Draft Alterations to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2001

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Mr. Hughes: I share the Minister's concern about the prospect of a compensation culture. One has only to watch the television to see advertisements that encourage people to make claims. Will he ensure that that issue is addressed in all Departments, and in the Home Office and the Law Departments in particular? The Government must consider the wide issue of no-fault compensation, in which I share his interest, and the narrow issue of ensuring that people know that, whether they go to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority or proceed under fatal accidents legislation, they will get a set amount that is comparable across the compensation and civil courts systems. I would be encouraged if that were implemented across all Departments.

Mr. Clarke: I cannot give a cross-departmental commitment. However, our review of police complaints has opened up various possibilities. I share the hon. Gentleman's view, because most people who are wounded by an event for which a public authority is responsible are not principally concerned about money; their principal concern is to have an explanation of what happened. Money comes up the agenda only when the system takes a long time to respond, which is why we have proposals to deal with police complaints as rapidly and effectively as possible. Of course, similar issues arise in relation to, for example, the health service. I can give an assurance on behalf of the Home Office that we are examining the issue closely. Indeed, our proposals on police complaints are a significant step in the right direction.

The hon. Gentleman—I mean no criticism of him—has not entirely understood the grant-limited scheme. It is not cash limited in the sense that there is a pot that gets used up. Awards due will be paid and are not stockpiled to avoid payment—the money will be found. The figure is an estimate of our budget given certain circumstances. We must obviously be aware of costs, but there is not a defined pool that runs out on 23 February, say. The authority considers each case on its merits and it can withhold or reduce awards according to individual circumstances. It makes allowance for self-inflicted injuries and there is guidance and best practice on issues such as the person who gets drunk in the pub, which we discussed earlier.

The hon. Member for Aldershot made several points about rape, and I must make it clear that that is a crime of violence. The judgments involved are, as he said, problematic, but that is because of the proposition that a crime of violence, such as a rape, has taken place. The evidential issues are problematic and serious. That is why we produced our sex offences review. It was published at the end of July, and I believe that its consultation period either ended at the end of February or will do so at the end of March. The Department is examining the substantial number of responses that have been received. One of the issues under consideration is how rape should be addressed in modern society. The crime of violence is the core point, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) correctly said in his intervention. He put his finger right on the point. That is what must be addressed.

I have dealt with the point about ex gratia payments for same-sex partners, which was an important one. I cannot and do not accept that we should not take the steps that we are taking with regard to same-sex partners. Same-sex relationships do not equate to marriage, and up to that point I can agree with the hon. Member for Aldershot, but such relationships are powerful and important. I have many friends who are gay couples, and whose relationships are strong and of long standing. The loss of a partner in such a relationship—for example, in the bombing that we have discussed—would be utterly devastating to the other person. It is correct and reasonable for us to consider establishing compensation for such circumstances, even though there would be, by definition, no children.

I can see that a ``moral'' argument can be made that same-sex relationships should have no recognition in law, although I do not accept it. However, if one is offering compensation for the effects of violent crime, it would be fundamentally wrong and, I suggest, wicked not to take such same-sex relationships into account. They might not be the same as marriage, but they are important and powerful, and it is reasonable to acknowledge them in law. In each case, the authority will have to make a judgment, and interpretation of the rules will depend on particular circumstances.

Mr. Howarth: I apologise for not having been here at the outset of the Minister's remarks. Can he point me to the paragraph that explains how the process of assessing whether a claim is appropriate will be handled? If I carry on talking, perhaps he might be able to find the paragraph while I am still on my feet, because it would be helpful for the whole Committee.

Mr. Clarke: Of course, I think on my feet all the time, often to good effect, sometimes to bad effect. I think that the appropriate paragraph is that on sexual relationships, which I am looking for as I speak. I thought that I had it in front of me, but I do not.

Mr. Hughes: While we are all looking for the appropriate part, I offer a remark that might be helpful to the Minister in his response to the hon. Member for Aldershot. I think that there is already provision for compensation for non-married heterosexual partners. What we are doing here, therefore, is not changing the rule about whether a non-married partner can receive compensation, but bringing it up to date by recognising that there are both same-sex and heterosexual couples who are not married, and who will then be in the same position. It is not the shift in principle that the hon. Gentleman suggested. I understand where he is coming from, but the issue was addressed some years ago.

The Chairman: Order. This is a second speech.

Mr. Clarke: That was a wonderful moment, Mr. Hancock. The idea of a Chairman slapping down the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey in such a vigorous way can only be described as exciting—although the hon. Gentleman was being helpful.

I apologise for not being able to provide a reference immediately, but I can give one now. It is in paragraph 38 of the document, which states:

    ``Where the victim has died since sustaining the injury, compensation may be payable . . . to any claimant . . . who at the time of the deceased's death was''—

and here is the key part—

    ``(a)(i) a person who was living together with the deceased as husband and wife or as a same sex partner in the same household immediately before the date of death and who, unless formally married to him, had been so living throughout the two years before that date''.

That is the broad test. Matters of judgment will always arise, but we have set out the framework for the decision.

Mr. Howarth: That clarifies the position. I accept what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said about recognition of heterosexual partnerships. What worries me is that that development will create more pressure for heterosexual and same-sex partnerships to be considered as equal. He and I may have a different view about that, but I believe that we are moving in the direction of more and more pressure.

The Chairman: That is a debate for future legislation.

Mr. Clarke: I shall not go into detail, Mr. Hancock, but we are not on a slippery slope towards a great redefinition. We are trying to address the particular circumstances of particular relationships and to decide what compensation should be paid. The hon. Gentleman may agree or disagree with our decision, but that was our motivation. We do not have a grand strategy to move along a particular route. Our intention is to set up a framework to deal with particular circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman referred to deliberate infection with HIV and AIDS. The key question is whether the courts decide that the crime was one of violence. When that decision has been made, interpretation of the rules is a matter for the authority and will depend on the precise circumstances. I shall not venture into what the Scottish or English courts might have decided about whether a particular crime was one of violence. Those are major questions and the purpose of the order is to deal with compensation in such circumstances.

I have tried to deal with the general issue of a compensation culture, and I commend the alterations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Alterations to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

        Committee rose at seventeen minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hancock, Mr. (Chairman)
Austin, Mr.
Beard, Mr.
Betts, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gardiner, Mr.
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hughes, Mr. Simon
McWalter, Mr.
Prentice, Bridget
Sedgemore, Mr.
Simpson, Mr. Keith

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