Previous Section Home Page

Column 462

scheme has worked and the terrible suffering that it deals with, and who believe, as many of us do, that victims of serious crime will be severely damaged by the changes.

In making his projections for the possible cost of not changing the scheme, the Home Secretary seems to have little confidence in what he has said about reducing crime. He has stood before two Conservative conferences and told them that he would cut crime, but he does not show much confidence in the 27 measures that he announced last year if he thinks that there will still be spiralling costs because of increasing crime. The most effective way to reduce the future cost of the criminal injuries compensation scheme would be to reduce crime, and to introduce the measures involving policing in the community and changing attitudes in the community that many of us believe will bring that about.

The victims of crime must command sufficient attention from the Government to prevent them from being as seriously disadvantaged as I believe that many of them will be by the new scheme. Their lordships were right to seek, through the Bill, to bring the Government back to that issue. The Government made changes without any statutory authority or parliamentary basis. Here is an opportunity for us to put things back on a statutory basis and to have a modified scheme properly determined by statute. For that reason, I encourage my hon. Friends to vote for the Lords amendment.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton): I shall first deal with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), the Opposition spokesman. The logic of his criticism would be to go back to the old system and spend even more than the £570 million that we should have expected to spend, if the system had been left in place, in order to reduce delays.

Will the hon. Gentleman give a commitment to that much more public spending if the Labour party ever takes power in this country? Of course he will not; nor was it to have been expected. What he says is just words. The Opposition always use the phrase "weasel words", but if people want weasel words and unconvincing words, there they are, without any commitment.

The hon. Gentleman cites bodies that want more money to be spent. Of course they do. Every spending body wants more money to be spent, especially if it can be raised from the taxpayer. If the Government gave way to every claim to spend more, the deficit would be not £40 billion but £400 billion, and the British economy, instead of being one of the safest in Europe, would be one of the sickest. It would be the laughing stock of Europe, as it was when the Labour Government were in power.

The hon. Gentleman said that it was not beyond the wit of a half-competent Home Secretary to come up with another scheme that combined the old and the new. But what about a half-competent Opposition spokesman? Where is his alternative scheme? He has all these groups and all these bodies closest to the question of criminal injuries compensation which support him. They have been thinking about the matter, agonising about the matter and worrying about the matter. Have they come up with the alternative scheme which would be an improvement on the scheme that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has introduced?

Column 463

5.30 pm

Finally, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth attacks the Government's record on victims. At least this Government have a record of achievement for victims. The previous Labour Government had none at all. They spent less money on victims; they did not have a victims charter; they did not give victim support and victim counselling in the courts. If victim support is so poor, why are so many victims coming forward to complain, especially women who are the subject of rape and sexual offences? They never came forward in the days when we had a Labour Government and there was no concern about victims.

These criticisms are, again, just pathetic. They are just words and they have no content. It is the new-look Labour party, made for television, made for the sound bite and made for public consumption, which is actually meaningless and contentless.

We must support the Government in their stand on the criminal injuries compensation scheme because the Lords amendments would clearly wreck the scheme and because it is necessary to take action as the Government propose.

Mr. Bennett: If the hon. and learned Gentleman is so keen to criticise the Opposition, can he tell us the extent to which he expects the bill to be reduced over the next two or three years as a result of the Home Secretary getting tough on crime? Does he expect that policy to work? Does he expect the amount that has to be spent on victims to be reduced, or not?

Sir Ivan Lawrence: We know that there has been an increase in crime every year since the end of the war. We also know that the increase in crime in this country is consistent with increases in crime in all other countries in the western world except those that have far more repressive forms of punishment. We also know that there has been a reduction in crime in the past year. We have had little praise from the Labour party for having done what it has suggested that the Government should do--that is, to reduce crime. We are reducing crime at a rate of between 5 and 10 per cent. a year. If that means so little to the Labour party, perhaps Labour Members should get up on television more often and say, "We ought to have more crime, not less crime as the Government are achieving through their policies with the support of the police and the courts."

Mr. Michael: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that even if the fall in crime were at the level of 5 or 6 per cent., as he suggests--and that is not the case in terms of genuine crime or of crimes of violence--it would take 15 years to get back to the level under the previous Labour Government, at which time crime was actually going down?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We need to get back to the criminal injuries compensation scheme rather than discussing the wider scene.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should be happy to pursue the matter. No doubt we shall do so on other occasions. I should be more than happy to defend the Government's record.

I come back to the present criminal injuries compensation scheme, which I have said is necessary and which the Lords amendments would wreck. The reason why it is necessary is quite simply that the previous

Column 464

scheme was getting out of hand. The scheme before 1 April was getting too expensive. It was becoming too inefficient and too unfair. I do not say that as a criticism of the work of Lord Carlisle, who must be complimented on the great deal of effort that he, his team and his predecessors have put into the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board over so many years, with so many awards and such substantial increases. Therein, of course, lies part of the problem. The scheme was getting too expensive because the cost was rising from an equivalent of £4 million in 1965 to £570 million in six years' time. That is totally unacceptable. If the figures are inaccurate--I am the first to concede that Government figures are often inaccurate, because the Treasury is famous for its inaccurate assessments, whether to the good or to the bad --to the extent of £16 million in one year, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, that would amount to an inaccuracy of about £100 million in six years' time. That is still an increase from the equivalent of £4 million when the scheme was set up to £470 million in six years' time, which is an enormous sum. It is an exponential increase which must be addressed by any responsible Government. The scheme was getting too inefficient because of the delays, which were getting longer and longer. There were sometimes delays of years. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) and for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler). Every hon. Member must have written to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board over the past year or two on behalf of constituents who complained that after a year, two years or even longer, they had still not received their money. I would much rather receive £1,000 next month than £1,500 in two or three years' time. Everywhere, we see that delays in payment are expensive and hurtful to those who will rely on the payments to achieve a certain standard of living after serious injury as a result of crime. The figures speak for themselves. We have gone from 2,500 claims 30 years ago to 73,000 claims now, with 41,000 awards.

The system was also getting unfair because there were too many examples of similar injuries attracting different amounts of compensation. Unfairness has arisen, which can be corrected to some extent by a tariff system.

As a result of those unfairnesses and inefficiencies and because of the exponential cost, the Government have proposed a new scheme which contains the cost, reduces the inefficiencies and the delay and is a bit fairer. It is not perfect. How could it be? In a perfect world, costs would be unlimited, delays would not exist, each case would be perfectly tailored and there would be no feelings of injustice caused by one person getting a different sum because his or her income was greater. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has outlined and reminded us of the scheme. It is there in the Bill for all of us to see. It is an attempt to provide, as broadly as we can, the current levels of award, based on an assessment of 20,000 cases, which does not sound to me an unreasonable cross-section. The question is not whether it is perfect, but whether it does more harm than good.

The scheme does do some harm; we have to accept that some people will suffer. We have to listen and we have to accept the fact that some of the hard cases that have

Column 465

been outlined by hon. Members in this debate may well be true. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that 40 per cent. of cases might not be as well paid out as they are at present, but that 60 per cent. of cases will be as well, if not better, paid out.

I am concerned, as Opposition Members are, about police officers and prison officers. I have listened to what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about taking into consideration all the benefits that would accrue in the form of awards of one kind or another to police officers. We must ensure that police officers, through occupational pensions, receive benefits that are, perhaps, greater in future than they have been in the past.

When one looks at the alternative suggested by the Law Society and others, one must realise that if it will undermine the virtues of the new proposals, it must be unacceptable. The harm is not as great as some people are suggesting. We would still have the most generous scheme in the world. It is seven times more generous than the French, 20 times more generous than the Germans, and perhaps five or six times more generous than in the United States--where, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, there is an active victim lobby. Certainly, it is the most generous in the world if one includes Northern Ireland, which we always try to do in our proceedings in this place. The new scheme is a tariff system, but one cannot complain about a tariff system. Even now, the criminal injuries compensation scheme, or the scheme that existed before 1 April, was a form of tariff system. All the judges apply a tariff system. So it is merely an extension and a variation of the tariff system.

Yes, loss of earnings will not be taken into consideration as a special damage. But that caused most of the delay. Fifty per cent. of the time spent on awards which, at the end, produced only about £100, was taken up by trying to assess with employers, sometimes with great difficulty, or with social security offices, when there was sometimes even greater difficulty, what the precise level of earnings loss had been. It is, in any event, somewhat doubtful whether a significant increase in payment ought to be due simply because one victim is earning more than the other, even though the injury is the same.

Mr. Stephen: Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that under the old criminal injuries compensation scheme, the assessment of damages for loss of earnings amounted very often to no more than crystal gazing? It was a notoriously inexact science and was often no more than an educated guess.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: And often, it produced only something like £100, for which there had been a delay of perhaps a year or two in trying to assess the sum. Also, the system is not so harmful because it will be cheaper. If it brings down the increase in costs from £166 million this year to £243 million in six years' time--a saving of £327 million or, if the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is right, a saving of only £227 million--that money can be better spent elsewhere. It can be spent on a wider form of victim support. It can be spent on more health or more legal aid, or even in a reduction of taxation. Those are important benefits, even if it is no longer necessary because of the way in which the economy is improving, further to reduce the deficit.

Column 466

It is a fact that the scheme is estimated to provide an improved situation or a no-worse situation for 60 per cent. of cases and it is a fact that social welfare, private insurance and occupational benefit schemes can be added to the benefits that will accrue from criminal injuries compensation. It will be more efficient because it will no longer be necessary to have a highly staffed board. There will be fewer appeals; there will be speedier settlements. As I have said, most people would rather have a sum of money in their pocket quickly, for the purposes of helping themselves immediately back to health, than a slightly larger sum of money a long time later. We have to strike a balance. There is no way in which we can try to be perfect. The scheme does not apply to people who are victims of other kinds of injury other than criminal injury. We do not make any pretence with special schemes to try to help those who are not falling foul of criminal injury, so there is an injustice in the existing system.

5.45 pm

On balance, there seems to be far more for the Government's scheme than against it. If we apply the Bentham rule of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, the scheme should qualify. Furthermore, it is consistent with the view that the House has already expressed on an important occasion in March when we voted for the Government scheme. Now that the Home Secretary has given an undertaking that his mind is not closed to improvements in the scheme if it should be seen to be lacking, it is obvious that, on balance, there is more sense in supporting the Government's proposal and less sense in opposing it, for there is no alternative that could be seen to be workable. Therefore, in those circumstances, we should reject the Lords amendment.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon): The Lords amendment gives us an opportunity to consider real anxieties about the conduct of the Government in relation to Parliament and also the unfairness of the tariff proposal. I find the attitude of the Government, on the face of it, to the future of the much-valued CICB incomprehensible and indefensible. It is, in fact, an affront to Parliament. Parliament gave of its time to consider the Government's proposals in 1988 and 10 clauses of the Criminal Justice Act in 1988 dealt with the statutory scheme. It was high time then that there was a statutory scheme, after a very long--far too long--trial period and it was being put in order as it should have been.

The Bill ignores the 1988 Act. There was no mention of it until the Opposition tabled amendments. It is not even repealed. It will lie idle on the statute book. Instead, we have a non-statutory scheme and the Government have played ducks and drakes with Parliament and the time that Parliament gave to passing the 1988 Act. Therefore, I am grateful for the opportunity that the Lords have given us. The Home Secretary said today that the proposed scheme is generous. There is always a case for examining a scheme, especially a scheme that has been going for a long time. But if one changes a scheme that has brought benefit to hundreds of thousands of people, we should examine whether the change proposed is a fair change: whether there is fairness in what is now proposed. The scheme before us has no friends anywhere other than on the Conservative Benches.

Column 467

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) quoted a large number of important and knowledgeable organisations that oppose and have opposed what is proposed. Their lordships' House opposed it. The ink is hardly dry on the victims charter before the rug is pulled from under the very victims who the Government put themselves up as being their protectors. Those victims, the 40 per cent. who are the losers, will know that this Government do not care about them. The new scheme is Treasury led, it is a means of saving money and saving money in an unfair way. The argument is about the proposed unfair tariff system.

We are replacing a carefully considered scheme, which had been working well --too well, the Government say--over the years, trying to put the principles of the common law into practice, by trying to put the injured back so far as was possible, financially at least, to the way they were before the accident or the injury. The common law has developed sensitively over the centuries and taken account paymentsof varying circumstances and a range of considerations. Instead of retaining the sensitive scheme, which had been run by the CICB, the Government have imposed a flat tariff and we have heard the admission that 40 per cent. of people will be losers.

We have to go back to ancient Greece to find a parallel. Procrustes sought to harmonise his victims by putting them on one of his two beds. If they were too short for one bed, he extended the victims' legs by pulling on them and if they were too long for the other bed, he cut the legs off. That was bad government then and this new tariff is bad government now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth referred to several examples and I want to refer to one or two. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) was concerned about the loss of earnings. As the Home Secretary has told us, there may well be an element of loss of earnings in the tariff, but it will be a fixed amount and will not take into account the variable circumstances. That is the essence of a flat tariff.

A young skilled steeplejack who fractures his leg obviously has a greater financial loss than a retired pensioner in his seventies. The common law has always recognised that. Anyone in physical employment has the potential of greater financial loss. A high earner's loss is bound to be higher than a low earner's loss. We should be very interested to discover how wide accident policies are, as indicated by the Home Secretary, to cover that kind of contingency. We should like to know how many people are covered by such policies. The scarred face of a girl model cannot be compared to a similar scar on a middle-aged man. That is what the common law has always been about, that is what our courts have emulated and that is what the board was trying to do its best to achieve.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: Will the right hon. and learned Member give way?

Mr. Morris: No, I do not have time. I am trying to close my comments.

All that I have described will be thrown out the window and in its place there will be a flat tariff which is fundamentally flawed in that it takes no account of age, sex or occupation.

Column 468

I agree that the tariff figures are generally comparable to what is awarded at common law for pain and suffering. However, there is no proper means of effectively and fairly compensating for loss of wages or earning capacity. One cannot have that. I shall be fascinated by the Home Secretary's explanation of a flat tariff.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, an esteemed, distinguished and respected Member of our House over many years said:

"In cases such as sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder or scarring, the effects vary so enormously in different people that to use any form of tariff is meaningless."

The scheme will do a grave injustice to a large number of people. Never again will Conservative Members be able to say that they care for the victims of crime. If they do say that--and I am sure that they will--that will be sheer hypocrisy, because, plainly, they do not care. I wish that some Conservative Members who will troop into the Lobby in support of the Government had read carefully the knowledgeable and learned speeches made in the other House. Plainly, the plan has no friends and is patently unfair.

Mrs. Roche: In The Independent yesterday the Home Secretary said:

"The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill has a common thread running through it: it protects the public and fights crime. A crucial element is the effect crime has on victims. We should all pay greater heed to victims' plight."

Given that statement, I was absolutely amazed when the Home Secretary sought to overturn the Lords amendment.

The Home Office has already indicated that about 6,600 victims a year will receive payments that are less than half of what might have been expected under the present scheme. Written replies from Home Office Ministers earlier this year confirmed that 11 per cent. of recipients under the new scheme would receive awards which were 50 per cent. less than at present. A further 8 per cent. would receive compensation payments which were between half and two thirds of current awards. As the Police Federation put it,

"The changes mark a significant and indefensible retreat from the Government's own commitment to give the highest priority to the victims of crime."

From time to time in our surgeries, we all have the tragic experience of seeing constituents who have been the victims of crime, and sometimes the victims of very violent crime. Yet the Home Secretary and the Government are attacking a scheme that is doing its best under the present system--and any system to aid the victims of crime should of course be improved.

Many examples already cited here and in another place show how the Government's proposals would adversely affect the victims of serious crime. The driving force behind the new tariff scheme is clearly Treasury driven and it attempts to make the victims of crime pay for the Government's failure significantly to reduce the level of crime, despite Ministers' spurious claims that the system will be improved. What is even worse is that those hit hardest by the proposals will be the families of victims of murder and manslaughter. They are the people in society who often face the most difficult task. The proposals will also hurt those with the most serious injuries and those whose injuries result in significant impairment of earning capacity and loss of employment.

Column 469

Lord Carlisle said that his major concern throughout had been that he considered that the new scheme was unfair in that all the savings would be made at the cost of those with the worst injuries. I do not believe for a moment that Lord Carlisle reached that conclusion lightly or hastily. He obviously felt quite rightly that the new proposals and the new scheme were wrong morally and in principle. In cases of injury of maximum severity, the tariff system is wholly inappropriate. By

"removing the subjective element of the assessment",

as the White Paper put it, no account would be taken of the widely differing consequences of such serious injury. That point was made so well and briefly by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris).

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth): Does my hon. Friend agree that we must look at the issue in a wider context? What does my hon. Friend think about a situation relating to a case--about which I wrote to the Minister, but did not receive a satisfactory reply--involving police officers in my constituency who were severely assaulted by a criminal who was on licence from prison? I will not go into the details, but the assault was sickening. Those officers saw that man being granted bail when he was taken to court. Not for the first time in his criminal career, that man did not respond to bail when the case came before the court. The officers then found that the injuries that the man had inflicted on them were likely to attract less compensation than they would under the present system.

Mrs. Roche: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that case to the attention of the House. There are many tragic cases like that and that explains why the Police Federation reached the conclusion that it reached.

The proposals have changed the scheme from being a finely tuned and flexible instrument designed to meet the individual needs of people who have suffered appalling injuries--many of whom are police officers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) said--and have lumped those people together with people who have suffered other injuries without taking into consideration individual circumstances, age, future prospects or dependants.

Another aspect of the proposal is the way in which it has been introduced. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon has explained that the Lords amendment, and the Labour amendment supporting it, seek to put the current compensation scheme on a statutory basis, fulfilling the obligation made in the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell the House whether he thinks, as Earl Ferrers appeared to think in another place, that when Parliament enacted the 1988 Act and provided that the Secretary of State should bring that legislation into force on a day or days of his choosing, Parliament intended that he be allowed to ignore it altogether and introduce a completely different scheme without reference to Parliament. Clearly, the 1998 Act intended to ensure that the Executive were accountable to the House in this matter. That is a very important point of principle and I should be grateful if the Home Secretary would address it.

Column 470

Reference has already been made to Mr. Martin Thomas QC, who was a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for nine years. Perhaps it would be salutary to note Mr. Thomas's article of 18 January, which states:

"Conservative MPs, if no longer moved by justice and fairness, ought to be thinking about their skins. The voters will be out for Tory blood when they rumble what lies behind these alleged reforms. Perhaps it is time for Tories to plot a little political mugging of their Home Secretary. The board would sympathetically consider giving him an award."

6 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): I remind the House that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. In that regard, I raise with the Home Secretary concern about his remark that an officer who is injured during the course of his service will receive his pension, plus a gratuity of five times his annual salary. That is incorrect. That occurs only when there is a violent death in service, as the Home Secretary should know. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary appears to ask from a sedentary position exactly what I said, so I repeat it: a violent death in service. Other than that, if he has, for example, 20 years' service entitlement, that officer will receive 27 60ths of his pensionable pay. The only gratuity will come from commuting up to a maximum of a quarter of the pension to which he is entitled. There is no gratuity of five times the annual salary in the case of Stonier, for example, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) referred. I hope that the Home Secretary will be good enough to correct that matter in due course.

I also remind the House that one in 12 applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board arise from assaults on officers. The Police Federation therefore strongly opposes the Government's attack on victims in the form of cutting compensation. Yesterday, the police protected parliamentary debate and risked assault in doing so. Is it not a rich irony that some Conservative MPs, who today praised officers of the Metropolitan police for risking assault in protecting Parliament, will vote to cut the compensation that would have been payable to officers who were the victims of such criminal assaults? The Government's new criminal injuries compensation scheme is a betrayal of all victims of crime--the very victims for whom the Government have been trumpeting their support for months. The Government complain that the criminal injuries compensation scheme is becoming too expensive and that its costs have grown greatly during the past 15 years. Its costs have increased because the number of victims has increased during the Government's tenure. The Government's complaint is that the victims of crime--the victims of the failure of Tory law and order policies--are now becoming too expensive.

How can the Government justify saying to a victim of crime that, whereas for the past 15 years their policy was to pay, as in the Stonier case, £126,000 for a certain injury, now, because the scheme is becoming too expensive for the Government, the amount is only £7, 500? What Tory message is that to the victims of crime? The scheme robs those who have suffered the worst and most serious injury of the relatively fair compensation that was payable under the old scheme, as part of a criminal justice system which otherwise does little or nothing for the victims of crime.

Column 471

Although it is fair to say that improving the speed of delivery of compensation is important, it should not be bought at the price of unfairness and injustice in the quality of what is delivered. Speeding up the process can be done without the Government's proposed system of arbitrary tariffs. The Government promise is that the new system will be much quicker. That is their main argument for it. I have my doubts. From long experience of such cases, I know that the main cause of delay has been and will remain awaiting medical and witness reports.

Perhaps there will be some small savings in time, but they will not be enough to justify the increased unfairness that the new system will create. Fairness in dealing with the widely differing circumstances of victims is important if the victims are not also to regard themselves as victims of the unfairness of the criminal injuries compensation system.

Each case is different; it has its own factors and consequences. Being blinded in a criminal attack does not have the same financial consequences for everyone. The consequences for a 24-year-old builder's labourer with a wife and two children are different from those for an 80-year-old who lives in an old folks' home. The law recognised that difference under the old scheme and it sought a certain level of fairness, despite some inadequacies. How can it be fair that the victim of a hit-and-run driver who breaks a leg will receive full compensation from the motor insurance bureau under common law principles and that the victim of a criminal attack with an iron bar will not receive such compensation under the Government's new scheme? That difference cannot be justified.

The Government's proposals are all about saving the Treasury money at the expense of the victims of crime. Compensation without compassion for victims is the Government's message. If the Government deny that, let the facts speak for themselves, especially when it comes to victims of the most serious crimes. Let us consider a few cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth has already referred to the Stonier case, on which I have had to correct the Home Secretary. My hon. Friend referred also to the Holton case, in which compensation was reduced from £126,000 to £5,000. In the Slater case, a woman aged 38 who witnessed her husband being stabbed to death would have received £137,000 under the old scheme but would receive £17,500 under the new one. In the case of Burrows, a 46-year-old social worker who was attacked at work would have received £55,000 under the old scheme but would receive £3,000 under the new one. Lady Tebbit, who was injured in the Brighton bombing, received £750,000 under the old scheme. She would receive a third of that amount under the new scheme. Quddus Ali, a 17 -year-old who received serious head injuries when he was attacked, would have received £65,000 under the old scheme but would receive £40,000 under the new scheme. Colin Hickman, a Coventry solicitor specialising in civil litigation who was stabbed more than 10 times, would have received £100,000 under the old scheme. Under the new scheme because the offence resulted in a fatality, he would receive £10,000.

Column 472

Those examples speak for themselves. In effect, the Home Secretary is mugging the victims of crime. The victims of crime are now becoming the victims of Government cuts.

Mr. Howard: With permission, I will try and deal briefly with some points that have been raised.

We are accustomed to hot air from the Opposition parties, but in this debate they have exceeded their normal performance by a large margin. It is simply no use at all protesting about the Government's proposals unless one is prepared to make a commitment that one will stick to the old scheme were one ever to form a Government. That would give some small credibility to the Opposition's points. In the absence of that commitment, what Opposition Members say signifies absolutely nothing.

Questions were raised about the extent to which the new scheme compensates people for loss of earnings. It is the case that the tariff reflects loss of earnings. The tariff award is based on awards made previously by the board. It includes an element for loss of earnings and the other heads of damage payable under the old scheme. However, it is true that these elements are no longer separately quantifiable. There is a difference, but the tariff reflects loss of earnings in that way. That is the answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).

Mr. John Morris: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard: I want to make speedy progress. The tariff is not a flat rate; it represents an average of loss of earnings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge also raised a question about insurance policies. As far as we are aware, most insurance policies which cover such loss do not exclude injuries caused by crimes of violence, so that route is open.

Many of the examples that were cited by Labour Members, including the Front -Bench spokesman, leave out completely the extent to which people benefit from occupational schemes. There is one important respect in which the new arrangements are advantageous, compared to the old scheme. Under the old scheme, occupational and Department of Social Security benefits are taken into account by the board when making an assessment. Under the new scheme, such benefits will be disregarded. That is an important difference which is an advantage of the new scheme. It might well also be an advantage--I do not know whether it will be an advantage because that depends on the particular circumstances--in some of the examples cited by Labour Members.

My information about the entitlement of police officers who have been injured is not the same as that given to the House by the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien). Perhaps that is something which we can pursue in correspondence.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am concerned that some of the Home Secretary's information about the sorts of levels is wrong; he may be relying on wrong information. I suggest that what I said was right. My source of information is

Column 473

well known both to him and to me and is well respected by us both--it is the general secretary of the Police Federation, whom I telephoned to check the facts.

Mr. Howard: I do not think that we will be able to resolve the matter across the Floor of the House this evening, but I am certainly prepared to pursue it with the hon. Gentleman.

The truth is that the new scheme has advantages of speed and bringing costs under control. It will remain one of the most generous schemes in the world. I commend the scheme to the House. On that basis, I invite the House to disagree with the amendment made in another place.

Mr. Michael: The Home Secretary has totally failed to answer the debate. Indeed, he changed his question. He asked whether Labour would stick to the old scheme--the answer is yes. He is the one who seeks to change the old scheme.

It is clear from the debate that Tory Members are no longer interested in justice or fairness. The Home Secretary is no longer interested in the victims of the most violent and horrific of injuries. If Tory Members vote to disagree with the Lords in the amendment, they will stand condemned by their own actions. Question put , That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:--

The House divided : Ayes 291, Noes 264.

Division No. 310] [6.12 pm


Column 473

Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan

Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Allason, Rupert (Torbay)

Amess, David

Ancram, Michael

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)

Banks, Matthew (Southport)

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Bates, Michael

Batiste, Spencer

Bellingham, Henry

Bendall, Vivian

Beresford, Sir Paul

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia

Bowden, Sir Andrew

Bowis, John

Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Sir Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)

Burns, Simon

Butcher, John

Butler, Peter

Butterfill, John

Next Section

  Home Page