HL Deb 20 January 1994 vol 551 cc720-3

3.26 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend that the proposals on criminal injuries compensation contained in the White Paper Cmnd. 2434 of December 1993, Compensating victims of violent crime, will be subject to parliamentary debate before coming into force.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there are at present no plans to do so.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Does the noble Earl agree that the White Paper contemplates diluting an existing scheme which puts the victim rather than the criminal first? Does he further agree that to dilute it in that way would be to go back on the existing legislation passed by Parliament in 1988? Does he believe that the issues raised are of such importance that they merit proper parliamentary scrutiny before the prerogative is exercised in that way?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not believe that it dilutes the scheme at all; nor has any secret been made of the fact that the scheme was to be changed. In fact it may make it a quicker scheme. There will be a set tariff, and on the whole people will be no worse off and some may be better off. Her Majesty's Government announced their intention, in a written Parliamentary Answer, on 23rd November 1992. There was an Adjournment debate on 18th March 1993 and the announcement was made on 15th December 1993. There is no statutory reason for a debate, but if the noble Lord wishes to introduce one, it is up to him to do so.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in view of the great public interest and concern in this matter, does my noble friend feel that it would be helpful if your Lordships' House, with its vast mass of experience, were to debate this matter? Does he think that such a debate might be of considerable help to the Government?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not know whether or not it would be of help to the Government. It depends on what your Lordships might be good enough to say. If any noble Lord wishes to table a Motion, he is at liberty to do so.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has gone on record for eternity as saying that in no way does the new scheme dilute what was payable under the old scheme? Will he kindly note and comment on the fact that I have a case before me of a doorman who was fatally injured as a result of intervening in a brawl? The award under the old scheme was £101,525 in respect of funeral expenses, bereavement award and dependency, with an additional £10,000 being awarded to each of the deceased's two sons, making a total of over £120,000. Under the new scheme the award would be £10,000, plus funeral expenses, in total.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is always accurate. However, if he quotes me, I should be grateful if he would be even more accurate than he normally is. I understand him to have said that I said "in no cases" would that be so. What in fact I said—Hansard will correct me if I am wrong and the noble Lord will be able to confirm whether or not I did say it—was "in most cases" is that so. The fact is that the amount of money available for criminal injuries compensation will be £558 million over the next three years, and for the past three years it has been only £462 million. New tariffs are based on the actual payments made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is right in that the payments in the past were made under two separate headings—one of general damages and the other of special damages. The special damages, some of which were considerable, applied to only a few people.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that it is a little odd that, given the fact that the Home Secretary indicated that the victim must be placed first, we are now confronted with a situation where the victims of the most serious assaults will have their awards reduced? How can that be justified?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, in the past awards were always made on the basis of what the damages would be at law under the civil courts. There is no absolute or right system by which to calculate that. The new figures were arrived at by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, using its judgment. Under the new scheme there will be a tariff which will make procedure far quicker and simpler. As I said earlier, in most cases the majority of people will receive as much if not more than under the present scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, may know that 48 per cent. of the claims under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board scheme are for less than £2,000; 59 per cent. are for less than £3,000; and 94 per cent. of all the claims given by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board are for less than £10,000. In the past three years only 21 claims out of 180,000 applications amounted to over a quarter of a million pounds.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that no member of the Armed Forces will be financially disadvantaged by the proposed changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I believe I am correct in saying that Her Majesty's Armed Forces come under a different scheme.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, did I correctly understand the noble Earl to take the point that the Government are not under an obligation to bring the scheme before Parliament? Does that mean that the Government will bring matters before Parliament only when that is unavoidable?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is a scheme which is made under the royal prerogative. The changes are made administratively to the scheme. The changes proposed are traditionally implemented by Answers to Written Questions, and that is what happened.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, while recognising the advantages of simplifying and speeding up the system, will my noble friend agree that the introduction of a banding system raises inequities? For example, a child losing the sight of an eye will be in exactly the same category of compensation as an elderly person losing an eye. The implications are clearly different in both cases.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there are advantages and disadvantages in a tariff. In some cases the tariff will apply to the same type of damage to one person as it does to another. Under the previous scheme that did not happen.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is the Minister aware that successive Conservative Governments are to be congratulated, first, on introducing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme in 1964 and, secondly, on providing in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 that the scheme should have statutory status? The essence of the 1964 scheme, which would have become statutory if the 1988 Act had been implemented, was that the compensation should be equivalent to civil damages. What has gone wrong? Why is it now the case, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, indicated, that a person who suffers the same injuries accidentally will receive much more from the civil courts than if the injury is inflicted deliberately? Is that a true reflection of the Government's much proclaimed concern for the victims of crime?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, for one moment I could net believe my ears. I thought I heard the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, congratulate the Government on what they have done. That is a happy position to be in and I hope that he will do that on other occasions also. That is not part of my brief, and if the noble Lord interrupts me he will make me forget what he asked. However, I shall provide an answer to what I believe was his question.

There were proposals to make the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board a statutory instrument. Provision were made in the Criminal Justice Act 1988. That could have been introduced under a commencement order but was not introduced specifically at the request of the board.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the announcement of changes by way of Answers to written parliamentary questions is not always the best way of issuing Government Statements? Is he aware also that if one examines the Written Answers in another place, there is a tendency for them to concentrate round the day before Parliament goes into Recess in the hope, presumably, that the Answers will not be picked up? Even in the normal way, Answers tend to be given in Friday's Hansard, when a large number of Members of Parliament have already departed for their constituencies.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is a careful watcher of all matters parliamentary. People do not have quite as long a Recess as he seems to think. The actual announcement was made on 23rd November 1992. I do not believe that that was the day before the Christmas Recess. It is around 15 months since that occurred so there has been wide knowledge of the matter. There is no secret about it. The White Paper was issued and there was an Adjournment debate—not on the day before Parliament rose, but on 18th March 1993. That was a year ago.