HL Deb 26 July 1990 vol 521 cc1611-2

11.3 a.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the United Kingdom Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme compares with other similar schemes in operation in Western Europe.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, we know of schemes in 11 other Western European countries for compensating the victims of violent crime. These schemes vary in detail but we believe that none is more generous or wider in scope than the scheme for Great Britain and the statutory scheme in Northern Ireland. Some £85 million was paid out under our schemes in 1988, compared with the equivalent of £13 million in the Federal Republic of Germany and £11 million in France. Both these countries have similar populations to ours.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that most encouraging and generous reply. Will the Victims' Charter, which was published earlier this year, further help victims of crime and their families?

Viscount Ullswater

Yes, my Lords. My noble friend is quite correct. The Victims' Charter was published on 22nd February 1990, which was European Victims' Day. It sets out for the first time the rights and expectations of victims of crime and how the various criminal justice agencies should help them. We are still collecting comments on the charter and will consider further steps when all comments have been received.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, while I appreciate what the Minister has said about the scheme, he will know—does he not?—that there have been many complaints with regard to the delays which occur in settling compensation and in the adjudication process. Will he inform the House how this country compares with the rest of Western Europe in that regard?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, we do not have information about delays in other countries, but some countries—for example, Luxembourg—pay compensation only where it has proved impossible to obtain it from other sources. I would suggest that that process may cause considerable delays.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, that reply was somewhat vague. However, can the Minister indicate the average delays that occur in this country?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, there are a considerable number of cases overhanging in this area. I believe that figures have already been given to your Lordships' House which suggest that about 90,000 cases are awaiting resolution. That is the count that has been arrived at. It is difficult to give an average time for delays because cases have to be looked at in some detail. It is hard to arrive at a figure for some injuries because they may be quite long term. One has to establish what the injuries are and how long they are likely to last before any compensation can be awarded. However, interim awards are made.

Lord Colnbrook

My Lords, on that point about interim awards, will my noble friend encourage the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to make greater use of them? Interim payments can be an enormous help to people. However, long delays nullify to a considerable extent the help that is given if that help is delayed for one, two, three or more years, as has been the case.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my noble friend has a good point. It is the custom that an interim award to relieve hardship can be made as soon as eligibility is established.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, in view of the way in which the citizens of Europe are likely to travel increasingly from one country to another in future, so that therefore this problem is likely to cross national boundaries, is attention being given to unification of the scheme throughout Europe? That is surely its ultimate fate.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, there is a European convention which the United Kingdom ratified on 7th February 1990. The United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden have ratified the convention. We take every opportunity to make certain that every other European country will come into line with the convention as soon as possible.