§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
I should inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is an important Bill which will make statutory provision to pay compensation to people who have had the misfortune to become victims of violent crime. It paves the way for an enhanced tariff scheme, which provides the right balance between providing for the needs of victims and protecting the interests of taxpayers by concentrating on a simple tariff approach for the majority of victims, while ensuring generous compensation for those most seriously injured.
As the House knows, we have had a non-statutory criminal injuries compensation scheme since 1964. It provides payment from public funds to the blameless victims of crimes of violence and those injured in attempting to apprehend criminals or prevent crime.
When the scheme was introduced, the Government of the day made it clear that they did not accept that the state was liable for injuries caused to people by the criminal acts of others, but they believed that the public felt a sense of responsibility for and sympathy with the innocent victim and that it was, therefore, right for that feeling to be given practical expression by the provision of a monetary award on behalf of the community. We remain of that opinion.
For the past 30 years, the scheme has been run by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. In the first full year of the scheme's full operation, 1965–66, the board received 2,452 applications and made 1,164 awards totalling £403,000, or about £4 million at today's prices. In 1993–94—the last full year for which audited figures are available—the board received 73,473 applications, and made 65,293 awards totalling over £165 million. That was more than double the cost in real terms only six years previously.
Under the current scheme, awards are assessed by the board on the basis of common law damages—what an applicant could expect to be awarded in a successful civil suit. Calculation of awards on that basis requires finely judged assessments of the degree of suffering and financial loss. That makes speedy decision making more difficult, and makes it hard to predict and control the future costs of the scheme. Under the able and energetic chairmanship of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Carlisle, the board has made determined efforts to improve the workings of the scheme over the years— efforts that have met with some success. We are very grateful to Lord Carlisle and his colleagues for all that they have done.
None the less, despite those efforts and despite large increases in administrative resources, the number of unresolved eases has risen inexorably, and now stands at 735 well over 100,000. At the same time, the costs have continued to escalate rapidly in a way that is unsustainable for a scheme funded by the taxpayer.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Can the Home Secretary confirm that the Bill would allow claims to be dealt with more expeditiously? A constituent of mine, Mr. Roberts, has been treated in a disgraceful and dilatory way by the board in regard to his entirely legitimate claim. Would the proposed scheme have provided him with a more expeditious response?
§ Mr. Howard
That is certainly our expectation. One of the main purposes of the change—although not the only purpose—is to improve the service given to claimants and to ensure that their claims are dealt with more expeditiously.
It was against the background that I have described that we decided to introduce a new, tariff-based scheme in April 1994. That scheme moved away from the one based on individual assessment and provided for payments to be made on the basis of a tariff of awards that grouped together injuries of comparable severity and allocated a financial value to them, based on awards made previously by the board.
The new scheme operated from 1 April 1994 to 5 April 1995, when the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled that the method of the tariff scheme's introduction had been unlawful. That judgment, of course, related solely to the method of the tariff scheme's introduction, not its merits. The tariff scheme was therefore withdrawn immediately and the old scheme reinstated.
However, we remain firmly of the view that a tariff-based approach is the right way forward. Such an approach is easier for applicants to understand and easier to operate, with the result that—as I told the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman)—applications can be dealt with more quickly. It also enables costs to be controlled and more easily predicted.
We have nevertheless considered very carefully all the concerns that have been expressed in this House, in another place and elsewhere about the effect that a simple tariff approach can have on those who are most seriously injured. We all have immense sympathy for such victims, and it is right that we should do what we reasonably can to help them. We have therefore concluded that the tariff-based approach should be enhanced to provide payment for loss of earnings and special care for those most seriously affected by their injury. We also think it right to add payment for loss of dependency and loss of support to the lump sum award payable to family members when, tragically, the victim loses his or her life.
The Bill is accordingly intended to provide the framework for a new, enhanced tariff scheme. It sets the broad parameters for the scheme, making it clear that it is a tariff-based scheme, and leaves the detail to be set out separately. The more important details—those relating to the tariff itself, and other provisions bearing on quantum—will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and will require the affirmative resolution of both Houses before they can be included in the scheme.
The Bill will repeal the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which would have made the common law damages scheme statutory. It is intended that the Bill should come into force on Royal Assent and that, 736 following parliamentary approval of the details to which I have just referred, the new scheme itself should start on or about 1 April 1996.
I have already placed outline details of the enhanced tariff scheme and the proposed new tariff in the Library of the House, but, for the convenience of hon. Members who may not yet have had the opportunity of seeing them, it may be helpful if I run through the main features.
There will be a basic tariff of awards. Each injury description is allocated to one of 25 specific levels which will attract a fixed payment. All successful applicants will receive an award from the tariff. In addition, those who are incapacitated as a result of their injury for more than 28 weeks will be entitled to separate payment for their loss of earnings. As under the present common law damages scheme, the payment will be subject to a cap of one and a half times the national average industrial wage. The qualifying period of 28 weeks is tied to the period for which statutory sick pay is payable. That is, we believe, the most appropriate and reasonable way of triggering special consideration for those who have been most affected by their injuries, and for whom we therefore want to make additional provision.
In cases of incapacity for more than 28 weeks, there will also be payment for special care to cover actual costs, from the date of injury, and future costs reasonably incurred. That will cover the same sort of expense for which compensation is payable under the present scheme. For example, the cost of private medical treatment would be payable if, in all the circumstances, both treatment and cost were reasonable. Payment could also cover the costs of home mobility equipment and fittings, special wheelchairs and fees for care in a nursing home.
In fatal cases, reasonable funeral expenses will continue to be reimbursed and a fixed payment will continue be made. Under the previous tariff scheme, the fatal award of £10,000 was shared between all qualifying claimants, of whom there could have been several, but, under the new arrangements, each qualifying claimant will receive an award of £5,000 unless there is only one qualifying claimant, who will receive the full £10,000. In addition, where it is appropriate, there will also be payment for loss of dependency—the family breadwinner's wages—and loss of mother's support. Here again, payment for dependency, as under the present scheme, will be capped at one and a half times the national average industrial wage. Under the enhanced tariff scheme, the upper limit for awards will be £500,000, double that payable under the old tariff scheme.
The final feature of the new arrangements is that there will be provision for payment by what is known as "structured settlement". For higher-value awards, that will enable the victim to opt for payment by the purchase of annuities, which will provide a guaranteed, index-linked stream of non-taxable payments for life, or another specified period. That should have the effect of significantly increasing the net value of the award to the victim.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)
I am sure that the Home Secretary does not wish to mislead the House. When people refer to the old scheme, they normally mean the scheme based on compensation for personal injuries. I presume that the Home Secretary is not claiming that the new amount is double what would be received in those circumstances; indeed, £500,000 737 might be only a fraction of the sum provided under the old scheme. The Home Secretary is talking about the 1994 tariff scheme, which was, in fact, unlawful. Is not the new sum only a doubling of the sum provided under that scheme?
§ Mr. Howard
I made that absolutely clear. If the hon. Gentleman had been even half awake and half listening, he would realise that. He would also know that in only a handful of cases did the award exceed the £500,000 maximum provided by the new scheme.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Will the Home Secretary deal with the concern that has been expressed to all of us—it is, indeed, an obvious concern—about anomalies and discrepancies in the scheme? While an adult with a dislocated finger might receive £1,250 under the tariff scheme, a youngster who had suffered a sexual assault would receive only £1,000. Society would consider that very unbalanced. Would not independent adjudication of the tariff amounts throughout the operation of the scheme—which the Home Secretary has been asked to consider—deal with the criticisms that are being made?
§ Mr. Howard
I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman means by "independent adjudication" of the tariff system. The basis on which the tariff awards have been drawn up has been made clear. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands, the figures were not plucked from the air. They were based on an assessment of awards that had been made under the old common law damages scheme for injuries of that kind. The tariff is the result of a very careful exercise. Of course it is not written in stone, and I am prepared to consider representations about it to see to what extent it is possible to respond to them. The hon. Gentleman will understand that, in looking at such representations, it will be important to maintain the integrity of the tariff scheme and its firm basis in awards that have been made in the past under the old common law damages scheme.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Before he was interrupted, the Home Secretary spoke about loss of earnings. Will he explain how that applies to the self-employed?
§ Mr. Howard
It applies to the self-employed in exactly the same way as to the employed. That was the case under the old common law damages scheme.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
The hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) gave the impression that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had personally committed some hideous offence. There were mumblings of "Unlawful, unlawful" by some Opposition Members. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that in their speeches not one of the Law Lords in the Judicial Committee in the other place impugned his integrity? In the opening speech, Lord Keith of Kinkel said:In the present case no rights have been taken away from anyone, nor has the Minister acted unfairly towards anyone. While no doubt many members of the public may be expected to have hoped that sections 108 to 117 … would be brought into force, they had no right to have them brought into force. In any event, the doctrine of 738 legitimate expectation cannot reasonably be extended to the public at large, as opposed to the particular individuals or bodies who are directly affected by certain executive actions.Is it not an appalling abuse of the House's proceedings for Opposition Members to accuse the Home Secretary of acting unlawfully when they fail to understand the nature of the judgment in question?
§ Mr. Howard
That is no more than I would expect from Opposition Members. My hon. and learned Friend's assessment of the situation is entirely accurate. He will be perfectly aware that 10 judges considered this matter and five held in my favour while the other five held against. [Interruption.] That may be a matter for mirth among Opposition Members, but it clearly demonstrates that these matters are not easy to anticipate thoroughly correctly. We are in a grey area of the law in which it is perfectly possible not only for reasonable Secretaries of State but for judges, of the High Court and above, to come to different conclusions.
§ Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)
If five of the Law Lords found in the Secretary of State's favour, why has he brought in the Bill?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Lady misunderstands. It was not five Law Lords but 10 judges who considered the matter. Five of them found in my favour at different stages of the proceedings and five found against. If the hon. Lady cares to look at the record, she will understand that.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
Perhaps the Home Secretary would cast his mind back and remember that he was repeatedly warned in the House and outside that he was acting illegally. The House of Lords has found that he was acting illegally.
§ Mr. Howard
That is more or less what I said about five minutes ago.
As I said to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) the tariff is based on that used in the earlier tariff scheme which has now been withdrawn. That tariff was derived from an analysis of nearly 20,000 awards made previously by the board.
Experience of operating the tariff in 1994–95 showed that some adjustments needed to be made to it, for example to incorporate injuries not previously identified and to provide for a greater range of awards in some cases. Therefore, the new tariff has been augmented by nearly 100 additional or changed injury descriptions, and now lists more than 300 injuries.
The intention is that the enhanced tariff scheme will be administered by a body similar to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority which administered the earlier tariff scheme. But the Bill envisages the possibility of the administration of the scheme being market-tested at some future date, although there are no immediate plans for that. As under the former tariff scheme, the Bill provides for a two-stage appeals process.
§ Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the position of scheme manager is mentioned in clauses 1 and 3 to enable the Secretary of State, if he so wishes, to appoint a private company to run the scheme?
§ Mr. Howard
I made it absolutely clear a few moments ago that we want to hold open the possibility of market 739 testing in due course. That is because we believe in taking all necessary steps to take advantage of potential competition in the interests of the taxpayer. The Labour party has declared that it is firmly committed to the abolition of competitive tendering in local government. That shows how Labour remains in the pockets of the trade unions and how uninterested it is in the taxpayer and in how much people have to pay for their services from public bodies. We take a different view.
As under the former tariff scheme, the Bill provides for a two-stage appeals process. If a claimant is dissatisfied with the initial decision, he may ask for a review of his case by a more senior official of the body administering the scheme. If he remains dissatisfied after the review, he will have a right of appeal to an independent appeals panel, which will now come under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals.
The rules of eligibility and the procedures for making applications will remain very much as they were under the earlier tariff scheme, which itself closely mirrored the rules and procedures of the common law damages scheme. However, the time limit for making applications will be extended from the earlier tariff scheme's one year to two years. As before, the authority will have discretion to waive the time limit in exceptional cases.
Finally, I turn to costs. We have made no secret of the fact that one of the main reasons for introducing the tariff scheme last year was to contain the costs of the scheme, which were increasing rapidly. That is not just because the number of applications has been increasing by some 8 per cent. a year but because the average award has been going up each year by some 5 per cent. above inflation. Without reform, we estimate that the annual liability to compensation under the scheme based on common law damages would, by the year 2000–01, be about £460 million. The cumulative liability in the five years 1996–97 to 2000–01 would be about £1.8 billion. That level of expenditure is simply not sustainable.
Under the arrangements envisaged in the Bill, the annual liability will continue to rise year by year with no cuts and no reductions, so that by 2001 it should be about £260 million, and the five-year cumulative liability should be about £1.1 billion. That is still an enormous amount. Indeed, it is some £230 million more than the withdrawn tariff scheme would have cost. Therefore, it is not surprising that our compensation scheme is the most generous in the world, paying out more compensation than the USA, and more than all the other countries in Europe added together. I have no doubt that that will continue to happen under the proposed new arrangements.
I turn now to the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. Last week, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) presented himself as the iron shadow Chancellor. Yesterday evening, the Leader of the Opposition promised that he would be tough on public spending. Today, we see the other face of the Labour party. Its reasoned amendment complains about the "adequacy" of our proposals. We know what that means. It means a call for more public spending.
Victims of crime are, of course, extremely worthy recipients of taxpayers' money. That is precisely why we have, and will continue to have, by far the most generous victims' compensation scheme in the world. But there are limits to how much can be afforded for any group in 740 society, however deserving. Being tough on public spending means being prepared to take unpopular decisions. There is no escape from that.
§ Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)
Would my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the financial policy of the Labour party on this and all other matters can be summed up in the words of the late Wilfred Pickles, "Give 'em the money, Barney"?
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Labour party promises the earth to every conceivable interest group: it cannot have it both ways. The same idea was put, almost as eloquently as my hon. Friend puts it, by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) just two months ago. Writing in The Guardian, he said:Labour now has a clear choice. It can be either the party of higher taxation and proud of it, or the party of higher taxes which it is ashamed to describe, afraid to admit and incapable of calculating with any accuracy. It cannot be the low taxation party.That would be the honest path for the Labour party. The other would be genuinely to abandon its old tax-and-spend ways. Instead, as ever, the Labour party faces both ways at once. We have no intention of letting the Opposition get away with it. We want clear answers, and we want them now.
The Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) have tabled a reasoned amendment. Are they prepared to accept its public spending consequences? The question must be answered. Unless the hon. Member for Blackburn is prepared to answer it, he need not bother to get up to address the House; his words will not deserve a single moment of its attention.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the reasoned amendment is simply inaccurate? It begins:That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill because it is based on cutting the cash available to compensate victims".It is not.
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend is of course right—[Interruption.] I would not expect anyone as economically illiterate as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) to understand that, but it is manifest, for reasons that I explained earlier.
I believe that the enhanced tariff scheme provides the right balance between the needs of victims and the interests of taxpayers. It combines the benefits of a tariff-based approach, to ensure that the majority of claimants can get their compensation quickly and without undue fuss, with elements of common law damages to ensure that the needs of the most seriously injured victims are properly met.
I hope that the House will recognise that we have listened carefully to the criticisms of the earlier scheme and have made every effort to meet them as far as is reasonably possible, given the resource limitations to which any prudent Government must sensibly pay heed. The enhanced tariff scheme is a good one for victims and for the taxpayer. The Bill provides the necessary framework for that scheme, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)
I beg to move, to leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill because it is based on cutting the cash available to compensate victims; because the information provided by the Home Secretary is not sufficient to enable the House to judge the Bill's likely consequences for all classes of victims; because it is being introduced without proper consultation; because its proposals fail adequately to reflect society's obligations to assist victims to recover from their experience of crime; and because it fails to place victims at the centre of the criminal justice system, since it fails to require greater consideration towards them by the Crown Prosecution Service, better information about the progress of prosecutions, greater attention to the needs of victims in court, protection and help for witnesses, support for the provision of counselling and other services by voluntary organisations, and positive action by the Government to tackle the continued rise in crimes of violence.I learned from yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph that today is the second anniversary of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's appointment as Home Secretary. In the intervening two years, confidence in the Conservatives' ability to deal with the rising tide of crime has plummeted and the Home Secretary has achieved an unenviable record as the most unpopular member of the Government—apart from the Secretary of State for Health and the chairman of the Conservative party. Little wonder, therefore, that he complained to The Daily Telegraph yesterday that he had received "a hard pounding".
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is wondering why such a misfortune has befallen him he need look no further than his handling of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, for on this he has shown an arrogant disregard for the proper procedures of Parliament and a contempt for the victims of violent crime, whose numbers have risen as a direct result of the Government's failure to control the increase in violent crime.
It was, after all, the humane and acceptable face of the Conservative party—the Leader of the House—who this March warned the Prime Minister that the Government were on thewrong side of an argument about the treatment of the victims of violent crime",and it is the Home Secretary who, almost singlehandedly, has placed the Government in this position.
The Secretary of State's misjudgment was his view that he could ride roughshod over established parliamentary procedures and implement fundamental changes to the 1964 scheme, not by statute approved by both Houses of Parliament but by exercise of the royal prerogative approved by neither. In taking such action, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has just pointed out, the Secretary of State cannot complain that he was not warned of the probable consequences. In March last year the distinguished former Law Lord, Lord Ackner, told the other place that he found it difficult to imagine a more arrogant refusal by a 742 Minister to carry out his duty. He said that he awaited with interest the first set of legal proceedings for judicial review to test the legality of the Government's action.
§ Mr. Garnier
Just for the record, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he agrees with the recently cited remarks by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)?
§ Mr. Stephen
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Lord Ackner's language, which he has just quoted with approval, was rather strong and unjustified? The hon. Gentleman and Lord Ackner may be expressing one point of view about this rather arcane legal question, which was eventually decided by the House of Lords, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, no fewer than five of Her Majesty's judges took the opposite point of view.
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman has asked me two questions: about whether the language was strong, and about whether it was justified. The answer to both is yes—it was strong and it was justified.
Warnings came not only from Law Lords and respected Members of the other place but from the shadow Home Secretary of the time, now the Leader of the Opposition, who said that if the Home Secretary's action proved unlawful,then the Government will have committed its worst blunder yet on its law and order package.He too was correct.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman duly committed his blunder. Both the Court of Appeal and the Judicial Committee of the Lords found against him. The Lords concluded that his actions were not just unlawful but anabuse of the prerogative power".The language used by the learned judges against the Secretary of State in both forums was strong, although it did not have to be, as was their condemnation of his actions.
As we have heard this afternoon, instead of gracefully accepting defeat in the Lords the Home Secretary and the Minister of State compounded their offence by blithely asserting that this was just a complicated technical matter and by claiming that, while five judges had found against the Secretary of State, five had found in his favour—implying some sort of draw.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman often lectures others about the need to face up to the consequences of their actions—I have a file full of his speeches to that effect—but before he examines the mote in others' eyes he should perhaps start with the beam in his own. Our judicial system, as he well knows, is based on a hierarchy of laws and/or courts. Decisions are not made, as it were, on goal aggregate; they are made after careful argument, with the superior courts necessarily able to overrule decisions of the lower courts. The fact of the matter is that both the Court of Appeal and the Judicial Committee of the Lords found that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully.
743 The right hon. and learned Gentleman's response has been not to say sorry but to put up his deputy on television to make a fool of himself—as he did—by inventing a new doctrine to trivialise the decisions of the highest court in the land.
Before 23 May 1993 dawned, the Secretary of State used to be Secretary of State for the Environment, when I had the happy pleasure of opposing him. In that capacity, I recall that he never used to give up any opportunity to lecture Labour local councils on the prudent spending of public money. The wholly unnecessary court action in which he has been involved has cost the taxpayer an estimated £150,000—at least. I suggest—given the weight of opinion against him from the start and all the warnings issued by counsel—that if such sums had been spent by a Labour council the Secretary of State would have clamoured for the district auditor to be brought in. It is extremely fortunate for the Home Secretary that surcharge and disqualification do not apply to Ministers of the Crown.
The Home Secretary, unlike some badly briefed Conservative Back Benchers, at least understands that the Bill cuts the amount available for criminal injuries compensation. What else could its purpose be?
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)
The hon. Gentleman spoke of upholding court decisions. If he is such a firm upholder of court decisions, why did he refer in his speech to the Police Federation last Thursday to a sentence passed by the courts without telling the Police Federation members present that it had been referred to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for being unduly lenient?
§ Mr. Straw
I was talking about Conservative Members who are badly briefed and here we have one. Parenthetically and speedily, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I may say that I made no point in my speech to the Police Federation about whether that decision had been referred to the Court of Appeal. I read out a very angry letter that had been written to one of my hon. Friends by the police officer concerned, expressing his deep concern about the way in which he had been treated by the court of first instance. I will get on, if I may.
§ Mr. Streeter
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you would not like to let pass an instance of an hon. Member, perhaps inadvertently, misleading the House. I have a transcript of the hon. Gentleman's speech to the Police Federation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have already ruled that that is going wide of the debate. There the matter stands, and that also applies to hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).
§ Mr. Straw
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am astonished that so many hon. Members have been excited by my speech criticising the Crown Prosecution Service.
744 If the Attorney-General would like to arrange time for a full debate on the matter and on other aspects of what I said to the Police Federation—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Let us get down to the speech that the hon. Gentleman is making today, rather than the one that he made the other day.
§ Mr. Straw
The part of my speech where I mentioned the criminal injuries compensation scheme was well received, too. I shall quote with approval the views of the Police Federation about the new scheme in a moment.
I shall return to the point that I was making before the intervention of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), who was so badly briefed about other speeches that I have made. The Home Secretary has at least had the grace to recognise that the whole purpose of the Bill is to cut the compensation available. Why else should it be introduced?
The Bill cuts the total projected budget by more than £700 million, or 40 per cent., over a five-year period. Such cuts are bound to result in much lower awards for many victims, despite the concessions that have been forced out of the Home Secretary and which are contained in the Bill.
The Home Secretary had the cheek to talk a moment ago about the issue of honesty. Our first objection to the Government's proposals is that the Government have no mandate whatever for what they have done. They have been dishonest with the electorate. Indeed, the only mandate that could possibly be perceived from what they were saying before the election was one to continue the previous common law scheme.
Right up to and through the last election, the Conservative party never ceased to congratulate themselves on the existing, more generous common law scheme. The 1991 Conservative campaign guide, with all the accuracy that we have come to expect of Conservative central office, boasted that the existing schemehas been placed on a statutory basis"—with the implication that it was already in operation—giving victims who suffer significant injuries an automatic right to compensation for the first time.The 1992 Conservative campaign guide repeated that error, claiming thatwhen a crime has taken place, the Government gives the utmost priority to supporting the victims.The Conservative manifesto made similar extravagant claims.
There was not a word in any of those pre-election documents about the Conservatives' intention to slash compensation even though we now know that Ministers were considering such cuts before the last election.
In a speech that the Home Secretary made just four days before the Law Lords decision of 5 April, he said that theonly party which truly believes in responsibility and duty is the Conservative party.When I noticed that the date of the speech was 1 April and that the newspaper that reported it was The Guardian, I assumed that it was The Guardian's awful spoof.
§ Mr. Straw
I have not used it before because this is the first occasion on which I have read this speech.
745 I have now seen the Conservative central office text of the Home Secretary's speech. I wonder whether it has occurred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who sprays around speeches about responsibility, that responsibility and duty might have required the Conservative party to have been straight with the electorate at the last election. Of course, it would know nothing about that.
Our second objection to the proposals is that the increase in costs has arisen not by accident or act of God but out of the failure of one Government policy and as a direct consequence of another. The policy failure is their failure to control the relentless rise in violent crime. The Conservative party came to power in 1979 on a promise to control law and order and it has palpably failed to do so. Since 1979, the risk of becoming a victim of crime has not doubled but trebled: from one in 213 when Labour was last in office to 1 in 64 today. Offences of violence are still rising. Last year alone they rose by 7 per cent. "Ah" says the Home Secretary, "but that does not explain the whole of the increase in the costs of the criminal injures compensation scheme." He is right to point to a significant increase in the value of awards and in the number of applications.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that crime has been rising throughout the western world since 1979. Does he suggest that the British Government are responsible for that?
§ Mr. Straw
I had better not take any more interventions from the hon. Gentleman in order to protect him from himself. It is unfortunate that he mentions that, because if he looks at the table published by the Home Office he will see that between 1979 and 1993 this country had the worst rise of any country but one for crime, and that between 1987 and 1993 it took the jackpot. I am entitled to say that the Government promised greater law and order and to control crime in this country and have palpably failed to do so.
The Secretary of State's explanation is that the increase in the costs of the criminal injuries compensation scheme cannot be put at the door of rising crime. Of course, that is correct. There are other matters to which he draws attention, such as the increase in value of awards and the number of applications outpacing the rise in crime.
The recorded crime statistics give little detail about the severity of violent crime and whether that has changed along with the total numbers. I suspect that the increased value of awards may partly reflect an increase in the severity of the crimes committed. The Home Secretaty needs to recognize that the increase in the overall number of applications is almost certainly a natural consequence of his Government's actions in publicizing far more effectively the availability of compensation.
The one epitaph for the Government will be their publication of charters—citizens charters, passengers charters and victims charters. The victims charter gives pride of place to the criminal injuries compensation scheme. I wonder if it ever occurred to the Home Secretary that if the scheme was better publicized, more applications might result. Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman or his predecessor ever estimate the likely consequences of their actions when they produced the 746 victims charter in 1988 and republicised in 1990? Or was the charter one of the long list of cynical pre-election ploys designed to give the impression before polling day of concern for victims in the sure but secret knowledge that this insinuation of concern could be dumped once the election was out of the way?
It is no wonder, against the background of implied promises held out in the victims charter and the fact that there was no mandate whatever for these cuts, that the public no more trust the Tories on law and order than they do on tax. Even after the election, the Government's actions to change the scheme have been characterised by evasion and double-speak.
The White Paper issued in December 1993 was one of the most disingenuous documents produced by the Government and there is a long list of competitors for that title. "Wretchedly deceptive" was the verdict of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) on that document.
The White Paper sought to pretend that its purpose wasto provide a better service to claimants.We have had more of such nonsense today.
We have also witnessed Ministers having to stand on their heads. To gain any kind of parliamentary approval for the Bill, they have had to make concessions in respect of loss of earnings and medical care to which, on their merit as well as on their cost, they were wholly opposed just a few months ago. On 16 June last year, Earl Ferrers said thata hybrid scheme would retain the worst elements of common law damages—that is, loss of earnings—and would make for great complexities and delay."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 June 1994; Vol. 555, c. 1847.]The Secretary of State said:We have looked carefully at the possibility of such a hybrid scheme, but I must tell my hon. Friend"—the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg)—that the practical difficulties which it would involve would be insurmountable."—[Official Report, 20 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 448.]It is strange that those practical difficulties, which were insurmountable only a few months before, should have suddenly been overcome and that the worst element of common law damages—loss of earnings—should suddenly take pride of place in the scheme.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the reference to a hybrid scheme. What was being proposed by way of a hybrid scheme and what was being urged on us, especially in another place, was a scheme under which the tariff would be the only method of compensation up to a certain level and the old common law scheme—unchanged—would apply above that level. That was being advanced as a hybrid scheme. I said then that it would be unworkable, and I remain of that view.
§ Mr. Straw
That was one of the hybrid schemes but the other had a tariff plus an element for loss of earnings. I can only read out the words on the page; I am not misquoting the Secretary of State or Earl Ferrers, who said that the schemewould retain the worst elements of common law damages—that is, loss of earnings—and would make for great complexities and delay.747 If this scheme is not a hybrid scheme—it combines a tariff with loss of earnings—I do not know what to call it but, in order to save his blushes, perhaps the Secretary of State has thought of a new title for it.
I shall outline some of our detailed objections to the Bill in a moment but I deal first with the issue of cost, which was raised by the Home Secretary. Throughout his sorry stewardship, he has always tried to shift the blame for unpopular policies or events on to someone else. We saw that earlier this year in his handling of trouble within the Prison Service and we see it now in his handling of the compensation scheme. If it has not been the victims of crime who are to blame for the cuts, it has been the Labour party.
The Secretary of State has suggested from the Dispatch Box that we are as implicated as him because we have not guaranteed that a future Labour Government would make good the cuts in the scheme which he has made. We welcome his expectation of an imminent Labour Government—that is thoroughly to be welcomed—but that Government may be two Conservative Budgets away and two public spending rounds away. He cannot even tell me what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to do tomorrow—indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot even tell me that—still less what will be in his Budget in November 1995 or November 1996, so he can hardly expect a responsible Opposition to say what their spending plans will be six months after that.
What is more, we have always had the gravest doubts about the assumptions behind the escalating estimates given for maintaining the existing scheme. The Secretary of State states in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill, and has repeated it since, that the cost by the year 2001 would be £460 million. I do not know whether he realises that the cost estimate for the year 2001 has already dropped by £110 million in the space of just 12 months.
Who are we to believe? Just 12 months ago, in the 1994 campaign guide, Conservative central office said—I assume that this was on the basis of information provided by the Secretary of State's special adviser and checked with the Home Office—thatwithout the changes now being made, spending would have increased to around £570 million by the year 2000.Who are we to believe—Conservative central office last year or the Home Secretary today?
I am not saying that the Secretary of State has made up the arithmetic but the figures are a moving target. They have come down by £110 million in the past 12 months, so how are we to know that they will not come down even more in the next 12 months, especially given the great sensitivity in his calculations, which I have studied carefully, to the very substantial percentage increases that are assumed in the value and number of awards likely to be made in the next five years?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman says that he cannot make a commitment to reinstate the scheme because the prospect of a Labour Government is so distant. Indeed, I would argue that it is considerably more distant than he suggests. However, if he says that he cannot commit a Labour Government to reinstating the current scheme on those grounds, why on earth has he tabled a reasoned amendment suggesting that the proposed scheme is inadequate? If he believes that it is inadequate, he must make a commitment to put in place a more adequate 748 scheme that will cost more. If he is not prepared to make such a commitment, he should not have tabled a reasoned amendment such as this.
§ Mr. Straw
I was just about to deal with the purpose of the reasoned amendment, which is to sustain the current scheme. If the Home Secretary were to join us and keep the present scheme going at the proposed budgeted level—a level which, by the way, we think, is an overestimate—and if there were a proper public expenditure survey allocation, I can think of no circumstances in which we would seek to worsen the compensation available under this scheme and no circumstances at all in which we would do that without a clear election mandate. However, if the money to pay for the scheme has gone—if there is no PES allocation—no such guarantee can be given.
If the Home Secretary squanders the money over the next two years—my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary pointed out yesterday that a great deal of cash has been squandered elsewhere—we shall not have it to spend but, if he ensures that the money is there, we should not dream of changing the scheme.
I note that, in his intervention, the Secretary of State did not mention the appalling and astonishing discrepancy between the cost estimate that he now puts to the House—£460 million by the year 2000—and that given by Conservative central office this time last year of £570 million. Who do we believe—Conservative central office or him?
§ Mr. Howard
The former is a more up-to-date estimate. The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that inflation has gone down, which is one of the factors taken into account. In addition, the average amount of each award has decreased, which is also taken into account.
What is significant is that the hon. Gentleman did not reply to my point about the Opposition's reasoned amendment. He suggested that its purpose is to maintain the old common law damages scheme for the next two years. I made it clear in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill how much more that would cost. The inescapable inference therefore is that, if a Labour Government were in power for the next two years, taxation would be commensurately higher under them than under the present Government. No other inference is possible.
§ Mr. Straw
That is a silly point. The inescapable conclusion is that if we were in power we would not have duped the electorate by implying that we would keep the scheme going and then breaking the promise within about a year of coming to power.
The estimate of costs is crucial and the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes my point by admitting that they have changed. He has embarrassed himself, and reduced his popularity in the country and his standing in the House by allowing himself, twice before the two most senior courts in the land, to have his actions declared unlawful, and all because of changes in the law that he tried to force through on the basis of wholly inadequate estimates which are now coming down.
§ Mr. Straw
I have already dealt with that. We want some honesty in politics. When a party goes to the country 749 with express promises—in this case, I am talking about the maintenance of this scheme as outlined in the campaign guide to which I referred—we want it to follow them through when it is in power. If the Government wanted to change the scheme, and as they knew full well what the estimates were before the previous election, they should have included their proposals in their manifesto. Our purpose is to ensure that the party now in power keeps its word, which it gave to the electorate at the previous election.
§ Mr. Straw
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me but I have already given way enough.
We have a number of detailed objections to the revised scheme. I have already said that £700 million is being taken out of the scheme over five years, which is a very large sum. As a result, thousands of victims of violent crime will receive less compensation than they would have received under the old scheme. The saving is generated in part by the setting of a tariff, which is very low in some cases and is especially mean in relation to sexual offences. The tariff that is due to be implemented in April 1996 is very similar to the scheme introduced in April 1994. By the end of the first financial year of the new scheme's awards therefore, claimants will have already lost value to the tune of three years' inflation.
In addition, although the Secretary of State has been forced into accepting that some recompense has to be made for loss of earnings, his proposals are markedly less generous than those under the common law scheme. Many individuals will be adversely affected by the decision to pay loss of earnings only after 28 weeks, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), the shadow Attorney-General, said. That period was chosen because, as the Secretary of State explained, it is the period for which statutory sick pay is payable.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State has properly appreciated just how unfair it is to set a minimum period of 28 weeks before any account is taken of loss of earnings. Estimates prepared by the research division of the Library draw attention to the fact that if 24 million people in total were employees or self-employed, at least 9 million people would not have any entitlement to sick pay during their first 28 weeks off sick. That particularly applies to the low-paid, to those on short-term contracts and to the self-employed.
It so happens that today a lobby of newsagents—self-employed shopkeepers who used to be natural supporters of the Conservative party—are complaining about another abuse of their position and the way in which the Conservatives have allowed large wholesalers to undermine their business. Once again, the Government's rhetorical claim to care for small businesses is contradicted by their actions. Small business people, such as shopkeepers, are often subject to the worst crimes of violence when thugs rob their shops and they are least able, given the paucity of their earnings, to insure themselves to cover that first seven months of unemployment.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to make the point that self-employed people are not entitled 750 to statutory sick pay, but I hope that he is not going to leave that passage of his speech without reminding the House that such people are entitled to incapacity benefit.
§ Mr. Straw
They are not entitled to loss of earnings to cover that 28-week period and they will be the subject of discrimination under the scheme. Even those employees who have occupational sick pay schemes will not necessarily obtain anything approaching their full salary when unable to work. Indeed, I have obtained evidence showing that most employees in most private sector schemes will have to have worked continuously for one employer for five years before receiving anything like full entitlement to sick pay from their occupational salary.
It is extraordinary that, having failed to consult any victim organisations or indeed the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board before introducing his first and ill-fated tariff scheme, the Secretary of State has failed to do so again. The hon. Member for Sutton mentioned my fine speech to the Police Federation, but in an even finer speech on the day that the Secretary of State spoke to the Police Federation, Mr. Fred Broughton the chairman of the Police Federation said:we very much regret that there has been no consultation about the revisionsmade by the Secretary of State. Mr. Broughton continued:The major change in the scheme to which we still object very strongly, is the failure to differentiate between the individual circumstances of victims. It cannot be right that, just because they have suffered an identical injury, the young breadwinner with his or her whole life to look forward to, is treated in the same way as the elderly person with no dependents.I must ask the Secretary of State again: why is he so afraid to consult those who know more about the issue than he does? After the debacle of his first attempt, it would have been far better to have spent some time in discussion with those who understand the impact of compensation on victims and to have got it right this time.
The proposals fail adequately to recognise the experience which victims have suffered or to assist them to recover from that experience and live as normal a life as possible. The Secretary of State has undoubtedly introduced some improvements in the scheme which has been so derided. The changes have occurred not because of his great concern to improve the lot of victims, but because of his great desire to save his own political skin. The changes do not go far enough, which is why we tabled the reasoned amendment and why we shall seek to improve the Bill in Committee.
The Secretary of State said in September in yet another of his lecturing speeches that the scales of justice had tilted too far in favour of offenders. He said:Victims have had a raw deal. I want to redress that balance.His actions belie his words. He has sought to cut victims' compensation by half and to cut the compensation available to some victims—the most severely injured—to a tenth of what they would have received. If the courts had not intervened to stop him, the Secretary of State would have succeeded in cutting compensation in such a way. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has failed effectively to tackle the relentless rise in violent crime and is now making the victims of that violence pay for his failures. The scheme is unacceptable and I urge the House to vote against the Bill and for our reasoned amendment.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I wish to declare two interests. I am president of the Uxbridge branch of Victim Support, which is a voluntary activity on my part and is unpaid. I am also parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales jointly with the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien).
The revised criminal injuries compensation scheme proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State in the Bill is a great improvement on the tariff scheme that he introduced last year, for several reasons. He has clearly listened to the views of his parliamentary colleagues, their constituents and organisations with a special interest in this very important matter. Victim Support was critical of a number of features of the tariff scheme which was introduced last year. One of its principal objections, which was shared by the police, lawyers and many others, was that it did not properly take account of loss of earnings. Apart from the notional average amount, the tariff contained no provisions for loss of earnings and other financial loss.
In the opinion of Victim Support, one of the most serious defects in the tariff scheme remained, as compensation awards were still counted as capital by the Department of Social Security when calculating means-tested benefits such as income support, so that some victims lost all benefits until the award was spent. That point still concerns my local branch of Victim Support, which points out that victims on low wages have compensation deducted from social security benefit. If a victim receives compensation of more than £3,000, for example, it is deducted from benefit. If a victim receives more than £8,000, he or she loses benefit altogether. I draw those matters to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
Victim Support has, however, welcomed a number of aspects of the Bill, but it still has some concerns which I am sure can be discussed in Committee. One important point is that the entitlement to loss of earnings applies to victims who are off work for 28 weeks. Victim Support wants to know how the provisions will apply to self-employed people and those in part-time, low-paid or temporary work. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State touched on that issue in response to a point raised by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). My right hon. and learned Friend made the point that such people would be able to rely on incapacity benefit. Members of the Standing Committee will probably wish to explore that matter in a little more detail so that they may compare the amounts available under incapacity benefit.
Victim Support set up an independent working party on compensation and put forward a number of principles on which it felt that the scheme should be based. It wanted a tariff to be based on clear principles and adequate provision for reducing earning capacity or loss of support in the case of homicide. It wanted no reduction or withdrawal of benefit because of the compensation. It also wanted no judgment about a victim's previous conduct if unrelated to the current crime. It wanted a regular, independent review of levels of compensation, and clear and prompt operation of the scheme. It also wanted compensation to be available for all injuries that were more serious than minor cuts or bruises, and for the psychological equivalent. I hope very much that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, as he gives 752 his customary careful consideration to the views of such an important organisation as Victim Support, will listen sympathetically as the Bill passes through Parliament.
I have naturally also had discussions on this with the Police Federation. The federation welcomes the fact that, following the Lords' judgment, the Home Secretary has introduced a Bill rather than seeking to alter the tariff scheme by means of the royal prerogative. The federation takes the view that it is right that the scheme should have the force of statute and I share that view. It is clear from the recent public pronouncements by Mr. Fred Broughton, the chairman of the Police Federation, that in announcing revisions to the tariff scheme my right hon. and learned Friend has moved a long way towards meeting the strong criticisms of it made by the federation, by Victim Support and by trade unions whose members include potential claimants.
The police are especially pleased, as are many of my constituents in Uxbridge, that loss of earnings will continue to be compensated for and that awards will cover special medical care and attention in long-term cases. It would be helpful to have the scope of the provisions spelled out in the Bill in a little more detail. The increase in the amounts that can be paid in awards to £500,000 is most welcome. I must ask, however, whether my right hon. and learned Friend considers that that amount would be sufficient to provide full medical care and attention for the small minority of very serious and tragic cases of which those of us who have read the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board's reports are aware.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Minister of State tell us whether it is the Government's view that the cost of such care and attention should be paid for by the improved value of the higher awards because they will be able to provide a guaranteed, index-linked, tax-free income for life? If so, has the Department made any estimate of the improved value of the maximum award to, say, a young man or woman in his or her 20s with normal life expectancy?
The changes proposed in the Bill do not increase the scope of compensation for victims of violent crime compared with the scope of the non-statutory scheme operated by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. However, the Bill will bring about a change in the overall costs. As there is no evidence that awards to victims have been unduly generous, we must ask ourselves the reason. The reason was given, quite candidly and properly, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State in an earlier debate on the matter. He made the point that the ever-rising cost to taxpayers, based on forward projections of claims, would be too expensive for them to bear in the longer term.
As has already been pointed out in this debate, the reforms proposed in the Bill will not cut expenditure on compensation for criminal injuries, but will simply help to keep rising costs under control. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has given, in his excellent speech, a projection of the figures to 2001 which illustrate that point well. He can still claim with absolute justification, however, that the scheme provided for in the Bill will be the best available in the world. It is beyond doubt that the United Kingdom pays out more compensation than the United States and more than all the 753 European countries put together. I believe that that is a record of which our country can be proud and I hope that that view is shared by all hon. Members.
It was because many groups, notably the police and Victim Support, felt that the former statutory scheme was the best way to meet society's obligations to victims that they strongly supported it, regardless of the costs. Many of us who read the gripping and often horrifying reports published by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board felt that we were discharging our obligations to people unfortunate enough to become victims of violent crime. I suspect, however, that few of us realised the extent to which the costs would escalate.
The police accepted that a tariff-based scheme was appropriate for lesser cases involving straightforward injuries. They accepted that such a scheme could mean less bureaucracy and that compensation would reach victims sooner. Speed of compensation is an important point in our consideration of the whole matter. The police have, however, always felt that in cases of homicide, permanent disablement, mutilation and disfigurement, there should continue to be a subjective judgment which takes account of all the consequences of the attack on a victim. The Police Federation therefore regrets the passing of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. It also points out that the proposed new scheme will be administered by civil servants instead of the old board staff and that the claimant's right of appeal appears to be limited. Those points need to be investigated and clarified in Committee.
Another issue that needs to be examined is the time limit for submitting a claim. I suggest that it should continue to be the limit which applies to a claim in the courts—three years from the date of the incident. That point is important for some victims who suffer psychological injuries or who have suffered sexual attacks.
The new scheme does not appear to distinguish between individuals and I ask why that is. It seems rather illogical to regard the loss or damage suffered by victims as identical just because they have suffered the same kind of injury. A young person, perhaps a child, who is blinded and who will have to cope with that handicap for the rest of his or her life will be given the same compensation as an elderly person with a short life expectancy. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will seriously consider that point. Perhaps he will be willing to consider regarding the proposed tariff as the base for compensation and allowing an assessor to vary awards according to the degree of harm suffered by the claimant.
What is the position of victims who have suffered more than one injury? Should not the new scheme be more generous in respect of a second or further injury than the 1994 scheme was? Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State will respond to that point when he winds up. The new scheme should also specify how awards will be uprated to take account of the effects of inflation. That and a number of other questions need to be considered further in Committee.
As the House knows, I have a special interest in police officers who are, all too often, the victims of violent crimes. It is an unhappy fact that in 1995 the police will sustain about 18,000 serious injuries. However, awards to 754 police claimants have always been abated by the extent of their entitlements under the police regulations and the police pension scheme.
The persons most likely to be worried about the scheme are probably those about whom Victim Support is concerned. They are those who are not covered by occupational injury and pension schemes and who are, by definition, often the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. All of us represent some of those people.
While I fully acknowledge that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has responded in his customary positive way to the criticisms made of the 1994 tariff scheme, I hope that he will keep an open mind and that he will be ready to consider some further improvements to the proposed new scheme as the Bill passes through Parliament.
It is important that the tariff scheme is reviewed at regular intervals. The 1994 scheme provided for a review every three years, and it would be sensible for the proposed new scheme also to be reviewed at three-yearly intervals, so that the effects of inflation—albeit the low level that we are experiencing today—can be taken fully into account, and so that the value of awards will not depreciate.
I welcome the Bill and I shall certainly support my right hon. and learned Friend in the Lobby tonight. I hope that he will be able to take account of some of the points that I have made in the debate.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made a careful speech, in which he analysed some of the defects of the Bill. Given the totality of those defects, I wonder how he can vote to support the Bill in the Lobby tonight.
I shall make a short speech. The Home Secretary has been forced to introduce this Bill because he adopted a high-handed approach to Parliament. As Lord Denning once said, however high a man is, no man is above the law—not even the Home Secretary.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot say that he was not warned from all sides. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) warned him, as did Lord Ackner. In a debate on 20 October 1994, I said that the attitude of the Government wasan affront to Parliament … The Bill ignores the 1988 Act … It is not even repealed. It will lie idle on the statute book. Instead, we have a non-statutory scheme and the Government have played ducks and drakes with Parliament and the time that Parliament gave to passing the 1988 Act."—[Official Report, 20 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 466.]My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn commented on the goal average approach of the Home Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman lost in the Court of Appeal, and lost in the Judicial Committee of the other place. The Home Secretary has undoubtedly abused his prerogative power, and he and his advisers should have known better.
The Home Secretary has brought forward an amended scheme with a double objective—first to satisfy the courts, and secondly to placate the other place in its legislative capacity. Although there are some improvements, it is still a far from satisfactory measure. 755 Many of the victims of crime will get much less. I trust that not even this arrogant and brazen Government will lay claim to being the friends of the victims of crime.
§ Mr. Sweeney
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, while many people will be worse off, 60 per cent. of claimants will be no worse off?
§ Mr. Morris
I do not accept that figure, which is not put forward by the Government. The bulk of the victims—as regards the totality of their claims—will be less well-off than they would have been under the original scheme. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) may be making a comparison not with the new scheme, but with another one.
We have complained about the proposed tariff, and particularly that no allowance was made for loss of earnings. It is now proposed that victims of serious crime who are off work for more than 28 weeks will be eligible for an allowance for loss of earnings up to a maximum of one and a half times the average industrial wage.
Such an allowance for loss of earnings was opposed adamantly by the Government when they brought the original proposals before the House. I am sure that the hon. Member for Uxbridge and others will want to follow in detail the reply that the Home Secretary gives about the self-employed, and I hope that the difficulties in that subject can be clarified in Committee.
A high earner's loss is bound to be higher than that of a low earner. That is common sense. But if one insists on a tariff—this is what the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan may not have fully grasped—the high earner will still be a loser. That is the failure of the tariff, which makes no allowance for the consequences as they affect different people.
For example, the consequences for a young girl—let alone a model—with a scarred face will be different from the consequences for a middle-aged man with a similar injury. If there is a flat-rate tariff, the same allowance will go to the young model and to the older man who unfortunately suffer similar injuries.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman moves on from that point, will he tell the House under which principle he thinks it right for the taxpayer to pay less to a man who is scarred than to a woman with a similar injury?
§ Mr. Morris
The principle is clear. The original prerogative scheme was based on common law, whereby the common law sought to put the loser back in the position in which he was originally. That was the basis of the scheme, and the Home Secretary referred to it this afternoon. The Minister may not have been listening. The common law would assess the damages, assuming the case was being heard in court. For a young model of 21 with a distinguished career in front of her who unfortunately has her face scarred so that she is never able to work again, the damages would be enormous.
Regrettably, it would be different if someone like myself, or perhaps the hon. Member for Uxbridge, suffered the same calamity. The hon. Gentleman and I are not models—no one would pretend that we were. We are much older, and our expectation of life is, unhappily, shorter. The damages in any common law court would be wholly different from those given to the young model. If 756 the Minister has not grasped that, he has a great deal to learn about the way in which the common law seeks to right a wrong.
§ Mr. Maclean
I understand the way in which the common law works. I am merely asking whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that it is right that a taxpayer-funded scheme which is not attempting to right all wrongs but attempting to make payments to victims who have suffered injuries should discriminate against some people because of their age, or because they may be ugly.
§ Mr. Morris
Under Governments of different colours, and ever since the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board was set up, the taxpayer has awarded damages on that basis. It is only the blinding light which has struck the Government in the past two years that is changing the whole situation. In no manifesto of the Conservative party has the change been put before the electorate. That is the basis on which the CICB has been working all these years, and I and the overwhelming number of electors who were not told otherwise were satisfied with that approach.
The tariff is fundamentally flawed, and takes no account of age, sex or occupation. There are also no allowances—I can be corrected if I am wrong—for inflation until another review takes place. The Government are getting away with murder, because the tariffs for the new scheme to be introduced in April 1996 are at the same level as the original tariff proposed in April 1994. If I am wrong, I am sure that the Minister can correct me in his reply. If there is no allowance for future inflation and for giving realistic amounts to victims, the scheme will wither on the vine.
There is concern about how the tariffs were arrived at. The Home Secretary clutches some figures for some assessments and cases, but would it not have been better if an independent outside source had confirmed what the tariffs should be, rather than having an inquiry within the Home Office? If the Home Secretary had then wanted to reduce them, we would have known the foundation.
Concern has already been expressed about the differences in valuations. People are worried about the low awards in the tariff for sexual cases. Why is £1,000 proposed for a child who is sexually assaulted, and £1,250 for an adult who suffers a dislocated finger? I am sure that the Standing Committee will want to explore those examples, and to find out the basis for that approach.
Finally, the poorest victims will suffer. People who receive more than £3,000 will have deductions made from their income support, and those who receive more than £8,000 will lose their entitlement altogether. If that is so, and if the rule is to survive, perhaps hon. Members who will be exploring such matters in Committee will want to consider the way in which clause 8 deals with the income tax position for annuities.
Under that clause, awards will not be regarded as income for tax purposes, but that will not be the case when it comes to any family income support scheme. I agree with Victim Support that criminal injuries compensation should be exempt under the capital rules of the Department of Social Security.
If we have to have this scheme, let there at least be regular reviews of compensation levels, and let every victim of crime be given the health warning, "A Tory Government will damage your expectation of compensation."
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
I must take the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) up on one point—the little argument that we seem to be having about the number of judges who decided one way and the number who decided the other. Surely, given that five eminent lawyers decided one way on the matter and five the other, we should simply forget the argument about the hierarchical structure of the courts, as it was a matter of—
§ Mr. Garnier
The hon. Gentleman does himself no good by making that sort of fatuous remark. If he will allow me to finish the sentence, I will make my point.
Surely the important thing is that that decision tells us that it was an important and extremely complicated matter, that had vexed other judges and lawyers. Of course no one is arguing that we have a hierarchical courts system, or that, because the decision was 3:2 in the House of Lords, that is what the law was found to be. Surely the simple point is the one that I adumbrated—that the issue is highly complex, and no one can produce any evidence to impugn the motives of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Streeter
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, now that the Labour party thinks only in terms of soundbites, Labour Members would not know a complicated legal argument if it leaped up and bit them on the nose?
§ Mr. Michael
I am very grateful. Perhaps we could lift the standard of debate. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that the Home Secretary was warned by Back-Bench and Front-Bench Members in the House, by people outside the House who specialise in the law and in the Lords long before the judgment, that he ignored them, and that they advised him that the course of action that he proposed to take would indeed breach the law?
§ Mr. Garnier
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the argument, which was twofold. First, what was the law? The House of Lords reached a decision on that, and on how the prerogative should be exercised. Secondly, what was the best way to approach Parliament? My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was given plenty of warnings. People made political points— I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was foremost among them—saying that, politically, it would be more advisable if my right hon. and learned Friend did this, that or the other, but the intellectual debate on a matter of law was evenly balanced, and that is the only point that I am making. If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept that, it tells us more about him than about anything else.
758 It would be helpful to place today's Second Reading debate and the Bill in the context of the criminal injuries compensation system. The Government established a scheme 31 years ago to compensate out of public funds the victims of criminal violence. The scheme was brought into existence through the exercise of the royal prerogative, and the payments were made ex gratia. There was no statutory authority for the scheme, although the necessary funds were voted annually by Parliament, and the victims had no right in law to claim payment.
Compensation was given in the shape of a lump sum, which was arrived at in the same way as a civil award of damages for personal injury caused by a tort—a civil wrong—subject to an upper limit on the amount attributable to the loss of earnings. The scheme was administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which comprised a chairman and a panel of eminent lawyers.
At first, the scheme operated on a modest scale, but by 1978 the number of awards had increased twelvefold. In that year, the Royal Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury recommended that compensation for criminal injuries should continue to be based on tort damages, but that the scheme, which had originally been experimental, should be put on a statutory basis. The Government, however, preferred to wait until more experience had been gained.
Although, as the years passed, some important changes were made, the scheme retained its original shape, but its scale and costs increased remorselessly. In the first year, the board paid out £400,000. By 1984, the annual amount had risen to more than £35 million, and the backlog was approaching 50,000 claims.
At that point, the Government decided that the time had come to put the scheme into statutory form, and they appointed an interdepartmental working party to consider how that should be done. The working party made numerous recommendations, which the Government largely accepted. The most important was that compensation should continue to be given to the victims of criminal violence on the basis of civil damages.
Accepting that among other recommendations, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, announced in Parliament that legislation would be introduced accordingly, and that considerable extra public funds would be made available. Within a few years, the promised legislation materialised, in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, together with its dependent schedules.
It was decided that, when it was brought into force, the scheme would be administered by a statutory body appointed by the Home Secretary and that it would not be a servant or agent of the Crown. The Home Secretary would defray the expenses incurred by the board, and, subject to certain exceptions and limitations, claims for compensation were to be determined and amounts payable assessed in accordance with the way in which a claim in tort was determined. Of course, there was to be a right of appeal from a determination of the board, to the High Court or the Court of Session.
In the years that immediately followed the passing of the 1988 Act, it seemed probable that, whether or not the statutory scheme took effect, the compensation regime would continue as before. Indeed, as recently as December 1991, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), then the Home Secretary, 759 announced to Parliament an increase in the lower limit of entitlement, without suggesting that the general principles of the scheme might be under reconsideration. He also took the opportunity to report even greater increases in the amounts of the annual payments and the costs of running the scheme.
In November 1992, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) gave notice of his intention to replace the existing scheme with a new tariff scheme with effect from 1994. At that time, the White Paper, "Compensating victims of violent crime: changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme", was presented to Parliament.
Certain paragraphs of the White Paper are relevant to today's debate. For example, paragraph 10 suggested:There is no obvious or logical way of matching a particular sum of money precisely to the degree of pain and hurt suffered by an injured person. Even under common law damages the award of damages is not an exact science. Judgments tend to be made pragmatically on the facts of the case and with regard to precedent. But the assessment is essentially subjective and any amount awarded must to some extent be regarded as artificial. There is no exactly right answer.The White Paper also suggested:Such factors have been major elements in the consideration that led the Government to decide that awards based on common law damages are no longer appropriate for a state financed compensation scheme. Since there is no absolute or right figure for an award, the Government does not consider it appropriate to attempt the very difficult and time-consuming task of trying to assign a precisely calculated but essentially arbitrary sum to the injury suffered …The new system will accordingly be based on a tariff or scale of awards under which injuries of comparable severity will be grouped together in bands for which a single fixed payment is made. This means that people with similar injuries will get the same payment.The White Paper suggested:Under the current scheme loss of earnings and costs of future medical care can be paid as separate heads of damageunder the current civil law scheme.That is a feature of the common law system, though the necessary calculations can often prove to be very difficult and time consuming to make. The tariff scheme will, however, break the link with common law damages".That is common ground between both sides of the House.
The White Paper also said:the aim will no longer be to provide finely calculated 'compensation' … Instead a simple lump sum award related to the severity of the injury will be paid. That removes the subjective element of assessment and substitutes a more objective test which is easier to apply.The severance of the link to common law damages and the introduction of a straightforward tariff scheme, under which payments are made from a scale of awards related to the nature of the injury, means that the specialist skills of senior lawyers with experience of personal injury casework will no longer be needed and that cases can be decided administratively. There will accordingly be no longer term role for the present Board to play under the tariff arrangements.If the applicant is dissatisfied with the initial decision he may request reconsideration of his case by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. This will be an internal review of the case conducted by a more senior member of the administration.If the claimant remains dissatisfied after this review of his case, he will be able to appeal to an appeals panelindependent of both the authority and the Home Secretary.
Finally, the White Paper pointed out—again, this must be common ground:The present scheme is non-statutory and payments are made on an ex-gratia basis. Provision was made in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 for the scheme to be placed on a statutory footing. However, 760 at the request of the Board the relevant provisions were not brought into force, because this would have disrupted their efforts to deal with the heavy work load.Hon. Members may have seen in the last Parliament evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee from the noble Lord Carlisle, which supported that suggestion. The White Paper noted:With the impending demise of the current scheme the provisions in the 1988 Act will not now be implemented.The tariff scheme departs from the basic principles of the old scheme and the statutory scheme. First, the assessment of compensation is no longer based on common law principles. There is no point in hiding behind wise or complicated words, as that is a fact, but it need not necessarily be a worry. Nowadays, there is a movement in modern law jurisdictions to codify law rather than rely wholly on common law.
I believe that the Law Commission is to bring before those interested, and certainly before Parliament, suggestions that the whole of the criminal law should be codified, and that other aspects of the current common legal system should be codified to provide a much simpler and certain legal system. On those grounds, the fact that we are moving away from a common law-based system to a tariff system is not wrong in principle.
The second distinction is that awards are assessed according to a fixed scale of tariffs without taking account of a victim's individual circumstances. I agree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take those points on board. There will be a number of difficult cases, which may be sorted out or be capable of being sorted out.
This is not simply party political fencing across the Chamber. Those cases give rise to proper and deeply felt intellectual concern about the effects on claimants of differing ages and earning capacities. I hope that the scheme in its final form will take account of the points made by my hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Member.
The third difference is that awards will be made on behalf of the authority by persons who need not be qualified lawyers, although qualified lawyers may be involved in the hearing of appeals. That seems to be a good idea. There is in the public mind a movement away from a reliance on lawyers' formality on all occasions. Alternative dispute resolutions, taking cases to the small claims court in the county court where claimants and defendants can appear without representation, seems to be a far better way to deal with most of the ordinary cases that now come before county courts, which could more sensibly be dealt with more informally.
I hope that the proposed scheme will attract the commendation not only of the House but of the public at large, who will, after all, have to make use of it. It is common ground that, in some cases, particularly where serious injuries involve prolonged loss of earnings, the sum payable to a victim under the tariff scheme will be substantially less than he would have received under the old scheme or the statutory scheme. When considering their final view on the set-up, I urge the Government to keep an open mind and, if an injustice or injustices should flow from a high earner suffering a disproportionate loss, to bear those changes in mind.
761 The general scheme of the Bill, which has been introduced to overcome what I may describe as a little local difficulty in another place not so long ago, is to be welcomed. Although we shall argue over the details, I commend it and invite all those on Conservative Benches and as many as possible on Opposition Benches to join us in supporting its Second Reading this evening.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
The beginning and end of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) were welcome. The middle sounded like a Government brief to explain how we got here. Although it was a perfectly valid contribution to the debate and we had not heard it before, none the less it did not bear the hallmark of original thought.
There are two themes to the debate. The first is the theme of the series of legal proceedings that drove us to this pass and the other is the much more important theme of how we deal with victims of crime.
I have a limited amount to say on the issue of how we got here. I am glad that at last the issue is being dealt with by statute and not by royal prerogative; it is a nonsense that in 1995, we hold on to the powers of the royal prerogative and we give as much royal prerogative to Ministers of the Crown as we do. Things should be dealt with in a democratic way—via debate in the democratic assemblies of the country. There is a great danger in royal prerogative.
Legislation can be bad enough when it goes through the House of Commons. If we can get things wrong with the Child Support Act 1991, how much more wrong can we get legislation if we do not have the opportunity to examine proposals? It is therefore a good thing that the House of Lords ruled that the Home Secretary was out of order—not for the first time. Although we do not have a Bill of Rights and a proper constitution, it is good that we at least have a House of Lords that occasionally intervenes to establish some principles. It is good that the legal system can occasionally intervene to stop the Government doing what they like. It is a good thing that the House has been driven back to re-examine the criminal injuries scheme and that the Home Secretary has been forced to think the system through again.
We are here to debate what we can do for those who become victims. The precondition to the debate is, of course, the existence of victims. Crime, being sin, will always be with us, so, sadly, there will always be victims of crime. The most important issue that lies behind the debate is the need to reduce the number of victims. According to any objective analysis, the Government cannot be proud of their record on that. I hope that they will not be either complacent or simplistic about that aim.
We all accept that it is not easy to reduce the level of crime, but for the Government to set their face against any argument that there might be a link between high unemployment among young people and crime strikes me as ignoring self-evident truths. If there are so many idle hands, as there are in many of our constituencies, it is not surprising that those people turn to making their living from criminal activity. That activity often becomes that which interferes with the liberties of others. The number 762 of victims is the first and most important consideration in our debate. I hope that the Government will appreciate that the fewer victims and the fewer crimes committed, the less the taxpayer will be asked to pay.
The second issue is the extent to which the rights of victims are put at the centre of our criminal justice system. The Labour party is right to make that the theme of its reasoned amendment. I believe that we are still miles from putting victims at the centre of our criminal justice system. The most recent example of that failure in London concerns the rights of the survivors and bereaved relatives of those who died when the Marchioness sank. According to the recent coroner's inquest, those who died when that boat sank were unlawfully killed. Had we not, at the last moment, been able to persuade the Lord Chancellor that the survivors and relatives should be legally represented through the legal aid system, they would have been denied the opportunity to be represented and to put their questions at the inquest.
I remember when a young man who lived a couple of doors from me in Bermondsey was attacked on new year's eve. I remember the date in particular because it was the year when I was elected, 1983. He died at Guy's hospital as a result of the injuries that he suffered. When the trial of his assailants took place, the family sat, irrelevant to the proceedings, in the gallery of the Old Bailey. The charges were subsequently reduced to less serious ones on the charge sheet and convictions on those charges led to relatively short sentences. As a result, the family felt not just deprived of a rightful verdict, but that they had had no opportunity to participate in the trial.
The Home Office has only recently decided to allow victims and the families of victims to make representations about sentencing, particularly sentences on appeal. Although I am grateful for that change, it is a minor one. Victims who survive often do not know what happens to their case. At court they are often treated exceptionally badly, like second-class citizens and often have no opportunity to participate in the process of criminal justice. The opportunity to feel part of the system of justice delivered is as important as giving victims any amount of money.
About two years ago, a pensioner constituent of mine, Mrs. H, had her car stolen by a 15-year-old. The local magistrates court at Camberwell eventually ordered that the culprit should pay £25 compensation as well as serve a sentence. To date, not just months but more than a year later, that woman has not even received that £25. No one appears to be doing much to chase that youngster to deliver the money or, if he has not got it, to chase his parents to deliver it. My constituent has probably lost £1,000 and the use of a car. I do not believe that she has replaced it. She is a victim whom we have not looked after.
As a lawyer, I used to appear occasionally at hearings at the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that it should not be a lawyers' forum. I have also appeared at that board with people since I have been a Member of Parliament. I have therefore heard the details of most unfair cases. For example, my constituent, whose husband was killed in a pub shooting in Walworth in 1990, has not only failed to receive any compensation yet, but she was told that any money that she inherited by virtue of payments to her as a widow, as a result of her husband's pension scheme, would be counted in as opposed to discounted for the purpose of assessing her income. That 763 decision will therefore reduce the amount of compensation paid to her for the criminal injury that resulted in the death of her husband. The way in which the system has operated in that case is monstrous. If her husband had died of a heart attack, she would have got the money. He went out for a quiet drink with his wife and was shot in a pub, but his widow has not been given any money.
§ Mr. Garnier
When the hon. Gentleman mentioned that he used to practise at the Bar, it reminded me that when I spoke, I should have declared that I am a practising member of the Bar, albeit that I do not do any criminal work. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Mr. Hughes
Those of us in the Chamber understand that declaration and register it. We are all so careful now about what we declare that I would not want to stop the hon. and learned Gentleman declaring anything. I notice that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) declared that he is the voluntary and unpaid president of Victim Support, but he did not declare whether he is paid as an adviser to the Police Federation. I assume that he is and he might have done the House a service by saying that. I hope that we shall soon have to declare how much we are paid for any other work that we do as well as just saying whether we are paid for it.
The steady rise in the number of criminal injuries payments has meant that the Government have acted, but it is fair to say that their overriding concern has been to act to limit the amount of the payments rather than for other purposes. One other issue with which we desperately need to deal is how to ensure that the criminal injuries compensation scheme acts quickly. Justice is not justice if it is denied for years and years. I am sure that the Minister would acknowledge that. The backlog of compensation claims is rather like that held by the Child Support Agency, because the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board has files and files of outstanding cases. I hope that the new system will cut through that delay and offer speedy remedies. It is no good that those who have been badly injured or whatever have to wait years and years for payments.
There appears to be a growing consensus in the House about how the criminal injuries compensation scheme should operate. I should like to offer a tick list of what we need to do. First, the Government must tell the nation, Parliament and, in due course, the Standing Committee more about the principles upon which they are establishing the scheme. We have been offered a piece of outline legislation, but the scheme will be introduced as a result of secondary, delegated legislation, which is a dangerous route to follow. We need to be told about a few more principles that will govern the new scheme. We pass far too much legislation that says that certain things will be done, but that fails to set out the objectives clearly.
We are driven to accept that there will be a tariff-plus system. The parallel under the old civil law is the general and special damages system. One cannot, however, ignore entirely some of the personal circumstances in cases. One cannot ignore the effect on the income of the victim. If someone was earning x and was deprived of work as a result of his injury, compensation must recognise that; and the nature of society is that we do not all earn the same amount, so there will be different payments. People do 764 not seek to make a profit; they seek to have the money reinstated that they would otherwise have been able to earn.
I do not want to become involved in the debate that we were in danger of getting into, as to whether a 21-year-old female model is worth more than an approximately 60-year-old Queen's counsel Member of Parliament. However, we should consider whether age should be a factor and whether the impact of the injury should be a factor.
Some things in the tariff list are a nonsense. For example, no distinction appears to be made between an injury to one's writing hand or using hand and an injury to a hand that is not. Obviously, that is a highly relevant consideration. No consideration appears to be given to the correctness of the relativity of the tariffs. I made that argument to the Home Secretary in my intervention.
There needs to be an objective way of setting the tariff. That can be done externally of the Home Office and externally of Ministers, and it should be perpetually under review. Many hon. Members will find it odd that we are considering compensating someone more for a dislocated finger that gets better, than for sexual abuse. We cannot allow that anomaly to pass through the system unamended.
I shall be troubled if the tariff does not come up for regular review, and I shall be troubled if we cannot debate and amend it in this place.
Let me add a P.S. on the amounts of compensation that should be paid. If someone is, tragically, murdered, that murder often causes a loss of income to the family, for which compensation should be paid. It is no substitute, but when a relative loses someone, not just out of work but out of life, he should be compensated for the income that the victim was expected to go on to earn.
I made the case for my constituent, the payment of whose husband's pension or entitlement meant that she would lose some of her compensation. Criminal injuries compensation should be a capital payment, not taken into account for the purpose of benefits and Department of Social Security payments. It should be separately regarded and fairly treated.
The lower limit should be lowered. At the moment, it is proposed that it should start from £1,000 only and increase. If someone is beaten up—as people all too often are in London and elsewhere—and is badly bruised, he may not need £1,000, but he may be off work for several days and have to receive medication and so on. We should be less prescriptive about that.
We must not be so prescriptive about a previous criminal record. I had better be careful what I say, but in constituencies such as mine in south London, there are plenty of people who are perfectly proper claimants who do not have an unblemished record—and, as we know, most crime is committed, not on elderly pensioners but among young people on their way out of the pub and going home at 2 o'clock on a Sunday morning. It is unacceptable that because, as happened in a case about which I went to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, a 25-year-old had once in the past been involved in an incident and had been arrested and convicted, he was at severe risk of losing all compensation—the lot, unqualifiedly, because of that blemished record. That is unjustifiable.
Other colleagues, including the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), have rightly argued that it is nonsense that the first 28 weeks should be disregarded 765 for someone who is self-employed or lacks the statutory entitlements. Twenty-eight weeks without pay can make an incredible difference to one's survival, one's sanity, and probably one's ability not to think of ending one's life in certain circumstances.
I support entirely the argument of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris)—which I think was also made by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough—that people should be able to apply for three years from the date of the incident, as one can if one is a civil claimant.
People are willing to accept the broad thrust of the legislation, but considerable work needs to be done to make it fair. There was a more or less fair system. We then got a dire system until the House of Lords intervened. We now have a better system again. It is not yet right, but if we work hard it may become more so.
Justice needs to be done and to be seen to be done.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Gentleman said that we had a fair system in the common law damages system, but a few moments before, he criticised the awards in the tariff for sexual abuse and damage to a finger, condemning them as being unfair or not being relatively correct. Does he not realise that those awards in the tariff were based on exactly what the board had allocated beforehand through the common law system, which he thought was fair?
§ Mr. Hughes
Of course I do. I understand that 20,000 cases were examined and the work was done. When I said that we had a fair system, that had a double meaning; I should have been more specific. Perhaps I should have said that the old system was "not bad". I am sorry; I did not mean to mislead the Minister or the House.
The old system was not bad, but it was rough and ready. We then had the tariff system under the temporary arrangements, which were brought to a speedy end. That was a bad system. We now have a better proposal. I accept the process by which we arrived at the system, but it does end up with some anomalies. That is why it should be perpetually open to review and independent of the Government. I hope that that will be better.
We must not have something that is perceived as a criminal justice lottery system, in which for certain things one gets the jackpot and for other things one gets one's £10, one's £1 or even worse. I hope that we end up with a system which recognises how important it is to people and which processes the applications quickly, but which does not preclude the opportunity of the individual's circumstances being submitted, considered and taken into account. However, at the end of the day, it is much more important that the Government take steps to reduce crime and make the reduction of crime their priority, rather than concentrating on victims. The victims need an enormous amount of support—far more than they have had—but the nation is calling on all politicians to make the reduction of crime their priority.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)
I am pleased to take part in the debate and to follow the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), whose speech I much appreciated. The House recognises that he has long been a champion of the underdog, and his speech reflected that.
766 If I am fortunate enough to serve on the Standing Committee that will examine the measure, it will certainly—
§ Mr. Streeter
It will certainly be my intention to liaise very closely with the victim support group in Plymouth. It does excellent work in supporting victims, and I know that it holds strong opinions about the way in which the Government can improve the lot of victims, which is what we all wish to do. I shall consider the measure carefully if I am fortunate enough to be selected, although I broadly— [Interruption.] I would not wish to presume. I support the measure firmly, but there is no legislation that cannot be improved in Committee, and I am sure that we shall all seek opportunities to do that.
I welcome the scheme, especially its flexibility and simplicity, compared with the rather cumbersome, rather bureaucratic, rather slow machinery that we have come to know for so many years in the criminal injuries compensation scheme and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
When victims have suffered the pain, humiliation and indignity of being on the receiving end of crime, they really want a fast procedure whereby whatever money is coming their way is delivered swiftly, without quibble, to meet their special needs. The measure will help us to go firmly along that track.
There are benefits set out in the Bill that are worth pondering on in detail. I welcome the fact that those claimants incapable of work for more than 28 weeks will qualify for payments to cover the cost of special care from the date of the injury and loss of earnings from the end of the initial 28 weeks. There has been some criticism of the 28-week period, but the measure must be viewed in the context of welfare provision generally. Other forms of compensation and support are also available to help people through difficult periods. I welcome the fact that the maximum compensation payable has increased from £250,000 to £500,000. That gives the lie to the claim by some Labour Members that the legislation is a cost-cutting measure—nothing could be further from the truth.
I welcome the fact that in fatal cases payments will include elements for dependency and loss of mother's support fixed at £2,000 per year with a multiplier. The fatality payment will be a minimum of £10,000 per family. Where there are two or more qualifying claimants, they will each receive £5,000.1 also welcome the fact that it will be possible to make structured settlements in the case of large awards. They will provide a guaranteed, index-linked, tax-free annual payment that will enhance the net value of the award. These are constructive measures.
The victims of crime want to receive justice from the courts. In a moment, I shall develop some thoughts about the measure. We must recognise that our first priority as legislators is to ensure that justice is delivered through our legal system. It adds insult to injury if families who have been the victims of crime feel that inadequate sentences are passed by the courts.
I raise again the constituency case that grieved me so much two years ago. Jonathan Roberts was killed at age 17 by a young thug who was stealing from a supermarket 767 at which Jonathan worked to fill in his out-of-school hours. It was a brutal killing, although the young thug had no intention of committing murder. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, with whom I have spent a lot of time since the incident, are not interested in money; they do not seek compensation of that kind. However, they want to feel that justice has been done: they want to know that their son's killer has been severely punished. They do not believe that his sentence is sufficient, and nor do I. I think it is important to put on record that the most crucial way of supporting victims is by ensuring that the punishment fits the crime.
It is important to recognise that we have introduced the unduly lenient sentence measures which are being actively applied. The victim support compensation is very important as a third tier of assistance. Clause 2(3) is the heart of the Bill and I shall refer to it in some detail. It states:Provision shall be made for the standard amount to be determined—(a) in accordance with a table ("the Tariff') prepared by the Secretary of State as part of the Scheme and such other provisions of the Scheme as may be relevant".Clause 2 does two things, which are important to understand fully. It sets out the basis on which compensation payable under the scheme shall be determined: first, by way of the tariff, to which I have referred; and, secondly, through the provision of the payment of additional amounts of compensation in cases of fatal injury and in respect of loss of earnings or special expenses.
I welcome the coming together of those two separate measures: the tariff system, which is easy to understand and administer in relation to straightforward compensation claims, and a sensible additional provision which compensates on a greater scale. Labour Members have referred to it as a hybrid system. I do not care what they call it; I know that it is a common sense system which meets the needs of victims in our society.
As I have listened to the debate this afternoon I have been slightly worried by some of the attacks on the measure. Labour Members said that it should have been announced before the last general election, as though a party in office must do strictly and to the letter only those things that are set out in its manifesto. That suggestion was made by a party that tells us that it wishes to embrace a minimum wage if it wins the next election but refuses to tell us at what level the minimum wage should be set. It is an exercise in utter hypocrisy for Labour Members to criticise us for not including the changes in our last manifesto. We all know that in relation to a minimum wage—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. An allusion is acceptable, but it does not need to be developed in this Second Reading debate.
§ Mr. Streeter
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The argument that we should have placed the measure in our manifesto is spurious. I cannot imagine that the Labour party said in its 1974 manifesto that within two or three years it would call in the International Monetary Fund to run the country, having made such a mess of running it itself. Governments are not restricted to introducing measures that are set out in their manifestos; parties must deal with the circumstances 768 that arise when in government. We are elected to be prudent legislators and to introduce measures to meet the needs of the time. That is what the Government have done on this occasion. I shall leave the matter at that point.
§ Mr. Maclean
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. I checked the Conservative campaign guide and it points out that we have the most generous compensation system in the world. In 1989 the board paid out £91 million to victims of violent crime and last year it paid out £165 million. We continue to maintain the most generous scheme in the world. My hon. Friend should not be ashamed to quote from the manifesto and the campaign guide.
§ Mr. Streeter
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. My point has taken on an even greater dimension than I expected and I am glad that it is on the record.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's comments. Will he tell the House what importance he attaches to the promises that his party makes at election time? Does the electorate have any reason to believe what his party says, or is it irrelevant?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is perfectly acceptable for the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) to answer in relation to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, but we are not engaging this evening in a wide Second Reading debate about manifestos.
§ Mr. Streeter
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am very grateful for your guidance on that point. I simply emphasise that we are not restricted, as a Government, to only those issues, matters and policies that are set out in a manifesto if events develop during our period in office. I think that it is critical that every Government and every party should stand by the firm promises that they make at the time of general elections, and we have always done that.
I turn to loss of earnings to which I referred earlier. It is important that our compensation provisions should recognise the risk taken by those people in our society who create wealth and jobs—I refer, of course, to the self-employed. The point was developed earlier in the debate and I would address it very carefully in Committee. It is important that we should not ignore their need to be compensated for loss of earnings and profits as a result of violent crime.
Self-employed people are risk-takers; they create wealth. If we relied only on the public sector to create wealth, we would be in a sorry state. I am delighted that, at this stage in our country's history, small businesses are developing and flourishing. They are creating jobs and reducing unemployment. It is important that our compensation system recognises financial loss as well as physical pain and loss.
I have examined carefully the Labour party's reasoned amendment to the Second Reading which appears on the Order Paper. It criticises the Government's measure for failing adequately to reflect society's obligations. The Labour party is calling for more money to be pumped into the scheme. As has been said earlier in the debate, it simply will not do for Labour Members to appear on television day after day and say that spending and taxation will not increase under any future Labour Government and then to come to the House week after week and call for more taxpayers' money to be pumped into provisions such as the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
769 It seems that too many Labour Members have a short-circuit in their minds. They do not understand that what the Government spend must be linked to what the Government raise through tax or borrowing. It will not wash to say that they want to spend more but it will not cost the country or the taxpayer anything. I wish that Labour Members would learn the lessons of the 1970s and understand that they cannot spend or tax their way out of difficulties.
I look forward to hearing answers to the questions that have been put to Labour Front Benchers. How much more money should be pumped into the scheme? They must tell us. From where will that money come? Have they costed those pledges and claims? By how much will they increase the burden of taxation? Unless they can answer those questions in the winding-up speech tonight, they will demonstrate yet again that they are unfit to govern the nation. That applies not only to this measure but to a related measure that we were discussing a few weeks ago in respect of legal aid.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We may have been discussing it a few weeks ago, but we are not discussing it tonight.
§ Mr. Streeter
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Labour Members told us today that not enough cash, dosh or loot is being put into the criminal injuries compensation scheme, but they do not have the guts to say how much should be pumped in and where it should come from.
The scheme, even as we have shaped and focused it in the Bill, remains the best criminal injuries compensation scheme in the world. My hon. Friend the Minister of State was right to encourage me to be proud of the scheme. It is a better scheme than those in all the European countries put together. We hear so often that Britain has the best pension scheme for our elderly citizens, the best national health service and the best student support scheme. Now we learn tonight that we have the best scheme for compensating criminal injuries.
The Opposition seek to run us down and rubbish us, but they should consider the facts. It is a scheme of which we can be proud and Conservative Members are proud of it.
§ Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)
I am delighted to follow the fascinating fairy tale that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) told us about the wonderful things that are happening in Britain, but I want seriously to discuss why the Bill should have been unnecessary, and why it is inadequate.
The Bill should have been unnecessary because the original scheme that was set up in 1964 with all-party support was a serious attempt to compensate those people who had been tragically injured by criminal acts. Each case was assessed individually using the common law. Unfortunately, the scheme before us tonight attempts to put too many people in simple categories. Individuals cannot be assessed in that way.
The scheme that the Secretary of State introduced last year was obviously intended to cut costs and it is outrageous that Conservative Members are now trying to 770 deny that. If they had listened to the Secretary of State's speech in opening today's Second Reading debate, they would have heard the implication that it was part of the reasoning behind the Bill. It was not intended to help victims, or to improve the service; if anything, victims were being used to pay for the Government's failed economic policies.
Fortunately, the Bill includes some concessions, as a result of the response of lobby groups, victim support groups and points that my right hon. and hon. Friends have raised in the past. For example, there is an important concession on compensation for loss of earnings, although we are not happy that it does not apply until after 28 weeks. It is important that dependency and loss of support in some fatal cases are included, as are structured settlements.
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady. Will she explain how victims are paying for Government policy? Will she make that point?
§ Mrs. Prentice
If the hon. Gentleman had been here at the beginning of the debate instead of wandering in a couple of minutes ago, he might have understood my point. I shall repeat it. If the Government reduce the money available for victims of crime, those victims lose out financially. I believe that part of the reason why the Government are reducing the money available to victims of crime is their failed economic policies, and that they are trying to square the circle.
There are several problems with the Bill. It sets specific and inflexible figures for some specific injuries. We have heard examples from the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), among others. For example, right and left hands are treated in the same way, but for those of us who are right-handed, an injury to the left hand would not be as devastating as an injury to the right hand, and vice versa.
Different people are affected in different ways. For example, the public might consider that the loss of an eye to a police officer would require greater compensation than the loss of an eye to a Member of Parliament. The public might consider that a severe injury to the hand of an artist might deserve greater compensation than if such an injury had been suffered by a Member of Parliament, as we would have other means by which we could continue to do our job.
§ Mr. Streeter
Does the hon. Lady not understand that an artist who loses the use of the hand with which he draws or paints would be entitled to loss of earnings compensation that would not apply to Members of Parliament, as we could still do our job, so there would be compensation for such an injury?
§ Mrs. Prentice
To some extent, there would, but in those circumstances there is much better compensation in civil law. I remind the hon. Gentleman that loss of earnings compensation does not apply until after 28 weeks. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board stated that the 771effect on an individual varies so widely that a tariff, even with the gradations proposed is in practice unworkable".The maximum levels of compensation available are much lower than under the common law scheme. I make no apology for using the same example as my hon. Friends. The public would find it difficult to understand that a child who has been sexually assaulted is entitled to only £1,000 and that an adult who has a dislocated finger is entitled to £1,250.
The Secretary of State has made the measure too rigid and inflexible and has produced a scheme that the public will not consider fair and equitable. I have a number of questions in respect of the gaps in the Bill and I hope that the Minister will answer them. Why are people not compensated in the same way they would be if they sued their assailant in court? Why are the tariff levels not to be determined by an independent body of experts? We have not yet heard whether the tariff levels will rise in line with inflation. If they will, why has that not been incorporated in the Bill?
The Bill also gives no clear definition of the likely time limits involved. Other Labour Members have recommended an extension to three years, and I think that that is probably right. Of course, we cannot have an open-ended commitment, but the present common law limit of three years seems entirely reasonable. Nor does the Bill make room for exceptional cases in which the victim might apply when time had run out: a child who had suffered sexual or physical abuse, for instance, might not be able—or psychologically ready—to complain to the police until many years later.
An anomaly in the Bill relating to multiple injuries highlights the unfairness and lack of flexibility of tariff schemes. Loss of sight in one eye will attract compensation of £20,000, while loss of hearing in one ear will be worth £15,000. A victim who suffers both injuries, however, will receive only £21,500. That is not adequate compensation.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey cited a number of constituency cases, and many of us who represent London constituencies could give similar examples. One in 43 people in London is likely to be a victim of violent crime—the highest proportion in the country. London Members therefore take the Bill very seriously.
The aim of the scheme is to cut the money available to compensate victims of violent crime, which is economically illogical as well as mean-spirited. Cutting such compensation will probably force us to exert pressure on social and health service expenditure. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey welcomed the statutory framework, saying that it would mean less use of the royal prerogative; I too welcome that, but I hope that the Home Secretary will make an early announcement about the qualification rules for the new scheme. Will they be subject to parliamentary approval?
The Labour party's reasoned amendment reflects the needs of victims in our criminal justice system. I have mentioned the cutting of the cash available to victims and the lack of consultation, among other problems. Although I am pleased that the Home Secretary has had to return to the House to present a change to the scheme that he originally intended, that change is inadequate: if we really want to put victims at the centre of our criminal justice system, we shall have to consider it in detail in 772 Committee. Victims of crime have enough problems in recovering without having to worry about inadequate financial settlements.
Labour Members—and, no doubt, Conservative Members—could give many examples. Let me simply repeat that victims of crime should be at the centre of the criminal justice system. They should not have to pay for the inadequacies of the system, mentally, physically or financially; it is the job of Government and Parliament to ensure that they are protected. I do not believe that the Bill goes far enough in that regard, and I hope that in Committee we have an opportunity to make detailed amendments and ensure that the scheme reflects our responsibilities to the victims of our criminal system.
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
It is a pleasure to follow the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice), who has shown that she is indeed concerned about victims of crime—as I assume every hon. Member participating in the debate to be.
When it is claimed that the Government have a poor record in this regard, my hon. Friend the Minister and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) reply that we have the best compensation scheme in the world. I shall say more about that shortly, first, I must declare some relevant interests—none of which, sadly, involves payment. I am a trustee of the Police Dependants Trust Appeal. Policemen are frequently victims of violent crime; they are compensated by the trust fund, and I hope that the Bill will result in further compensation. I dealt with matters of this kind as a practising barrister, and also with the compensation referred to by the hon. Member for Lewisham, East in civil cases. I have been concerned about the issue for some time, and have even written a booklet on the subject.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) were enough to spark me into life. He began by saying that we had done very little for victims. If so, why does the Bill refer to a necessary repeal of legislation passed as recently as 1988? We are so anxious to help victims in our legislation that we have taken parliamentary time to legislate twice in the past seven years, and we are now trying to improve what is already a generous scheme. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey criticised the ignoring of the initial 28 weeks, but that is a false criticism: we have a generous welfare benefits system for everyone who is injured, which helps people during those 28 weeks.
The common law system has been described as complicated. It is not yet clear how the tariff scheme will operate. Clause 10 explains that the Home Secretary will be able to legislate for the calculation involved in the scheme. I am sorry that I could not be present for the first part of the debate—I came in during the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)—but we have heard that the tariff scheme will involve a set of monetary amounts calculated in accordance with the description of an injury. For the first time we shall have a codified set of compensatory amounts. That is a useful reform, which could well be copied later for the purposes of the civil courts. To predict 773 that there will be other legislation on this subject over the next 10 years would be a digression, but it helps me to welcome the Bill.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)
My hon. Friend makes a good and interesting point. Does he agree that to some extent compensation paid by the courts is something of a lottery? A tariff scheme such as that proposed in the Bill would put an end to such uncertainties.
§ Mr. Booth
I was beginning to develop that point. Hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of lawyers are daily involved in the complicated exercise of calculating someone's loss after injury. That is another form of lottery. Although the Home Secretary will have power to make changes, he has made an honest stab at determining a once-and-for-all compensatory calculation. That is welcome, because it will not only clarify obfuscation but give victims compensation within a reasonable time.
It has been suggested that Conservative Members do not think about victims. If that were so, why would clause 7 bother to go into detail about the awards being inalienable? The Bill seeks to help only the victim. Some commentators have suggested that it is merely a tinkering exercise, but it is more than fine tuning. It will introduce an excellent scheme although to some extent it may be inchoate because clause 10 allows the Home Secretary to progress only some aspects of the Bill. Perhaps he can elaborate on that towards the end of the debate. The big question is whether the House again trusts the Home Secretary to introduce regulations that will flesh out the Bill. Conservative Members certainly trust him.
It would be wrong to say that welcoming the Bill is the end of the matter because the House should always try to push reform. I agree with hon. Members who have said that we should always put the victim first. The Minister and I have had discussions on how to frame legislation that would make it the first duty of every criminal court to consider the victim. Perhaps now or in Committee the Government will use the analysis of criminal compensation to stress the absolute priority of the victim's needs.
An infinite number of consequences would flow from the addition of a clause to put the victim first. I do not need to go into detail because hon. Members can visualise the results of such a clause. It would make sure that a person who had been found guilty of an offence would be assessed to find out how much he could pay in compensation. There is a gap in the Bill and I should like to see it filled. Perhaps it is too late to include in the Bill a provision to the effect that, where possible, the culprit should pay compensation to the victim. Such a link should be enshrined in statute law and this is an admirable opportunity for the Government to create such a link.
The Bill is part of the excellent matrix of help that we are offering victims. I hope that I have pointed the way to further help for victims and that the Bill is only a staging point for much more help. I welcome the measure and I hope that it has Opposition support.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
As I shall later make a number of criticisms of the Bill, it is perhaps appropriate to start by welcoming two aspects of it. I am 774 pleased to see that the Home Secretary is back in his place. I am glad to note that the Bill represents two small but significant U-turns by the Home Secretary—one voluntary and the other involuntary. The voluntary change, which I welcome, is that we are to have what the Home Secretary calls an enhanced tariff scheme that will, to some extent, take account of loss of earnings and other expenses that might be incurred by victims. I am pleased to see that some provision—although, regrettably, it is inadequate—has been made.
The involuntary change is that the Bill is here at all. Its presence results from the decision by the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords on this matter. Some hon. Members counted judges and balanced one thing against another, and it was interesting to note that in speaking about the legality of his action the Home Secretary said that it was a grey area. I admit that there is a grey area because there is uncertainty about whether the action was lawful. We are dealing with matters of significant constitutional import, but rather than coming before the House and making sure that his action was lawful and constitutional, the Home Secretary decided to try to push ahead and chance his arm to see how far he could go.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman, most uncharacteristically, misunderstands. It was only as a result of the court decisions that it was appreciated that this was a grey area. When I looked at the matter in advance I took advice and went into it very carefully. I took the view, and I was supported by the judgments that were delivered in the case as it went through its various stages—as the hon. Gentleman will discover if he reads them all, although it may take him a long time—that it was not a grey area. My view was that I was clearly entitled to do what I did. The statutory provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 had never been brought into force and, just as the existing scheme was operating perfectly adequately under the royal prerogative, my view was that a new scheme could so operate. As a result of what happened in the courts I am now obliged to accept that it is a grey area.
§ Mr. Trimble
The Home Secretary is right to say that I misunderstood him. I thought from what he said that he had been of the opinion before he launched on what we can call the 1994 tariff scheme that he was dealing with a grey area. He now says that it was only as a result of court decisions that he discovered that he had been in a grey area.
I am even more appalled by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said. He has said that the advice he was given before he started the 1994 scheme— and hence his view of it—was that what he was doing was perfectly lawful. I am astounded to learn that that was the advice given him by the Home Office. I should have thought that any lawyer familiar with the Padfield case would have realised that the Home Secretary was acting dangerously by ignoring what Parliament specified in the 1988 Act. My only surprise is that so many lawyers were not prepared to conclude that the Home Secretary's action was unconstitutional, as I had no doubt it was. I am amazed to hear that he did not receive advice along those lines. The Home Secretary should perhaps carefully consider the quality of the advice that he has been receiving on this matter.
775 I am happy to see the Bill here. The 1988 Act was not enough; there should have been legislation even before that, because the 1964 scheme was itself operating in a grey area. As long ago as 1983 Lord Elwyn-Jones commented that the non-statutory scheme was a constitutional anomaly. He was right. Remarkably, the scheme operated under the royal prerogative without statutory authority. It should have been put on the statute book and I am glad that it now will be—although I intend to comment on the Bill's defects presently.
The chief feature of this scheme is that it operates with a tariff. In principle there may be nothing wrong with that. To some extent the courts operate to a tariff. Common law damages cover a number of items—pain and suffering, loss of amenity and then loss of earnings. For pain and suffering and loss of amenity the courts have worked out what are sometimes referred to as a conventional scale of damages. Looking through common law decisions to assess damages in tort actions one can identify the conventional sums paid in respect of pain and suffering and loss of amenity, so the idea of a conventional sum is not unusual.
The proposed tariff is based on tort compensation. I was surprised to hear some hon. Members claim that we were moving away from the common law scheme: we are not. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board operated on common law principles. The tariff is derived from its decisions, or rather from a survey of its decisions, so ultimately it derives from common law damages, but in a curious way. The tariff does not try to identify the conventional sum paid for loss of amenity and pain and suffering. The survey of the board's decisions took into account not just the conventional sum but the extent to which there would be compensation for loss of earnings.
Thus, with the 1994 scheme and the unenhanced tariff, the Government justified the latter by saying that it already included an element of loss of earnings. Now, with the enhanced tariff, there remains conceptual confusion over how we are proceeding. I could understand it if the tariff operated by reference to the conventional sums that the courts have worked out for loss of amenity and pain and suffering, adding loss of earnings to that; but now that that is not to happen, we seem to be operating in some confusion.
What is more, the procedure is too rigid and inflexible. In a debate in the other place Lord Carlisle criticised the scheme, saying thata tariff of its nature, for example, means that no regard can be had to such fundamental matters as the age, sex, occupation or way of life of the victim, all of which are reflected enormously in the effect which an injury may have on an individual."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 March 1994; Vol. 552, c. 1081.]Loss of earnings is a separate issue, but the effect of an injury leading to loss of amenity will vary tremendously depending on the age and circumstances of a victim. The tariff makes no allowance for that.
Would it have been possible to set out some form of tariff that did make such allowance? The survey of CICB cases, we were told in the White Paper of a couple of years ago, resulted in a median being selected as the amount to go for. Was that possible because the claims identified fell into a narrow range? Would it have been possible to formulate the tariff in terms of a range? There is nothing unusual in guidelines, after all. The courts lay them down for sentencing, and for tort cases they use a conventional scale which is not rigid and which can vary depending on circumstances.
776 I well appreciate that any element of individual judgment of this sort may include an element of delay and of cost, and one of the Bill's objectives is to reduce delays and costs. I appreciate that there may be a trade-off, but I believe that there may be problems with the precision in the proposed tariff.
I mentioned earlier my pleasure at noting that some provision for loss of earnings is being made, but it is wholly inadequate. It is not just a question of one and a half times average earnings, or of arguing about people getting disability allowance or other statutory benefits during the first 28 weeks; it is a question of the actual loss of earnings that a person may suffer. People with high incomes will suffer the most in this respect. Statutory benefits will be of no significant recompense to them while they suffer loss of earnings, and those who suffer the greatest loss will lose out most under this scheme. It is likely that they will have commitments that they cannot meet because the compensation that they receive is inadequate.
When this issue was raised before, the Home Secretary defended his approach by saying that people with high earnings should take out insurance to cover themselves against the possibility of loss of earnings arising out of a criminal injury. I doubt whether that is a viable option, and that is a serious flaw in the whole scheme. The provision made in the legislation will not suffice for people who suffer the heaviest losses, and the points that have been made about the self-employed serve to reinforce that.
§ Mr. Howard
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the cap of one and a half times average earnings, but that is a feature not only of the proposed scheme but of the current common law-based scheme. It is not a new feature resulting from a tariff.
§ Mr. Trimble
My point is that people will lose out during the 28 weeks when they are reduced to statutory benefits alone, and that they will lose out because of the one and a half times earnings cap. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the same applied to the previous scheme, which I am happy to say was different from the one with which I am most familiar: the scheme in Northern Ireland, the best in the world. That is another reason for my desire not to have the legislation extended to Northern Ireland in any circumstances—it is much worse than our scheme.
These points alone would incline my right hon. and hon. Friends and me to oppose the scheme, but I oppose it on other grounds as well. The whole Bill is defective. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the mistakes the House made in the legislation on child support. We agreed to a framework Act; the meat was in the regulations, and they in turn did not get it right. We have had a lot of difficulty since then trying to get the legislation right and to correct past mistakes. Much the same could happen with this Bill, which is merely a framework or outline. The meat will be in the scheme, which we do not have before us. While the Bill gives statutory authority to the scheme, it does not put it on the statute book. That is a fundamental flaw and a bad way to legislate.
There is an element of parliamentary control over the scheme. Clause 10 provides that certain matters have to be approved by resolution of this House. That is not adequate parliamentary control. There will be a brief debate before the resolution is passed.
777 The procedure will be very similar to the debates we have in respect of Northern Ireland Orders in Council. Those debates are extremely frustrating because one cannot discuss detail, make changes or have the equivalent of a Committee hearing. I was interested to hear hon. Members on both sides of the House say that they will look at this or that aspect in Committee, but the meat of the Bill will not be considered in Committee. The meat of the legislation is in the scheme and that will not be subject to line-by-line examination in Committee. That manner of legislating effectively bypasses Committee consideration in this House. That is wrong in principle as a form of legislation. A serious mistake has been made.
Important matters will be in the scheme and we know what some of them will be. Paragraph 27 of 1993 White Paper said:The Government believes that these basic criteria have stood the test of time and worked well in practice. No fundamental changes to the current rules are therefore proposed.When the scheme came into operation in 1994 some of those basic fundamental rules were repeated such as the provision that personal injury must be "directly attributable" to a crime of violence and the provisions for withholding awards where persons fail to take all reasonable steps to inform or co-operate with the police or have failed to give reasonable assistance to the authority or where there is a problem about the conduct of the applicant.
Those provisions existed under the old common law scheme and under the first tariff scheme and, presumably, will be carried forward into the new scheme. They are familiar to me because they are in the Northern Ireland legislation. Indeed, Northern Ireland case law contains scores of cases on the interpretation of the phrase "directly attributable". Such provisions are in Northern Ireland legislation. Why will they not be on the statute book in respect of this legislation? There is no reason why these basic principles, which were contained in the previous schemes, cannot be included in the Bill.
Those provisions will not be subject to any form of parliamentary scrutiny because the provisions in clause 10 on what shall be subject to parliamentary scrutiny are drawn very tightly and leave out the basic provisions about qualification, entitlement and the conditions in which people may have their compensation reduced or disallowed. The administrative provisions are also left out. Such provisions should be in the Bill and for that reason, the legislation is defective.
I have a further example. Hon. Members have referred to the three-year time limit of the original scheme, which was dropped to one year under the first tariff scheme. The Home Secretary announced a two-year time limit. I looked back over the note that he give us, entitled "Proposals for a Tariff-based Scheme". I did not read it in that note. Perhaps it has been published elsewhere or perhaps it was announced for the first time in the Home Secretary's speech. It is nowhere in the material before us, as far as I am aware. That is a fundamentally wrong way to proceed.
There are other questions that I could ask but I will content myself with one more. Frequent reference was made by Conservative Members to their belief that this is the most generous scheme in the world. That is not quite accurate. It is an understandable mistake in the sense that 778 it follows the tradition of the House of always ignoring Northern Ireland, because the most generous scheme exists in Northern Ireland and long may that continue. Apart from that, it is accurate to say that this is the most generous scheme in Europe. Certainly, the old scheme was and the proposed scheme probably will be.
I hope that the Minister will deal with the question of whether the scheme is entirely in accordance with the European convention on the compensation of victims of violent crime, which the United Kingdom ratified in 1991. I think that the scheme is within its provisions but I want an assurance that no derogation from the convention's provisions is intended in the scheme. However, the scheme is more generous than those elsewhere in Europe. It is good that that is being continued, even if not quite as generously as heretofore. It is not as good as that in Northern Ireland. I trust that the Northern Ireland scheme will be left alone.
For the reasons that I gave earlier about the defective way in which we are legislating and because of the failure to deal adequately with the loss of earnings issue, I cannot support the Bill. I will vote for Labour's reasoned amendment.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) into the Lobby tonight, though he speaks on these matters with great authority.
The hon. Gentleman questioned whether this was the most generous scheme in the world. I looked at the figures produced by the Library, which tend to support the suggestion that it is indeed the most generous scheme, although the hon. Gentleman is right that there is a very generous scheme in Northern Ireland. The scheme is the most generous scheme in the world, including the United States of America. One could argue about these figures indefinitely if one chose to do so. I rely for my information on that provided by the House of Commons Library.
I very much welcome the Bill, which I believe will establish a faster system of payment to the victims of crime. It will also be fairer due to the greater transparency which will result from the tariff system introduced by the Bill.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State not just on coming up with a scheme based on a clear and transparent tariff but on his persistence, because the proposal has not been without its detractors, both in another place and here. It has not been without its setbacks, either, although it is important to remember that the principal setback that the proposal suffered was not from criticism of the principle but from a matter of detail. My right hon. and learned Friend therefore deserves congratulations on perseverance.
There will always be immense problems in trying to devise an entirely satisfactory scheme which tries to match physical injury with monetary value because no scheme that anybody can or ever will devise can truly place an accurate monetary value on the loss of a limb, life or happiness. It cannot be done. The best that one can do is to look clearly and objectively at cases and come up with a tariff of the type that my right hon. and learned Friend envisages.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but is he suggesting that the common law 779 basis on which personal injuries are now assessed in the civil courts must be changed as well? Is that what he is advocating that the Government should do?
§ Mr. Ainsworth
The hon. Gentleman was present when my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) made that suggestion. I said at the time, and I say again now, that there is some merit in considering the idea because of the lottery element which currently exists under common law. I concede that, for the sake of clarity and consistency, there would be some merit in considering a switch to that line of thought.
It says a great deal about our culture that increasingly we seem to be weighing monetary value against the physical damage caused not only, as in this case, by criminal activity but by misfortune and accidents. In considering the Bill, I was reminded of a case which appeared in the newspapers about 18 months ago. A gentleman had gone for a walk along the Cobb at Lyme Regis which, if we have read our Jane Austen, we know can be a dangerous place. In any event, he fell off and damaged his leg. He took the local district council to court over the damage that he suffered and local council tax payers ended up giving him some £75,000 in compensation, if my memory serves me correctly.
The lottery aspect of common law, to which the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) is apparently oblivious, is graphically illustrated by that example. The man damaged his leg while walking in a place where hundreds of people have walked for hundreds of years. Yet he was able to take the taxpayer to task for £75,000 while the surviving members of the family of a person who has been murdered will receive a minimum of £10,000, although it can be a great deal more. That illustrates the immense difficulty of placing a monetary value on physical loss and damage.
I am not saying that the answer to the anomaly is necessarily to increase massively the amounts paid under the compensation arrangements for criminal injury. I would suggest that the answer is to have in place a more sensible system for awarding damages in those cases dealt with under common law. The criminal compensation scheme is clearly very different from that which applies in common law cases and in cases of accidental damage. It has been accepted for very many years that society as a whole has a responsibility to shoulder in cases of criminal injury.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
My hon. Friend is right. It is a welcome innovation that the Bill deals with precisely that matter.
Given that we accept, probably rightly, the approach that "We Are All Guilty", to quote the title of a novella by Kingsley Amis—a title probably used with a degree of irony—the system set out in the Bill is sensible and fair. However, I welcome especially the changes that have been introduced since the proposal first saw the light of day. The proposal is now more generous to those who lose earnings as a result of becoming victims of criminal activity. I welcome the introduction of an element to deal 780 with dependency costs and the fact that the number of qualifying injury descriptions has been substantially increased to the tune of about 100. As I said, no amount of money can ever truly compensate for the loss or damage caused by criminal behaviour—there is no matching the two—but I believe that the Bill, with its clear tariff and reasonable terms for victims, is a sensible way forward.
The key issue for the Government—for any Government—is to crack down on violent crime in the first place. As I and my colleagues know, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is engaged in a far-reaching and radical reform of the criminal justice system which will do exactly that. It will crack down on those who perpetrate violent crime and it will lead to tougher sentences; it will mean more police, better use of high technology in detection and higher levels of detection. That is what will lead ultimately to a reduction in violent crime, which is what we are united in wishing to see.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)
I agree with the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) that we need to be tough in dealing with criminals. Unfortunately, however, it seems that the Home Secretary is being tough on victims of crime, which is not what Members of Parliament are supposed to be about.
I must declare that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. Although I receive no personal income from that position, I receive help with research and office expenses, and it is right that I should declare that fact. The views of the Police Federation have been eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who also has the honour of advising the federation. Suffice it to say that the federation, which represents 126,000 police officers, regards the Bill as deeply flawed and in need of substantial amendment. I associate myself entirely with those criticisms of the Bill expressed by the hon. Member for Uxbridge, but I have some further points to make.
The Home Secretary keeps telling us that his new tariff scheme will be the most generous in the world. The problem is that we already have the most generous scheme and the Government intend to make it much less generous. That is not something of which they should be proud.
The hon. Member for Surrey, East has some interesting ideas, and it is important that the Minister who winds up the debate should comment on some of them, especially the notion that the civil courts should perhaps look again at the way in which they award personal injury compensation and should consider doing so on the basis of a tariff scheme. The hon. Gentleman rightly suggested that there is a certain consistency in introducing the tariff scheme in the awarding of other personal injuries. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth
I hesitate to say this, but now that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has left the Chamber, albeit briefly, perhaps I could say that not the least benefit of moving to a tariff scheme in 781 civil cases would be a reduction in lawyers' fees. I am aware, of course, that the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) is also a lawyer.
§ Mr. O'Brien
Yes, I am, as are many other hon. Members. However, I do not practise at the moment, so I would not benefit from such a change.
I acknowledge openly that the Bill is not so bad as the scheme originally suggested by the Home Secretary. It is, however, a defective Bill which will make many potential victims of crime worse off. The fundamental problem with a tariff-based system is that victims are not treated as individuals. The Home Secretary seems more intent on setting up a cheap administrative system than on responding to the very reason why the scheme was set up in the first place—the fact that society has sympathy with the victims of crime and wants to help them to recover from their injuries. It is right that individuals should be treated as individuals when compensation is assessed, certainly when injuries are very serious. To deny victims their individuality—the reality of very different expectations and losses—is to make them victims of a bureaucratic injustice.
A provision for loss of earnings is welcome, but what of the provision for those who are off work for fewer than 28 weeks? Cannot we acknowledge them as deserving victims? Why must they rely on statutory sick pay? Why must self-employed people fend for themselves? Although the overall cap of £500,000 sounds a lot—it is double the amount that the Home Secretary originally wanted under his unlawful scheme—we must remember that a 20-year-old breadwinner with a family, who is the victim of a very serious criminal assault leaving him or her a quadriplegic or with serious brain damage, may well have to struggle on £500,000 to provide for the family for the next 60 years. For an 80-year-old pensioner £500,000 may be some compensation, but for a 20-year-old breadwinner it is not.
There are three criticisms of the Bill. First, it is a cynical attempt to save money at the expense of victims. The Home Office estimated that under the original common law scheme compensation would rise to £500 million by the turn of the century, compared with a rise to £260 million under the new tariff scheme. That is out of a criminal justice budget of around £10 billion. Victim Support said:it is not justified considering the small proportion of the criminal justice budget currently available to victims".Will the Minister say why spending only one twentieth of his budget on the victims of crime is too much?
§ Mr. Maclean
Before I answer that, will the hon. Gentleman tell me what other part of the budget I should cut?
§ Mr. O'Brien
The Minister might look at all the various schemes for privatisation, for creating boot camps, which he is considering, and at all the various reports that he has commissioned to get the private sector involved—all of which will lead to bad practice in prisons and in the criminal justice system generally. Let him also look at the organisation of the Crown Prosecution Service and at the various ways in which our criminal justice system is inefficiently and ineffectively administered. Let him look at the way in which the victims of crime are not dealt with sensibly when they get to court and how they are required to wait for long periods at great loss to 782 themselves. Let him look at the cost to the police service of having officers sitting around for long periods, which he has allowed to occur for many years.
§ Mr. O'Brien
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to reply to the Minister, who has asked me an important question.
Let the Minister deal with the amount of time that prison officers waste waiting around in courts. Let him deal with the time during which courts lie empty or are kept open when they should not be. Let him deal with those inefficiencies in the criminal justice system before he starts cutting the budget available for the victims of crime.
The second criticism is that the amended scheme will lead to unfairness.
§ Mr. Sweeney
How long has the hon. Gentleman been out of practice? I suspect that if he had been in court recently he would have seen that the Government are addressing issues such as the conditions in which witnesses and victims have to wait, the waiting periods generally and the organisation of the courts to which he referred. All those matters are being addressed—no doubt at considerable expense. Will the hon. Gentleman now respond to the Minister's inquiry about which areas of expenditure he would cut to increase the amount spent on victims?
§ Mr. O'Brien
I would certainly seek to cut crime, which the Minister has had great difficulty in doing. It is three years since I practised regularly in the criminal courts. I am a full-time Member of Parliament. I remind the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) that the Government have been in power for an awful long time. How long has it taken them to deal with those inefficiencies? How long have victims needed to wait before the Government have responded to the inefficiencies which have caused victims such inconvenience in court? How long will police officers have to wait before they are no longer required to hang around courts for long hours? The Government have had ample opportunity over the years to deal with such problems and they have simply failed to do so.
I return to the second criticism of the Bill. I was commenting on the general unfairness of the way in which the system will operate. A system which does not distinguish between injuries to dominant and non-dominant hands or arms, which, self-evidently, will affect people in different ways depending on whether they are left-handed or right-handed, raises questions of unfairness. A system which does not distinguish between the life expectancy of a young person who has been blinded, perhaps, and that of an elderly person and his very different needs leads to unfairness.
The Home Secretary has already had to increase the list of basic injuries from 187 in his unlawful scheme to 310 in his new Bill. That is a reflection of his recognition that increased flexibility is needed, but I suspect that, as we proceed, other categories will have to be added to the 310 to cope with the various cases of unfairness which will inevitably arise. Will the Minister confirm that he will be prepared to add to that list if unfairnesses become obvious? It is important, as I am sure that he will accept, 783 that we try to minimise unfairness if we are to have a tariff system. Will he therefore adopt an open mind on increasing that list?
The basic unfairness of the Bill lies between the present victims of crime and future victims of crime. Recently I heard the story of a young man from Hillingdon, Mr. Andrew Hay, who was attacked by three masked robbers during a night-time break-in three years ago in which his girlfriend was also terrorised. He received £12,000 under the old criminal injuries compensation scheme and his girlfriend Susan received £6,000. Under the Home Secretary's new scheme, Mr. Hay would be awarded £2,000 and his girlfriend would get nothing. A victim of rape received £75,000 under the common law system but would receive only about £15,000 under the new scheme. Why is one victim worth a certain sum now but a similar victim will be worth a fraction of that sum in future? That is a fundamental unfairness which the Government must answer.
The third problem is that the Bill raises several administrative concerns. Will the Minister confirm that decisions on amounts and on tariffs will be made by relatively junior civil servants? The taking of such decisions is not a problem when it is a straightforward case. If we operate a tariff system, presumably a junior civil servant will be able to make the decision. However, many cases are very complex and difficult. For example, should a claim for compensation be discounted because of provocation or failure fully to co-operate with the police and, if so, by how much? Problematical judgments need to be made and junior civil servants are not suitable arbiters in such contentious situations.
What of cases in which there is multiple injury, psychiatric injury or the consequences of sexual attack? Will the Minister say how those decisions will be dealt with? The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board included experienced personal injury practitioners, but the people who are to run the new system will not have the benefit of the same degree of experience when assessing various claims.
The Bill is not about helping victims; it is about cutting the cost to the Government of helping victims. Despite changes in policy, it remains a callous and unpleasant little Bill. It is not just that it puts the Government on the wrong side of the argument about the victims of crime— the phrase used by the Leader of the House. It is that it communicates to people outside this place that the British Parliament cares less about the victims of crime than it used to do because they have got too expensive for the Government.
The Home Secretary mouths an awful lot of pious statements about his concern for victims, but he cuts their compensation to fund the Treasury's wrongdoings in economic policy. We have a Government who talk tough on crime, but who have presided over the biggest crime rise in history during the past 16 years. The Government have done some very shabby things in the past 16 years, but cutting compensation to victims of crime must be right down there among the worst of them. We do not do enough for victims in our criminal justice system and if the Bill is passed we shall do even less.
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
I begin by 784 declaring an interest as a solicitor, albeit only in very occasional practice, who could conceivably act for a claimant under the new scheme.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on introducing the Bill. I welcomed his original scheme, and I was sorry to see its enforced withdrawal. The extra wait forced on the Government by the courts has proved helpful, in that we now have an even better scheme. The new scheme will provide quicker and more transparent payments to more people than the old common law scheme, and will enable loss of earnings and other important factors to be taken into account.
It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) deride the levels of proposed payments to victims. It was interesting partly because it demonstrated, as so rightly pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), that the Labour party has still not learnt, after 16 years in opposition, that throwing more and more of other people's money at problems is not good for taxpayers, and not good for the economy.
The remarks by the hon. Member for Blackburn were also interesting for the insight they gave into the way in which the Labour party's consciousness is blind to its own failings in the past. To listen to the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
I am a little concerned about the impression that the hon. Gentleman may be giving; I am sure that it is not his intention. He spoke about throwing money at other people's problems. Does he accept that the victims of crime are the problem of all of us?
§ Mr. Sweeney
The problems of all of us are the criminals who are hurting the victims. It is a mistake to see the Government in the role of a criminal who is being forced to pay compensation. The Government do not commit these crimes. The Government provide an ex gratia system of compensation which is designed to help victims, and that system, as I shall explain, is extremely generous.
Listening to the hon. Member for Blackburn, an innocent bystander who knew nothing of Labour's record in the 1970s would assume that, when Labour was in office, it was far more generous to victims than the Government now plan to be. Not so. In 1978–79, £15.7 million of compensation was paid to 17,460 victims of crime. That represents an average award of £2,258 at 1994–95 prices. In 1996–97, the average award is likely to be £2,500 at 1994–95 prices, but the number of awards is predicted to be 55,100.
In other words, even after allowing for inflation, each victim is likely to receive slightly more than when Labour was in power. The big difference is that more than three times as many victims will be compensated. It is true that the average payment to each victim will be substantially less than in recent years, but, given the big increase in the number of payments made, only an irresponsible Government would fail to look for ways in which to slow down the growth in the total amount of compensation paid.
I was interested in the contribution by the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), in which he suggested that a young girl should receive more compensation for facial injuries than should a middle-aged man. I am pleased that he at least is not 785 obsessed with political correctness as are so many of his political colleagues, and that he is prepared to risk their wrath by being sexist and agist at the same time.
I am inclined to agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, in an ideal world, assessment of damages under the common law would more fairly reflect the needs of victims in terms of the amount of compensation paid. If claims are dealt with individually, the principle of common law compensation—as far as possible, putting people back in the position they were in before the act complained of—can be applied more accurately.
If the victim of a crime brings a civil action against a wealthy criminal, that principle should be applied. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has misunderstood the nature of criminal injuries compensation. As I said earlier in response to an intervention, these payments are made not by the guilty parties, but by the state on an ex gratia basis. The important factors in a state compensation scheme are that payments should be prompt, that there should be transparency, and that individual payments should be generous, but tempered by concern for public funds.
A number of hon. Members have rightly pointed out that Great Britain has the most generous criminal injuries compensation scheme in the world. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) claimed that Northern Ireland deserved the laurels. Indeed, its figure of £26.6 million paid out in 1993–94 represents more in terms of the size of the population than the figure for Great Britain.
Some £165.1 million was paid out in the same year, which represents 36.2 per cent. of the total amount of compensation paid to victims in the whole world. Our wealthiest competitors, Germany and Japan, pay only 1.4 per cent. and 0.5 per cent. respectively of the total. Even the United States, with almost five times the population, pays out less than we do. In that context, we can be proud of the Bill, which will enable us to continue to provide the best help for victims in the world.
The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon did not agree when I intervened to say that 60 per cent. of claimants would be at least as well off under the new scheme. I shall make the basis of my contention clear.
The average award under the new scheme will be lower, but only because the average under the old scheme was raised by a small number of very high awards, which will be lower in future. Under the old scheme, most people received less than the average, which means that most claimants under the new scheme will receive as much as or more than before. Claimants who receive less will have the not inconsiderable consolation of receiving their money much more quickly. Under the old scheme, some claimants had to wait years for their money.
The hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) acknowledged that we had the most generous compensation scheme in the world, and criticised the Government for making it less generous. The overall bill for compensation is likely to rise, not fall. It is not true, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, that the Home Office spends only one twentieth of its budget on victims. With respect to the hon. Member, the reality is that the whole of the Home Office budget—leaving aside the funds for the fire service—is spent on the victim, and we are all potential victims. The Home Office is doing a good job, 786 and is at last reversing the rising trend in crime, unlike many other countries worldwide. I commend this Bill, and will support it.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
First, I apologise to the House for not being here earlier.
The Minister of State typically interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien)—in doing so, he implicitly acknowledged that this is a skinflint scheme—to ask where the money would come from if we were to make the scheme more generous. I can tell the Minister where the money would come from, and he knows the answer. The way to ensure that the costs of the criminal injuries compensation scheme are contained is for the Government to put the lid on rising crime. The cost of the scheme has escalated over the years because the Government have virtually abandoned any serious attempt to contain, prevent and detect crime.
The Minister will know that the risk of becoming a victim of a crime of violence was about one in 213 in 1979. It is now one in 64. The Minister should not take comfort from a fall in some categories of recorded crime. Recorded offences of violence against the person are still rising, and rose by 7 per cent. last year.
I find it deeply offensive for the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) or anyone else to bandy around average figures. Victims of crime are not average. They are unique, and dividing sums of money to get an average result is totally meaningless. However, that is what lies at the heart of the new scheme. The Government say that every victim of crime who has suffered an unwanted injury is exactly the same as any other victim. That is patently not true.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) sensibly made the point that a young woman of 20 who suffers a severe facial disfigurement after an attack will suffer more serious consequences than a man of my age or older who suffers a similar facial injury. The notion of the tariff goes against the grain of what the system should be, although there may well be problems with the common law basis for an assessment of damages.
Can the Minister, who is so keen on bobbing up to the Dispatch Box, tell us how many victims of crime who have received compensation payments under the present scheme he has met and spoken to? I take it that the answer is none. That is what I suspected. I doubt very much whether any of his officials have done so either. I have spoken to such victims, as I shall tell the Minister and the House in a moment.
I find it offensive for the Home Secretary to issue press releases boasting that we have the most generous compensation scheme in the world, and that the Government are providing more money than the United States and the rest of the European Union. So what? Victims of crime who are knocked about and who have their lives threatened live here. Those violent crimes are carried out against our citizens here, and not in the United States or in other countries in the European Union. Those comparisons are totally irrelevant. [Interruption.]
The Minister is mumbling again. He can get up at any time to explain why crime has trebled under the Government, why crimes against the person are still rising, and why the Government show no sign of getting a handle on crime.
787 In the story that I shall tell the House, I shall not use my constituent's full name. It would not be fair, as I have not sought explicit permission to refer to the case. I hope that the facts will speak for themselves, and that the Minister will look at the matter when he winds up.
My constituent is self-employed, and works with her husband running an off-licence. I understand that, under the proposals in the Bill, loss of earnings can—on second thoughts—be taken into account in compensation scheme awards. Does that mean full loss of earnings for self-employed people and, if so, will those lost earnings be substantiated on the basis of the normal business tax returns which those people submit to the Inland Revenue? If the answer is no, on what basis will the scheme be assessed? Under the scheme that the Government are proposing, the self-employed will suffer.
We will call my constituent Mrs. A. She and her husband run an off-licence in a residential part of Erdington, within a few hundred yards of a parish church. In 1988, she and her husband were in the off-licence when a youth came in and found that he did not have enough money to pay for his beer. He then produced a knife and stabbed my constituent through the heart. It is only by accident that Mrs. A is still alive. She was taken to Queen Elizabeth hospital, such was the seriousness of her injury.
It was said that there were probably only two heart surgeons in the country with the necessary skills and experience to carry out such an emergency operation. By good chance—or perhaps it was something else—one of those surgeons happened to be visiting a friend in the city of Birmingham that weekend. He was asked whether he would attend the operating theatre. He did so, and literally snatched back the life of my constituent for her.
I do not know what level of compensation it would be proper to award in such circumstances. I find it wholly impossible to put a sum to that. My instinct would be to see Mrs. A., offer her a cheque book, sign it, fill in her name and tell her to put a figure on it, because I do not know what it is worth. Of course, I am not arguing that as a serious point, but that is one reaction to such an horrendous attack.
The Minister and the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan should not insult my constituent by mentioning average compensation figures to her, either for those horrendous injuries or for loss of earnings. She has still not got over that attack—that will surprise no one—and is unable ever again to serve behind the counter of the shop, which is wired up like Fort Knox and has closed circuit television cameras.
As is typical with such small businesses, the family live over the shop. Most of the time, my constituent lives in real terror—terror from the dreadful memories of what happened to her on that night, and terror because of the gangs of aimless youths who gather nearby, and it is not the only off-licence where that happens. Occasionally, the youths get up to mischievous pranks, but in the past few months the pranks have become more serious, and an adult was assaulted within a hundred yards of the off-licence. Frankly, I wonder how the family can go on in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Stephen
There can be no hon. Member who would not share the hon. Gentleman's sympathy for his constituent. Many of our constituents have suffered similarly. As he said, however, no amount of money can compensate that lady for what she suffered. Does he not 788 agree, therefore, that the allocation of any sum of money on behalf of the taxpayer must, of necessity, be a somewhat artificial process that can never really express what society wants to express to her?
§ Mr. Corbett
I am grateful for that intervention, because the hon. Gentleman makes my point very nicely. I cannot agree with him. Of course I acknowledge that compensation for the horrendous injury is exceptionally difficult to determine. At the time of the accident, the lady was in her early 50s. I have described her injuries, and it is difficult to put a figure on them. I would find it virtually impossible to do so.
The point is that loss of earnings, which can be measured, is swept away under the Government's tariff scheme. That loss is of particular importance to the self-employed such as my constituent Mrs. A. Under this most generous scheme in the world, such arguments are bound to arise.
As I explained, my constituent was in hospital for a long time and received treatment for much longer. It was necessary to hire additional staff to keep the business going, because she was unable to help her husband to run the shop. The cost of the extra staff is known and it is quantifiable, as was demonstrated to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board under this most generous scheme in the world. The figures are there and there is no argument about them.
The claim for what is known as special damages amounted to £37,405.82. The House will quickly detect that both a lawyer and an accountant had been involved to arrive at such a precise figure. In its wisdom, however, the board decided that the entitlement by way of special damages should be only £16,898. That demonstrates a problem with the existing non-tariff scheme, and I took the matter up with the board and its distinguished chairman, as any other hon. Member would have done.
Figures were provided to demonstrate the extra costs incurred running the business—in some senses, it was the reverse of loss of earnings—because my constituent was unable to play her proper part, for understandable reasons. I do not think that any hon. Member would criticise my constituent. That is the reality of the situation, and it is inconceivable that anyone who had suffered such an experience could go back behind the counter in what is necessarily a vulnerable position still, despite all the security precautions that have to be taken. In an off-licence, as with many other types of shop, large areas have to be open to customers, who want to walk around and select their purchases.
I do not think that there is any argument about the figures. To be fair, I do not think that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board disputed the amount of the claim for special damages. The figures were real, those amounts had to be paid, and that fact was demonstrated. The board still felt unable, however, to compensate Mrs. A. and her husband fully for the extra cost of keeping the business going, which is in fact the same as loss of earnings.
In the light of some of the comments of Conservative Members, it is my strong feeling and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends that we have a collective duty to people who have been the victims of the most violent crimes—crimes from which we have collectively failed to protect them. Let us take the responsibility on all our shoulders.
There is no argument about the fact that the crime happened, and it is not good enough for the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends to say, "Okay, we 789 recognise that something has to be done. We'll come up with an average figure. Think yourselves lucky." As one of the Minister's hon. Friends acknowledged, 40 out of every 100 people will get a lot less than they would have done under the original scheme, and it is not good enough the Government saying, "That's tough: just get on with it."
I have berated the Government for their lack of action to deter and to detect crime, and, in some ways, that is a party political point. I regret the fact that the criminal injuries compensation scheme has had to become a party political football.
The Minister was unable to tell me that he had consulted one victim of crime who had been awarded compensation by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Outside the House, a range of organisations have criticised the Government for not consulting them about the proposals in the Bill, which I very much regret. No doubt the Minister will go through his ritual performance when he replies, but he must not be surprised that the Opposition are critical, if that is the way in which he goes about his business.
My constituent, Mrs. A., and other people out there who now have a one-in-64 chance of becoming victims of crime, simply will not understand why the Government did not listen first to their experiences. They will not understand why the Government have rolled the figures up into averages and said, "This crime affects everybody in the same way," regardless of their age or sex, which is patent nonsense.
While violent crime continues to increase, the bill will increase, and the Government should be ashamed that, since they cannot get a handle on violent crime, which is still rising, they are making the victims of crime pay for their neglect and mistakes.
§ Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)
Clearly, it is the duty of any Government to protect their citizens against crime, but none of us is so unworldly as to suppose that any Government could eliminate crime entirely. There will always be criminals and victims of crime.
It is also clear that no amount of money can compensate a victim of crime for the injury that he or she has suffered. Money is merely a token that society can offer as some form of compensation. Of necessity, the amount must be calculated by a rather artificial process.
When the criminal injuries compensation scheme was set up, 30 years ago, £400,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on compensating the victims of crime. Last year, £165 million were spent in Great Britain, plus a further £26.6 million in Northern Ireland. It is projected that £175 million will be spent in Great Britain next year. Although those are large sums, the word "generous" would not be appropriate. We are not being generous to our fellow citizens when we compensate them for crime; we are simply offering them a token of our understanding of the injury that they have suffered.
The money paid to victims of crime has doubled since 1988. Our concern for the victims of crime compares extremely favourably with that in other countries which can reasonably be compared with ours. For example, France spends £27 million and Germany a mere £6.2 790 million. Although it is immaterial to victims of crime who have suffered their injuries in this country what the German or French Governments pay their injured citizens, when the House is considering the allocation of our national resources and the proportion that should be spent on the victims of crime, it is right and relevant, no matter what Opposition Members say, to make international comparisons. The Opposition are always ready to make international comparisons when those would reflect badly on this country, but they are more reluctant to make them when they reflect well. We spend more than all the other members of the European Union put together.
I am sure that the whole House wishes that we could spend more on compensating victims of crime, but we have a responsibility to consider and represent not only the recipients of the money but those who pay, the taxpayers. The Opposition speak as though the Government somehow seek to save their own money. They should realise that Governments have no money of their own; the only money they have is taken from the pockets of our constituents, and we must consider them as well.
Under common law, if the perpetrator of the tort or crime is to pay, money is no object and he must be forced to pay to the full extent of his personal resources. But if the taxpayer is to pay, he has not committed a crime and has no legal responsibility to pay; he has only a moral responsibility to pay, and his resources and ability to pay must be taken into account. Parliament would be abdicating its responsibilities to taxpayers if it did not consider their interests.
It is easy for the Opposition to say that we should spend more. Almost every point that I have heard from Opposition Members today could be met by getting out the national cheque book, but that would be too easy. One can do that in opposition, but Governments must find the cash. I consider that our constituents already pay too much tax, for a wide variety of reasons which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would not permit me to go into this evening. I would be extremely reluctant to increase without good reason the burden that taxpayers already face. I notice that no Opposition Member has said that he has the authority of his Front-Bench economic spokesman to commit his party to greater expenditure on compensating victims of crime.
We must consider not just the taxpayer but the allocation of resources. Every pound that we spend on the criminal injuries compensation scheme is not available to spend on the national health service, education or all the other things that our constituents want. The money that the Government give to the criminal injuries compensation scheme is not the whole story. Victim Support, an organisation to which I give my whole-hearted support, received £10.8 million this year from the Government—or, more accurately, from our fellow citizens, the taxpayers. That sum is 8 per cent. more than last year, when it rose by 20 per cent. on the previous year.
The most effective way to help victims is to protect them from criminals, and I am pleased that we at last have a Home Secretary who is determined to roll back the half-baked left-wing attitudes to crime which have caused so many problems over the past 30 years. A major start has been made to protect people from crime. We spend more on the police than ever before in our history. They are better paid, better manned and better equipped than 791 ever before. Last year in my county of Sussex, the Government allocated a huge increase in resources to our police authority. We have taken action against bail bandits through my private Member's Bill, followed by the Government's provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. We are introducing secure schools to deal with young hoodlums who are running out of control. We have introduced DNA testing and dealt with the so-called right of silence. It is absurd that a man can refuse to answer questions in the police station and that fact is kept from the jury, if the case goes to trial.
Opposition Members, particularly Labour Members, say that they are tough on crime and the causes of crime, but when it comes to the crunch and they must go into the Lobby to support measures introduced by the Government to protect people from criminals, we must judge them by their deeds.
§ Mr. Michael
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to be ungenerous. Does he recall that Labour Front Benchers supported his Bail (Amendment) Bill and ensured that it did not die?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues his speech, I remind him of the content of the Bill which we are currently giving a Second Reading. He is now straying wide of that remit.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. But during the debate, the issue has arisen of how the money available to the Home Office is spent. It is therefore relevant to point out that the most effective way of spending money to benefit victims of crime is to protect them from criminals in the first place.
I acknowledge the support from Labour Front Benchers, particularly the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), which enabled my Bail (Amendment) Bill to pass through the House. But on other occasions, especially when the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill was being considered, Opposition support was less than whole-hearted. Money that is spent on the police and on measures to protect victims of crime from crime is, therefore, money well spent.
The Opposition have argued that the crime rate is now higher than when the Conservative party came to office in 1979. I pointed out to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), that that is a worldwide phenomenon and that, since that time, crime has risen inexorably in all the developed countries of the western world. He dodged that point by quoting selectively from the period covering 1979 to 1983. He did not deal with my argument, and I submit that he cannot, that rising crime is a worldwide phenomenon. It is no use trying to blame the British Government for that, even if some specific argument were made for why the British Government are to blame. However, argument on that issue from the Opposition came there none.
There are complex reasons for our current high level of crime. If I might trespass on your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, but not too far, I should like to mention some of them briefly. Those reasons include the breakdown of respect between citizens—between men and women and parents and children—which started in the 1960s and has carried on inexorably, as well as 792 people's lack of respect for all forms of authority. The rise in crime is also to do with the breakdown of religion, drugs and the effect of television when, night after night, low standards of personal behaviour are portrayed on our screens. The rise in crime is also due to greater mobility among criminals and, finally, poverty. It is, of course, the responsibility of all Governments to manage the economy in such a way that people are—
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
Does my hon. Friend also agree that crime has risen because of the breakdown of discipline in schools in many areas, but thankfully not in mine?
§ Mr. Stephen
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Child-centred education has a lot to answer for. If one teaches a child that he is the centre of the universe, one must not be surprised if he then finds it difficult to comply with the rules that society expects him to obey.
In addition to the financial support that the Government give to Victim Support, they have introduced the victims charter. It is derided by the Opposition because it does not involve large sums of money. It is a mission statement for those involved in the criminal justice process in the courts, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It tells them what the public are entitled to expect from them and enables us, as democratically elected representatives of the people, to keep them up to the mark if they fall below those standards. I talk a great deal to those involved in victim support organisations and they tell me that the victims charter is working in their local areas. It still has some way to go, because it has not been entirely successful, but we are getting there. Victims and witnesses are now treated much better.
I was a practising barrister for 15 years and, although I do not practise any more, I was involved in a good many personal injury cases when I was at the Bar. I saw that it was a costly business to ascertain the correct amount of compensation to be paid to a plaintiff. Perhaps I am ashamed to admit that a good deal of that money went into my own pocket as a lawyer. That money should have been better spent on compensating the injured parties rather than being paid to lawyers, even though I was one of them.
I also noticed from my experience that the time it took to resolve those cases was impossibly long. We, as practitioners, did our best to reduce that time scale, but we failed because all too often we had to await medical reports. Doctors also had to wait until the prognosis was clearer and sometimes they wanted to review their opinion. There were a host of reasons why cases could not be resolved quickly. That delay was not the fault of lawyers and doctors, but was inevitable given the methods that we adopted under the old system of criminal injuries compensation, and that are still adopted in the civil courts to ascertain the amount of damages to be paid.
Under the old system, the cost of ascertainment amounted to 10 per cent. of the total cost—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—which represented a substantial sum of public money. I would have preferred to see it going to the victims of crime, not lawyers. For that reason, I was prepared to consider the tariff scheme constructively when it was introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. We must admit that it is an inflexible scheme—that is the nature of tariff schemes. Opposition Members have argued for more flexibility, and perhaps there are some 793 areas where we can offer that; but if we introduced too much flexibility, we would be back to the old expensive, time-consuming system.
I talk to victims of crime and many say, "I would have settled for a lot less money if I'd got it quickly. The time I needed it was in the few weeks and months after my injury, not years later when I'd more or less recovered." The speedy delivery of the money to the victim is therefore vital.
I should say something about the allegation that my right hon. and learned Friend acted unlawfully when he sought to change the non-statutory scheme for another non-statutory one. I do not blame Opposition Members for seizing on that, going on television and talking as though the Home Secretary had been caught with his fingers in the till, doing something that any one of us would have recognised as unlawful. Of course he did not do that.
The Home Secretary drew attention to the fact that, on that rather arcane question of constitutional law, five of Her Majesty's judges took one view and five took another. He is not suggesting that our court system is one where the number of judges should be totted up and the largest number carry the day—the courts are not as democratic as that. The argument that he made, which appears to have been lost on Opposition Members, was that, if five of Her Majesty's judges thought that the Home Secretary was right in doing what he was doing and had the power to do it, he himself—a mere lawyer, and a non-practising one at that—can hardly be blamed if he was of the opinion that it was in his power.
I confess that, if I had been in the Home Secretary's position, I would probably have thought so, too. He was not seeking to overturn a statute, because one cannot do that—one must return to Parliament and obtain the passage of another statute. He sought simply to change one non-statutory scheme into another non-statutory scheme. The fact that there was on the statute book a statutory scheme that was not implemented would have seemed to me, in his position, to be irrelevant.
The Home Secretary did not start the lengthy, costly process of litigation. That was forced on him by the Fire Brigades Union, which took him to court. The divisional court, which was the first court that considered the case, found for the Home Secretary. It said, "Yes, you do have the power to do this." It was not he who embarked on the second stage, in the Court of Appeal, but the Fire Brigades Union. It took him to the Court of Appeal, and won.
Having one court saying that he is right and one court saying that he is wrong, what is the Home Secretary to do? He gets the matter decided by going to the House of Lords, which will decide it once and for all. Having obtained that decision, what does the Home Secretary do? Of course he abides by the decision of the court, which is why the Bill has been brought before the House today.
I do not think that the Home Secretary can be charged with having behaved high-handedly. Even though he received what are described as warnings from Opposition Members and others, they were no more than expressions of a point of view at the time, albeit a point of view which five of the 10 judges eventually held to be correct.
No victim of crime has suffered, because all will be paid under the original scheme until the new scheme that we are debating comes into force—if and when it does. 794 Indeed, some people have benefited, because those who have received more than they would have received will not be asked to pay the difference back. Those who received less than they would have received will have their compensation made up.
I am pleased to see that, under the new scheme before the House today, greater recognition will be given to those who have suffered loss of earnings. Even under the previous scheme, which the House of Lords ruled against, there was an element in the compensation for loss of earnings, because the tariff figures had been fixed, not by considering the damages awarded in the civil courts or by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for pain, suffering and loss of amenity only, but by considering the total award, including an element, in many cases, for loss of earnings.
Under the new scheme, those who are out of work for more than 28 weeks will receive an additional element reflecting their actual loss of earnings up to a limit which has to be imposed in view of the ability of the taxpayer to pay.
Uncharacteristically, Opposition Members have complained on behalf of the high rollers of this world— the high earners—the people who, under the new scheme, will receive less by way of compensation than they would have suffered in loss of earnings. However, as has been said, the high earners are the very people who are in a position to insure themselves, should they so wish. They are adults and they must make their own decisions, but the opportunity is there for them to do so.
I would pose a question to my hon. Friend the Minister, however. Will he assist the House in understanding when a self-employed person is deemed to be off work for the purpose of compensation for loss of earnings?
Incapacity benefit will often be paid, so the compensation for loss of earnings under the scheme is not the only source of benefit. I would hope that the period of 28 weeks will be reduced, if and when the economy develops to the point when the taxpayer can afford it.
In some occupations, such as the police force, compensation is paid under employment contracts in addition to the money provided by the state. I am glad to see that the tariff for rape victims will increase from £7,500—which I always considered to be a wholly inadequate sum—to £17,500 in certain circumstances. Under the common law scheme operating in civil courts, often a nominal conventional amount is awarded for bereavement. I welcome the increased payment of £5,000 for each qualifying dependant and £10,000 when there is only one such dependant.
We should keep the tariff under review, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed to anomalies. For example, should not a right-handed man who loses his right hand receive more by way of compensation than if he loses his left hand? Should not young people receive more compensation than older people? Should not the system keep pace with inflation and should not the civil servant who administers the scheme be encouraged to refer difficult decisions to more senior people?
As to income support deductions, I see no case for making a deduction from the money awarded for pain, suffering and loss of amenity. However, in so far as a sum is awarded for loss of earnings, an applicant would be compensated twice if he were compensated by the scheme 795 for loss of earnings and also received income support. I think that there is a case for set-off, in that instance. However, some taxpayers will say, "My duty as a taxpayer is to support this man only if he cannot support himself and I do not believe that he cannot support himself if he has £50,000 sitting in the bank." We will have to answer to those taxpayers if we decide to go down that road.
I must mention the plight of rape victims who in the past have been reluctant to pursue their cases to criminal trial. It must be an horrendous experience not only to be raped but to have to endure a criminal trial to the point of conviction. I can well understand why many rape victims could not bring themselves to do that. Under the new scheme, I hope that we will be very sympathetic to women in that position—it usually is women—and that we will not force them to go through with a criminal trial or lose their entitlement to compensation. I hope also that when the economy improves—it is already showing signs of improvement—we will be able to reduce the £1,000 limit to £500 or so to allow those who have suffered minor but important injuries to receive compensation.
I believe that our scheme was, and will continue to be, the best in the world. The Government, on behalf of the taxpayers, have struck the right balance between the interests of those who pay compensation and those who receive it. I think that it is a scheme that we can explain to our constituents and of which we can proud. I shall support the Government in the Division Lobby this evening.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) say that a relative of this scheme suffered as a result of decisions by the courts. He was at pains to demonstrate that the Home Secretary had behaved in a perfectly proper manner—I think that the Home Secretary behaved in the way that was expected of him. I liken the right hon. and learned Gentleman's experience to that of boxers who enter the ring looking for a points victory and who are prepared to accept any degree of punishment along the way. He has certainly demonstrated persistence, stubbornness and meanness of spirit. One could use a number of other descriptions, such as obduracy.
I was on the Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, and I heard the earlier proposals mauled in Committee and pilloried on Report. They were defeated in the Lords and that decision was reversed again in the Commons. There were four debates on the earlier measures. On each occasion there were reactions and a clear focus to the Government's intentions.
It has been obvious throughout that the purpose of changing the scheme has been to save money. The Home Secretary made that clear to the House. The hon. Member for Shoreham said that compensation was only a token. However, token is not the right word. We are not talking about a gift or a birthday offering, where such tokens are frequently received.
The purpose of compensation is to aid victims and to provide some recognition of the difficulties that they have encountered, the injuries that they have suffered or the experience that they have undergone, and to compensate them financially. For those who suffer real loss of 796 earnings, compensation is an essential part of their standard of living thereafter. That was true while loss of earnings compensation was provided as part of the scheme, and it is much less so now, but it is not reasonable to describe it as a token, except in the sense that a token is frequently less than it should be.
Certainly in material terms, saving money on the scheme has reduced its quality and the assistance that it gives victims. That motivation has been clear throughout. It is clear in the Bill, it is among the reasons in our reasoned amendment for rejecting the Bill and it is central to the debate.
The second theme that is central to the debate is the unfairness to victims of reducing a more generous scheme to the one before us now. The Government have made some U-turns; they have not gone far enough, but they have increased the provisions in certain respects. Although we welcome that, we do not consider those increases to be sufficient. The scheme remains mean in comparison with the present system, which the Government thought had been abolished when the earlier measure was passed.
§ Mr. Stephen
I understand the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks and I agree that we would all like to be more generous to the victims of crime, but he cannot avoid the issue. Does he have a commitment from the shadow Chancellor to make the necessary money available to put into practice his pious hopes—perhaps that would be a churlish way of putting it—the generous wishes that he has expressed? How will they be put into practice?
§ Mr. Gunnell
We must take the whole thrust of the policy into account. The leadership of my party is committed to a law and order policy that will reverse the trend in crime levels that has persisted for so long. As we have pointed out, the number of victims has increased enormously: it has increased by a third. That is one of the factors in the inflation of the cost of the present scheme. The scheme costs far more because there are far more victims of crime, which means that more people must be compensated.
I believe that our policy, which is based on tackling the causes of crime, will reduce the incidence of crime and, in so doing, lower the costs of a compensation scheme. My answer to the hon. Member for Shoreham is that the policy—the whole policy—that we shall implement will provide the cash to finance a scheme of the sort that currently exists; although, of course, it is not for me to commit my Front Bench to specific amounts of compensation. The downgrading of the existing scheme and the rigidity of its successor would not feature under a Labour Government, who would not have tampered with the current scheme in this way.
There has been an increasing public reaction against the scheme. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Shoreham to talk about the financial implications; it must be pointed out that the £700 million that will be saved over the next five years as a result of the change will be taken from victims. I do not believe that spending should always be squeezed at the expense of those who least deserve to bear the burden—but that is the thrust of Government policy: when money is to be saved, it must be taken from those who are most in need. Pensioners, for instance, lose a disproportionate amount of income in comparison with other groups.
797 It is not just natural supporters of the Labour party who consider this a mean scheme; indeed, there is clearly dissent in the Government ranks. The Leader of the House warned the Government that they were on the wrong side of the argument about the treatment of victims of crime, but the Government clearly have not noted even those words.
I urge the House to support our reasoned amendment, which deals with some of the most unsatisfactory features of the Bill.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
In October 1994, I warned the Home Secretary that he was acting wrongly, unfairly and illegally in trying to cut compensation for crime victims without seeking the approval of Parliament. During that debate, I also warned the House that the Government's new scheme would have a dramatic effect on those who were most seriously injured in criminal attacks; and I warned Conservative Members thatNeither the Government nor the Conservative party will ever again be able to claim concern for the victims of crime in future when they are treating them so callously today.I put it on record thatNo Conservative Members of Parliament will be able to claim an interest in victims in their speeches or election material if they vote to disagree with the Lords amendment today."—[Official Report, 20 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 457.]Time and again we gave Conservative Members the chance to join us in voting for victims. Not a single Tory Member backed them or us, and neither will any of them tonight. The failure of Conservative Members to stand up for victims in that debate was overshadowed by news of more scandal and sleaze at the heart of government. But it returns to haunt them today.
The Bill has been produced for only two reasons. First, it is before us because the courts and the Law Lords declared that the Home Secretary had acted unlawfully and, secondly, because Ministers are determined to slash the cash that is spent on compensating the victims of crime.
During the debate, Conservative Members have tried to dress up as a technicality the fact that the Home Secretary was found to be ignoring the law. But as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said when he castigated the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Home Secretary presented an affront to Parliament for which he has never apologised. This measure does not expunge that failure and, as my right hon. and learned Friend rightly said, the Government are arrogant and brazen and are failing to listen.
The Home Secretary's action was not just a minor infringement of the law: it has been described as an abuse of prerogative power. Just as Conservative Members seem not to understand being greedy and sleazy, they seem not to understand that they are guilty of abusing power in government. Equally outrageous was the attempt to dupe the House and the public about the Home Secretary's plan 798 to cut compensation. Incredibly, as recently as March the Home Secretary was trying to pretend that he was not cutting the cash at all. On 9 March I said:Does the Home Secretary still not realise that his rhetoric about victims has no effect when people can see the indelible effect of his one genuine policy, which is to cut the total sum available to victims, and especially to cut the level of compensation available for the victims of the most horrific crimes?The right hon. and learned Gentleman's response was shameless because he said:Far from being cut, the sum will continue to increase."—[Official Report, 9 March 1995; Vol. 256, c. 443.]When he spoke those words and made that wild claim, the Home Secretary had already published his annual report projecting swingeing cuts in compensation this year and for each of the next three years. After his partial U-turn, which appears in the Bill, of conceding some compensation for loss of earnings, on his own admission the Bill contains a cut of £200 million a year.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) made a bizarre contribution to the debate. He implied that the cut in compensation arose because the Government were buffeted by unforeseen events.
§ Mr. Michael
The Conservatives were planning the cut even before the last general election and perhaps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) suggests, the buffeting by events was unexpectedly finding themselves back in government.
The hon. Member for Sutton said that the Conservative party keeps election promises. What a set of promises it has kept! In home affairs, where were the 1,000 extra police that it promised for the year following the general election? Where are the real measures to tackle crime? The hon. Gentleman asked for more money to be pumped into the criminal injuries compensation scheme and challenged us about our intentions. We have a simple summary and I shall set it out in case Conservative Members have not yet understood it. It is, "If you do not cut the scheme, we will not."
We have made it clear that the future is in the Government's hands. There is no problem for the Opposition, but there is a problem for the Government because they are setting out to cut the scheme while we have made our position clear. The Minister's response to the hon. Member for Sutton was that the Conservatives have maintained a generous scheme. If the Minister is so proud of maintaining a generous scheme, why is he cutting it? It is made explicit in the Bill that money for the compensation of victims will be cut. But that is not the only betrayal of victims perpetrated by the Conservatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn laid bare the failures in the Bill. In Committee we shall try to improve it, but at its heart is the intention to cut.
What is as bad, if not worse, is the fact that so many people become victims because of the Government's failure to tackle crime and its causes. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) was right to highlight the increase in violence. Violence against the person was up 7 per cent. again last year. 799 Victims of crime, he said, are not just statistics but people—a point that escaped all Conservative Members who contributed to this debate. My hon. Friend made a powerful speech about the plight of victims.
By contrast, the Home Secretary treated us to a calculation of the rising cost of the old scheme over the next five years. That calculation appears on the face of the Bill too, but on what are the increases based? My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, but there was no answer. Did the Home Secretary undertake a detailed analysis of crime and its impact on victims? Did he look at the fact that violent crime continues to rise by 7 per cent. a year? Has he made a calculation based on facts? Has he looked at any facts at all?
The answer is no, because the Home Secretary does not have the facts. That is revealed in answers to parliamentary questions that I have asked him. The right hon. and learned Gentleman looks puzzled, as he often does. Perhaps he is unaware of the answers provided by his ministerial colleague to a number of serious questions. What was the average award for rape plus serious injury given under the criminal injuries compensation tariff scheme operated from April 1994? He was asked to list for each of the past five years the number of claimants for criminal injuries compensation incapacitated for more than 28 weeks, and the percentage that they represented of the total number of claimants—and the total cost of claims in each of those years. I asked about the number of awards, and the total value of awards made in respect of rape, and of rape plus serious injury, in each of the past six financial years. Those were all facts on which we could base an understanding of the costs of the present scheme and of the Home Secretary's intentions for the future.
The answers were very short and very simple—that the information was not recorded centrally. In other words, Ministers do not have a clue. So how did the right hon. and learned Gentleman reach what my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has described as the moving target?
§ Mr. Michael
As they say in Pontypridd, he made it up. More technically, it was an extrapolation of cash figures leading to a cash-driven policy instead of one driven by concern for victims. That led in turn to a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem. In short, the Home Secretary based his new policy on unsound information.
§ Mr. Howard
Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw his slur on the people of Pontypridd? They have a very clear understanding of the difference between making up figures—as the hon. Gentleman, without a scintilla of evidence, alleges we did—and extrapolation, which we have always made clear was the basis for our estimates. It is a perfectly sensible basis which I am sure will be recognised and approved by the people of Pontypridd.
§ Mr. Michael
The Home Secretary's methods are so well respected that they keep changing every time he gives us an estimate. The people of Pontypridd, so ably 800 represented by my hon. Friend, will see the matter with as much clarity as he does. They will also see how the Home Secretary dragged out events all the way to the House of Lords even though it was clear that he was wrong.
It adds insult to injury and neglect when the Conservative lie machine time and again repeats untruths that the Ministers here today must know are untruths. Not just victims of crime but communities throughout Britain are calling out to Ministers to face up to the facts of their failure and to stop using crime as a political football. They want them to join Labour in confronting the real issues.
As our reasoned amendment makes clear, criminal injuries compensation is only one aspect of the Government's failure adequately to deal with the needs of victims, support for victims and the protection of the public from the danger of becoming victims. The Government must do much more to put the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system. As we say in our reasoned amendment, the Government fail to require greater consideration towards victims from the Crown Prosecution Service. Last year, we put forward an amendment, which was rejected by the Government, to require the CPS to keep people informed and consult victims before dropping or downgrading the charges against their attackers. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has highlighted many other problems with the CPS in recent weeks.
We have urged the Government to do more to give greater attention to the needs of victims in court, to protect and help witnesses and to support the provision of counselling and other services by voluntary organisations. We have managed to embarrass the Government into keeping some of their promises to Victim Support, but still the victims are not placed at the heart of the criminal justice system.
As we say in our reasoned amendment, above all, the Government have failed to take positive action to tackle the continued rise in crimes of violence. The Labour party has exposed that failure on many, many occasions but we have gone further. We have come forward time and again with positive proposals to deal with crime, from faster intervention with young offenders to increased penalties for weapons offences.
I could give a whole series of well-documented examples, but as the Conservative party's lie machine has made the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 the test, let us get the record straight. The Labour party opposed what was bad in that legislation and supported what was good. We sought to replace ill-considered and half-baked clauses with effective provisions to deal with crime and the causes of crime and made a number of new and practical suggestions.
When it comes to violent crime, the contrast between the Conservative party and the Labour party is clearest of all. There was nothing in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to deal with violence, drugs or drug-related crime or to punish firearms offenders until Labour proposed amendments. Violent crime was so far from the Government's mind that increased penalties could be brought only by tacking additions on to the sea fisheries and shellfish legislation. It is important that that should be clear.
§ Mr. Michael
As ever, the tough talk from the Tories was exposed as meaningless and it was Labour Members who were willing to engage in serious debate in Committee, based on their practical experience of co-operating with the—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The rules of the House are well known. If the hon. Member who has the Floor does not give way, the other hon. Member must resume his seat and that includes the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Michael
I shall gave way in a moment, but this is a sentence that the Home Secretary should hear.
It was Labour Members who were willing to engage in serious debate in Committee based on their practical experience of co-operating with police and local authorities in their constituencies, to tackle the scourge of crime that affects our people in our areas and so often devastates their lives. We did that. It was a pity that the Ministers who took part in the Committee were not willing so to engage.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman's attempts to rewrite history are based on fantasy. Before he pursues that path, he ought to have a word with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition because the line that he is taking strays radically from that taken by his right hon. Friend.
The centrepiece of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was the 27 points that I announced in my speech to the Conservative party conference. [Interruption.] It is interesting that the Labour party mocks them, when a moment ago the hon. Gentleman was trying to take credit for them. Those 27 points were denounced by the Leader of the Opposition as a set of gimmicks. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. Are they gimmicks or do they support them?
§ Mr. Michael
I understand the Home Secretary's need to try to intervene because he does not like what he is being told, which is the truth. He reminds us that that Bill brought in the 27 points, or 27 gimmicks, that he put forward in his conference speech. It was the Michael Howard conference speech implementation Bill. When we came forward with serious proposals that would have tackled and cut crime, protected people, helped victims, nipped in the bud problems with young offenders and dealt with weapons and violent offences, what did the Home Secretary and his team do? They rejected them, voted against them and ignored them. It is the Home Secretary who is seeking to rewrite history, but he has failed. He should apologise for what he said. He has shown disrespect for the way in which we are trying to tackle crime properly.
We see in the Bill a series of complications with which we shall have to deal in Committee. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to serious concerns about 802 the cost of the lifetime care and attention to be given to a person after an attack. There are serious questions about when the tariff will be updated. It is clear, again from parliamentary answers, that the Home Secretary intends to bring in the tariff as outlined in his advisory note, which is already two years out of date and will be three years out of date when the system comes into operation. A parliamentary question answered today states:It is intended that the tariff levels will be reviewed every three years",not annually. It continues:No criteria for such review have yet been set, but might be expected to include reference to inflation more generally and other pressures on public expenditure.The Home Secretary has not thought the issues through.
Adjudicators will be appointed and controlled by the Home Secretary, yet he disclaims responsibility for them. Clause 5 on page 4 of the Bill states:The Scheme may include provision—(a) for adjudicators to be appointed.It continues:Any person appointed … under this section by the Secretary of State—
- (a) shall be appointed on such terms and conditions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; but
- (b) shall not be regarded as having been appointed to exercise functions of the Secretary of State or to act on his behalf.(5) No decision taken by an adjudicator shall be regarded as having been undertaken by, or on behalf of, the Secretary of State.In the Bill, the Secretary of State seeks in advance to clear himself of any responsibility for those who are appointed by or responsible to him. He does not want to take responsibility for anything in future.
The contributions made to the debate by Conservative Members have often been ill-founded and fractious interventions revealing the malaise that lies at the heart of the Government. Last Thursday, we saw Conservative Members reacting with shock and horror at the prospect of having their trough taken away from them. They clearly did not understand why the public were so outraged.
Today, Conservative Members have sounded ludicrous as they tried to pretend that the Home Secretary had not really been defeated in the House of Lords. The President of the Board of Trade was turning over the entrails of another decision earlier today. It seems that the rule now is that the Government set up a system and then, if they do not like it, they do not change the system properly, but pretend that it happened differently.
The public know the central truth about the Bill. We shall consider it clause by clause and seek to improve it in Committee. We welcome the partial U-turn that the Home Secretary has already undertaken, but the public know that the measure is about cutting costs and doing less to help victims. Today, the Home Secretary and those around him are failing to grasp the depth of their own failure to tackle crime and protect victims, but the public understand all too well. I know that the Conservatives do not, but the public understand that only the Labour party will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Only Labour will put the victims where they should be—at the heart of the criminal justice system.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
The House has just been treated to an 803 outrageous charade by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). Sadly, it made him look silly, as one can see from the faces of his colleagues behind him.
The party that professes to be tough on crime is the party that voted against almost every criminal justice measure in the 1980s and always voted against the prevention of terrorism Act. The key elements of the latest criminal justice legislation related to bail bandits but Labour tried to tear the guts out of it. We sought to lock up young hoodlums but Labour tried to tear the guts out of that proposal. It also opposed our reform of the right to silence.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said that most of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was the Labour party's invention. If so, why did it abstain on Third Reading? He cannot have it every way.
Some interesting points were made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) that of course we shall want to monitor the enhanced tariff scheme, and I take on board his support for the Bill. He asked whether the money available will be sufficient to deal with victims properly in future. I refer him to the structural settlement scheme, which is a recent innovation in damages litigation and which is terribly important. Under the structured settlements provided in the Bill, payments will be tax exempt. It is possible that at today's prices that could mean an award of up to £20,000 index-linked, tax free for life for the most seriously injured victims. That is a very sensible provision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge asked about multiple injuries under the tariff. We shall treat multiple injuries under the enhanced tariff scheme in largely the same manner as they were treated under the common law damages scheme: 100 per cent. award for the most serious injury, 10 per cent. more for the second most serious injury and 5 per cent. more for the third most serious injury. That is no real change of substance from the present modus operandi. We propose to uprate that scheme about every three years. I hope that that assurance satisfies my hon. Friend.
I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) volunteered to serve on the Committee. He should consider himself nominated. He rightly pointed out that during the 28-week period a range of welfare arrangements are available. He was right to expose the hypocrisy of the Labour party in calling for more money for practically every good cause and at the same time saying that it will not increase expenditure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) and other hon. Friends were right to point out that the tariff scheme is the most generous in the world, and more generous than the schemes of all the countries in Europe put together. We are proud of that fact. [Interruption.] It is a fact that the scheme is more generous than the compensation available in every other country in Europe put together. That will continue to be the case under the new, enhanced tariff scheme unless every other country in Europe does something drastic to increase its payments.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) made some important points. He asked whether we would lay all the details before Parliament. We will lay all the most important elements of the scheme before Parliament and they will be subject to parliamentary control and 804 affirmative resolution. It would not be a good use of Parliament's time to lay all the minutiae before it. We shall, however, ensure that the key elements are laid before Parliament.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann also suggested that the tariff scheme was illogical as it included an element for loss of earnings beneath the 28-week period, although that is now paid separately. It is true that tariff payments include an unquantified element for loss of earnings. We considered shaving that off but decided that it would be better to leave the levels as they are. Many people who are incapacitated for fewer than 28 weeks will in fact receive some element of compensation for loss of earnings. It also explains why the tariff levels have not been uprated since 1994. In effect, they contain that cushion already: the loss of earnings which we have not shaved off.
The hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) asked whether the scheme would be kept under review. Of course the tariff scheme will be kept under review. He was worried about the level of civil servants who will be dealing with cases. The civil service has a structure and difficult cases are passed upwards so that senior management may deal with them. Some of us may complain that, at times, too many senior managers are involved in paperwork on files going upwards, but there is of course a structure.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
The other point that I made was about the number of injuries on the basic list of injuries, which has been increased to 310. Will the Minister keep an open mind on increasing that number further as unfairness becomes evident?
§ Mr. Maclean
Yes, of course. That is one of the benefits of not having the tariff scheme on the face of the Bill but in statutory arrangements or in regulations. It allows us to change according to circumstances, new ailments or injuries. It is a very sensible provision.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) was concerned about loss of earnings for the self-employed. Those losses will be calculated from examination of business accounts and Inland Revenue returns. We can even employ forensic accountants, if necessary, to analyse those returns. The loss to be taken into account will be the same as under the present scheme—one and a half times national industrial average earnings. I hope that that offers some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman.
I now turn to the comments made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I shoot down straight away his assertion that the only reason why the cost of the scheme is rising is rising crime. That is nonsense. There is no clear correlation between crime figures and the number of applications under the scheme. In 1964, when the scheme was introduced—
§ Mr. Straw
I can spare the Minister's breath. I did not say what he claims. I said that the rise in crime was one of the factors that led to the increase in the cost of the scheme. I also said that the other factors were the increase in the severity of individual crimes and that other matters had to be taken into account.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Gentleman put great stress on the crime rise, but I happily apologise to him for misrepresenting his point of view.
805 Since 1964, when the scheme was introduced, violent crime has increased by 500 per cent. The number of applicants under the scheme has increased by 3,000 per cent. and the amount of compensation paid has increased by no less than 40,000 per cent. It is because of that enormous increase in the amount of compensation—way over and above the level of inflation—that the Government believe that we must have not only a fair scheme for victims, but some sensible controls.
The hon. Member for Blackburn quoted, highly selectively, from the speech made by Fred Broughton, the president of the Police Federation. Perhaps you will permit me, Madam Speaker, to give some other quotations from Fred Broughton's speech. Turning to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, he said:You've conceded one of our main points which was that loss of earnings should continue to be taken into account. You have also agreed that payments can be made in respect of special medical care and long-term cases. You have agreed to increase some of the maximum awards for various types of injury from those you intended to impose and you have agreed to double the proposed maximum limit on any award from £250,000 to £500,000. We are able to give a qualified welcome to your revised proposals.That puts a slightly different light on the speech.
The hon. Member for Blackburn did not quote at all from the news release issued by the Law Society, which said:The new scheme will combine some of the administrative advantages of the tariff, particularly for smaller claims, with the greater fairness of individual assessment of awards in larger cases. This should mean that the victims with the more serious injuries will receive much larger awards than under the tariff, including compensation for loss of earnings and medical care costs.The heading on that news release reads:Law Society welcomes new criminal injuries compensation scheme.The hon. Gentleman did not mention that.
I shall now deal with one of the key questions and one of the key myths that has been bandied about by the Opposition today—the so-called cuts in compensation. Let us go back only 10 years to 1985. This Tory Government paid out £41 million in 1985, then £48 million, then £52 million, then £69 million, then £72 million, then £109 million, then £143 million, then £152 million and, last year, £165 million—some cuts!
What are we planning to do in future? We expect—this is on the face of the Bill—to make provision for liabilities of £176 million, then £190 million, then £205 million, then £240 million and then £260 million. Let us have no more lies about cuts in compensation for victims. There are no cuts; that is more cash from the taxpayer—
§ Mr. Maclean
Those who are responsible will know what I mean—[Interruption.]
I am proud to quote from the Conservative campaign guide, the key boast in which is:The criminal injuries compensation scheme is now one of the most generous in the world.
§ Mr. Michael
Does the Minister share the view of the Home Secretary, who points a finger at Opposition 806 Members from a sedentary position, or does he accept that we have stated our position truly and clearly during the debate?
§ Mr. Maclean
That was a silly intervention—rather like the hon. Gentleman's speech earlier.
The Conservative campaign guide pointed out our proud boast that we had the most generous victim compensation scheme in the world, and we stated what we paid out in 1989. I can tell the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth that we can make that boast for 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. We shall be making that boast in our next manifesto, because the scheme will still be the most generous in the world. It will pay out more than the amounts paid out by every country in Europe put together.
Let us look at the diversity of view within the Labour party on what we should do with victims and how much we should pay out. Last night—I had the pleasure of reading the speech today—the Leader of the Opposition called himself "an unashamed long termist", but even as he was speaking his Front-Bench team was tabling an amendment condemning the world's most generous criminal injuries compensation scheme as not generous enough. For the Labour party, it seems that the long term is the time it takes for a soundbite to travel around the airwaves.
Last night, the Leader of the Opposition spoke of the "long and gruelling slog" to control public expenditure, but today his lieutenants call for more spending. The "long and gruelling slog" which the Leader of the Opposition was talking about is him trying to get anyone else in his party to take him seriously on economic policy. We all know that increasingly he is a one-man band, and we have seen once again tonight that the right hon. Gentleman is on his own in calling for restraint. He has no troops behind him who will back that.
Last night, the Leader of the Opposition could talk of the failure of Keynesian economics, but does anyone seriously believe that the shadow Chancellor, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the deputy leader of the Labour party share his apparent conversion to Milton Friedman economics?
We have heard a lot today from the Opposition about their concern for victims. They have positively oozed compassion and high-minded rhetoric, and they have scattered caring soundbites through every speech like golden hailstones, but we have not heard what they would do. Let me remind the House of the Government's position, which is crystal clear. We will have an enhanced tariff scheme with a separate calculation for loss of earnings for serious cases. We estimate that the cost of that in each of the next five years will be £175 million, £190 million, £205 million, £240 million and £260 million, making a grand total of £1,070 million. There is no bluster and no equivocation there—we are honestly putting up front the costs—but today we have heard not a single word from the Opposition about how much they would spend.
When we announced the tariff scheme, the hon. Member for Blackburn—he does not want to listen, as it is embarrassing for him—said:These concessions are nothing like enough".So there we have it. The £1 billion which we expect to pay out is "nothing like enough" according to the shadow Home Secretary, but he did not tell us what would be 807 enough. Would it be £1.5 billion, £2 billion or £2.5 billion? Of course, he would not tell us because—like all shadow spokesmen—he has had to swear a pledge to the shadow Chancellor, the doctor of Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown): "I swear that all my promises of a golden tomorrow will have no price tag attached which Tory central office can cost."
That is why the Labour party is now a policy-free zone. If there are no policies, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary cannot total up the costs so we can all find out how much taxes will need to go up to pay for them. But Labour Members will have to produce policies some time, and end their empty waffle calling for more investment in education, housing, health, transport, people, communities, the infrastructure, the environment and the planet. At some time, they will have to tell the British people what they would do and how much it will cost. That is the question that they did not answer tonight—what is it going to cost?
The Opposition have condemned our plans as mean and niggardly. Every one of them has suggested that we should spend more money, but this Government will spend more than £1 billion. We say that that is exceptionally generous—the most generous scheme in the world—but that it is all that we can afford. Unless they tell us how much they would spend, we shall be entitled to assume that it would the full amount of the old, unreformed scheme.
By voting against the Bill, the Opposition are committing themselves to £700 million of extra expenditure. By voting against, they are showing that they will not put their principles where their mouths are. That is not surprising because the new, vacuous, soundbite Labour party has no ideas, no policies and no principles, which is why I invite my hon. Friends to support me in the Lobby tonight.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 229, Noes 274.811
|Division No. 156]||[10.00 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Campbell-Savours, D N|
|Ainger, Nick||Cann, Jamie|
|Allen, Graham||Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Chidgey, David|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Ashton, Joe||Clapham, Michael|
|Austin-Walker, John||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Clelland, David|
|Barnes, Harry||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Barron, Kevin||Coffey, Ann|
|Battle, John||Cohen, Harry|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Corbett, Robin|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Berry, Roger||Corston, Jean|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Cousins, Jim|
|Boateng, Paul||Cox, Tom|
|Bradley, Keith||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Dafis, Cynog|
|Burden, Richard||Dalyell, Tam|
|Byers, Stephen||Darling, Alistair|
|Caborn, Richard||Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)|
|Callaghan, Jim||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Denham, John||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Dewar, Donald||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Dixon, Don||McAllion, John|
|Dobson, Frank||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Donohoe, Brian H||McCartney, Ian|
|Dowd, Jim||Macdonald, Calum|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McKelvey, William|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Eastham, Ken||McMaster, Gordon|
|Enright, Derek||MacShane, Denis|
|Etherington, Bill||McWilliam, John|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Madden, Max|
|Fatchett, Derek||Maddock, Diana|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mahon, Alice|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Mandelson, Peter|
|Flynn, Paul||Marek, Dr John|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)|
|Foulkes, George||Martlew, Eric|
|Fraser, John||Meacher, Michael|
|Fyfe, Maria||Meale, Alan|
|Galbraith, Sam||Michael, Alun|
|Galloway, George||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Garrett, John||Milburn, Alan|
|George, Bruce||Miller, Andrew|
|Gerrard, Neil||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Morley, Elliot|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)|
|Gordon, Mildred||Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Mudie, George|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Mullin, Chris|
|Grocott, Bruce||Murphy, Paul|
|Gunnell, John||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Hain, Peter||O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)|
|Hall, Mike||O'Brien, William (Normanton)|
|Hanson, David||O'Hara, Edward|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Olner, Bill|
|Harvey, Nick||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Henderson, Doug||Pickthall, Colin|
|Heppell, John||Pike, Peter L|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Pope, Greg|
|Hinchliffe, David||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Hoey, Kate||Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Hood, Jimmy||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley North)||Purchase, Ken|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Hoyle, Doug||Randall, Stuart|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rendel, David|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov NW)|
|Illsley, Eric||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Ingram, Adam||Rogers, Allan|
|Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)||Rooney, Terry|
|Jamieson, David||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Janner, Greville||Ruddock, Joan|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)||Short, Clare|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Jowell, Tessa||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Keen, Alan||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)||Smyth, The Reverend Martin|
|Khabra, Piara S||Snape, Peter|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Soley, Clive|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Lewis, Terry||Spellar, John|
|Litherland, Robert||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Livingstone, Ken||Stevenson, George|
|Stott, Roger||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Straw, Jack||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Wilson, Brian|
|Timms, Stephen||Winnick, David|
|Tipping, Paddy||Wise, Audrey|
|Touhig, Don||Worthington, Tony|
|Trimble, David||Wray, Jimmy|
|Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N)||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Wallace, James||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Walley, Joan||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Watson, Mike||Mr. Dennis Turner and|
|Wicks, Malcolm||Mr. Robert Ainsworth.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Alexander, Richard||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Day, Stephen|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Amess, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Arbuthnot, James||Dicks, Terry|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Dover, Den|
|Atkins, Robert||Duncan, Alan|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Elletson, Harold|
|Baldry, Tony||Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Bates, Michael||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Evennett, David|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Faber, David|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fabricant, Michael|
|Body, Sir Richard||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Booth, Hartley||Fishburn, Dudley|
|Boswell, Tim||Forman, Nigel|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Forth, Eric|
|Bowden, Sir Andrew||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Bowis, John||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Brandreth, Gyles||French, Douglas|
|Brazier, Julian||Fry, Sir Peter|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Gale, Roger|
|Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Gallie, Phil|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan|
|Burns, Simon||Garnier, Edward|
|Burl, Alistair||Gill, Christopher|
|Butcher, John||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Butterfill, John||Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Carrington, Matthew||Gorst, Sir John|
|Carttiss, Michael||Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)|
|Cash, William||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Churchill, Mr||Hague, William|
|Clappison, James||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hannam, Sir John|
|Coe, Sebastian||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Colvin, Michael||Harris, David|
|Congdon, David||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Hawkins, Nick|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Couchman, James||Hayes, Jerry|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||Heald, Oliver|
|Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward||Pawsey, James|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hendry, Charles||Pickles, Eric|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Hicks, Robert||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Horam, John||Richards, Rod|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Riddick, Graham|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Howarth, Alan (Straf'rd-on-A)||Robathan, Andrew|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Jack, Michael||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Sackville, Tom|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy|
|Jessel, Toby||Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Key, Robert||Shersby, Michael|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Knapman, Roger||Soames, Nicholas|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Knox, Sir David||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Spring, Richard|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Sproat, Iain|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Legg, Barry||Steen, Anthony|
|Leigh, Edward||Stephen, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark||Stern, Michael|
|Lidington, David||Stewart, Allan|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Streeter, Gary|
|Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)||Sweeney, Walter|
|Lord, Michael||Sykes, John|
|Luff, Peter||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|MacKay, Andrew||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Maclean, David||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Thomason, Roy|
|Madel, Sir David||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Malone, Gerald||Thumham, Peter|
|Mans, Keith||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Marland, Paul||Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Marlow, Tony||Tracey, Richard|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Tredinnick, David|
|Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)||Trend, Michael|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Trotter, Neville|
|Mates, Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Merchant, Piers||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Mills, Iain||Viggers, Peter|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)||Walden, George|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Waller, Gary|
|Needham, Rt Hon Richard||Ward, John|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Waterson, Nigel|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Watts, John|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Wells, Bowen|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Ottaway, Richard||Whitney, Ray|
|Page, Richard||Whittingdale, John|
|Patnick, Sir Irvine||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Patten, Rt Hon John||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wilkinson, John|
|Willetts, David||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)||Mr. Timothy Wood and|
|Wolfson, Mark||Mr. David Lightbown.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).