The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on securing this very important debate. I also offer my condolences to the hon. Member for
Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) on the loss of his brother. I fully understand the issues that he raises, and I will touch on them later if I can. I thank them both for the spirit in which they made their contributions.
The question of help and support for the victims of the 7/7 bombings is very much in our minds as we approach the first anniversary of those dreadful events. My thoughts, and I am sure those of the whole House, go out to those who suffered a bereavement or an injury, whether physical, psychological, or emotional. As my hon. Friend says, none of us can forget those horrific events of last year. This timely debate gives me the opportunity to bring the House up to date with the facts on how we have been able help those who were injured or bereaved by the bombings. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is Minister for London, has joined me on the Front Bench for this important debate.
As my hon. Friend said, it is widely known that 52 innocent people were killed in the bombings and that more than 700 people were injured. The national health service, the police, local authorities, and the special assistance centre and telephone helpline established in the aftermath of the tragedy have each played a key role in offering support and help to those affected. We should never forget those who are committed to the emergency services for the work that they do, and did on that day.
The survivors and the bereaved were eligible for compensation from the criminal injuries compensation scheme, the statutory scheme that pays out compensation to victims of violent crime in Great Britain. Compensation claims are handled by the Criminal Injuries Compensation AuthorityCICAwhich, as hon. Members will be aware, is an executive non-departmental public body. The authority is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the scheme. It interprets the schemes rules and decides how much compensation claimants are entitled to according to its terms.
Ministers are precluded by law from getting involved in individual cases or from commenting on CICAs handling of individual applications or its decisions in individual cases. However, CICA, in administering a statutory scheme, is bound by the terms of the scheme as set by Parliament. The authority has limited discretion in applying the rules in individual cases. In that respect, the scheme differs from, for example, the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund, which, as an independent charity established specifically to help 7/7 victims, was free to set its own rules and guidelines and can make charitable grants at the discretion of its trustees.
As I said, I cannot talk about individual cases. However, I can give the House some more general information about claims made to CICA and describe how it is dealing with claims from those who were more seriously injured, which is the issue of particular concern to my hon. Friend. At close of business on Friday 23 June, CICA had received 516 applications for compensation in respect of the 7/7 bombings. It had also received 12 applications related to the attempted bombings two weeks later on 21 July. However, I am not including
information about the 21/7 incidents, because none of those victims sustained severe physical injury but have sought compensation only for the mental trauma they suffered. Of the 516 7/7 applications, 18 have been turned down, although some of the claimants have appealed against that decision. CICA has paid 370 awards totalling £2.3 million, comprising a mix of interim and final awards. In 217 cases, a final award has been accepted and paid, thereby bringing the case to a close.
As for serious cases, CICA has interpreted that as meaning cases where the claimant has lost an eye or a limb or has sustained severe burns or other injury of comparable severity. It has received 17 claims where the principal injury meets that definition of seriousness. According to CICA, in every serious case it has made substantial interim awards on account. In most instances, that interim award has been the tariff award for the most serious injury sustained. Therefore, in several cases the interim award has been well in excess of £100,000. CICA is not yet able to finalise these seriously injured cases, because they all involve claims for compensation additional to the basic tariff award for loss of earnings and special expenses. In all those cases, the final prognosis for recovery is not yet clear and CICA is not yet in a position to make a final assessment of the claim for financial loss.
Mr. Winnick: Will my hon. Friend confirm, unless I am wrong, the figures that I cited, which showed that the highest sum paid so far is £152,000 and that only five people have received more than £100,000?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I published figures in my written answer to my hon. Friend, but I shall ensure that I put the exact detail in writing if they are different from the figures that he cited and those to which I referred.
Work remains to be done on the cases. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will, of course, aim to finalise the claims as quickly as it can. However, when that is likely to take some time, it will be ready and willing to make further substantial interim awards where possible.
The authority continues to receive applications at the rate of about 30 a month, and those newer applications account for most of the cases in which it has not yet been able to make an offer of compensation. There are also 11 bereavement cases, for which the authority has not yet received applications.
Mr. Winnick: I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I have looked at his written answer. At the time, I did not ask him the question that I just asked and it is not therefore covered. I understand that the issues are complex and I do not criticise my hon. Friendhe did not know what I might ask. Will he write to me in reply to the question that I asked a moment ago and place the response in the Library as quickly as possible?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am happy to write to my hon. Friend. Clearly, I want to ensure that the fullest possible information is in the public domain and I shall therefore place a copy of the letter in the Library.
I said that there were 11 bereavement cases for which the authority had not yet received any applications. As I said earlier, the victims of 7/7 and those bereaved by the bombings also had financial support from the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund. The Mayor of London
and the British Red Cross set it up in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. The Government donated £1 million to the fund in July 2005 and we announced last month that we were donating another £2.5 million to it, so that the trustees could give further assistance to the bereaved and injured of the 7 July London bombings.
Before that second Government donation, the fund had made more than 900 charitable grants, totalling more than £8 million, to more than 300 individuals. It now expects to be able to make another 200 to 300 charitable grants, and I believe that many such grants have already been made to those who were seriously injured or bereaved.
To complete the picture, I remind hon. Members that we also passed regulations in 2005 so that payments from the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund are disregarded for the purposes of assessing entitlement to means-tested state benefits. We have, of course, thought hard about what can be learned from these dreadful events. We had already been examining ways in which to improve the criminal injuries compensation scheme before the 7 July bombings. However, the events of 7 July obviously highlighted specific problems with the scheme, especially the process involved, the length of time taken, and the amount of the payments, particularly in the serious cases. That is why the Government made a donation of £3.5 million to the charitable fund, which has been able to make payments on a more flexible and quicker basis than a statutory scheme. We have learned lessonsfor example, that there needs to be a clearer policy for making interim payments, and that discretion should be used when possible to allow practical common sense to prevail, within the rules of the scheme.
We know that the scheme in its current guise is not perfect. That is why we undertook a public consultation this year, with proposals for refocusing the scheme to increase amounts of compensation for those
most seriously injured, while providing more immediate local help and practical support for those whose injuries were less serious. We will publish the results of that consultation exercise later this month and announce our plans for reforming the scheme before the summer recess.
Let me consider the points that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East made. One of the problems with the statutory scheme is that it was not designed for the sorts of events that happened in Bali or, indeed, those of 7/7. Supporting the charity was the best way in which to introduce some flexibility into the system. However, I know that the concern that the hon. Gentleman raised about terrorist tragedies throughout the world is widespread. Perhaps we can meet him and people who support his cause to ascertain what we can do in future to try to find the best way in which to provide immediate practical assistance to individuals at home and abroad. I undertake to consider that. Clearly, we are now living in a world that is more dangerous than ever before, and it is important that we address the situation by giving support to the people who need it as quickly as possible.
The CICA arrangements are in place, as I have said. I understand what my hon. Friend is saying: we should try to process these issues as swiftly as possible. I have tried to explain that that is what we want to do, despite the difficulties that we face in regard to the rules of the scheme. By supporting the charity fund, we have been able to provide some flexibility, however. We are looking at the future of the scheme and at what needs to be done. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my explanation. I will write to him on the issues that he has asked me about, and I hope that the House will understand what the Government are trying to do.