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Ms Quin : This has been a very useful debate in that it served to highlight many of the issues which we all think important although we approach them from different viewpoints. In order to allow progress to be made with today's business, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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Victims of Crime (Compensation)

2.15 pm

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham) : I beg to move,

That this House considers that :

1.--(1) A court seeking to enforce a compensation order against a convicted criminal should have power to make a written request, signed by a Magistrate, for the following information in relation to the criminal :

(a) his place of residence ;

(b) his place of work and the name of his employer ;

(c) his income and capital ; and

(d) his real or personal property.

(2) Any such written request should be addressed to any person or body whom the court making the request has reasonable grounds for thinking may be in possession of the information requested. 2. The Secretary of State should have power by regulation to establish an Agency to enforce compensation orders made in favour of the victims of crime by courts of criminal jurisdiction.

3. The Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 should be amended : (1) to require criminal courts to assess compensation without regard to the ability of the criminal to pay, as is already the case in the civil courts ;

(2) to overrule case law which puts a time limit on the period over which money may be recovered under a compensation order, and which exempts a criminal's house from seizure for the purpose of satisfying a compensation order.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) for withdrawing her motion. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in Parliament on behalf of the victims of crime, but I am disappointed that not one Liberal Democrat has bothered to turn up for this important debate.

I am as committed as anyone to the prevention of crime and I support everything the Government are doing in this respect, not only directly through the Home Office but in their housing, education, social security and other policies. Nevertheless, however successful the Government's policies, I fear that we shall never see the day when there is no crime and there are no victims of crime. Many of today's victims of crime are, and probably always will be, from the poorest sections of our community. We must keep faith with them and make it clear that, although we appreciate the problem, poverty cannot be accepted as an excuse for crime.

For many years, the courts have had the power to order a convicted criminal to pay compensation to his victim, but, all too frequently, payment is not made under the order, either because the criminal disappears and cannot be traced or because he has been economical with the truth when asked about his income and assets. Information about his whereabouts and assets is very often on the files of the Department of Social Security, the Inland Revenue, banks and buildings societies, but, when they are asked to disclose it, they say that they are sorry they cannot do so, because it is confidential.

I am delighted that we have a Home Secretary who is determined to roll back 30 years of libertarian attitudes towards crime and to put the victim first. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill is a step in the right direction, but there is much more to be done. In Britain, we can be proud of the fact that anyone who suffers a serious criminal injury will be compensated out of public funds, but anyone who suffers a personal injury valued at less than £1,000 or who is the victim of a crime involving his property or money will not be compensated out of public funds. At

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present, there is about £100,000 worth of unpaid compensation orders made in favour of victims in every magistrates court in the land.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : I thank my hon. Friend for making an important point about outstanding sums. May I point out that Sutton magistrates court found that there is £143,000 outstanding in compensation payments ?

Mr. Stephen : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that figure, which confirms what I believe to be the situation throughout the country.

I tabled three new clauses to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill when it was in Committee in February and the substance of this motion is much the same as that of the new clauses. I was not a member of the Committee, so two of them were moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) on my behalf. The Government responded sympathetically, but did not commit themselves to doing anything about it.

Before I deal with those new clauses, I pay tribute to The Mail on Sunday for its excellent work in researching this topic and for drawing the attention of Members of Parliament and the public to the serious problem of non-payment of compensation orders. I refer to two cases that the newspaper has discovered. The first is a man in Bristol who went on a rampage of violence and caused £4,000 worth of damage to his victim's home. He was ordered to pay £3,855 in compensation, but he paid nothing. He went on holiday to Australia and failed to turn up in court where he was ordered to pay compensation. He claimed to be unemployed. His victim said : "I think it is disgusting the way that victims of crime are treated. There should be a radical review of the compensation system. Victims should not be coming out at a loss. They don't ask for their homes to be damaged or to be attacked."

The second case was in Windsor in Berkshire. A criminal stole and wrecked a nurse's £1,100 moped. He was ordered to pay compensation, but he refused to pay. He was jailed for 28 days and the debt was written off. He said :

"I had the money, but decided to go to jail instead. It was my first offence and I don't think it was fair what they gave me." The victim's view was :

"I work long unsociable hours to support my daughter and I see this criminal walking around doing nothing all day. He is a strong man who could work if he wanted to and he should be made to pay something."

The Government have not been idle on the matter and I give credit for their work in the Criminal Justice Act 1991, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the victims charter, which, for the first time, focused the attention of all involved in the criminal justice system on the needs of the victim. Hitherto, attention had always been on the needs of the criminal. However, there are still 28 agencies supporting criminals and only one supporting victims--the victim support scheme, to whose work I pay tribute.

The first paragraph of my motion incorporates new clause 30 which I tabled in Committee. It would require information to be given about the whereabouts and financial resources of criminals who have failed to pay compensation orders. Departments of state, banks and building societies will not disclose such information and say that it is confidential. They sometimes pray in aid the Data Protection Act 1984. I point out that the Act is the

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"Data Protection Act", not the "Protection of Criminals Act". The Act should be changed so that the information can be made available to courts seeking to enforce compensation orders.

The civil rights lobby will say that it is an infringement of civil liberties to provide confidential information to magistrates courts. Of course, it is an infringement of civil liberties, but criminals are not the only people who have civil liberties. Victims have civil liberties, too, and they have every right, under law, to receive compensation from the criminal for the damage caused. If a criminal does not wish his civil liberties to be infringed, the remedy is in his own hands--do not commit crime.

It was said in Committee that it would be rather draconian to employ such a measure against motorists who had been ordered to pay compensation and who had not paid. I do not see why. In any event, enforcement is in the hands of the courts, which can decide how they wish to enforce payment. I do not see why a motorist who has not paid compensation to his victim should be treated differently from any other criminal who has not paid compensation.

In Committee, the Government suggested that legislation would not be necessary and that the objective could be achieved by non-legislative means. If that is the case, what are the non-legislative means ? What precisely are the Government doing to use those means to ensure that the victims of crime are properly compensated ?

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) on obtaining this short debate ; I realise that the seconds are ticking away. A number of Opposition Members wholly endorse the principle that people who are trying to dodge their moral obligation to pay compensation should be pursued with vigour. We look forward with interest to seeing what the Government will do to ensure that compensation is paid to the victims of crime. The failure to pay compensation is an outstanding blot on our criminal justice system.

Mr. Stephen : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) for his support. I am sure that his constituents are as concerned as mine are about the matter.

The second paragraph of the motion incorporates new clause 25 which I tabled in Committee. I believe that the courts are not well suited to the enforcement of orders. I often receive letters from people who say that they believe that the courts have gone to sleep after they have made compensation orders and that no real attempt is made to enforce them. People tell me--and it accords with my experience--that means inquiries in magistrates courts are rather like shelling peas, they are done so quickly. The whole thing is a farce. Magistrates do not have the time or the means to inquire rigorously into the income and the assets of criminals. That job requires an agency with specialised personnel and proper information technology to be able to chase the criminals. I know of the value of information technology in that area because I happen to be the parliamentary adviser to EDS-Scicon--a company working in that sphere.

The courts need to be reminded of the requirements of the victims charter. One of those requirements is that the courts must keep the victim informed of the progress of his case. Often, it turns into a dispute between the Crown and the criminal, and the victim is forgotten. In particular, the

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victim should be given an opportunity to give evidence of the means of the criminal once a compensation order has been made. An elderly lady running a newsagents shop in my constituency knew perfectly well that the criminal who was ordered to pay her compensation had assets much greater than those to which he was willing to admit, but she was never given an opportunity to go to court and say so.

Sometimes, notwithstanding the 1988 Act, no compensation order is made because no application is made. I believe that the courts should normally award compensation, unless they are specifically asked not to. The prosecuting solicitors and barristers must also be reminded that, although they are formally representing the Crown in the proceedings, they have also have a duty to represent the interests of the victim and to ensure that they have the necessary information from the victim to be able to argue effectively for a proper level of compensation.

In the criminal courts, there should be the same measure of damages as there is in the civil courts. A Home Office study in 1992 suggested that awards, especially for personal injuries made in the criminal courts, are much lower than those in the civil courts. The measure of damages in either the civil court or the criminal court should not be related in any way to the ability of the criminal to pay. That is certainly not the case in the civil courts and should not be so in the criminal courts. Often, defendants in civil proceedings are people of moderate means, but that does not affect the measure of damages. Means are relevant to enforcement, not to the amount of compensation. The criminal's ability to pay will vary over time. On the day of the hearing, he may not be able to pay, but he may get a job the next week or next month, or he may be left some money, or he may even win the pools. If he subsequently has the ability to pay, he should be made to pay, and section 35(4) of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 requires further amendment.

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As for the argument that if we enforce compensation orders against criminals they will go out and commit further offences, I do not think that a civilised society could ever give in to such blackmail and any criminal who thinks that he can get away with that, has got another think coming. If a criminal does not have a job, if he cannot or will not work, work must be found for him so that he may pay the compensation that he owes. It is an affront to the public and the victim for the criminal to be sitting at home, drawing benefit and doing nothing to earn any money to pay his victim. If a criminal is fortunate enough, as some are, to sell their story to the press, the money should be confiscated and used to compensate the victim and any balance should be forfeited to Her Majesty--that is the effect of my new clause 56.

Also, courts should be reminded of their statutory duty to give priority to compensation orders over fines and they should never reduce compensation orders on the ground of the criminal's ability to pay if they are, at the same time, imposing a fine. Often, when the criminal is sent to prison, no compensation order is made. That is wrong because the criminal pays his debt to society, not to his victim, by going to prison. The courts should not send criminals who are in default of payment to prison quite so often. That is an easy option for an old lag. Compensation orders should remain in force, and if it takes 20 years to recover the money, so be it. There should be no time limit on the recovery of compensation orders. We should also repeal the absurd provision that makes it legally impossible to sell a criminal's house, if he has one, to compensate his victim. I congratulate the Government on the efforts that they are making in the area of criminal justice. There is wide public concern. Much of it has been addressed by the Government, but much still remains to be done. We must consider the victims

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned .

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Orders of the Day

Private Members' Bills


Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 July .


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 July .


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 July .


Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Not moved.


Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Not moved.

PARDON FOR SOLDIERS OF THE GREAT WAR BILL -- Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 July .

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Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 July .


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 July .


Read a Second time .

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.--[ Mr. Clifton-Brown .]

Bill immediately considered in Committee ; reported, without amendment ; read the Third time and passed, without amendment .


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 July .



That at the sitting on Monday 11th July, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to Scottish Business not later than two hours after it has been entered upon ; and such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments to the said Motion, which she may have selected, which may then be moved ; and those proceedings may be entered upon or continued after the expiration of time for opposed business.-- [ Mr. Andrew Mitchell. ]

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Rural Policing

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

2.33 pm

Sir Keith Speed (Ashford) : I make no apology for raising the problems of rural policing and rural crime. I do not disparage what has been happening in our towns and cities and I recognise the real problems of urban crime. Perhaps rural crime and rural policing have been less in the spotlight. I wish to focus briefly on some of the problems and opportunities.

I welcome the presence of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. He and I march together across the Sussex and Kent borders. I am sure that in his constituency he has many of the problems that are to be found in mine.

The problems of policing generally and rural crime will be overcome only by good intelligence being available to the various law enforcement agencies. We should be targeting and seeking the criminal and not the crime itself. There are now police teams in rural areas in Kent to which one person is attached who is responsible for a specific rural area. That person must know the area. That is fine because, without the intelligence, we do not stand a good chance of catching the criminal and obtaining a conviction.

The village bobby is a particular problem in rural areas. In the old days, every village had its policeman who lived in a police house. Today, for economic and social reasons, that is not possible. Quite naturally, policemen wish to buy their own houses. Therefore, police authorities have sold village police houses as there has been no demand for them.

With the best will in the world, one cannot expect a village policeman to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore, police teams and mobile forces are increasingly covering rural areas to prevent crime and to catch criminals.

Experiments are being carried out with parish constables in different parts of the country, including in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Parish constables are an answer to the village bobby problem. A parish constable must be a special constable. He or she must have the training and powers of a special constable so that that person can arrest people and enforce law and order. Parish constables are part of the community and can work extremely well with neighbourhood watch schemes, parish councils and others.

I have a suggestion which may or may not be controversial. I accept that we should not pay special constables a full salary. However, we need more special constables, even in Kent where there are vacancies. We need to encourage people. Perhaps we should pay special constables a modest bounty at the end of each year's service in the same way that we pay members of the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Reserve. That would not be expensive. In fact, it would be cost efficient as it would tell people that we are prepared to reward them for the unsocial hours they work, for their dedication and for the voluntary duties that they perform, with a small tax repayment at the end of each year. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider that suggestion.

Neighbourhood watches have been well established for many years. They are particularly useful in rural areas if they can work with the concept of parish constables, the local men and women who can look after a patch. Technology is also helping us. The Kent police authority

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has introduced a radio system which enables headquarters to contact a policeman wherever he may be. Even if he is right out in the wilds or the sticks, there can be two-way contact. That is vital. Geography is a particular problem for rural areas. It is easy to get around in towns. If there is an incident in a town, people can get to that incident very quickly because they can use an A to Z guide. They will know precisely where they are going. It is not so easy in villages and rural areas. That is not just a problem for the police ; it also affects the ambulance and fire services. For example, to be told that there is a problem at Bramble cottage in High Halden means very little. One could spend 30 minutes or an hour travelling around High Halden trying to find Bramble cottage. That problem arises for several reasons. In many rural areas, local authorities--no doubt for good reasons--do not erect street signs. There is also the problem that, in many villages, streets have more than one name.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is familiar with High Halden, which is on the A28 in my constituency. There is a street in High Halden called Man of Kent road. It is also known as American road, America road and Crompton House lane. Those are names for the same street. If there is an incident in that area, it is the luck of the draw how it is described by the person affected by that incident. It would be extremely difficult for the police car, the ambulance or the fire brigade to find that incident.

In addition, many houses in rural areas do not have names or numbers or, if the names or numbers are shown, they are right by the front door and perhaps hidden from the main road. This is essentially a problem for local authorities. I do not know whether they could adapt postcodes. However, the Kent police have mentioned that problem to me. Perhaps the Department of the Environment and the Home Office could have a long hard look at it.

Another matter might be helpful in dealing with the problem of rural crime. We have had a number of horrendous events in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall that, a few months ago, there were 12 cases of arson in Kent, mostly in my constituency, and even in Sussex. Barns were burnt down. In fact, there were 12 cases of arson in one night. I regret to say that, so far, the culprit has not been found.

Arising out of that and other matters, the leader of Ashford borough council and I decided to institute a series of meetings to take place perhaps every three to five months, involving the leader and deputy leader of Ashford borough council and two or three of its key officers, myself as the Member of Parliament, the local representative of the Kent Association of Parish Councils, representatives of the National Farmers Union, the local police superintendent and our chief inspector of police.

Those meetings are structured in so far as we have an agenda, but they are very informal--no great papers are presented. We discuss informally the latest crime statistics, the problem of vandalism on farms, and perhaps teaching young people how to respect the land, footpaths and so on connected with the countryside. We can address the problems of towns or of the countryside and bring to bear our expertise and knowledge.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond to my points. Crime generally and rural crime in particular are not just for the police. Whether it is the prevention of crime or the enforcement of the law, we are all involved--

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farmers, school teachers, ordinary citizens and the police. That is true all over the country, but in villages and small towns there is a real sense of community. I hope that everyone realises that it is no good passing on the other side of the road and that if we enhance the role of the parish constable, neighbourhood watch schemes and communities working together, perhaps in the informal way as in Ashford in Kent, we may bring about a rather more peaceful and pleasant countryside in which people can go about their business without the fear of being mugged, without vandalism and without car theft. It is an important problem and I hope that my hon. Friend will respond constructively.

2.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) on obtaining this Adjournment debate and on raising such important issues. As he said, our constituencies lie side by side along the Kent ditch. Were he or I to travel from Northiam to Newenden or vice versa, we would be able to meet each other on the border. The situations that my hon. Friend described apply just as much in Sussex as in the part of Kent which he represents, and indeed in much of rural England. My hon. Friend made a number of interesting suggestions. I shall talk in a moment about the parish constable initiative, and I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend's support of it.

My hon. Friend gave a wonderful description of how partnership should work- -people getting together with the police, local community leaders, Members of Parliament, farmers and others, working together in partnership to ensure that we can tackle crime as vigorously as possible on every front. My hon. Friend was right to talk about the importance of local intelligence. I know what he means about that intelligence helping to pinpoint houses. I understand entirely what he means about the difficulties of trying to find Bramble cottage down America road, America lane, or whatever else it might be called by local people. It is a problem to which we shall all pay attention.

My hon. Friend also suggested a bounty for special constables. That idea has been raised before. A pilot scheme was tested by the Dorset constabulary last year and we are currently considering the outcome of that test. We shall, no doubt, have more to say about it in due course.

The Government recognise that there is much concern among people living in rural areas about policing and the effect that crime can have on their communities. All too often, the attention has been on inner cities, which is where the media tend to focus. Crime has spread into rural areas, where it bites just as much and with just as devastating an effect. I shall say more later about Government action and how the Government encourage the public to take action. At the outset, I want to place my remarks in a suitable context by talking about our commitment to the police.

The first statutory responsibility of the police is to prevent crime ; that has been so ever since the formation of the police in 1829. The police have always needed the consent of the public and a partnership with the public to help them in the fight against crime. Since 1979, we have greatly increased the resources available to the police. After allowing for inflation, expenditure on policing has

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risen on average by 87 per cent. since 1979 to more than £6,000 million. There are 16,000 more uniformed police officers in post and a similar number of additional civilians working for the police. When we consider the number of jobs that have been civilianised, thus enabling more uniformed officers to get out from behind their desks to undertake operational duties, we realise that progress has been considerable.

Every police force has shared those increases, with an average county force tending to do better in terms of the percentage increase in expenditure than an average metropolitan force. For the current year, the total of police standard spending assessments has risen by 4.3 per cent. for the metropolitan forces, and by rather more than that--4.6 per cent.--for the county forces. On average, police establishments have risen by 8 per cent. since 1979, but some of the more rural forces have done significantly better. Kent has had an increase of 12 per cent. and Suffolk has had an increase of 13 per cent.

The vast majority of forces are a mixture of urban and rural, and it is for chief constables to decide on the allocation of resources within the areas for which they are responsible. But we are continuing to do everything possible to help them to maximise the number of officers available for operational policing. Current initiatives aimed at cutting bureaucracy, reorganising management structures and employing more civilians will help to get yet more police officers into the front line against crime. From next year, detailed central controls on force strength will be removed as a result of the measures now going through Parliament. Chief constables will be able to decide for themselves how many officers they need within the resources available to them.

I know that the Kent constabulary is well aware of the problems of rural crime that my hon. Friend described and is undertaking a number of initiatives to tackle them. The Thanet police are currently developing an intelligence-based proactive model that will be evaluated by the force and considered for use throughout Kent. It should bring advantages to my hon. Friend's constituency. The structure of area intelligence will take into account the unusual and sometimes unique nature of rural communities.

My hon. Friend mentioned the new radio system to be introduced by the Kent constabulary. It represents an investment of £7 million and will offer enhanced communications to police officers in rural areas. The police are aware of the importance of working with the community to tackle crime. To that end, police officers working in rural parts of Kent will work as members of teams under dedicated leaders. Those teams will identify with specific parts of the rural area to allow the development of a particular local knowledge. That ties in with the reforms and the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill in terms of locally focused policing plans. The initiative in Kent will assist members of the community, in that they will be more directly aware of the officers responsible for tackling crime, but, ultimately, it must be the chief constable who decides how to deploy his resources. There is a danger when talking about crime, and the way in which the police and the public can work together, of concentrating on urban burglary and the like. As I said a few moments ago, that is what the media seem to concentrate on. Frequently, rural crime happens and does not make the headlines. But I know, and so do the police,

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