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Public Bill Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Peter Atkinson
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Crabb, Mr. Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
Goggins, Paul (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)
Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Marris, Rob (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)
Milburn, Mr. Alan (Darlington) (Lab)
Owen, Albert (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
Reid, Mr. Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham, South) (Lab)
Stoate, Dr. Howard (Dartford) (Lab)
Syms, Mr. Robert (Poole) (Con)
Tredinnick, David (Bosworth) (Con)
Glenn McKee, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Eleventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 18 March 2009

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Draft Alterations to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002
2.30 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Alterations to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009.
Paul Goggins: I warmly welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. Copies of the 2002 and 2009 schemes were laid before the House on 17 December 2008 and 28 January 2009 respectively.
The Northern Ireland criminal injuries compensation scheme 2002 provides compensation, at taxpayers’ expense, to the blameless victims of violent crimes. Compensation payments are based on a tariff of awards for criminal injuries of comparable severity. The scheme sets out the amount that may be awarded for certain specified criminal injuries. Some 280 such injuries are listed in the tariff of awards, attracting compensation ranging from level 1, which is £1,000, to level 29, which is £280,000.
Since the 2002 scheme came into operation, the Compensation Agency has had to make payments to victims for injuries not included on the original list of injury descriptors. Some 500 separate claims of that type have been made, resulting in payments of around £4.3 million. I am happy to confirm that those who have suffered such injuries have had their claims met in full. However, the claims cannot be officially closed until the new injury descriptors, developed to address those injuries, are formally added to the 2002 scheme. The 2002 instrument makes provision for the Secretary of State to add new injury descriptors, with corresponding levels of new awards. The descriptors can be added to the tariff by replacing the existing list of injury descriptors with a new one, including the new descriptors, and by updating the index.
The Compensation Agency, with the agreement of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel for Northern Ireland, has recommended the inclusion of an additional 74 descriptors, shown in the copy of the tariff that is included with the explanatory memorandum. That version of the tariff highlights the injuries that are to be added to the list.
In November 2007, I announced a review of criminal injuries arrangements as part of the agenda for normalising life in Northern Ireland. The resultant 2009 tariff scheme brings Northern Ireland’s scheme closer to the Great Britain criminal injuries compensation scheme 2008. It removes a number of anomalies that I regard as no longer justifiable, in particular the payment of different levels of criminal injury compensation in different parts of the United Kingdom. There is no justification for someone who suffers an injury in Belfast to receive more compensation than someone with the same injury in Birkenhead or Brixton. The proposed scheme is not a precise copy of the Great Britain scheme, but the introduction of a new criminal injuries scheme will bring about a greater uniformity of entitlement to criminal injuries compensation across the United Kingdom.
There remain a small number of differences between the two schemes. For example, the new Northern Ireland scheme retains the position of setting no cap on compensation that can be paid in any one case. In contrast, the Great Britain scheme sets a cap of £500,000 on the maximum amount payable under the tariff. In Great Britain, under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, appeals are now made to the first-tier tribunal. In Northern Ireland, under the 2002 order, arrangements for making appeals through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel for Northern Ireland remain unchanged. Other differences include the retention of the existing more generous arrangements for multiple injuries and the use of trusts for applicants who are minors.
I have consulted widely on these proposals and also referred them to the Northern Ireland Assembly. All the issues raised by respondents have been previously considered as part of the development of the proposed policy change. I am very grateful to the staff of the Northern Ireland Compensation Agency who deal sensitively with those who make claims for compensation and to Victim Support Northern Ireland which last year alone helped 1,800 victims of crime with their claims.
I am pleased to introduce these proposals. The Government consider all the additions to the 2002 scheme to be appropriate. The measure is limited and modest but nevertheless welcome. The 2009 criminal injuries compensation scheme is an opportunity to bring the Northern Ireland scheme into close alignment with the Great Britain scheme and so bring about a greater uniformity of entitlement to criminal injuries compensation across the United Kingdom.
2.37 pm
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. As with yesterday’s regulations, we have no problem with these instruments, but I should again like to ask the Minister one or two questions. He covered the matters that I wanted to raise, so it will be a rerun of those, but perhaps I can tempt him to give more detail on why there are one or two differences between the scheme that is proposed for Northern Ireland and that which exists in Great Britain.
First, the Minister said that there was a cap on compensation of £500,000 in Great Britain, but that there will not be in Northern Ireland. What is the rationale for that? Secondly, he mentioned multiple injuries. As I understand it, under both schemes awards are calculated on the basis of adding the full tariff value for the first injury, 30 per cent. of the tariff for the second and 15 per cent. for the third. That is where it ends in Great Britain, but I understand that in Northern Ireland there will be a 10 per cent. payment of the tariff for each subsequent injury if anyone is unlucky enough to sustain such terrible injuries. Why does the Minister propose that there should be that difference?
Thirdly, the Minister mentioned the use of trusts for applicants who are minors. If an applicant from Northern Ireland is a minor, the award is held in trust until that person reaches 18. It seems a sensible proposal, but it is a little different from the scheme in Great Britain. Is the Minister merely changing it to improve on what we have in Great Britain? The scheme here will not change, and I wonder whether that is the reason for the difference.
My fourth question is about improving the arrangements. The Northern Ireland scheme will not give compensation for the category of mental anxiety. Again, I think the Minister is probably doing that because of the enormous number of applicants who have ticked the box marked “mental anxiety” when that phrase could apply to people in everyday life without them having had anything desperately bad happen to them. That is not what the scheme is meant to be about. Will the Minister confirm that he has considered the scheme and is attempting to improve it for Northern Ireland in that respect? I think I am right in saying that there will be an ability to claim for certain mental trauma. Will he give more detail about what will still be available? Of course, mental trauma exists throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Severe trauma could be experienced by people who are or who have been caught up in the troubles, especially given the events of the last couple of weeks in Northern Ireland.
Finally, the Minister said that as claims have arisen for injuries that were not on the original qualifying list, they have been added to it. The list is therefore now much longer. It might be difficult for him to answer this, but if further injuries arise over and above those on the expanded list, will people be able to claim compensation for them, or will new injuries be excluded because the list has already been expanded?
We do not have a problem with these instruments. What the Minister is trying to do is sensible. I would be grateful if he could address the points that I have raised.
2.41 pm
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury. We understand the background to these instruments. As the Minister mentioned, responsibility for these matters will eventually be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly under the devolution of policing and justice powers. Historically, there has been a disparity between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, not least because of the background of the troubles and the violence. There have been higher levels of trauma and more multiple injuries have been sustained in criminal acts in Northern Ireland, which necessitated the variations. We accept that as the situation normalises, it is right to make adjustments and to bring our legislation in line with the rest of the United Kingdom.
I, too, ask the Minister to clarify the situation on multiple injuries. Will he explain in more detail how that will work in practice for people who have a number of severe injuries, perhaps resulting from a terrorist act, which of course falls under the criminal injuries compensation scheme? We must ensure that there is still adequate provision to compensate people who are caught up in such traumatic situations. As he knows, a lot of people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder many years later as a result of incidents that occurred during the troubles. That, too, comes under the criminal injuries category.
Like the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, I am keen for the Minister to elucidate what difference there will be in practice between the existing legislation and the new system. There are new tariffs and a new method for calculating compensation payments for those who have mental trauma and suffer from conditions such as PTSD. Sometimes people are not affected immediately after an accident; the problem with PTSD is that it can develop years later. The condition can be triggered by something that happens in an individual’s life, but is linked to a trauma that occurred much earlier. I am anxious to ascertain from the Minister what the new system will mean for those who develop trauma and trauma-related mental illness years after an incident has occurred. How will that be dealt with?
The Minister referred to the Compensation Agency. Over the years, I have represented constituents who have made claims and have always found the agency to be reasonably efficient, although there have been problems from time to time when differences of opinion have arisen and cases have become protracted. I also commend Victim Support. I recently had the pleasure of hosting a reception for that organisation in the Assembly at Stormont as it prepared for the changes that will come in the criminal justice system when it is devolved. I am impressed by Victim Support’s work in Northern Ireland and seek assurance from the Minister that in the overall context of dealing with criminal injuries, the Government will continue to support its important work. Compensation is only one aspect of providing for victims who have suffered as a result of crime, including criminal acts committed by terrorist organisations.
In the main, I recognise that the instruments will mean that some people in Northern Ireland will receive less compensation that perhaps they would have under the previous system, and that some of them will understandably not be happy about that. Will the Minister address the few points that I have raised?
2.46 pm
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. It is important to remember that every criminal injury represents a personal tragedy and that money can never fully compensate the victim for the problems caused by their injury. However, compensation can go some way to support the victim in overcoming those problems. Although there may have been justification for awarding higher payments to people in Northern Ireland than to people in Great Britain during and in the immediate aftermath of the troubles, it does not seem appropriate to continue that distinction now that normalisation is coming, and I therefore see the logic behind the instruments.
I have a couple of questions. First, three clear dates are involved: that on which the injury was sustained, that on which the claim was made and that of the adjudication. Will the new levels of compensation be implemented for injuries sustained before April but for which the claim is made after April? As the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said, the full effect of an injury might become apparent only years after the event. Will the Minister therefore explain the transitional arrangements?
My other question—also asked by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury—is why there is a cap in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland. I look forward to the Minister’s answers, but will support the instruments.
2.48 pm
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