Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008

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Maria Eagle: On that point, so I do not forget to deal with it in my reply, the Office for National Statistics does not collect that precise figure any more, so we cannot base earnings on a figure that it no longer collects or publishes. It is as simple as that.
David Howarth: That explains why the changes have been made. Does the Minister know what effect they are expected to have?
On the whole, I welcome the new scheme. Perhaps I welcome it in a fairly negative way, because it avoids certain proposals in the consultation paper that ought to be avoided. However, I am glad that it does so, and as the Minister said, there are other small and valuable changes to the detail of the scheme.
5.10 pm
Maria Eagle: We have had the sort of short, sharp debate that is always interesting for Committee members to hear and for Ministers to respond to. I will do my best to answer the questions that have been raised.
First, I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge and disagree with the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate on the purpose of the scheme. From what the hon. Gentleman said, it was not totally apparent what he thought the scheme was for. It was quite clear what the hon. Member for Cambridge thought the scheme was for and I agree with him. The scheme does not make the state liable for injuries caused to people by the acts of others. It is not equivalent to a civil court that compensates a victim for all the effects of an injury. It is a recognition of the public feeling of sympathy and solidarity with blameless victims of violent crime. Since 1964, the state has sought to provide a monetary award on behalf of the community that is not compensation for all of the injuries suffered, but a recognition of that solidarity, fellow feeling and sympathy.
The scheme has some advantages over a court action. Although it can pay out less for serious injuries, it is a tariff-based scheme and is therefore risk free. The victim of violent crime who applies knows that if they meet the criteria, they will get the payment. There may be issues about when the payment will be received because of individual circumstances or the administrative capacity, which has varied from time to time during the existence of the scheme, but they know that they will be paid and do not face the uncertainty and potential cost of a court action, which can create stress and difficulty. A number of Committee members are lawyers and we know from experience what a court action can do to an individual, particularly if they are already having a bad time because they have been attacked or suffered a violent crime. The scheme does not aim to provide individually tailored compensation packages covering each and every type of damage that might be awarded in a successful civil suit. Anybody who thinks that it does misunderstands the nature and purpose of the scheme.
I welcome the support from the hon. Gentleman in not pursuing the elements of the 2005 paper that he found objectionable, negative though that support may be. We decided not to do so pretty much for the reasons that he set out. We decided that focusing the scheme more on the serious end was not the right way forward. As I said in my opening remarks, the new scheme is designed to meet the requirements of the new tribunals legislation for appeals. We are also using the opportunity presented by having to make those changes to make some other helpful tweaks to the scheme, rather than any major changes.
The Home Secretary has written to all chief constables to emphasise that she believes that this matter needs to be focused on and that improvements need to be made. The Office for Criminal Justice Reform, which works across the criminal justice agencies, has been working closely with all police forces to try to understand better the reasons why there can be delays. The OCJR has been trying to get across the implications of not responding as swiftly as we might hope to those forces. We hope that there will be improvement in that respect.
Mr. Burrowes: Does the Minister know whether the target of 30 days is being met?
Maria Eagle: I cannot tell him off the top of my head whether that target is being met by every force, but I am happy to drop the hon. Gentleman a line and let him know precisely what the figures are from force to force. The improvements in performance show that improvements are taking place throughout the case working process, some of which are definitely in respect of a swifter receipt of medical and police reports.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about what the Government are doing to try to assist those who are injured abroad. He accepted that perhaps the CICA scheme was not the right way in which to assist such people—although they sometimes find their injuries and the consequence of their injuries difficult. The CICA is an assisting authority in relation to the European Union directive on assisting applicants to claim. It therefore does what it can to provide expertise and knowledge of other schemes in order to try to ensure that Britons who are injured abroad have some information about how to claim and make the best of whatever schemes are available in those countries. There is work going on in relation to that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the national disaster charitable scheme. A compensation fund has been set up for terrorist-related attacks that occur overseas and affect British citizens. The Government have contributed some £1 million towards the schemes start-up. The scheme pays out an immediate award to victims to assist with any immediate needs, and I think it is administered by the Red Cross—although officials will wave at me if I have got that wrong.
The hon. Gentleman also made some points about the victims toolkit. The toolkit has been published, so he has obviously missed it—it is out there and online. The toolkit was delivered in 2007 following its procurement through various bidders who wanted to do the work for the Department. Perhaps he needs to try some different words in the Google search. It is out there, and if he has any trouble finding it, I would be happy to send him a copy.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the victims surcharge and payouts in respect of that. In 2008-09, the Government paid £14 million directly to victims services—£2.6 million to witness care units; £2.6 million to independent domestic violence advisers; £7 million to Victim Support Plus; and £1.75 million to sexual violence, murder, manslaughter and hate crime organisations. That is in addition to the £16 million allocated the previous year. If he is interested, I am happy to write to him with the full details of how that money has been spent. However, it has been put on the record.
The hon. Gentleman asked about loss of earnings, although I think he understood that it is not the policy of the Labour party to change the rules about having to wait for 28 weeks. We are not planning to change that feature of the scheme at the moment. I understand his point about the way in which having to wait might be seen to disadvantage those who are incapacitated. I think he made an analogy with statutory sick pay. Looking back, one generally finds that one can make analogies between the origins of these kinds of rules and either benefit rules or insurance arrangements. We do not propose to change those rules at present.
The hon. Member for Cambridge suggested that because the Department was bigger there might be a bigger budget. He is definitely right about that, but there are also bigger issues, bigger problems and bigger demands on spending. He asked if there was more money to move around—
David Howarth: This is simply the old administrative point that the bigger the budget the bigger the absolute amounts of the slippages, but the amounts required for this particular policy are small in global terms.
The hon. Gentleman made a couple of particular points and asked me a couple of detailed questions, one of which was about loss of earnings. The change of the loss of earnings calculation, from one type of Office for National Statistics figure that is produced or is no longer to be produced to another, had the effect of changing the arrangements from mean to median. We think that the practical effects are negligible, since most victims do not earn one and a half times the median gross weekly earnings. Individuals may be affected, but we are affected by the practical problem of not having the figure that the ONS used to produce to keep things in line with how they previously were.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about paragraph 35(1)(d)(iii) on care costs. As I said to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, these provisions often have something in common with previous benefits legislation. Our amendment on care costs, which the hon. Gentleman picked up on, follows the wording of section 72 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. So, it has taken us a while to catch up with that wording. The intention is to make existing practice clear, and that is that only core personal care costs are covered; dignity-based help that people need if they have been incapacitated, not social care costs or peripheral costs such as arrangements for having housework or gardening done. We see the amendment as a clarification rather than a change in emphasis. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
I think that I have answered most of the questions, and on that basis I commend the new scheme to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008.
Committee rose at twenty-four minutes past Five o’clock.
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