HC Deb 22 February 1990 vol 167 cc1055-7
7. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to approve the arrangements for the support given to the victims of crime.

Mr. Waddington

I have today published a victims charter, which sets out for the first time how victims of crime should be treated. It covers, among other things, keeping them informed of inquiries and court proceedings, helping them to secure compensation and how they are treated at court. The charter also raises some wider questions about giving victims a voice in criminal proceedings.

I have also announced today that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have acted immediately on the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee a fortnight ago that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board should have more staff. We are meeting in full the chairman's request for 60 more staff to enable the board to gain control of the backlog. We are discussing performance targets with the board, but we are ready, with parliamentary approval, to make available another £17 million for compensation payments in 1990–91.

We also plan to increase our grant to Victims Support from just under £4 million this year to about £4.5 million next year to improve the help that local victim support schemes can give.

Mr. Greenway

Society has long demanded that greater prominence should be given to the interests of the victims of crime. I am sure that the whole country will warmly welcome the publication of a victims charter. On this day—European Victims Day—we lead Europe in the arrangements for looking after the victims of crime. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we need to make our criminal justice system more victim friendly? Should not we give more consideration to the way in which vulnerable victims are cross-examined in court, as well as to keeping them informed—[Interruption.] Opposition Members do not seem to pay as much attention to the victims of crime as do Conservative Members—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That was a rather long supplementary question. Perhaps we may have a briefer answer.

Mr. Waddington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his warm welcome for the victims charter. He is right to point out that the British scheme is probably the most generous in existence. We pay far more in compensation to victims than is paid in Germany or in France. It is absolutely right that the Government should spell out their commitment to improving the lot of victims, that we should make absolutely plain what are victims' rights and that we should point out the good practice that should be observed by each part of our criminal justice system.

My hon. Friend asked for a more victim-friendly criminal justice system. I am sure that that is part of the message in the victims charter.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that additional staff will be appointed to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. How quickly will staff be recruited and appointed? Will more money be provided for the procurement of the new technology that is desperately needed and was recommended as far back as 1982? Will the Home Secretary advertise the scheme, given that only about 25 per cent. of the victims of violent crime and only a very small number of sexually abused children apply for compensation?

Mr. Waddington

One virtue of producing such a document is to draw victims' attention to their rights. That meets the hon. Lady's latter points. We have already begun to install computers in the Glasgow office. That meets the hon. Lady's earlier point. Staff will be recruited in April and May, so they should be in place before very long. However, first we must provide the necessary accommodation for them. It is a big increase—20 to 25 per cent. more than the existing staffing level.

Sir John Wheeler

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs will be delighted with his announcement today? Replying to a Select Committee report and accepting all the principal recommendations within two weeks must be a record. The United Kingdom now has the finest method anywhere in the western democracies of looking after the interests of victims, but what does my right hon. and learned Friend intend to do to ensure that the statutory agencies monitor the implementation of the victim support proposals that he has announced today?

Mr. Waddington

We shall, of course, do all that we possibly can to impress upon the statutory agencies the necessity to observe the high standards laid down in the victims charter. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We saw the wisdom of the recommendations in the Select Committee report. That is why we accepted them without delay and are able to tell the House today that they will soon be implemented.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Home Secretary confirm that despite today's announcement the victims of crime who in 1989 were disqualified from receiving compensation by the Government's change in regulations are still not eligible for the assistance that the Government provide and therefore a substantial number of victims are disqualified from his scheme?

Mr. Waddington

I think that everyone would agree that it is important to concentrate our energies on those victims of crime who have suffered the most. Our scheme remains the most generous in the world.

Dame Peggy Fenner

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept what I know will be the grateful pleasure of the people who run the Medway victim support scheme in my constituency, the second such group to be set up in this country? Does he agree that the victims charter will provide most valuable support for many voluntary organisations which have sought to bring a personal touch into caring for victims of crime?

Mr. Waddington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks. The comments of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) were rather churlish in view of the fact that this morning the victims charter received the warmest possible reception from the chairman of Victims Support, Helen Reeves. I applaud the work of Victims Support up and down the country and I am glad that such schemes receive ever more support from the Home Office.