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Simpson, Alan

Skinner, Dennis

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Wray, Jimmy

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Hugh Bayley and

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Special Grant Report (No. 10) (House of Commons Paper No. 218), which was laid before this House on 17th February, be approved.

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Criminal Injuries Compensation

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Conway.]

12.6 am

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) : I understand that the purpose of Adjournment debates is to develop a personal and intimate relationship and dialogue with the Minister involved, so I hope that you will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why my starting point this evening is to say something about my family. I have three children. I suspect that, like me, most Members would happily say that they would give their life for their children. It would be a different matter if I were asked whether I could give my life "to" them? And what would I do if that, in itself, were not enough? I take that as my starting point because one of my constituents, a man named Peter Jones, has had to confront precisely those questions in dealing with the issues facing the life of his son Ross.

The national press picked up the case of Ross Jones a few weeks ago. He is likely to be the last child to receive an award from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board before the Government's new rules come into force. I should like to say a bit about Ross. At the age of three, Ross was criminally battered. He barely lived. The fact that he has survived is a great tribute to the medical skills of those who dealt with him and to the love, affection and commitment of his father, grandmother and brothers.

Ross is now 14 years old. Only a matter of months separate him from the youngest of my children. I am somewhat humbled by the knowledge that, throughout the years that I have played football with my youngest son, Peter Jones has changed nappies for his son, Ross. Throughout the years that I have taken my children out careering around the countryside, Peter Jones has carried his son Ross everywhere they have gone. As I stand and look with a sense of excitement and optimism at the ability of my children to grow into independent adults, Peter Jones knows that his son will never experience that growth into independence. Ross will for ever be a child's mind trapped in an adult's body that does not really work. The reward that Ross is likely to receive through the CICB will be about £1.3 million. The award will be based on an assessment of the actual damages that he has suffered and the "actual" costs of care entailed in supporting Ross and ensuring that his family are able to live with him in a caring and loving environment. He began to be carried around when he was three years old and his grandmother was in her 60s ; he is now 14 years old and his grandmother is in her 70s and riven by arthritis, so the position has changed greatly. The family's greatest fear has been that they would not have the physical ability or financial resources to continue to provide the supportive and loving environment with which they have been able to surround him in the 11 years since he was criminally injured.

Despite everything, Ross is lucky. He comes from a remarkable family who have been able to give him a degree of care and love that is a tribute to the best parts of society. He is lucky in that he will have received the award before the changes in the rules. If Ross Jones's claim had been entered after this April, the maximum amount that he would have been able to receive would have been £250,000. His family would have been left in the dreadful position of having to decide what would be best for him. Would it be better for Ross to live a long life, drag them

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into penury and be left, should he outlive them, in penury, isolation and loneliness himself? Or should they hope that he dies before the money runs out? That is an appalling choice to confront the victims of the most serious multiple criminal injuries. Yet it is precisely the choice with which such families will be confronted under the new scheme.

The danger is that Ross will be the last in a line of victims to be compensated for the actual injuries received, based on the actual costs of care that they will face for the rest of their lives. Instead, there will be a system of arbitrary tariffs. I do not think that the public outside the House can begin to understand or sympathise with the idea of a victim of child abuse receiving a maximum award of £1,000--the same amount as that awarded for a chipped tooth. I do not think that they will understand that rape victims should be entitled to a maximum of £7,500, the same as if they had suffered a fractured hip or a broken knee. They will not understand how victims of multiple rape should be entitled to a maximum award of £10,000. They will not understand how, for those who lose an eye, the award of £20,000 will apply whether the victim lost his or her eyesight at the age of eight or 80. In a world peopled by humans, the implications are far more complex.

The public will not understand the Government logic that proposes developing a new scheme around a framework that ignores the idea of separate calculations for loss of earnings, medical expenses or the consequences of medical multiple injuries.

Instead of a human-focused system of compensation and awards, we are moving towards a system of arbitrary ceilings. Not content with rate capping, it seems that the Government are now intent on death capping and disability capping. The police officer who, under the current system, having been attacked and having to retire permanently disabled, received an award of £121,167 would be cash-limited to £7, 500 under the new scheme. The mother of two children--whose husband was stabbed to death and died on their doorstep--who received an award of £137,236 would be limited to £17,500.

There have been problems under the existing scheme, but the nature of those problems was clear : they were mainly to do with medical delays, with the absence of legal aid and with the lack of a statutory framework of criminal compensation on the same basis as the compensation available under civil law. What the Government propose is to move us from injustice to rough justice. It is, in fact, a movement towards no justice at all. The proposals seem to be about the abandoning or devaluing of the victim rather than putting the victim first. They are about having a crazy system which is tariff-centred and not people-centred. Fundamentally, they are about the saving of money.

On 31 March 1993, the then Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), wrote a letter to the chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board in which he said :

"The real costs of the Scheme lie in the size of the compensation bill [A] major element in the compensation bill is the size of the award Once the basis on which payments are made is changed, with the tariff scheme, the linkage to common law damages and to their rate of increase will be broken."

The current Minister made it even clearer in his answer in Hansard on 3 February this year, when he pointed out the actual savings involved. There would be savings over a three-year period, with a 25 per cent. reduction, from £204

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million to £153 million, in the amount expected to be paid out in criminal compensation. It would be an enormous figure for those actually making the claims, but we ought to put it in context. What are large amounts of money for victims of criminal attacks are small beer for the Government.

The figure needs to be seen against a different set of measures. It amounts to one third of 1 per cent. of the £13.8 billion of public debt that the Government wrote off in the privatisation of public industries. It is less than the £57.6 million "bung" that the Government tried to give to British Aerospace when they sought to palm off Rover on it, and which has now had to be repaid by British Aerospace.

It is against those sorts of figures that the scheme must really be judged. It is a shabby way to treat victims of serious crime. It is an insult to innocence. It is an affront to those who might have sustained their injuries by trying to prevent a crime rather than perpetrate one.

Outside the House, the Government need to understand that they barely have a supporter in the land. They have no backers among the public, who see this as a measure of the Government's contempt for them. The Victim Support campaign now has 37 organisations, including the Police Federation, the Prison Officers' Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Trades Union Congress and the General Council of the Bar, all of whom are flatly opposed to the tariff scheme that the Government seek to introduce. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, in its statement, told the Minister :

"The intention throughout the history of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme has been that an individual victim of a crime of violence should be compensated in exactly the same way as he would have been had he sued his assailant in the Civil Court."

I presume that that would apply equally had the "he" been a "she". It then said :

"the Board have repeatedly made clear to Ministers their considered view that, whilst sharing the aims of Ministers to provide as efficient and quick a service as possible, these proposals are fundamentally wrong."

Tomorrow, in another place, the Government will hear noble Lords of all parties roundly denounce the basis of the Government's proposals. If that is not enough, the Government should understand that their proposals would clearly breach the European convention on compensating victims of violent crime, article 4 of which makes it clear that

"compensation shall cover at least loss of earnings, and in the case of dependants, loss of maintenance".

Last March, the Home Office Minister told the CICB that the reformed scheme would no longer offer compensation, but only "a tangible recognition of society's sympathy and concern for the victim".

Victims of crime do not want "tea and sympathy" from the Government. They want decency, equality before the law, justice and sufficiency. That is not much to ask in a society that claims to be civilised.

How do we begin to enshrine those principles in a framework of criminal injuries compensation? I suggest that we adopt a different notion of "back to basics", which involves setting out clear and simple principles. First, the victim of criminal injury should be treated no less favourably than someone similarly injured who obtains compensation through the civil court- -a system based on common law damages. Second, compensation must incorporate at least four elements : the cost of future care ; loss of earnings ; medical costs ; and a dependant's

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entitlements. Third, victims must have access to legal aid. Fourth, a victim's relatives must have entitlements to cover their own financial loss resulting from the victim's injury or death. Finally, those suffering long-term serious injury should have access to "structured settlements", adapting to the actual costs of care, not the arbitrary indifference of a tariff system.

The good news is that the framework for such a scheme already exists in the form of the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1988. The whole framework now operates within Northern Ireland, so the Government need not acquire the skill of joined-up thinking ; they must simply learn to listen and understand. The failure to do so will leave society open to serious and damaging consequences, especially for those in Northern Ireland. Only a fool would presume that, if the rest of the United Kingdom changes to an arbitrary system of tariffs, the existing provisions in Northern Ireland could be guaranteed to survive tomorrow.

The second consequence is that the families of the most seriously injured victims would be haunted by the fear of penury if the victims lived too long, torn apart by feuds over how to divide the windfall spoils in the event of a victim's early death, or feel a sense of foreboding about what would be left of the victim's life if he or she happened to outlive the carers within the family. And the victims themselves will be embittered by the arbitrariness of this tin-pot tariff system.

I urge the Minister to recognise only two things : that the current proposals are a framework for fools and horses, but that it is not too late to turn around.

12.23 am

The Minister or State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean) : We are in the business not of giving victims tea and sympathy but of providing the most generous compensation scheme for victims in the world. When the tariff scheme is introduced, it will remain the most generous compensation scheme in the world.

Let me make it clear that the Government are committed to ensuring that the needs of victims are properly recognised, and that they are treated with consideration and respect. That is why we have increased the grant to Victim Support by more than 50 per cent. in the past three years and why we are increasing it by a further 20 per cent. next year to more than £10 million. Very few organisations today have benefited from such a massive increase in expenditure.

We have accepted all the recommendations to help victims in the royal commission's report, and even now we are taking further measures to improve the position of victims in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

Support for victims can be provided in many forms. It can be practical, emotional and financial. I want to concentrate on the last aspect tonight.

Our criminal injuries compensation scheme has been in operation since 1964. As far as we are aware, it is the second oldest such scheme in the world and the most generous anywhere.

Listening to the hon. Gentleman tonight, one would get the impression that we were paying out just a few million pounds, and that other countries were much more generous, so it is worth putting on record the fact that we pay out far more compensation than all the other countries in the European Union put together. Only the United States

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of America pays out more in total than we do, and considering that there are considerably more victims of crime in the United States, our awards are 3.5 times more generous than the average United States award.

We shall continue making generous awards to victims--that will not change-- but a scheme whose essential features were designed 30 years ago, when reported crime was much lower and the number of applications far fewer, is no longer the right way to achieve that aim.

We now need a simpler, more straightforward and transparent scheme that gets awards to victims reasonably quickly and with as little fuss and inconvenience as possible. Applicants should start with a good idea of how their claim will be considered, and how much money they are likely to get. They should not need to seek specialised expensive legal advice to make an application. That can be very expensive, and can slow things down.

We do not believe that those basic requirements can be met by a complex quasi-legal scheme based on common law damages and individual assessments. We believe, however, that they will be met by our new tariff scheme.

Under the scheme, compensation will be paid more quickly and simply from a scale of awards for injuries of comparable severity. All eligible applicants with similar injuries will be treated in the same way, and will receive the same lump sum payments. Despite suggestions to the contrary, those payments will continue to be generous. As our White Paper made clear, the tariff has been based on awards made recently by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, reflated to bring them up to current-day values.

There is nothing arbitrary about the scale of the tariffs. If the hon. Gentleman considers that the award for rape victims is insulting, he should complain to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, because we took the board's average award to rape victims and increased it. We have not picked the figures out of thin air ; we have put all the compensation awards the board has made into the computer and added them up, and we came up with the median award. The net result is that at least 54 per cent. of claimants can expect to get as much as or more than they could have expected under the present arrangements. The figure will be still higher, because the level of inflation we assumed when setting the tariff is starting to look extremely generous. Moreover, under the tariff scheme, it will no longer be necessary to deduct from the award any benefits that claimants may have received from the Department of Social Security. That too will benefit many claimants, and will have the added advantage of speeding up payments.

There will be a new, fully independent appeals system for those dissatisfied with their award. Unlike the present arrangements, in which the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board effectively acts as both judge and jury, there will be complete separation of the initial decision taking and the appeals process. That too will benefit victims.

We have been asked why we did not bring into force the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which, for most practical purposes, would have made the present scheme statutory. The simple answer is that the board asked us not to, because it would have seriously disrupted its work in dealing with the ever growing backlog of cases. The Home Affairs Committee in 1990 accepted the force of that argument.

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In the meantime, the picture has been changing dramatically, even since the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The volume of cases received has gone up 50 per cent. and, regrettably, is still rising, while the amount paid out in compensation has increased threefold. The old scheme is simply not geared to cope with such levels of business. That is why we need the radically different approach that is provided by our tariff scheme.

Some cynics say that the real purpose of the change is merely to save money. That is not the case. The main objective is to provide a better service to victims. The key feature of the tariff scheme is that awards are based on those given under the old system. Most victims will receive as much as, or more than, they would have done under that system. The tariff scheme will still remain one of the most generous in the world.

Once the changeover to the new system is complete, the expenditure on compensation will continue to rise. Any hon. Member who suggests that the global amount that we will be paying out will be cut, or will be less than we are currently paying, is talking nonsense ; it is not true.

The overall expenditure on the tariff scheme will continue to rise, but it will rise less quickly than it would have done had we kept the present compensation scheme. I make no apologies for that. Securing best value for money is something to which we must have regard. We cannot simply allow a major area of expenditure to continue its rapid upward spiral unchecked.

Concern was expressed that the tariff scheme will not take individual circumstances into account and, more particularly, that it will no longer pay loss of earnings. It has even been said that this contravenes the European convention on the compensation of victims of violent crime, which the United Kingdom has ratified. I do not agree, but I can tell the House that we are sending full details of the tariff scheme to the Council of Europe, as the convention requires, and will take careful note of any response made.

I am tempted to say that, if any hon. Member is suggesting that Britain should put its scheme on the same basis as Europe, my hon. Friends in the Treasury would agree, and would say, "Could we please not pay out £150 million this year, but merely the £6 million or whatever that Germany paid out?"

I believe that the tariff scheme includes an element for loss of wages and the other heads of damage currently payable, although those heads are no longer assessed separately. The tariff levels were set by reference to awards made by the board, and those awards included loss of earnings and so on. So the tariff awards similarly include an element for loss of earnings inside each award and include other heads of damage, albeit unquantified and not assessed separately. I accept that some people will get less than they might have expected under the present scheme--that is an inevitable consequence of such a major change--but it must be remembered that most claims are comparatively small. In 1992-93, 86 per cent. of all awards were under £5,000, and only 5 per cent. exceeded £10,000. That means that most of those who will get less will not get much less.

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That is a rather different picture from the one that has been painted, which may have left some hon. Members with the impression that most people will be losers under the new scheme, and that they will all lose badly. The awards will be paid more quickly and with much less fuss. It is important that victims who want to put the incident behind them as quickly as possible and get on with their lives should get their compensation as quickly as possible. We must not lose sight of the fact that the criminal injuries compensation scheme is not the only source of state aid that victims of crime can look to. With respect, that is the mistake that the hon. Gentleman made : assuming that the only help that would be available to victims had to come from the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

Victims can rightly, and do, receive generous and long-term help from the national health service and from the Department of Social Security, as indeed can any other person in this country who sustains a non-criminal injury or is unfortunate enough to suffer some accident or comparable misfortune, with no one else to sue for it, or if it is not a criminal injury and they cannot get financial help. Many thousands of people suffer the horrendous injuries referred to by the hon. Gentleman. There is no one to sue and no compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, but the full resources of the national health service and the Department of Social Security--all the caring help and the various allowances--are payable to them. They will be payable to victims of crime as well, and rightly so.

Our tariff scheme will not differentiate between different classes, or between different occupational groups ; everyone experiencing similar injuries will receive the same award. We consider that arrangement more generally understandable, and no less fair, than the current system.

I know that some will dispute that, arguing that the tariff scheme cannot cope with certain types of injury, such as shock, child abuse or sexual offences ; the hon. Gentleman, for instance, suggested that the tariff levels for particular injuries were wrong. He argued that certain types of injury were more serious than others attracting the same award. I do not accept that argument.

Mr. Simpson indicated dissent.

Mr. Maclean : The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he is calling me a liar, we must address the point. Our tariff scheme is based on some 20,000 awards made by the board : that is the truth. It reflects the true levels. We have not picked out half a dozen figures, and produced a scheme out of our heads ; we put 20,000 awards through the analysis before basing the tariffs on them, and increasing the tariffs.

The scheme therefore reflects the level of awards actually made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and maintains the relativities established.

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned at twenty- four minutes to One o'clock.

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