whether he suffered in that instance. That is the matter to be judged. An impersonal body should not be allowed to make character judgments about such people in an unspecified way. For that reason, we are unhappy with the Minister's response.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 255.

Division No. 388] [9.35 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Allen, Graham Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Armstrong, Hilary Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Ashton, Joe Clay, Bob
Battle, John Clelland, David
Beckett, Margaret Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bell, Stuart Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Corbett, Robin
Bermingham, Gerald Cryer, Bob
Bidwell, Sydney Cunliffe, Lawrence
Blunkett, David Dalyell, Tam
Boateng, Paul Dewar, Donald
Boyes, Roland Dixon, Don
Bradley, Keith Doran, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dunnachie, Jimmy
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Eastham, Ken
Buchan, Norman Fatchett, Derek
Callaghan, Jim Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Flannery, Martin
Foster, Derek Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Foulkes, George Moonie, Dr Lewis
Fyfe, Maria Morgan, Rhodri
Galloway, George Morley, Elliott
George, Bruce Mullin, Chris
Godman, Dr Norman A. Murphy, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin Nellist, Dave
Gordon, Mildred O'Neill, Martin
Graham, Thomas Prescott, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Primarolo, Dawn
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Quin, Ms Joyce
Grocott, Bruce Randall, Stuart
Henderson, Doug Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hinchliffe, David Richardson, Jo
Holland, Stuart Rogers, Allan
Hood, Jimmy Rooker, Jeff
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Howells, Geraint Short, Clare
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
John, Brynmor Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Spearing, Nigel
Leadbitter, Ted Steinberg, Gerry
Leighton, Ron Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Livsey, Richard Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Turner, Dennis
Loyden, Eddie Vaz, Keith
McAllion, John Wall, Pat
McAvoy, Thomas Wallace, James
McCartney, Ian Wareing, Robert N.
Macdonald, Calum A. Wigley, Dafydd
McFall, John Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
McKelvey, William Wilson, Brian
McLeish, Henry Winnick, David
McWilliam, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Madden, Max Worthington, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice Wray, Jimmy
Meale, Alan
Michael, Alun Tellers for the Ayes:
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Mr. Frank Cook.
Alexander, Richard Butterfill, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Allason, Rupert Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Amess, David Carrington, Matthew
Arbuthnot, James Carttiss, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Ashby, David Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Aspinwall, Jack Colvin, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Conway, Derek
Baldry, Tony Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Batiste, Spencer Cope, Rt Hon John
Beggs, Roy Couchman, James
Bendall, Vivian Cran, James
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Benyon, W. Curry, David
Biffen, Rt Hon John Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Davis, David (Boothferry)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Day, Stephen
Boswell, Tim Devlin, Tim
Bottomley, Peter Dicks, Terry
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dorrell, Stephen
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bowis, John Dover, Den
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Dunn, Bob
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dykes, Hugh
Brazier, Julian Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Evennett, David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fallon, Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Favell, Tony
Browne, John (Winchester) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Fookes, Miss Janet
Burns, Simon Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Burt, Alistair Forth, Eric
Butcher, John Franks, Cecil
Butler, Chris Freeman, Roger
French, Douglas Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gardiner, George Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maude, Hon Francis
Gill, Christopher Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gow, Ian Miller, Sir Hal
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mills, Iain
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Gregory, Conal Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Moate, Roger
Grist, Ian Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Ground, Patrick Monro, Sir Hector
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Moore, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Morrison, Sir Charles
Hampson, Dr Keith Moss, Malcolm
Hanley, Jeremy Neale, Gerrard
Hannam, John Nelson, Anthony
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Neubert, Michael
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Harris, David Nicholls, Patrick
Haselhurst, Alan Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hawkins, Christopher Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hayes, Jerry Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hayward, Robert Oppenheim, Phillip
Heathcoat-Amory, David Page, Richard
Heddle, John Paice, James
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Patnick, Irvine
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hind, Kenneth Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Pawsey, James
Holt, Richard Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Porter, David (Waveney)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Portillo, Michael
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Price, Sir David
Hunter, Andrew Raffan, Keith
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Redwood, John
Irvine, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Irving, Charles Riddick, Graham
Jack, Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Janman, Tim Roe, Mrs Marion
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rowe, Andrew
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Key, Robert Ryder, Richard
Kilfedder, James Sackville, Hon Tom
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Sayeed, Jonathan
Kirkhope, Timothy Scott, Nicholas
Knapman, Roger Shaw, David (Dover)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Knowles, Michael Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Knox, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shersby, Michael
Lang, Ian Sims, Roger
Lawrence, Ivan Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lightbown, David Speller, Tony
Lilley, Peter Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Squire, Robin
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
McCrindle, Robert Stanley, Rt Hon John
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Stern, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Stevens, Lewis
Maclean, David Stokes, Sir John
McLoughlin, Patrick Stradling Thomas, Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Sumberg, David
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Summerson, Hugo
Madel, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Major, Rt Hon John Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Malins, Humfrey Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mans, Keith Temple-Morris, Peter
Maples, John Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Marland, Paul Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marlow, Tony Thorne, Neil
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Thornton, Malcolm
Thurnham, Peter Whitney, Ray
Townend, John (Bridlington) Widdecombe, Ann
Tracey, Richard Wiggin, Jerry
Viggers, Peter Wilkinson, John
Waddington, Rt Hon David Wilshire, David
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Waldegrave, Hon William Winterton, Nicholas
Walden, George Wolfson, Mark
Waller, Gary Wood, Timothy
Walters, Sir Dennis
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Tellers for the Noes:
Warren, Kenneth Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Watts, John Mr. Tony Durant.
Wheeler, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 115, in page 78, line 19, leave out from 'where' to 'shall' in line 21 and insert 'the person who sustained the injury is dead, the references to the claimant in subsections (1)(a) and (b) and (2) above'.— [Mr. John Patten.]

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