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Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East): I echo the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) concerning delays. When I was in practice, delays of two years were considered not to be delays but swiftly-dealt-with applications. Worse, the Opposition seem to think that the present scheme is not far short of perfection. It is not. It is exceedingly flawed, as my right hon. and learned Friend says.
One of the flaws is that the scheme was arbitrary in its application, so that someone with a previous conviction--I recall a case in which the person was convicted 15 years previously and had never reoffended--could still be ruled out of the scheme and receive nothing when, for 15 years, he or she had been a perfectly respectable member of the community. That effect needs to be remembered.
The scheme was not good and had to be changed, and I commend the changes.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): May I correct one inaccuracy in the intervention of the hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Butler), for the benefit of the Home Secretary? There is no suggestion from this side of the House that the present scheme cannot be improved. We have always argued for change, in respect both of speeding up judgments and of making them more consistent. Our argument is simply that the cut in the availability of compensation to victims of the most horrendous crimes does not have to come with that improvement in the scheme.
Column 451Notwithstanding what I have just said about how the board deals with claims, its efficiency has improved considerably with increasing use of information technology and streamlined management procedures. But the very terms of the old scheme--being based on common law damages--militated against more speedy resolution of cases. As a result of its complexities, a small industry has grown up around the scheme, in which ever more subtle calculations and fine judgments about medical prognoses are produced by applicants' lawyers or other representatives, engaging the board in equally time-consuming labour.
I do not believe that that was the vision of the scheme's originators, or that it works to the general benefit of those the scheme is meant to help-- the victims of crime. What is needed is a simple, user-friendly service that gets the money to the beneficiaries as quickly as possible and enables them to put the incident behind them and get on with their lives. That is exactly what the tariff scheme aims to do.
Our White Paper, which was published last December, explained that there is no objectively "right" sum of money which can compensate an individual for the pain and hurt suffered as a result of criminal injury. Under the tariff scheme, therefore, we are not aiming to provide finely judged "compensation", in the sense of trying, in some way, to put the victim back in the position that he or she would have been in had the attack not taken place. Instead, we are providing a lump sum payment--and a generous one--in tangible recognition of society's concern for the blameless victim of a crime of violence. Under the tariff scheme, therefore, victims with comparable injuries will be treated in the same way. They will have a good idea in advance of how much compensation they are likely to get. That was far from the case under the old scheme. It gives the tariff scheme the advantages of simplicity and transparency. It will be easier for victims to understand, and simpler and less expensive to administer. Nevertheless, as the tariff levels have been based on nearly 20,000 recent awards made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, they reflect what actually happened in practice under the old common law damages scheme.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): The Home Secretary is explaining the simplicity of the scheme from his point of view. Will he explain how often and under what circumstances he expects the level of the tariffs to be uprated? Clearly, with inflation they will lose their value. What will be the basis for uprating the tariffs?
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman asks a perfectly fair question, with which I shall deal towards the end of my remarks this afternoon. I accept that that matter has given rise to some concern. We have left the basic rules for eligibility largely unchanged, so anyone who might have expected an award under the old scheme should be eligible under the new tariff scheme.
I must emphasise that we are not in the business of change for its own sake. We recognise what is valuable and do not lightly alter it. We have changed the scheme because it was essential to do so.
Column 452We are sure that our new tariff scheme is the right way forward, but, as we made clear on several occasions previously, we shall monitor its working very closely. Its terms are not immutable. We shall continue to listen to the views of responsible people and practitioners and, if the scheme can be refined or improved in the light of experience, we shall not hesitate to make the necessary changes.
I was just asked by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) what the arrangements are for reviewing the tariff bands. As I have said, we shall keep all aspects of the tariff scheme under review, but I can tell the House--this point has given rise to particular concern on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby)--that our intention is to review the tariff bands every three years.
I also assure the House that, once the new scheme has settled down and any necessary adjustments or refinements have been made, we shall aim to put it on a statutory basis as soon as a suitable legislative opportunity occurs. But we must of course first be satisfied that the scheme is working as effectively as possible.
Finally, I stress again that reversion to the old scheme, which is what this amendment seeks to achieve, is simply not a viable option. No responsible Government can allow a situation to continue in which costs grow so rapidly and in a way that cannot be checked. For all those reasons, I invite the House to reject the amendment.
Mr. Michael: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before responding to the Home Secretary, I want to refer to something that arose after he had begun his speech. I was amazed to hear the suggestion that we are dealing with a matter of privilege. Surely that cannot be. It involves no change to spending under the existing scheme and under existing legislation, so there cannot be any question of additional spending. The Government want to cut spending without the support and scrutiny of the House.
There is a question whether the Government's action is legal. Permission has been given for judicial review of the Home Secretary's actions. I appreciate that it would be convenient for the Government if the matter were to be dealt with under privilege, but there has been no previous suggestion of that during our many months of debate and in the long period during which there has been notice of the likelihood of the matter being referred back by the House of Lords. Obviously, it is impossible to deal with the matter fully and to challenge the ruling on the hoof. I simply give notice of our belief that the ruling that it is a matter of privilege should be set aside. We want to put forward reasoned arguments on that point at the earliest possible opportunity.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): The advice that I have received is that the House authorities advise that Lords amendment No. 125 raises questions of common privilege because the legal position under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which activates the statutory scheme by order, is proposed to be changed so that the scheme comes directly into force. An option to spend money is replaced by an obligation. Perhaps the hon.
Column 453Gentleman would like to reflect on that. I am happy to give him a copy of that ruling. I hope that he will now respond to the Home Secretary's opening speech.
Mr. Michael: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is the first opportunity we have had to hear that explanation. I believe that the ruling is open to challenge and argument, and we shall seek to do that in the most appropriate way. We will seek guidance on how to do it outside the debate, so that we do not delay it further. The motion illustrates better than anything else the deep hypocrisy at the heart of the Conservative party--a party led by a Prime Minister and a Home Secretary who are ready to pay lip service to the claims of victims and to cry crocodile tears, while being willing to conspire to slash the level of compensation available to the victims of the most vicious and disabling crimes of violence.
The Home Secretary claims that the Government are acting in the interests of victims. He says that the present system involves delay and that a tariff system will speed up the payment of cash to victims. That is a lame attempt to stave off criticism. It should not be beyond the wit of a half- competent Minister to devise a scheme that pays out quickly on simple cases but allows fair and generous settlements when the injury and loss are great. Ending delay gives no excuse for the cut.
Let us consider the scale of opposition from, and outrage felt by, those who have first-hand knowledge of the way in which the cut will damage those whose lives have already been devastated by violent crime, and then let us consider the impact on real people. The opposition to the cut includes the House of Lords, the Police Federation, the Royal College of Nursing, the Fire Brigades Union and the Law Society, not to mention Victim Support and the chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
Why will Ministers not listen to that mass of informed and authoritative opinion? Let us listen to the strength of that authoritative opinion. In the debate in the other place on 2 March, Lord Carlisle, the chairman of the CICB, said that, in the board's unanimous view, the proposed tariff scheme was fundamentally flawed, manifestly unfair and a retrograde step.
Victim Support described the changes as hasty and ill thought out. Its director said on 23 February:
"We are shocked at what Government is proposing. Many people will lose out significantly in future. I find it amazing that the Government can introduce such sweeping changes having taken no external advice. We are calling on the Government to suspend their plans and instigate a proper review of the way in which victims are compensated for violent crime."
Did the Government listen? Did they institute a proper review? Did they open their proposals to objective scrutiny? No, they did not. Let us consider the actual impact on real individuals. I ask hon. Members on both sides to remember that the pain of such incidents of violence--which often devastate a life for ever--is invisible and unreal until the victim is someone you know and love, or even yourself. The first case I shall cite is that of a London Underground booking clerk who was the victim of armed robbery twice in the space of seven days. In the first, a gun was pointed directly at him. In the second, five shotgun and pistol
Column 454rounds were fired during the robbery. The man was unable to return to work and he lost his job. He is now in low-paid employment. As a side issue, a complicating factor was that the man had been present at the King's Cross fire disaster, and was therefore already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, it was the two armed robberies that caused his retirement. The claim was finalised a few weeks ago with an award of £73,000. Under the new tariff scheme, he would have been awarded £7,500--one tenth of the present award. Independent research shows that the changes proposed by the Government would involve many victims losing by many thousands of pounds.
I shall give two further examples. The first is a female psychiatric nursing sister aged 35 at the date of the hearing. She was assaulted by a patient and suffered extensive injury. She was assessed as 15 per cent. disabled for life and unfit for any work. The award, including an assessment for loss of future earnings and the future cost of home help, was £126,943. Under the Home Secretary's proposal, she would get just £5,000.
The second case is that of a male police officer aged 34 at the time of the award. He was assaulted and sustained serious back injuries. He was unable to sit, stand or walk for long periods, and he was unable to carry out heavy tasks involving lifting or carrying. He retired on a medical pension. He was awarded £121,000 to cover loss of future earnings. Under the Government's proposal, he would get just £7,500.
We are facing a treble whammy. We are hit by crime, which has doubled under this Government--
Mr. Howard rose --
Mr. Michael: I shall just finish the point, as I think it is one to which the Home Secretary might well wish to respond. As I said, we are hit by crime, which has doubled under this Government; we now have to pay VAT on home and car insurances, which have shot up to cover the cost of crime; and now the Government want to steal compensation from the victims of some of the most violent and horrific crimes. I am happy to allow the Home Secretary to intervene to respond to that point.
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman must not convey a misleading impression. It is quite wrong to suggest, for example, that the police officer in the case that he quoted would be limited to £7,500 compensation under the scheme--assuming that to be the right figure. He would be entitled to his average pensionable pay plus a gratuity of five times the amount of his annual pensionable pay. Therefore, he would have a gratuity of five times his annual pensionable pay and a pension of 85 per cent. of his annual pensionable pay. It would be quite wrong to give the impression that the police officer would be left with £7,500 alone.
Similar points can be made about the other examples the hon. Gentleman cited. Serious issues are at stake relating to this change, and it would be wrong to deal with them on the basis of a wholly misleading impression, which is what the hon. Gentleman is trying to convey.
Mr. Michael: The Home Secretary well knows that I am not conveying a misleading impression. I am comparing the figures that are available under the current system with what would apply if the Home Secretary has his way.
Column 455I want to bring to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention the comments of a police officer who bravely agreed to join me to publicise the effect of the change on any of his colleagues who might share his experience--not because he wants to support us or to make a political point, but because he is concerned about his colleagues who will be damaged if they have experiences similar to his. He said that nothing could bring back his health or the job he loved or, indeed, the opportunity to participate in sport, which had been very important in his life, but he doubted whether he could have survived the last couple of years if he had not had the level of criminal injury compensation that was awarded to him under the present scheme. That is accurate, and it is the argument that we are advancing. I noticed that the Home Secretary did not seek to respond to my accusation that the Government had given us a treble whammy.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): My hon. Friend has spoken of the 40 per cent. of people who are likely to lose under the Government's scheme. That figure has not been challenged by the Home Secretary or anyone else. If anyone is dissatisfied with the tariff settlement that he or she is offered under the Government's scheme, is there any right of appeal to an independent organisation with a right to vary any tariff offer?
Mr. Michael: That is the problem. As I said, it should not be beyond the wit of a half-competent Minister to come up with a system that includes the benefits of a tariff--preferably better calculated than the one offered --and also enables specific circumstances to be taken into account, either immediately or on appeal. My hon. Friend is right. The Home Secretary could hardly deny the extent to which people will lose. Within the 40 per cent. of people who would lose as a result of the Government's new scheme would be those victims of the most horrific attacks and those on whom the effect of the change would be the most devastating.
In view of the Home Secretary's intervention, I should say that, under the old scheme, in the case I mentioned, even after the victim's pension is deducted from his earnings loss, the total of past and future loss is more than ten times the award under the new scheme. That is the honest answer, and I hope that the Home Secretary will review his figures and the facts in the case.
The Lords amendment brings into force the criminal injuries compensation scheme contained in section 171 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. It ensures that the current scheme is made statutory, and it throws out the Government's proposed scheme.
The Government's proposal replaces a scheme based on individual assessment of the loss to the victim with one based on a crude tariff. Unlike the current system, the new scheme will make no allowance for the victim's loss of earnings, medical expenses or structural changes to his or her house necessitated by the injury--we should remember the horrendous nature of some of the injuries. But those elements are vital for a fair system of compensation. Other examples abound. An attack left a victim with a brain injury requiring continuous care day and night. Under the present system, the compensation is £500,000;
Column 456under the new proposals it would be just £40,000. The new scheme would remove the dependency award in fatal cases, which would result in greatly reduced compensation for some families who have suffered a bereavement. For example, the woman with two children who saw her husband dying on her doorstep after a stabbing received £137,000 in 1993; under the Government's proposals she would receive just £17,500, which is outrageous.
It is precisely those victims who suffer the worst injuries who will be most heavily penalised under the new proposals. The Government are letting down those victims and the public, and, in addition, they are letting down public servants such as police officers, nurses and firefighters, who risk so much in our service and who will be shoddily treated if the Government get their way. The Home Secretary should recognise, even at this late stage, that the new scheme is misguided, and should withdraw his opposition to the Lords amendment. That would still allow him to bring forward changes, but would allow him to seek the approval of this House and the other place for changes, which might then constitute improvements rather than the undermining of an important element of the scheme.
Mr. Howard: I do not know how near the hon. Gentleman is to the end of his remarks, and I may have misjudged the timing of my intervention, but I hope that he will not sit down without saying whether or not his party is prepared to give an undertaking to restore the old scheme if it ever becomes the Government of this country.
Mr. Michael: The Home Secretary did not misjudge the timing of his intervention, but its nature, as well as the nature of the change that he is trying to introduce. The Home Secretary knows that it would be foolish for an Opposition Member to anticipate the state of legislation and the disastrous state of the economy that the Government will leave us. We look forward to that day with trepidation, but we shall also take on the challenge with pride when the Government finally leave office.
It comes as no surprise that the Government have proposed a scheme without consulting any agency that deals with victims, and that none of those agencies supports it. The Government did not even consult the chairman of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, Lord Carlisle, who stated in another place:
"I turn to my other criticism"--
it was only one of his criticisms--
"that it is being brought in without any attempt at consultation. I find that extraordinary. The board which has been responsible for running the scheme for 30 years was not consulted in any way before the decision of principle to change the basis of compensation was taken. I was asked to go and see the then Home Secretary"-- the current Chancellor--
"and was informed that he would be announcing his decision to Parliament the following day."
It is a pity that the present Home Secretary did not allow his predecessor to take the proposal with him. Perhaps the reason for that is that his predecessor refuses to allow him enough money to run his Department--but that is a matter of misery within the Government, rather than a matter for us.
It is not surprising that, having omitted to consult anyone who works with victims, the Government have proposed a scheme that is so fundamentally misconceived. Their true reason for doing so is to save money. Of course
Column 457we all want value for money, but it is not acceptable to save money at the expense of the most vulnerable victims of crime.
When we last discussed the matter, on 28 March, the Home Secretary quoted two figures. He said that, since 1987-88, there had been only a 50 per cent. increase in the number of applications, but a threefold increase in compensation. In a devastating analysis in another place, Lord Carlisle showed that, allowing for inflation, the average award in 1993-94 prices in 1988 was £3,486. In March this year, the average was £3,778-- hardly a massive increase. Similarly revealing is Lord Carlisle's assessment of the Home Secretary's claim that, since 1965-66, applications under the scheme had risen by 27 per cent. but compensation had risen by 378 per cent.
Lord Carlisle said:
"If instead of comparing applications we compare the number of cases, and if we take into account the tenfold reduction in the value of money in that period, we find that on their calculation the average award in 1965 was £3,458 and it is £3,778 today, which is something less than a 10 per cent. increase in a period of 29 years."
Not only is the proposed scheme misguided and mean-spirited: it is contrary to our international obligations. The Home Secretary made great play of international comparisons, but the European convention on compensation for victims of violent crime, to which Britain is a signatory, states:
"Compensation shall cover . . . loss of earnings, medical and hospitalisation expenses and funeral expenses, and as regard dependants, loss of maintenance".
There are, in addition, profound concerns about the manner in which the Government have sought to change the scheme. As I said in a point of order, that matter is before the courts. Suffice it to say that the Government decided not to implement section 171 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which would have put the present scheme on a statutory basis. Instead, they sought to introduce the changes by prerogative power, which led Lord Ackner to say in another place: "Some may think that it bears the hallmark of elective dictatorship."
Lord Carlisle said:
"What is Parliament's purpose if one can commend one action to Parliament and then decide to do something totally different without going back to Parliament for approval?"--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 16 June 1994; Vol. 555, c. 1836, 1834, 1829, 1835.] Whatever the arguments about the way that the scheme was introduced, the Government's proposals to change the scheme will drastically affect those who are most seriously injured in criminal attacks. Surely that cannot be right. Neither the Government nor the Conservative party will ever again be able to claim concern for the victims of crime in future when they are treating them so callously today. No Conservative Members of Parliament will be able to claim an interest in victims in their speeches or election material if they vote to disagree with the Lords amendment today.
No Conservative Member of Parliament who speaks of the sad case of a constituent who has a miserable life as a result of an inadequate level of compensation will have any credibility in the House if he or she votes to disagree with the Lords amendment today. I warn Conservative Members to bear that in mind if compassion and common sense fail alone fail to persuade them to join us in voting against the disgraceful motion to disagree.
I have taken a close interest in criminal injuries compensation and raised the matter in an Adjournment debate on 18 March 1993 when I first became aware, as a result of discussions with Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, that changes were afoot. I shall read a short extract from the reply given by the then Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). He said:
"It is important to take some time to explain the conceptual change in the nature of the new scheme"--
the tariff scheme. He went on:
"Many people will accept that no amount of money can fully or properly compensate people for criminal injury, and that it is perhaps unrealistic to believe otherwise. There is no such thing as an absolute' or right' figure for the hurt suffered. Awards under common law damages are necessarily subjective, not objective. Even the courts are sometimes accused of inconsistency in the awards they make."--[ Official Report , 18 March 1993; Vol. 221, c.506.] That was an interesting statement which revealed the Minister's thinking on this important issue.
My concern is not only for police officers who are members of the Police Federation but for many other people who suffer criminal injuries and are left severely disabled. One of my concerns about changing the system is whether the tariff scheme would take account of an individual's loss of earnings if he or she were not able to work again. In my discussions with the present Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and other Ministers at the Home Office, I have been given the impression that the tariff level established at the inception of the proposed new scheme took account of loss of earnings, but perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, or whoever winds up the debate, will confirm that. It is essential that any compensation scheme should take account of an individual's loss of earnings.
My second worry about the proposed change is that the level of payments under the tariff scheme would inevitably be whittled away by the effects of inflation, although inflation is very low at the moment, which is to be welcomed. I pressed my right hon. and learned Friend on this matter and was grateful that, in response to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), he announced today that the tariff bands would be reviewed every three years. That is at least a step in the right direction and it means that we shall not be saddled with a scheme under which the value of compensation is whittled away over time.
Any hon. Member reflecting on what the Home Secretary has said today and what he said on 28 March 1994 has to recognise the burden placed on the Exchequer by the costs of the present compensation scheme. My right hon. and learned Friend said:
"We estimate that, without reform, the annual cost of the present arrangements could be in the region of £500 million by the end of the decade. Under the new tariff scheme, the cost is likely to be about £250 million--still a very large sum by the standards of any other state scheme."--[ Official Report , 28 March 1994; Vol. 240, c. 686.] Like any responsible hon. Member, I have to consider the cost of any scheme instituted to pay criminal injuries compensation. I and many others realise that a scheme
Column 459instituted 30 years ago, in circumstances very different to those prevailing today, cannot necessarily remain unchanged. Were it to do so, the costs would rise enormously. If we are to stay with the existing scheme and make it statutory, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) suggests, it is incumbent on us to state how it is to be financed in the future. The only way that it could continue to be financed is by a reordering of priorities in terms of total Government expenditure. Anyone who wishes a scheme to continue without regard to cost must be prepared to propose changes in priorities. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth to mutter, but that is the truth.
Mr. Michael rose --
Mr. Michael rose --
Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman is trying to provoke a response. The Government have presided over massive increases in the levels of crime, just as they have presided over massive increases in unemployment which have had a great impact on Government expenditure. The hon. Gentleman should remember that he is a Tory Back Bencher and that it is his Government who have caused many of the problems.
Mr. Shersby: If I may say so, that was a rather poor intervention and not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. Crime--especially burglary--in the area that I represent has fallen substantially in the past year as a result of excellent policing of the area.
Mr. Michael indicated dissent .
Mr. Shersby: Yes, it has. It has fallen significantly because of Operation Bumblebee. Unemployment across the country is also falling steadily every month. That is my response to the hon. Gentleman's rather stupid intervention, which was hardly worthy of a Front-Bench spokesman.
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): My hon. Friend and I have been here since April 1992. In that time, has my hon. Friend heard anything from the Opposition parties spokesmen that would lead him to suppose that their policies would result in a reduction in crime or in unemployment?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary referred to the ability of individuals, especially those with higher incomes, to insure against criminal injuries. It is an interesting point, but perhaps he will tell the House whether the average accident policy covers criminal
Column 460injuries or whether it would be necessary for individuals to take out a special policy. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) would have been covered had he suffered an even more serious injury than that which he unhappily experienced as a result of what happened outside the House last night. If my right hon. and learned Friend is to rely on private accident insurance, it must be clear beyond all doubt that such insurance is available at a price that people can readily afford.
My response to the proposals are twofold. First, I should like to record my warm appreciation of what the Home Secretary said today about the triennial review of the present scheme. He has taken account of one of my key concerns and I am, as always, grateful for his attention.
Secondly, I do not believe that it is right or proper for any of us to demand that a scheme that has been in operation for a long time should continue, irrespective of the cost burden that it places on the taxpayer. One has to review such schemes from time to time and, although I and many people would have liked the current level of compensation to continue over a long period, I recognise the cogent arguments made by the Home Secretary on 28 March 1994.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The victims of crime rarely find that their sufferings and grief end with the direct effects of the crime itself, severe though those may be. Frequently, their suffering extends into a sense of frustration and anger at the way in which they have been treated by the system during and after the investigation and trial, a sense that continues when they feel that their problems have been forgotten and neglected afterwards. One of the few sources of relief from that frustration is the system of criminal injuries compensation. Maintaining that system and ensuring that it works effectively must be a priority for anybody in any party who wants to recognise and deal with the problems of victims of crime.
The Home Secretary cannot escape from the fact that the measures that he took to change the compensation scheme before the Bill came before the House involved saving money; that was what they were intended to do. Inevitably, they did so at the expense of victims of crime.
That was all done on the basis of figures that have been vigorously challenged by those who have the best claim to understand the situation, especially the chairman of the board, our former colleague, Lord Carlisle, who did not understand how the Government could have arrived at their projection of how rapidly the cost of the scheme would increase. He claimed, with some authority, that if the Government's assumptions were correct and there were a 19.5 per cent. increase in the year just ended, the body should already have spent an extra £180 million, whereas it had spent only an extra £165 million. Already, in the first year of the calculation, the assessment of how rapidly the cost of the scheme would increase is £15 million out. The basis of the Government's figures has been seriously challenged.
The victims charter--it is still remembered--encouraged the police to tell people to apply for compensation, but they would have been applying for it under a compensation scheme that has now been radically changed. The Home Secretary must realise that there are serious disadvantages to put alongside the supposed advantages of a tariff system.
Column 461Perhaps the most compelling instance of the disadvantage of a tariff system is the fact that it takes no account of the consequences of the injury for the livelihood of individuals, and their ability to earn their living and to maintain anything like their previous standard of living. Such considerations relate to the age of the people concerned and the extent to which the injury affects their livelihood.
Inevitably, those who will suffer most from the changes include some of those whose injuries are the worst and have the most disastrous effect on their future mobility. Some of those who suffer most will be the youngest people, who will suffer the consequences of crime over so many more years, and whose ability to earn their own living will have been destroyed or severely damaged by the crime. Among those people will be injured police officers, often young men and women--both men and women have suffered criminal injury through service in the police force. That category will also include prison officers and people in civilian life who have to confront violence and criminality more often than many of us, because of the nature of their work. Examples are local authority staff, security guards and self-employed contractors, who, because of the nature of their work and where it takes place, come into contact with crime. Those people may be in a much less favourable position to make their own provision for insurance against crime than people on high earnings. I am talking about people running small one-man and one-woman businesses, who may be exposed to the danger of crime.
The figures quoted in the debate and the references to people on higher earnings have sometimes ignored the limitations already in the system. As I understand it, the scheme does not take into account earnings of more than one and a half times the national average, so there is no question of the old scheme doling out large sums of money to people simply because they had a huge earning capacity. Quite a modest limit on the level of earnings that can be taken into account is clearly built in.
The problems that will be faced under the new scheme have been vividly bought to light by Lord Carlisle, Lord Ackner and Martin Thomas QC, who, after serving on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for eight years, resigned in December 1993, with great regret, to protest against the changes and the serious consequences that he felt that they would have. The Home Secretary should not treat lightly the views of such people, or those of other organisations with considerable experience in dealing with victims of crime, who can see the reasoning behind the awards made, and who are deeply concerned about the consequences.
There is also a constitutional point underlying the amendment. The Government never implemented the statutory basis for criminal injuries compensation that this House and the other place intended should exist. The format of the amendment is designed to implement that statutory basis. We all realise that if the Government agreed to do that they would do it with modifications to the scheme. No doubt, for the reasons that they have advanced, they would seek to apply further financial restraints.
The framework of the Bill offered the Government an opportunity to put the new scheme on a statutory basis, and at the same time to listen to the concerns and objections of the people who understand how the old