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Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

4. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the performance of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. [230373]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): Performance is monitored and managed on a monthly basis by my Department and by me. Assessment to date shows that the size of the CICA’s live case load has reduced and is the smallest that it has been in 20 years. Its unit cost per case has reduced, the time for registering an application has reduced, and the time that it takes to reach a first decision has reduced.

Mr. Vara: I thank the Minister for those comments. Does she believe that the new criminal injuries compensation scheme properly addresses the discrepancies between the compensation awarded by the CICA and awards made by the civil courts?

Maria Eagle: The CICA scheme and its predecessor were never meant to ape the civil courts in every respect. The scheme is meant to enable victims of crime who cannot use the civil court to get some consideration from society of the fact that they have been victimised. It is not meant to be a parallel scheme that pays out the same as a civil court would.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The CICA does a good, important job. Will the Minister look into a problem that delays cases, meaning that it is often years between an application being made and a decision being reached? It often results from poor or slow co-ordination between the authority, the police and other agencies. I can send her details of cases that have gone on years too long and have not been resolved.

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Maria Eagle: Yes. I am happy to look at any cases that the hon. Gentleman wishes to send to me, which have come to his attention as a local Member of Parliament. Many Members will have come across such cases, and some of the issues that he identifies were raised by the National Audit Office in its report on the performance of the CICA. Its recommendations were accepted and we are implementing them to improve the aspects that the hon. Gentleman identified. Hon. Members will see that the performance of the CICA is improving as we go forward because we are focusing on those very issues. That said, there will be always be problems getting the right medical evidence and the right prognosis, and making sure that offers are properly made and accepted and that future loss of earnings is properly calculated. These things can never be done instantly, but I hope the hon. Gentleman and other Members will see the performance of the CICA steadily improve.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Does the Minister understand my concerns that the welcome increase in compensation for military injury in the battlefield has not been reflected in the civilian damages paid to people who are affected by terrorism? I have a constituent who was injured in the July 2005 bombings—she suffered more than 22 serious injuries. I do not accept that the tariff in the new scheme will properly reflect that, particularly when the assessment of that constituent was performed about three months after the injuries were incurred. The problems that she faces are increasing and will probably get worse during the years she lives. She is in her 20s.

Maria Eagle: Indeed, I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes—that a tariff-based scheme such as the CICA scheme will never be able to reflect as fully as a full civil litigation case could the true extent of injuries into the future. The CICA scheme is not intended to do that; it is meant to provide a measure of compensation for those who were the victims of, in this case, terrorism. The hon. Gentleman’s constituent will, I hope, have benefited from the ex gratia payments from the charitable arrangements that were made. I hope that those will help her. It is important to realise that a tariff-based scheme that is meant to provide a measure of compensation to the victims of crime can never be expected fully to compensate, in the way that civil litigation could, for the full injuries that some people unfortunately incur.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I recognised in the Minister’s opening response the word “reduced” on a number of occasions, but I did not hear any meaningful figures. Will she therefore update the House on the number of cases in the authority’s backlog? In recognition of the fact that in 2007-08 the proportion of cases decided was only 64 per cent., will she tell us whether she thinks that is good enough? Will she improve on that this year?

Maria Eagle: I could bore the House for some time with a list of figures. I will tell the hon. Gentleman, subject to your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, that the case load has reduced over the past year from 83,986 cases to 73,813 cases; that the time taken to reach a decision over that period has reduced from 14 months to 12 months, with a target of 10 months looming on the horizon; that the time to register cases has reduced from a baseline
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last year of 15 days to 8.3 days, with a target of three days; that the unit cost of each case has reduced from £400 last year to £359; that the target for resolving cases for next year—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I would say that the Minister should place a letter in the Library.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Why did the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) tell the “Today” programme on 13 August:

alcohol, yet a month before, the Minister introduced in Parliament a new compensation scheme that becomes effective next week, which the CICA confirmed does not exempt drunk rape victims from having their awards reduced? When will Ministers realise that what drives victims nuts, to use the Justice Secretary’s phrase, is 11 years of posturing about victims of crime but not delivering real justice?

Maria Eagle: As I recall, when the slight changes to the scheme that come into force next week were debated in Committee, no party, including the hon. Gentleman’s, objected to them or voted against them. May I make it clear that what the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) said in respect of that case is the current policy and always has been the policy. Those people who wrongly had their compensation reduced because they were supposed to have been drinking alcohol have had ex gratia payments, to the extent that we have discovered who they are, and any others who feel that they have had their compensation reduced on that basis will, if they come forward, get an ex gratia payment to make good that reduction.

Legal Services Act

5. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What progress he has made in implementing the Legal Services Act 2007, with particular reference to its provision for alternative business structures. [230374]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I am pleased to say that implementation of the Legal Services Act 2007 is progressing according to the planned timetable. Implementation of alternative business structures will be possible after the Legal Services Board is fully operational, and that is expected in 2010. However, I intend to commence provisions that will enable legal disciplinary practices as soon as the regulators have made the necessary changes to their rules.

Mr. Kidney: Does the Minister agree that the changes that we are making are as significant for the provision of legal services in the future as the deregulation of the City was in the 1980s for the provision of financial services today? Can she assure the House that, this time, the regulation of those who are let loose to deliver financial services will be effective and meaningful and that, if she devises the scheme, she will consult the House so that her provision for that regulation can be scrutinised?

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Bridget Prentice: I agree with my hon. Friend on all points. The 2007 Act is intended to put the consumer at the heart of the legal system. It will also encourage more effective competition, innovation and transparency and safeguard the independence of the legal profession. However, as he rightly says, the regulation must be proportionate and I assure him that the House will be party to ensuring that it is done properly.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that along with the undoubted advantages of alternative business structures comes the risk that the public will perceive that they are not receiving advice as independent as the advice that they previously received from a separate set of professionals? Will she make sure that when the structures are implemented, particular attention is paid to the independence of each of those professionals under one roof, to make sure that the public not only get independent advice, but perceive that they do?

Bridget Prentice: I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will be the case. During debates on the Legal Services Bill in this House and the other place, we made it clear that the independence of legal advice was paramount. We have set up the structures so that the legal heads and financial heads are all independently agreed and there is no outside influence on the advice given to the consumer. For me, the most important part of the 2007 Act is that the consumer is, for the first time, to be put at the heart of the system.

Electoral Administration Act

6. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): When he plans to bring into force section 59 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006; and if he will make a statement. [230375]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): As my hon. Friend will be aware, section 59 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 cannot be brought into force until the Electoral Commission informs my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice that it is satisfied that it will receive the information that it needs from the House authorities. Discussions between the House authorities and the Electoral Commission have been ongoing for some time and are continuing, although I expect them to conclude soon.

Paddy Tipping: Is the Minister aware that a system of dual reporting to the Registrar of Members’ Interests and the Electoral Commission causes concern and confusion across the House? Is it not important to have a one-stop shop? If we do not implement section 59, the Political Parties and Elections Bill, currently before the House, provides other opportunities. Will the Minister take the opportunity and act?

Mr. Wills: I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who is in his seat, and all their colleagues on the Standards and Privileges Committee for all the hard work that they have done to bring this matter to a resolution. Of course we understand how important the issue is to all Members of the House. We are not far off resolving the issue, and I hope that the solution that emerges will meet the House’s approval.

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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): As we all agree, the dual declaration is wrong. It causes confusion, and innocent mistakes are often unreasonably punished. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State pushed the Electoral Commission, which we know has been dragging its feet? This situation has gone on for months and is totally unacceptable. The Electoral Commission needs to move—and move fast.

Mr. Wills: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The time has come to act. This has been going on for too long, and we are determined, as far as we can, to bring it to a conclusion. We think that we are very close to that, and we hope that the solution will emerge soon.

Electoral Systems

7. Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): What progress has been made in his Department's review of electoral systems; and if he will make a statement. [230376]

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The Government’s review of voting systems was published in January this year. It considers the experience of the voting systems introduced in the United Kingdom since 1997, and much comparative data from around the world. The review forms an important part of the continuing debate on electoral reform—on which, of course, I have a very open mind.

Mr. Kennedy: I think that we all knew about that latter point. It is nice to hear that the Justice Secretary can get a word in edgeways, given the plethora of Ministers that he has assembled around him. He will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the great electoral reformers of recent years, with the number of systems that he has introduced at different levels in different places. When he published the Government’s review of electoral systems, to which he referred, he said that it was to “inform the current debate”. If so, why is there is no specific mention of electoral reform in the White Paper, in the Government’s draft constitutional reform Bill, or in the next steps of governance process? Is not that a bit of an oversight in terms of informing the debate? Why not extend the joyous Scottish experience of the single transferable vote for local government south of the border?

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman and I probably have slightly different views. [ Interruption . ] I may have an entirely open mind, but I have reached a settled conclusion on the system of electing coalitions of the kind that they have in Austria, which led to deadlock and a failure of the electors to express their opinions, in Israel, which leads to continual and repeated elections, in New Zealand, where the introduction of proportional representation led to a decline in turnout, and in Norway, where proportional representation is blamed for causing political disengagement by preventing voters from being able to turf out Governments. So far, therefore, I have not been convinced. As for Scotland, it is of course true that the party of which I am honoured to be a member has introduced in manifestos, and therefore in legislation, some forms of proportionality in elections—not to this
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place but to other assemblies. I note that one commentator, Mr. Simon Jenkins, pointed out in The Guardian last year:

He concluded:

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Whatever the merits of proportional representation, will my right hon. Friend, in his review of electoral systems, take another look at the system that was employed in the European elections, and probably conclude that a closed list system is just about the worst of all possibilities?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend will remember that the closed list system was a manifesto commitment in 1997, and it was my duty, simply as a servant of the party, to put it before this House without expressing any personal opinion about its merits or otherwise. She may have noticed, however, that in the proposals in the very good all-party White Paper on the reform of the House of Lords—I have to say, for the avoidance of doubt, that this was not a proposal with which the Opposition were associated—we ruled out, whatever other system was proposed, a closed list system. My hon. Friend, and indeed the House, may wish to give a wider audience to that conclusion.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does the Justice Secretary agree that any form of proportional representation will lead to no Government or to bad Government—and furthermore, that any list system will ensure that this place is stuffed full of supine party individuals, here only to do what their party tells them, that that will do this House no good, and that people will have less and less interest in politics and in how this House operates?

Mr. Straw: I agree with the hon. Gentleman in every particular. Alongside his serious points, let me make a serious point.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): He’s not a supine individual.

Mr. Straw: And neither is the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), and neither are most of my hon. Friends— [ Laughter. ] And just so that we are clear, some say that I am not, either.

I understand the sedulous attractions of proportional representation, although I profoundly disagree with them. The point that those who support PR have never been able to explain is that there can be no proportional transfer of votes into power. A criticism made of first past the post is that it often gives power to a minority, but it usually gives power to the largest minority, whereas the overwhelming difficulty with proportional representation is that it gives power to the smallest minority.

Mr. Speaker: I call Jim Devine.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend believe—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I called Mr. Devine.

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Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I was bowing to age, there, Mr. Speaker. May I assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice that many of us in our party in Scotland do not support STV? It is causing major problems with constituents. They do not know who their councillor is. Other constituents are playing councillors off against other councillors, and there is a detrimental effect on councillors’ health. Instead of going to one community council meeting, they have to go to three or four, multiplied over a month.

Mr. Straw: I take full note of what my hon. Friend has said, and I will record that as a balanced contribution to the consideration of what we shall do in future.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Does the Minister agree that the most popular Government in the UK at the moment are the Scottish Government? They happen to be a minority Government and they have the advantage that they cannot force through any measures on their own, but need other parties to join with them. That tends to give a majority view to issues that are carried forward—and STV at council level means that people have the choice to bypass sleepy traditional councillors.

Mr. Straw: I also note that the alleged attractions of the Scottish Executive are rather diminishing as reality presses in on them, and the claim that Scotland would form an arc of prosperity—along with those other paradigms of prosperity, Ireland and Iceland—now looks slightly tatty.

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