Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate for next week on the way in which local authorities, which now have responsibility for traffic management and parking, are managing those responsibilities, so that I can highlight the enormous inefficiency of the Labour-controlled Ealing council and its aggravation of the people of Ealing by the inept way in which it is discharging those responsibilities?

Mr. Newton: I cannot promise an early debate, but I suppose that I look forward to learning week by week of the iniquities of the Ealing borough council, which my hon. Friend exposes with such assiduousness.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Will there be an opportunity next week to clarify whether, officially or unofficially, by minute or by telephone, there was any approach from the then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Clive Whitmore, to the then Prime Minister, expressing disquiet about the commercial activities of Mark Thatcher?

Mr. Newton: I think that I can only take note of that question and I shall obviously consider the point when I have an opportunity.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Could we perhaps have a debate next week on extravagance in local government expenditure, such as the expenditure of £169,000 on a new porch for the Gravesham civic centre,


Column 438

commissioned by the Labour party at the expense of scrapping a substantial part of its contribution to the Meopham sports hall and scrapping a refurbishment of shopping parades, where real people go?

Mr. Newton: It appears that it is trying to compete with Ealing.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): If there is to be a statement early next week, as I hope that there will be, on what is to happen on the Privileges Committee, will the Leader of the House bear in mind the fact that if we are to continue to regulate our own affairs--unlike the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), who spoke earlier, I am very much in favour of our continuing to do so--it must be seen that we carry out our regulations and investigations in a public way? What may have happened in the past does not necessarily justify what should happen now and in the future. The public expect that a Parliament which is concerned, as we must be, with our own reputation in fighting corruption inside Westminster, should be willing to inquire into those matters in a public way and not simply wait for a report that is being drawn up and discussed in secret and then debate that on the Floor of the House. The reputation of the House is very much at stake.

Mr. Newton: That leads me to echo what I said earlier. It seems to me that a continuation of the practice of the House regulating its own affairs in the way that it has for many years, and which I think would be widely accepted, depends on people being willing to co-operate--without declining to co-operate if a decision goes in a way they do not like--with those procedures properly constituted by the House.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): My right hon. Friend will be aware that last night there was a serious attack on our parliamentary democracy by a howling mob which prevented elected Members from reaching the House to attend to their constituents' business. Can my right hon. Friend make time for a debate so that it can be made clear that the right to protest does not include the right to coerce or intimidate or the right to bring the life of a great city to a standstill and prevent ambulances, fire engines and police cars from attending emergencies? During that debate, perhaps we could consider whether mass demonstrations should be banned completely in urban areas.

Mr. Newton: My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is sitting beside me and he will no doubt have heard that suggestion. With regard to a debate, we are about to begin a second day of debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. I cannot promise an immediate opportunity for a further day's debate of that kind.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or an early debate next week on the preferred bidders for the coal industry? I listened to the President of the Board of Trade two weeks ago when he announced at the Conservative party conference who was buying the pit in my constituency. To date, I have received no news about that in the House, I have not had a chance to question the matter in the House, and I have not received written confirmation of


Column 439

the matter from the President of the Board of Trade. I hope that we can have an early debate on the matter next week.

Mr. Newton: I will bring that complaint to the attention of my right hon. Friend. However, the fact that by January we expect around 30 of the former British Coal mines to have transferred to new private sector owners since the coal review in 1993 represents welcome progress.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East): Can the Leader of the House at least tell us whether there will be an early ministerial statement about the unfortunate events which took place outside the House last night? Is he aware that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) suffered a very serious injury when trying to enter the House merely to record his vote? What discussions have there been with the Metropolitan police to ensure that hon. Members have proper access to this place?

Mr. Newton: There are three points here. First, I would like to express on my behalf, and I am sure on behalf of others, our sympathy to the hon. Member for Caernarfon. Secondly, discussions between the authorities of the House, in particular the Serjeant at Arms, and the police are not something I would wish to enter into across the Floor of the House. Thirdly, I must say frankly that I think that in this context, as in some others, to give those who caused such disruption last night the additional satisfaction of diverting the proceedings of this Chamber by the publicity of ministerial statements would actually encourage them rather than the reverse.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): The Department of the Environment published a paper in August about the disposal of low-grade nuclear waste in municipal sites, many of which were in urban areas. I have two requests. First, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that that paper is available in the Vote Office because it is not available at the moment? Secondly, may we have a debate led by the Department of the Environment on the disposal of low-grade nuclear waste?

Mr. Newton: On the question of a debate, I must give my standard answer and say that I cannot give a promise of that at the moment. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I will certainly look into what he said.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): I am sorry that I have to return to the events of last night, but is my right hon. Friend aware that in Germany the kind of demonstrations that occurred here last night are banned from within 1 km of the Bundestag? Will my right hon. Friend consider imposing such restrictions here?

Mr. Newton: I would not want to add off the cuff to what I have said, but I note my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): One of the biggest political scandals, which strikes at the heart of parliamentary democracy, is that millions of people are


Column 440

missing from electoral registers. The situation has become worse in recent years. When can we have a full debate in Government time to discuss that serious matter?

Mr. Newton: Again, I cannot promise a debate, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who I think I am right in saying would be responsible for electoral registration matters, has heard what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1586. edm [ That this House condemns the proposals of the National Blood Authority which would result in the closure of Liverpool's Blood Transfusion Unit with the loss of some 100 jobs; expresses its anxiety that the health of Liverpool citizens would be put at risk whenever there was an urgent need for a blood transfusion, and that it would also result in the loss of a training centre for the study of haematology; notes that over 100,000 Merseysiders have signed a petition objecting to the proposals; commends the Liverpool Echo for its part in opposition to these ill-thought out measures; rejects any diminution of blood transfusion services on Merseyside; and calls on the National Blood Authority to withdraw its proposals. ] I tabled the motion and it refers to the misconceived proposals of the National Blood Authority to close the Liverpool blood transfusion unit. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) is unsatisfactory? It is a matter of life or death for many people in Liverpool and in the north-west of England and, rather than being subsumed in a general debate on Tuesday, it requires a specific statement by the Secretary of State so that it can be debated.

Mr. Newton: This is the second time today that the matter has been raised in respect of Liverpool. As before, I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health sees what is said.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Floor of the House on the gathering and publication of unemployment statistics in this country? Has he seen today's report in The Scotsman analysing the Government's own statistics and showing that there has been a 500,000 increase in the number of people registering for income support as disabled and sick, that 2 million are denied the right to be on the unemployment register by being disabled and sick, and that there has been a 63 per cent. increase in such registration in the south-east of England, where the recession is biting deepest? It is important not only that the people have a lead from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to be honest in Government, but that we be honest with the people. Is not it time to debate the real unemployment statistics so that, when we know and accept the problem, we can jointly try to solve it, instead of trying to deceive the people?

Mr. Newton: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I have not seen the report in The Scotsman , but I will bring the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman had a


Column 441

substantial opportunity to make such points during debate on the Bill in respect of invalidity benefit that was discussed in the House earlier this Session.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East): Following the announcement this week by the Home Secretary that an additional £2 million is to be made available for closed-circuit television schemes in England and Wales and the failure of the Secretary of State for Scotland to say anything about an equivalent spend in Scotland, may we have a statement early next week by the Secretary of State for Scotland on whether money will be made available for such schemes in Scotland, so that Scottish Members can satisfy themselves that the Government regard tackling crime in Scotland just as seriously as they do in England and Wales?

Mr. Newton: That is a question which the hon. Gentleman could put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland next Wednesday.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): Is the Leader of the House aware that, last week, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said that it was a rule of the House that a Bill to set up a parliament for Scotland or Wales could not be guillotined? Can he confirm that the Secretary of State for Scotland got it wrong, or is it his intention to bring in such an amendment to our Standing Orders?

Mr. Newton: As there is no question of the Government's bringing in such a Bill, I do not think that the question arises.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): Would it be possible to have a debate next week to examine the way in which early-day motions are tabled? In particular, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1616.

[ That this House notes the allegations made against the honourable Members for Tatton and Beaconsfield, respectively, in connection with the tabling of parliamentary questions referred to in The Guardian for Thursday 20th October; and, in the light of the allegations in that article, calls upon the Prime Minister to appoint an independent commission of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary with full powers to enquire into and report upon ethics and standards in British political life. ]

That motion was tabled by the Liberal Democrats last night, and it refers to the article in The Guardian today. One of the questions that I should like to ask in such a debate is whether the effect of that early-day motion was to confer parliamentary privilege on the article and, in the process, possibly deprive an hon. Member of effective action in the courts. If so, would not the House want to debate that matter? Is it right that a newspaper can be given such protection by hon. Members in what amounts to a sleazy deal?

Mr. Newton: I am not in a position to say whether the motion was tabled before or after the earliest editions of The Guardian were available, and I would not want to speculate on that. Also, because of the subject matter of the early-day motion, again I would not want to add anything to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on such matters about an hour ago.


Column 442

Points of Order

4.14 pm

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware of the circumstances surrounding the injury to my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) when he attempted to come to the House last night to register his vote at about 10 pm. You will have the full circumstances surrounding that incident, and I do not wish to dwell on them; save to say that I am pleased to tell the House that although my hon. Friend suffered an injury, he was released from hospital last night. I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for making urgent inquiries about him, and he is grateful for your concern. I accompanied my hon. Friend last night, and we were accompanied by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands).

I want to look at the more general issue that arises out of the incident. Hon. Members who have offices in the Norman Shaw building have difficulty in coming to the House to vote, even forgetting the incident last night, because the underpass at Westminster is closed. That means that we must go into the main entrance of Westminster station, and that can be blocked by a considerable number of people even late at night.

We had to cross the road and we came through the normal entrance of the House along Parliament street. The difficulty that we encountered in Parliament street was that there was a cordon of police officers across the pavement which prevented access by hon. Members. Where police officers are on duty, clearly expecting a Division to take place at some time during the evening, I would expect them to clear a path for hon. Members to come in through the gates. That is the issue, Madam Speaker. How can we be absolutely assured that such an incident will not happen again--that a clear path will be made so that hon. Members can come safely to vote?

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I was with the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) when the worrying accident took place. Whatever other unacceptable incidents happened last night, the accident was not the direct result of the demonstrators. The development of both Millbank and the Norman Shaw building is creating problems. In this case, the problem was that the entrance to the Westminster subway was closed. The fact that we knew that the entrance was closed led us to come through the Carriage Gates. I support the point made by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) that it was impossible to get through the main Carriage Gates last night because of a large cordon of police.

Madam Speaker: I made inquiries and found that access to Westminster underground station was open yesterday evening. If hon. Members who were coming to the House had proceeded as though they were passengers to Westminster underground, they would have been able to use the subway to the House. As hon. Members know, the steps from Victoria Embankment to the subway are closed. That is the responsibility of London Underground and Members have been notified of that on the all-party Whip.


Column 443

I very much regret the problems caused to the hon. Member for Caernarfon yesterday evening. I telephoned him today; he is in considerable pain, but I gave him the good wishes of the House. We wish that he will be back here soon. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] I will draw the attention of the Serjeant at Arms to what hon. Members have said on this matter. He will look at these matters, because what has been said is valuable. The objective last night was to see that the Sessional Orders were enforced, that public disorder was prevented and that any offenders were arrested. I have strong views that violence and vandalism will not be tolerated wherever they rear their ugly heads. I believe that last night, despite some of the problems that the police had, there was a high standard of policing. Perhaps we might leave the matter at that.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, I was one of those who were prevented from getting into the House from 7 Millbank. Happily, I came to no harm. However, one consequence of what happened to me was that I saw, for a long time and at close quarters, exactly what was taking place in Millbank which was the centre of the disturbance. One of the things that I saw was very great restraint by the police under enormous provocation. When you make further inquiries, Madam Speaker, perhaps you would tell the Commissioner that the majority of hon. Members admire what the police did last night and are grateful to them.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): On a separate point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that you will understand and accept that any allegation made against any Member of the House inevitably damages the reputations of all Members and of the whole House. You were elected by the whole House to protect and uphold the rights and reputation of the House.

I would ask you to reflect on a suggestion that I wish to make. We seem to be facing an impasse when it comes to the ability of the House properly and effectively to investigate complaints made against Members, so I wonder whether you would be willing to consider convening a meeting with representatives of all parties to discuss what can be done to find a resolution of this impasse.

I have been sceptical about the ability of the House to investigate complaints effectively ever since I served on the Committee that inquired into the relationships between the late John Poulson and Members of the House. I have considerable sympathy with suggestions that we need to find a new way of dealing with such matters. I ask you again to reflect on whether you, as Speaker, might convene such a committee or group--call it what you like--consisting of Members and non-Members, who could investigate complaints against Members of the House.

It would also be extremely useful if the group could draw up a list of principles governing standards in public life--we have no such principles at present, and I do not believe that there is time for a royal commission to consider them again.


Column 444

I ask you, Madam Speaker, to consider these matters seriously, since I know of your deep and genuine concern for the reputation of the House, which I believe is in grave danger of doing itself considerable damage.

Madam Speaker: As the House knows, I have no authority to take the type of action suggested by the hon. Gentleman, but I do take these matters seriously and I will look at all that he has said this afternoon.

There is no problem about raising matters of complaint. In the statement that I made on 12 July, when I granted precedence to a motion relating to a complaint now before the Committee on Privileges, I made it very clear that the Committee

"will have power to inquire not only into the matter of the particular complaint, but into the facts surrounding and reasonably connected with it".--[ Official Report , 12 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 829.]

I worded that statement carefully. So if there is evidence relating to the matters that are now being raised and which have been raised this afternoon, it can be submitted to the Privileges Committee, which is free to consider the evidence. There really is no need for any further action by the House to bring that about; but I take seriously everything that has been said this afternoon and the points that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has just put to me.


Column 445

Orders of the Day

Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill

Lords amendments again considered.

Before Clause 134

Lords amendment: No. 125, insert the following new clause-- Criminal Injuries Compensation --

(" . In section 171 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988--

(a) in subsection (2), for the words after "any provision" there shall be substituted the words "brought into force under subsection (1) above,"; and

(b) after subsection (2), there shall be inserted the following subsection- -

"(2A) Sections 108 to 117 above and Schedules 6 and 7 to this Act shall come into force at the end of the period of six months beginning with the date on which the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is passed.".")

4.23 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 175.

Mr. Howard: The aim of the amendment is to require the Government to drop the tariff scheme for criminal injuries compensation, introduced on 1 April this year, which provides a simpler, faster and more easily understandable service for victims. The amendment would reinstate the old system by bringing into force the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which would make the old criminal injuries compensation scheme statutory. Hon. Members will recall that the House firmly rejected a similar amendment to the Bill on Report in March.

Let me remind the House briefly of the background to the scheme, and why we changed it in the way that we did. The criminal injuries compensation scheme was introduced in 1964, following public concern that something should be done for the innocent victims of violent crime. The scheme was a new and experimental venture and, after alternative options had been considered, it was decided that compensation should be assessed on the basis of common law damages, since that made use of existing legal expertise. The level of demand was unknown--although I suspect that it is fair to say that no one foresaw an operation on anything like the scale that we see today. Madam Speaker: Order. It was remiss of me not to mention that this amendment involves privilege.

Mr. Howard: As the House knows, provision was made in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 for the old scheme to be made statutory, but those provisions were not brought into force. First, my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, who was and is the chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, requested a postponement so that the board could concentrate its efforts on dealing with the large backlog of unresolved cases. Shortly afterwards, it became increasingly evident that the old scheme needed fundamental revision.


Column 446

When the old scheme was introduced 30 years ago, the level of crime--not just in this country, of course--was much lower than it is today. In the first full year of the scheme, 1965-66, there were just 2,500 claims, 1,164 awards were made and a total of £400,000 was paid in compensation.

Since then, the increase in expenditure on compensation has been relentless. Twenty years ago, in 1973-74, the board received 12,000 claims, made 9,000 awards and paid out £4 million--still a modest amount by current standards. Ten years ago, in 1983-84, there were 32,000 new applications, 21,000 awards and a total of £33 million was paid out in compensation. By last year, however, there were 73,000 new applications, 41,000 awards and £165 million was paid in compensation.

That increase in expenditure was not merely a result of the increase in the number of claims. During the past 10 years, average awards have increased by 5 per cent. a year more than inflation, almost doubling in real terms since 1979.

If the old scheme had continued, by the turn of the century, the annual cost of compensation would have been in excess of £500 million. That rate of growth is simply not sustainable; nor do I think it appropriate for a state scheme funded by the taxpayer. Those rapidly escalating costs--

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): In the light of what the Home Secretary has just told the House, will he and the Government come absolutely clean with the public and admit what they have never admitted before-- that the whole purpose of the changes to the scheme is to save money? The changes have absolutely nothing to do with offering a better service to the victims of crime.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Lady is wrong on at least two counts. First, it is not true that we denied that savings played an important part in the decision. They are not the only reason, because we have other important reasons, but savings are one reason and they are an important one, so the hon. Lady is wrong on that count. She is also wrong to suggest that savings are the only reason. Her protestations would carry a little more weight if those on the Opposition Front Bench had undertaken--when it was suggested to them on the last occasion that we discussed such matters on the Floor of the House--to reinstate the old scheme if they ever found themselves in government. They have consistently refused to give that undertaking, and without it the hon. Lady's protestations and those of her hon. Friends carry no weight.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Excuse me for intervening for the first time during the Bill. I have received representations on the question of criminal injuries from the Law Society of Scotland, where the law is a little different. I am not asking the Home Secretary to answer off the top of his head what are, frankly, complex representations. Because of the differences in Scottish law, all I ask is that the subject is dealt with. Can we tell the society that there will be reflections on its very real concerns?

Mr. Howard: I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has had the concerns of the Law Society of Scotland drawn to his attention, as I have had drawn to my attention the concerns of the Law


Column 447

Society for England and Wales. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will address those concerns in what he regards as the most appropriate way.

The rapidly escalating costs highlight the stark fact that the old scheme offered no mechanism for exercising any control over costs. That was not the fault of the board. It was simply charged with administering the scheme --a job it has managed with considerable credit. Also, of course, in earlier years, when costs were relatively small, the need for control was not so apparent, but the rapid growth in expenditure on the scheme in recent years makes change imperative so that costs can be brought under control.

4.30 pm

Let me stress here just how generous our scheme is. It is by far the most generous anywhere in the world. In the most recent year for which comparative figures are available, Great Britain paid out £165 million in compensation; France paid out £27 million, and Germany just £7 million. In fact, we pay out far more compensation than all the other European countries added together. We even paid out more last year than the United States of America--not more per head, but more in total--despite the fact that the United States has, of course, a vastly greater population, a much higher gross national product, much more violent crime and a very active victim support lobby. The tariff scheme will remain one of the most generous anywhere. Under the new scheme, 60 per cent. of beneficiaries will get as much as or more than they would have done under the old scheme.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor): Does my right hon. and learned Friend concede that one of the failures of the present scheme is the inordinate delay in making payments to the victims of crime? When I was in practice, a matter of two years' delay was in no sense an exception and, as a constituency Member of Parliament, a case was brought to my attention recently of a delay of seven years in making payments. Will not the move to a tariff system ensure that we produce sums of money for victims more quickly than now?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend raises an important point, to which I shall come in just a moment--indeed, even sooner than that. Having pointed out that 60 per cent. or more of beneficiaries would get as much or more under the new scheme as under the old, I wish to add precisely the point made by hon. Friend; they will get their money more quickly. Of course it is true--I do not seek to hide the fact--that some people will get less. But most awards are comparatively small, and the vast majority are under £5,000.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South): I appreciate that, if 60 per cent. of beneficiaries will get the same, 40 per cent. will get less. That worries me, in the sense that they will be the headline cases. Will my right hon. and learned Friend address--either now or later in his speech-- the proposal from the Law Society which would deal with


Column 448

smaller claims on a tariff basis, but which would perhaps avoid the dangers that I have mentioned with the big claims?

Mr. Howard: I shall deal with my hon. Friend's point now. If he will permit me to correct him, it is not true that 60 per cent. of claimants will get the same. Sixty per cent. of claimants will get the same or more, and many will indeed get more.

The scheme to which my hon. Friend refers and which was advanced by the Law Society is a hybrid one, which would provide a tariff for relatively small claims, and the same kind of scheme as we have at the moment for larger claims. It would involve endless difficulties at the demarcation line and endless challenges from those who felt that they were being hard done by because their claim was being dealt with under the tariff and not on the basis of compensation. We have looked carefully at the possibility of such a hybrid scheme, but I must tell my hon. Friend that the practical difficulties which it would involve would be insurmountable.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I always understood that it was Conservative policy that we should aspire to the very best and not reach for the lowest common denominator. Why does that principle not apply in this case?

Mr. Howard: It does not apply for the reasons that I have given. There is no question of going for the lowest common denominator, and I am afraid that the hon. Lady's question bears no relationship to the realities of the issues before us.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge): The report of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for the year ending 31 March 1992 referred to four cases in which people received payments in excess of £500,000--awards of £689,000, £645,000, £568,000 and £521,000. They obviously involved serious cases, and were perhaps exceptional. Is my right hon. and learned Friend telling the House, however, that, with the introduction of the new tariff scheme, in that kind of case, where the individual has probably lost all opportunity ever to pursue his lawful occupation again, the person would have to rely on the tariff payment and the available state benefits to top up benefit received, rather than on the payments that he would have received under the old scheme? Can my right hon. and learned Friend clarify that point?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend has left out one important factor--there is, of course, the ceiling of £250,000 under the new scheme. In addition to that, a number of other payments and a number of other sources of help are available. For example, one of the elements that is taken into account when deciding compensation in serious cases is the provision of private health care for someone who suffered a serious injury, but the health care provided by the national health service is always available to that individual.

My hon. Friend also referred, quite correctly, to all the other state benefits that are available and which will continue to be available. It is also important to bear in mind occupational benefits, which now assume such an important significance and will, of course, continue to be available.


Column 449

It is important to remember that, under the present scheme, an offset operates in relation to occupational benefits and the awards made. Some of the figures that are cited, which seem to demonstrate that large losses will be suffered as compared to the awards made under the old scheme, do not tell the whole story. All the factors I have listed must be taken into account.

It is also not entirely irrelevant to remember that some of the apparently worst cases would arise in respect of people who have high incomes, and therefore high loss of earnings claims. It is not unreasonable to suggest that someone with high earnings is in a position to make provision of his own for the kind of contingency that we are discussing. Additional help is available in a number of different ways, some of which were identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I should like to take up the right hon. and learned Gentleman's final point about the large sums of compensation that are often paid to people with high earnings. Such people often also have high liabilities. If a ceiling is put on the amount of compensation paid, does he accept that one will inevitably encounter cases where the amount of compensation paid will be much below the loss the person has suffered and possibly also below his commitments? Does he accept that that will cause grave financial hardship to that person? Such cases may be rare, but they will inevitably occur. If the Government stick to the tariff system, they are committing themselves to committing serious injustices to some people.

Mr. Howard: I simply do not accept that it will lead to injustice. In the rare cases of injury to people with high earnings, they will know that if they suffer some accident through no one's fault--so they are unable to establish a claim of negligence--and which is not the result of any criminal act, they could find themselves in a serious financial position. We could all have an accident at any time that stopped us from working for the rest of our lives. People with high earnings--the category that we are currently discussing--know that it is possible for them to make provision against such a contingency. Just as it is reasonable to expect them to make provision for such a contingency in respect of accidental injury, so it is reasonable also to expect them to make a provision in respect of an injury that results from a criminal attack, rather than expect the taxpayer to underwrite the consequences of that contingency.

That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about a situation in which everyone, whatever the source of their misfortune and whatever the source of the contingency that places him or her in that difficulty, is automatically entitled to compensation in every respect from the taxpayer. That is why, with all due respect to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), I do not accept that the change that we are making leads to injustice.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): The Home Secretary was saying that people on high incomes would have made provision, presumably through some sort of occupational scheme, for such a contingency. However, in this case we are discussing criminal injury, so the fact that someone could be injured through other mechanisms is not relevant in this case. Would not the age at which that injury occurs make a significant


Column 450

difference to the extent to which the provision is effective? Will not a significant number of people with serious problems be gravely affected and their resources gravely reduced by the changes which the Home Secretary is introducing?

Mr. Howard: In almost all cases, people in that position will have occupational benefits--usually substantial occupational benefits. Those are what they should look to in the first instance for compensation, and I believe that they will do so. If that factor is taken into account, the complaint about the provisions of the new scheme is seen, on examination, to have much less substance than seems to be the case at first sight.

I now turn to the other main reason for reform. Hon. Members may recall that the Home Affairs Committee, in its 1990 report on the administration of the board, was highly critical of delays in the processing of claims. Undoubtedly, one reason for that was the enormous increase in business, which swallowed up the considerable staff increases made at the board. Staff numbers had more than doubled between 1978-79 and 1988-89, to a total of 312. The figure has since increased to no less than 460, and that does not include the 44 members of the board.

Assuming that numbers of claims continue to grow, we could only expect further massive staff increases and corresponding increases in administrative costs to run the old scheme. The alternative would be ever- lengthening delays. I do not think that the House would regard either option as acceptable.


Next Section

  Home Page