HC Deb 23 June 2004 vol 422 cc1345-50 12.42 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secret try of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins)

I beg to move, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords ], it is expedient to authorise the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any amounts recovered in respect of payments made under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. As part of the Government's strategy for making criminals pay for their crimes, we have tabled an amendment to the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill that will ensure that more offenders contribute towards repairing and rebuilding the lives of the victims they have harmed. The aim of the amendment is to give the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority a power to recover from offenders the money it has paid in compensation to their victims under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. In practice, where the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has paid compensation to a victim of violent crime, the authority will be able to pursue the offender for some or all of that compensation through the civil courts.

The amendment will insert a new clause into the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995, which is the Act that paved the way for the introduction of the present tariff-based compensation scheme. The amendment will give the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority the powers it needs to pursue offenders. It will also provide that the money recovered from offenders should be paid into the Consolidated Fund. That is a standard provision and is consistent with the current arrangements for victims. Under the scheme, sums recovered from victims who have secured compensation from other source: in addition to the compensation scheme—for example, from the offender himself—are also paid into the Consolidated Fund. Payments going into the Consolidated Fund are deemed to create a charge upon "the people", and this in turn necessitates a ways and means resolution, which is why I seek the approval of the House today.

This is not the occasion to discuss the merits of the amendment, as they will be considered as part of the deliberations of the Committee, which, I can report to the House got off to a positive start yesterday. However, I can confirm that the amendment limits recovery of compensation to those who have been convicted of an offence in the criminal court and makes it clear that the amounts recovered must be confined to the compensation paid for the injuries or harm that results from the offence or offences for which the offender was convicted.

The proposal to give the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority a right to recover money from offenders was one of a number of proposals set out in the consultation paper, "Compensation and Support for Victims of Crime", issued on 12 January 2004. More than 30 respondents to the consultation commented on that proposal and the overwhelming majority were strongly in favour. In the light of that widespread support, we decided that we should give effect to the proposal as soon as possible. We shall be inviting the Committee to approve the amendment, which is why we are seeking the approval of the House for the Ways and Means motion.

I am sure that the House will agree that it is right, wherever possible, that offenders should be made to pay for the consequences of their crimes. If so, it follows that it must also be right for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to be armed with the necessary powers to pursue offenders for the compensation that it has already paid out to their victims from public funds. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

12.46 pm
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

First, Mr. Speaker, may I take this opportunity to apologise for my inelegant exit from the Chamber earlier, in a vain attempt to switch off a pager that I thought was on silent? My apologies to the House for the disruption I caused.

As I made clear during the Second Reading of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill, the Opposition broadly support the intentions of the measure and intend to work constructively to ensure that a well-drafted Bill enters the statute book. The costs associated with the Bill are not enormous, but they are nevertheless significant. I shall ensure that my remarks are relatively brief.

It is worth considering the overall costs. The explanatory notes estimate a total annual cost of £40 million and an insignificant increase in public service manpower. It is envisaged that there will be a relatively small increase in the work of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts and, in the case of the measures for victims, the parliamentary ombudsman's office. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the police, the CPS and the courts are already extremely busy and that even a relatively small increase in work, or in the number of cases coming before the courts, could be hard to accommodate within existing structures.

Nevertheless, we have to consider the costs of the Bill in increased public expenditure and manpower against the estimated costs of domestic violence. According to the regulatory impact assessment that accompanied the Bill, the immediate and long-term human costs of domestic violence are profound; we all agree that the financial costs to the public purse and to society in general are immense. It would thus be of long-term benefit to the public purse to tackle domestic violence; it is estimated that even reducing it by 1 per cent. would save us £52.5 million a year, which is not to be sneezed at. The RIA illustrates that by the Hackney example; the full costs for the London borough of Hackney are estimated to be close to £7.5 million, which is equivalent to £37.50 per resident. The annual cost to the whole public purse could thus be about £2.25 billion. That shows in no uncertain terms the economic case as to why it is right to tackle domestic violence.

We should not be a responsible Opposition, however, if we did not scrutinise Government expenditure or proposals and it certainly was not clear from the explanatory notes that accompanied the Second Reading what the financial and manpower impact of the new provisions on compensating victims of crime will be, because those provisions were drafted so late in the day. In fact, I am pleased to hear that the Minister has tabled those amendments. I have yet to see the latest set—[Interruption.] Oh, fine. The Minister is telling me that they are not yet tabled.

Paul Goggins

I was doing my best to indicate to the hon. Lady that the amendment that relates to the ways and means resolution was tabled towards the end of last week. The other amendments that relate to other measures to do with victims have not yet been tabled. I promised yesterday that they would be tabled in the next couple of days. She needs to give me a little more time, but I promise that they will be tabled, as I promised yesterday.

Mrs. Gillan

I am glad that the Minister is making that clear, but I am being uncharacteristically generous to the Government. Even though the ways and means resolution relates to a single, narrow amendment, it would be helpful to set it in the light of the other amendments and proposals. Bearing it in mind that the Government have not tabled any of those amendments for us to look at and that we are already well into the scrutiny of the Bill in Committee, I hope that the Minister will ensure that they are certainly on the amendment paper by the end of today.

On the day that the House gave the Bill a Second Reading, the Home Secretary issued a press release that read: A Victims Fund will put more money into services such as practical support, information and advice to victims of rape and sexual offences, road traffic accident victims and those who have been bereaved as a result of crime. We want to provide more funding to the voluntary sector and communities to meet local needs. I have already dedicated £4 million from the proceeds of crime to this fund. The measures we are announcing today will further help to ensure that offenders contribute more to supporting victims. Clearly, the Opposition welcome increased support for the victims of crime, but concern was expressed on both sides of the House, as well as in the country, at proposals to fund the compensation scheme out of surcharges on motoring fines. People felt that that proposal was unjust, and I am glad that the Government have reached similar conclusions. If anybody is to fund the scheme, it should be those with criminal convictions and those responsible for antisocial behaviour. We will obviously discuss the measures in detail during the consideration of the Bill, but I should like to put on record the fact that we welcome the Minister's shift in approach on this matter.

The Minister will know that unpaid fines have been a serious problem—I have raised the issue before. There has been a recent increase in the level of fines paid, but can the Minister assure the House that that increase will be sustained and does not simply represent a blip, following certain Government action? The Minister will accept that the credibility of these measures will depend on fines being paid on time, and I still remain dubious about the collection mechanisms and the level of collection. I should be grateful to the Government for any estimate of the increased work load that the proposals will cause to the people who administer court fines. We support the idea of increasing support for the victims of crime, not of increasing fines and surcharges to pay for more bureaucracy. Will the Minister clarify whether the increased expenditure will be met by central Government, or will local authorities, for example, be expected to meet the costs? The police will be expected to find £6.5 million to comply with the code of practice, mainly to pay for the extra staff who will have to deal with complaints. Will that cost be met by an increase in central Government grant or from existing police expenditure? Overall, we have welcomed the Government's measures, and the sums involved appear to be fairly modest. Nevertheless, I would not want to give the Government a blank cheque, and I hope that the Minister can answer those brief points.

12.57 pm
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

As has been pointed o it already, this is not the time to discuss the detail of the Government's proposals. However, as the Minister knows, we have broadly welcomed not only tie initial idea, but the modification that the Home Secretary announced in his statement on Second Reading, when he indicated that he would seek payments from the mugger, rather than from the motorist. That is an important point, but there are still an awful lot of unanswered questions. Until we see the detail of the Government's proposals, it is difficult to give a reasoned view of their likely effectiveness. We certainly do not intend to divide the House on the ways and means resolution, but our difficulty is simply that it will allow sums to be recovered from criminals and taken into the maw of the Treasury, but victims will not get a better deal from the criminal compensation arrangements.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the suggestion was that the money would be recovered from the specific offenders who had committed offences against individuals? In fact, we are talking about the recovery of sums from offenders as a class generally.

Mr. Heath

That is precisely what the Government intend. The proposal is effectively a tax on fines, or a tax on criminals, although I am not sure whether one would argue that it is particularly progressive or regressive. The Government intend to tax criminals to provide money, one hopes, for a worthwhile objective, but the important difficulty is that we also hear that the criminal compensation fund is capped—the funds available to the victim will not increase. I am not clear how victims will be any better off.

Is this simply not another way to raise revenue—albeit from a source that is likely to find favour with the great mass of the population, because making criminals pay for their crimes sounds good—without doing anything to help the victims? That is what we wish to test in Committee and during the Bill's later stages. I will expect the Minister to tell us that, although the moneys recovered will go into the Consolidated Fund, an additional sum will be immediately taken out and made available for victims' compensation, so that victims, not the Treasury, will be better off as a result of the proposals.

This is a very crude form of restorative justice. I strongly commend such justice, as does the Liberal Democrat party. I believe that huge advances can be achieved in making criminals come face to face with their victims and provide some recompense for the mischief that they have committed. That must be the right way forward, but it sounds very much as though no explicit connection will be made. Criminals will simply be charged an additional sum, which they will consider to be part of their fines or part of the cost of imprisonment, and the money will go to the Treasury: the individual victims of those criminals will not receive a penny piece more as a result. If so, the scheme will fail our test of effectiveness. I hope that it will not fail.

I hope that the Minister can reassure us that a direct connection between cause and effect will be explicit throughout the proposals, but we cannot be convinced of that until we see the detail. I do not intend to oppose the ways and means resolution, but I look forward to a great deal more information on he workings of the scheme becoming available as we make progress with the Bill.

12.58 pm
Paul Goggins

With the leave of the House, I wish to respond briefly to the points made. I am tempted to go slightly wider than the motion, but I entirely endorse the spirit of the initial comments made by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). An analysis of the costs and benefits in relation to domestic violence and other issues associated with the victims of crime shows that we can gain much from the added protection that the Bill will provide. I very much welcome her remarks in that regard. She is right to say that the overall cost of the Bill is estimated at a little more than £40 million, but we are not discussing that funding today. We are discussing something very narrow indeed.

I can confirm to the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that a regulatory impact assessment of this specific measure and the Government's response to the, consultation will be available very shortly. Again, I trust that I shall not try the hon. Lady's patience too much if I say that that will happen in the next couple of days.

Mrs. Gillan

The Minister is trying my patience a little, so I shall take one of my gloves off and ask him to guarantee that we will have it be fore the House rises tomorrow.

Paul Goggins

If the hon. Lady is asking about the Government's response to the consultation, I confirm that it will be available before the end of business tomorrow. I cannot say when the regulatory impact assessment in relation to this specific measure will be laid, but it will be as soon as possible. As for the further amendments, I repeat what I said earlier and yesterday: they will be tabled as soon as possible. Yesterday I promised that that would happen in the next day or two, which leaves little time, but that promise will be fulfilled. If nothing else, this debate has caused me to make a clear commitment in that respect. We shall, I hope, be able to discuss the further amendments in Committee in the consensual manner that we have shown thus far. I welcome the hon. Lady's comments on the press statement made to coincide with Second reading.

The power is a narrow one to allow the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to reclaim from offenders that which has been paid out as compensation to victims. The money paid out by the CICA is paid from the Consolidated Fund; the measure simply puts money into the Consolidated Fund. Neither the Chancellor nor anyone else is being given an opportunity to make off with the cash and use it for other purposes. Money paid out to victims is merely being recovered from offenders. If the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome wants to call that a tax on offenders, he may do so.

Mr. Grieve

It is important for the record that we understand what is involved. We are talking not about the CICA paying £6,000 to the victim of a violent assault, then reclaiming £6,000 from the perpetrator of the assault, but about the CICA, having paid out £6,000 to a victim, looking to the levy and surcharge that will be applied to offenders under the Government's proposal to create a fund from which such compensation can be paid. As the Minister is aware, until the Government backed down on the suggestion that speeding motorists be liable for the levy, that was a fairly contentious issue.

Paul Goggins

The debate is becoming slightly confused. The measure that we are discussing now does not relate to the victims fund; it deals with where the money that has been recovered from offenders goes when compensation has been paid out to a victim. All the measure does is allow money to be paid into the Consolidated Fund—the same fund that makes payments to victims. The victims fund is separate and will be discussed separately in Committee—a debate to which I look forward, as does the hon. Gentleman, I am sure.

Mr. Grieve

The Minister has clarified the matter in a slightly unexpected fashion. At present, perpetrators of offences can be ordered to pay compensation to their victims, so why is the ways and means resolution needed—unless the system is being substantially altered by means of the Bill?

Paul Goggins

It is being substantially altered in one respect: the CICA will now be able, through the courts, to recover money from offenders. That is the new power that we seek, and the ways and means resolution is needed if the Committee is to be able to consider the relevant amendment. Whether one calls the measure a tax on offenders or not, it is wholly right and I invite the House to support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.