Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002

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Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for giving way to me; he has been very generous with his time in giving way. Even a generous tariff scheme can become ungenerous if it is not kept up to date. Is there any commitment as to how regularly the scheme will be updated?

Mr. Browne: As I understand it, I think that the scheme is index linked.

Mr. Davies: Oh.

Mr. Browne: No, I am sorry; it is not. There is a proposal to review the tariff in line with the arrangements in Great Britain. I would have to check the periodicity of such reviews.

Mr. Kidney: I did not mean to launch that at my hon. Friend.

Mr. Browne: Not at all.

There was a suggestion in the consultation that there should be index linking, but that suggestion obviously comes up in relation to all tariffs at all times. Consistent with the view that we have taken on the linkage with the GB scheme, we came to the conclusion that the tariffs should not be index linked but should be updated in line with the process that applied to the GB scheme. I cannot for the moment remember the term, but I am sure that I shall be able to provide my hon. Friend with an answer either during the course of the Committee or by writing to him and to other Committee members.

I was talking about part III of the draft order, which deals with various issues beyond what the scheme should provide for. I have already mentioned article 11, which deals with advice, assistance and support, and the role to be played by Victim Support. Article 12 provides a power for the Secretary of State to disclose to specific other public bodies information about awards made to certain applicants. That provision is designed to ensure that there is full compliance with the principles of data protection legislation and full recognition of the fact that such data can be released where an applicant is in receipt of income-related social security and other benefits.

Articles 14 and 15 replicate provisions in the current legislation. Article 14 allows the Secretary of State to apply to the courts to seek reimbursement from a convicted offender of an award paid to a victim of that offender, while article 15 specifies that a victim must reimburse to the Secretary of State any other compensation award or civil damages that he or she may receive in respect of the same injury.

Article 17 maintains a provision in the current legislation, which deems it an offence to use deception in obtaining compensation, and specifies the penalties for so doing.

The Committee also has in front of it a summary of the changes that we have made to the order as a result of representations made under section 85 of the

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Northern Ireland Act 1998 since it was laid as a proposal last June. There are two, neither of which is fundamental. The first is the removal of what was article 9 in the original proposal. That provision made awards under the scheme inalienable—that is, untouchable by anyone other than the applicant. It followed that awards could not therefore be made payable to, for example, the appointed trustee of a bankrupt, or the Enforcement of Judgements Office in payment of an enforceable debt. Similarly, the legal aid fund would not have been able to recoup the costs of providing free legal advice to the applicant if the case resulted in the payment of an award.

Such was the degree of concern expressed by other public bodies over that proposed new provision that we decided to revert to the status quo. There will therefore be no change to current arrangements. Article 13 in the original proposal is now article 12. I have already explained the purpose of that provision. The change simply extends the number of bodies and individuals to which the disclosure provision applies, in order to ensure that all income-related benefits are covered.

My opening remarks would not be complete without a reference to an important issue with draft legislation—compatibility with our human rights obligations and with the equality standards under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I am content that we are introducing arrangements compatible with the standards required under the Human Rights Act. They meet, and in many cases exceed, the provisions of the international conventions dealing with compensation for criminal injuries. I say that having considered carefully the memorandum of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was critical of the scheme. I am aware that we are introducing arrangements that will continue to provide deserving victims of violent crime with better compensation arrangements than are available in many other European jurisdictions.

My Department has also carried out an equality impact assessment of the policy behind the proposed changes, as required under section 75 of and schedule 9 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. An earlier screening exercise identified several issues that could have an adverse impact on groups listed in section 75. Those issues related to provisions under the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1988. Policy formulation that underpins the proposed tariff scheme was therefore able to take account of those possible problem areas.

The report of the impact assessment, which was published last week, concluded that the development of a new tariff-based scheme had allowed the issues to be resolved. I am content that, as a result of the earlier screening exercise, we have made changes that deal with potential inequalities, and that the proposed new scheme has been developed with due regard to our equality commitments.

I have given members of the Committee a fairly comprehensive overview of the powers in the draft order, and of their impact on the proposed payment of

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compensation for criminal injuries in Northern Ireland. I hope that it will allow the Committee to agree that the road that we propose to travel is the right one, and that victims of violent crime, far from being disadvantaged by the introduction of the order, will in overall terms benefit from the reforms.

5.16 pm

Mr. Davies: I share the Minister's pleasure at serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. In my case, I think that it is the first time that I have done so.

I never take part in Committees that consider statutory instruments and secondary legislation without an enormous sense of how far the procedures of the House of Commons are from any model of good legislative practice to which we might want to subscribe in principle, and which we might want to propose to nascent democracies. There are several unsatisfactory aspects of the procedure, one of which is that Back Benchers tend to be assigned to such Committees at the last minute, as I remember myself, without any special briefing on the subject or any record of having taken a strong interest in it. That did not prevent the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) from putting a ball through the Minister's middle stump to great effect, on which I congratulate him. Nevertheless, it is regrettable as a matter of principle.

What is especially extraordinary about our procedure is that we cannot modify the order, even if the majority of Committee members want to do so. I do not suppose that they would, because the Labour party has such a massive majority.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Orders have been brought before Committees in such a manner for a long time. During the 18 years of Tory Government, the Conservatives were so satisfied with how the Committees worked that, late at night, they decided to take away from the Floor of the House every Common Market order and subject them to a procedure that was not exactly the same, but similar. If the hon. Gentleman were suggesting that all the procedure has been introduced since 1997, he could not be further from the truth. His right hon. Friends used it under Thatcher and all the rest of them.

Mr. Davies: That was a paranoid intervention. The hon. Gentleman simply assumed an agenda or conspiracy theory in my speech that did not exist at all. The system has been in place since I came to the House, and I am sure a lot earlier, and I have complained about it under Tory and Labour Governments. [Interruption.] I would like him to withdraw that comment. I can show him, through Hansard reports of Standing Committees, that I made almost identical speeches when I contributed to such debates under Conservative Governments.

The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we are discussing not parliamentary procedure but something called the draft Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002.

Mr. Davies: Precisely, Mr. Atkinson, but for many years I have prefaced my remarks in such Committees

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with the same observations, whether I have been on the Front Bench or the Back Benches, and I will continue to be consistent.

Mr. Skinner rose—

Mr. Davies: I am sorry, but I am afraid that I am under instructions from the Chairman.

Mr. Skinner: The only thing I remember you for is your sheep.

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Skinner: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman is clearly out of order. [Interruption.] He has taken leave of his senses.

Today, we have received a particularly detailed explanation of the order from the Minister, for which I thank him. In the process, he answered at least a couple of the important points made in the report of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is natural that the Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly should include many people who are directly concerned with the matter, and I am grateful to them for spending so much time on their report. It is an anomaly of the system that although the Minister is responsible for policy regarding victims, he does not have the constitutional ability to appear before, or give a formal answer to, the Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly—he must act as a proxy.

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