HL Deb 03 July 1979 vol 401 cc254-84

4.6 p.m.

Second Reading debate continued.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, in returning to the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) Bill I should like to begin by saying how much I believe all of us stand in debt to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for the steady, plodding way in which he has kept at this question of compensation for injuries for those who have suffered violence. I am glad that he reminded us that right back in 1962 as well as in 1978 he was seeking to bring this subject to us.

I must confess to not fully understanding the minds of noble and learned Lords. I was excited to discover, in the first half of the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, that he appeared to be wholly in support of all that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was doing. However, half-way through I began to realise that he was not exactly saying what I thought he was saying and by the end I gathered that he was not as enthusiastic as I had imagined him to be at the beginning. Being a simple Prelate of optimism, I prefer to listen to the first part of what he said rather than the second, but I noticed the point made by the noble Lord when he said that there were about 20,000 claimants to the Board and that at the moment the figure concerned was about £10 million. Whatever else this says, I believe it says one thing clearly to the conscience of the nation, that it is a much larger problem than perhaps appeared to us when we first began to read and study this Criminal Injuries (Com- pensation) Bill. I believe we might have thought that it was a large Bill for a small problem. It appears to me now to be only a complicated Bill for a large problem.

I have been a little helped by the ordinary newspapers, who summed it up rather well in one of their leaders this week, when they made two points. First, that this Bill aimed: (1) to put the present scheme for compensation on a statutory basis, allowing legal aid for claimants and permitting future victims to go to court to establish their rights; and (2) if it became law it would give relatives the right to be paid compensation from public funds and allow victims of family violence to be included for the first time. I gained some encouragement from that, and I looked at the report of the debate which your Lordships will remember we had in July of last year when the late right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leicester spoke. On all sides of the House I believe we mourn his passing; he was a great figure here and all of us younger Prelates learned much from him in this House. As I remember, he made two points. The first was that of course in court the question should be asked, how can we obtain the maximum possible contribution towards reparation from the offender? And, lest that should appear to be a narrowly reparation-centred view, he went on to speak about how he favoured the widening of the present Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme to include damage in the domestic scene generally, to curb malefactors, and to take more compassionate care of those who were in need through violence.

Your Lordships will know of the Bristol pilot scheme in 1974, of the victims' support scheme which began there, which is now working and has been copied in many places. But I think we must recognise that that pilot scheme is patchy and it depends on three things; on police help, on a national network of volunteers, which is very hard to find in certain areas, and on an information centre. All these three are useful and helpful, but are palliatives and partial rather than firm and nationwide. I hope very much, therefore, that the present Government will give, if not full-blooded support, at least encouragement and benevolent neutrality to this particular Bill, though I reckon that in a Bill as complicated as this there may well be need for suitable and even substantial amendments. I believe that, if your Lordships give a Second Reading to this Bill today, though of course it will be right and proper for amendments to follow, it will give immense encouragement to the not inconsiderable number of people who are hurt, harmed and scarred by being victims of violence, or members of families who are victims.

That figure of 20,000 claimants a year to the board shows something of the magnitude of the problem. I take comfort from the fact that the sub-committee of the Council of the Magistrates' Association, chaired by Professor McClintock of the Department of Criminology in the University of Edinburgh, when reporting on the compensation orders and the need for a central fund, recommended that the question of an adequate compensation scheme for victims of crime, whether or not the offender is brought to court, should be given further consideration by central Government. Therefore, I believe that the tide is running, if not quickly, steadily in the direction of this Bill, and I hope that much will come from this day's debate.

I must confess to a deep personal concern in this matter. In fact the late Bishop of Leicester hinted at it in the July debate. The main author of this report of the working party, who has already been named by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, Mr. Michael Whittaker, is a member of our own family circle, and when his small daughter of eight was dreadfully murdered 10 years ago I realised how deep can be the scars and the pains and the emotional and psychological and indeed spiritual hurt that can touch any member of a young family facing such a tragedy; and I am amazed at the compassion for other victims which positively has stemmed from that tragedy in the work of this working party.

I cannot, of course, argue the legal niceties. I believe that is something which more learned people than I must speak to, and there are plenty of noble and learned Lords who can do this. But I believe that living victims need continuing care and support, and families who are themselves within the circle of those who have been violently hurt need support and care, as your Lordships will remember we were doing only a fortnight ago in this place, in the judgments given by the Law Lords in the case of Dr. Lim Po Chou in a different way. I do believe that victims of violence and their families need a special caring, and I think it very proper that such a Bill as this should be discussed solemnly, seriously and unhurriedly in your Lordships' House. I believe it is the right place for such a Bill to start. Surely all Members of your Lordships' House, both temporal and spiritual, would feel that the passing of this Bill is in direct line with the long Christian heritage of our country. When all is said and done, the best known parable is probably the good Samaritan. We cannot bring the dead back to life, but we can necessarily seek to help to heal the scars, emotional and spiritual as well as physical, in such problems of violence and we can with the good Samaritan come close to the victim, however assaulted. By the action of giving a Second Reading to this Bill we can do what the good Samaritan did, which was to draw close and with sympathy and sensitivity, and incidentally with financial help also, if you read the parable closely; he poured in oil arid wine and sought to care for the victim of violence. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) Bill.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Earl said in introducing this interesting Bill, it is often said that those who are interested in questions of crime and punishment tend to forget about the victims of crime. I do not in fact think that that is true, but the noble Earl certainly continues to deserve our thanks for giving us this further opportunity of talking about this topic, following the debate he introduced rather less than a year ago. I fear that, like the noble Lord, Lord Boston, I do not go along with the noble Earl when he says that hardly anything has been done in this country to help victims of crime. I believe that this country does rather more than most to provide help for victims of crime, although certainly no one would for a moment claim that we have achieved perfection, or anything like it.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, outlined some of the measures that have been taken, but I suppose that the most important single step was when in 1964 we decided to follow the example of New Zealand and set up the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, to which all previous speakers have referred, a step, incidentally, which has since then been copied in quite a few other countries. Those who set up this scheme would, I think, have been surprised if they had known at the time that fifteen years later, and some tens of millions of pounds later, it would still be functioning on a non-statutory basis. I fear that the noble Earl's Bill does not, as he rather indicated in his speech, give statutory force to this existing scheme, indeed far from it. I think I must say a few words about that scheme if my comments on the Bill itself are to be intelligible.

The original concept, as I understand it, when the scheme was prepared, was that the ordinary processes of the civil courts for awarding damages against a person who injured another were simply not appropriate for crimes of violence because the perpetrator, even if he was caught and was, as it were, available, would normally have no funds. From that it followed logically that when the new scheme was set up, it was based, so far as possible, on the system of tort damages administered by the civil courts.

The Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury had a pretty close look at the scheme. I am not sure that I can respond entirely to the description of being " the horse's mouth " and I certainly speak with some diffidence in the presence of the noble and learned Chairman of the Royal Commission who I am very pleased to see here. However, may I briefly say that in its report the Royal Commission commended the scheme; agreed that it was right that the scheme should continue to be based on tort damages, but naturally taking account of any changes which were made in the operation of the courts themselves in the light of the Commission's findings; and recommended quite firmly that the scheme should be made statutory.

The Royal Commission was in touch with the official working party to which reference has been made and, as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, has explained, that working party did, in its turn, come up with certain recommendations for altering the scheme—notably, alterations affecting victims of family violence. As I under- stand it, the last Government, with those two reports before t hem, decided two matters which do not seem to me to be inconsistent with each other. First, they accepted the view of the Royal Commission that the scheme should continue to be based on tort damages; but, secondly, they decided against legislation until there had been a period of experimentation with the working party's suggested changes. We have not yet heard whether the present Government go along with those conclusions, but I hope that we may hear later this evening. What is clear is that the noble Earl's Bill does not go along with them.

The existing scheme spells out the procedures to be followed by the board in some detail, and I would not have been surprised by a Bill which set out these procedures and perhaps provided for the relaxation of some of them—for example, by raising the present limitation that compensation for loss of earnings is not to be more than twice average industrial earnings. However, as I read it, the Bill does not seem to do anything of the kind. It sets up a tribunal which I suppose is intended to replace the existing compensation board. But it says nothing about the tribunal being required to follow, with or without modifications, the principles and practices of the civil courts, but under the existing scheme there is a plain obligation on the board to do just that.

My basic difficulty is that neither does the Bill say what principles and practices the tribunal should follow. Perhaps I may illustrate the point that I am trying to make by calling attention to the provisions of Clause 6 which has the marginal note: Reduction in compensation where certain other payments are made to a claimant ". Subsection (1)(a) of that clause makes no provision at all for deducting social security benefit from compensation awarded to the claimant himself. That means a complete departure from the present practices of the courts and from the practice of the board, and still more from what the Royal Commission thought appropriate for the courts. As noble Lords will probably recall, the Royal Commission recommended a complete offsetting of social security benefits against tort awards. However, the provision in the Bill would mean that the community could be paying, from public funds, to the same individual two separate and cumulative amounts for the same incident—one, calculated according to the detailed social security rules and the other calculated, I do not know how.

Even subsection (1)(b) of the clause, which chooses to treat the dependant differently if the individual dies, has its own problems. For example, the power to make deductions for pensions and social security benefits is permissive and not mandatory. Moreover, the definition of " dependant "—I think that it comes under Clause 13—goes extraordinarily wide and, as I recall my Scottish law in which I do not claim to be an expert, goes a good deal wider than the definition of " dependant " used for " loss of society "—

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, it does not go very much wider. Only part of the clause goes wider. By and large it was copied directly from the Scottish rule.


My Lords, I stand corrected on that point, but it is news to me that a Scottish provision could go as far as to cover a sister's illegitimate child or an aunt's stepson. However, these are comparatively detailed points which we can leave aside for the moment.

The award and calculation of damages in the civil courts constitute a skilled task and the members of the present board, which has to follow the courts, are all legally qualified. But, when we look at the Bill, the only person who must be a lawyer is the chairman of the tribunal. Nothing is said about the make-up of the local boards and although I listened carefully to the noble Earl I did not hear too much information about their composition. The local hoards are very important and if one looks at the very last paragraph of the schedule one sees that their findings are binding on the tribunal and the tribunal cannot interfere with them unless the claimant or the victim appeals to the tribunal. I suppose that as there is no requirement on the tribunal and the boards to follow the procedures of the civil courts, it is natural enough that there should not be any detailed provision about lawyers. However, I wonder why, if so, the chairman himself must be a lawyer. And I wonder, again, what are the principles on which awards are to be based.

There are one or two other points about the Bill which surprise me a little. For example, it is silent on whether the tribunal comes within the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. The provision about legal aid, which has been discussed by previous speakers, is certainly not free from controversy and would, I think, be the first occasion on which legal aid would be made available for proceedings before a tribunal—of which there are very many. Clause 1 distinguishes, in a way, between pecuniary and non-pecuniary loss. However, when one comes to read Clauses 4 and 6 the draftsman seems to have forgotten all about non-pecuniary loss. Clause 9, which is concerned with the Secretary of State recovering compensation when other payments have been made, does not, in fact, provide any machinery for the Secretary of State to discover when these payments are made.

However, in the end, I come back to my main difficulty; that is, the silence of the Bill on the principles which the tribunal and the local boards are to follow, granted that the Bill is drafted in such a way as to sever the connection between the tribunal and the civil courts. I very much hope that the debate will elicit some statement of policy from the new Government. I think that both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearson, and I would regard it as a bonus if we were given some indication of the Government's thinking on the recommendations of the Royal Commission as they affect the courts.

I hope, too, that the day will not be too distant when the Government themselves introduce a Bill to put the present Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme on a statutory footing. However, I am sorry to say that I fear that the provisions of this Bill are so far remote from what I think would be appropriate and from what the Royal Commission thought would be appropriate that it simply would not be possible to put it right by amendments at a later stage. Grateful though I am to the noble Earl for raising this topic, and sympathetic though I am to his general aim, I fear that I for one cannot support the Bill.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords present will have realised by now that there are some difficulties in regard to this Bill. However, in the main, we should consider what the effect of the introduction of the Bill will be, whether or not it passes its Second Reading. I am bound to say that, as someone who has been involved in this matter for some sixty years, I find it difficult to make a final decision on the Bill. Let me say at once that I can think of no one who has been in any way connected with this problem and who has not felt that the victims should certainly be entitled to proper compensation. I have never heard anyone say such a thing.

We are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for having introduced the Bill and for his remarks on it. We know what a deep anxiety he has for humane and decent treatment of people who have been victimised. Everyone would accept that. I shall have difficulty in making up my mind on the timing. It may well be that the Bill passes its Second Reading and goes on to the Committee stage; it may be that the problems which have been raised, for example, by my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, will be sufficiently debated and, as a result, the Bill may proceed.

The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich referred to what the Magistrates' Association has done. It follows, and has followed, the feelings of the noble Earl and others who are interested in this subject. It would be useful to refer in a little more detail to what that Association says about the present situation. Its sub-committee states: The number of compensation orders made by magistrates' courts has been increasing annually and now amounts to approximately ninety thousand each year, and more than 1 in every 5 sentenced for indictable offences at magistrates' courts were ordered to pay compensation. Furthermore, in almost a quarter of the cases in which a fine was imposed by magistrates for an indictable offence it was combined with an award of compensation payable to the victim. It is suggested that if the courts make more frequent use of their powers to order compensation in criminal cases, in due course a multiplication of the occasions on which requests would be made by the executive to cancel compensation orders might end in undermining the authority and prestige of the courts ". Briefly, I should like to dwell on a point that was considered very carefully by the Association. At the time a person is sentenced to imprisonment, orders are made which encourage him and, indeed, allow him to be freed from the compensation claim. Obviously, that is an absurd position and ought to be remedied; there is no question in my mind about that. Incidentally, the Magistrates' Association has made a thorough investigation into compensation. It is certainly not happy about the lack of certain provisions which ought to be included. I agree that it has been a tremendously long time since the suggestion of statutory provisions was made. Consequently, one wonders—and perhaps the Minister will be able to offer an explanation—why the submission of statutory provisions has been delayed in that way. I gather that this was still under consideration by my noble friends—Ministers at the Home Office and so on. I hope that it is under very careful consideration by the Government at present.

I do not want to delay the House for long, because others want to speak. To a considerable extent I agree with much that was said by the noble Earl. Incidentally, the Magistrates' Association has issued to magistrates guidelines in respect of this matter and the necessity of paying compensation, which are of a very strong nature. The sub-committee states: In its interim report the Magistrates' Association proposed that there should be some guarantee, when a court has made a compensation order, that the victim actually receives the sum awarded even though the offender defies the order, or is unable to meet the obligation due to drastic change in circumstances. It was suggested that a victim should be able, on hardship grounds, to apply to a central authority for payment of outstanding compensation, and in such cases the central authority would then be responsible for the recovery of the money from the offender (a procedure comparable to Social Security officers paying maintenance orders and where possible recovering payments made) The proposal was based on the view that through compensation greater attention by magistrates' courts should be directed towards helping the victim, and that victims should not suffer loss where an offender does not meet the obligation placed on him by the court ". I am sure that my noble friend would agree that the authorities, the people who have been dealing with this matter, have done their best to meet the situation. The only question that really arises now—and there are many points I should have to raise myself on a Committee stage—is whether the Committee stage, in itself, would meet the case of those who feel like the noble Lord who spoke before me, or whether we should press the Government to introduce a Bill taking into consideration the arguments which are being used here.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships' House, with its usual tolerance, listened to me making my maiden speech on the very matter we are discussing today. It was made in fact on the Unstarred Question on 18th July last which dealt with compensation for victims and aid to victims, then raised before this House by my noble friend Lord Longford. Often if one looks back on a speech previously made one regrets many things that one said. But I must say that, on looking back at least at the opening of the speech I then made, and which your Lordships, or some of you, were good enough to listen to, I certainly do not regret the opening remarks, which I should like to repeat. My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Longford will not think me presumptuous if, when for the first time I address your Lordships' House … I pay him a tribute for bringing this urgent matter to the attention of the House tonight and for the usual humanity with which he has done so. Many of us who admire the noble Earl for the fervour of his spirituality and social work find it somewhat difficult at times to follow him down all the mental paths through which he would, with his gentle eloquence, beckon us. But none of us has the slightest doubt about the physical position of his heart. It is very much in the right place ".—[Official Report, 14/7/78; col. 265.) I should like to re-echo those words now. In doing so I should like to be one of those who, without equivocation, would wish to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I say " without equivocation " because of the principle of the Bill before us. I share with other noble, and very much more learned, Lords who have spoken, doubts about some of the provisions; and I recognise the need for correction in regard to some of the clauses, but those are very much matters that can be dealt with on the Committee stage.

Many remarks have been made this afternoon about whether or not it is a good idea to include legal aid. My noble friend Lord Boston raised that point That is debatable. It does not go to the heart of this matter, but some of us find it a little Gilbertian that legal aid is available for the criminal who caused damage to the victim, whereas when the poor victim turns up before the board in order to argue a case—which I assure my noble friend is not as simple as he thinks—he finds himself of necessity often without any legal assistance at all. If one follows the recommendation, as I hope we shall, of the Pearson Committee—chaired, as has already been mentioned, by the noble and learned Lord who is with us this afternoon—and one has to award damages according to the law of tort, I pity the poor victim who has to read up the law of tort, and the various principles of damages which apply, in order to make his case for the damages to which he is entitled. But these are matters of detail.

I could add to them, if your Lordships will have the patience to allow me to do so for a moment, by saying that I am delighted to see—and other noble Lords have said so—that another recommendation has been carried through. I believe that, too, was in the Pearson Report. If it was not, it was in the inter-departmental working party's report. I forget for the moment which it was. It is that wives and relations should be brought into this scheme. While welcoming that, it is obvious that some sort of provision must be put in to ensure that either the matter has been dealt with before the courts or some finding has been made. One can well see that, be it a tribunal or a board, one will find that there are matrimonial matters of a type which are not really appropriate to a board or tribunal of that nature to be gone into, as to whether husband hit wife first, or wife hit husband, or whether indeed the wife fell over a chair in the course of a dispute. These things will have to be looked at.

However, what we are discussing this afternoon is whether we are doing justice by victims of crime at the present moment; whether we ought to be doing something more; and whether the setting up of a tribunal—which would, in the course of things, make this scheme a statutory scheme—is the proper way to do it. That is the principle: questions of details can be dealt with at a later stage. I hope, therefore, that no one will fail to support this Second Reading merely because of some learned, or indeed practical, point that has been put to your Lordships' House as to where this Bill, as drawn at the moment, may be defective.

Other noble Lords have talked about the sympathy shown to criminals, and the lack of care for the victim. It is quite wrong to think, even at the present moment (whether or not this country does better, as I believe we do, than many countries or most countries) that enough is being done for the victim when you have a voluntary scheme—forget for a moment the question of quantum—based upon the exercise of prerogative.

Obviously the first step must be—and this has been said for quite a long time; the word " experimentation " has been used, and we have had enough experimentation and experience—that this should be embodied in our legal system on the statute book as a statutory right. If ever there was a time when we ought to be thinking of making it a statutory right, it is a time when all of us, with great regret and pain, find the number of crimes of violence rising around us. If we grapple with that and say that it has to be a statutory scheme, we then go on to ask, " How do we make it properly a statutory scheme? Is it all right to have the present board a statutory scheme that that board will administer, or do you need a tribunal? " As soon as the board is given a statutory scheme, it will, within the normal way we work, become in essence a tribunal.

Again it is a little laughable to think in terms of someone who suffers the wrong of being unfairly dismissed from his employment finding himself before a tribunal—which tribunal, if it decides that unfair dismissal has taken place, is obliged, within certain rules, to award damages—but to say to the victim of a crime ," Well, you have to go before a board, and you have to submit your claim to a hoard. You have no statutory right. It is perfectly true that the board is accustomed to administer its jurisdiction with great mercy and with great understanding, but you have no rights at all. You cannot argue as of necessity that you are entitled. You cannot even say that this will remain as a board with rights for many years to come; other governments may take a different view."

Let us at this moment pause, as the noble Earl asked us to do, and say that we must carry this measure forward at least to see whether this Bill, improved as it may be in Committee, will give proper rights to those who are victims of crime. I believe we should be failing in our duty and the Government would be failing in their duty to our fellow citizens if either the Bill were not given a Second Reading or there was not a clear statement from the Government that they felt, having listened especially to this debate and to their advisers, that there were better ways of bringing this matter on to the statute book and that they were going ahead to do so.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I came to your Lordships' House this afternoon with the intention of thanking the noble Earl for proposing the Second Reading of this Bill and with an equally firm intention of voting for it if necessary, and nothing that has transpired over these hours has in any way disturbed that conviction. Indeed in some ways it has reinforced it.

I approach this problem from two angles which are perhaps not quite so acute as has already been demonstrated by noble Lords, first in the matter of an equivalence between an interest in and concern for those who are malefactors and those who are the victims of malefactors. Only a few days ago we were engaged in your Lordships' House in a debate on prisons and at one stage, I think quite properly, the interjection was made that nothing had been said about the victims, that we had been totally concerned with the welfare of prisoners. I think that was justified to the extent that our total attitude to those who are involved in illegality and wrongdoing, both the victims and the perpetrators, should be seen within a general area of justice and equality of perception, and indeed a realisation that they both belong to the same community, and to ignore either party is to distort the processes of such justice as is expected of such laws as can be formulated.

There is, I think, a perceptible danger that the interests of prisoners will not be safeguarded unless we take greater care to concern ourselves with the sufferings of victims of violent crime, and it is for that reason that I welcome the Bill, which seems to me to set the balance right or to set it within perceptible distance of being regarded by ordinary people as a correction of what they perhaps erroneously assume to be too much concern for those who are the evil-doers and too little regard for those who are its victims. Indeed, out of my own experience, which is long if not deep in this field, how many are those victims and how desperately do they need far more efficient protection and far more efficient machinery whereby something can be done to abate the misery they suffer and to recover them to some reasonable standard of wellbeing!

But there is another aspect, and it has been ventilated with great care this afternoon. It is the question of the legality, the jurisdiction, the statutory nature of what should be done for those who are the victims of violent crime. The one word that has not been mentioned today is the one which immediately leaps to my mind when I think of this matter, and it is the difference between charity and justice. For weird and wonderful reasons of psychological processes, it has been my experience that many people who are entitled to benefactions on the part of a civilised government seem to think it an abasement of their own personality and an insult to their own integrity if they avail themselves of what they conceive to be charity. It is in many cases not charity; it is in many cases a legitimate provision made on their behalf.

However, we are dealing with human beings and not with lawyers and people who can make rational judgments when they are afflicted by suffering of one kind or another. The thing that has stuck out in my experience is that in a previous debate in this House not long ago it was asserted that, for some of the benefits available in the Welfare State, fewer than 28 per cent. of those entitled to the benefits actually claimed them. There is a world of difference in the psychological reaction to a statutory provision and to any ex gratia payment—which does not necessarily suffer because it is in Latin but which very often attracts the assumption, however ill-based, that it is awarded not on the premises of justice but on the premises of pity or some kind of superior care.

Therefore, in my judgment, there are very good reasons for giving this Bill, which, as has already been advocated, provides a statutory basis for what has been the intention of previous Governments but which needs to be more fully undertaken, a Second Reading. It may well be that after that Second Reading there will be ample opportunity to deal with the highly complicated and comprehensive matters which have been raised by noble lawyers and on which, I am well aware, it is far beyond my competence at the moment to settle a judgment, but I see no reason, having some experience of your Lordships' House, why those matters should not be fully undertaken in Committee: they should not cripple the Bill but enlighten it.

I would add a few contributory reasons why I give support to the Bill, and the first belongs to the realm of personal and family violence. Again, if I may presume to talk about the psychological effects, it is a most curious and yet damnable thing that violence produces in those who suffer from it not necessarily resentment but, quite often, acceptance. And one of the most disheartening and desolating experiences of those who endeavour to deal with violence in the family is that so often those who suffer it become conditioned to its experience.

That is why I welcome with open arms the provision in the Bill for therapy as well as for the kind of financial payments which are obviously necessary and required. Therapy is part of the normal process of recovery and is inevitable if such process of recovery is to be extended and fulfilled. For that reason, I welcome the introduction of the principle that reparation by the community must include the continuous process of recovery of those who have been injured, not only in pocket or in person but in their whole psychological and spiritual make-up. It is for that reason that I believe the Bill is invaluable and is entirely right.

The Welfare State, in my view, is about the most Christian thing that has happened in my lifetime, but it has suffered from a kind of political skateboard experience—enthusiasm and rapture almost, followed by disenchantment and cynicism. Disenchantment with skateboards is entirely agreeable to me, but there is a deplorable impression abroad today that the Welfare State has been tried and found wanting. It has not. It has been found incomplete and difficult but not tried, or not tried in its sufficiency. One of the ways in which we can rehabilitate the whole concept of the Welfare State is to care for those who are in greatest need—to go to those who need you, as John Wesley said, and especially to those who need you most. I can think of no more pitiable group in the community today than those who are, in some cases, the accepting victims of prolonged periods of violent treatment, to say nothing of the violence of the street corner, the pub and the various other open spaces in which violence tends to take place.

I am not competent to speak at all about the niceties that belong to the Bill, but I have heard nothing that can disturb my own conviction that here we have a long-awaited and much belated expression of the statutory right, which ought to be encapsulated within a civilised community, to care for those who are victims, particularly of violence. I hope that the day will come when many a prisoner will be given the opportunity of making personal reparation to those whom he has so grievously harmed. Is it not obvious that when compensation is specified, stratified, and set within a statutory provision, it will become much clearer to many a criminal as to what that kind of reparation may be, and when once it is set before him, is it not much more likely that opportunities will be available and that we shall have opened the door to an even better form of rehabilitation and punishment than hitherto? It is for reasons like that that I invite your Lordships to subscribe to the Second Reading of the Bill, to amend it, if necessary, in Committee, and to set it upon the statute book; and I believe that the community will be grateful.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I add a few words in view of the fact that I was chairman of the Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury. I am sure that everyone would agree it is quite right that the victims of criminal violence should be adequately compensated for the injuries which they have suffered. I believe it is also plain that the action of tort for damages is not adequate for that purpose for the obvious reason that the persons who commit these acts of violence very often have no money or other resources, and of course they are not insured. So unless there is some provision for State compensation, the victims will not get compensation.

For quite a long time now there has been the method of compensation on an ex-gratin basis by the existing Compensation Board. I should have thought that to date the board has worked fairly well, but I would also agree that at the appropriate time the right to compensation should be recognised as a statutory right and should be put on a statutory basis. Indeed, that is what we said in our commission report. For that reason one is glad that a Bill has been brought forward for that purpose, but my worry is whether or not the present Bill will be helpful, because there are very difficult problems of co-ordinating the different systems of compensation. I can think of at least four, and there might be several others.

One is the system of social security benefits whereby injured people receive industrial injury benefit, or if they do not qualify for that in a particular case, they may receive the other benefit, which is sickness benefit. That is one system. Another system is that the courts, when they adjudicate on the criminal offence that has been committed, can award compensation to be paid by the malefactor to the victim. Again, there is the question of whether the malefactor will have sufficient funds to pay any substantial sum which is involved. Thirdly, there is the existing system of damages in an action for tort. That has been in existence and in full play for a very long time, and an elaborate system of practice and procedure has been introduced.

Now comes the Bill, adding a further complication to an already very complicated set of subjects. I would not at the moment agree with the way in which the new system has been set up. It seems to me that the provisions are incomplete. The easiest example of this is in Clause 1(4), which defines the meaning of the expression " loss " in the case of loss to the victim, but it says nothing about what " loss " means in the case of dependants of the victim. That is an obvious loose end.

I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale said with regard to Clause 6. It is not in accordance wih the present system by which tort damages are assessed, nor is it in accordance with the system which we believe to be better, which was recommended by the Royal Commission. It is a new and different system now being set up; and how does one co-ordinate the two? There is an attempt at co-ordination in Clause 9, but I repeat the very acid question which my noble friend Lord Allen posed: How is the Secretary of State to know whether or not damages have been obtained? We received evidence from the insurers that an enormous proportion of claims for tort are settled by agreement out of court between the insurance company, on the one hand, and the advisers of the person who is claiming, on the other. There is no provision for the Secretary of State to find out. There is no obligation placed upon the victim who is receiving, prima fade, double compensation to disclose that fact to the Secretary of State.

For those and other reasons I feel considerable doubt as to whether the Bill is a very convenient method of giving statutory force. I observed the suggestion that it might be desirable to keep the present scheme of ex-gratia compensation on foot for a little while longer in order to try out some new developments which are being introduced. I should not agree with that if it were to postpone for a long period the introduction of a proper statutory basis, but if it is designed as an experimental measure to see how the developments work in a way that can easily be altered, and that the intention is after that to introduce a statutory right, I should think it entirely reasonable that those experiments be tried. So at the moment I am in a state of considerable doubt as to whether or not I welcome the Bill as it stands. I entirely agree that there should be some such Bill and that the statutory right should be created. I shall listen with interest to what the final speakers have to say.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to speak; I gave an indication that I would be speaking, but the list of speakers had already been stencilled. I will detain your Lordships for only a few moments. I speak as a layman in every sense of the word, and not as a lawyer. I was relieved to hear the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down describe himself as being in some doubt. I have listened most carefully to the whole of the debate and I, too, find myself in some doubt as to how I hope the House will determine this matter. There is no doubt that we are all indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for having brought the matter to our attention this afternoon and for all the trouble that he has taken over many years—and not only in respect of this Bill—on behalf of the victim as well as the malefactor. That is no news to me; since we were at school together he has always treated me with equal courtesy and compassion in whichever capacity I happened to find myself in relation to him.

But I was deeply disturbed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for whom I have the greatest respect which goes back not as long as my respect for the noble Earl, Lord Longford, but certainly for a long time. It seemed to me that we were in a real difficulty, not as to the principle that sooner or later we must have a statute, as the Royal Commission itself recommended, but as to the timing. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how glad I am, as we all are, that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is seated on the Government Front Bench and that he will be replying to the debate. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us the indication which was sought by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, in his most valuable speech, as to what the Government's intentions are, quite apart from their attitude to this Bill.

It seems to me that, ideally, the Government should take very serious account of this Bill as it stands, and should see whether they wish to make amendments which would bring it nearer to the recommendations of the Royal Commission and more consistent with what the late Administration set in hand in the light of the interdepartmental working party to which reference has been made. We should then indeed find that, at the end of the day, in this House a Bill would become an Act which would represent the wisdom, not only of this House and of the previous Administration but of the present Government. It seems to me impossible at this stage, with my limited legal knowledge, to say whether, out of this Bill, it is going to be possible to find a structure which can be so amended and improved as to meet both what the Royal Commission wanted and the widsom that has come from that interdepartmental working party.

On the other hand, I must confess to your Lordships that, in my experience, no time is ideal for reform. There are always good reasons for further experiment, or for giving the latest working party's report a chance to work itself out; and those of us who have been interested in local government or, indeed, in support for the arts I think would all agree that the present is never suitable, is never ideal, for a forward move. Therefore, my own very strong feeling is that, unless the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, tells us things which make us change our minds, at this point in time we should definitely give this Bill a Second Reading, in the determination that we can improve it and, in that way, can prove not only that in some things we are ahead of another place but also that this is a very valuable part of Parliament.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, those of your Lordships who have spoken in the debate this afternoon will be familiar, I think, with the report of the working party on victims, which was chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, last year. Your Lordships will know, therefore, that the noble Earl would doubtless have wished to have incorporated some more sweeping changes than have been included in the Bill which is before your Lordships' House this afternoon. I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Earl for, as I see it, his realism in assessing the extent to which money can be devoted even to this cause—a cause for which there must be widespread sympathy. Indeed, in the letter from which the noble Earl had the kindness to quote, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made his concern for the victims of violence crystal clear. I would also, if I may, congratulate the noble Earl on the drafting of a Bill which I am sure, if I may say so, Parliamentary counsel would be happy to claim as his own.

The introduction of a Bill on this subject reminds us, I think, of the consequences of violent crime and the shock and distress which can be caused to the victims and to those who are near to them. We cannot be reminded of these things too often. But there is a very real stumbling block in the path of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, in his speech at the beginning of the debate, explained it, and, if your Lordships will forgive me, at the end of this debate I should like briefly to repeat it. It is this. In 1973 the then Home Secretary appointed an interdepartmental working party to review the working of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. The working party reported in March 1978, and on the 19th March of this year the previous Home Secretary, Mr. Merlyn Rees, accepted the working party's recommendations and announced in another place that a revised scheme would be introduced as soon as possible, that a trial period for the revised scheme should ensue, and that that should ail be followed by legislation, as has been recommended by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearson, who of course was chairman of the Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? The noble Lord will agree, I hope, with what I said earlier, that the working party themselves did not pronounce on the question of whether legislation should follow immediately. They left that to their political masters. That was not part of their findings.


That is quite right, my Lords; I confirm what the noble Earl has said. My answer to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, and indeed to other noble Lords who quite rightly want to know the Government's position in this matter, is that although the recommendations are being considered urgently—and when I use the word " urgently " I mean urgently—certainly it is the case that we have not yet been able to give our response to the recommendatons of the working party. But today I am in a position to say that undoubtedly there will have to be a revised scheme in which the Government will be accepting certainly the more detailed administrative improvements recommended by the working party, but it would obviously be wise to have a trial period before moving to legislation. But I join with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, in saying that, for the reason that I have just given—simply that, although we are looking at the matter very urgently indeed, we have not been in time to make a pronouncement on this matter before the Second Reading of this Bill—I think the timing of this Bill is difficult.

I have to add that I think the content of the Bill also presents difficulty, because I am bound to say that the working party's recommendations, based upon the existing scheme, are different in several respects from the Bill which is before the House today. That working party may not have been right in all of the 52 recommendations which it made, but it was a working party which had the advantage of a wide range of official advice, and it took evidence from more than 50 people and organisations which had special knowledge of the law relating to compensation, to the problems experienced by victims of crime, and to the way in which the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme works. The report was widely circulated; comments were received; and, finally, the previous Secretary of State accepted the recommendations. Thus it is that the working party's report is crucial to a consideration of the noble Earl's Bill; and, briefly, I should now like to compare the main provisions of the Bill with the recommendations which were made by the working party. In doing so, I am concerned to explain, not only to the noble Earl but also to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, that it is the terms of the Bill and not the noble Earl's objectives with which the Government do not agree. I am also concerned to seek to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the position in which I am, which is that I believe that the differences of view on this Bill are fundamental differences, and not just Committee points.

The two major changes which the Bill makes in the way that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme operates are, first, to make the initial decision on the amount of compensation payable rest on a personal hearing before a local board; then, the applicant shall have a right of appeal to a compensation tribunal, and one member of that tribunal has to be medically qualified.

Because the noble Earl spoke a long time ago, may I give a brief indication of how the existing board works? In the first instance, the victim makes a written application which is referred to a single member of the board for a decision. The applicant is involved in no expense except for the stamp that he or she places on the letter. Each board member is a lawyer and each decision of a single member is made on the basis of common law damages. If the applicant is not satisfied with the decision of the single member, he or she has the right to a hearing before a panel of three other board members; and the single member has the right, an important right, to refer a case to the panel if he considers that he cannot alone reach a just and proper decision. Then the applicant and a member of the hoard's staff have the right to call and examine and cross-examine witnesses; but the procedure is kept completely informal, a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Boston, commended.

What is the result of this? During the financial year 1977–78, 16,432 cases were resolved; but only 1,356 went before a hearing. Nearly 15,000 cases, therefore, were resolved by single members of the board without a decision being queried by the applicant. The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, were right to draw attention to the fact that legal aid is not available in these cases. I should like to say that since the introduction of the Legal Aid and Advice Act in 1972, limited legal advice and assistance has been available to applicants of limited means. This can cover advice on whether to make an application at all or whether to accept the single member's decision, and can include legal aid and assistance with the application form. The absence of legal aid all through the process does not seem to have inhibited applicants from being represented at hearings. In 1977–78, 48 per cent. of those appearing at hearings were legally represented and only 33 per cent. represented themselves. The fact is that legal aid is not generally available for administrative tribunals. When the relevant provisions of the Legal Aid Act 1979 come into effect, provision will be made for regulations specifying proceedings before tribunals, in relation to which legal aid and representation may become available. It is at that moment that legal aid for criminal injuries has to be re-considered.

The working party considered whether the initial decision of a single member of the board should be replaced by the decision of full-time assessors, but considered—and it is important that your Lordships should be reminded of this—that the existing arrangements were effective and economical. More important, the working party took the view that if compensation was to continue to be based on common law damages, it was essential that the decisions should be made by lawyers, who should have the benefit of advice from doctors where necessary.

I was interested in and listened carefully to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearson, and the noble Lord, Lord Allen, who was a member of the Pearson Commission. Both, in essence, said to your Lordships that it is not clear from the Bill what the basis for assessment is to be or whether, as I understood the noble and learned Lord, an unscrupulous victim could obtain what, in effect, would be double compensation. For myself, I am certain that, in general, it would be wrong for the scheme to pay either more or less than an individual might expect to obtain at a civil action.

I find it difficult to see how one can disagree with the working party's conclusions that decisions should continue to be made by fully-qualified lawyers—which is not the effect of this Bill—who are currently engaged in the assessment of common law damages. That is not the effect of the Bill either. What the Bill is doing is to provide for local boards. I thought that the noble Earl was going to propose that these local boards would be manned in some particular way. Because no particular mention was made either in the Bill or in the noble Earl's speech of the extra money which will be needed for manning the boards all over the country, I assumed that the noble Earl would recommend that the boards should be manned by volunteers. If that is the case, I wonder, speaking for myself, how volunteers can be expected to plunge into the intracacies of tort, how they could achieve consistency of decisions; how such a new system could do other than lead to an ever-increasing number of appeals, which Clause 2 provides are to go to the main tribunal and then on to the Court of Appeal.

I accept that it is the noble Earl's intention to make this scheme as accessible as possible; but I venture to suggest that the noble Earl's proposals might have an opposite effect. I would guess that victims do not want publicity and that many would shrink from the idea of having their cases heard locally. I would also guess that most people would find it easier to have their applications decided on a written basis in the first instance than to have to take the time off work and travel to what—

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I do not see any reason why anybody who preferred it to be handled on paper should not do it in that way. There is nothing in the Bill which compels one to be represented.


My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. The fact is that if the noble Earl is going to the trouble of setting up boards around the country, he is, in fact, jettisoning the very cheap, economical, straightforward and informal system existing at the present time.

Your Lordships might be interested to hear that, if the 1977 figure can be used as a guide, if they were not able to write a letter to a single member, nearly 15,000 people would have need to go off to attend a hearing. I would emphasise also that, in 1977, less than one-third of the hearings were in London: the other two-thirds of the board's activities were held in different parts of Great Britain. The noble Earl suggests also that local involvement would mean that more people would become aware of their right to apply for compensation. Once again, there is nothing between the Government and the noble Earl in that objective; but I venture to suggest that the expense involved in servicing local boards in meeting the cost of applicants and witnesses involved in local hearings and in paying for the increased number of second-round hearings (which undoubtedly would be caused by local variations in the amount of compensation awards) would pay for national publicity on a much larger scale than anything which could be envisaged by our most competitive commercial firms.

During the course of each year, the board despatches some 65,000 items of informative literature concerning its functions to the public and voluntary bodies which offer to provide information to inquiries on the board's behalf. The board believes—and I share their view—that the most effective way of ensuring that victims are aware of their rights is to see that information is in the hands of each victim as quickly as possible. Therefore, the board is currently considering the distribution of a revised version of the information leaflet to go to hospitals, victim support schemes, the DHSS local offices, the WRVS, citizens advice bureaux, police stations, magistrates' courts, probation officers and public libraries. And do not let us underestimate the publicity of the noble Earl's own action in initiating this debate today.

My Lords, may I finally turn to the actual payment of compensation. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred, as did other noble Lords, including the noble Earl, to the fact that family violence will be brought within the scope of this piece of legislation. It is recommended—and this was particularly picked up by the previous Government—that family violence would be brought into the scope of the scheme as recommended by the working party. I am sure that your Lordships in all parts of the House will support that general intention. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, made the point in his speech that he was particularly glad that this Bill brought within its scope the giving of therapy (I think it is in Clause 3) to victims. Noble Lords will wish to know that the giving of payments for therapy already falls within the scope of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. The existing Criminal Injuries Compensation Board has complete discretion to pay compensation for any expenses incurred as a direct result of the injury, and this would include any therapy or treatment considered necessary.

On the question of the actual payments of compensation, I am worried that some clauses in the Bill appear to have an adverse effect on the rights of applicants to compensation. The existing scheme, for instance, allows applications to be made in respect of any incident occuring since 1st August 1964; the interdepartmental working party recommended that applications should normally be made within three years of the incident; but the noble Earl's Bill requires applications to be made within one year of the incident or six months of the death of the applicant, whichever is the longer.

In saying that, I am beginning to go into detail. The point I am trying to make is that the stumbling block to the further progress of the noble Earl's Bill is of this nature. We have a Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which has worked effectively for 15 years; we have the recommendations of the working party, as the result of a lengthy and well-informed review which recommended modifications to the scheme. The previous Government accepted this policy just over three months ago with a view to legislation after a trial period. If this is to be the way forward, there would be some substantial differences between the provisions recommended by the working party and the provisions which are to be found in the noble Earl's Bill.

The noble Earl may well say that he does not wish to wait. I am not asking for lengthy delay; my right honourable friend is now receiving advice about the working party's report and should be in a position to give his conclusions soon. Obviously, there are still decisions which have to be taken. For instance, it is not so easy as may appear from the noble Earl's Bill to determine what should properly be set out in substantitive legislation on this subject and what can reasonably be included in subordinate legislation, such as the rules suggested in Part I of the Schedule to the Bill. Therefore, if your Lordships were to be asked to take this Bill through Committee and Report stages now, it would be against the view which the previous Secretary of State expressed as recently as only just over three months ago: namely, that a trial period should elapse in order to evaluate changes to the scheme before further legislation is attempted.

Today's debate has been valuable because it has afforded an opportunity for the plight of victims of crime to be drawn once again to public attention. I am not just being polite when I say that I am sure that in considerating the recommendations of the working party on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme the Government will take account of the particular concerns that have prompted the noble Earl's Bill, and that both the Bill and this debate will very much influence the Government's thinking. Meanwhile, I seriously ask the noble Earl not to proceed this afternoon with this Bill, which in important respects departs from the way in which the scheme should be administered, as recommended by the noble and learned Lord's Commission and the interdepartmental working party as well.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I interrupt?


I will give way in a moment. If the noble Earl will agree to do this, his Bill will have helped in a practical way the victims of violence.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords before the noble Lord sits down and before I attempt to reply, may I ask him in what way our Bill differs from the findings of Lord Pearson's Royal Commission?


My Lords, on the assessment how compensation is to be paid.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, we do not deal with that explicitly so I am afraid that I do not accept that particular correction.


My Lords, if the noble Earl will forgive me, it is absolutely fundamental.

5.35 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I explain to the noble Lord that we are all grateful to him. He has been very kind to me and I shall be kind to him back. I do not share his view of working parties as though they deliver the Tablets from Sinai. For many years I have been a member of lots of working parties, some official and some unofficial, and I have never heard them treated as quite such sacred cows as they have been treated this afternoon. I will come back to that in a moment. I am deeply grateful to noble Lords, beginning with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and all other speakers who have taken part in this debate, for their contributions. Naturally the speeches of those who supported the Bill in principle, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich, the noble Lords, Lord Soper, Lord Mishcon and Lord Redcliffe-Maud, are the speeches which appealed to me. The other speeches made me think the harder because obviously they cannot be passed over lightly.

I am very glad that on the whole we have not heard much about cost this afternoon, although the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, touched on it. I had thought that we should be told that in these stringent times any advance of this sort was impossible. That has not been the argument which has been raised against us, so I will not dwell on that now. I knew we should have something about timing, because the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham—inevitably, perhaps—quoted what was said by the former Home Secretary, Mr. Merlyn Rees, that a period of time should elapse before we could introduce a statutory scheme; that we had to see how the scheme, as amended, would work. This scheme has been going on for 15 years.

In 1973 the working party was set up with the explicit instruction of proceeding on the assumption that we were going to have a statutory scheme. That was six years ago. The idea that we need a further period because of some relatively minor changes which are being suggested I find a feeble argument. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, spoke most charmingly, but I did not interpret Lord Redcliffe-Maud's speech in this way. Lord Belstead felt that Lord Redcliffe-Maud said that this was a difficult time. I think the noble Lord was speaking with a touch of irony; but the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, took it literally. However, we can discuss that at some other time.

One is bound to take very seriously—as one does any of his remarks—the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. He brings to this topic, as he does on many matters, a special expertise and, in particular, the expertise of someone who was a member of the Pearson Commission. Some of his points were minimal and were obviously points which could clearly be improved in Committee. I do not doubt for a moment that there are many such points, as I said when I was speaking. He raised one important issue which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, also touched upon. In drawing up a plan of this kind it is no I doubt difficult to say what should go into the main scheme and what should be left to administration. I realise that that is an important point. If I am told that our scheme is too exiguous, that it does not go exhaustively enough into a lot of questions, then I am bound to admit that argument. Those matters in so far as they must be incorporated in the Bill, can clearly be added at the next stage. So I would not accept that as a fatal obstacle.

May I go back to this working party? The working party were all very well; they were human beings, not any more expert in these matters than noble Lords; they are well-meaning people. The idea that I in one or two respects ventured to differ from them leaves me unextinguished. I am not worried by that particular argument. There we are. There are people who have spoken in favour of the Bill much more eloquently than I can. If we feel an obligation to victims and if we feel that a big step forward should be made, there has been no argument brought forward this afternoon which says that it should not be made now. Therefore I say that we should be betraying victims if we did not seize this opportunity. I venture, therefore, to ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Der-went)

My Lords, I could not quite hear the last words of the noble Earl.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I venture to ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.