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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord on the Woolsack. Before the noble Baroness sits down, has she no words of contrition on behalf of the Home Secretary for having acted illegally; more seriously, for having done so in the knowledge that there was a 50:50 chance at least that he was acting illegally; and most seriously, that he was in any case acting unconstitutionally by producing his own scheme in place of the scheme that Parliament had enacted and that was still on the statute book awaiting his bringing it into force?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that the noble and learned Lord will recognise that he has just made a substantive contribution to the debate rather than an intervention on procedure after the Question has been put. Perhaps I may, with due respect, suggest to him that if he wants to do that the House would be tolerant if he decided to speak in the gap. I do not think it is appropriate to have interventions at this stage of the debate.
It would be beyond the possibilities of human self-restraint if I were not to make some reference to the sorry history which has brought this Bill before the House. I shall, I hope noble Lords will recognise, seek to spend the bulk of my time speaking constructively about the details of the Bill before us, anticipating the way in which we shall be dealing with it when it comes to Committee and later stages. But before doing so I cannot resist saying that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, has a serious point to make about the history of the Bill. After all, since the 1960s we have had a Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which has relied on the Royal Prerogative rather than a statute. It was recognised that that was something of an anomaly. The 1988 Act introduced a statutory basis for the scheme, but did so without setting a commencement date.
Of course it is within the proper scope of government to seek to change the basis of criminal injuries compensation. But if they had, as they did in 1988, decided to make statutory the common law basis which had been working already for 26 years and if they had expected that to be statutory, then surely they ought to have recognised from the very outset that to seek to make a change by Royal Prerogative was an improper procedure. That was recognised in debates in your Lordships' House on th 1993 White Paper; it was recognised in the debates initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, on the Criminal Justice Bill; and it cannot be said that there has not been plenty of warning from your Lordships' House and from around the country about the impropriety of what the Home Secretary sought to do by introducing a completely different scheme through the use of the Royal Prerogative. That chicken very firmly came home to roost when the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House decided that the Government had sought to make a major change to the whole basis of a scheme which they had put before Parliament but never enacted. I do not think there can be easy forgiveness for the
It is not even as though there was any adequate justification for the arguments about increases in cost. Of course there have been increases in cost. The Financial Memorandum to the Bill rather disingenuously describes them as increases in cost in any year as being based on the number of cases settled, the proportion attracting monetary award and the average value of the awards. Well, of course, in mathematical terms, that is the case. That is the proximate cause, if one likes, of an increase in cost in any given year.
What is the cause of the increase in cost over a period of years? Clearly, it is the increase in violent crime. It is exactly the result of policies of this Government over years and the refutation of the claims that were made by successive Home Secretaries to Conservative Party conferences that it is the party of law and order. We must bear in mind that in 1979 the chance of any one of us being a victim of violent crime was 1:213. In the current year the chance is 1:64. Although there has been a decrease in some crimes, the increase in violent crime is currently running at approximately 7 per cent. per annum. So there is indeed a very serious cause for the increase in expenditure on criminal injuries compensation, but it is not one that the Government have ever admitted or accepted as being their responsibility after 16 years in office.
I turn to the two alternatives which the House has to consider in making a judgment about the best approach to the compensation of victims of violent crime. It has to be said straightaway that there is no simple answer to this. The common law scheme, which existed until it was replaced by the illegal tariff scheme, had a number of very clear advantages. It removed the difficulty of the injustice between the suffering of someone who is the victim of crime and someone who is the victim of an accident, which can be compensated by an insurance policy or payment from the person who caused the accident. To the victim there is no difference and to that extent the attempt in the common law scheme, which worked for so many years, to equate the pain and suffering of a victim of crime with that of the victim of a non-crime was admirable.
However, as the Minister rightly said, the tariff scheme has a number of advantages. I shall not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, by reading his very powerful speech in the debate on the White Paper against the total tariff scheme. Perhaps he is proposing to repeat it this afternoon. It was the most devastating attack on a change of government policy that I have ever heard. Nevertheless, despite what he said then and what he might say now, a tariff scheme does have advantages. It is easier to understand and it can be implemented more quickly. It does not require an army of lawyers and legal assistants to make the calculations. It makes it easier to control costs.
We now have neither the common law scheme nor the total tariff scheme which was in force in 1994-95. We now have a hybrid scheme, which I believe has been called the "tariff-plus" scheme. It is incumbent on us to
There has been some change, it might be said, politely, in government thinking since that time. I often wonder whether changes in the personnel of government are made at frequent intervals in order to avoid the embarrassment of Ministers having to eat their own words rather than those of their colleagues, which is what the Minister has done today.
Let us look constructively, if we can, at the defects of the scheme which is before us. It has to be said that there are too many of them. Of course, it is acknowledged that there is an increase in flexibility. The scheme itself is more complex in the number of recorded items which are priced. That has gone up to 310 from the earlier smaller number. But even so, flexibility has by no means been achieved by the addition of the loss of earnings provision. For example, what about the difference between the loss of hearing or sight of a child compared with that of an elderly person? That is a totally different situation in terms of life chances and of the cost of living a decent life.
What about the difference between a facial scar on a young woman or a young man actor, let us say (in order to avoid issues of gender), compared with someone who is past it like me? I say this with feeling as a person who is gauche as well as gauchiste, as the French say. What about the difference between the loss of the use of the left hand as opposed to the right? It makes a huge difference in what one can do, but that is not recognised in the scheme. What about the lack of recognition for multiple injuries? I know that that would make the scheme more complicated, but multiple injuries have an effect on each other, which makes a difference to the total suffering of the victim. All these things are omitted from the scheme, but they are perfectly possible because industrial disablement benefit allows them to be considered.
I turn to the loss of earnings capacity. I was slightly unnerved by the Home Secretary on 29th June in the debate at Third Reading in another place. He thought that these additional provisions in the Bill would only occur in the more serious cases. I very much welcome the Minister's view on what the special conditions might be for loss of earnings. But does loss of earnings include loss of future earning capacity, as it should? Does the provision for special expenses cover future special expenses? What about the provision of no compensation for the first 28 weeks? The argument here is that that is the period of statutory sick pay and the period for the lower payments which are made in the absence of statutory sick pay. There are 12 million people who are
I do not find anywhere here recognition of the conditions of exceptional risk which apply to fire fightersand I give one example only. I remind the Minister that it was the Fire Brigades Union which brought the Government to their knees in the legal proceedings, which were determined by the House of Lords. I am worried by the provisions for capping the maximum awards. I recognise the value of the settlement procedures and their tax advantages, but we need further debate on maximum awards before we let this provision go through.
I am worried by the provision for the time-limiting of claims. The Minister said that the Government are proposing an increase from one to two years, but the common law scheme allowed three years for claims to be made and, even so, in the last year nearly 4,000 claims were out of time, of which nearly 3,000 were allowed. I wonder whether even three years is enough, let alone the two years which are provided.
I am also worried about the lack of provision for uprating for inflation. After all, the scheme was introduced in 1994, based on 1992 figures, and is proposed to run until 1999 without major revision. We shall have to look into that issue as well. I am also concerned about the independence of advisers and the appeal provisions.
Although in essence we accept that we must have a tariff-plus scheme, a hybrid scheme, we shall have substantial Committee, Report and Third Reading debates in this House. I hope and believe that they will be constructive because they will be concerned with the detail of the scheme and with making sure that we have the best possible scheme that we can afford, which is generous and which recognises the real differences between one victim and another. We owe no less to the victims of violent crime. The House will find us, as always, constructive and forward-looking in the way in which we approach the Bill.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, despite the untypically ungenerous and perhaps even pompous opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I greatly welcome the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who got to the heart of the matter and explained to the House as succinctly as ever why we are discussing this Bill today. Although, as I shall make clear in a moment, I do not want to pursue that matter at length, it should be widely understood and not forgotten that we have this Bill because of the arrogant assumption of the Home Secretary that he could introduce a tariff system without reference to Parliament. All credit to all those who, in
I do not intend to pursue that matter further because the Bill is now before us. Furthermore, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was not at the Home Office at that time. In any case, given her record, she would nobly defend the Home Secretary with her usual loyalty and panache. My regret is not that the noble Baroness does not find it in heror has not so far found it in herto express regret or to make an apology, but that I find it sad and unsatisfactory that in another place the Home Secretary did not in any way express contrition for a decision for which he was wholly responsible.
As for the substance of the Bill, I now await with some trepidation the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow. I come new to these matters and, reading the Bill and considering the questions that were raised in another place, I, like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have concluded that, on balance, I can accept the tariff system. I have to sayit is right that it should be saidthat whatever the shortcomings of the system that is now proposed, which we shall be discussing more fully later, the scheme that is set out in the Bill is better than the arbitrary scheme that was imposed by the Minister in April 1994. Let credit be given where it is due.
Some awkward matters of judgment are involved about the quantum of compensation as well as about its distribution. It is one thing to endorse the principle of compensationit was recognised by Parliament 30 years agobut I concede that it is another thing to devise the right system for today. Having said that, it is important to challenge what the Minister has just said and what the Home Secretary said in another place about the costs of the present scheme and of any future provision. The Minister twice repeated the fact that the scheme which we have had and the scheme which we are to have will be the most generous in the world. The noble Baroness went so far as referring to a league table. However, I do not think that the issues of a league table and whether the scheme is the most generous in the world are relevant to the question of priorities which is for Parliament to decide. What we must decide, both in this House and in another place, is whether the scheme is adequate, given the need, and how much we are prepared to spend on this aspect of compensating the victims of criminal actions.
The Home Secretary was frank in another place when he said that the factor of costs had led him to proceed in the way that he, quite wrongly, chose. I hope that we shall examine that point more fully later. As it is not entirely clear to me, I ask the Minister how much less the present scheme is likely to cost in due course than the old scheme would have cost had it continued. Having looked in detail at what the criminal injuries compensation scheme is meant to do and at the need for compensation, I have found it extremely difficult to come up with a figure showing that the cost of the new scheme will be substantially lower than the cost had the old scheme continued.
Perhaps I may make one or two comparisons. Even if the proposed scheme costs £260 million, it will cost us much less in a year than our intervention in Bosnia, for example. I see the Minister looking despairingly at her colleagues as if that is not a relevant comparison. If she does not think that that is relevant, what about our annual expenditure on prisons? Is she suggesting that that is not a relevant comparison? Annual expenditure on prisons is £1.5 billion in England and Wales in the current year. We are proposing to spend one-tenth of that figure on the proposed scheme at its peak. So, we are spending on the victims of criminal injuries one-tenth of what we spend on keeping people in prison. That is a relevant comparison when we consider whether these figures are simply enormous or are figures which we should accept as desirable on social grounds.
The only question is how much we should be spending to compensate the victims of criminal injury if, as the Government have proposed, victims should be at the centre of penal policy now and in the future. I repeat that I do not think that the figure is enormous. It is relatively modest when compared with expenditure in other areas.
If the scheme that is now proposed begins to overrun its estimated costs, will there be any attempt to revise the benefits? Will the Minister make clear to the House what role Parliament will have in approving any future tariff if Ministers seek to do what I hope that they will not do and what I hope that the noble Baroness will say that they will not do, which is to reduce the quantum or the benefits that are payable?
Having said that about the cost and, with some qualifications, having in general welcomed the principle of the Bill, I must say that most of the points that I wish to pursue are better pursued in Committee. For the most part, I associate myself with the detailed anxieties rightly expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Perhaps I may refer to four points which cover part of the ground that he dealt with.
First, reference was made to the new scheme being quicker than the common law scheme. Will the Minister tell the House what proportion of those who lodge their claims are expected to receive their compensation within the first year of lodging them? How will that compare with the time that elapsed under the common law scheme? As those in her department must have made judgments about how much quicker the new scheme will be, what evidence does she have?
Secondly, the Minister referred to parliamentary scrutiny but I was not clear as to which aspect of the Bill she was referring. Was she referring to the qualification rules or was there some other indifferent
The Minister referred to my third anxiety, although I may have misunderstood her. She may have suggested that an amendment made in Committee would be appropriate. Will she give examples of the changes in the common law scheme which she anticipates being made in the next year before the scheme covered by the Bill is implemented? In another place the Home Secretary referred to the changes as minor and administrative, but if the Minister could give one or two examples the House would be enabled to make up its own mind.
Fourthly, I wish to associate myself with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about the time limit. I strongly favour a three-year time limit. The Ministers have chosen a two-year limit and there must be some purpose behind that. They must have taken a view about how many claims will be disallowed because they are out of time, albeit subject to an appeal.
I accept on balance the idea of a tariff. However, as we all know, a tariff is inflexible, it leads to anomalies and it results in unfairness. Every victim is different and every injury is distinctive. In my view, it would have been far better if in addition to the tariff we had had clear bands within which discretionary decisions could be made. I hope that as a result of discussion in this place there will be more flexibility in the scheme and more frequent updating than is at present anticipated. If the independent panel to which the Minister referred is only advisory I would much prefer an independent panel which could itself determine the tariff.
Despite the history of the matter and the shortcomings of the Bill we welcome it as far as it goes. However, I hope that the Minister will be far more receptive to amendments tabled in this House to this Bill than she was in the sorry case of the Criminal Appeal Bill, which we finished last night.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, at the beginning of his speech the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, reminded us that during the past 15 months this is the third occasion on which the House has had the opportunity of debating the criminal injuries compensation scheme. Speaking today, I must begin by declaring my interest, as I did previously, as chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. However, I am bound to comment that the purpose of this Bill is to legislate me out of that position.
The first debate was in March last year. During the debate on the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, to take account of the Government's White Paper, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was right to say that I expressed the unanimous view of the membership of the board; that that which was then being proposed by the Home Office was not only flawed but was manifestly unfair and would be shown to be unfair in practice. On that occasion, I expressed the hope that
The second debate was in June last year when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, proposed the implementation of the provisions in the 1988 Act. I said that I was not in favour of making the current system statutory but that I was supporting the noble and learned Lord's proposal on the basis that it would give yet another opportunity for the Home Office to reconsider the proposals that it was putting forward. Sadly, as was said by the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers and Lord McIntosh, on both occasions the Home Office chose to ignore the opportunity to look again at what was being proposed. As we all know, that department went ahead and firmly hit the buffers when it came up against a Judicial Committee of this House on 5th April this year.
This time the Home Office has had to think again, and it has thought again. I say at once to my noble friend the Minister that the Bill before us is far better than the original tariff scheme proposals. I wholeheartedly welcome each of the major changes that are being made. The board acceptsand I have always acceptedthat a scheme introduced in 1964, with the volume of work that the Minister mentioned, is not necessarily the appropriate framework for today's conditions. Last year the board received 73,000 applications, resolved more than 65,000 cases and spent more than £165 million. I agree also that, as regards the vast pressure on the board, much has changed since 1988 and the proposals then put before the other place.
That vast increase in expenditure was not, and has not been, caused by an escalating increase in individual awards. If one takes account of inflation the figures have remained constant over the years. As has been said, it has been caused by the enormous increase in the volume of violent crime. It has been caused also as a result of the commendable publicity given by the Government and other forces to the existence of the scheme. Undoubtedly that has had a major effect on the number of applications which come before the board.
Of course, I understand the Government's concern about the mounting cost to the scheme that those circumstances have occasioned. I believe that change is justified in order to contain expenditure and to ensure that cases can be dealt with as efficiently and quickly as possible. That is particularly so when one notes that of the claims that were dealt with last year more than 85 per cent. were awards of less than £5,000.
I do not resile in anyway from what I said in March about the fundamental flaws within a tariff scheme. I shall not repeat those now. A tariff scheme is not as good as the common law damages scheme. Because of the nature of a tariff scheme it cannot take account of the differing effects of similar injuries on different people. However, I believe that what was so unfair about the proposals that the Government were then putting forward was that by discounting entirely for loss of earnings, and for loss-of-earnings capacity and future care, they were making the vast majority of the savings at the cost of those who had been worst injured. While I believe that the flaws in a tariff scheme still exist and that such a scheme is not as effective as a common law
The Government have made major changes. It is right that we should acknowledge and welcome those changes. They relate to provisions to deal with fatal cases, proposals in relation to loss of earnings and future care, and they increase the maximum ceiling from £0.25 million to £0.5 million. In making each of those changes the Home Secretary has gone a long way towards meeting the major objections to the scheme that he proposed. I believe also that he has gone a long way towards meeting the terms of the European convention, to which he is a party. Knowing the problem that he must have had in wringing concessions of that nature from the Treasury, I feel it necessary to congratulate him on the changes that he has achieved. In Committee I shall argue for a certain flexibility within the tariff, but I do not propose to oppose the principle of the tariff.
The situation will be better in relation to fatal cases because it is intended to pay dependants and the basic flat amount is rather higher than the present bereavement award for England. As regards future loss of wages and earning capacity, while I understand the arguments of those who say that the calculations should start from day one, I am bound to say that I accept that it really is impracticable to continue to assess in each case, however short the absence from work, the amount of lost wages and then deduct from that the amount of benefits which the individual has received. The reality is that a tremendous amount of time is taken up with that work, quite often with very little end result. Therefore, whether or not six months is the right starting point, I have absolutely no doubt that the Government are justified in saying that there must be a period for which loss of earnings should be taken into account.
I welcome the increase from £0.25 million to £0.5 million. I welcome the introduction of structured settlements. I have always believed that there is a justification for a case for ceilings of some kind. In fact, your Lordships may be interested to know that last year, out of the 63,000 cases, there were eight in which the award was over £0.5 million. I am sure that in those eight tragic cases, the state would have provided even if the compensation had been limited under the scheme.
I believe that the tariff is as good as can be devised and that, on the whole, the figures are generous. Indeed, I am bound to say to the Minister that I question whether savings will be made by this great change in the system. On the last debate I questioned the figure of £500 million as the cost of the current scheme in the year 2000-2001. I suggested that that was based on spurious assumptions. I was told, in those wonderful Civil Service words, that that figure had been arrived at only after careful scrutiny. It is rather ironic to find that, six months later, that figure has been changed from £500 million to £460 million. I suggest that that is still an over-generous estimate of what the costs would have been. If one sets against that the additional costs incurred by the changes which the Home Secretary is now making, there will be little difference in practice.
I turn now to the question of the two great virtues which have been claimed for the scheme. The first is speed. I recognise the desirability that victims of crime should be paid as quickly as possible. I am grateful to the Minister for the very kind and generous words that she said about myself and the board. I tell the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Rodger, that last year 70 per cent. of the cases which came in were resolved within 12 months compared with only 25.5 per cent. in the year 1990-91. Now that about 50 per cent. of all decisions are delegated to members of the staff, that figure will be higher still.
Therefore, while I accept that there will be some saving of time and a speeding-up of the process, I do not believe that it will be all that great because the majority of the time is still taken up in obtaining the police and medical reports on which the assessment is made. It will still be necessary to obtain those reports and, in certain cases, it is necessary to await the results of trials.
As regards simplicity, I make only one comment. The original tariff which was produced a year ago decided that there were 187 different identifiable injuries. Nine months later the new tariff has decided that there are 310 different identifiable injuries. That increase has occurred in nine months, and it will steadily continue. If one looks at individual cases and sees the size of the files compared with what they were before, I shudder to think of the number of trees being cut down in Africa to meet the additional demand for paper which the scheme appears to create.
I welcome the changes that have been made. I accept that this is the most generous scheme in the world. I still believe that the tariff could be workable but it will be shown to need flexibility. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rodger, said about looking again at whether some of the figures should be in bands rather than individual figures. I believe that to be true in particular for sexual cases and cases of shock.
The Government must look again at some aspects of the tariff scheme because I believe that they will find that experience has shown not that the figures are too low but that they are considerably higher than those which the courts are awarding. If the scheme is to be subject to the affirmative resolution, I hope that that matter and also the matter of multiple injuries will be looked at again.
As I understand it, the scheme has not yet been published and is to be subject to the affirmative resolution. I hope, understand and believe that in the new concordat that exists the board will be invited to comment on the details of the scheme. If this scheme is to work, it is essential that there must be power within the scheme to refer complicated cases to a hearing for assessment. Awards for future loss of earnings capacity cannot be decided on the basis of papers before you while sitting in an office. It depends on the evidence that you hear and the people that you see. The scheme will fail in that regard if the Government do not allow a degree of flexibility which will provide for those who are running the scheme to refer matters of that kind immediately to a hearing of the new hearings panel.
I have spoken for longer than I should have done. Again, I thank the Minister for her kind words about the work of the present board. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to put forward proposals that will make the scheme even better than the considerable improvement that it is on the original scheme proposed.
In a debate in the other place, when supporting this Bill, the Minister made but one reference to his having been found to have acted unlawfully in regard to the first tariff proposal. He said, as the Minister said today, that the House of Lords did not say anything about the merits of his scheme. Of course they said nothing about its merits because that was not the question before the House. What was before the House of Lords and the other courts was whether the Minister had acted unlawfully and had exceeded his powers.
Judicial review is not a process of appeal in which one considers the merits of the decision; judicial review is devoted to seeing whether the defendant to those proceedings has acted unlawfully, exceeding or abusing its powers. That is all that was before the court and that is all that the court decided. The implied suggestion of, "Oh, well, there was nothing which I was criticised for by the courts", is a misleading approach. The criticism on the merits occurred in this House. That was the place for the criticism and it occurred again and again. Indeed, it occurred just before the scheme was brought into effect, which I believe was on Good Friday of the previous year.
The House then unanimously condemned the Minister for the gross unfairness of the scheme, the abuse of Parliament in bringing it in in the way that he proposed and, of course, as regards the failure of any form of consultation. I only make those opening observations so that your Lordships will not think that the reference to the Judicial Committee having not commented on the merits showed that, sub silentio, it was approving of the situation.
I turn now to the Bill itself. I have a few reservations to make with regard to one or two of the clauses. I suppose that it is on the basis of being once bitten and, therefore, twice shy that I refer to Clause 11. Subsection (2) of the clause provides that,
and then some six matters are set out. It is no doubt my ignorance and my naivety, but I do not understand why the scheme should not be in the legislation. Then parliamentary control can be properly exercised. I find it an unusual and unsatisfactory arrangementto use an unattractive termthat the essential guts of the whole new procedure should be outside the Act itself. Thus, parliamentary control, which, again, on past experience, seems to be so necessary, is weakened.
I believe that there was some talk about the parliamentary ombudsman having an opportunity to exercise some control over the scheme. I do not know whether the Minister can help in that regard. But, as I understand it, there has been little willingness so far to discuss the details of the scheme. It seems that it will not be prepared until the date when it may be too late to take any steps in regard to it.
As regards the tariff itself, its inflexibility has already been emphasised. I do not see why it is necessary to have one specified figure for each species of injury which it is thought appropriate to classify, because it has no reference to the impact on the individual of the injury. The suggestion has been madeand I support itthat bands or brackets should be provided in regard to those injuries. The Government have no doubt seen the admirable work of the Judicial Studies Board which has provided bands for injuries and, within those bans, some flexibility obviously exists. I do not know whether the answer is that if you do that then you must have a somewhat higher grade of civil servant administering the scheme because the thought process will be in greater demand rather than with a specific figure which you apply, the only argument being whether it relates appropriately to the injury.
I should like to know a great deal more about the appeal process. It appears that the legal elementand by that I mean the experienced practitioner in this field of activity who has hitherto been responsible for justly fixing the right figuresis only to appear in the appellate process and not below. Therefore, I should like to know in what circumstances an appeal is permissible. I have heard it said that it will involve some form of deterrent mechanism to dissuade what is referred to as frivolous or vexatious appeals, but I do not know how it will operate.
All that arises out of the fact that the scheme is unparticularised in sufficient detail. That is why I urge, and will urge, that a great deal more appears in the legislation and that far less is left to be worked out subsequently with the affirmative procedure which, although obviously it has some force, has its deficiencies, as we all know from past experience.
I have an engagement this evening which I must keep because it is a long-standing one and difficult to avoid. However, I shall certainly stay in the House until 6 o'clock. But, if we have not completed by then, I hope that your Lordships will accept my apologies for my absence. I only say in further mitigation that I have done my best to limit the time that I have taken of your Lordships.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord will have to leave by 6 o'clock, but he will at any rate hear my speech and, no doubt, one or two others. I should like to express my support for many of the criticisms put so effectively, for example, by my noble leader Lord McIntosh. However, I shall leave the details for the next stage of the Bill. I shall speak in very general terms and even more briefly than other speakers.
I do not believe that any of us under-estimate the seriousness and the difficulty of the subject that we are discussing this afternoon. In 1964 I chaired a committee set up by Justice to examine the problem of criminal injuries compensation. I introduced the first debate into this House on the subject. The Government produced their scheme post hoc or propter hoc soon afterwards in 1964. Although it is difficult to obtain the relevant statistics, since then crime in general has more than trebled. In 1979 I introduced the first Private Member's Bill into this House.
My noble friend Lord McIntosh has reminded the House that today one is more than three times as likely to suffer from violent crime than was the case in 1979. That is the background to the matter that we are discussing. One has to ask how much has been done in the meanwhile. I would not say that nothing has been done apart from the development of the 1964 scheme. In 1964 and 1979 a number of voluntary schemes were in existence. The National Injuries Victim Support Scheme, which has done such wonderful work, came into being in 1980. A great deal of voluntary help has been forthcoming since then, and the Government have also given considerable help, although not enough.
Where do we find ourselves today? I suppose that if I had been a victim and attended the Conservative Party Conference in 1993 I would have come away elated. I would have thought that at last something would be done for victims. Both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary said that they would give criminals a far worse time and victims a much better one. I do not believe that anyone will dispute that that was the general impression, and certainly that was the impression given to the cheering crowds at the conference.
He now comes forward with the present scheme in the form of the Bill that we are discussing. What will be the effect of it? I understand that, according to the Government's figures, in the year 2000 £460 million will be spent on victims, but that under this beneficent Government that amount can be cut down, by some miracle of administrative legerdemain, to £260 million. That cannot be done just by clever technology. It means that someone will suffer. From long experience, I cannot think of any assault on any particular social service on that scale. I would regard it as about the most shameful attack ever made on a social service. Whatever be the messing about with this or that detail, the apparent intention is to cut by nearly half the amount that goes to victims. That is a hard-pressed section of society that the Government have pledged to assist and have picked out as their favourites. I do not argue about it but just recite the facts.
I do not wish to be too depressing or to end upon a gloomy note. If I remember rightly, the French Prime Minister in the crisis of 1940 said that only a miracle could save France and that a miracle would save France. It took four years and a great deal of bloodshed before that miracle was eventually performed. I hope that a miracle in this field can be performed rather more easily before the present Home Secretary has to take flight. I hope that that will come about rather sooner than it did in France. There is a ray of hope on the horizon in the form of the new Home Office Minister responsible for prisons, and perhaps victims, whom I warmly welcome. This lady is no stranger to dramatic conversion. I hope that, always assisted by the much admired noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, she will guide the wandering soul of the Home Secretary in the direction of Damascus.
Lord Colnbrook: My Lords, some of your Lordships may recollect that when we discussed the proposals of the Home Secretary last year in March and June I was one of those who spoke very strongly against what he intended to do. In contrast, today I support what is now proposed. There are two main reasons for this. First, I am delighted that at long last this scheme to compensate the victims of criminals will be put on a statutory basis. It has been going for 30 years, and in all that time it has proceeded on the basis of the Royal Prerogative. I do not believe that a scheme which disposes of so much public money should be operated under the Royal Prerogative for such a long time. It may be all right to do that to start with, on an experimental basis, but if the scheme is operated under the Royal Prerogative Parliament has virtually no control and the Minister in charge, in this case the Home Secretary, canor, at any rate, could until seven years agoalter it whenever he
About nine years ago the then Home Secretary said in the other place that the Government intended to put the scheme on a statutory basis as soon as possible, and in 1988 Parliament did so. However, I believe that that Act contained a fatal flaw, in that it was left to the Home Secretary to decide when that should happen. We all know the outcome of the Home Secretary's efforts to alter the scheme last year and the appearance before the court and the judgment upon it. But, if I read this Bill correctly, the Home Secretary has no choice but to get on with it. The scheme has to be brought into operation immediately, which I believe to be a very good thing.
My second reason for supporting this measure is that the Government have listened to all of the representations made to them about the proposals presented last year. Not only have they listened but they have responded. Quite frankly, that is something which does not always happen. I suspect that noble Lords opposite will realise that more than anybody else. This time the Government have responded positively and are to be congratulated on so doing.
There is no doubt that the scheme introduced by this Bill is a great deal better than the one we discussed last year, in particular for the reason that what is now proposed will take account of actual and potential loss of earnings, the cost of special care and the like. One can pick holes in the tariff. Some holes have already begun to be picked, and no doubt more will be picked as time goes on. But I do not believe that to be a vital point because last year, when discussing the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill proposed by the noble and learned Lord, my noble friend Earl Ferrers, the then Minister, said this about the tariff:
That gave me some encouragement, because it seemed to me that the Government were admitting that they had not necessarily got the scheme absolutely right and were prepared to alter it. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister replies she will repeat that assurance so that we know that the Government will not hesitate to alter the tariff scheme, if necessary.
I was slightly put out by something that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said. I understood him to say that he believed that no changes were to be made to the tariff scheme before 1999. I may have misheard him. If I did, I apologise. If he did say that, perhaps my noble friend the Minister will also refer to that point because I do not know quite where I am. Is she going to hesitate, or is she going to wait until 1999?
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